Trump signs order removing environmental review of major projects

Trump signs order removing environmental review of major projects

SOURCE: The Hill

DATE: June 4, 2020

SNIP: President Trump signed an executive order Thursday evening that would waive requirements under a suite of environmental laws, a move the administration says will boost the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The new order expedites the permitting of construction projects and energy projects overseen by several federal agencies, using emergency authorities to skirt environmental regulations with little public notice.

“From the beginning of my Administration, I have focused on reforming and streamlining an outdated regulatory system that has held back our economy with needless paperwork and costly delays,” Trump wrote in the order. “The need for continued progress in this streamlining effort is all the more acute now, due to the ongoing economic crisis.”

The order would slash the requirements in a number of landmark environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which requires rigorous environmental review before building new infrastructure like highways or pipelines.

Trump’s order comes on the heels of one signed last month that directs agency heads to “identify regulatory standards that may inhibit economic recovery,” prompting conservative groups to say the administration should further rollback NEPA.

The latest order goes further, directing agencies to use their own emergency authorities and the emergency provisions of environmental laws to skip over standard requirements.

Agencies will now have 30 days to report which projects will be expedited under the order, but there is no requirement for that list to be publicized.

Putin orders state of emergency after huge fuel spill inside Arctic Circle

Putin orders state of emergency after huge fuel spill inside Arctic Circle

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: June 3, 2020

SNIP: Vladimir Putin has ordered a state of emergency after 20,000 tonnes of diesel fuel spilled into a river inside the Arctic Circle.

The spill occurred when a fuel reservoir at a power plant near the city of Norilsk collapsed on Friday.

The plant is operated by a division of Nornickel, whose factories in the area have made the city one of the most heavily polluted places on Earth.

Russia’s investigative committee, which deals with major crimes, announced it had launched three criminal investigations into the accident and detained a power plant employee.

Alexei Knizhnikov of the World Wildlife Fund said the environmental group was the one who alerted cleanup specialists after confirming the accident through its sources. “These are huge volumes,” he said. “It was difficult for them to cover it up.”

The volume of the spill is vastly larger than the 2007 Kerch spill, which involved 5,000 tonnes of oil, Knizhnikov said.

The Ambarnaya River that bore the brunt of the spill will be difficult to clean up because it is too shallow to use barges and the remote location has no roads, officials told Putin.

Russia’s environment minister, Dmitry Kobylkin, said he thought burning the fuel, which some are suggesting, was too risky.

“It’s a very difficult situation. I can’t imagine burning so much fuel in an Arctic territory … such a huge bonfire over such an area will be a big problem.”

Football pitch-sized area of tropical rainforest lost every six seconds

Football pitch-sized area of tropical rainforest lost every six seconds

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: June 2, 2020

SNIP: The amount of pristine tropical rainforest lost across the globe increased last year, as the equivalent of a football pitch disappeared every six seconds, a satellite-based analysis has found.

Nearly 12m hectares of tree cover was lost across the tropics, including nearly 4m hectares of dense, old rainforest that held significant stores of carbon and had been home to a vast array of wildlife, according to data from the University of Maryland.

Beyond the tropics, Australia’s devastating bushfires led to a sixfold increase in tree cover loss across the continent in 2019 compared with the previous year. Rod Taylor, from the World Resources Institute, part of the Global Forest Watch network that released the analysis, said as the unprecedented fires continued into 2020, this was only a partial picture of the area affected in the southern fire season.

While Australia’s eucalyptus trees are generally well adapted to respond to fire, Taylor said this year’s blazes burned more intensely, having followed a severe drought, and spread rapidly due to high winds. The fires killed 33 people directly, an estimated 445 more through smoke inhalation, and hundreds of millions of animals.

“Whereas a normal fire might char the bark of a tree, this year’s fires turned many trees into charcoal sticks,” Taylor said. “Australia can expect more extreme fire seasons as fire risk increases due to climate change.”

The loss of trees in the tropics was the third worst recorded since data was first collected in 2002, trailing behind only 2016 and 2017. The heaviest reduction continues to be in Brazil, which accounted for more than a third of all humid tropical forest loss. Government data shows that deforestation for agriculture and other new land uses increased rapidly in the Brazilian Amazon over the past year.

Sixth mass extinction of wildlife accelerating, scientists warn

Sixth mass extinction of wildlife accelerating, scientists warn

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: June 1, 2020

SNIP: The sixth mass extinction of wildlife on Earth is accelerating, according to an analysis by scientists who warn it may be a tipping point for the collapse of civilisation.

More than 500 species of land animals were found to be on the brink of extinction and likely to be lost within 20 years. In comparison, the same number were lost over the whole of the last century. Without the human destruction of nature, even this rate of loss would have taken thousands of years, the scientists said.

The land vertebrates on the verge of extinction, with fewer than 1,000 individuals left, include the Sumatran rhino, the Clarión wren, the Española giant tortoise and the harlequin frog. Historic data was available for 77 of the species and the scientists found these had lost 94% of their populations.

The researchers also warned of a domino effect, with the loss of one species tipping others that depend on it over the edge. “Extinction breeds extinctions,” they said, noting that unlike other environmental problems extinction is irreversible.

Humanity relies on biodiversity for its health and wellbeing, scientists said, with the coronavirus pandemic an extreme example of the dangers of ravaging the natural world. Rising human population, destruction of habitats, the wildlife trade, pollution and the climate crisis must all be urgently tackled, they said.

The analysis, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, examined data on 29,400 land vertebrate species compiled by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and BirdLife International. The researchers identified 515 species with populations below 1,000 and about half of these had fewer than 250 remaining.

US south-west in grip of historic ‘megadrought’

US south-west in grip of historic ‘megadrought’

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: May 29, 2020

SNIP: When Ken Pimlott began fighting US wildfires at the age of 17, they seemed to him to be a brutal but manageable natural phenomenon.

“We had periodic [fire] sieges in the 80s, but there were breaks in between,” said Pimlott, the former head of the California department of forestry and fire protection. But no longer. “That doesn’t really happen any more. Now you can’t even blink” between fires, he said. “We’re seeing the kinds of fires we have never seen before.”

A recent study published in the journal Science helps explains why, revealing that the south-western US is in the grip of a 20-year megadrought – a period of severe aridity that is stoking fires, depleting reservoirs and putting a strain on water supplies to the states of the region.

“You see impacts everywhere, in snowpacks, reservoir levels, agriculture, groundwater and tree mortality,” said co-author Benjamin Cook, of Columbia University’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory. “Droughts are these amazingly disruptive events. Water sits at the foundation of everything.”

Researchers compared soil moisture records from 2000-2019 to other drought events from the past 1,200 years. They found that the current period is worse than all but one of five megadroughts identified in the record.

Unlike past megadroughts – brought on by natural fluctuations in the Earth’s climate – this current drought has been heavily influenced by human-induced climate change, “pushing what would have been a moderate drought in south-western North America into megadrought territory”, according to the study.

Global warming has made the drought much worse than it otherwise would have been,” said Cook. “We estimate 30-50% is attributed to climate change.”

According to Nasa, 19 of the 20 warmest years on record have occurred since 2001. Climate change, if unchecked, will hit the American south-west particularly hard.

A major concern is the megadrought’s impact on water supplies in the region. It has experienced explosive growth – half of the nation’s fastest-growing states are in the south-west – made possible by elaborate river diversion projects and massive reservoirs.

Over the past two decades, drought-depleted rivers, and population growth has led to steep declines in two of the nation’s largest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, on which which tens of millions of people depend.

Water deliveries from the Colorado River are also being rationed this year, for the first time.

Antarctic Ocean Reveals New Signs of Rapid Melt of Ancient Ice, Clues About Future Sea Level Rise

Antarctic Ocean Reveals New Signs of Rapid Melt of Ancient Ice, Clues About Future Sea Level Rise

SOURCE: Inside Climate News

DATE: May 28, 2020

SNIP: Climate researchers racing to calculate how fast and how high the sea level will rise found new clues on the seafloor around Antarctica. A study released today suggests that some of the continent’s floating ice shelves can, during eras of rapid warming, melt back by six miles per year, far faster than any ice retreat observed by satellites.

As global warming speeds up the Antarctic meltdown, the findings “set a new upper limit for what the worst-case might be,” said lead author Julian Dowdeswell, director of the Scott Polar Research Institute at the University of Cambridge.

The estimate of ice shelf retreat is based on a pattern of ridges discovered on the seafloor near the Larsen Ice Shelf. The spacing and size of the ridges suggest they were created as the floating ice shelves rose and fell with the tides while rapidly shrinking back from the ocean. In findings published today in Science, the researchers estimate that to corrugate the seafloor in this way, the ice would have retreated by more than 150 feet per day for at least 90 days.

Ice shelves float on the ocean but they are fastened to land and act as stoppers that prevent Antarctic ice sheets that are as big as the U.S. and Mexico combined from sliding into the sea. The shelves are frozen to outcrops on the seafloor, but when they melt away from those anchor points, the flow of ice into the ocean speeds up, accelerating sea level rise.

If the rate of retreat estimated by the new study extended across an 18-mile-wide and half-mile-thick ice shelf, as found in the closely watched Pine Island Glacier in West Antarctica, the researchers calculated it would release 138-gigatons of ice per year— three to five times more ice than is currently lost annually from that glacier system.

There’s still no way to know exactly how fast the meltdown will happen with increasing human-caused warming, Fettweis said. But between 12,000 and 15,000 years ago, global sea level rose about 1.5 to 2.3 inches per year for several centuries, raising sea level by 82 feet over a 500-year period.

“The most important message to take home is that the current projections are too conservative. We know it,” he said. “The real drama in all of this is that the faster rates of retreat may turn out to be the most probable in some places, and as of now we do not know where and when.”

Rio Tinto blasts 46,000-year-old Aboriginal site to expand iron ore mine

Rio Tinto blasts 46,000-year-old Aboriginal site to expand iron ore mine

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: May 26, 2020

SNIP: A sacred site in Western Australia that showed 46,000 years of continual occupation and provided a 4,000-year-old genetic link to present-day traditional owners has been destroyed in the expansion of an iron ore mine.

The cave in Juukan Gorge in the Hammersley Ranges, about 60km from Mt Tom Price, is one of the oldest in the western Pilbara region and the only inland site in Australia to show signs of continual human occupation through the last Ice Age. It was blasted along with another sacred site on Sunday.

Mining company Rio Tinto received ministerial consent to destroy or damage the site in 2013 under WA’s outdated Aboriginal heritage laws, which were drafted in 1972 to favour mining proponents.

One year after consent was granted, an archeological dig intended to salvage whatever could be saved discovered the site was more than twice as old as previously thought and rich in artefacts, including sacred objects.

Most precious was a 4,000-year-old length of plaited human hair, woven together from strands from the heads of several different people, which DNA testing revealed were the direct ancestors of Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura traditional owners living today.

But the outdated Aboriginal Heritage Act does not allow for a consent to be renegotiated on the basis of new information. So despite regular meetings with Rio Tinto, the Puutu Kunti Kurrama and Pinikura (PKKP) Aboriginal Corporation was unable to stop the blast from going ahead.

The mining company signed a native title agreement with the traditional owners in 2011, four years before their native title claim received formal assent by the federal court. They facilitated the salvage dig in 2014, which uncovered the true age of the site.

Archeologist Dr Michael Slack, who led that dig, said it was a once-in-a-lifetime discovery.

Most significantly, the archeological records did not disappear during the last Ice Age. Most inland archeological sites in Australia show that people moved away during the Ice Age between 23,000 and 19,000 years ago, as the country dried up and water sources dried up. Archeological evidence from Juukan Gorge suggest it was occupied throughout.

“It was the sort of site you do not get very often, you could have worked there for years,” he said. “How significant does something have to be, to be valued by wider society?” he said.

Surgical masks wash up on Sydney beaches after 40 containers fall off cargo ship

Surgical masks wash up on Sydney beaches after 40 containers fall off cargo ship

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: May 26, 2020

SNIP: Residents of Sydney’s east have woken to beaches covered in face masks, plastic containers and other items after 40 shipping containers fell off a ship on the weekend.

The APL England lost the cargo in rough seas on Sunday while en route from China to Melbourne, forcing the ship to turn around and head to Brisbane.

The containers lost overboard held a wide range of goods including household appliances, building materials and medical supplies.

Australian Maritime Safety Authority officials received reports of face masks “washing up between Magenta Beach and The Entrance”, north of Sydney.

New South Wales Maritime executive director Alex Barrell said boxes of flexible ducting, commonly used in heating and cooling systems, washed ashore at Bondi and Long Bay on Tuesday.

Eastern beaches locals attempted to clear the debris on Wednesday morning, concerned the large amount of plastic could hurt local marine life.

Aliy Pott, who lives in Bondi, said: “I saw an article about the shipping last night. I didn’t get a good night’s sleep. I set an alarm and promised myself I’d go down and do what I could.

“When I got down [to Coogee], the beach looked like a tip. The whole left side of the beach was just covered. It was all medical masks and full packages of plastics containers not opened.

NSW Maritime was advising coastal councils between Sydney and Gosford on how to deal with the containers and their contents as sea current modelling shows these areas could be further affected over the coming days.

Climate change in deep oceans could be seven times faster by middle of century

Climate change in deep oceans could be seven times faster by middle of century

SOURCE: The Guardian

DATE: May 25, 2020

SNIP: Rates of climate change in the world’s ocean depths could be seven times higher than current levels by the second half of this century even if emissions of greenhouse gases were cut dramatically, according to new research.

Different global heating at different depths could have major impacts on ocean wildlife, causing disconnects as species that rely on each other for survival are forced to move.

In the new research, scientists looked at a measure called climate velocity – the speed at which species would need to move to stay within their preferred temperature range as different ocean layers warm.

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, found different parts of the ocean would change at different rates as the extra heat from increasing levels of greenhouse gases moved through the vast ocean depths.

By the second half of the century, the study found “a rapid acceleration of climate change exposure throughout the water column”.

At present, the world’s heating was already causing species to shift in all layers of the ocean from the surface to more than 4km down, but at different speeds.

But even under a highly optimistic scenario, where emissions fell sharply from now, the ocean’s mesopelagic layer – from 200m to 1km down – climate velocity would change from about 6km per decade to 50km by the second half of the century. But over the same period, climate velocity would halve at the surface.

Even at depths of between 1,000 and 4,000 metres, climate velocity would triple current rates, even if emissions dropped sharply.

Alberta minister says it’s a ‘great time’ to build a pipeline because COVID-19 restrictions limit protests against them

Alberta minister says it’s a ‘great time’ to build a pipeline because COVID-19 restrictions limit protests against them

SOURCE: Globe and Mail

DATE: May 25, 2020

SNIP: Alberta’s energy minister says it’s a good time to build a pipeline because public-health restrictions limit protests against them.

Sonya Savage made the comment Friday on a podcast hosted by the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors. She was asked about progress of the Trans Mountain Expansion project, which is under construction on its route between Edmonton and Vancouver.

“Now is a great time to be building a pipeline because you can’t have protests of more than 15 people,” Ms. Savage said. “Let’s get it built.”

While the interviewer laughed, Ms. Savage did not.

Unprompted, Ms. Savage went on to suggest that the economic turmoil caused by the pandemic favours pipeline construction.

“People are not going to have tolerance and patience for protests that get in the way of people working,” she said on the podcast, which was posted on the association’s website. “People need jobs and those types of ideological protests that get in the way are not going to be tolerated by ordinary Canadians.”

Ms. Savage’s spokesman acknowledged in an email that she was on the podcast.

“We respect the right to lawful protests,” said Kavi Bal. “I would note that the limitations to public gatherings … have benefited no one – including project proponents and any opposition groups.”

Both Alberta and B.C. have increased their limits to 50 people for outdoor gatherings.

Irfan Sabir, the Opposition New Democrat energy critic, called Ms. Savage’s comments more of the same for the government.

“These comments do not come as a shock,” he said. “The UCP have already used the pandemic as an excuse to suspend environmental monitoring. When combined with the minister’s latest comments, this will harm the reputation of Alberta’s energy industry and inhibit our ability to attract investment and get our product to market.”

Jason Kenney’s United Conservative Party government has a mixed record on protesters.

The Premier defended the right to protest in the case of a man recently arrested at the legislature as he was protesting against public-health lockdown orders. Mr. Kenney said at the time that he would modify such orders to ensure they didn’t interfere with that right, as long as guidelines were being respected.

The government has less tolerance for civil disobedience.

In February, it introduced legislation imposing stiff fines and possible jail terms for protesters who damage or even interfere with the operation of a wide range of energy infrastructure – although such acts are already illegal. The bill has passed and awaits royal assent to come into force.

A similar bill carrying increased trespassing punishments for animal-rights protesters at agricultural facilities came into force in December.