SOLAR XL: Resisting Keystone XL by building clean energy in the pipeline’s path

by Mark Hefflinger, Bold Alliance

TransCanada’s proposed Keystone XL pipeline would carry 830,000 barrels per day of dirty tarsands from Canada through hundreds of American homes, farms and ranches. It would cross the delicate Sandhills in Nebraska and put the critical Ogallala Aquifer and sacred Indigenous sites like the Ponca Trail of Tears at risk. Farmers, ranchers and indigenous Nations are fighting with everything they have to protect the land and their communities from eminent domain for private gain.

We refuse to allow the Keystone XL to put our land and water at risk. We already have the solutions we need, which is why we’re building solar panels directly in the path of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The solar panels are being connected to Nebraska’s power grid, generating clean, renewable energy for the state – as opposed to a risky pipeline that would provide little benefit to Nebraskans. If Keystone XL is approved, TransCanada would have to tear down clean and locally produced energy to make way for its dirty tarsands pipeline.

The SOLAR XL project is organized by Bold Nebraska, with support from partners including, Indigenous Environmental Network, Oil Change International and CREDO (P.S. Thank you!)

Nebraska farmers Jim and Chris Carlson rejected TransCanada’s offer of $307,000 to sell their land for KXL. Jim told the company he can’t be bought because “my land is worth more to me and my family than any amount of money they could offer me.” The Carlson’s farm in Polk County was the site of the first SOLAR XL installation in July 2017.

The second SOLAR XL installation was erected on Diana and Terry “Stix” Steskal’s Prairierose Farm near Atkinson, Nebraska in September. Pumpkins and other vegetables for the local farmers market are grown right next to the solar panels.
The third installation is set for this summer at the home of Nebraska ranchers Bob and Nancy Allpress. Keystone XL would cross within 200 feet of the Allpress family’s home – as well as disturb a nearby legally protected bald eagle’s nest that the family has monitored. Any spill from the tarsands pipeline into the sandy soil on the Allpress farm would probably leak through to their drinking water source, just 14 feet below the surface.

We’re also talking with families inside the KXL route now to find the location for the fourth SOLAR XL installation and have some exciting plans in the works for a fifth location!

SOLAR XL is helping power farms and ranches with clean, renewable energy. We’re standing up to Trump and Big Oil, who want to trample property rights and risk our water all for their bottom line.

The SOLAR XL projects in the path of the pipeline will add to the resistance already in place along the pipeline route – including the Rosebud Sioux Tribe Spirit Camp, the Sacred Ponca corn planted inside the KXL route along the Ponca Trail of Tears and the solar-topped “#NoKXL Build Our Energy Barn” that Bold Nebraska constructed in 2013 thanks to small donors and volunteers.​

Mark Hefflinger is the communications and digital director for the Bold Alliance. Bold was founded in 2010 by Jane Kleeb, who helped organize an unlikely alliance of farmers, ranchers, Tribal Nations and citizens to stop the risky Keystone XL pipeline. Bold also supports a network of local small-but-mighty groups protecting land and water from risky fossil fuel pipelines, and working on issues like eminent domain, clean energy, and supporting small family farms. CREDO has been a partner with Bold since early in the Keystone XL pipeline fight, and provided support including a recent grant to help fund the Solar XL project. Since 2013, CREDO members have voted to donate more than $121,000 to the Bold Alliance. To learn more about who we fund and how we distribute our donations, visit


Offshore drilling plan under fire: Zinke may have violated law, senator says

by Sabrina Shankman, InsideClimate News

It took less than a week for cracks to develop in the Trump administration’s plan to open almost the entire offshore area of the United States to oil and gas drilling.
On Tuesday evening—five days after releasing a draft five-year leasing plan that is unprecedented in scale—Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced on Twitter that he was removing Florida from the plan.

“After talking with @FLGovScott, I am removing #Florida from the draft offshore plan,” he tweeted. In another tweet, he wrote, “Local voice matters.”

That decision set off an uproar along the coasts—and it could open Zinke’s plan to legal challenges, as well as political ones.

On Thursday, the top Democrat on a U.S. Senate committee that oversees the Interior Department said Zinke’s actions may have violated requirements of a law governing federal offshore areas. She requested that all correspondence between the department and the State of Florida regarding the drilling plan be turned over to the committee for review.

Ten U.S. Senators from New England also introduced legislation Thursday to bar offshore drilling along their stretch of the East Coast. Officials from New Jersey, New York, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, California, Oregon and Washington have voiced opposition to drilling off their coasts, and lawmakers from both political parties have called for their states to be removed from Zinke’s plan.
Zinke’s startling concession to Scott was seen by many as a politically inspired gift aimed at bolstering his chances of being elected to the U.S. Senate, where President Donald Trump is keen to rebuild the razor-thin Republican majority. Trump reportedly would like Scott to run against the incumbent, Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson, a vocal opponent of drilling.

The extensive Zinke plan, which called for opening more than 90 percent of the Outer Continental Shelf for oil and gas leasing and scheduling 47 lease sales between 2019 and 2024, already was ripe for lawsuits, according to David Hayes, who was the Interior Department’s deputy secretary and chief operating officer at points in the Clinton and Obama administrations.

“This proposal mirrors past proposals that have run into a buzzsaw of state opposition,” he said. Zinke may have made things even worse for himself, though. His decision to remove Florida “should have his lawyers cringing,” Hayes said. “It smacks of an impulsive, undisciplined, arbitrary process.”

Part of Zinke’s justification for taking Florida off the table was that it “is unique and its coasts are heavily reliant on tourism as an economic driver.”

California Rep. Ted Lieu was among those on Twitter to take umbrage at that. “Taking Florida off the table for offshore drilling but not California violates the legal standard of arbitrary and capricious agency action,” Lieu wrote in a tweet. “California and other coastal states also rely on our beautiful coasts for tourism and our economy. I believe courts will strike this down.”

Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell said Thursday that Zinke’s “decision to give a last-minute exemption to Florida while ignoring over 10 other states who followed the proper legal procedures is a waste of taxpayer dollars and may violate the requirements of the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act.” As the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, she requested all correspondence between the Interior Department and the State of Florida regarding the drilling plan “so we can conduct our oversight responsibilities.”

On the East Coast, Maine Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent, co-sponsored the legislation to block drilling off New England. “The waters off Maine’s coast provide a healthy ecosystem for our state’s fisheries and support a vigorous tourism industry, both of which support thousands of jobs and generate billions of dollars in revenue for Maine each year,” they wrote in a statement. “With our environment so closely tied to the vitality of Maine’s economy, we cannot risk the health of our ocean on a shortsighted proposal that could impact Maine people for generations.”

An earlier letter signed by 37 Democratic senators and sent to Zinke on Tuesday described the draft proposal as “an ill-advised effort to circumvent public and scientific input” and said “we object to sacrificing public trust, community safety and economic security for the interests of the oil industry.”

The plan was issued on the heels of the Trump administration’s move to weaken oil spill safeguards that were put in place after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Those protections “really didn’t go far enough,” said Oceana Campaigns Director Diane Hoskins. “Now the administration wants to roll these existing safeguards back while expanding the areas where companies can drill. It’s a recipe for disaster.”

What Can States Do?

Five-year leasing plans are federally required to consider the laws, goals and policies of affected states. “These are factors that must be considered,” Hayes said. “But it doesn’t mean [governors] have a veto authority.”

But, should Zinke continue against the states’ wishes, they do have legal options, said Sam Ori, executive director at the University of Chicago’s Energy Policy Institute.
While the federal government controls the waters of the Outer Continental Shelf, where any drilling would take place, the states have jurisdiction over their coasts and the first several miles of ocean. That means they could stand in the way of any pipelines needed to bring oil and gas resources onshore.

The Coastal Zone Management Act also allows states to slow the leasing process from the get-go and would provide ample opportunity for lawsuits, “forcing oil companies to tie up capital for decades with no clear return,” Ori wrote in an analysis for Forbes.
With multiple phases of environmental review cooked into the federally mandated process for approving the plan, environmental groups have time to sue and slow the process further.

Given the scope of the plan, Ori said the administration must have known it was unlikely for it to go into effect as written. “It doesn’t seem to me to be focused on necessarily achieving things that are realistic,” he said.

Hayes agreed. “This is a completely unrealistic pander to those who are pushing to drill anywhere, all the time, regardless of environmental sensitivity,” he said.

A Long Road Ahead

Getting a new five-year plan implemented is easier said than done. The federal Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act requires a series of environmental reviews and public comment periods, meaning no lease sales will be happening soon.

Here’s what has to happen:

  • The draft proposed plan was published on Monday in the Federal Register. That kicked off a 60-day public comment period. Next week, the first public hearings will be held in Annapolis, Maryland, and Jackson, Mississippi, and hearings continue through February, with meetings across the affected states.
  • At the same time, the Bureau of Oceans and Energy Management (BOEM) has to prepare a draft Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, which will look at any environmental issues associated with the planned offshore drilling areas.
  • BOEM will then review and analyze the comments on the draft proposed plan, which will get incorporated into an updated plan proposal and draft environmental impact statement. Then there’s a 90-day public comment period.
  • After that, BOEM will review and analyze all of the comments that come in and prepare a final environmental impact statement and a final five-year leasing plan. Those documents go to the president and Congress for at least 60 days, after which the Interior secretary can approve the final plan and issue a record of decision.

“The entire process usually takes two or three years,” Hayes said. “BOEM’s website optimistically indicates that the agency expects to issue a final decision by the end of 2019.”

One thing this timeline doesn’t take into account: state opposition and lawsuits. Federal law requires that regulators take the opinions and concerns of states into account. Based on the response so far, that could spell trouble.

Are Oil Companies Even Interested?

When Zinke released the new plan last week, he was delivering on a promise Donald Trump had made early in his presidency: to replace the existing five-year leasing plan developed by the Obama administration and encourage the exploration and development of oil in the federally owned waters of the Outer Continental Shelf.
In theory, this plan could bring drilling rigs to the waters of the Eastern Seaboard, up the Pacific Coast, into the Alaskan Arctic and through the eastern waters of the Gulf of Mexico, which have been off-limits in the past. But will it?

Ori said it’s unlikely. “Oil companies have lots of places they can invest, most obviously onshore in Texas, North Dakota and Colorado—the U.S. shale resources,” he said.When Zinke announced the offshore drilling plan, he said he aimed to bring federal revenue from lease sales back to 2008 levels, when the government brought in a record $18 billion as it added new leases in Alaska and the central Gulf of Mexico. But that year was an anomaly, Ori said. From 2000 to now, most years have brought in $4 billion to $6 billion. That year, a perfect storm of high oil prices and dwindling available reserves in politically stable countries made the U.S. lease sale particularly appealing.

“You have to think of all the combination of things that existed back then. None of those things exist anymore,” he said.

With lower oil prices acting as a deterrent for exploring new areas, Ori said, the far more logical place for companies to turn is onshore shale deposits, where there is existing infrastructure and proven reserves.


Environmental justice grabs a megaphone in the climate movement

by Phil Mckenna, InsideClimate News

Thenjiwe McHarris of the Movement for Black Lives leaned into the microphone and, with a finger pointed firmly at her audience, delivered a powerful message to the 200,000 people gathered in Washington, D.C., for the People’s Climate March.
“There is no climate justice without racial justice,” McHarris boomed as the temperature reached 91 degrees, tying a record for late April. “There is no climate justice without gender justice. There is no climate justice without queer justice.”
For a movement historically led by white males who have rallied around images of endangered polar bears and been more inclined to talk about parts per million than racial discrimination, McHarris’s message was a wake-up call.

“We must respect the leadership of black people, of indigenous people, of people of color and front line communities who are most impacted by climate change,” she said. “This must be a deliberate, strategic choice made as a means to not only end the legacy of injustice in this country, but an effort to protect the Earth.”

From the Native American standoff against a crude oil pipeline at Standing Rock to leadership at this year’s United Nations climate conference by Fiji, a small island nation whose very existence is threatened by sea level rise, 2017 was the year the needs of the dispossessed washed like a wave to the forefront of the environmental movement.

The Quinault Indian Nation led a successful fight against a large new oil export terminal in Hoquiam, Washington, where the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of a coalition of environmental groups led by the tribe in January.

California will invest $1 billion in rooftop solar on the apartments of low-income renters after Communities for a Better Environment, a group dedicated to reducing pollution in low-income communities and communities of color, pushed for the legislation.

When the EPA tried to delay new regulations against smog, states, public health advocates, environmental organizations and community groups including West Harlem Environmental Action sued, and the EPA withdrew its attempted delay.
At a recent EPA hearing on the Clean Power Plan, nearly a dozen representatives from local NAACP chapters testified on how low-income communities and communities of color would be disproportionately impacted by pollution from coal-fired power plants if the Obama-era policies to reduce power plant emissions were repealed.

Democratic lawmakers introduced new legislation on environmental justice in October that would codify an existing, Clinton-era executive order into law. The bill would add new protections for communities already impacted by pollution by accounting for cumulative emissions from existing facilities when issuing new permits. The bill likely haslittle chance of passing in the current, Republican-led House and Senate, but it could inspire similar action at the state level. One week after the bill was introduced, Virginia established its own environmental justice council charged with advising the governor on policies to limit environmental harm to disadvantaged communities.
“We are at a point where we have crossed the threshold beyond which we can not return to a period where environmental justice is not a part of the conversation,” Patrice Simms, vice president of litigation for the environmental law organization Earthjustice, said.

Driven by pollution concerns, advocates from low-income and minority communities across the country are providing a powerful, new voice on environmental issues.
“I didn’t become an environmentalist because I was worried about global warming [or] because I was concerned about penguins or polar bears,” Sen. Cory Booker, who introduced the recent environmental justice bill, said. “I became an environmentalist because I was living in Newark. I was an activist and concerned about issues of poverty and disadvantage.”

For Native Americans, the need to address environmental justice and threats to tribal sovereignty, are long overdue.

“If this country continues to encroach and continues to threaten our land rights and human rights, something is going to give,” said Dave Archambault, former chairman of the Standing Rock tribe, who led his people in opposition to the Dakota Access pipeline. “I can’t tell you what the next fight is going to be, but I know that if this country continues to treat a population the way it has, not just recently but the past 200 years, something has to happen.”


2017’s onslaught of disasters stretched FEMA to its limits

by Rick Jervis, USA TODAY

George Haddow hasn’t worked for the Federal Emergency Management Agency in nearly two decades. So he was surprised to receive an email in September asking him to return to work on a 30-day assignment in one of the country’s multiple disaster zones.

That marked the first time Haddow, now a senior fellow with Tulane University’s Disaster Resilience Leadership Academy, had been solicited by FEMA since leaving, a move that underscores the measures the agency has taken to deal with this year’s onslaught of disasters.

“Does FEMA have the capacity as it is formed and funded right now to deal with this type of disaster year?” said Haddow, who worked at FEMA as a White House liaison from 1993 to 2001 and didn’t take the short-term assignment. “This year proves that it does not.”

On many fronts, 2017 has been a record-setting year for disasters, with three major hurricanes striking U.S. shores, widespread flooding and a slew of devastating wildfires. The hurricanes alone caused an estimated $370 billion in damages and around 250 deaths on U.S. lands, making it by far the costliest U.S. hurricane season on record.

The three hurricanes impacted nearly 26 million people, or 8% of the U.S. population. By mid-October, more than 4 million survivors registered for FEMA assistance — greater than the number of people who registered for Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Wilma and Sandy combined, the agency said.

The federal disaster response and recovery agency has been stretched to its limit delivering aid to survivors and helping rebuild storm-wrecked cities. To compensate, it recruited workers from other federal agencies, reached out to retirees and solicited state and local agencies for help. More than 22,300 members of the federal workforce have been deployed to Texas, Florida, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico.

FEMA’s struggles to help impacted communities have been felt from the mountains of central Puerto Rico to the fire-mauled swaths of northern California.

“They got hammered,” said Mark Ghilarducci, director of the California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services. “Between Irma, Harvey, Puerto Rico — those are all big events. They leveraged everyone they have.”

In California, FEMA set up a small team in place early on to help survivors of the wildfires that first devoured sections of the state’s wine country in October and later exploded in southern California earlier this month, he said. But as FEMA stretched its workers over multiple disaster zones in Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands, the agency asked California’s emergency management officials for help staffing FEMA centers.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years and I can’t remember that ever happening before,” Ghilarducci said. “Every piece of everything we have in the toolbox has been leveraged this year.”

As disasters sprouted across the USA, FEMA officials tapped into 3,800 extra workers in what’s known as the Department of Homeland Security’s “Surge Capacity Force,” as well as FEMA reservists, who are on-call for disasters. But when that wasn’t enough, they took the rare move of recruiting workers from other federal departments, who needed to be quickly trained and mobilized to disaster zones.

Still short-handed, FEMA sent out emails to retirees and tapped into the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, or EMAC, a mutual aid agreement with states to share resources during times of need. Over the past six years, FEMA has recruited an average of 1,700 state workers per year through the EMAC agreement. So far this year, they’ve requested 17,790 — or 10 times the recent average. Only 2005 was higher, when FEMA recruited 67,048 state workers, due to Katrina and a string of other storms.

Despite the lack of manpower, FEMA has been getting to disaster zones fast and helping millions of people in need, said Mike Sprayberry, president of the National Emergency Management Association. The true test will come when these spread-out disaster zones shift from response to long-term recovery, an area FEMA also oversees, he said.

“The devil in the details is how we work it in the long-term recovery,” Sprayberry said.

Funding has been another challenge. FEMA had only $2 billion on hand for disaster relief when Harvey barreled into South Texas on Aug. 17, according to the agency. Congress has passed two emergency disaster relief bills totaling more than $50 billion since then but need is outpacing funds. Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló estimated damages to his island alone are around $95 billion. U.S. lawmakers are considering another multi-billion-dollar request for disaster funding but it may not be passed until next month.

In October testimony to Congress, FEMA administrator Brock Long warned that disasters in the U.S. are becoming more frequent and costlier, due to more destructive storms and a widening gap between insured and uninsured losses.
From 1995 through 2004, the White House approved 598 disaster declarations with a cost of $37 billion in FEMA assistance. From 2005 to 2014, that number jumped to 808 disasters at a cost of $107 billion, he said.

“This unprecedented hurricane season has truly tested us as a nation and tested many of our assumptions about what works in disaster response and recovery,” Long said.

Haddow, the former FEMA official, said President Trump was good at quickly declaring federal disasters to unlock money and resources. But as the disasters piled up, FEMA was rapidly overwhelmed.

“They just didn’t have enough bodies,” he said.


Activists put solar directly in the path of Keystone XL pipeline


Solar XL is a wave of renewable energy resistance that’s building solar arrays directly in the route of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline – putting clean energy solutions in the path of the problem.

The project was launched by Bold Nebraska,, Indigenous Environmental Network, CREDO, and Oil Change International.

This 8-minute film shares the stories of the people and vision behind Solar XL. This is bigger than one pipeline. It’s about resisting with clean energy solutions that support communities and protect our climate.


Climate change ‘will create world’s biggest refugee crisis’

by Matthew Taylor, The Guardian

Tens of millions of people will be forced from their homes by climate change in the next decade, creating the biggest refugee crisis the world has ever seen, according to a new report.
Senior US military and security experts have told the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) study that the number of climate refugees will dwarf those that have fled the Syrian conflict, bringing huge challenges to Europe.

“If Europe thinks they have a problem with migration today … wait 20 years,” said retired US military corps brigadier general Stephen Cheney. “See what happens when climate change drives people out of Africa – the Sahel [sub-Saharan area] especially – and we’re talking now not just one or two million, but 10 or 20 [million]. They are not going to south Africa, they are going across the Mediterranean.”

The study published on Thursday calls on governments to agree a new legal framework to protect climate refugees and, ahead of next week’s climate summit in Germany, urges leaders to do more to implement the targets set out in the Paris climate agreement.

Sir David King, the former chief scientific adviser to the UK government, told the EJF: “What we are talking about here is an existential threat to our civilisation in the longer term. In the short term, it carries all sorts of risks as well and it requires a human response on a scale that has never been achieved before.”

The report argues that climate change played a part in the build up to the Syrian war, with successive droughts causing 1.5 million people to migrate to the country’s cities between 2006 and 2011. Many of these people then had no reliable access to food, water or jobs.
“Climate change is the the unpredictable ingredient that, when added to existing social, economic and political tensions, has the potential to ignite violence and conflict with disastrous consequences,” said EJF executive director, Steve Trent.

“In our rapidly changing world climate change – and its potential to trigger both violent conflict and mass migration – needs to be considered as an urgent priority for policymakers and business leaders alike.”

Although the report highlights to growing impact of climate change on people in the Middle East and Africa, it says changing weather patterns – like the hurricanes that devastated parts of the US this year – prove richer nations are not immune from climate change.

But Trent said that although climate change undoubtedly posed an “existential threat to our world” it was not to late to take decisive action.

“By taking strong ambitious steps now to phase out greenhouse gas emissions and building an international legal mechanism to protect climate refugees we will protect the poorest and most vulnerable in our global society, build resilience, reap massive economic benefits and build a safe and secure future for our planet. Climate change will not wait. Neither can we. For climate refugees, tomorrow is too late.”


PG&E wants ratepayers to pay California wildfire costs

by Paul Rogers, Mercury News

Fearing billions of dollars in future liability, PG&E has been aggressively urging state regulators to make it easier for the company to charge ratepayers — rather than its shareholders — when its power lines and other electrical equipment cause wildfires.

Top PG&E executives met as recently as last week to lobby officials at the state Public Utilities Commission in San Francisco over the issue, which could arise powerfully in coming months if the utility is found to be responsible for the Wine Country fires, a serious possibility that state regulators are now investigating.

In a 30-minute meeting on Oct. 17, Meredith Allen, PG&E’s senior director of regulatory relations, told Travis Foss, an adviser to PUC Commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen, that PG&E and other California utilities are in “an untenable situation,” according to a record of the meeting that PG&E sent to the PUC as required under state lobbying rules. PG&E should not have to pay “a disproportionate” share of the costs of wildfires because of the growing fire risk and a tough insurance market, Allen argued.

But consumer groups say the push by PG&E and the state’s other two large utilities — Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric — is out of line. If the PUC allows utilities to pass along most of their uninsured wildfire costs to ratepayers in the form of higher monthly bills, critics say, they will have less incentive to properly maintain wires, trim back trees and take other sometimes costly measures needed to reduce wildfire risk.

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“PG&E and the other utilities are very vigorously lobbying to see that the costs of disasters be covered by ratepayers, even when they are found negligent,” said Mark Toney, executive director of The Utility Reform Network, a San Francisco consumer group.

“The shareholders benefit when the company does well,” he said. “They have to pay when the company doesn’t do well.”

If the PUC doesn’t grant the utilities’ request to spare shareholders if the companies are held liable for causing wildfires, they would see their profit margins decrease — which is likely to hurt shareholders financially by causing dividends and utility stock prices to drop.

The PUC and Cal Fire are investigating whether PG&E power lines were responsible for starting the devastating wildfires in Napa and Sonoma counties earlier this month. The Bay Area News Group reported two weeks ago that records from emergency dispatchers show that firefighters were sent to at least 10 different locations in Sonoma County to respond to reports of arcing power lines and exploding transformers on the night of Oct. 8 within 90 minutes of the first fire being reported.

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If PG&E is found to be at fault for the fires, the costs would almost certainly soar into the billions. But the company has reported that it has only $800 million in insurance.
The fires in Napa, Sonoma and other Northern California counties together were the deadliest and most destructive in state history. They burned more than 245,000 acres, destroyed at least 8,700 structures and killed 42 people, according to Cal Fire.

The PUC has ordered PG&E to preserve all lines, power poles, emails and other evidence that could be relevant in the case. PG&E’s stock price has fallen 18 percent from the time the fires began until Thursday.

The specific case that has drawn PG&E’s recent focus is a potentially precedent-setting PUC proceeding regarding whether San Diego Gas & Electric should be forced to pay $379 million in expenses that its insurance did not cover after the utility’s power lines were blamed for starting three huge fires in San Diego County in 2007. The outcome of that San Diego County case is “likely to impact PG&E directly in the future,” PG&E attorney Michael Klotz said Oct. 4 in a filing with the PUC.

Power lines may be linked to Wine Country fires

There’s a big issue at stake, the company says.

“Wildfires and the method with which they are treated presently have real world and potential long-term impacts on the operations, risk management and financial standing of every energy company in the state,” PG&E spokesman Donald Cutler said in an email. “We felt it was important that the Commission hear the perspectives of all the energy companies that operate in California.”

But the San Diego County case is not going the utilities’ way.

On Aug. 22, after more than a year of hearings and motions, two administrative law judges rejected San Diego Gas & Electric’s request to pass along $379 million in uninsured expenses from the 2007 fires to its ratepayers. A final decision in the case by the five-member PUC, whose members are appointed by the governor, has been postponed three times, with a decision now scheduled for Nov. 9.

The three San Diego County fires have similarities to this month’s North Bay fires.
Investigators from Cal Fire and the PUC concluded that the three October 2007 blazes — the Witch, Guejito and Rice fires — were caused by San Diego Gas & Electric’s power lines.
The Witch and Guejito fires combined to burn 197,000 acres. They killed two people, injured 40 firefighters and destroyed 1,141 homes and 239 vehicles. The Rice fire burned 9,472 acres and destroyed 206 homes. It was caused by a dead tree limb falling on power lines.

The PUC ruled that the utility did not trim trees back as required by state law in the Rice fire — and that the utility was at fault in the other two. In the Witch fire, the power line that caused the fire shorted three times in three hours, investigators found, and it took the utility more than six hours to turn off its electricity.

After the fires, San Diego Gas & Electric faced $5.6 billion in legal claims. It settled approximately 2,500 lawsuits from people who suffered damages, bringing its costs down to $2.4 billion, said company spokeswoman Colleen Windsor. The $379 million it is seeking to charge ratepayers for now is money not covered by its insurance.

Windsor said that “hurricane force” wind speeds topped out at 92 mph on the day of the fires.
“We design, operate and maintain our system at or above standards, and despite having a safe system the wildfires that occurred were due to circumstances beyond SDG&E’s control,” she said.

In August, however, the two administrative law judges disagreed. They sided with consumer groups’ experts who said the winds were blowing at 43 mph at the time of the Witch fire’s ignition, 56 mph at the time of the Guejito’s fire’s ignition and 34 mph when the Rice fire started. The judges, S. Pat Tsen and Sasha Goldberg, concluded that SDG&E “did not reasonably manage and operate its facilities” and thus could not pass along costs to ratepayers.

PG&E made similar claims this month after the North Bay fires, saying that “hurricane strength” winds of more than 75 mph were in play. But the Bay Area News Group reported earlier this month that weather stations in the Santa Rosa and Napa area recorded wind speeds of 30 and 32 mph when the fires started, although the winds later strengthened.
Consumer groups and the utilities are watching the San Diego case very carefully.

“We’re concerned this could give a free pass to the utilities,” said Diane Conklin, an activist in San Diego. “If the utility doesn’t have a good record, then their insurance costs are going to be higher, like the bad boy in the driving class. But they should have some accountability. They should have consequences for their own actions.”


Nurses mobilize to lead the fight against climate change

by Yessenia Funes, Earther

Climate change and global health are inextricably woven together. And as climate change worsens health problems around the world, nurses are often left to pick up the pieces in hospitals and clinics.

And they are. But in addition to helping the victims of natural disasters today, nurses are thinking about how to protect the most vulnerable patients of the future. Part of that effort includes the November special issue of the Journal of Nursing Scholarship—the first nursing journal issue dedicated entirely to climate change and health.

Though its articles have been slowly released online since August, the issue came out in its entirety Wednesday—and its article list is bomb. The overarching theme is the health threat climate change poses to at-risk populations like farmers and the elderly. The publication of this issue signals a new urgency within the nursing profession that they must contribute to solving climate change, and that starts with exploring how.

Climate change is going to create major global health challenges. As the U.S. Global Research Program’s 2016 assessment noted, a warming climate could increase populations of disease spreaders like mosquitoes and ticks, worsen air pollution that leads to respiratory disease, and raise temperatures to dangerous highs that can incite heat stroke.

“Climate change is believed to be one of the largest threats to human health that the planet has ever experienced.”

These types of adverse health impacts are important to nurses, but so is their ability to respond. In addition to outlining the risks, the journal addresses hospital preparedness for the stormier future and the current reality, as seen with Hurricane Sandy in New York City. Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico offers another example of the serious challenges the nursing workforce experiences post-disasters. Surgeons are performing surgery over cellphone light and locals are having trouble accessing medical care.

New York University’s Rory Meyers College of Nursing Dean Eileen Sullivan-Marx guest edited the journal, alongside Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing Dean at Emory University Linda McCauley.

They were inspired to create the issue after the previous administration held a White House Summit on Climate Change and Health. When they suggested the idea to the journal’s international editorial board, the two were pleasantly surprised to see members were interested.

“We’re the largest and most-trusted health professional group,” Sullivan-Marx told Earther.

“As the most trusted, if we’re saying climate change is bad for your health, then pay attention.”

They write in their guest editorial:

Nursing has historically addressed the health needs and care of the nation’s most vulnerable individuals. Climate change will have the capacity to affect all of the earth’s inhabitants, but groups particularly vulnerable include those with low income, some communities of color, immigrant groups, indigenous peoples, children and pregnant women, older adults, vulnerable occupational groups, persons with disabilities, and persons with preexisting or chronic medical conditions.

Sullivan-Marx and McCauley call on nurses to rise above the political fray in the Washington that’s keeping the federal government from taking direct action against the global threat of climate change.

“Extreme weather events are going to occur, and care providers are going to have to take care of populations regardless of what the government does,” McCauley told Earther.

While nurses’ most intimate experiences with climate change are usually through emergency response to disasters, the guest editors ask their community to join fight to prevent further global warming entirely, by supporting policies that push sustainable energy sources and reduce greenhouse gases.

The nursing community’s concern over climate change isn’t new. Nurse unions came out in droves for the New York City People’s Climate March in 2014. They saw firsthand what disaster relief looks like after Hurricane Sandy, whose five-year anniversary is this weekend. And they recognized how badly survivors need—and will continue to need—them.
Now, the urgency is only increasing.

The journal’s guest editorial is frank: “Climate change is believed to be one of the largest threats to human health that the planet has ever experienced.”



Disasters make 14 million people homeless each year – UN

by Adela Suliman, Thomson Reuters Foundation

LONDON, Oct 12 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – About 14 million people are being made homeless on average each year as a result of sudden disasters such as floods and storms, new figures show.

The risk of displacement could rise as populations swell and the impacts of climate change become more severe, said a report issued on Friday by the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction (UNISDR) and the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC).

Earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and tropical cyclones are the main disasters forecast to uproot large numbers of people, with countries in Asia, home to 60 percent of the world’s population, hit particularly hard, according to modelling by the agencies.

Eight of the ten countries with the highest levels of displacement and housing loss are in South and Southeast Asia.

They include India, where an average of 2.3 million people are forced to leave their homes annually, and China with 1.3 million people uprooted each year, found the report, released on the International Day for Disaster Reduction.

The numbers exclude those evacuated ahead of a threat, and people displaced by drought or rising seas.

Russia and the United States also feature as countries where disasters could cause large-scale homelessness, unless significant progress is made on managing disaster risk, the study said.

“The findings underline the challenge we have to reduce the numbers of people affected by disasters,” said Robert Glasser, the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative for disaster risk reduction.

“Apart from death or severe injury in a disaster event, there is no more crushing blow than the loss of the family home,” he added in a statement.

The most devastating floods to hit South Asia in a decade killed more than 1,400 people this year, and focused attention on poor planning for disasters, as authorities struggled to assist millions of destitute survivors.

Refugees and people uprooted in their own countries are already at record-high numbers, said IDMC director Alexandra Bilak. The new model goes some way towards predicting the risk of disaster-related displacement, which is an “urgent, global priority”, she noted.

It is also intended to help urban planners in hazard-prone towns and cities who must consider the safety and durability of built-up areas and the threats to millions living there. Justin Ginnetti, head of data and analysis at the IDMC, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation there was a strong correlation between the risk of being uprooted by a disaster and residing in a rapidly urbanising location.

With the poor often living on the outskirts of cities, on flood plains or along river banks, Ginnetti said better urban planning could make them less vulnerable.

He contrasted Japan and the Philippines, which have roughly the same number of people exposed to cyclones. Japan builds more robust housing and so faces far less displacement in a disaster than the Philippines, where homes are less able to withstand shocks, he said.
“We don’t want people to think of disaster displacement as some kind of inevitable act of God – this is not (a) necessary outcome every time there’s heavy rainfall,” he said.


Land Rights Protest

200 environmental and land-rights activists murdered in 2016, report finds

by Georgina Gustin, InsideClimate News

Some 200 environmental and land-rights activists were killed in 2016, making it the deadliest year on record as an intensifying battle over shrinking natural resources and climate-cooling forests leads to more clashes.

The death toll, tallied by the UK-based group Global Witness, is the highest since the group began tracking deaths in 2012. The largest number of deaths involved protesters opposing the mining and oil industries. A growing number were linked to efforts to fight off deforestation or encroachment of agricultural companies onto indigenous lands, where native forests act as important carbon sinks.

The numbers are climbing and so is the reach. Global Witness found that environmental activists were murdered in 24 countries last year, up from 16 countries in 2015. Brazil suffered the most, with 49 deaths.

Ben Leather, a campaigner with Global Witness, says he believes the violence is spreading largely because murders are going unpunished. “That sends a message to perpetrators that they can brutally silence these people and get away with it,” Leather said.

Nearly 40 percent of those killed were from indigenous tribes or communities, a number that could have significant consequences for climate-stabilizing forests. Researchers have found that old-growth forests store more carbon than replanted ones. Many of those native forests are collectively managed by indigenous people. A 2016 analysis found that indigenously managed forest accounted for a quarter of all carbon stored in tropical forests—nearly 55,000 million metric tons, about four times the carbon emissions emitted in 2014.

“These people have a role in slowing the impact of climate change,” Leather said. “Many of these activists are effectively land-rights activists. What we’re talking about is land-grabs—that’s definitely the case with agribusiness. But the impact is, once that land is grabbed, native trees and ecosystems are destroyed to plant crops.”

“Even if the priority is their land, the knock-on effect is that they’re protecting the environment,” Leather added.

Global Witness researchers rely on networks of activists on the ground in countries across the world. They acknowledge that getting precise information on the motivation for a murder or the precise perpetrator is challenging. But inclusion in the report is based on a clear link to environmental activism, Leather said.

The report found that 33 activists protesting against extraction industries—oil and mining—were murdered in 2016, and the number of logging industry protesters killed rose from 15 to 23. Twenty-three agribusiness protesters were found murdered.

Brazil remained the deadliest country, with 49 environmental and land-rights activists killed last year—16 of them for fighting expanding agribusiness and logging. Sixty percent of the people killed were from Latin America; Nicaragua was the worst location per capita, with 11 killings in 2016.

But the report also pointed out that environmental activists are increasingly threatened in developed countries, too.

“Developed countries are ramping up other methods to suppress activists, notably in the U.S., where environmental defenders are being given every reason to protest by the Trump administration,” the report said. “It is increasingly clear that, globally, governments and businesses are failing in their duty to protect activists at risk.”