Another voice: ‘The greenest corner in the richest nation on earth’
By Robin Cody, August 19, 2016
The fiery wreck of an oil train at Mosier is what galvanized many of us to sit on the Burlington Northern railroad tracks in downtown Vancouver on June 18. Twenty-one protesters, ranging in age from 20 to 84, were repeatedly warned of 90 days’ jail time and $1,000 fines for criminal trespassing. And still, we sat.
Protesters got arrested and briefly jailed. Our legal status remained in limbo until recently, when criminal charges were dismissed.
Now we can talk.
The whole idea — of fracking North Dakota and shipping flammable crude oil by rail through the Columbia River Gorge — is not just a threat to people who live near the tracks. It’s also a violation of nature. It’s a big wrong turn in America’s supposed transition from fossil fuels to renewables.
It’s 2016. About climate change and its causes, the evidence is in. Time is running out. Yet many more tanker loads of climate change could come barreling through the Gorge. The proposed Tesoro Savage Vancouver Energy Project would be the largest oil-by-rail terminal in the Northwest. It would more than double the daily frequency of mile-long oil trains to the Port of Vancouver.
If civil disobedience does any good, it’s in the context of many other groups and individuals speaking out. There were rallies in Hood River and Astoria, tribal action in Mosier, and the alarm expressed by city councils of Vancouver and Portland and Spokane. Columbia Riverkeepers, 350pdx, and many other organizations put the spotlight on industries that contribute to, and profit from, America’s dependence on fossil fuels.
This is about where we live. It would be fundamentally unlike us Cascadians, of all people, to cooperate with big oil’s distant profit.
The world expects the United States to take the lead with climate action. The U.S. looks to California and the Northwest. So here we are, in the greenest corner of the richest nation on Earth. If we don’t step up for the planet, where in the world will momentum take hold? And when we do take a stand, it might really make a difference.
Robin Cody of Portland is the author of “Ricochet River” and “Voyage of a Summer Sun.”
Has The Fracking Industry Already Won The 2016 Election?
By Farron Cousins, June 27, 2016 – 14:46
June has been a fantastic month for the fracking industry.
On June 21st, a federal judge ruled that the Interior Department does not have the authority to regulate fracking on federal lands because the agency lacks the overall authority to regulate fracking. The judge said that his decision was based on the fact that Congress had not given the agency that power, and therefore they overstepped their authority in attempting to regulate natural gas fracking activities.
A few days after that court ruling that gave the industry free rein over our federal lands, the Democratic Party handed them an even larger gift. At a DNC platform committee meeting on Friday, June 24th, the committee voted to NOT include a ban on fracking as part of the Democratic Party’s platform for the 2016 election.
The moratorium on fracking was proposed by 350.org founder Bill McKibben who was selected to join the Party’s platform committee by Senator Bernie Sanders. McKibben also introduced resolutions to support a carbon tax and prohibit new fossil fuel leases offshore and on federal lands, but these items were also nixed by a majority of the committee members.
The decision by the committee to roll over for the fracking industry is not only dangerous for the environment, but it also goes against the will of voters who identify as Democrats.
The most recently available polls on national support for fracking (from March 2016) show that 51% of Americans are opposed to it, versus only 36% who are in favor. In the poll, 13% of respondents had no opinion. Not surprisingly, the poll found that approval for fracking was higher among Republicans than Democrats, with 55% and 25% of each Party approving of the practice, respectively.
In the political world, polls are fairly easy to ignore, and both major parties are guilty of routinely ignoring polling data. But in early June, anticipating a showdown over fracking, environmental groups delivered more than 90,000 petitions to the Democratic National Committee asking for the Party to support a ban on fracking. Laying out fracking as both an environmental and economic disaster, these groups were hoping to head off the fracking fight and put an end to it before it began.
“This is the face of fracking in America: Latino, Native, African American and other communities are disproportionately impacted by the toxic effects of fracking and its infrastructure…It’s time for the DNC, a political party that is totally dependent on the participation of People of Color, to show that our health is as important as our votes. Including a fracking ban in the party platform is an essential step to demonstrate this.”
Not only did the leadership of the Democratic Party decide to ignore polls that spelled out the desires of their own Party, but they also completely disregarded direct pleas from their own supporters to stand up to the fossil fuel industry and put an end to the fracking boom in the United States.
As is often the case, the people in the United States lost out because of the influence that money has over our politics. Back in May, Lee Fang and Zaid Jilani with The Intercept pointed out that former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell — who is serving as the Chairman of the Host Committee for the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia — wrote a pro-fracking op-ed for the New York Daily News while he was a paid consultant for a firm with investments in fracking companies.
Getting beyond the actual convention, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, has been a huge proponent of fracking and has personally taken in more than $7 million from the oil & gas industries for her campaign. Even more troubling, according to reports, during her tenure as Secretary of State, she helped spearhead a global campaign to bring fracking to other parts of the globe.
President Obama’s attitude towards climate and energy has been an “all of the above” approach that has relied on both renewables and fossil fuels (with increased fossil fuel production becoming a hallmark of the administration.) But with climate change accelerating faster than previously predicted, the United States cannot afford another four years of “all of the above,” but it is increasingly looking like that will be the scenario after this year’s election.
If the fracking industry thought that June was a good month, they can expect a lot more good news in the future as long as they keep that corporate campaign funding flowing. The only thing that will suffer will be the future of the planet.
BLM postpones Utah auction to ‘accommodate’ climate activists
By Phil Taylor, E and E News, November 17, 2015
The Bureau of Land Management late last night announced it is postponing today’s scheduled oil and gas lease sale in Salt Lake City to appease activists who are fighting to keep those minerals in the ground.
BLM had planned to lease up to 37,580 acres scattered around the center of the Beehive State for future oil and gas development, but the agency said it needed more time to “better accommodate the high level of public interest in attending the sale.”
It marks the first time that the “Keep it in the Ground” climate movement — which seeks to end the sale of federally owned oil, gas and coal — has disrupted a BLM lease auction.
BLM said it intends to reschedule the sale in the “near future.”
“As a public agency, we understand the importance of transparency,” said BLM spokeswoman Megan Crandall. “Given the large interest, we chose to postpone the sale and will be working to find the best way to accommodate the public and those who wish to attend and participate in the auction when it is held.”
It was the third consecutive BLM lease sale to be confronted by climate protesters who believe the burning of federally owned fossil fuels will undermine the nation’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Roughly 50 people gathered last week outside BLM’s Colorado headquarters in Lakewood to protest the agency’s sale of 90,000 acres in the Pawnee National Grassland, according to the Western Energy Alliance.
BLM moved forward with that auction, selling 106 parcels covering 83,534 acres for $5 million.
Protesters also demonstrated outside a Nov. 3 lease sale in Wyoming.
Crandall said there was not enough room in BLM’s downtown Salt Lake City auction room to accommodate members of the public who wanted to attend. The room is about 28 feet wide by 60 feet long and also has to accommodate up to 30 bidders and reporters, she said.
BLM planned to live-stream the auction, but many activists insisted on attending in person, she said.
The “Keep it in the Ground” campaign is backed by some major environmental groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council and is buoyed in Congress by legislation from Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) that would end new leasing and renewals of nonproducing federal leases for oil, coal and gas.
The movement is riding the momentum of President Obama’s recent rejection of the Keystone XL pipeline and Royal Dutch Shell PLC’s decision to abandon oil exploration in the Arctic Ocean. It now seeks to stop BLM from leasing fossil fuels in the West and the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management from opening the Atlantic Ocean to offshore drilling.
In Salt Lake City this morning, roughly 40 activists displayed theatrical bidding paddles, held up photos of their grandkids and sang folk songs including John Prine’s “Paradise,” according to Tim Ream, an organizer from WildEarth Guardians who is based in San Francisco and attended this morning’s protest. Organizing groups included WildEarth, the Center for Biological Diversity, Women’s Congress for Future Generations, 350.org, the Rainforest Action Network and Elders Rising for Intergenerational Justice.
Ream said BLM informed him last week that some members of the public would be turned back from the auction room regardless of whether there was space. This morning’s protest was led primarily by older activists who had no intention of disrupting the sale, he said.
“They wanted to touch the hearts of those who are selling and buying our public lands,” he said. “They realized two years in prison is too high a price.”
Ream was referring to the two-year prison sentence handed down in 2011 to activist Tim DeChristopher for his decision to pose as a bidder at a BLM lease sale in Utah in late 2008 and snatch up $1.8 million in leases with no intention of paying for them.
Vaughn Lovejoy of the group Elders Rising was among those who attended this morning’s rally.
“We’d like to see if there’s a way to inspire my generation … to spend this piece of our life doing something for the future rather than hanging out on cruise ships or golf courses,” he said.
Ream said activists will also stage protests at BLM’s upcoming oil and gas lease sales in Reno, Nev., on Dec. 8 and in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 10. “We’re going to keep on hitting every one of these lease sales,” he said.
The American Petroleum Institute has criticized the movement and Merkley’s legislation as a “political stunt,” warning that halting federal sales of fossil fuels would hike energy costs and hurt the federal government’s coffers.
The Mineral Leasing Act requires BLM to hold regular oil and gas auctions.
Kathleen Sgamma, vice president of government and public affairs at the Western Energy Alliance, whose members depend heavily on public lands leasing, said this morning that the Salt Lake City protesters are ignoring how increased production of natural gas has helped the nation transition away from coal that is more harmful to the climate when burned.
“Apparently, BLM is seeking a larger venue to accommodate the expected crowd of protesters whose goal is to disrupt the sale,” she said. “These same professional protesters bragged that they were traveling to other lease sales to try to disrupt them, but they’re on a fool’s errand.”
Sgamma noted that Interior Secretary Sally Jewell has rebuffed the “Keep it in the Ground” movement as unrealistic.
“There are millions of jobs around the country that are dependent on these industries, and you can’t just cut it off overnight,” Jewell said in September during a breakfast organized by The Christian Science Monitor (Greenwire, Sept. 15).
Repost from The New Yorker [Editor: Significant quote: “No one’s argued with the math, and that math indicates that the business plans of the fossil-fuel giants are no longer sane. Word is spreading: portfolios and endowments worth a total of $2.6 trillion in assets have begun to divest from fossil fuels. The smart money is heading elsewhere.” – RS]
Exxon, Keystone, and the Turn Against Fossil Fuels
By Bill McKibben, November 6, 2015
The fossil-fuel industry—which, for two centuries, underwrote our civilization and then became its greatest threat—has started to take serious hits. At noon today, President Obama rejected the Keystone Pipeline, becoming the first world leader to turn down a major project on climate grounds. Eighteen hours earlier, New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman announced that he’d issued subpoenas to Exxon, the richest and most profitable energy company in history, after substantial evidence emerged that it had deceived the world about climate change.
These moves don’t come out of the blue. They result from three things.
The first is a global movement that has multiplied many times in the past six years. Battling Keystone seemed utterly quixotic at first—when activists first launched a civil-disobedience campaign against the project, in the summer of 2011, more than ninety per cent of “energy insiders” in D.C. told a National Journal survey that they believed that President Obama would grant Transcanada a permit for the construction. But the conventional wisdom was upended by a relentless campaign carried on by hundreds of groups and millions of individual people (including 350.org, the international climate-advocacy group I founded). It seemed that the President didn’t give a speech in those years without at least a small group waiting outside the hall to greet him with banners demanding that he reject the pipeline. And the Keystone rallying cry quickly spread to protests against other fossil-fuel projects. One industry executive summed it up nicely this spring, when he told a conference of his peers that they had to figure out how to stop the “Keystone-ization” of all their plans.
The second, related, cause is the relentless spread of a new logic about the planet—that we have five times as much carbon in our reserves as we can safely burn. While President Obama said today that Keystone was not “the express lane to climate disaster,” he also said that “we’re going to have to keep some fossil fuels in the ground rather than burn them.” This reflects an idea I wrote about in Rolling Stone three years ago; back then, it was new and a little bit fringe. But, this fall, the governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, speaking to members of the insurance industry at Lloyds of London, used precisely the same language to tell them that they faced a “huge risk” from “unburnable carbon” that would become “stranded assets.” No one’s argued with the math, and that math indicates that the business plans of the fossil-fuel giants are no longer sane. Word is spreading: portfolios and endowments worth a total of $2.6 trillion in assets have begun to divest from fossil fuels. The smart money is heading elsewhere.
Which brings us to the third cause. There is, now, an elsewhere to head. In the past six years, the price of a solar panel has fallen by eighty per cent. For years, the fossil-fuel industry has labored to sell the idea that a transition to renewable energy would necessarily be painfully slow—that it would take decades before anything fundamental started to shift. Inevitability was their shield, but no longer. If we wanted to transform our energy supply, we clearly could, though it would require an enormous global effort.
The fossil-fuel industry will, of course, do everything it can to slow that effort down; even if the tide has begun to turn, that industry remains an enormously powerful force, armed with the almost infinite cash that has accumulated in its centuries of growth. The Koch brothers will spend nine hundred million dollars on the next election; the coal-fired utilities are scurrying to make it hard to put solar panels on roofs; a new Republican President would likely resurrect Keystone. Even now, Congress contemplates lifting the oil-export ban, which would result in another spasm of new drilling. We’ll need a much larger citizen’s movement yet, if we’re going to catch up with the physics of the climate.
We won’t close that gap between politics and physics at the global climate talks next month in Paris. The proposed agreement for the talks reflects some of the political shift that’s happened in years since the failed negotiations at Copenhagen, but it doesn’t fully register the latest developments—almost no nation is stretching. So Paris will be a way station in this fight, not a terminus.
In many ways, the developments of the past two days are more important than any pledges and promises for the future, because they show the ways in which political and economic power has already started to shift. If we can accelerate that shift, we have a chance. It’s impossible, in the hottest year that humans have ever measured, to feel optimistic. But it’s also impossible to miss the real shift in this battle.
Bill McKibben, a former New Yorker staff writer, is the founder of the grassroots climate campaign 350.org and the Schumann Distinguished Scholar in environmental studies at Middlebury College.