Trump’s offshore oil drilling push: Five essential reads

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Shell’s drilling rig destined for waters off Alaska met with problems in the Arctic and protesters in Seattle.
AP Photo/Elaine Thompson

Martin LaMonica, The Conversation

This article is based on a collection of archival stories. The Conversation

When it comes to energy, perhaps the only thing President Trump loves more than coal is oil and gas. Just a day shy of 100 days into his presidency, Trump is expected on April 28 to sign an executive order to open more offshore oil drilling in U.S. waters.

The move is meant to spur the economy and reverse President Obama’s decision last December to ban drilling from large swaths of sensitive marine environments. Regardless of whether Trump succeeds in overturning Obama’s protections, it’s clear oil won’t be flowing from new offshore wells anytime soon. Why is that? And will Americans even support this promised offshore boom? Our academic experts offer some answers.

Legally protected?

Obama used an obscure provision of a 1953 law to “indefinitely” protect 120 million acres of marine environments in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans. Environmental law professor Patrick Parenteau from the University of Vermont explains the legal justification for the ban and why Congress is a critical player in Trump’s plans to open up drilling.

The law “does not provide any authority for presidents to revoke actions by their predecessors. It delegates authority to presidents to withdraw land unconditionally. Once they take this step, only Congress can undo it,” Parenteau writes.

Lessons from Shell’s misadventures

Meanwhile, are oil and gas companies clamoring to get into the Arctic and other offshore sites? Two years ago, Royal Dutch Shell pulled out of the waters off Alaska, citing disappointing results from its exploratory well. It also ran into serious troubles, requiring help from the U.S. Coast Guard, after its offshore drilling rig broke loose and ran ashore. Despite all the technical challenges, though, oil majors have been eyeing the Arctic for decades – and facing opposition to their plans, writes historian Brian Black from Penn State.

“A dramatic emphasis on Arctic drilling reopens debate on the pros and cons of development, arguments that have remained largely unchanged since interest commenced in the 1960s. These include the challenges of technology and climate; impacts on wildlife and native peoples living in the region; and strong resistance from environmental organizations,” Black says.

When it comes to safety, Shell’s about-face in the Arctic was instructive, says Robert Bea, an expert on assessing and managing risk from the University of California, Berkeley. While guidelines for offshore drilling have been updated following the Deepwater Horizon blowout disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, the Department of Interior guidelines do not follow the best available safety processes, Bea says.

“Reliance is being placed on the Department of Interior best practices of experienced-based, ‘piece by piece’ prescriptive guidelines and regulations. These have not been proved or demonstrated to be adequate for the unique drilling systems, operations and environment involved in Shell’s operations in the Chukchi Sea this summer,” he wrote in reviewing Shell’s troubles.

Public opinion?

Even with these safety concerns and relatively low oil prices, the industry is moving ahead in the Arctic, in part because of fracking, the drilling technique that revolutionized the energy industry onshore, from Pennsylvania to North Dakota.

“Although it has gone largely unnoticed outside the industry, foreign firms are partnering with American companies to pursue these new possibilities. I expect this new wave of Arctic development will help increase U.S. oil production and influence in world oil markets for at least the next several decades,” Scott Montgomery from the University of Washington wrote recently.

Meanwhile, how does the U.S. public feel about offshore drilling overall? Certainly, few consumers will complain about cheaper gasoline – one of the justifications for boosting oil production. But support for offshore drilling dipped substantially after the Deepwater Horizon spill in 2010, according to an analysis of public polling by David Konisky from Indiana University.

“The fluctuating nature of recent public opinion suggests sensitivity to external factors such as accidents, oil prices, and Middle East politics. But more broadly, one can reasonably interpret the U.S. public as divided on how to achieve the right balance between energy development and environmental protection,” he wrote.

Martin LaMonica, Deputy Editor, Environment & Energy Editor, The Conversation

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Why states are pushing ahead with clean energy despite Trump’s embrace of coal

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Alamosa Photovoltaic Plan, south-central Colorado.
Energy.gov/Flickr

Bill Ritter, Jr., Colorado State University

On Tuesday, March 28, President Trump traveled to the Environmental Protection Agency to sign an executive order rolling back a number of climate-related regulations that have taken effect over the past eight years. The president’s team claims this effort will help bring our nation closer to energy independence, and that it will begin the process of resuscitating a coal industry that has experienced serious decline in the past decade.

In reality, it will do neither. We do not import coal into the United States. There are no jobs coming back from overseas. Moreover, and somewhat ironically, the chief reason for the decline in the coal industry is not Obama-era regulations, but a rapidly changing energy market.

Any energy market analyst will tell you that advances in hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling have provided us with cheap, abundant, natural gas. Add to that declining price curves in wind and solar generation, and one begins to appreciate that a difficult road lies ahead for coal. These are markets that are growing with rapid technological innovation.

USEIA

The shift is underway

The fact is that the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan codified where the utility industry was already going. With publicly announced retirements, roughly 45 percent of the existing coal capacity in the western grid will be retired by 2030. According to utility integrated resource plans, by 2026, just shy of half of the total energy in the West will be generated from zero-emitting resources.

The 11 western states that my center had been convening around implementation of the Clean Power Plan are, collectively, in compliance with the plan’s 2026 targets under business as usual. Ironically, removing the Clean Power Plan just eliminates a potential for market-based emission trading that would lower costs to consumers and provide some states with a glide path to meet their targets.

This is not to say that the regulatory rollbacks in President Trump’s order will have no impact. The international community, which crafted the landmark Paris Accord, will not have the benefit of U.S. leadership on climate change. Other nations will fill that void – while reaping the economic rewards of serving a growing global market with low-carbon technologies. One of the most troubling long-term impacts of these actions will be a declining global view of America as a source of innovation and investment.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, holding his granddaughter, signs the Paris Agreement, April 22, 2016.
U.S. Department of State/Wikipedia

At home, should the Clean Power Plan expire, states that have been reticent to advance a clean energy agenda will no longer be required to plan for emissions reductions. The Clean Power Plan brought certainty to energy planning. If you talk to American utility executives and their investors, they crave certainty because it lowers the cost of capital and saves money for consumers. The executive order is a step away from stability in our energy markets and away from America’s leadership as an innovator developing the technologies that will serve a growing global market.

States, cities and businesses are moving forward

Attempts to roll back important environmental safeguards are being sold to the American people under the rubric of job creation. Let’s put this in the proper context: There were 65,971 jobs in coal mining nationwide in 2015. According to the Department of Energy, more than twice as many jobs – 133,000 – were created last year just in the energy efficiency industry. In 2016 the solar workforce grew by 25 percent to 374,000 and the wind workforce grew by 32 percent to 102,000. One in 50 new jobs in America is now in solar energy.

From 2007 to 2011, as Governor of Colorado, I signed 57 pieces of legislation intended to transition Colorado to a clean energy economy. After leaving office I founded the Center for the New Energy Economy at Colorado State University with the intention of working with governors, state legislators and utility regulators on clean and advanced energy policy. In our work at the center, my team and I have become confident that states, cities and private companies are taking the lead in the clean energy transition, even as the federal government flounders. Today 37 states, comprising two-thirds of the U.S. population, have renewable portfolio standards that require electric utilities to generate or purchase a percentage of their power from renewable energy.

Governors from both parties have led this transition. Seventeen governors have joined the Governors’ Accord for a New Energy Future, including the Republican Governors of Nevada, Iowa, Michigan, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont. In doing so, they have all committed to diversify their states’ energy generation with clean energy sources, modernizing energy infrastructure and encouraging clean transportation. In addition, 129 U.S. cities have signed the Compact of Mayors’ pledge to address climate change.

Thirty-three U.S.-based companies, the likes of Coca-Cola, GM, Goldman Sachs, HP, Johnson & Johnson and Nike, have committed to a goal of using 100 percent renewable energy as part of the RE100 Initiative. Some 50 U.S. companies will need to purchase 17 gigawatts of renewable energy by 2025 – enough to power the entire state of Colorado – in order to fulfill their existing corporate targets.

True leadership requires a vision that looks to new markets, new technologies and new solutions. Unfortunately, the president’s actions on Tuesday look backward toward a fading horizon, rather than forward toward a bright and promising future.

Bill Ritter, Jr., Director, Center for the New Energy Economy, Colorado State University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Climate politics: Environmentalists need to think globally, but act locally

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The outdoor retail industry is moving its lucrative trade show out of Utah after disputes with state officials over land conservation.
AP Photo/Rick Bowmer

Nives Dolsak, University of Washington and Aseem Prakash, University of Washington

As President Trump pivots from a failed attempt to overhaul health care to new orders rolling back controls on carbon pollution, environmentalists are preparing for an intense fight. We study environmental politics, and believe the health care debate holds an important lesson for green advocates: Policies that create concrete benefits for specific constituencies are hard to discontinue.

Opinion polls and hostile audiences at Republican legislators’ town hall meetings show that the Affordable Care Act won public support by extending health insurance to the uninsured. And this constituency is not shy about defending its gains.

The same lesson can be applied to environmental issues. In our view, environmentalists need to defend environmental regulations by emphasizing their concrete benefits for well-defined constituencies, and mobilize those groups to protect their gains.

Environmentalists should continue making broad, long-term arguments about addressing climate change. After all, there is an important political constituency that views climate change as the defining challenge for humanity and favors active advocacy on climate issues. At the same time, however, they need to find more ways to talk about local jobs and benefits from climate action so they can build constituencies that include both greens and workers.

Pork-barrel environmentalism?

Americans have a love-hate relationship with pork-barrel politics. Reformers decry it, but many legislators boast about the goodies they bring home. As former Texas Senator Phil Gramm once famously crowed, “I’m carrying so much pork, I’m beginning to get trichinosis.” And pragmatists assert that in moderate quantities, pork helps deals get made.

Classic studies of the politics of regulation by scholars such as Theodore Lowi and James Q. Wilson show that when benefits from a regulation are diffused across many people or large areas and costs are concentrated on specific constituencies, we can expect political resistance to the regulation. Groups who stand to lose have strong incentives to oppose it, while those who benefit form a more amorphous constituency that is harder to mobilize.

On Feb. 16, 2017, after signing legislation to repeal a rule regulating disposition of coal mining waste, President Trump celebrates with coal miners and legislators from Ohio and West Virginia.
AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster

We can see this dynamic in climate change debates. President Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt contend that undoing carbon pollution controls will promote job growth. Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers of America, argues that the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan will destroy coal jobs and communities, and that “green jobs” in clean energy industries are unlikely to be located in coal country.

Climate change can be framed in many ways, and there has been much discussion about which approaches best engage the public. Environmental advocates can do a better job of emphasizing how climate regulations produce local benefits along with global benefits.

One promising initiative, the BlueGreen Alliance, is a coalition of major labor unions and environmental organizations. Before President Trump’s recent visit to Michigan, the alliance released data showing that nearly 70,000 workers in well over 200 factories and engineering facilities in Michigan alone were producing technologies that helped vehicle manufacturers meet current fuel efficiency standards. Regulations can be job creators, but this truth needs to be told effectively.

Pipelines: Local jobs or global environmental protection

President Trump’s approval of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines demonstrates the difficulty of fighting locally beneficial programs with global arguments.

Environmentalists argue, correctly, that both pipelines are part of the infrastructure that supports the fossil fuel economy. For example, by some estimates the KXL pipeline could increase global carbon dioxide emissions by as much as 110 million tons annually by making possible increased oil production from Canadian tar sands.

Rally against the Keystone XL pipeline, Washington, D.C., Feb. 3, 2014.
Rocky Kistner, NRDC/Flickr, CC BY

However, both the AFL-CIO and the Teamsters support the projects. They believe pipelines create jobs, although there is broad disagreement over how many jobs they generate over what time period.

By endorsing both pipelines, Trump is probably seeking to consolidate his support among midwestern working-class voters who believe, rightly or wrongly, that urban environmental elites are imposing job-killing regulations. But these pipelines also impose local costs, which have spurred Native American protests against DAPL and opposition to KXL from farmers, ranchers and citizens in Nebraska.

Local protests have not changed the Trump administration’s political calculus on DAPL or KXL, which is why opponents in both cases are turning to the courts. But in other instances environmental groups have successfully mobilized communities by highlighting local issues.

Conserving Utah’s public lands

Federal control of public lands is a sore issue for Republicans, particularly in western states. Utah offers a fascinating example. State politicians want to reverse President Obama’s designation of the Bears Ears National Monument and reduce the amount of land included in the Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument. But conservationists successfully blocked recent efforts by allying with the outdoor recreation industry.

By some estimates Utah’s outdoor recreation industry employs 122,000 people and brings US$12 billion into the state each year. Utah hosts the biannual Outdoor Retailer trade show, which brings about $45 million in annual direct spending.

In response to Utah officials’ efforts to roll back federal land protection, the outdoor retail industry has announced that it will move the prestigious trade show to another state after its contract with Salt Lake City expires in 2018. Patagonia is boycotting the 2017 summer show and asking supporters to contact Utah politicians and urge them to keep “public lands in public hands.” The bicycle industry is also planning to move its annual trade show to a location outside Utah.

Governor Gary Herbert has reacted by offering to negotiate with the industry. U.S. Rep. Jason Chaffetz introduced a bill in January that called for selling off more than three million acres of federal land in Utah, but withdrew it after massive protests from hunters, anglers and outdoor enthusiasts. Hunters and gun owners are important constituents for Chaffetz and other conservative Republican politicians.

Wetland restoration project sponsored by the hunting and conservation organization Ducks Unlimited, Barron County, Wisconsin.
Wisconsin DNR/Flickr, CC BY-ND

Renewable energy means high-tech jobs

Environmentalists also successfully localized green regulations in Ohio, where Republican Governor John Kasich vetoed a bill in December 2016 that would have made the state’s renewable electricity targets voluntary instead of mandatory for two years.

As a politician with presidential ambitions who claims credit for his state’s economic success, Kasich knows that several high-tech companies in Ohio have committed to switching to renewable energy. As one example, Amazon is investing in local wind farms to power its energy-intensive data servers, in response to criticism from environmental groups.

Ohio froze its renewable energy standards for two years in 2014 after utilities and some large power customers argued that they were becoming expensive to meet. But when the legislature passed a bill in 2016 that extended the freeze for two more years, a coalition of renewable energy companies and environmental groups mobilized against it. In his veto message, Kasich noted that the measure might antagonize “companies poised to create many jobs in Ohio in the coming years, such as high-technology firms.”

In sum, environmental regulations have a better chance of surviving if there are mobilized constituencies willing to defend them. And in the longer term, a local and job-oriented focus could expand the blue-green alliance and move the working class closer to the environmental agenda.

Nives Dolsak, Professor of Environmental Policy, University of Washington and Aseem Prakash, Walker Family Professor and Founding Director, Center for Environmental Politics, University of Washington

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation

Red state rural America is acting on climate change – without calling it #climatechange

One primary concern in rural areas: higher temperatures put strain on water and energy sources. AP Photo/Robert Ray
One primary concern in rural areas: higher temperatures put strain on water and energy sources. AP Photo/Robert Ray

Rebecca J. Romsdahl, University of North Dakota

President Donald Trump has the environmental community understandably concerned. He and members of his Cabinet have questioned the established science of climate change, and his choice to head the Environmental Protection Agency, former Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt, has sued the EPA many times and regularly sided with the fossil fuel industry.

Even if the Trump administration withdraws from all international climate negotiations and reduces the EPA to bare bones, the effects of climate change are happening and will continue to build.

In response to real threats and public demand, cities across the United States and around the world are taking action to address climate change. We might think this is happening only in large, coastal cities that are threatened by sea-level rise or hurricanes, like Amsterdam or New York.

Research shows, however, that even in the fly-over red states of the U.S. Great Plains, local leaders in small- to medium-size communities are already grappling with the issue. Although their actions are not always couched in terms of addressing climate change, their strategies can provide insights into how to make progress on climate policy under a Trump administration.

‘Deliberate framing’

My colleagues and I did a survey of over 200 local governments in 11 states of the Great Plains region to learn about steps they’re taking to mitigate the effects of climate change and to adapt to them. We found local officials in red states responsible for public health, soil conservation, parks and natural resources management, as well as county commissioners and mayors, are concerned about climate change, and many feel a responsibility to take action in the absence of national policy.

In terms of framing, using wind energy is a way to improve local air quality and save money on energy, while also reducing emissions from fossil fuels.
paytonc/flickr, CC BY-SA

But because it is such a complex and polarizing topic, they often face public uncertainty or outrage toward the issue. So while these local officials have been addressing climate change in their communities over the past decade, many of these policy activities are specifically not framed that way. As one respondent to our survey said:

“It is my personal and professional opinion that the conservation community is on track with addressing the issue of climate change but is way off track in assigning a cause. The public understands the value of clean water and clean air. If the need to improve our water quality and air quality was emphasized, most would agree. Who is going to say dirty water and dirty air is not a problem? By making the argument ‘climate change and humans are the cause’ significant energy is wasted trying to prove this. It is also something the public has a hard time sinking their teeth into.”

In order to address the vulnerabilities facing their communities, many local officials are reframing climate change to fit within existing priorities and budget items. In a survey of mayors, we asked: “In your city’s policy and planning activities (for energy, conservation, natural resources management, land use, or emergency planning, etc.) how is climate change framed?” The following quotes give a sense of their strategies.

“In terms of economic benefit & resource protection. This framing was deliberate to garner support from residents who did not agree with climate change.”

“We frame the initiative as: energy savings (=$ savings), as smart growth/good planning, and as common sense natural resource management. Climate change is only explicitly referenced in our Climate Protection Plan adopted in 2009. Most initiatives fall under the “sustainability” umbrella term.“

“We mask it with sustainability, we call it P3 (People, Planet, Prosperity)”

“The initial interest in climate change came about as a result of concern about the potential for poor air quality affecting economic development in the City. Air quality and climate change were framed as being extremely related issues.”

“Climate change is framed as one of several benefits of conservation measures. Other benefits of conservation, recycling, walking, etc. include it’s ‘good for the earth’ (regardless of climate change), healthful, economical, etc.”

The results show that energy, economic benefits, common sense and sustainability are frames that are providing opportunities for local leaders to address climate change without getting stuck in the political quagmire. This strategy is being used across the Great Plains states, which include some of the most climate-skeptical areas of the country.

Local needs and values

Every region of the U.S. will need to address practical questions of how states and local communities can reduce emissions and adapt to climate impacts. Under the Trump administration, it is likely any progress on U.S. climate policy will continue at these subnational levels. That’s why a variety of experts argue that we should encourage the types of pragmatic strategies now being employed by local leaders in red states.

In the Great Plains in particular, local officials are facing severe impacts from higher temperatures, which will place greater demands on water and energy.

Capturing methane gases from landfill can reduce greenhouse gas emissions and be a local source of fuel for power.
Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, CC BY-NC

In our research we found local leaders focus on regional and local issues such as drought, energy and flooding. These are problems that are tied to climate change, but are already a priority on the local level. And the sought-for improvements, such as energy savings, health benefit and flood management, fit well with local needs and values.

For example, Fargo, North Dakota mitigates some of its greenhouse gas emissions and created a new source of city revenue by capturing the methane from its landfill facility and selling that gas to the electricity company. The city trash is now providing renewable energy for local residents and an industrial facility.

Perhaps the question facing us is: Should we reframe climate change and other environmental problems to fit the Trump administration’s priorities with a strong focus on practical solution ideas? For example, Trump has stated that infrastructure projects will be a high priority. That could easily translate into fixing the drinking water crisis experienced by Flint, Michigan and many other cities where it is likely to happen; Trump has also highlighted mass transit, which could help reduce air pollution and carbon emissions.

With an administration eager to expand fossil fuel development and consumption, the outlook for federal action on reducing climate-altering greenhouse gases is dire. Given that, reframing climate change to address cobenefit issues seems a logical strategy, and we can look for local government leaders in red states to show the way.

The Conversation

Rebecca J. Romsdahl, Professor of Environmental Science & Policy, University of North Dakota

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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How will Native Tribes Fight the Dakota Access Pipeline in Court?

After the Army Corps of Engineers approved an easement for the North Dakota Pipeline, two tribes requested – unsuccessfully – to halt construction while their lawsuit over the project is resolved. AP Photo/Susan Walsh
After the Army Corps of Engineers approved an easement for the North Dakota Pipeline, two tribes requested – unsuccessfully – to halt construction while their lawsuit over the project is resolved. AP Photo/Susan Walsh

Monte Mills, The University of Montana

On Feb. 8 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reversed course and issued an easement allowing the installation of the Dakota Access Pipeline under Lake Oahe in North Dakota. That decision followed a presidential memorandum indicating that construction and operation of the pipeline would be in the “national interest,” and set the stage for a final showdown over the pipeline’s fate.

In response, two Indian tribes, the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux, filed new motions to halt the pipeline’s construction and operation. After an initial hearing on those motions, the federal judge on the case allowed construction to proceed but will be considering the Tribes’ claims before oil will pass through the pipeline under Lake Oahe. That means, unlike the voices of thousands who joined the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in protest against the pipeline, the next chapter of this fight will be argued by a few lawyers in the pin drop silence of a federal courtroom.

Although the details of those arguments will be complex, as a legal scholar focused on Native American law I see the case addressing an essential question at the heart of our legal system: namely, how does federal law and judicial process protect the fundamental values and structure of the Constitution?

The central issues in the case are now whether the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ approval of the pipeline and easement illegally interferes with the tribes’ religious beliefs and whether the corps adequately considered the tribes’ water and other treaty rights before issuing that approval.

Religious Freedom and Restoration Act

According to the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe, oil running through the pipeline would represent the fulfillment of a generations-old prophesy, passed down through the oral traditions of tribal members, that warned of a Black Snake coming to defile the sacred waters necessary to maintain the tribes’ ceremonies. Beyond the environmental concerns often at the center of the pipeline protests, the tribe’s motion for an injunction squarely defines final authorization of the pipeline by the Corps as an existential threat: destruction of the tribes’ religion and way of life.

One of the key legal questions in the North Dakota Access Pipeline case whether federal interests can supersede religious freedoms of native groups.
vpickering/flickr, CC BY-ND

The Constitution’s First Amendment guarantees the exercise of religion free from governmental interference. But the Supreme Court, in Lyng v. Northwest Indian Cemetery Protection Association, in 1988 upheld the Forest Service’s approval of a road across an area on federal land sacred to local tribes even while recognizing the road could have devastating effects on their religion.

Then in 1993, Congress enacted the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA), which requires that the government demonstrate a compelling interest and use the least restrictive means to achieve that interest if its actions will substantially burden religious practice.

In other words, even if approving the Dakota Access Pipeline served a compelling governmental interest, RFRA may require the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to show that the pipeline easement under Lake Oahe would have the least impact on tribal religion. That approach would be consistent with the Supreme Court’s broad application of RFRA in a 2014 case not involving tribal interests or federal lands and may pose a significant challenge to the corps, which considered but rejected a different route that did not pose the same threat to the tribes.

Both the Corps and company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline argue that the risk of spill from the pipeline is minimal and that the tribes failed to raise these religious concerns in a timely manner. In addition, the Corps contends that, consistent with the Lyng case, governmental action on federal land should not be restricted because of religious concerns raised by local tribes.

Thus, resolution of the case will turn upon whether the court recognizes the legitimacy of the tribal religious concerns and broadly applies RFRA or, instead, chooses to prioritize federal authority over federal land to the detriment of those concerns. The parties will argue whether the religious freedom issues support an injunction on February 27.

Arbitrary or capricious decisions?

In addition to their religious concerns, the Sioux Tribes challenge the Corps’ decisions based on the rights they reserved in treaties made with the federal government in 1851 and 1868.

The Constitution recognizes treaties as the “supreme law of the land” and, according to a 2016 analysis done by the Solicitor of the U.S. Department of the Interior, both the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux retain treaty-reserved water, hunting, and fishing rights in Lake Oahe.

The pipeline company has argued that the risks to the water supply are minimal and that the tribes didn’t raise religious concerns earlier in the approval process.
diversey/flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Before reversing course in February, the Corps refused to issue the easement last year in order to further understand and analyze those treaty rights.

Importantly, federal law generally allows courts to set aside arbitrary or capricious agency decisions. In a February 14th filing, the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe asks the court to review the Corps’ about-face under that standard and argues that the federal trust responsibility,recognized by the Supreme Court since the early 1800’s, demands more than just a cursory review of tribal treaty rights.

The parties will be briefing the treaty rights issues into March but the judge is keeping a close eye on Dakota Access’ progress in the meantime.

The ultimate fate of the pipeline will turn on how the courts recognize the rights asserted by the Sioux Tribes, rights rooted in the Constitution’s values and structure – precisely the type of rights our rule of law and federal courts are meant to protect.

The Conversation

Monte Mills, Assistant Professor of Law & Co-Director, Margery Hunter Brown Indian Law Clinic, The University of Montana

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Sure, pipelines are good for oil companies, but what about jobs related to preserving nature and culture?

A 2002 pipeline spill in Cohasset, Minnesota which released 6,000 barrels of crude oil. mpcaphotos/flickr, CC BY-NC
A 2002 pipeline spill in Cohasset, Minnesota which released 6,000 barrels of crude oil. mpcaphotos/flickr, CC BY-NC

Chip Colwell, University of Colorado Denver

On his fourth day as U.S. president, Donald Trump penned executive orders to advance construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline Project pipeline and the Keystone XL pipeline. A week later, there were reports the new administration has ordered the Army Corps of Engineers to grant an easement that will allow completion of the disputed Dakota Access Pipeline to proceed.

The White House press secretary said completion of the controversial pipelines would increase jobs and promote economic growth – an argument Trump’s supporters echo.

However, this viewpoint focuses on the profits that go to the oil and construction industries, while ignoring the price that will be paid by other sectors of America’s economy, including tourism and preservation of our cultural heritage – a point I’m quite aware of as an anthropologist focused on the American West. A more accurate reckoning of the economic benefits of pipelines needs to consider the negative impact of pipelines on other parts of our economy.

The business of preservation

The management of America’s heritage begins with a suite of important federal laws such as the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) of 1966, which affirms that “the spirit and direction of the Nation are founded upon and reflected in its historic heritage.” The NHPA’s starting point is that patriotism, preservation and profits are not contrary goals, declaring that “the preservation of this irreplaceable heritage is in the public interest so that its vital legacy of cultural, educational, aesthetic, inspirational, economic and energy benefits will be maintained and enriched for future generations of Americans.”

Preserving America’s past for its future is a monumental task. A National Park Service report, for example, found that just in 2014 16.5 million acres were surveyed for cultural resources across the United States. More than 137,000 properties were evaluated for their historical significance and added to state inventories, while more than 1,000 new sites were added to the National Register of Historic Places.

The industry that fulfills this trust responsibility is known as cultural resource management, which is made up of a small but highly skilled set of technicians in archaeology, architecture, engineering, geography, history and related fields. There are about 1,300 CRM firms nationwide – nearly all of them small businesses – which employ some 10,000 people. These businesses in turn feed more work, such as equipment suppliers, IT and HR professionals, accountants and administrative support.

Opponents to the Keystone XL pipeline have opposed it over worries over spills and its contribution to greenhouse gases, but the projected path would also run across public lands and cross 265 archaeological sites and 132 historic structures.
AP Photo/Nati Harnik

The 2014 NPS report also documented the role of historic preservation in the country’s economy. Between 1977 and 2014, under the Federal Historic Preservation Tax program, more than US$73 billion in private investment has been generated to rehabilitate commercial historic properties and nearly 140,000 low and moderate housing units were built in restored historic buildings. Since 1978, an estimated 2.4 million jobs have been created through these projects focused on the preservation of America’s heritage.

The places that are protected have economic tendrils that reach far across the country through tourism. In 2015, for instance, more than 305 million people visited national parks. These tourists spent nearly $16 billion on an array of local services – hotels, gas stations, restaurants – helping to sustain nearly 300,000 jobs. Tourists and travelers visit scores of other national, state and local parks, spending their money to enjoy nature and cultural sites.

Cost of spills

In announcing their support for expediting the pipelines, Trump’s allies also failed to acknowledge the negative impacts of environmental damage.

For example, the 2010 BP oil spill immediately impacted tourism. Even five years later, tourists were slow to return to some spots along the Gulf Coast, and economists argued that BP’s $10 billion in payments did not fully account for the spill’s secondary effects.

The Bureau of Land Management has leased land near Chaco Canyon in New Mexico, one of 20 World Heritage sites in the U.S., for oil and gas drilling.
Chris M Morris/flickr, CC BY

These accidents can directly impact everyday Americans. As of last year, some 50,000 claims were still sitting with BP. Transporting oil via pipelines is generally safer than rail, truck or barge, yet pipeline spills do occur and cause financial problems. According to the federal agency the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, since 1995, accidents involving oil and petroleum pipelines have caused approximately $3 billion in property damage. The change to people’s sense of place and the trauma caused by oil spills are also a negative effect, though hard to enumerate.

In the end, we all are likely to pay as tax dollars are used in part for the Superfund program to clean up spills: for example, a Texaco oil pipeline in California that has contaminated the soil and groundwater.

In other places, it’s not only a question of accidents but accepting the negative effects of extraction over the positive effects of preservation. The recent decision to allow oil and gas drilling around the Chaco Canyon National Historical Park in New Mexico – considered one of the best-preserved centers of Pueblo culture in the American Southwest – will likely destroy irreplaceable archaeological sites and could dissuade some tourists from visiting the World Heritage Site – a place deemed as important as the Taj Mahal, Easter Island and Statue of Liberty.

A different economic development

The Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines in some measure threaten to undermine the possibilities of the heritage industry – particularly if the projects were to bypass standard environmental mitigation, as happened recently at Oak Flats in Arizona. According to a State Department report done under the Obama administration, the Keystone pipeline would disturb more than 15,000 acres, 10 percent of that public lands. The corridor would cross 265 archaeological sites and 132 historic structures – 44 of which are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The pipeline would also be a risk to more than 2,500 water wells, soils, wildlife and vegetation.

The report also calculated the Keystone XL pipeline would generate about 42,000 jobs indirectly and about 3,900 construction jobs if the project were done in one year – far fewer than the 28,000 Trump touted when signing the order. Once the pipeline is operating, it would employ about 35 full-time and 15 temporary employees, according to the report.

In contrast, heritage provides a different kind of economic development. Not only does it protect places that honor our past and living cultures, but also increases property values, protects natural resources needed for communities to thrive and grow, supports small businesses and provides sustainable long-term jobs in tourism and associated commercial ventures.

Trump’s apparent preference for the oil industry shouldn’t be surprising – after all, only last month Trump sold off his stake in Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline. But a president who professes to care so deeply about business should see the economic benefits of protecting heritage and preserving nature, too.

The Conversation

Chip Colwell, Lecturer on Anthropology, University of Colorado Denver

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Food Security: How Drought and Rising Prices Led to Conflict in Syria

EPA/Russian Defence Ministry Press Service
EPA/Russian Defence Ministry Press Service

 

Aled Jones, Anglia Ruskin University

In 2015 the Welsh singer and activist Charlotte Church was widely ridiculed in the right-wing press and on social media for saying on BBC Question Time that climate change had played an important part in causing the conflict in Syria.

From 2006 until 2011, [Syria] experienced one of the worst droughts in its history, which of course meant that there were water shortages and crops weren’t growing, so there was mass migration from rural areas of Syria into the urban centres, which put on more strain, and made resources scarce etc, which apparently contributed to the conflict there today.

Goaded on by the tabloids, Church reaped a whirlwind of public ridicule:

But what she said was correct – and there will be an increasing convergence of climate, food, economic and political crises in the coming years and decades. We need to better understand the interconnectivity of environmental, economic, geopolitical, societal and technological systems if we are to manage these crises and avoid their worst impacts.

In particular, tipping points exist in both physical and socio-economic systems, including governmental or financial systems. These systems interact in complex ways. Small shocks may have little impact but, a particular shock or set of shocks could tip the system into a new state. This new state could represent a collapse in agriculture or even the fall of a government.

In 2011, Syria became the latest country to experience disruption in a wave of political unrest crossing North Africa and the Middle East. Religious differences, a failure of the ruling regime to tackle unemployment and social injustice and the state of human rights all contributed to a backdrop of social unrest. However, these pressures had existed for years, if not decades.

So was there a trigger for the conflict in the region which worked in tandem with the ongoing social unrest?

Syria, and the surrounding region, has experienced significant depletion in water availability since 2003. In particular an intense drought between 2007 and 2010, alongside poor water management, saw agricultural production collapse and a mass migration from rural areas to city centres. Farmers, who had been relatively wealthy in their rural surroundings now found themselves as the urban poor reliant on food imports. Between 2007 and 2009 Syria increased its annual imports of wheat and meslin (rice flour) by about 1.5m tonnes. That equated to a more than ten-fold increase in importing one of the most basic foods.

Cereal imports by weight and value to Syria from 2006 to 2010. Source: UN Comtrade Database.

Complex system

There is a tendency these days to believe that global trade will protect the world from food production shocks. A small production shock in one region can be mitigated by increasing, temporarily, imports of food or by sourcing food from another region. However, certain shocks, or a set of shocks, could create an amplifying feedback that cascades into a globally significant event.

The food system today is increasingly complex and an impact in land, water, labour or infrastructure could create fragility. A large enough perturbation can lead to a price response in the global market that sends a signal to other producers to increase their output to make up for any shortfall. While increased prices can be beneficial to farmers and food producers, if the price increase is large enough it can have a significant impact on communities that are net food importers.

Additionally, food production is concentrated both in a relatively small handful of commodity crops such as wheat, rice and maize as well as from a relatively small number of regions, for example the US, China and Russia. This concentration means any disruption in those regions will have a large impact on global food supply. Reliance on global markets for sourcing food can therefore be a source of systemic risk.

Rising prices

In 2008 the global price of food increased dramatically. This increase was the result of a complex set of issues including historically low global food stocks, drought in Australia following production lows in several other areas over the previous few years, and speculation and an increase in biofuel production in North America.

This spike in global food price in 2008 was a factor in the initial unrest across North Africa and the Middle East, which became known as the Arab Spring. As prices peaked, violence broke out in countries such as Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

In Syria a local drought which coincided with this global shock in food prices resulted in dramatic changes in the availability and cost of food. In response small groups of individuals protested. The government response, combined with a background of rising protests, existing social tensions and instability in the wider region, quickly escalated into the situation we are experiencing today.

The events in Syria, then, appear to stem from a far more complex set of pressures, beyond religious tension and government brutality, with its roots in the availability of a natural resource – water – and its impact on food production. This is worrying as decreasing water availability is far from a localised issue – it is a systemic risk across the Middle East and North Africa. Over the coming decades this water security challenge is likely to be further exacerbated by climate change.

To better manage these types of risks in the future, and to build societal resilience, the world needs to understand our society’s interdependence on natural resources and how this can lead to events such as those that unfolded in Syria. We need analytical, statistical, scenario or war game-type models to explore different possible futures and policy strategies for mitigating the risk. By understanding sources of political instability we hope to get a better handle on how these types of crisis arise.

The Conversation

Aled Jones, Director, Global Sustainability Institute, Anglia Ruskin University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.