For the Birds

By Christina Tarr

On February 18, 2018, Indivisible East Bay and Golden Gate Audubon Society held a birding-and-postcard-activism event near the Rotary Nature Center at Lake Merritt in Oakland. We told people about our local avian wildlife and about the 100 year old Migratory Bird Treaty Act, which proposed legislation and an interpretation of the Act by the Department of Interior are now threatening; and we told them how they can protect the birds by speaking up to protect the MBTA. Lake Merritt, the first National Wildlife Refuge in the country, was an ideal place for our event.

Kingfisher. PhotographyByRex
Kingfisher in tree at Lake Merritt. Copyright PhotographyByRex

We had two scopes zoomed in on the birds hanging out on or near the islands. A kingfisher posed for a long time on a snag, and a red-shouldered hawk sat watchfully above our table, hidden unless you happened to look in the scope. As usual, there were crowds of herons and egrets, coots, a canvasback duck, several scaup and even an American white pelican named Hank. One of our Golden Gate Audubon docents led a group on a bird walk, pointing out white-crowned sparrows, a yellow-rumped warbler, and a western bluebird on the lawn.

Bird walk Lake Merritt. Photo by Heidi Rand
Bird walk Lake Merritt. Photo by Heidi Rand

In all, people wrote 120 postcards! Most (40) wanted to send Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke a piece of their mind, but many also realized that it’s important to write to our Members of Congress even when they’re on the right side of an issue. The grand totals: Senators Feinstein (29) and Harris (23); and Representatives Lee (14), DeSaulnier (8), Swalwell (4), Pelosi (1) and even one to Rep. Judy Chu (CA-27) by some tourists from Los Angeles. The front of the postcards showed off original artwork of Lake Merritt birds by local wildlife artist Maddy Donahue.

Bird walk Lake Merritt.
Bird walk & postcards at Lake Merritt. Photo by Heidi Rand

Did you miss this great event? We’ll have Maddy’s wonderful postcards at the IEB All Members Meeting on Sunday, February 25 at Sports Basement, 2727 Milvia Street, Berkeley. RSVP here or register at the door. We’re covering the cost of the postcards, and we’ll deliver your written postcards to our MoCs’ local offices, and mail the rest to Secretary Zinke.

For more information and actions you can take, read Christina Tarr’s article about threats to the MBTA and check out the National Audubon Society’s Action Center’s talking points.

Christina Tarr is a local librarian with an interest in birds and wild places.

Border Wall: Bad for People and Other Living Things

By Christina Tarr

A keystone of Trump’s presidential campaign was his call for an enormous wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. According to Trump, Mexico would pay for it and it would keep very dangerous immigrants out. The idea is popular with xenophobic and racist members of his base, and we know he continues to use the argument to whip up their support.

On January 18, 2018, Trump’s Chief of Staff John Kelly said that Trump’s ideas on the border wall had evolved, and that he was willing to consider fencing or other nonphysical ways to monitor the border. But in fact, Trump’s thinking has not evolved. He shot back in a Tweet:

We all know what a disaster this wall would be for humans – splitting families apart, forcing people who must cross the border into more and more inhospitable and dangerous lands while cutting off access to American-owned lands along the border. And we know the wall would be futile at curbing immigration. As Bill Maher says, “You know how immigrants come here, right? They buy a ticket, just like you do when you’re returning from Cabo. They fly here, and then they stay.”

We all also know there are far better things we could do with the $66.9 billion the wall is estimated to cost. The Sierra Club notes that even for the $3 billion budgeted for immigration enforcement funds for fiscal year 2018, we could create 45,000 middle class jobs, or build 184 new elementary schools.

Bottom line: It’s a dumb idea and a waste of money.

But there’s more: often overlooked in the furor and tweets about the wall is the irrevocable damage it would do to the environment. The 654 miles of existing walls and fences on the US-Mexico border have already made an environmental mess: destroying pristine wilderness, harming populations of rare and endangered animals, and causing flood or starving the land of water. And there is every reason to believe that adding more miles of wall would do more of the same:

  • The border lands are an area of great species richness, both because they are at the edges of different habitats, and also because they are underpopulated and have been protected from human activity for hundreds of years. These lands are home to Sonoran pronghorn, prairie dogs, black bears, and gray wolves; they contain some of the most biodiverse ecosystems on the continent. More than 450 rare species live here – some cannot be found anywhere else on the planet. At least 700 neotropical birds, mammals, and insects migrate through the borderlands each year.
  • The wall would destroy and fragment habitats of rare and endangered animals including the jaguar, ocelot, and Mexican gray wolf, cut them off from larger populations needed to retain gene pools or from water and food, and block migration corridors for endangered species.
  • The wall, if high enough, could block birds and bats from resources and larger populations on the other side of it.
  • The wall could kill pollinators, including butterflies, with lights and zaps.
  • The wall would act as a dam, blocking water from flowing where it needs to go and causing flooding by interrupting flood plains.
  • Construction of the wall would not be regulated by law. The Department of Homeland Security has, bizarrely, used Section 102 of the 2005 Real ID Act to waive construction on 15 miles along the San Diego border from complying with any part of 37 federal laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act, the Endangered Species Act, the Clean Water Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act, and the Solid Waste Disposal Act.
  • Wildlife refuges and national parks may be most at risk for wall construction because the U.S. government already owns the land.
  • Concrete construction releases a tremendous amount of carbon dioxide, posing environmental risks that this Administration has shown no inclination to control or mitigate.

How we can fight against the wall:

  • Contact your members of congress. Let them know you oppose the environmental consequences of this wall in addition to the human costs. 
  • Tell everyone you know, and urge them to contact their MoCs.
  • Contact your city, county, and state and ask them to divest from companies that would profit from building the wall.
  • See Indivisible Guide’s article “Resisting Trump’s Budget: No Cuts, No Wall, No Deportation Force” for more info and talking points.
  • See the Sierra Club’s “Border Wall Toolkit
  • Find more actions at Center for Biological Diversity’s article “No Border Wall
  • Look for chances to resist – like this protest in Texas – and take part, or organize one in your community!

 

Christina Tarr is a local librarian with an interest in birds and wild places. 

Photograph © Steve Hillebrand, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

 

Protect the Migratory Bird Treaty Act

By Christina Tarr

First enacted in 1918, the Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) makes it a crime to “pursue, hunt, take, capture, kill, attempt to take, capture or kill,” possess, sell, purchase, or ship any migratory bird or any part, nest or egg of a migratory bird unless authorized by regulation. More than a thousand bird species are currently protected under the statute. It has saved many species of birds, including the snowy egret, from extinction.

The MBTA provides industry with incentive to adopt simple practices that save birds’ lives, such as covering oil waste pits, and it gives government the ability to enforce accountability and recovery after events that kill large numbers of birds. After the Gulf oil spill killed one million birds, for instance, MBTA enforcement was responsible for BP paying $100 million to restore habitat. Read more about the history of the Act here.

But now Republican-introduced legislation in Congress (HR 4239) and a new interpretation of the MBTA by the Department of the Interior could end the Act’s effectiveness in holding industries accountable for bird deaths by removing its authority to prohibit “incidental take.” These proposals would prevent enforcement of “incidental” bird deaths, thus removing incentive for good practices and eliminating penalties for industry practices that kill birds. You can read the Interior Department’s Memorandum M- 37050, “The Migratory Bird Treaty Act Does Not Prohibit Incidental Take” here.

Of local interest is our own Lake Merritt, declared a National Wildlife Refuge in 1869 (the oldest in the United States), and an important stop for migratory birds on the Pacific flyway. Click here to see the migratory and resident birds you can find at Lake Merritt.

Please call your members of Congress and tell them to uphold the MBTA and its current provisions:

Also, contact the Secretary of the Department of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, at feedback@ios.doi.gov

What to say:

Please defend the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, including the Act’s ability to address the incidental take of birds. The MBTA has saved many species of birds from extinction for decades under both Republican and Democratic administrations. Proposals like HR 4239 and the new interpretation by the Department of the Interior would threaten the MBTA’s ability to protect birds and prevent collateral environmental damage. Please defend against attacks on the Migratory Bird Treaty Act.

For more information, check out the National Audubon Society’s Action Center’s talking points.

Christina Tarr is a local librarian with an interest in birds and wild places.

Photo of egret in Lake Merritt by Heidi Rand

Let’s Show Trump What Resistance to Offshore Drilling Looks Like!

Thirteen hundred miles of coastline on the West Coast – over a thousand in California alone, counting the Channel Islands – would be threatened by the a Trump administration’s proposal to expand offshore oil drilling. And yet, the Republicans have scheduled only one public hearing on this outrageous threat to the environment and public health. A coalition of environmental groups is mobilizing to protest; join and make your voice heard!

Trump recently announced his disastrous plan to hand over the Pacific Ocean – as well as the Arctic, Atlantic Ocean, and the Gulf of Mexico – to oil companies keen to expand offshore drilling off the California coast for the first time in over 30 years. Read the oily details of the proposed plan in the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management’s press release.

Offshore drilling is a nightmare for people and the planet. It poisons our oceans, covers our beaches in oil, and directly threatens California’s superior coastal economy. It also deepens our dependence on fossil fuels, driving the climate change that accelerates sea level rise and fuels wildfires.

Join the fight to protect the California coast from new offshore drilling! Let’s show Trump and his oil cronies what resistance to their unending quest to wreck the planet looks like. Join us Thursday, February 8 in Sacramento to tell the Trump administration that offshore drilling and the oil spills, pipelines, and climate chaos that come with it are not welcome off our coast.

WHAT: Protest February 8 Against Offshore Drilling Off the California Coast – rally featuring powerful speakers, music, art, marching in the streets and lots of chanting

WHEN/WHERE: Thursday, February 8, 1:30–7:00 PM:

  • 1:30 PM – Meet at the North Steps of the California State Capitol, 1100 L St., Sacramento, for a press conference and rally
  • 2:30 PM – March to the Tsakopoulos Library Galleria, 828 I Street, for the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) public meeting
  • 3:00 PM – Enter the meeting and let BOEM know that new drilling is not welcome off our coast or in any of our oceans.

GETTING THERE: On February 8 there will be buses to Sacramento from multiple cities including San Francisco, Oakland, Santa Cruz, San Luis Obispo, and Ventura / Santa Barbara. This is in the organizing stage, so sign up on the Facebook event page to get details as they develop.

Hosting Organizations: Center for Biological Diversity, Food & Water Watch California, Oceana Southern California, Sacred Places Institute for Indigenous Peoples, Save Our Shores, Sierra Club California, and other partnering organizations.

More details about the protest and RSVP here.

 

Protect Offshore Drilling Regulations!

By Christina Tarr

It seems it’s not enough for the Interior Department proposing to open all coastal waters of the United States (including the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge but excluding Florida, apparently) to leasing for continental shelf oil and gas drilling (don’t forget to comment on that, by the way, and note that there will be public hearings on leasing for offshore drilling, including one in Sacramento on February 8). Now, the Interior Department’s Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement is asking to roll back offshore drilling safety regulations — the regulations that were put in place following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil rig disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. This is part and parcel of  Trump’s effort to cut back on all environmental protections to increase profits for his friends in the oil and gas business. Naturally, groups like the American Petroleum Institute and the National Ocean Industries Association are in favor.

A few things (among others) that the proposed rules do:

  • Delete a requirement that drillers propose to use only a safe amount of pressure in new wells
  • Loosen controls on blowout preventers, which seal off wells in case of an accident, and which currently are required to have a back-up plan in case of malfunction
  • Amend a standard that currently requires that equipment demonstrate that it can withstand a surge in pressure
  • Do away with third-party certification, which requires that an independent party confirm that equipment meets standards

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), which was created by the Obama Administration after the Deepwater Horizon spill, was never intended to promote oil production. It was kept separate from the leasing arm of the Interior Department to ensure that safety would not be compromised for profit. With these regulation changes, the BSEE now moves into a role as a promoter of industry, leaving no agency whose sole role is to promote safety. If we know anything about pipelines, it’s that they leak. The danger is increased exponentially when you are drilling miles offshore underwater. In essence, experts have concluded, the catastrophic Deepwater Horizon spill could have been prevented – and the proposed changes in regulations favor the oil industry and money over safety and the environment.

You can read a description of the proposed changes here, and you have until January 29, 11:59 PM EST to submit comments protesting the proposed rules. Submit comments here, and also read comments that have been made already.

Sample comment:

Do not weaken the current regulations on offshore drilling. The current regulations incorporate valuable lessons learned from the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, when 4.9 million barrels of oil spilled into the sea, killing nearly a million seabirds and still causing effects in the Gulf. The proposed rules loosen controls on blowout preventers and third party certification that safety devices will work under the extreme conditions in which they are placed. The impact of another spill like the Deepwater Horizon, which the new rules practically guarantee, will far outweigh the benefits of reducing operating costs for oil companies that can well afford them.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement should be committed to the safety of offshore drilling operations, not with oil company profits. Strong regulation and an independent BSEE are needed to ensure that offshore drilling can coexist with other important uses of our coastline, including recreation, tourism, fishing and wilderness.

You can also sign up to receive more information about, or help plan, actions during the first two weeks of February to protest plans for the huge new federal offshore drilling program.

Christina Tarr is a local librarian with an interest in birds and wild places.

Defend Wildlife: Protect the Endangered Species Act

Center for Biological Diversity
Copyright Center for Biological Diversity

By Christina Tarr

The Endangered Species Act (ESA), passed in 1973, currently protects more than 1,600 species and has likely saved at least 2,223 others from extinction. It has allowed the designation of millions of acres of critical habitat, and it has very strong public support. Read the Center for Biological Diversity’s description of how successful the Act has been.

Five Republican-sponsored bills that would weaken the ESA have recently passed out of the House Committee on Natural Resources and are now before the House. They include:

  • H.R. 424, which would remove protections for gray wolf populations in Wyoming and the western Great Lakes states;
  • H.R. 717, which allows the Departments of Interior or Commerce to prioritize consideration of petitions to list species other than in the order in which the petitions are received, and does not allow prioritization of species to be listed over species to be delisted. It also gives each department the authority to preclude listing a species if there is the likelihood of significant, cumulative economic effects;  
  • H.R. 1274, which says that Interior or Commerce must use data submitted by a state, tribal, or county government in making determinations of species listed, thus forcing regulators to accept any information even if it doesn’t meet scientific standards of peer review;
  • H.R. 2603 (SAVES Act), which amends the ESA to disallow listing on nonnative species; and
  • H.R. 3131, the Endangered Species Litigation Reasonableness Act, which amends the ESA to replace the current standard for awarding court costs, including attorney fees, in citizen suits with the federal judicial code standard for awarding costs to a prevailing party – thus making it harder for citizens to challenge illegal government actions in court.

What you can do:

Please call your Representative to say that you support the Endangered Species Act and that you oppose these five bills that would weaken it.

Hello, my name is [__________] from [______]. I urge Representative ____ to oppose five dangerous bills that attack the Endangered Species Act, peer-reviewed science, endangered species, and the right of Americans to go to court to defend them: H.R. 424, H.R. 717, H.R. 1274, H.R. 2603, and H.R. 3131.

Among other things, these bills would strip protections for imperiled wolves in Wyoming and the upper Midwest and allow for wolf hunting in those states; cripple enforcement of illegal wildlife trafficking; stymie citizens’ ability to challenge illegal government actions in court; and allow regulators to accept any information that is presented by state, local or tribal governments as science—even if it doesn’t meet scientific standards of peer review.

Learn more:

Christina Tarr is a local librarian with an interest in birds and wild places.

Fight for the Clean Power Plan

By Christina Tarr

The Clean Power Plan (CPP) represents one of the strongest actions to combat global warming taken by the United States federal government. So likely you’re not surprised to hear that the Trump administration, playfellow of Big Oil, Gas, Coal, and Global Warming Deniers, wants to “suspend, revise or rescind” it. We have until January 16, 2018 to submit our comments and say “hell, no!”

What you need to know: The CPP works by reducing climate-changing carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions from existing coal- and gas-fired electric power plants. CO2 is the most widespread of the greenhouse gases fueling climate change. Existing coal and gas-fired power plants together emit more CO2 than any other category of emissions sources in the U.S.—roughly one-third of America’s emissions—so reducing those emissions goes a long way to reducing our total CO2 output.  The CPP effectively reduces power plant CO2 emissions in 2030 by 32% from 2005 levels.

Under the CPP, the EPA assigned each state a goal to limit emissions from existing power plants, and gave the states broad latitude to meet those goals, such as switching from coal to natural gas or building new wind or solar farms—thus encouraging innovation.

Under the CPP, $20 billion in climate-related benefits alone would occur in 2030, as well as health benefits of $14 to $34 billion. The net benefits of the CPP, including the value of total health, environmental and other economic benefits, minus the cost to comply, were estimated to range from between $26 to $45 billion in 2030.

Trump’s EPA—headed by Scott Pruitt, who says “the war on coal is over”—is now reviewing the CPP with the intent to “suspend, revise or rescind.” The Trump administration challenges both the legal basis of the CPP and its economic analysis. (Of course, the administration is also full of people who deny climate change …)

What you need to do: Comment by January 16, 2018 to urge the EPA to keep the CPP. We need to move toward the future; instead of clinging to old, dirty technologies we need to move beyond them. The jobs are in clean power. We don’t want to cede the field on newer, cleaner power industries to other countries while we grow sicker and poorer. Please make your voice heard by submitting comments to EPA, and then by sending a copy of your comments to your Representative and Senators. 

Trump’s revised proposal is here.

Submit comments to the docket here by January 16, 2018

Read more about the CPP and Trump’s assault on it, and find talking points. Read our previous article.

Christina Tarr is a local librarian with an interest in birds and wild places. 

 

 

Still Time To Submit Comments! Something in the Water: Marine Sanctuaries at Risk

In late April 2017, Donald Trump signed an executive order that would expand offshore drilling for oil and gas and would also stop the expansion of any new marine sanctuaries and require the Secretary of Commerce to review any marine national monuments created or expanded over the past decade.

This order, if enacted, could have disastrous consequences for California’s marine sanctuaries, sections of the ocean where human activity is legally limited or prohibited. Though the executive order does not apply to sanctuaries established prior to 2007, the order could reverse recent protections put in place by the Bush and Obama administrations: President Bush expanded the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary by 496,000 acres, and President Obama in 2015 doubled the size of the Cordell Bank and Gulf of the Farallones marine sanctuaries. The order would also reverse the current strategy implemented under President Obama preventing any new oil leases in California through 2022.

Background: the Santa Barbara Offshore Drilling Disaster and the Environmental Movement

Marine sanctuaries, like many of our country’s environmental laws, have been in place since the 1970’s and were originally the creation of a Republican administration. President Nixon started the marine sanctuary program 45 years ago as a result of the horrific 1969 Santa Barbara Oil Spill, in which 3 million gallons of petroleum from an offshore drilling site leaked into the Pacific Ocean. Images of impaired sea otters, oil-drenched birds, and corpses of dolphins and seals, victims of the month-long oil spill at 1,000 gallons per hour, drew national outrage.

The LA Times says this oil spill “changed the consciousness of the nation.” Then-U.S. Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt later said that the spill “was the most important event that led to the environmental revolution of the 1970s.” The Santa Barbara Oil spill marked the beginning of an environmental movement, sparking new laws and legislation that regulated pollution and protected endangered species, as well as federal policies that placed severe penalties on offshore drilling platform operators in the event of another oil spill.  

Up to Us to Keep History From Repeating Itself

Until now, no president has ever reduced or eliminated a national marine sanctuary in the 45 years since President Nixon started the marine sanctuary program. But this executive order can potentially do just that.

Trump’s order seeks to prioritize offshore drilling above marine sanctuaries: Section 4 calls for a “review” of current Marine Sanctuaries, which would analyze the cost to maintain these sanctuaries and “the opportunity costs associated with potential energy and mineral exploration and production from the Outer Continental Shelf, in addition to any impacts on production in the adjacent region.” In addition to potentially shrinking current marine sanctuaries for the sake of offshore oil drilling, the executive order seeks to prevent expansion of current marine sanctuaries and designation of new marine sanctuaries, unless “the sanctuary designation or expansion proposal includes a timely, full accounting from the Department of the Interior of any energy or mineral resource potential within the designated area—including offshore energy from wind, oil, natural gas, methane hydrates—and the potential impact the proposed designation or expansion will have on the development of those resources.” In other words, business is to be weighed against the marine environment, with a heavy thumb on business’s side of the scales – potentially bringing us right back to where we were before 1969.

What you can do: A detailed notice of the executive order has been posted to the Federal Register’s site, and the 30-day public comment period is still open and accepting new comments. You can submit a formal comment opposing this order and telling the Secretary of Commerce that our marine sanctuaries should be prioritized ahead of off-shore drilling, and must be preserved or expanded, not diminished. The comments period has been extended to 11:59 PM ET on August 15, 2017. (More information and sample letter here.)

More that you can do: Both California Senators Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris have urged Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross to preserve all four of California’s marine sanctuaries currently under review: Greater Farallones, Cordell Bank, Monterey Bay, and Channel Islands. Please thank them for their support!

– By A. Hernandez