Alaska

Alaska Native tribes challenge Tongass logging

Five Alaska Native tribes filed a lawsuit Dec. 23 challenging the Trump administration's move to allow logging in the 17 million-acre Tongass National Forest. The tribes are represented by nonprofits Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and are joined as plaintiffs by other environmental groups, commercial fishing groups, and tourism businesses. In October, the Trump administration announced that it would exempt the Tongass from the Clinton-era Roadless Area Conservation Rule, or the "roadless rule." The roadless rule blocks logging and road construction in specified forests. Alaskan state leadership petitioned for the reversal, which puts nine million acres of the Tongass at risk. According to the United States Forest Service, the Tongass is the "largest intact temperate rainforest in the world."

Trump admin opens bids for ANWR drilling

The Trump administration on Nov. 16 announced formal proceedings to sell oil and gas leases in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Alaska State Office issued a call for "nominations" on several lease tracts considered for the upcoming Coastal Plain Oil & Gas Lease Sale, covering approximately 1.5 million acres of the refuge along the coast of the Arctic Ocean. The notice launches the beginning of a 30-day public comment period before the agency moves forward with lease sales.

Ninth Circuit approves drilling within Alaska reserve

The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals on July 9 issued a ruling in favor of the US government, allowing oil drilling to proceed in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska (NPRA). The court rejected a claim by environmental groups that a 2012 impact statement prepared for earlier drilling within the NPRA was inadequate to cover new planned operations by oil companies elsewhere in the reserve, a critical caribou habitat.

UN report on climate change calls for urgent action

A Special Report on Climate Change was released by the UN Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) on Aug. 8, focusing on greenhouse gas emissions and its links to desertification, land degradation and food security. The report warns that the "rise in global temperatures, linked to increasing pressures on fertile soil," risks "jeopardizing food security for the planet." According to the report, about a quarter of the Earth's ice-free land area is subject to human-induced degradation, such as soil erosion and desertification. The effects of global warming have led to "shifts of climate zones in many world regions," further exacerbating land degradation, and leading to extreme weather conditions such as floods and droughts. The reports warns: "The stability of food supply is projected to decrease as the magnitude and frequency of extreme weather events that disrupt food chains increases."

Bay of Fundy flashpoint for US-Canada war?

In what the New York Times somewhat hyperbolically calls a "clash," US Border Patrol vessels have over the past two weeks stopped at least 10 Canadian fishing boats near Machias Seal Island between Maine and New Brunswick. Canada has responded by beefing up its Coast Guard patrols in what is being termed a "disputed gray zone" between the two countries' territories. "There is no illegal immigration going on there," a bewildered Canadian fisherman told the Times. "It seems silly." Most observers see it as related to the current bitter trade dispute between Washington and Ottawa. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation says the US Border Patrol has stopped over 20 Canadian vessels so far this year in "contested waters" in the Bay of Fundy, and "has no intention of stopping." The so-called Grey Zone consists of some 700 square kilometers of lucrative lobster waters where the Bay of Fundy meets the Gulf of Maine, although few actually live in it. Machias Seal Island is a migratory bird sanctuary maintained by the government of Canada, but is otherwise uninhabited.

Arctic oil scramble in offing after GOP tax bill

As a part of the Republican tax overhaul bill, Congress voted Dec. 20 to open Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to oil and natural gas drilling, after more than four decades of contestation on the matter. The House voted 224-201 to pass the bill, mostly along party lines. This finalizes the legislation, as the Senate version was passed by a 51-48 party-line vote earlier in the day. Once President Trump signs the law, the oil industry will have finally achieved a long-sought goal. "We're going to start drilling in ANWR, one of the largest oil reserves in the world, that for 40 years this country was unable to touch. That by itself would be a massive bill," Trump boasted. "They've been trying to get that, the Bushes, everybody. All the way back to Reagan, Reagan tried to get it. Bush tried to get it. Everybody tried to get it. They couldn't get it passed. That just happens to be here."

Puerto Ricans to become climate refugees?

Hurricane Maria's destruction on Puerto Rico could spawn one of the largest mass migration events in the United States' recent history, as tens of thousands of storm victims flee the island territory to rebuild their lives on the mainland. Some 97% of the island's 3.4 million residents are still without power. About half of the island's residents do not have running water. And no one knows when things will be fixed. Scientific American warns that the displaced islanders, thousands now awaiting flights from San Juan's Luis Muñoz Marín airport, might be among the United States' newest "climate refugees," a demographic that includes former residents of the Louisiana coast and of shrinking islands in Alaska's Bering Strait.

San Francisco sues fossil fuel companies

San Francisco on Sept. 20 filed a lawsuit against five fossil fuel companies due to expected expenses the city will incur from global warming. The companies named in the suit are BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell—chosen because they are "the largest investor-owned fossil fuel corporations in the world as measured by their historic production of fossil fuels." The suit claims the companies knew of the effects of fossil fuels on global warming since the late 1970s or early '80s, but nonetheless "engaged in large-scale, sophisticated advertising and public relations campaigns to promote pervasive fossil fuel usage." The suit seeks an order that the defendants fund an abatement program for the building of seawalls to protect San Francisco from rising sea levels.

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