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Under New Pollution Regulations, Milk Producers Seek Profit in Dairy Air

Alessandro Hall
Apr 24 2018

From tests on metal bovines to electricity-generating manure pits, California is experiencing a radical transformation in the practices of the dairy industry. Taken together, the new initiatives amount to more than a crackdown on flatulent cows. They offer a model: how to reduce emissions while finding new sources of revenue.

Dairy cows in front of a digester in an undated photograph.

Keeping Methane Under Wraps By putting a cover over manure pits, dairy farmers can capture methane and use it to generate electricity or make transportation fuel. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency

By Alessandro Hall

It’s no secret that the U.S. dairy industry has been struggling recently. As it faces depressed milk prices, concerns about water quality, fights over animal rights, and the rise of non-dairy alternatives — almond, soy, and rice “milk” — the dominant stature of milk in American culture is under siege.

So when the strictest rules in the country for curbing methane emissions took effect in California this year, the state’s 1,300 dairy farm families could have seen it as a devastating development. Methane is a natural product of bovine digestion, after all.

But for Paul Sousa, who grew up as part of California’s dairy industry, these rules feel a bit different. The state isn’t just telling farmers to make changes to reduce methane emissions, it’s telling them how, offering help, and showing ways that changes could be profitable.

Sousa grew up on a dairy farm and his family runs two of them in San Joaquin County. Now he works as a lobbyist at Western United Dairymen, an industry trade group. In all that time, he’s seen a lot of regulations. “We’ve gone through this with water quality and air quality,” he says, but those didn’t come with any economic incentives or financial support. Then came the measure called Senate Bill 1383.

A new law calls for reducing methane emissions by 40 percent from its 2013 levels by 2030, but comes with government outreach, economic incentives, and grant programs to help remake a more sustainable dairy industry.

This ambitious bill, signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in 2016, targets short-lived climate pollutants like methane, fluorine, and black carbon. These potent greenhouse gases don’t stay in the atmosphere like others. But they are far more effective at trapping heat: 25 times more harmful than carbon dioxide over a 100-year span. They contributed to 42 percent of California greenhouse-gas emissions in 2013. The state’s 1.7 million dairy cows are the primary culprit.

The new law calls for reducing methane emissions by 40 percent from its 2013 levels by 2030, but comes with government outreach, economic incentives, and grant programs to help remake a more sustainable dairy industry. For Sousa, “this one has a very different feeling with the economic support that’s coming with it.”

The new rules, which could take effect in 2024, have wide-ranging implications for the oil, gas, and landfill sectors all over the state. But no region will feel its impact more strongly than the Central Valley, the heartland of the state’s milk-making operations. “In California, dairy is the big source of methane emissions,” says Ryan McCarthy, Science and Technology Policy Adviser at the California Air Resources Board (CARB), the state agency tasked with finding a way to meet the 40-percent target reduction. “Dairy manure … seems like the more readily addressable source emissions rather than the cows themselves,” he said. With a view to the California Air Resources Board gaining regulatory authority over the dairy industry in 2024, the agency is working proactively with dairy operators to prepare for needed changes.

Beyond Carbon Dioxide: A Look at California’s Greenhouse Gases

Source: California Air Resources Board   Geoff McGhee
 

Can “Digesters” Turn a Pollutant Into a Profit Center?

From tests on metal bovines to electricity-generating manure pits, California is experiencing a radical transformation in the practices of the dairy industry. Taken together, the new initiatives amount to more than a crackdown on flatulent cows. They offer a model: how to reduce emissions while finding new sources of revenue. Aided by government grants and technology innovations, farmers are beginning to upend dairy management orthodoxy.

The traditional method of treating manure is to flush it into fields or large, open-air lagoons. There, microbial organisms break down the waste through anaerobic digestion, spewing methane into the atmosphere. Although 60 percent of California’s dairy cows are still managed this way, all signs point to an emerging approach: When open-air lagoons are covered and sealed, dairy farmers can capture methane and use it to generate electricity or make transportation fuel. These systems, known as anaerobic dairy digesters, offer both environmental and economic benefits.

According to McCarthy, the California Air Resources Board believes digesters will deliver air quality, climate, and economic benefits. “If we can prove that model, we’ll get more projects faster.” He added, “it’s a win for the climate, for the air, for the farmer, and, when it does come time to regulate, it’ll be business as usual.” The dairy industry’s representative Paul Sousa says he also sees collateral advantages of eschewing methane-spewing manure lagoons: digesters offer water-quality benefits, and can generate cow bedding or fertilizer as additional byproducts.

Expensive Flops Feed Suspicion Among Dairy Farmers

But before environmentalists, energy companies, and the government can leverage these benefits to create a more sustainable industry, they must rebuild trust with the dairy farming community. “When we started this, there were a handful of dairy digesters, maybe ten or 15, and a lot of stories of ‘well we’ve tried this before. It didn’t work then, why will it work now’?” admits McCarthy. “And the answer, we said, is that we weren’t really committed to making it work then and we are now. And there’s all these programs in place that can make it work and we want to work with you to figure it out.” He believes the message is getting through. “It’s a market that’s growing quickly.”

Digester developers agree. There’s growing interest and enthusiasm for digesters, but also skepticism from dairy farmers weary of unmet promises. “I think our biggest real obstacle right now it that so many of these digester projects in the past have failed. There have been a lot of digesters built in the past that are no longer running,” says Doug Bryant of Maas Energy Works, a California company that helps develop, finance, and operate dairy digesters.

But the company argues that developers have learned valuable lessons and collected data on how to increase digester longevity and efficiency. Maas Energy Works has built 13 operational digesters with another 17 in various stages of development. “There’s been a lot of people throughout the last ten to 15 years who have come making promises about the money that [farmers will] make with digesters and never deliver on those promises,” Bryant explains. “We like to think our company is changing the way that’s perceived.”

Dairy Cows the Main Reason for California's Methane

Dairies are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for roughly 60% of agricultural contributions of methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N20).

Dairy Sources
Other Sources of Methane

Move over the graphic to learn more. Click on a category to view sub-categories.

Source: California Air Resources Board

Promoters Hope to Overcome Past Experiences with Technical Support, Financing, and State Subsidies

One way Maas Energy Works changes the perception of dairy digester projects is by forging a working relationship with dairymen. In the past, developers have come in, constructed a digester, and then left. The farmers had to operate and maintain the device. As Bryant explains, “the dairyman in most cases is already running a million-dollar company and has their own huge business to manage. Trying to give them another business to manage doesn’t always work out well.” His company now allows dairy farmers to own the digesters, while operating and repairing the devices for them.

Now, a flurry of new anaerobic dairy digesters has popped up across California. More than 40 are functioning or in construction; most of them built in the last 18 months. At least another 40 projects are on the way. A big reason for the construction boom is state investment. With $99 million in greenhouse gas reduction money in hand, the California Department of Food and Agriculture plans to allocate between $61 and $75 million in grants to help finance dairy digester projects through the Dairy Digester Research and Management Program in 2018.

The program is essential to help farmers finance digester projects. The typical digester on a small dairy of 1,000 to 2,000 cows costs about $ 2 million, while larger farms can run up costs of more than $5 million. Greenhouse gas reduction credits will also help determine the affordability of digester projects. Ideally, these reward farmers for reducing methane emissions. But the instability of the markets is a limit on new projects. The value of government credits for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions fluctuates, making banks potentially hesitant to lend money to a project.

“If the payback doesn’t pencil out in five to six years or less, we don’t like to encourage guys to get into it, because that’s a long payback,” say Mass Energy’s Bryant. With the milk market struggling, farmers may be even more risk averse. With this in mind, the new law directs the government to develop new financial mechanisms. The aim: to solidify and add certainty to the projected value of carbon credits.

State Faces a Challenge: Deliver Concrete Benefits to Farmers

A 900-cow dairy farm in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, uses a methane digester, above.Steve Droter/Chesapeake Bay Program via Flickr
 

Success for these new digester projects will depend on farmers seeing benefit from the state’s environmental goals. As CARB’s Ryan McCarthy explains, “there’s still the early movers and some that are not necessarily as engaged as others but a lot of [dairy farmers] — as seen in the pickup in the number of projects — …hopefully see it as an opportunity.”

The law calls for various stakeholders to join a working group to create a sustainable market for energy produced from dairy digesters. “I think what SB1383 has done is created a forum to actually have conversations about how to promote [these projects],” says Fariya Ali of Pacific Gas and Electric. “I think that’s a positive thing to have a dedicated forum convened by the state agencies that allows energy companies and the developers and others to come together.”

Much of the conversation revolves around how to connect the energy produced from dairy digesters with the rest of the California energy system. There is also hope that transporting biomethane away from dairy farms in pipelines will improve air quality in the Central Valley.

Although the electricity and fuel generated from digesters is unlikely to radically change the energy market in California, it can offer significant economic benefits for individual farms. Under the state’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard program and Renewable Feed-In Tariff program, dairy farmers benefit from above market-rate credits. How? The economic gains from selling energy help pay for the cost of project installation, and also lower or eliminate a farm’s monthly electricity bill and offer a potential revenue stream.

Dairy digesters aren’t the law’s only focus. Although manure lagoons are a major source of methane, the state Department of Food and Agriculture is also helping pay for alternative strategies. This year, it plans to allocate between $19 million and $33 million to the state’s Alternative Manure Management Program. The law also established a working group looking at ways to remove volatile, methane-producing compounds from manure before it enters lagoons. These initiatives are less expensive than digesters and more familiar to dairy farmers.

The alternative management practices provide options for a diverse California dairy industry. “Not everything works on every dairy,” says Sousa. A dairyman “is going to pick from the menu and say this one works for me, this other one doesn’t.”

Researching Ways to Reduce Methane at its Source: Gassy Cows

Cows at the Joseph Gallo Dairy farm in the Central Valley in 2007. The farm’s use of dairy digesters was the subject of a television feature.KQED via Flickr
 

A third major focus of SB1383 is the development of a research working group to fill gaps in industry knowledge. Least is known about fixing the problem of enteric fermentation- the technical name for methane produced during digestion and released in cow burps. In 2015 bovine gas made up almost 30 percent of state methane emissions in the agricultural sector.

There aren’t any proven cost-effective strategies to curb this. The research group is soliciting ideas about what to do. “That working group has been trying to be expansive about the way we look at reducing our methane problem rather than putting all our eggs in the manure management basket,” says Joan Salwen, founder of Elm Innovations, a group that intends to submit their idea about possibly feeding seaweed to cows to cut down on their gas.

Digesters, alternative manure management strategies, and research initiatives seem to suggest radical recent changes. But the dramatic shift in California’s dairy industry may have started earlier. In 2012, the industry made a nationwide commitment to reduce methane emissions 25 percent by 2020. In that sense, the rules set in SB1383 are not far off the industry’s trajectory. “It’s not completely out of touch with things we’ve been working on, but it is a challenge when we get a mandate to do something else that comes with a cost if it doesn’t come with additional revenue,” says Sousa.

What’s different now is that financial investment goes with the crackdown on dairy-farm methane. For now, at least, the revenue is coming in and the digesters are going up. Sousa says, “I think that’s been key to the response, from the initial response of ‘Oh, yet another thing we’ve got to deal with’ to, we’re making lots of headway toward meeting our goals with funding.”

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Compiled by Felicity Barringer, Maya Burke, Kate Selig, Francisco L. Nodarse, Devon Burger, and Madison Pobis

Articles Worth Reading: November 17, 2020

Hoping to Lock In Drilling Rights on Alaska’s Pristine Coastal Plain, the outgoing Trump administration is asking oil and gas firms to select the places they hope to drill in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The idea is to ensure a lease sale in the wilderness area of nearly 1.6 million acres can occur before the inauguration of a longtime opponent, President-Elect Joe Biden. Washington Post

Federal Judge Says Interior Department Ignored Climate Concerns in granting new Wyoming oil and gas leases. The judge blocked the move and called on federal regulators to comply with the National Environmental Policy Act and conduct its environmental analysis and consider possible negative effects on the climate, before drilling on 282 lease parcels on 300,000 acres of federal land could be occur. Casper Star-Tribune

Canadian Environmental Groups Working With Shell Canada and Others to create a national carbon-offset system. The program is something that the government announced last year but has no built-in deadlines to follow. Shell is one of several oil companies pushing the federal government to create a national greenhouse gas offset program. Carbon offsets allow companies and individuals to invest in environmental projects in order to balance out their own greenhouse gas emissions. CBC

The Lights of Growing Communities Attract Deer. Deer Attract Cougars. Research shows that as light pollution grows, it mimics deer’s preferred dusk and dawn grazing times. But there are still enough dark spots for predators to hide and hunt, according to both satellite data and GPS data from 117 cougars and 486 mule deer in the southwest. Salt Lake Tribune

The Head of California’s Clean Air Agency Could Lead EPA under President-Elect Joe Biden. Mary Nichols has kept California focused on efforts to control greenhouse gases. But at the Air Resources Board, disquieting news surfaced about allegations of persistent slighting of Black employee in the agency, which is opening a discussion of the charges with all employees. Bloomberg News Sacramento Bee

Black Cowboys Reclaim Their History in the West Though historians estimate that as many as one-fourth of the cowboys in the late 1800s were Black, many of them have been erased from the history of the “Wild West.” But this history is remembered by men who gather at a ranch in South Phoenix owned by a retired Black trucker from Indiana. High Country News

Articles Worth Reading: November 9, 2020

Gray Wolves To Be Removed From Endangered Species List. While federal wildlife officials hail the move as a success story, showing the wolves’ recovery, some contend that protections should remain in place until the wolf populations are more stable. Others remain hopeful that turning over control to state and tribal governments would better encourage the species’ recovery. The move will have most impact in states in the Mountain West where wolf numbers haven’t rebounded. Boise State Public Radio NPR

U.S., Mexico Sign Rio Grande Water Agreement to settle dispute over Mexico falling short of its treaty obligations to deliver the U.S. water from the Rio Grande and its tributaries. Mexico, which fell behind on its water deliveries for a second consecutive cycle, agreed to transfer to the U.S. ownership of water in two border reservoirs. The agreement will nearly deplete Mexico’s water storage in those reservoirs, potentially harming those who depend on the water, including farmers. If it does not rain, and the reservoirs are not replenished, the U.S. has agreed to provide “humanitarian support” in the form of supplemental water to Mexico. Circle Of Blue

Arizona’s Biggest Utility to Inject Aid Into Indigenous Communities losing or about to lose coal jobs. Arizona Public Service, which has committed itself to providing carbon-free electricity, proposes offering $144 million in aid to three coal-country and tribal communities. For decades, these communities produced the fuel that powered engines pushing Colorado River water uphill, with development and population growth transforming the areas around Phoenix and Tucson. The company will eventually close all its coal-fired plants. The Navajo Generating station closed last year; the Four Corners Power Plant near Farmington is scheduled to close by 2031. Arizona Republic

Nevada Voters Seal Renewable Energy Goals in their State Constitution, approving a ballot question to constitutionally mandate that at least 50% of Nevada’s energy comes from renewable sources by 2030. While Nevada’s state legislature passed a bill mandating the same quota in 2019, the ballot question seals the goal in the constitution, preventing subsequent administrations from overturning the target. Vox The New York Times

Dakota Access Pipeline Fate Uncertain After Court Hearing with federal judges appearing to lean in favor of requiring additional environmental review before approval. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia is expected to rule in the next four to five months.The judges focused on whether the Army Corps of Engineers’ environmental review was adequate, or a closer look is required. A court ruling against the Army Corps of Engineers could make it easier for pipeline opponents — including the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and other Indigenous communities — to halt the pipeline’s progress during an expanded review. Bloomberg

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Newsom to Appoint New Chair of Caliofrnia’s World-Leading Air Board. The California Air Resources Board is the state’s leading policy-making body on climate change and air pollution; its current head, Mary Nichols, is ending her term. The next chair must ensure the state meets its climate targets, including cutting air pollution in Los Angeles and ending sales of new internal-combustion cars. The chair must also win its legal case against federal efforts to end the state’s right to regulate vehicular greenhouse gas emissions. Environmental justice groups seek a chair who will focus on conventional air pollution, believing that policies to further cap-and-trade carbon reduction efforts allow companies to continue polluting. Politico

Department of Homeland Security to Spend Millions on Five Miles of Border Wall in Arizona. The DHS is working to build a wall in Guadalupe Canyon, home to the Chiricahua Apache, in an effort to fulfil President Trump’s campaign promises. Experts contend that the construction will likely have little impact on undocumented immigration into the U.S. The construction could damage a key habitat corridor between northern Mexico and Southwestern U.S. that is frequented by ocelots, black bears and jaguars. High Country News

Articles Worth Reading: November 2, 2020

The Weed Invasion of Desert Landscapes Means They Now Burn as never before. The loss of a million Joshua trees in California’s Eastern Mojave Desert this summer foreshadows fire-driven replacement of landcover throughout the West. The invasive, flammable bromes are now the plants that are invading coastal closed-canopy forests. A close-up look at why the how the face of the land is changing, inviting the fires of the future. The Nation

Arizona Regulators Want to Eliminate Carbon-Based Electricity by 2050. The new regulations require that by 2035, half of electric utilities’ power should come renewable energy like solar and wind in 2035. Fifteen years later, utilities must fulfill customer demand either by offering nuclear-power energy, renewables, or energy-efficiency measures such as subsidizing low-watt lightbulbs or attic insulation for customers. The impact on customer bills remains unclear. Arizona Republic

A Bankruptcy Court Rules Exide May Leave California Taxpayers With the Cleanup Bill for its shuttered battery recycling plant near Vernon. The soil around the abandoned plant is riddled with lead, a powerful neurotoxin. Community groups have opposed the lack of regulation and contamination from the company for years. The bankruptcy filing, approved by a judge, means Exide has no responsibility for eliminating the waste that threatens the health of the surrounding communities and their largely Latinx, working-class population. Los Angeles Times

Who Determines the Fate of 3.1 Million Acre-Feet of Colorado River Water? California’s Supreme Court has ruled that the Imperial Irrigation District in Imperial County has ownership rights, blocking a challenge by a large local farming operation that had sought to pre-empt the irrigation district’s right to distribute and market the water. But during years of litigation, the farmer, Michael Abatti, succeeded in getting the irrigation district to abandon its plan for how cuts to water allocations would be made in drought years. The Desert Sun

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Articles Worth Reading: October 27, 2020

Snow Hits Colorado’s Cameron Peak, East Troublesome Fires Sunday, bringing critical relief. The Colorado wildfires — some of the largest in the state’s history — have forced evacuations and turned deadly in some areas. As of Sunday, the Cameron Peak fire has burned over 200,000 acres, with the East Troublesome fire following close behind, burning about 192,000 acres. The snow is expected to dampen the fires, giving firefighters a critical chance to bring the blazes under control. Denver Post Washington Post

Trump Reverses His Decision to Reject Wildfire Relief for California, approving a package of wildfire disaster relief hours after the administration said the state should not receive the aid. The aid will be used for remediation for six wildfires that have burned nearly 2 million acres. It will also add to the 68 fire-related aid packages for California that Trump has approved. His change of heart came after Gov. Gavin Newsom and Rep. Kevin McCarthy urged the president to provide the aid. The New York Times

Watchdogs Push New Mexico to Limit Use of U.S. Nuclear Waste Dump, as the federal government looks to extend and expand operations at the country’s only underground nuclear waste repository. The Energy Department’s application for renewing its permit for 10 years proposes abandoning the original 2024 date, when it had agreed to to close and decommission the 20-year-old dump, where tons of waste has been stored in salt caverns. Opponents say the state has failed to hold the Department of Energy accountable for cleaning up the contamination and dealing with radioactive waste. Associated Press

Trump Administration Adds 1,275 Miles to the National Trail System. The administration announced the creation of 30 new national recreational trails in 25 states, including new trails in California, Colorado, Washington, Utah, Oregon, Nevada and Arizona. Organizations like the American Hiking Society and PeopleForBikes praised the Department of the Interior for the expansion. The trail designations advance the Trump administration’s goal of increasing public access to outdoor recreation, according to a Department of the Interior press release. National Park Service

Public Lands Decisions Across West Questioned after ruling on status of acting federal agency chief William Perry Pendley. A federal judge determined Pendley had served unlawfully for 14 months as the head of the Bureau of Land Management. Sixty environmental organizations in Colorado and across the West argue that Pendley’s decisions, which include a plan to allow drilling on public lands across six counties in Colorado, should not stand. The state of Montana has called for the courts to throw out Pendley’s decisions. Denver Post

Alaska Seeks to Block Federal Approval of an Emergency Hunt for A Native Village, despite a dire food shortage. The lawsuit against the Federal Subsistence Board came after it approved an emergency out-of-season hunt for the Organized Village of Kake at the start of the pandemic. If the state prevails, rural communities and federally recognized tribes will be prohibited from requesting emergency hunts. High Country News

Articles Worth Reading: October 20, 2020

Revitalizing Indigenous Stewardship with Cultural Burning on the central California coast, the Amah Matsun Land Trust seeks to effectively manage fire-prone lands using the stewardship of Indigenous groups. In the Quiroste Valley, the Native Stewardship Corps (NSC) are working in uplands above the meadow and riparian valley that contain dense stands of Douglas fir and coyote brush with little to no understory. These stands have encroached upon the open coastal prairie grassland. Due to the dense canopy cover, little sunlight reaches the forest floor, thus allowing little to no presence of grasses and forbs. This reduces biodiversity, and threatens the coastal prairie, which was once much more widespread. Cultural burning could help restore the grasslands. The land trust plans a Zoom conference to discuss traditional Native American land management. Amahmutsun Land Trust

Environmental Activists and Hoover Dam Operators Are Joining Forces, as hydro-electric industry groups and environmental activists have publicly committed to collaborate to minimize the environmental harm of existing hydro-electric dams. This union of warring factions from industry and the environmental movement is an instance in a fledgling but growing trend of large-scale industries, joining non-profit organizations and institutions to explicitly address the best ways to counter the threat of runaway climate collapse. The New York Times

Washington State Firm to Abandon Coal, Which May Keep Coal Pollution Going in Montana. Puget Sound Energy’s plan to sell for $1 its stake in Montana’s Colstrip Generating Station needs approval by agencies in both states. If it gets them, it can meet Washington State rules to abandon coal-burning resources by 2025. Montana’s NorthWestern Energy, which wants to keep one unit of the plant going until 2042, would have more say in its future. E&E News

A Push for Statehood For the Navajo Nation comes as congressional Democrats raising the possibility of making the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico into states, voices from the Southwest are reviving the idea of a state, perhaps called Dinétah, to give the region a more powerful voice in national affairs, and increase federal payments. Indian Country Today

Reaching Beyond El Niño Observations, Scientists Examine Distant Ocean Conditions as a key think to predict Western droughts, particularly those affecting the Colorado River, two years in advance. Researchers looked at the most extreme drought years in the past 120 years and found they almost always followed a distinct pattern of unusual warm spells in the tropical reaches of the Atlantic Ocean. up to four years in advance, followed by warming in the northern Pacific two year later. Science

Pursuing Endangered Salmon, California Sea Lions Range Deeper into the Columbia River. NOAA fisheries and researchers at the University of Washington published a study in the Journal of Applied Ecology detailing increased predation of salmon by sea lions. The Columbia River is home to the Chinook Salmon Run, an extremely important ecological niche for the movement of nitrogen throughout the watersheds of the West coast. California sea lions, facing hunger in their more coastal native habitats, have in recent years begun traveling farther and farther upstream to hunt salmon. These hunting migrations are most prevalent before they depart for southern California breeding grounds. Devdiscourse

As Consensus Favoring Prescribed Burns Increases, Rates of Controlled Fires Still Fall in Washington State. Like many states in the West facing challenging fire seasons, Washington has been slow to financially invest in the requirements for effective controlled burning. Crosscut

Articles Worth Reading: October 12, 2020

California Announces Plan to Conserve 30% of State’s Land and Coastal Waters by 2030 as part of the state’s fight against climate change. The effort comes on the back of a growing movement by environmental groups, scientific organizations and the National Geographic Society to advance the “30 x 30” goal: preserve at least 30% of the world’s land and oceans by 2030. While the decision drew criticism from Republicans, environmentalists praised the announcement as key toward addressing a host of environmental issues in the state. San Jose Mercury News

Montana Asks Court to Throw Out Major Public Lands Decisions after federal judge ousted Bureau of Land Management’s (BLM) acting director from his post. The decisions include BLM plans to open up hundreds of thousands of acres for oil and gas drilling. In response, the Department of the Interior argues that former BLM director William Perry Pendley took “no relevant acts” to be thrown out. Pendley served unlawfully for 424 days. The Hill

EPA Grants Oklahoma Environmental Oversight in Indian Country. Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt’s request to the EPA allows the state — not Indigneous nations — to regulate environmental issues in Indian Country. While the decision was welcomed by Oklahoma’s state oil and gas industry, Cherokee Nation and Muscogee (Creek) Nation quickly denounced the decision. “This was a swift move meant to circumvent the federal government's trust, duty and obligation to consult with the tribal nations concerned,” wrote Muscogee Nation’s press secretary in a statement. Washington Post Indian Country Today

Experts Developing Plan for Trout Recovery in Los Angeles. Biologists and engineers are setting the state for a “fish passage” through downtown L.A. that would aid in the recovery of the Southern California steelhead trout, a threatened species. Concrete and treated urban runoff in the L.A. River channel blocks the trout from returning to local rivers to spawn. The recovery effort could rival the return of the gray wolf, bald eagle and California condor. Los Angeles Times

The Votes Cast, a Fat Bear is Crowned in Alaska. Every year, the Katmai National Park and Preserve holds Fat Bear Week, an online competition that allows individuals to vote on large bears, in an effort to raise awareness about the park’s wildlife. This year’s champion? Bear 747 (named in reference to the Boeing 747), weighing in at more than 1,400 pounds. The New York Times

Articles Worth Reading: October 6, 2020

The Royal Bank of Canada is Withholding Financing for Drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, citing its “particular ecological and social significance and vulnerability.” This policy change may be part of a paradigm shift for major financial institutions, which finance and drive the majority of oil and gas development. The bank’s pledge comes after the U.S. Department of the Interior’s recent decision to open up the refuge for development. RBC joins five major U.S.-based banks in this decision to not finance development in the ANWR, including Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, and J.P. Morgan Chase. The Narwhal

A Devastating Fire Season Just Keeps Going: to date, California wildfires have consumed four million acres as 8,200 fires in August killed 31 people and destroyed more than 8,400 buildings. Burning through 100,000 acres, the August complex fire in Mendocino County is the largest on record, “at nearly five times the size of New York City.” It is only 54 percent contained by weary fire fighters. Increasing temperatures exacerbate the fires’ intensity; their effects are being experienced at greater distances, as hazardous air quality conditions extend across the continent. The Guardian

An in-depth video shows the severity of California’s fires and what to worry about now, like mudslides. San Jose Mercury News

Canadian Indigenous Groups Looking to Invest in the Keystone XL Oil Pipeline which Indigenous groups in the United States oppose. Four First Nations groups in Alberta and one in Saskatchewan are pursuing an equity interest in the pipeline, signing a memorandum between the pipeline developer, TC Energy, and Natural Law Energy, which represents the Three Maskwacis Nations and the Saddle Lake Cree Nation, in Alberta, and the Nekaneet First Nation in Saskatchewan. The idea is to create a long-term partnership. Neither party explicitly commented on the Indigenous-activist led resistance movement to the pipeline. Members of the Lakota Nation and the Fort Peck Assiniboine Sioux who led a delegation to the U.S.-Canadian border for an anti-pipeline prayer ceremony in mid-summer, described a Native employee of TC Energy “a traitor.” Kallanish Energy Billings Gazette

Snake River Dams Not Going Anywhere After Federal Decision to Release More Water for as much as 16 hours daily to help stabilize the population of fish, particularly Chinook salmon, that have suffered serious decline in the entire Columbia River watershed. The plan adopted by three federal agencies won praise from groups representing farmers and loggers, but skepticism from conservationists and dismissal from the Nez Perce tribe. Boise State Public Radio

Solar Energy Expansion Is in Overdrive in West Texas; the state has 17 solar facilities, including 13 with capacities of at least 100 megawatts of power. With intense sun and large swaths of empty land where major solar farms can spread out, West Texas has long been ideal for solar development. Texas’ free-market approach and loose regulations encourage all big electricity projects, including solar. The cost of developing solar farms has dropped about 40 percent in Texas in the last five years, according to an industry association. Texas Observer

Clam Gardens, Revived on the Beaches of British Columbia, are expanding crustacean habitat using an age-old Native practice of flattening the shoreline with small rock walls and tilling the sand to improve aeration. Using these methods and removing predators like the sea star allows the Wsáneć, Hul’q’umi’num, and Stz’uminus First Nations to expand the habitat for butter, littleneck, and horse clams, plus crabs, chitons, seaweeds, and other useful species. Generations of Native land stewards continued this practice even when overrun by colonial settlers who passed laws criminalizing the work. The Guardian

Articles Worth Reading: September 29, 2020

Knowing How to Fight the Megafires of Climate Change is the daunting task facing firefighters today. Wildfires are behaving in unprecedented ways and the traditional ways to fight them are proving inadequate. The Yellowstone Fire of 1988 was a harbinger of what is now an annual series of catastrophes. Hotter, drier weather increases the scale, power, and frequency of wildfires, which spawn tornadoes and thunderstorms. Once unheard-of Arctic fires produce large volumes of greenhouse gases; every degree Celsius of temperature rise increases lightning activity by 12 percent. Yale Environment 360

Recycling Helps Rid Us of Forever Plastics? No, Say Some Experts. Much recycled plastic, from yogurt containers to bags and “clamshells,” heads not for a new life but landfills. One former executive told a PBS Frontline investigation that selling the idea of recycling meant they could sell plastic. While all used plastic can be repurposed, it’s expensive to pick it up, sort it, and melt it down. KQED

New Mexico Resists a New License for Nuclear Waste Storage Facility. A New Jersey company wants a 40-year license to build a multi-billion-dollar complex near Carlsbad. It would store up to 8,680 metric tons of uranium, packed into 500 canisters. Future expansion could allow up to 10,000 canisters of spent fuel from nuclear plants around the country. State officials told Nuclear Regulatory Commission that the firm’s analysis is incomplete, the site is geologically unsuitable and environmental justice issues are being ignored. Associated Press

A 37-Year-Old Public Trust Doctrine to Preserve Inland Lakes just got a new look from the Nevada Supreme Court. In the precedent-setting 1983 Mono Lake case, the California Supreme Court ruled that the public trust interest in the water, fish and wildlife of the lake meant diversion of the lake’s tributaries must be controlled. Nevada’s Supreme Court just took a different tack, saying the state could not reshuffle existing rights to the Walker River to protect the receding Walker Lake. Ninth Circuit federal appeals judges had send sent the case to the Nevada court; it’s now headed back to federal court. Las Vegas Sun Nevada Independent

Local Control Was the Hallmark of California’s Groundwater Law, but a new study shows the local plans tend to favor large agribusiness over small farmers. Only about 12 percent of 260 new groundwater sustainability agencies include representatives from tribal groups or small farms not already affiliated with local irrigation districts. Estuary

After Four Decades of Combat Over the Efforts to Drill for Oil Under the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge Appear Headed for Success. With the lives and livelihoods of the Indigenous groups of the region at issue, a month ago, the Interior Department cleared the way for bidding on drilling rights. But the voices of the Iñupiat people — some of whom welcome the chance to earn revenue from lands that were once theirs — and the Gwich’in people, for whom the caribou of the region are both a nutrition and cultural linchpin — are seldom heard. A collaboration with of the The Threshold podcast, and the Center for Investigative Reporting. Reveal

Aquariums are Accustomed to Showing the Ocean’s Shallows, Not Its Depths. Now, around the world, they are figuring out how to display the mysterious and remarkable animals of the deep sea. Two years hence, California’s Monterey Bay aquarium hopes to create the first large-scale exhibition of deep sea life and the impact that warming and seabed mining may have on the unseen world. The New York Times

Articles Worth Reading: September 23, 2020

Establishing a New Indigenous Wildfire Task Force is the goal of a California State Senate candidate, Jackie Fielder. As “fire season” becomes increasingly intense, the need for effective fire management practices increases, and Indigenous groups’ knowledge becomes a beacon for forest managers.. Fielder’s plan is based on the Karuk Climate Adaptation Plan, which shows how controlled burns help prevent destructive wildfires. SF Weekly

Recent Fires Destroyed Much of Washington State’s Crucial Sage Grouse Habitat An expert on the birds said that the state’s population of less than 1,000 grouse may have been cut in half as fires burned more than 600,000 acres of forest and sagebrush rangeland this year. Overall, scientists have issued a report showing that grouse populations in nine states have declined 44 percent in five years. Mongabay

Los Angeles Is Working to Turn Recycled Plastic into Pavement and Parking Lots. Three years ago, when China announced it would take no more recycling waste, the federal Energy Department started looking for ways to dispose of the excess piling up in American dumps. The city is working on a project to create asphalt containing recycled plastic and has experimented with the asphalt mix on parking lots and small roads. It is now planning to use it on a major street near Walt Disney Concert Hall. E&E News

The Southwest Is Suffering a Major Bird Die-Off, as thousands of migratory birds have been found dead in recent weeks. The cause of this mass die-off remains unknown, but some theorize that raging western wildfires forced many birds to reroute their migrations, and that exceptionally dry conditions have greatly reduced the presence of insects, birds’ main source of food. Large avian mortality during migration is rare and few instances have been as large as this one. High Country News

Microsoft Has Launched the Second Phase of an Underwater Data Center Experiment , extending work done off the West Coast in 2015 to explore the feasibility of submarine computing. Their Natick Project intended to explore underwater data centers’ potential economic and environmental advantages relative to those on dry land. The findings: a sealed container on the ocean floor could improve overall reliability, given that oxygen and humidity corrode terrestrial centers as they do other modern infrastructure. The team also hopes that offshore data centers could support faster information retrieval over interconnected networks. CMSWire

A “Language Keepers” Podcast Illuminates the Struggle to Keep Indigenous Languages Alive in California. Two centuries ago, as many as 90 languages and 300 dialects were spoken in California. Today only half this number remain. This series explores the current state of four Indigenous languages that are among the most threatened in the world: Tolowa Dee-ni’, Karuk, Wukchumni, and Kawaiisu. It features stories of families and communities across California working to revitalize their Native languages and cultures. Emergence Magazine

Graphics & the West

Where California Grows Its Food

See the most detailed survey ever done of crops and land use in California. It covers nine million acres of land devoted to grapes, alfalfa, cotton, plums, you name it – food for people and animals all over the world. View map »

California's Changing Energy Mix

A look at the energy sources California utilities have used gives us insights into the state’s progress in decarbonizing its electricity supply. In 2015, 35% of total electricity generation (in-state generation plus imported electricity) came from zero-greenhouse-gas sources, which include solar, wind, hydropower, and nuclear. View Graphic »

U.S. Conservation Easements

Conservation easements of various kinds cover more than 22 million acres of land in the United States, according to the National Conservation Easement Database, a public-private partnership. Take a look at our interactive map of nearly every conservation easement, with details on over 130,000 sites. View map »

 

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