Fracking in Alabama’s National Forests? Time to Act

Talladega National Forest Image

Talladega National Forest, located in eastern Alabama, is one of the state’s most valuable natural resources. The forest includes crucial water sources for nearby towns, as well as habitat for threatened and endangered species. It’s also a popular destination for hikers, campers, hunters, and bikers, attracting an estimated 600,000 visitors each year.

Despite all this, the Talladega Forest has been targeted by Big Oil and Gas. On June 14, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) plans to sell drilling leases for 43,000 acres of the Forest. There may not even be enough gas under the forest to warrant drilling, but, if there is, it might be accessed with hydraulic fracking.

Gas drilling in Talladega National Forest threatens the health of nearby communities. As I’m sure you know, fracking consumes millions of gallons of freshwater–a resource we can’t afford to waste–and produces vast amounts of toxic “flowback” that can contaminate water supplies. Plus, a recent study found that fracking chemicals can reach underground aquifers much faster than previously thought. 

The BLM’s decision to sell leases in the Talladega is based on a 2004 study conducted by the Forest Service. But this study is outdated and woefully inadequate–it doesn’t even mention fracking.
What’s more, selling gas leases in Talladega National Forest could actually be illegal. Mark Kolinski at Wild South (one of the groups fighting the leases) explained,

The USFS and the BLM have not conducted their due diligence in terms of assessing the potential impacts of this heightened level of industrial oil and gas development and may well be in violation of federal law, especially the Endangered Species Act, in this regard. Selling oil and gas leases constitutes an irretrievable commitment of resources and is among the activities regulated under the ESA.

The good news? We still have time to halt the drilling leases in Talladega National Forest and protect nearby communities from exploitation. The local anti-fracking movement is building momentum, and we need your help to secure a victory.

Please sign this petition demanding the BLM stop leasing National Forest land for oil and gas drilling.

This is a federal lands issue, so it doesn’t matter where in the U.S. you live. A win in Alabama will forward the anti-fracking cause nationwide, because it will prove that the value of clean water and healthy ecosystems transcends partisan politics.

So, please take a minute to support our efforts to safeguard the public health from fracking, in Alabama and throughout the country.

If you’d like to get more involved, contact Wild South at 256-974-6166, or at And, if you want to delve deeper, you can read the detailed letter of protest filed by the Southern Environmental Law Center.

Image credit: Wikimedia Commons


EPA Announces New Carbon Regulations: What You Need to Know

Coal power plant

Cross-posted from We Are Power Shift.

On Tuesday, the EPA officially announced its long-awaited rules on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants — the first ever in U.S. history. According to the standards, new plants can emit no more than 1,000 pounds of carbon dioxide per magawatt of electricity produced. Natural gas plants fall within this limit; coal plants do not.

So what does this mean for coal? At the moment, not much. The key word is new — plants already running are exempt from the regulations. In a move that startled climate advocates, EPA Admin Lisa Jackson declared that there were “no plans to address existing plants,” which, of course, produce the vast majority of the power sector’s carbon emissions.

But here’s the catch: The EPA may be legally obligated to regulate existing coal plants. Grist‘s David Roberts explains,

Once something is deemed a pollutant under the Clean Air Act… then it must be regulated under Section 111 of the act….

Section 111b governs new sources. That’s what was issued today. But when EPA regulates under 111b, that triggers a legal obligation for it also to regulate existing sources under 111d.

So a carbon rule for existing sources should appear sometime in the future, but, as far as the Administration is concerned, there’s no point in talking up more regulations until something’s actually on the table. Thus, “no plans,” at least until after the election. (Of course, under a Republican president, the EPA, if it even existed, would undoubtedly scrap all carbon limits.)

We’ve still taken a step forward. The new EPA carbon rules help the clean energy effort by effectively outlawing new coal-fired plants. In order to meet the requirements, coal plants would have to capture and store their CO2 emissions, and carbon sequestration isn’t available yet on a large scale.


Interestingly, the coal industry built an entire lobbying campaign around this technology, dubbed “clean coal,” and politicians, including Obama, picked up the term becase they like alliteration. But when faced with actually implementing it, the industry people balk. Apparently, we should keep using coal because coal is clean, but we can’t require coal to be clean because clean coal, in the words of a Peabody Energy spokesman, “doesn’t exist as a commercial technology.” Thanks for clearning that up!

The bottom line: As long as the rule holds, the climate movement doesn’t have to worry about stopping new coal plants. Instead, activists can focus on transitioning old coal energy to renewable sources. We are nearer than ever to a coal-free America.

[Image: Dmitri Klimenko]

Ballot Initiative Could Restore Hetch Hetchy in Yosemite National Park


Hetch Hetchy valley before dam

Hetch Hetchy, before the dam was built

When you hear “Yosemite,” you probably think of Yosemite Valley, with its world-class waterfalls and famous rock formations. But another valley in Yosemite National Park offers scenery just as stunning.

At least, it would, if it weren’t filled with water. In 1923, Hetch Hetchy, known as “Yosemite’s twin,” was dammed to provide drinking water for San Francisco. Today the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir stores 117 billion gallons of alpine water so pure it’s exempt from filtration rules.

But an initiative launched by Restore Hetch Hetchy (RHH) could see the dam destroyed and the valley restored to its natural state. If RHH can secure 7,400 supportive signatures, Californians will vote on a ballot measure to do just that.

John Muir, the patron saint of the preservation movement, was fiercely opposed to the flooding of Hetch Hetchy. “Dam Hetch Hetchy!” he exclaimed. “As well dam for water-tanks the people’s cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man.” Hetch Hetchy was Muir’s last great fight, and one of the few he lost.

Modern San Francisco residents might not consider themselves “devotees of ravaging commercialism” Yosemite National Park Mapwith “a perfect contempt for Nature,” as Muir put it, but many would probably object to draining the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. Besides providing water to the Bay Area, the dam generates hydroelectricity that powers buses, light rail, street lighting, and cable cars. From a climate perspective (as opposed to an environmental one), damming Hetch Hetchy might not have been a bad idea.

However, the Reservoir isn’t as essential as many believe. According to RHH,

Hetch Hetchy is only one of nine reservoirs that comprise the San Francisco Public Utility Commission’s water system. Although Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is the most well-known, it stores less than 25% of the system’s water. San Francisco’s water-bank in Don Pedro Reservoir, downstream on the Tuolumne River, holds twice as much water as Hetch Hetchy.

If the dam at Hetch Hetchy were removed, San Francisco would still get water from the Tuolumne River; the water would simply be stored at a different location. So what’s the catch? Mainly the price tag. At up to $10 billion, the project will be a bit unpalatable in a recession. Still, it wouldn’t be unprecedented–hundreds of dams have been torn down in the U.S. over the last fifteen years.

Restoring nearly a century of damage to the Hetch Hetchy valley would be an intensely interesting challenge in itself. Even RHH calls it “the most ambitious and audacious act of environmental preservation in our history.” Yet a restored Hetch Hetchy would attract tourists and their money, helping to relieve the overcrowded Yosemite Valley.

This is a multi-sided issue, one that could potentially pit climate hawks against environmental preservationists. Certainly it will divide the famously green and progressive San Francisco.

What do you think?


Learn more: The GuardianRestore Hetch Hetchy


Rick Santorum on Energy, Environment, and Climate

Rick Santorum CPAC 2012As the election year lurches on, Rick Santorum is emerging as an alternative to the assumed nominee, Mitt Romney (at least for the moment). So far, the super PACs have neglected to tear apart Mr. Santorum’s platform, so I thought I would take it upon myself to pick up the slack–at least in the green department.

Standing Up for Your Neighborhood Coal Giant

You may have heard Santorum talk about helping a local business fend off creeping regulatory tentacles. In the New Hampshire debate, he said, “My grandfather was a coal miner. So I contacted a local coal company from my area. I said, look, I want to join you in that fight. I want to work together with you.”

That “local company” was Consol Energy, one of the largest coal mining outfits in the country. And, as Kate Sheppard reports, “joining in the fight” translates to being hired as a consultant for about $142,000 between 2010 and August 2011.

During his Senate career, Santorum received more than $73,000 in donations from Consol, and (surprise!) his legislative record was indistinguishable from the coal company’s agenda. He fought cap-and-trade, cheered on Bush’s coal-friendly Clean Air loopholes, and pressured the EPA to relax sulfur dioxide standards. More recently, Santorum attacked the new rules limiting mercury emissions from power plants.

Unmasking the Global Warming Conspiracy

What about Santorum and global warming? Most of the candidates take a relatively nuanced “skeptical” view. But not Santorum. At a campaign stop Colorado, he declared that he had never bought the “hoax of global warming.” In this, he one-ups Gingrich and Romney, both of whom have, at some point, sort of leaned in the general direction of maybe accepting climate change as a problem.

To any readers outside the States: Yes, our presidential candidates do argue over who has the strongest record of rejecting tenth grade science.

But let’s assume for a moment that Santorum sincerely believes climatology is a dastardly plot to dominate of our lives and our economy. The scale of this conspiracy is pretty impressive. It was apparently begun in 1824 by Joseph Fourier, who first proposed the greenhouse effect. Today, nearly every national Academy of Science and 97 percent of climate scientists scheme around the clock to deceive policymakers and the public.

One might think that such a vast fraud accusation would not be made lightly.

Renewing America’s Commitment to Hydrocarbons

Believing climate change is a hoax is convenient when your energy policy sounds like an ad for the American Petroleum Institute. Overall, Santorum’s platform is about average for the GOP:

  • He favors an “all-of-the-above” policy–mainly fossil fuels, in other words.
  • He would remove limits on drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, the Outer Continental Shelf, and the ANWR. “Drill. Drill everywhere,” he told Glenn Beck.
  • Keystone XL, he says, should be immediately approved. To not do so is “pandering to radical environmentalists who don’t want energy production.”
  • Rather than eliminate the Energy Department, he would like to stop its investments in “technologies to reduce carbon dioxide emissions and alternative-energy vehicles.” Why? According to his web site, the market alone should decide which energy products are successful.
  • Interestingly, Santorum proposes getting rid of all energy subsidies. Presumably, this would include not just renewables, but also oil.

And here is Rick Santorum’s take on fracking:

[Environmentalists] are…saying…’Ooh, all this bad stuff’s going to happen, we don’t know all these chemicals and all this stuff.’ Let me tell you what’s going to happen: Nothing’s going to happen, except they will use this to raise money for the radical environmental groups so they can go out and continue to try to purvey their reign of environmental terror on the United States of America.

I could go on, but you probably get the idea. Rick Santorum may have charisma in Republican circles, but goes out of his way to attract the scorn of environmentalists, climate hawks, and fans of clean energy.

At the very least, you have to give him credit for being consistent.


[Image credit: Mark Taylor on Flickr.]

Five Innovative Voices in the New Environmental Movement

The environmental movement often looks to historical heroes for inspiration–rightfully so. But today’s political world is a far cry from the one where Muir made his stand. (And imagine Thoreau using Twitter.) 

As the year draws to a close, it’s a good time recognize a new group of green movers and shakers. Forget Al Gore (so 2007); these leaders are on the cutting edge of the environmental movement. Here are a few of them:

Image: Battaglia

Bill McKibben – Founder and Organizer,

While we bloggers peck away at our keyboards, Bill McKibben is making waves in climate politics. Already known as an author, he started in 2008 to promote action on climate change. On October 24, 2009. the organization mobilized rallies in 181 countries for what CNN called “the most widespread day of political action in the planet’s history.”

Over the last few months, McKibben has been spearheading Tar Sands Action, an effort to halt Canada’s disastrous tar sands production. You probably heard about the Keystone XL pipeline delay–Tar Sands Action and its thousands of activists claimed a major role in this decision.

Rebecca Tarbotton – Executive Director, Rainforest Action Network

TreeHugger once compared Rainforest Action Network to a pack of jackals: “Its campaigners jump on a target’s back and won’t get off until it submits.” Led by Rebecca Tarbotton, RAN is targeting heavyweight industry players like Bank of America, Chevron, and Cargill. The San Francisco-based nonprofit has a reputation for hardline stances and savvy market activism.

Case in point: Last year, RAN worked with The Yes Men and Amazon Watch to hijack Chevron’s greenwashing “We Agree” campaign, complete with fake press releases and Web sites. The campaign–the fake one, that is–went viral and was picked up by major news outlets. In the end, the incident made Ad Age‘s list of the year’s biggest marketing fiascos, highlighting Chevron’s abysmal social and environmental record along the way.

tim dechristopher trialTim DeChristopher, aka Bidder 70 – Activist, Founder of Peaceful Uprising

Tim DeChristopher’s interference with a federal oil and gas land auction earned him a heroic status in some branches of environmental movement–and a two-year prison sentence. When the government wanted him to quietly disappear, he ramped up his efforts to inspire further direct action against fossil fuel industries. This polarizing strategy probably sealed his fate, but it also drew a lot of attention to his cause.

DeChristopher also seems to understand the power of branding. When curious onlookers tuned into his trial, they might have expected a post-hippie with dreads and hemp sandals. What they saw was a clean-cut gentleman in a fitted suit. In his speech at the sentencing DeChristopher made an eloquent defense of civil disobedience. Channeling Thoreau at times, he made it clear that, no matter how he was punished, his activism would continue.

For more on the Tim DeChristopher trial, check my article “Civil Disobedience on Trial.

Graham Hill – Designer, Entrepreneur, Founder of

These days, green blogs are nothing special. Besides the big names like Inhabitat and Grist, scores of other eco-themed sites have sprouted across the Web. But TreeHugger was a pioneer of sustainability blogging, and it remains one of the most popular.

Graham Hill is the entrepreneur behind TreeHugger. Trained in architecture and industrial design, Hill has started a number of creative ventures, including a line of ceramic Greek cups. After TreeHugger was sold to Discovery for $10 million, he began promoting sustainability through other avenues. His latest project is Life Edited, a contest to find the most innovative design for a 420-square foot NYC apartment. The goal? To show how we can “save money, radically reduce our environmental impact, and have a freer, less complicated life” by owning less stuff and living in smaller spaces.

You can find Graham Hill’s TED presentations here.

You, Concerned Individual

When we read about high-profile figures in any field, we tend to forget the potential of ordinary people–and that many of these “heroes” are ordinary people. One of the Steve Jobs quotes that’s floating around the Web makes this point:

…everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it, you can build your own things that other people can use.

Yes, there’s a difference between building computers and organizing social change. But the point is that we are all qualified to make a difference.

This list is meant to be a starting point, not a conclusion. Please tell us about your twenty-first century environmental heroes in the comments.