Warm Ocean Temperatures Could Mean Trouble For Marine Life

An emaciated sea lion pup in California's Channel Islands.NOAA Fisheries/Alaska Fisheries Science Center

An emaciated sea lion pup in California’s Channel Islands.
NOAA Fisheries/Alaska Fisheries Science Center

 

 

by Jes Burns OPB

It’s a double-whammy kind of year for the Pacific.

An unusually warm winter in Alaska failed to chill ocean waters. Then this winter’s El Nino is keeping tropical ocean temperatures high. Combine these and scientists are recording ocean temperatures up to 7 degrees Fahrenheit warmer than average off the coasts of Oregon and Washington.

“This is a situation with how the climate is going, or the weather is going, that we just haven’t really seen before and don’t know where it’s headed,” says National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries biologist Chris Harvey.

Harvey is a lead scientist on the California Current Integrated Ecosystem Assessment, which was recently presented to Northwest fisheries managers.

This map shows sea surface temperatures off the West Coast. The darker the red, the farther the temperatures are above average.This map shows sea surface temperatures off the West Coast. The darker the red, the farther the temperatures are above average.

NOAA Fisheries

Pacific Ocean temperatures regularly swing along a temperature spectrum. In fact, scientists have identified multi-decade cycles of warmer and cooler water.

“But right now, in the last couple of decades, we feel like we’ve seen maybe a little bit less stability in those regimes,” Harvey says.

This year, the temperatures are particularly high. The effects already appear to be rippling up and down the food chain.

When the ocean is warmer, it is less nutrient rich.

The humble copepod is a good illustration of this phenomenon. Copepods are small, crab-like organisms that swim in the upper part of the water column. They’re basically fish food for young salmon, sardines and other species.

But NOAA scientists have described the difference between cold-water copepods and warm-water copepods as the difference between a bacon-double cheeseburger with all the fixin’s and a celery stick.

Cold-water copepods are fattier and more nutrient-rich, making them a higher-value food for fish.

 

This warm-water copepod collected off Oregon this winter. They provided provide less energy to salmon and other fish than cool-water species. This warm-water copepod collected off Oregon this winter. They provided provide less energy to salmon and other fish than cool-water species. NOAA Fisheries/Northwest Fisheries Science Center

 

“The copepods that we associate with warmer water, which is what we’re seeing develop off the West Coast right now, tend to have lower energy content,” Harvey says. “There’s going to be probably an abundance of copepods out there, just not the high-energy ones we associate with higher fish production.”

Scientists are already making connections between these lower-nutrient waters and seabird die-offs in the Northwest and the widespread starvation of California sea lion pups, as well.

The warm water isn’t all bad news for Northwest fisheries. Some  fish that like warm water, like albacore tuna, may be more abundant this year in waters off the Oregon and Washington coasts.

Harvey says the science suggests fisheries managers might want to take a more cautious approach when setting harvest rates in the coming years. But what these record-high temperatures say about the longer-term health of Northwest fisheries and other coastal wildlife is still unclear.

“For me the jury is out on this,” Harvey says. “We’re going to have to wait a couple years before we know if this was just a really, really bizarre bump in the road or if there’s more to it.”

Oil Company Lease Stirs Revolt in Green Seattle

The Port of Seattle has agreed to a lease with Royal Dutch Shell that would allow the petrochemical giant to bring its Arctic Ocean drilling rigs to the city’s waterfront. Credit Evan McGlinn for The New York Times

The Port of Seattle has agreed to a lease with Royal Dutch Shell that would allow the petrochemical giant to bring its Arctic Ocean drilling rigs to the city’s waterfront. Credit Evan McGlinn for The New York Times

By KIRK JOHNSON, NY Times

SEATTLE — The environmental messaging never stops here, whether from a city-owned electric utility that gets nearly 98 percent of its power from sources untainted by carbon (and is not about to let residents forget it) or the fussy garbage collectors who can write tickets for the improper sorting of recyclables.

So when a lease was signed allowing Royal Dutch Shell, the petrochemical giant, to bring its Arctic Ocean drilling rigs to the city’s waterfront, the result was a kind of civic call to arms. A unanimous City Council lined up alongside the mayor to question the legality of the agreement with the Port of Seattle, a court challenge was filed by environmental groups, and protesters, in bluster or bluff, vowed to block the rigs’ arrival — though the exact timetable is secret, for security reasons — with a flotilla of kayaks in Elliott Bay.

“You have signed a lease that will amount to a crime against the planet,” said Zarna Joshi, 32, a Seattle resident who was first to speak at a raucous three-hour public meeting this week before the port’s commissioners. The meeting was packed mostly with opponents and punctuated by the occasional dissenter, pointing out the hypocrisy of protesters who had arrived to denounce Shell in vehicles running on gasoline.

aground in the Gulf of Alaska while being towed to Seattle for maintenance. Credit Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

aground in the Gulf of Alaska while being towed to Seattle for maintenance. Credit Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

Officials at the publicly owned port, which has branded itself as a global maritime gateway “where a sustainable world is headed,” have strongly defended the lease, saying the two-year contract would bring in millions of dollars of revenue and create hundreds of good jobs on 50 acres that Shell would use just west of downtown. The decision to allow oil exploration in Arctic waters is in any case federal policy, noted Peter McGraw, a port spokesman, not anything that the port or the city or the State of Washington can alter.

“The port did everything right,” said a lawyer for the Port of Seattle, Patrick J. Schneider, at a court hearing on Friday defending the lease. “It is an outstanding steward of the environment.”

At the center of the dispute lies a tangle of questions about the politics of climate change. Since Shell will not be drilling or exploring for oil anywhere near Seattle, but merely parking for the night, so to speak, can or should the company be denied a berth because of what might or might not happen thousands of miles away off the north coast of Alaska, or what could take place years in the future if burning fossil fuels — maybe produced by Shell, maybe not — raises sea levels or causes other havoc? Lawyers for the port, in court filings, have said opponents are waging an “intense” political campaign that will falter on the rocks of a narrow contractual dispute.

Opponents of the contract, though, said that protecting Seattle’s environment, in the broadest sense, means taking on the fight everywhere. Whether there may be harm from greenhouse gases, or possible environmental damage from an oil spill or other accident in Alaska, to which Seattle is deeply connected in its economy and history, what Shell does in the Arctic, they say, will not stay there.

“Hosting the Arctic drilling fleet in the city of Seattle is an activity that, if successful in drilling and extracting oil from the Arctic, will almost certainly mean that all of the industrial land in Seattle will be under water, and is completely inconsistent with the region’s and even the port’s goals,” said Mike O’Brien, a Seattle City Council member.

Shell used a private shipyard here for repairing its arctic equipment in 2012, which required no public hearings. The difference this time is the involvement by the port, where the commissioners run for office and contracts are public documents. The city’s Department of Planning and Development, under a request sent this week by the City Council and the mayor, is looking at whether the port’s lease, signed with a local company, Foss Maritime, which would manage the terminal site with Shell as the tenant, is consistent with the legal designation of the terminal’s use for “cargo” handling. That decision is expected in a few weeks.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit by the Puget Soundkeepers Alliance and other groups, including the Sierra Club, is challenging the process under which the port reached its decision. In a hearing on Friday before a King County Superior Court judge, the opponents argued that Shell’s use will not be for cargo handling, which is the defined use for the terminal.

The judge, Mariane C. Spearman, pressed lawyers on both sides to explain what exactly Shell would be doing at the site and whether fears of environmental harm were real or speculative, particularly because the rigs are not actually here yet. She said she would rule within the next week whether the case could proceed.

If the lease is revoked, there would probably not be another space on the waterfront big enough to hold the huge rigs, said Mr. O’Brien, the City Council member. A spokesman for Shell, Curtis Smith, said the company had not looked at alternatives. The two rigs Shell plans to bring in — the Noble Discoverer and the Polar Pioneer — are enormous, one more than 320 feet tall and the other more than 500 feet long.

Mr. Smith said the company also remained committed to exploring for oil in the far north. “We have reason to believe the acreage offshore Alaska is home to some of the most prolific, undeveloped hydrocarbon basins in the world,” he said in an email. “As a result, we are advancing our plans to drill in Alaska in 2015 — dependent, of course, on successful permitting, clearing any legal obstacles and our own determination that we are prepared to explore safely and responsibly.”

Shell has spent more than $4 billion on its efforts in the Arctic, but last drilled there in 2012 after a series of setbacks, including the grounding of a drilling rig, the Kulluk, off an island near Kodiak in the Gulf of Alaska. That mishap has also given fuel to opponents like Ian Siadak, who spoke at the lease hearing on behalf of a group formed within the last few weeks called the Coalition for Port Accountability.

“It is up to you whether you will be known as the commissioners who stayed true to their enthusiastically green campaign promises, or the commissioners who sold the planet to Shell Oil,” he said, in demanding that the lease be revoked — within a deadline of two weeks. If that does not occur, he said, “your position will be clear, and we will take further public action.”

Mr. Siadak declined in an interview to specify what action that might be.

Wyoming Lawmakers Approve Spending For Northwest Coal Ports

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead during a June 3, 2014 visit to the proposed site of the Bulk Millenium coal export terminal in Longview Washington.Cassandra Profita/OPB

Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead during a June 3, 2014 visit to the proposed site of the Bulk Millenium coal export terminal in Longview Washington.
Cassandra Profita/OPB

 

By: Earthfix; source OPB

Wyoming lawmakers have passed legislation that would allow the state to finance the construction of coal export terminals in the Pacific Northwest and elsewhere.

On Friday, Wyoming’s state legislature sent to Gov. Matt Mead a bill that would allow the state to issue up to $1 billion in bonds to help fund out-of-state projects, including coal export terminals.

Lloyd Drain, director of the Wyoming Infrastructure Authority, said these projects would be good for Wyoming coal and the Northwest, too.

“If I’m looking at it with my Washington state or Oregon state hat on, I think there’s a lot more benefits to be had than any risk,” he said.  Wyoming plans to send a delegation to Pacific Northwest later this spring to lobby Native American tribes for support.

The Legislature’s vote is the latest in a series of steps by Wyoming politicians to push for the construction of export terminals hundreds of miles away on the West Coast. Last June Wyoming’s governor made a publicized trip to Washington to raise awareness of his state’s interest in moving its coal through the Northwest. Then in October, Mead invited tribes and city and county leaders from the Northwest to visit Wyoming to see the benefits of supporting the export of Wyoming coal coal through their states.

Coal export projects are proposed on Puget Sound near Bellingham, Washington, and on the Columbia River in Longview, Washington. A third, smaller terminal on the Oregon side of the Columbia was rejected last August by state regulators. That decision is being appealed.

The projects have had trouble with financing. In late 2014 Ambre Energy sold its interest in terminals in Oregon and Washington to a private equity firm in order to remain solvent.

This was first reported by Inside Energy, a reporting team based in energy boom states.

Washington Tribe’s Whale Hunt Proposal Gets First Look From Regulators

A gray whale breaching in the Pacific Ocean.Courtesey of NOAA

A gray whale breaching in the Pacific Ocean.
Courtesey of NOAA

 

by David Steves OPB

 

Washington’s Makah Indian tribe wants to resume its traditional practice of whale hunting.

The first step in winning federal approval came Friday, when NOAA Fisheries issued a draft environmental impact statement analyzing the tribe’s request.

The Makah tribe drew international criticism from animal rights groups in 1999 when it hunted a gray whale off Washington’s Olympic Peninsula. It was the tribe’s first whale hunt in more than 70 years.

The Makah have cited the ceremonial and subsistence nature of whale hunting, which it negotiated as a right preserved under its 1855 treaty with the U.S. government.

On their website the Makah tribe says whaling and whales are central to their culture.

“The event of a whale hunt requires rituals and ceremonies which are deeply spiritual. Makah whaling (is) the subject and inspiration of Tribal songs, dances, designs, and basketry.” the tribe says. “For the Makah Tribe, whale hunting provides a purpose and a discipline which benefits their entire community.”

The Makah are seeking to hunt gray whales from the eastern North Pacific stock, which is fully recovered from the impact of historic whaling in the Pacific. The gray whale was removed from the list of threatened and endangered species in 1994. The eastern North Pacific population is estimated to number about 20,000 whales.

NOAA Fisheries has proposed several options. One would allow the tribe to take up to five whales per year. Another would continue a prohibition against hunting gray whales.

“This is the first step in a public process of considering this request that could eventually lead to authorization for the tribe to hunt gray whales,” said Donna Darm, associate deputy regional administrator for NOAA Fisheries’ West Coast Region. “This is the public’s opportunity to look at the alternatives we’ve developed, and let us know if we have fully and completely analyzed the impacts.”

The draft analysis and additional information is available online. The public can submit comments over the next 90 days.

The Case Against Coal Terminals: Lummi Cite Health, Environmental Factors

NOAAPacific International Terminals proposes building an export terminal for the export of coal and other commodities, on Cherry Point near the Lummi Nation reservation. The site is approximately midway between the BP oil refinery -- its docks are in the foreground -- and the Alcoa Intalco Works aluminum smelter. Opponents fear the further industrialization of this area will harm an ecosystem that is struggling to survive.

NOAA
Pacific International Terminals proposes building an export terminal for the export of coal and other commodities, on Cherry Point near the Lummi Nation reservation. The site is approximately midway between the BP oil refinery — its docks are in the foreground — and the Alcoa Intalco Works aluminum smelter. Opponents fear the further industrialization of this area will harm an ecosystem that is struggling to survive.

 

Richard Walker, Indian Country Today

 

Coal trains are not the only threats to sacred sites and traditional hunting and fishing territory.First Nations in the U.S. and Canada that share the Salish Sea contend that increased ballast water discharges associated with the Gateway Pacific Terminal would introduce invasive species to the local marine environment; that increased rail and vessel activity would increase the risk of coal and oil spills, and that coal dust from the railway and terminal would affect the health of marine waters and nearby communities. But the proposed Gateway Pacific Terminal is only one of the projects that would bring increased rail and shipping activity to the Salish Sea. Also proposed: Expansion of the Kinder Morgan pipeline to Vancouver, B.C., and expansion of a coal, grain and container terminal at Delta, B.C.

RELATED: Lummi Call Coal Terminals an Absolute No-Go, Invoking Treaty Rights

The Salish Sea is currently transited by an estimated 10,000 cargo ships and tankers en route to and from oil refineries and shipping ports. The George Washington University and Virginia Commonwealth University studied the potential risk for a large oil spill from increase in shipping and “an ever-changing vessel traffic mix” of cargo ships and tankers that would result from the three projects. The 2014 vessel traffic risk assessment was commissioned by the Puget Sound Partnership, a state agency charged with coordinating efforts to improve the health of Puget Sound by 2020.

“Even though this area has not experienced major oil spills in the past 20 years or so, the presence of tankers in an ever changing vessel traffic mix places the area at risk for large oil spills,” the study states. “While a previous GW/VCU analysis of this area demonstrated significant risk reduction of oil transportation risk due to existing risk mitigation measures, potential for large oil spills continues to be a prominent public concern heightened by proposed maritime terminal developments.”

Concerns about coal dust and coal spills are bolstered by recent incidents in other communities.

“On more than one occasion, coal dust from the Brayton Point [power-generating] station has covered the nearby neighborhoods of Somerset, Massachusetts,” the Center for Media and Democracyreports. “On October 29, 2008, coal dust covered nearby Ripley Street, where residents reported having coal dust in their homes despite the windows being closed.”

Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Ashley Ahearn reports that in 2009, a representative of BNSF Railway Company testified before a federal review board that 645 pounds of dust escapes from each coal train car during a 400-mile trip.

“Since the 2009 testimony, coal companies have been required to apply what’s called surfactant or topper agent to the trains before they leave the mines,” Ahearn reported in March 2013. “BNSF researchhas shown that the surfactants reduce the coal dust by about 85 percent. That should bring the 645-pound figure down to about 100 pounds of coal dust escaping per car. There are usually about 125 cars per coal train.”

But coal in transit can harm health and the environment in other ways. In December 2012, a ship crashed into a conveyor belt at Westshore Terminals in Vancouver, British Columbia, spilling 30 metric tons of coal into the sea. In January 2014, a 152-car coal train derailed in Burnaby, British Columbia; three cars spilled their loads, one of them into a protected waterway.

Concerns about rail accidents in Washington state are shared by rail workers themselves. Members of the Sheet Metal Air Rail and Transportation Workers (SMART), have proposed new rules for hazardous material trains in response to the recent explosions of oil trains in Canada and North Dakota. House Bill 1809 and Senate Bill 5679 would require trains carrying hazardous materials to have one or two additional staff on board. Previously, Washington state mandated six-person crews. Today, some trains operate with only one or two people, according to SMART.

“Our workers know how to run these trains safely, but the railroad refuses to provide adequate staffing, exposing the public and rail workers to death and injury,” said SMART legislative director Herb Krohn, a conductor and switchman on Washington’s rails, in announcing the bills.

The measures have bipartisan support. HB 1809 is sponsored by 34 representatives and has been approved by the House Committee on Labor. Companion bill SB 5679, sponsored by 24 senators, is before the Senate Committee on Commerce & Labor.

“Our bill simply restores Washington state’s common-sense safety standards,” Krohn said. “We looked at what went wrong in each of the catastrophic explosions and the close calls, and it’s clear that one or two people simply can’t monitor and safely operate these dangerous cargos.  Adding even one more person to a train, particularly at the back of the train, will save lives.”

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2015/02/27/case-against-coal-terminals-lummi-cite-health-environmental-factors-159382

Home Safe Home: Permanent Housing Is Key to Helping Domestic Violence Survivors

iStock

iStock

 

Lynn Armitage, Indian Country Today 

When Irene Moses was 13, she fell into a relationship with a 24-year-old man and ran away from her foster home to be with him. At 14, she became pregnant with his child, and that’s when all the abuse began.

“He beat me, threw me down and threatened to kill me,” the Lummi Native recalled the terror. As is typical with many domestic violence victims, Moses stayed with her abuser for another eight years, even marrying him. During that nightmarish time, she said he caused a miscarriage, kidnapped her and their one-week-old daughter (their second child) and beat them both, and tried to sell Moses into sexual slavery.

 

Irene Moses: "I never lost hope in providing for my children."
Irene Moses: “I never lost hope in providing for my children.”

 

Despite all the violence waged against her and her children, the young mother always returned to her abuser because she had no other place to go. “There weren’t a lot of women’s shelters at the time that would take a teenager with two children,” and she said staying in an abusive home was preferable to being homeless.

As hard as it is to believe, Moses’ story is far from unusual. “We have known for a long time that lack of financial resources and not having a safe place to live was the No. 1 reason why people who are in an abusive relationship and leave have to eventually return,” said Judy Chen, director of strategic initiatives for the Washington State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (WSCADV), a nonprofit network of more than 70 domestic violence programs in Washington that also includes a number of tribal programs.

WSCADV partnered with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on Domestic Violence Housing First (DVHF), a pilot program in Washington that helped 681 domestic violence victims and their children over the last three years—including Moses—find permanent, safe housing to rebuild their lives so that they would never have to live with their abusers again out of desperation.

Three tribes were chosen for the pilot project: the Lummi Nation, the Spokane Tribe of Indians and the Kalispel Tribe of Indians. “We have a great number of tribes in the state and are very aware of domestic violence on reservations,” said Chen, stating that 35 percent of the program participants were Native women. “Finding solutions that are rooted in Native communities is very important to us.”

Chen said the DVHF program was based on a tried-and-true model that has already worked successfully in the low-income housing and homeless field. “The philosophy is that housing is a human right and the problems in people’s lives that may have led to homelessness, such as losing a job or medical issues, are best dealt with when somebody is housed and they don’t have to worry day to day about where they are going to live.”

The four pillars of the program include:

—Temporary financial help with expenses such as rent, rental deposits, utilities and child care;

—locating housing for survivors and advocating for them with landlords;

—survivor-driven solutions to give victims voice and choice on where they want to live;

—establishing partnerships between advocates and community organizations, such as community colleges and car repair shops, to help get victims back on their feet.

 

 

WSCADV recently released its findings of a three-year study on the effectiveness of the DVHF project. According to Chen, the program was a huge success and made a big difference in many peoples’ lives.

“After 18 months, 96 percent of survivors were still in their own housing—even those with very low incomes,” said Chen. The study also reports that 84 percent of participants felt safer after participating in the DVHF program. “Some women said, ‘My kids don’t look out the window in fear anymore. Now they just look out the window to be looking.’”

Bear Hughes, a Spokane tribal council member, said that with the $250,000 his tribe received from the program, they were able to help 35 women (mostly Spokane enrolled Natives) get settled into permanent, safe housing over a period of three years. He said the biggest challenge was trying to find housing on the reservation, as many women felt safer surrounded by their families and a familiar Native community.

“We lack housing on the rez for victims. It’s something we are working on as a government. Maybe in about six more months to a year, we will have a domestic violence shelter here,” Hughes said hopefully.

Lummi Victims of Crime (LVOC), the first Native American domestic violence shelter in Washington, also received a generous $250,000 grant from the DVHF program. “Over the past three years, we were able to help 134 women move out of our shelter and transitional housing and into their own homes. Of those, only five have lost their homes. The rest still have them,” said Nikki Finkbonner, an LVOC coordinator. “I wish it was still going on, as there are so many other people we could have helped.”

Returning to Moses … she is one of the LVOC success stories. Now at 32, this woman who was abused for so much of her childhood is a happily married mother of six (two are step-children). She is safe in her own four-bedroom home in Bellingham, Washington, free from the fear of homelessness that had trapped her in an abusive relationship with a man who she now realizes was a sexual predator all along.

“I was turned down many times for housing because landlords thought I was a high risk. But I never lost hope in providing for my children,” said the very resilient Lummi Native. “Through the program, I also got me GED, took parenting classes, my kids went to school every day and I’m working on my degree in marine biology. I couldn’t have done any of this without DVHF.”

Contributing writer Lynn Armitage is an enrolled member of the Oneida Tribes of Indians of Wisconsin.

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2015/03/04/home-safe-home-permanent-housing-key-helping-domestic-violence-survivors-159455

Northwest Faces Greater Risks From Acidifying Waters

Pacific Oysters are most vulnerable to corrosive waters during their first few days of life at the time when forming shells are critical to their survival.Katie Campbell

Pacific Oysters are most vulnerable to corrosive waters during their first few days of life at the time when forming shells are critical to their survival.
Katie Campbell

 

By Cassandra Profita, OPB

 

The Pacific Northwest faces a higher risk of economic harm from ocean acidification than other parts of the country, according to a new study released Monday.

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, found a “potent combination” of risk factors along the coasts of Oregon and Washington. The region has cold ocean water that absorbs carbon dioxide more readily than warmer water, and it has upwelling ocean currents that bring corrosive water to the surface.

Meanwhile, the Northwest also has a well-developed shellfish industry that produces more than $100 million a year in sales and supports thousands of jobs. Shellfish hatcheries in northern Oregon supply oyster larvae to the entire region’s aquaculture industry.

George Waldbusser, an ocean science professor at Oregon State University and co-author of the study, said it was the first time scientists analyzed social vulnerability as well as the natural hazards of ocean acidification.

“The major finding is that different parts of the country are vulnerable for different reasons,” he said. “In some parts of the country, the social vulnerability is quite high whereas the actual CO2 effect on the waters was a bit lower.”

Waldbusser said while ocean upwelling does create  a “hot spot” for acidification in the Northwest, the region also has a lot of resources within universities and marine labs devoted to mitigating the negative impacts on the shellfish industry.

“We are still finding ways to increase the adaptive capacity of these communities and industries to cope, and refining our understanding of various species’ specific responses to acidification,” he said. “Ultimately, however, without curbing carbon emissions, we will eventually run out of tools to address the short-term and we will be stuck with a much larger long-term problem.”

Study co-author Julie Ekstrom at the University of California-Davis said the risks to the Northwest shellfish industry are already fairly well known.

“Ocean acidification has already cost the oyster industry in the Pacific Northwest nearly $110 million and jeopardized about 3,200 jobs,” she said.

major oyster die-off in Oregon from 2006 to 2008 called attention to the problems acidic water can cause for developing shellfish, who depend on calcium carbonate to build their shells. Ocean acidification reduces carbonate in the water, making it harder for shellfish and corals to survive.

Appeal Decision Blocks Shell Oil Train Project

Victory: County must first analyze environmental and public health risks of dangerous oil rail project

 

Skagit River in Burlington, WA.PHOTO COURTESY OF BRENT M. / FLICKR

Skagit River in Burlington, WA.
PHOTO COURTESY OF BRENT M. / FLICKR

 

 

By: Earth Justice 

 

Mount Vernon, WA, February 23, 2015 — The Skagit County Hearing Examiner today halted Shell Oil Refinery’s planned crude-by-rail expansion until it undertakes a full, transparent environmental review. The decision blocks the project until such a comprehensive review can be completed.

The Hearing Examiner found that Shell’s proposed project, which would receive hundreds of tank cars of crude oil every week, posed a significant risk of harm to people, water, and wildlife.

The decision finds that:

“The crude oil being brought in large quantities to a small area in the northwest Washington State is highly flammable and explosive. Catastrophes have occurred elsewhere. No one doubts that such a thing could occur here … Unquestionably, the potential magnitude and duration of environmental and human harm from oil train operations in Northwest Washington could be very great.”

“With last weekend’s oil train explosions in Ontario and West Virginia fresh in our minds, this is a commonsense victory for communities along the rail line,” said Jan Hasselman, an attorney with Earthjustice representing the conservation groups. “Before allowing more oil trains, Skagit County must make sure they pose no threat to our communities, our waters, and our way of life.”

In Skagit County, the oil trains pass right through the downtowns of Burlington and Mount Vernon. The oil trains also cross the old Burlington/Mount Vernon bridge spanning the Skagit River immediately above the Anacortes Water Treatment Plant and the old swing bridge spanning the Swinomish Channel directly adjacent to the Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve. While there is pending state legislation that would enhance public information on oil transport, those laws are not yet on the books.

“The Hearing Examiner correctly found that the enormity of the environmental impacts associated with Shell’s Bakken oil trains warrants a full environmental and safety review,” said Tom Glade, president of local watchdog group Evergreen Islands, one of the appellants. “We applaud the Hearing Examiner for listening to the evidence and to the community.”

Shell is the latest of several projects that would involve increases in transportation of Bakken crude oil through Washington state, none of which received any meaningful environmental review. The decision highlights the failure of the state to grapple with the cumulative impacts of multiple projects, finding: “The total impact of the entirety of the massive upsurge in shipments of crude along this route has not been analyzed. The risks that adding one more actor to this scene poses to the environment and to health and safety can only be appreciated after a cumulative analysis of the entire picture.”

The Hearing Examiner also highlighted the importance of the unique ecosystem near the refinery on Padilla Bay—which support an “astonishing diversity” of aquatic life—and the County’s failure to analyze the risks of an oil spill there.  He also observed the importance of the Skagit River for salmon production and the need to review potential spill impacts on salmon habitat.

RE Sources for Sustainable Communities, Friends of the San Juans, ForestEthics, Washington Environmental Council, Friends of the Earth, and Evergreen Islands filed the Shell appeal, represented by Kristen Boyles and Jan Hasselman ofEarthjustice.

Feds studying how to expand protections for endangered orcas

,

Photo: Center for Whale Research

Photo: Center for Whale Research

 

 

By Associated Press; KOMO News 

 

SEATTLE (AP) – The National Marine Fisheries Service is studying how to revise habitat protections for endangered orcas that spend time in Washington state waters.

The federal agency said Monday it is responding to a petition by the Center for Biological Diversity. The group wants to expand protections for southern resident killer whales to include offshore waters from Cape Flattery, Wash., to Point Reyes, Calif.

The agency says it didn’t have enough data or analyses yet to propose revisions requested in the petition. It would publish a proposed rule in 2017 after collecting more data and completing studies.

Spokesman Michael Milstein says the agency is outlining a process to determine whether an expansion of critical habitat is warranted.

The federal government has already designated inland waters of Washington as critical to orca conservation. Such a designation requires federal officials to limit activities that harm the whales.

Tribal Deal Would Set Number of Gambling Machines in Wash. State

Associated Press

Associated Press

 

 

The number of gambling machines in Washington state tribal casinos is set to increase by several thousand and rise automatically in the future under a compact recently approved by state legislators and the state Gambling Commission.

The compact between 27 of the state’s 29 tribes would allow a 10 percent bump to the state’s 28,000 slot-style machines and make future adjustments based on gambling demands.

Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to sign the compact, and send it to the U.S. Department of Interior for final approval.

In years past, determining the maximum number of gambling machines in the state required gathering representatives from casino and non-casino tribes for rounds of controversial negotiations.Many of the state’s rural tribes don’t have casinos, but can profit from leasing their allotment of machines to casinos on other reservations. When casinos are allowed to add machines, non-casino tribes stand to lose leases and a critical source of income.

Under the new agreement, if the total number of leasable machines dips below 500, tribes can automatically increase the statewide cap by 50 machines per tribe. “These amendments allow for market-based growth and only if there is a real need,” said Chris Stearns, chairman of the state gambling commission. “It saves the state and the tribes a lot of effort and it removes a lot of tension. That made a lot of sense to us.”

The state’s $2.2 billion casino gambling industry has leveled off some in recent years after a period of significant growth, according to the state gambling commission. Tribal leaders representing the state’s 28 casinos say they expect machine gambling to grow moderately in the coming years.

Stearns said he wasn’t aware of any other states that have taken a similar market-based approach to setting caps on slots or gambling machines.

Gambling law in Washington State prohibits traditional slots that set odds within individual machines. Instead, machine players win based on a back-end lottery system.

Tucked away on remote coastline, the Quileute reservation is one of the non-casino tribes that could lose out on leasing revenue if machine caps were set too high. Speaking before the Senate Commerce & Labor Committee in Olympia, Quileute chairman Charles Woodruff said the new compact had the support of small tribes and would ensure more Quileute youth would enter college. “Without these gaming revenues to help kids along the way, it wouldn’t be possible,” he said.

The state’s two federally recognized tribes that did not sign the compact — the Muckleshoot and the Puyallup — could still benefit from cap increases in the future.

 

Read more at http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2015/02/20/tribal-deal-would-set-number-gambling-machines-wash-state-159299