Da Beers!

Da Beers!

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

The Jordan Cove juggernaut

We attended a talk last night in Coos Bay by Thomas Linzey of the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund.  Among other things, we went because we continue to hope there's some way the horrifically awful Jordan Cove-Pacific Connector LNG project can be stopped before it completely ruins our little seaside community.  The event was eye opening in several ways.

Right out of the chute, we got what appears to be Mr. Lizney's standard road-show talk on the subject of American democracy.  I can't do it justice in writing, but Mr. Lizney's key points were:
  • The American Constitution was designed primarily to empower the movers and shakers of the day to exploit the natural resources of continent as quickly and efficiently as possible (which it did amazingly well
  • While our system of Constitutional government was unarguably great for overriding state, local, or tribal opposition to unbridled economic development in our nation's early years, those same Constitutional features, together with the empowerment of corporations (see, e.g., corporate personhood, Citizens United, etc.), now frustrates almost all efforts to control our fates at the community level when some corporation comes to town with an industrial hog farm, landscape-scale fracking, or LNG export project  
  • Four decades of environmental activism within this Constitutional framework have accomplished little except to allow the large environmental non-profits to collect billions of dollars in donations, and to at best delay projects while they force corporate proponents to go back to dot i's and cross t's in their permit applications
  • Going forward the only way community's can hope to truly control their destinies is to attack the problem at the Constitutional level through efforts in concert with other concerned communities
Mr. Lizney's talk was the perfect combination of tough love and inspiration, adroitly delivered.  Then after he sat down, a woman from our local Coos Commons Protection Council stood up to deliver rambling, unfocused comments that added nothing to Mr. Lizney's talk, and which only served to illustrate just how screwed we are at the local level.  With all due respect, we just had to get up and leave before this well-intended woman could render us suicidal.

The good news is that the Coos Commons Protection Council is gathering signatures to put The Coos County Right to a Sustainable Energy Future on the May 2016 ballot, and we sincerely hope they succeed.

But getting that proposition on the ballot is far from a guarantee of success -- not in our little community where local sympathizer-apologists are daily serving as (paid?) mouthpieces for the Canadian corporation behind the Jordan Cove-Pacific Connector LNG project.

If you have any doubt, just compare the amateurish Coos Commons Protection Council PR effort with the slickly produced and well-funded "Boost Southwest Oregon" website.  You can't help but me reminded of the way the Nazis would so skillfully employ local collaborators to serve as the public face of their oppression while they lurked in the shadows and worked the puppet strings.

At the end of the day, Mr. Lizney's talk only reminded us that under our system of state-, federal-, and corporation-dominated governance, the only thing that will stop the Jordan Cove-Pacific Connector LNG project will be a business market determination that its owners won't make money on it ... just as a lack of commercially exploitable natural resources was the only thing that could finally stick a fork in Shell Oil's decade-long arctic drilling mechanations.  Everything else is just eyewash.

No one is sorrier than me that I can't be more encouraging.

Monday, June 1, 2015


A House committee cut about a fifth of Amtrak’s funding on a party line vote the day after the fatal Amtrak derailment in Philadelphia. Presumably this was meant to punish Amtrak for the horrific accident that killed 8 and injured more than 200 with some in critical condition.

The problem with this pretzel logic is that Congress voted in 2008 to implement Positive Train Control (PTC), a computerized system that would have slowed this runaway train.  Sadly, however, Congress has never actually funded PTC. Does that mean all this blood is actually on the hands of Congress?

All the other civilized/industrialized nations (China now included) understand the value of a modern rail system, and they’ve put their money where their mouths are.  Meanwhile, the US continues to underwrite air travel with billions of dollars in subsidies … but won’t spend a few million on rail safety technology that would save lives.

Follow ups:

Has a train engineer ever used a passenger train to commit suicide a la the co-pilot of Germanwings Flight 9525?

Has Congress ever stopped the billions in tax dollars that subsidize air travel in this country (more than $155 billion as of 1999 according to a secret Congressional report)?

Federal Direct Spending on Aviation, 1918 to 1998
federal aviation subsidies

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Oregon 2020 ... Oh, so that's what all those empty "Hotspots" are about

Our Baker County blitz crew, after finding 189 species and generating 675 checklists for eBird and the Oregon 2020 project, in a single weekend in June, 2014.

Baker County blitz crew, after finding 189 species and 
generating 675 checklists for eBird and the Oregon 2020 
project, in a single weekend in June, 2014

Oregon 2020: A Benchmark Survey Built on eBird

Humans change the land, sea, and climate. Birds respond to such changes. We are the first generation of humans to realize we are partly responsible for climate change, to know that we are altering the habitat of Earth’s biodiversity, and to have the technological capability to map, measure, instantly share, and electronically archive our observations of nature.

The Oregon 2020 project recognizes our unique position in history and uses eBird to create a benchmark survey of Oregon’s birds. Oregon 2020 aims to provide high quality data on the distribution and abundance of birds across Oregon as we approach the year 2020. Working together, we create an information legacy that will allow future citizens and scientists, decades and centuries from now, to compare bird populations in their time with those today.

Oregon 2020 relies on contributions from birders using eBird and the eBird Northwest portal. Birders have amazing skills that provide useful data when they simply collect and archive their observations. eBird is about more than managing our own species lists. It is about legacy. We want that legacy of data to be high quality. To support that, Oregon 2020 is conducting workshops and creating online tutorials to train birders in best practices when identifying, counting, and mapping birds and we coordinate County Blitzes on long weekends to socialize, explore, and count birds in relatively poorly studied portions of our state.

County blitzes are a lot like a Christmas Bird Count, except we count during the breeding season. The areas each person or team covers fall within a county. Each team visits 2 to 4 of our Hotspot Squares during the day, in addition to birding wherever they want. Then we rendezvous at the end of the day and share results and stories. In 2015, we have scheduled five breeding-season County Blitzes – join us here:

23 and 24 May: Sherman and Gilliam counties
30 and 31 May: Columbia and Clatsop counties
6 and 7 June: Wheeler County
13 and 14 June: northern Malheur County
27 and 28 June: Wallowa County

If you don’t like exploring too far from home, there is probably a Hotspot Square near you. Observations any time of year are valuable. So if you are headed out to your favorite local birding spot, check to see if there is a Hotspot Square nearby and make a few counts there, too. Even contributions of feeder birds are valuable. Most of us discount the value of our daily observations of common birds. Consider this: if you knew someone had counted birds at your favorite hotspot or in your current yard 300 years ago, would you take a look at those data to see how things have changed? Of course, you would! eBird allows us to make our observations today available to future birders. What’s normal and boring to you now may be very interesting in the not-so-distant future. Just log into eBird Northwest and report your observations.

Please contact us at Oregon2021@gmail.com (yes, that’s Oregon2021, not a typo) or visit our web site (Oregon2020.com) if you are interested.

Article by  W Douglas Robinson

Monday, January 19, 2015

The “LNG Permitting Certainty and Transparency Act”: How to Destroy American Communities at a Breakneck Pace?

Gabrel Collins at the mega-law firm of Baker Hostetler has a story about the consortium of federal legislators from gas-producing states who want to force FERC to make much faster decisions, and issue permits much more quickly.

Proponents include Senators John A. Barrasso (R-WY), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Cory Gardner (R-CO), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), John Hoeven (R-ND), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), and Michael Bennet (D-CO). 

Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH) has introduced H.R. 351, an identically named bill with virtually identical legislative language, in the House on January 14, 2015.  Co-sponsors in the House include Kevin Cramer [ND], Henry Cuellar [TX-28], Bill Flores [TX-17], Gene Green [TX-29], Mike McCaul [TX-10], Pete Olson, Pete [TX-22], Tim Ryan [OH-13], and Michael Turner [OH-10].

Who is missing from the list? 

Right.  These bills haven't a single sponsor from states like Oregon and Washington -- states that will bear the brunt of environmentally destructive mega-pipelines and massive accumulations of the liquified gas in the midst of existing communities.

While state and local governments may be briefly able hold the line against such political forces under state environmental and land use laws, they will ultimately be overwhelmed by the force of federal supremacy -- especially if a Republican takes the White House in 2017 as is widely expected.

* * *

For a rundown of all the things that are wrong with the LNG technology, the Sierra Club has a good informational website.

LNG Tanker
Liquefied Natural Gas Tanker

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Urban Crows

A recent report on Oregon Birding On-line (OBOL) about an urban Peregrine Falcon in Salem, Oregon got me to thinking about an urban PEFA we were lucky enough to spot in downtown Portland, Oregon in early December of 2014.

It seems beyond ironic that as the population of PEFAs seemed to have rebounded, the American Crow seems to have has replaced the feral pigeon as the most common urban bird in many American cities.

Here's an interesting 2001 UW article on the subject by John M. Marzluff, Kevin J. McGowan, Roarke Donnelly and Richard L. Knight.


To the extent that the American Crow seems far too large and aggressive to provide good aerial prey for PEFAs, the odds of seeing these amazing predators in places like downtown Portland seems less likely than ever.

Here's a nighttime picture of just a few of the thousands of AMCRs that were roosting on SW 6th in Portland in early December 2014:


Undisclosed Location

Mike Patterson makes an excellent case for why it's not a God-given constitutional right for birders to invade people's neighborhoods, post their addresses, and generally make asses of themselves (and all other birders by reference).

But a word of warning.  Birders -- especially those of the Big Year ilk -- don't like to hear this message.  I innocently suggested the same idea a few years ago on the infamous (and now defunct) San Diego Bird listserve when hordes of birders had invaded yet another quiet residential neighborhood in search of some rarity. 

All I managed to accomplish then was to set off a torrent of seething vitriol that led me to quit posting anything on that listserve.  Or on any birding listserve for that matter.  Who needs the grief and kickback?

Nowadays I list all our birds -- from mundane to uber-rare -- on eBird.  If someone's looking for such a bird, the data is there for them to access.   But the last thing I want to do is to enable some self-serving fool who may jump in their car and blaze across the state, hoping to tick off that bird on their Big Year list.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

When Did Republicans Start Hating the Environment?

That's a question I've asked myself more than once.

Well, the answer is roughly 1991 according to a new study.


Chris Mooney over at Mother Jones explains more fully, but the fact is, it was during the uber-Republican Nixon administration that the nation's most important and enduring environemntal laws and agencies were established:  The National Environemntal Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), the Endangered Species Act of 1973, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

Nowadays, these laws and agencies -- and their roles in combating global climate change -- are the seethingly hated poster children of the "socialist threat" of climate change politics.

So what happened?

According to a new study in the journal Social Science Research, the key change actually began around the year 1991when the Soviet Union fell. "The conservative movement replaced the 'Red Scare' with a new 'Green Scare' and became increasingly hostile to environmental protection at that time," argues sociologist Aaron McCright of Michigan State University and two colleagues.

So what happened in the early 1990s?

For starters, Bill Clinton and Al Gore took office.  Gore had just published his Earth in the Balance, and this was also when a new zest for attack politics took hold -- when tearing down anything and everything a Democrat president stood for became the raison d'etre of Republican strategists.  Together, these things made environmental issues an important political tool in the right-wing toolkit.  And since the "left," led by Gore, had staked out the pro-environment position, that meant Republicans had to de facto oppose it.  At least in the fevered little brains of emerging righties like Karl Rove.

Throw in the influence of the 1992 Rio Earth Summit which seems to have scared the hell out of the xenophobe wing of the party, and add in the phenomenon of "party sorting" which helped strengthen and ossify American political ideologies, and you start to see how things went so very wrong.

Sadly, the result is that we probably have reached a point where political compromise on environmental issues is near-impossible.  And that doesn't bode well for America's ability to deal effectively with the wide range of environmental problems, just when the need to do so is greater than ever.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Climate change refugees ... stay put!

Sure, Seattle weather guru Cliff Mass says the Pacific Northwest is the last best place in the lower 48 as the climate goes to shyte (thans, BP, Shell, and the Bush family!).  But don't flock here.  Really.  The people are just the worst.  Many of the beers are too darn hoppy.  The coffee is way too strong.  All the greenery hurts your eyes if you're used to California scrub.  And it rains so much you'll likely need a raincoat. 

Word. To. The. Wise.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Future generations gets their day in court (at least in Oregon)

The Oregon Court of Appeals has held that two teens are entitled to a judicial declaration of whether Oregon officials have a “public trust” obligation to “protect the State’s atmosphere as well as the water, land, fishery, and wildlife resources from the impacts of climate change.”

In Chernaik v. Kitzhaber, the court reversed the trial judge’s dismissal of the case and remanded for a decision on the merits.  This is one of dozens of similar actions brought in the name of kids across the country to force government to act more aggressively to combat climate change. The young activists—with a little help from environmental advocacy groups Crag Law Center, Center for Biological Diversity and Western Environmental Law Center—argued that the state has displayed a frustrating lack of urgency:  “I don’t want to live in a wasteland caused by climate change,” Olivia Chernaik told the Eugene Register-Guard.

The public trust doctrine stems from English common law, which states that some resources are so central to the well-being of citizens that they cannot be freely alienated and must be protected. The doctrine was adopted by the U. S. Supreme Court in its 1892 decision Illinois Central Railway v. Illinois, which held that the state could not convey outright title to a substantial segment of the Chicago lakefront.

In 1983 the California Supreme Court greatly expanded the doctrine in National Audubon Society v. Superior Court, extending the public trust doctrine to limit already-vested water rights. In that case, the issue was whether the state must act to limit the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s appropriation of water from tributaries to Mono Lake in the face of declining lake levels.  The expansive reading given the public trust doctrine by the California Supreme Court set the stage for court imposition of regulatory controls to protect the environment, even if doing so might upset settled property rights in a natural resource.

When the Chernaik case is re-heard on remand, we'll find if if Oregon courts will pick up the public trust baton.  Among other things, the state could be ordered to do more to limit greenhouse gas emissions —even if that comes at the expense of other political priorities.