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Four Pacific Marine National Monuments Face Threat Under Trump Order

Fishing interests push to roll back the world's biggest set of ocean reserves as Secretary Zinke prepares recommendations

This is Kitty Simonds’ moment.

For the four decades that she has been running an obscure but powerful federal fisheries management agency in Honolulu, Simonds has fought tooth and nail against any restrictions on fishing in the waters surrounding US possessions in the Pacific, from Hawaii to the Northern Marianas.

And for four decades, the restrictions have done nothing but grow — particularly the no-fishing marine reserves that have, as she puts it, “engulfed” more than half the US waters in the Central Pacific for, she believes, no useful purpose.

photo of Papahānaumokuākea Marine National MonumentPhoto by Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument Fish on a deep reef in Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument. Papahānaumokuākea is one of four four marine monuments currently under review by the Trump Administration.

But today, Simonds is attempting to harness the ideology of the Trump administration with a campaign named “Make America Great Again: Return US Fishermen to US Waters.” It aims to roll back the world’s biggest set of marine reserves — no matter that the fishing closures have had no perceptible effect on ever-increasing catches of over-fished species, or that most of the Hawaii commercial fishing fleet is crewed by poor foreigners working in slave-like conditions.

Simonds’ opening came on April 25, when President Donald Trump signed an executive order asking Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to review 27 national monuments created under the 1906 Antiquities Act since 1996, with an eye to rescinding or shrinking them or simply allowing economic activities like mining or drilling.

The Antiquities Act empowers the president, without the consent of Congress, to turn federal lands containing “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest” into “national monuments,” which protects them from any extractive use. It does not provide for the president cancelling the designation, although Congress may do so.

Trump’s focus is squarely on the more controversial monuments on land, particularly Bears Ears in Utah. But caught in the dragnet of the 27 monuments are four marine monuments in the Pacific as well as one off the New England coast, all established in the last decade.

More than a million public comments were submitted and Zinke is expected to submit his recommendations on August 25.

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One public comment is especially likely to get an attentive reading: the 12-page letter submitted by Simonds, whose title is executive director of the Western Pacific Fisheries Management Council, known as …more

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Life without Fossil Fuels: Slow and Satisfying

A visit to a Missouri homestead serves as a reminder that the one constant of life is change

I stepped off the train in the farm town of La Plata, Missouri, with my 9-year-old son, Zane. Thomas was waiting to meet us with two well-maintained bikes, one with a trailer for our backpacks, the other with a long wooden seat for passengers, to make the 6-mile trip to the Possibility Alliance.

photo of milky wayPhoto by Keith YahlWith only candles to light the darkness at the Possibility Alliance, the starts and quiet took center stage during the author's visit.

The PA is a 110-acre homestead run by Ethan and Sarah Hughes, who have two young daughters. Their reliance on fossil fuels is limited to trains for long-distance trips, municipal water, and a telephone landline. They purchase bike parts, bulk grains, and tin roofing, as needed — but that’s about it. No electricity, no gas, no cars, no planes. With the imminent release of my book on how life using radically less fossil fuel turns out to be moresatisfying, I’d been curious to visit the PA both to glean technical knowledge and — more importantly — to see whether their experience of increased joy and satisfaction matched my own.

While my stay was brief, it felt full in terms of the ingenuity, beauty, and love I experienced. The sun set as we biked from the train. A bit later, the land lit up with fireflies. With only candles to light the darkness, the stars and the quiet took center stage. The next morning at dawn, I walked through the lush greens of gardens, orchards, pastures, and forests, then joined Ethan and other members of the community for an hour of meditation.

In addition to the Hughes family, the PA is home to two permanent members, Dan and Margaret, as well as two long-term visitors, Thomas and Maggie. Thousands of other visitors have come and gone over the years. A few have settled on adjacent homesteads, while others left to start far-flung urban permaculture centers. All are contributing to a more beautiful and just world, as they feel uniquely called to do. Ethan and Sarah have given away tens of thousands of trees and plants over the years — they are still in awe of nature’s abundance, the way life regenerates and propagates through time, a key difference between a tractor and a draft-horse — but perhaps more significantly, they’ve seeded the world with the people they’ve taught and inspired.

Thomas cooked all meals over ultra-efficient wood-fired rocket stoves in …more

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Marine Stewardship Council Grants EcoLabel to ‘Dolphin-Destructive’ Mexican Tuna Fishery

Wildlife groups blast the decision, say it violates MSC’s own certification standards

The Marine Stewardship Council, an international organization formed to address the global problem of unsustainable fishing, has approved use of its “sustainable” ecolabel by the Mexican purse-seine fishery that intentionally chases, nets, and kills dolphins in order to catch tuna.

image of dolphins in netPhoto courtesy of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Dolphins at the top of a purse-seine net. The Marine Stewardship council approved use of its ecolabel by the dolphin-destructive Mexican purse-seine fishery on August 4.

The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) Mission claimsto use our ecolabel and fishery certification programme to contribute to the health of the world’s oceans by recognizing and rewarding sustainable fishing practices, influencing the choices people make when buying seafood, and working with our partners to transform the seafood market to a sustainable basis.”

But, according to David Phillips, director of Earth Island’s International Marine Mammal Project, which first pioneered the Dolphin Safe tuna fishing standard, MSC is now failing to abide by its own certification requirements prohibiting the targeting of mammals for any fishery certified by MSC.

Phillips blasted the decision in a statement: “MSC is fraudulently rewarding the single most dolphin-destructive fishing method in world history with its ecolabel."

Earth Island is not alone in objecting to the MSC decision. The World Wildlife Fund, which in the late 1970s founded the MSC program, announced it’s “deep concern” that the Mexican fishery fails to meet MSC standards and recommends seafood buyers reject claims that the fishery is “sustainable.”

The Humane Society of the US and the US Marine Mammal Commission also strongly oppose MSC’s approval of this fishery as does a group of more than 60 non-governmental organizations and scientists from around the world.

Since 1960, more than 7 million dolphins have been killed by this cruel fishing method. Dolphins drown in nets, dolphin babies become separated from their mothers, and the constant stress of repeat captures disrupts feeding and mating activity. The fishery continues to hamper the recovery of dolphin populations that have been severely depleted by decades of killing by the tuna fleets.

The vast majority of the world tuna fishing industry has abandoned this fishing method, with more than 95 percent of the world tuna companies refusing to sell tuna caught by setting nets on dolphins. Regarding the Mexican tuna fishery, Phillips stated: “The Mexican fishing industry continues to chase and target dolphins and deceive consumers into thinking that it is ‘sustainable’ or …more

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Monsanto Sold PCBs for Years Despite Knowing Health Risks, Archives Reveal

Company says it has no liability for pollution caused by discharge of the chemicals into the environment

Monsanto continued to produce and sell toxic industrial chemicals known as PCBs for eight years after learning that they posed hazards to public health and the environment, according to legal analysis of documents put online in a vast searchable archive.

More than 20,000 internal memos, minuted meetings, letters, and other documents have been published in the new archive, many for the first time.

photo of PCB contaminated areaPhoto by Paul SablemanLegal anaylsis of newly available documents suggests that Monsanto continued to produce and sell toxic industrial chemicals known as PCBs for years after learning they posed risks to public health and the environment.

Most were obtained from legal discovery and access to documents requests by the Poison Papers Project, which incorporates the Bioscience Resource Project, the Center for Media and Democracy and Chiron Return.

Bill Sherman, the assistant attorney general for the US state of Washington — which is suing Monsanto for PCB clean-up costs potentially worth billions of dollars — said the archive contained damning evidence the state had previously been unaware of.

He told The Guardian: “If authentic, these records confirm that Monsanto knew that their PCBs were harmful and pervasive in the environment, and kept selling them in spite of that fact. They knew the dangers, but hid them from the public in order to profit.”

As well as the Washington case, Monsanto is facing PCB contamination suits from city authorities in Seattle, Spokane, Long Beach, Portland, San Diego, San Jose, Oakland, and Berkeley.

Any legal liabilities may be shared with the German chemicals company, Bayer, which has mounted a $66 billion (£51 billion) takeover bid for Monsanto. The European commission aims to complete a competition probe into the merger by August 22, amid signs of public unease in Europe and the US.

Monsanto’s vice president of global strategy, Scott Partridge, did not dispute the authenticity of the documents revealed in the online cache but denied any impropriety.

He told The Guardian: “More than 40 years ago, the former Monsanto voluntarily stopped production and sale of PCBs prior to any federal requirement to do so. At the time Monsanto manufactured PCBs, they were a legal and approved product used in many useful applications. Monsanto has no liability for pollution caused by those who used or discharged PCBs into the …more

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‘Cruel and Unusual’: Texas Prisoners Face Deadly Heat and Contaminated Water

Lawsuit alleges that prisoners must drink comious amounts of lead- and copper-tained water to cope with high temperatures

graphic depicting a prison

As a federal judge ordered the Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) to cool down one of its prison units for the sake of its elderly and sick residents' health, plaintiffs at another Texas prison are hoping to see a similar victory in their own challenges to deadly heat and toxic water at their unit.

Judge Keith Ellison ordered TDCJ to come up with a plan to keep heat-sensitive prisoners at the Wallace Pack Unit near Navasota, Texas, at a maximum temperature of 88 degrees, and provide ready access to respite areas for the unit's other prisoners. It's a landmark case that could have implications for other Texas prisons — and prisons around the country — without air-conditioning in cellblocks.

According to TDCJ Director of Public Information Jason Clark, only 29 of 108 TDCJ units have air-conditioning in their cellblocks, with all units having at least some areas that are air-conditioned. The Eastham Unit in Lovelady, Texas, is among the state's many prisons lacking air-conditioning in the areas where prisoners spend most of their time.

People incarcerated in the Eastham Unit have filed a federal complaint in the Eastern District of Texas arguing that they must drink copious amounts of water tainted with lead and copper to cope with the deadly summer heat. The water, they say, has caused a chronic, untreatable stomach disease among some of them. Their complaints are closely modeled after the Wallace Pack Unit case, and could become some of the first tests of the new precedent set by Judge Ellison's July ruling.

image of prisonimage by Jared Rodriguez / Truthout Deadly heat, unsafe water, black mold, and cockroaches plague prisoners at many Texas prisons. Keith Washington, a prisoner Eastam unit, has described the conditions "cruel and unusual."  

But even with the recent victory in the Wallace Pack case, the Eastham lawsuits face significant challenges. A federal judge ordered the original 10 plaintiffs to proceed as individuals and declined the main plaintiff a lawyer to represent the case, calling their claims "rather routine."

The prisoners allege that the prison's aging service lines have become so corroded that significant levels of lead and copper have leeched into the water supply. Eastham, which opened in 1917, is the oldest prison in the state — and looks like it. As I drove up to the 100-year-old unit, I noticed the chipping paint and …more

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Colombia Faces Soaring Deforestation Following FARC Guerrilla Demobilization

Rebels imposed environmental rules remote rainforest regions, government struggling to fill power vacuum

Colombia is currently in the midst of a peace process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the country’s largest guerrilla group. Praised as the end of the Western Hemisphere’s longest-running armed conflict — which began in 1964 and has cost the lives of more than 265,000 Colombians and left over 7 million displaced — 7,000 members of the FARC have since left the jungle and turned over their weapons as part of the peace deal. The Colombian government began negotiations to end the conflict with the FARC in 2012, and by June 2016, both the government and the rebels reached a bilateral ceasefire, officially ending the violence between the two parties. The FARC officially demobilized in February 2017, though the process began in 2016.

According to the independent conflict monitor group Cerac, the ceasefire between the government and the guerrillas has already prevented an estimated 2,800 deaths, but environmental advocates worry that it may have an unintended consequence: that the power vacuum left by the demobilized FARC guerrillas will lead to further destruction of the Amazon rainforest.

photo of deforestation in Colombiaphoto courtesy of Corporation for the Sustainable Development of the North and the East Amazon Deforestation has increased significantly in the Colombian Amazon since FARC rebels began moving towards demobilization.

In July, Colombia’s Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies (IDEAM) announced that deforestation shot up 44 percent in Colombia in 2016 compared to 2015, with the heaviest deforestation taking place in territories formerly controlled by the guerrillas.

Over the course of the 2016, IDEAM says that 178,597 hectares — 690 square miles — of forests around the country were destroyed, primarily by large-scale agriculture, logging, coca cultivation, road infrastructure projects, illegal mining, and human-caused forest fires. Authorities are particularly concerned for the country’s Amazon region, where 34 percent of all deforestation took place last year.

The Amazon is the world’s largest tropical rainforest. It covers more than 2 million square miles and houses at least 10 percent of the planet’s known species. Furthermore, the Amazon rainforest absorbs approximately 1.5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide each year, making it one of the world’s most important carbon sinks and an invaluable buffer against human-caused climate change. Roughly 6 percent of the Amazon rainforest is found in Colombia.

The Colombian government, boosted by $300 million in aid from Germany, Norway, and the United Kingdom, promised to …more

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Fifth Anniversary of Chevron Richmond Refinery Fire a Reminder of Work Still to Be Done

Protecting people and planet from Big Oil the will require citizen action on a much greater scale

A version of this article originally appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle.

Five years ago, my wife and I moved to Richmond, CA and soon learned about the local emergency response protocol known as “shelter in place.”

When large fires break out in Bay Area refineries, like the century old Chevron facility near our house, first a siren sounds. Then public officials direct everyone nearby to take cover inside. Doors must be closed, windows taped shut, if possible, and air conditioning turned off.

photo of chevron refinery firePhoto by Daniel ParksThe August 2012 fire at Chevron's Richmond, CA refinery sent some 15,000 local residents in search of medical attention.

August 6 is the fifth anniversary of such self-help efforts in Richmond. On that day in 2012, we looked up and saw an eruption worthy of Mount Vesuvius. Due to pipe corrosion and lax maintenance practices, a Chevron processing unit sprang a leak. The escaping petroleum vapor reached an ignition source. This led to a raging fire that Contra Costa County (home to four refineries) classified as a “Level 3 incident,” posing the highest level of danger.

Nineteen oil workers narrowly escaped death at the scene of the accident. It sent a towering plume of toxic smoke over much of the East Bay and 15,000 refinery neighbors in search of medical attention for respiratory complaints. While local property values took a hit, Chevron stayed on track to make $25 billion in profits that year.

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Hunkering down at home and hoping for the best — or going to see the doctor — is no substitute for addressing a problem of this scale at its source. The Chevron fire became a wake up call for citizen action to make California refineries safer for their own workers and less harmful to air quality, community health, and the environment in general.

Since August 2012, labor and community organizers have used lobbying, litigation, regulatory intervention, electoral politics, and strike activity to pursue these goals. There has been some safety enforcement progress, modest financial concessions by Big Oil, and related promises to behave better in the future. Yet, thanks to Big Oil’s legal and political clout in our nation’s second largest oil refining state, the wheels of environmental justice turn much too slowly.

On the plus side, after the 2012 fire, Chevron quickly pleaded “no contest” to six criminal charges filed by state and local prosecutors, agreeing to pay $2 million in fines and restitution. It was also …more

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