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InFrack 0930wrp opt(Photo: EcoWatch)The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has ruled that the state's controversial Act 13 is unconstitutional, calling it a special law that benefits the shale gas industry. The massive Marcellus Shale formation, which underlies a large area of Western Pennsylvania, provides more than 36 percent of the shale gas produced in the U.S.

The Pennsylvania State Legislature passed Act 13 in 2012 and it was almost immediately challenged by seven of the state's municipalities along with the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and a private physician. The onerous law enabled natural gas companies to seize privately owned subsurface property through eminent domain, placed a gag order on health professionals to prevent them from getting information on drilling chemicals that could harm their patients, and limited notification of spills and leaks to public water suppliers, excluding owners of private wells that supply drinking water for 25 percent of Pennsylvania residents. Act 13 also pre-empted municipal zoning of oil and gas development.

"The decision is another historic vindication for the people's constitutional rights," stated Jordan Yeager, lead counsel on the case representing the Delaware Riverkeeper Network and Bucks County municipalities on the case. "The court has made a clear declaration that the Pennsylvania legislature cannot enact special laws that benefit the fossil fuel industry and injure the rest of us."

On Dec. 19, 2013, the state Supreme Court issued a narrow ruling on the grounds that the law violated the Environmental Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution. That ruling returned local zoning rights to municipalities. It also ordered the state Commonwealth Court to reconsider other provisions. The ruling by the Supreme Court issued Wednesday addresses those rulings and should end the litigation.


Tigers 0928wrp opt(Photo: EcoWatch)In legal tiger farms across China, some 6,000 caged cats are kept in filthy conditions and will be killed for dubious medicinal uses and as home decor for the country's newly-rich elite. The sordid business is mostly legal, but hides behind carefully-worded agreements and pretensions of conservation. The issue is expected to be addressed at this week's Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) meeting in Johannesburg.

It is estimated that 60 percent of China's 1.4 billion people use so-called traditional medicines made from tiger bones, rhinoceros horn, bear gall bladder and other exotic animal parts. As China has grown in recent decades, creating a larger middle class and many newly rich entrepreneurs, demand for tiger parts has grown.

"The use of endangered tiger products and their medicines is seen as a symbol of high status and wealth," states Tigers in Crisis.

China signed on to CITES, but maintains about 200 tiger farms, where tigers are bred to serve this growing market. Claiming that these tiger parts are for domestic consumption, and therefore not subject to the treaty on international trade, China also defends the tiger farms as a captive breeding program that actually helps the species.

However, in 1993, China banned trading in tiger bone, and a 1988 wildlife law that purports to protect endangered species sets forth a policy of "actively domesticating and breeding the species of wildlife."

Wednesday, 28 September 2016 06:44

Jim Hightower: Laboratories of Democracy


Lab 0928wrp opt(Photo: Tweenk)In a 1932 dissenting opinion, Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis noted that the benefit of America's federal structure is that "a single courageous state may, if its citizens choose, serve as a laboratory; and try novel social and economic experiments without risk to the rest of the country."

During my two terms as Texas Agriculture Commissioner, I was lucky enough to get the chance to put the Brandeis proposition into practice. There, we succeeded in establishing a broad network of farmers markets, providing state certification and labeling for organic products, promulgating comprehensive pesticide protections, creating food marketing co-ops, encouraging farmers to grow high-value nonconventional crops (from apples to wine grapes), financing and developing locally-owned ag processing facilities, opening the doors of corporate-controlled commerce so small farmers and food artisans could sell their products in supermarkets and even in international markets, and promoting both water conservation and the use of renewable energy sources, Brandeis' "laboratory" realized!

But — oops — meet unintended consequences of Brandeisian theory: The gaggle of small-minded, far-right extremists who've grabbed the levers of gubernatorial power and established notoriously regressive regimes in Wisconsin, North Carolina, Kansas, Florida, Maine, Michigan, Arizona, Oklahoma, Indiana, and Texas. These governors share an uncanny uniformity in the policies (written by the American Legislative Exchange Council or ALEC) they push and the political language they use — as if operating from a common plan, advancing the same duo of governmental goals:

— To increase the power and profits of the corporate interests that put up the campaign cash that keep the governors in office by delivering subsidies, no-bid contracts, special tax breaks, regulatory benefits, etc.

— To knock down working-class and poor people by such despotic actions as suppressing voter turnout, destroying unions, bashing immigrants, militarizing police forces, slashing education budgets, corporatizing government programs, cutting human services for the needy, holding down wages, using theocratic piety to invade women's bodies and rights, and autocratically pre-empting the democratic authority of activist citizens and local governments.


Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

ecoforestryfish copy(Photo courtesy of EcoWatch)

An international team of scientists led by the U.S Geological Survey (USGS) released a comprehensive report last week showing widespread mercury contamination across western North America.

The report, based on decades of mercury data and research, found alarming levels of mercury and methylmercury in the forests, fishes, wildlife, plants and waterways of America's western landscapes. The USGS study provides the first integrated analysis of where mercury occurs in western North America, how it moves through the environment, and the processes that influence its movement and transfer to aquatic and ultimately, the human food chain

Among the many disturbing findings are shocking accumulations of mercury in densely forested areas such as those found along the Pacific mountain ranges of California and Oregon. The scientific team showed that these critical ecosystems collect dangerous mercury loads because they receive high amounts of precipitation. Rainfall washes mercury from the atmosphere onto wet forested regions where it binds to the vegetation and accumulates in the soils and surface waters. From these vectors it can bioaccumulate in fish, including salmon.

The report confirms the findings of a January 2016 study that narrowly investigated mercury levels in rainfall. That study reported that the long-term trend of decreasing mercury levels in precipitation had leveled off and that some sites in the western U.S. were experiencing increases, which the investigators concluded were due to exploding mercury emissions from Asia.

An earlier study in 2002 reported that industrial emissions in Asia are a major source of mercury in rainwater falling along the California coast. The new USGS study describes the precise atmospheric transport mechanisms that carry massive mercury contamination from Asia and deposit the potent neurotoxin in the water, soils and biota across America's West Coast. According to the papers lead author, it is not just the mercury itself, but a cocktail of atmospheric pollutants that contribute to the deposition of mercury in rainfall. Elemental mercury behaves as a gas in the atmosphere and is not washed out in rain until it has been oxidized into a charged ionic form that can be captured by water droplets.

The USGS study sheds light on earlier research with frightening human health implications. A 2008 study reported children living in areas of high precipitation may be more likely to have autism. Those investigators looked at rainfall in California, Washington and Oregon. That team obtained autism prevalence rates for children born in those three states between 1987 and 1999 and calculated average annual precipitation by county from 1987 to 2001. The researchers also computed the autism rates in relation to the average annual precipitation in the counties when the children were younger than 3 years old.


Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

Even though scientists are pretty certain that wastewater injection from fracking and conventional drilling has led to the unprecedented spate of earthquakes rollicking Oklahoma,Texas and other states in recent years. Definitive proof, however, is rare. But now, in a study published Thursday in Science Magazine, researchers have fastened another nail in the "man-made earthquakes" coffin.

Using satellite imagery, the researchers found that a series of earthquakes that struck Texas between 2012 and 2013 -- including the largest-ever quake recorded in eastern Texas -- were caused by the injection of large volumes of wastewater from oil and gas activities into deep underground wells.

As Mashable explained from the study:

Wastewater not only puts pressure on underground fault lines, causing "induced" earthquakes, but also pushes up the surface of the ground -- a phenomenon called "uplifting" that can be seen from space.

Researchers used satellite images of ground uplifting to show how wastewater disposal in eastern Texas eventually triggered a magnitude-4.8 earthquake in May 2012, the largest earthquake recorded in that half of the Lone Star state.

"Our research is the first to provide an answer to the questions of why some wastewater injection causes earthquakes, where it starts and why it stops," said study co-author William Ellsworth, a geophysics professor at Stanford's School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences.

Monday, 26 September 2016 07:50

Readers Want News, Not Fluff


Type 0926wrp opt(Photo: Willi Heidelbach)The New York Post, a Rupert Murdoch tabloid publication that isn’t likely to win a Pulitzer Prize anytime soon, splashed a full page picture of a smiling Jennifer Anniston on its Sept. 21 front cover. In the upper left-hand space it placed all-capitals text: “BRANGELINA 2004–2016.” Inside the Post were four full consecutive pages, and a half page and part of a column deeper in the newspaper, all devoted to one of the most critical social issues facing the country—Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are getting a divorce.

People magazine put the multi-million dollar couple on its cover, and teased us with the text: “WHY SHE LEFT” and “THE REAL STORY.” US magazine had an “EXCLUSIVE.” ABC, CBS, CNN, FOX NEWS, MSNBC, and NBC evening newscasts all devoted air time to the divorce. “Entertainment Tonight,” “TMZ,” dozens of entertainment-fueled TV programs, Reuters and AP news services, hundreds of daily newspapers and countless online blogs all had coverage of the epic event. The news also dominated the social media, especially Twitter and Facebook.

Barely covered that day by the establishment media was in-depth coverage and analyses of President Obama’s speech the day before at the United Nations general assembly. Also lightly covered was a petition to the UN Human Rights Council by the Standing Rock Sioux sovereign nation to halt construction of a $3.8 billion 1,150 mile pipeline that would not only disturb that nation’s sacred burial grounds and could possibly pollute the Missouri River, but would be built on ground seized by eminent domain by Energy Transfer Partnersof Dallas, Texas.

Why there was negligible coverage of public affairs issues and maximum coverage of a celebrity divorce is based upon economics and poor business practices.

Media profits, once running anywhere from 5 to 30 percent, depending upon the medium, declined significantly in the Great Recession during the last two years of the Bush–Cheney administration. Businesses significantly cut their advertising budgets; consumers stopped subscriptions.


Rose 0926wrp opt(Photo: Georges Seguin)As strange as it may sound, the sound symbolism of a name has become an unnamed central issue in the 2016 presidential campaign. As a cognitive linguist, my job is to study the issue and, at the very least, to name it.

Perhaps the best-known discussion of naming occurs in Juliet’s soliloquy in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Here is Juliet, proclaiming that all that divides her from Romeo are their family names.

Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What's Montague? It is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What's in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title.

Shakespeare here was writing about love, not profit or politics. Donald Trump’s father changed the family name from Drumpf to Trump. It was a name change worth billions. Herr Drumpf understood the power of naming, as has his son, who renames his rivals: Lyin’ Ted, Little Mario, Crooked Hillary.


Maxima 0923wrp(Photo: EcoWatch)Early Sunday morning, Máxima Acuña, a 2016 recipient of the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize, was reportedly attacked at her home in Peru when hitmen illegally entered the property. Máxima was awarded the 2016 Goldman Prize for her fight against the expansion of the Yanacocha Mine, a subsidiary of Colorado-based mining giant Newmont and Peruvian-based mining company Buenaventura. The hitmen that attacked Máxima and her partner, Jaime Chaupe, were reportedly hired by the mining companies.

It is with healing thoughts and a heavy heart we wish Máxima and her partner a quick recovery from this outrageous attack. Máxima has been an inspiration in the fight to protect her land, her livelihood and her community from the greed and destruction of the mining companies operating in Peru. Her bravery and persistence have helped shape the world in untold ways, and we are intensely disturbed by Sunday's events.

The continued attacks and assassinations of the brave environmental and indigenous rights activists around the world is a clear indication that we still have a long way to go to ensure a world that is truly safe, equitable and inclusive for all.



Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

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In a major setback for environmental groups, a federal judge in California has tossed out allegations that the U.S. Forest Service allowed Nestlé's bottled water operation to take water from the San Bernardino National Forest on a permit that expired back in 1988.

The decision regards a lawsuit filed against the Forest Servicein October 2015 by the Courage Campaign Institute, the Center for Biological Diversity and the Story of Stuff Project. The groups alleged that the agency was allowing Nestlé Waters North America to pipe water from public lands on a permit that had long expired.

With the ruling, the multinational food and drink corporation can continue its use of a four-mile pipeline that siphons thousands of gallons of public water a day from theStrawberry Creekwatershed and sell it back to the public as bottled water. The water is sold under the Arrowhead brand.

Thursday, 22 September 2016 06:39

Free the Snake River, Remove the Dams

Save the Snake flotilla demonstration(Photo: Backbone Campaign)GARY WOCKNER OF ECOWATCH FOR BUZZFLASH AT TRUTHOUT

Article reprinted with permission from EcoWatch

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Buck Ryan, the Snake River Waterkeeper, put it this way, "Removing hydroelectric dams is progress -- we no longer have to destroy rivers and kill endangered fish to keep the lights on."

As I paddled my kayak amidst the hundreds of people in the Free The Snake flotilla last weekend, I believe Ryan is on the right track. Dams are a 50 to 100 year old technology -- it's time to remove even more dams along America's diminished waterways and replace that aged technology with flourishing solar and wind energy systems.

2016 was the second year for the Free The Snake flotilla. Co-sponsored by more than a dozen non-profit groups and organized by Save Our Wild Salmon and Patagonia, the flotilla took place on the Idaho border on the Snake River. Four huge dams on the lower Snake River have contributed to several species ofsalmonbeing placed on the endangered species list. Removing the dams would help restore the salmon and a way of life in the Snake and Columbia River basins.

The flotilla included participation from river conservation and fishing groups, native American tribes and local businesses, all who have a stake in seeing the lower Snake River dams removed. Since the dams were built more than 30 years ago, only about 1 percent of salmon return from the sea to their native spawning grounds along the river. Historically, around 8 million salmon would return from the sea, swim up the Columbia River and then up into the Snake. That number is now down to around 80,000. Further, the vast majority of those fish are bred and stocked every year, with few or none being original wild salmon.

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