Briefly

Stuff that matters


how crude

Oh god, they’ve discovered even more oil in Texas.

An estimated 20 billion barrels of oil has been discovered in West Texas’s Permian Basin. This could be, according to the USGS, the largest supply of oil ever found in the United States, worth up to $900 billion.

The timing could not be better for oil prospectors — and worse for the environment. President-elect Donald Trump, who thinks that climate change is a hoax, has pledged to dismantle environmental regulations and rubber stamp fossil fuel projects.

There is, however, one silver lining to this discovery: The low price of oil, which is currently around $45 a barrel, means much of the Texas oil will likely remain underground, at least for the immediate future.

“We are picking up a few rigs every now and then but we wont see it really take off until we get to that price in the $60 to $75 range,” said Morris Burns, former president of the Permian Basin Petroleum Association, on KWES TV.


Sad!

Major TV networks spent just 50 minutes on climate change — combined — last year.

That’s a dramatic, 66-percent drop in coverage from 2015 across evening and Sunday news programs airing on ABC, CBS, NBC, and Fox, according to a new study from Media Matters. ABC, for one, spent just six minutes on climate issues in 2016.

Media Matters

The networks can’t claim there was a shortage of important climate stories to cover. Hurricane Matthew, the Great Barrier Reef’s continued slow death, record-shattering heat, and the official beginning of the Paris climate deal all took place last year.

Interestingly, the coverage drop doesn’t seem to be an election-year phenomenon. In fact, climate coverage increased by 55 percent during the previous election cycle, between 2011 and 2012.

Media Matters

Other insights from the study:

  • Together, the networks aired five segments of climate science denial from Trump and his team — without rebuttal.
  • No network covered climate change’s impact on national security or the economy.
  • And none of them aired a single segment on the effect a Trump or Clinton presidency would have on the climate — until after the election.

Great to know that TV news is taking the defining issue of our time so seriously.


A rolling Keystone gathers no moss

The Trump administration is about to officially OK the Keystone XL pipeline.

As a 60-day deadline set by President Trump approaches, the State Department plans by Monday to approve a permit for TransCanada to build the pipeline.

Politico first reported the news Thursday. Because the pipeline would cross an international border between Canada and the United States, TransCanada needs State Department approval. Eager to get construction underway after years of delay and ultimately a rejection from President Obama, TransCanada filed a new permit application days after President Trump signed a memorandum intended to expedite the project.

Keystone XL would carry crude oil from the tar sands of Western Canada down through Montana and North Dakota to Nebraska, where it would join up with other oil headed toward the Gulf Coast. Citizen activists in Nebraska were pivotal in the fight against KXL the first time around. TransCanada still needs a permit from Nebraska, which it applied for in February.

A coalition of landowners, Native Americans, and climate activists fended off TransCanada’s advances during the Obama administration. Now they’re gearing up again. “The fight is still there,” Jane Kleeb, founder of Bold Nebraska, an organization that spearheaded opposition to KXL in the state, told me last month. “For seven years we’ve learned how to organize.”


Grist 50

Meet the fixer: This politician fights for polluted communities.

Nanette Barragán is used to facing off against polluters. Elected in 2013 to the city council of Hermosa Beach, California, she took on E&B Natural Resources, an oil and gas company looking to drill wells on the beach. Barragán, an attorney before going into politics, learned of the potential project and began campaigning for residents to vote against it. The project was eventually squashed. In November, she won a congressional seat in California’s 44th district.

To Barragán, making sure President Trump’s environmental rollbacks don’t affect communities is a matter of life or death. The district she represents, the same in which she grew up, encompasses heavily polluted parts of Los Angeles County — areas crisscrossed with freeways and dotted with oil and gas wells. Barragan says she grew up close to a major highway and suffered from allergies. “I now go back and wonder if it was related to living that close,” she says.

Exide Technologies, a battery manufacturer that has polluted parts of southeast Los Angeles County with arsenic, lead, and other chemicals for years, sits just outside her district’s borders. Barragán’s district is also 69 percent Latino and 15 percent black. She has become acutely aware of the environmental injustices of the pollution plaguing the region. “People who are suffering are in communities of color,” she says.

Now in the nation’s capital, Barragán is chair of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus’s newly formed environmental task force and a member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, which considers legislation on topics like energy and public lands and is chaired by climate denier Rob Bishop, a Utah Republican. She knows the next four years will be tough but says she’s up for the challenge. “I think it’s going to be, I hate to say it, a lot of defense.”


Meet all the fixers on this year’s Grist 50.


Good nature

To reduce obesity and depression, we need more nature in our lives.

Nature is an overlooked antidote: People who live near green spaces are generally happier and report better physical and mental health.

A new report from the Institute for European Environmental Policy examines the links between nature, equity, and well-being. Researchers reviewed more than 200 studies on the topic.

In urban areas with more trees, doctors prescribed fewer antidepressants, according to a London study. And in Denmark, people living within 330 yards of green spaces were less likely to be obese and more likely to engage in rigorous exercise.

But access to nature — and the benefits that ensue — aren’t equally distributed across populations. Minorities and low-income people tend to live farther from parks and tree-packed areas.

The report calls for doubling down on efforts to make natural areas accessible to disadvantaged groups. For example, instituting building codes with standards for nature proximity, and creating health policies that account for the preventative benefits of the great outdoors.

On average, we spend only 5 percent of our time outside. So — how about going for a nice, long walk?


Grist 50

Meet the fixer: This Brooklynite retrofits cities.

U.S. cities are packed with about 5 million medium-sized buildings — schools, churches, community centers, apartment buildings. Most use way more energy than they should. Many also have poor airflow and dirty, out-of-date heating and electrical systems. Those conditions contribute to high inner-city asthma rates and other health concerns.

“These buildings are actually making children sick,” says Donnel Baird, who grew up in such a place. His parents, immigrants from Guyana, raised their kids in a one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment, relying on a cooking stove for heat. Baird eventually moved to the South and then attended Duke University, before returning to New York as a community organizer in 2008.

In 2013, Baird launched BlocPower, which provides engineering and financial know-how to retrofit city buildings. The technical part is cool: Engineers survey structures with sensors and smartphone apps, figuring out the best ways to reduce energy use, like replacing oil boilers with solar hot water. But the financing is critical; BlocPower builds the case for each project and connects owners with lenders. It has already retrofitted more than 500 buildings in New York and is expanding into Chicago, Philadelphia, and Atlanta.

“The biggest way for us to reduce carbon emissions right now,” Baird says, “is efficiency.”


Meet all the fixers on this year’s Grist 50.


Superfund Man

The EPA is still cleaning up brownfields. So that’s something.

There’s a lot of totally rational concern over the future of the Environmental Protection Agency, especially in the wake of the skinny budget the Trump administration released last week.

While Scott Pruitt didn’t push back at Trump slashing his budget by 25 percent, the new EPA administrator apparently drew the line at defunding Superfund cleanups. He sees cleaning up our most contaminated land as a real business opportunity for future development.

To wit, the EPA announced yesterday that it would continue cleanup of the USS Lead Superfund site in East Chicago, Indiana, a community that’s been stricken by elevated lead levels in its soil and water supply. The $16 million recovered from “several potentially responsible parties” will go toward soil remediation at some 200 homes in the town.

The news follows the kickoff of a long-awaited cleanup over the weekend at the AMCO Chemical Company Superfund site in Oakland, California. More than a decade of debate took place over how to best remediate the site’s contaminated soil and water.

So fear not, the skinny EPA won’t completely waste away. (We hope.)