Uranium development potential in Utah, with the original boundary of the Bears Ears National Monument indicated, before Trump reduced its size to accomodate Energy Fuels Resources (USA) Inc. Graphic: The Washington Post

By Juliet Eilperin
8 December 2017

(The Washington Post) – A uranium company launched a concerted lobbying campaign to scale back Bears Ears National Monument, saying such action would give it easier access to the area’s uranium deposits and help it operate a nearby processing mill, according to documents obtained by The Washington Post.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and top Utah Republicans have said repeatedly that questions of mining or drilling played no role in President Trump’s announcement Monday that he was cutting the site by more than 1.1 million acres, or 85 percent. Trump also signed a proclamation nearly halving the Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument, which is also in southern Utah and has significant coal deposits.

“This is not about energy,” Zinke told reporters Tuesday. “There is no mine within Bears Ears.”

But the nation’s sole uranium processing mill sits directly next to the boundaries that President Barack Obama designated a year ago when he established Bears Ears. The documents show that Energy Fuels Resources (USA) Inc., a subsidiary of a Canadian firm, urged the Trump administration to limit the monument to the smallest size needed to protect key objects and areas, such as archeological sites, to make it easier to access the radioactive ore.

In a May 25 letter to the Interior Department, Chief Operating Officer Mark Chalmers wrote that the 1.35 million-acre expanse Obama created “could affect existing and future mill operations.” He later noted, “There are also many other known uranium and vanadium deposits located within the [original boundaries] that could provide valuable energy and mineral resources in the future.”

Trump instructed Zinke in April to assess 27 monuments designated under the 1906 Antiquities Act, which gives presidents wide latitude to protect federal lands and waters under threat. Conservationists, tribal officials, ranching groups and other interests sought to influence the review’s outcome, unsuccessfully in the case of the two Utah sites.

Gov. Gary R. Herbert (R-Utah) addressed the energy considerations in an interview Monday. “The only thing that smacks of energy is the uranium,” he said. “The uranium deposits are outside the monument now.”

Energy Fuels Resources did not just weigh in on national monuments through public-comment letters. It hired a team of lobbyists at Faegre Baker Daniels — led by Andrew Wheeler, who is awaiting Senate confirmation as the Environmental Protection Agency’s deputy secretary — to work on the matter and other federal policies affecting the company. It paid the firm $30,000 between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, according to federal lobbying records, for work on this and other priorities. […]

Greg Zimmerman, deputy director of the Center for Western Priorities, a conservation and advocacy group, said the Energy Fuels Resources effort shows the extent to which industry interests influenced the monuments review.

“You listen to the rhetoric about how this was all really about taking special interests out of the equation,” Zimmerman said. “They’re doing this on behalf of special interests. When you look in terms of public access to recreation areas, there’s not a hunter or angler or outdoor recreationist who wants to be out and around an uranium mine.” [more]

Uranium firm urged Trump officials to shrink Bears Ears National Monument

Fire fighters attack the Thomas Fire's north flank with backfires as they continue to fight a massive wildfire north of Los Angeles, near Ojai , California, on 9 December 2017. Fire department spokesman Dave Zaniboni said, 'To see this kind of fire activity in the middle of December, it's just unprecedented.' Photo: Reuters

VENTURA, California, 10 December 2017 (CBS News) – The raging Thomas Fire triggered new evacuation orders Sunday for the Ventura-Santa Barbara county lines, authorities said. Overnight, new orders were sent out for the Carpinteria and Montecito areas as one structure was lost, CBS Los Angeles reports.

In addition, the Thomas Fire is now the sixth largest in California history, according to fire officials. It has scorched at least 200,000 acres as of Sunday evening.

Residents in areas north of Carpinteria from Toro Canyon Road east to the Santa Barbara County line and north of Highway 192 have been told to evacuate, as well as areas east of Buena Vista Drive to the county line and north of Highway 192.

Voluntary evacuation orders have been issued for areas east of San Ysidro to the county line, and south of Highway 192 to the ocean.

An evacuation shelter has been established at the UCSD Recreation Center at 516 Ocean Road, authorities said.

The fire has also interrupted transmission lines for the Santa Barbara area, leaving more than 85,000 customers without power.

The fire erupted seven days ago and resulted in 88,000 people having to evacuate throughout that time period.

"This fire literally started on the first day of our Santa Ana wind event, which it couldn't have started on a worse day," said Capt. Steve Kaufmann of the Ventura County Fire Department. "Last night, because we're still under the Santa Ana wind event, the fire activity increased overnight." [more]

Raging Thomas Fire triggers new evacuation orders in California

By Omaya Sosa Pascual
7 December 2017

SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO (Center for Investigative Journalism) – It’s official. In the 40 days after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, at least 985 additional people died, when compared to the same period in 2016.

And if the entire months of September and October are included (since Hurricane Irma also passed through the island days before Maria), the figure rises to 1,065 deaths — despite the fact that Puerto Rico lost more than 100,000 inhabitants due to migration this year, according to estimates from the Center for Puerto Rican Studies of The City University of New York.

Since Sept. 20, the day the historic Category 4 storm struck the entire island with 155 mph winds that left Puerto Rico without power, the average daily death rate increased by 43 percent, with peaks of about 80 percent on days like Sept. 21 and 25. In October, deaths increased by 23.3 percent.

The majority of the deaths were men and women over 50 who died in hospitals and nursing homes from conditions such as diabetes, Alzheimer's, kidney disease, hypertension, pneumonia and other respiratory diseases. When compared to the same time period from 2016, there was a significant increase in deaths, especially in hospitals and nursing homes.

This information — made public Thursday for the first time by the Center for Investigative Journalism from data provided by the island’s Demographic Registry — presents an official overview of the magnitude and profile of deaths recorded after Hurricane Maria. […]

Aerial of damage in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria. Photo: Center for Investigative Journalism

This new data confirms the findings of a Sept. 28 CPI story, revealing that at that time there were dozens and possibly hundreds of deaths linked to the hurricane, contrary to the official government death toll, which remained at 16 victims during the first two weeks of the emergency. Today, more than two months after the catastrophe, the official death count stands at 62, due to the poor methodology being used to analyze and account for cases, according to reporting by the CPI.

The revelation of the new data also coincides with accounts from relatives’ reports of victims that point to problems with essential health services such as dialysis, ventilators, oxygen, and other critical circumstances caused by the lack of electricity in homes and hospitals throughout Puerto Rico. [more]

Nearly 1,000 more people died in Puerto Rico after Hurricane Maria

Quiet streets on a Saturday afternoon in Onaga, Kansas, population 700. Photo: Audra Mulkern / EHRP

By Debbie Weingarten
6 December 2017

(EHRP) – It is dark in the workshop, but what light there is streams in patches through the windows. Cobwebs coat the wrenches, the cans of spray paint and the rungs of an old wooden chair where Matt Peters used to sit. A stereo plays country music, left on by the renter who now uses the shop.

“It smells so good in here,” I say. “Like …”

“Men, working,” finishes Ginnie Peters.

We inhale. “Yes.”

Ginnie pauses at the desk where she found her husband Matt’s letter on the night he died.

“My dearest love,” it began, and continued for pages. “I have torment in my head.”

On the morning of his last day, 12 May 2011, Matt stood in the kitchen of their farmhouse.

“I can’t think,” he told Ginnie. “I feel paralyzed.”

It was planting season, and stress was high. Matt worried about the weather and worked around the clock to get his crop in the ground on time. He hadn’t slept in three nights and was struggling to make decisions.

“I remember thinking ‘I wish I could pick you up and put you in the car like you do with a child,’” Ginnie says. “And then I remember thinking … and take you where? Who can help me with this? I felt so alone.”

Ginnie felt an “oppressive sense of dread” that intensified as the day wore on. At dinnertime, his truck was gone and Matt wasn’t answering his phone. It was dark when she found the letter. “I just knew,” Ginnie says. She called 911 immediately, but by the time the authorities located his truck, Matt had taken his life. […]

“Farming has always been a stressful occupation because many of the factors that affect agricultural production are largely beyond the control of the producers,” wrote Rosmann in the journal Behavioral Healthcare. “The emotional wellbeing of family farmers and ranchers is intimately intertwined with these changes.”

Last year, a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that people working in agriculture – including farmers, farm laborers, ranchers, fishers, and lumber harvesters – take their lives at a rate higher than any other occupation. The data suggested that the suicide rate for agricultural workers in 17 states was nearly five times higher compared with that in the general population.

After the study was released,Newsweek reported that the suicide death rate for farmers was more than double that of military veterans. This, however, could be an underestimate, as the data collected skipped several major agricultural states, including Iowa. Rosmann and other experts add that the farmer suicide rate might be higher, because an unknown number of farmers disguise their suicides as farm accidents.

The US farmer suicide crisis echoes a much larger farmer suicide crisis happening globally: an Australian farmer dies by suicide every four days; in the UK, one farmer a week takes his or her own life; in France, one farmer dies by suicide every two days; in India, more than 270,000 farmers have died by suicide since 1995. […]

In the US, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255. In the UK the Samaritans can be contacted on 116 123. In Australia, the crisis support service Lifeline is on 13 11 14. Other international suicide helplines can be found at www.befrienders.org. [more]

Why are America's farmers killing themselves in record numbers?

Radioactive chernobyl mushrooms, 1 October 2012. 'Wasnt too bad actually, moss seems to concentrate Cs-137 more than mushrooms.' Photo: bionerd23 / flickr

By Geert De Clercq
30 November 2017

PARIS (Reuters) – France has stopped a large shipment of Belarus mushrooms contaminated with low-level radioactivity probably from Chernobyl and not linked to a radioactive cloud that appeared in southern Russia last month, officials said on Thursday.

Earlier, the head of French nuclear regulator ASN Pierre-Franck Chevet told the French senate that traces of cesium had been found on imported mushrooms from Russia and did not mention Belarus.

A spokesman for French nuclear safety institute IRSN said that a few days ago customs officials found that a 3.5 tonne shipment of Belarus mushrooms coming through Frankfurt, Germany was contaminated with cesium 137, a radioactive nuclide that is a waste product of nuclear reactors.

While the contaminated mushrooms did not represent a health threat to consumers, the shipment will be destroyed in a specialized incinerator in coming days, the IRSN said. […]

The official said it was highly unusual for such a large shipment of mushrooms to be stopped and that none of the produce had made it onto French retail markets.

Mushrooms, more than any other vegetable, concentrate radioactivity because their thread-like root systems spread over a large area for several meters on the surface around the plant.

The IRSN said eating tens of kilos of the Belarus mushrooms would expose a consumer to a radioactivity level similar to natural ambient radioactivity during a whole year. [more]

France stops large shipment of radioactive Belarus mushrooms

The Eagle Creek wildfire burns as golfers play at the Beacon Rock Golf Course in North Bonneville, Washington, 4 September 2017. Photo: Kristi McCluer / REUTERS

The Eagle Creek wildfire burns as golfers play at the Beacon Rock Golf Course in North Bonneville, Washington, 4 September 2017. [more]

Pictures of the year: Natural disasters


Extreme heat in Indonesia: A freshly-scorched landscape in Pekanbaru, Indonesia in August 2017, after a fire caused by hot temperatures and lack of rain. Photo: NurPhoto / SIPA USA / PA Images

Extreme heat in Indonesia: A freshly-scorched landscape in Pekanbaru, Indonesia in August 2017, after a fire caused by hot temperatures and lack of rain. [more]

The impact of severe weather in 2017

Open-air trenches carry raw sewage away from homes in a Butler County, Alabama community that Philip Alston, the UN's Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, visited on Thursday, 7 December 2017. Photo: Connor Sheets / al.com

By Carlos Ballesteros
10 December 2017

(Newsweek) – A United Nations official investigating poverty in the United States was shocked at the level of environmental degradation in some areas of rural Alabama, saying he had never seen anything like it in the developed world.

"I think it's very uncommon in the First World. This is not a sight that one normally sees. I'd have to say that I haven't seen this," Philip Alston, the U.N.'s Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, told Connor Sheets of AL.com earlier this week as they toured a community in Butler County where raw sewage flows from homes through exposed PVC pipes and into open trenches and pits.

The tour through Alabama's rural communities is part of a two-week investigation by the U.N. on poverty and human rights abuses in the United States. So far, U.N. investigators have visited cities and towns in California and Alabama, and will soon travel to Puerto Rico, Washington, D.C., and West Virginia.

Of particular concern to Alston are specific poverty-related issues that have surfaced across the country in recent years, such as an outbreak of hookworm in Alabama in 2017—a disease typically found in nations with substandard sanitary conditions in South Asia and Subsaharan Africa.

The U.N. investigation aims to study the effects of systemic poverty in a prosperous nation like the United States.

By many accounts, poverty in the U.S. is worse than in most developed nations, despite rhetoric espoused by President Donald Trump and others who claim that the U.S. is the "best country in the world."

An overgrown sign in rural Alabama. Photo: IBT Media

According to the Census Bureau, nearly 41 million people in the U.S. live in poverty. That's second-highest rate of poverty among rich countries, as measured by the percentage of people earning less than half the national median income, according to Quartz.

These income and wealth disparities affect minorities the most. Black, Hispanic, and Native American children, for example, are two to three times more likely to live in poverty than white kids, according to a study using Census data by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. [more]

U.N. Official Shocked at Poverty In Rural Alabama


Aerial view of a porcuine-caribou herd in the 1002 area of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge coastal plain, with the Brooks Range mountains in the distance to the south. Photo: U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

By Robinson Meyer
2 December 2017

(The Atlantic) – When Bernadette Demientieff was in high school, she gave up her heritage. Demientieff is a member of the Gwich’in, an indigenous tribe of roughly 9,000 people that spans north-central Alaska and northern Canada. “The ways of living in this world that are being pushed on our people” got to her, she told me. She moved south to Fairbanks, Alaska, and grew disconnected from her people and their land. She had kids. She grew up.

And then, one day in 2014, something called to her, she says. She was in Arctic Village, a small Gwich’in settlement at the edge of Alaska’s wilderness. She felt the urge to step out onto the tundra. She started walking, up and out of the center of town—and then she turned around and looked: In front of her stretched the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the largest area of untouched wilderness in the United States. The land, an open expanse of peaks and rivers, spanned hundreds of miles past the horizon to the unseen, icy flat of the Arctic Ocean.

“I started crying and crying,” she said. “And I asked the Creator for forgiveness.”

Now 42, Demientieff is the executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee. She has spent years trying to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR (pronounced AN-wahr), from oil and gas exploration. That fight suffered a major loss Saturday, the result of lawmakers voting on an expansive and quickly written bill several thousand miles away.

The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which the Senate passed early Saturday morning, will change federal law on a matter that has little to do with the tax code. The bill authorizes the sale of oil and gas leases in a section of the ANWR on Alaska’s North Slope, the coastal plain that faces the Arctic Ocean. Soon, energy companies will be able to search for—and extract—oil and gas from the frozen tundra.

The Senate bill will now be reconciled with the House version in conference and go to President Donald Trump’s desk for his signature.

It brings a quiet end to the battle over whether to drill in the ANWR, one of the longest-running and most acrimonious battles in U.S. environmental history. The question has been embedded in federal law for 40 years, nearly as long as Alaska has been a state.

No one will be more affected by the opening of ANWR than Alaska’s indigenous people, who will live among—and work on—the rigs, drills, and pipelines that would follow the discovery of any oil or gas reserve. The discovery of oil or gas in the region could bring an economic windfall to the subsistence tribes that live on Alaska’s North Slope, the coastal plain that faces the Arctic Ocean. But if a major disaster—like an oil spill or gas leak—were to occur in the area, it would devastate their only homeland. [more]

The GOP Tax Bill Could Forever Alter Alaska’s Indigenous Tribes


By Rob Kuznia, Mark Berman, Max Ufberg, and Soo Youn
10 December 2017

VENTURA, California (The Washington Post) – Raging wildfires continued to burn through Southern California on Sunday, stretching into a second week as authorities warned that the blazes could still spread and pose new dangers.

The fires have been blamed for one death, and the flames have destroyed more than 800 buildings and threatened thousands more. Officials have stressed that the weather could trigger still more hazards.

Much of Los Angeles and Ventura counties were under “red flag warnings” of increased fire risk through Sunday evening as the winds that fanned the flames were expected to strengthen. Any new blaze could see a “very rapid spread of wildfire … and extreme fire behavior that could lead to a threat to life and property,” the National Weather Service warned.

Officials lamented a brutal fire season that has ravaged the state this year, tearing mercilessly through the northern and southern parts of California alike.

“This is kind of the new normal,” Gov. Jerry Brown (D) said at a news conference Saturday in Ventura County. “We’re facing a new reality in this state, where fires threaten people’s lives, their property, their neighborhoods and, of course, billions and billions of dollars.”

Brown said climate change means residents should expect such extreme fire activity for decades.

“I know that’s maybe a little remote, but it’s real, and we’re experiencing what it’s going to look like on a very regular basis,” he said.

New evacuations orders were issued Sunday as the Thomas Fire — the state’s biggest active blaze, roaring across 155,000 acres in coastal Ventura County northwest of Los Angeles — was “expected to spread” toward neighboring Santa Barbara County, authorities warned in an alert Sunday morning.

The Thomas Fire burns in the Los Padres National Forest on Saturday, 9 December 2017. The fire has burned more than 155,000 acres and was 15 percent contained Sunday morning. Photo: Stuart Palley / The Washington Post

Although officials had lifted evacuation orders in Ventura, south of the fire, residents of enclaves in Santa Barbara were urged to leave. People in parts of the county, including the city of Carpinteria, “need to be prepared to leave in a moment’s notice,” the Santa Barbara County Sheriff’s Office warned, urging residents to gather relatives, pets and anything irreplaceable. […]

“Oh, my God, the heat, the heat,” said Clifford Sise, a horse trainer who had to evacuate while trying to get his horses out of San Luis Rey Downs, a racehorse facility in San Diego County where it is believed that dozens of horses died in the blaze. “One of my fillies wouldn’t leave. She burned to death in, like, one minute. I had them all out, and then when I went back after. I must’ve had two little babies run back in their stalls and they died.” [more]

California fires rage into second week as massive blazes are ‘expected to spread’

 

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