Last year, North Carolina's top environmental regulators thwarted three separate Clean Water Act lawsuits aimed at forcing Duke Energy, the largest electricity company in the country, to clean up its toxic coal ash pits in the state. That June, the state went even further, saying it would handle environmental enforcement at every one of Duke's 31 coal ash storage ponds in the state -- an act that protected the company from further federal lawsuits. Last week, one of those coal ash storage ponds ruptured, belching more than 80,000 tons of coal ash into the Dan River.
Now, environmental groups and former regulators are charging that North Carolina Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, who worked for Duke for 30 years, has created an atmosphere where the penalties for polluting the environment are low.
It's not uncommon for environmental protesters to face arrest, but here's an apparent first: On Friday, Oklahoma City police charged a pair of environmental activists with staging a "terrorism hoax" after they unfurled a pair of banners covered in glitter -- a substance local cops considered evidence of a faux biochemical assault.
Stefan Warner and Moriah Stephenson, members of the environmental group Great Plains Tar Sands Resistance, were part of a group of about a dozen activists demonstrating at Devon Tower, the headquarters of fossil fuel giant Devon Energy. They activists were protesting the company's use of fracking, its role in mining of Canada's tar sands, and its ties to TransCanada, the energy company planning to construct the Keystone XL pipeline. As other activists blocked the building's revolving door, Warner and Stephenson hung two banners -- one a cranberry-colored sheet emblazoned with The Hunger Games "mockingjay" symbol and the words "The odds are never in our favor" in gold letters -- from the second floor of the Devon Tower's atrium.
Police who responded to the scene arrested Warner and Stephenson along with two other protesters. But while their fellow activists were arrested for trespassing, Warner and Stephenson were hit with additional charges of staging a fake bioterrorism attack. It's an unusually harsh charge to levy against nuisance protestors. In Oklahoma, a conviction for a "terrorist hoax" carries a prison sentence of up to 10 years.
Oklahoma City police spokesperson Captain Dexter Nelson tells Mother Jones that Devon Tower security officers worried that the "unknown substance" falling from the two banners might be toxic because of "the covert way [the protesters] presented themselves … A lot were dressed as somewhat transient-looking individuals. Some were wearing all black," he says. "Inside the banners was a lot of black powder substance, later determined to be glitter." In their report, Nelson says, police who responded to the scene described it as a "biochemical assault." "Even the FBI responded," he adds. A spokesman for Devon Energy declined to comment.
Unless it's immediately proceeded by the word "no," the phrase "good news" rarely appears these days in stories about climate change. But in a year in which we found out that our oceans may rise this century by as much as three feet and that atmospheric carbon dioxide is higher than it has been in nearly a million years, there were still some bright spots. And in preparation for Thanksgiving, we've compiled a list of four environmental developments for which you can give thanks. You can see even more on Twitter by searching the hashtag #ClimateThanks.
1. The U.S. and the World Bank will avoid financing coal-fired power plants abroad.
The growing fracking industry is "yielding gushers" of campaign donations for congressional candidates -- particularly Republicans from districts with fracking activity -- according to a new report [PDF] from the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
The report, "Natural Cash: How the Fracking Industry Fuels Congress," examines a period spanning from 2004 to 2012. In that time, CREW finds, contributions from companies that operate hydraulic fracturing wells and fracking-related industry groups rose 180 percent, from $4.3 million nine years ago to about $12 million in the last election cycle.
One year after Superstorm Sandy crashed into New York and New Jersey -- leaving behind a dizzying price tag of $65 billion — the elected officials and bureaucrats charged with preventing the next weather disaster from doing that kind of damage still have a lot to accomplish.
The signs of this are everywhere. If another storm of Sandy-like proportions were to hit today, it would likely devastate parts of the New York City subway system. Hundreds of low-income New Yorkers without safe homes to return to are squatting in hotel rooms but facing eviction. Despite attempts to change the law, New York's thousands of co-op dwellers are ineligible for FEMA aid because of the way Congress classifies co-ops. And so on.
But we are also, a year after the storm, facing more sweeping failures -- spending wrong, rebuilding wrong, and broadly forgetting some of Sandy's biggest lessons. What follows is a look at some of these failures.