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Feds Move Oil & Gas Lease Auctions Online in Effort to Avoid Opposition

23.8 million acres of leases in Gulf of Mexico are being auctioned today amid protests from community activists and environmentalists

This morning, the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management will auction 23.8 million acres of oil and gas leases in the Gulf of Mexico. Today’s sale is the agency’s first attempt at auctioning oil and gas leases using an online, livestream auction format, eliminating in-person observation by the public.  

photo of the Maersk Developer in Gulf of Mexicophoto by JournoJen, on Flickr An oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. BOEM is auctioning 23.8 million acres of oil and gas leases in the Gulf today.

Environmental activists say this move to an online system is aimed at stifling the public’s ability to protest at the auction. They see it as a response to the nationwide Keep it in the Ground campaign, which works to stop new fossil fuel lease sales, and has targeted BOEM’s offshore oil and gas lease auctions, as well as onshore auctions held by the Bureau of Land Management. Indeed, BOEM admits that the change is, in part, a response to recent events.

The agency was the target of protests back in March too, when hundreds of Gulf Coast residents showed up to an auction at the New Orleans superdome protesting the lease sale of 43 million acres in the Gulf of Mexico. BOEM says the move to an online system was largely about efficiency — as well as, ahem, “to help BOEM minimize its carbon footprint” by reducing travel.

But, responding to questions by email, the agency admitted that mounting protests factored into the decision, claiming that “recent events have demonstrated that some modifications to the lease sale process are warranted… to ensure the safety of employees.”

“They are trying to hide from our movement,” says Blake Kopcho, an oceans campaigner with the conservation nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity. “We have shown up at every BLM and BOEM fossil fuel auction over the last year since we launched this campaign… And I think the [Obama] administration really dislikes the attention that we are bringing to the fact that, in the emerging climate crisis, the federal government continues to offer up our public lands and waters for pennies on the acre to the most profitable industry in the history of the world to continue to burn fossil fuels.”

Advocates in New Orleans, home to BOEM’s Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic regional office, have been fighting the agency’s decision. “The move from a public to online auction is corporate manipulation, and I believe it …more

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Moving Past the Transportation Gridlocks in Our National Parks

To reduce the impact of vehicles on our parks, we need to make them accessible via public transit

graphic depicting a hiker overlooking a valley

As the train snakes along the inner Bay, I relax into my Amtrak seat and settle into that euphoric feeling I have every time I leave the city and aim for the mountains.

Looking out the viewing car window, I already see fewer marks of industrial development (refineries and highways) and more signs of rural California (blue herons and citrus orchards).  In a couple hours I'll transfer to the YARTS bus (Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System) in Merced, which will take me right to the heart of Yosemite Valley. I don't have to worry about driving or fighting the get-the-hell-out-of-the-city traffic snarl. Instead, I enjoy the view, sip a mid-afternoon wine, and study trail maps. Once I arrive, the park entrance fee is included in the fare, and I take the electric-hybrid Yosemite Shuttle to many of the trailheads and attractions on the Valley floor.

My combined train-bus trip saved at least one car from contributing to gridlock in the Valley. Most people I tell about this way of traveling to and in Yosemite had not heard of it and I suspect that is common. As the National Park Service enters its second century, it made me consider: What is the impact of millions of vehicles on our nation’s “best idea” and how does it compromise our experience of these grand places? What is being done to minimize auto traffic in national parks? Which parks are accessible via alternative transportation?

photo of Grand Canyon National Park South Entrance with Carsphoto by Grand Canyon National Park Cars wait to enter Grand Canyon National Park. In 2015, more than 300 million people visited national parks, most using personal vehicles.

During my last trip to Yosemite during summer for a volunteer activity, there were times when it was a literally a traffic jam on the Valley floor. I might as well have been on I-80. No doubt being able to view Half Dome was a saving grace.  

But still….I wanted to join Edward Abbey in his famous rant towards the end of Desert Solitaire: A Season in the Wilderness:

“No more cars in national parks. Let the people walk. Or ride horses, bicycles, mules, wild pigs—anything – but keep the automobiles and the motorcycles and all their motorized relatives out. We have agreed not to drive our automobiles into cathedrals, concert halls, art …more

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Native American Protesters Will Defy North Dakota Pipeline Construction ‘For as Long as it Takes’

Some 2,000 activists have descended on the site of the $3.7 billion pipeline construction project

Joey Montoya, like other protesters near Cannon Ball, at the northern boundary of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation in North Dakota, sees himself as not just protecting the local community from a new oil pipeline — but also the country and the earth.

photo of Dakota Access Pipelinephoto by Lars PlougmannAt 1,172 miles, the Dakota Access Pipeline will rival Keystone XL in size.

“Native communities are always just the first to be affected. We’re always at the front lines when oil companies come in.”

Montoya, a 22-year-old member of the Lipan Apache tribe from San Francisco, is part an influx of Native American and environmental activists from all over the country who have gathered in the remote part of the state to take a stand against the $3.7 billion North Dakota Access Pipeline, which tribal members say threatens to pollute drinking water and damage sacred sites.

Though people have been gathering on the site since the proposal was announced in April, hundreds descended on the site this week as construction began — and 18 people have been arrested. [According to the latest news this morning, 28 people have now been arrested.]

On Monday night, protesters say pipeline workers were instructed to leave their equipment after protesters walked onto the work site and surrounded the machinery, in an action led mostly by women in the group. Cody Hall, of the Red Warrior Camp who joined the movement this week, said women had “jumped fences” to get closer to machinery in order to obstruct it. On Tuesday and Wednesday construction continued to be suspended. It is still unclear when work will resume.

If and when the pipeline is completed, it will transfer fracked crude oil from the Bakken field in the north-western part of North Dakota. It will run south-east across that state and then through South Dakota and Iowa before joining with a pipeline hub in Patoka, Illinois. According to its website, Energy Transfer Partners, the parent company behind the project, is the largest pipeline operator in the US by volume.

Although the pipeline will run outside the formal boundary of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation, tribal members have argued that it will disturb sacred sites, and that consultation on this point was inadequate. These arguments failed to stop the approval, which was granted in late July.

Kandi Mossett, an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network explains: “There are sacred sites out here, there are midden pile sites, historic sites. …more

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Coral Reefs Need Big Fish Pee

New research shows overfishing of large, predatory fish can deplete reefs of key nutrients

Fish pee. OK, I suppose I kind of knew that, but somehow the thought fish they pee right where they swim never crossed my mind. Now I’m learning that the waters around thriving coral colonies are liberally laced with fish urine. I’m glad I didn’t give this subject much thought back when when I was diving quite a bit among coral reefs 

 Nassau Grouper Photo by Craig Layman The Nassau grouper, pictured center with stripes, is one of the larger fish that lives around coral reefs.

Ick-factor aside, it appears that fish urine plays an important role in coral reef ecosystems. Previous research (which too, I was unaware of) has shown that reefs wouldn’t exist without the phosphorous that’s released into the water when fish pee, as well as the nitrogen excreted as ammonium through the gills of fish. This nutrient supply from fish is crucial to the survival and growth of coral reefs.

Now a new study has established what should be an obvious corollary: In coral reef areas that have been overfished, nearly half of these key nutrients are absent from the ecosystem. 

The researchers, whose findings were published in the journal Nature Communications on Tuesday, found that the falling numbers of large-bodied and predator fish had the most impact on these ecosystems.

"Part of the reason coral reefs work is because animals play a big role in moving nutrients around," Jacob Allgeier, researcher at the University of Washington's School of Aquatic and Fishery Sciences and lead author of the study, said in a statement. "Fish hold a large proportion, if not most of the nutrients in a coral reef in their tissue, and they're also in charge of recycling them. If you take the big fish out, you're removing all of those nutrients from the ecosystem."

Coral reefs are highly productive in terms of the biodiversity they support, but they are also very fragile. They operate on what scientists call a "tight" nutrient cycle, meaning there must be an efficient transfer of the limited nutrients in the waters around them for coral to grow. Phosphorus in fish pee and nitrogen excreted through their gills are important nutrients for coral reefs. In many reef communities, fish will take shelter in and around coral during the day — peeing out valuable nutrients — then forage for prey in and around the reef by night.

Allgeier’s research was inspired by a 1980s study …more

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A Radical Plan to Save African Rhinos

Controversial project would airlift rhinos to Australia, establish an ‘insurance’ population in response to poaching

African rhinos are being poached at an alarming rate. In South Africa, which is home to 95 percent of the continent’s rhino population, a rhino is killed every six hours. At this pace, these animals will be extinct within the next decade. It is in this urgent climate that Ray Dearlove established the Australian Rhino Project (ARP), embracing an unconventional plan to save African white rhinos: airlifting them to Australia.

photo of white rhinosphoto by Ian Turk The Australian Rhino Project plans to airlift white rhinos from South Africa to Australia in response to threats from poaching.

South African by birth, but a long-term resident of Australia, Dearlove has never lost his passion for the fauna of his native country, and particularly its rhinoceros. Back in 2013, when the opportunity to help his favorite “modern-day dinosaurs” came along, he took it.

“I was contacted by a friend in Johannesburg, South Africa — a serious and dedicated conservationist,” explains Dearlove. “And he said, ‘Look, the rhinos are in trouble; why don’t you consider setting up a breeding herd in Australia, so that we can preserve them there in case things go terribly wrong.’”

It was a radical idea, but they thought it was worth a shot. Within a year of that first conversation, representatives from universities, zoos, and other relevant institutions such as the nonprofit Taronga Conservation Society of Australia had been assembled to form a steering committee that could determine the project’s feasibility. Everything from vegetation to cost to transport was considered.. Australia was seen as an ideal location, with a similar climate to South Africa and plants that rhinos can happily browse on. The country’s strict border security would also make the illegal transport of rhino horn more difficult. Furthermore, the relative lack of poverty and corruption in Australia, both drivers of the rhino horn trade throughout much of Africa, made the Australian continent an ideal haven for the threatened species.

In 2014, ARP was officially established with a specific target: to airlift a breeding population of 80 white rhinos from their home in South Africa to a new life in Australia. If all goes according to plan, the first batch of 20 rhinos will be transported later this year, initially to a location about five hours west of Sydney. Once the rhinos are in place — most likely in sizeable, fenced areas much like the large fenced parks in South Africa, where they can roam in …more

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Growing Food for the Soul on City Lots

‘People are no easier to recover than the land buried under layers of pavement.’

In the forty years I’ve been farming, the vast majority of the organically grown food I’ve produced has been available only to a narrow segment of society: those who can afford it. Even as I’ve worked to address this basic problem, I’ve lived for most of my career with some related pressing questions: How can we make high-quality fresh food more affordable and available to all, while still supporting the farmers who work so hard to produce it? Could farming be used to provide jobs and healing to people who have become marginalized because of poverty, mental illness, and drug addiction? Knowing that these social ills are often concentrated in urban centers, I’ve asked myself: Is it possible to create viable farming enterprises on pavement and contaminated land in the heart of our cities?

Photo of Sole Food urban farm in VancouverPhoto by Agricoltura Urbana A Sole Food urban farm in an old Petro-Canada station in Vancouver's East End.

During the years I was starting to farm, abandoned land was common in most low-income neighborhoods in North America’s cities. Common, too, in these areas were high unemployment and a shortage of fresh food. I founded the Center for Urban Agriculture in the 1980s with the idea that we could create small farm businesses on urban land, providing much-needed employment and food for those underserved communities. Most people at that time were confused when I used the words urban and agriculture in the same sentence.

Over the years I created and operated both rural and urban farming enterprises. Some looked like the prototypical vision of a farm: wide-open fields, rows of vegetables or fruit trees, a welcoming farmhouse, a large barn, animals grazing, tractors cultivating, and trucks stacked with boxes of food. But some of the projects I started were in urban places like Watts in Los Angeles, a neighborhood known for its poverty, violence, and unemployment. Starting in 1999, through the Center for Urban Agriculture, we created a three-acre farm on the site of the Watts health clinic, which had burned down during the uprisings in the mid-1960s.

I was young when I helped to develop that farm in Watts. Naively, I thought I could cure some of the neighborhood’s ills. Like so many do-gooders who had come and gone through there, I believed I had some answers to the deep-seated challenges that plagued that community. I discovered that I knew nothing. My own privilege …more

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Louisiana Floods: A “Classic Signal of Climate Change”

At least six people dead and 20,000 people rescued due to “historic” flooding event

Louisiana was under a state of emergency over the weekend with at least six people dead and 20,000 people rescued due to an “historic” flooding event affecting the state for the previous few days.

Flooded street in LouisianaPhoto courtesy of FEMAOn Sunday, the federal government declared a major disaster for Louisiana.

Although Louisiana bore the brunt, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Texas all saw heavy rainfall too.

One of the worst-affected areas is the Louisiana capital, Baton Rouge, with flash flooding affecting it over the weekend.

Some 10,000 people there spent last night in emergency shelters, with 100 roads closed due to flood waters which in some areas have exceeded one in 500-year flood levels. Indeed, at one stage last Friday morning, the Tickfaw River north of New Orleans rose 18 feet in about 12 hours.

“It’s not over,” the Governor John Bel Edwards said yesterday. “The water’s going to rise in many areas. It’s no time to let the guard down.” Edwards added that he did not know how many homes had been damaged, but “it’s in the thousands.” Edwards and his family were also forced to flee the Governor’s mansion after chest-high water flooded the basement. “That’s never happened before,” he said.

An official William Daniel told the BBC: “It is definitely an unprecedented flood here in Baton Rouge. Houses that have never ever even come close to flooding have water three and four foot high in to the houses.”

“This is a flood of epic proportions,” JR Shelton, the mayor of Central City added. “When we talk about floods now, we’ll talk about the great flood of 2016. “Everything else pales in comparison.”

Last night the Federal Government declared a major disaster for Louisiana. More than 1,700 rescue personnel had been mobilized with hundreds of thousands of sand bags deployed in different neighbourhoods. Some 800 guardsmen have also been deployed, as has the Coast Guard, using helicopters to help residents stranded on their rooftops.

Meteorologist Eric Holthaus notes that the flooding is “the latest in a string of exceptionally rare rainstorms that are stretching the definition of “extreme” weather. It’s exactly the sort of rainstorm that’s occurring more frequently as the planet warms.”

He points out that the rain storm in Louisiana is at least the eighth 500-year rainfall event across America in little more than a year.

There is no doubt about it – we are seeing more frequent extreme weather and …more

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