Vacation and politics in the Pacific Northwest

Today, I am sharing with you a post that Jeff wrote last week (I am chronically behind on everything these days!). First, I am sharing it because the pictures of his vacation are absolutely gorgeous, and I thought you guys would enjoy them. Second, though, is Jeff’s commentary about what Trump is attempting to do to the Pacific-Northwest, arguably one of the most beautiful parts of this country. Enjoy the pics! Thanks, Jeff, for sharing your vacation with us! I’m jealous!!!

On The Fence Voters

So I spent nearly a week on the road recently, traversing the great Pacific Northwest and chilling out with my better half. There was a lot of beer and wine, a lot of unbelievable scenery, and a brief respite from the goings-on in our upside-down political world. But I must say, politics is never too far away in my daily life, even on vacation. While I wasn’t into the daily back and forth as much, I still managed to follow what was going on.

And while the vacation itself was enjoyable, as well as relaxing, I still can’t forget what’s going on in the world around me. Looking out at the majestic vistas and mountains around me, I could not help but think of how fragile our beloved ecosystem has become.

In the process of driving over 1500 miles through some of the most beautiful areas you could ever imagine…

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Sources of *Sigh*s

As most of you who have followed this blog for any length of time know, I am a lover of animals.  I have often said I prefer goats, bears, lions, snakes and spiders to most humans, especially these days.  So, you might imagine the low-throated growl that has been emitting from me ever since reading the following headline this morning …

U.S. Significantly Weakens Endangered Species Act

First, he destroys the camaraderie of the nation, turns brother against brother, mother against child, and friend against friend.  Then, he destroys the environment, not only of the nation, but of the entire planet, by reversing nearly every environmental protection regulation on the books and pulling the U.S. – against the will of the majority – out of the Paris Climate Accords.  And now … now he is destroying the beautiful wildlife, many species of which were here on earth long before humans were, and all of which are more worthy of life than humans!Bald Eagle.jpgThe story:

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 is a key legislation for both domestic and international conservation. The act aims to provide a framework to conserve and protect endangered and threatened species and their habitats.  Under the current law, assessments about which species should be labeled as ‘endangered’ must be made solely based on science, without consideration for economic impacts.  But, if the new ruling is allowed to go into effect, regulators would be forced to conduct economic assessments — for instance, estimating lost revenue from a prohibition on logging in a critical habitat — when deciding whether a species warrants protection.

David Bernhardt

David Bernhardt (Why are all of Trump’s minions like him:  fat, old, white, male???)

The ruling appears to be in the interest of the fossil fuel and logging industries.  David Bernhardt, Trump’s Secretary of the Interior, is a former oil and gas lobbyist who has long been a critic of the Endangered Species Act, saying that it places an “unnecessary regulatory burden” on companies, such as coal, oil and gas companies.

Environmental groups, Democratic state attorneys general and Democrats in Congress denounced the changes and vowed to challenge them in Congress and in the courts.  But, as we have seen, both Congress and the courts have had very limited success in stopping the runaway train that is Donald Trump.Grizzly Bear.jpgMake no mistake … allowing thousands of species to become extinct will have a significant impact on this planet, as will allowing the fossil fuel industry to continue operating unregulated.  The human species is on the brink of bringing about its own extinction, and frankly, I’m not so sure that’s an altogether bad thing!  We are not trying to live in harmony with nature but are rather trying to dominate and destroy nature.

I have a terrific idea!  Since Trump is removing the protections for both the environment and wildlife, let’s also remove the protections for Trump … protections, I might add, that we the taxpayers pay with our hard-earned money!  No more Secret Service protection for Donnie!


And in other news … if you didn’t think that Donald Trump had brainwashed republicans before, this will surely convince you.  According to a recent study by Pew Research, while most Americans continue to say it would be too risky to give U.S. presidents more power, the share expressing this opinion has declined since last year. Most of the change has been among Republicans – especially conservative Republicans. The study found that …

Currently, 66% of the public says “it would be too risky to give U.S. presidents more power to deal directly with many of the country’s problems.” About three-in-ten adults (29%) offer the contrasting opinion that “problems could be dealt with more effectively if U.S. presidents didn’t have to worry so much about Congress or the courts.” In March 2018, 76% of the public said it would be too risky to give presidents more power.

Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (51%) now say it would be too risky to give presidents more power, down from 70% last year.

The share of Republicans who say presidents could operate more effectively if they did not have to worry so much about Congress and the courts has increased 16 percentage points since then, from 27% to 43%.

There was a reason the framers of the Constitution put in place three independent branches of the federal government, a system of “checks and balances”, to provide oversight.  Donald Trump has already largely trampled the Constitution in this area, for any time he cannot get his way through Congress or the courts, he simply writes an ‘executive order’, or circumvents the system altogether.  And now, we find that increasingly, republicans are fine with that.  At this point, I would say we are already experiencing an autocratic government, and teetering on the brink of a dictatorship.  This is no longer just a nightmare scenario, my friends, but a clear and present danger. So yes, be afraid … be very afraid.

Walking, Talking Conflict of Interest

David-BernhardtHis name is David Bernhardt, and he is Trump’s latest pick to head the Department of the Interior, since Ryan Zinke resigned last year in the spotlight of several ethics probes.  Zinke was bad enough … Bernhardt, if confirmed by the Senate, may well be worse.  Bernhardt has been serving as Deputy Secretary of the Interior since August 2017, and thus has been acting secretary since Zinke’s departure.

Where to even start?  This guy is, like so many of Trump’s other cabinet choices, the worst possible candidate for the job!  First, he is a former oil lobbyist, which sets up potential conflicts of interest in itself.  If confirmed, he will become one of two former fossil fuel lobbyists overseeing the nation’s top environmental agencies. The other is Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist who heads the Environmental Protection Agency.  Between them, these two are in a position to cause much destruction to our environment.

As a partner in the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, Bernhardt lobbied for the oil companies Cobalt International Energy and Samson Resources. His legal clients included the Independent Petroleum Association of America, which represents dozens of oil companies, and Halliburton Energy Services, the oil and gas extraction firm that was led by Dick Cheney before he became vice president to George W. Bush.

Thus far, while overseeing the Department of Interior, Bernhardt has …

  • Put forth a plan that opens up more land to oil and gas drilling than any other single policy action by the Trump administration, while at the same time stripping away protections from about nine million acres of wild life habitat.
  • Put forth a plan that would allow the federal government to lease almost any part of the United States coastline to oil and gas companies for offshore drilling.
  • During last year’s 35-day government shutdown, Bernhardt managed to obtain approval for 15 new leases for drilling on public lands as well as 71 new permits for offshore drilling. More than 50 recipients of the offshore drilling permits were companies that sit on the board of directors of the National Ocean Industries Association, a former client of Mr. Bernhardt’s. (Note that while his department is also responsible for conservation, maintaining national parks and permitting renewable energy programs, none of those functions were operative during the shutdown)
  • Intervened to block the release of a scientific report revealing the threat presented by three widely used pesticides to hundreds of endangered species (See New York Times investigative report). Bernhardt claims the NYT article is “not even close to true”, however I would disagree, knowing full well the integrity with which the Times do their research.
  • Has worked to loosen key provisions of the Endangered Species Act and to weaken safety and environmental rules on oil and gas drilling equipment.
  • Proposed a budget that would cut funding for the National Park Service by nearly $500 million, cut the budget for the Fish and Wildlife Service by $267 million, as well as cuts to other services including wildfire management (remember last year’s wildfires in California?)

Bernhardt’s confirmation hearing was held in the Senate on Thursday.  Predictably, he was praised by republican senators.

“David Bernhardt is an honest man who puts all his cards on the table and keeps his word. He is a champion of conservation. There is zero question that Mr. Bernhardt is qualified to do this job.” – Senator Cory Gardner, Colorado  (An “honest” man???  HAH!!!  Trump would never nominate an honest man!)

It should be noted that Senator Gardner has received $47,000 in campaign donations from Bernhardt’s former lobbying firm.

“I intend to move Mr. Bernhardt’s nomination as expeditiously as possible. He is ready for this job and has demonstrated he can handle everything it entails.” – Senator Lisa Murkowski, Alaska (How much money did you receive from Bernhardt’s former lobbying firm, Ms. Murkowski???)

However, the democrats in the senate were a bit more discriminating.  Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon mentioned Bernhardt’s blocking of the previously mentioned scientific report, saying …

“Mr. Bernhardt, you came to my office to tell me that you were the guy who stood up for ethics in the George W. Bush administration. You asked to come to my office to say your ethics are unimpeachable. But these documents make it look like you’re just another corrupt official. Why would you come to my office to lie to me about your ethics? Just like Julie MacDonald, you meddled in the science.”

Environmental groups are speaking out against Bernhardt’s confirmation as well.

David Bernhardt“Bernhardt got this nomination as a reward for months of work cramming America’s natural heritage into a wood chipper. He’s already done more damage to our environment than anyone else in Interior Department history. Confirming him as Interior secretary would be a boon to polluters and a colossal disaster for our public lands and endangered species.” – Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity

“With nearly two dozen former clients that have business before the agency, David Bernhardt is a walking conflict of interest who is uniquely unfit to serve as Interior Secretary.” – Jennifer Rokala, executive director of the Center for Western Priorities.

Three Greenpeace activists donned ‘swamp monster’ masks as they sat in the audience at the hearings …

swamp-monster-1          swamp-monster-2

Perhaps Washington state Governor Jay Inslee said it best …

“Let’s not put big oil in charge of the Interior Department. Today’s Senate confirmation hearing shows that oil lobbyist David Bernhardt is dangerous to America’s public lands and waters and can’t be trusted to be our Interior Secretary. Big oil is literally laughing about the access they have to this administration. His answers today demonstrated his deep conflict of interest and his unwillingness to come clean about his record of mothballing an analysis of dangerous toxic chemicals. The Senate should reject this deeply flawed nomination and prevent this ethics nightmare.”

In the end, none of his conflicts of interest will matter to the republican-dominated, boot-licking, ass-kissing senate who are nearly certain to confirm Bernhardt, but it should matter to We the People, for we are the ones who will suffer from the destruction of our home, planet Earth.

Damn You, Donald Trump!

If the top experts in a field don’t give you the answers you wanted, don’t tell you exactly what you wanted to hear, then the best thing is to find people who will say precisely what you want to hear and abide by their opinions.  For example … say your tax accountant, a long-trusted Certified Public Accountant tells you that you owe a few thousand dollars in federal income taxes, and you don’t want to pay any more taxes, you can always find a shyster who will find illegitimate deductions and with a bit of creative accounting, can make your tax bill vanish into thin air.  This is what all the smart, wealthy businessmen do all the time … businessmen with last names like DeVos, Ross, Mercer, Koch, Craft and Trump.  That’s why they are so wealthy!

Now, my point today has nothing to do with income taxes, though I have spent the last three hours working on them, but with the science of climate change.  Trump doesn’t like the report that was issued last November by the National Climate Assessment (NCA).  He doesn’t like it largely because the results do not fit in with his grand scheme to roll back all environmental protections and give free rein to the fossil fuel industries, as well as others such as the auto industry.  And so, if the puzzle piece doesn’t fit where you want it, then grab a knife and whittle it until it does fit!

The NCA report is a result of the work of 13 different federal agencies, and I urge you to take a look at the section titled Summary Findings, at a minimum.  When the report was first issued, Trump summarily dismissed it, saying he is not among the “believers” who see climate change as a pressing problem.  Go figure, huh?

“One of the problems that a lot of people like myself, we have very high levels of intelligence but we’re not necessarily such believers.”

Did he really say “high levels of intelligence” as referring to himself???  What a son of a b**ch!  But on to the business at hand …

Trump has now decided to set up his own ad hoc group of select federal scientists to reassess the government’s analysis of climate science and counter conclusions that the continued burning of fossil fuels is harming the planet.  In other words, Trump is going to establish a group of climate deniers to state that the NCA report is wrong, thus giving him free rein to follow through on his policies that will bring about, in short shrift, the extinction of not only the human species, but likely all life on earth as we know it today.  Alarmist?  Nope … ask the real scientists.

Trump has tasked the National Security Council with establishing the initiative that would include scientists who question the severity of climate impacts and the extent to which humans contribute to the problem.  The group would not be subject to the same level of public disclosure as a formal advisory committee.  NSC officials said they would take steps to assemble a group of researchers within the government. The group will not be tasked with scrutinizing recent intelligence community assessments of climate change.

Understand that the NCA report was subjected to intense scrutiny by scientists worldwide before it was released and is not the only report to provide similar warnings.  Last year, a military-funded study warned sea level rise and other climate impacts could make more than a thousand low-lying islands in the Pacific Ocean “uninhabitable” by midcentury.  Just last month, the national intelligence director delivered a worldwide threat assessment that “climate hazards” including extreme weather, wildfires, droughts and acidifying oceans are worsening, “threatening infrastructure, health, and water and food security.”  In the words of Camilo Mora, a geographer and environmental professor at the University of Hawaii …

“When it comes down to climate change, we are talking about thousands of independent papers, from everywhere, finding exactly the same thing: that the climate is changing, that we are doing it and that most often than not, the impacts are pretty bad.”

A few very important things should be noted.  While I am admittedly ‘science-challenged’, I am fully convinced that humans have created environmental problems that have been ignored for far too long and are now at crisis stage.  Every other nation on the globe … every single one … have signed the Paris Climate Accord and are diligently finding ways to reduce their carbon emissions, as well as other climate initiatives.  But the United State, the second largest emitter of CO2, and the largest per capita, has reversed course and is actively increasing fossil fuel usage, refusing to take advantage of technology that allows vehicles to become more fuel efficient, and has taken every step imaginable to further increase carbon emissions!Co2 emissions by nationOur carbon emissions do not simply affect the atmosphere directly over the U.S.!  Our emissions affect people in every nation on the globe! Put yourself in the place of a citizen of the United Kingdom, a country that has reduced its carbon emissions by some 43% since 1990, a country where clean, renewable energy has reduced much of its reliance on coal, where industrial pollutants are strictly regulated.  Yes, there is a price … some industries have taken a hit and there are other ramifications, but at the end of the day, they are doing their part … the U.S. is not.  Plain and simple.  Germany is doing its part. Even China is taking climate change far more seriously than the U.S.!

And now, the head of our government has undertaken a new mission to form a group of climate deniers to tell the American people that CO2 is not actually harmful to the atmosphere and that we should all support the coal and oil industries, that we should all drive big vehicles that get 10-12 miles per gallon as opposed to more fuel efficient cars that average more than 40 miles per gallon.

Former Secretary of State John Kerry has written an OpEd in The Washington Post titled “Disband Your Climate Denial Panel, Mr. President” that is well worth the short read and is further proof that those who are thinkers, those who have education, knowledge and intellect, understand that man has abused the environment just about as long as he can, and we are on a path to destroying the very resources we need to survive.

When our cities look like this …China-pollutionThere is one person who bears the responsibility:  Donald J. Trump.  Damn you, Donald Trump!

While We Were Watching The Circus …

clown trumpWhile we keep watching the circus playing out before our eyes, the clown with the funny hair and weird makeup who keeps tweeting mindless inanities, things are happening in our government.  Things that will have an effect on our health, our freedom of press, our very lives.

We may wake up some morning and find that any number of things have changed overnight.  For instance, we might wake up and find that our national parks and wildlife refuges no longer exist as such, for they have been sold to ExxonMobile for drilling rights, or dispersed to various coal companies for mining rights.  Or we might waken to the news that an entire Indian nation has been forced to leave their land for lack of water.nat'l park shutteredWhy, you ask?  In late December, amid the government shutdown, the U.S. Department of Interior, currently under the direction of Acting Secretary David Bernhardt, proposed changes that would make it harder for the public and media to obtain records of agency dealings.  According to The Guardian (you don’t find these things in U.S. news)

“Among other wide-ranging revisions to its Foia [Freedom of Information Act] regulations, the interior department’s proposal would enable the agency to reject Foia requests that it considers “unreasonably burdensome” or too large, and it would allow the agency to impose limits on the amount of records it processes for individual requesters each month.

The department oversees hundreds of millions of acres of public land, including national parks, as well as the country’s endangered species programs. Under the Trump administration, the department has embarked on an aggressive agenda of opening these lands to oil and gas drilling and mining while rolling back a wide variety of environmental regulations.

Records uncovered using the Freedom of Information Act in recent months have revealed the department’s close ties with energy industry groups as well as several apparent ethics violations among top political officials.

Daniel Jorjani, one of interior’s top lawyers and a former employee of the Koch-brother-backed conservative group Freedom Partners, signed off on the proposed revisions, which are facing harsh criticism from civil society groups that rely on Foia to track the department’s actions.

The changes are part of a broader drive to limit public access to interior department records. In October, the Guardian reported on a leaked interior department guidance that directed US Fish and Wildlife Service employees around the country to take a less transparent approach when responding to Foia requests about the agency’s endangered species programs.”

zinke

Ryan Zinke

The proposal was made by Ryan Zinke before his contentious departure, and the announcement was made on Friday, December 28th, in the midst of the chaos of the government shutdown and the circus acts that accompanied it.  The public was invited to comment until January 28th (three days ago) with no extension.  Local, regional, and national organizations including the Southern Environmental Law Center (SELC), the Wilderness Society, Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Sierra Club are among those who submitted comments, as well as organizations representing the media, including the Society for Environmental Journalists and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

As part of the change, requests would be transferred to Deputy Solicitor General Daniel Jorjani, a former advisor to the mega-donor conservative Koch brothers. Interior career staff previously oversaw the requests, while Jorjani is a political appointee.

FOIA requests would also need to be much more detailed according to the new rules, and among other caveats, Interior “will not honor a request that requires an unreasonably burdensome search.”  And of course it is incumbent on the Department of Interior’s Jorjani to determine what constitutes an “unreasonably burdensome search”.  The proposal comes amid a large uptick in FOIA requests as journalists, climate advocates, and others work to gain information about the Trump administration’s large-scale environmental rollbacks and efforts targeting public lands.

Last week, the Interior Department announced that it would extend the comment period by only one day, from January 28 to January 29, after more than 150 organizations requested an extension. The department said the 24-hour extension was to “ensure interested parties have the full 30 days to submit their responses.” Without a second extension, the comment period ended at midnight on Wednesday.

And in related news … The Wilderness Society reported yesterday that in Wyoming, 140 parcels, totaling 150,000 acres were posted for sale.  Meanwhile, in Utah, 156 parcels, totaling 217, 475 acres were posted. These actions, also, had been announced during the shutdown, but the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had only a week to review comments from the public.  The entire process brings into question, how much consideration the BLM gave to the comments submitted.  That is our land, folks … public land.

Funny, but I remember some point during Trump’s campaign that he said he would “drain the swamp” and make government more ‘transparent’.  Apparently the words ‘swamp’ and ‘transparency’ have been re-written under the alternative dictionary of Trump & Co.

What could possibly go wrong if this proposal is finalized, as I expect it will be?  Let’s think about what the Interior Department does.  It is responsible for the management and conservation of most federal lands and natural resources, and the administration of programs relating to Native Americans, Alaska Natives, Native Hawaiians, territorial affairs, and insular areas of the United States.

With both actions and speech, Trump has shown time and again that any respect he has for the public lands, for the protection of wildlife, and for the Native American tribes takes a backseat to profit for the oil, gas and coal industries.  His massive de-regulations on the fossil fuel industry, his promotion of pipelines such as the Keystone XL and Dakota Access, and his lack of concern over clean air & water, marine life, wildlife, and human health make it essential that we have transparency in the departments (Interior, EPA and Agriculture) that manage these functions.  And now, that is being taken away.  And we hardly noticed, for we were focused on the circus.circus.jpg

Killing Us For Profit

It’s a familiar scene in households where a toddler or two reside.  Mommy is going through the house picking up the toys, and other detritus left behind by the toddler, and the toddler is going right behind her, tossing all the toys right back into the middle of the floor.  Only in this case, “Mommy” is all the nations on the globe except the U.S., meeting in Poland for the COP24 where they debate the best ways to keep greenhouse gasses out of the atmosphere.  And the “toddler” is Donald Trump, alleging to represent the United States, seeking to put more of those same gasses into the atmosphere.  Only difference is that mommy can pick up the toddler and stick him in a playpen or high chair, distract him momentarily, and finish the clean-up.  Unfortunately, the other nations have no power to curb Donald Trump’s destructive urges.

The latest is the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposal to revise its “New Source Performance Standards” for coal power plants, allowing coal-fired generators to emit more CO2 per megawatt-hour of electricity generated.  In short, it is a reversal of one of the Obama administrations regulations that requires new coal plants to invest in technology such as carbon capture and storage.

Andrew WheelerEPA Acting Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist, made quite clear what the priorities are, and a clean environment, a sustainable Planet Earth, are definitely not in the equation:

“By replacing onerous regulations with high, yet achievable, standards, we can continue America’s historic energy production, keep energy prices affordable, and encourage new investments in cutting-edge technology that can then be exported around the world.”

I’m not sure who Mr. Wheeler thinks will be buying all that coal, though, for most all nations are investing in renewable energy sources and are hoping to sever the bonds of fossil fuels as soon as possible.  And who, Mr. Wheeler, will mine that coal or buy it when there are no humans left on this earth?

Think of it this way … a classroom of children are each making cards for their mother for Mother’s Day.  Every child is engrossed in cutting, pasting and colouring that special card for mum.  Except one … little Donnie.  Not only is little Donnie sitting with his fat little arms crossed and a scowl on his face, making it clear that he has no intention of making a card for his own mother, but he periodically gets up, walks over to another student and rips their card, or pours ink on it, throws it on the ground and stomps on it.  This is what Donald Trump is doing … he is refusing to allow the U.S. to do our part to try to combat the disastrous effects of climate change, but he is determined to ruin the efforts of other, more conscionable nations.

“This is just one more foolhardy move by a misguided administration that will be judged harshly by future generations.” – David Doniger, senior strategic director of the Climate & Clean Energy program at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

“Today’s proposal is nothing more than another thoughtless attempt by the Trump Administration to prop up their backwards and false narrative about reviving coal at the expense of science, public safety, and reality.” – Mary Anne Hitt, senior director of Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign.

This is not the first action of Trump and his minions to attempt to revive a dying coal industry.  Prior to this, he rolled back regulations regarding carbon emissions and mercury emissions, as well as coal ash.  What’s next?  A requirement that every household install a coal-burning furnace?

The reality is that his actions will not save the coal industry.  It is a dinosaur headed for extinction, and in this case, the sooner the better.  U.S. coal consumption has declined over the last decade and this year is expected to be at its lowest level in 39 years. Coal has struggled in the U.S. to compete with cheaper electricity produced from natural gas and renewable energy.  And along those lines, there is some good news …

Xcel Energy, which provides electricity to 3.6 million customers in eight states, has become the first major U.S. utility committed to delivering 100 percent carbon-free power by 2050.

Equally remarkable, the plan Xcel announced on Tuesday promises an 80 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 2030. The company stated that “its 2030 goal can be achieved affordably with renewable energy and other technologies currently available.”

According to CEO Ben Fowke …

“This risk of climate change isn’t going away and we want to be the company that does something about it and hopefully inspire others to do something about it too.”

Do you hear that, Mr. Donald Trump???

Xcel has said it can already buy new renewable power plants for less money than it costs to simply operate existing coal plants.  In August, Colorado state regulators approved an Xcel plan to shutter two Colorado coal plants and replace them with renewables plus a battery storage, while saving consumers hundreds of millions of dollars.XcelColorado’s governor-elect, Jared Polis, said …

“One of the great things about this transition is it will create tens of thousands of good, green jobs that will never be outsourced. It’s not only about carbon; it’s also about cleaner air, which means people will be healthier. We’re showing the country the way.”

Do you hear that, Mr. Donald Trump???

There are cities, states and corporations within the U.S. that are determined, despite the whims of Trump and his wealthy cronies, to work toward a sustainable environment, but they cannot do it alone.  We need a federal government that puts life before profit.  We need a federal government that helps and supports efforts such as those being made by Xcel Energy and others.

Lest you fail to understand the urgency, a report released Wednesday by a consortium of researchers known as the Global Carbon Project finds that global carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels are likely to have increased by about 2.7% in 2018, after a 1.6% increase in 2017.  That’s a 4.3% increase in just two years!

Do you hear that, Mr. Donald Trump???  You are killing us all in your quest for more wealth!

Arctic Splendor … For How Long?

Before I jump in to my topic this morning, grab your coffee and pull up a chair … I have some gorgeous pictures I want to share with you!arctic-8arctic-1arctic-3arctic-4arctic-9Gorgeous place, isn’t it?  Don’t you just love all the wildlife running free?  What?  Where is it?  It is the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.  Feel free to grab a couple of the pictures to remember it by, for soon … soon it is likely that it will no longer be so pristine, so beautiful, and the animals are likely to be gone.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), one of the last unspoiled landscapes in the world, occupies 19.3 million acres of stunning wildlands in northeastern Alaska.arctic-mapThis land has long been a source of controversy between those who would protect both the land and the wildlife, and the others who would like to drill for oil on the land.  In 1987, an impact study showed that if drilling were to take place …

“… expected displacement and reduction of wildlife populations and natural processes would cause a major reduction in the value of the area as a pristine, natural scientific laboratory.”

During the past decade, with climate change initiatives, a lower demand for oil, and President Obama’s push to add further protections to the refuge, the controversy died down considerably. And then came Donald Trump, beholden to the big oil companies and caring not a whit for the environment, wildlife, or the raw beauty of the land.Polar bear, Arctic National Wildlife RefugeShortly after taking office, Trump unveiled his fossil fuel-dependent “America First Energy Plan”.  In his first months, he signed several Executive Orders designed to pave the way for opening previously protected lands and waters for resource extraction. In May, Interior Secretary Zinke signed an order that requested an updated assessment of untapped potential oil and gas reserves in Alaska, which could then be used to make a case for drilling in the Arctic Refuge.arctic-10In an August memo, it was revealed the Department of the Interior wanted to lift a longstanding moratorium on exploratory seismic studies in the refuge.  Now – remember the donor tax cuts bill that passed last December?  Yeah, that one … the one that gave all those lovely tax cuts to the wealthiest 1%, increased both our debt and deficit, and left the rest of us in worse shape than before.  Well, turns out that the republicans in Congress folded legislation into that bill that will ultimately open the doors to drilling for both gas and oil.arctic-7This week, the first permit application to begin seismic testing in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), was submitted by two Alaska Native corporations and a small oil services firm. The Department of Interior’s Fish and Wildlife Service was not happy, however.  The Fish and Wildlife Service complained that the permit application failed to provide studies about the effects of the seismic work and equipment on wildlife, the tundra and the aquatic conditions in the refuge.  In other words, no environmental impact study was included.

Peter Nelson, director of federal lands at the advocacy group Defenders of Wildlife, said: “One thing is pretty notable: how many inaccuracies and missing pieces of information there are. It really provides more evidence that industry and the Trump administration are being pretty reckless with this process.”arctic-6The area is home to polar bears in winter and porcupine caribou and hundreds of migratory bird species in summer. No drilling has been done there since it became a refuge in 1980 and no seismic work since the mid-1980s.

Hats off to the Fish and Wildlife Services for standing up for further testing before any drilling is done, but thumbs down to the republican-majority Congress who sneakily embedded this proposal into the tax bill in such a way that denied democrats the opportunity for opposition.

The Arctic National Wildlife Preserve is one of the few such unfettered areas left in the world.  Look back, if you will, at the pictures in this post, and then ask yourself … do we want those beautiful areas to

look

like

this …ugly.png

… in just  few short years?

Who Will Pay For This One???

Ohio-based FirstEnergy Solutions filed for bankruptcy this week.  I cannot say I’m sorry, for they brought it on themselves.  I’m sorry for the average-Joe who has money invested in FirstEnergy, sorry for the company’s employees who stand to lose their livelihood, but I have no empathy for the major shareholders, nor for the company’s executives.  Now, you might have seen this in the news, shrugged, and moved on to juicier news, like the latest about Stormy Daniels, figuring it doesn’t have much to do with you.  WRONG!

First things first.  The reason the power company is in self-inflicted financial trouble is its determination to tie itself to coal and nuclear plants instead of diversifying into renewable energy and other types of electric generation.  Whether Rick Perry, Scott Pruitt or Donald Trump choose to believe it, climate change is real and therefore the fossil fuel industry is a dying breed, being replaced by cleaner, cheaper renewable energy sources.  FirstEnergy failed to open its eyes, it beat a dead horse too long, and now it, too, is dying.

Worse yet, though, is the fact that FirstEnergy believed We The People should bail them out, despite their mortal wounds being self-inflicted. Two days before filing for bankruptcy, FirstEnergy asked Energy Secretary Rick Perry to use the department’s emergency powers to keep its coal and nuclear power plants open.  The company wanted Perry to declare an emergency in the power industry, saying the nation’s security would be jeopardized if the power plants were not kept open.  There is no national security threat here and industry officials and experts were largely angered by the request.

FirstEnergy Solutions’ coal and nuclear plants have been struggling to compete in the competitive power markets because of low wholesale power prices, a trend that has been sustained by low natural gas prices, rising renewable energy penetration, and relatively flat electricity demand — a result of consumer awareness and more energy-efficient appliances. For two years, FirstEnergy has realized they had problems, yet have done nothing more than warn that they might soon seek bankruptcy relief, assuming they would be bailed out by the taxpayers.

Back in January, Rick Perry came up with a plan to raise consumer energy bills in order to subsidize coal and nuclear power plants, in accordance with Trump’s determination to slow the progress of wind and solar energy.  Fortunately, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) unanimously rejected Perry’s plan (there are a few level heads left in Washington, it would seem).

In September 2017, Perry fabricated a threat to national security by saying that power grids using renewables were subject to instability and that FERC should force consumers to pay billions of extra dollars for coal and nuclear power plants that are already obsolete.

PJM Interconnection, the grid operator for FirstEnergy as well as others, said in September that there was no threat to national security and that “there was no need to use the agency’s emergency powers to keep FES’ five big power plants operating.”

In the bankruptcy suit, in addition for asking relief from the more than $1 billion owed to Bank of New York Mellon Trust Co., the company is seeking to be released from power purchase agreements with renewable energy producers.  The contracts were necessary at the time to acquire sufficient credits to meet state renewable portfolio standards, but they are no longer needed now, since the regulations have been largely gutted.

The upshot:

If Rick Perry decides to give in to the company’s request for the Department of Energy to declare an emergency, here’s what would happen.  The grid operator, PJM, would be forced to dispatch power from FirstEnergy’s coal and nuclear plants effectively before any other.  This means that while plants generating electricity through gas, wind or solar may be doing so much more economically, FirstEnergy would get to go to the head of the line.  The only good news is that it would protect the jobs of the nearly 3,000 employees of FirstEnergy.  The immediate downside is twofold:

  • It would hurt other energy companies, especially those who provide electricity from clean, renewable sources.
  • It would raise the price of electricity to consumers – both individuals and businesses – in the Midwest and Mid-Atlantic states.

Obviously there are other, more long-range consequences.  The fossil fuel industry is dying, and no matter how much of our money they throw at it, Trump/Pruitt/Perry cannot revive it in the long run.  When businesses start having to pay more for their electricity … guess what, folks?  They start charging more for their goods & services.  And then there is the added damage to an already sick environment, the parameters of which I cannot even begin to quantify.

This bankruptcy is making other fossil fuel-based energy companies nervous.  Remember Murray Energy?  They issued a statement that reads, in part:

“Murray Energy Corporation expresses our sincere sympathies to the management and employees of FirstEnergy Solutions Corp. (“FES”), during this very difficult time.  Indeed, what makes this matter even more hurtful is that this bankruptcy could have been avoided, had the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (“FERC”) done its job and enacted the Department of Energy’s September 29, 2017 Grid Resiliency Pricing Rule, which sought to ensure the reliability, resiliency, and security of the electric power grids in our Country.  As a result of FERC’s failure, critical power plants will close, thousands of American jobs will be lost, and the reliability, resiliency, and security of our electric power grids will be forever compromised …”

Whatever happens, it is almost a given that the consumer will be on the raw end of this deal.  What I find more concerning is the blatant disregard of Rick Perry, as head of the Department of Energy, and Trump, as the leader of the nation, to see that they are beating a dead horse, and that it is we who will pay the price.

Donnie Sues California … Again

The two single things that Donald Trump is known for are lies & lawsuits.  I have long since lost count of the people and organizations he has threatened to sue just since his inauguration on 20 January 2017.  So the latest should come as no surprise to anyone … he is, once again, suing the State of California.  This is getting ridiculous, folks … he is wasting time and money – ours, I might add – to sue a state for trying to protect the environment.  He really needs to resign so that he can just play golf all day and think up people to sue by night, meanwhile allowing us to find a president who has a sincere desire to run this country the right way, in the best interest of the people.

Last October, the California legislature passed a law, known as Senate Bill 50, that requires the California State Lands Commission be given right of first refusal on any land transfer planned by the federal government.  What that means, in layman’s terms, is that if the federal government decides to sell a certain piece of land, the State of California has the right to purchase it, if it wishes, before it is offered to any other. The reason for the law, in case it isn’t already obvious, is that the Trump administration has announced plans to sell federal lands, including national parklands, to private entities for the purpose of real estate development, mining and drilling, all of which will completely destroy not only the beauty of the affected land, but also displace the delicate balance found in nature and have a negative effect on the environment.

Would you like to see this …Or this …U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued a statement:

“The Constitution empowers the federal government—not state legislatures—to decide when and how federal lands are sold. California was admitted to the Union upon the express condition that it would never interfere with the disposal of federal land. Once again, the California legislature has enacted an extreme state law attempting to frustrate federal policy. The Justice Department shouldn’t have to spend valuable time and resources to file this suit today, but we have a duty to defend the rightful prerogatives of the U.S. military, the Interior Department, and other federal agencies to buy, sell, exchange or donate federal properties in a lawful manner in the national interest.” 

Pardon me, but … “the national interest”???  Is it in the national interest to destroy our land, our air and water?  Is it in the national interest to accelerate mining and drilling for fossil fuels which further destroy the environment?  The only ‘interest’ being promoted here, if we are honest, is that of the oil, gas, coal and real estate companies, certainly not the national interest, and absolutely not the interest of We The People!

I am not a lawyer, so I cannot state equivocally how this case will turn out.  Unfortunately, based on my limited knowledge of constitutional law, my take is that eventually the State of California will be over-ruled.  However, I am encouraged by the fact that the state is not backing down. According to California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra …

“California didn’t become our nation’s economic engine and the sixth-largest economy in the world by just sitting back. We blaze trails, we innovate, and we engage in smart stewardship of our precious public lands. Our public lands should not be on the auction block to the highest bidder. We’re prepared, as always, to do what it takes to protect our people, our resources, and our values.”

This will play out in the courts, cost the taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars, and all so that Donald Trump can keep the promises he made … not to us … but to his wealthy cronies who supported his campaign in exchange for the right to make money by ruining our planet.  Think about that one for a while.

This …. or This?

This …. or This?

This …. or This?

Bears Ears

Bears Ears.  You’ve all heard of it by now, right?  The Bears Ears are a pair of mesas located in San Juan County in southeastern Utah. They are were protected as part of and the namesake of the Bears Ears National Monument, managed by the Bureau of Land Management and United States Forest Service.

Bears Ears-1On December 4th, 2017, Donald Trump signed Proclamation 9558, an executive order to shrink the Bears Ears National Monument—home to ancient cliff dwellings, Native American cultural sites, and iconic wildlife—by 85 percent.  And the proclamation does not stop with Bears Ears, but also includes a number of other national monuments including the Moki Steps, Native American ceremonial sites, tools and projectile points, remains of single-family dwellings, granaries, kivas, towers, large villages, rock shelters, caves, and a prehistoric road system, as well as petroglyphs, pictographs, and recent rock art left by the Ute, Navajo, and Paiute peoples.  It also identifies other types of historic objects, such as remnants of Native American sheep-herding and farming operations and early engineering by pioneers and settlers, including smoothed sections of rock, dugways, historic cabins, corrals, trails, and inscriptions carved into rock, and the Hole-in-the-Rock and Outlaw Trails.

Why would he do that?  Because he wants to open that land to destructive coal mining, as well as oil and gas drilling.  It’s all about money, folks.  Destroy the land to put greenbacks in the pockets of the fossil fuel industry barons.

The lands of southeastern Utah have been home to indigenous peoples for thousands of years. It’s a majestic region of sandstone canyons, desert mesas, forested highlands, and red rock formations. One area in particular, named for twin buttes that resemble the ears of a bear, contains ancient cliff dwellings, rock art, and more than 100,000 other archaeological, cultural, and spiritual sites. They attest to varied and diverse American civilizations that existed long before the first Europeans arrived.

The Antiquities Act of 1906 gives presidents the authority to designate national monuments. It does not empower them to slice up monuments designated by others.  A lawsuit has been filed by a conservation group, Earthjustice.  The suit claims that because the president’s authority to create national monuments is delegated by Congress under the Antiquities Act, monument proclamations carry the force of law and cannot be reversed by later presidents. Therefore, Trump lacks the authority to gut a national monument that belongs to all Americans.  Earthjustice represents a coalition of conservation groups in the suit: The Wilderness Society, the National Parks Conservation Association, the Sierra Club, the Grand Canyon Trust, Defenders of Wildlife, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians, and the Center for Biological Diversity.

Now, you might expect that Utah lawmakers would be incensed over this assault on their state, yes?  Well, think again.  Mitt Romney applauds Trump’s decision and in an interview on Monday said that he thinks the Antiquities Act, the federal law that grants presidential authority to designate such monuments, needs significant revisions, voicing support of a new law to require any large monuments over a certain acreage to first be approved by state legislatures.

Mike Noel, Idiot Extraordinaire

But here is the one that galls me the most, and literally had me growling as I researched for this post.  Mike Noel is a member of the Utah House of Representatives.  Mr. Noel liked Trump’s proclamation so much that he has written a proposal to rename the 631-mile-long Utah National Parks Highway.  And just what would Mr. Noel wish to name the highway?  The “Donald J. Trump Utah National Parks Highway”. Noel said Trump wasn’t getting enough credit for his efforts. Passing this proposal, Noel said, was a chance to give it to him. Grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr

Then he went on to say …

“I think he’s done a tremendous amount, and I think with seven more years we can turn this country around.  I think it’s a small price to pay to name a highway after him when he does in fact protect public lands.”

If we have another seven years of Trump, I can guarantee that I will either be a) residing in another country, b) in prison for murder, or c) dead.

The aforementioned lawsuit by Earthjustice is not the only one; in fact there are currently five lawsuits on the dockets:

  1. Hopi Tribe et al v. Trump et al• Filed: Federal district court in D.C.• Plaintiffs: Five American Indian tribes (Hopi, Navajo, Ute Indian, Ute Mountain Ute, Zuni).• Defendants: President Donald Trump, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, acting Bureau of Land Management Director Brian Steed, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, U.S. Forest Service Chief Tony Tooke.• Argument: Under the Antiquities Act of 1906, the president does not have the legal authority to revoke or modify a monument — only to designate one. Additionally, the tribes say the 1.35 million acres set aside by President Barack Obama holds spiritual significance and contains cultural artifacts that deserve protection at the threat of looting, grave-robbing, vandalism and development. • Seeking: Injunctive relief “requiring President Trump to rescind his proclamation, or prohibiting him from enforcing or implementing it in any way.”
  2. Utah Dine Bikeyah et al v. Trump et al • Filed: Federal district court in D.C. • Plaintiffs: A broad coalition representing American Indian tribes, recreation interests and paleontologists (Utah Dine Bikeyah, Patagonia Works, Friends of Cedar Mesa, Archaeology Southwest, Conservation Lands Foundation, Access Fund, Society for Vertebrate Paleontology, National Trust for Historic Preservation). • Defendants: Trump, Zinke, Steed, Perdue, Tooke. • Argument: Reducing the 1.35 million-acre monument would threaten hundreds of historical rock art panels, artifacts, pueblos and kivas. For its part, Patagonia insists the cuts would hurt the company financially by taking away recreation areas that provide “some of the best rock climbing in North America” used by its customers. Development in the area, adds Friends of Cedar Mesa, would mean “direct and immediate harm” to the paleontological hot spots within the monument’s boundaries, and oil and gas drilling would “result in the destruction and degradation” of the ecosystem. • Seeking: An order requiring Trump to restore the original monument and bar his administration from acting on the reconfigured designations.
  3. Natural Resources Defense Council Inc. et al v. Donald J. Trump et al • Filed: Federal district court in D.C. • Plaintiffs: 11 conservation groups (The Wilderness Society, National Parks Conservation Association, Sierra Club, Grand Canyon Trust, Defenders of Wildlife, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians, Center for Biological Diversity, Natural Resources Defense Council, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance). • Defendants: Trump, Zinke, Steed, Perdue, Tooke. • Argument: Trimming the monument would threaten “irreplaceable” archaeological artifacts and damage paleontology sites. • Seeking: Injunctive relief to block mining and oil and gas drilling on the land.
  4. The Wilderness Society et al v. Donald J. Trump et al • Filed: Federal district court in D.C. • Plaintiffs: 10 environmental groups (The Wilderness Society, Defenders of Wildlife, Natural Resources Defense Council, Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, Grand Canyon Trust, Great Old Broads for Wilderness, Western Watersheds Project, WildEarth Guardians, Sierra Club, Center for Biological Diversity). • Defendants: Trump, Zinke, Steed. • Argument: The lawsuit alleges Trump is stripping protection for land that would leave “remarkable fossil, cultural, scenic and geological treasures exposed to immediate and ongoing harm.” That includes the Kaiparowits Plateau, which holds abundant coal deposits and is a paleontological treasure trove. • Seeking: Injunctive relief to stop Trump’s proclamations from taking effect so that no permits are issued for oil and gas leasing or coal and mineral mining.
  5. Grand Staircase Escalante Partners et al v. Trump et al • Filed: Federal district court in D.C. • Plaintiffs: Grand Staircase Escalante Partners, Society of Vertebrate Paleontology, Conservation Lands Foundation. • Defendants: Trump, Zinke. • Argument: Removing protection from nearly 900,000 acres in the monument would threaten “sensitive resources located there,” including plant and bee species, archaeological artifacts and geological formations. The president’s actions were illegal. • Seeking: An injunction to stop Trump and Zinke from “recognizing, enforcing or otherwise carrying out” the downsized designations.

Trump must be thrilled, for lawsuits have defined most of his adult life!

Note that not one of these lawsuits is asking for money, they are simply asking that Trump, Zinke, et al, leave our land alone.

The land, its beauty, once destroyed can never be replaced.  Coal mining?  The market for coal is ever-shrinking and will never again be a relevant factor, since renewable energy sources such as solar and wind are cleaner and more economical.  Drilling for oil and gas?  Sorry, but I cannot rationalize corporate profits over nature.  It isn’t just a matter of the beauty of the land, nor even the cultural and archeological sites.  But we do not know what wildlife may be affected and in what way.  We do not know what damage may be caused to water tables by the destruction of these lands.  In the grand scheme of things, when we take the time to consider the future of our planet, putting profit over nature is about the stupidest move we could make.  There is more to life than money, as most of us know.