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G3. Big Green

The dubious fanfare about BlackRock’s social purpose

Friends of the Earth - Fri, 01/18/2019 - 11:45
Deforestation in Liberia from palm oil practices.Why Larry Fink is the wolf in sheep’s clothing of Wall Streetby Jeff Conant, international forests program director

The German playwright Bertolt Brecht once asked, “Which is the greater crime, to rob a bank or to own one?”

In that same spirit we might look at the recent flurry of news around BlackRock, the world’s largest investment firm, and ask which is the greater hoax: Wednesday’s spoof of the much-anticipated annual letter by BlackRock CEO Larry Fink, or the real Fink letter, released a day later?

The spoof version, released by the Yes Men to great effect, has the fake Fink say his company will do an about-face on the climate crisis by divesting from coal and aligning its investments with scientific greenhouse gas reduction targets. Fink’s real letter calls on companies to take a long-term view — but wholly fails to mention climate change, the single greatest threat the world has ever known.

Year after year, when BlackRock sends its state-of-the-capital-markets missive, Fink plays the part of the wolf-in-sheep’s-clothing of Wall Street by loudly calling on companies to have “social purpose.”

Yet, if you look at BlackRock’s actual investments, you could be forgiven for thinking that their purpose is to drive civilization off the climate cliff while profiting from the wreckage. BlackRock owns more fossil fuel stocks than any other company. BlackRock is the world’s largest investor in new coal plants, with shares and bonds totaling $11 billion in 56 coal plant developers around the world, almost double the coal holdings of its closest competitor Vanguard. (Note to investors: this is not just bad for the planet, it is bad for profits.) And it has become notorious for never having filed a shareholder resolution, and voting the wrong way on almost all the resolutions that come across its proverbial desk.

If you look at BlackRock’s actual investments, you could be forgiven for thinking that their purpose is to drive civilization off the climate cliff while profiting from the wreckage.

Fink’s 2019 letter describes the firm’s investor engagement priorities for the year ahead, which give a nod to board diversity and environmental risks among other things, but the language is so empty of any real content that it provides virtually nothing to hold BlackRock accountable for.

And it’s hard to have confidence in BlackRock’s commitment to responsible investment stewardship when it has the single worst record of any asset manager on shareholder engagement around climate action. Just a few days before Fink released his letter, twelve leading shareholder advocacy groups and socially responsible investment firms called on BlackRock to align its own business practices, and its voting practices, with the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. — Coincidentally, this is the same thing the Yes Men called for in their hoax letter.

So, which is the greater hoax, a joke letter from a bunch of pranksters, or the fact that the CEO known as ‘the new conscience of Wall Street’ oversees stocks in more climate-trashing companies than anyone else?

When BlackRock’s new suite of environmental, social and governance (ESG) funds was announced late last year, it brought the firm’s total ESG portfolio to about $25 billion. When announcing the new products, Brian Deese, global head of sustainable investing at the firm said “Sustainable investing is becoming mainstream investing.” And indeed, $25 billion sounds like a sizeable commitment to ESG. But do the math and you find that, as a percentage of BlackRock’s overall assets under management — just shy of $6 trillion, according the latest earnings statement — the amount invested in ESG comes to a whopping 0.4 percent.

Sustainable investing IS becoming mainstream investing. But BlackRock itself, for all its talk, is far behind the curve.

To put this in perspective, the US Social Investment Forum has shown that 1 in 4 dollars under management in the U.S. adheres to some kind of socially responsible standard. So Mr. Deese is right, sustainable investing IS becoming mainstream investing. But BlackRock itself, for all its talk, is far behind the curve.

BlackRock’s climate problem is not limited to fossil fuels. The world’s largest investor in fossil fuels is also the U.S.’s largest investor in tropical deforestation — the second leading contributor to climate change. This single iShares fund, for example, has $21 million invested in Wilmar International — the world’s largest palm oil trader, whose business has helped drive the destruction of at least 130,000 hectares of Indonesia rainforest in the last four years alone. This iShares fund contains twelve conflict palm oil companies, including about $110 million in the Korean giant Posco and Posco Daewoo, whose subsidiary recently destroyed an area of rainforest six times the size of Central Park. And then there’s this iShares fund — one of BlackRock’s vaunted ESG core funds — which has another $3 million in the same Korean rainforest wrecker. A number of BlackRock’s ESG funds also have significant holdings in big agribusiness firms like Bunge, which was recently hit with penalties for tearing down native forests in Brazil’s fragile Cerrado ecosystem.

All of this is why it should be abundantly clear that Fink’s over hyped letter should not be mistaken for action. With the 2019 shareholder season coming up, BlackRock’s big problem is putting its money — all $6 trillion of it — where its mouth is.

Categories: G3. Big Green

Take Action To Stop Bill 66 - Doug Ford's Disastrous "Open For Business" Bill

Sierra Club Canada - Fri, 01/18/2019 - 07:38

Bill 66 threatens Ontario’s Greenbelt, clean drinking water and precious farmland. Tell your MPP to vote against this destructive bill.

Send a letter to your MPP right now.

Save the Greenbelt & Protect Our Drinking Water

Ontario’s Greenbelt is a permanently protected area of forests, farmland, wetlands, and watersheds, created by the Government of Ontario in 2005. At nearly two million acres, it is one of the largest greenbelts in the world. It provides us with clean water, fresh air, and local food, as well as recreation. The Greenbelt was established to protect agricultural land and prevent urban sprawl. It is a crucial part of Ontario’s economy and heritage.

For the… Developers?

Premier Doug Ford is prioritizing developers over the people of Ontario. His proposed “Open for Business” Act (Bill 66) will open heritage sites and important ecological areas like the Oak Ridges Moraine to development. Premier Doug Ford is prioritizing developers over the people of Ontario. His proposed “Open for Business” Act (Bill 66) will open heritage sites and important ecological areas like the Oak Ridges Moraine to development.  Under the bill, developers can ignore legislation like the Clean Water Act, which was passed after contaminated drinking water claimed the lives of six people in Walkerton and made more than two thousand others sick.

Premier Doug Ford promised to protect the Greenbelt but his proposed “Open for Business” Act (Bill 66) will put new factories and sprawl within the Greenbelt and other sensitive farmland, forests and watersheds.

Once gone, farmland and natural areas are gone forever.

Bill 66 also allows new development to bypass the Clean Water Act, the Great Lakes Protection Act and the Lake Simcoe Act, putting our clean drinking water at risk.

Why is Bill 66 a threat to the Greenbelt and clean drinking water?


●    Bill 66 gives municipal governments the power to pass an “Open for Business” bylaw that encourages sprawl and allows development in the Greenbelt – despite election promises not to touch the Greenbelt.
●    Bill 66 puts the health of drinking water at risk by allowing municipalities to approve development that ignores the Clean Water Act, the Lake Simcoe Protection Act and the Great Lakes Protection Act.
●    Bill 66 silences mandatory community participation by allowing municipalities to pass an “Open for Business” bylaw, and approve any development under the bylaw without any public consultation.
●    Bill 66 means that major economic development projects - including major employment uses and secondary uses such as commercial and residential development - will be exempt from conforming to select planning, environmental and clean water laws. Once these developments are approved by the provincial government they cannot be appealed.

Please send your urgent letter to your MPP today and let’s stop Doug Ford’s disastrous bill.

Thank you from the Sierra Club Ontario team!

 

Related campaign: Grow our Greenbelt First Name * Last Name * Email * Street Address City * State/Province * Postal Code * Country * Canada Ontario Provincial Riding * - Select -AjaxAlgoma—ManitoulinAurora—Oak Ridges—Richmond HillBarrie—InnisfilBarrie—Springwater—Oro-MedonteBay of QuinteBeaches—East YorkBrampton CentreBrampton EastBrampton NorthBrampton SouthBrampton WestBrantford—BrantBruce—Grey—Owen SoundBurlingtonCambridgeCarletonChatham-Kent—LeamingtonDavenportDon Valley EastDon Valley NorthDon Valley WestDufferin—CaledonDurhamEglinton—LawrenceElgin—Middlesex—LondonEssexEtobicoke CentreEtobicoke NorthEtobicoke—LakeshoreFlamborough—GlanbrookGlengarry—Prescott—RussellGuelphHaldimand—NorfolkHaliburton—Kawartha Lakes—BrockHamilton CentreHamilton East—Stoney CreekHamilton MountainHamilton West—Ancaster—DundasHastings—Lennox and AddingtonHumber River—Black CreekHuron—BruceKanata—CarletonKenora—Rainy RiverKiiwetinoongKingston and the IslandsKing—VaughanKitchener CentreKitchener South—HespelerKitchener—ConestogaLambton—Kent—MiddlesexLanark—Frontenac—KingstonLeeds—Grenville—Thousand Islands and Rideau LakesLondon North CentreLondon WestLondon—FanshaweMarkham—StouffvilleMarkham—ThornhillMarkham—UnionvilleMiltonMississauga CentreMississauga East—CooksvilleMississauga—Erin MillsMississauga—LakeshoreMississauga—MaltonMississauga—StreetsvilleMushkegowuk—James BayNepeanNewmarket—AuroraNiagara CentreNiagara FallsNiagara WestNickel BeltNipissingNorthumberland—Peterborough SouthOakvilleOakville North—BurlingtonOrléansOshawaOttawa CentreOttawa SouthOttawa West—NepeanOttawa—VanierOxfordParkdale—High ParkParry Sound—MuskokaPerth—WellingtonPeterborough—KawarthaPickering—UxbridgeRenfrew—Nipissing—PembrokeRichmond HillSarnia—LambtonSault Ste. MarieScarborough CentreScarborough NorthScarborough SouthwestScarborough—AgincourtScarborough—GuildwoodScarborough—Rouge ParkSimcoe NorthSimcoe—GreySpadina—Fort YorkSt. CatharinesStormont—Dundas—South GlengarrySudburyThornhillThunder Bay—AtikokanThunder Bay—Superior NorthTimiskaming—CochraneTimminsToronto CentreToronto—DanforthToronto—St. Paul'sUniversity—RosedaleVaughan—WoodbridgeWaterlooWellington—Halton HillsWhitbyWillowdaleWindsor WestWindsor—TecumsehYork CentreYork South—WestonYork—Simcoe My Member of Provincial Parliament * My MPP's email * c.c.: Premier Doug Ford and Rod Phillips, Minsiter of the Environment, Conservation and Parks * c.c.: Message Subject * Your message * As your constituent, I am asking you today to vote against Bill 66 the “Restoring Ontario’s Competitiveness Act.” Bill 66 is unnecessary and poses a threat to our natural areas and drinking water. Provincial and municipal data show there is enough land already available in our towns and cities for our housing needs up to 2041. There is a surplus of land for new businesses, and we should be encouraging investment in these areas. By building within our existing towns and cities throughout the Greater Golden Horseshoe, we can increase the supply of affordable housing and jobs in our existing serviced communities while holding firm on urban boundaries. Protected farmland supplies local food and enhances food security at a time when prices are rising and supplies from other countries are increasingly threatened. Farming is also economically important and provides jobs to thousands. Sprawl into farmland destroys farm businesses and farm communities. Water is critical to human survival. Opening areas for development that have been protected for the safety of our drinking water threatens our long-term health and increases flood risks. Natural areas provide habitat for wildlife, sequester carbon, mitigate the effects of climate change, provide recreation, and clean our air. Bill 66’s Schedule 10 allows open-for-business by-laws to circumvent fundamental protections for environmental and human health, including: - Great Lakes Protection Act, 2015; - Greenbelt Act, 2005; - Lake Simcoe Protection Act, 2008; - Metrolinx Act, 2006; - Oak Ridges Moraine Conservation Act, 2001; - Ontario Planning and Development Act, 1994; - Places to Grow Act, 2005; - Resource Recovery and Circular Economy Act, 2016; - and any other prescribed provision in provincial legislation. Bill 66 would throw out decades of work by experts, planners and elected officials to protect our health and well-being - without which there is no economic prosperity. Please vote it down. I appreciate your attention to this matter that is of great importance to us all. Sincerely, Send Email
Categories: G3. Big Green

Guardians spreads word with “Trapping is Torture” billboards

WildEarth Guardians - Fri, 01/18/2019 - 07:23

When it comes to fighting the horrors of trapping, Guardians isn’t just thinking big. We’re thinking billboard-sized.

Drivers in Albuquerque and Las Cruces will confront a brutal reality of wildlife management via a series of billboards, bus shelter ads, and bus banners deployed by Guardians this January and February. The billboards read “Protect Public Lands: Trapping is Torture” and include images of animals caught in traps.

All photos by JE Newman.

The billboards bring much-needed awareness to the dangers of trapping, which kills thousands of wildlife every year in the Land of Enchantment and was recently responsible for a number of incidents resulting in death and injury to pet dogs. With awareness also comes the chance to stop this horrific practice for good: during the 2019 New Mexico legislative session, a bill will be brought forward to ban recreational and commercial trapping on public lands.

Read the press release.

Speak up! Sign our petition to ban trapping in New Mexico! [NM residents ONLY]

The post Guardians spreads word with “Trapping is Torture” billboards appeared first on WildEarth Guardians.

Categories: G3. Big Green

By mapping its own air pollution, London can help cities worldwide

Environmental Defense Fund - Fri, 01/18/2019 - 06:55
London is just the beginning. This new model can be adapted and replicated anywhere.      
Categories: G3. Big Green

EPA Says Limiting Mercury Pollution From Power Plants Is No Longer 'Appropriate and Necessary'

Audubon Society - Fri, 01/18/2019 - 06:00

At first glance, a December 28 announcement from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency looked like an outlier in the Trump administration’s pattern of repealing regulations. A press release said the agency planned to revise an Obama-era air pollution rule, but emphasized with bold type that its limits on mercury and other toxic emissions “would remain in place as EPA is not proposing to remove coal- and oil-fired power plants from the list of sources that are regulated” under the Clean Air Act.

But that’s far from the whole story. Look closer, and what the EPA is really proposing is to ignore billions of dollars’ worth of annual health impacts when it weighs the costs of implementing the 2012 rule against the benefits of less pollution. With these substantial health considerations removed from the new formula, the agency says it is no longer “appropriate and necessary” to regulate hazardous air pollution from power plants. Rather than demolishing the rule with a wrecking ball, the proposal takes a jackhammer to its foundation. 

“While the headline is reassuring that the standards are proposed to be left in place, the underlying action here, which is removing the ‘appropriate and necessary’ finding, suddenly makes those regulations legally vulnerable in a way that they weren’t,” says Joseph Goffman, executive director of the Environmental and Energy Law Program at Harvard University and a former EPA official.

Coal-fired power plants are responsible for nearly half the country’s mercury emissions. Power companies responded to the rule by closing some plants and adding pollution-capturing technology at others, and by 2016 the industry had met its requirements. As expected, the air got cleaner. From 2015 through 2017, U.S. mercury emissions from power plants plunged by 65 percent, according to a Center for American Progress analysis of government data.

Overturning the Mercury and Air Toxics Standards—the official name of the policy—would have major consequences for human health and wildlife. When airborne mercury settles on water or land that’s often damp, microbes convert it to methylmercury, which is highly toxic and becomes more concentrated as it moves up food chains to people and predators.

“Mercury exposure at high levels can harm the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs, and immune system of people of all ages,” according to the EPA. When a pregnant woman ingests traces of the toxic heavy metal, often by eating tainted fish, it can impair her child’s IQ and motor function. Methylmercury exposure can also raise the risk of diabetes and cause cardiovascular problems for adults, including higher chances of a fatal heart attack.

Fish-eating birds like Common Loons are especially prone to mercury exposure. Photo: Howard Arndt/Audubon Photography Awards

The 2012 standards were designed to reduce power plant emissions of mercury by 90 percent while also curbing arsenic, acid gases, and other pollution. Meeting that target would come with a hefty annual price tag of $9.6 billion, Obama administration calculations found. But while the EPA quantified only $4 million to $6 million a year in health costs directly related to mercury, the agency said the regulations would produce up to another $90 billion a year in so-called co-benefits. That’s largely because technology for capturing smokestack mercury also sucks up harmful soot. All told, the standards would prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths every year, along with 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks, EPA projected.

These co-benefits are what the agency proposes to drop from the new formula. Using that math, the rule’s costs would far outweigh its benefits, raising the possibility that a judge could overturn the standards. 

“By taking away the legal justification for the standard, they’re making it very easy for challengers to say that the standard can’t survive,” says Richard Revesz, director of the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University. “The consequences are enormous and the analysis is atrocious. You won’t find a single respectable economist who would say this was a plausible methodology.”

“The consequences are enormous and the analysis is atrocious." 

-Richard Revesz, director of the Institute for Policy Integrity at New York University. 

Another issue is that the actual impact of mercury on human health is likely far greater than the EPA's $4 to $6 million estimate. Opponents of the new proposal point out that EPA’s original analysis recognizes only a tiny subset of mercury’s direct health impacts, which they argue, would far outweigh the rule’s costs—even without adding co-benefits—if properly considered. The up to $6 million in EPA’s earlier analysis reflects only the lost IQ points of children who eat freshwater fish caught by recreational anglers, they note, while more than 80 percent of the methylmercury Americans ingest comes from ocean fish.

“Which is ridiculous,” says Elsie Sunderland, a professor of environmental science and engineering at Harvard. “It’s absolutely incorrect. This isn’t the right number.” Recent studies that didn't figure into EPA's formula indicate that the rule’s mercury-related benefits extend far beyond improved IQs and are “orders of magnitude larger” than the earlier estimate, reaching into the billions of dollars annually, according to a recent Harvard analysis by Sunderland and others.

The public will have 60 days to comment on the proposal once it’s published in the Federal Register. Given the partial government shutdown, it’s unclear how soon that will happen. EPA spokeswoman Molly Block declined to comment for this story, citing the shutdown, and referred Audubon to the agency's December 28 press release.

Meanwhile, the actual cost to meet the standards appears lower than the original $9.6 billion-per-year estimate. Last July, representatives of the electric power industry—which previously sued to block the mercury standards—wrote a letter urging the agency to keep them in place, noting the importance of certain and predictable regulations in their business. The industry had invested roughly $18 billion in total to comply with the rule, the letter said, suggesting EPA significantly overestimated the price of doing so. 

Mercury harms Tree Swallows and other birds that eat contaminated aquatic insects. Photo: Mark Eden/Great Backyard Bird Count

Despite the power sector’s support for sticking with the standards, coal companies cheered EPA’s announcement. “We welcome the agency’s proposal to revisit what stands as perhaps the largest regulatory accounting fraud perpetrated on American consumers,” said Hal Quinn, president and CEO of the National Mining Association, in a statement. Acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler is a former lobbyist for the coal industry, including work for Murray Energy Corporation, an especially adamant opponent of pollution regulations.

This isn’t the first time Trump’s EPA has sought to undermine environmental policies by altering the math they were built on. When the agency in 2017 proposed repealing the Clean Power Plan, a major Obama initiative to limit greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, it used a new calculation to justify the move. EPA called for slashing the social cost of carbon—a figure set by the previous administration to guide federal climate policy—from $45 per ton of carbon dioxide emitted in 2020, to between $1 and $6. In a separate effort to freeze vehicle emission standards, the administration has relied on an analysis “riddled with calculation mistakes, indefensible assumptions, and broken computer models,” the Atlantic reported.

“There’s an ongoing campaign this administration is waging on multiple fronts to change the way the agency recognizes the benefits of pollution reduction,” Goffman says. “It’s that overall campaign that’s really dangerous.”

A full accounting of the rule’s benefits should also acknowledge mercury’s impacts on birds and other wildlife, which the original rule failed to include in the co-benefts, critics say. Methylmercury can kill birds at high enough concentrations, but even low doses do harm. Most notably, exposed birds tend to have fewer babies that survive, says College of William and Mary ornithologist Dan Cristol. Methylmercury can also damage birds’ immune and endocrine systems, he says, and might make their already challenging migrations more perilous, in part by scrambling their spatial memory.

It’s not only fish-eating birds like Ospreys and Common Loons that are at risk; methylmercury reaches far beyond riversides and wetlands, finding its way into the bloodstreams of Carolina Wrens, Tree Swallows, Red-eyed Vireos, and numerous other insect-eating birds, Cristol’s research has shown. It is seen as a significant factor in shrinking populations of Rusty Blackbird and Ivory Gull, and may contribute to declines of other species, he says. 

“This is the one area in which we were still poised to be leading the world environmentally,” Cristol says. “We have been reducing our mercury consistently for years and now the rest of the world is on board. It’s really tragic to take a step backwards while the rest of the world is moving forward on this.”

*** 

Audubon is nonprofit, and stories like this are made possible by our readers. You can support our journalism by making a donation today. 

Categories: G3. Big Green

No More Cash for Burning Trash

Clean Water Action - Fri, 01/18/2019 - 00:00

Burning trash is not clean energy. When incinerators burn trash, they emit more greenhouse gasses per unit of energy generated than even coal, the dirtiest of fossil fuels. Unfortunately, Maryland currently subsidizes trash incinerators in our state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS) - giving taxpayer money to the incinerators as if they are clean sources of energy like solar or wind.

This unjust, illogical policy flaw must be remedied so we can build a just transition from incineration to zero waste and so truly clean energy sources and grow and thrive in Maryland. More clean energy means healthier communities, cleaner air and water, less climate pollution, and thousands of new jobs.

Join us in supporting the Clean Energy Jobs Act so that Maryland can:

  • Remove subsidies for trash incineration
  • Ensure that 50% of Maryland’s electricity comes from renewable sources by the year 2030
  • Expand clean energy workforce development
  • Fund clean energy businesses owned by women, veterans, and people of color

How can you help? Contact your state legislators today and come join us, the Chesapeake Climate Action Fund, and United Workers for a Climate Lobby Day on Monday, February 18th, 5 to 8 PM in Annapolis. Register here to let us know you'll be there to help us say, "No More Cash for Burning Trash!"

Categories: G3. Big Green

New York State Wants Drivers to Go Electric. Here’s How it's Preparing a Fast-Charger Network to Make That Possible.

Alliance to Save Energy - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 14:16

By John Markowitz, lead energy services product development engineer, New York Power Authority

The New York Power Authority (NYPA) knows there’s one major issue keeping people from flocking to buy electric cars – and that’s a fear of ending up stuck along the side of a road with no charger in sight.

Strategically located fast chargers that allow drivers to “fill up” in as little as 20 minutes are key to accelerating the adoption of electric vehicles (EV) throughout New York State. Once drivers know they’ll be able to get where they’re going without worrying about where to get their next charge, they can step into EV ownership with confidence and appreciate how lower-emission electric vehicles are affordable and fun to drive.

NYPA recently identified the first 32 locations to be deployed as the first phase of the $250 million seven-year EVolve NY initiative, which will build an extensive fast-charger network across the state and make EVs more user-friendly for all New Yorkers. EVolve NY will also create private sector partnerships to identify new business and ownership models, and increase customer awareness about the benefits of using EVs.

New York hopes to be in a different place by 2025 – one where electric vehicle driving is the norm and fast chargers in key locations are the expectation. There are many reasons why people should explore driving an electric car, including the lower total cost of ownership, higher reliability, more advanced in-car technology and better acceleration. Perhaps most importantly, because they run on efficient electric motors, they are healthier for the environment.

In its first phase, NYPA’s initiative will install up to 200 150 kW, direct-current fast chargers, enabling drivers to charge in 20 minutes, in more than two dozen locations along major traffic corridors, at John F. Kennedy International Airport and in five major cities.

EVolve NY will target four chargers per location at average intervals of less than 75 miles along New York’s major corridors – I-87 and I-90 and other primary highways.

The major investment plan is part of New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Charge NY 2.0 initiative, which aims to install 10,000 charging stations in total by the end of 2021.

Electrification of the transportation sector is key to helping the state achieve its aggressive climate goals as vehicle emissions are responsible for an increasing share of our greenhouse gas emissions. New York aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 40 percent by 2030.

Another aspect of the plan involves partnering with a NYPA municipal or co-operative distribution utility to support an EV friendly model community that includes a utility-managed charging platform. The community will test and scale new EV infrastructure and service business models that will encourage more residents to transition to driving EVs. Features may include developing home and public charging "subscriptions," an online customer portal, and education events.

In other efforts, the Drive Clean Rebate program, administered by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, offers a $2,000 rebate to any New York resident purchasing or leasing a new plug-in hybrid or battery EV from participating dealers. More than 11,000 residents have received rebates since March 2017.

To further incentivize the purchase and use of electric vehicles, the Public Service Commission has acted to modify electric rates for residential customers who charge their EVs during off-peak hours.

New York State’s goal is to make it as easy as possible for drivers to choose an EV for their next car. Building an extensive fast charging network and providing financial incentives should help to make that an easy decision.

Categories: G3. Big Green

Guardians to Trump: no oil and gas leasing during shutdown!

WildEarth Guardians - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 13:54

The government is shut down, federal staffers are unavailable by phone…and yet fracking permits are being approved and oil and gas lease sales going ahead as scheduled. How is this legal? It isn’t, according to Guardians and allies, who called on the Trump administration today demanding a halt to oil and gas drilling permits and lease sales being developed during the government shutdown.

Issuing drilling permits during the shutdown violates the National Environmental Policy Act and Federal Land Policy and Management Act. The laws require public participation in such decisions, but the public can’t provide feedback on environmental reviews because Bureau of Land Management offices are closed and scientists furloughed. Issuing drilling permits during the shutdown also violates the Antideficiency Act, which prohibits work without pay in the absence of congressional appropriations except to protect life or property.

The groups are calling on BLM to halt February and March oil and gas lease sales in Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, New Mexico, Colorado, and Montana. These auctions span 2.3 million acres of public lands, the largest quarterly lease sales in at least a decade.

Read the press release.

The post Guardians to Trump: no oil and gas leasing during shutdown! appeared first on WildEarth Guardians.

Categories: G3. Big Green

Palm oil companies continue to criminalize farmers in Sumatra

Friends of the Earth - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 12:17
Orangutan threatened by Indonesian palm oil plantations. Image via Victor Barro of Friends of the Earth Spain.by Gaurav Madan, senior forests and land campaigner

Originally posted in Mongabay.

Nearly five years after Friends of the Earth U.S. reported about escalating conflict between farmers in the village of Lunjuk on the Indonesian island of Sumatra and palm oil company PT Sandabi Indah Lestari — or PT SIL — those communities remain in conflict with PT SIL, which supplies Wilmar International, the world’s largest palm oil trader.“Criminalization is now the strategy being used by the company. Sometimes when villagers are harvesting their own palm oil, the company calls the police and accuses them of stealing. They then say that they will only release them if they hand over their lands to the company,” said Osian Pakpahan, head of the farmers’ union.The entrenched conflict poses significant risks to PT SIL, its partner Wilmar, their investors, and the consumer brands sourcing palm oil grown on PT SIL’s plantations.

On a late night in December, I arrived in the village of Lunjuk on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. A warm breeze welcomed me as I sat down with 30 women and men from Forum Petani Bersatu — the local farmers’ union — who had gathered to share stories of their ongoing struggle to reclaim their land.

My visit came almost five years after Friends of the Earth U.S. reported about escalating conflict between farmers and palm oil company PT Sandabi Indah Lestari — or PT SIL. The case featured disturbing details of land grabbing, violence, and dispossession of local communities. According to farmers in Lunjuk, the company destroyed farms and homes, forcibly displaced families, and had villagers arrested on dubious charges.

Nearly five years later, communities remain in conflict with PT SIL, which supplies Wilmar International, the world’s largest palm oil trader.

After introductions had been made and locally grown ginger tea was served, farmers explained that PT SIL’s approach has shifted. They said that PT SIL continues to operate on their traditional lands without their consent, despite local and international efforts to address the conflict. However, instead of actively clearing villagers’ farms and forests, as the company has done in the past, PT SIL has been relying on the police and courts to annex community lands for its plantation.

“Criminalization is now the strategy being used by the company. Sometimes when villagers are harvesting their own palm oil, the company calls the police and accuses them of stealing. They then say that they will only release them if they hand over their lands to the company,” said Osian Pakpahan, head of the farmers’ union.

Sukardi, another member of the union, described how, just the week before, police threatened him with arrest in an attempt to force him to hand over his land to the company. Other farmers provided similar stories of being charged with crimes to force them to give up their land.

PT SIL’s operations in Seluma district, where Lunjuk lies, have been marred with land conflicts since the company arrived in 2011. Community leaders and civil society organizations have consistently claimed that the company ignores the existing customary land rights of local residents and does not have the proper licenses to operate within the district. In 2014, the situation devolved into violence when, according to villagers, PT SIL cleared farms with armed paramilitary at its side. In response, villagers clashed with paramilitary forces and set fire to company machinery.

The entrenched conflict poses significant risks to PT SIL, its partner Wilmar, their investors, and the consumer brands sourcing palm oil grown on PT SIL’s plantations. A 2016 study into the monetary costs of social conflict in Indonesian oil palm found that the tangible cost of conflict was as high as $2.5 million. The largest direct costs were due to disrupted plantation operations and diversion of staff time to address conflicts. The study found indirect costs between $60,000 and $9 million from the escalation of conflict, reputational loss, and the risk of violence to property and people.

In 2015, Wilmar conducted multiple visits to Seluma district, meeting with community leaders, civil society organizations, and representatives from the farmers’ union, after farmers directly asked Wilmar to stop sourcing from PT SIL at a meeting of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil — the industry sustainability body. Today, according to data available on Wilmar’s traceability dashboard, PT SIL and its parent company Lintas Samudera are still supplying one of Wilmar’s Sumatran refineries.

The company destroyed farms and homes, forcibly displaced families, and had villagers arrested on dubious charges.

Neither PT SIL nor Wilmar responded to requests for comment for this story.

PT SIL’s continuous alleged violations come at a time when there is a growing acknowledgement of the destructive nature of the palm oil industry due to its role in driving deforestation and climate change around the world. After fossil fuels, deforestation is the second-largest contributor to carbon emissions responsible for global climate change. Additionally, land conflicts like the one in Lunjuk constitute material and reputational risks to companies and investors alike, while frequently violating the land rights of local communities.

Wilmar recently announced plans to comprehensively map its suppliers as part of its effort to prevent deforestation in its supply chain. However, eight years of land conflict and the ongoing use of criminalization to force communities to give up their land to PT SIL raises questions over Wilmar’s commitment to ensuring no exploitation in its supply chain.

In Lunjuk, despite the sustained conflict and failed attempts at resolution by Wilmar and others, there is a resolute commitment by farmers to protect their traditional lands. And while there is a growing global debate on whether palm oil products should be altogether boycotted, recognizing and respecting the existing land rights of communities is an effective strategy for preventing deforestation and mitigating climate change. Another significant step would be for companies and investors to cease financing operations that violate communities’ rights and proliferate violence and dispossession.

As Pakpahan, head of the farmers’ union, said, “We do not know which way to get our land recognized by the government but we will keep advocating for our rights. What we do know is that the government should review the concession and recognize our rights over our community lands.”

Categories: G3. Big Green

Even in the depths of the sea, starfish can’t escape plastic

Environmental Action - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 11:45

By Kirk Weinert, senior writer and advisor

Another ocean creature has been found eating a steady diet of plastic: starfish.

paulshaffner via Flickr, CC BY 2.0

In October 2018, researchers discovered microscopic traces of eight different plastics in the stomachs of starfish, sea stars and brittle stars collected between 1976 and 2015 near Scotland. This means these creatures have been ingesting plastics for at least 40 years.

“This data shows, for the first time, the long-term prevalence of microplastic pollution in the deep sea,” stated the study’s lead author, Winnie Courtene-Jones, a doctoral student at the University of the Highlands and Islands and Scottish Association for Marine Science.

For a starfish or a bird or a turtle, it’s easy to accidentally ingest a small piece of plastic—especially when there are millions of pieces of plastic floating in the ocean, our rivers and lakes.

To protect ocean wildlife, Environmental Action is working to end our reliance on single-use plastics, starting with plastic polystyrene foam and plastic straws.

The post Even in the depths of the sea, starfish can’t escape plastic appeared first on Environmental Action.

Categories: G3. Big Green

To save elephants, we’re sending legislators thousands of origami ones

Environmental Action - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 11:42

By Jennifer Newman, content creator

Sometimes, cutting through the political noise to make our voices heard for the planet means thinking outside the box.

Elephants need protection

In March, the Trump administration reversed the ban on elephant hunt “trophies.” Now, we’re working to convince Congress to pass the ProTECT act. This bill would ban the taking for trophy and importation of African elephants, and any other endangered or threatened species of wildlife, once and for all.

Taking creative action

In October 2018, more than 7,000 Environmental Action supporters pledged to ask their legislators to pass a bill that will protect vulnerable elephants—by sending an origami one.

We want to show our legislators that we care about this issue and get them to take notice. So we’re asking everyone who can to mail their legislators an origami elephant and a letter asking them to support this critical legislation.

The post To save elephants, we’re sending legislators thousands of origami ones appeared first on Environmental Action.

Categories: G3. Big Green

Giraffe body parts are being sold in the U.S. And it’s legal.

Environmental Action - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 11:31

By Chris Burley, program consultant

The tallest animal on the planet is in peril.

Not only has the wild giraffe population declined 35 percent in the last three decades, but their hooves, horns, skin and other parts are being imported into the U.S. and sold. And it’s legal.

According to a new study by the Humane Society and its international affiliate, nearly 40,000 giraffe parts (representing nearly 4,000 individual giraffes) have been imported into the United States in the past decade alone.

It’s a tragedy to lose any creature. But to sacrifice these vulnerable giraffes to be turned into boots, rugs, book covers and other goods is unconscionable. That’s why Environmental Action is working to list giraffes under the proven protection of the Endangered Species Act (ESA).

The number of giraffes in the wild has plummeted—from at least 150,000 in 1985 to fewer than 98,000 in 2015. That’s a massive and unsustainable decline.

And it’s made worse by the grisly trade in thousands upon thousands of giraffe parts.

Listing giraffes as endangered would:

• Effectively end the importing of giraffe parts into our country,
eliminating a large market for dead giraffes.

• Encourage other countries to enact bans on giraffe part imports.
We know we can win on this with enough support. Last year, we
succeeded in preserving critical protections for wolves when
Environmental Action members like you sent more than 25,000 messages to Washington, D.C., along with many more phone calls and social media calls-to-action.

We can do the same for giraffes. To date, more than 20,000 Environmental Action supporters have called on the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to list these giraffes under the proven protection of the ESA. Now, we’re amplifying this message to more wildlife defenders, to convince federal officials to save giraffes.

The post Giraffe body parts are being sold in the U.S. And it’s legal. appeared first on Environmental Action.

Categories: G3. Big Green

Ban on new uranium mining near the Grand Canyon upheld

Environmental Action - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 11:23

By Marcia Eldridge, board member

New uranium mining projects won’t encroach on the Grand Canyon’s doorstep any time soon.

On Oct. 1, 2018, the Supreme Court declined to hear a case challenging the Obama-era ban on new uranium mining projects near the Grand Canyon.

National Park Service

Environmental Action and our partner, Environment America, built support for the 20-year moratorium, which was enacted in 2012, on 1 million acres around the national park.

This Supreme Court decision closes the door on court challenges to the mining ban. But the Trump administration may move on its own to overturn it. We’ll be ready.

The post Ban on new uranium mining near the Grand Canyon upheld appeared first on Environmental Action.

Categories: G3. Big Green

The last wild red wolves are safe—for now

Environmental Action - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 11:16

By Julia DeVito, digital campaigner

The last 35 red wolves on the planet are safe from extinction—for now.

Jean-Eduoard Rozey via Shutterstock

On Nov. 5, 2018, a federal judge decided to protect these wolves with a
ruling that the temporary injunction issued by the Obama administration in 2016 that stopped a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS)’s “shoot-to-kill” authorization will not be permanent. That means that the FWS has to prove the red wolf is a threat to humans or livestock before the agency can decide to take its life.

This is a huge victory for this rare species. And it comes after thousands of Environmental Action members like you raised their voices earlier this year to protect these creatures on the brink of extinction.

But there are only 35 red wolves left on the planet. And there’s a lot
of work to do to make sure they’re around for generations to come.

The math didn’t bode well for red wolves

In June, the FWS announced a dangerous plan that would have
shrunk the wolves’ protected habitat to just one undersized refuge
in North Carolina, with enough room for just 15 wolves. Yes, you
read that right: 15.

That math didn’t bode well for the red wolf. More than 80 red wolves were shot and killed illegally between 1988 and 2013. Without legal protection, we would certainly lose even more wolves— and there are precious few left.

Back from extinction

In fact, in 1980, the red wolf was declared extinct in the wild. Today’s red wolves, the descendants of wolves reintroduced into the wild from captivity, represent a rare second chance for an endangered species—beating the odds thanks to critical protections that kept them safe.

Collective action to protect these precious creatures—now and into the future

Tens of thousands of Environmental Action supporters spoke up for red wolves, telling the FWS that the red wolf’s natural habitat should remain a safe place for wolves to live and thrive. The FWS’ proposed new management plan for North Carolina’s red wolves would have driven these vulnerable animals to extinction.

Now we can rest assured: the courts agree! The last 35 wild red wolves are safe. For now.

But with so few left, we need to keep doing everything in our power to preserve and protect red wolves so that our children, grandchildren and their children will know red wolves exist.

The post The last wild red wolves are safe—for now appeared first on Environmental Action.

Categories: G3. Big Green

Guardians fights for Americans’ right to know

WildEarth Guardians - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 09:28

Guardians filed two transparency lawsuits against the Trump administration this past week targeting the Department of the Interior’s failure to respond to Freedom of Information Act requests. The first suit targets Interior and the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s failure to release records related to oil and gas in the Greater Chaco region; the second, the U.S. Office of Surface Mining’s refusal to release records related to toxic blasting emissions at coal mines.

It’s now common for federal agencies to fail to provide requested records within the time limit of the Freedom of Information Act—if they acknowledge the requests at all. To make matters worse, the Trump administration is pushing revisions to Interior’s FOIA regulations that would make accessing information even more difficult.

“We will not tolerate secrecy within our federal government,” said Jeremy Nichols, Climate and Energy Program Director for WildEarth Guardians. “This is about enforcing transparency, but it’s fundamentally about ensuring our federal government is putting Americans first.”

Read the press release.

The post Guardians fights for Americans’ right to know appeared first on WildEarth Guardians.

Categories: G3. Big Green

Watch a Black Heron Fool Fish by Turning Into an Umbrella

Audubon Society - Thu, 01/17/2019 - 06:45

Most of the time, Black Herons look like your typical wading bird—long legs, long necks, long beaks. But when it's time to eat, this jet-black African species has a pretty nifty trick up its wings: It turns into an umbrella.   

Not literally, of course. But while fishing, the bird will tuck its head down, spread its wings around its body, and create a sun shade of sorts. The behavior, known as canopy feeding, was perfectly captured in the above video by Paul Wheatley, a Leeds-based nature videographer on a trip to Gambia. The heron didn’t seem to be bothered by his presence as it fished on Lake Kotu, and Wheatley managed to phonescope four minutes of the bird swiftly covering its face before snapping up prey.

But what exactly is the purpose of this behavior? 

There are several possible advantages to canopy feeding, says Kenn Kaufman, a bird expert and field editor for Audubon magazineOne commonly accepted theory is that small fish looking for places to hide are attracted to the shade created by the heron’s wings, he says. 

Canopy feeding could also give the bird a better look at its prey, says Bill Shields, a professor emeritus at the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry who’s studied bird behavior for 45 years.  Shields compares the behavior to people who wear polarized sunglasses while fishing. In the same way the glasses reduce glare, the shade provided by the wings could allow the bird to clearly see past the surface. Simultaneously, Shields says, the heron might also be camouflaging itself so that from below all the fish see is a single dark mass—until they’re being tossed down the bird’s gullet. 

“It's all part of the hunting tactics of herons that spend a lot of time looking for particularly smaller prey just below the surface,” Shields says.

Don't know a heron from an egret? Download the Audubon Bird Guide app to learn the songs and behaviors of more than 800 species.  

 

Other herons like the Reddish Egret have variations on this hunting technique. Rather than carefully creeping along like the Black Heron, though, the Reddish Egret is a captivating dancer. The coastal North American wader will wildly zig-zag with its wings outstretched, often leaping to different locations to disturb and confuse the fish before forming a partial canopy. The fish will unwittingly swim toward their doom as they seek cover from all the commotion, says Lianne Koczur, a post-doctoral research associate with Texas A&M Transportation Institute who studied Reddish Egrets for her dissertation.  

When Wheatley recently shared his video on Twitter, where it received more than 6,000 retweets, some people wondered about the Black Heron’s bright yellow feet: Couldn’t that pop of color alert fish that there was something unfamiliar nearby?

Alex Evans, a bird flight researcher at the University of Leeds, says the heron’s bright yellow feet might have once been used to disturb and distract their targets. The Little Egret uses a similar hunting strategy; these all-white wading birds will shuffle their feet as they walk to stir up aquatic prey, sometimes running with outstretched wings before they ambush.

While this tactic is at odds with the more patient canopy feeding observed in Black Herons, Evans wonders whether the bird once also used its feet like the Little Egret. Then, as time went on, Black Herons started canopy feeding, which proved to be a more efficient hunting method. Or maybe the heron takes advantage of both techniques to become a super hunter.  

“It could also be argued that the lure of both the shade and the bright feet now work in tandem to attract fish into gobbling range,” Evans says. “It would be interesting to see an experiment that manipulated foot color and investigated how it affected canopy feeding success.”

Kaufman agrees that the different strategies could have evolved over time, and that they might provide several advantages that benefit the birds today. 

One of those advantages might not even have anything to do with hunting at all. There is one more possible explanation for the Black Heron's feeding behavior that no one has mentioned yet: Maybe the birds just really enjoy a good game of “nighttime, daytime.” 

Categories: G3. Big Green

Will 2019 Be the Year Building Energy Codes Take the Next Leap Forward? We Hope So.

Alliance to Save Energy - Wed, 01/16/2019 - 09:21

Most observers of energy efficiency policy will squarely and constantly focus their attention on Washington this year as Congress debates infrastructure and climate change and finds a way to resolve the present funding impasse. But while the House and Senate tango, some of the biggest potential energy savings will be determined later this year by a process that begins in Albuquerque and Las Vegas, where stakeholders will debate the next version of America’s model building energy code and culminates with an online vote by Governmental Members of the International Code Council (ICC).

Every three years, thousands of state and local leaders and building code officials, supported by consultants and advocates, spend weeks and weeks reviewing, amending, and adopting proposals that are compiled into comprehensive building codes that set minimum requirements for new buildings and renovations. Among these is the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), which is adopted by most states and local governments to ensure that energy efficiency is “built in” to homes and commercial buildings and delivers decades of lower utility bills. Once developed, thanks to a citation tucked away in federal statute (42 U.S.C. §6933), the latest version of the IECC becomes the basis for federal energy efficiency policy for buildings.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the building sector consumes about 40 percent of all U.S. energy, including a little more that 70% of all electricity, and accounts for about 40 percent of carbon emissions. Building energy codes are needed to help keep these financial and environmental costs under control, which helps explain why the IECC is so important to federal policy and a top priority for the Alliance in 2019. The Department of Energy estimates that building energy codes will save about $126 billion through 2040 and lead to carbon emissions reductions of 841 million metric tons.

About two-thirds of Americans live in a jurisdiction covered by either the current version – the 2018 IECC, which was developed over the course of 2016 – or the 2012 or 2015 editions, which are roughly equivalent in energy efficiency terms. That is good news for sure, but it leaves some room for improvement. It would be better if more states and local governments adopted the latest version of the IECC, which includes thermal envelope improvements and other energy-efficient features. And it would be much better if the 2021 IECC were to provide a boost of energy efficiency and lay the groundwork for a glide path to net-zero energy construction. That last point is the goal of the Energy-Efficient Codes Coalition (EECC).

The Alliance established EECC in 2007 in response to two decades of meager energy efficiency progress in the IECC. EECC and its network of stakeholders and supporters worked hard to secure significant gains (nearly 40 percent cumulative improvement!) in the next two versions (2009 and 2012). Now, once again, after two building energy code cycles with minimal gains, EECC is back to work to change the course of the IECC.

EECC recently launched an update of its website to help spread the good word of building energy codes and provide an online home for resources that code officials will need when they participate in hearings in Albuquerque (April) and Las Vegas (October). And on Monday, EECC submitted more than four dozen proposals to ICC that would boost the energy efficiency of residential and commercial buildings by 10 percent or more starting with the 2021 IECC. One proposal, the first of its kind for EECC, would even require added electrical panel capacity for future installations of electric vehicle (EV) chargers. Between now and 2025, EVs on U.S. roads could increase by 700 percent. The cost of adding chargers to new “EV-ready” homes will be much easier and many times less expensive than extensive retrofits of homes without that extra capacity “built in.”

We have come a long way with the IECC to improve the energy efficiency of our homes and office buildings. But why stop there when there are more cost-effective improvements that will lower utility bills for homeowners for decades to come? The Alliance and EECC are pressing forward to help make the 2021 IECC the best yet.

Categories: G3. Big Green

The Trump Administration Can't Ignore Raúl Grijalva Anymore

Audubon Society - Wed, 01/16/2019 - 06:45

On January 7, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona), the new chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, sent a pointed letter to David Bernhardt, the acting secretary of the Department of the Interior. Grijalva wanted to know why the department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) was moving ahead with public meetings on plans for oil and gas leasing in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge despite a partial government shutdown that had furloughed thousands of Interior employees and halted other operations. The meetings should be delayed, he wrote; holding them during a shutdown “gives the strong impression that BLM is simply trying to check the boxes and end the comment periods as soon as possible.”

Two days later, BLM announced it would postpone the meetings. Huh. This was something new.

It’s not clear if Grijalva’s note drove BLM’s decision, but getting his way was a welcome change for the nine-term congressman from Arizona. Grijalva says he sent Interior dozens of unanswered letters seeking explanations for the department’s policies under Ryan Zinke, the former secretary who became the target of multiple ethics probes and resigned in December.

Grijalva, the committee’s ranking Democrat since 2014, has watched in frustration as the Trump administration barrels ahead toward its stated goal of energy dominance. In December, for example, BLM issued plans that would lift restrictions on oil and gas development in some nine million acres of Greater Sage-Grouse habitat on federal lands that had been protected under a 2015 compromise to keep the birds from being listed under the Endangered Species Act. Interior is also moving quickly to facilitate drilling in the Arctic Refuge and expand energy development in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska, along with taking a decidedly industry-friendly approach to enforcing the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA).

Under previous chair Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the committee—which oversees federal lands, wildlife, oil and gas, mining, tribal issues, and oceans—was sympathetic to the administration’s agenda. Industry representatives made up nearly a third of the witnesses invited to give testimony before the committee in 2017 and 2018, according to an analysis by Democratic staff. Energy companies—especially fossil fuel interests—were invited most often. 

But now Grijalva holds the gavel. He can issue subpoenas and hold oversight hearings, and says he plans to call on both Zinke and Bernhardt to testify before the committee. He decides which legislation the panel will consider. And although the bills he sends to the Democrat-controlled House will face long odds with both the Senate and White House in Republican hands, the next two years are an opportunity to get them teed up for passage should his party take control in 2020.

Efforts to expand oil drilling in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska could degrade habitat for King Eiders and other wildlife. Photo: Steven J. Kazlowski/Alamy

In an interview about his plans as chairman, Grijalva, 70, tells Audubon that climate change will be the focus of major hearings and the lens through which his committee views nearly every issue. “Building climate resilience and finding ways to stretch our limited water supplies—those are going to be a priority,” he says. “We’re going to accept climate change as a fact—and science—and not spend any time going through denial or avoidance on the issue.”

A second emphasis of Grijalva’s chairmanship will be investigating industry’s influence at Interior and passing bills that steer the department toward what he describes as a more balanced mission that recognizes the many uses of public lands, not just their commercial value. “It’s systemic, that culture that has been put into Interior up and down the line, and I think that’s what we want to get at,” he says. “We’re going to have legislative fixes for some of these rollbacks.”

Some of those proposals will have major implications for birds and other wildlife. The administration’s efforts to weaken the MBTA, for instance, will be the focus of committee hearings and possible legislation, Grijalva says. Interior drew rebukes and legal challenges from the National Audubon Society and others when it announced in 2017 that it was changing its interpretation of the MBTA and would no longer penalize the unintentional killing of birds—known as “incidental take”—by energy companies and others. The department is expected to firm up that position soon through a formal rulemaking process, but Grijalva might try to head it off with a bill to enforce incidental take.

And while Grijalva thought the 2015 compromise on sage-grouse management was too easy on the fossil fuel industry, “nevertheless, that’s the thing in place," he says. "Now to try to undo that is a different issue. We’re going to fight that very hard and try to work out legislatively how to protect that.”

Conservation groups see a proven ally in the new chairman. “If you look at his legislative priorities, both on the proactive side and bad bills he tried to fix or make sure didn’t go through, he’s been a tireless advocate for conservation and public lands,” says Aaron Weiss, deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities.

Grijalva says he'll examine the Trump administration's motivations for shrinking Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. Photo: Bob Wick/BLM

As an example, Weiss notes that Grijalva sponsored a 2009 bill that established the National Landscape Conservation System within BLM. “That really marked a turning point in terms of thinking about BLM land as not just the ‘Bureau of Leasing and Mining,’ as it’s sometimes called, but recognizing that BLM plays a crucial role in preserving America’s public lands and not just leasing them out,” Weiss says. 

But under President Trump, critics say, the agency has embodied that disparaging nickname. The BLM might have delayed public meetings on the Arctic Refuge, but that’s just a speed bump on its fast track to more drilling on Alaska’s North Slope. “The Arctic to me is one of the priorities,” Grijalva says. “Our point is to try, legislatively and otherwise, to interject ourselves into that process.”

Grijalva says he’ll also investigate the administration’s controversial decision to cut roughly two million acres from the Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments, potentially opening those tracts to energy development and logging. “We want to know why, who profits, what happened to the science,” he says. “Is it the deposits of coal or uranium that are also the drivers here?"

While he anticipates accusations from some Republicans that he's launching political attacks on the Trump administration, Grijalva says he simply wants to fulfill the committee’s responsibility as a check on the executive branch. “If we approach it professionally, fact-based, I think the American public are going to understand that we’re just doing our job and that they deserve to know what’s going on,” he says. “Everything that we’re going to be examining from a position of majority, we asked for information from the position of minority and were ignored. We’re not inventing this. We weren’t waiting for this opportunity to serve revenge cold. This is the process.”

Grijalva became active in environmental issues in the 1990s, when he joined residents rallying for cleanup of groundwater contamination in Tucson. But he says his roots as a conservationist grew from the ranch where he spent his early childhood. “The bird life around where I grew up was unbelievable,” he says. “It was near the Santa Rita Mountains. There was a lake there and you could see the migrations come and see who’s leaving.” (Now preserved as the Raúl M. Grijalva Canoa Ranch Conservation Park, the site is a destination for area birders.)

Grijalva says he may introduce legislation to protect a 2015 Greater Sage-Grouse conservation agreement. Photo: Odalys Muñoz Gonzalez/Audubon Photography Awards

As the son of a cowboy who emigrated from Mexico and the representative for a district with 300 miles of border, Grijalva is vehemently opposed to President Trump’s proposed wall. He held a hearing Wednesday to highlight the serious impacts scientists say the wall would have on his home region’s landscape and wildlife. “There’s no secret that every one of us that represents a district that touches the border are opposed to this wall,” Grijalva says. “There’s an environmental argument—a very strong one—against the wall.”

Protecting that landscape was a focus of Grijalva’s 13 years on the Pima County Board of Supervisors, which he chaired from 2000 to 2002. He played a lead role in creating a conservation plan for the county that serves as “a national model” for sustainable development, according to Supervisor Sharon Bronson, who served with him on that body. Bronson has known Grijalva for over 30 years and considers him a friend, but she says government officials called to explain their controversial policies should tread lightly.

“One thing for certain about Congressman Grijalva is that he knows BS when he hears it, and he will use all the resources at his command to get the facts that he’s seeking,” she says. “He’s respectful, but he’s tough. If he’s smiling at you and not saying much, you’d better make sure you’re not bleeding.”

Grijalva might be tough, but he's also a little intimidated, he admits, by the "unbelievable opportunity and responsibility" of leading the committee at such an extraordinary political moment. He worries that some conservationists who are appalled by Trump’s policies expect the situation to change overnight under his chairmanship.

“It won’t. But we are going about the business of changing the culture in our government that has allowed all of this to happen,” Grijalva says. “That’s the task ahead.”

Categories: G3. Big Green

RELEASE: NUMO Alliance Announced to Harness Tech Disruptions in Urban Transport to Build More Sustainable, Joyful Cities

World Resources Institute - Tue, 01/15/2019 - 13:45
RELEASE: NUMO Alliance Announced to Harness Tech Disruptions in Urban Transport to Build More Sustainable, Joyful Cities

Seed funding pledged for global pilot projects and research

WASHINGTON (January 15, 2019) — The pace of technology-driven disruption in transportation is not only changing how people get around but changing cities themselves. Governments, companies, non-profits and residents are increasingly asking how to incorporate ride-hailing, dockless bikes and scooters, and even autonomous vehicles into their communities in the right way.

NUMO, the New Urban Mobility alliance, is a new collaborative effort announced today that will help answer these questions through innovative pilot projects, public engagement and experimental research in cities around the world. NUMO aims to guide policymakers, the private sector and people toward a shared vision of cities and urban mobility.

“The pace of innovation and disruption on city streets is forcing everyone – residents, city staff, regulators, and the private sector – to rethink long-held assumptions. It presents us with the opportunity to correct current problems and remake cities for the twenty-first century,” said Robin Chase, Executive Chair of the NUMO Steering Committee and Zipcar Co-Founder. “NUMO seeks to bring together a diversity of actors to bring new voices to the challenge of how to do this and encourage bold experimentation.”

Hosted by WRI Ross Center, NUMO is an outgrowth of the Shared Mobility Principles for Livable Cities, which more than 170 companies and governments have signed on to as a guiding vision for more sustainable, inclusive, prosperous and resilient cities. With a $6 million seed grant from philanthropist, businessman and WRI board member Stephen M. Ross, NUMO will be a big tent alliance committed to bringing the Shared Mobility Principles to life.

Rapid changes in urban transportation are outpacing the ability of researchers and government to keep up. And these disruptions have far-reaching effects, affecting labor, land use, government finances, safety and access to opportunity for millions. Targeted research, pilot projects and public engagement campaigns, supported by NUMO and conducted by allies around the world, will catalyze faster answers.

“My hope is that together we will be courageous and audacious, learning from ideas that fail and rapidly scaling successful solutions,” said Ani Dasgupta, head of the NUMO Secretariat and Global Director of WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities. “We know where we need to go; now we need to provide ways to get there.”

Harriet Tregoning will lead NUMO as its director. She comes to NUMO with deep experience in urban planning, smart mobility and community development, having previously served as Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Office of Community Planning and Development at the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in the Obama administration, and Director of the District of Columbia Office of Planning. During her tenure in D.C. government, Tregoning, an avid bike commuter, pushed to make it easier for city residents to take public transit, bike or walk. She played a major role in expanding D.C.’s bike infrastructure and launching its pioneering bikeshare program. She is also an expert on smart growth, resilient cities and equity issues.

In the coming months, NUMO working groups will begin developing workplans and initial projects. To learn more about NUMO, including how to join the alliance, visit www.numo.global.

Contact
  • Tini Tran Director, Global Communications and Engagement, WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities
  • Craig Brownstein Media Relations Manager, WRI Ross Center for Sustainable Cities
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Categories: G3. Big Green

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