Budget cuts in Wisconsin highlight the challenges faced by public land managers across the US
In 2016, I was able to visit Kettle Moraine State Park, one of many beautiful parks in southeastern Wisconsin. Watching the fog peel over the surface of Pike Lake from an observation tower, it seemed pristine, but a closer look told a different tale. From the soda can floating on the surface of the lake to the branches the most recent storm had left on the trail, small signs of decline had begun to surface. Luckily for park visitors, someone would be by to fix these problems shortly. A year earlier, that person would probably have been a state employee. But by the time of my visit, due to budget cuts to the state park system, it was likely to be a volunteer.
Photo courtesy of Good Free Photos
In a story that has received little attention outside the state of Wisconsin, in May of 2015, the State Legislature of Wisconsin agreed to Governor Scott Walker’s proposal to cut all tax-generated funding to state parks, which in 2015 amounted to more than 4 million dollars. This funding stream decreased gradually in 2015 and 2016, and ended completely at the start of 2017, effectively eliminating almost 28 percent of the system’s previous operational budget.
“Wisconsin parks are an essential part of our state not just because of the recreational value of a preserved area of land that can be used by all, but also because of their economic impact on the state,” says State Senator Jon Erpenbach, who fought the budget cut back in 2015. “State park visitations have increased by 12 percent since 2002, while the state’s share of funding has continued to decrease. Why do people visit Wisconsin? Because this state is beautiful and our parks are the centerpiece of that beauty. Shortchanging parks shortchanges our economic potential.”
Over the past few years there have been budget cutbacks for state parks across the US, which have resulted in a reduction in management staff, lack of new equipment, and shorter visitor center hours. In 2016, general funding for Wyoming’s Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources was cut by 7.18 percent. As a result, park employees have struggled with loss of staff. Last year, funding to Connecticut’s state parks was reduced by 10 percent, and …more
Public information film unseen for years shows oil giant had clear grasp of global warming 26 years ago but hasn't acted accordingly, say critics
The oil giant Shell issued a stark warning of the catastrophic risks of climate change more than a quarter of a century ago in a prescient 1991 film that has been rediscovered.
However, since then the company has invested heavily in highly polluting oil reserves and helped lobby against climate action, leading to accusations that Shell knew the grave risks of global warming but did not act accordingly.
Photo by Lee Jordan
Shell’s 28-minute film, called Climate of Concern, was made for public viewing, particularly in schools and universities. It warned of extreme weather, floods, famines and climate refugees as fossil fuel burning warmed the world. The serious warning was “endorsed by a uniquely broad consensus of scientists in their report to the United Nations at the end of 1990,” the film noted.
“If the weather machine were to be wound up to such new levels of energy, no country would remain unaffected,” it says. “Global warming is not yet certain, but many think that to wait for final proof would be irresponsible. Action now is seen as the only safe insurance.”
A separate 1986 report, marked “confidential” and also seen by The Guardian, notes the large uncertainties in climate science at the time but nonetheless states: “The changes may be the greatest in recorded history.”
The predictions in the 1991 film for temperature and sea level rises and their impacts were remarkably accurate, according to scientists, and Shell was one of the first major oil companies to accept the reality and dangers of climate change.
But, despite this early and clear-eyed view of the risks of global warming, Shell invested many billions of dollars in highly polluting tar sand operations and on exploration in the Arctic. It also cited fracking as a “future opportunity” in 2016, despite its own 1998 data showing exploitation of unconventional oil and gas was incompatible with climate goals.
The film was obtained by the Correspondent, a Dutch online journalism platform, and shared with The Guardian, and lauds commercial-scale solar and wind power that already existed in 1991. Shell has recently lobbied successfully to undermine European renewable energy targets and is estimated to have spent $22m in 2015 lobbying against …more
Study of industry that calls itself "world leader" finds that vessels Illegally discard a third of their catch
Biologists Liz Slooten and Steve Dawson crisscross southern New Zealand’s scenic Akaroa Bay looking for the world’s smallest dolphins until Slooten spots a stopped 30-foot motor catamaran. We approach gingerly and find a dozen tourists in the water wearing wetsuits. The grey and black dolphins, no bigger than an 8-year-old child, are checking them out, their characteristic round dorsal fins slicing up though the water as they come up to breathe every two minutes. The tourists watch in hushed silence. Dawson photographs the dolphins to identify them later.
Photo by Photo courtesy of Liz Slooten
These Hector’s dolphins, unique to New Zealand’s shallow coastal waters, are friendly to humans, enjoy sex outside of reproduction and almost never fight, explains Slooten with a tender smile. Like Dawson, she is a professor at the University of Otago, in Dunedin, near the southern tip of New Zealand. The couple has been studying these dolphins for the past 32 years, during which they have seen their numbers plummet as thousands upon thousands drowned after getting caught in gill nets and towed trawl nets used by fishermen. Though their use is legal, these kinds of nets trap and kill, in addition to marine mammals and turtles, many more fish than the fishermen can sell.
“We’ve seen the species fragmenting into smaller and smaller isolated populations,” says Slooten.
One of these, a subspecies called Maui’s dolphin that’s been separated from the rest for 16,000 years, has only 50 to 60 adults thinly spread over 400 miles off the western coast of the North Island, down from 2,000 individuals in 1970. It has become the world’s rarest dolphin. “It’s heartbreaking because it’s so easily avoidable,” Slooten says. The rest of the population, a slightly larger sub-species known as Hector’s dolphins, has fallen from a probable 50,000 to an estimated 10,000.
Since 2012, the International Whaling Commission, along with the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), dozens of nonprofits and the country’s opposition parties have been calling on the New Zealand government to ban all nets in the Maui’s habitat. The US has listed the Maui dolphin as critically endangered and the Hector …more
A drive along the Interoceanic Highway shows how it has opened the rainforest to mining, agriculture, and deforestation
Driving out from Cusco, Peru, the Interoceanic Highway swirls a few hours over the Andes highlands before it plummets down into the jungle. The change in the surroundings is impressive: rocky hills with low-lying scrubs make way for lush vegetation and waterfalls along steep cliffs. In this green, pristine landscape, some farmers try to eke out a living on inclined farmlands, growing corn and cassava.
Photo by Connectas Americas
The next big landscape change comes the moment I have fully descended, some 10,000 feet from where we began, and arrive close to a little town called Mazuco. There I find myself in the midst of a swampy area, full of muddy water and plastic waste, where twisted formations of dead trees are a reminder of the forest this once was. This is gold mining territory, and mining, rife with detrimental impacts for the environment, has been made easier by the road I just travelled.
The Interoceanic Highway, which connects the Atlantic coast of Brazil to the Pacific coast of Peru, was finished in 2012. But access to this remote region increased during the years of construction, between 2003 and 2011, even before the road was completed. Environmentalists, who worried that easy access to the region would increase environmental destruction and impact indigenous communities, protested against the construction of the road. Migrants from the high Andes would suddenly have an easy paved way into a gold mining paradise, to the detriment of local people and wildlife. What used to take days would become a ten-hour bus ride from Cusco.
The environmental advocates were right. Since 2010, gold mining around Mazuco, which lies close to the Madre de Dios river, has increased substantially. More recently, it has also increased within the boundaries of the Tambopata National Reserve and two other nearby reserves, all within the Amazon rainforest. The result is the swamp I find myself in, which can be easily spotted with Google Maps: the satellite images show a yellowish-brown lunar like landscape in the middle of the jungle. And mining is just one of the environmental ramifications of the highway.
In January, before embarking on my trip into the Amazon, I had coffee in Lima with Peruvian journalist and researcher Gabriel Arriaran, who has been visiting the Madre de …more
One Michigan graduate student figured the more copies of the pre-Trump EPA website, the better
It wasn’t long after President Trump took office that chaos took hold at the US Environmental Protection Agency. Throughout his campaign, Trump had promised to get rid of the agency, leaving just “little tidbits left.” He wasted little time.
Photo by USEPA
Out of the gate, Trump’s transition team was set to remove former President Barack Obama’s Climate Action Plan and other climate data, reported InsideEPA on January 17. Trump officials told EPA staff on January 24 to remove the agency’s climate change page from its website, according to Science. The next day, EPA staffers were told to hold off. Then, two days later, the words “climate change” were erased from the EPA site altogether. Then they were back.
Many scientists didn’t wait to find out what was up, what was down, or what was going which way. At risk was years of data on greenhouse gas emissions, temperature trends, sea level rise, and shrinking sea ice — data essential to our understanding of the enormous environmental shifts our planet is undergoing. Worldwide, they scrambled to capture the information from the websites of the EPA, NASA, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the United States Geological Survey. Hackathons were organized to download the data to university servers and sites like DataRefuge and the Internet Archive for the fear that Scott Pruitt would be confirmed as head of the EPA; he was confirmed by the Senate on Friday.
Even outside of scientific circles, concerned citizens recognized a need to act. When John Rozsa, a graduate student in technology studies at Eastern Michigan University, heard about these efforts, he thought the more copies, the better. So, between classes and his full-time job, he began to download the pre-Trump version of the EPA website — 28,000 files and counting.
“I used a variety of Windows and Linux-based high-tech tools that look at every corner of the website and grab every single file,” he said. “I repeated the process four times, and then compared the data sets. Once I confirmed my data sets were reliable, I backed them up, and then sorted the files.”
New EPA chief worked with major energy companies, Koch groups to roll back environmental regulations
By Steve Horn, Sharon Kelly and Graham Readfearn
The Center for Media and Democracy (CMD) has published thousands of emails obtained from the office of former Oklahoma Attorney General, Scott Pruitt, who was recently sworn in as the head of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for the Trump Administration.
Photo U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Housed online in searchable form by CMD, the emails cover Pruitt's time spent as the Sooner State's lead legal advocate, and in particular show a “close and friendly relationship between Scott Pruitt’s office and the fossil fuel industry,” CMD said in a press release. CMD was forced to go to court in Oklahoma to secure the release of the emails, which had sat in a queue for two years after the organization had filed an open records request.
Among other things, the emails show extensive communication with hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) giant Devon Energy, with Pruitt's office not only involved in discussions with Devon about energy-related issues like proposed U.S. Bureau of Land Management fracking rules, but also more tangential matters like how a proposed airline merger might affect Devon's international travel costs. They also show a close relationship with groups such as the Koch Industries-funded Americans for Prosperity and the Oklahoma Public Policy Council, the latter a member of the influential conservative State Policy Network (SPN).
On the BLM fracking rule, Priutt's office solicited input from Devon, the Oklahoma City fracking company, which seemed to incorporate the feedback in the company's formal legal response. Pruitt's office was aiming to sue the BLM on the proposed rules, a case multiple states eventually won, getting indispensible aid in the effort from the Interstate Oil and Gas Compact Commission (IOGCC).
“Any suggestions?” Pruitt's office wrote in a May 1, 2013 email to a Devon vice president. Attachments missing from the FOIA response make it unclear to what extent edits suggested by Devon were actually inserted into the AG's correspondence, although Pruitt's deputy later wrote “thanks for all your help on this.”
In two other emails dated May 1, 2013, a Devon Energy director replied with suggested changes to Pruitt's office. The next day, Pruitt's office sent the final draft of the letter to Devon, which replied, “I’m glad the Devon team could help, and thanks for all of your work on this.”
Deal provides financial succor to 3,500 Ohio Valley residents who said they were sickened by exposure to contaminated drinking water
Last week, chemical giant DuPont and its spin-off Chemours Co. announced they would pay up to $921 million to settle roughly 3,500 Ohio Valley lawsuits over illnesses linked to a toxic chemical known as C-8 used during the manufacture of Teflon.
C-8, also known as perfluorooctanoic acid or PFOA, is a soap-like powder that DuPont used for decades at its Washington Works plant in Parkersburg, WV, to smooth lumps in freshly-made Teflon. It's also dangerous, capable of causing cancers, pregnancy problems, and chronic health conditions like thyroid disease.
The hazards of C-8 were first revealed to the public as a result of legal battles waged by attorneys in this case since 1998. Internal DuPont documents uncovered during litigation showed that for decades, DuPont was aware the chemical was dangerous, escaping into the environment, and could be replaced — but that executives deliberately chose to keep using C-8 for years because it was cheaper than alternatives.
Over a span of decades, hundreds of thousands of pounds of C-8 was dumped by DuPont into the Ohio River, where it found its way into the drinking water of some 70,000 area residents.
"No settlement can restore the health of the thousands of victims of DuPont’s C-8," says Harold Bock, who lives close to the Washington Works plant and advises Keep Your Promises, a grassroots organization focused on C-8 exposure, "but we at Keep Your Promises are heartened to know that this long-awaited justice for these 3,550 members of our community is now within arm’s reach."
DuPont and Chemours agreed to each pay half of the overall settlement, which provides a total of $670.7 million in cash to the plaintiffs, plus up to $250 million in additional payouts over the next five years.
DuPont told investors in October that the lawsuits included roughly 30 wrongful death claims, 270 claims of kidney or testicular cancer, and over 1,300 claims of thyroid disease.
Both companies admitted no wrongdoing in the settlement agreement, but will pay expected damages of roughly $1.5 million to each plaintiff with cancer, attorneys in the case said, and lesser amounts to those with other conditions. The …more