Corporations Must Not Have Been Interested

After nearly a decade of enthusiastic environmental rape, Bush brings the battered victim some flowers:

Coral reefs worldwide are in peril. Marine species, protected by ineffective regulations, are being fished to extinction. Ocean pollution has our seas nearing cataclysm. Fortunately, there’s one group that’s doing something about it.

The Bush Administration.

It’s true. On Tuesday, President Bush, whose environmental policies have not exactly been the hallmark of his administration, designated three new marine monuments in the Pacific Ocean, an act that will protect some of the world’s most pristine places and give ocean ecosystems a chance at recovery. Together, the Mariana Trench monument, the Central Pacific Islands monument, and the Rose Atoll monument in America Samoa (PDF map and images here), will encompass over 190,000 square miles, roughly the size of the states of Oregon and Washington combined. The protected areas include the habitats for several threatened species, rare underwater geological formations, and some of the oldest known life forms on the DNA tree.

“The amount of time federal officials put into managing any one section of water is basically nil,” says Jay Nelson, Director of the Global Ocean Legacy, a project of the Pew Environment Group. “But it’s like a national park. If you draw a line around it, all of a sudden it’s somebody’s responsibility to take care of it.”

My goodness. That sounds almost like the right and responsible thing to do. I guess none of his corporate buddies found anything worth exploiting in those areas.

There’s a “but” coming. You knew there’d be a “but,” didn’t you?

But that previous experience [with the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument] illustrates what can go wrong with the monuments created on Tuesday. Nelson admits that the funding for the 2006 monument is not adequate. Though it is cleaner than it was in 2002 or 2003, it is not clear it will be cleaner in 2009 than it was in 2008. Ocean currents bring thousands of pounds of garbage to the shores of the islands within the protected area every year, mostly dropped over the side of ships or brought to sea by polluted rivers. Serious questions exist about the clean-up efforts’ ability to keep pace.

Requests for research permits in the monument shot up the year after it was approved, which defied the central purpose of designating it a protected area: decreasing human traffic. “It was because scientists heard about it. They read the newspapers like you and me,” says Nelson. Likewise, the newly designated monuments, which currently see little human contact, may become sought after research destinations.

Another factor hampering the protection of marine habitat has been a lack of inter-agency coordination. “There were numerous indications and reports, all off the record, that the three principle agencies responsible for the northwest Hawaiian islands monument—NOAA, the Fish and Wildlife Service, and the state of Hawaii— had a great deal of trouble working together,” says Dennis Heinemann of the Ocean Conservancy. In fact, the final management plan for the 2006 monument, delineating the division of responsibilities between the three agencies, was just released over the 2008 holidays.

What, you’re surprised that Bush gives national monuments nothing but pocket change for a budget and then creates such a buffoonish bureaucracy that bugger-all gets done?

So no. I’m not going to applaud Bush for finally doing something nice. It’s far too little, far too late. It would be like thanking an arsonist for rescuing the dog after setting fire to a house full of cats, kids, and elderly folks.

No Fucking Comparison

President-Elect Obama once again reduces me to tears of joy:

President-elect Barack Obama’s reported selection of Dr. Steven Chu as Secretary of Energy is a bold stroke to set the nation on the path to a clean energy economy. Chu, a Nobel Prize-winning physicist, is the sixth director of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, a Department of Energy-funded basic science research institution managed by the University of California. After moving to Berkeley Lab from Stanford University in 2004, Chu “has emerged internationally to champion science as society’s best defense against climate catastrophe.” As director, Chu has steered the direction of Berkeley Lab to addressing the climate crisis, pushing for breakthrough research in energy efficiency, solar energy, and biofuels technology.

At Berkeley Lab, Chu has won broad praise as an effective and inspirational leader. “When he was first here, he started giving talks about energy and production of energy,” Bob Jacobsen, a senior scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley Lab, told the San Francisco Chronicle in 2007. “He didn’t just present a problem. He told us what we could do. It was an energizing thing to see. He’s not a manager, he’s a leader.” In an interview with the Wonk Room, David Roland-Holst, an economist at the Center for Energy, Resources and Economic Sustainability at UC Berkeley, described Chu as a “very distinguished researcher” and “an extremely effective manager of cutting edge technology initiatives.” Roland-Holst praised Chu’s work at Lawrence Berkeley, saying “he has succeeded in reconfiguring it for a new generation of sustainable technology R&D, combining world class mainstream science with the latest initiatives in renewable energy and climate adaptation.”

[snip]

It’s hard to decide if the selection of Dr. Chu is more remarkable for who he is — a Nobel laureate physicist and experienced public-sector administrator — or for who is not. Unlike previous secretaries of energy, he is neither a politician, oil man, military officer, lawyer, nor utility executive. His corporate ties are not to major industrial polluters but to advanced technology corporations like AT&T (where he began his Nobel-winning research) and Silicon Valley innovator Nvidia (where he sits on the board of directors). Chu is a man for the moment, and will be a singular addition to Obama’s Cabinet.

Phenomenal. And he’s not the only excellent choice – Obama’s putting together a Green Dream Team that’s showing in no uncertain terms that he’s serious about getting global warming under control and transitioning us to a green economy. Carol Browner, who may be heading up a new National Energy Council and will definitely be part of the Administration, sees environmental regulations as market opportunities. Lisa Jackson, who may head up the EPA and is co-chair of the energy and natural resources transition team, is more of a mixed bag, coming highly recommended by some environmentalists and condemned by others, but New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine has no doubts she’s be awesome. Alas, I know nothing much at all about the women he’s chosen to become Secretary of Energy and the chair of the President’s Council on Environmental Quality, but the fact that the Chamber of Commerce is screaming bloody murder tells me we’re probably looking at emerald green choices:

“What you’ve got are people who are committed to moving forward with regulation of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, which we believe is a huge mistake,” William Kovacs, vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said in an interview.

Yup. Definitely on the right track.

So, we’ve got a Nobel Laureate and several people who are dead-serious about making green a go. They’re the real deal.

Contrast this with Bush’s buffoonery, and you’ll see there’s no fucking comparison:

Currently, representatives from 190 countries are meeting in Poznan, Poland for an international climate change conference to work on the successor to the Kyoto Protocol, which President Bush refused to ratify in 2001.

In an interview with AFP in Poznan, Paula Dobriansky, the chief U.S. delegate, said that she has no regrets on the Bush administration’s climate change record. If she could change anything, Dobriansky said a better job could have been done in articulating Bush’s “message”:

I think this issue (climate change) is important, we care about it greatly. Looking back, if there was anything that maybe I would have hoped, it’s that we could have done a more effective job in getting our message out, in other words, (in) public diplomacy.

Spin couldn’t have saved Bush’s record on climate change. In fact, according to the annual Climate Change Performance Index published today, the U.S. is ranked as having the third worst record of 60 countries in tackling greenhouse gas emissions.

[snip]

It is shameful — but not surprising — that the U.S.’s chief climate representative believes that Bush’s biggest mistake on climate change is bad PR.

Somehow, methinks Obama’s Green Team is going to be a lot less talk and a lot more action. Finally, America will be ready to lead the way on containing climate change and taking care of this gorgeous planet.

Awesome.

Backing Bush Down

Sometimes the environment wins:

Here’s some unexpected good news. The Bush administration has decided to back down on its last-minute efforts to loosen a pair of environmental regulations:

The Environmental Protection Agency yesterday abandoned its push to revise two air-pollution rules in ways that environmentalists had long opposed, abruptly dropping measures that the Bush administration had spent years preparing.

….The proposal on parks would have changed the rules for new plants being built nearby….Clean-air advocates had protested that this might allow parks such as Virginia’s Shenandoah — where the famous mountaintop views are already obscured by smog and haze — to become even dirtier on certain days.

….The other rule dealt with the agency’s New Source Review process, which dictates when existing power plants must implement additional pollution-control measures….John Walke of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental advocacy group, said the rule would have allowed plants to operate for longer hours and produce more overall pollution.

It’ll be interesting to see what prompted the sudden reversal. Is Bush so concerned with burnishing his image that he’s caving on a few environmental rules so that he can later prance around saying what a good green boy he was?

Note to Bush: you can’t put a shine on shit. But if it helps stop your destructive new rules, by all means, keep trying.

Corporate Responsibility: BoA Gets It Right

Sometimes, just sometimes, corporations do things that make me proud:

This summer, after months of conversations, some top executives from Bank of America agreed to accompany NRDC staff on a fact-finding trip to Appalachia. In July we flew them over moonscaped mine sites in West Virginia, took them to Kayford Mountain for a closer look at mountaintop mining, and introduced them to several local residents/activists who are fighting to save their beloved homeland from reckless coal mining companies.

Today, BofA released its revised coal policy, which will have the immediate effect of curtailing commercial lending to companies that mine coal by blowing off the top of mountains in Appalachia. The policy states, in part:

Bank of America is particularly concerned about surface mining conducted through mountain top removal in locations such as central Appalachia. We therefore will phase out financing of companies whose predominant method of extracting coal is through mountain top removal. While we acknowledge that surface mining is economically efficient and creates jobs, it can be conducted in a way that minimizes environmental impacts in certain geographies.

Why is this so important? Bank of America still stands as a pillar of our country’s shaky financial system. In fact, the trying economic crisis has only served to strengthen this behemoth bank unlike other once proud and stable institutions. All the more reason to engage BofA in using its investment power and influence to affect positive environmental change.

There are some corporations that realize you can run a successful company without being a total ratfucking bastard, who don’t believe that “good corporate citizen” is just a useful lie to tell the citizens you hope to suckerpunch. I saw that in action with Target, which does more charity work than I’ve ever seen another company do and also runs a forensics lab that helps out police agencies without charge:


Turns out Target has one of the most advanced crime labs in the country at its headquarters in Minneapolis, Minnesota. It was initially set up to deal with things like theft, fraud, and personal injury cases in their stores. Now, Target also helps law enforcement agencies nationwide solve crimes, even murders. Target has worked with the Secret Service, the ATF, and the FBI, to name a few.

Target does the work for free, seeing it as a kind of community service. It doesn’t advertise its crime lab services, but word started spreading and law enforcement agencies started asking for help. Some government agency labs aren’t as well-equipped as Target’s. In other cases, Target can get results faster because of logjams in agency labs.

I’ve seen the pictures. The place is straight out of CSI, and if it wasn’t in a frozen, landlocked city like Minneapolis, I would’ve been getting my forensics degree and joining the lab. It was pure awesome. They also had safe communities programs running that had an enormous impact in some dangerous areas. I’ve had jobs I enjoyed more – taking phone calls from angry credit card customers isn’t fun no matter how great your company is – but I’ve never been prouder of the company I worked for than I was with them. They truly did put a huge effort into making a positive difference.

I’d love to see more of this. Most corporations do just enough community service to make themselves look nice, but it’s the rare few that actually devote substantial time, resources, and attention to doing right by the world.

Bank of America looks to be on its way to true good corporate citizenship. It’s much appreciated. Here’s hoping others will follow these companies’ leads.

We Have One Week to Save the Grand Canyon

George W. Bush has a vision for the Grand Canyon. But it’s not this.


It’s this.


These are photographs of Orphan Mine, an abandoned uranium mine on the South Rim of the Grand Canyon. Mining stopped there in 1972, but the environmental impact continues today:


Visitors walking along the canyon rim must detour around the site. The large headframe and other structures on the site attract curious visitors. The chain-link fence around the mine workings is often in a state of disrepair, and is only partly effective where it joins the rim. Hazards: The main shaft is 1,500 feet deep and is accessible via a ladderway exposed just below the canyon rim. The remaining structures, foundations, and trash also present physical hazards. Radiation levels are elevated throughout the compound and in a visitor-use area to the west, with combined beta and gamma sometimes exceeding 3.0 mR/hour…. Resource Impacts: Approximately ten acres of land on the rim are radiologically contaminated (in excess of 0.057 mR/hour) with ore and waste rock.

Bush is in a rush to ensure that Orphan Mine is only the beginning:

The Bush Administration is rushing forward with plans to mine the Grand Canyon for uranium, ignoring a command from Congress to cease such operations. Since 2003, mining interests have staked out over 800 uranium claims within five miles of Grand Canyon National Park. As Mineweb reports, “The Bureau of Land Management has published a proposed rule which rejects the House Natural Resources Emergency House Resolution enacted in June that bans uranium mining and exploration near the Grand Canyon National Park.” The Arizona Republic explains what’s at stake:

Never mind that the drinking water of more than 25 million people, served by the Colorado River, is at risk.

Or that Arizona Game and Fish warns about the impact on wildlife.

Or that Grand Canyon National Park is still dealing with the toxic mess from past mines.

The proposed BLM rule would not only reject the House’s emergency withdrawal of over one million acres of federal land near Grand Canyon National Park from new uranium mining, but also eliminate the provisions that allow Congress to make such withdrawals in the future. The proposed rule, published on Friday, has a remarkably short comment period, closing in less than two weeks on October 27. House Parks Subcommittee Chairman Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ) blasted BLM’s action, saying, “This last-minute move by this ‘see if we can get it under the clock‘ administration is cowardly.”

Cowardly, opportunistic, and so very Bush. He is, once again, defying Congress and trying to impose his will by fiat. He is, once again, demonstrating his reckless disregard for the environment. He doesn’t care that the Grand Canyon is an irreplaceable natural wonder. He doesn’t care that communities such as Flagstaff depend on the tourism the Canyon brings. He doesn’t care that Native Americans still live on that land, and that to them, it is sacred.

We have only a week to speak out for the Grand Canyon. You can submit a written comment online here (click the yellow dialogue bubble by “Add Comments”). Some good talking points can be found here.

The environmental impact of uranium mining in Grand Canyon National Park can’t be overstated. This is fragile land, and once destroyed, it can’t be reclaimed.

Water quality. Water in Arizona is scarce and precious. Uranium mining will contaminate Colorado River tributaries and the local water table. Uranium levels in creeks contaminated by Orphan Mine are 3 higher than the USEPA drinking water standard.

Flooding. Northern Arizona is prone to flash floods, and the Grand Canyon suffers landslides. In 1984, a flash flood washed four tons of uranium ore from a mine in Hack Canyon. That ore has concentrations of uranium 2,000 – 3,000 times greater than the levels in natural soils, and it ended up washed into creeks that provide water to thousands of people.

Landscape. The damage is not limited to the mines alone, although that’s eyesore enough. Roads have to be built to those mines. Dust from those roads fills the air, reducing visibility at the Canyon. Powerlines are strung across once unobstructed vistas. Public land is removed from public use, posted with No Trespassing signs, and spoiled for generations due to dangerous debris and radioactive contamination.

Reclamation. In Arizona, the idea of “reclaiming” mined land is a sick joke. The topsoil, as one BLM architect has noted, is far too thin for reclamation cover. Attempts at revegetation fail due to low rainfall and invasion by intruder species. Even those invaders can’t hold the soil together, and Arizona’s sporadic but heavy rains cut right through ground not held together by healthy root systems. Drastic erosion results in gullies several feet deep. It’s not only ugly, it exposes the radioactive waste meant to be “reclaimed.”

Native flora and fauna. You can imagine what all of the above does to native species, not to mention Native Americans.

That’s just a brief summary from supplemental testimony sent to Congress by Chris Shuey from the Southwest Research and Information Center. If you search the intertoobz, you’ll come across several more impact statements, all just as depressing, if not more.

The Grand Canyon is enjoyed by millions
of visitors from around the world. It’s home to many plants, animals and people. It’s one of the most spectacular vistas on Earth, and the last thing it needs is to be strewn with uranium mines. Let the BLM know that this end-run around Congress in order to let mining interests take over a national natural treasure won’t be tolerated.

And please help me spread the word. Bush’s plan to give the Grand Canyon to mining interests isn’t an Arizona issue, or an American issue: this Canyon belongs to the world.

Don’t let him take it from you.