The most consequential environmental stories of 2017 — The Washington Post #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

March for Science, Denver, Colorado, April 22, 2017

From The Washington Post (Brady Dennis and Darryl Fears):

President Trump made his mark in the energy and environment world during his first year in Washington. Many of his actions aimed to undo work from the Obama era. Trump all but abandoned the nation’s efforts to combat climate change, and he shrank national monuments that President Barack Obama had established or sought to preserve. Trump scaled back regulations on the fossil fuel industry and pushed for more drilling on land and at sea.

And in turn, much of the world pushed back. Protesters descended on Washington to oppose his policies and campaign against what they saw as an attack on science. Other nations denounced his decision to back out of an international climate agreement, leaving the United States at odds with the rest of the globe.

Meanwhile, extreme weather nationwide wrought devastation. Hurricanes leveled homes, triggered floods and upended lives from Puerto Rico to Texas. Wildfires ravaged California, burning entire neighborhoods to ashes. It was a tumultuous year. Here are some of the most consequential environmental stories we covered along the way.

1. Withdrawal from the Paris climate accord. “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris,” Trump proclaimed from the Rose Garden in June. With those words, he declared his intention to withdraw the nation from a global effort to cut greenhouse gas emissions in an attempt to fend off the worst effects of climate change. The Obama administration had led the charge for the landmark deal in late 2015, helping to persuade other world powers — and major polluters — such as China and India to pledge to reduce their emissions in coming years.

Trump reversed course, despite widespread criticism from world leaders, claiming that the Paris accord was a bad deal for the United States that would disadvantage American workers. The United States is now the only nation in the world to reject the deal. While the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris agreement cannot officially be finalized until late 2020, the action sent a clear message: Climate action has little place in the Trump administration.

2. A sea change at the Environmental Protection Agency. “The future ain’t what it used to be at the EPA,” the agency’s administrator, Scott Pruitt, is fond of saying. That’s certainly true. In nominating Pruitt to head the agency that Trump once promised to reduce to “little tidbits,” the president chose a man who had long been one of its most outspoken adversaries. As Oklahoma attorney general, Pruitt sued the EPA 14 times, challenging its authority to regulate toxic mercury pollution, smog, carbon emissions from power plants and the quality of wetlands and other waters.

Now, as EPA’s leader, he has acted aggressively to reduce the agency’s reach, pause or reverse numerous environmental rules, and shrink its workforce to Reagan-era levels. He has begun to dismantle Obama’s environmental legacy, in part by rolling back the Clean Power Plan — a key attempt to combat climate change by regulating carbon emissions from the nation’s power plants. Along the way, Pruitt has become one of Trump’s most effective Cabinet members, as well as a lightning rod for criticism from public health and environmental groups.

3. The fight over national monuments. Trump issued an executive order in April to review 27 land and marine monuments. But it was clear that two particular monuments were in his crosshairs: Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante. Utah’s congressional delegation and its governor had lobbied Trump’s inner circle to reverse the monument designations of these parks in their state even before he was elected.

Utah Republicans called the designations by Obama and President Bill Clinton overzealous land grabs, and shortly after he took office, Trump adopted some of the same language. He promised to end what he called presidential “abuses” and give control of the land “back to the people.” In the end, Trump shrank both monuments by nearly 2 million acres last month, and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said the borders of other monuments in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as in the West, are being reviewed. Native American groups that had requested a Bears Ears designation are leading a wave of lawsuits against the Trump administration’s decision.

4. Drill, baby, drill. Drilling platforms already dot the Gulf of Mexico, where the fossil fuel industry has extracted oil and gas for decades. But the Trump administration wanted to make history. In early November, it did so by announcing the largest gulf lease offering for oil and gas exploration in U.S. history: 77 million acres.

The move was consistent with Trump’s push for “energy dominance.” He and Zinke are also opening more land to coal excavation in the West. One of Zinke’s first acts as interior secretary was to remove a bright and colorful picture of a western landscape from the Bureau of Land Management’s website and replace it with a black wall of coal. Oil prices are climbing after reaching record lows in recent years, but coal is struggling to make a comeback after the rise of natural gas. The Gulf of Mexico promises more oil, but it also might promise disaster. It’s the scene of the nation’s worst environmental disaster, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which fouled beaches and killed untold numbers of marine animals when oil spewed into the water for months.

Is drilling in the pristine Arctic National Wildlife Refuge next? The Republican-controlled Congress greenlighted leases for exploration in the recently passed tax bill completely along party lines. But let the buyer beware. Royal Dutch Shell drilled a $7 billion hole in the Chukchi Sea in 2014 and has nothing to show for it.

5. Action on the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines. As winter began to fade, it became clear that camps of protesters in Canon Ball, N.D., who for months had fought a pipeline that they argued could threaten the drinking water and cultural sites of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, had lost this particular battle. Days after Trump took office, he signed executive orders to revive two controversial pipelines that the Obama administration had put on hold — the 1,172-mile Dakota Access and the 1,700-mile Keystone XL oil pipeline, which would extend from the Canadian tar sands region to refineries on the Texas Gulf Coast.

Oil is now flowing through the Dakota Access pipeline. And the company behind the Keystone XL this fall cleared a key regulatory hurdle in its quest to complete the northern half of the pipeline, running from Alberta to Steele City, Neb., when it received approval from the Nebraska Public Service Commission. Opponents of both projects have vowed to continue legal fights, as well as to protest any other pipelines they view as a threat to public health or the environment. But Trump shows few signs of backing down, calling his actions “part of a new era of American energy policy that will lower costs for American families — and very significantly — reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and create thousands of jobs right here in America.”

6. Attacks on the Endangered Species Act. It is arguably one of the most powerful environmental laws in the world, credited with saving at least a dozen animal and plant species from extinction. But who will save the Endangered Species Act, which is under attack by political conservatives inside and outside Washington? Led by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, who said he wants to “invalidate” the 44-year-old act, some Republicans say the law interferes with commercial development, private landowner rights and excavation of natural resources such as coal and natural gas.

Bishop’s committee passed five bills that would weaken protections for wolves, force federal workers who enforce the law to consider economic impact when deciding how to save animals and strip away a provision of the law that requires the federal government to reimburse conservation groups that prevail in court. The bills have set up a potentially titanic battle between wildlife advocates and lawmakers supporting farmers, housing developers and the oil and gas industry. It’s not the first time that conservatives have attempted to weaken the act, but it is the first time a presidential administration and the department that oversees the act appear willing to go along.

7. Epic hurricanes and wildfires. Last year around this time, a strange wildfire rushed through the Tennessee mountains, killing 14 people, destroying homes and apartment buildings, and threatening a major recreation area in Gatlinburg. The 2017 fire disasters, some of which are still burning, were much more monstrous than that Great Smoky Mountain inferno. Two California fires, the Sonoma fire that burned north of San Francisco and the Thomas fire that burned north of Los Angeles, driven by fierce Santa Ana winds, have combined to kill 45 people, burn more than a half-million acres, destroy nearly 2,000 structures and cost hundreds of millions of dollars to fight. The Thomas fire appears to be finally contained near Santa Barbara after burning the second-most acreage in state history.

But fire wasn’t even the costliest disaster this year. Hurricane Harvey’s death toll in and around Houston was nearly double the number who perished in the two fires and sent 30,000 people in search of shelter. Miami, Jacksonville and Naples, Fla., were devastated by Hurricane Irma, which immediately followed Harvey. They were followed by Hurricane Maria, which leveled much of Puerto Rico and left at least 50 people dead, but that is probably a drastic under count and the toll could be as high as 500.

8. Criminal charges mount in the Flint water crisis. In June, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette charged the director of the state’s health department and four other public officials with involuntary manslaughter for their roles in the Flint water crisis, which has stretched into its fourth year. In addition to ongoing worries that thousands of young children were exposed to dangerous levels of lead in the city’s contaminated water supply, the crisis has been linked to an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease that contributed to at least a dozen deaths. The manslaughter charges were the latest reckoning.

According to Schuette’s office, the investigation into the decisions that led to tainted water for a city of nearly 100,000 people has resulted in 51 criminal charges for 15 state and local officials. It remains unclear how many of the charges will stick. But the cases serve as a reminder of the human toll of the tragedy and how, even today, many residents in the largely low-income, majority-minority city trust neither the water from their taps nor the public officials charged with ensuring it is safe.

9. Climate march on Washington. It didn’t draw nearly the crowd that the Women’s March did in January. And it didn’t get as much national attention as the March for Science that came only a week earlier. Even so, on a sweltering Saturday in April, tens of thousands of demonstrators descended on Washington to mark Trump’s first 100 days in office. Their plea: Stop the rollback of environmental protections and take climate change seriously.

Building on a massive demonstration three years earlier in New York, the People’s Climate March brought its message — and its many clever signs — to the White House. “Don’t destroy the Earth. I buy my tacos here,” one read. “Good planets are hard to find,” another read. “Make Earth Great Again!” read another. Trump wasn’t around that day to witness the protests on his doorstep, and the march’s organizers didn’t expect to change his mind. But they were gearing up for a long fight ahead. By the next morning, some participants met to discuss how to get more allies to run for public office. “It can’t just be a march,” one activist said. “It has to be a movement.”

Seasonal outlooks from the Climate Prediction Center #ENSO #drought

Below are the seasonal outlooks issued December 21, 2017 from the Climate Prediction Center.

Seasonal temperature outlook through March 31, 2018 from the Climate Prediction Center.
Seasonal precipitation outlook through March 31, 2018 from the Climate Prediction Center.
Seasonal drought outlook through March 31, 2018 from the Climate Prediction Center.

@USBR Continues Animas-La Plata Project Contract Negotiations with Ute Mountain Ute Tribe

Lake Nighthorse and Durango March 2016 photo via Greg Hobbs.

Here’s the release from the US Bureau of Reclamation (Marc Miller):

The Bureau of Reclamation is continuing negotiations on a proposed repayment contract for the Animas-La Plata Project with the Ute Mountain Ute Indian Tribe for the Tribe’s statutory allocation of project water. The second negotiation meeting is scheduled for Thursday, January 11, 2018, at 1:30 p.m. at the Dolores Water Conservancy District office, 60 Cactus Street, Cortez, CO 81321.

The contract to be negotiated will provide for storage and delivery of project water and provisions for payment of operation and maintenance costs of the project.

All negotiations are open to the public as observers, and the public will have the opportunity to ask questions and offer comments pertaining to the contract during a thirty minute comment period following the negotiation session. The proposed contract and other pertinent documents will be available at the negotiation meeting, or can be obtained on our website at: http://www.usbr.gov/uc/wcao/index.html, under Current Focus or by contacting Marc Miller with Reclamation at 185 Suttle Street, Suite 2, Durango, Colorado, 81303, telephone (970) 385-6541 or e-mail mbmiller@usbr.gov.

Delivering much more than water service – News on TAP

Denver Water’s customer service field crew makes 90,000 house calls a year.

Source: Delivering much more than water service – News on TAP

“Congress needs to treat wildfires like the disasters they are” — Carlos Fernandez

The Lodgepole fire north of Twin lakes finds plenty of fuel with the areas grass, sagebrush and lodgepole pines. Photo: Lake County Office of Emergency Management.

Here’s a guest column from Carlos Fernandez that’s running in The Fort Collins Coloradoan:

Devastating wildfires are burning throughout southern California adding to what has been one of the worst wildfire seasons to date. Fighting these fires comes with a hefty price tag — more than $2.4 billion so far — causing the federal government to dip into money that could instead go toward making forests healthier and less fire prone.

Fire fighting is draining the U.S. Forest Service’s budget. This year more than 50 percent of the Forest Service budget is going to fire suppression, and they are needing to redirect money from programs that restore forests and remove brush that help to reduce the risk of fire in the first place. It’s a vicious cycle that we need to break.

Now is the time for our federal legislators to fix this problem. As lawmakers consider a budget bill and additional disaster relief aid in response to the devastating hurricanes this past year, they should also provide further funding for fire suppression and permanently change the way the U.S. pays to fight wildfires. Congress needs to treat wildfires like the disasters they are and make disaster funding accessible for federal firefighting efforts.

Colorado is no stranger to wildfires. Although we were spared catastrophic wildfires this season, the High Park fire west of Fort Collins was the second largest fire in recorded Colorado history. It destroyed 259 homes, cost $38 million to suppress, resulted in $113 in insurance losses and damaged our water supply filling it with ash and debris.

In Colorado and across the West, we need to invest in making our forests healthier to reduce the likelihood of catastrophic fires and get ahead of the problem.

To do this, The Nature Conservancy works with government agencies, businesses, homeowners, municipalities and other non-governmental organizations on forest restoration projects that mimic the natural role of fire to create a healthy ecosystem and mitigate the potential for negative impacts from large scale wildfires. Just this past year we completed a prescribed burn at the Ben Delatour Boy Scout ranch to protect the Elkhorn Creek Watershed, a tributary to the Poudre River.

We know that wildfire fighting costs are going to continue to rise. And under the government’s current funding structure, the U.S. can’t keep up. We need to not only fight megafires, but also keep our forests healthy — and protect our nation’s land, property and people.

To ask your member of Congress to support fire funding legislation, visit http://bit.ly/wildfirefix.

Castle Rock: A look back at 2017

WISE System Map via the South Metro Water Supply Authority

Here’s a look back at 2017 in Castle Rock. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

What was Castle Rock’s biggest accomplishment in 2017?

[Mayor Jennifer Green:] 2017 was full of a number of accomplishments in Castle Rock. The reopening of Festival Park in downtown ranks as a wonderful achievement and provides a great place for the community to gather for years to come. The town adopted a new comprehensive plan, a new transportation master plan and new water enterprise master plans — all of these plans seek to ensure a vibrant future for our town.

What opportunity for the town are you most looking forward to in 2018?

[Mayor Jennifer Green:] The successful completion of the WISE project in 2018 will provide a new source of renewable drinking water for Castle Rock from our water partnerships in the metro area. We anticipate the start of construction for the initial phase of the Collaboration Campus in 2018 — this innovative effort with Arapahoe Community College, Colorado State University and Douglas County School District will bring a greater variety of higher education opportunities to Castle Rock. We also have transportation improvements coming along Founders Parkway, at Allen Way and Crowfoot Valley Road, and at Wolfensberger and Coachline roads.

2018 #COleg: Mussel Free Colorado Act, sponsored by the water resources review committee, to be introduced in January

Quaggas on sandal at Lake Mead

From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Pamela Johnson):

The Mussel Free Colorado Act, sponsored by the water resources review committee, is expected to be introduced to legislators in early 2018 and, if passed, would provide funding starting in 2019 by requiring boaters to buy an aquatic nuisance species stamp. These fees, $25 for Colorado residents and $50 for out-of-state boaters, would generate about $2.4 million per year and could increase with inflation, according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife.

The legislation also would increase the penalties for boaters who launch on lakes and reservoirs without an inspection from $50 to $100 and continues existing severance tax appropriations for the program.

The state’s Aquatic Nuisance Species Act, approved in 2008, required boat inspections starting in 2009 at many lakes and reservoirs across the state — a program that has resulted in more than 3.5 million boat inspections, that wildlife officials say truly has protected waters and that is a model to other states.

In fact, those inspections kept 25 mussel-infested boats off Colorado waters in 2017, keeping at bay a threat that state officials believe will likely increase as infestations spread nationwide through boats that move from water to water.