Court halts mine expansion over methane flaring issue — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

One coal mine remains open in the North Fork Valley. Photo/Allen Best

From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

The decision Friday by Judge R. Brooke Jackson in the U.S. District Court of Colorado applies to the West Elk Mine’s efforts to begin mining as early as January beneath some 2,000 acres in what’s known as the Sunset Roadless Area in the Gunnison National Forest.

Ruling in a lawsuit brought by conservation groups, Jackson found that the federal Office of Surface Mining Reclamation and Enforcement violated federal law by failing to consider requiring the mine to burn off the methane produced during mining operations. Methane is a potent greenhouse gas. A supplemental environmental impact statement issued by the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management had estimated that flaring could reduce the total global warming potential of the gas by about 87%.

That document didn’t draw conclusions about the feasibility or economic viability of flaring, saying it was premature to consider at the coal leasing stage and should be considered later.

But in recommending that the Interior Department approve the mining plan for the expansion, the mining reclamation office said the earlier environmental document sufficiently addressed the methane flaring alternative.

Jackson found that neither the mining reclamation office, the BLM or the Forest Service “put on the record any conclusions that justify excluding methane flaring from consideration as an alternative. Instead, it appears that one agency drew a faulty conclusion on the basis of other agencies’ explicit lack of conclusion.”

The mine is the largest single industrial point source of methane pollution in the state. The Forest Service has estimated the mine expansion would result in the release of nearly 12 million tons of methane. While the mining will take place underground, the mine has begun surface work in the roadless area, where it plans to build about 8.4 miles of roads and install 43 methane drainage wells.

The mine is owned by Arch Coal. It began pursuing the expansion a decade ago but has faced protracted legal challenges.

Jackson previously ruled that federal agencies failed to account for the environmental costs of leasing and other decisions related to the mine expansion. That led to the supplemental environmental document being released.

Conservation groups then sued to challenge that new environmental analysis and another federal judge ruled against them. That ruling is under appeal.

Jackson also ruled Friday in favor of conservationists over their contention that the mining reclamation office didn’t take a hard look at impacts to water resources from mining activities. The mining reclamation office both relied on the supplemental environmental review’s conclusion that there are no known perennial springs in the expansion area, and said perennial springs likely exist there.

2020 draft budget outlined for Pagosa Areas Water & Sanitation District

Pagosa Springs Panorama. Photo credit: Gmhatfield via Wikimedia Commons

From The Pagosa Sun (Chris Mannara):

The 2020 draft budget for the Pagosa Area Water and Sanitation District (PAWSD) was presented to its governing board on Oct. 24.

In the General Fund, the draft budget lists total revenues at $1,116,750 while total expenses are projected to be $1,180,184, leading to an projected ending balance in the General Fund of $900,878 — a projected 7 percent decrease from last year.

Capital projects and contingency are projected to increase 23 percent, going from $10,000 to $12,250, with PAWSD Director of Business Services Aaron Burns ex- plaining that the $2,250 increase is due to an equipment replacement.

That piece of equipment is a GPS unit that is used for locating infrastructure, Burns noted.

In regard to the 7 percent decrease in the General Fund bal- ance, Burns explained that this is related to added expense with a board election year with three seats up for election.

He added that this is also combined with the regular internal transfer of funds to both enterprise funds of the district.

The Debt Service Fund for 2020 is projected to have a beginning fund balance of $22,812, a 42 percent decrease from last year; the ending fund balance for PAWSD’s Debt Service Fund is projected to be $45,229 which is a 98 percent increase from last year’s total.

The 42 percent decrease in the Debt Service Fund’s beginning fund balance is related to a transfer of interest revenue during 2019 to the enterprise funds, Burns noted, while the increase in the Debt Service Fund’s ending fund balance is also related to the projected 2020 interest revenue.

“A transfer to the Enterprise Funds will also be added to the budget for 2020,” Burns wrote in an email.

PAWSD’s Water Enterprise Fund beginning fund balance is projected to have an 8 percent increase, going from $5,534,767 to $5,950,480; the ending fund balance is projected to have a 7 percent increase, going from $5,930,807 to $6,327,892.

Within PAWSD’s 2020 draft budget, water treatment expenses are projected to increase 33 percent, from $903,701 to $1,199,368, and water distribution expenses are projected increase 41 percent, from $957,780 to $1,353,500.

Water treatment costs are projected to increase due to a replumbing project at the San Juan Water treatment plant that would allow for automatic switching from reservoir and river water sources; other items related to this increase are the addition of an employee and some structural repair work, Burns described.

The 41 percent increase for wa- ter distribution was described by Burns as being “skewed slightly.”

“Because actual expenses related to water line replacement and repair were lower than budget in 2019 and we are budgeting for the replacement and expansion of the Putt (sic) Hill water tank in 2020,” he wrote.

Capital projects are projected to be down 38 percent, from $896,502 to $553,510, which Burns explained UV project at the San Juan plant; Burns noted that this project appeared in PAWSD’s budget in 2019.

Within PAWSD’s Wastewater Fund, the beginning fund balance is projected to have an 18 percent increase, going from $2,552,203 to $3,017,909; Burns explained that this increase is because of actual expenses in 2019 being lower than budgeted.

The ending fund balance for PAWSD’s Wastewater Fund is also projected to have an increase, of 4 percent, going from $3,007,349 to $3,117,206.

Within the Wastewater Fund, tap fees are projected to increase by 13 percent, from $28,860 to $32,500, which Burns again noted is because of the 2019 actual figure being slightly lower than the normally budgeted figure used in 2020.

Wastewater collection is projected to go from $706,800 to $927,856, a 31 percent increase, according to the draft budget.

“The District is planning for increased investment in repairing it’s (sic) sewer collection system which will involve the systematic rehabilitation of lift stations and resealing key areas of the system to combat water infiltration during the snowmelt months of the spring,” Burns explained.

Wastewater treatment is projected to have a 24 percent increase from $646,270 to $802,080, accord- ing to the draft budget.

Burns explained that this projected increase is due to mandates made by the state that require effluent testing; this also includes the addition of another employee as well, Burns noted.

Aquifers: Map of the Principal Aquifers of the United States — @USGS

From the USGS:

The areal and vertical location of the major aquifers is fundamental to the determination of groundwater availability for the Nation. An aquifer is a geologic formation, a group of formations, or a part of a formation that contains sufficient saturated permeable material to yield significant quantities of water to wells and springs.

A two-dimensional map representation of the principal aquifers of the Nation is shown below. The map, which is derived from the Ground Water Atlas of the United States, indicates the areal extent of the uppermost principal aquifers on a national scale. In this map, a principal aquifer is defined as a regionally extensive aquifer or aquifer system that has the potential to be used as a source of potable water. (For study or mapping purposes, aquifers are often combined into aquifer systems.)

Principal aquifers of the United States (modified from Principal Aquifers, U.S. Geological Survey, 2003)

@NOAA: October 2019 was coolest in 10 years as U.S. continued its wettest year to date #ActOnClimate

Los Angeles County Fire October 2019. Photo via NOAA.

From NOAA:

October 2019 was rather cool across the contiguous U.S., ending as the coldest October in a decade. The nation’s soggy streak also continued, with a record-wet year to date.

Tragically, dry, windy weather in the West helped spark several destructive wildfires in California, some of which continue to burn.

Here are more highlights from NOAA’s latest monthly U.S. climate report:

Climate by the numbers: October 2019
The average temperature for October across the contiguous U.S. was 52.3 degrees F (1.8 degrees below the 20th-century average), making it the coolest October since 2009. It ranked in the lowest third of the 125-year record.

Alaska had an average October temperature that ranked in the warmest third of the historical record. Below-average temperatures were present from the High Plains to the Pacific Coast, while above-average temperatures blanketed the eastern third of the country.

The average precipitation last month across the contiguous U.S. was 3.14 inches (0.98 of an inch above average) and ranked as the eighth wettest October on record.

Above-average precipitation fell across much of the eastern half of the country, with record precipitation occurring across portions of the Great Lakes and the Mississippi Valley. Below-average precipitation fell across parts of the West as well as in the central and southern Plains.

Year to date | January through October 2019
The average U.S. temperature for the year to date (January through October) was 55.5 degrees F, (0.5 of a degree above the 20th-century average), ranking in the warmest third of the record.

The contiguous U.S. had its wettest year to date on record. Above- to much-above-average precipitation dominated much of the country with record-wet conditions occurring in South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan.

An annotated map of the United States showing notable climate and weather events that occurred across the country during October 2019. To learn more, please visit

Notable climate events

  • Fires blaze across California: Large and lethal wildfires scorched parts of Northern and Southern California during October and some remained active at the beginning of November.
  • A busy month, tropics-wise: Post-tropical cyclones Nestor and Olga impacted the Gulf Coast with heavy rain, winds, and tornadoes. Subtropical Storm Melissa churned off the East Coast, bringing winds and coastal flooding from Virginia to New York.
  • Drought improved slightly: By the end of October, approximately 18% of the contiguous U.S. was in drought, down from 19% at the beginning of the month.
  • Withdrawal from Paris Agreement Puts U.S. at Economic, Technological and Innovative Disadvantage — @Nature #ActOnClimate

    Indigenous people #cop21 via the Department of Interior.

    From the Nature Conservancy (Rachel Winters):

    Today, the Trump Administration announced its intention to formally withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement. In response to that action, The Nature Conservancy’s Chief External Affairs Officer Lynn Scarlett issued the following statement:

    “In 2017, when President Trump announced his intention to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement, it was the wrong move. Nearly three years later, as the Administration finalizes that ill-conceived choice, it remains the wrong move for our nation and our planet.

    “With over 180 countries pursuing emissions reductions commitments under the Paris Agreement, it is the most significant global signal that the world recognizes the urgency and scope of the climate crisis. Today’s announcement that the U.S. government is officially withdrawing from the Paris Agreement is incredibly short-sighted. Across the world, we see the rapid deployment of renewable and clean energy. Instead of placing American innovation at the vanguard of this transition, this Administration is taking America out of the race to develop and deploy new carbon-free and low-carbon technologies.

    “For decades, the U.S. has demonstrated leadership on international environmental issues to protect our communities and our natural resources, as global development creates new challenges. That U.S. leadership has been imperative to catalyze actions by all countries to address these global concerns. Universal action on climate change is the only path to a more secure, healthy, and prosperous future.

    “The American public is increasingly clear in speaking out. They understand the urgent threat of climate change and want to see action. Research continues to pile up, as each successive month brings new reports of record heat, unprecedented glacial melting, extreme weather events, and countless other indicators that the climate is changing, with severe and increasing consequences for communities around the world.

    “The good news is that solutions already exist that can help address climate threats while contributing to healthy lands and waters, safer communities and strong economies. Countries, companies, and communities must work together to accelerate the transition to clean energy and improve energy efficiency. But it’s not enough to change our energy systems – we can’t get there without harnessing the power of natural landscapes to reduce impacts we’re experiencing. We need to turn sources of carbon emissions into carbon sinks.

    “That’s what makes this decision by the Administration so disappointing. We know we have the solutions. What we need is the courage to take ambitious action. Instead, our leadership is abandoning their role as a trailblazer towards the healthy future we desire, and risking our economic, technological, and environmental security all at once.”

    Collapse of drilling industry in #Colorado? It hasn’t happened yet, despite fearful comparisons to Black Sunday — The Mountain Town News #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    Drilling rigs along the northern Front Range in 2013. Photo/Allen Best

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    A year ago Colorado voters rejected Proposition 112, the proposal to sharply curtail oil-and-gas drilling. But it was clear that legislators would take up the issue of further restraints on drilling, if not as Draconian as those outlined in Proposition 112.

    But what would be the economic effects of clipping the wings of this business sector just a bit? That was the good question I set out to answer. The obvious comparison was to the giant economic shudder of the early and mid-1980s, one triggered by what is still remembered on the Western Slope as Black Sunday.

    There had been a boom of rare proportions as Exxon and other oil companies threw money at the hope that the vast kerogen deposits of the Piceance Basin would finally be squeezed successfully (and economically) to yield hydrocarbons. That effort had begun in 1918, but with little success.

    Then, the Saudis opened the spigot, prices plunged, and Exxon pulled out. One result: In 1985, when I moved to Vail, I got a condominium that was very affordable. If Vail’s real estate got pricey in coming years, the hangover in Glenwood Springs lasted longer. And in Denver, although I was not living there then, my impression was of a certain darkness. Cities altogether struggled in the ’70s and ’80s, but Denver may have had a darker edge to it.

    A year ago, my journalistic question was just how dependent Colorado was on oil-and-gas extraction? Colorado Biz magazine commissioned the inquiry.

    The answer, published in late December under the heading of Addition by Extraction, indicated that if all the drilling rigs went away, there would be great pain in some areas, Greeley more than Fort Collins, but even in downtown Denver, a lot more vacant offices. But in no way was the comparison to the oil shale bust valid. Colorado’s economy had become far more diversified in the almost 30 years since Black Sunday. Predictions of economic collapse were just ridiculous.

    (Just the same, I saw exactly those sorts of prediction in February as state legislators considered rules to give local governments more say in regulation and, inevitably, restriction).

    Now, some months since the restrictions have gone into place, I don’t know their effect. My impressions, though, is that the oil-and-gas sector is doing just fine. The bigger problem, one similar to that of the early 1980s, similar to that of the early 1980s, when the Saudis turned on the spigot. But this time the plentitude is from domestic sources, particularly the Permian Basin of West Texas and New Mexico

    Let me add this: I had an interesting conversation with somebody at a conference this week. He had been in the oil-and-gas sector, made good money, and moved on. Given what we know about climate change, he said, it was immoral of the oil and gas company executives to keep plunging ahead, business as usual.

    Now, I can’t get into that dimension in a business magazine that favors cheerleading stories about economic growth, at least not in that direct way. For them, I can sing the praises of alternatives, such as economic opportunities for electric cars (and I have a story in the current issue of Colorado Biz on that very topic). But that’s an important discussion to have.

    Bill McKibben has been pushing that discussion since at least 2012, when he passed through Denver on one of his many “Do the Math” stops. His 6,000-word piece in Rolling Stone about “the terrifying new math of global warming” had been published the previous year. At the time, I called it, with understatement, “brilliant and and disturbing.”

    “Those fossil fuels, if they are burned in the same way others have been burned, will produce five times the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere than can be absorbed if rise of global temperatures is to be kept within a two degree increase. In other words, as McKibben put it, if the fossil fuels sector carries out its business plan, the planet tanks.”

    Almost eight years later, we’ve made much progress. The coal plants are being shuttered rapidly, and we’re now on the verge of a big, big increase in electric cars. but oh so much work remains. And McKibben is right. Unless we figure out a way to sequester the carbon from the emissions, we can’t burn these fossil fuels. — Allen Best, Nov. 9, 2019

    The River The Land, The People, The Cache — Greg Hobbs

    The River The Land, The People, The Cache

    We are the land, the river keepers,
    the public who owns the water resources,

    We are those who live along the waters,
    those whose duties require running the water
    through the ditches to those who own use rights,

    We are those who own the bed, the banks
    of the stream, the lands through which
    the arteries of the ditches run,

    We are the look, the feel, the faces, the hands
    of Colorado, the bundle of rights and duties
    that inter-depend upon each other,

    We are the Cache – for and with each other –
    for all the creatures who must rely

    On our best creative judgment,
    always shaping.

    Greg Hobbs 11/8/2019

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    What are the scientists saying? #ActOnClimate

    Here’s a look at the past year in climate from Quartz (Christine Russell). Click through and read the whole article, here’s an excerpt:

    Well, what are the scientists saying?

    The answer, of course, is that they have been warning about severe global impacts from climate change for more than three decades. But over the past 12 months those warnings have intensified. Reports detailing the massive environmental, economic, and human consequences of unfettered global warming have come at a fast and furious pace. And, collectively, they are far scarier than the sum of their parts…

    The deluge began last October, with the release of a special report from the United Nations’ global climate science authority, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), on the potential impacts of a rise in global temperature of 1.5 degrees Celsius or more…

    In November, the United States’ Fourth National Climate Assessment, produced by government and outside experts, reinforced the gloom-and-doom message of the October IPCC report…

    A December report from the World Health Organization (WHO) said that emissions from fossil fuel-powered electricity, transportation, and other sources are “a major contributor to health-damaging air pollution, which every year kills over seven million people…

    Just as the disastrous future impacts of climate change were coming into clearer focus, we also received sobering news about the present. Last December, the Global Carbon Project projected that carbon dioxide emissions worldwide reached an all-time high in 2018, up more than two percent after three years of almost no growth…

    Alarm bells about climate change impacts in the Arctic sounded throughout the year. In April, a NASA-funded study of the Greenland ice sheet, published online on Earth Day, found the mass loss of ice discharged into the ocean from glaciers on the world’s largest island had increased six-fold since the 1980s…

    A little-publicized Stanford University study, also released on Earth Day, found that global warming from fossil fuel use “very likely exacerbated global economic inequality” over the past 50 years…

    In May, a landmark UN biodiversity report provided another stark statistic: One million animal and plant species on Earth are threatened with extinction, and rates of extinction are “accelerating.”


    In August, on the heels of record-breaking global heat waves, from South Korea to northern Norway, another major IPCC special report called attention to land-related climate change threats. It found that “climate change, including increases in frequency and intensity of extremes, has adversely impacted food security and terrestrial ecosystems as well as contributed to desertification and land degradation in many regions” of the world…

    The upcoming UN Climate Change Conference—the 25th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP25) to the UN climate treaty—will once again put pressure on delegates from nearly 200 nations to deliver concrete action on promises made under the 2015 Paris Agreement. (COP25 was set to be held in Santiago in early December before the Chilean government abruptly pulled out of hosting the event.) The disappointing substantive and political outcomes of the September summit in New York, particularly the lack of stronger commitments from big carbon emitters like China, India, and the US, mean expectations are low. The leadership vacuum left by American President Trump, with his strident pro-fossil-fuel rhetoric and planned exit from the Paris Agreement, makes things worse.

    But don’t underestimate the persistence of Greta Thunberg and the growing Fridays for Future youth movement she inspired. An estimated 7.6 million people protested worldwide during September’s UN Climate Week. Strike organizers are planning a major global protest on Black Friday directed at COP25 decision-makers.

    In her emotional speech at the UN Climate Action Summit, Thunberg chastised world leaders for failing to act on climate change: “For more than 30 years, the science has been crystal clear. How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight.” Her angry phrase “How Dare You?” went viral on social media, and millions viewed the video of Thunberg’s speech on YouTube. This plucky young activist is likely to deliver a similarly strong message at COP25, pushing the scientific case for significant government action now to help protect her generation and others in the future.