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Senate Tax Bill Includes Provision to Drill Arctic National Wildlife Refuge

Swamp Stomp

Volume 17, Issue 50

Senate Republicans passed a tax reform bill early Saturday morning with a provision opening up parts of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for oil and gas development. The provision, introduced by Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, passed 51-49 along party lines, save Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) who voted against the bill. The measure represents a “critical milestone in our efforts to secure Alaska’s energy future,” Murkowski said in a statement.

Established by former President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1960, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, spans across 19 million square acres of Alaska’s North Slope, making it the largest wildlife refuge in the United States. Often referred to as the “Serengeti” of North America, the refuge is home to over 200 species of wildlife, including caribou, arctic foxes, wolves, and a variety of bird species that migrate from all over North and South America to roost there in the summer months.

The ANWR is also the only refuge in the country where one can see black bears, grizzly bears, and polar bears in the same place, and serves as a wildlife corridor for species to move between the Canadian Yukon territory to the east and the Chukchi Sea to the northwest. A number of Alaska Native tribes, such as the Gwich’in, continue to rely on caribou herds that migrate through the refuge for sustenance.

After former President Jimmy Carter expanded the refuge in 1980, Congress designated 1.5 million acres on the north coast of the refuge as a Strategic Petroleum Reserve, or SPR, after the fears of oil shortages intensified following the Arab oil embargo and Iranian Revolution of the 1970s. Geologists estimate the SPR contains around 12 million barrels of accessible crude oil, potentially worth around $685 million.

Senate Republicans argue that the drilling would only minimally impact the environment since only tracts within the SPR would be eligible for sale to gas companies and citing newer, cleaner extraction technologies that supposedly are more environmentally friendly.

Yet Democrats and environmentalists remain unconvinced, referencing the fact that oil spills remain incredibly common and that the SPR is virtually the only spot in all of Alaska where caribou calve in the spring. The measure to allow drilling in the ANWR was attached without debate to the tax reform bill rather than being presented as a stand alone bill. Since the tax reform bill has a direct impact on the national budget, it only needed a simple majority to pass, rather than the usually 60-vote filibuster threshold applied to all other legislation.

“Little wonder Senate Republicans rushed the vote: it wouldn’t survive the light of debate,” said Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, of the legislation.

About a week before the Senate’s vote, twelve House Republicans had written a letter to both the House and Senate arguing against drilling the ANWR, saying that the refuge’s resources “simply are not necessary for our nation’s energy independence.”

Now that both the House and the Senate have voted on a tax reform bill, they will come together in the coming weeks to work out the differences and discrepancies between their two bills before submitting a bill to President Trump’s desk to either sign or veto.

Sources:

  1. Howard, Brian Clark and Sarah Gibbens. “See the Alaska Wildlife Refuge Targeted for Drilling by Tax Plan.” National Geographic. National Geographic, 2 December 2017. Web. 3 December 2017.
  2. Gardner, Timothy. “Drilling in Alaska refuge liklier as Senate clears tax bill.” Reuters. Reuters, 2 December 2017. Web. 3 December 2017.
  3. Koss, Geof and and Kellie Lunney. “Procedural knots tie up ANWR, reform push.” E&E Daily. E&E News, 1 December 2017. Web. 2 December 2017.
  4. Solomon, Christopher. “America’s Wildest Place is Open for Business.” The New York TimesThe New York Times, 10 November 2017. Web. 3 December 2017.
  5. Westneat, Danny. “How to drill for oil in Alaska’s wildlife refuge: Sneak it through in tax bill.” The Seattle Times. The Seattle Times, 22 November 2017. Web. 3 December 2017.
Posted on

Military Bases Provide Thriving Environment for a Rare Butterfly

Swamp Stomp

Volume 17, Issue 49

The U.S. military is helping a tiny rare butterfly flourish by providing the living space for these butterflies on their military bases; right next to tanks and other military vehicles.

The butterfly is called a frosted elfin and it has a wingspan of an inch. They choose to call several military bases home because of the way the military manages open spaces, said Robyn Niver, an endangered species biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

“Military training requires vast open areas, so these bases are some of our last great wild places,” Niver said.

The butterfly has been confirmed to be living at Westover Air Reserve Base and Camp Edwards in Massachusetts; Fort McCoy in Wisconsin; Fort Bragg in North Carolina; and the New Hampshire State Military Reservation, she said.

It is not just coincidence that has the frosted elfin choosing to live at multiple military bases. All of these bases manage their vegetation through controlled burns, which create the perfect conditions for wild blue lupine and indigo to grow, the frosted elfin caterpillar’s two host plants.

The small butterflies were first seen at Westover in Chicopee, Massachusetts, about 20 years ago, according to Jack Moriarty, the base’s chief of environmental engineering.

The reason for the strict vegetation control at the base is because it is critical for the safety of the massive C5 military transport aircraft that are housed there. If the vegetation is cut too short, it attracts geese and gulls, increasing the risk of aircraft strikes. If it is allowed to grow too tall, turkeys, deer, and coyotes move in. Lupine and indigo are just the right height.

Though there have been stories of earlier sightings, the frosted elfin was official confirmed at Camp Edwards on Cape Cod just this spring, said Jake McCumber, the Massachusetts Army National Guard’s natural resources manager.

“It was pretty exciting. I was thrilled,” he said. “Our grasslands are in the headquarters area, so it’s probably the busiest part of the base.”

The area is used for the setup of field artillery equipment and helicopter exercises.

The frosted elfin has lived in Fort McCoy for about two decades but it appears that recently the population has exploded, said Tim Wilder, the base’s endangered species biologist. An annual count found about 130 of the insects on the base this spring, the most since the survey began in 2009.

Frosted elfins –which live anywhere from New England to Florida, and as far west as Texas — are not on the federal list of endangered species, but they are headed there, Niver said. Several states already list them as protected, and they have disappeared completely from others.

The hope is that the knowledge gained about the populations of frosted elfins — and a whole host of other rare insects, birds, bats and turtles that thrive on military bases — can be replicated elsewhere.

“Our next step now is finding out how we can work with other partners besides the military to try to boost numbers of rare species on other lands as well,” Niver said.

Source: Pratt, Mark. “Rare Butterfly Thrives On, and Because Of, U.S. Military Bases.” The Denver Post. The Denver Post, 03 July 2017. Web. 03 July 2017.

Posted on

COP23 Climate Conference: Small Island Nations Voice Concerns

Swamp Stomp

Volume 17, Issue 48

Diplomats, government representatives and members of civil society convened in Bonn, Germany from November 6th to 17th to attend the twenty-third annual UN Climate Change Conference, or COP23.

The purpose of the conference, presided over by Prime Minister of Fiji, Frank Bainimarama, is to showcase how UN member states have been implementing solutions to meet the climate change mitigation objectives laid out by the Paris Climate Change agreements of 2015, as well as to build further collaborations between governments, private organizations and communities in reaching the goals of the 2030 Agenda for sustainable Development, which includes climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies.

During his opening speech, Prime Minister Bainimarama emphasized the dire need for international cooperation in addressing climate change, saying “we must preserve the global consensus for decisive action enshrined in the Paris Agreement and aim for the most ambitious part of that target – to limit the global average temperature rise to 1.5 degrees above the pre-industrial age.”

As President of the conference, Bainimarama and the Fijian delegates, as well as other members of the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS), have emphasized the particular plight small island nations face as the effects of climate change grow, from more frequent and powerful storms to sea level rise submerging large swaths of low-lying territory and salinizing sources of fresh water.

For many such islands, including Fiji, more than just natural resources and land are at stake of being lost to rising oceans; coastal villages that have been inhabited by humans for hundreds and sometimes thousands of years are often home to ancestral burial sites that have significant religious and culture meaning to the living. As small islands take steps to relocate these villages to higher ground, this connection between people and their land is compromised, if not lost altogether.

Sailosi Ramatu, headmen of the recently relocated Fijian village of Vunidogoloa, told E&E news that “we cherish our culture and religions in the village and [those are] two main things that we continue to teach our children today, as it is what we will be known for.”

While internal relocation remains an option for island nations with higher ground to move to, lower-lying islands, such as the Maldives in the Indian Ocean and Kiribati in the Pacific, face the stark choice of fortifying their islands against the tides or leaving their homelands altogether.

The Maldives, whose islands average a mere 1.5 meters above sea level, is opting for the former choice, selecting some of their islands to be buttressed by sea walls and artificially constructing others. In 2014, Kiribati made plans for the latter, buying 8 square miles of land from Fiji in the event of mass evacuations. “We would hope not to put everyone on [this one] piece of land but if it became absolutely necessary, yes, we could do it” then President of Kiribati Anote Tong told the Associated Press.

Due to the financial burden climate change is expected to impose upon less developed countries, wealthier countries during the Paris Climate Change agreements agreed to provide 100 billion US dollars towards funding adaptation in less developed countries. While this is a non-binding agreement, evidenced by President Trump’s removal of the United States from the agreements earlier this year, countries like China and Germany have continued to fund adaptation and mitigation strategies in poorer countries.

At the beginning of the conference in Bonn, Germany pledged 50 million euros to the Least Developed Countries Fund as well as an additional 50 million euros to the Adaptation Fund, making it the largest donor to the Adaptation Fund. Commenting on these donations, German Federal Environment Minister Barbara Hendricks said: “With this pledge of support we are sending a clear signal that Germany stands in solidarity with those people and countries particularly affected by climate change. I hope that this pledge will lend good momentum and inspire a constructive atmosphere for the negotiations.”

Sources:

  1. Chemnick, Jean. “Islanders face severe threat. Can they convince the world?” Climatewire. E&E News, 9 November 2017. Web. 10 November 2017.
  2. “UN Climate Change Conference 2017 Aims for Further, Faster Ambition Together.” UN Climate Press Release. United Nations Climate Change, 5 November 2017. Web. 10 November 2017.
  3. “UN Climate Change Conference begins: Germany supports developing countries in climate change adaptation.” Current Press Release. Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety, 6 November 2017. Web.  10 November 2017.