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FBI Joins EPA in Investigating Flint Water Crisis for Criminal Violations

FBI spokeswoman says agency’s role is ‘investigating the matter to determine if there have been any federal violations’ in lead contamination of drinking water

The FBI is working with a multi-agency team investigating the lead contamination of Flint’s drinking water, alongside Environmental Protection Agency investigators who can tackle criminal violations of federal environmental law, officials said on Tuesday.

photo of people listening in a meetingcourtesy of Flint Water StudyThe Michigan civil rights commission plans to hold hearings to explore whether the civil rights of Flint residents were violated.

Also on Tuesday, it was announced that Darnell Early, the state-appointed emergency manager for Flint when its water source was switched, will leave his current role in Detroit’s troubled school district four-and-a-half months early.

A slew of local, state and federal officials have resigned since doctors revealed last year that using the Flint River for the city’s drinking water supply caused elevated levels of lead in some children’s blood. Lead contamination has been linked to learning disabilities and other problems. Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, has apologized repeatedly for the state’s role.

FBI spokeswoman Jill Washburn told the AP in an email that the agency’s role is "investigating the matter to determine if there have been any federal violations." She declined to say when the FBI got involved.

Officials haven’t said whether criminal or civil charges might follow the investigation.

In addition to the FBI and the EPA, the team includes the US postal inspection service, Gina Balaya, a US attorney’s spokeswoman in Detroit, told the Associated Press in an email. The Detroit Free Press first reported the FBI’s involvement on Tuesday.

In November, the EPA announced it was auditing how Michigan enforces drinking water rules and said it would identify how to strengthen state oversight. The US attorney’s office in Detroit said in January that it was investigating the water crisis with the EPA.

The federal investigation is one of several taking place into Flint’s water supply. Last month, Michigan attorney general Bill Schuette announced the appointment of a special counsel to help his office investigate whether laws were broken.

An independent panel appointed by Snyder has determined that the Michigan department of environmental quality was primarily responsible for the water contamination. The Michigan civil rights commission also plans to hold hearings to explore whether the civil rights of Flint residents were violated.

Earley notified Snyder of his decision on Tuesday and said he had completed work ahead …more

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The Fight to Legalize Ferrets in California

Advocates push to overturn state ferret ban, argue pets don't pose threat to wildlife

Berkeley’s Martin Luther King Jr. Civic Center Park was packed, gray-haired hippies in tie-dye swaying to a Grateful Dead tribute band, the scent of marijuana heavy in the air. Tents around the perimeter peddled food, jewelry and the like — but one tent was a little different.

Photo of FerretPhoto by LynahePossession of ferrets has been illegal in California since 1933.

Three women stood gathering signatures, selling t-shirts and buttons with slogans like “Occupy California” and “Enemy of the State.” Each item featured a small weasel-like creature, the furry emblems of their cause: to quote from another button, “Free the fucking ferrets.”

Importation and possession of Mustela putorius furo has been illegal in California since 1933, though ferrets are allowed in zoos and research labs. This ban is driven primarily by fear that escaped ferrets would prey on native birds and other small animals. After years of unsuccessful government lobbying, these three activists and others like them are petitioning to put ferrets on the November 2016 ballot.

Perhaps the closest to success the legalization movement has come in three decades of advocacy was Senate Bill 89, which made it through the legislature onto then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s desk in 2004. The bill proposed amnesty to ferrets already in the state — no small number, estimates ranging wildly from 30,000 to one million — on the condition they were vaccinated for rabies and sterilized. SB 89 would also have allocated funds towards an environmental impact report (EIR) to determine the ecological consequences of legalization.

Schwarzenegger terminated the bill. “I love ferrets,” he wrote in his official veto message. “I co-starred with a ferret in ‘Kindergarten Cop.’” But he found the bill “too bureaucratic,” and believed such action should not be taken without conducting an EIR first.

No EIR is required to put a ferret measure in front of California voters, but a spot on the ballot must be earned through other means: 365,880 signatures. (A quarter of that number would at least guarantee a hearing in the state legislature). The ferret legalization initiative estimates it has collected around 10,000 signatures so far, and campaigners say they have until February 9 to close the gap. While they admitted that’s a long shot, advocates said their primary goal has been to build awareness.

The Golden State …more

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Trans Mountain and Energy East Pipelines Delayed in Face of Mounting Protests

Trudeau government announces new climate test and consultation with Indigenous Peoples on all major resource projects

In an effort to build public trust, the Canadian government announced last week that is going to change the way it reviews natural resource projects, thus delaying final decisions on two major oil pipeline projects.

Protest against Kinder Morgan in BurnabyPhoto by Mark KlotzA November 2014 file photo of a rally against the proposed Kinder Morgan oil pipeline on Burnaby Mountain, British Columbia. Final hearings for the project are underway in Burnaby, as are protests.

Leading up to his election last October, and again at the Paris climate summit in December, new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau talked big about tackling climate change and had environmentalists ready to sing his praises. But just a few months after his election there was already trouble brewing. 

The trouble, as has been the case in Canada for years, begins and ends with the Alberta tar sands. Or, specifically, the oil industry’s desire to get approval for some pipeline, any pipeline, that would move tar sands crude to the seaside and on to foreign markets, thus allowing the tar sands mines to expand exponentially.

The question that continues to dog Trudeau is a simple one: How can Canada be a climate leader while continuing to push for the expansion of what is considered the most destructive environmental project on the planet. 

Right now there are two tests looming for Trudeau. 

The first, American company Kinder Morgan’s proposed Trans Mountain pipeline project that would allow for the transportation of 900,000 barrels of crude per day by twinning its existing pipeline from Alberta to the Westridge marine terminal in Burnaby, British Columbia. Final hearings for the project are underway in Burnaby, as are protests.

The second, Enbridge’s Energy East project, which involves repurposing an old gas pipeline and building a new one to carry 1.1 million barrels per day of tar sands crude 4,600 kilometrs from Alberta to Eastern Canada. 

Both projects are designed to feed markets hungry for oil outside Canada. 

Trudeau’s continued support for pipeline projects has been making environmental groups nervous. On Wednesday, January 27, in an open letter to the Canadian parliament, 75 environmental groups from Canada and the United States expressed their opposition to “new fossil fuel energy infrastructure such as pipelines and tar sands projects” and urged Trudeau to stick to the …more

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Five Big Cats Rescued from Thailand’s Tiger Temple

Fate of remaining 142 big cats still uncertain

Thai officials seized five of the 147 captive tigers at the controversial Tiger Temple on Friday and relocated them to wildlife refuges run by the country’s national parks department, according to a report in the Bangkok Post.

entrance to Tiger Temple meditation centerPhoto by Steve WinterThe Tiger Temple's new 'meditation center' is part of a massive new expansion initiative that will include a new temple building and a larger tiger enterprise - housing up to 500 tigers in the project's initial phase.

While the rescue of the first five tigers is welcome news, the fate of the remaining 142 was still unclear as of posting this update. The Bangkok Post reports that it’s possible that the temple authorities and Thai officials “had reached an agreement that 70 tigers could be removed while the remaining 77 should be kept at the temple for tourism purposes so the foundation can earn revenue to operate.”

Friday’s big cat rescue by Thai Department of National Parks, Wildlife and Plant Conservation comes a week after the National Geographic magazine revealed that the temple, officially known as Wat Pa Luangta Bua Yannasampanno, has been involved in the illegal trade and speed-breeding of tigers since at least 2004. The temple — that’s located in Kanchanaburi, about a three-hour drive from Bangkok — attracts thousands of tourists every year, who pay $200 or more each for hands-on contact with the tigers. The temple makes a whopping $3 million a year from this business.

photoname Photo by Sharon GuynupThe Tiger Temple makes about $3 million a year from thousands tourists who show up to
pet and play with the tigers.

The NatGeo investigation was based, in part, on information provided in a report by the Australian animal welfare group, Cee4Life. The report includes videotaped evidence from a whistleblower codenamed “Charlie” that three micro-chipped male tigers were trafficked from the temple in December 2014 with the full knowledge of the temple’s founder and leader, Abbot Phra Acham Phoosit (Chan) Kanthitharo. (Read EIJ’s article on this issue, which includes an interview with Cee4Life founder Sybelle Foxcroft, here.)

Though Cee4Life made it’s report public last Friday (January 22), it had turned its findings over to Thai authorities (and to NatGeo) back in December.

The Thai …more

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Copenhagen’s Mayor Announces Plans to Divest City from Fossil Fuels

Denmark's capital will withdraw investment fund out of all holdings in coal, oil, and gas if proposal is approved

Copenhagen’s mayor has announced plans to divest the city’s 6.9 billion kroner (£700 million) investment fund of all holdings in coal, oil and gas.

If his proposal is approved at a finance committee meeting next Tuesday, as expected, the Danish capital will become the country’s first investment fund to sell its stocks and bonds in fossil fuels.

Photo of Tony WebsterPhoto by Alan HoppsIf the mayor’s plan is approved, the Danish capital will become the country’s first investment fund to sell its stocks and bonds in fossil fuels.

“Copenhagen is at the forefront of world cities in the green transition, and we are working hard to become the world’s first CO2 neutral capital in 2025. Therefore it seems totally wrong for the municipality to still be investing in oil, coal and gas. We must change that,” the city’s mayor, Frank Jensen, told the Danish newspaper, Information, which first reported the story.

“I think this move sits well with Copenhagen’s desire for a green profile for their city,” he added.

It is unclear exactly how much of the city’s money pot is currently tied up in equities and bonds in the dirty energy sector. 

A council spokesperson told the Guardian that no decision had yet been taken as to where exactly the withdrawn monies would be reinvested.

The divestment initiative began with a small leftwing party on the Copenhagen council, before being taken up by Jensen, a social democrat.

Last year, Oslo became the first capital city to divest from fossil fuels, when it ditched $7 million of coal investments, to join a growing movement of cities that have pledged to combat climate change. The world’s largest coal port, Newcastle in Australia, has also made a divestment commitment.

In a possible sign of Scandinavian rivalry, Jensen suggested that Copenhagen’s move might be more significant. “I am not aware of any other capitals, which have made decisions as clear as the one, we are making,” he said. “But I believe more will follow in the wake of the climate agreement in Paris. The development will be fast.”

Around 80 percent of the world’s known coal, 50 percent of its oil and 30 percent of its gas reserves will have to stay in the ground …more

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Delta 5 Defendants Acquitted of Major Charges

Washington judge first in the US to hear “necessity defense” for climate-related civil disobedience, later instructed jury not to consider it

In a highly-anticipated decision announced January 15th, a Washington state jury has acquitted five climate activists of their major charge of obstructing a train. The defendants, known as the Delta 5, were prosecuted for demonstrating against oil trains in Seattle’s Delta rail yard, which is owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad (BNSF).

Photo of Delta Five ProtestPhoto by Dan LongThe Delta 5 were prosecuted for demonstrating against oil trains in Seattle’s Delta rail yard.

The case marked the first time that a U.S. judge allowed defendants to present evidence showing that they practiced civil disobedience to avert the threat of climate change, and did so out of necessity. Under the “necessity defense”, defendants can escape prosecution if they can prove a law was broken to prevent a greater harm. In 2008, six Greenpeace activists used this defense in England, and were acquitted of all charges after cutting the power to a coal-fired power plant and painting the name of Prime Minister Gordon Brown on its smokestack.

In their effort to demonstrate necessity, the Delta 5’s defense called on several expert witnesses, including Professor Richard Gammon of the University of Washington – a co-author of the first monumental report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, issued in 1990, as well as hazardous materials expert Fred Milar, who testified to the dangers of transporting crude oil by rail. Gammon testified to the damage climate change has already brought to Washington state, while Milar testified to the hazards of transporting crude by rail, and how rail companies shift those risks onto the public.

Despite allowing the testimony of these expert witnesses, Snohomish County Judge Anthony Howard decided on January 14th that the defendants did not meet the requirements for the jury to consider their necessity defense. As a result, the judge instructed the jury not to consider whether the defendants acted out of necessity. In explaining his decision, the judge argued the defendants had not demonstrated a basic case that there were no reasonable legal alternatives to their actions.

The next morning the jury found the five defendants guilty of trespassing on BNSF property, but not guilty of obstructing a train – a charge that would have carried a heavier sentence. As a result, the defendants – Michael LaPointe, Patrick Mazza, Jackie …more

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Bald Eagles Soar to New Heights

Reintroduction project in Channel Islands National Park has been a success for the iconic raptors

As I kayaked into the cove at Cluster Point on the southwest side of Santa Rosa Island, part of the Channel Islands National Park in California, I witnessed something few had seen for at least 50 years. Two bald eagles, one mature, the other a juvenile, were lurking on the periphery of a northern elephant seal rookery. A big bull elephant seal appeared to be dead, lying motionless in the wind-whipped sand. The mature eagle hopped in closer and went to peck at the colossal marine mammal. Besides catching fish, the majestic raptors are known to scavenge on marine mammal carcasses. Just as it went for a bite, the 3,000-pound seal lurched skyward, startling both bald eagles. Their wings opened up and the howling northwest winds carried the hungry raptors eastward beyond the next bluff, the dramatic scene best observed from the seat of my kayak.

closeup photo of a bald eagleall photos by Chuck GrahamClick or tap this photo to view a slideshow of bald eagles in California’s Channel Islands

Bald eagles had virtually vanished from the Channel Islands National Park by the early 1950s due to poisoning from the pesticide DDT. Montrose Chemical Corporation, which manufactured DDT beginning in the 1940s, dumped hundreds of tons of it into the Southern California Bight near Santa Catalina Island, placing the local food web in great jeopardy. Exposure to the pesticide caused birds like the peregrine falcon, the California brown pelican, and the bald eagle to lay thin-shelled eggs lacking in calcium. Before chicks were born, eggs would crack and the chicks would be crushed by their parents. Generations of birds never left the nest.

Ten years of litigation followed, and in 2000, Montrose was ordered to cough-up $140 million in restitution, with $40 million set aside for the recovery of wildlife like the bald eagle, as well as seabird habitat restoration.

Beginning in 2002, the National Park Service, The Nature Conservancy, and the Institute for Wildlife Studies embarked on an aggressive recovery plan, releasing 12 bald eagle chicks a year through 2006, all on Santa Cruz Island in the National Park. The chicks, hatched in captivity, were brought to the island at just 8-week-old. Eaglets are not capable of flying until around 12 weeks, so they were firstplaced in hack towers, large …more

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