Happy Thanksgiving

Like anyone that has so far avoided getting COVID-19, I am most thankful for that this year. I could easily stop there.

However, yesterday the Army Corps of Engineers announced the denial of a permit for the Pebble Mine that was to be constructed in the most important salmon fishery in the world. And, to my surprise the environment and the Clean Water Act won out.

Map of Bristol Bay. By own work – maps-for-free.com, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3709948

From the Nature Conservancy (Eric Bontrager):

The Army Corps of Engineers today formally denied a permit for the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska.

In August, the Corps found the mine “cannot be permitted” as proposed under the Clean Water Act following a determination that discharges at the mine site would cause unavoidable, adverse impacts and significant degradation of aquatic resources in Bristol Bay.

Last week, the mine’s developers submitted a new plan for how it would abate the mine’s threat to this globally significant salmon fishery. The developer did not release the plan and the Corps declined to make it available for public comment.

The following is a statement by Lynn Scarlett, chief external affairs officer for The Nature Conservancy:

“Today’s decision affirms what the science and local communities have said all along: Pebble is the wrong mine in the wrong place. The decision is a win for this world-class salmon fishery and the Alaska Natives who have thrived in this region for millennia. This is a commendable and necessary determination that will help protect this watershed and the economies it supports. We appreciate the Army Corps for making the right decision to deny the permit for Pebble Mine, and we’re grateful for the many people who have spoken up with their perspectives and expertise for years so that we could reach this moment.

“Even with this encouraging development, without permanent protection, Bristol Bay’s future is far from certain. Any outcome for the region must align with the health and well-being of Indigenous communities, including a focus on economic opportunity. This can only happen with collaboration, transparency and through decisions informed by science. We will continue supporting Tribal and local governments, Alaska Native corporations, businesses, and other stakeholders in their efforts to chart a sustainable and equitable future for Bristol Bay.”

An aerial view of Wood-Tikchik State Park in Bristol Bay, Alaska. Photo credit: Ryan Petersen via The Natural Resources Defense Council

From The Washington Post (Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis):

In a statement, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Alaska Commander Col. Damon Delarosa said that a plan to deal with waste from the Pebble Mine “does not comply with Clean Water Act guidelines,” and that “the proposed project is contrary to the public interest.”

While the Trump administration has pressed ahead to weaken environmental protections and expand energy development before the president’s term ends in January, the decision to torpedo the long-disputed mine represents a major win for environmentalists, fishing enthusiasts and tribal rights.

“Today’s decision speaks volumes about how bad this project is, how uniquely unacceptable it is,” Joel Reynolds, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, which has fought the mine for years, said in an interview. “We’ve had to kill this project more than once, and we’re going to continue killing for as long as it takes to protect Bristol Bay.”

Trump officials had allowed the Pebble Limited Partnership, a subsidiary of a Canadian firm, to apply for a permit even though the Obama administration had concluded in 2014 that the firm could not seek federal approval because the project could have “significant” and potentially “catastrophic” impacts on the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery. As recently as July, the Corps concluded that the mine would have “no measurable effect” on area fish populations.

State and federal agencies warned that the project would permanently damage the region, destroying more than 2,800 acres of wetlands, 130 miles of streams and more than 130 acres of open water within Alaska’s Koktuli River watershed. The proposed site lies at the river’s headwaters.

An unlikely coalition of opponents formed when President Trump’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., Fox News host Tucker Carlson and Vice President Pence’s former chief of staff, Nick Ayers — who all have enjoyed fishing or hunting around Bristol Bay — joined with traditional environmental groups and the region’s tribes in opposition to the project.

Opponents received a major boost in September when the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) released recordings of secretly taped Zoom calls in which the project’s top executives boasted of their influence inside the White House and to Alaska lawmakers to win a federal permit. Alaska’s two GOP senators, Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, issued statements saying they opposed the plan and within days Pebble’s chief executive, Tom Collier, resigned.

Both senators praised the administration’s decision.

“Today, the Army Corps has made the correct decision, based on an extensive record and the law, that the project cannot and should not be permitted,” Sullivan said. He added that he supports mining in Alaska, but given the project’s potential impact on the state’s fisheries and subsistence hunting, “Pebble had to meet a high bar so that we do not trade one resource for another.”

[…]

Pebble issued a plan to the Corps this fall outlining how it would compensate for any damage inflicted by the project, which would span more than 13 miles and require the construction of a 270-megawatt power plant, natural-gas pipeline, 82-mile double-lane road, elaborate storage facilities and the dredging of a port at Iliamna Bay…

Bristol Bay Native Corporation President Jason Metrokin, also its chief executive, said his group and others will keep working “to ensure that wild salmon continue to thrive in Bristol Bay waters, bringing with them the immense cultural, subsistence and economic benefits that we all have enjoyed for so long.”

[…]

“The credit for this victory belongs not to any politician but to Alaskans and Bristol Bay’s Indigenous peoples, as well as to hunters, anglers and wildlife enthusiasts from all across the country who spoke out in opposition to this dangerous and ill-conceived project,” [Adam Kolton] said in a statement. “We can be thankful that their voices were heard, that science counted and that people prevailed over short-term profiteering.”

Pebble Mine site. Photo credit: Northern Dynasty Minerals, Ltd.

From The New York Times (Henry Fountain):

The fight over the mine’s fate has raged for more than a decade. The plan was scuttled years ago under the Obama administration, only to find new life under President Trump. But opposition, from Alaska Native American communities, environmentalists and the fishing industry never diminished, and recently even the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., a sportsman who had fished in the region, came out against the project.

On Wednesday, it failed to obtain a critical permit required under the federal Clean Water Act that was considered a must for it to proceed. In a statement, the Army Corps’ Alaska District Commander, Col. Damon Delarosa, said the mine, proposed for a remote tundra region about 200 miles from Anchorage, would be “contrary to the public interest” because “it does not comply with Clean Water Act guidelines.”

Opponents said the large open-pit operation, which would dig up and process tens of millions of tons of rock a year, would irreversibly harm breeding grounds for salmon that are the basis for a sports-fishing industry and a large commercial fishery in Bristol Bay. Salmon are also a major subsistence food of Alaska Natives who live in small villages across the region…

Lindsay Layland, deputy director of United Tribes of Bristol Bay, which has fought the project for years, said that while the decision means the project may be dead, the threat remains that the gold and copper ore could still be mined in the future. “It doesn’t mean that those minerals aren’t going to be in the ground tomorrow,” she said. “We need to continue to push for long term and permanent protections down the road.”

[…]

The environmental impact statement was finalized in July by the Corps, which had authority to approve or deny a permit under the federal Clean Water Act. But a few weeks later the Corps said that the company’s plan to compensate for environmental damage from the mine was insufficient, and requested a new plan…

The new plan, which was not publicly released but was believed to designate land near the mine to be permanently protected, was submitted last week.

The mining industry and many state officials have supported the project for the revenue and other economic benefits it would bring. But some important Alaskan politicians, notably Senator Lisa Murkowski, a Republican, had been noncommittal, saying the mine should go forward only if it could be shown to be environmentally sound.

In a statement on Wednesday, Senator Murkowski said the Corps’ decision affirmed “that this is the wrong mine in the wrong place.”

“This is the right decision, reached the right way,” she added.

Under the Trump administration, the Environmental Protection Agency reversed an earlier ruling, allowing the environmental review by the Corps to proceed. Under the Clean Water Act, the Corps reviews any dredging and filling activities in waterways, including wetlands like those in the area of the proposed project.

As Special Envoy for Climate, John Kerry Will Be No Stranger to International Climate Negotiations — Inside #Climate News #ActOnClimate

From left, President François Hollande of France; Laurent Fabius, the French foreign minister; and United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon during the climate change conference [December 2015] in Le Bourget, near Paris. (Credit Francois Mori/Associated Press)

From Inside Climate News (Phil McKenna):

President-elect Joe Biden’s announcement on Tuesday that Kerry—a former secretary of state, senator and presidential candidate—would serve in the newly created role of special presidential envoy for climate underscored the importance the Biden administration will place on international negotiations to address climate change, as illustrated by Kerry’s work in Kigali.

“Even the United States, for all of our industrial strength, is responsible for only 13% of global emissions,” Kerry said during a joint appearance in Wilmington, Delaware, with Biden and other newly announced members of his national security team. “To end this crisis, the whole world must come together. You’re right to rejoin Paris on day one, and you’re right to recognize that Paris alone is not enough.”

Kerry is likely to try to build on the success of the Kigali Amendment by taking swift action to work with other countries to reduce emissions from other sectors of the global economy, Zaelke said.

One place he might look is the International Maritime Organization, a United Nations agency whose member states cooperate on regulations governing the international shipping industry. In 2018, the IMO agreed to cut greenhouse gas emissions from ships by 50 percent by 2050, but the organization later failed to approve any specific emissions reduction measures.

Another is the International Civil Aviation Organization, a UN agency that is currently working to offset growth in carbon emissions from international flights after 2020.

A third possibility would be expanding the scope of the Montreal Protocol, an international agreement developed in the 1980s to phase out the production of ozone depleting chemicals. Some climate policy experts say the agreement should now be extended to reduce emissions of other greenhouse gases such as nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas produced in chemical manufacturing that is nearly 300 times more potent at warming the planet than carbon dioxide, and also causes depletion of atmospheric ozone.

These lesser-known agreements and UN organizations have the ability to require mandatory emission reductions, giving them more teeth than the more well-known Paris climate agreement, which is voluntary.

“We have to have these sister agreements moving ahead to plug in and support the Paris Agreement,” Zaelke said.

Another place strong U.S. leadership could spur greater international action on climate change is the Climate and Clean Air Coalition, a voluntary U.N.-administered organization, formed in 2012 with support from the Obama administration.

The Coalition focuses on reducing emissions of “short-lived climate pollutants” including methane, HFCs, black carbon and ground level ozone, which are all climate super-pollutants that remain in the atmosphere for a relatively short period of time. Reducing these pollutants is widely seen as a way to quickly begin to address global warming.

The Coalition, in partnership with the United Nations Environment Programme, the European Commission, the Environmental Defense Fund and leading oil and gas companies, announced a new effort to report and reduce methane emissions from the oil and gas sector on Monday.

“Kerry can redouble the efforts and make it go twice as fast, and can also bring it to the highest level of government,” Zaelke said of the Coalition.

However, before the U.S. can seek to lead on any international climate agreement, it must first return to the Kigali Amendment, which the nation abandoned after Kerry had championed the agreement.

More than 100 countries have signed the amendment, which the U.S., China and India have yet to ratify.

U.S. ratification could come quickly. Legislation that would mandate the phase down of HFCs, a prerequisite for U.S. ratification of the Kigali Amendment, is now making its way through the U.S. Senate.

The legislation has rare, bipartisan support and is backed by a broad group of environmental organizations and business interests, including the Natural Resources Defense Council, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.

The groups say it would both reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create jobs by stimulating the development of new, more climate friendly chemical refrigerants. In a Nov. 18 letter to Republican and Democratic leaders of the House and Senate, the groups called for swift passage of the bill during the current, “lame duck” session of Congress.

“There is a remarkable span of support for this among stakeholders and quite remarkable bipartisan sponsorship in the Senate,” said David Doniger, senior strategic director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Climate and Clean Energy Program. “I remain somewhere between hopeful and optimistic that this can succeed in this lame duck session.”

As #LakePowell Recedes, River Runners Race To Document Long-Hidden Rapids — KUNC

Sand and silt are piling up on the Colorado River above Lake Powell, as water levels continue to fall due to persistent drought and encroaching aridification. Water managers from San Diego to Wyoming are working to find ways to keep the river’s reservoirs, and water delivery systems, functioning.

From KUNC (Molly Marcello):

Climate change and overuse are causing one of the Colorado River’s biggest reservoirs, Lake Powell, to drop. While water managers worry about scarcity issues, two Utah river rafters are documenting the changes that come as the massive reservoir hits historic low points.

For the past three years, Moab-based river runners Mike DeHoff and Pete Lefebvre have carefully photographed and mapped Cataract Canyon on their boating trips. For decades, Lake Powell buried the lower portion of the beloved canyon under flatwater. But now that the lake’s water levels are dropping, things are rapidly changing in the canyon…

The pair photograph these returning rapids year to year, illustrating in real time what it looks like as Lake Powell’s water levels drop and shift. Lefebvre says he was inspired by Chasing Ice, a 2012 film that documented shrinking glaciers from a sustained rise in global temperatures…

It wasn’t long before their hunt for new rapids sent them digging into the past. DeHoff has spent hours poring over old river maps, guidebooks, and historic photos in search of clues…

Their first “eureka moment” came when they correctly matched a 1921 photo from a survey of the Colorado River with one of their own. The picture shows a boat running through a dynamic stretch of Lower Cataract, where the reservoir’s mostly flatwater exists today. But Lefebvre says, some character is now coming back to the area.

“It started with just like a little ripple in the water to the surface, and then there was a little burble. And then oh, there was the tip of a rock sticking out,” Lefebvre said. “And then another rock was sticking out, and then eventually you start seeing this thing turn into a riffle.”

They named the area La Rue’s Riffle for E.C. La Rue, the U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist who took that photo nearly a century ago.

Fed up with the slow rate of guidebooks, the pair recently published their own supplemental river map on their website, Returning Rapids of Cataract Canyon. It lays out the freshest, gnarliest rapids of the lower canyon…

Cataract Canyon is becoming a well-known place to study what happens to an ecosystem when a reservoir recedes, and a river has a chance to return to a sense of former wildness.

“We’ve taken some people who are highly trained scientists, and geologists, and whatever out there,” DeHoff said. “And it’s really neat to see their faces where they’re like, ‘I’ve been studying geomorphology for 15 years and here I am out here seeing it right before my eyes, happening faster than I can even believe it’s happening.’”

Whether due to overuse, prolonged drought, or political change, researchers are beginning to contemplate a future for a severely diminished Lake Powell. This October the reservoir dropped to just under 11 million acre-feet of water, or just 45% of its total capacity. With a dry and warm winter on the horizon in 2021, there’s no relief on the horizon.

The Returning Rapids project is showing a silver lining to a reduced reservoir, Lefebvre said. It’s not only about new thrills for rafters – they’re also watching an entire ecosystem shift.

“Instead of this monoculture of weeds and a mud canal…we’re getting all this character back with rapids, beaches, currents, eddies, animal life, and native vegetation,” Lefebvre said. “And so that’s how I see [Cataract Canyon] recovering. It’s a nicer place to be now.”

Lake Powell, created with the 1963 completion of Glen Canyon Dam, is the upper basin’s largest reservoir on the Colorado River. But 2000-2019 has provided the least amount of inflow into the reservoir, making it the lowest 20-year period since the dam was built, as evidenced by the “bathtub ring” and dry land edging the reservoir, which was underwater in the past. As of October 1, 2019, Powell was 55 percent full. Photo credit: Eco Flight via Water Education Colorado