This year has seen the rise and fall of Shell Oil's plan to begin offshore Arcitc drilling in Alaskan waters. Now, the Interior Department has announced the cancellation of two pending Arctic offshore lease sales that were scheduled under the current five-year offshore leasing program for 2012-2017—Chukchi Sea Lease Sale 237 and Beaufort Sea Lease Sale 242. Additionally, the Department announced denial or requests from Shell and Statoil for extensions that would have allowed for retention of their leases beyond their primary terms of 10 years. DoI stated that "the companies did not demonstrate a reasonable schedule of work for exploration and development under the leases, a regulatory requirement necessary for BSEE [Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement] to grant a suspension." But in justifying the decisions, Secretary Sally Jewell openly stated that in light of "current market conditions, it does not make sense to prepare for lease sales in the Arctic in the next year and a half." (Alaska Native News, Oct. 16) This amounts to a virtual admission that the idea here is "banking" the oil under the sea, until currently depressed prices start to rise again.
Last night, this blogger visited the 9-11 Museum—invited by a friend who got free passes that evening because she worked in the area of the disaster in September 2001. I certainly was not going to pay the absurd $24 entrance fee. There was also a surreal irony to the fact that entering the museum entailed a full airport-style security check, complete with X-rays, full-body metal-detector scans, complete emptying of pockets, removal of belts, and so on. And this at a supposed memorial to American freedom. Talk about the "terrorists win." The museum itself is in many ways impressive—starting with its sheer scale. It is actually built in the World Trade Center "Bathtub," the huge foundation pit with reinforced walls to keep the waters of the Hudson River at bay. These walls are left visible, loaning an atmosphere of stark industrial majesty. The Mohawk iron workers who risked their lives in the construction of the WTC are, at least, briefly mentioned. There is inevitably a lot of maudlin and/or bellicose patriotism on display, but any honest presentation would have to reflect that, and it is generally shown with a sense of objectivity.
One year after a catastrophic dam breach at the Mount Polley Mine in the interior of British Columbia, the facility has passed the first phase of remediation and resumed operations—with certain restrictions. The August 2014 disaster sent millions of cubic meters of water contaminated with mine waste into the local Hazeltine Creek, which ultimately flows into the Fraser River. Water-use bans were issued for several local towns, and the spill prompted the government to toughen mine permitting requirements. Imperial Metals Corp has completed a "Phase 1" clean-up overseen by the BC Ministry of Environment. The company has supposedly ensured that water entering Quesnel Lake, which Hazeltine Creek flows through on its way to the Fraser, meets provincial quality standards. The provincial government issued the conditional permit allowing the Mount Polley mine to reopen earlier this month. However, the company cannot discharge water until it receives a second conditional permit, likely in the early fall. (Globe & Mail, July 29, 2015; ThinkProgress, Aug. 5, 2014)
Just weeks before President Obama announced details of his climate change action plan, federal officials approved a deal to allow expanded mining of coal on Navajo lands and its continued burning at the Four Corners Power Plant near Farmington, NM. The deal extends the lease on the plant by 25 years, and allows for an expansion of the Navajo Mine that supplies it. It came less than a month after operators of the Four Corners plant (chiefly Arizona Public Service) agreed to settle a lawsuit by federal officials and environmental groups that claimed plant emissions violated the Clean Air Act. Under the settlement, operators agreed to spend up to $160 million on equipment to reduce harmful emissions, and to set aside millions more for health and environmental programs. The regional haze produced by the plant and others ringing the Navajo reservation has long drawn protest. Under pressure from the EPA, the plant in 2013 shut down the oldest and dirtiest three of the five generating units to help the facility meet emission standards. But many locals are not appeased. "Our Mother Earth is being ruined," said Mary Lane, president of the Forgotten People, a grassroots Navajo organization. "We don't want the power plant to go on. It's ruining all the environment, the air, the water." (Navajo-Hopi Observer, July 21)
A group of First Nations activists in northwestern Ontario are walking 125 kilometers of the proposed Energy East pipeline route to demonstrate their opposition to TransCanada's plan to convert the natural gas pipeline to transport oil. The walk began at Eagle Lake First Nation, near Dryden, Ont., on Aug. 3 and is expected to arrive at Shoal Lake 39 First Nation, west of Kenora, Ont. this weekend. The Anishinaabe protesters cite concerns for the region's waters in the event of pipeline leaks, and are calling the cross-country march the "Water Walk." TransCanada on July 29 announced that the company has reached an "engagement" agreement with Grand Council Treaty 3, which represents First Nations in the region. But Treaty 3 Grand Chief Warren White said the agreement does not mean that the Treaty 3 nations support the project, only that the company will "share information and listen to the people." At least one Treaty 3 chief is openly opposed to the pipeline. Shoal Lake 39 First Nation Chief Fawn Wapioke is taking part in the Water Walk. "Water is life," she said in a news release at the start of the walk. "Our Anishinaabe laws and values tell us everything we need to know about Energy East that is why we say no." (CBC, Aug. 5)
Members of the San Carlos Apache tribe returned to Arizona this week after traveling to Washington DC to protest the proposed Resolution Copper Mine near Superior, Ariz. A land swap to facilitate the project got federal approval last December, when it was added to the National Defense Authorization Act, although a bill sponsored by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) aims to repeal that section of the measure. The protestors, from the group Apache Stronghold, oppose the swap, which would open Oak Flat, a part of Tonto National Forest that they hold sacred, to mining. Resolution Copper expects the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) review to start by year's end. Caravan member Standing Fox said at the Capitol, "I'll die for my land." If lobbying and legislation don't work, then in a "worst-case scenario, we will be out there blockading. We'll be stopping the whole process physically."
In the wake of last week's massacre at Charleston's Emanuel AME Church, there have been a few rare media mentions of the Gullah people of the Sea Islands, a barrier chain that stretches from South Carolina to Florida. Queen Quet Marquetta Goodwine, head of state of the Gullah/Geechee Nation, spoke to the Charleston City Paper after the massacre, saying that many members of Mother Emanuel are Gullah—as were some of the nine shooting victims. The church had once hosted a traditional Gullah libation ceremony to honor the people's ancestors. "Mother Emanuel has embraced me as a mother for many, many years on my journeys to Charleston," Queen Quet said, but added that after the bloodshed, "It will be difficult for me to re-enter those doors." She said she counted massacre victim Rev. Clementa Pinckney, the church's pastor and a state senator, as a friend. WJCL of Savannah, Ga., also noted that the Gullah Geechee Commission of Johns Island, SC, expressed shock at the massacre and offered condolences to the survivors.
Lawmakers have slipped a provision into the new National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that would allow a massive copper mine on public lands that are sacred to the Apache. Previous efforts failed to pass HR 687, or the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange and Conservation Act, which would allow a subsidiary of international mining conglomerate Rio Tinto to acquire 2,400 acres of the Tonto National Forest in southeast Arizona in exchange for 5,000 acres in parcels scattered around the state. The massive underground copper mining project is fiercely opposed by environmental groups as well as the San Carlos Apache Tribe, which holds the area, near the town of Superior, as a sacred site. Now the land swap has been incorporated into the 1,600-page NDAA. A petition against the provision has been posted to the White House website. (ICTMN, Arizona Republic, Dec. 3)