(de)regulation nation: Science shows that federal wildlife protections work

"The only record I broke in school was truancy. I went to the woods a lot with books."

Welcome to (de)regulation nation, the newsletter tracking environmental news in the Trump era.

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Above: The flooded pit of the Anaconda Copper Mine, a toxic pollution site in western Nevada. Source: Wikimedia Commons/Kelapstick / kCC BY-SA 3.0

bad: EPA let polluters write the terms of a toxic copper mine cleanup deal

  • In February, then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt shifted oversight of a defunct Nevada copper mine, now a 5.3-square-mile (3,400-acre) toxic waste site in central-western Nevada, from his own agency to state environmental officials.

  • The Obama administration had been working to make Anaconda a federal Superfund site.

  • But within months of President Trump’s inauguration, executives of BP and its subsidiary Atlantic Richfield, or ARCO, the firms liable for Anaconda’s environmental conditions, approached EPA to begin a quiet conversation about moving oversight of any cleanup to the Nevada Department of Environmental Protection.

  • For decades, a plume of radioactive, heavy-metals-laden pollution emanating from the Anaconda Mine has contaminated the area’s aquifer.

  • Area residents have been drinking only bottled water for nearly a decade, since EPA discovered the plume.

  • “The allies kept the process under wraps and moved quickly, sidelining tribes and residents who say that state officials misled them for decades about the site’s safety, and were too cozy with the mining industry to enforce the cleanup,” reports Audubon Magazine.

  • The transfer gave Pruitt boasting rights for removing a complex toxic waste cleanup from EPA’s list of responsibilities, while Nevada avoided the stigma of being associated with a new Superfund site.

  • ARCO and BP may have made out best of all. The deal included waiving payment of a $13 million federal fine, and Nevada’s environmental agency is historically a weak regulator.

  • Read all about it in Audubon Magazine, which used Freedom of Information law to uncover emails revealing the “backroom” negotiations.

better: Hawaii toes the water on climate justice

  • Hawaii was the first state to set a goal of 100 percent carbon-free energy before 2050.

  • But Hawaiians still need to have a “serious, adult public conversation” about fully grappling with the worst impacts of climate change.

  • That strong message from the event’s keynote speaker opened the state government’s first-ever climate conference.

  • The archipelago state is especially vulnerable to sea level rise.

  • But whatever steps Hawaii takes to curb that risk need to factor in the sometimes-neglected rights and welfare of the state’s Native Hawaiian and Micronesian communities, according to the event’s keynote speaker.

  • With the Trump administration abdicating the federal government’s role in climate action, Governor David Ige told the gathering, it’s critical that states step up to lead. “Hawaii is showing you can have economic growth while combating climate change,” said Ige.

  • Read more at the great independent news site Honolulu Civil Beat.

good: dozens of sea turtle, whale, sea lion, and other marine species are recovering since being protected by Endangered Species Act

  • A newly published, peer-reviewed study looked at how well about half of the more than 60 marine mammal and sea turtle species protected under the law have fared since being listed.

  • The researchers found that the populations of three-quarters of the 31 species have grown.

  • They include Stellar sea lions of the Bering Sea and western Gulf of Alaska, whose population dropped from a quarter million in the 1970s to 50,000 or so in 2000. Since ESA protections took effect in the 1990s, their overall numbers have climbed to over 60,000.

  • Where species or sub-populations of species are not improving, scientists believe it’s in part because they have not identified or dealt with the fundamental reasons for their declines.

  • The study’s results suggest that the Endangered Species Act is an effective law for helping wildlife recover from the risk of extinction.

  • Read more about the new study in High Country News.

  • Earther’s headline for the study paints the bigger picture: “Key U.S. Law For Protecting Endangered Species Does a Damn Good Job, Study Finds”

  • The Trump administration has proposed changed that would “vastly rework” the act in ways desired by developers and the oil and gas industries, as The New York Times reported in July.

great: Citing climate change and the Paris climate pact, global banking giant says it won’t finance drilling for Arctic Refuge oil

  • U.K.-based Barclays announced on Tuesday that it will avoid investing in “sensitive energy sectors,” including most Arctic oil and gas, coal mining, and oil-sands (also called tar sands) development.

  • It also vowed to cease financing for projects that affect Indigenous peoples.

  • The firm singled out the Trump administration’s push to drill Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge as the type of project it would avoid.

  • “The ANWR is a particularly fragile and pristine ecosystem,” Barclays noted, “which is central to the livelihoods and culture of local indigenous peoples.”

  • Bernadette Dementieff, the leader of Gwich’in opposition to drilling in the refuge lauded the announcement. “We’re glad to see Barclays recognize that the Arctic Refuge is no place for drilling and we hope that other banks, and the oil companies they fund, will follow their lead,” said Dementieff in a statement released by the Sierra Club.

  • Read more about Barclays’ decision in Arctic Today, as well as more on the Gwich’in response in Eye on the Arctic.

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This newsletter is written by me, Emily J Gertz. I’m a veteran environmental journalist. Learn more about me and see some of my work at my web site.

This week’s quote is by poet Mary Oliver, from a 2015 conversation with the radio host Krista Tippett. Oliver’s works draw on the power and beauty of nature to explore life, emotion, and purposeful living, died on January 17. She was 83 years old.

I welcome your feedback, questions, and story tips: emily@deregnation.com