Click here to download the paper. Here’s the executive summary:
The Northern High Plains aquifer underlies about 93,000 square miles of Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming and is the largest subregion of the nationally important High Plains aquifer. Irrigation, primarily using groundwater, has supported agricultural production since before 1940, resulting in nearly $50 billion in sales in 2012. In 2010, the High Plains aquifer had the largest groundwater withdrawals of any major aquifer system in the United States. Nearly one-half of those withdrawals were from the Northern High Plains aquifer, which has little hydrologic interaction with parts of the aquifer farther south. Land-surface elevation ranges from more than 7,400 feet (ft) near the western edge to less than 1,100 ft near the eastern edge. Major stream primarily flow west to east and include the Big Blue River, Elkhorn River, Loup River, Niobrara River, Republican River and Platte River with its two forks—the North Platte River and South Platte River. Population in the Northern High Plain aquifer area is sparse with only 2 cities having a population greater than 30,000.
Droughts across much of the area from 2001 to 2007, combined with recent (2004–18) legislation, have heightened concerns regarding future groundwater availability and highlighted the need for science-based water-resource management. Groundwater models with the capability to provide forecasts of groundwater availability and related stream base flows from the Northern High Plains aquifer were published recently (2016) and were used to analyze groundwater availability. Stream base flows are generally the dominant component of total streamflow in the Northern High Plains aquifer, and total streamflows or shortages thereof define conjunctive management triggers, at least in Nebraska. Groundwater availability was evaluated through comparison of aquifer-scale water budgets compared for periods before and after major groundwater development and across selected future forecasts. Groundwater-level declines and the forecast amount of groundwater in storage in the aquifer also were examined.
Aquifer losses to irrigation withdrawals increased greatly from 1940 to 2009 and were the largest average 2000–9 outflow (49 percent of total).
Basin to basin groundwater flows were not a large part of basin water budgets.
Development of irrigated land and associated withdrawals were not uniform across the Northern High Plains aquifer, and different parts of the Northern High Plains aquifer responded differently to agricultural development.
For the Northern High Plains aquifer, areas with high recharge and low evapotranspiration had the most streamflow, and most streams only remove water from the aquifer.
Results of a baseline future forecast indicated that groundwater levels declined overall, indicating an overdraft of the aquifer when climate was about average and agricultural development was held at the same state as 2009.
Results of two human stresses future forecasts indicated that increases of 13 percent or 23 percent in agricultural development, mostly near areas of previous development, caused increases in groundwater pumping of 8 percent or 11 percent, and resulted in continued groundwater-level declines, at rates 0.3 or 0.5 million acre-feet per year larger than the baseline forecast.
Results of environmental stresses forecasts (generated from two downscalings of global climate model outputs) compared with the baseline forecast indicated that even though annual precipitation was nearly the same, differences in temperature and a redistribution of precipitation from the spring to the growing season (from about May 1 through September 30), created a large (12–15 percent) decrease in recharge to the aquifer.
For the two environmental stresses forecasts, temperature and precipitation were distributed about the same among basins of the Northern High Plains aquifer, but the amounts were different.
Peterson, S.M., Traylor, J.P., and Guira, M., 2020, Groundwater availability of the Northern High Plains aquifer in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota, and Wyoming: U.S. Geological Survey Professional Paper 1864, 57 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/pp1864.
From the Colorado State University Water Resources Archives (Patricia Rettig):
Why Transcription Matters
Handwritten text is impossible to electronically search. It can also be difficult to read. With transcription, both are easier: “6/20 Saturday – Cheyenne – Wyo-Colo. Took 9 AM train for Cheyenne for final arrangements in re abstracting of the record in Wyo-Colo. Consulted with Judge Lacey and John D. Clark until 4 PM …”
We are seeking volunteers to help transcribe such pages, in this case diaries of western water lawyer Delph Carpenter, to aid in research access.
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To contribute to this project: go to the Delph Carpenter Diaries page on the From the Page platform. Sign up for a free account, or sign in if you already have one. You can also transcribe up to three pages without an account. Pick a place to start and be sure to read the transcription conventions at the bottom of the page.
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About Transcribing Delph’s Diaries
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About Delph Carpenter
The “Father of Interstate River Compacts,” Delph E. Carpenter (1877-1951) served the state of Colorado as a lawyer, state senator, and river commissioner. He wrote, negotiated, and promoted the Colorado River Compact, among others, following his service as lead counsel in the Wyoming vs. Colorado suit.
Carpenter kept daily diaries, with varying levels of detail about his activities during the height of his career, almost continuously for 15 years. Read more about Carpenter in the Guide to the Papers of Delph E. Carpenter and Family.
FromThe High Country News, February 12, 2020 (Jonathan Thompson):
Three years of rollbacks have taken a toll, without delivering real benefits.
“I’m approving new dishwashers that give you more water so you can actually wash and rinse your dishes without having to do it 10 times,” President Donald J. Trump told a crowd in Milwaukee in January. “How about the shower? I have this beautiful head of hair, I need a lot of water. You turn on the water: drip, drip, drip.”
While this may sound like just another Trumpism intended to distract his base from his impeachment troubles, the words nicely encapsulate the administration’s disastrous approach to environmental policy. First, he gins up a false problem. Then he blames the false problem on “regulatory burdens.” Then he wipes out said regulations with complete disregard for any actual benefits or the possible catastrophic consequences.
Trump followed this pattern in January, when he announced one of his most significant rollbacks yet, a drastic weakening of the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA — the bedrock law passed during the Nixon era that requires environmental reviews for projects handled by federal agencies.
Trump said the overhaul is necessary because the law imposes interminable delays on infrastructure projects, hampering economic growth. “It takes many, many years to get something built,” he said in an early January speech at the White House. “The builders are not happy. Nobody is happy. It takes 20 years. It takes 30 years. It takes numbers that nobody would even believe.”
Maybe nobody would believe them because — like Trump’s assertion that modern toilets must be flushed “15 times” — they simply aren’t true. Every year, the nonpartisan National Association of Environmental Professionals analyzes the implementation of NEPA. The group has found that over the last decade, full environmental impact statements have taken, on average, less than five years to complete. Only about 5% of all reviews take longer than a decade, and less than 1% drag on for 20 years or more. These rare cases can be caused by a project’s complexity, or by delays or changes made by its backers that have nothing to do with NEPA or any other environmental regulations.
Trump isn’t letting facts get in his way, however. The proposed changes would “streamline” reviews, according to the administration, and, most notably, “clarify that effects should not be considered significant if they are remote in time, geographically remote, or the result of a lengthy causal chain.”
A project’s potential contribution to climate change, in other words, would be discounted. Indeed, environmental effects will no longer be considered significant — except for the most direct, immediate ones. A proposed highway plowing through a low-income neighborhood, for example, would result in more traffic, leading to more pollution, leading to health problems for residents and exacerbating global warming. But since all of that is “remote in time” and the result of a “lengthy causal chain,” it would not necessarily be grounds to stop or modify the project. By discounting long-term and cumulative impacts, this seemingly simple change would effectively gut a law that has guided federal agencies for a half-century.
That, Trump claims, will speed up approvals and create more jobs. But a look back at the effects of his previous regulatory rollbacks suggests otherwise.
Since the moment he took office, Trump has been rescinding environmental protections. He drastically diminished Bears Ears National Monument, he tossed out rules protecting water from uranium operations, he threw out limits on methane and mercury emissions, weakened the Clean Water Act, and, more recently, cleared the way for the Keystone XL pipeline, yet again. According to Harvard Law School’s regulatory rollback tracker, the Trump administration has axed or weakened more than 60 measures that protect human and environmental health since he took office.
Trump often boasts that his policies have created 7 million jobs during his term. Correlation, however, does not equal causation. Even as the overall economy has boomed — a trend that was already in place when Trump took office — the sectors that should have benefited the most from Trump’s rollbacks continue to flail.
Trump killed or weakened at least 15 regulations aimed at the coal industry in hopes of bringing back jobs. By nearly every measure, the industry is weaker now than it was when Trump was elected. Trump shrank Bears Ears National Monument to make way for extraction industries and rescinded regulations on uranium in part to help Energy Fuels, a uranium company. But in January, the company laid off one-third of its workforce, including most of the employees at the White Mesa Mill, adjacent to Bears Ears. Nearly every one of the protections that Trump killed were purportedly “burdening” the nation’s mining, logging and drilling industries. Regardless, the number of people working in that sector is down 20% from five years ago.
Rolling back environmental regulations will no more create jobs than removing “restrictors” from showerheads will give Donald Trump a thick head of hair — it won’t. It will merely result in more waste, dirtier air and water, and a more rapid plunge into climate catastrophe.
Now, Trump is going after energy-efficient lightbulbs, and his reasoning is as specious as ever. “The new lightbulb costs you five times as much,” he told his followers at the Milwaukee rally, “and it makes you look orange.”
Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor at High Country News. He is the author of River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here to read the current assessment. Click here to go to the NIDIS website hosted by the Colorado Climate Center. Here’s the summary:
Summary: February 11, 2020
Decent precipitation fell through much of the northern and central Rockies of Colorado and along the Front Range, with this area seeing at least 0.50″ of precipitation over the last week. This is a very welcome sight for the Front Range of Colorado after a very dry January. Other areas seeing a nice amount of precipitation in the Intermountain West was a line of 0.50″ plus precipitation amounts from northwest Wyoming into northern and central Utah along the Wasatch range.
Not showing up on our precipitation maps that end Monday morning is the additional precipitation that fell Monday along Colorado’s Front Range, additional amounts up to a quarter inch, higher amounts farther south. More impressive are the precipitation numbers coming out of the Phoenix area, with amounts up to 1.25″. New Mexico also saw beneficial precipitation from precipitation on Monday, with Albuquerque receiving a few inches of snow, translating to around a half inch of precipitation. Other half inch amounts popped up in southern New Mexico as well.
Standardized precipitation index values (SPIs) are a mixed bag across the region and across time scales. For the Four Corners area, very dry SPIs still show up on the 6-month timescale. In the short-term 30-day timescale, dry SPIs dominated much of Utah. Colorado is wet in the northern and central mountains and the Front Range, near normal to dry for the rest of the state.
Snowpack across the region is looking good, with the entire IMW region seeing above normal snowpack. With the systems moving through, the region saw a nice cool down with below normal temperatures over much of the region. This has helped with the month-to-date temperatures cool to near normal. This will help with the evaporative demand, even while some areas remain dry.
The next 7-days starting Tuesday is showing a shot of precipitation in the mountains of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming and a nice shot of precipitation for much of New Mexico. The 2-week outlook is hinting at chances for below normal precipitation for the western half of the IMW region and chances of above normal for the eastern half, with temperatures leaning to the cool side of normal for the region.
The snowpack in the Rocky Mountains is currently 14 percent above average for this time of year, but last year’s dry summer could reduce runoff to the Colorado River.
Warren Turkett, a natural resource analyst for the Colorado River Commission of Nevada, told commissioners Tuesday that a warm summer and lack of precipitation in the upper Colorado River Basin last year left soil drier than normal, which is expected to cut the amount of water flowing into Lake Powell to 20 percent below average based on current projections…
He told the Review-Journal that rapidly warming temperatures early in the season could cause rapid early runoff, resulting in declines beyond the current forecast.
Last weekend’s massive storms bounced the region’s snowpack to 125% of normal, according to the experts who keep track of snow totals.
“The last five days have been great for snowpack accumulation,” said Brian Domonkos, the supervisor of the Colorado Snow Survey Program, which is part of the United States Department of Agriculture.
Domonkos scanned 50 sites around Colorado, quickly crunched some numbers and found that the weekend storms boosted the statewide snowpack to 117%, and 125% in the Upper Colorado River Basin.
Over the last five days, snow water equivalent in the Upper Colorado River Basin that includes Eagle County is up 15%. The South Platte basin is up 14%. The snow water equivalent is the amount of water the snow contains…
On Saturday the Vail SNOTEL site recorded 1.7 inches of snow water equivalent since the day before, only the third time in the 42-year site record that has happened, Diane Johnson with the Eagle River Water and Sanitation District said.
The 3.2 inches of SWE received in four days from Thursday to Monday represents 22% of this year’s snow water equivalent, 134 days in the water year, Oct. 1 to Tuesday.
“Hooray for now. Vail is now at 125% of normal, but as we always say – there’s a lot of winter ahead of us and we’ll see what happens,” Johnson said.
Activists with a wide range of conservation and indigenous-rights groups had been bracing themselves for a fight over a critical environmental-protection law known as the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, since soon after President Donald Trump took office three years ago. But they were caught off-guard by the specifics of what the White House’s Council on Environmental Quality proposed when it unveiled its plan to “modernize” NEPA regulations last month — including an abbreviated outreach process that featured just two hearings where the public would have an opportunity to comment on proposed changes.
“It’s unprecedented,” says Jeremy Nichols, an activist with environmental group WildEarth Guardians. “This is sweeping. This isn’t some little tweak of an air regulation or a rule that affects only a specific sector. This affects all aspects of American life. You can draw a line between any person here and a relevant, recent NEPA process — I-70, Rocky Flats, there’s so much.”
For Nichols and other Colorado-based activists, there was one small consolation: They didn’t have to travel very far to speak at the first of the two public hearings, which was held at the Environmental Protection Agency’s regional headquarters in Denver on Tuesday, February 11. There, CEQ officials outlined their plan to dramatically weaken NEPA regulations, which require federal agencies to perform extensive reviews of the environmental impacts of major industrial and infrastructure projects.
“The proposed rule is proposed to modernize and clarify the CEQ regulations to facilitate more effective, efficient and timely NEPA reviews by federal agencies,” said Ted Boling, associate director of NEPA policy at CEQ. “The revisions are intended to make the regulations easier to read, understand and follow.”
But activists say that’s just code for undermining environmental protections at the behest of powerful industry groups. As laid out by Boling, the new rules would make sweeping changes to the NEPA process, imposing time and page limits on key environmental reports, limiting the scope of many reviews and increasing the number of projects that could be excluded from the process altogether.
Because NEPA reviews include extensive public comment processes, the changes could prevent impacted communities from weighing in on proposals with potentially serious environmental implications. That’s particularly troubling to Native Americans who have long been victimized by the federal government, said indigenous activists who spoke during a public comment period on February 11.
“I think that the proposed changes are a slap in the face to our democracy, and a slap in the face to the integrity of our mother earth,” said Lyla June Johnston, an activist and member of the Diné (Navajo) Nation. “The policies of Trump tend to favor business, and they are willing to expedite business at the expense of the health of our water, our ecology and future generations.”
Supporters of the proposed change included representatives of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, oil and gas groups and other industrial interests, who argued that NEPA reviews have become too lengthy and burdensome…
For full NEPA reviews, federal agencies prepare lengthy documents known as Environmental Impact Statements that examine the potential effects on public health, safety, air and water quality, natural landscapes, wildlife, noise and more. The Trump administration’s proposed rule changes would limit the scope of the impacts that such reviews could evaluate — especially with respect to climate change, said Colorado Energy Office director Will Toor, who testified in opposition at the February 11 hearing and was especially critical of a section in the revised rule that instructs federal regulators not to consider environmental effects “if they are remote in time, geographically remote, or the product of a lengthy causal chain.”
“This language appears to be surgically designed to eliminate consideration of climate impacts, since these are precisely caused by the cumulative impacts of emissions greenhouse gases,” Toor said. “Our agency is particularly concerned about decisions the federal government may make about energy and transportation infrastructure, or about fossil-fuel development on federal public lands in Colorado, that could undermine our state policy goals and harm residents.”
Toor was one of four members of Governor Jared Polis’s cabinet to testify against the proposed changes. But despite hours of testimony from state agency heads, elected officials, dozens of grassroots activists and other speakers from across Colorado and the West, activists fear that their voices will matter less to the Trump administration than the handful of highly paid lobbyists who expressed their support…
As hearings continued throughout the day inside the EPA’s Denver office, activists from a broad coalition of environmental groups gathered just across the street for a series of rallies outside the Alliance Center, hoping to send a message to Trump and his allies even as they worried that the outcome of its abbreviated public outreach process is preordained.
“We have no illusions that we’re going to show up and change CEQ’s mind, but at least we can demonstrate the political power here,” Nichols says. “We want the Trump administration to regret they ever decided to hold a hearing in Denver.”
The political fight over the Trump administration’s efforts to trim environmental reviews for new development flared across a deep divide Tuesday at a federal hearing in Denver, with climate change looming heavily and frustrations high.
It pitted a large coalition of state and local government leaders, tribal activists and community groups against powerful commercial interests led by construction, real estate, trucking and fossil fuel developers.
On one side, as a White House Council on Environmental Quality panel held its only field hearing outside Washington, D.C., those in favor of “modernizing” reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, lamented the “weaponizing” of this 50-year-old law to delay pipeline, road, mining and other projects where federal agencies play a decision-making role.
“Too often, it is used by groups opposed to projects going through at all,” Western Energy Alliance vice president Tripp Parks said, referring to efforts to drill on public land to extract oil and gas.
Colorado Motor Carriers Association president Greg Fulton pointed to delays on road expansion projects, saying “congestion on our nation’s highways now costs the trucking industry $70 billion annually.”
An environmental review for the $1.2 billion realignment of Interstate 70 as it cuts across north Denver spanned 13 years, led to five lawsuits and 148 required mitigation efforts that raised the cost by $50 million — evidence of “a broken system,” said Matt Girard, a Denver-based director of the American Road and Transportation Builders Association.
On the other side, WildEarth Guardians attorney Jeremy Nichols countered that “delay is a sign that NEPA is working.” Nichols submitted a petition that he said contained signatures of 15,000 Americans opposed to the proposed NEPA changes.
The 170 or so full reviews launched nationwide each year that require environmental impact statements take, on average, four and a half years to complete, White House officials said. Some 10,000 lesser “environmental assessments” are conducted more quickly…
A preponderance of the 100 people who testified were against the proposed overhaul, including Colorado government leaders and environmental protection advocates. They argued that careful, science-driven reviews, tedious as they can be, are essential for democracy and lead to better decisions. NEPA reviews in Colorado ensured that building I-70 through Glenwood Canyon did not lead to blasting away pristine cliffs and re-channeling the Colorado River as originally planned.
Dozens of other opponents who could not secure tickets to testify, including Denver City Council President Jolon Clark, held rallies outside in a snow-drenched parking lot near the Environmental Protection Agency building where the all-day hearing was held…
Inside the EPA hearing room, Nebraska landowner Jeanne Crumly, facing installation of an oil and gas pipeline from Canada across her land, urged the White House officials to reverse proposed changes that would limit review of indirect impacts that are “remote in time” or place because that could mean reviewers fail to anticipate likely toxic spills and decreasing land values that reduce local government tax revenues.
And a proposed change that would let project developers conduct their own environmental impact studies, while consulting with feds, could give a foreign corporation, such as the pipeline company TransCanada, influence over U.S. federal decisions.
Native Americans led the struggle against streamlining NEPA reviews, which also include restrictions on public comment and a rule that agencies could only consider scientific studies that are deemed “reliable.”
“We sit on the precipice of environmental and ecological collapse… We cannot have an economy on a dead planet,” said Navajo musician and poet Lyla June Johnston.
Navajo high school student Najhozhoni Rain Ben, 17, studying math and aiming for physics and business, drove from her home in Shiprock, N.M., to Denver — joining other out-of-state residents from as far as North Carolina who seized the opportunity to weigh in for comprehensive NEPA reviews.
Crying as she testified, Ben said: “I am no coward. … And we do not care only for ourselves. … This should not be happening. We shouldn’t be talking about this. We should be implementing plans for the future. This is not for the future. This is for profit.”
Colorado Energy Office director Will Toor said the White House-backed changes “appear surgically designed to eliminate consideration of climate impacts.” Toor testified that residents of Colorado and the West disproportionately feel climate warming impacts, including worse droughts, catastrophic wildfires, reduced snowpack, increased 100 degree-plus days and extreme storms.
“The persistent burning of fossil fuels both in and outside our state has altered the climate,” Colorado Department of Natural Resources director Dan Gibbs told the White House officials, urging continued reviews that address wide impacts. Proposed trims of the process would undermine NEPA, Gibbs said.
John Putnam, the Colorado health department’s environmental programs chief, pointed to the ozone air pollution for which Colorado now ranks among the most serious violators of federal air quality health standards as “the ultimate cumulative or indirect impact” because it comes from multiple sources and forms through chemicals mixing in the atmosphere…
White House officials told The Denver Post they will give equal weight to oral testimony and 43,000 or so comments received online as of Tuesday at regulations.gov (docket number CEQ-2019-0003).
Council on Environmental Quality panel member Stuart Levenbach said testimony citing specific proposed changes, such as removal of the words “cumulative effects,” likely would make the most difference as the White House and other federal agencies conduct reviews and consider possible adjustments in their proposed overhaul. A second hearing is set for Feb. 25 in Washington, D.C., and online comments must be sent by March 10.
From the Western Council of Resource Councils via Indian Country Today:
Community leaders from across the Western U.S. traveled to Denver, Colorado today to testify at a hearing held by the Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ), the division of the White House charged with implementing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). In the public hearing, farmers, ranchers, tribal members, environmental experts and others from across the West turned out in force to tell the Council on Environmental Quality that the National Environmental Policy Act’s public comment process promotes public participation in government decision-making, and should be strengthened, not weakened. Those testifying told the Council on Environmental Quality that the National Environmental Policy Act fosters better government decisions and prevents harm to the environment and public health.
Mark Fix, rancher and Northern Plains Resource Council leader from Miles City, Montana, spoke about how he and other ranchers mobilized during a National Environmental Policy Act review to oppose a coal railroad that jeopardized their private property rights and ranching operations. “Thanks to the National Environmental Policy Act, landowners and irrigators who live along the Tongue River are safe from having the railroad condemn their property. However, if the National Environmental Policy Act is changed, the railroads and coal companies could literally force their way across our property and our public lands and develop a railroad and a coal mine that are not needed. We must protect the land and water for future generations. Without the National Environmental Policy Act there will be little hope that citizens can protect the land and water that we need to survive.”
“The National Environmental Policy Act’s public participation requirements are especially important for landowners and others who are directly impacted by decisions related to oil and gas development, power line construction, pipeline right of ways, and other federal actions that are proposed by private corporations,” said Liza Millett of Laramie, Wyoming, a member of the Powder River Basin Resource Council. “The National Environmental Policy Act is the process by which those of us impacted by these kinds of decisions get to submit comments to the agency. In many cases, public comments result in a better decision. Comments help reduce impacts and often force the agency to look at alternatives and other options that it would not have considered but for the public involvement in the process.”
“For tribal communities like Fort Berthold, which bear the brunt of health problems such as heart disease and asthma from the poorly planned federal projects, the National Environmental Policy Act isn’t just an environmental protection law, it’s a critical tool for ensuring our voice. We cannot afford to lose it.” said Lisa DeVille, a leader with Fort Berthold Protectors of Water and Earth Rights, from Mandaree, North Dakota. “Any law that provides broad opportunities for public participation in government decisions that affect the environment and local communities shouldn’t be rolled back; rather, laws like the National Environmental Policy Act should be embraced and strengthened. The National Environmental Policy Act is one of the only avenues for tribal members to have any input on federal actions.”
“From personal experience, industry dishonesty and agency fear cause document review delays and excessive paperwork,” said Shannon Ansley, Environmental Hydrogeologist and Idaho Organization of Resource Councils member from Pocatello, Idaho. “If the Council on Environmental Quality approves the proposed changes to the National Environmental Policy Act, there will be increased litigation on federal actions, effectively slowing, instead of speeding up, the process of reviews and approval.”
Under the proposed rules, government agencies could ignore the landscape-scale or global impacts of a project, such as climate change; public participation would be reduced to the lowest legal amount; and complex environmental reviews would be subject to arbitrary time and page limits. The proposal also explicitly allows a project applicant, such as a company proposing to mine or drill public minerals or on tribal lands, to prepare its own environmental impact statement and removes the prohibition on hiring contractors that have conflicts of interest, such as financial ties to the applicant.
The Western Organization of Resource Councils (WORC) is a network of grassroots organizations that span seven of the Western states with 15,000 members. Many Western Organization of Resource Councils members live on lands overlying and neighboring federal, tribal, state and privately owned mineral deposits, and experience numerous impacts due to federal mineral production and other federal projects. Headquartered in Billings, Montana, Western Organization of Resource Councils also has offices in Colorado and Washington, D.C.
Northern Plains is a grassroots conservation and family agriculture group that organizes Montanans to protect our water quality, family farms and ranches, and unique quality of life.
The Powder River Basin Resource Council, founded in 1973, is a family agriculture and conservation organization in Wyoming. Resource Council members are family farmers and ranchers and concerned citizens who are committed to conservation of our unique land, mineral, water, and clean air resources.
Here’s a guest column from Erle C. Ellis, Mark Maslin and Simon Lewis that’s running in The New York Times:
One trillion trees.
At the World Economic Forum last month, President Trump drew applause when he announced the United States would join the forum’s initiative to plant one trillion trees to fight climate change. More applause for the decision followed at his State of the Union speech.
The trillion-tree idea won wide attention last summer after a study published in the journal Science concluded that planting so many trees was “the most effective climate change solution to date.”
If only it were true. But it isn’t. Planting trees would slow down the planet’s warming, but the only thing that will save us and future generations from paying a huge price in dollars, lives and damage to nature is rapid and substantial reductions in carbon emissions from fossil fuels, to net zero by 2050.
Focusing on trees as the big solution to climate change is a dangerous diversion. Worse still, it takes attention away from those responsible for the carbon emissions that are pushing us toward disaster. For example, in the Netherlands, you can pay Shell an additional 1 euro cent for each liter of regular gasoline you put in your tank, to plant trees to offset the carbon emissions from your driving. That’s clearly no more than disaster fractionally delayed. The only way to stop this planet from overheating is through political, economic, technological and social solutions that end the use of fossil fuels.
There is no way that planting trees, even across a global area the size of the United States, can absorb the enormous amounts of fossil carbon emitted from industrial societies. Trees do take up carbon from the atmosphere as they grow. But this uptake merely replaces carbon lost when forests were cleared in the first place, usually long ago. Regrowing forests where they once flourished can undo some damage done in the past, but even a trillion trees can’t store enough carbon to head off dramatic climate changes this century.
In a sharp rebuttal to last summer’s paper in Science, five scientists wrote in the same journal in October that the study’s findings were inconsistent with the dynamics of the global carbon cycle. They warned that “the claim that global tree restoration is our most effective climate solution is simply incorrect scientifically and dangerously misleading.”
The focus must shift from treating climate change as a “global carbon” problem to a “carbon pollution” problem. No matter that deforestation, tilling soils for agriculture and even methane emissions from livestock and rice paddies also contribute to global climate change. All together these account for only about 20 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions. Carbon pollution from fossil fuels is the overwhelming reason global climate change is such an urgent problem. Solve this, and the need for other climate change solutions is not nearly so urgent.
Before it was blocked by the Trump administration, the Environmental Protection Agency was already moving in this direction, by requiring states to meet targets for cutting emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from power plants. Combating pollution has a long track record of success in the United States and around the world — effective solutions have been pursued through an array of approaches, from direct penalties and taxes to cap-and-trade programs and government investments in new technologies that avert pollution.
Still, carbon pollution from fossil fuels remains the greatest regulatory challenge ever. Globally, fossil fuels provide about 80 percent of the energy powering the global economy today. Yet ending fossil fuel use could also provide huge economic and employment opportunities. Through new spending on infrastructure and research for energy and transportation, the American economy could be transformed for the better and for the long run. For example, all internal flights between American cities less than 600 miles apart could be replaced by high-speed electric ‘bullet’ trains traveling over 200 miles per hour, providing a quicker, safer and cleaner way to get around and built with American technology, steel and workers. The battle against carbon pollution is also a battle for a better America and a better world.
Everyone loves a simple solution, but it is just too tempting to say “let’s plant trees” while we continue to burn fossil fuels. We must not play foolish games with the Earth’s climate: We will all end up paying for it in the end. Regulating carbon pollution down to net zero emissions by 2050 will end the global climate crisis for good.
And making this possible will require making clean energy cheap — through investments, incentives, regulation and research. Experience from around the world shows that decarbonizing modern societies is hard, and even harder in the face of the vested interests of industries and people still holding trillions of dollars in carbon stocks. But there is no other real solution.
The ultimate challenge in solving global climate change is to make clean energy cheap, safe and available. That and regulating fossil carbon pollution will boost innovation, employment and our health and well-being. When it comes to reducing emissions fast, let’s put the focus where it needs to be: regulating carbon pollution and making clean energy available to everyone. Planting trees can’t do that.
Erle C. Ellis is a professor of geography and environmental systems at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the author of “Anthropocene: A Very Short Introduction.” Mark Maslin and Simon Lewis are professors of earth system science at University College London, and the authors of “The Human Planet: How We Created the Anthropocene.”