Archive for the ‘Conservation’ Category

Western Land “Wars”   Leave a comment

I was amazed a few weeks ago when a jury acquitted Ammon Bundy and six others in the trail over the armed occupation of Oregon’s Malheur Wildlife Refuge. Clearly from the comments section of many of the related articles, the case (and the acquittal) has elevated federal land issues to the national stage. Despite all the media attention, the underlying issues surrounding federal lands are mostly overlooked and not well understood by … well, a lot of people.

Most people know, at least in a rudimentary way, that the Bundy family has been wrangling with the federal government over grazing rights to public lands. They may sense that the Oregon “stand off” was somehow vaguely related. The public largely has no understanding why some ranchers are so upset with the federal government. Especially if the public lives back East in a big city, they really don’t understand these issues at all. This is because they don’t understand how federal grazing policy works and why it causes so much conflict.

The federal government owns a lot of land. Nearly half of the entire western United States is controlled by federal land agencies. In some states, more land is owned by the federal government than the state or residents combined:

  • Oregon is 53% federal land
  • Idaho is 62% federal land
  • Utah is 65% federal land
  • Nevada is 85% federal land

I’m skipping Alaska for this conversation because it’s a different discussion altogether and I’ve dealt with it in the past.

Some of this is federal property because it was set aside as a national park or forest reserve, but much of remains in federal ownership simply because it was never settled by homesteaders. To understand how public-land grazing works today, we have to understand how this homestead process worked.

In the late-19th and early-20th centuries, U.S. land policies encouraged settlers to venture westward, where they found vast range lands on which to graze their livestock. The problem was that the Homestead Act limited settlers to 160-acre claims. These proved too small for the dry conditions of the western range. Settlers needed much more land if they were to eke out a living and “prove up their homestead claims. Despite this, the federal government never amended its policies to issue land claims large enough to support livestock grazing in the arid West.

Such small homestead claims forced ranchers to rely on nearby public lands to sustain their livestock operations. The use of this unclaimed public domain for grazing was eventually formalized into law to control and prevent overgrazing when the 1934 Taylor Grazing Act gave the federal government the authority to create grazing districts on unclaimed public lands, issue permits, and charge fees. This essentially is the federal grazing system we have today.

Ranchers own very little private land, with most of their property value tied up in their ability to graze livestock on public grazing allotments

It’s more complicated than that, however. Ranchers only qualify for grazing permits if they own specific private properties that the government decided qualified for public-land grazing privileges. Those grazing permits are today still tied to private properties and they cannot be held by those who do not hold such qualifying properties.

In other words, a grazing permit deeply impacts the value of a rancher’s property. When these properties are bought and sold, the new owner pays for the grazing permit, which is capitalized into the value of the base property.

The value of these grazing permits can be significant. In many parts of the West, ranchers own very little private land, with most of their property value tied up in their ability to graze livestock on public grazing allotments. These grazing permits function like a form of private property. They are bought and sold along with the ranches they’re attached to. Banks collateralize loans on the value of permits. The government also taxes the value of grazing permits in capital gains and estate taxes.

So, Cliven Bundy’s ranch in Nevada is just 160 acres of private land. Before he stopped paying grazing fees and lost his grazing privileges, Bundy’s property had a grazing permit attached to it that gave him the ability to run livestock on a nearby 158,000-acre allotment. He was paying taxes on that as if he owned it.

Some people claim that ranchers receive large subsidies to graze livestock on public lands in the form of below-market grazing fees. If that’s true, why would ranchers revolt against such a huge handout? The reality is more complicated.Ranchers pay very little to graze livestock on federal lands. It was about $2.11 per “animal unit month” — which my research says is enough forage to feed one cow and one calf for a month.  That is substantially less than what it costs to run livestock on state or private lands.

Grazing fees are only part of the story. Because of the base-property requirement for federal-land grazing, most ranchers paid the market value of their federal grazing privileges up front when they bought their ranch. That’s not how it works with state or private grazing leases. Additionally, grazing fees on public and private lands refer to very different things. When private range land is purchased or leased, fences, water infrastructure and buildings are often already in place. Public land often comes without these necessities, the cost of which is born by the rancher leasing the land. So, public-land grazing is not actually cheaper for ranchers than private alternatives. In some instances, it is more expensive. Still, it’s a good deal … unless you’re an American taxpayer.

The Bureau of Land Management and U.S. Forest Service spent $143.6 million on grazing management in 2014, but collected just $18.5 million in grazing fees — a loss of $125 million. It’s estimated that the feds lost about 90 cents out of every dollar it spent on grazing management between 2009 and 2013.

All of this goes a long way toward explaining why these issues remain so contentious, and why many ranchers today are angry about regulations or legal actions that undermine their traditional public-land uses. As federal land policies have shifted toward conservation and recreation instead of grazing, ranchers have been gradually lost grazing privileges. Today, the BLM authorizes just half the amount of grazing it did in 1954.

When ranchers’ grazing privileges are reduced, it affects their livelihoods and the values of their private property. This is why various groups are calling for local control of federal lands. Ranchers feel threatened by federal regulations and the environmental groups who use them as the basis for litigation to take away their grazing privileges, often without compensation.

There are no simple solutions to this problem. The current system encourages conflict rather than peaceful negotiation. The rights that determine who gets to do what on public lands are poorly defined, and public-land use decisions are more likely to be settled by politics or litigation than by mutual cooperation or direct exchange. The federal government does not often offer to buyout ranchers’ grazing permits. It’s not considered imminent domain. Ranchers simply see their livelihoods go away and their ranches becomes unsaleable.

One possible solution is to create clearer property rights to grazing on public lands and then simply let groups trade. Environmental groups could then buy out ranchers’ grazing permits if the ranchers agreed. This already happens in a limited fashion, but regulatory barriers to not allow grazing permits to be used for conservation purposes, so there are some high transaction costs involved.

In recent years, several environmental groups have advocated grazing-permit buyouts as a practical and peaceable conservation strategy. Others say the federal government shouudl buy out ranchers’ grazing permits itself. Since public-land grazing loses so much taxpayer money, the argument goes, it would pay to have the government simply purchase ranchers’ permits and retire them. This is apparently what happened with Cliven Bundy in the early 1990s, but he declined the offer because he’s a rancher and didn’t want to stop doing that.

There are some folks who insist that ranchers never had formal “grazing rights” to begin with. The federal government refers only to “grazing privileges” rather than formal rights, and courts have generally held that they can be revoked at any time. This fact has been used by the government and some environmental groups to justify grazing permit reductions without compensation.

So why do we fight over western lands? Partially, because it is unclear who has what rights. Land-use decisions are often made in the political arena or in the courts rather than negotiated locally between competing groups. Courts are an adversarial setting that invited conflicts. The fights will continue so long as these rights are unclear.

While some of us sympathetic to the situation rejoiced to see the acquittal in the Oregon case, the fact is that until actually negotiation procedures are developed in which the ranchers are treated like equal parties to the conservationists and the government, these sorts of fights will continue.

Pebble Economic Analysis   1 comment

The proposed Pebble copper/gold mine near Iliamna is very controversial and is emblematic of what Alaska faces in trying to develop our resources and a grown-up economy like the rest of the states. There’s plenty of fear-mongering about the watershed and some of it is valid. It’s a seismically active area, but Fort Knox – an active gold mine in the Fairbanks area – is also in a seismically active area. The containment dam there held up just fine during the 7.9 magnitude Denali Quake in 2002. The engineering exists to overcome the seismic risks. The Pebble Partnership continues to conduct actual scientific studies in advance of filing an environmental impact statement, but the EPA has already issued a ruling, based on a historical analysis of mining history around the world rather than the real-life current proposed project, that indicates Pebble hasn’t got a snow ball’s chance in hell of even getting a fair hearing before permitting.

If built, Pebble would generate substantial employment in Alaska and revenues to the local, state and federal governments, according to an economic analysis of the proposed mine by IHS Global Insight, an Englewood, Colo. consulting firm.

The study was done by IHS for the Pebble Limited Partnership, the consortium of Anglo American and Northern Dynasty Minerals working on development of the mine, so of course, the environmentalists and NIMBY/BANANAs will insist that it’s not a valid study.

IHS estimated that the mine would pay between $136 million and $180 million in annual state taxes and mining royalties, or $3.4 – 4.5 billion over the first 25 years of its operating life. Clearly, the State of Alaska cannot be trusted to permit the mine because their loyalty can be bought.

In addition, $29 – 33 million in annual revenues, or $725 – 825 million over 25 years, would be paid to the Lake and Peninsula Borough, the regional municipal government that includes the area proposed for the mine. Obviously, they’re bias by the money in favor of the mine too – well, actually …

Payments to the federal government are estimated to $340 – 395 million per year, or $8.5 – 9.9 billion over 25 years. I’m not sure why the federal government is able to resist the bribery of tax dollars, but apparently the EPA is.

Expected employment impacts were also estimated in the IHS report.

Construction will generate about 4,700 direct and indirect jobs in the state, and the 25-year initial production phase would employ about 2,900. That’s significantly larger than what the Pebble Partnership has been advertising.

Direct jobs at the mine would total about 700 in the first four years of production and would increase each year to 1,000 by the 15th year of production. The indirect jobs, mainly with suppliers, would total about 650 in the first four years and increase to 875 by the 15th year. Jobs at the mine will be high-paying, averaging about $109,500.

The study estimates that 75 percent of the workforce would be Alaska resident, a number typical of other major resource extraction projects in the state.

Mining activity would boost the economy of the Lake and Peninsula Borough and help sustain small villages in the region. Ventura Samaniego, CEO of Kijik Corp., the village corporation of Nondalton, told the authors of the report that the lack of a regional economy is resulting in severe losses of population.

“The Nondalton population declined by 26 percent between 2000 and 2010. Approximately half of Kijik Corp’s shareholders now live in Anchorage,” Samaniego told the report authors.

Existing jobs across all of southwest Alaska are mostly provided by government. The IHS report referenced the Alaska Department of Labor and Workforce Development’s study, “Workforce Analysis for Southwest Alaska’s Large Mines” reported that school districts and local city, borough and tribal now provide 40% of the jobs in the region,” the labor department report said.

And yet the Kijik Corporation has taken a stand against Pebble as has the Bristol Bay Native Corporation. They don’t see a reason to employ people at the mine because they already have jobs in government as well as highly-lucrative jobs as setnetters in the Iliamna watershed and they fear the loss of the setnetting if the containment dam leaks, but they also have no will for employment because the government pays for a great deal of their support through Bureau of Indian Affairs monies and State of Alaska programs.

Moreover, like all of our Native corporations, Kijik and Bristol Bay Native Corps have become business entities. That’s fine. That’s what they were intended to do so that eventually the Native peoples of Alaska would become self-supporting. We’re still waiting. These corporations compete with non-Native companies for projects all of the state. Pebble is on state land, so Anglo American and Northern Dynasty Minerals got the contract for the exploration, but you can bet Kijik and Bristol are wishing they did. Red Dog has been very lucrative for NANA Corp. If the Pebble Partnership comes to a point where they cannot get permitting, they will drop the lease and I expect Kijik, Bristol, and possibly NANA and CIRI to go for the lease after a decent period of time. Suddenly the Natives of Bristol Bay will be all for gold and lead mines in the watershed and absolutely certain it can be done without any risk to the salmon. Why do I think that? That’s the history of Red Dog. It never would have been developed if NANA hadn’t been able to profit from it.

But, of course, we’re not supposed to talk about how the Native corporations use their stakeholders to racket up the price of projects, drive the non-Natives out, and then they come in and joint venture or wholly own and make a mint … with the full support of the Native community. We’re supposed to not notice what is right before our eyes.

Ultimately, this decision should not be made emotionally, but scientifically and with application of a cost-benefit analysis. We have got to get away from this idea that we can do absolutely nothing without absolute assurance that nothing bad will happen. The world is not a perfect place. In this imperfect world, we make progress through risk. We don’t carelessly dump poisonous chemicals into the watershed of the richest salmon fishery in the world, but we cautiously engineer so that won’t happen, knowing that there may be a small chance of failure.

Why is this such a difficult concept?


You Can’t Make Lunacy Up   3 comments

The United States may well have the largest oil reserves in the world. Alaska alone, were we a stand-alone country, would rank as the 13th largest government-owned oil reserve in the world, making us OPEC material. Yet because of intense lobbying by environmental organizations, the United States government has locked up 67% of domestic oil reserves and 40% of domestic natural gas reserves on federal land, making us dependent on foreign oil imports. Our problems run much deeper than that, however.

The NIMBYs (Not In My Back Yard) and the BANANAs (Building Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything) oppose building so much that the United States hasn’t built a new oil refinery since 1976. All remaining American refineries are running at full capacity, so that when one needs to be shut down for routine maintenance, it causes a temporary shortage in the supply and a spike in prices. Rules and regulations at the state and federal levels block the petroleum refinement industry from building new refineries. Old worn-out refineries are closing. California closed 10 between 1985 and 1995, representing 20% of the state’s refining capacity. California’s energy policy is literally wedded to radical environmental groups, so it is unlike any new refineries will be built there in my lifetime.

Building a refinery would cost at least $2 billion and take about 10 years. If – IF – permits could be obtained, there’s no guarantee the refinery would ever be built. Why? Well, where would you build it where it would be welcomed? And, if you could find such a community, the radical environmentalists would organize and energize the NIMBYs and BANANAs with concerns about air pollution or the dangers of large trucks and railcars carrying hazardous materials or the potential for leakage into the environment. Scientific facts to the contrary, the ostrich party acts like refinery environmental standards haven’t improved at all in 40 years.

The Department of Energy predicts domestic oil consumption will increase 43% by 2025, but production will grow only 23%. Meanwhile, Congress has poured more than $23 billion of our money into alternative energy sources like windmills, solar panels and ethanol, all in the name of conservation. In reality, no combination of conservation, technology or alternative fuels can come close to replacing the fossil fuels system we already have. Maybe, after years of research, testing, permitting and construction, distribution system for alternatives will begin to take a larger share in the marketplace, but in the meantime, we NEED domestic oil and gas NOW!

The United States imports more than 60% of its oil from unstable nations in the Middle East where the entire region is on verge of revolution. Our policies have left us at the mercy of Libya and Saudi Arabia. We’re a coup or an assassination away from radical factions putting our economy into a tail spin that will pulverize the US economy.

It is WAY past the time to institute bold long-term plans to keep the nation’s lights on and disentangle our transportation system and industry from world conflict. Such plans would include reopening the off-shore fields and opening access to energy rich areas currently off limits to exploration, like the mere 2000 acres in ANWR. More importantly, we need to build refineries to process the raw materials into usable gasoline, diesel, etc.

For this to happen, the American people need to get real-world woke up RIGHT NOW. Our economy does not run on magic fairy dust. It runs on energy and, more importantly, it runs on reliable energy. Wind and solar do not, at this time and probably not for decades to come, qualify as RELIABLE energy. Solar is a low-efficiency energy source that costs more in fossil fuel to produce than it saves in the lifetime of a solar panel. Wind has high-efficiency, but is reliant upon the changeable weather. Both raise the ire of some NIMBYs because they tend to spoil the view. Do you see the irony of that? A green solution is not desirable because it causes visual pollution?

No, you really cannot make this lunacy up!

Coal Solutions   Leave a comment

Congress should change the regulatory landscape for coal mining with several principles in mind. Nobody is saying sensible regulation of the coal industry is not needed. Mining is dangerous and has potential negative environmental impacts. Coal-powered electric generation plants produce pollutants that can and should be mitigated to keep our air healthy. Obviously, regulation is needed, but some regulations are simply unneeded and Congress should prohibit the EPA from implementing such regulations. Other regulations have reached a point of diminishing returns at which further tightening will impose exceedingly high costs on American energy consumers for unnoticeable environmental benefits that are often estimated based on unsound science. State regulators have the incentive to balance economic and environmental well-being and can use local knowledge to manage the interests of all affected parties. Congress and the Administration should:

  • Repeal New Source Review, a bureaucratic mess that prevents plants from operating at optimal efficiency. Repealing it would not only improve plant efficiency and reduce emissions, but also increase power generation to meet U.S. energy needs. Repeal would create incentives for utilities to install technology upgrades to improve plants environmentally and increase electricity supply with new coal, natural gas, or nuclear power plants.
  • Prohibit the EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Realizing the costs and folly of instituting a massive greenhouse gas regulatory regime, members of Congress refused to pass cap-and-trade legislation designed to cut greenhouse gas emissions, but unelected EPA bureaucrats bypassed the legislative process by using regulations under the Clean Air Act to regulate carbon dioxide. The most effective and comprehensive approach would be to prohibit all federal regulators from using greenhouse gas emissions as a reason to slow or prevent economic activity. Senator John Barrasso (R–WY) has introduced legislation that would prohibit the EPA and other federal regulators from using any environmental act to impose regulations based on climate findings, including the Clean Air Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, and the National Environmental Policy Act. This would “preempt regulation of, action relating to, or consideration of greenhouse gases under Federal and common law on enactment of a Federal policy to mitigate climate change.”
  • Freeze new federal environmental regulations. Controlling the EPA’s six criteria pollutants is important for public health and a combination of technological upgrades and federal and state regulations have achieved extraordinary success in reducing those pollutants. Sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions have steadily declined as coal-powered plants implemented pollution-control technology and more modern plants were built. From 1970 to 2006, total sulfur dioxide emissions per megawatt hour declined 80%. From 1980 to 2006, nitrous oxide emissions per megawatt hour fell 70%. However, the U.S. has reached a point of diminishing returns at which new, more stringent federal regulations for criterion pollutants flunk the cost–benefit test. Congress should freeze new environmental regulations and allow technological innovation to lead emissions reductions.
  • Require congressional approval of major new regulations promulgated by agencies. Under the 1996 Congressional Review Act, Congress can veto new regulations. To date, Congress has successfully used this authority only once: on a Department of Labor rule imposing ergonomics standards in 1993. Requiring congressional approval before any major regulation takes effect would strengthen the review process. The REINS Act, which is still working its way through Congress, would take this approach. Such a system would ensure a congressional check on regulators and require Congress to hold itself accountable.
  • Return power to the states. Federal agencies are seizing the states’ authority and reducing the states’ effectiveness in managing environmental protection. Congress should ensure coal ash is not classified as a hazardous waste and create a system that would allow states to create their own regulatory permit program for coal ash disposal and management. The Coal Residuals Reuse and Management Act (H.R. 2273) would do just that. It passed the House in October 2011with overwhelming support. The Senate refused to take it up. Harry Reid who controls which votes go to the Senate floor received $325,000 from the environmental groups opposing the bill to assure it would die without a hearing. Congress should also prevent federal regulators from implementing new stream protection buffer zone rules, cross-state air pollution rules, and cooling water intake structure rules and recognize the states’ abilities to effectively balance environmental protection and economic well-being. Congress should also prevent the EPA from usurping authority from the Army Corps of Engineers and the states in administering Section 404 of the Clean Water Act permits for dredge or fill materials.
  • Restructure and withdraw proposed worker safety rules. The Mine Safety and Health Administration should restructure its proximity detection systems rule to allow more time for installation, correction of malfunctioning devices, and miners to learn the system. The MSHA should also reconsider and ultimately withdraw the proposed rules on the Examinations of Work Areas in Underground Coal Mines and Lowering Miners’ Exposure to Respirable Coal Mine Dust because they are vague, ignore local and regional differences, and take decision making away from the miner. Further, more studies need to be done to understand the contributing factors to pneumoconiosis. The MSHA should also consider reinstating the conference process for citations to remove the backlog of formal hearings and use only citations that have been considered final to identify potential POV mines.
  • Eliminate subsidies for clean coal technologies. Today’s political classification of clean coal technology is misguided. Politicians describe clean coal as coal with technology to significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions, most notably carbon capture and sequestration (CCS). Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. It’s a clear, natural component of the air. It is the ubiquitous and unavoidable by-product of fossil fuel use and naturally occurring events such as volcano eruptions, earthquakes, and breathing. It’s something plants need and the more they get the healthier they are and the faster they grow. Instead of allowing newer, cleaner coal projects to come online, the federal government has wasted taxpayer dollars trying to commercialize CCS. Rather than trying to subsidize a handful of CCS-equipped coal plants, Congress should eliminate all subsidies for “clean” and advanced coal plants and create a regulatory environment that allows newer plants to come online efficiently.

Folks, coal is the future of American energy unless we turn toward nuclear, which doesn’t look likely. It’s cheap, it’s energy dense and it’s local. It can be used cleanly, in an environmentally sound manner, with today’s technology. Call your congressional delegation and ask for sensible regulations on coal and elimination of the insane regulations on C02.

Putting Coal Miners Out of Work … for their own good?   2 comments

Mine worker safety is critically important which is why U.S. mining is constantly improving mining safety and has implemented CORESafety, a new safety and health management system that commits the industry to eliminating fatalities and reducing the mining injury rate by 50% within five years. However, the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) is imposing unneeded rules that are being implemented in unworkable time frames or removing responsibility from the miner.

Imine rescue training checking equipment 2nd picture.jpg (2137 bytes)n 2011, the MSHA proposed a new rule for proximity detection systems for continuous miners (a large electric-powered machine that cuts the coal from a seam) to prevent miners from being run over, pinned, or crushed by the machinery. While the industry broadly supports the use of proximity detection technology, they warned MSHA the proposed implementation time line could jeopardize the device’s efficacy. Implementation must be carried out within 18 months of the rule’s publication, but Ernal Shaw, Safety Manager at Bowie Resources LLC, warned that implementing the rule would take at least 24 months. In comments submitted to MSHA, Alpha Natural Resources Vice President of Safety John Gallick emphasized the importance of red zone training and deeper and longer cuts to the mine to minimize injuries and fatalities.

Another rule regarding the examination of work areas in underground coal mines would change the duties of the mine examiner, a person hired by the mining company to identify hazardous conditions, by requiring examiners to identify health or safety standards violations. Superficially that sounds beneficial, but examiners do not receive the same training as inspectors, and the standard violations inspectors cite are much more particular than what an examiner should check. Changing the role of the mine examiner has the unintended consequence of detracting from the examiner’s core function of recognizing and preventing hazardous conditions. The MSHA recognized this in 1996 when it proposed a similar rule, noting, “Most hazards are violations of mandatory standards. Requiring the examiner to look for all violations regardless of whether they involve a distinct hazard could distract the examiner from the more important aspects of the examination.” The MSHA recently released the rule, but the agency should reconsider it and once again recognize that states have taken the lead on this issue and have different certification programs for examiners.

Another MSHA overreach is the proposed rule to reduce exposure to coal mine dust. Implementation of coal mine dust regulations to prevent pneumoconiosis (black lung) began in 1970 by setting a standard of 3.0 milligrams per cubic meter. The MSHA lowered the standard to 2.0 milligrams per cubic meter in 1973 and is now proposing to lower the standard to 1.0, claiming that cases of black lung are on the rise. The proposed rule also requires the use of the continuous personal dust monitor and relies on those devices to send data on dust exposure to MSHA. Yet contrary to the statutory requirement, MSHA does not use the best available science to justify the lower coal dust standard. A May 2011 study in Occupational and Environmental Medicine studied regional differences in increases in coal worker pneumoconiosis, the relationship to coal dust, and federal regulations implemented by MSHA. The study concluded that increases in pneumoconiosis were not explained by dust exposure, but likely by mine size and low-seam mining (coal mines with a seam of 1.2 meters or less). It emphasized the need for more study to identify the contributing factors to pneumoconiosis. Furthermore, continuous personal dust monitors can reliably measure relative differences in dust exposure, but should not be used to determine numeric compliance with any federal regulation.

The MSHA issues patterns of violation (POV) for mines that have persistent health and safety violations. Such an issuance typically shuts down the entire mine. MSHA’s proposed rule for POV takes a “guilty-until-proven-innocent” approach by basing the decision on violations issued. The proposed rule also removes the provision in which MSHA warns a mining operation before issuing a POV and does not provide a way for operators to avoid a POV issuance. The MSHA’s main reason for the rule is to remove the backlog of contested violations before the Federal Mine Safety and Health Review Commission, much of it the result of MSHA issuing more violations.

Coal miners rely on the work that coal mines provide. Few have the education necessary to find jobs in the environmental harassment field, so they have to work at the jobs available in their communities. What jobs will replace coal mining if the mines are shut down because of confusing and increasingly restrictive mining regulations? As the article I posted in the beginning of this post shows, coal miners know that they are in a dangerous profession, but they are paid well for it and they’re willing to take the risks to support their families. If the mines are closed to protect the miners, who feeds the miners family?

And, no, the government will do it is not an answer because:

1) the government doesn’t have enough money to take care of all the people who are unemployed now

2) coal miners shouldn’t have to give up their dignity in order to feel their families.

Mine safety is a critical concern, but rather than allow mines to use their money to improve mine safety, that money more often goes to trying to document safety so as not to shut down, taking money away from the actual technologies and training that would improve mine safety.

Coal-Fired Air Quality Facts   6 comments

Drawn from a report by the Institute for Energy Research

Coal-fired electric generation is far cleaner today than ever before, despite the popular misconception that our air quality is getting worse. The EPA’s own data shows this to be untrue. Modern coal plants, and those retrofitted with modern technologies to reduce pollution, are a success story currently providing 50% of our electricity.

Even before Congress passed the Clean Air Act (CAA) Amendments in 1970s, air quality had been improving for decades. Since 1970, coal-fired electric generation has increased 180%, but the six “criteria” pollutants have declined significantly (sulfur dioxide [SO2] by 80%, nitrogen oxides [NOx) emissions by 70%. At the same time gross domestic product increased by 128%, vehicle miles traveled increased by 94%, energy consumption increased by 26%, and population increased by 37%, while aggregate emissions DECREASED by 63%.We produce more energy, drive farther, and live more comfortably than we did in 1970, while enjoying a cleaner environment.

How is that possible? Technology!

According to the National Energy Technology Laboratory (NELT), a new pulverized coal plant reduces emission of NOx by 86%, SO2 by 98%, and particulate matter (PM) by 99.8%.

I think it’s important to note that air quality was improving PRIOR to the CCA of 1970. Why? Businesses saw certain types of pollution as waste and worked to reduce them through technological improvements increasing efficiency and state and local policymakers advanced regulations that reduced pollution. When federal regulation kicked in, the process continued as states to set their own policy for meeting federal emissions standards. Power plants and manufacturers availed themselves of existing technology that has continued to improve and the low-sulfur coal found in abundance in Wyoming.

Believe it or not, coal plant operators like breathing clean air too.

Strangling Coal Trains   Leave a comment

The ruling class is heavily invested in the environmental movement. Why? Because we all want clean air and pure water and the environmental movement has been extremely successful in making us think they’re on our side. Al Gore managed to get richer than he already was by boosting the environmental hysteria. Controlling the media is very useful. But it isn’t mostly about money … mostly. It’s more about power and control.

I’ve already discussed how the Clean Water Act is used by the administrative state to destroy businesses and deprive citizens of the use of their property. Well, they’re not just focused on wetlands.

There’s a railroad berm separating Horsethief Lake from the Columbia River near Lyle, Washington, just upriver from the Dalles, where you can pick up fistfuls of crumbling coal-black pebbles and dust.

Coal trains have been rumbling along that stretch of rail for decades and for most of that time, the trains were uncovered. This has not been the case in several years. BNSF Railway officials say the company has clamped down on coal dust from the trains in recent years, and question whether the debris came from current trains.

“BNSF does not believe coal or any commodity should be allowed to escape from our containers,” spokeswoman Courtney Wallace said

Coal is now loaded in a “loaf” and sprayed with sticky surfactants to prevent dust by 85%, but the prospect of mile-long open train cars has prompted five environmental groups to file their biggest legal challenge ever, warning BNSF Railway and six coal companies that they plan to sue them in 60 days in federal court for violating the Clean Water Act. If successful, the challenge would require coal trains to have water-pollution permits for the first time.

Horsethief Lake is important for tribes, with petroglyphs and historic fishing and village sites nearby. It’s also part of a Washington state park and the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area.

“It’s a travesty to see this much coal pollution here,” says Michael Lang, conservation director for Friends of the Columbia Gorge. “You could imagine 30 coal trains a day through here. It would be atrocious.”

Lang’s estimate is based on all five coal export terminals proposed in Oregon and Washington panning out — likely a long shot, industry officials say. One of the five, the Port of Coos Bay, just took its project off the boards Monday.

With U.S. demand flagging, coal terminal developers want to ramp up exports, carting in Montana and Wyoming coal on mile-plus, uncovered coal trains. The terminals could bring hundreds of millions in investment and hundreds of jobs.

The Clean Water Act specifically regulates “rolling stock,” and would apply if coal is going directly from trains into navigable waters, said Craig Johnston, a law professor at Lewis & Clark Law School. A permit could require steps to reduce releases, such as having the trains move more slowly or modifying train cars.

Krista Collard, a Sierra Club spokeswoman, said the legal challenge could have a big effect on railroads and coal companies.

“BNSF hauls coal all over the country,” she said. “If we’re successful with this, which we think we’re going to be, they’ll have to get (clean water) permits for coal all over the country if they’re traveling near waterways.”

There’s a legitimate concern here. Coal dust is an environmental contaminant and some private property owners along the railroad have claimed to find coal pebbles on their land hundreds of feet from the tracks. The railroad should be concerned about violating private property rights and I am not opposed to reasonable environmental regulation. I like clean air and water.

So what would a reasonable environmental standard look like. The EPA would produce reasonable, achievable standards based upon science that recognizes that “no-harm” is an unreasonable standard. For one thing, coal often is visible in the environment in its natural state.

Click Here to see the photo!

Companies would be expected to comply with the standard either by producing scientific monitoring to show they are or by using technology to bring them into compliance. The simple solution to this already exists in Alaska. Coal is transported by train in closed hoppers. The EPA’s other job would be to monitor to assure coal dust is not contaminating waterways and to report its findings to the companies so that the companies can takes steps to stop violations early on.

This “two-way street” cooperative approach protects the environment while allowing continued development and, best of all, it delegitimizes the Sierra Club and like agencies.

Two Sides to Pebble   1 comment

If you post a balanced review of the Pebble Mine project, you are going to get some attention. The following is from some folks claiming to be Alaskans who oppose Pebble Mine. Pebble Mine is not without controversy and there are many Alaskans who oppose it — some of them quite irrationally.

“In poll after poll going back several years right up to the present, a majority of ALASKANS oppose this foreign-based Pebble Partnership and their proposed mine. Forget about all your boogeymen – the EPA, liberals, environmentalists, tree-huggers, anti-growth groups, etc. ALASKANS oppose this project, and we oppose it for a long list of reasons. Only someone who just plain doesn’t understand Alaska would compare our land mass with that of anything in the lower 48. A lot of this land is Native-owned, for starters. Also, the way our watersheds work – and the sheer acreage they cover and the anadromous fish runs they support, are not even remotely comparable to the water systems in the states referred to in the above article. You just plain can’t compare the situation up here with Texas.
Rather than post these pro-Pebble talking points, you might want to educate yourself as to why so many Alaskans oppose this mine. In many cases, we’re the very same Alaskans who are fine with Red Dog and other ventures. You might also want to study up on why the highest percentage of those opposed to Pebble is right in the very region this mine will be located. The lack of balance in your article is startling. We find it amazing that anyone is buying the Pebble talking points so thoroughly hook, line and sinker. An easy Google search will support the polling data we refer to.”

I was born here, raised here by parents who have been here a very long time, and my children plan to make their lives here as well. My folks came and stayed when services were few and far between, back when Anchorage was smaller than Fairbanks. Is that Alaskan enough for you?

Polls are all over the place with Pebble, but most show opposition by at least a bare majority. Of course, most of those polls have been conducted in Anchorage by media consultant Michael Dubke using a pool so small that the results are not trustworthy — seriously, one of the polls only spoke to 130 respondants. It was later revealed that Michael Dubke was far from neutral on the Pebble Project. In 2008, environemntal groups and some big-money highrollers who own private lodges on Lake Illiamna bankrolled an initiative on the August ballot. The Alaska Clean Water, Measure 4 received most of its funding from Bob Gillam, one of the wealthiest men in Alaska, who was strangely also invested in one of the Pebble Partnership’s subsidiaries. Of course, that makes me wonder. What possible reason could a very wealthy man like Mr. Gillam have for playing both ends against the middle? And can you really trust poll results from Michael Dubke, who was a funder of the initiative? Major funding in opposition to the initiative — which was clearly written to target Pebble, but would have affected mining throughout the state — was provided by NANA — a Native Corporation, which sort of makes you wonder about the claim that the Natives oppose Pebble. Actually, I don’t wonder because 10 of the 12 regional Native Corporations have filed protests against the EPA’s attempt to stall the exploration of the Pebble Prospect. Maybe only Natives who have been propagandized oppose Pebble. The initiative was defeated 57% to 43% in the largest August election turnout since Statehood. It will be back, though, I’m sure.

So, I re-read John Shively’s article to figure out what states the posters were speaking of as being significantly different from Alaska with its “anadromous streams (which just means that fish spawn in them). Maybe actually reading the post “Truth About Pebble” instead of just scanning it would help. The only time Shively mentions Texas or any other state is to give comparisons for visualizing acreage. Nowhere does he talk about mining in other states. He was strictly focused on correcting the widely held errors about Pebble and the science that has gone into the project so far.

The third article “Not Your Grandfather’s Mining Regulation” might also help factually challenged readers.

I first heard about the Pebble Prospect in the mid-to-late 1980s when I was working as a reporter. Given the crowd I ran with, I quickly became convinced that it was a bad idea. I had the impression that it was right on the shores of Lake Illiamna, the spawning grounds for Bristol Bay salmon. And that was the opinion I held for about 20 years.

Yes, 20 years! I had other things to do and there was no Internet back then, so unless a news story headed me in that direction — which it didn’t — I had no reason to do independent research. Like a lot of other people, I chose to believe the rhetoric rather than research the facts.

In the mid-2000s my daughter made friends with a girl down the street and I met the girl’s mother — who was a mining engineer for the Ft. Knox mine. I grew up playing in the tailings of the Fox dredge, so my opinion of mining wasn’t great. But Rebecca talked about rocks with passion, so I listened. She invited me to Ft. Knox for a tour and I got to see that this mine was not the Fox dredging at all. Our families visited Kennicott together — the men stayed in Chitina to fish for salmon while we ladies hiked the old copper mining town. Rebecca showed me the difference between that mine and Ft. Knox. Kennicott was built without a containment dam and there was no attempt at reclamation, while Ft. Knox was built with the best in modern technology.

And, then, Pebble came on my view screen again during the fight over the initiative. Of course, I asked someone I knew would  give me straight answers and Rebecca gave me quite an education. I learned that the Pebble deposit is — geographically speaking — not really near Lake Illiamna at all. It’s closest edge is 15 miles from the lake’s watershed, further than Ft. Knox is from some Interior rivers.

I also learned the most important part of this — Pebble was merely an idea in 2008. A few shovel loads of dirt had been analyzed. At that time no environmental studies had been done, no core drilling, no engineering. So, why, Rebecca asked, was the opposition so strong?

Since 2007, we’ve had the EPA announce without any corroboration that it thought Pebble was a danger to the environment. It then produced a report that was based on a study of opinion literature surveying the outcome of mining techniques from 50 years ago that are no longer applicable to the mining industry of Alaska or just about anywhere in the developed world. It has completely ignored the scientific date produced by the PLP.

PLP has yet to file a permit application with the State of Alaska, let alone the Army Corp of Engineers or the EPA, yet the EPA is seeking to prevent an application being filed. Why? As the third article in this series shows, Alaska has the most rigorous mining regulations in the 50 states and Pebble’s exploration has been monitored by those state regulators. Red Dog, Ft. Knox, and Pogo mines have been producing minerals for years without incident. The containment dam at Ft. Knox held up fine during the Denali Quake of 2002, which rattled Fairbanks at 7.9 magnitude. A thorough seismic analysis of the area around Lake Illiamna has yet to be done, but is required as part of the permitting process. No, that doesn’t mean that a meteor might not drop out of the sky and take out the containment dam at Pebble sometime in the future, but what are odds of that?

I’m not saying Pebble SHOULD be built. I’m saying Pebble should be studied and if PLP can show that it can be done safely, within a reasonable margin of risk, then the State of Alaska should decide to grant the permit. And the EPA — which has discredited itself on this issue by trying to impede the legal and lawful process — should step out because they’ve shown themselves highly biased and without regard to facts..

As for the Alaskans who don’t want Pebble — well, 57% of us seem not to want to stop Pebble’s preliminary studies.

Rather than buying the talking points of the Renewable Resources Coalition, how about taking a BALANCED approach and actually looking at the facts.

In fact, there are a number of independent science panels set to study the issue May 6-7 at University of Alaska Anchorage.

Since the readers who posted most likely live in Anchorage, it might be a worthwhile educational opportunity.

Not Your Grandfather’s Mining Regulation   Leave a comment

Part 3 of 3

This is a reprint of another article in the Alaska Contractor magazine. Similar to the last one, I’ve added graphics


by Bob Loeffler

Americans have become much more sensitive about the environment than they were a generation ago, and laws to protect our air, water and land have improved dramatically. The practices and results that were common in previous generations would be a matter of criminal penalty today. There has been a regulatory and cultural shift since the advent of Earth Day and enactments of the National Environmental Protection Act in 1970.

These changes have dramatically affected today’s mining operations. In fact, there has been a much-needed, steady improvement in mine regulation and practices in the past 40 years – and you can see it in the positive environmental record of Alaska’s miners.

Changes began in the 1970s. Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act (which requires Environmental Impact Statements for proposed projects), the Clean Air Act, and the Clean Water Act. It also established the Environmental Protection Agency and passed comprehensive regulation for the coal industry.

Despite the laws of the 1970s, it took some time before the regulators, industry and science caught up with the new environmental sensitivity. In 1985, the EPA reported that “Date on management methods at mining facilities indicate that only a small percentage of mines currently monitor their ground water, use run-on/run-off controls or liner, or employ leachate collection, detection and removal systems.” The regulations, science and required protection measures we not take for granted were just being implemented in the 1980s and 1990s. But by 1999, a National Academy of Sciences study prepared for Congress concluded that the “laws and regulations that provide mining-related environmental protection is complicated but generally effective.”

Because of the obvious differences between new and old mines, regulators and industry generally refer to old mines as legacy mines. Legacy mines were generally designed and constructed with inferior environmental standards and practices, compared with mines of today, and statistics bear that out.

One recent study looked at hard-rock mines the EPA has placed on its National Priority List as superfund clean-up sites. The study found that there were 53 hard-rock mines on the EPA’s list: 47 were permitted in the pre-regulatory era (before 1970), six were authorized in the transition era (before 1989) and none was permitted after 1990. The study confirmed what those in the industry know – that changing regulations and practices have clearly improved mining’s environmental performance.

The changes in regulatory standards are reflected in the history of Alaska’s mining laws. Our first hard-rock mines since World War II began operation in 1989. At that time, Alaska had no requirement that mine operators reclaim land they had disturbed and no requirement for operators to provide financial assurance that mining sites would be reclaimed. Alaska allowed mining companies to disturb the land and leave it disturbed.

In 1990, the Alaska Legislature passed a mine reclamation requirement for state, federal and private land in Alaska. The law became effective October 1991. It also required that mines put up funds for reclamation (a reclamation bond) before they began operation. But the reclamation bond required in the new law was designed for placer mines, which were then the dominant part of the industry. The maximum amount of the required bond was less than the amount needed to reclaim hard-rock mine sites.

Between 1991 and 2004, four hard-rock mines were authorized on state land. Each of these operations voluntarily agreed to submit financial assurance for the entire mine disturbance, even thought it was greater than the law required.

In 2004, the Alaska Legislature with the support of state agencies, the mining industry and some environmental groups changed the law to require full reclamation bonding for hard-rock mining. Beginning in July 2004, the state required all mines to put up a bond to cover the full reclamation cost before the mine begins operating. All mines in Alaska have updated their bonds since the law was passed.

Alaska has a unique requirement as part of its mine permitting, a requirement no other state has. All states require mines to monitor their performance to make sure they live up to permit requirements. Agencies also monitor and inspect the performance. But Alaska has an innovative requirement that goes one step further. We hire someone to monitor the agencies.

Every hard-rock mine regulated by the state requires a third-party audit every five years. A consultation firm is hired to audit both the mine’s compliance with permit requirements and the state agencies’ inspection and administration of those requirements. The auditing firm makes recommendations for improving operations and regulation, and the subsequent audit investigates whether the previous recommendations were implemented.

These changes – as well as the fact that Alaska’s hard-rock industry is young, with no legacy mines, have resulted in an Alaska mining industry with an excellent record of protecting the environment, particularly water quality and fish. Agency monitoring tells us that fish downstream of all Alaska’s hard-rock mines are as populous and healthy as they were before the mines existed.

Today, Alaska has a strict and realistic “set of requirements to regulate mining, and our mining industry has an enviable environmental record. That’s not to say that the laws and regulations are perfect. The future will no doubt bring challenges and make it clear that we can make even more improvements. But with the regulatory requirements currently in place, there is no excuse to permit a mine that would degrade the environment, especially water quality or fish habitat. And that almost certainly would not have been true of mines developed in your grandfather’s time.

Bob Loeffer is a part-time Visiting Professor at the Institute of Social and Economic Research, University of Alaska Anchorage, and the partner in the consulting firm, Jade North LLC. For seven years, he was director of the Division of Mining, Land and Water within the Alaska Department of Natural Resources.

Posted May 3, 2013 by aurorawatcherak in Alaska, Conservation, History, Mining

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Suggestions for Restoring Liberty   Leave a comment

So, how do we fix the broken environmental system we have in the US today? It won’t be easy, but it can be done.

First, we need to require legislative approval to enact major regulations at both the state and federal levels.  No regulation having an annual economic impact of $100 million or more on the American economy should take effect without congressional approval. Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny (REINS) Act, if passed, would require such approval. States should consider passing their own versions of the REINS Act to govern their regulatory activity, giving their legislatures an opportunity to deliberate prior to an up-down vote on regulations with large and potentially negative economic effects. This approach would shift political power away from unaccountable bureaucrats and back to lawmakers who are directly accountable to the American people.

Second, we should ensure that costs of environmental regulations do not outweigh benefits. Congress and the states (there are states like Alaska that exercise non–federally delegated regulatory authority) should clarify that no regulation may be issued without an administrative finding that the costs do not outweigh the benefits. Regulators must be directed not only to consider the intended benefit, but also to explain whether the regulation will destroy jobs, infringe on personal property rights, or vastly increase the costs of goods and services.

We should establish a mechanism to compensate landowners for regulatory takings. Congress should provide greater protections for property rights and other civil rights than even the Supreme Court claims Constitution requires. It is unfair for the government to take your property without paying for it. It’s also unconstitutional. Congress could establish a simple mechanism for compensation of regulatory takings that, among other things, would define the “trigger” mechanism that will determine whether a regulatory taking is compensable and require that regulatory agencies specifically define what they will and will not allow on regulated properties. The Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act in particular are two laws that would be obvious candidates for incorporation of such a provision.

Speaking of which, we need to clearly define federal jurisdiction under the Clean Water Act. Under the CWA, the Army Corps of Engineers and the Environmental Protection Agency assert jurisdiction over virtually all waters in the United States. As a result of its broad reach, as well as the severity of its penalties, the CWA presents an unparalleled risk to individual freedom and economic growth. A delineation of which waters are covered will remove regulatory uncertainty and reduce enforcement costs. For such reform to be successful, federal officials must acknowledge that there are limits to federal power and that relying on state and local governments to protect local waters (including wetlands) is not only sufficient, but legally required to protect America’s natural resources.

We need Congress to deny the EPA authority to regulate CO2 under the Clean Air Act. Regulation of CO2 imposes high costs on both the economy and the environment. Proposals to restrict CO2 emissions lead to higher energy costs and fewer jobs. The Clean Air Act, which was designed to limit toxic emissions, is unsuitable for CO2 regulation. CO2 is generated by living beings breathing. Obviously it is not a toxic substance. When applied to CO2, the extraordinarily broad scope of the CAA could place millions of additional businesses under costly and time-consuming EPA regulations—with little or no accompanying environmental benefit.

We need Congress to rescind the National Environmental Policy Act. NEPA’s intended goal of environmental stewardship is thwarted by the project delays and higher costs imposed by its regulatory regime, which leads to the politicization of science and the influence of special interests. Ultimately, NEPA should be rescinded. In the interim, Congress should mitigate the harm it causes by limiting NEPA reviews to major environmental issues that are not dealt with by any other regulatory or permitting process, mandating time limits, and limiting the alternatives studied to projects that involve multiple agencies.

Congress should shift responsibility for the protection of endangered species to the states. The Endangered Species Act, as currently implemented, is not working: Polar bears, for example, are listed as potentially endangered, but they’re so numerous they’re hunting people in Barrow, Alaska. Regulatory costs are immense and growing, and its record of saving endangered species is weak. Shifting species management to the states is the most preferable course of action. Where species migrate across state borders, any remaining federal endangered species program must be altered to fundamentally change agency behavior and program focus while ensuring protections for property owners.

Congress needs to open access to federal lands and natural resources for development. The federal government owns nearly one-third of the United States, and access to this public land is becoming more difficult because of a flawed system of restrictions, regulations, and litigation. Much of this land is not suitable for parks, wildlife refuges, and the like and is home to some of our nation’s richest natural resources. Congress should return responsibility for many of our federal lands to states and private owners. Such reform would give responsibility for managing the lands to those with the most knowledge of the land and the most to gain from its productivity. Short of devolution, the federal government should make some of its lands available for wise use and defend those who use it properly from special-interest groups that would bar such development. This would provide direct economic benefits to citizens and the government and result in better-managed assets.

Congress must preserve and defend the treaty process. Environmental advocates have long been frustrated by the inability of various international environmental agreements to pass Senate muster, so they advocate avoiding the supermajority requirement by substituting executive agreements. This ploy undermines the system of checks and balances in the U.S. government and mocks constitutional intent. By entering into treaty commitments, the US government cedes some level of sovereignty, as well as the checks and balances of the U.S. constitutional system. Pursuing treaties is a serious responsibility, a fact further evidenced by the Founding Fathers’ requirement that two-thirds of the Senate must consent to a treaty prior to ratification. We should not allow our representatives to cede that authority.

Our Founders mistrusted government. They didn’t find any of it to have a lot of redeeming qualities. They trusted the legislature more because it was divided and deliberative. They originally thought they could do without an executive. When it became obvious that they couldn’t do without one, they set up a system whereby the executive is fettered by checks and balances, mostly by the legislative branch. In this way, they hoped George Washington and his successors would not become King George. They would be completely flabbergasted by how strong our executive branch has become. They would demand that Congress stand up on its two legs and rectify the situation. They would be even more flabbergasted by the fourth branch of government — the administrative state. They would probably scream at us “WHAT DO YOU THINK YOU’RE DOING?” They understood that the bureaucracy was a danger to self-government. They didn’t understand this in a vacuum. Some of them had been to France and England. This was not a mystery to them.

So why is it to us?

It’s time we demanded from our elected representatives that they take control of the government once more. The REINS Act is a good place to start. Do you know the emails of your Congresspeople and Senators?

You should!

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