Friday, June 26, 2009

Sierra Club Press Release on Border Wall

Today, 27 members of Congress urged Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano to instruct U.S. Customs and Border Protection to comply with all laws if she proceeds with the final approximately 40 miles of border wall construction still slated for environmentally sensitive areas in California and Texas.

The REAL ID Act of 2005 gave the Secretary of Homeland Security -- an unelected official - the authority to waive any law in order to fast-track construction of infrastructure along our shared international border with Mexico. Bush administration Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff used this unprecedented authority five times, waiving more than three dozen cultural protection, religious freedom, public safety, and environmental laws.

"Ignoring laws to build walls has caused needless harm to families, communities, and wildlife," said Michael Degnan, Sierra Club's public lands representative. "We are heartened to hear members of Congress call on the administration to reinstate the rule of law to the borderlands, a simple act that would go a long way toward restoring responsibility to our border policy."

In today's letter, the 27 Representatives recognized the impacts of waiving laws at the federal, state and local levels, writing: "We believe damage that has occurred to community relationships and public lands is attributable, at least in part, to the haste with which construction has proceeded, the lack of compliance with laws and regulations, and the lack of consultation with property owners and land managers."

In asking that the Secretary comply with all laws if additional border wall construction takes place, the members of Congress note that more "careful consideration now could save mitigation dollars later, as well as avoiding the type of impacts that will be difficult to mitigate at any cost."

A diverse group of organizations have applauded Rep. Bob Filner (D-CA) and his colleagues for taking a stand and urging action on this critical issue.

"I've seen nothing that even comes close to justify waiving laws in order to fast track border wall construction," said Congressman Bob Filner. "It concerns me that this has taken place in the past and I urge Secretary Napolitano to prevent further damage to our border communities, natural resources, and fragile wildlife habitat."

"We should not sacrifice bedrock democratic principles like 'consent of the governed' and 'representative democracy' at the altar of the border wall," said Reverend John Fanestil of the United Methodist Church. "Kudos to legislators working to restore due process and the rule of law on the U.S.-Mexico border."

Jay J. Johnson-Castro, Sr., founder and president of Border Ambassadors and executive director of the Rio Grande International Study Center, Laredo Community College, said: "For those of us who live here on the border, we feel like our part of the United States is not recognized as equal to the rest of the country. When over three dozen Congressional acts were waived, we lost the legal protections that the rest of the United States enjoys. Some call our borderlands the 'deconstitutionalized zone.'"

"The controversy over walls and waivers is far from over, despite hundreds of damaging miles of walls already built in disregard of laws meant to safeguard our lands and resources," said Matt Clark, southwest representative for Defenders of Wildlife. "This is the time for President Obama and Secretary Napolitano to make a clear departure from the mistakes of the last administration and comply with the important laws enacted to prevent or minimize negative impacts to our wildlife and environment."

For more information, visit

Thursday, June 11, 2009

ACOE Plans to Denude Levees

According to the AP, "the Army Corps of Engineers is on a mission to chop down every tree in the country that grows within 15 feet of a levee - including oaks and sycamores in Louisiana, willows in Oklahoma and cottonwoods in California." The story is available here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

The Roads to Nowhere

Last week I spent an evening in a charming little wine bar fronting on a major thoroughfare in Houston. Anyone who has visited Houston can testify as to the intensity of the traffic. As the din began to make speaking difficult at our table, I began to think about the impacts such masking noise must have on breeding birds. How can a Henslow's Sparrow or Black-and-white Warbler be heard above such a cacophony?

Therefore I decided to see what existed in the literature about the impacts of roads and traffic on wildlife. Interestingly, I found quite a corpus of work that has been completed on this issue. Therefore I have posted links to a few of the many, many articles and papers that I found with a simple web search.

The results seem to be consistent. Yes, the noise from traffic does impact many species of breeding birds, even more significantly than do visual impacts. Therefore when we consider the impacts of roads on birds, we need to look well beyond the direct loss of habitat attributed to road building and the subsequent development that roads provoke. For some species and populations, new road construction may well become roads to nowhere.

Ted Eubanks
10 June 2009

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Latest trinational report presents most complete picture of North American industrial pollution

Montreal, 10 June 2009—Ninety percent of the 5.5 billion kilograms of toxic pollutant releases and transfers reported in North America in 2005 can be traced to about 30 substances from 15 industrial sectors across the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Taking Stock 2005, released today by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation, represents the most complete picture of pollution reporting from North American industrial facilities ever assembled. Beginning this year, the CEC’s annual Taking Stock report provides a broader perspective by expanding its scope to include all data reported in 2005 to the pollutant release and transfer registers (PRTRs) of the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Also new this year, the report employs air release data from the US National Emissions Inventory (NEI) for criteria air contaminants—a group of pollutants associated with issues such as smog, acid rain, and respiratory effects—and for petroleum sectors not subject to reporting under the US PRTR program.

The United States accounted for about 82 percent of all reporting facilities, Canada 12 percent, and Mexico 6 percent. The year 2005 marks the second consecutive year of mandatory Mexican PRTR reporting.

“Taking Stock 2005 presents the clearest view ever of industrial pollution in North America, and confirms the progress in pollution management that we have tracked for the past decade,” said Adrián Vázquez-Gálvez, CEC’s executive director. “However, it also reveals some major blind spots. This information is critical to government, industry, and communities, and highlights issues of comparability and areas for further action on pollution reduction to address potential environmental and human health issues.”

The report shows that the principal contributors to pollutant releases and transfers reported in each country were:

  • Oil and gas extraction activities, primary metals and wastewater treatment in Canada;
  • Metal mines, electric utilities and electrical equipment manufacturing in Mexico; and
  • Chemicals manufacturing, primary metals and mines in the United States.

An in-depth look at the North American petroleum industry in this year’s report reveals that the industry reported about 1.5 billion kilograms—or one-quarter—of the 5.5 billion kilograms of toxic pollutants reported by all sectors in 2005. The industry was also responsible for 10 percent of the 32 billion kilograms of criteria air contaminants released across North America in 2005.

Analysis of 2002–2005 reporting by Canadian and US petroleum refineries and bulk storage terminals discloses that, on average, about 7 million kilograms of carcinogens and developmental or reproductive toxicants were released annually. Most of these pollutants were released to air and water.

The perspective of this year’s report remains incomplete, however—a result of national differences in pollutant and industry sector coverage and compliance. Comparing the national petroleum industry profiles also reveals one of the most important such gaps in PRTR reporting across the three countries.

Hydrogen sulfide gas, a toxic pollutant having the smell of rotten eggs, is a common byproduct of oil and gas extraction and processing. PRTR regulations in both Canada and Mexico require hydrogen sulfide to be reported. In Canada, hydrogen sulfide from the oil and gas production sector represented over 90 percent of all toxics reported by the Canadian petroleum industry in 2005. In Mexico, however, no data on this substance were reported by the petroleum industry. In the United States, neither this pollutant nor the oil and gas production sector is subject to Toxics Release Inventory reporting requirements.

The report also discusses pollutants that were transferred across national borders. The majority of these consisted of metals such as lead, zinc, copper and nickel compounds, mainly sent to recycling facilities. A small number of other chemicals, such as sulfuric acid, phosphorus, and xylenes, were also sent across borders for recycling or other treatment.

Taking Stock compiles data from the three pollutant release and transfer registers (PRTRs) in North America: Canada’s National Pollutant Release Inventory (NPRI), the United States’ Toxics Release Inventory (TRI), and Mexico’s Registro de Emisiones y Transferencia de Contaminantes (RETC).

The Taking Stock Online website allows users to further explore PRTR data for North America with customized reports by pollutant, facility, sector or geographic region. Taking Stock Online also provides interactive mapping of data search results using Google Maps, and features a North America-wide map layer displaying point-specific industrial pollutant data in Canada, Mexico and the United States.

Using the Google Earth mapping service, the CEC’s map layer displays about 35,000 North American industrial facilities that reported releases and transfers of pollutants in 2005. You can access this information at:

Commission for Environmental Cooperation
393, rue St-Jacques Ouest, Bureau 200
Montréal (Québec) Canada H2Y 1N9
Tel: (514) 350-4300; Fax: (514) 350-4314

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Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Worst Is Yet To Come?

A new study from Texas A&M researchers details the impacts of stronger hurricanes and rising seas from a variety of global warming scenarios. “Flooding and damage from major hurricanes will be more severe,” said Jennifer Irish, the study’s lead author. “And the worse global warming gets, the more severe the consequences for the Texas coast.” The report is available on line from Texas A&M. Thanks to our old friend Bill Dawson and Texas Climate News for alerting us about this report.

Ted Eubanks
9 June 2009

Significant ESA Ruling


The Center for North American Herpetology Lawrence, Kansas

9 June 2009

Defenders of Wildlife

The Center for Biological Diversity

COURT ORDERS ENDANGERED SPECIES PROTECTION FOR FLAT-TAILED HORNED LIZARD -- FOR THE THIRD TIME U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service must review decision to deny protections

San Francisco – In response to a lawsuit brought by The Center for Biological Diversity and a number of other groups, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s decision to deny the Flat-tailed Horned Lizard (Phrynosoma mcallii) protection under the Endangered Species Act was illegal and again ordered the agency to consider protection for the lizard.

"The Flat-tailed Horned Lizard is severely threatened by urban and agricultural sprawl and needs protection as an endangered species to survive," said Noah Greenwald, biodiversity program director at The Center for Biological Diversity. "With today’s court decision, we hope the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has finally gotten the message that it can not legally deny this imperiled species protection."

Significantly, the decision rejected a Bush administration policy developed by the solicitor of the Department of the Interior in 2007 that required the Fish and Wildlife Service to ignore loss of historic range when determining if species warrant protection under the Endangered Species Act. The decision observes that "the Secretary clings to his argument that lost historical habitat is largely irrelevant to the recovery of the species, and thus the ESA does not require him to consider it," and then roundly rejects this position, concluding that past court decisions require "the Secretary to analyze lost historical range."

"This decision goes beyond the Flat-tailed Horned Lizard by seriously undermining the Bush administration’s position that loss of historic range is not a basis for protecting species under the Endangered Species Act," said Greenwald. "The courts have determined today that the Bush administration’s emergency room approach to species protection – in which only species that are on the brink of extinction everywhere are protected – is plainly illegal."

The Flat-tailed Horned Lizard inhabits portions of southern California (Riverside, Imperial and San Diego counties), Arizona (Yuma county), and northwestern Mexico (Sonora, Baja Calif. N). It is severely threatened by habitat destruction caused by urban and agricultural sprawl, off-road vehicles, and other threats.

"This is the third time in the fifteen years since the Flat-tailed Horned Lizard was proposed for listing that a court has told the Fish and Wildlife Service to go back and review its refusal to protect the flat tailed horned lizard under the Endangered Species Act," said Kara Gillon, senior staff attorney with Defenders of Wildlife. "These lizards need these protections now more than ever, if we are to avoid the loss of this species and the dwindling wild places that form its last refuge. We're hoping that the third time's the charm; these lizards are running out of time."

The Flat-tailed Horned Lizard was first proposed for listing in 1993. The proposal has since been withdrawn three times with conservation groups successfully challenging each withdrawal in court. The groups involved in the latest court challenge include the Tucson Herpetological Society, Defenders of Wildlife, Center for Biological Diversity, Horned Lizard Conservation Society, and Sierra Club, who were represented by attorneys Neil Levine, a private attorney, and Bill Snape, senior counsel with the Center for Biological Diversity.

As the common name suggests, the species is recognized by its broad, flattened tail but also has long, sharp horns on its head, two rows of fringe scales along its abdomen, a dark stripe along its backbone, and concealed external ear openings. Adults of this species range in size between 2.5 and 4.3 inches long, excluding the tail.

Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With more than 1 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit


Kara Gillon, Defenders of Wildlife, (505) 715-3898 Noah Greenwald, Center for Biological Diversity, (503) 484-7495

Monday, April 13, 2009

The Value of Nature

(No) Drill, Baby, Drill


Liberia, Costa Rica

Sailing down Costa Rica’s Tempisque River on an eco-tour, I watched a crocodile devour a brown bass with one gulp. It took only a few seconds. The croc’s head emerged from the muddy waters near the bank with the footlong fish writhing in its jaws. He crunched it a couple of times with razor-sharp teeth and then, with just the slightest flip of his snout, swallowed the fish whole. Never saw that before.

These days, visitors can still see amazing biodiversity all over Costa Rica — more than 25 percent of the country is protected area — thanks to a unique system it set up to preserve its cornucopia of plants and animals. Many countries could learn a lot from this system.

More than any nation I’ve ever visited, Costa Rica is insisting that economic growth and environmentalism work together. It has created a holistic strategy to think about growth, one that demands that everything gets counted. So if a chemical factory sells tons of fertilizer but pollutes a river — or a farm sells bananas but destroys a carbon-absorbing and species-preserving forest — this is not honest growth. You have to pay for using nature. It is called “payment for environmental services” — nobody gets to treat climate, water, coral, fish and forests as free anymore.

The process began in the 1990s when Costa Rica, which sits at the intersection of two continents and two oceans, came to fully appreciate its incredible bounty of biodiversity — and that its economic future lay in protecting it. So it did something no country has ever done: It put energy, environment, mines and water all under one minister.

“In Costa Rica, the minister of environment sets the policy for energy, mines, water and natural resources,” explained Carlos M. Rodríguez, who served in that post from 2002 to 2006. In most countries, he noted, “ministers of environment are marginalized.” They are viewed as people who try to lock things away, not as people who create value. Their job is to fight energy ministers who just want to drill for cheap oil.

But when Costa Rica put one minister in charge of energy and environment, “it created a very different way of thinking about how to solve problems,” said Rodríguez, now a regional vice president for Conservation International. “The environment sector was able to influence the energy choices by saying: ‘Look, if you want cheap energy, the cheapest energy in the long-run is renewable energy. So let’s not think just about the next six months; let’s think out 25 years.’ ”

As a result, Costa Rica hugely invested in hydro-electric power, wind and geo-thermal, and today it gets more than 95 percent of its energy from these renewables. In 1985, it was 50 percent hydro, 50 percent oil. More interesting, Costa Rica discovered its own oil five years ago but decided to ban drilling — so as not to pollute its politics or environment! What country bans oil drilling?

Rodríguez also helped to pioneer the idea that in a country like Costa Rica, dependent on tourism and agriculture, the services provided by ecosystems were important drivers of growth and had to be paid for. Right now, most countries fail to account for the “externalities” of various economic activities. So when a factory, farmer or power plant pollutes the air or the river, destroys a wetland, depletes a fish stock or silts a river — making the water no longer usable — that cost is never added to your electric bill or to the price of your shoes.

Costa Rica took the view that landowners who keep their forests intact and their rivers clean should be paid, because the forests maintained the watersheds and kept the rivers free of silt — and that benefited dam owners, fishermen, farmers and eco-tour companies downstream. The forests also absorbed carbon.

To pay for these environmental services, in 1997 Costa Rica imposed a tax on carbon emissions — 3.5 percent of the market value of fossil fuels — which goes into a national forest fund to pay indigenous communities for protecting the forests around them. And the country imposed a water tax whereby major water users — hydro-electric dams, farmers and drinking water providers — had to pay villagers upstream to keep their rivers pristine. “We now have 7,000 beneficiaries of water and carbon taxes,” said Rodríguez. “It has become a major source of income for poor people. It has also enabled Costa Rica to actually reverse deforestation. We now have twice the amount of forest as 20 years ago.”

As we debate a new energy future, we need to remember that nature provides this incredible range of economic services — from carbon-fixation to water filtration to natural beauty for tourism. If government policies don’t recognize those services and pay the people who sustain nature’s ability to provide them, things go haywire. We end up impoverishing both nature and people. Worse, we start racking up a bill in the form of climate-changing greenhouse gases, petro-dictatorships and bio-diversity loss that gets charged on our kids’ Visa cards to be paid by them later. Well, later is over. Later is when it will be too late.