Earthjustice

Protections for Rare and Endangered Animals Under Threat from Permian Basin Drilling Industry

Midland, TX – Monarch butterflies, tiny lizards, and a type of grouse known as the lesser prairie chicken all drew close scrutiny from a large gathering of oil and gas executives at the Permian Basin Petroleum Association's annual meeting this year.

Fracking has helped turn the Permian Basin into the nation's most productive oil field — and the only part of the U.S. where the oil industry continues to expand robustly despite a price slump that began in mid-2014.

But the parched Permian Basin is also home to a broad array of rare wildlife, including a significant number of species already considered threatened or endangered. With the Fish and Wildlife Service considering adding dozens more species in Texas to their lists, the oil industry here is sweating (and not simply because last month was the warmest October in Midland in over 80 years of record-keeping).

Endangered species may prove to be an unexpected Achilles heel for the Permian drilling industry as it attempts to turn the deserts of west Texas into an oil “well factory” — a dense field of wellpads, pipelines and access roads built right amid unique ecosystems and habitats for wild animals that may be at risk of extinction.

Judge Strikes Down Plan to Open One Million Acres of California Public Lands to Drilling

San Ardo oil field drilling infrastructure.

On September 6, a U.S. district judge in Los Angeles issued a ruling overturning a federal plan to open vast tracts of public land in central California to oil and gas drilling, which includes hydraulic fracturing (fracking).

U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald ruled that the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) had failed to analyze the risks of fracking and other extreme oil and gas extraction techniques when preparing a resource management plan that would have allowed drilling on more than one million acres of land in California’s Central Valley, the southern Sierra Nevada, and in Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, and Ventura counties.

The Color of Pollution: How Environmental Contamination Targets People of Color

With about 42,000 active wells, Kern County, California is home to three-quarters of California's oil drilling and 95 percent of the state’s hydraulic fracturing (fracking) activity.

This mainly rural region is the largest oil-producing county in the U.S.

The influence of oil and gas is so great here that in late 2015 the county board of supervisors approved a new ordinance to allow drilling permits for tens of thousands of new wells to be fast tracked.

Time span for the new ordinance? Two decades. Ongoing environmental review? None. Public participation? Not allowed.

Senate Passed Bill Expediting Fossil Fuel Extraction on Native American Land Two Days Before Paris Agreement

Indigenous peoples' rights nearly did not make it into the global deal signed at the United Nations COP21 climate summit in Paris, serving as one of the more controversial sticking points in the road toward the signing of the Paris Agreement. Eventually, though, the Paris Agreement came to include five mentions of the importance of protecting indigenous rights with regards to climate change.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Senate has decided to grant indigenous people a different set of rights altogether: the right to have oil and coal extracted from their ancestral lands in a streamlined manner. The rights to do so would be granted in a bill that passed unanimously in the Senate two days before the Paris Agreement.

Sponsored by U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), the Indian Tribal Energy Development and Self-Determination Act Amendments of 2015's (S.209) passage in the Senate received no media coverage besides a press release disseminated by Barrasso's office and by the office of co-sponsor U.S. Sen. Jon Tester (D-MT).

Presidential Hopefuls Who Deny Climate Science Can Forget About Winning The Latino Vote

Presidential hopefuls looking to win the Latino vote know they need to take a thoughtful approach to immigration policy, but it turns out it’s just as important that they support efforts to protect the environment and combat climate change.

According to a new poll, 90 percent of Latinos are in favor of strengthening the Clean Water Act, 85 percent want reduced smog and air pollution and 78 percent want more clean energy. Meanwhile, some 80 percent of Latinos say it’s important for the President and Congress to address immigration reform.

Pollsters also found that Latinos are far ahead of other Americans in terms of awareness of the science of global warming, which is bad news for any candidate denying climate science while looking to win over Latino voters.

EPA Called On To Stop States From Permitting Polluting Facilities Through Discriminatory Processes

The US Environmental Protection Agency was recently called on to respond to a decade’s worth of complaints regarding discriminatory practices on the part of states issuing permits to polluting facilities sited in marginalized communities already overburdened by environmental degradation.

A lawsuit filed in a US District Court for the Northern District of California seeks to compel the agency to fulfill its duty to enforce Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities that receive financial assistance from the federal government.

Environmental Groups File Lawsuit Objecting to Shortcomings, Loopholes in New Federal Oil Train Safety Standards

The battle over oil train regulation is heating up, as both the oil and gas industry and a coalition of environmental groups have now filed lawsuits challenging new Department of Transportation regulations this week.

The move to the courtroom comes following a string of oil train explosions in the U.S. and Canada so far this year and in a passenger train wreck in Philadelphia on Tuesday night that killed 8.

Environmentalists Are Taking California To Court Over Illegal Oil Industry Wastewater Injection

Environmentalists filed a motion requesting a preliminary injunction today in a California court to immediately stop the daily illegal injection of millions of gallons of oil field wastewater into protected groundwater aquifers in the state.

Last week, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Sierra Club and the Center for Biological Diversity in Alameda County Superior Court that challenges California regulators’ emergency rules meant to rein in the state’s disastrous Underground Injection Control (UIC) program.

Maryland To Become Latest State To Adopt Community Solar Legislation

Following the lead of ten other states that have already adopted similar legislation, Maryland lawmakers this week passed two bills that aim to create community solar projects and increase access to clean energy in the state.

The bills, which still must be signed into law by Governor Larry Hogan, would launch a three-year pilot project to allow the state to assess the benefits of community solar and establish best practices.

Though the sun falls everywhere, access to solar energy is not universal. According to non-profit group Vote Solar, more than 75 percent of US homes and businesses can’t install a solar system on their property, because their roof isn’t suitable or they rent their home or office, among other barriers.

Community solar allows multiple people to pool their resources and invest in or subscribe to a shared solar energy system.

“Community solar will enable all Marylanders to generate renewable solar energy,” Maryland Delegate Luke Clippinger, Chair of the House Democratic Caucus and sponsor of one of the bills, says in an Earthjustice press release. “Solar is no longer a potential future prospect for energy generation here in Maryland, it is the here and now.”

Public Interest Groups File FOIA Request To Compel Disclosure Of Crude Oil Export Ban Exceptions

Last month, DeSmogBlog broke the news that the Obama Administration was quietly letting oil companies export crude under the guise of “exceptions” to the crude oil export ban.

Now a coalition of public interest groups including Earthjustice, Oil Change International, and Sightline Institute says the public has a right to know what criteria the Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) used in determining which crude oil streams were exempt from the ban, and has filed a Freedom Of Information Act request to find out.

With the price of oil cratering and that trend not likely to reverse soon thanks in large part to the glut of production in the US, oil companies are desperate to sell their crude on the global market, where it can potentially fetch higher prices. The catch, of course, is the crude oil export ban, a policy that’s been in place since 1975.

The oil industry has apparently decided that its usual means of influencing public policy—lobbying and advertising to sway public opinion in its favor—would take too much time and money, as Justin Mikulka wrote here on DeSmog.

So if you are the oil industry, you innovate. You call the oil you are producing condensate, get the regulators at the little known Bureau of Industry and Security to agree to not define what condensate actually is and then have them tell you that you as an industry are free to “self classify” your oil as condensate and export it.

Problem solved. Billions in profits made.

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