Category Archives: environment

A Week in Trump USA Part 1…

My high school choir Director, a brilliant artist and loving man, posted this on his Facebook page yesterday:

“Those who study authoritarian regimes suggest keeping a list of abnormal events after a demagogue is elected, as a way to remind yourself that this isn’t normal and to keep from being overwhelmed into acceptance by the onslaught of attacks on our rights.
Here is a list below. We are 4 days in. As one author says, “when you see all of this in one list, it is easy to get overwhelmed, at first– it is also easy to see a pattern and to finally, finally recognize that none of this is normal, nor is it ok.”

  • On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the DOJ’s Violence Against Women programs.
  •  On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the National Endowment for the Arts.
  • On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities.
  • On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
  • On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Minority Business Development Agency.
  • On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Economic Development Administration.
  • On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the International Trade Administration.
  • On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Manufacturing Extension Partnership.
  • On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.
  • On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Legal Services Corporation.
  • On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Civil Rights Division of the DOJ.
  • On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Environmental and Natural Resources Division of the DOJ.
    * On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.
  • On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
  • On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Office of Electricity Deliverability and Energy Reliability.
  • On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
  • On January 19th, 2017, DT said that he would cut funding for the Office of Fossil Energy.
  • On January 20th, 2017, DT ordered all regulatory powers of all federal agencies frozen.
  • On January 20th, 2017, DT ordered the National Parks Service to stop using social media after RTing factual, side by side photos of the crowds for the 2009 and 2017 inaugurations.
  • On January 20th, 2017, roughly 230 protestors were arrested in DC and face unprecedented felony riot charges. Among them were legal observers, journalists, and medics.
  • On January 20th, 2017, a member of the International Workers of the World was shot in the stomach at an anti-fascist protest in Seattle. He remains in critical condition.
  • On January 21st, 2017, DT brought a group of 40 cheerleaders to a meeting with the CIA to cheer for him during a speech that consisted almost entirely of framing himself as the victim of dishonest press.
  • On January 21st, 2017, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer held a press conference largely to attack the press for accurately reporting the size of attendance at the inaugural festivities, saying that the inauguration had the largest audience of any in history, “period.”
  • On January 22nd, 2017, White House advisor Kellyann Conway defended Spicer’s lies as “alternative facts” on national television news.
  • On January 22nd, 2017, DT appeared to blow a kiss to director James Comey during a meeting with the FBI, and then opened his arms in a gesture of strange, paternal affection, before hugging him with a pat on the back.
  • On January 23rd, 2017, DT reinstated the global gag order, which defunds international organizations that even mention abortion as a medical option.
  • On January 23rd, 2017, Spicer said that the US will not tolerate China’s expansion onto islands in the South China Sea, essentially threatening war with China.
  • On January 23rd, 2017, DT repeated the lie that 3-5 million people voted “illegally” thus costing him the popular vote.
  • On January 23rd, 2017, it was announced that the man who shot the anti-fascist protester in Seattle was released without charges, despite turning himself in.
  • On January 24th, 2017, Spicer reiterated the lie that 3-5 million people voted “illegally” thus costing DT the popular vote.
  • On January 24th, 2017, DT tweeted a picture from his personal Twitter account of a photo he says depicts the crowd at his inauguration and will hang in the White House press room. The photo is of the 2009 inauguration of 44th President Barack Obama, and is curiously dated January 21st, 2017, the day AFTER the inauguration and the day of the Women’s March, the largest inauguration related protest in history.
  • On January 24th, 2017, the EPA was ordered to stop communicating with the public through social media or the press and to freeze all grants and contracts.
  • On January 24th, 2017, the USDA was ordered to stop communicating with the public through social media or the press and to stop publishing any papers or research. All communication with the press would also have to be authorized and vetted by the White House.
  • On January 24th, 2017, HR7, a bill that would prohibit federal funding not only to abortion service providers, but to any insurance coverage, including Medicaid, that provides abortion coverage, went to the floor of the House for a vote.
  • On January 24th, 2017, Director of the Department of Health and Human Service nominee Tom Price characterized federal guidelines on transgender equality as “absurd.”
  • On January 24th, 2017, DT ordered the resumption of construction on the Dakota Access Pipeline, while the North Dakota state congress considers a bill that would legalize hitting and killing protestors with cars if they are on roadways.
  • On January 24th, 2017, it was discovered that police officers had used confiscated cell phones to search the emails and messages of the 230 demonstrators now facing felony riot charges for protesting on January 20th, including lawyers and journalists whose email accounts contain privileged information of clients and sources.”

Thank you to Mr. Taylor for the information.

In further news, after various government agencies were asked to stop reporting scientific information about the environment numerous alternative twitter feeds for these agencies popped up. I never imagined the National Parks Service would lead the revolution but ladies and gentlemen it certainly has. Follow these alternative feeds for publications about science that the Trump administration cannot stem:

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Finally, are you looking for something to do to improve your mind? How about a little light reading courtesy of the Freedom of Information Act? Take a gander on over to the FOIA.Gov site and read through how to make a FOIA request. Since the Trump Administration has put a gag order into place I suggest we help these agencies out.

FOIA requests can cost some research time and reprinting costs however, you may request a waiver of fees. “Under the FOIA, fee waivers are limited to situations in which a requester can show that the disclosure of the requested information is in the public interest because it is likely to contribute significantly to public understanding of the operations and activities of the government and is not primarily in the commercial interest of the requester.”

I would argue that requesting the release of scientific information gathered by our government on the status of our environmental health during a time when the Executive branch has restricted the release of any information falls quite clearing under the requirements for fee waivers.

 

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Govern(mental) shutdown.

I have been avoiding the news lately.  My own life has enough pain and suffering in it that I am afraid coming across any additional madness will shock me into a  vegetative state and I will spend my life in a mental ward. (Sometimes this concept has a certain appeal.)

So I didn’t pay much attention to the shutdown.

I heard it in the hallways, from my parents, skimmed quickly past comments on FB and Twitter.  Then today, I came face to face with it.  It turns out, in a technological age, a person can only avoid the world so long as they are able or willing to stay away from a computer.

I teach environmental law.  Today I went to the EPA to get some snapshots for my slides for class.  I use the Environmental Compliance History Online system, or the ECHO system, to monitor compliance with Clean Water permits.  I wanted to walk my students through a practical analysis of a real world permit using the system they would use in the real world.

This is what I got:

ECHO Closed

Yes, the government is unable to update it’s compliance information due to the shutdown.  Even worse, I am unable to search past compliance information due to the shutdown.

Then I got an email from opposing counsel in a lawsuit telling me that the Department of Justice is closed and they have to seek a stay in my case.

Mindboggling.  The Department of Justice is closed.  All because a small percentage of the population is unwilling to compromise on health care.

Oh I know, I know.  I am sure you have a million reasons to toss out as to why a measure that passed by popular vote is actually really unpopular with the majority of the populace, but you see, I don’t believe you.  Maybe it’s the education in the legal process, maybe it’s simple math.

All I know is a guy I work against all the time, who has two little kids, is the sole breadwinner for his family and who tries every day to make the world a little better is at home wondering when or if he will get his next paycheck.

A rare and endangered snail is languishing in exactly the kind of bureaucratic B.S. Congress wrote the Endangered Species Act to avoid.

And now I have to pay attention to the news.

Pointless?

Have you ever fought long and hard for something only to wake up one day and discover any effect you may have had on the problem is so small as to seem pointless?

Three years of law school, four years of practice, a handful of species advanced along the road to recovery.

One ginormous oil spill.

I can’t watch the effects anymore. I can’t stop myself from crying when I do. What the fuck is the point of trying to protect bio-diversity if entire eco-systems can be wiped out with a single mechanical failure?

Every now and then I feel as though fighting for bio-diversity is like running in place but now it feels like being pushed right off the damn treadmill.

Holiday messages…

Every year we try and remember the positive socially concious ideas behind the holiday season and behave accordingly. We go through all our stuff and donate everything we can in November, we choose several charities to assist or gift to, and we try and focus on spending time with our loved ones instead of money on them. This year we are focusing a little on the ecological side of giving.

To start with we did e-cards this year instead of paper cards. Every year Americans generate some additional one million tons of household waster over the time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s day (according to the EPA).  That number represents 20 percent of the waste generated by our country each year. I believe doing everything I can do to minimize our part in that is hugely important. Hence the e-card.

We are also making our own wrapping paper out of recycled grocery bags decorated with stickers and stamps, and we are shopping primarily at Amazon which is working with their retailers to minimize the packaging on their products. We also give handmade gifts with no packaging at all and try to recycle any of the packaging we get.

So, with that in mind, Happy Holidays everyone! We wish you a joyous 2009 holiday season and a fantastic 2010!

Blogger Action Day: Climate Change

In response to Blog Action Day today I would like to share a victory from one of my favorite organizations, WildEarth Guardians, whose members work tirelessly to keep our air and water clean and to protect our wild places and species.

One of the many pieces in our patchwork of environmental legislation is the Clean Air Act. The Clean Air Act (CAA), in part, requires the EPA to identify air pollutants that are a danger to the welfare of the public and adopt nationally uniform ambient air quality standards. With an eye towards meeting those standards the CAA requires states to prepare and submit implementation plans that outline specific measures designed to assure the air quality within each state meets the national air quality standards. The CAA also requires that states whose air quality does not meet the national standards prevent significant deterioration of their already sub-par air quality.

Recently the EPA, in response to a petition from WildEarth Guardians, issued a new ruling that will dramatically and positively effect the quality of our air. Prior to this ruling Colorado failed to aggregate its oil and gas emissions, allowing pollution at a significantly higher level than should be permitted under the purview of the Clean Air Act, the Colorado state implementation plan, and the federal and state prevention of significant deterioration guidelines (PSD). Oil and gas operations consist of hundreds to thousands of component parts, and each one emits pollutants into the atmosphere. The gas drilling operation in question, for example, consists of several gas wells adjacent to a compressor station that takes the mined gas and compresses the gas for transportation through pipelines. The oil and gas companies have long acted as though each well is a single source of pollution and may emit under the permit without violating the overall permit limits. However, none of the gas pumped out of these wells would be usable for its intended purpose without the compressor station. Therefore it has been long argued that the compressor station, the gas wells, and the pipeline connecting them are interdependent and therefore should qualify as a major stationary source using the criteria set out in the federal and state PSD regulations. Without this aggregation each individual part may pollute within the guidelines of the CAA permits but when aggregated a oil and gas operation pollutes well outside the limits of the permits, significantly harming the air quality in the west and adding to our smog, environmental decline, and respiratory health problems. This rampant uncontrolled polluting contributes to the degradation of our nation’s air quality and does little to assist in our efforts to deter environmental harm and handle the coming climate change.

Under the new EPA ruling these individual component parts will be treated like a single emissions source and this continued violation of the spirit of the Clean Air Act will stop. It is expected that Colorado will see a significant decrease in air emissions, up to ninety percent. This ruling is a huge victory for air quality.

You wouldn’t eat a slimehead…

We have been going about this saving endangered or threatened species thing all wrong.

David A. Fahrenthold of the Washington Post explains in his article Tastier Names Trouble for Seafood Stocks that numerous varieties of fish are currently on the threatened species list because someone decided to give them a less disgusting name. It would seem that the seafood environment has reached this level of degradation in part due to positive PR campaigns. (Is there nothing we can’t blame on marketing?!)

Here in Colorado we are well acquainted with the idea of wrapping an attractive name around something mentally repugnant and serving it to tourists as an exotic dish. After all, we are home to the Rocky Mountain Oyster, a dish that is made out of bull testicles and has absolutely nothing to do with Oysters. Seriously though, can you blame the Cattleman’s Association for the that one? Who in their right mind would order Rocky Mountain Testicles?

The Slimehead has joined the ranks of depleted species because it underwent some PR reviews and came out with the appetizing name of Orange Roughy. Scientists named the prehistoric looking fossil fish for it’s distinctive mucus canals.

Mmmm… mucus canals over long grain rice in a tomato cream sauce. Yummy.

The fish was basically left alone and considered a by-catch of other commercial fishing enterprises until the name change occurred. Then the Slimehead became a popular food source and has been quickly over-fished. It’s currently dangerously depleted.

Other victims of good PR schemes are the Monkfish (previously known as the goosefish), the Uni (a sea urchin previously called a Whore’s Egg) and the Chilean Sea Bass (really the Patagoinian toothfish and not actually a member of the bass family.)

The biggest problem with these PR makeovers is their effect on the fish populations. Many of these previously untouched creatures have low reproduction and incredibly long lives making it very difficult for them to recover from over harvesting. Over-fishing is a serious threat to both the Oceanic environment and fisheries. If there are no more fish to pull from the ocean then there are no more fisheries. (This means no more money for you fisheries! Watch what you’re doing here!) While over-fishing is harmful for the more delicate species mentioned in the article, it is also harmful to fish who normally would be able to handle the threat due to their prolific reproduction. The Cod is an excellent example. Cod should be capable of sustaining heavy fishing but their ocean floor habitat is being destroyed by the bottom trawlers sent to harvest them.

In the meantime the renaming of previously revolting fish is wrecking havoc on these previously ignored species, adding them to the already gigantic list of species that may get the government’s attention some decades down the road.

So I propose a new approach to environmental activism. Instead of battling for months and years to have the government list a species as endangered, and then battling for months and years to force them to designate critical habitat, and then battling months and years to force them to comply with their listings, let’s start an anti-PR campaign.

Let’s rename the depleted fish something really, really gross so they won’t get harvested and eaten.

Seriously, how many of you are going to woo someone over dinner with wine and a filet of Slimehead?

_____________________________________

Background information for this post came from Tastier Names Trouble for Seafood Stocks By David A. Fahrenthold and Seafood Watch.

We aren’t in Kansas anymore…

One Lawyer and two children drove off to Kansas to camp in Lake Scott State Park and shore up standing in an environmental suit I am filing later in the summer. We packed a tent, a king sized air mattress, a queen sized sleeping bag, a pile of camping food, dishes, camp stove, and other necessary gear.

We forgot the bug spray.

We remembered the hammock and the travel DVD player.

We drove 5 and a half hours, with over 7 stops, through the wilds of eastern Colorado. We stopped at fast food places and gas stations. We stared in wonder at Kanarado, and signs for the largest prairie dog ever. We ate snacks, and I listened to Shrek, over and over again, and the kids paused and rewound favorite parts to get themselves through almost six hours in the car with nothing to look at but highway and wheat fields.

“Look kids, look at the lovely colors of the native prairie grasses! See all the pinks and purples! The silver sagebrushes and deep greens!”

“Look kids, cows!”

“Look kids! A baby cow!”

“Look kids! Horses!”

“Look kids! I see more cows!”

“Look kids! — “We know mom! Cows.”

There are only so many times you can look at cows before you are bored of them I suppose.

Finally after way too many hours in the car, and one wrong turn into some poor farmer’s wheat field courtesy of the GPS, We ended up at Lake Scott State Park. A beautiful, spring fed oasis on the western plains containing more species of grasses, birds, and reptiles than nearly any other place in North America. Oh yeah, and it’s hotter than a frying pan on a camp stove in July.

Once we got to the camp ground, things got a little, more interesting. My mentor and his lady love joined us at the camp site, and we chose a spot that prevented the children from launching themselves into the 100 acre lake without first running around a blockade of bushes, giving us adults a chance to prevent consistent attempts at drowning.

Jay and Nicole assisted in child watching while I set the tent up in the shade of a tree. Otter and Monkey ran around, investigating the surroundings, picking up Canadian goose feathers, and assisting me in finding tent parts.

Otter attempted to drive the car climbing up in the front seat each time the door was opened.

Once we were all settled in and the tent was set up I unpacked the car and Nicole noticed our bush enclosure was riddled with large clumps of poison ivy.

Crap, so much for letting the kids run free within the enclosure. Camping became a lot more preventative from that point forward, with shouts of “Otter! Don’t touch that please!” resounding throughout the camp. It only got worse once we lit the fire and added potential burning to the list of imminent harm.

It was hot. Blazing hot.  We were in a little valley in Kansas, so there seemed to be no wind (until later that night during the wind storm of death) and the sun beat down on us mercilessly. We ended up swimming in the lake far sooner than we expected to simply to get some relief from the heat.

The kids and I enjoyed swimming a lot after I convinced Monkey the lake water was not full of Crocodiles and was indeed shallow enough for her. Soon she was paddling around like a duck. Otter stayed glued to my hip the whole time, but was generally pleased  to be cooling down in the water instead of red-faced and miserable out on the sand. Nicole kindly took Monkey out further into the lake, and Jay swam out to the other side to investigate a nested cormorant.

We swam for ages and then dried off on the ancient playground by the swimming area. The playground reminded me of the many my brother and I enthusiastically visited during our youth while on the way to my grandparents farm in Eastern Colorado. There were creaky swings, a round-a-bout, and about three million tumbleweeds. Somehow, these rundown playgrounds are always more enticing to me than the fancier gadget filled ones we see all over the city today. Maybe it’s because seeing them meant freedom from restraint and a break from the car when I was younger, or maybe it’s because their memory comes with the sense of hot weather, dry earth, warm wind, and the awareness of a quiet deeper than any you can find in the city. The memory of the sun beating down on my back comes to me from years past, haunting me with the sound of rusty chains attached to tire swings, and the constant squeak of the un-oiled hinges deep inside the round-a-bout, as my brother and I traded off the burden of running along in the well worn path, with the joy of being made sick to our stomachs in its center.

Monkey screamed in glee while Jay pushed the round-a-bout, and Nicole tried valiantly to hold onto Otter so he wouldn’t fly out and break an arm. Sadly, all she got for her consideration was an upset stomach and a screaming Otter.

Once we had satisfied the playing needs of our small charges we headed back into the camp to settle into dinner by camp stove and a night of marshmallow roasting, wine, and mead. While dinner was cooking, Monkey and Jay rescued a Monarch butterfly floating out on the lake, and Monkey held it aloft while Otter yelled “Me! Me!” and tried to get it out of her reach. Jay took over the cooking while Nicole took the kids over to some Queen Anne’s Lace and instructed Monkey in the proper way to safely place the butterfly on the flower so its wings would dry.

Once dinner was eaten and the dishes cleaned up we settled around the fire for marshmallow cooking. After painstakingly picking out sticks and sharpening their points, the kids decided they preferred the marshmallows un-roasted and proceeded to devour them at will. Having filled up on more of those than they did anything else I finally got them into the tent and to sleep. Of course, it took about an hour to do that, and Otter clinging desperately to me because our air mattress hadn’t filled up very well and every time we moved we careened into each other. The poor kid was terrified. However, exhaustion won over terror eventually and the late night hours found Jay, Nicole, and I trading life stories and future environmental plans over a dying fire, a fleet of bugs, and the remainder of the wine.

We dove for cover when the stars disappeared and the winds began to whip into our tents in a rather epic manner. Reminded of the thunderstorms experienced back home of late, I gathered all the remaining belongs at the front of the tent, tucked them inside, and dashed into the tent to ready myself for a horrible rainstorm.

It never came.

Instead, I was jerked awake all night by intense and violent winds whipping at my rain flap. The tent shuddered and shook, and Otter woke randomly, to sit up, bleat like an angry baby dragon, and crash into my lap. Monkey would kick Otter and I throughout the night as the noisy wind woke her enough to make her toss and turn. I woke up again and again prepared to batten down the rain-flaps, left open to cool the tent in the still oppressive heat, only to discover each time that there was still no rain, only wind. Finally, around five in the morning, it cooled enough to close the flaps and the wind died enough to calm the babies. We slept.

We awoke bundled in a heap, roasting like bacon, and blinking blearily at each other. We scrambled out of our jammies, tossed on clothes, changed diapers, and began the morning routine. For me, that included breaking down a tent that would not continue to stay put in the wind without us in it.

Then, breakfasted and packed up, we wandered off in search of beetle habitat, the purpose of the trip in the first place. We drove to the spring wherein our endangered species was supposed to lie, and, avoiding the poison ivy lacing the trial, hiked along its habitat enjoying the view and the morning.

First we came upon the bridge under which the beetle lives, and snapped photos of it (the bridge, not the beetle) We didn’t walk along it, as we did not wish to imperil either the beetle, or ourselves, by carelessly wandering through the rocky, and aged, habitat.

The Riffle Beetle Habitat
The Riffle Beetle Habitat

We hiked above the bridge on the neighboring nature trail, which was cool and lovely, though quite overgrown with spiny nettle and poison ivy. Monkey was wearing pants, but Otter had to hitch a ride on Jay’s shoulders, as his fat baby legs and arms were exposed to the plethora of poisonous plants growing in abundance around us.

The spring fed pond from the nature trail above the bridge.
The spring fed pond from the nature trail above the bridge.
Poison Ivy grows over the hiking trail.
Poison Ivy grows over the hiking trail.

At the end of the hike, we looked around the pond and Monkey inspected some rocks. The habitat, at the other end of the spring, was in no danger from her scientific inquiry here, so Jay and Nicole helped her apply her magnifying glass to a few slimy rocks and river bed critters.
Otter, less interested in viewing slimy insects and more interested in being down and free, watched the inquiry from a few feet away, occasionally investigating the butterflies alighting about.

Jay, Nicole, and Monkey search for critters
Jay, Nicole, and Monkey search for critters
Otter watches the science team from afar.
Otter watches the science team from afar.
One of Otter's butterflies
One of Otter
The Oasis
The Oasis

After our habitat adventure was completed, we drove back to the lake for another swim, and then ended our camping adventure with peanut butter and honey sandwiches and fresh water. Then, we took the long drive back into Denver, this time with me listening to Aladdin the whole way home.

Oddly, despite the bone weary exhaustion that struck me upon returning, the tick that attached itself to my right hip somewhere between the last swim and home, and the constant vigilance required by camping with small children, I would actually do this again.