Interview: ‘Not Another Decade to Waste’ — How to Speed up the Clean Energy Transition — The Revelator #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Wind turbines, Weld County, 2015. Photo credit: Allen Best/The Mountain Town News

From The Revelator (Tara Lohan):

Energy policy expert Leah Stokes explains who’s pushing climate delay and denial — it’s not just fossil fuel companies — and what we need to do now

The first official tallies are in: Coronavirus-related shutdowns helped slash daily global emissions of carbon dioxide by 14% in April. But the drop won’t last, and experts estimate that annual emissions of the greenhouse gas are likely to fall only about 7% this year.

After that, unless we make substantial changes to global economies, it will be back to business as usual — and a path that leads directly to runaway climate change. If we want to reverse course, say the world’s leading scientists, we have about a decade to right the ship.

That’s because we’ve squandered a lot of time. “The 1990s and the beginning of the 2000s were lost decades for preventing global climate disaster,” political scientist Leah Stokes writes in her new book Short Circuiting Policy, which looks at the history of clean energy policy in the United States.

But we don’t all bear equal responsibility for the tragic delay.

“Some actors in society have more power than others to shape how our economy is fueled,” writes Stokes, an assistant professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “We are not all equally to blame.”

Short Circuiting Policy focuses on the role of one particularly bad actor: electric utilities. Their history of obstructing a clean-energy transition in the United States has been largely overlooked, with most of the finger-pointing aimed at fossil fuel companies (and for good reason).

We spoke with Stokes about this history of delay and denial from the utility industry, how to accelerate the speed and scale of clean-energy growth, and whether we can get past the polarizing rhetoric and politics around clean energy.

What lessons can we learn from your research to guide us right now, in what seems like a really critical time in the fight to halt climate change?

What a lot of people don’t understand is that to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, we actually have to reduce emissions by around 7-8% every single year from now until 2030, which is what the emissions drop is likely to be this year because of the COVID-19 crisis.

Lean Stokes. Photo credit: University of California Santa Barbara

So think about what it took to reduce emissions by that much and think about how we have to do that every single year.

It doesn’t mean that it’s going to be some big sacrifice, but it does mean that we need government policy, particularly at the federal level, because state policy can only go so far. We’ve been living off state policy for more than three decades now and we need our federal government to act.

Where are we now, in terms of our progress on renewable energy and how far we need to go?

A lot of people think renewable energy is growing “so fast” and it’s “so amazing.” But first of all, during the coronavirus pandemic, the renewable energy industry is actually doing very poorly. It’s losing a lot of jobs. And secondly, we were not moving fast enough even before the coronavirus crisis, because renewable energy in the best year grew by only 1.3%.

Right now we’re at around 36-37% clean energy. That includes nuclear, hydropower and new renewables like wind, solar and geothermal. But hydropower and nuclear aren’t growing. Nuclear supplies about 20% of the grid and hydro about 5% depending on the year. And then the rest is renewable. So we’re at about 10% renewables, and in the best year, we’re only adding 1% to that.

Generally, we need to be moving about eight times faster than we’ve been moving in our best years. (To visualize this idea, I came up with the narwhal curve.)

How do we overcome these fundamental issues of speed and scale?

We need actual government policy that supports it. We have never had a clean electricity standard or renewable portfolio standard at the federal level. That’s the main law that I write all about at the state level. Where those policies are in place, a lot of progress has been made — places like California and even, to a limited extent, Texas.

We need our federal government to be focusing on this crisis. Even the really small, piecemeal clean-energy policies we have at the federal level are going away. In December Congress didn’t extend the investment tax credit and the production tax credit, just like they didn’t extend or improve the electric vehicle tax credit.

And now during the COVID-19 crisis, a lot of the money going toward the energy sector in the CARES Act is going toward propping up dying fossil fuel companies and not toward supporting the renewable energy industry.

So we are moving in the wrong direction.

Clean energy hasn’t always been such a partisan issue. Why did it become so polarizing?

What I argue in my book, with evidence, is that electric utilities and fossil fuel companies have been intentionally driving polarization. And they’ve done this in part by running challengers in primary elections against Republicans who don’t agree with them.

Basically, fossil fuel companies and electric utilities are telling Republicans that you can’t hold office and support climate action. That has really shifted the incentives within the party in a very short time period.

It’s not like the Democrats have moved so far left on climate. The Democrats have stayed in pretty much the same place and the Republicans have moved to the right. And I argue that that’s because of electric utilities and fossil fuel companies trying to delay action.

And their reason for doing that is simply about their bottom line and keeping their share of the market?

Exactly. You have to remember that delay and denial on climate change is a profitable enterprise for fossil fuel companies and electric utilities. The longer we wait to act on the crisis, the more money they can make because they can extract more fossil fuels from their reserves and they can pay more of their debt at their coal plants and natural gas plants. So delay and denial is a money-making business for fossil fuel companies and electric utilities.

There’s been a lot of research, reporting and even legal action in recent years about the role of fossil fuel companies in discrediting climate science. From reading your book, it seems that electric utilities are just as guilty. Is that right?

Yes, far less attention has been paid to electric utilities, which play a really critical role. They preside over legacy investments into coal and natural gas, and some of them continue to propose building new natural gas.

They were just as involved in promoting climate denial in the 1980s and 90s as fossil fuel companies, as I document in my book. And some of them, like Southern Company, have continued to promote climate denial to basically the present day.

But that’s not the only dark part of their history.

Electric utilities promoted energy systems that are pretty wasteful. They built these centralized fossil fuel power plants rather than having co-generation plants that were onsite at industrial locations where manufacturing is happening, and where you need both steam heat — which is a waste product from electricity — and the electricity itself. That actually created a lot of waste in the system and we burned a lot more fossil fuels than if we had a decentralized system.

The other thing they’ve done in the more modern period is really resisted the energy transition. They’ve resisted renewable portfolio standards and net metering laws that allow for more clean energy to come onto the grid. They’ve tried to roll them back. They’ve been successful in some cases, and they’ve blocked new laws from passing when targets were met.

You wrote that, “Partisan polarization on climate is not inevitable — support could shift back to the bipartisanship we saw before 2008.” What would it take to actually make that happen?

Well, on the one hand, you need to get the Democratic Party to care more about climate change and to really understand the stakes. And if you want to do that, I think the work of the Justice Democrats is important. They have primary-challenged incumbent Democrats who don’t care enough about climate change. That is how Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was elected. She was a primary challenger and she has really championed climate action in the Green New Deal.

The other thing is that the public supports climate action. Democrats do in huge numbers. Independents do. And to some extent Republicans do, particularly young Republicans.

So communicating the extent of public concern on these issues is really important because, as I’ve shown in other research, politicians don’t know how much public concern there is on climate change. They dramatically underestimate support for climate action.

I think the media has a really important role to play because it’s very rare that a climate event, like a disaster that is caused by climate change, is actually linked to climate change in media reporting.

But people might live through a wildfire or a hurricane or a heat wave, but nobody’s going to tell them through the media that this is climate change. So we really need our reporters to be doing a better job linking people’s lived experiences to climate change.

With economic stimulus efforts ramping up because of the COVD-19 pandemic, are we in danger of missing a chance to help boost a clean energy economy?

I think so many people understand that stimulus spending is an opportunity to rebuild our economy in a way that creates good-paying jobs in the clean-energy sector that protects Americans’ health.

We know that breathing dirty air makes people more likely to die from COVID-19. So this is a big opportunity to create an economy that’s more just for all Americans.

But unfortunately, we really are not pivoting toward creating a clean economy, which is what we need to be doing. This is an opportunity to really focus on the climate crisis because we have delayed for more than 30 years. There is not another decade to waste.

Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis.
http://twitter.com/TaraLohan

#Arizona tribes fearful after losing court battle over #uranium mine near #GrandCanyon — Arizona Central #ColoradoRiver #COriver

Supai Village. Photo credit Tom Bean/National Park Service

From Arizona Central (Debra Utacia Krol):

Havasupai Vice Chairman Matthew Putesoy is worried that a federal court decision regarding a uranium mine could lead to environmental catastrophe for his community and surrounding lands.

A U.S. District Court judge ruled May 22 against the tribe and two environmental groups in a seven-year-old lawsuit that sought to close the Canyon Mine, a uranium mine located about 10 miles south of the Grand Canyon’s south rim.

Putesoy said the tribe is not prepared to abandon its fight.

“From Havasu Baaja’s point of view,” he said, using the traditional name of his people, “the Guardians of the Grand Canyon will continue to battle the mining companies and someway, somehow, stop the mine from happening. Once the water is gone there’s no replacing it.”

The Canyon Mine lies within 1 million acres of federal lands surrounding the Grand Canyon that was withdrawn from any new mining for 20 years by the Interior Department in 2012.

The ban’s intent was to allow the U.S. Geological Survey to study the effects of such mines in the area to determine if environmental damage was likely to occur. The U.S. Forest Service determined that Canyon Mine, owned by Canadian firm Energy Fuels, could still operate because it could show a profit, as theMining Law of 1872 requires for a valid claim to be honored.

Uranium mining threatens our home, the #GrandCanyon — @HighCountryNews #ColoradoRiver #COriver #aridification

Ophelia Watahomigie-Corliss, a Havasupai tribal councilwoman, stands for a portrait by Red Butte, Kaibab National Forest, which was originally Havasupai land. “Let us rechristen the landscape here, changing the names of places, trails and springs back to the Indigenous names, the ones the tribes are comfortable sharing with the public,” she writes. Photo credit: Amy S. Martin via The High Country News

From The High Country News [April 14, 2020] (Ophelia Watahomigie-Corliss):

Since time immemorial, the Havasupai have lived inside the natural wonder. We face yet another peril.

If you were one of the 6.3 million people who visited Grand Canyon National Park last year, chances are you stood on the rim and noticed a green ribbon of trees thousands of feet below you. The National Park Service calls it “Indian Garden.” And it was truly a garden, once: Our Havasupai relatives, the Tilousi family, lived and gardened there a century ago, until the National Park Service kicked them out. The Bright Angel Trail hikers use to reach this area today is an old Havasupai trail. When the Fred Harvey Company set up its hospitality industry on the South Rim near the turn of the 20th century, they hired Havasupai and created a work camp for them called Supai Camp.

Last year, the park celebrated its centennial. There were special events, but I doubt you heard anything about us, the Havasupai — the Guardians of the Grand Canyon. You may not even know about Canyon Mine, the proposed uranium mine that threatens Havasu Creek, the entire water supply of the Havasupai Reservation. Historical erasure has made us invisible. Now, our very survival is at stake, and we are asking for your help.

Inside what you call Grand Canyon National Park, the Havasupai have lived since time immemorial. We still live here. Fred Harvey and the Santa Fe Railway reached the Grand Canyon in 1901, and thousands of tourists came in their wake. Billy Burro was the last Havasupai to live in Indian Garden, a place that had been enjoyed by our people for centuries. But industry began to dictate where Indians could and couldn’t be, and public areas were forbidden because it was considered bad for business. Discrimination was rampant. At the Grand Canyon, we Havasupais were no longer welcome on our own land, because now it was reserved for tourists. Eventually, it was taken away altogether. Grand Canyon became a national park in 1919, and Billy, together with all Havasupais, were kicked out of Indian Garden. The people were relocated to the Indian work camp, with little option but to work for the railway. These were heartbreaking times for us, as our home became a tourist attraction. We had to endure constant racism; people like Billy were given the last name “Burro,” for example, as if we were no more than pack animals.

It’s time Grand Canyon officials took some responsibility and helped educate visitors about our history, land and water. The South Rim was taken by the federal government to create Grand Canyon National Park, and Havasupai voices were ignored when we pleaded for our homeland. In the early 1930s, the Park Service burned Supai Camp to the ground, and our people, including elders and children, were loaded into covered wagons in the snow, taken to the canyon’s rim and forced to walk down a grueling 17-mile trail to Supai Village. That is where the Havasupai Reservation was created in 1880. Before that, however, Supai Village was used as our summer home. Our longtime winter home had always been the newly designated park, but now we had lost it forever. In the 1970s, the park hired a new superintendent, who shut off our food, septic and water supply. Fortunately, we already relied on the springs in the canyon, and so we weathered the assault.

In addition to supporting the Havasupai people, the waters in Havasu Canyon give life to an array of animals and plants. Photo credit: Amy S. Martin via The Grand Canyon Trust

Now we have a new threat to deal with. Fifteen miles from the park boundary is a uranium mine that threatens the entire water supply for the 426 permanent residents of the Havasupai Reservation. The mine shaft at Canyon Mine is 1,470 feet below the surface, and if it leaks, it will contaminate the Redwall-Muav aquifer, which discharges into Havasu Creek — our only source of water. We have been fighting uranium mining for 40 years, but we cannot do it alone, especially if we continue to be erased.

Havasuw’ Baaja means the people of the blue-green waters. Those waters are the waters of Havasu Creek, and we are the original Guardians of the Grand Canyon. Thousands of more recent arrivals have since settled this land, built homes and raised families on our ancestral lands, and we know they love the canyon, too. Like us, they’ve come to know the names of the mountains, trails and waters in the region. The Grand Canyon has called them here, to make their lives in this incredible corner of the world. We are not so different after all.

And now it’s time for them — and for everyone who loves the Grand Canyon — to stand with us, to get to know who we are, and to work with us toward a just and shared vision for the next 100 years of this national park. We want the park to recognize our histories and to share that story permanently at the visitor center — to find a place for us in all their exhibits and in permanent signage throughout the park. Let us rechristen the landscape here, changing the names of places, trails and springs back to the Indigenous names, the ones the tribes are comfortable sharing with the public. All park rangers, personnel, outfitters and river runners should receive cultural sensitivity training, so they can teach visitors about the true history of the land.

Congress should pass S.3127 – the Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act. This law will protect the 1 million acres of public land surrounding Grand Canyon National Park from the catastrophic impacts of uranium mining; it will also protect our homes in Supai Village.

Often, we gather at Red Butte, one of our sacred sites, to protest the project. There, we educate people about the many efforts to shut down the Canyon Mine, which is just three miles away. We invite you to join us here.

You are invited to stand strong with us and help us protect this landscape we all love, which is also the place we call home — the Grand Canyon. We have been trying to do this for many years, and we will continue to do for all generations to come. Please join us.

Ophelia Watahomigie-Corliss is a Havasupai tribal councilwoman. Email High Country News at editor@hcn.org.

Travertine Terraces in Havasu Creek. By Robertbody at English Wikipedia, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=4268354

Leaked report for [JP Morgan] says #Earth is on unsustainable trajectory #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

Anti-climate change lobbying spend by the five largest publicly-owned fossil fuel companies. Statista, CC BY-SA

From The Guardian (Patrick Greenfield and Jonathan Watts):

The world’s largest financier of fossil fuels has warned clients that the climate crisis threatens the survival of humanity and that the planet is on an unsustainable trajectory, according to a leaked document.

The JP Morgan report on the economic risks of human-caused global heating said climate policy had to change or else the world faced irreversible consequences.

The study implicitly condemns the US bank’s own investment strategy and highlights growing concerns among major Wall Street institutions about the financial and reputational risks of continued funding of carbon-intensive industries, such as oil and gas.

JP Morgan has provided $75bn (£61bn) in financial services to the companies most aggressively expanding in sectors such as fracking and Arctic oil and gas exploration since the Paris agreement, according to analysis compiled for the Guardian last year.

Its report was obtained by Rupert Read, an Extinction Rebellion spokesperson and philosophy academic at the University of East Anglia, and has been seen by the Guardian.

The research by JP Morgan economists David Mackie and Jessica Murray says the climate crisis will impact the world economy, human health, water stress, migration and the survival of other species on Earth.

“We cannot rule out catastrophic outcomes where human life as we know it is threatened,” notes the paper, which is dated 14 January.

Drawing on extensive academic literature and forecasts by the International Monetary Fund and the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the paper notes that global heating is on course to hit 3.5C above pre-industrial levels by the end of the century. It says most estimates of the likely economic and health costs are far too small because they fail to account for the loss of wealth, the discount rate and the possibility of increased natural disasters.

The authors say policymakers need to change direction because a business-as-usual climate policy “would likely push the earth to a place that we haven’t seen for many millions of years”, with outcomes that might be impossible to reverse.

“Although precise predictions are not possible, it is clear that the Earth is on an unsustainable trajectory. Something will have to change at some point if the human race is going to survive.”

The investment bank says climate change “reflects a global market failure in the sense that producers and consumers of CO2 emissions do not pay for the climate damage that results.” To reverse this, it highlights the need for a global carbon tax but cautions that it is “not going to happen anytime soon” because of concerns about jobs and competitiveness.

The authors say it is “likely the [climate] situation will continue to deteriorate, possibly more so than in any of the IPCC’s scenarios”.

Without naming any organisation, the authors say changes are occurring at the micro level, involving shifts in behaviour by individuals, companies and investors, but this is unlikely to be enough without the involvement of the fiscal and financial authorities.

@POTUS targets a bedrock environmental law — @HighCountryNews #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround #NEPA

From The 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.

Energy Fuels’ White Mesa Mill from inside Bears Ears National Monument. Photo credit: Jonathan Thompson

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 jonathan@hcn.org.

New poll shows leading role of #climate policy in #Colorado primary — @ConservationCO #ActOnClimate #VoteEnvironment #KeepItInTheGround

Comasche Solar Farm near Pueblo April 6, 2016. Photo credit: Reuters via The Climate Reality Project

From Conservation Colorado (Garrett Garner-Wells):

New polling released today highlighted climate change as the top issue in Colorado’s upcoming presidential primary, 10 points higher than health care and 15 points higher than preventing gun violence.

The survey of likely Democratic presidential primary voters conducted by Global Strategies Group found that nearly all likely primary voters think climate change is already impacting or will impact their families (91%), view climate change as a very serious problem or a crisis (84%), and want to see their leaders take action within the next year (85%). And by a nearly three-to-one margin, likely primary voters prefer a candidate with a plan to take action on climate change starting on Day One of their term over a candidate who has not pledged to act starting on Day One (74% – 26%).

Additionally, the survey found that among likely primary voters:

  • 85% would be more likely to support a candidate who will move the U.S. to a 100 percent clean energy economy;
  • 95% would be more likely to support a candidate who will combat climate change by protecting and restoring forests; and,
  • 76% would be more likely to support a candidate who will phase out extraction of oil, gas, and goal on public lands by 2030.
  • These responses are unsurprising given that respondents believed that a plan to move the U.S. to a 100 percent clean energy economy will have a positive impact on future generations of their family (81%), the quality of the air we breathe (93%), and the health of families like theirs (88%).

    Finally, likely primary voters heard a description of Colorado’s climate action plan to reduce pollution and the state’s next steps to achieve reductions of at least 50 percent by 2030 and at least 90 percent by 2050. Based on that statement, 91% of respondents agreed that the Air Quality Control Commission should take timely action to create rules that guarantee that the state will meet its carbon reduction targets.

    Full survey results can be found here.

    Tri-State plans 50% #renewableenergy by 2024 as member co-ops press for exit — The Loveland Reporter Herald #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    The South Taylor pit is one of Colowyo Mine’s current active coal mining site. Photo by David Tan via CoalZoom.com

    From The Loveland Reporter-Herald (Dan Mika):

    Tri-State Generation and Transmission Association Inc. said by 2024 it will draw from renewable sources at least half of the energy it sends to member power cooperatives.

    In a news conference also attended by Gov. Jared Polis on Wednesday, the Westminster-based power generator said it would build two wind farms and four solar farms in Colorado and New Mexico to generate an additional gigawatt of energy for its 43 member co-ops in Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming and New Mexico.

    Tri-State CEO Duane Highley said the plan puts the company at the forefront of the shift away from fossil fuels.

    “Membership in Tri-State will provide the best option for cooperatives seeking a clean, flexible and competitively-priced power supply, while still receiving the benefits of being a part of a financially strong, not-for-profit, full-service cooperative,” he said at the news conference.

    The partial shift away from non-renewable sources of power comes amid ongoing disputes among Tri-State, Brighton’s United Power Inc. and La Plata Energy Association Inc. at the Colorado Public Utilities Commission. The two co-ops filed suit in November, claiming Tri-State is refusing to give them permission to explore deals with other power suppliers and effectively holding them hostage while it tries to become a federally regulated entity…

    Tri-State has maintained it cannot release United and La Plata while other co-op customers revise the rules for terminating contracts…

    In a statement, La Plata said it supports Tri-State’s push toward renewable energy, but said the power provider’s rules are preventing it from creating its own series of renewable energy sources to meet its local carbon reduction targets.

    “While Tri-State’s future goal will help meet our carbon reduction goal, we do not yet know what the costs of its plan will be to our members and what LPEA’s role will be for producing local, renewable energy into the future,” said La Plata Energy Association CEO Jessica Matlock.

    Member co-ops are required to buy 95% of their power from Tri-State.

    Moab uranium tailings pile removal update

    From Aspen Public Radio (Molly Marcello):

    In a park, nestled in a red rock canyon outside Moab, Utah — a short drive from a giant pile of uranium tailings — a crowd gathered for a celebration. Elected officials and community members mingled, and enjoyed refreshments.

    Volunteers placed pieces of yellow cake in small paper bowls.

    It was a facetious nod to the gathering’s purpose: to celebrate the removal of 10 million tons of toxic uranium tailings from the banks of the Colorado River.

    “You never would have thought you would have all these people congratulating themselves in the community on moving 10 million tons,” said Sarah Fields, executive director of the nonprofit Uranium Watch. “They seem to be really dedicated to getting this done.”

    […]

    Before cleanup efforts began about 10 years ago, elevated levels of uranium and ammonia were showing up in the river’s water near Moab. The contamination alarmed officials downstream in Nevada and California, and they called for the Department of Energy to step in.

    Getting the pile out of the floodplain became a community rallying cry as well, Fields said.

    “The (Department of Energy) pretty much from the beginning realized that if they decided to leave it in place they would be standing alone because the town, the city, most of the members of the community, the state, the EPA all said, ‘Move the pile,’” Fields said.

    Workers began moving the pile in 2009. The tailings are loaded into train cars, and sent 30 miles north where they’re stored away from the river in the middle of the desert. With the 10 millionth ton moved, more than 62% of the pile is gone, which means many Moabites could see completion in their lifetimes.

    Court ruling could expedite cleanup of long-dormant uranium mines — @COindependent

    Old uranium sites in Colorado via The Denver Post

    From The Colorado Independent (John Herrick):

    The Colorado Court of Appeals ruled companies must reclaim uranium mines that sit idle for more than 10 years

    Recent images of the Van 4 uranium mine show a dark rig towering above a sagebrush and juniper mesa. Beside the scaffolding sit piles of loose white rocks and two metal buildings, one of which drips insulation from its ruptured ceiling. The site is one of western Colorado’s active uranium mines. But it looks deserted.

    The operator, Piñon Ridge Mining, LLC, a subsidiary of Western Uranium & Vanadium Corp., is waiting for the price of uranium to rebound before firing up the mine again. The last time that happened was 30 years ago.

    Just how long mines like the Van 4 should be allowed to remain open — but idle — has long been a point of contention in Colorado between environmentalists and mine owners.

    Environmentalists argue the site should have been cleaned up and restored to sagebrush scrub decades ago.

    But the Colorado Mined Land Reclamation Board, an eight-member panel appointed by the governor that enforces the state’s mining laws, has allowed mining companies to delay tearing down their operations by granting mine owners reclamation exemptions, known as “temporary cessation” permits.

    This delay has frustrated environmental advocates. They see the unremediated sites as threatening wildlife habitat, water quality and a new West End economy based on recreational opportunities. They believe companies have relied on temporary cessation permits to sidestep environmental regulations requiring them to close and clean their all-but-shuttered mining operations.

    And last week, the Colorado Court of Appeals agreed with them.

    The court ruled state regulatory board “abused its discretion” by granting two five-year temporary cessation permits to Piñon Ridge Mining, which owns the Van 4 site. After 10 years of sitting idle, the court said, the Van 4 operation must be terminated and the owner must fully comply with reclamation requirements, restoring the site closer to its natural condition.

    Phone messages left for the operator of the Van 4 mine seeking a response to the ruling were not returned Wednesday. But the president of the Colorado Mining Association argued it’s important to consider national security risks when deciding whether to close mines.

    The court’s opinion could have far-reaching consequences. Owners of the state’s 29 active uranium mines — 16 of which have been granted temporary cessation permits, according to state data — may have to begin tearing down rigs and buildings and testing for radiation. The state does not yet know how many mines are past due for reclamation, according to the court’s interpretation. But it knows there are several.

    “Those sites will very likely need to be reclaimed in accordance with this order,” said Ginny Brannon, director of the Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.

    The state estimates the federal Department of Energy holds about $14.5 million in bonds that companies front to ensure resources are available to restore closed mining operations.

    View of Durango, CO, Remediated Processing Site (1991) via US Department of Energy.

    From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

    Radioactive material used for roads, foundations, landscaping in mid-1900s

    It turns out more than 100 properties in Durango were missed during a massive, multi-million dollar cleanup in the 1980s of radioactive waste that was once used for the construction of homes, buildings and roads.

    Now, more than three decades later, the state of Colorado’s health department says these hot spots that slipped through the cracks need to be cleaned up.

    “We’re now looking to raise the awareness of this potential issue in Durango,” said Tracie White, a remediation program manager for the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “It’s been on our radar for a while, and we’ve been laying the groundwork. Now, it’s coming into place.”

    A cheap and easy material
    Durango is no stranger to the issues left behind from the town’s legacy with uranium mining.

    In the 1940s, the U.S. government built a mill on the northeast side of Smelter Mountain, now the Durango Dog Park, to reprocess uranium tailings for sale to the Manhattan Project, which produced the world’s first atomic bomb.

    After extracting uranium, though, what’s left behind is a gray, sand-like waste product that can be filled with radioactive components, like radium and radon. In Durango, this pile grew to 1.2 million cubic yards, enough to fill nearly 400 Olympic-size swimming pools.

    Over the years, people freely used the uranium mill tailings in construction around town, said Duane Smith, a local historian and former Fort Lewis College professor. It was as easy as driving your truck up to the waste pile and taking a load…

    The uranium tailings were a cheap, easy material to work with and were used for the foundation of buildings and homes, driveways and roads, including sections of Camino del Rio. The radioactive waste was even used as a substitute for sand in gardens and sandboxes.

    The practice went unchecked until the tailings became a major public health concern in the 1970s, which prompted Congress to pass the “Uranium Mill Tailings Radiation Control Act” in 1978 to tackle the 24 worst uranium sites around the country.

    Durango ranked in the top four.

    In the 1980s, the U.S. Department of Energy estimated 122,000 cubic yards of radioactive waste had been used in and around Durango homes, businesses, public buildings, roads and parks, and that it would take years and millions of dollars to remove it all.

    Greg Hoch, the city of Durango’s longtime planning director, now retired, said federal government officials went up and down Durango streets surveying for hot spots. In the end, most of the high-risk sites were removed and cleaned up, he said…

    But properties were missed, not just evidenced by this recent announcement from the state health department. In 1997, it was discovered that even more hot spots beneath Durango homes and streets remained contaminated by tailings, a discovery that “unsettled” the city at the time, according to The Durango Herald archives.

    Records identify 115 properties at risk
    This time around, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment is trying to spread the word that uranium mill tailings contamination potentially still exists on about 115 properties in and around Durango, but at this point, it’s still a bit of a guessing game.

    White, with the state health department, said surveys in the 1980s estimated approximately 915 properties in Durango were believed to have the uranium waste byproduct. While most were cleaned up, there has always been an understanding that some likely escaped the effort, she said.

    Recently, however, CDPHE was able to home in on which properties may still pose a risk after records from the 1990s were digitized.

    “Now that the records are more easily accessible and searchable, we are able to identify properties that may still have tailings remaining,” White said.

    Health officials suspect properties have been passed over for a number of reasons: tailings could have been relocated, properties could have been partially but not fully cleaned or, in some cases, the homeowner at the time refused to take part in the project.

    Home buyers and sellers are not required to test for radon or uranium issues. However, if a seller is aware of an issue, he or she would legally have to share that information, said John Wells with the Wells Group.

    But ultimately, state health officials can’t say for sure whether there’s a contamination problem until crews can conduct gamma radiation surveys. And in yet another wrinkle, that cannot happen until a disposal site is secured to take the waste – and there’s no telling when that will happen.

    Will the @POTUS administration boost uranium? Energy industry lobbying could lead to more mining from #BearsEars to #Wyoming — @HighCountryNews #ActOnClimate

    From The High Country News (Jonathan Thompson):

    In July 2017, lobbyists from Energy Fuels Resources, a Canadian uranium mining company with operations in the United States, urged the [Administration] to shrink the boundaries of Bears Ears National Monument in order to free up uranium deposits for future mining.

    Some observers found it odd. After all, foreign competition and low prices had beaten the domestic uranium industry down to just about nothing, and lobbyists — including Andrew Wheeler, who has since been appointed head of the Environmental Protection Agency— had already convinced the Obama administration to leave Energy Fuels’ Daneros Mine out of the new national monument. Why would they want to go after more deposits?

    Energy Fuels’ White Mesa Mill from inside Bears Ears National Monument. Photo credit: Jonathan Thompson

    Now we know: Those same lobbyists are pushing the [Administration] to order utilities to purchase at least 25% of their uranium domestically. Such a quota would throw a lifeline to the handful of uranium mining companies still operating in the U.S. and likely spur more uranium mining in the West — including, perhaps, within Bears Ears’ former boundaries as well as near the Grand Canyon. And it would continue the federal government’s long history of propping up the uranium industry at the expense of the people and places of uranium country —and maybe, even, of the nuclear power industry.

    When prospectors with Geiger counters started scouring the Colorado Plateau in the 1940s, the government supported them, building roads to potential deposits, giving federal land to anyone interested in staking a claim, and paying $10,000 bonuses to those who found uranium. When corporations arrived to develop the prospects, the government again stepped in, becoming the sole buyer of the yellowcake they produced, virtually eliminating any economic risk.

    Hundreds of mines and mills popped in Wyoming and across the Colorado Plateau, many of them within or near the borders of the Wind River Reservation, the Navajo Nation and New Mexico’s Laguna and Acoma pueblos. Many, if not most, of the miners and millers — and the people who eventually suffered from radiation — belonged to those tribes.

    Decades before the U.S. boom got going, researchers had firmly established that European uranium miners (before the bomb, uranium was used to make dye) got lung cancer at much higher rates than the general populace. And in 1952, U.S. scientists uncovered the mechanism by which radon — a radioactive “daughter” of uranium found in at dangerously high levels in mines and mills — caused lung cancer. And yet the miners were never informed of the risks, nor were protective measures taken. In fact, the federal Atomic Energy Commission actively withheld this information from the public in a cover-up that benefited the corporations.

    The government ended its uranium-buying program in the 1970s, but by then nuclear power was catching on worldwide, and demand for reactor fuel kept U.S. mines afloat and spurred new mining in Canada, Australia and elsewhere. After the Three Mile Island disaster in 1979, though, U.S. utilities stopped building new reactors. A global glut resulted in a uranium price crash, and with cheaper yellowcake flooding in from overseas, the industry withered. As of 2017, U.S. utilities were buying only 5% of their nuclear fuel from domestic producers, and mines and mills employed just 424 people, compared to 16,000 in 1979. While the industry’s future remains in question, its past legacy endures in the form of hundreds of sick miners and millers; abandoned, contaminated mines; and the ongoing, taxpayer-funded effort to clean up giant tailings piles near communities.

    Now, the industry — led by Energy Fuels and Ur-Energy — is hoping the government will once again step up, meddle in the markets, and throw it a lifeline. The 25% quota would immediately and substantially up demand — and prices — for domestic uranium, potentially raising production to levels that haven’t been seen in decades. It could breathe new life into Energy Fuels’ Canyon Mine, which is near the Grand Canyon, along with its Daneros Mine and White Mesa Mill — the only conventional mill in the U.S — both located near Bears Ears National Monument. Ur-Energy, meanwhile, would see more demand for its products from the spill-prone Lost Creek in-situ facility in Wyoming near Jeffrey City, a community that bet everything on the uranium boom in the 1970s, only to see it all crash a few years later, leaving the town a husk.

    If these existing, active mines can’t keep up with demand, uranium companies could revive long-dormant ones or seek new deposits. Both can be found in the White Canyon uranium district, which was part of the original Bears Ears National Monument but was cut out by the [Administration’s] shrinkage at Energy Fuels’ request.

    Late last year, U.S. Department of Commerce officials visited the White Mesa Mill, the Energy Fuels mines near the La Sal Mountains outside Moab, Utah, and other uranium facilities. This spring, they submitted their report on the quota proposal to the [Administration], which has 90 days to act. Indigenous and environmental activists, including citizens from the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe near White Mesa, Utah, are protesting the proposal. And this time, they have an unexpected ally: The nuclear power industry. That’s because the proposed quotas will drive up fuel prices for nuclear reactor operators, which are already having a hard time competing against cheap natural gas-generated power.

    That puts the President…who hasn’t hesitated to interfere in the free market in order to boost the coal and nuclear power industry — between a rock and reactors.

    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.

    New Mexico’s ‘mini’ Green New Deal, dissected — @HighCountryNews #ActOnClimate

    From The High Country News (Jonathan Thompson):

    The Energy Transition Act could be a model for ambitious policies of the future.

    On March 23, New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham signed into law the Energy Transition Act, a complex bill that will move the state toward cleaner electricity generation, clear the way for the state’s biggest utility to shutter one of the West’s largest coal-fired power plants in 2022, and provide mechanisms for a just transition for economically affected communities.

    The bill has the support of the state’s biggest utility — Public Service Company of New Mexico, or PNM — as well as environmental groups such as the Natural Resources Defense Council, Western Resource Advocates and the San Juan Citizens Alliance. National media are hailing it as a mini-Green New Deal.

    San Juan Generating Station. Photo credit: Jonathan Thompson

    Here’s a breakdown of what the bill does — and doesn’t — do:

    Perhaps most significantly, the bill mandates that New Mexico electricity providers get 80 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2040, and 100 percent from carbon-free sources by 2045. Those are ambitious goals that will result in huge cuts in greenhouse gas emissions in a state that currently gets half its electricity from coal and a third from natural gas.

    That said, it’s important to remember that “carbon-free” and “renewable” are not synonyms. The 20 percent of carbon-free electricity can include nuclear, since no greenhouse gases are emitted during fission, as well as coal and natural gas equipped with carbon capture and sequestration technologies. Carbon capture is prohibitively expensive — and unproven — but nuclear power is readily available from Palo Verde Generating Station in Arizona, where PNM currently gets about 18 percent of its power.

    Also, “electricity” and “energy” are two distinct concepts — a common source of confusion. This bill applies only to electricity consumed by New Mexicans and has no direct bearing on the state’s burgeoning oil or natural gas production. Meanwhile, the Four Corners Power Plant, located in New Mexico but owned by Arizona Public Service, can continue to burn coal under the renewable standards as long as the electricity is exported to other states. But PNM plans to divest its 13 percent ownership in Four Corners Power Plant in 2031, leaving the plant on shakier economic ground.

    The bill helps pave the way for the planned closure of San Juan Generating Station, located just north of the Navajo Nation in northwestern New Mexico.

    The station’s owner, PNM, announced two years ago that it would likely shut down the plant in 2022 because it was no longer economically viable. Many aspects of this bill are a direct reaction to the pending closure, particularly the sections that allow the utility to take out “energy transition bonds” to cover costs associated with abandonment. Those bonds will be paid off by ratepayers, but not taxpayers.

    This has irked New Energy Economy, a Santa Fe-based group that has been pushing PNM to clean up its act for years. The group, a critic of the bill, would rather see PNM’s investors shoulder the cost of the bonds. After all, the investors are the ones who have profited handsomely off the power plant for nearly half a century, even as it pumped millions of tons of climate warming gases into the air, along with acid rain-forming sulfur dioxide, health-harming particulates, mercury, arsenic and other toxic materials.

    While the bill does not specifically force the plant’s closure, it does mandate the creation of standards that limit carbon dioxide emissions from large coal-burning plants to about half of what coal emits per megawatt-hour — effectively killing any possibility of keeping the generating station operating.

    The energy transition bonds will help fund a just transition away from coal. Some 450 jobs— about one-fourth of them held by Native Americans — will be lost when the San Juan Generating Station and the associated San Juan Mine close, together with an estimated $356 million in economic activity annually.

    The bill allocates up to $30 million for reclamation costs, and up to $40 million to help displaced workers and affected communities, to be shared by the Energy Transition Indian Affairs Fund, Economic Development Assistance Fund and Displaced Worker Assistance Fund. The Indian Affairs Fund will be spent according to a plan developed by the state, in consultation with area tribal governments and with input from affected communities, and the economic development fund will help local officials diversify the local economy. The bill also requires PNM to replace a portion of the area’s lost generation capacity, in the process creating jobs and tax revenue.

    The new bill has some missing elements. There’s no provision for making amends to the people who have lived near the plant for years and suffered ill health, such as high asthma rates, as a result. It won’t stop Four Corners Power Plant, located just 10 miles from San Juan Generating Station, from belching out pollution (though it does provide for a just transition away from that plant if it closes by 2031), and it doesn’t address the massive climate impact from oil and gas development or transportation. The act is merely an official acknowledgment that coal is dying, and that coal communities could die, too, without help.

    Nevertheless, the Energy Transition Act is remarkable in that it promises to totally decarbonize electricity in a state that has leaned heavily on fossil fuel for decades, while also lending a hand to communities that would otherwise be left behind. It is a good template, or at least a decent sketch, for a national Green New Deal.

    Extra: Listen to High Country News Contributing Editor Cally Carswell’s new Hot & Dry Podcast for even more context on New Mexico’s Energy Transition Act:

    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 jonathan@hcn.org.

    Cutting carbon requires both innovation and regulation — @HighCountryNews #ActOnClimate #KeepItInTheGround

    From The High Country News (Jonathan Thompson):

    Where coal-state Sen. John Barrasso got it wrong in a recent New York Times op-ed.

    In December, after world leaders adjourned a major climate conference in Poland, Sen. John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, penned an opinion piece in the New York Times headlined “Cut carbon through innovation, not regulation.”

    Those first two words were enough to get me to continue reading. After all, when was the last time you heard a conservative Republican, particularly one who represents a state that produces more than 300 million tons of coal per year, advocate for cutting carbon?

    “… the climate is changing,” he wrote, “and we, collectively, have a responsibility to do something about it.” What?! In one sentence he not only acknowledged the reality of climate change, but also admitted, obliquely, that humans are causing it — and have a responsibility to act. I had to re-read the byline. Had someone hacked the senator from Wyoming?

    Unfortunately, no, as became clear in the rest of the op-ed. The “responsibility” thing was just the first of three “truths” that Barrasso gleaned from the climate conference. He continued: “Second, the United States and the world will continue to rely on affordable and abundant fossil fuels, including coal, to power our economies for decades to come. And third, innovation, not new taxes or punishing global agreements, is the ultimate solution.” Ah, yes, there’s the sophistry we have come to expect from the petrocracy.

    Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., argued in a recent op-ed that fossil fuels, like the coal processed at this Wyoming plant, will continue to power the world for decades, and that the solution to climate change is “investment, invention and innovation,” not regulation. Photo credit: BLM Wyoming

    Translation: We’ve got to stem climate change, but we have to do it by plowing forward with the very same activities that are causing it. And we have to take responsibility by, well, shirking that same responsibility and hefting it off on “innovation” instead.

    Fine. Meanwhile, I’ll be over here getting rid of my growing love handles while I continue to eat three pints of Chunky Monkey per day.

    Aside from the abstract answer of innovation, Barrasso offers two specific solutions to take the place of regulations or carbon taxes. The first is nuclear power. Aside from the waste and the uranium mining and milling problems, nuclear power can be a great way to cut emissions — as long as it displaces coal or natural gas, which doesn’t seem to be what Barrasso has in mind.

    His primary solution, however, is carbon capture and sequestration. It sounds great. Just catch that carbon and other pollutants emitted during coal or natural gas combustion and pump it right back underground to where it came from. Problem solved, without building any fancy new wind or solar plants. But there are currently only 18 commercial-scale carbon capture operations worldwide, and they’re not being used on coal power plants, where they’re most needed, because of technical challenges and high costs.

    Once the carbon is captured from a facility, it must be sequestered, or stored away somewhere, perhaps in a leak-free geologic cavern. Most current carbon-capture projects, however, pump the carbon into active oil and gas wells, a technique known as enhanced oil recovery. This widespread method of boosting an old well’s production usually uses carbon dioxide that has been mined from a natural reservoir, the most productive of which is the McElmo Dome, located in southwestern Colorado under Canyons of the Ancients National Monument.

    Using captured carbon instead makes sense. It obviates the need to drill for carbon dioxide under sensitive landscapes, and it can help pay for carbon capture projects. But none of that changes the underlying logical flaw in the whole endeavor, which amounts to removing carbon emitted from a coal plant only to pump it underground in order to produce and burn more oil and therefore emit more carbon.

    Barrasso writes: “The United States is currently on track to reduce emissions to 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2025, … not because of punishing regulations, restrictive laws or carbon taxes but because of innovation and advanced technology…” And he’s right. Carbon emissions from the electricity sector have dropped by some 700 million tons per year over the last decade. But it wasn’t because of carbon capture, or more nuclear power. It was because U.S. utilities burned far less coal, period.

    Sure, innovation played a role. New drilling techniques brought down the price of natural gas, and advances in solar- and wind-power did the same with those technologies, making them all more cost competitive, displacing some coal. But Barrasso seems not to understand whence that innovation comes. It doesn’t happen in a vacuum. More often than not, innovation is driven by money, regulations, or a combination of both. Fracking was a way to increase profits in old oil and gas fields. Renewable technologies moved forward in response to state energy requirements. Carbon taxes would encourage renewables, nuclear and, yes, carbon capture, by making them more competitive with fossil fuels.

    “People across the world,” Barrasso writes, “are rejecting the idea that carbon taxes and raising the cost of energy is the answer to lowering emissions.” He mentions France, and the Gilet Jaune, or Yellow Vest, movement, the members of which have passionately protested against higher taxes on fuel, among other things. But the yellow vests aren’t opposed to carbon-cutting or environmental regulations. They were demonstrating against inequality, and against the fact that the fuel tax was structured in a regressive way, hurting the poor far more than the rich. The lesson is not that regulations are bad, but that they must be applied equitably and justly. That, in turn, will drive innovation, and hopefully more thoughtful op-eds.

    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 jonathan@hcn.org.

    Arizona Rep. Grijalva plans to introduce the Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act on Tuesday, February 26, 2019, when the park celebrates its 100th anniversary

    From the Associated Press via Tucson.com:

    Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva is pushing to make a temporary ban on the filing of new mining claims in the Grand Canyon region permanent.

    He’ll be joined Saturday by tribal leaders at the Grand Canyon to talk about legislation he plans to introduce next week.

    The Obama administration put about 1,562 square miles (4,045 square kilometers) outside the boundaries of the national park off-limits to new hard rock mining claims until 2032.

    Grijalva wants to make it permanent…

    Grijalva says he’ll introduce the Grand Canyon Centennial Protection Act on Tuesday when the park celebrates its 100th anniversary.

    100% Renewable Energy Needs Lots of Storage. This Polar Vortex Test Showed How Much. — Inside Climate News #ActOnClimate

    Image credit Tesla.com.

    From Inside Climate News (Dan Gearino):

    Energy analysts used power demand data from the Midwest’s January deep freeze and wind and solar conditions to find the gaps in an all-renewable power grid.

    In the depths of the deep freeze late last month, nearly every power plant in the Eastern and Central U.S. that could run was running.

    Energy analysts saw a useful experiment in that week of extreme cold: What would have happened, they asked, if the power grid had relied exclusively on renewable energy—just how much battery power would have been required to keep the lights on?

    Using energy production and power demand data, they showed how a 100 percent renewable energy grid, powered half by wind and half by solar, would have had significant stretches without enough wind or sun to fully power the system, meaning a large volume of energy storage would have been necessary to meet the high demand.

    “You would need a lot more batteries in a lot more places,” said Wade Schauer, a research director for Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables, who co-wrote the report.

    How much is “a lot”?

    Schauer’s analysis shows storage would need to go from about 11 gigawatts today to 277.9 gigawatts in the grid regions that include New England, New York, the Mid-Atlantic, the Midwest and parts of the South. That’s roughly double Wood Mackenzie’s current forecast for energy storage nationwide in 2040.

    Energy storage is a key piece of the power puzzle as cities, states and supporters of the Green New Deal talk about a transition to 100 percent carbon-free energy sources within a few decades. The country would need to transform its grid in a way that could meet demand on the hottest and coldest days, a task that would involve a huge build-out of wind, solar and energy storage, plus interstate power lines.

    The actual evolution of the electricity system is expected to happen in fits and starts, with fossil fuels gradually being retired and the pace of wind, solar and storage development tied to changing economic and technological factors. The Wood Mackenzie co-authors view their findings, part of a larger analysis of utility performance during the polar vortex event, as a way to show, in broad strokes, the ramifications of different options.

    We’ll Need More Than Just Today’s Batteries

    A grid that relies entirely on wind and solar needs to be ready for times when the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining.

    During the Jan. 27 – Feb. 2 polar vortex event, a 50 percent wind, 50 percent solar grid would have had gaps of up to 18 hours in which renewable sources were not producing enough electricity to meet the high demand, so storage systems would need to fill in.

    The grid would have to be designed to best use wind and solar when they’re available, and to store the excess when those resources are providing more electricity than needed, a fundamental shift from the way most of the system is managed today.

    “In a modern power grid, all these advanced technologies are driving the need for more flexibility at all levels,” said David Littell, principal at the Regulatory Assistance Project and a former staff member for Maine’s utility regulator. Grid operators have to meet constantly changing electricity demand with the matching amount of incoming power. While fossil fuel power plants can be ramped up or down as needed, solar and wind are less controllable sources, which is why energy storage is an essential part of planning for a grid that relies on solar and wind.

    Much of the current growth in energy storage is in battery systems, helped by plunging battery prices. A large majority of the existing energy storage, however, is pumped hydroelectric, most of which was developed decades ago. Other types of systems include those that store compressed air, flywheels that store rotational energy and several varieties of thermal storage.

    Schauer points out that advances in energy storage will need to be more than just batteries to meet demand and likely will include technologies that have not yet been developed.

    And that won’t happen quickly. He views the transition to a mostly carbon-free grid as possible by 2040, with the right combination of policy changes and technological advances. He has a difficult time imagining how it could be done within the 2030 timeframe of the Green New Deal.

    ‘This Is a Solvable Problem’

    The larger point is that such a transition can be done and is in line with what state and local governments and utilities are already moving toward.

    Feasibility is a key focus of the research of Mark Jacobson, a Stanford University professor, who has looked at how renewable energy and storage can provide all of the energy the U.S. needs.

    He says an aim of using all renewables by 2030 is “an admirable goal” but would be difficult to pull off politically. He thinks it’s more realistic to get to 80 percent renewables by 2030, and get to 100 percent soon after.

    “This is a solvable problem,” Jacobson said, adding that it must be solved because of the urgent need to reduce emissions that cause climate change.

    Local politics may be the most challenging part of quickly making an all-renewable electricity system, Schauer said. To handle a big increase in wind, solar and storage, communities would need to be willing to host those projects along with the transmission lines that would move the electricity.

    Interstate power lines are essential for moving electricity from places with the best solar and wind resources to the population centers. As more solar and wind farms are built, more lines will be needed. Schauer’s analysis assumes that there would be enough transmission capacity.

    “I’m not here to say any of this is impossible, but there are some basic challenges to pull this off in a short period of time, mainly NIMBYism,” he said, referring to the not-in-by-backyard sentiment that fuels opposition to transmission lines.

    Another important element is managing electricity demand, which is not discussed in the Wood Mackenzie report. Littell says some of the most promising ways to operate a cleaner grid involve using technology to reduce demand during peak periods and getting businesses to power down during times when the electricity supply is tight. Energy efficiency improvements have a role, as well.

    Nuclear Power Plant

    Nuclear Power Would Lower Storage Needs

    In addition to the 50-50 wind-solar projection, Schauer and co-author Brett Blankenship considered what would happen with other mixes of wind and solar power, and if existing nuclear power plants were considered as part of the mix.

    By considering the role of nuclear plants, the report touches on a contentious debate among environmental advocates, some of whom want to see all nuclear plants closed because of concerns about safety and waste, and some who say nuclear power is an essential part of moving toward a carbon-free grid.

    The Wood Mackenzie analysis shows that continuing to use nuclear power plants would dramatically decrease the amount of wind, solar and storage needed to get to a grid that no longer burns fossil fuels. For example, 228.9 gigawatts of storage would be needed, compared to 277.9 without the nuclear plants.

    “If your goal is decarbonization, then nuclear gets you a lot farther than if you retire the nuclear,” Schauer said.

    While the report focuses on a few cold days this year, Schauer has also done this type of analysis based on data for all of 2018, including summer heat waves. The lessons are similar, underscoring the scope of the work ahead for the people working for a cleaner grid.

    “It gets even more challenging when you extrapolate to the entire year,” he said.

    @AOC to introduce the resolution for a #GreenNewDeal today in the U.S. House of Representatives #ActOnClimate

    Read the resolution here. Thanks NPR for posting it and thank you Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for your leadership on this issue.

    2019 #NMleg: Professor warns legislators: Get serious on climate — The Sante Fe New Mexican #ActOnClimate

    Photo via the City of Santa Fe

    From The Santa Fe New Mexican (Andrew Oxford):

    “The world will be moving away from fossil fuel production,” David Gutzler, a professor at the University of New Mexico and member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, told members of the House Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Committee.

    Gutzler went on to paint a stark picture of New Mexico in a changing climate.

    The mountains outside Albuquerque will look like the mountains outside El Paso by the end of the century if current trends continue, he said.

    There will not be any snowpack in the mountains above Santa Fe by the end of the century, Gutzler added.

    We have already seen more land burned by wildfires, partly because of changes in forest management and partly because of climate change, Gutzler said.

    Water supply will be negatively affected in what is already an arid state, he said.

    “It’s real. It’s happening. We see it in the data. … This is not hypothetical in any way. This is real and we would be foolish to ignore it,” Gutzler said.

    The professor warned lawmakers that the state must get serious about greenhouse gas emissions now by expanding clean energy sources and mitigating the societal costs of moving away from fossil fuels.

    That cost, though, will be a sticking point for Republicans. Many of them represent southeastern New Mexico and the Four Corners, where oil and mining are big industries.

    The Green New Deal Is a Great Deal for the Outdoors — Outside Online #ActOnClimate

    From Outside Online (Cameron Fenton):

    The initiative, led by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, is ambitious, but some in the outdoor industry argue it’s the only hope for saving wild places from climate change

    When 27-year-old climate activist Evan Weber thinks about climate change, he thinks about his childhood in Hawaii. He spent those years in the mountains, on beaches, and in the ocean. “Now the beaches that I grew up on don’t exist anymore,” he says. “Sea-level rise has swallowed them into the ocean. The mountains are green for much less of the year. The coral reefs are dying from ocean acidification killing both marine life and surf breaks.”

    That’s what brought him, on November 13, to march on soon-to-be House Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s Capitol Hill office with around 150 other activists from a progressive group he cofounded called Sunrise Movement. They were demonstrating for a sweeping policy plan championed by congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called the Green New Deal. It is pitched as an economy-wide climate mobilization to connect environmental, social, and economic policies through legislation and would create everything from investment in federal green jobs for all who want them to a massive green-infrastructure program. The end result would be an overhauled national economy run on 100 percent renewable energy.

    While these are lofty goals, and many are skeptical of the plan’s feasibility, advocates see it as setting the bar for a sufficient response to climate change that politicians can be held to. And the proposal is already gaining steam in Washington, D.C., as a platform to rally around heading into 2020: more than 40 lawmakers have endorsed Ocasio-Cortez’s call for a congressional select committee to map out the Green New Deal. Many in the outdoor industry are also paying attention to what could be the best hope to save our ski seasons and protect our public lands.

    “It’s an approach that’s so comprehensive that it could be a way for the United States to lead in the direction of stabilizing the climate at two degrees Celsius,” says Mario Molina, executive director of the advocacy group Protect Our Winters. According to a climate assessment put out by the federal government last month, warming above that threshold (35.6 degrees Fahrenheit) could shorten ski seasons by half in some parts of the U.S. before 2050.

    Climate change is already impacting snowpack, and ski resorts across America are scrambling to adapt. This past year, Aspen Snowmass launched a political campaign called Give a Flake to get its customers engaged in climate action, Squaw Valley spent $10 million on snowmaking equipment in 2017, and Vail is pursuing a sweeping program to weatherproof its operations. But, Molina explains, there’s a long way to go to address the ski industry’s fossil-fuel-intensive operations. He believes that something like the economy-wide transition to renewable energy proposed in the Green New Deal is the best way ski resorts will be able to significantly lower their carbon footprints. It would allow them, for example, to hook their resorts up to a central power grid that would spin their lifts with renewable energy and create more sustainable transit options to and from the slopes.

    Amy Roberts, executive director of the Outdoor Industry Association (OIA), also sees the opportunity to link this kind of large-scale climate action with the outdoor economy, especially when it comes to public lands. An economy powered on 100 percent renewables would obviously erase any incentive for fossil-fuel companies to drill in places like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and Bears Ears National Monument. But the OIA is still watching to see how the politics around the Green New Deal shape up. The early support from lawmakers is encouraging, but they’re mostly Democrats. Roberts insists that policies to protect the climate and public lands need bipartisan support, but she thinks that the outdoor industry can help make that happen. “When you look at who takes part in our activities, whether it’s hiking, camping, hunting, or fishing, there are both Republicans and Democrats,” she says. “That’s an opportunity to unite and bring a compelling message that’s separate and apart from what the environmental community is doing.”

    As proof, she points to the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Act. In November, Peach State voters passed the measure, in which sales tax from sporting goods and outdoor equipment is used to fund parks and trails, with 83 percent support. In the same election, the governor’s race was so divided that it went to a recount.

    Even with glimpses of bipartisan support for the environment, Molina worries that the main hurdle Green New Deal legislation will face is influence from the fossil-fuel industry. Its lobbyists donated more than $100 million to campaigns in the 2016 election, and in 2018 raised $30 million to defeat a Washington State ballot measure that would have added a modest carbon tax on emissions and used the revenue to fund environmental and social programs. Additionally, former oil lobbyist David Bernhardt was tapped to replace Ryan Zinke as interior secretary in December.

    But activists like Weber are not giving up. As part of their push for a Green New Deal, they have called for members of the Democratic leadership to reject campaign contributions from fossil-fuel interests. And a few weeks after Weber was in Nancy Pelosi’s office, he and more than 1,000 young people were back in Washington, D.C., this time storming Capitol Hill in a daylong push to get lawmakers to endorse the Green New Deal, an effort that resulted in nearly 150 arrests. They remain unfazed by claims that the plan’s goals are too large. “A Green New Deal is the only proposal put forth by an American politician that’s in line with what the latest science says is necessary to prevent irreversible climate change,” Weber says. “It could mean the difference between whether future generations around the world get to have the same formative experiences in nature that I did—or not.”

    From Grist (Justine Calma):

    Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Elizabeth Warren. Beto O’Rourke. Those are just a few of the high-profile names either leading the development of or jumping to endorse today’s environmental cause célèbre, the Green New Deal. Inside congressional halls, at street protests, and, of course, on climate Twitter — it’s hard to avoid the idea, which aims to re-package ambitious climate actions into a single, wide-ranging stimulus program.

    The Green New Deal is being promoted as a kind of progressive beacon of a greener America, promising jobs and social justice for all on top of a shift away from fossil fuels. It’s a proposal largely driven by newcomers to politics and environmental activism (and supported, however tentatively, by several potential presidential candidates and members of the Democratic political establishment). The plan aspires to bring together the needs of people and the environment, outlining “a historic opportunity to virtually eliminate poverty.”

    But within the broader environmental movement, not everyone was initially gung-ho on the Green New Deal — at least not without some stipulations.

    To understand the debate surrounding the Green New Deal, you need to look beyond its recent prominence in Beltway political circles to the on-the-ground organizations that make up the environmental justice movement. Newcomers like Ocasio-Cortez may be leading the charge, but grassroots leaders who have spent years advocating for low-income families and neighborhoods of color most impacted by fossil fuels say their communities weren’t consulted when the idea first took shape.

    For all the fanfare, there isn’t a package of policies that make up a Green New Deal just yet. And that’s why community-level activists are clamoring to get involved, help shape the effort, and ensure the deal leaves no one behind.

    Something Old, Something New

    Although the term “Green New Deal” has evolved over time, its current embodiment as a complete overhaul of U.S. energy infrastructure was spearheaded by two high profile entities: progressive darling and first-term Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and the Sunrise Movement, an organization formed in 2017 by young people hellbent on making climate change the “it” issue.

    In November 2018, Ocasio-Cortez, with support from Sunrise, called for a House select committee to formulate the package of policies. More than 40 lawmakers signed on to support the draft text. Then shortly before the end of the year, Nancy Pelosi, now the speaker of the House, announced the formation instead of a “Select Committee on the Climate Crisis.”

    It wasn’t exactly a win for the leaders of the new environmental vanguard. Sunrise tweeted its displeasure at the committee’s pared-down ambition, taking umbrage with its lack of power to subpoena (a condition for which Ocasio-Cortez had advocated) and the fact that politicians who take money from fossil fuel interests would not be excluded from sitting on it.

    The fuss over who gets a say in the formation of the Green New Deal goes back further than Ocasio-Cortez’s or Sunrise’s friendly-ish feud with establishment Democrats. The Climate Justice Alliance, a network of groups representing indigenous peoples, workers, and frontline communities, says its gut reaction to the Green New Deal was that it had been crafted at the “grasstops” (as opposed to the grassroots).

    Shortly after Ocasio-Cortez put out her proposal for a select committee, the alliance released a statement largely in support of the concept, but with a “word of caution”: “When we consulted with many of our own communities, they were neither aware of, nor had they been consulted about, the launch of the GND.”

    Leaders at the alliance surveyed its member organizations — there are more than 60 across the U.S. — and put together a list of their concerns. Unless the Green New Deal addresses those key points, the alliance says, the plan won’t meet its proponents’ lofty goal of tackling poverty and injustice. Nor will the deal gain the grassroots support it will likely need to become a reality.

    “What we want to do is strengthen and center the Green New Deal in environmental justice communities that have both experience and lived history of confronting the struggle against fossil fuel industries,” Angela Adrar, executive director of the alliance, told Grist.

    Grist asked several indigenous and environmental justice leaders: If the Green New Deal is going to make good on its promises, what will it take? Here’s what they said.

    A more inclusive and democratic process that respects tribal sovereignty

    As details get hashed out on what a Green New Deal would actually include, longtime environmental justice organizers say their communities need to be the ones guiding the way forward. “The way that the plan was developed and shared is one of its greatest weaknesses,” Adrar says. “We want to be able to act quickly, but we also want to act democratically.”

    She adds that involving the grassroots is especially important in the wake of the 2018 midterm elections, which ushered in many new congressional members pledging to focus on the underrepresented communities they come from. The Climate Justice Alliance is calling for town halls (with interpreters for several languages) to allow communities to help flesh out policies to include in the Green New Deal.

    Some of the disconnect could be generational, says Tom Goldtooth, executive director of the Indigenous Environmental Network. Many of the leaders espousing the Green New Deal are young people. He says that he and his colleagues were caught off-guard when they saw the plan on social media and that when his network reached out to its members, there was little familiarity or understanding of the Green New Deal.

    “Maybe the way of communication of youth is different than what we’ve found in the environmental justice movement and our native movement around the value of human contact — face-to-face human contact,” he says. “We’re asking that leadership of the Green New Deal meet with us and have a discussion how we can strengthen this campaign with the participation of the communities most impacted.”

    Any retooling of America’s energy infrastructure will undoubtedly venture into Native American tribes’ lands, where there are already long-standing battles over existing and proposed pipeline expansions, as well as fossil fuel facilities. The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples calls for “free, prior, and informed consent” from tribes before developers begin any project on their land. So indigenous environmental groups say there needs to be respect for tribal sovereignty and buy-in from tribes for a Green New Deal to fulfill its promise of being just and equitable.

    Green jobs should be great jobs

    There has been a lot of talk in Green New Deal circles about uplifting poor and working-class communities. Advocates have floated ideas ranging from a job-guarantee program offering a living wage to anyone who wants one to explicitly ensuring the rights of workers to form a union.

    But as workers’ rights organizations point out, energy and extractive industries have provided unionized, high-paying jobs for a long time — and they want to make sure workers can have the same or a better quality of life within green industries.

    “There’s been a long history of workers that have been left hanging in transition in the past,” says Michael Leon Guerrero, executive director of the Labor Network for Sustainability, which has been working to bridge divides between labor and environmental issues. “For that reason, there’s quite a bit of skepticism in the labor sector.”

    Joseph Uehlein, who founded the Labor Network for Sustainability, adds that there needs to be more than just the promise of jobs to entice labor to support a Green New Deal. “Every presidential candidate in my lifetime talks about job creation as their top priority,” he says. “Over the last 40 years, those jobs have gotten worse and worse. A lot of jobs are not so good, requiring two or three breadwinners to do what one used to be able to do.”

    Uehlein hopes an eventual Green New Deal will ensure not just jobs that guarantee a living wage, but will go one step further. “We always talk about family-supporting jobs,” he says. “It’s not just about living, it’s about supporting families.”

    Do No Harm

    Any version of a Green New Deal would likely ensure that the U.S. transitions away from fossil fuels and toward renewable sources of energy — with Ocasio-Cortez setting the bold target of the nation getting 100 percent of its energy from renewables within 10 years.

    But defining what exactly counts as “renewable energy” has been tricky. There are plenty of sources of energy that aren’t in danger of running out and don’t put out as many greenhouse gases as coal or oil, but are still disruptive to frontline communities. Garbage incineration is considered a renewable energy in some states, but it still emits harmful pollutants. And when it comes to nuclear energy or large-scale hydropower, the associated uranium extraction and dam construction have destroyed indigenous peoples’ homes and flooded their lands.

    The Climate Justice Alliance is also pushing to exclude global warming interventions like geoengineering and carbon capture and sequestration, which they believe don’t do enough to address the root causes of global warming. Both technologies have to do with re-trapping or curbing the effects of greenhouse gases after they’ve been produced. “Carbon capture and sequestration, it’s a false solution from our analysis,” Goldtooth says. The focus needs to be on stopping greenhouse gases from getting into the atmosphere in the first place, he and other critics argue.

    As the alliance sees it, a future in which the planet survives requires a complete transition away from fossil fuels and an extractive economy, and toward a regenerative economy with less consumption and more ecological resilience.

    Goldtooth and his colleagues are calling for solutions that rein in damaging co-pollutants on top of greenhouse gases. And they support scalable solutions — like community solar projects — that are are popping up in some of the neighborhoods that are most affected by climate change.

    A good start

    Even though the Green New Deal faces many political obstacles, its proponents are still pushing forward at full speed. “We are calling for a wartime-level, just economic mobilization plan to get to 100% renewable energy ASAP,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted on New Year’s Day.

    Scientists recently estimated that the world has only 12 years to keep average global temperatures from increasing beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) — the upper limit which many agree we can’t surpass if we want to avoid a climate crisis. The urgency around the latest climate change timeline has brought a lot of new advocates to the table.

    According to John Harrity, chair of the Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs and a board member at the Labor Network for Sustainability, the labor movement is becoming more willing to engage on ways to address climate change. “I think the Green New Deal becomes a really good way to put all of that together in a package,” he says. “That evokes for a lot of people the image of a time when people did all pull together for the common good.”

    Elizabeth Yeampierre, steering committee co-chair of the Climate Justice Alliance and executive director of the Brooklyn-based grassroots organization, UPROSE, which works on issues cutting across climate change and racial justice, calls the Green New Deal “a good beginning for developing something that could really have lasting impacts and transformation in local communities and nationwide.”

    Since the alliance put out its recommendations, Yeampierre says she’s been in regular contact with both the Sunrise Movement and Ocasio-Cortez’s office. “To their credit they were responsive and have made themselves available to figure out how we move forward in a way that doesn’t really step over the people,” she explains.

    The language in Ocasio-Cortez’ draft proposal has already changed — it now includes clauses to “protect and enforce sovereign rights and land rights of tribal nations” and “recognize the rights of workers to organize and unionize.” The document has doubled in length since it was put out in November (at time of publication, it is 11 pages long) and will likely include new edits in the coming days.

    Varshini Prakash, a founding member of the Sunrise Movement (and a 2018 Grist 50 Fixer), says she agrees with the Climate Justice Alliance’s recommendation that a Green New Deal prioritize the needs of workers, frontline communities, communities of color, and low-income communities. “Their critiques,” Prakash tells Grist, “are fully valid, and I appreciate what they’re bringing.”

    The broad overview of a Green New Deal in Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal for a select committee, Prakash says, was hashed out quickly after the representative’s team approached Sunrise late last year. (Ocasio-Cortez did not immediately respond to Grist’s inquiry). “This was very rapid fire, it happened on an extremely tight timescale,” she says. “We didn’t have a lot of time to do the broad consultation we wanted.”

    But Prakash, Yeampierre, and other leaders in the movements for environmental and climate justice are working to make sure there are more folks on board moving forward.

    “Climate change isn’t just going to threaten our communities — it’s also going to test our solidarity, it’s going to test how we build relationships with each other,” Yeampierre says. “So I think the Green New Deal can be used as an opportunity to show that we can pass that test.”

    When a huge utility company pledges to go carbon free — @HighCountryNews #ActOnClimate #CarbonFree

    In early December, Xcel Energy, a sprawling utility that provides electricity to customers in eight states, including Colorado and New Mexico, announced that it planned to go carbon-free by 2050. In what has been a rough year for climate hawks, this was welcome news. After all, here was a large corporation pledging to go where no utility of its scale has gone before, regardless of the technical hurdles in its path, and under an administration that is doing all it can to encourage continuing use of fossil fuels.

    At the Dec. 4 announcement in Denver, Xcel CEO Bob Fowkes said that he and his team were motivated in part by the dire projections in recent reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the U.S. government’s Fourth National Climate Assessment. “When I looked at that and my team looked at that, we thought to ourselves, ‘What else can we do?’ ” Fowkes said. “And the reality is, we knew we could step up and do more at little or no extra cost.”

    Xcel committed to 100 percent carbon-free power generation by 2050 through solar, wind, nuclear and hydropower plants like Shoshone Generating Station (middle left of photo). Fossil fuel burning may still be part of the mix if they use carbon capture and sequestration technology. Shoshone Falls, Idaho. By Frank Schulenburg – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=71359770

    It was a big step, and apparently inspiring. A couple of days later, the Platte River Power Authority, which powers four municipalities on Colorado’s Front Range, pledged to go carbon-free by 2030. Here are seven things to keep in mind about Xcel’s pledge:

    1. Xcel is going 100-percent carbon-free, not 100 percent renewable. There’s a big difference between the two, with the former being far easier to accomplish, because it allows the utility to use not only wind and solar power, but also nuclear and large hydropower. It can also burn some fossil fuels if plants are equipped with carbon capture and sequestration technology.
    2. No current power source is truly clean. Solar, wind, nuclear and hydropower plants have zero emissions from the electricity generation stage. However, other phases of their life cycles do result in greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants — think uranium mining, solar panel manufacturing and wind turbine transportation. Even the decay of organic material in reservoirs emits methane. But even when their full life cycles are considered, nuclear, wind, solar and hydropower all still emit at least 100 times less carbon than coal.
    3. Carbon capture and sequestration techniques don’t do a lot for the big picture. Even if all of the carbon emitted from a natural gas- or coal-fired power plant is captured and successfully sequestered without any leakage — and that remains a big “if” — huge amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, are released during the coal mining and natural gas extraction, processing and transportation phases.
    4. Even though carbon sequestration qualifies as “clean energy,” Xcel is unlikely to utilize the technology on any large scale with coal because of the cost. Even without carbon capture, coal is more expensive than other power sources, so why spend all that money just to keep burning expensive fuel? On the other hand, natural gas is relatively cheap, so it makes more sense for Xcel to continue burning the fossil fuel with carbon capture.
    5. Economics play as much a role in this decision as environmentalism. Even as Xcel was making its announcement, executives from PacifiCorp, one of the West’s largest utilities, were telling stakeholders that more than half of its coal fleet was uneconomical, and that cleaner power options were cheaper. So even without the zero carbon pledge, Xcel likely would have abandoned coal in the next couple of decades, regardless of how many regulations the Trump administration rolls back. Meanwhile, renewable power continues to get cheaper, making it competitive with natural gas. And without some kind of big gesture, Xcel risked losing major customers. (The city of Boulder, Colorado, defected from Xcel, a process that has been going on for the last several years, because the utility wasn’t decarbonizing quickly enough.)
    6. Xcel’s move, and others like it, will pressure grid operators to work toward a more integrated Western electrical grid. A better-designed grid would allow a utility like Xcel to purchase surplus power from California solar installations, for example, or the Palo Verde nuclear plant in Arizona, and to sell its wind power back in that direction when it’s needed.
    7. Xcel needs better technology to meet its goal. Xcel admits that “achieving the long-term vision of zero-carbon electricity requires technologies that are not cost-effective or commercially available today.” It is banking on the development of commercially viable utility-scale batteries and other storage technologies to smooth out the ups and downs of renewable energy sources. If Xcel is serious about its goal, though, it will need to embrace approaches that don’t necessarily boost the bottom line. That could mean incentivizing efficient energy use, promoting rooftop solar, and implementing rate schedules that discourage electricity use during times of peak demand. It will also need to get comfortable with paying big customers not to use electricity during certain times.

    Xcel’s pledge is a big step in the right direction, and it has the potential of becoming a giant leap if other major utilities follow suit. But it also underscores a sad fact: While our elected officials twiddle their thumbs and play golf with oil and gas oligarchs, the very corporations that helped get us into this mess are the ones who are left to take the lead on getting us out.

    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 jonathan@hcn.org or submit a letter to the editor.

    In the West, #climate action falters on the ballot — @HighCountryNews

    Directional drilling from one well site via the National Science Foundation

    From The High Country News (Kate Schimel):

    In an upstairs ballroom of downtown Seattle’s Arctic Club, where polar bears and maps of the Arctic decorate the walls, volunteers and activists who campaigned for Washington’s first carbon fee waited cheerfully for election results on Tuesday night. Just after 8 p.m., a first wash of returns that had the initiative on track to pass sent ripples through the room. But as more counties reported in, the likelihood dropped. By 9 p.m., the mood turned, and clusters of supporters retreated to bars across downtown to mourn. On Wednesday morning, 56 percent of Washington voters had rejected the state’s second attempt to tax carbon emissions.

    As the U.S. has stepped back from federal commitments to limit carbon pollution, activists have called on states and local governments to fill the void. It’s an approach that could prove effective, according to a report released in September by Data-Driven Yale: Existing state, local and corporate commitments could take the U.S. halfway to meeting its Paris Agreement goals, designed to limit global warming to 2 degrees and avoid the most catastrophic effects.

    Tuesday night’s returns offered a mixed message on whether states have the momentum to regulate fossil fuels without federal backing. Candidates who support action on climate change won gubernatorial races in Colorado and Oregon, while in Washington, Democratic incumbent Sen. Maria Cantwell, who has backed climate initiatives in the Senate, held her seat by a comfortable margin. But ballot initiatives intended to regulate fossil fuel emissions and boost renewable energy sources fell flat.

    The nation’s first carbon fee fails
    Initiative 1631, which was crafted by a coalition of labor, social justice and environmental groups and tribal nations, would have taxed every metric ton of carbon produced by most of the state’s largest polluters at a rate of $15; some sectors were exempted, including fuel used in agricultural production and coal plants slated for closure. A prior initiative to tax carbon emissions while lowering other taxes and boosting low-income tax credits failed in 2016. The 2018 initiative, which would have used the funds raised by the tax to pay for climate mitigation and response, drew well-funded opposition from oil and gas interests.

    The result: Projected to fail. Only three counties, Seattle’s King County, Port Townsend’s Jefferson County and the San Juan Islands, voted for passage.

    Arizona’s push for renewables stalls
    Proposition 127 would have required electric utilities to purchase 50 percent of their power from renewable sources, such as wind and solar. It excluded nuclear power as a renewable source, which stoked fears that its passage would lead to the closure of the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station. A lawsuit from the state’s largest utility muddied Proposition 127’s progress to the ballot, while out-of-state money helped make it the most expensive proposition in state history. A group backed by California-based billionaire Tom Steyer’s political action committee, NextGen Climate Action, poured $23.2 million into efforts to pass the initiative; Arizona utilities, as well as the Navajo Nation, spent nearly $30 million to oppose it.

    The result: Failed. As of Wednesday morning, 70 percent of voters had rejected the measure.

    Background reading: Dark money is re-shaping Arizona’s energy fights, Elizabeth Shogren

    Colorado won’t tighten fracking restrictions
    A pair of dueling initiatives, Proposition 112 and Amendment 74, dealt with regulating the state’s fracking boom, which has butted up against sprawling suburbs. Proposition 112 would have required new oil and gas wells and production facilities to be built at least 2,500 feet away from schools, drinking water sources and homes, a significant increase from current set-back requirements. Amendment 74 would have required payments for any lost property values due to government action, including regulations that affect mineral rights – like Proposition 112.

    The result: Both initiatives failed, leaving the state where it started on oil and gas regulations.

    Background reading: The rising risks of the West’s latest gas boom, Daniel Glick and Jason Plautz

    Gov. Hickenlooper joins western governors in continued commitment to uphold standards of the Clean Air and Water Acts

    Mount Rainier and Seattle Skyline July 22 2017.

    Here’s the release from Governor Hickenlooper’s office:

    Gov. John Hickenlooper today joined governors from California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington in signing a letter committing to upholding the standards set forth in the Clean Air and Water Acts, despite changes to federal standards in Washington D.C.

    “We will not run from our responsibility to protect and improve clean air and water for future generations,” said Governor John Hickenlooper. “We know it will take collaboration just like this to make it happen. Changes at the federal level will not distract from our goals.”

    Colorado continues efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as outlined by the state’s Colorado Climate Plan. Last week Colorado submitted comments pushing back on the Trump administration’s proposal to weaken federal auto standards. State agencies continue work on finalizing a low emissions vehicle plan by the end of the year.

    In their letter, the governors wrote “Each of our states has a unique administrative and regulatory structure established to protect clean air and clean water, but we share a commitment to science-based standards that protect human health and the environment. As governors, we pledge to be diligent environmental stewards of our natural resources to ensure that current and future generations can enjoy the bounty of clean air, clean water and the highest quality of life.”

    View the full letter here.

    How air pollution is destroying our health — the World Health Organization @WHO

    Click here to go to the website. Here’s an excerpt:

    As the world gets hotter and more crowded, our engines continue to pump out dirty emissions, and half the world has no access to clean fuels or technologies (e.g. stoves, lamps), the very air we breathe is growing dangerously polluted: nine out of ten people now breathe polluted air, which kills 7 million people every year. The health effects of air pollution are serious – one third of deaths from stroke, lung cancer and heart disease are due to air pollution. This is an equivalent effect to that of smoking tobacco, and much higher than, say, the effects of eating too much salt.

    Air pollution is hard to escape, no matter how rich an area you live in. It is all around us. Microscopic pollutants in the air can slip past our body’s defences, penetrating deep into our respiratory and circulatory system, damaging our lungs, heart and brain.

    From The Guardian (Damian Carrington and Matthew Taylor):

    Simple act of breathing is killing 7 million people a year and harming billions more, but ‘a smog of complacency pervades the planet’, says Dr Tedros Adhanom

    Air pollution is the “new tobacco”, the head of the World Health Organization has warned, saying the simple act of breathing is killing 7 million people a year and harming billions more.

    Over 90% of the world’s population suffers toxic air and research is increasingly revealing the profound impacts on the health of people, especially children.

    “The world has turned the corner on tobacco. Now it must do the same for the ‘new tobacco’ – the toxic air that billions breathe every day,” said Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director general. “No one, rich or poor, can escape air pollution. It is a silent public health emergency.”

    “The water around a Utah uranium mine is growing more polluted” — Salt Lake Tribune #ActOnClimate

    White Mesa Mill. Photo credit: Energy Fuels

    From The Salt Lake Tribune (Emma Penrod):

    The following was researched and written by Emma Penrod for The Utah Investigative Journalism Project in partnership with The Salt Lake Tribune.

    There once was a time when the children of White Mesa played outdoors without their parents fearing for their health.

    But for as long as Yolanda Badback can remember, the remote town in southeastern Utah has worried about the smell emanating from the plant to the north and the trucks that signal the plant’s awakening after periods of dormancy.

    “I see the trucks that go in and out every day now,” Badback said. “I don’t know what they’re hauling, but they go in and out.”

    Badback is more familiar with the White Mesa uranium mill than many within her community. As a child, she tagged along with her uncle and longtime critic of the mill, Norman Begay, as he went to meetings in his quest to understand what the mill was doing and whether it was safe to live just over 5 miles downwind of such an operation. She later picked up where her uncle left off, searching for answers among confusing, and sometimes conflicting, information state, tribal and company officials have to offer.

    “I’ve been going to these meetings for a long while,” she said. “I don’t trust them anymore.”

    The mill’s current owners, Colorado-based Energy Fuels Resources, tout the plant as one of the last capable of milling ore into purified uranium. As such, they say, the mill is a critical national asset — an argument they’ve leveraged to garner political support for the shrinking of Bears Ears National Monument and for tariffs on imported uranium.

    But the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe — White Mesa is a part of the reservation — watches the polluted groundwater beneath the mill with growing concern, though state officials insist the pollution comes from other sources.

    The contaminated water appears to be moving toward the town, said Scott Clow, environmental programs director for the tribe, and concentrations of potentially harmful substances such as heavy metals are on the rise. The acidity of the groundwater has increased. And state regulators, Clow said, don’t appear to share the tribe’s interest in addressing the pollution.

    At this point, Clow said, “I think it would be the tribe’s preference that the facility shut down. But that’s a big ask there.” So instead, the tribe has focused on persuading the mill’s owners to phase out some of its older waste facilities, which they believe are more prone to leaking.

    There’s one problem: Records from a yearslong court battle indicate that the newer waste-holding facilities, which are not in use currently, may have been built improperly.

    As of now, the town’s drinking water remains clean, but Clow worries unchecked pollution will jeopardize the tribe’s relationship to its ancestral home.

    “The mill has been there for 38 years now, and that’s a pretty short window of time compared to how long the tribe was there before,” he said, “and how long the tribe is going to be there after the mill, and all of that contamination.”

    ‘Giant bathtub’

    In fall 2009, second-generation mine excavator Mark Kerr scored a gig at the White Mesa mill. The job involved the construction of a 40-acre tailings cell, a sort of retention pond Kerr described as a “giant bathtub in the ground” in which the mill would store its waste product. At nearly $5 million, the contract was a midsize project for Kerr’s company, KGL Associates. But the company was in financial trouble and struggling to make payroll.

    “It was a nice job,” Kerr said. “We wanted the job.”

    They wanted the job badly enough, transcripts from a later lawsuit suggest, that Kerr likely shaved his bid to razor-thin margins to undercut competitors’ prices.

    At first, the job seemed to go as planned. The mill’s engineering contractor, Geosyntec Consultants, had laid out what seemed to be a pretty straightforward process: Kerr’s company was to remove the topsoil for later applications, blast a 40-foot-deep hole in the ground, and then clear away the majority of the debris, leaving at least 3 feet of dirt to line and smooth the bottom of the cell.

    About six months in, Kerr received notice from Geosyntec that all the loose debris from the blasting needed to be removed “at no cost to the [mill’s] owner,” according to a May 5 memo.

    “And I refused,” Kerr said, estimating that the free rock removal could have cost his company somewhere between $400,000 and $800,000. “I said we’re following the specs. … That’s when further blowups started happening.”

    Kerr continued to argue with the mill’s owners and consultants about compensation. The engineers, as Kerr and staff he had on site recall, repeatedly insisted that all loose rock must be removed. If not, Kerr said they told him, the gaps between the rocks could collapse under the weight of the cell when it was filled with water and eventually waste.

    Two weeks later, Kerr received a second memo from Geosyntec. He could leave the loose rock in place, but, “to provide a firm and unyielding surface,” the memo states, Kerr’s employees must compact the rock by wetting it down and driving over it repeatedly with heavy machinery.

    Again, this memo said the work should be done “at no additional cost.”

    Kerr proceeded as directed, but his previous arguments with the engineers weighed on him. A cave-in beneath the cell could puncture the liner that, like a kitchen trash bag, prevents waste from leaking. But unlike a plastic trash bin, the excavated “bathtub” Kerr built would allow liquid waste to escape, potentially polluting the groundwater beneath the mill site. How could he be sure this rock compaction would prevent the mill’s “trash” from poking a hole in the liner?

    He began peppering Geosyntec staff with questions via email and through the company’s standard request for information forms. Where is the documentation proving this methodology is safe and effective? Does this meet the requirements of the mill’s operating permits? Do state regulators know about these changes?

    Instead of answers, Kerr received a letter from Geosyntec’s attorneys objecting to his use of the request for information process and asking him to “revise or rescind” his questions. “It is not our experience to be cross-examined on the grounds of an engineering determination by means of an [sic] request for information,” the letter states.

    Kerr’s company walked off the job a few months after the dispute began, leaving at least 4 acres of the cell covered in loose rock. By August 2010, he said, KGL Associates was broke.

    State, federal regulators weigh in

    The mill’s current owners, Energy Fuels Resources, consider Kerr’s claims “completely unfounded” but did not answer specific questions.

    “KGL is a disgruntled former contractor who walked off the job, owes us a lot of money, and simply appears to be harassing us,” the company’s spokesman, Curtis Moore, said in an email. Kerr, Curtis said, is expressing “sour grapes” after losing a $4 million lawsuit.

    That series of court actions began when subcontractors sued the mill for nonpayment, causing the mill to sue Kerr’s KGL.

    According to the mill’s complaint, Kerr’s company not only walked away from the project without paying its subcontractors, but also failed to comply with requested changes to the cell, which resulted in construction defects.

    A court arbitrator ultimately concluded that Kerr owed the mill nearly $4 million in damages, plus attorney fees. And the arbitrator found that the mill’s decision to withhold payment from Kerr was justified, given his company’s poor performance, which forced Energy Fuels to hire a second contractor to complete and correct KGL’s work, including, Curtis said, the 4 acres Kerr claims remain unfinished.

    However, the court laid the blame for any environmental contamination related to the cell’s poor construction at the feet of both parties. “The contamination issue is one of shared fault,” the arbitrator concluded.

    Kerr repeatedly appealed until he ran out of money. The judgment against him stands, though his concerns about the excavation remain.

    As his case wound through the courts, Kerr began contacting the state Division of Radiation Control. Division engineers, he hoped, would have documentation to prove that the mill had made significant changes to his original job specs. But, in a late 2011 letter, the division told him only that the mill’s engineers had not notified the state of changes in their excavation plan — probably because the changes weren’t considered significant.

    Next, Kerr approached the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which conducted a brief investigation and determined his fears were partially substantiated: State regulators needed more stringent requirements when there were changes in construction specifications. The NRC reassured Kerr, however, that Utah had promised to tighten its reporting requirements.

    The NRC concluded that the change did not appear to pose a safety concern. According to the agency, state regulators assured federal overseers that their review of the cell’s quality had taken the new excavation methods into account. To Kerr, this assertion flew in the face of the state’s written letter to him that the changes were not reported to the Division of Radiation Control.

    A review of the state’s records shows a quality assurance report produced by Geosyntec that describes several changes to the cell’s design, but the change in excavation specifications is not mentioned. And current division leadership continues to hold the position originally stated to Kerr. Any changes were probably deemed by the on-site engineers — including a state engineer — to be insignificant.

    “We haven’t seen any issues with the tailings cell since,” said Phil Goble, who oversees the radioactive materials section within the now-combined Utah Division of Waste Management and Radiation Control.

    Tribe isn’t convinced

    That’s not necessarily the way environmental officials with the Ute Mountain Ute tribe see it. They point to state-collected data that show “a fair amount” of fluid escapes the new cells’ liners and enters a leakage containment system. The fluid has been pumped out and hasn’t entered the environment, but the leaks leave tribal authorities wary.

    Even with superior liner technology, “it’s still releasing fluids,” Clow said. “So when we hear that the three legacy cells north of it, which have … inferior liners, that those can’t possibly be leaking, it doesn’t seem to make sense.”

    The White Mesa mill sits atop several plumes of groundwater contaminated with heavy metals, including uranium and other concerning pollutants. The pollution predates the construction of the new tailings cells — including the cell Kerr excavated, which is not currently in use. But the contamination is spreading toward the White Mesa community, Clow said, and concentrations of some pollutants are increasing.

    The state holds that the contaminants aren’t coming from the mill — or, at least, that there isn’t proof the tailings cells have leaked. The groundwater contains chloroform, which, if consumed, can cause damage to the brain, liver and kidneys, from a metals-testing operation that once operated on the mill site. Employees there used to put the chloroform down the drain, where it entered an unlined septic system that ultimately leaked into the groundwater, Goble said.

    A separate plume of nitrates, a class of acidic salts that in certain circumstances may cause cancer, beneath the mill does appear to be a result of what Goble described as “poor housekeeping within the mill.” But it didn’t come from the tailings cells, he said.

    And the overall increase of acidity in the water below White Mesa — that’s not coming from the waste cells, either, Goble said, because it occurs in groundwater both uphill and downhill from the cells.

    But Clow remains concerned about the rising concentrations of heavy metals, especially those that don’t occur naturally in the White Mesa area.

    One of the issues in trying to tie the pollution to the mill, Clow said, is that neither the state nor the tribe — which maintains its own test wells to monitor groundwater independently — has the historic data necessary to make the case that the metals do not occur naturally in the groundwater.

    To their credit, Clow said, state scientists have conducted detailed studies and data reviews to try to determine what the area’s background levels may be. Baselines based on these analyses have been established. But when the amount of pollution exceeds the baselines, Clow said, the state has simply invalidated its own baselines and establishes new ones, rather than attempt to regulate the mill.

    “The concentrations just go up, and then that’s what they call background,” Clow said, “and that’s where we tend to diverge from the state’s interpretation.”

    Asked whether state regulators have revised background levels at White Mesa, Goble explained a legal process by which Energy Fuels could request to have the background information tied to the mill revised. He indicated Energy Fuels has initiated this process, but did not elaborate.

    A 2013 letter to Energy Fuels shows the Division of Radiation Control agreed to revise several background levels for groundwater at the site, including the benchmark for uranium. According to the letter, the amount of uranium in the groundwater had increased gradually, but the division agreed with the company that the increase was the result of natural causes.

    The tribe also diverges from Utah officials’ assessment of the health risk posed by the contamination. State officials have repeatedly argued that the contaminated water is not used by the tribe — that the community of White Mesa draws its drinking water from a deeper source that remains clean.

    While it’s true that the town wells draw from the cleaner, deeper water, Clow said, the tribe worries the drinking water supply could, eventually, become contaminated. And tribal members do use springs fed by the shallow aquifer for traditional ceremonies.

    “The statement that the tribe doesn’t use the water … is patently false,” he said. “The tribe was there for centuries before anyone else, and so they have traditionally used those springs and seeps, and collected plants for food and medicine on White Mesa, and harvested animals around White Mesa.”

    Town’s troubles

    Clow holds that the town of White Mesa, which predated the mill, will surely outlast the operation — and therefore that the mill should be more concerned about potential impacts for thousands of years to come. But the town may not be such a permanent fixture. Its 2010 population of 242 has decreased by half since that tally, according to U.S. Census data.

    Despite being a lifelong resident, Badback said she sees no future there for her three sons.

    “I encourage my kids to go forward, go out,” she said. “I don’t want them to be stuck in White Mesa.”

    While environmental issues are part of her rationale, the town’s economic hardships and poor living conditions also factor in. According to 2016 U.S. Census figures, just 49 percent of the town’s adults are employed; Badback herself is without work. Her own living conditions are better than most, she said — she stays in a five-bedroom house with nine immediate and extended family members. At night, three people sleep in an outbuilding with electricity but no running water.

    When the mill first arrived in White Mesa, company officials touted it as a job creator, Badback said. But the mill has only ever employed a handful of tribal members, she said, and the work is unsteady, with frequent layoffs.
    Even if there were jobs, Badback said, she would never allow her sons to work at the mill. Her oldest recently moved to New Mexico to find work, and her middle child will soon join him.

    Though she would have liked to leave the town as a youth, Badback said she stayed because her grandparents did not speak English and needed an interpreter. She became a caretaker for her mother, who had been the family breadwinner, and then she had children of her own.

    These days she’s absorbed with trying to educate her neighbors about the mill. She holds community workshops and leads annual protests. But not everyone in town supports her, citing the civic facilities such as a community recreation center that the mill has donated and its unfulfilled promises about jobs.

    Badback doesn’t buy it. Instead, she helps organize surveys to evaluate the health of White Mesa children.

    “We only live one time; when we go, we’re not going to come back,” she said. “Our health is more important than a building. A building can stand for many years.”

    Arizona’s #nuclearpower caught in crossfire — @HighCountryNews #ActOnClimate

    From The High Country News (Elena Saavedra Buckley):

    West of Phoenix, Arizona, where cooling towers billow steam into the air, the Palo Verde Nuclear Generating Station churns out more carbon-free energy than any other power producer in the country. But, in the light of a controversial ballot measure meant to steer Arizona towards renewable energy, Palo Verde’s fate has been caught in the crossfire of a battle between state utilities and environmentalists.

    Clean Energy for a Healthy Arizona, a committee backed by former Californian hedge fund manager Tom Steyer, drives the initiative. They submitted over twice the amount of signatures needed to get on the ballot. If successful, the measure would constitutionally require Arizona utilities to use 50 percent renewable resources by 2030, holding them accountable for certain percentages each year. But Arizona Public Service, the state’s largest utility, funded a lawsuit filed last week against the initiative. The political action group that filed the suit claims most of the signatures are fraudulent, which the initiative denies. The utility has bigger worries than the signatures, though — they’re worried the measure would force Palo Verde to close in six years. An oversupply of solar, they say, would render the plant useless.

    “A clean energy future is something we support,” the utility’s spokesperson Jenna Rowell said, “but you get there through a flexible plan.” The utility owns about a third of the plant, which they licensed to operate until the 2040s.

    Palo Verde is the nation’s largest power-producing plant. A new ballot initiative could threaten its longevity. Photo credit: By Cuhlik – Own work, Public Domain, ttps://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=11039169

    In Nevada, an identical, Steyer-backed measure is already on the ballot. If the measures pass in November, the two states will join California as the West’s most ambitious examples of renewable commitment. Whether the measure succeeds will determine a step in the West’s path towards cleaner energy — and whether nuclear power, the country’s stronghold of carbon-free power, will be along for the ride.

    On its face, the fight between the Clean Energy initiative and utilities is about the price tag. The Arizona utility claims that customers would see a $1,200 average annual uptick in their bills were the initiative to pass. That prediction is based on estimates done by the utility for solar infrastructure and maintenance costs between now and 2030, Rowell said. The Navajo Nation, whose coal generating plant is on shaky ground, also opposes the initiative because of its rumored rate hikes.

    The Clean Energy committee disputes the $1,200 figure, saying solar would be cheaper for customers. Wesley Herche, an energy researcher at Arizona State University, released a study that found no correlation between renewable standards and rate increases in U.S. states. He said that solar prices have dropped more than four times what they were in 2006, when Arizona first committed to a renewable standard of 15 percent by 2025.

    The two sides agree on little about the measure’s possible effects. Herche said that it’s difficult to convince old-guard utilities, especially those with financial stakes and decades-long commitments to plants like Palo Verde, to pivot to fast-changing renewables technology.

    “If you’re a company that operates one way, and you’ve always operated that way, it’s hard to all of a sudden to ask them to change, to be nimble, to be Silicon Valley-like,” he said.

    As the lawsuit stymies the ballot measure, Palo Verde’s future is a loose end. Arizona Public Service says the plant will shut down if the measure succeeds. If it closes, thousands of employees would lose their jobs. But the Clean Energy group points to predictions that say the plant could stay open even if the measure passes.

    Beyond Arizona, nuclear energy’s place in the carbon-free future of the West is an open question. In California, whose renewable goal is already 50 percent by 2030, nuclear plants have closed decades before their licensed expiration dates, struggling to compete with cheaper natural gas and solar. Whether nuclear plants should stay open as a stable alternative to fossil fuels divides environmentalists. Amanda Ormond of the Western Grid Group, which promotes incorporating clean energy into the grid, thinks nuclear power is an obstacle to a functional renewable future.

    “Transitions have costs, and this is a huge transition,” Ormond said of the ballot measure’s proposals. “Palo Verde might close anyway. It’s an inflexible, expensive resource, and it will face the consequences of any resource.”

    In the meantime, a utility regulator has proposed an alternate clean energy plan to the Arizona Corporation Commission, the organization that regulates the state’s utilities. Commissioner Andy Tobin wants to require utilities to meet an 80 percent target, including nuclear, by 2050. “The one thing I know about energy right now is that everything is uncertain,” Tobin said. He wants his plan to push clean energy without amending the constitution.

    Time and legislative obstacles stand in the way of the Clean Energy initiative. But even if it fails, numbers show that Arizona voters are ready for renewables — in two recent polls, Arizonans wanted their state to prioritize solar power over all other resources. “We’re moving to renewable energy,” Ormond. “The question is how fast.”

    Elena Saavedra Buckley is an editorial intern at High Country News.

    CDPHE revokes Piñon Ridge uranium mill license

    From The Cortez Journal (Jim Mimiaga):

    The decision to pull the license came after a five-year legal challenge from environmental groups including the Sheep Mountain Alliance, Rocky Mountain Wild and Center for Biologic Diversity. The groups have long opposed a plan hatched in 2009 by Energy Fuels Inc., of Toronto, Canada, to build a uranium mill on 880 acres in Paradox Valley, west of Nucla in Montrose County.

    They filed a legal challenge against a key radioactive materials license granted for the project in 2013 by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment.

    Energy Fuels has since sold the assets of the mill project, including the radioactive license, a company spokesman said Friday. Documents show the license was being held by Piñon Ridge Resources Corp.

    On April 17, District Court Judge Richard W. Dana recommended the proposed mill’s radioactive license be revoked after concluding that Energy Fuels failed to demonstrate adequate environmental protections, including prevention of wind-dispersed radioactive materials, contamination of groundwater and protection of plants and wildlife. The ruling also questioned whether there was adequate water to operate the mill and tailings ponds.

    Two days later, in an April 26 letter, the Colorado Department of Health informed Piñon Ridge Corp. CEO George Glasier that its radioactive materials license has been revoked.

    “Although the Department believes the original decision on the license application was appropriate, the department has elected not to challenge Judge Dana’s decision. As such, this decision provides the Department with the rationale to revoke the license,” wrote Jennifer Opila, Radiation Program Manager for the health department’s hazardous materials division.

    Environmental groups applauded the decision.

    “We were extremely concerned with the impacts that a new uranium mill would have on the delicate sagebrush ecosystem of the Paradox Valley and the impacts downstream to endangered Colorado River fish,” said Matt Sandler, staff attorney with Rocky Mountain Wild. “Those impacts were simply unacceptable, and we’re happy to know that corporations who want to revive the uranium industry in Colorado will be required to fully comply with the laws aimed at protecting the environment.”

    […]

    Lexi Tuddenham, executive director or Sheep Mountain Alliance, based in San Miguel County, said the decision helps to resolve the uncertainty about the project in the community and encourages a more diversified economic future that does not rely on the toxic uranium industry.

    “The decision is a long time coming,” she said. “The impacts to the ecosystem and public were unacceptable. The mill was really a pipe dream, more speculation that contributes to the historic boom and bust cycle of mining that has been difficult for this area’s economy.”

    The region is turning to hemp farming and outdoor recreation because they are more sustainable and do not pollute the environment, she said.

    This is the second time the CDPHE granted, then revoked the radioactive license for Piñon Ridge. After it was granted in 2011, environmental groups challenged it, pointing out that the state had not held a public hearing as required. A judge agreed and invalidated the permit. After a five-day hearing in Nucla, the state reapproved the license in 2013, which was again revoked this week.

    Travis Stills, an attorney with Energy and Conservation Law in Durango, represented the environmental groups in the case.

    He said Dana’s ruling was based on community testimony and scientific evidence that indicated the mill plan questionable.

    “The project plan had big holes in it and did not protect water, life and air,” he said. “Experts testified that micro-climates and inversions would have caused the valley to be socked in with industrial emissions.”

    The towns of Telluride and Ophir also objected to the mill, fearing that prevailing winds would carry radioactive pollution onto the local snowpack and San Miguel watershed, Stills said.

    Down ‘The River Of Lost Souls’ With Jonathan Thompson — Colorado Public Radio

    From Colorado Public Radio (Nathan Heffel). Click through to listen to the interview:

    A new book puts the Gold King Mine spill within the long history of mining and pollution in Southwest Colorado.

    Jonathan Thompson will be at the Book Bar tonight. I wonder if Denver is a bit of a shock to his system even though he’s a sixth-generation Coloradan?

    I am so happy to finally get to finally meet Jonathan. His new book, River of Lost Souls, is an important read. Understanding the industrialization of our state over the years will help us chart a less destructive course.

    I loved the passages where Jonathan reminisces about spending time around the Four Corners and in the San Juans. He transports you to those times in your life spent next to the river or exploring what sights the land has to offer. He connects you to the Four Corners in a way that only a son of the San Juans could.

    Cement Creek aerial photo — Jonathan Thompson via Twitter

    Resistance to drilling grows on the Navajo Nation — @HighCountryNews

    Official National Park Service map for Chaco Culture National Historic Park. Photo credit: Wikimedia

    From The High Country News (Jonathan Thompson):

    Indigenous activists try to quell a rising tide of oil and gas exploration in Chaco Canyon.

    Editor’s note: On March 1, the Interior Department canceled the sale of oil and gas leases that would have impacted the Chaco Canyon area. The department received hundreds of protests of the sale, before it was cancelled. This story explores the fight of organizers trying to halt that sale and others like it.

    On the warm, pre-monsoon night of July 11, 2016, fire broke out among a cluster of six newly drilled oil wells near the small Navajo community of Nageezi, New Mexico. The residents of nearby homes fled to the highway, where they watched huge curdling balls of orange flame boil up into the vast bowl of dark sky above their corner of the Greater Chaco Region.

    When someone texted Kendra Pinto, who lives several miles away, she raced to join the frightened spectators and watched, stunned, as the conflagration engulfed all of WPX Energy’s equipment, setting off a series of explosions that shook the earth and sent up thick clouds of burnt hydrocarbons.

    “I saw the flames … black smoke streaking into the sky,” Pinto told me as we sat in the dappled shade of a small cottonwood outside the Counselor Chapter House just over a year later. Wearing denim shorts, a tank top and beaded earrings, she recalled how, in the years before the fire, she had gotten involved in the effort to rein in oil and gas development, joining a ragtag group of regional and local environmentalists, archaeologists and tribal officials working to protect the Navajo communities of Nageezi, Lybrook and Counselor, and the millennia-old cultural landscape that radiates out from Chaco Culture National Historic Park.

    Like her grandmother before her, Pinto, who is in her early 30s, grew up here, in an area of bone-white sandstone cliffs, fragrant piñon and juniper forest, sagebrush and sensuous, deep-purple and gray badlands, a landscape that Georgia O’Keeffe once described as “a beautiful, untouched lonely-feeling place — part of what I call the Far Away.” The surrounding San Juan Basin had seen successive natural gas frenzies since the 1920s, but this part of it had mostly been spared in more recent times, its oil deposits thought to be tapped out. Then, around 2012, high oil prices and drilling and fracking advances sparked new interest in the Chaco region. First came the landmen with their leases and promises of fat checks, at least for those who owned land allotments and mineral rights. Then drill rigs and fracking apparatus sprang up in the places where Pinto’s grandmother had gathered herbs and piñon nuts. And Pinto watched sadly as a steady stream of tanker trucks kicked up plumes of dust on the once-quiet caliche roads.

    Then the fire erupted in 2016, burning for four days and consuming 36 tanks of crude oil and produced wastewater. No one died in the fire; it didn’t even significantly hinder production. Yet it left a lasting scar on the collective psyche of the people around here, Pinto said. And it injected a sense of urgency into her community: “That’s when I said, ‘They can’t treat us this way.’ ”

    Pinto had been inspired by other causes that summer, particularly the effort led by five tribes, including the Navajo Nation, to save the area known as Bears Ears in southeastern Utah. And she had traveled to one of the Standing Rock resistance camps in North Dakota, where she and her comrades hoped to stop a crude oil pipeline from crossing Lake Oahe. Pinto dreamed of bringing some of that activist energy back to the Chaco struggle, which some media outlets touted as the “next Standing Rock.”

    Chaco, however, is far more complicated than those other fights. Though the threats to the environment and communities from energy development are arguably greater here than at Standing Rock or Bears Ears, Chaco has not attracted the same kind of attention. There are no movie stars or major politicians going to jail for blocking the tanker trucks’ paths, no outdoor gear corporations pouring money into slick videos to stop the battalions of drill rigs from overrunning Indigenous homelands.

    Yet that hasn’t discouraged the Chaco resistance. If anything, this scrappy, underfunded, sometimes shaky alliance is gaining momentum, forging its own way through a thicket of complicated relationships that stretch back hundreds of years and that have always favored industry, even under the most progressive administrations in Washington, D.C.

    To understand what’s going on in the Greater Chaco Region, you have to start with the land, 2,000 square miles of high desert located in the hydrocarbon hot spot known as the San Juan Basin. Because of the pattern of land ownership — a hodgepodge of federal, tribal, state, private and Indian allotment land — it’s called the Checkerboard, but it’s actually more chaotic, like a patchwork quilt stitched together by a nearsighted drunkard. It is that way by design, the outcome of a century-long systematic land grab.

    After the Pueblo people moved on from the communities and structures they had built and lived in for hundreds of years, the Diné, or Navajo, moved into the Four Corners country, establishing a 40,000-square-mile homeland bounded by four sacred peaks. At the heart of this civilization was Huerfano Peak, within the Chaco region and just a dozen miles north of Nageezi.

    The Spanish and then Mexican colonizers who appeared centuries later were not gentle; they attacked Navajo homes and kidnapped thousands of Navajo and other Native American children and held them as slaves. But it wasn’t until the white American miners, ranchers, settlers and soldiers arrived that any concerted effort to rob the Diné of their land began. And when that happened, it was brutal.

    In 1863 Kit Carson, then serving as a field commander for the U.S. Army, led troops across Navajo country, slaughtering sheep and goats, hacking down peach orchards and torching cornfields, starving the people into surrender. Army troops then forced some 9,000 survivors on the infamous “Long Walk” to Bosque Redondo in southeastern New Mexico, a barren swath of alkali dirt that was more concentration camp than reservation. Brig. Gen. James Carleton, who planned Carson’s campaign, laid out the rationale for the killing and oppression in 1864: “By the subjugation and colonization of the Navajo tribe, we gain for civilization their whole country, which … by far the best pastoral region between the two oceans, is said to abound in the precious as well as the useful metals.”

    Bosque Redondo was a disaster — captives fell ill and died and mass incarceration cost the federal government dearly. So in 1868, the Indian Peace Commission sent Lt. Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman to come up with a solution. After listening to a Navajo leader named Barboncito wax eloquently about his people’s existential yearning for their homeland, Sherman decided to let the Navajo people go.

    The rectangular reservation laid out in the Treaty of 1868 was only about one-eighth the size of the original homeland. It included very little arable land and left out important religious sites. Though the treaty ordered the people to live only on the reservation, Sherman’s instructions to the headmen were more ambiguous, and perhaps muddled in translation. But the message the Navajo received was simple: You are free to go home.

    So hundreds of families returned to the land beyond the reservation’s eastern boundary, an area now known as the Greater Chaco Region. Federal officials on the ground repeatedly urged the president to extend the reservation boundaries to encompass this land and the holy sites. But New Mexico politicians, pressured by white stockmen hungry for more land, successfully lobbied against them. As a concession, the feds eventually suggested that individual Navajos claim 160-acre plots on the public domain under the 1887 General Allotment Act. Typically, this law was applied to reservation land, where tribal members got first dibs on parcels before the rest of the reservation was opened up to homesteading — an insidious form of land grab that fractured tribal communities.

    Here in Chaco, however, the Navajos competed head-to-head with white homesteaders to hold on to tiny parcels of their own homeland. And the game was rigged: If a family was away at summer herding camp when the Indian agent came to their winter hogan to process an allotment claim, they lost the opportunity to file. And when Navajos did make claims, white homesteaders managed to get them nullified by alleging that they weren’t making the proper “improvements” on the land in question.

    As a result, untold numbers of Navajo people ended up living as “unauthorized occupants” on public domain land in the Chaco region, considered squatters on their own ancestral territory. Over time, the Navajo Nation acquired much of those lands through purchases and swaps, and today the descendants of those earlier occupants live on tribal (albeit not reservation) land. Those parcels share boundaries with some 4,000 disparate Indian allotments covering a total of 600,000 acres, which themselves are scattered against a backdrop of federal Bureau of Land Management acreage. Allotments are “private,” but are in federal trust indefinitely, and cannot be sold, gifted or willed to anyone. When the original allottee dies, ownership — along with mineral rights — are divided up, or fractionated, between all of his or her heirs.

    Today, jurisdiction over oil and gas development on this fractured landscape is as confounding as the surface ownership patterns. Most of the tribal land is “split estate,” meaning the Navajo Nation owns the surface, but the federal government controls — and gets royalties from — the oil and gas underneath. The allottees receive royalties from extraction of minerals under their lands, but all leases must go through the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Because today’s oil wells can extend two or more miles horizontally, the oil they extract is often a combination of allotment and federal minerals — known as a unit or pool. That means multiple agencies are involved in permitting and oversight.

    “It’s a real problem, because when you don’t know who’s in charge it leads to a total lack of accountability,” Pinto says. “Who’s really watching the oil companies and oilfield workers?”

    TThe official answer to Pinto’s question is: The Farmington Field Office of the BLM, which sits at the top of this jurisdictional layer cake. Though the agency has no say over leasing of allotment or tribal lands, it does handle permitting on those lands, along with leasing and permitting of all federal lands and minerals. It is currently working on a new environmental analysis of drilling in the Chaco region, due out next year, but right now it’s still operating under a plan that’s 15 years old, a fact that concerns people like Pinto.

    The 2003 plan — an analysis of the impacts caused by full-field development — was created under George W. Bush, when the always-porous line between industry and regulatory agencies in the New Mexico energy patch was more of a sieve. Natural gas prices were skyrocketing, and industry was eager to drill for coalbed methane on the mostly federal land north of the Checkerboard. The feds were just as eager to hand it over to them. Steve Henke, then-BLM district manager, issued a plan that opened the door to 9,942 new wells. (Henke was later caught accepting golf tickets and other gifts from local energy companies. He left the BLM in 2010 and promptly became president of the New Mexico Oil and Gas Association, the advocacy group for the industry’s big players.)

    Soon thereafter, oil companies started poking around in the Gallup play, the oil-bearing shale formation in the Chaco region, south of the old natural gas hotspots. Acknowledging that the horizontal drilling and multi-stage hydraulic fracturing required here would be far more intensive than anything the region had seen before, the BLM in 2014 launched a multi-year process to amend the 2003 plan for Chaco-specific development. Around the same time, Henke, on behalf of the state oil and gas group, donated $800,000 to the state BLM office to hire more staff in order to speed permitting. Henke then wrote to his Farmington colleagues, urging them not to “run from the 2003 document nor to ignore the job you are doing on site specific analyses.”

    It appears that the BLM heeded Henke’s request. Since 2010, the field office has leased out more than 50,000 acres and issued more than 500 drilling permits, mostly in the Chaco area. In early 2017, the BLM leased 842 acres on four parcels, despite the fact that development could affect 314 cultural features and a mesa known as Sis Naateel, home of Navajo deities, a sacred spring and ceremonial deer-hunting grounds. This March, the BLM planned to lease 25 additional parcels covering nearly 4,500 acres around Chaco, in an area where more than 90 percent of the land is already leased.

    Agency officials told me that since the 2003 plan specified “no geographical horizon,” and denying permits to leaseholders would be a “violation of property rights,” the BLM could continue to permit thousands of new wells on a case-by-case basis before it hits the limit — with or without the new analysis.

    “I don’t think the Farmington BLM is making the decisions; industry is,” said Mike Eisenfeld of the San Juan Citizens Alliance, who is perhaps the only professional environmentalist residing in Farmington. “They are being manipulated. And under Trump, it will be exacerbated. They’ll try to lease everything.”

    On a hot day last August, as thunderheads raced across the sky like schooners, former Navajo Nation tribal council delegate and citizen watchdog Daniel Tso, wearing boots, a big silver belt buckle, wire-rimmed glasses and a straw cowboy hat, his gray hair pulled back in a traditional bun, showed me how these industry-friendly practices played out on the ground. My little car was clearly no match for the rain-slicked roads, so I hopped into his truck and we ventured into the sagebrush ocean south of Nageezi.

    Soon, we reached one of the new wells permitted under the 2003 plan. The Cyclone Rig No. 32, a hulking baby-blue beast, loomed over low hills and a doublewide home about 600 feet away. Like a retro-sci-fi monster, the rig can “walk” across a drill pad, and just days after Tso and I visited, the two dozen workers here set a world drilling-speed record, churning through 8,370 feet of shale in just 24 hours.

    It’s a supersized version of a scene that has played out thousands of times over the last century in the San Juan Basin, where no one is immune to the effects of oil and gas extraction. Shiny distilling columns loom over a Catholic cemetery near Bloomfield, pumpjacks grace the Farmington golf course sand traps, and the horse track sits next to a Superfund site. It is all part of a grand transaction between the communities and industry. Locals live with the industrialization of their neighborhoods. In return, oil and gas companies pay royalties and taxes and provide jobs, which result in better infrastructure, reduced economic inequality, low property taxes, and, at least in Farmington, three Starbucks, two Walmart Supercenters and a baseball team called the Frackers. It’s a lopsided transaction, especially when the booms bust, but a transaction nonetheless.

    Down here in the Chaco Region, however, the deal feels more like outright theft. Oil companies still pay taxes and royalties and employ people, but nearly all the cash generated by the wells is, like the oil they extract, piped far away. Tax revenues on drilling and production go to Santa Fe, then get redistributed statewide to communities that have the resources to pursue them. Rig and fracking crews are often contractors, based in Wyoming, Texas or Colorado. They’ll stay and eat in Farmington or Bloomfield, not here, where there are no hotels or grocery stores, not even a laundromat.

    This WPX Energy well, like the nearby ones that blew up in 2016, is on Navajo allotment land, and is targeting oil in the 12,800-acre West Lybrook pool, a mingling of federal and allotment minerals. About 900 people share ownership of the 35 allotments in this pool. In order for the oil companies to secure leases, a majority of each allotment’s owners must sign off. “When the landman or his liaison shows up and says, ‘Sign on the line and you’ll get a fat check,’ and when you’ve got 60 to 80 percent unemployment, you say, ‘Sure,’ ” Tso said.

    Terms of allotment leases are not public. But if rates are on par with those on nearby federal lands, then a single allotment could bring in a signing bonus of $480,000 or more, which would then be divided equally between the owners. Because many allotments are highly fractionated, each owner might only get a few thousand dollars, though a lease can yield a hefty chunk of change if the owners are few. Once the wells start producing, the allottees receive royalty checks, too. According to state records, WPX Energy grossed some $30 million from the allotment portion of the West Lybrook pool in 2016, and paid out an average of $4,680 per allottee — some got a lot less, others more. While the checks will increase along with oil prices, they will also decrease over time as production diminishes.

    Even on the lower end, the payments can make a big difference. A grandmother may, for the first time in her life, get a floor in her home that isn’t dirt, a roof that doesn’t leak, electric lights, a vehicle that can navigate the rutted roads. Yet allotment checks are as likely to be sent to Albuquerque or Phoenix mailboxes as to ones in Lybrook or Nageezi. And even if it’s the latter, the cash doesn’t linger locally. That’s because, unlike in Farmington or Aztec, there’s no economic infrastructure to capture the wealth and benefit the community as a whole.

    An allottee family might live next door to one living on tribal land. Both will bear the burden of hosting a nearby well, yet only the allottee will receive any benefits. “It creates a system of haves and have-nots,” said Gloria Chiquito, whose parents are allottees. “It’s separating families. … Families are fighting one another.” Stories abound of grandchildren swindling grandparents, of envy-fueled burglaries, violence — even murder.

    Despite the economic incentives, some allottees are among the most outspoken opponents of development. Residents worry about livestock drinking out of unfenced waste pits, speeding trucks hitting animals, and the ubiquitous moon dust that rises into the air behind vehicles and settles on every nearby surface. People near wells complain about burning eyes, scratchy throats, dizziness and nausea — symptoms associated with prolonged exposure to low levels of benzene and hydrogen sulfide, which occur naturally in oil and natural gas and can seep into the air during every step of extraction and processing, even from tanker trucks.

    Tso and I followed a stream of those trucks along dusty roads in the direction of the spectacular pueblos of Chaco Canyon, some 15 miles distant. We saw men in grimy coveralls wrestling with giant drillbits, and orange flares burning off methane, nitrogen and other byproducts from recently drilled wells. One tanker stopped, the door swung open and the driver hopped out of the truck, long black hair spilling out from under her hardhat. She looked Navajo; Tso said that locals are often hired as truck drivers because they know the roads. She yanked at a valve on the back of her rig, releasing a thick stream of liquid onto the side of the road.

    We arrived at another roaring complex of tanks and pipes, a fracking job in process. A smell like that of a hot, dirty car engine wafted on the air as the workers pumped millions of gallons of nitrogen gel and water, along with tons of sand and a soup of chemicals, miles into the earth at pressures so high that it shattered the rock, freeing the oil that had been locked inside there for millions of years.

    I tried to imagine what this place looked like a thousand years ago, when it was populated by a society of Pueblo farmers and hunters and thinkers and builders. And I wondered what future archaeologists would make of all this. Will they puzzle over the practical applications of this byzantine assemblage of tanks? Or theorize that it was a monument — perhaps a memorial — to an insatiable hunger for a resource that by then will be long tapped out?

    When President Theodore Roosevelt wielded the brand-new Antiquities Act in 1907 to create Chaco Canyon National Monument, he drew the boundaries around what is now known as “downtown Chaco,” a handful of structures including the 800-room Pueblo Bonito, constructed between the ninth and 12th centuries by ancestors of today’s Pueblo people. That was merely the center of the Chacoan world, however, which extended over 100 miles across the Four Corners region and is represented by more than 200 outliers, or great houses, that share architectural traits with Pueblo Bonito. No one knows if this was a political empire, a religious or cultural society, or simply a school of architecture. But it’s clear that outliers — along with thousands of smaller sites, shrines and architectural features, their functions still unknown — did not exist in isolation. They were part of a vast cultural tapestry woven into the natural landscape.

    On a cloudless, scorching August afternoon, I made my way to the Pierre’s Site outlier, about 10 miles north of the park’s boundary, by car and then on foot via a maze of oil-patch roads. It was a surreal and lonely journey, my only companions pumpjacks bobbing up and down in the sea of sage and a small herd of horses, their manes shiny in the sun.

    Once there, I climbed onto the “Acropolis,” an aptly named flat-topped butte upon which three of the structures in the complex sit. Unlike the buildings in Chaco Canyon, these haven’t been excavated or stabilized, so at first glance they appear to be amorphous piles of rock. But, on closer inspection, the outlines of old walls, kivas and rooms became visible, like the curves of a body under a thick blanket.

    Various layers of protection cover Chacoan sites. The park itself is off-limits to all oil and gas development. Pierre’s Site and several other outliers are part of the Chaco Culture Archaeological Protection Sites Program, and all sites on federal land are shielded by the Archaeological Resources Protection Act and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act, which requires oil companies to conduct a cultural inventory of all land in the path of development. If the surveyors happen upon a “significant” site, the well pad or road or pipeline must be relocated, a process known as “identify and avoid.”

    Thanks to these laws, the major structures at Pierre’s Site have remained unmarred by development. The ambience has not. Ruth Van Dyke, a professor of anthropology at Binghamton University, cataloged the impacts of oil and gas development on the sound- and view-scapes at Pierre’s. “I found that, despite the due diligence agencies have exercised to protect the ground footprint of Pierre’s, there have been significant impacts,” she wrote. Twelve pumpjacks are visible from the Acropolis. When I was there, the whir-pop-pop-whir of the machines was irritatingly audible, affirming Van Dyke’s observation: “Rather than a sacred landscape and part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the Pierre’s community had the feeling of an industrial park.”

    The drilling threatens more than aesthetics. Taking cues from their Native American colleagues, archaeologists are increasingly going beyond analyzing just the material remains of cultures. Rather, they are, as Van Dyke puts it, trying “to understand an ancient sense of place … particularly sensory dimensions of place.” That’s not easy when machinery is noisily grinding away all around you.

    Meanwhile, “identify and avoid,” the only real protection for a vast majority of sites, is hardly comprehensive. “That’s how ancient landscapes get fragmented,” says Paul Reed, a longtime Chaco scholar. For a pipeline, the inventory follows a narrow swath along the right of way, and nothing else. The project is steered to avoid disturbing ancient structures, but it could still end up bisecting a village, says Reed, or plowing through an ancient cornfield or networks of “other super-subtle things going on that are part of understanding that landscape.”

    Pierre’s lies along the Great North Road, which stretches directly north of Chaco Canyon for 30 miles or more. It may have been a symbolic path through time, connecting old worlds with new, or a reminder of the power Chaco-central wielded over its outliers. Reed calls it “a landscape monument on a large scale.” Similar “roads” appear all over the Chaco world. A cultural inventory could easily miss segments that aren’t readily apparent, or other features that appear to be natural but served a cultural function, like a stone monolith that served as a shrine.

    “Even though agencies try to mitigate the impact, it isn’t enough, because you’ve literally destroyed the context in which those things exist,” says Theresa Pasqual, former director of Acoma Pueblo’s Historic Preservation Office, and a descendant of the Pueblo people who occupied the Four Corners for thousands of years. “Most of our pueblos are still transmitting their migration history through oral means. So when you have development that begins to impact many of these sites — that range in size from the grandeur of Chaco Canyon or Mesa Verde to very small unknown sites that still remain un-surveyed and unknown to the public — they are literally destroying the pages of the history book of the Pueblo people.”

    “We need to go beyond ‘identify and avoid,’ ” Reed says. “But we’re not gonna draw a big circle around everything and say, ‘No more development.’ ” It’s simply too late for that here. So Reed and his allies, including the National Parks Conservation Association and Pueblo tribal leaders, asked the BLM to implement a master leasing plan for the area, an approach introduced by the Obama administration to bring more public input into what had been a “sight-unseen” leasing process. The proposal would put about a half-million acres directly surrounding the park, along with the rest of the Great North Road, off-limits to future leasing. Existing leases in the protection zone could still be developed, but only on the condition that quiet, darkness and viewsheds are preserved.

    But such a plan is not on the table for the current administration. And it has its own drawbacks: It wouldn’t apply to allotment lands, so even more development could be pushed onto the Navajo communities of Lybrook, Nageezi and Counselor. That prospect has unearthed old tensions — between advocates for the past and those fighting for modern-day residents — that echo those from the original designation of the Chaco monument, when Navajos who lived there were evicted and had their allotments cancelled.

    But Marissa Naranjo, co-founder of the Diné-Pueblo Youth Solidarity Coalition, emphasizes that despite divisions, the fight to save ancestral Pueblo homelands and the fight to protect current Navajo homelands are one and the same. “It’s not just about protecting cultural resources,” says Naranjo, a community organizer from Santa Clara Pueblo, east of the Navajo Nation. Like Pinto, she’s part of what may be the most vital branch of the Chaco movement: young, Native American women. “The attack on our homelands necessitates solidarity with the Diné. They are the caretakers of that land. They are on the front lines every day, dealing with health and social impacts. … That whole landscape connects us.”

    Last August, prior to our oil-patch tour, Tso invited me to the front lines to witness the “power base” of the movement firsthand. It was neither a protest camp nor the headquarters of an environmental group, simply a regular meeting of the Ojo Encino Chapter.

    Chapters were introduced to the Navajo Nation in 1927, four years after the federal government, needing a sole entity to sign off on oil leases on tribal land, instituted the centralized tribal government that endures today. But they hark back to the pre-Long Walk days, when the tribe was divided into units of a dozen or more families, each governed by naataanii, or headmen.

    Today, there are 110 chapters, the most local political subdivision of the Navajo Nation. The Ojo Encino meeting was similar to many county meetings I’ve attended, except for the kids selling meat-and-potato burritos, fry bread and sno-cones from a window in the back. And while the officers ran the meeting, the entire audience voted on every action item, from a resolution to approve college scholarships to requests by residents to get solar panels installed at their homes.

    Like many rural Western county commissioners, who feel that D.C. bureaucrats ignore their concerns, members of far-flung chapters feel invisible to the tribal government in Window Rock, Arizona. “The people out here are the same as the people in Tuba City or Kayenta,” said Chapter President George Werito, a slim man with a ready smile in a red Ojo Encino Day School Braves shirt. “But they (the Navajo Nation leaders) don’t even know where we are. They give us no help.”

    Hoping to amplify their chapters’ individual voices, the Ojo Encino, Torreon and Counselor chapters came together to form the Tri-Chapter alliance in 2014 at the height of the oil boom. Drilling has hit Counselor hard, and Torreon and Ojo Encino may be next. “It’s coming this way, so we’ve got to get ready for it,” Werito said.

    Ultimately, they’d like to bring all the chapters in the region together to create legally binding regulations — greater setbacks from homes, impact fees for fixing roads, a more equitable system of revenue sharing — on oil and gas development. Getting Window Rock’s backing, however, hasn’t been easy. Fossil fuels have long been the Navajo Nation’s prime source of income, and though it receives very little revenue from oil development on the Checkerboard because of the land-use mishmash, many delegates are leery of opposing drilling or coal mining.

    Looming threats may change their tune, however. The Department of Interior’s evisceration of environmental protections that “burden domestic industry” could hit Chaco and the surrounding San Juan Basin — home to 40,000 oil and gas wells and the Four Corners Methane Hot Spot — especially hard. On the chopping block are new hydraulic fracturing regulations, master leasing plans and the land-use designation that keeps rigs off much of the Great North Road. If the 2016 well pad fire was the spark that ignited the Chaco resistance, then the Trump administration’s drive to achieve “energy dominance” is like gasoline, further enflaming the broad-based effort.

    Still, this is no Standing Rock. The issues here are more nuanced, the beauty and intrinsic value of the San Juan Basin of a harsher, more subtle sort than the serpentine canyons of the Bears Ears area. The Chaco movement is unlikely to ever explode onto the national stage, but that’s just fine with its leaders.

    “I was very inspired by the energy, that momentum, at Standing Rock,” says Naranjo. “But we also realize that this movement to protect Chaco is very, very different. That (Chaco’s) entire landscape is sacred. There are outlier sites, prayer sites; it’s alive, it’s active. We’ve been very careful not to initiate an occupation movement there because that would be extremely disrespectful to our ancestors there.”

    With so many wells already in place, the coalition is focusing not on shutting down industry, but on fighting new leases and ensuring compliance and enforcement of regulations. Last year, Pinto testified before Congress in favor of keeping the Obama-era methane rule that would have reduced emissions, not only of the potent greenhouse gas, but also benzene, volatile organic compounds and hydrogen sulfide. It would have also yielded more royalties for the federal government and the allottees. The Senate agreed to keep the rule in place, but Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is now trying to scrap it.

    Late last year, the National Congress of American Indians joined the All Pueblo Council of Governors, the entire New Mexico Democratic congressional delegation, and even Navajo Nation President Russell Begaye in calling for a moratorium on all new leases in the Chaco region, at least until the new environmental analysis is complete. And in January, a coalition of environmental groups filed a formal protest against the March lease sale, joining more than 400 others in speaking out against it, including Acoma Pueblo, the Tri-Chapter alliance and the Nageezi Chapter. In March, the Interior Department cancelled the sale, citing “uncertainty about cultural impacts.”

    The chapters have been one of the most significant, and unique, components of the movement. “This has always been a group effort,” Tso said, as he stood up before the Ojo Encino audience and, in Navajo and English, summarized resolutions supporting air-quality and health-impact monitoring in the oil patch. Pinto and others have been sampling air near facilities, and a coalition of affected chapters launched a Hozhoogo Na’adah assessment — a Diné-centered research model — to gain a more holistic understanding of how residents are affected by oil and gas development.

    Tso talked about the Church Rock spill of 1979, about 80 miles west of here, where a uranium mill tailings dam busted, sending 1,100 tons of radioactive tailings and toxic effluent into the Rio Puerco of the West, contaminating countless water wells on the southern portion of the Checkerboard. “We don’t want that to be our story,” he said. Both resolutions passed resoundingly.

    After the meeting adjourned, as I picked at the crumbs of alkaan — a sweet and smoky corn and flour cake that someone had brought — I considered what I had just witnessed. This is no explosive movement, scoring dramatic, if temporary, victories. It’s a slow and rumbling and lasting upswelling of protest truly rooted in the land, led by the people who call this place home. “There is a constant effort and movement to protect those places,” Pasquale says. “And while they may seem small and incremental, they do lead to larger movements to protect these places that are important not just to the Pueblo people, but all of the people, all of the public, because it belongs to the greater story of all of us, of all of the human race.”

    As I turned to leave, I caught a glimpse of a poster hanging on the wall. It portrayed a young Navajo woman wearing a squash-blossom necklace and a gas mask: “Don’t Just Walk In Beauty,” the bold lettering said. “Protect It! Hózhó (Beauty) Starts With You.”

    Jonathan Thompson is a contributing editor at High Country News. He is the author of the new book, River of Lost Souls: The Science, Politics, and Greed Behind the Gold King Mine Disaster.

    At Bears Ears, Trump and Zinke ignored everyone but industry @HighCountryNews

    Bears Ears Protest in Salt Lake December 2, 2017. Photo credit: Mother Jones Magazine

    From The High Country News (Jonathan Thompson):

    Newly released documents show that locals had little voice in monument decisions.

    In April 2017, Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, said of former President Barack Obama and the newly designated Bears Ears National Monument: “In making this unilateral decision, our former president either failed to heed the concerns of San Juan County residents, or ignored them completely.”

    If Hatch were an honest man, he would say exactly the same about President Donald Trump’s drastic shrinkage of the monument late last year. Documents recently released by the Department of Interior show that when drawing the new boundaries, Trump and his Interior secretary, Ryan Zinke, ignored not only the pleas of five Native American tribal nations, but also proposals from local county commissioners and the state of Utah.

    That’s just one of the takeaways from a trove of documents regarding the Trump administration’s multi-monument review that the Interior Department coughed up to the New York Times. Here are the top 8 nuggets HCN has gleaned so far from the tens of thousands of documents:

    1. The shrinkage of Bears Ears hurt Utah schools more than it helped.

    Hatch has argued that the monument took needed cash from Utah school children because it “captured” over 100,000 acres of Utah School and Institutional Trust Lands (SITLA), which are leased out or sold to help fund schools. But SITLA itself has never outright opposed the monument designation. Why? Because with designation came the promise of a lucrative land exchange with the feds.

    When the monument was designated, SITLA officials said they were “disappointed” in the way it was done, but went on to ask Obama “to promptly address the issue by making Utah’s school children whole through an exchange of comparable lands.” In fact, some six months before Obama designated the monument, SITLA already had the details of a swap in mind. The state would give up the land within the proposed monument, most of which had only marginal potential for development, and it would receive oil- and gas-rich federal land, much of it in other counties, in exchange.

    A decade earlier, after the designation of Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, a similar swap proved quite profitable, according to an email in the document dump from SITLA Associate Director John Andrews. Andrews wrote that the exchange netted SITLA $135.2 million in mineral leases alone, plus $50 million in cash from the federal government as part of the deal. Adding in investment earnings and other lease revenues, Andrews concluded that a total haul of $500 million from the exchange would be a “conservative guesstimate.”

    So, when Trump set out to shrink the monument, SITLA asked only that a sliver of the monument’s southeast corner be removed so as to keep a block of land near Bluff, Utah, in SITLA hands. A representative from Hatch’s office sent a map showing this change and a message to Interior: “The new boundary depicted on the map would resolve all known mineral conflicts for SITLA within the Bears Ears.”

    In the end, Zinke granted this part of SITLA’s wish. Unfortunately for the state’s school children, he did a lot more than that, cutting most of the state lands out of the monument, thus shutting down any hopes for a large-scale land exchange. That leaves the state holding on to more than 80,000 acres of isolated parcels that are unlikely to generate much revenue.

    2. Zinke ignored local county commissioners.

    Trump ordered the monument review amid claims that local voices had been steamrolled by Obama’s unilateral designation. So when, in March 2017, the San Juan County Commission sent maps to Interior showing their proposed boundaries, they might have expected that it would influence Zinke’s recommended boundaries. It did not.

    The commission’s proposed boundaries would have covered 422,600 acres across Cedar Mesa. Cut by spectacular canyons and with a high density of archaeological resources, Cedar Mesa was at the heart of Obama’s Bears Ears designation. Under the commissioners’ plans, the eastern boundary would have been Comb Wash, leaving out the sandstone wave known as Comb Ridge, as well as motorized route up Arch Canyon. Zinke’s boundaries contain only half as much land. They leave Cedar Mesa out entirely, unlike the county commissioners’ plans, but they include as part of the monument Comb Ridge and Arch Canyon. It’s almost as if the new boundaries were drawn in defiance of the county commission’s proposal. So much for local voices.

    3. The voice of Energy Fuels, the most active uranium company in the Bears Ears region, appears to have been heard.

    Representatives of the Canadian company met with Obama administration officials during the lead-up to designation, and the administration ultimately excluded Energy Fuels’ Daneros uranium mine from the monument. However, the company lamented the fact that seven miles of the mine’s one access road still fell within the boundaries, and that its White Mesa mill property abutted the eastern monument boundary.

    Energy Fuels lobbyists, including former U.S. Rep. Mary Bono, R-Calif., met with Trump administration officials in July 2017, and the company’s official comment on the monument review stated: “There are also many other known uranium and vanadium deposits located within the newly created (Bears Ears National Monument) that could provide valuable energy and mineral resources in the future. … EFR respectfully requests that DOI reduce the size of the (Bears Ears National Monument) to only those specific resource areas or sites, if any, deemed to need additional protection beyond what is already available to Federal land management agencies.”

    Trump’s shrinkage removed the entire White Canyon uranium district and other known deposits from the monument.

    4. The new boundaries correlate closely with known oil, gas, uranium and potash deposits.

    During his review last year, Zinke specifically asked for information on mineral extraction potential within the monuments. Uranium mining has long been dormant in the Bears Ears monument due to low prices, and only three of the 250 oil and gas wells drilled within the monument have yielded significant quantities of oil or gas. Nevertheless, industry has nominated some 63,657 acres within the national monument for oil and gas leases since 2014. With the new boundaries drawn to exclude even areas with only marginal potential for oil, gas or uranium, those leases could now go forward.

    Proposed Bears Ears National Monument July 2016 via Elizabeth Shogren.

    5. At Grand Staircase-Escalante, the new boundaries are mostly about coal.

    When the monument was designated, Andalex, a Swiss company, was looking to mine a 23,800-acre swath of the Kaiparowits Plateau, which contains one of the biggest coal deposits in the United States. Clinton’s monument designation didn’t kill those plans, though it did make access and transportation to the deposits more difficult, so the feds used $19 million from the Land and Water Conservation Funds to buy out Andalex’s leases. Now, some 11 billion or more tons of coal are once again accessible. Also freed up with Trump’s monument shrinkage: Up to 10.5 trillion cubic feet of coalbed methane and 550 million barrels of oil from tar sands.

    6. Visitation at Bears Ears area ratcheted up alongside the debate over designation.

    Since there are no monument headquarters, the best indicator is the number of visitors at Kane Gulch Ranger Station on Cedar Mesa, which nearly doubled between 2013, when Bears Ears was little in the news, and 2017, when it became a signature issue for Trump as he attempted to dismantle many of Obama’s legacies.

    Visits per year:

    2013: 3,484

    2014: 3,730

    2015: 4,344

    2016: 4,844

    2017: 6,535

    The jump in visitation in 2017 will be used by both anti- and pro-monument advocates. The former will argue that extra visitors mean extra impacts, the latter that more visitors add up to greater economic benefits for neighboring communities.

    7. The designation of Grand Staircase-Escalante didn’t significantly impact grazing.

    There were 77,400 active AUMs, or Animal Unit Months, the bureaucrat’s way of counting livestock on public lands, when the monument was designated in 1996. As of 2017, the number had only slightly dropped to 76,957 active AUMs. “Although grazing use levels have varied considerably from year to year due to factors like drought,” an Interior staff report says, “no reductions in permitted livestock grazing use have been made as a result of the Monument designation.” Claims to the contrary have long been used to argue for the monument’s reduction.

    8. Obama’s staffers were in constant contact with Utah congressional staffers and other officials for months prior to monument designation.

    And they often went out of their way to accommodate them. In fact, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell’s deputy chief of staff, Nicole Buffa, became quite chummy with Fred Ferguson, the chief of staff for Rep. Jason Chaffetz, and Cody Stewart, policy director for Gov. Gary Herbert.

    After Jewell’s visit to southeastern Utah, Buffa wrote to Ferguson, Stewart and others: “I’m looking forward to many more conversations about Utah with each of you, but in far less pretty places.”

    As the debate on the ground heated up, Ferguson wrote to Buffa: “I grow more and more frustrated by the day regarding the situation in San Juan County. You and I … have been thrust into this umpire-type-role where we are supposed to determine which group is most sincere, most legit, and most deserving of ‘winning’. We’re witnessing a race to the bottom by all involved as the monument threat heats up and groups are positioning themselves for success. My ultimate thoughts are to do nothing and force all of these players to work together and resolve these issues amongst themselves in the new year when there isn’t an arbitrary deadline driving action.”

    Buffa responded: “We can’t get bogged down by the side-shows, and that is what some of this is.”

    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.

    Colorado Legacy Land taking over at Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill

    From The Canon City Daily Record (Sarah Rose):

    The Cotter Corp. owned the non-operating uranium mill property south of Cañon City for decades before it was sold Friday to Colorado Legacy Land. The [Ralston Creek near Golden] Schwartzwalder Mine also was sold to the company.

    Colorado’s State Radiation Program, which is part of Colorado’s Department of Public Health and Environment, is an agency that reviewed and approved the Radioactive Materials License transfer.

    “… The review evaluated Colorado Legacy Land’s decommissioning funding plan and technical qualifications for site remediation, reclamation and closure, as well as routine site maintenance, radiation safety, and occupational and environmental monitoring,” stated a press release from the CDPHE. “The review determined that Colorado Legacy Land and the proposed key personnel are technically qualified to manage the Cotter mill site closure and the radioactive materials license.”

    Colorado Legacy Land is a partnership between Colorado Legacy Land Stewardship and Alexco Environmental Group. Colorado Legacy Land was set up to clean the Lincoln Park Superfund Site and the Schwartzwalder Mine, said Eric Williams, president of Colorado Legacy Land Stewardship.

    “Alexco Environmental Group is very good at cleaning up contaminated properties around the country but particularly good with mining companies in Colorado,” Williams said, adding that Alexco helped to clean up the Gold King Mine site, which caused the Animas River to be contaminated with mining waste in 2015. “Colorado Legacy Land is a public benefit corporation. Part of our mission is to clean up contaminated properties, as well as putting those back into some productive use, typically going toward eco-friendly uses, like renewable energy or open space recreation, those kinds of things. The directors of Colorado Legacy Land have close to 100 years of experience in dealing with environmental cleanup sites and putting properties back into productive use.”

    Colorado Legacy Land first expressed interest in the Lincoln Park Superfund site about a year ago.

    “The process in purchasing it took a long time,” Williams said. “This was a very complex transaction because of the regulatory side of things.”

    Williams said Colorado Legacy Land will “start immediately” on the cleanup process.

    “We are already very much up to speed with the environmental conditions,” Williams said. “Our focus in the immediate short-term is to work with the Community Advisory Board and the regulators to continue the process of planning and the cleanup of the properties.”

    Steve Cohen, who was Cotter’s mill manager for the Lincoln Park site, will continue to be the mill manager under the new management.

    Cohen said many employees who worked for Cotter will stay at the mill. Cohen said there were some layoffs at the property but didn’t specify how many.

    The CAG invites the public to attend its monthly meeting, where members and representatives of agencies overseeing the cleanup, discuss what’s occurring at the Lincoln Park Superfund site. The next meeting will be from 1 to 4 p.m. Thursday at the Fremont County Administration Building, 615 Macon Ave. Meetings are scheduled every third Thursday of the month.

    Renewable energy tops 18 percent of U.S. electricity grid, rivaling nuclear

    Chron.com (James Osborne):

    Solar farms, wind turbines and hydroelectric dams are getting close to surpassing nuclear power plants contribution to the U.S. electrical grid, according to a new report by Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

    Last year 18 percent of electrical generation came from renewable energy sources – more than double what they did a decade ago – the report said. Nuclear power plants represent 19.7 percent of the generation on the grid, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, surpassed only by coal and natural gas plants.

    “The massive and historic transformation of the U.S. energy sector clicked into a higher gear in 2017, despite some new headwinds including policy uncertainties,” the report entitled “Sustainable Energy in America: 2018 Factbook” read. “Renewable deployment grew at a near- record pace.”

    The growth comes even as the Trump administration has curtailed or eliminated restrictions on greenhouse gas restrictions while also trying to expand fossil-fuel production in the United States.

    But so far it has done little to turn investors away from renewable energy, which is widely seen as an area of growth in the decades to come as countries try to limit the damage of climate change.

    Investment in wind, solar and other renewable technologies totaled $333 billion in 2017, the second highest level on record, according to the Bloomberg report.

    The impact on the atmosphere can already be seen. The expansion of renewables, as well as the shift away from coal to natural gas, has sent the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions to their lowest level since 1991, according to Bloomberg.

    The 26,000 tons of radioactive waste under #LakePowell — @HighCountryNews #ColoradoRiver #COriver

    San Juan Smelter Durango back in the day

    Here’s a report from Jonathan Thompson writing in The High Country News. Click through and read the whole article. Here’s an excerpt:

    Beneath the murky green waters on the north end of Lake Powell, entombed within the tons of silt that have been carried down the Colorado River over the years, lies a 26,000-ton pile of unremediated uranium-mill tailings. It’s just one radium-tainted reminder of the way the uranium industry, enabled by the federal government, ravaged the West and its people for decades.

    In 1949, the Vanadium Corporation of America built a small mill at the confluence of White Canyon and the Colorado River to process uranium ore from the nearby Happy Jack Mine, located upstream in the White Canyon drainage (and just within the Obama-drawn Bears Ears National Monument boundaries). For the next four years, the mill went through about 20 tons of ore per day, crushing and grinding it up, then treating it with sulfuric acid, tributyl phosphate and other nastiness. One ton of ore yielded about five or six pounds of uranium, meaning that each day some 39,900 pounds of tailings were piled up outside the mill on the banks of the river.

    In 1953 the mill was closed, and the tailings were left where they sat, uncovered, as was the practice of the day. Ten years later, water began backing up behind the newly built Glen Canyon Dam; federal officials decided to let the reservoir’s waters inundate the tailings. There they remain today.

    If you’re one of the millions of people downstream from Lake Powell who rely on Colorado River water and this worries you, consider this: Those 26,000 tons of tailings likely make up just a fraction of the radioactive material contained in the silt of Lake Powell and Lake Mead.

    During the uranium days of the West, more than a dozen mills — all with processing capacities at least ten times larger than the one at White Canyon — sat on the banks of the Colorado River and its tributaries. Mill locations included Shiprock, New Mexico, and Mexican Hat, Utah, on the San Juan River; Rifle and Grand Junction, Colorado, and Moab on the Colorado; and in Uravan, Colorado, along the San Miguel River, just above its confluence with the Dolores. They did not exactly dispose of their tailings in a responsible way.

    At the Durango mill the tailings were piled into a hill-sized mound just a stone’s throw from the Animas River. They weren’t covered or otherwise contained, so when it rained tailings simply washed into the river. Worse, the mill’s liquid waste stream poured directly into the river at a rate of some 340 gallons per minute, or half-a-million gallons per day. It was laced not only with highly toxic chemicals used to leach uranium from the ore and iron-aluminum sludge (a milling byproduct), but also radium-tainted ore solids.

    Radium is a highly radioactive “bone-seeker.” That means that when it’s ingested it makes its way to the skeleton, where it decays into other radioactive daughter elements, including radon, and bombards the surrounding tissue with alpha, beta, and gamma radiation. According to the Toxic Substances and Diseases Registry, exposure leads to “anemia, cataracts, fractured teeth, cancer (especially bone cancer), and death.”

    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Superfund site cleanup update

    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via The Denver Post

    From The Canoñ City Daily Record (Sara Knuth):

    The Denver-based Colorado Legacy Land, which has been in negotiations with Cotter since July, received a conditional approval from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment on Nov. 8 to take over the defunct uranium mill’s radioactive materials license.

    But the company still has a few more obstacles to cross before the deal is final.

    During a Community Advisory Group meeting Thursday, Paul Newman of Colorado Legacy Land said the company is waiting for approvals from the state.

    Colorado Legacy Land, which is part of environmental cleanup companies Legacy Land Stewardship and Alexco, also is seeking to take over Cotter’s

    Schwartzwalder Mine via Division of Reclamation and MIning
    Mine near Golden. The project, included in the same transaction as the Cañon City site, still needs a mine permit transfer from the Colorado Division of Reclamation, Mining and Safety.

    “The DRMS is taking a bit more time in their evaluation and approval of that transfer,” Newman said. “Hopefully, we can get that resolved and that one transferred here shortly.”

    The company also met with the Colorado Attorney General’s Office and Environmental Protection Agency attorneys to get assigned an administrative order on consent. That process also is still pending.

    But if all goes according to plan, Newman said, Colorado Legacy Land hopes to close the deal by the middle of December. From there, the company would “come in where Cotter left off,” Newman said. “So, we have the whole clean-up process in front of us.”

    The first major step toward cleanup, he said, would be working through a remedial investigation, a deep look into how far the contamination goes.

    Cotter, which opened the Cañon City site in 1958 to process uranium for weapons and fuel, was found in the 1980s to have contaminated nearby wells. It was placed on the U.S. list of Superfund sites, putting Cotter in charge of cleanup efforts. In 2011, Cotter decided to put a halt to uranium production altogether.

    Newman, the executive vice president of Legacy Land Stewardship, said Cotter approached Alexco — a company that has been working on the Schwartzwalder Mine for four years — to step in. Colorado Legacy Land was formed by Alexco and Legacy Land Stewardship specifically to take over the cleanup process.

    If the state approves the final requirements, the company will own the land. Additionally, Newman said, Colorado Legacy Land is planning to open offices in Cañon City.

    As part of requirements outlined in the CDPHE’s conditional license approval, Colorado Legacy Land will need to inform the department of the closing date in writing.

    “Building #solar and #wind farms has started to become a cheaper proposition than running aging #coal and #nuclear generators” — Bloomberg

    Graph showing the decline in costs for large lithium ion batteries in US dollars per kilowatt-hour (kWh), 2006-2016. Graphic via the Climate Reality Project.

    From Bloomberg (Naureen S Malik):

    Building solar and wind farms has started to become a cheaper proposition than running aging coal and nuclear generators in parts of the U.S., according to financial adviser Lazard Ltd.

    Take wind: Building and operating a utility-scale farm costs $30 to $60 a megawatt-hour over its lifetime, and that can drop to as low as $14 when factoring in subsidies, according an annual analysis that Lazard’s been performing for a decade. Meanwhile, just keeping an existing coal plant running can cost $26 to $39 and a nuclear one $25 to $32.

    Two years ago, “what was interesting to us was the lifetime cost of renewables on an energy basis reached parity with conventional resources in a bunch of geographies in the U.S.,” said Jonathan Mir, head of the North American power group at Lazard. “Now, what we are seeing is that renewable technologies on a fully loaded basis are beating” existing coal and nuclear plants in some regions.

    The report by Lazard, whose estimates are widely used in the power sector as benchmarks, comes as President Donald Trump’s administration is vowing to stop the “war on coal” and put America’s miners back to work. Hundreds of power plants burning the fuel have shut in recent years amid escalating competition from natural gas, wind and solar. Energy Secretary Rick Perry has proposed rewarding coal and nuclear plants with extra payments for their dependability, touching off a national debate over the country’s future power mix.

    “We still need, in a modern grid, fuel diversification and a diverse generation stack,” Mir said. “So someone has to think hard about how to organize this transition.”

    Three reasons for optimism about climate change — The Mountain Town News

    Coyote Gulch’s Leaf connected in the parking garage in Winter Park, August 21, 2017.

    From The Mountain Town News (Allen Best):

    Despite Trump, train has already left the station, says former Obama aide

    U.S. President Donald Trump has initiated steps to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement and end the Clean Power Plan. But a former advisor to President Barack Obama was anything but gloomy recently as he cited three major reasons for optimism.

    Brian Deese said one reason was that economic growth has been decoupled from growth in carbon emissions. This was discovered as the United States emerged from the recession. Obama was in Hawaii when Deese informed him of the paradigm shift that had been observed.

    Brian Deese photo credit Wikipedia.com.

    “I don’t believe you,” Obama said, according to the story Deese told in a forum on the University of Colorado campus that was sponsored by the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research.

    Chastened, Deese double-checked his sources. He had been right. Always before, when the economy grew, so did greenhouse gas emissions. Now, the two have been decoupled. This decoupling blunts the old argument that you couldn’t have economic growth while tackling climate change. The new evidence is that you can have growth and reverse emissions.

    The second reason for optimism, despite the U.S. exit from Paris, is that other countries have stepped up. Before, there was a battle between the developed countries, including the United States, and China, Indian and other still-developing countries. Those developing countries said they shouldn’t have to bear the same burden in emissions reductions.

    But now, those same countries — Chna, India and others — want to keep going with emissions reductions even as the United States falters. They want to become the clean-energy superpowers.

    “China, India and others are trying to become the global leaders in climate change. They see this as enhancing their economic and political interests,” he said. “They want to win the race.”

    That same day, the Wall Street Journal reported in a front-page story that China plans to force automakers to accelerate production of electric vehicles by 2019. The move, said the newspaper, is the “latest signal that officials across the globe are determined to phase out traditional internal combustion engines that use gasoline and diesel fuels in favor of environmentally friendly vehicles powered by batteries, despite consumer reservations.”

    The story went on to note that India has a goal to sell only electric vehicles by 2030 while the U.K. and France are aiming to end sales of gasoline and diesel vehicles by 2040.

    In the telling of the change Deese said this shift came about at least partly as the result of an unintended action — and, ironically, one by the United States. Because of China’s fouled air, the U.S. embassy in Beijing and other diplomatic offices in China had installed air quality monitors, to guide U.S. personnel in decisions regarding their own health.

    Enter the smart phone, which became ubiquitous in China around 2011 to 2012. The Chinese became aware of a simple app that could be downloaded to gain access to the air quality information. In a short time, he said, tens and then hundreds of millions of Chinese began agitating about addressing globalized air pollution, including emissions that are warming the climate.

    A third reason for optimism, said Deese, is that Trump’s blustery rhetoric has galvanized support for addressing climate change. Some 1,700 businesses, including Vail Resorts, have committed to changes and 244 cities, representing 143 million people, have also said they want to briskly move toward renewable energy generation.

    To this, Deese would like to add the conservation community, by which he seemed to mean hunters and fishermen. “In the United States, we need to reach people where they are, and communicate to them how they are being affected by climate change,” he said.

    He also thinks scientists need to step up to advocate. “Use your voice,” said Deese, now a fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School. “The rest of the world is there.”

    Groundwater testing perimeter around Rulison site reduced

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    The area subject to testing has been reduced from 25 square miles, encompassing a circular area extending three miles in all directions from what’s known as the Project Rulison blast site, to an oval area of just under 6.3 square miles, and ranging from 1.5 to two miles away from the site.

    The revised plan also gets rid of a limit on the number of drilling rigs concurrently operating in the monitoring zone “because this has not been an administrative problem in recent years,” it says.

    Project Rulison involved the explosion of a nuclear bomb more than 8,000 feet underground in the mountains south of Rulison in a federal/private experiment to try to boost natural gas production in the Williams Fork sandstone formation. The project succeeded in producing gas, but it was radioactive and was flared off as part of the experiment.

    More recently, energy companies have extensively produced gas in the Williams Fork formation through the use of hydraulic fracturing to crack open the sandstone and foster gas flow.

    The federal government restricts drilling deeper than 6,000 feet in a 40-acre area at the blast site. Currently there are no wells within a half-mile of Project Rulison, and any applications to drill that close would be subject to a Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission hearing process.

    The state also subjects companies to two levels of sampling and testing requirements for radioactivity when it comes to things such drilling cuttings, produced gas and produced water. One level has applied to wells within a mile of the blast site, and it continues to apply under the new plan.

    The second level had applied to an arbitrary circular testing area having a three-mile radius, but the revised plan says it now applies to a smaller ellipse aligned with the pattern for fractures in the Williams Fork formation in the area of the blast site.

    The plan also eliminates an environmental monitoring program for ground and surface water, stating that “there is no credible mechanism to transport Rulison-related activity to the surface except through natural gas production,” which the sampling plan already covers.

    The plan says numerous monitoring studies conducted by federal agencies and oil and gas companies show that “no known release of radionuclides has occurred from Project Rulison,” except during natural gas flaring and production tests immediately following the blast.

    The monitoring program is intended to protect workers, the public and the environment during oil and gas operations, the plan says.

    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site update

    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site

    From KOAA.com:

    The uranium mill was declared a Superfund environmental disaster more than 20 years ago after contamination was discovered in both well water and soil in Cañon City.

    We weren’t allowed to film or take pictures on the tour but we did get to ask some questions.

    The site manager says they’re trying to determine the usability of the mill in the future and are waiting on a quality assurance plan. Next, they’ll have to draft what’s called a remedial investigation report.

    Before they’re able to recommend a clean-up plan which would be in 2020 at the earliest.

    Public information meeting for Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site, April 20, 2017

    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill Site via The Denver Post

    From The Colorado Springs Gazette (Liz Forster):

    Cañon City community members will meet again with Cotter Corp. on Thursday to hear about the former uranium mining company’s pilot groundwater cleanup project.

    Cotter hopes the project will reduce uranium and molybdenum contaminates to safe levels, but so far, community members have had mixed feelings about the effectiveness of the program.

    Doni Angell, a member of the Lincoln Park Community Advisory Group that hosts the meetings and frequently comments on Cotter projects, said the proposed project, known as the Organic Bioreactor Work Plan, will only create a more concentrated toxic environment…

    The project proposes an organic method using wet hardwood mulch to remove contaminates from the groundwater, rather than synthetic chemicals that most uranium mills use. The mulch, Cotter believes, would remove oxygen from water flow areas, causing the uranium to separate from the water. Because the water is migrating down slope through the mulch, Cotter anticipates successful contamination reduction using the natural aquifer as opposed to a mechanically propelled system.

    “This is the simpler solution based on our tests, and sometimes the simple solution is the better solution,” Cotter project manager Steve Cohen said, adding that capital costs for this type of project are much lower than synthetic chemical-based ones.

    Community Advisory Group member Carol Dunn said she does not know enough about the details of the project to make an assessment.

    She said her hope going into Thursday relies on the relationship the community has developed with Cotter – a unique aspect of the Cotter/Lincoln Park site in relation to other Superfund sites where the responsible party is usually no longer present…

    The project is in the informal public comment period, which was extended by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment from April 21 to May 7 last week after a request from the Community Advisory Group. The EPA and CDPHE – which oversees activities at the site because of its designation as a Superfund site in 1984 – are reviewing the details of the project and will provide comments following the May 7 comment deadline.

    At that time, the agencies will also evaluate comments received from other agencies and the public, include the Community Advisory Group…

    The original groundwater contamination in the Lincoln Park community was caused by the discharging of the uranium tailings into unlined tailing ponds. The ponds were closed in the early 1980s when the EPA listed the area as a Superfund site, and the waste was excavated and put into new lined ponds. The new ponds cut off most of the groundwater contamination, and, since then, the EPA has since declared the contaminated ground water status as “under control.”

    The EPA is currently administering its 5-year review of the site to ensure that the site decision remedies are continuing to protect human health and the surrounding environment. The Community Advisory Group also has contributed to that project, providing the EPA with people to interview in the community about the impacts, or lack thereof, of the remaining contamination.

    (The Community Advisory Group meeting will take place on Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Abbots Room at the Abbey Events Complex, 2951 East U.S. Highway 50. The meeting is open to the public.)

    U.S. coal use falls 9 percent in 2016 #ActOnClimate

    One of the generating units at the power plant at Kemmerer, Wyo., is being shut down this year to reduce emissions that are causing regional haze. 2009 photo/Allen Best

    From Climate Central (Bobby Magill):

    …it was little surprise when the federal government reported this week that U.S. coal use fell 9 percent in 2016, even as Americans consumed more energy overall. The U.S. used more natural gas and renewables last year than ever before, while oil use and even nuclear power were on the rise, too…

    Coal use fell last year for the third year in a row — after slight increases in 2012 and 2013 — and has been steadily declining in the U.S. since it peaked a decade ago, according to U.S. Energy Information Administration data…

    Part of the problem for coal, however, is that Americans aren’t as hungry for electricity as they used to be, thanks in part to more energy efficient buildings and appliances…

    Cheap prices along with federal mercury emissions regulations became big incentives for electric companies to build natural gas power plants and shut down their coal-fired power plants, or run them using natural gas instead of coal.

    Cotter Mill spill

    Lincoln/Cotter Mill Park superfund site

    From The Pueblo Chieftain:

    Colorado Department of Public Health officials on Friday received a report of a spill that occurred at the Cotter Crop. Uranium Mill south of here.

    Steve Cohen, Cotter manager, reported the spill occurred just before 8:30 a.m. as Cotter workers were trying to drain a section of pipes that connect the new and the old pipeline. A new pipeline is being installed to prevent contaminated water escaping the site.

    About 5,200 gallons of water was spilled, all of which was contained within the trench and Cotter workers were able to recover most of the spilled water using a water truck, said Warren Smith, health department spokesman.

    From Canon City Daily Record (Kara Mason):

    It’s unclear how much “slightly contaminated” water seeped into the ground or will evaporate, but Steve Cohen, Cotter’s plant manager estimates around 3,000 to 4,000 gallons were picked up with the truck.

    The spill happened when Cotter workers were attempting to drain a section of pipe where the old pipe and the new replaced pipe connect. A brittle or cracked valve is to blame, Cohen said. “Basically when the workers touched the valve it blew.”

    The valve will be replaced, Cohen added.

    The water was contained in the trench where pipeline construction has been ongoing for the last couple of weeks. Now, the water will return to the impoundment pond on Cotter property.

    Cotter is replacing the pipeline after several leaks the last couple of years. Last August, Cotter reported a 7,000-gallon leak, which occurred over the course of 48 hours. That leak was the result of a hairline fracture in the pipleline — which is now being replaced on site.

    Despite the most recent spill, Cohen said the pipeline replacement is still on track to finish the final week of March.

    Cotter is required by Colorado law to report spills to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, which posts the information on its website. CDPHE is expecting a report on the spill next week.

    Senate confirms Zinke as Interior Secretary

    EPA delays in-situ uranium rule

    uraniuminsitu

    From the Associated Press (Mead Gruver) via The Colorado Springs Gazette:

    Federal officials withdrew a proposed requirement for companies to clean up groundwater at uranium mines across the U.S. and will reconsider a rule that congressional Republicans criticized as too harsh on industry.

    The plan that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency put on hold Wednesday involves in-situ mining, in which water containing chemicals is used to dissolve uranium out of underground sandstone deposits. Water laden with uranium, a toxic element used for nuclear power and weapons, is then pumped to the surface. No digging or tunneling takes place.

    The metal occurs in the rock naturally but the process contaminates groundwater with uranium in concentrations much higher than natural levels. Mining companies take several measures to prevent tainted water from seeping out of the immediate mining area.

    Even so, underground leaks sometimes occur, though most of the mines are not near population centers. No in-situ uranium mine has contaminated a source of drinking water, the industry and its supporters assert.

    Along with setting new cleanup standards, the rule would have required companies to monitor their former mines potentially for decades. The requirement was set for implementation but now will be opened up for a six-month public comment period, with several changes.

    Those include allowing the Nuclear Regulatory Commission or states to determine certain cleanup standards on a site-specific basis. The EPA decided to resubmit the rule and seek additional public input after reviewing earlier comments, agency spokeswoman Monica Lee said.

    Wyoming’s Republican U.S. senators, John Barrasso and Mike Enzi, praised the EPA’s decision to reconsider, saying the rule was unnecessarily burdensome for the uranium industry.

    Wyoming has five active in-situ uranium mines and is the top uranium-producing state. Other mines are active in Nebraska and Texas.

    “In-situ uranium recovery has been used in the United States for decades, providing valuable jobs to Wyoming and clean energy to the nation,” Enzi said in a news release. “I rarely say this about the EPA, but the agency made the right decision.”

    Environmentalists and others say uranium-mining companies have yet to show they can fully clean up groundwater at a former in-situ mine. Clean groundwater should not be taken for granted, they say, especially in the arid and increasingly populated U.S. West.

    “We are, of course, disappointed that this final rule didn’t make it to a final stage,” said Shannon Anderson with the Powder River Basin Resource Council. “It was designed to address a very real and pressing problem regarding water protection at uranium mines.”

    The EPA rule is scheduled for further consideration in President-elect Donald Trump’s administration.

    In-situ uranium mining surged on record prices that preceded the 2011 Japanese tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster. Prices lately have sunk to decade lows, prompting layoffs.

    @Colorado_TU: Lessons of the battle over the Roan Plateau

    Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona
    Oil and gas development on the Roan via Airphotona

    Here’s guest column from David Nickum writing in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel:

    For more than a decade, the battle over Colorado’s Roan Plateau — a beautiful green oasis surrounded by oil and gas development — raged in meetings and in courtrooms. At issue: Would the “drill, baby, drill” approach to public lands carry the day and the path of unrestrained energy development run over one of Colorado’s most valuable wildlife areas? Or would “lock it up” advocates preclude all development of the Roan’s major natural gas reserves?

    Luckily, this story has a happy ending — and a lesson for Colorado and other states in the West struggling with how to balance the need for energy development with conservation of public lands and irreplaceable natural resources.

    The Bureau of Land Management recently issued its final plan for the Roan Plateau, closing the most valuable habitat on top of the plateau to oil and gas leases. The plan, which will guide management of the area for the next 20 years, also acknowledges the importance of wildlife habitat corridors connecting to winter range at the base of the plateau.

    At the same time, the BLM management plan allows responsible development to proceed in less-sensitive areas of the plateau that harbor promising natural gas reserves and can help meet our domestic energy needs.

    What happened? After years of acrimony and lawsuits, stakeholders on all side of the issue sat down and hammered out a balanced solution. Everyone won. It’s too bad it took lawsuits and years of impasse to get all sides to do what they could have done early on: Listen to each other. We all could have saved a lot of time, money and tears.

    The Roan example is a lesson to remember, as the incoming administration looks at how to tackle the issue of energy development on public lands. There’s a better way, and it’s working in Colorado.

    The BLM also this month, incorporating stakeholder input, closed oil and gas leasing in several critical habitat areas in the Thompson Divide — another Colorado last best place — while permitting leasing to go ahead in adjacent areas.

    That plan also represents an acknowledgment that some places are too special to drill, while others can be an important part of meeting our energy needs.

    And in the South Park area — a vast recreational playground for the Front Range and an important source of drinking water for Denver and the Front Range — the BLM is moving ahead with a Master Leasing Plan (MLP) for the area that would identify, from the outset, both those places and natural resources that need to be protected and the best places for energy leasing to proceed.

    We have said that we want federal agencies in charge of public lands to involve local and state stakeholders more closely in land management planning — that perceived disconnect has been the source of criticism and conflict in the West regarding federal oversight of public lands.

    The MLP process is a new tool that promises to address some of that top-down, fragmented approach to public land management. To their credit, the BLM is listening and incorporating suggestions from local ranchers, conservation groups and elected officials into their leasing plan for South Park.

    This landscape level, “smart from the start” approach is one way for stakeholders to find consensus on commonsense, balanced solutions that allow careful, responsible energy development to occur while protecting our most valuable natural resources.

    The lesson I take from the Roan? We can find solutions through respectful dialogue—and we shouldn’t wait for litigation to do so. [ed. emphasis mine] Coloradoans can meet our needs for energy development and for preserving healthy rivers and lands by talking earlier to each other and looking for common ground.

    David Nickum is executive director of Colorado Trout Unlimited.

    stopcollaborateandlistenbusinessblog

    @EcoFlight1 gives students an aerial view of the connectedness of the environment

    Mount Sopris and Hay Park via the @EcoFlight1 Wildlands set.
    Mount Sopris and Hay Park via the @EcoFlight1 Wildlands set.

    From The Aspen Daily News (Jordan Curet):

    In honor of this year’s National Parks Service centennial anniversary, EcoFlight took to the air for four days in late October for combined flights connecting Aspen to Arches and Canyonlands, to the Grand Canyon and finally to Mesa Verde National Park, not to mention the thousands of miles of landscape in between.

    EcoFlight, a nonprofit based out of Aspen, takes annual trips with eight college students in six-seat planes to get an aerial perspective on wildland environmental issues. The organization’s president, Bruce Gordon, took similar flights with John Denver, and they had an idea for a trip starting in Alaska, picking up celebrity-pilots along the way and arriving in Washington, D.C. for Earth Day in 2000.

    After Denver passed away, Gordon wanted to pursue their shared dream and founded EcoFlight in 2002. Gordon recognized the need to share the first-hand perspective on threats to the environment with the next generation, and began the annual Flight Across America (FLAA) program. This year, eight college students crammed into small planes for a four-day whirlwind tour touching several of the national parks in the west.

    “These students have a voice,” Gordon says, sitting with the students in John Denver Sanctuary in Aspen before takeoff. “I want them to see for themselves, and then tell others.”

    The participants arrive from near and far, with backgrounds as different as their colleges. Included in the group is an anthropology major from Texas, a Colorado State University freshman in wildlife and conservation biology and a sustainability studies student at Colorado Mountain College in the Roaring Fork Valley. Each student brings their experiences and knowledge from a variety of study areas.

    Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.
    Many Indian reservations are located in or near contentious river basins where demand for water outstrips supply. Map courtesy of the Bureau of Reclamation.

    Emilie Frojen, a senior at Colorado College, is writing her thesis about tribal water rights.

    “I know a lot about water rights but I want to extend my knowledge into that of public lands and the intersection,” she said, explaining why she wanted to join the FLAA program, adding that she is interested in the social construction of wilderness.

    Seeing the connection

    Just after departing from Aspen, the students’ headsets crackle to life as Gordon speaks to the three single-engine Cessna 210 Centurion planes flying in formation. Gordon points out geological features and human impacts to the region. Heading toward Moab, Utah, the flight path takes students over mines and natural gas platforms, as well as the mostly roadless Thompson Divide area, the Colorado National Monument and sprawling rock formations in the wilderness.

    “We were flying at about 7,000 feet and you can see how it is all connected from the air,” says Caleb Henderson, from University of Texas.

    “You can see an obvious line across the land,” adds Cole Rosenbaum, a master’s student studying geological engineering at the Colorado School of Mines, speaking of the infrastructure that connects well pads to roads and pipelines.

    The aerial perspective isn’t everything though, and the program includes ample time spent on the ground in key places discussing the issues with experts representing various perspectives.

    “It’s important for the students to experience the parks as well,” according to Jane Parigter, EcoFlight’s vice president. Once on the ground in Moab, the students head to Arches National Park. Sitting beneath the iconic Double Arch they listen to Matt Gross, with Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance, and discuss the proposal for the Bears Ears National Monument, which if designated would protect 1.9 million acres in southeastern Utah that include ancient cave dwellings and sites sacred to Native Americans

    The conversation about policy and land management is followed by a more personal connection to the issues the next morning as the planes touch down in Monument Valley on the Utah-Arizona border. The students sit down with members of the Navajo Nation and Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition, discussing what the land means as more than just wilderness.

    “We are trying to preserve the land, but also the songs and the stories,” says Jonah Yellowman, a spiritual adviser from the Many Arrows Bitterwater Clan, as he addresses the students telling tribal creation stories and how the land is connected to him. There have been desecrations of sacred cultural places, he added, and the monument designation would help protect them.

    “Is it challenging to communicate with people not from this heritage, working with policy makers while you write the proposal?” asks Frojen, the Colorado College senior studying tribal water rights.

    “It is hard to translate why this is sacred,” he admits.

    This is a theme that is reiterated again that afternoon at Grand Canyon National Park, as locals depict the proposed Escalade development and how it affects their physical and spiritual world. The project would include hotels above the canyon rim and a tram to the Little Colorado River just upstream from its 
confluence with the Colorado, the place where, according to Navajo tradition, the tribe emerged into the world.

    “In Navajo people don’t need to know why something is sacred, it just is. So I am a translator,” says Jason Nex, with Save the Confluence. “I translate from Navajo to English, from science to Navajo.”

    Sitting on the edge of the South Rim, one speaker after another presents a variety of stories about the Grand Canyon, from overcrowding and underfunding to diversity and its inclusion in the national parks system.

    “EcoFlight takes a very objective approach, presenting us with different information,” says Rosenbaum, from Mines. “At school we are well trained in the technology and the math, but there has been a push to take a more humanitarian approach.”

    Mining for impact

    “I am here to get you inspired to save the Grand Canyon, and to not want to drink Uranium water,” says Sarah Ponticello, from the Sierra Club. “Sign the petition to really show your support to get this permanently protected.”

    Julianne Nikirk, a student at Colorado State University, was surprised to learn that uranium mining is set to commence on the canyon’s doorstep.

    “You just kind of assume it is protected,” she says of the Grand Canyon, as they arrive at Canyon Mine, located near the Grand Canyon’s South Rim. The Canyon Mine is not yet operational, but workers have drilled a shaft over 1,400 feet deep and mining could begin for high-grade uranium in six to eight months.

    Donn Pillmore, director of operations for Energy Fuels, which operates the mine, offers a counter point, reminding the students that the U.S. is the world’s largest consumer of uranium.

    “And we import 96 percent, from places that are not operating under the same environmental regulations as we are. Not even close,” he says.

    Pointing out that 20 percent of all U.S. power comes from nuclear plants, Pillmore adds that when uranium comes out of the ground it is not considered a hazardous material by the Department of Transportation. Mitigation systems and measures to prevent contamination from reaching water, as well as reclamation efforts after mining finishes in as little as five years, will return the site to how it was before mining began, he says.

    From the outside of the fence where Pillmore speaks to the students the site seems meager, but as the planes wing over it on their departure from the Grand Canyon they see the large swath of land it includes. As the planes cross over the Four Corners area and into Colorado the ground below becomes a maze-like network of oil and gas operations, just a few miles from Mesa Verde National Park.

    Back on land in Durango, another series of experts discuss threats to the national parks, how different land management strategies affect wilderness and how to diversify park users and activists. One speaker reminds them on their next flight to think about how the landscape looks now, but also how current policy on wilderness areas will shape it in the future.

    As the whirlwind tour comes to an end the students talk about how the different stops affected both them personally and the world around them. Each participant will head home with a bevy of information to digest and a plan to share their stories with their peers and others.

    The participants’ first opportunity comes on the last day of the trip at Durango High School, where they coalesce three days of discussions, debates, viewpoints and seminars into a slideshow. They implore the high schoolers to care, get involved and vote, once they can.

    “We take local people up to look at their local communities, with the idea being to educate and advocate,” Gordon explains to the high schoolers. “We want to inspire people to speak out.”

    Lauren Fry, from Colorado State University, is committed to spread the word when she returns to Fort Collins.

    “I want to really focus on outreach on campus, and not many know about Bears Ears,” she said. “Through campus radio, the local TV station and our student newspaper, I want to call attention to the issue and guide people to the petition to protect Bears Ears.”

    That sentiment sounds good to Pargiter, EcoFlight’s vice president.

    “We want to empower them to have a voice and get them to reach out to their peers,” she said. “This is their generation that is going to be doing a lot of the work.”

    The road to Bears Ears via the Salt Lake Tribune.
    The road to Bears Ears via the Salt Lake Tribune.

    Cañon City: NRC staff rejects Black Range Minerals’ contention about ablation

    Uranium sample
    Uranium sample

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

    Uranium mining opponents got some good news when Nuclear Regulatory Commission staff indicated last week that a proposed new uranium extraction technology may be less safe than proponents indicate.

    Black Range Minerals, now owned by Western Uranium of Canada, initially started exploring for uranium in the Taylor Ranch area northwest of Canon City in 2008 and got approval from the Fremont County Commission in 2010 to expand exploration on an additional 2,220-acre site. Residents concerned about the potential impact of renewed uranium mining formed the opposition group Tallahassee Area Committee.

    The opponents weighed in during a public comment period hosted by state health department officials last summer as they considers what regulatory requirements should be put in place for a new proposed practice called “ablation technology.” Ablation uses finely crush particles of uranium ore and water in a pressurized manner to extract the uranium.

    State health department officials also asked for input from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

    “The NRC staff responded with a bombshell completely rejecting the Black Range Minerals/Western Uranium position that ablation is merely a continuation of mining,” said Lee Alter, who monitors government for the Tallahassee Area Committee. “They concluded that ablation technology is a uranium milling activity and should be licensed as such.”

    In responding to the state’s request for information, Paul Michalak, from the office of nuclear material safety, said, “It is our understanding that no current NRC regulation explicitly addresses uranium ablation. To the best of our understanding, commercial-scale uranium ablation activities are being proposed solely in Colorado at this time.

    “Given this, we believe Colorado would have the flexibility to adopt and implement program elements within the state’s jurisdiction that are not addressed by NRC,” Michalak said.

    In addition, Michalak indicated that, “Since uranium ablation technology involves the extraction or concentration of uranium or thorium from any ore processed, then any wastes produced by the process would be byproduct material as defined in the Atomic Energy Act.”

    Michalak offered his help to state health officials as they go forward in trying to decide how to deal with the new technology.

    NREL’s new chief talks about the path to a carbon-neutral future — Denver Business Journal

    Click here to read the whole interview. Here’s an excerpt:

    “We need to innovate and do research on all different forms of energy,” [Martin Keller] said. “It would be a mistake to write off any — as long as the energy is carbon neutral. That’s the biggest thing, [because] burning fossil fuels is changing the environment.”

    Keller took the reins at NREL, part of the network of laboratories run by the U.S. Department of Energy, at the end of November 2015. He hails from a sister DOE facility in Tennessee, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, where he served as the associate laboratory director for energy and environmental sciences.

    He succeeds Dan Arvizu, who announced plans in March 2015 to retire from the lab after more than 10 years as its director.

    Rock cracked Cotter pipeline; contaminants contained at mill site — The Pueblo Chieftain

    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency
    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

    Cotter Corp. Uranium mill officials say a leak that dumped about 7,200 gallons of contaminated water on the mill property was caused by a rock that punctured a hole in a feeder line.

    The feeder line connects to the main pumpback pipeline above a Soil Conservation Service dam that helps prevent rainwater runoff from leaving the mill site. The pipeline carries contaminated water that seeps past the earthen dam and returns it to an impoundment.

    “When Cotter personnel excavated the area of the leak, a large rock was discovered above the feeder line. The rock had punctured the pipe, causing the leak,” said Stephen Cohen, Cotter Mill manager.

    “Because the puncture and associated crack were small, only a relatively minor percentage of the total actually leaked. Most of the flow continued into the pumpback pipeline,” he explained.

    Cotter maintains a pressure monitoring system on the pumpback pipeline that deactivates pumps in the event of a sudden, large pressure drop. However, the feeder is isolated from the main pressure monitoring system, Cohen said. The leak could have occurred on Saturday and continued for 48 hours until workers discovered it on Monday.

    It is believed that none of the contaminated water seeped off the mill site, according to Warren Smith, a state health department spokesman.

    Cotter officials are replacing the broken section of pipe and the feeder line should be reactivated today, Cohen said. The main pumpback system continues to operate, Smith said.

    Because leaks formed in the main pipeline on two separate occasions late last year, Cotter and state health officials are working to finalize a proposal to build a new pipeline.

    “Cotter’s original plan does not include replacing any feeder lines. Because this line has broken, however, company (officials) plan to replace this entire section of feeder line when they replace the main pipeline,” Smith said.

    Federal and state health officials also are working with Cotter representatives to come up with a plan to clean up and decommission the now-defunct uranium mill site.

    #ColoradoRiver: Appeals court backs nuke plant water supply from Green River — The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel #COriver

    Green River Basin
    Green River Basin

    From The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel (Dennis Webb):

    Opponents of a proposed nuclear power plant near Green River, Utah, are considering whether to appeal to the state’s high court after the state Court of Appeals upheld a district judge’s ruling approving the plant’s water supply.

    A three-judge panel ruled last week in favor of Blue Castle Holdings, the project developer, and two water districts that are seeking changes to existing water rights so Blue Castle can withdraw 53,600 acre-feet a year from the Green River for cooling and steam production at the proposed plant.

    The conservation group HEAL Utah challenged the state water engineer’s approval of the proposal, but that approval has now been upheld twice in court.

    “In sum, HEAL Utah has not shown that the district court erred in concluding the change applications were filed in good faith and are not speculative or for monopoly of the water,” the appeals court ruled.

    HEAL Utah’s challenge had been based partly on concerns about environmental impacts to the watershed, including to endangered fish.

    Blue Castle CEO Aaron Tilton said in a news release, “We recognize our responsibility for strong environmental stewardship throughout the lifetime of the project, which includes working diligently to assure protection of the Green River environment and endangered species. Our project has been scrutinized at many levels, including the state engineer, the district court and now the appeals court. We have fully complied and satisfied all the requirements of the law. We can assure the public the high level of scrutiny that has been applied to the process is welcomed.”

    Matt Pacenza, HEAL Utah’s executive director, said Monday that despite the setback, “we don’t think the project is moving forward in any legitimately or significant way.”

    He said Blue Castle hasn’t attracted interest from utilities for the power it would supply, nor, as far as HEAL Utah can tell, from investors. He said the company hadn’t met with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission since 2011…

    The appeals court said in its written ruling, “Despite the relatively early stage of the Project, the Applicants offered considerable evidence that the Project is feasible, including a detailed business plan, purchase contracts for land, lease agreements for the Districts’ water rights, and evidence that shows it has had discussions with eighteen utilities expressing an interest in the plant’s power.”

    It added that while the project “is a risky venture” and hasn’t yet been licensed through the NRC, “the Applicants presented evidence that the Project is both physically and economically feasible.”

    Blue Castle says it has begun the contractor selection process for some $8 billion worth of construction work with an expected start date of 2020.

    It projects that construction would require some 2,500 workers over some six or seven years, and the plant would employ about 1,000 people permanently. The 2,200-megawatt plant would increase Utah electricity generation by about 30 percent, the company says.

    Has the Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill groundwater reached Pueblo Reservoir?

    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency
    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Anthony A. Mestas and Tracy Harmon):

    Pueblo County Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen is calling for sediment testing along the Arkansas River and at the bottom of Lake Pueblo to see if there is possible contamination from the now-closed Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill in Fremont County.

    McFadyen said Tuesday during a press conference that she is concerned about the impact the possible “growing uranium and molybdenum plumes could have on Pueblo County.”

    However, state health officials say the concerns are unfounded. But McFadyen remains concerned.

    “This has been going on for 40 years and we can see that the situation is not getting any better and it’s time for us downstream from Canon City to take a stand,” McFadyen said, referring to the ongoing battle over the Cotter Mill cleanup.

    Jeri Fry, director of the Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste Inc., shared the history of the Cotter controversy and presented maps from a 1987-89 study sowing ground uranium and molybdenum plumes that stretch from the Cotter Superfund site toward the Arkansas River.

    “It’s likely that the molybdenum and the uranium plumes have grown since then. We just want answers,” McFadyen said. “And if the Arkansas isn’t contaminated, then that’s a very positive finding . . . We don’t find what we don’t look for.”

    However, the concerns are unfounded, according to Colorado Department of Public Health Public Information Officer Warren Smith and Cotter Corp. Mill Manager Steve Cohen. They agree that Arkansas River water is not impacted by contamination from the Cotter mill.

    “The Arkansas River is sampled routinely and the results have been showing that the river water quality has not been impacted,” Smith said.

    “We constantly collect samples and data every quarter and there is no evidence that Cotter has impacted the Arkansas River.”

    Both state and federal health officials study the data and “nobody has ever found anything to suggest that,” said Cohen.

    “I am personally disgusted that the Pueblo County commissioners would have a meeting about this and not invite us to speak on the topic,” Cohen said.

    And Jennifer Opila, Colorado Department of Public Health site director, said:

    “I understand that the sediment has not been sampled (since 2004), but without impact on the water quality, there is no information that would lead us to believe the sediment would be contaminated. There is no contamination of the Arkansas River near the Cotter site, so Pueblo Reservoir would not be impacted.”

    “This issue and all other potential issues will be looked at as part of the remedial investigation as we work toward final cleanup,” she said.

    McFadyen said she is aware of water testing, but is calling for sediment testing and if it is positive, “Cotter should pay to treat it.”

    McFadyen said in 1986, the USGS suggested on behalf of the federal government that sediment and not only the water be tested in the Pueblo reservoir.

    “With the plume growing toward the Arkansas River, it’s time. It’s time to take action,” McFadyen said.

    She said the possible contamination also could affect Colorado Springs because of the Southern Delivery System, which pipes water from Lake Pueblo up to that community.

    State health officials overseeing the Cotter Corp. mill have not felt the study of Minnequa and Pueblo reservoir water quality pertinent since 2004.

    “A 2004 review of water quality of the (Minnequa and Pueblo) reservoirs as well as the Arkansas River and associated drainages concluded that they are not impacted by the mill contaminants,” Smith said.

    Part of the reason that the downstream reservoirs have not been tested since 2004 is due to the absence of high levels of radium-226, thoium-230, molybdenum and nickel in bodies of water much closer to the mill.

    “Sediment sampling in Sand Creek (just north of the mill site), the Arkansas River and the Fremont Ditch indicate that constituents of concern are similar to (natural) background data. These locations are closer to the mill than the Pueblo reservoir and the Minnequa Reservoir,” the state health review concluded.

    While the legacy contamination is still present in Lincoln Park groundwater plume (though declining), remedial measures have been effective in preventing public exposure to the Lincoln Park plume. A 2008 water use survey concluded that only one Lincoln Park water well exceeded a drinking water standard for contamination.

    The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry draft public health assessment in 2010, conducted at the request of Colorado Citizen’s Against Toxic Waste, found that Cotter contamination did not present a current threat to human health or the environment, according to state health documentation.

    “We need to understand all of the materials and how they are moving through the groundwater and how after these 30-40 years they have reached the river and if they are moving on downstream,” Fry said.

    “That is a terrible trick to play on our neighbors. When you see a barn burning, do you go tell the authorities or do you just turn your head? And I am telling the authorities. Let’s all band together and get this tested.”

    More From KOAA.com (Lena Howland):

    “This site is leaking into the neighboring community and it has contaminated the wells and it is a slow moving problem and because of that, people aren’t aware of it,” Fry said.

    Fry is calling for more testing of water near the site and they’re looking for help from the community.

    “Until we know where it is, we can’t realistically, effectively clean it up,” she said.

    She fears the waste may have spread downstream through the Arkansas River and to the Pueblo Reservoir, which has caught the attention of Pueblo County Commissioner Buffie McFadyen.

    “I do believe it’s time for Pueblo to get involved and work with the citizens of Fremont County to not only demand a remediation plan that’s realistic to cleanup the site, but also to demand testing along the Arkansas in the sediment and in Pueblo Reservoir,” she said.

    McFadyen, now also demanding more testing of the sediment specifically.

    And the possibility of tainted water is unsettling to some locals in Pueblo.

    “This water comes from the same area, I imagine it passes through, so it’s picking up stuff definitely,” Patricia Hitchcock, a Pueblo resident said.

    While others say, this isn’t anything to worry about just yet.

    “I think there’s always a little bit of concern about stuff in the water, it wouldn’t keep me out unless it was really serious, but a little bit of concern. In 10 years, I haven’t gotten sick once from the water,” Daniel Rottinghaus, a Pueblo kayaker said.

    Cotter officials tell News5 these claims of contamination in the Arkansas River are simply not true and that they routinely test the water and sediment.

    From the Colorado Springs Independent (Pam Zubeck):

    Tuesday morning, Colorado Citizens Against Toxic Waste gave a presentation to commissioners about their suspicions that the toxic substances have leaked into Pueblo Reservoir.

    Why should we in Colorado Springs care? Because one source of water for Colorado Springs and Fountain is the Pueblo Reservoir, via the Fountain Valley Authority line and the Southern Delivery System pipeline.

    Commissioner Liane “Buffie” McFadyen is, Pueblo County Commissioner is overseeing efforts to learn more about the situation.

    Here’s a community newsletter about the issue.

    And here’s a presentation made today by the citizen group.

    Public meeting scheduled for citizen input on uranium extraction technology in Tallahassee area W. of Cañon City

    uraniumdrilling

    From The Pueblo Chieftain (Tracy Harmon):

    State health officials will host a public meeting for input on ablation technology that Black Range Minerals proposes to use to extract uranium in the Tallahassee area west of Canon City.

    The meeting is scheduled from 6 to 8 p.m. May 31 at Quality Inns and Suites, 3075 E. U.S. 50. The Colorado Department of Public Health is working to make a determination on how to regulate use of the new technology to manage risks to the public and the environment.

    Australia-based Black Range Minerals initially started exploring for uranium in the Taylor Ranch area west of Canon City in 2008 and got approval from the Fremont County commission in 2010 to expand exploration on an additional 2,220 acre site.

    Black Range proposes to use ablation — dubbed “uranium fracking” — which involves drilling a hole up to 24 inches in diameter into a uranium deposit, lowering a rotating nozzle into the ground, blasting a high-pressure water jet stream into the rock in order to fracture it and develop an underground cavern before pumping a uranium-bearing slurry back to the surface for processing.

    Health officials also will take public comment through July 8 via email to Jennifer.opila@state.co.us.

    Business voices come out in support of Clean Power Plan — GreenBiz #keepitintheground

    Solar panels, such these at the Garfield County Airport near Rifle, Colo., need virtually no water, once they are manufactured. Photo/Allen Best
    Solar panels, such these at the Garfield County Airport near Rifle, Colo., need virtually no water, once they are manufactured. Photo/Allen Best

    From GreenBiz (Barbara Grady):

    Tech titans Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon as well as global brand companies Ikea, Mars, Adobe and Blue Shield Blue Cross Massachusetts told a U.S. court Friday that they need the federal Clean Power Plan for economic reasons.

    In two separate Amici Curiae briefs filed in U.S. Circuit Court supporting the EPA’s plan for reducing carbon emissions from the nation’s power plants by 32 percent, the corporate giants said without a “national carbon mitigation plan,” they face “undesirable business risk,” energy price volatility and higher costs.

    With these arguments, the businesses seem to have flipped prospects for the Obama administration’s centerpiece climate change policy, which only a month ago looked dim after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled to delay its enforcement.

    Since the eight companies collectively employ about 1 million people, account for nearly $2 trillion in market capitalization and are major energy consumers — the tech companies alone use 10 million megawatt hours of electricity a year — they have clout.

    Their briefs refute some claims made by 27 states that are plaintiffs in the State of West Virginia, et al vs. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency case challenging the Clean Power Plan as an overreach of federal authority by the EPA in a way that would harm jobs and raise electricity prices.

    Among the companies’ most interesting refutations? Their expansion plans depend partly on how they can procure low-carbon electricity.

    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill update: Replacement pipeline in the works

    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency
    Lincoln Park/Cotter Mill superfund site via the Environmental Protection Agency

    From The Pueblo Chieftain:

    After two recent breaks in the Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill’s pumpback pipeline which returns contaminated water to an impoundment, officials on Friday outlined a plan to replace 3,500 feet of the pipeline.

    Cotter officials reported two leaks occurring at the end of November and in early December in a pipeline that captures contaminated water that seeps past an earthen dam on Cotter Corp. Uranium Mill. It appears that both times the leaks were contained to Cotter property, according to Warren Smith of the Colorado Department of Public Health.

    The now-defunct mill is undergoing the decommissioning process as health officials decide how best to safely retire the site. The pipeline proposal can be seen at http://recycle4colorado.ipower.com/Cotter/docspubreview.htm.