Vessel Incidental Discharge Act: Even The Boring Stuff Is Made Terrible by Republicans

 

I admit this image from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is boring. But check out below! Monsters! 

 

Odds are you rarely think of ballast water tanks from ocean-going ships in the St. Lawrence Seaway. God knows I rarely do, and I spend 18% of my waking hours thinking about the Great Lakes. But the water from the ballast, which is scooped up in the ocean or the weird and frigid depths of the Black Sea, contains critters. And when it is dumped to balance out the lightened load from taking off the cargo, those animals escape.

And they kill the whole damn Great Lake system.

See, for thousands of years, the Lakes lived in virtual isolation. Niagara Falls served as a natural barrier from the ocean, which meant any species that somehow made it up the St. Lawrence river, with it’s punishing ocean-going rapids, would hit a wall. That changed with the canal system, and then was blown away when the Seaway opened up and the canals were dredged for oceanic freighters.

 

Image result for great lakes sea lamprey

Lamprey! Ahhh!

 

Lampreys, gobies, zebra mussels, quagga mussels: all of these have come from ballast, the terrible price of opening up the Great Lakes to the world. There have been heroic attempts to save the Great Lakes from invasive species, and they have largely worked. It’s still uphill, but there has been legislation that regulates ballast to try to keep other unknowns out.

So, of course

The Commercial Vessel Act would eliminate existing legal protections against aquatic invasive species discharged in the ballast water of big ships, according to the letter. In particular, the legislation seeks to preempt traditional state authority to take the actions necessary for protecting state water resources, while doing away with existing federal laws that safeguard the nation’s waters against harmful pollutant discharges from vessels, the letter said.

The attorneys general also blasted the legislation as an attempt to jettison the Clean Water Act, the federal law that requires the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to scientifically develop and regularly improve uniform minimum pollution treatment standards, and then incorporate them as discharge requirements in permits that are renewed every five years.

“The Commercial Vessel Act takes the radical step of eliminating these vital Clean Water Act protections and relegates EPA — the federal agency with the greatest knowledge and experience in addressing water pollution — to an advisory role,” they said in the letter. “The Commercial Vessel Act vests primary responsibility for controlling vessel pollution with the U.S. Coast Guard, an agency mainly focused on homeland security that has little water pollution expertise.”

Between this and the attempted dismantling of the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, which would hurt Trump’s beloved working white class the most, it is like they want to destroy the Lakes. All in the fetishistic lust for letting industry control their own regulatory regimes. It’s madness.

There’s nothing in this world that the GOP doesn’t want to make worse.

(Fun fact! If you were to drain Lake Michigan, you could walk from top to bottom without ever touching the ground. It’s all covered with mussel shells from invasive species over the last half century. Don’t, though. You’d cut your feet to ribbons. Pro tip.)

Pebble Gold Mine in Bristol Bay A Real Goldmine, Unless You Like Food Or Water

 

Image result for bristol bay alaska

“You know what this could use? Open-pit mining.” -Scott Pruitt

 

May 12 U.S. environmental regulators have cleared the path for a stalled copper and gold mine in Alaska by agreeing to settle current lawsuits and other issues over the project, which had drawn environmental concerns over its potential impact on the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in a statement on Friday, said the settlement does not guarantee the proposed Pebble mine project in southwest Alaska’s Bristol Bay region would ultimately win approval, but that its review would now be carried out “in a fair, transparent, deliberate, and regular way.”

Bristol Bay is one of the world’s most productive salmon breeding grounds. But there is a lot of gold and copper near it, so some companies want to create an open-pit copper mine, even though mining runoff will certainly pollute the waters, and possibly decimate the fishing economy.

But, you know, so what? This is Scott Pruitt’s EPA, in which the “E” and the “P” are strictly optional. It sure is an Agency, though. And they are giving the fishermen the human agency to go pound sand. The extraction industry wants something, right now, and there isn’t a single Republican with any desire not to give it to them.

These people have everything they want for the moment, and are in a mad to sell off public land, reverse any environmental regulations, create open door policies for the extraction industry, punish the poor, and maybe get around to a little light earth-salting before President Cuckoo Clock from Hell fires Reince Priebus and replaces him with a 50-ft high self-portrait.

It seriously seems like they had a contest where users could submit ideas with the theme of “What’s the Worst Thing We Could Do?” and they picked everyone’s entry.  Everyone’s a winner! Well, not the 85% of fishermen who think this could destroy their livlinhood, or the Natives opposed to turning the unspoiled and sacred beauty of the land into something a little more spoiled, and really not anyone who doesn’t own stock in Pebble Limited Partnership, which went up 500% when Trump was elected. But hey: there will be more gold in the world. Who could be opposed to that?

EPA Replaces Scientists With Industry; Embraces Cartoon Villainy

 

Image result for polluted river america

“Yeah, but those regulations were super onerous…”

 

The phrase “you can’t make this up” is overused, since these days, all you have to do is imagine the worst possible idea being enacted by the worst possible people, and you have a pretty close approximation of reality. Right, NY Times?

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency has dismissed at least five members of a major scientific review board, the latest signal of what critics call a campaign by the Trump administration to shrink the agency’s regulatory reach by reducing the role of academic research.

A spokesman for the E.P.A. administrator, Scott Pruitt, said he would consider replacing the academic scientists with representatives from industries whose pollution the agency is supposed to regulate, as part of the wide net it plans to cast. “The administrator believes we should have people on this board who understand the impact of regulations on the regulated community,” said the spokesman, J. P. Freire.

What’s interesting here is how they don’t even pretend to be talking about citizens anymore. Normally, they say things like “those egghead bureaucrat scientists in Washington DC don’t understand the kind of water that we enjoy here in Mudville. Our citizens are just fine with a little bit of cadmium in their soup.” But that’s not even what J.P. Freire is saying. He’s talking about the “regulated community”, i.e., the businesses themselves. It might be a different definition of “community” than you or I understand, but remember, my friend: corporations are people.

There’s not even anything to unpack here; there’s not even the tribute vice pays to virtue. They are straight-up saying that any regulations will be vetted by the people whose profits are impacted by regulations, and how that is the only concern.

It’s a pretty clear baseline. What matters is the impact regulations have on the bottom line of the company. The baseline isn’t what deregulated pollutions has on the humans who lives around the company. That is, at best, secondary. That’s not the impact that matters.

So it doesn’t matter, just to take a quick jaunt around recent headlines, that:

None of that matters (the attack on indigenous rights might actually be a bonus for these jackals). What we need are fewer regulations, and they should be vetted by the industries themselves.

It’s easy to see the counterarguments. More regulations are job-killing, and these plants and factories and industries are the lifeblood of the community, and if those science pinheads continue to ram their globalist climate-hysteric ideologies down our throats, we’ll be forced to close shop and go pollute Mexico. And why should the Mexicans get all our good pollution?

It’s a seductive argument, except it is also a completely phony one. The choice isn’t between “pollution and jobs”; it is between “pollution or slightly reduced profits.” It’s always been a lie that a company can’t follow simple environmental regulations. They made the same argument when smokestacks were regulated to reduce deadly smog, and industry didn’t collapse. It’s a choice made by companies to chase greater profits by moving to deregulated countries.

Reducing or eliminating regulations doesn’t actually help anyone. There will always be a place that cares even less about its citizens, that slashes regulations, that lets you dump paint right into the well. That the US is rushing to join these countries isn’t pro-worker; it is showing absolute contempt for the worker. It’s saying “you can keep your job, but only if we can lower wages, kill your collective bargaining rights, and poison you and your family, working you until you die young or are too broken to be of use.”

That’s Scott Pruitt’s vision of the future. It’s another reason why this administration has to be resisted at every step. Everything they do is carcinogenic. That’s unfortunately too often literal.

Trump Attacks the Antiquities Act; Public Land At Risk

 

They seriously had the nerve to announce this in front of Teddy Roosevelt, who created the Antiquities Act. 

 

While the grim and still-strong lingerings of slavery and Jim Crow animate much of the modern conservative movement, it also drew enormous energy from the Sagebrush Rebellions of the 70s, when western ranchers and farmers started “standing up” to an overbearing federal government who didn’t want them to destroy the land. It was this, dovetailing with Buckley’s ideas of conservative politics, that allowed Ronald Reagan to win by saying “government is the problem”; something that Richard Nixon wouldn’t even think, much less say out loud.  It’s not very well-known now, but its spirit is still around.

You see the spirit of Sagebrush in most Republican policies, which is that the there is no common good. It’s what makes the idea that corporations should be able to do whatever they want to whomever they want seem somehow principled, and even patriotic. But you also see it literally, in the actions of the Bundys, direct descendants of the movement.  And you see it in the actions of the Trump administration, run by a man who never saw anything he didn’t want to sell.

We talked about how the administration was planning to sell off public lands to be developed or mined or logged or stripped clean (the cruel quintessence of the GOP), but now they are paving the way to make it actually happen. Adam Markham at the Union of Concerned Scientists has the details.

The Antiquities Act of 1906 gives the president of the United States the power to designate lands and waters for permanent protection. Almost every president since Teddy Roosevelt has used the Act to place extraordinary archaeological, historic and natural sites under protection and out of reach of commercial exploitation.

Many sites originally designated as national monuments were later upgraded by Congress to become national parks, including Bryce Canyon, Saguaro and Death Valley. In many cases in the past, the Antiquities Act allowed presidents to protect vital natural and cultural resources when congressional leaders, often compromised by their ties to special interests representing coal, oil, timber and mining industries, were reluctant or unwilling to act.

A new Executive Order signed by President Trump on April 26th, 2017 puts this important regulatory tool for conservation and historic preservation at risk. The clear intention of the Executive Order is to lay the groundwork for shrinking national monuments or rescinding their designation entirely, in order to open currently protected public lands for untrammeled growth in coal, oil and minerals extraction.

Ryan Zinke, who this blog once made the mistake of calling “maybe not terrible“, is all in on this. Markham slaps him down.

Secretary Zinke himself was quoted ridiculing “people in D.C. who have never been to an area, never grazed the land, fished the river, driven the trails, or looked locals in the eye, who are making the decisions and they have zero accountability to the impacted communities.”

But, in fact, national monument designations almost always derive from a local grassroots demand for greater protections, and usually only come after lengthy periods of community engagement and consultations.

Because here’s the thing. In Zinke’s list, “graz(ing) the land” is the only thing that people will still be able to do. Maybe fish the rivers, if you buy commercial fishing rights. People can walk or drive the trails and visit the areas because they are protected. What do you think–if a mining company buys rights to land in Bear Ears they’re going to just let you waltz in?

Or course not. If you let rich ranchers like the Bundys take over more land, it is, by definition, no longer the people’s land. Go ahead. Walk onto Bundy property. They aren’t going to greet you with a Woodie Guthrie song.

Public designations are how we protect these lands for everyone. It’s how we protect our heritage. It’s a way of saying that not everything can or should be parceled off, exploited, turned into capital, and sold to benefit the very few. Because of that, it is anethema to the modern Republican Party. That this move is an immediate screw you to natives is just a bonus). Bear Ears didn’t

(Bear Ears didn’t create an idiotic Chaffetz controversy for no reason: it’s because Obama designating it a park became a cause celebre to the heirs of Sagebrush.)

I guarantee you that Trump has never heard of Sagebrush, and I doubt he has any strong ideological reasons for selling off the land, unless he gets a taste. But he hates things that Obama did, and his animating principle has always been “I got mine, so screw you.” In that, as in so many things, he is the perfect Republican. He is ready to sell, and our national sense of unity and a common good is paying the price.

Yemen’s Agony: Starvation, War, Drought, and a Posioned Future

 

 

Yemen has only really been in the American public conscience since December of 2009, when Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab tried to explode a bomb hidden in his underpants aboard a plane over Detroit. It didn’t go well, for him at least. But that was the first time the media en masse started to pay attention to Yemen. Before, if it was known at all, it was talked about vaguely, as a state where there were probably terrorists, but who really knew?

Well, after that, everyone knew. It wasn’t vague. For Americans, and much of the West, Yemen = terrorism. For me, as someone who spent a good decade of my life writing (or trying to write) professionally about Yemen, terrorism was always the hook. Most of us writing or talking about it tried to show the bigger picture, to paint Yemen as an actual country with real people and a history, but the story was almost always, ultimately, terrorism.

And that’s been a contributing to Yemen’s agony.  I’m trying to remember the last (or first) time I’ve heard a US politician talk about Yemen in positive terms, other than paying tribute to former President Saleh for being an “ally” in the GWOT, but even that was entirely about terrorism. It is identified, if at all, with being one of those explosive places on the map, the kind of joint where nearly everyone wants to kill you. Yemen is met with a shrug, at the most positive.

That’s partly why, I think, the horrible reality of its present has failed to make even the slightest dent in the public mind. What is happening in Yemen is shocking and sick-making and morally revolting; the numbers are truly apocalyptic. 17 million people are facing famine this year. Social services are wiped out. Traditional safety nets have been destroyed by war. Distribution networks are non-existent. Every 10 minutes, a child under the age of five dies of preventable causes.  The mind reels at the brutality of life and cowers from the lengthening shadow of a death-hunted land.

These are the kinds of horrors that usually awaken the generous conscious of the American people, and I genuinely mean that. For all our public meanness, when the country is roused, its private citizens turn their good fortunes outward. But with Yemen, there is nothing.

I think that’s partly, of course, because we have our own problems here. A quick glance down this blog shows where my priorities are; I have less an excuse to ignore Yemen than literally almost anyone in the United States. Even Yemen posts have largely been US and Trump-centric. But a lot of it is because Yemen is easily brushed off as a country where there are no real people, just terrorists. And if not terrorists, certainly some other kind of bad dude.

That’s why the war crimes of our great ally Saudi Arabia have been ignored (by successive administrations, to be clear). It’s why we don’t at all blink an eye when Yemen is reduced to “areas of active hostilities“, an expansion of war.  It’s why it isn’t a scandal when the incoming POTUS knows absolutely nothing about the region (though to be fair, he doesn’t know anything about anything). And it is why a strategy designed to provoke civilizational collapse is basically seen as aces all around, when it isn’t being actively ignored.

And that’s what this is: a civilization that is collapsing, pummeled from without and starving from within. It’s running out of water as well as food, a terrible harbinger for our collective climate-imperiled future. The lack of resources fuel more war; war increases the resource shortage. Millions will die in withering agony.

This could be the worst famine in modern times, surpassing even the miseries of Ethiopia, Somalia, Biafra, Ireland, approaching the terror famines of the Ukraine. And to be clear, this is little different than the last example (or any of these examples). You don’t have the towering figure of Stalin or Mengistu orchestrating the misery, but you have the shadow of indifference and even active complicity across the world.

The UN estimates it needs $2 billion dollars to fight the famine, and $1 billion has been pledged. That’s pledged, not collected, and it is still short. Meanwhile, we’re slashing foreign aid (the public meanness which stands contemptuous rebuke to the short bursts of private decency; no politician has ever won by promising to increase aid to foreigners). The US alone could easily make up the shortfall; Trump wanted a billion for a down payment on his idiot wall. But there was no way to turn cruelty into decency.

This isn’t about the next generation of terrorists, or the stretegic importance of turning enemies into allies. That is important, and it is blind and willful idiocy to let Yemen collapse. It isn’t even about how we are dealing with a terrible onrushing future in which this will happen more and more, as resources dwindle and water evaporates and conflict increases. That’s also important; this is just the beginning of the show.

But it is also simply mean and terrifying. These are real lives, which will be extinguished with a stomach’s empty and piteous howl. These are human beings, lives ripped apart by Yemen’s place in the world’s collective conscience, as a testing ground for ideas and ideologies. It’s another judgment on our species. It isn’t a good one.

 

Wednesday Good Reads: SETI, El Faro, and Labor

 

FREE BOOKS! | Forever Free | Georgia Pathway to Language  Literacy

“Go to the one about organized labor, Madison

 

A few good reads from the last few days. What’s stopping you? You have nothing to lose, and everything (or, well, three things) to gain.

Searching the Skies for Alien Laser Beams, Marina Koren, The Atlantic

Some scientists believe that the best way to find alien life is to look for pulses of laser beams shot out across the dark eons. While SETI doesn’t always get priority for telescope use (understandably), researchers have found a workaround: poring through data collected by other observations and looking for anomalies. Of course, this presupposes that aliens have seen our planet, want to send some form of contact, and have also decided that laser pulses are the best way, but that makes some sense. It’s easier than sending, like an expedition, and it isn’t really committal (“Oh, jeez, sorry, we were sending that to Rigel 7.”), but there’s something very romantic about it. It’s like being at camp and blinking your flashlight across the lake, wondering if there were campers over there, wondering if you were somehow making a connection through the darkness.

(Granted, I doubt the aliens are hoping, as we campers did, just to make contact with girls, but the general principle holds.)

Democrats and Labor: Frenemies Forever, Erik Loomis, Boston Review

I don’t think there is anyone concerned with labor and with unions (the only thing that can bring back any form of rough economic equality) that isn’t frustrated with the Democrats. Even a very pro-labor government like Obama’s saw labor decline. But as Loomis argues, deciding the abandon the Democrats is ridiculous. A labor-driven third party can’t work, and the Republicans are fully committed to destroying what’s left of unions.

Loomis diagnosis how, oddly, the grassroots/progressive liberal wing helped to strip unions of their power, which accelerated the Democrats no longer needing them as much for votes, and relying on small donors/huge corporate cash, which pushed them toward unfettered free trade, which helped destroy the unions. It’s a complicated story where good guy/bad guy is pretty blurry, but there are ways to get back. The alliances that shattered unions can be used to build them back up.

Other unions have embraced grassroots activism to elect liberal and friendly Democrats. The latter is unions’ best answer if combined with committing as many resources as possible to organizing. Because, paradoxically, unions have little choice but to continue tying their fate to the Democratic Party. Indeed it is even more important now than five decades ago. Even though Democrats have helped create their demise, unions’ only chance against a full-on war with the Republican Party is a moderately favorable relationship with the Democrats acting as a kind of political bulwark.

The whole thing is worth the read.

‘I’m a Goner’: El Faro’s Last Hours as Ship Sails Into StormJason Dearen, AP

The El Faro was nearly 800 feet long and could carry 31,000 tons. It wasn’t one of the neo-Panamax megaliners that are transforming global shipping, but it was a beast. It also had bad boilers which could hurt its engine, and old-fashioned lifeboats that were essentially useless in a big storm. On Oct 1st, 2015, it

On Oct 1st, 2015, it rushed headlong into a big storm. Hurrican Jaoquin, near the Bahamas, a Category 3 with winds up to 130 mph. Battered by waves, unable to turn, the ship broke up and sank, taking its crew of 33 with it to the bottom.

In the AP, Jason Dearen crafts a story out of transcripts recorded on the bridge, and they tell a harrowing story of calm professionalism over growing terror. The list of things that went wrong is terrifying and maddening. The ship listed a bit, which meant the parts that brough oil to the engines didn’t quite reach the reserves, which made the pumps not work, which brought on more water. It couldn’t steer into the waves, and so was pummeled by them, hundreds of feet high. They couldn’t even call for help, since the company that owned the boat (the one that signed off on the boilers and the lifeboats) had an answering service set up after hours. There was no way to contact them directly (though it might not have mattered in the face of a hurricane, that’s still pretty cold).

They do their jobs and try to figure it out. But eventually, there is no way out. The ship is sinking. Some panic, some try to just find the next way to survive. None do. It’s a terrible story, written with a modest and removed reserve, which heightens the true natural terror. And that boat, that human immensity, carrying with it the dreams and memories of dozens, disappears, swallowed unremarkably by a roiling sea.

 

Yukon River Rerouting Shows Sudden Impact of Climate Change; Is Bonkers Crazy

 

This river is younger than, say, “Lemonade”

 

There are few things that can change the course of a river suddenly. The New Madrid earthquakes in 1811-1812 briefly reversed the course of the Mississippi by suddenly shoving millions of tons of water in northward, but that was temporary. Normally, (unless like in Chicago you do it intentionally) rivers change directions or reroute their course very slowly, through generations of erosion as it pokes and prods and tries to find the easiest way to flow, a grinding process that eventually levels everything in its path, though never on the mere scale of a human lifetime.

Thanks to climate change, that might not always be the case. Times?

In the blink of a geological eye, climate change has helped reverse the flow of water melting from a glacier in Canada’s Yukon, a hijacking that scientists call “river piracy.”

This engaging term refers to one river capturing and diverting the flow of another. It occurred last spring at the Kaskawulsh Glacier, one of Canada’s largest, with a suddenness that startled scientists.

A process that would ordinarily take thousands of years — or more — happened in just a few months in 2016.

Much of the meltwater from the glacier normally flows to the north into the Bering Sea via the Slims and Yukon Rivers. A rapidly retreating and thinning glacier — accelerated by global warming — caused the water to redirect to the south, and into the Pacific Ocean.

Last year’s unusually warm spring produced melting waters that cut a canyon through the ice, diverting more water into the Alsek River, which flows to the south and on into Pacific, robbing the headwaters to the north.

Think about that. If you lived there (or, I guess, if you are a tremendous liar), you could say “I remember the days when these waters flowed north, onward to the Bering Sea”, and you’d be talking about last summer.

Now, to be fair, this was a perfect confluence of conditions: the way the land was shaped there didn’t have to be too much melt and erosion for the higher ground to make its way to the lower; the channels cut my newly melted water didn’t have far to go. We’re not going to wake up one day and see that the Ohio is charging back toward Pittsburgh. But it is still a stark and terrifying reminder that climate change isn’t something happening in the distant future. It is happening now, and it is really unpredictable.

In essence, we’ve decided as a species to enter a vast generational experiment where we see what happens when we accelerate natural processes and introduce unnatural ones. The earth heats and cools, glaciers advance and melt, rivers change their courses. These things happen on unimaginable time spans. They don’t happen over the course of a century, or the life of a summer. But, thanks to our desire to turn nature into capital, that’s what’s happening.

We don’t know how it will turn out. Things will happen that we can barely even guess. But it seems short-sighted to say it won’t be enormous.

I’ll leave this with an example of what retreating glaciers mean. We all know that the glaciers carved out the Great Lakes and completely wiped out the landscape that came before them. And we know it was cold as hell. But I don’t think it is generally understood how much their immensity impacted geology, and not just topography.

They pressed down on the earth’s surface, slowly impacting it under their enormity. And as they retreated, the surface slowly started to rebound. This is a process that, tens of thousands of years later, is still happening. The impact of this can be felt right around here, in Chicago. When the glaciers first retreated, and the lakes took their present form, the ground was low enough that Michigan (and Lake Chicago before it) flowed southwards, toward the Mississippi Basin. But as the land rebounded, and glaciers cut more channels, eventually the whole Lakes basin made its way to the ocean.

Until, of course, the city of Chicago, disgusted with and sickened by the filth of its residents, reversed the course of the Chicago, turning southern Lake Michigan into an extension of the Mississippi Basin. That happened in a geologic instant. The reversal of the Yukon rivers was even quicker. It was instant.

Our impact on the planet might mimic the planet’s own cycles, as somewhat more sophisticated climate deniers claim, but that’s wildly misleading. It’s a gruesome imitation, at high-speed, a janky cassette player that suddenly turns your music into a screeching cacophony, with little regard for the consequences. It’s like jumping off the Empire State Building and saying you’re imitating the gentle swaying of a leaf on the wind. Same general direction maybe, and with the same end point, but brother, you’re fucked.