The US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit on Feb. 1 upheld the listing of polar bears as a "threatened" species under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). Designation of the animal as threatened gives polar bears the lower of two levels of protection. This designation was challenged by both environmental groups, which argued that the polar bears should be considered endangered and be given the highest level of protections, and industry and sporting groups, which argued that they should not be protected under the act at all. The court determined that the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) used "reasoned decisionmaking" in deciding to list polar bears as threatened, and therefore did not disturb its designation. The agency went through a three-year rulemaking process and determined that, due to the effects of global warming, polar bears are likely to become an endangered species in the foreseeable future, warranting their designation as threatened.
Trial began Feb. 25 in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana between individuals affected by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill and British Petroleum (BP). The other corporations involved are the rig owner Transocean and well cement services provider Halliburton. The parties bringing suit against BP include the US Department of Justice (DoJ), states bordering the Gulf Coast, and individuals who did not agree to an earlier settlement agreement. The trial is to be conducted in phases with the first part focusing on determining what caused the blowout of the well and assign percentage blame on the companies involved. Other issues that are to be resolved are BP's level of negligence in conjunction with the incident and the amount of oil that escaped into the Gulf of Mexico, both elements are critical to determine BP's penalties under the Clean Water Act (CWA).
Chief Theresa Spence of the Attawapiskat First Nation attended a meeting with Canada's Gov-Gen. David Johnston Jan. 11, but left official residence Rideau Hall early to announce that her hunger strike will continue. "It didn't feel too good inside that house...but we stood up for your rights," Danny Metatawabin, who speaks for Spence, told gathered First Nations chiefs. "Somehow it felt like a show, a picture opportunity. What’s happening here is not done yet. It’s not over yet. Sadly, the hunger strike continues." He said that a wampum belt Johnston had been presented as a good will gesture by First Nations leaders at a meeting last January had been disrespected in the "ceremonial" meeting with Spence.
The Mikisew Cree First Nation and the Frog Lake First Nation, both located in Alberta, filed documents in Canadian Federal Court on Jan. 7, arguing that omnibus budget legislation that reduces federal environmental oversight violate the government's treaty obligations to protect traditional aboriginal territory. The plaintiffs are challenging Bill C-45 and it predecessor, Bill C-38, legislation that significantly restricts federal environmental assessments and cuts the number of waterways protected by the Navigable Waters Protection Act.
More than 100 protesters stormed the lobby of TransCanada's Keystone XL office in Houston the morning of Jan. 7, dancing, releasing a cascade of black balloons to represent tar sands oil, and hanging neon orange hazard tape. After being forced out of the lobby by police, the protesters gathered on the sidewalk and performed street theatre in which a "pipe dragon" puppet destroyed homes and poisoned water until being slain by knights representing the grassroots coalition of the Tar Sands Blockade, Idle No More, Earth First and others. The protest was the first held in Houston to oppose the pipeline project, which follows a campaign of tree-sits to actually block pipeline construction in rural areas of Texas. "From the Texas backwoods to the corporate boardrooms, the fight to defend our homes from toxic tar sands will not be ignored," said Ramsey Sprague, a Tar Sands Blockade spokesperson. "We're here today to directly confront the TransCanada executives who’re continuing on with business as usual while making our communities sacrifice zones." (Your Houston News, Jan. 7)
Protesters supporting a Native Canadian chief's 23-day hunger strike blocked a rail line at Pointe-a-la-Croix in eastern Quebec Jan. 2. Theresa Spence of Ontario's Attawapiskat First Nation has been fasting to press her demands for a meeting with Prime Minister Stephen Harper to discuss new legislation that weakens indigenous land rights and environmental protections. The new law, part of the Harper government's budget bill, sparked the #IdleNoMore movement, which has brought together First Nations and environmental activists in a wave of protests across Canada.
Cold temperatures have kept crabs out of Antarctic seas for 30 million years. But warm water from the ocean depths is now intruding onto the continental shelf, and seems to be changing the delicate ecological balance. An analysis by [marine ecologist Craig] Smith and his colleagues suggests that 1.5 million crabs already inhabit Palmer Deep, [a] sea-floor valley… And native organisms have few ways of defending themselves. "There are no hard-shell-crushing predators in Antarctica," says Smith. "When these come in they’re going to wipe out a whole bunch of endemic species."
The US National Intelligence Council (NIC) has issued a new report, "Global Trends 2030: Potential Worlds," that emphasizes the rise of China and the risk of catastrophic climate change. An Associated Press summary Dec. 10 says the report finds global terrorism will recede along with the US military footprint in Iraq and Afghanistan, but cyber-attacks will be a growing concern. "The spectacular rise of Asian economies is dramatically altering...US influence," said NIC chairman Christopher Kojm. While the report sees the potential for US-China cooperation on global security, it also warns of resource struggles leading to instability. Under the heading "Stalled Engines," in the "most plausible worst-case scenario, the risks of interstate conflict increase," the report said. "The US draws inward and globalization stalls." The section "Black Swans" foresees extraordinary events that can change the course of history—such as a severe pandemic that could kill millions in a matter of months, or more rapid climate change. The report is optimistic, however, on the prospects for US energy independence. "With shale gas, the US will have sufficient natural gas to meet domestic needs and generate potential global exports for decades to come," it predicts.