Time to Heal — Shall We Start with Our Planet?

Pandemic Diary #74

Folks, this is a time of testing. We face an attack on our democracy and untruth. A raging virus, growing inequity, the sting of systemic racism, a climate in crisis, America’s role in the world. President Joseph Biden - January 20, 2021

January 25, 2021

I look forward to the protection of our environment as a part of the climate crisis package. Over the last four years, there has been an attack on nature. I have been educated, while being shocked, at the news, showing horrific photos of the destruction of our public lands to extract forms of energy that are no longer feasible for our warming planet. Over the years we have also done a considerable amount of damage with deforestation and mining projects.

Protests of the Keystone XL Pipeline was front and center of many news organizations. Native Americans protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) in the freezing rain and snow received some attention, but it is likely most Americans know little or nothing about the many projects on public lands that affect our environment and have been on and off again due to changes in administrations.

Construction of the Keystone XL pipeline from Mining Magazine

The Keystone XL pipeline was halted by the Obama administration because it would carry tar sands crude oil, which is especially greenhouse-gas intensive due to the energy required to extract the thick crude. Biden rescinded a 2017 permit granted by the Trump administration. The pipeline has been in litigation for a considerably long time.

I have written of the horrifying destruction of the Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument on the Roosevelt Reservation for Trump’s wall. While purported to have been halted, according to @LaikenJordahl of Twitter, construction continues as of this writing. When construction is finally halted, this folly will have caused considerable damage and continue to be an impediment to wildlife migration.

Images from Twitter @LaikenJordahl

Trump shrank two national monuments in Utah, one the Bears Ears National Monument protected by the Obama administration and discussed in prior posts and, the Grand Staircase Escalante which was designated by President Bill Clinton in 1996. Trump’s actions on these projects are in litigation, but can be reversed by a new executive order or a new directive.

In researching where our tax dollars went in regards to how corporations utilize our public lands I discussed the Tongas National Park, the largest intact temperate rainforest. The right to build roads in order to harvest timber is in litigation. The only way to reverse the Trump permits is through action, such as rewriting a regulation or a court ruling

Tongas National Park

The Dakota Access Pipeline goes beneath the Missouri River, upriver from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation. This is not only a potential health threat to the tribal nation, as the river is their only source of drinking water, but to the 17 million people downstream that utilize water from the Missouri River. This project too is in litigation, but it can be reversed by executive order or new directive.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska needs permanent protection. The Refuge, roughly the size of South Carolina is the last great expanse of virtually untouched land in the US. It is home to caribou, polar bears, and migrating waterfowl. The area is sacred to the Indigenous Gwich’in.

Previously the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge land had been protected by Democrats in Congress, but the prior administration issued oil and gas leases for 685 square miles (550,000 acres) on their last day in office. The Biden administration has announced plans for a temporary moratorium on these leases, however, the leases can only be reversed through a lengthy regulatory process, an act of Congress, or a court ruling

Arctic National Refuge

The previous administration approved a 2400 acre land swap of Apache lands in Arizona with the mining company Rio Tinto. Mining this area would increase domestic production of copper while destroying sites sacred to Native Americans. The area, called Chi’chil Bildagoteel, or Oak Flat in English, is a sacred place that has hosted the Apache tribal nations’ Sunrise Ceremony since long before the white man arrived.

Interestingly, in 1955, President Eisenhower issued the Oak Flat Public Land Withdrawal Order, not to protect the Apache lands but to protect federal property. The order forcefully removed the Apache Nation from the area containing Chi’chil Bildagoteel, but with the promise that the 760 acres would be shielded “from all forms of appropriation under the public-land laws, including the mining but not the mineral-leasing laws.”

While it may sound banal to mine copper, the extraction will be done by block cave mining. Mine magazine described this process as “undermining an ore body and then allowing it to collapse under its own weight, a process that opens access to deeper deposits.” What that means is that the Chi’chil Bildagoteel will be a mile-wide hole when the project is done, with the potential to also pollute groundwater. This is not hyperbole, the Department of Agriculture acknowledges this in their Environmental Impact Report.

The project is in litigation and can only be reversed through actions such as rewriting a regulation or court ruling.

Chi’chil Bildagoteel

These actions are the ones garnering the most headlines because they are either most visible or most egregious.

Here is a very small sampling of at least sixty-two projects affecting our public lands, that may not be on everyone’s radar.

In Utah, the Trump administration awarded the rights to extract helium in a remote patch atop the state’s Labyrinth Canyon three weeks before Congress designated it a protected wilderness area.

Labyrinth Canyon, Utah

The Trump administration approved a controversial plan to mine titanium and zirconium near the Okefenokee Swamp in Georgia — the largest national wildlife refuge east of the Mississippi River

Okefenokee Swamp

The Trump administration stripped away protections for millions of acres of California desert, threatening damage to Joshua trees, desert tortoises, and landmarks. The plan opened up California’s desert areas to mining projects, eliminated up to 2.2m acres of conservation lands, and removed 1.8m acres designated as Areas of Critical Environmental Concern. This can be overturned by executive order or new directive.

Joshua Tree National Park Courtesy of the NPS Flickr account

Lithium mining in Thacker Pass Nevada

Trump’s reversal of the Arctic and Atlantic Drilling Ban

According to the BLM there has been a serious decline in sage grouse

The removal of protections for imperiled greater sage grouse in seven western states including Colorado, northeastern California, Nevada, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming.

The list goes on and on.

Thirty-eight of the sixty-two items on the table can be reversed by executive order. Seventeen can be reversed by rewriting the regulations or a court ruling.

Seven of the items can only be reversed through a lengthy regulatory process and act of Congress or a court ruling.

It behooves the new administration and congress to stop these projects and make sure they are not given a re-boot in the future.

With the demand for oil and natural gas down, along with the prices of these commodities, these projects may very well be unnecessary. A push towards alternative energy sources will bring its own problems, but the rape of public lands should not be one of them.

Trivial Things

San Francisco weather: 46 degrees and windy

NYSE DOW compared to one year ago: +2447

COVID cases in the US: 25,705,299

Deaths from COVID in the US: 429,511

OED word of the day: cock-a-hoop -‘Of a person, group, etc.: elated, overjoyed; exultant, triumphant.

Days since Shelter In Place was initiated: 315

Reading: Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism by Bell Hooks

My Black and White Picture of the Day

Something Silly From the Internet:

Bernie in the Tardis



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