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Mora County, NM passes ordinance banning all oil and gas extraction

Originally posted on Deep Green Resistance News Service:

By Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund

Earlier today, the County Commission of Mora County, located in Northeastern New Mexico, became the first county in the United States to pass an ordinance banning all oil and gas extraction.

Drafted with assistance from the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund (CELDF), the Mora County Community Water Rights and Local Self-Government Ordinance establishes a local Bill of Rights – including a right to clean air and water, a right to a healthy environment, and the rights of nature – while prohibiting activities which would interfere with those rights, including oil drilling and hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” for shale gas.

Communities across the country are facing drilling and fracking.  Fracking brings significant environmental impacts including the production of millions of gallons of toxic wastewater, which can affect drinking water and waterways.  Studies have also found that fracking is a major global warming contributor, and have…

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SE Utah Coalition fights oil and gas

 

A group of concerned citizens opposed to the Moab-Monticello Bureau of Land Management oil & gas lease sale gathered in Moab Friday to deliver letters and petitions with 76,000 signatures from around the country, asking the BLM to protect the region’s watersheds and clean air.  The letters, drawn from around the country as well as locally, seek to halt the auction of thousands of acres of federal lands in southeast Utah to oil and gas companies. An informal coalition of individuals and groups—among them Canyonlands Watershed Council, the Sierra Club, and Deep Green Resistance—has formed to address oil and gas development in the region.

Many worries center around pollution of ground and surface water—in this case, potentially affecting public drinking water supplies. “Several of the parcels proposed for auction are either overlapping or immediately adjacent to wells and reservoirs that are the sole drinking water source for thousands of people,” said Laurel Hagen of the Canyonlands Watershed Council, a group based in Moab, Utah. “Two parcels west of Monticello are right over the reservoir protection zone, the parcel south of Moab is within the aquifer recharge area for several proposed county wells, and the parcel near La Sal is less than half a mile from the well at the elementary school.”

Several of the letters also state concerns with lowering local air quality, due primarily to energy development and production in the Canyonlands region. “Though the valleys where people live are much more susceptible to air pollution, the BLM is basing its claims of acceptable risks to air quality on the only monitoring station, which is up in Canyonlands National Park,” said Michael Carter of the local chapter Deep Green Resistance. “And even that isolated station has registered levels close to violating air quality standards,” he added.

“In places like Lisbon Valley, which is a sacrifice zone for mining and drilling, all of these impacts to air and soil and wildlife are adding up. And several of the smaller parcels are near full-time residences and pose an immediate risk to human health,” said Kiley Miller, who lives near one of the parcels proposed for auction. Miller started the petition effort with Credo Action Network, and Food and Water Watch has since joined. 

The official public comment period for the Environmental Assessment ends on October 19th, though the public may still submit unofficial comments until the final decision on the sale. The BLM will issue the final list of parcels to be leased at a yet-to-be-determined date. The auction is scheduled for February 2013.

Opposition mounts as first tar sands mine in US gets a green light, by Melanie Jae Martin

Activists in Utah crafted this sign with bitumen found in pools on the ground at an abandoned tar sands mine. Photo courtesy Before It Starts, via Flickr.

Thanks for Waging Nonviolence (http://wagingnonviolence.org/2012/09/opposition-mounts-as-first-tar-sands-mine-in-us-gets-a-green-light/) for this article.

Last week, a new front opened in the struggle against tar sands mining in the U.S. If you didn’t know that tar sands mining is in the works on this side of the border in the first place, you’re not alone. Most people don’t realize that tar sands extraction, which has caused tremendous pollution and environmental degradation in Canada, has crossed the border to U.S. soil, where it has taken root in Utah.

Activists on both sides of the border have been working fervently to halt the spread of tar sands in Canada and the piping of tar sands oil from Alberta to Texas. Beginning with Tar Sands Action’s mass arrests outside the White House in August 2011, followed by the Indigenous Environmental Network’s protests at the climate talks in Durban that December, activists have made Canadian tar sands mining and the Keystone XL pipeline to the Gulf of Mexico a high-profile issue this past year.

Now, direct action campaigns like the Tar Sands Blockade in Texas are continuing the effort to stop construction of the southern leg of the pipeline by disrupting business as usual for the oil industry. The threat of tar sands mining in the U.S., however, complicates the struggle. It forces geographically divergent groups to either divide their efforts or find ways to unite across vast distances. That’s why groups like Utah Tar Sands Resistance and Before It Starts are forming a strategy that can join, as well as compliment, the tornado of opposition that has formed against the tar sands industry.

Before It Starts — co-founded by Ashley Anderson, who began Peaceful Uprising with Tim DeChrisopher in 2009 — is focusing primarily on national outreach, while Utah Tar Sands Resistance is focusing on forging local and regional coalitions. In both groups, activists who have experience in nonviolent direct action are prepared to ramp up efforts when the time is right. Thus far, however, the struggle has mainly been waged in the courtroom.

This two-acre mine is just the beginning of U.S. Oil Sands’ plans for the region. Photo courtesy Before It Starts, via Flickr.

The environmental group Living Rivers initiated a legal challenge in 2010 to halt the progress of what’s set to become the first commercial tar sands mine in the U.S. — a forested area in Eastern Utah called PR Spring, which the state has leased a portion of to the Canadian mining company U.S. Oil Sands. Living Rivers has contested the company’s permit to dump wastewater at the mine, but last week, the judge — an employee of the Utah Department of Environmental Quality — sided with U.S. Oil Sands, granting it the right to pour toxic wastewater into the remote wilderness of eastern Utah.

The case hinged on whether or not PR Spring contains groundwater. In the hearing back in May, U.S. Oil Sands argued that the land holds no groundwater, which means that polluting the land wouldn’t contaminate water systems. But according to engineering geologist Elliott Lips, who spoke as a witness for Living Rivers, the land holds numerous seeps and springs, which the toxic tailings would pollute before either continuing to flow into rivers or percolating downward into the Mesa Verde aquifer. Ultimately, the judge was satisfied knowing that the company had conducted its own tests and would have reported water if it had found any.

Raphael Cordray, co-founder of the Utah Tar Sands Resistance, explains that tar sands mining would be incredibly destructive in a number of ways, such as polluting water, lowering river levels and destroying diverse ecosystems. “There’s so much wild land in our state, and that’s something I’m proud of,” she said. “That’s our legacy. And it’s a treasure for the whole world. Some of these places they’re trying to mine are so unique that if more people realized they existed, they’d certainly be considered national parks.”

To catalyze mass resistance, the group plans to lead trips to the site. “Helping people experience the majesty of this land firsthand will show people how much is at stake, and move them to take a stronger stand,” said Utah Tar Sands Resistance co-founder Lionel Trepanier.

Together with activists from Peaceful Uprising and Living Rivers, Utah Tar Sands Resistance visited the PR Spring site two weeks ago, and members returned home ready to ramp up efforts to halt the mining. As a member of both groups, I went along on the trip, because I wanted to see firsthand what the land looked like and whether the mining company’s claims about the absence of groundwater were accurate.

As it turns out, they couldn’t be more false. Water has etched its presence into this land, leaving creek beds that may run low at times but never go away. And clearly, the area holds plenty of water to support the large herds of deer and elk, as well as the aspen, Douglas firs and pinyon pines that make up the dense forest covering much of the land.

The surrounding forest is threatened by U.S. Oil Sands expansion. Photo courtesy Before It Starts, via Flickr.

This vibrant green scenery was juxtaposed by the two-acre strip mine just feet away from the forest’s edge. The difference between life and death could not have been more stark. Looking into the face of such destruction, I realized it’s no longer about saving the ecosystem, or saving our water — it’s about saving life on Earth. But that kind of effort isn’t possible without a broad movement behind it.

According to Lionel Trepanier, the groups working on this issue are looking to Texas’ Tar Sands Blockade as a model for building a broad coalition that includes “diverse groups of people like ranchers, hunters, the Indigenous community and climate justice activists.”

“I think we so often assume that someone won’t agree with us just because they seem different from us, when they could be our biggest ally,” said Cordray. “We’re committed to breaking down those barriers formed by fear of reaching out, and approaching people as human beings who need clean water and a healthy environment just as much as we do.”

While still in the first leg of its campaign to stop tar sands and oil shale mining, the group is reaching out with its teach-in and slideshow presentation to a wide range of outdoors retailers, religious communities and groups concerned about environmental quality in the city. When they handed out flyers and spoke with attendees at a recent Nature Conservancy film screening, they were surprised at how many people in the seemingly politically moderate, middle-class crowd were outraged at the prospect of tar sands mining coming to Utah.

An elk herd grazes along the ridgeline near the U.S. Oil Sands mine. Photo courtesy Before It Starts, via Flickr.

“People are genuinely shocked this is happening,” said Trepanier. “They just want some direction, some guidance.”

After the Utah Tar Sands Resistance secures a vehicle to use for the trips, they’ll invite people at the teach-ins to attend, and will bring as many as possible to the site. They feel that being in nature together will break down barriers, helping them to see each other not as the labels society assigns them, but as human beings who are mutually dependent on the ecosystem, and on each other.

To raise awareness and empower people to join a coalition that ultimately aims to halt the destruction of tar sands and equally-destructive oil shale mining, Utah Tar Sands Resistance and Peaceful Uprising have been working together on creative methods of outreach. In April, they staged a flash mob dubbed Citizens’ Public Hearing in the office of the state agency leasing out public land for tar sands mining. Dozens of people flooded the office, where a woman playing an elementary school student announced that she had called a public hearing to expose the agency’s misguided decision to let state lands be destroyed. They also performed a similar street play, called Bringing Science Lessons to the Governor, outside the governor’s mansion when he held a luncheon to talk energy policy with four other Western governors.

Members are now building a “tar sands monster,” a Frankenstein-inspired creature who never wanted to be pulled from the earth to pollute the waters, which they believe will make an attention-getting mascot for their efforts. The activists also plan to use online videos of their theatrical endeavors as an outreach tool to get activists across the country thinking about joining them in their struggle when the time is right.

Uniting a diverse range of people such as activists, farmers, landowners and outdoor enthusiasts, many of whom may have not previously thought of themselves as activists, will be important, as this is only the beginning of proposed tar sands operations in the U.S. The state agency (School and Institutional Trust Lands Administration, or SITLA) that leased the PR Spring site to U.S. Oil Sands holds pockets of land scattered around the state, which it may lease for tar sands and oil shale mining.

The Bureau of Land Management is also considering leasing nearly 2.5 million acres of public land throughout Utah, Wyoming and Colorado for tar sands and oil shale mining. Much of this would overlap with indigenous land or is in close proximity to national parks and other protected areas.

In the meantime, Living Rivers will likely appeal the decision to let U.S. Oil Sands dump wastewater into the land. Its success, however, will be determined by the extent to which groups like Utah Tar Sands Resistance can educate and empower the general public. Such a base of support, like the one that has formed in Texas, will not only pose a challenge to fossil fuel interests, but also help to usher in a new era of environmental justice.

Forest Service Approves Grand Canyon Uranium Mine Despite 26-year-old Environmental Review

by the Center for Biological Diversity

GRAND CANYON NATIONAL PARK— The U.S. Forest Service announced late Monday that it will allow Denison Mines Corp. to begin excavating the “Canyon Mine” this fall without first updating the 26-year-old environmental impact statement for the uranium mine, located due south of Grand Canyon National Park on the Kaibab National Forest. The Service claims no new public review or analysis is needed because there is no new information or circumstances relevant to its original analysis.

“It is impossible to imagine how the Forest Service, with a straight face, can say that no additional environmental analysis is required for Canyon Mine, when the analysis is totally dated — more than 26 years old — and when so much has changed,” said Sandy Bahr, chapter director for the Sierra Club’s Grand Canyon Chapter. “This mine was and is hugely controversial as it threatens Native American cultural sites, groundwater and ultimately the springs of Grand Canyon, and numerous wildlife species. It is irresponsible to allow it to go forward without looking at these important issues and being honest with the public about the impacts.”

 

The Canyon Mine is located in the 1 million-acre watershed where new uranium mining was banned by the Obama administration in January. Although the so-called “mineral withdrawal” prohibits new mining claims and development on existing claims lacking valid existing rights, it allows development on claims whose existing rights are deemed valid— such as the ones the Forest Service just granted to Denison for the Canyon Mine based on “current economic conditions.” Four uranium mines within the withdrawal area, including the Canyon Mine, have been on standby status — neither operating nor reclaimed — since uranium-market downturns in 1992. One of those mines, Arizona 1, resumed operations in 2009.

“We now know uranium mining threatens permanent, irretrievable damage to Grand Canyon’s watershed, yet the Forest Service pretends we’ve learned nothing in the past quarter-century,” said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “This dangerous proposal should never have been approved back in 1986, and rubber-stamping it a generation later is an insult to the public, American Indian tribes and Grand Canyon National Park.”

Uranium mining at the Canyon Mine threatens to contaminate and deplete shallow and deep aquifers that feed Grand Canyon’s springs. State and federal agencies do not require deep aquifer monitoring to detect contamination plumes, they do not require remediation plans or bonding for correcting aquifer contamination if it does occur, and they cannot guarantee such damage won’t occur.

“The Forest Service review ignores significant new evidence from the Orphan, Kanab North and other uranium mines that show how soil and water contamination can occur well beyond the mine sites,” said Roger Clark, Grand Canyon program director at the Grand Canyon Trust. “We are also disappointed that the review team did not include experts from the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Park Service.”

The uranium industry has filed four separate lawsuits challenging the Obama administration’s January decision to withdraw 1 million acres of public land surrounding Grand Canyon National Park. Represented by attorneys at Earthjustice, the Havasupai Tribe, the Center for Biological Diversity, Grand Canyon Trust, National Parks Conservation Association and Sierra Club are intervening in each of those lawsuits to defend the decision to protect these lands.

Uranium pollution already plagues the Grand Canyon and surrounding area. Proposals for new mining have prompted protests, litigation, and proposed legislation. Because new mines threaten to industrialize iconic and regionally sacred wildlands, destroy wildlife habitat, and permanently pollute or deplete aquifers, scientists, tribal and local governments and businesses have all voiced opposition to new mining.

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Reblogged from Earth First! Newswire

Suit Filed Against Expansion of Navajo Coal Mine Polluting Four Corners Region

Reblogged from Earth First! Newswire:

by the Center for Biological Diversity

Click to visit the original post

Navajo Mine, by Kelly Michals

After decades of coal pollution from the 2040-megawatt Four Corners Power Plant and BHP Billiton’s 13,000-acre Navajo Coal Mine that supplies it, Navajo and conservation groups filed suit against the federal government late Tuesday for improperly rubber-stamping a proposal to expand strip-mining without full consideration of the damage and risks to health and the environment.

“The Navajo mine has torn up the land, polluted the air, and contaminated waters that families depend on,” said Anna Frazier of Diné CARE. “Residents in the area deserve a full and thorough impact analysis that is translated into the Navajo language to provide for real public participation, not another whitewash for the coal industry.”

Navajo Mine is located in San Juan County, N.M., on the Navajo Nation. Four Corners Power Plant, built in 1962, provides electricity to California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas and is the largest coal-fired power plant source of nitrogen oxides (NOx) in the United States. (NOx is associated with public-health impacts including respiratory disease, heart attacks and strokes). The legal action, brought under the National Environmental Policy Act, challenges the Office of Surface Mining’s decision to allow BHP Billiton to expand strip-mining operations into 714 acres of a portion of land designated “Area IV North” and the agency’s claim that the mine did not cause significant human health and environmental impacts.

The present Area IV mine expansion was proposed in the wake of Diné Citizens Against Ruining our Environment v. Klein (Diné CARE), 747 F. Supp. 2d 1234, 1263-64 (D. Colo. 2010). In that case, the U.S. District Court for the District of Colorado ruled that a previous proposal to strip-mine all 3,800 acres of Area IV North violated the National Environmental Policy Act and ordered OSM to revisit its analysis under the Act.

Unfortunately, OSM’s new analysis only exacerbates the deficiencies of its first analysis. OSM’s analysis justified a finding of no significant impact in a vacuum by focusing only on a cursory analysis of impacts within the mine expansion’s perimeter and ignoring indirect and cumulative impacts from mercury, selenium, ozone, and other air and water pollutants caused by the combustion of coal at the Four Corners Power Plant and the plant’s disposal of coal ash waste generated by the coal mined from the expansion area.

“The way the approval was rushed through and the way OSM put on blinders to the cumulative reality of coal operations at the mine and the power plant is an injustice,” said Mike Eisenfeld, New Mexico energy coordinator with the San Juan Citizens Alliance. “It hides the true magnitude of the damage going on with coal in our region and the risks of green-lighting more of the same with no change.”

“Mercury and selenium pollution from coal mining and combustion is driving endangered fish extinct in the San Juan River while it threatens people’s health in nearby communities,” said Taylor McKinnon, public lands campaigns director at the Center for Biological Diversity. “These are massive environmental problems facing the Four Corners region and people — problems the Office of Surface Mining can’t ignore any longer. ”

“Pollution and other impacts from coal mining and coal power plants broadly impact New Mexico’s rivers and streams, in particular the Chaco and San Juan rivers,” said Rachel Conn, projects director at Amigos Bravos. “These rivers must be better protected for agriculture, drinking water and fish.”

“Ultimately, we need to transition away from coal and towards clean, renewable energy from New Mexico’s abundant sun and wind,” said Nellis Kennedy-Howard with the Sierra Club. “As we make that transition, we need to account for the true magnitude of coal’s impact to human health and the environment.”

“When the federal government gets out the rubber stamp in a situation like this, where so much is at stake for clean air, vital waterways, and the people who depend on them, that leaves no alternative but legal action to try to ensure fairness and accountability,” said Erik Schlenker-Goodrich, an attorney with the Western Environmental Law Center who is representing the groups.

The lawsuit seeks a comprehensive analysis of the Navajo Mine and Four Corners Power Plant’s impacts to health and the environment to inform current and future coal-related decisions and help illuminate opportunities to transition away from coal toward clean, renewable energy generated by New Mexico’s abundant sun and wind.

Diné Citizens Against Ruining Our Environment (CARE), San Juan Citizens Alliance, Center for Biological Diversity, Amigos Bravos and the Sierra Club are represented in the case by the Western Environmental Law Center.

A copy of the filed lawsuit can be found here.

What you can do: organize and resist.

As Gas Drilling Spreads, Towns Stand Ground Over Control

SOUTH FAYETTE, Pa. — As energy companies move to drill in densely populated areas from Pennsylvania to Texas, battles are breaking out over who will have the final say in managing the shale gas boom.

The fight, which pits towns and cities against energy companies and states eager for growth, has raised a fundamental question about the role of local government: How much authority should communities have over the use of their land?

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