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New York State to Ban Fracking Over ‘Red Flags’ to Public Health

Decision comes after two-year study into the effects of fracking on the state’s air and water raises ‘serious questions’

The state of New York said it would ban the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing on Wednesday because of “red flags” about its risks to public health.

The ban puts one of the last great areas of untapped potential in the Marcellus Shale off-limits to the oil and gas industry.

anti-fracking protest in NYCPhoto by Adam Welz for CREDO ActionToday's decision for a frack-free zone across an entire state is the biggest obstacle to date to an industry that has had rapid growth across a number of other states.

The decision was reached after a two-year study into the effects of fracking on the state’s air and water, and announced at a cabinet meeting in Albany.

“The takeaway that I get from the data is that there are serious questions about public health,” Governor Andrew Cuomo, said.

New York State has had a moratorium on fracking for the past five years – and more than 120 towns across the state have outlawed the practice.

But Wednesday’s decision for a frack-free zone across an entire state was the biggest obstacle to date to an industry that has had rapid growth across a number of other states.

New York’s two-year review raised multiple concerns about the effects of fracking on public health.

“I cannot support high-volume hydraulic fracturing in the great state of New York,” Howard Zucker, the health commissioner, said. “There are many red flags.”

Zucker admitted there was still a lack of hard data about the effects of fracking on public health, but he said: “Would I let my child play in a school field nearby? After looking at the plethora of reports, my answer would be no.”

Asked why other states had allowed fracking given those health risks, Zucker said: “The fact is that many of those states didn’t bring their health teams to the table.”

The ban in New York comes at a time when oil and gas prices are falling around the country, shutting down hundreds of gas wells.

But the decision still carries political costs for Cuomo. The oil industry and supporters of fracking have countered that the industry could bring jobs to economically depressed areas of the state.

“I’ve never had anybody say to me ‘I believe fracking is great’. What I get is: ‘I have no alternative to fracking’,” Cuomo said on Wednesday. “But if …more

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Milwaukee Suburb’s Water Request is a Test for the Great Lakes Compact

Waukesha is the first community to seek an exception to the ban on diversion of water out of the Great Lakes

The city of Waukesha, Wisconsin, wants to draw water from Lake Michigan. But to do that the Milwaukee suburb will need the approval of all eight Great Lakes states, and nods from a couple Canadian provinces.

In the late 1800s, Waukesha was celebrated for its natural springs. But over time, the aquifer from which the city draws its water has shrunk, concentrations of radium have risen to unsafe levels, and the water has become increasingly brackish. Waukesha is under a court order to find a better drinking water source by 2018.

Lake MichiganPhoto by Yinan ChenThe Great Lakes Compact bans the diversion of water out of the Great Lakes with two exceptions: communities that straddle the basin, and communities within counties that straddle the basin.

“Even with conservation — even with the demand reduction we’re looking at implementing — we don’t have a sustainable water supply for the long term,” says Dan Duchniak, the general manager of the city’s water utility. After considering other options, including a failed legal challenge to the radium standard, Waukesha settled on a solution just 15 miles to the east: Lake Michigan.

But the city lies just outside of the Great Lakes basin — and within, therefore, restrictions imposed by the Great Lakes-St. Lawrence River Basin Water Resources Compact, aka the Great Lakes Compact, the historic 2008 international agreement on protecting Great Lakes water. “The Great Lakes have a long history of relatively crazy ideas for sending water in ships over to Asia, or pipelines to the Rocky Mountains, or things like that,” says Joel Brammeier, the president and CEO of the Alliance for the Great Lakes, a conservation group. “The reality is that the proposals to use water in new ways are going to come much closer to home.”

The compact bans the diversion of water out of the Great Lakes with two exceptions: communities that straddle the basin, and communities within counties that straddle the basin.

Hoping to squeeze into the latter of these loopholes, Waukesha is asking for a daily average diversion of 10.1 million gallons from Lake Michigan. Its application makes it the first community to seek such an exception — a crucial test case for how the compact will work in practice. “This initial precedent that’s going to be set by the Waukesha decision is extraordinarily important,” says Brammeier, “because …more

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Advocates Win Key Victories to Stop Wildlife-Killing Contests in the US

Statewide ban in California and victories in Idaho and Oregon spur hope for nationwide predator management reform

Wildlife-killing contests in the United States go by many different names, including wildlife derbies, predator-hunting contests, coyote calling contests, and coyote drives. But whatever the name, and wherever they are held, these contests come down to the same basic principle: Hunting animals for entertainment, with prizes for the top killers.

Coyotephoto byShawn McCready, on FlickrPrizes and inducements can no longer be awarded for nongame wildlife-killing contests in California.

Recently, the prize-for-killing mentality has come under increasing scrutiny, and in early December, wildlife activists won a key victory when the California Fish and Game Commission announced that “prizes and inducements” can no longer be awarded for nongame wildlife-killing contests in the state. The policy change makes California the first state to enact such a ban.

The California prohibition follows a nearly two-year effort by environmental advocates to reform the commission’s predator management policy. The campaign honed in on one particular wildlife-killing contest in northern California, known as the Modoc Coyote Drive, raising concerns not only for public safety and ethics, but also for the safety of OR-7, the first wolf to show up in California in 87 years, who was traversing in the region at the time.

Pointing out that OR-7 was protected under the federal Endangered Species Act, environmental groups, including Project Coyote, an Earth Island Institute project that works to change negative perceptions about predator species, petitioned the commission not only to stop the Modoc County killing contest, but also to ban nongame wildlife-killing contests statewide. During the rule-making process, the commission received thousands of letters and petitions in support of the ban, and on December 3, it voted 4 to 1 to end such contests in California.

“Awarding prizes for wildlife-killing contests is both unethical and inconsistent with our modern understanding of natural systems,” Michael Sutton, president of the commission, said after the vote. “Such contests are an anachronism and have no place in modern wildlife management.” It isn’t yet clear when the ban will be implemented.

The victory in California follows closely on the heels of another win in Idaho, this one involving a wolf and coyote-hunting contest on public lands managed by the United States Forest Service (USFS) and the Bureau of Land Management (BLM). Seven conservation groups, including Project Coyote, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Western …more

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Is the Lima Deal a Travesty of Global Climate Justice?

Poorer countries likely to reject agreement in Paris next year if onus falls on them rather than those largely responsible for global warming

At one point on Saturday night it looked quite likely that the Lima climate talks would collapse in disarray. Instead of the harmony expected between China and the US following their pre-talks pact, the world’s two largest economies were squaring off; workmen were dismantling the venue; old faultlines between rich and poor countries were opening up again and some countries’ delegations were rushing to catch their planes.

Activists wearing masks of world leaders in a boatPhoto by Percy Ramirez/OxfamCountries may technically still be on track to negotiate a final agreement in Paris next year, but the gaps between them are growing rather than closing and the stakes are getting higher every month.

In the end, after a marathon 32-hour session where everyone stared into the abyss of total failure, a modicum of compromise prevailed. Some deft changes of emphasis in the revised text and the inclusion of key words such as “loss” and “damage” proved just enough for diplomats to bodge a last-minute compromise. There were cheers and tears as the most modest of agreements was reached. The Peruvian president of the UN climate change convention, or COP20, could say without irony: “With this text, we all win without exception.”

Not so. Countries may technically still be on track to negotiate a final agreement in Paris next year, but the gaps between them are growing rather than closing and the stakes are getting higher every month.

We have now reached the point where everyone can see clearly that whatever ambition there once was to respect science and try to hold temperatures to an overall 2C rise has been ditched. We also know that developing countries will not get anything like the money they need to adapt their economies and infrastructure to climate change and that those countries that have been historically responsible for getting the world into its current climate mess will be able to do much what they like.

As it stands, 21 years of tortuous negotiations may have actually taken developing countries backwards on tackling climate change. From an imperfect but legally binding UN treaty struck in 1992, in which industrialized countries accepted responsibility and agreed to make modest but specific cuts over a defined period, we now have the prospect of a less than legally binding global deal where everyone is obliged to …more

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Recycled Plastic Clothing: Solution or Threat?

Research shows that synthetic clothing sheds plastic microfibers, which end up back in oceans

Celebrity music mogul Pharrell Williams recently unveiled his latest project: He’s the face for G-Star Raw for the Oceans, a clothing line made out of recycled polyethylene terephthalate (PET) bottles. Since the collection’s launch in September 2014, Raw for the Oceans has received a huge amount of media attention, and the clothes have been distributed to G-Star Raw shops around the world. On the clothing line’s website, the makers claim that Pharrell’s collection uses “the world’s first high performance eco-yarn.”

Oil Train BlockadePhoto by Bo Eide Plastic and other ocean trash on a beach in northern Norway.

The concept of transforming recycled PET bottles into clothing is not new. During the last five years, a significant number of clothing companies, businesses, and environmental organizations have started spinning plastics into fabric in an effort to tackle global plastic pollution. But there’s a slight problem with this approach. Research now shows that microfibers — tiny synthetic threads less than 1 mm in size — could be the biggest source of plastic in the ocean. If this is the case, recycled plastic clothes could be doing more harm than good.

Dr. Mark Browne, an ecologist and postdoctoral fellow at the National Center of Ecological Analysis and Synthesis in Santa Barbara, California, has been studying plastic pollution and microfibers for 10 years now. He explains that every time a synthetic garment — one made of manmade rather than natural fibers — goes through the spin and rinse cycle in a washing machine, it sheds a large number of plastic fibers. Most washing machines don’t have filters to trap these miniscule microfibers, and neither do sewage plants that are responsible for removing contaminants. So every time the water drains from a washing machine, plastic filaments are swept through the sewers and eventually end up in the ocean.

In 2011, Browne published a paper in Environmental Science & Technology stating that a single synthetic garment can produce more then 1,900 fibers per wash. Fleeces seem to lose the largest number of filaments, but even sleek synthetic fabrics like nylon shed. When you think about how many times you wash a t-shirt or a pair of pants, the statistics become staggering.

To measure the extent of this problem, Browne and a team of researchers collected effluent samples from marine and freshwater sites …more

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The Leaders of Tomorrow Can’t Wait Any Longer to Act

I don't want to be remembered as part of a generation that saw the signs and did nothing as their planet was destroyed

My name is Hallie Turner. I live in Raleigh, North Carolina, and I am a 12-year old climate activist and member of the iMatter Youth Council.

Hallie TurnerTwelve-year-old Hallie Turner finds the lack of opportunities for kids her age to do anything
about climate change frustrating.

I got involved with climate activism almost by accident. The topic came up at dinner one night in fourth grade. I had heard about climate change and knew it was bad, but I had never fully understood it. The next time I went to the library, I discovered Al Gore’s book An Inconvenient Truth. Just as iMatter’s founder Alec Loorz was inspired by Al Gore's documentary, I was inspired by the book. Deciding to read that book was one of the most important decisions I have ever made.

My first reaction to what I read was, “Wow. This can't be real.” I couldn't believe that an issue that big could exist, that we had caused all these horrible things to happen to our planet.

My second reaction was, “Why doesn't everyone know about this?” The pictures were there, the facts were there. It was so obvious to me, a nine-year-old, that this issue was severe. Why wasn't this being talked about every day? Why was nothing being done about this? And how could people deny that climate change was happening?

My third thought was that I wanted to get involved. I started doing more research about the issue. I wanted to do something right then and there.

In today's busy lifestyle, I think it's good just to take a step back and think “Wow. I'm insanely lucky to live on this astounding, spectacular, ever-changing planet. There's only one Earth, with so many wonderful species and habitats and people and ideas and creations. It's a privilege just to be here.” We live on such a beautiful planet and have been blessed with opportunities to make it even MORE amazing. We have so much capacity to do MORE with what we've been given. And yet some of us still refuse to listen. Some of us still won't take action when the jaw-dropping pictures and facts are staring us right in the face.

This is what inspired me. But as I did more research, I became increasingly frustrated about the lack of opportunities for kids my age …more

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Baja’s Iconic Surf Spot is Under Threat

Surfers and environmentalists have launched a campaign to have the San Miguel beach and watershed protected as a state park

San Miguel in Baja, California, is said to be where the first wave was surfed in all of Mexico. The area also contains one of the last intact riparian corridors in all of northern Baja — the San Miguel watershed.  This critical riparian ecosystem leads up to the beach, bringing with it sand and rocks that pile up and create a rock land formation that provides perfect conditions for a classic, long wave that wraps around the beach. The waves draw thousands of surfers to the area every year.

San Miguel BeachPhoto by courtesy of Surfing for ChangeThe San Miguel watershed leads up to the beach, bringing with it sand and rocks that pile up and create a rock land formation that provides perfect conditions the classic waves here.

The watershed, additionally, is also critical habitat for a number of native and endemic species, an important source of drinking water for local residents, and provides a needed open space for the beachside community of Ensenada. But like every other beachfront area, the San Miguel watershed and the iconic waves it helps create face a slew of pressing threats such as continued urban development, sand mining, and trash dumping.

In the face of these threats, a coalition of local and international environmental and surfing groups are backing an initiative by the Mexican environmental organization Pronatura Noroeste, to preserve 58 hectares of the San Miguel beach and watershed as a state park. “We have the chance to do something proactive, and protect something before it needs saving”, says Nik Strong-Cvetich, Executive Director of Save The Waves Coalition, one of the groups supporting the park initiative. (Other groups include SurfEns, Wildcoast and the Bahía de Todos Santos World Surfing Reserve.)

As part of this campaign, former Brower Youth Award winner Kyle Thiermann and his organization Surfing for Change have created a short documentary that explores the connection between the health of the San Miguel watershed, the quality of the classic wave here, and the campaign launched by surfing and environmental groups to protect the area.

Through the campaign, Save The Waves and World Surfing Reserve local partners will be trying to deliver 10,000 signatures to the Governor of Baja California to show local and international support for creation of the San Miguel State Park. Save The Waves will also demonstrate …more

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