Daily Archives: June 16, 2013

The biggest environmental decision facing Obama you’ve never heard of

The biggest environmental decision facing Obama you’ve never heard of

By Juliet Eilperin

If you want to get a sense of how contentious the decision is over whether the  Obama administration is going to block a planned copper and gold mine near Bristol Bay, consider this: the Environmental Protection Agency has just decided to allow the public another month to weigh in on a scientific review of the project they released a year ago.

Most people aren’t aware of the fight over Bristol Bay, home to nearly half the world’s sockeye salmon. But it may be one of the most important environmental decisions the president faces in his second term.

Friday was supposed to be the last day the EPA would take comment on its draft final assessment of how a major mine in the area would affect the Nushagak and Kvichak watersheds, which are home to several Alaskan native tribes as well as a valuable commercial and recreational fishery. In 2010 six tribes petitioned the EPA to invoke its rarely-used authority under the Clean Water Act, known as Section 404(c), to block any mining in the area on the grounds it would have an “unacceptable adverse impact” on the region’s waterways, fish or wildlife.

The Pebble Limited Partnership, a joint venture of two mining firms, Northern Dynasty and Anglo American, has launched a major lobbying and public relations campaign aimed at deflecting any possible EPA intervention. On Thursday the group — which had been pushing for an extension of the public comment period — released an economic analysis they commissioned from the consulting firm IHS Global Insight estimating the project would generate 2,500 construction jobs during the five-year construction period. The report predicted the companies would spend approximately $1.2 billion per year on direct capital investment and wages during the construction phase, and the mine would ultimately generate between $136 million and $180 million in annual taxes and royalties.

“For perspective, the report indicates Pebble development alone would pay more in annual taxes to the state than the entire fishing industry combined,” said Pebble CEO John Shivley in a statement. “This clearly shows Pebble development could be an important economic driver for Alaska’s future.”

But a coalition of tribal, environmental and fishing groups question that analysis. “Pebble has a well-established track record of understating the costs and risks associated with a giant open-pit mine at Bristol Bay’s headwaters and exaggerating the benefits,” said Tim Bristol, director of Trout Unlimited’sAlaska program, adding that 14,000 jobs depend on a healthy salmon fishery in the region.

Opponents argue that a potential spill from the massive mine, which would rank as North America’s largest if constructed, would jeopardize a pristine ecosystem. In an earlier environmental assessment of the project, the EPA estimated a project on the scale of the Pebble Mine — which could ultimately produce 80 billion pounds of copper, 107 million ounces of gold and 5.6 billion pounds of molybdenum — would likely cause the loss of between 54 and 89 miles of streams and between 4 and nearly 7 square miles of wetlands.

Over the course of the mine’s operation, the draft assessment said, one or more accidents or failures could occur, “potentially resulting in immediate, severe impacts on salmon and detrimental, long-term impacts on salmon habitat.”

The lobbying on this issue is already intense. The Pebble Limited Partnership spent more than $500,000 on lobbying last year, according to federal election records, and has already spent at least $110,000 in 2013. Environmental and tribal groups also have put significant resources into the flight: the Bristol Bay Native Corporation spent $110,000 in 2012 and $20,000 in 2013, according to public records. Last year three environmental groups – The Nature Conservancy, Natural Resources Defense Council and the League of Conservation Voters – spent $270,000, $82,000 and $20,000, respectively.

In an e-mail Thursday night, EPA spokeswoman Alisha Johnson said the agency would extend the comment period to June 30. The agency is also getting feedback from 12 peer reviewers.

“An additional 30 days allows the public an opportunity to provide feedback on changes made to the assessment as a result of extensive input received in 2012,” she wrote. “This extension is reasonable given the complexity and length of the revised draft assessment.”

In the past, tribal groups in the region have sometime quarreled with commercial interests over salmon fishing. But now, according to Peter Andrew Jr., a board member of the Bristol Bay Native Corporation, they’ve formed an alliance.

“If we don’t protect this, we’ll have nothing to fight over in the future,” Andrew said in an interview during a lobbying visit to Washington this spring. “This is the last place on earth like this.”

The EPA is still a long way from making a final decision on whether to block the Pebble Mine: it aims to finalize its watershed assessment by the end of the year, and EPA Region 10 Administrator Dennis McLerran, who is overseeing the review, told reporters in late April the agency “has made no decision about if or how it might use our authorities under the Clean Water Act, or other laws, to protect Bristol Bay.”

Shivley has challenged several aspects of the EPA’s draft scientific assessment, arguing that key pieces of it are based on studies written by mining opponents such as the American advocacy group Earthworks.

One of the pivotal figures in the debate is likely to be Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), who is up for re-election next year and has questioned whether the EPA should step in and issue what he calls “a pre-emptive veto.”

“While I remain opposed to a pre-emptive veto of this or any other project, an open, public process that answers Alaskans’ questions and puts better science on the table is a good thing,” Begich said when the EPA opened the comment period on the assessment in late April. “I hope the completed assessment will answer questions about whether this project can meet the high hurdle of developing a large-scale mine while protecting our renewable resources.”

In other words, stay tuned.

New Surgeon General Warning:

Social media is awash with videos of incidents that replace stories once told ’round the water-cooler”. Here’s a list of the hot virals that have been making their way throughout the online hunting community.

Here’s the latest and greatest:

♦ Rule #1. If you’re going to do something stupid and illegal, don’t record it and put it online. This guy may face jail time for harassing and endangered species. WATCH NOW

            ♦ Ever wondered what it might be like to be eaten by a grizzly? This is a pretty good simulation. WATCH NOW

♦ Amazing footage of a deer going through the windshield of a bus and apparently surviving. WATCH NOW

♦ Excuse the off-color title that appears on this one, but the video itself is worth a chuckle as you watch a deer run over an unsuspecting dog at full-speed. WATCH NOW

♦ A mature buck shows his high-jumping abilities in this one. Imagine if he learned the Fosbury Flop! WATCH NOW

♦ For whatever reason, a bison and a bull elk get into an all-out battle. Watch to see who wins. WATCH NOW

♦ Spring is a special time for elk, it makes them very happy… either that or they’ve wandered into a patch of prickly pear cactus. WATCH NOW

♦ A cow is no match for a hungry grizzly, cattle however are a different story! WATCH NOW

♦ Take a ride with a fighter pilot as he plucks a duck out of the air mid-flight. WATCH NOW

♦ Mother nature is harsh and wolves are ruthless. WATCH NOW

            These videos were compiled by the Boone and Crocket Club and presented in their recent newsletter.

USDA Secretary Vilsack Highlights Cover Crop and Climate Change Solutions

by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

Yesterday, June 5 speaking at the National Press Club, USDA Secretary Vilsack addressed thepresent and future challenges in agriculture brought on by our changing climate – challenges “new and different than anything we’ve ever tackled.” The Secretary recognized the unique regional challenges that farmers and ranchers are experiencing around the country – extreme precipitation in the Northeast, drought in the West and Southwest, and increasing temperatures across the board – and emphasized the need to adapt to these, and other, climate change effects. The Secretary additionally recognized agriculture’s potential to mitigate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, in particular by storing (or sequestering) carbon in soils.

In his speech, the Secretary announced three new measures that USDA will take to help farmers toward these goals: (1) Regional Climate Hubs, (2) NRCS Soil Carbon Management and Evaluation Tools, and (3) Cover Crop Guidelines.

Regional Climate Hubs

Through Regional Climate Hubs, USDA aims to help farmers, ranchers, and forest landowners develop adaptation strategies by providing regionally-specific risk and vulnerability assessments. These Hubs will likely be located in existing USDA service centers, but may also operate in collaboration with Land Grand and Public Universities, Extension offices, and Agricultural Experiment Stations to improve forecasting and develop and provide science-based risk management tools.

NRCS Soil Carbon Tools

This measure focuses on two new online tools relating to agriculture’s ability to sequester carbon in the soil. The first tool is an online database that provides access to the results of NRCS’ Rapid Carbon Assessment – a soil survey containing over 144,000 samples at 6,000 locations across the country.  This tool is geared toward scientists and researchers looking to investigate regional variations in soil carbon, land use, and management and conservation practices.

The second tool – the Carbon Management and Evaluation Tool (or “COMET-Farm”) – provides an online platform for farmers to analyze the GHG footprint of their operations.  Using COMET-Farm, farmers can input information on their specific operation and management practices and then generate an analysis of the GHG emissions and carbon sequestration that could result by implementing various conservation practices.

Cover Crops

The third measure is the result of an inter-agency project among USDA’s NRCS, Risk Management Agency (RMA), and Farm Service Agency (FSA) to establish guidelines for terminating cover crops while retaining eligibility for RMA and FSA programs.  In addition to carbon sequestration, cover crops provide other benefits, such as preventing erosion and improving soil health, yet crop insurance and commodity payment programs have been structured in a way that discourage farmers from planting cover crops.  NRCS, RMA, and FSA – together with stakeholders, universities, and industry groups – developed a science-based guidance to provide consistency across USDA programs and assurance to farmers who want to plant cover crops and remain eligible for crop insurance and commodity program payments.

Under existing RMA and FSA rules, producers risk losing access to crop insurance and some commodity support programs if they fail to terminate planted cover crops by a certain date.  However, the dates and rules relating to termination have been inconsistent both within and across regions. In the past, some FSA and RMA regional offices have periodically issued special provisions to modify termination dates. The new USDA inter-agency guidance establishes cover crop kill dates across four zones.

A More Sustainable Agriculture

As NSAC has noted in our Agriculture and Climate Change Position Paper and in letters toCongress, not only do sustainable and organic agricultural systems offer the most resilience for agricultural production in the face of increasingly uncertain regional climate effects, but these practices can also mitigate GHGs. Sustaining and expanding programs that support diversified sustainable and organic agriculture and additional conservation measures – including preventing erosion and wetland draining by re-linking conservation requirements to crop insurance subsidies – as well as investing in on-farm energy efficiency and appropriate renewable energy generation, will improve farmers’ and ranchers’ ability to focus on adaptation while providing mitigation benefits as well.

Governor Brownback Declares June, "Flint Hills Heritage Month"

Governor Sam Brownback has signed a proclamation declaring June “Flint Hills Heritage Month.” The governor is a passionate champion of the Flint Hills, regarding its beautiful landscape as a valuable resource to draw tourists and boost the region’s economy and community life.

“The Flint Hills region is one of the state’s premier natural attractions,” said Abby Amick, Wabaunsee County Economic Development Director and chair of the Flint Hills Tourism Coalition. “There are so many things visitors can see and experience that bring the Kansas spirit to life. Flint Hills Heritage Month is a great way to focus on the history, natural beauty, and culture of the region.”

Some of the events scheduled to celebrate the region’s heritage in June include the historic Strong City Rodeo, Symphony in the Flint Hills, Fort Riley; Washunga Days, Council Grove; Kansas Cowboy Poetry Contest, Alma; Annual Bluegrass at the Lake, Marion; and the Flint Hills Folklife Festival, Cottonwood Falls. 

For a list of June events in the Flint Hills and around the state, visit www.TravelKS.com  – Calendar of Events.