Briefly

Stuff that matters


dakota access

A judge rules that rushing approval for the Dakota Access Pipeline violated the law.

U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg issued a ruling Wednesday that deemed the previous environmental review process inadequate. His decision comes in response to a legal challenge filed by Standing Rock Sioux in February, after President Trump greenlit the pipeline shortly after his inauguration.

Specifically, the judge said the Army Corps of Engineers, which must approve pipelines that cross water, “did not adequately consider the impacts of an oil spill on fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice, or the degree to which the pipeline’s effects are likely to be highly controversial.” According to Jan Hasselman, the Earthjustice attorney representing the tribe, the ruling represents possibly the first time that a federal judge has dinged the Army Corps for not considering environmental justice concerns.

The Army Corps must now do additional review. Hasselman is unsure what form that will take. “Do they just try to paper this over with a supplemental or revised environmental assessment, which is likely to lead to more litigation?” he says. “Or do they go back to the environmental impact statement process?”

The tribe has argued for months that the pipeline would endanger their drinking water and ancestral lands. Since oil began flowing in March, the pipeline has already leaked several times. Oil will continue flowing for now, but Standing Rock Sioux Chair Dave Archambault II said the tribe “will ask the Court to shut down the pipeline operations immediately” while it undergoes further environmental review. A ruling could come on that demand in as soon as six weeks.

Related: Read Grist’s investigation of the paramilitary tactics used to track and target pipeline opponents.


call me maybe

Let’s just imagine Trump’s next climate-denying phone calls.

On Monday, President Donald Trump called up James Eskridge, mayor of Tangier Island in the Chesapeake Bay. The ocean is lapping up 16 feet of the island’s coastline a year.

But Trump told Eskridge not to worry about it. “Your island has been there for hundreds of years, and I believe your island will be there for hundreds more,” the president reportedly said, according to the Delmarva Daily Times of Maryland.

So who will Trump call next? Let’s think:

  • New York Mayor Bill deBlasio: “You know what I’ve always said about America’s greatest city, my hometown? It’s fine, but it needs more yacht channels. Fifth Avenue, now wouldn’t that make — you know, we almost made it happen with Sandy, but let’s try harder next time.”
  • Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado: “Florida needs more Keys, anyway. Big, beautiful Keys!”
  • Atlantic City Mayor Don Guardian: “Make America Great Again. Other countries, China, they settle for fun-size tides. In America, we do king tides!”
  • Texas Gov. Greg Abbott: “Unbearable heatwaves? As I wrote in Art of the Deal, you’re not thinking positively enough. Incredible heatwaves! I’ll move my steak factory to Dallas, and we’ll make sure those fantastic steaks never go undercooked again.”

chard fought battle

More peas or less Pepsi? Researchers compare how food policies could save lives.

The United States could prevent 150,000 deaths from cardiovascular diseases by 2030 with a subsidy that cuts produce prices by 10 percent, a new study finds. In comparison, a 10 percent soda tax could save 31,000 lives from the leading cause of mortality in the U.S.

Of course, the findings show just one slice of the rhubarb pie and don’t consider other impacts or incentives. More affordable kohlrabi would likely lower diabetes and cancer rates, too. A soda tax would bring in revenue while a 10 percent produce subsidy could be costly to implement.

And then there’s the effect on what we grow. The researchers found that the fruit and vegetable subsidy would increase produce consumption by 14 percent. A more diversified U.S. agriculture system that saves thousands of lives? It’s enough to almost make you salivate over crop-neutral insurance. Almost.


Cold Comfort

Flint residents are still fighting for their lives.

On Wednesday, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette filed involuntary manslaughter charges against five public officials for their role in the death of Robert Skidmore, who was diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease stemming from the city’s water crisis. Those charged are the head of Michigan’s health department, the manager of Flint’s public works department, the city’s emergency manager, and two state environmental regulators.

While the courts begin to punish government officials for their contributions to Flint’s tainted water, the city’s residents are still living with the consequences.

Residents were recently informed that tests conducted since 2014 may have underestimated blood-lead levels due to faulty equipment — an issue that will cause repercussions in East Chicago and other lead-contaminated locales.

“This throws a monkey wrench in the whole system,” Jerome Paulson, a pediatric and environmental health specialist at George Washington University, told Undark magazine.

Earlier this week, residents delivered messages in bottles to Gov. Rick Snyder and Schuette, detailing what the state government owes the people of Flint.

“My 34-year-old daughter died,” read one letter. “There is no amount of money that can take back the sleepless nights spent worrying about my son’s speech or the amount of hair I have lost,” read another.


brrr, it's cold in here

A climate research expedition was halted by … climate change.

On the first leg of a 133-day voyage through Hudson Bay, a team of Canadian scientists faced an obstacle: too much ice.

The researchers had set off for the Arctic in an icebreaker, a boat specially designed to navigate frozen seas, to study climate change and public health in remote communities through the University of Manitoba. But abnormally icy conditions near the Strait of Belle Isle forced the ship to change course to help break ice for smaller boats boxed in off the coast of Eastern Canada.

After the diversion, the team canceled the first part of the trip, but the scientists stuck around to test the ice that upended their original plan. They suspect that the dense ice traveled from the northern High Arctic as a result of climate change.

According to the Canadian Coast Guard, the glacial situation (and, we might add, the research team’s surprise rescue mission) was highly unusual for the Newfoundland region.

“The requirements for search and rescue trumped the requirements for science,” David Barber, the lead scientist, told Canada’s CBC News. How funny — science keeps getting Trumped here in the States, too!


Reverse Robin Hood

Barring a miracle, Republicans will cut food for the hungry.

Congressional Republicans have wanted to slash the food stamp program for a long time, but for the last eight years President Barack Obama mostly stood in their way.

Now, that restraint has been replaced with a goad. Trump announced plans for even deeper cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) last month. Those cuts could come this year in a budget bill or next year when legislators craft a new farm bill.

Under Obama, SNAP survived with relatively small cuts, but even those were enough to affect lives. Consider the woman Arthur Delaney found for a story in the Huffington Post:

“After those changes, Judy Beals of Belleville, Wisconsin, saw her benefit drop from $120 per month to $16 ― the minimum benefit. The 67-year-old retiree said she’s been eating once a day.”

Some 43 million people receive food stamps, roughly one out of every eight Americans. Cutting money from food stamps likely means many more of them will have to skip a meal.

If there’s any silver lining for the poor here, it can be found in improving economic conditions. There are some 8 million fewer people struggling to feed their families than when Obama first became president.


bad apple

Actually, Apple’s shiny new office park isn’t that cool.

There’s been much high-profile gushing over the spaceship-in-Eden–themed campus that Apple spent six years and $5 billion building in Silicon Valley, but it turns out techno-utopias don’t make great neighbors.

“Apple’s new HQ is a retrograde, literally inward-looking building with contempt for the city where it lives and cities in general,” writes Adam Rogers at Wired, in an indictment of the company’s approach to transportation, housing, and economics in the Bay Area.

The Ring — well, they can’t call it The Circle — is a solar-powered, passively cooled marvel of engineering, sure. But when it opens, it will house 12,000 Apple employees, 90 percent of whom will be making lengthy commutes to Cupertino and back every day. (San Francisco is 45 miles away.)

To accommodate that, Apple Park features a whopping 9,000 parking spots (presumably the other 3,000 employees will use the private shuttle bus instead). Those 9,000 cars will be an added burden on the region’s traffic problems, as Wired reports, not to mention that whole global carbon pollution thing.

You can read Roger’s full piece here, but the takeaway is simple: With so much money, Apple could have made meaningful improvements to the community — building state-of-the-art mass transit, for example — but chose to make a sparkly, exclusionary statement instead.


Nothing Is Weird Anymore

What has Elon Musk been up to since ditching Trump’s advisory councils?

Musk, the founder of Tesla, Space-X, and artificial intelligence company OpenAI, very publicly quit presidential councils on both the economy and manufacturing jobs shortly after President Trump announced the United States’ departure from the Paris Agreement.

Since then, Musk has been keeping busy with the following activities:

1. Announcing new Tesla projects with billion-dollar pricetags and extremely ambitious timelines. The most costly of these plans, reports Forbes, is the proposed construction of 10 to 20 new Gigafactories to manufacture lithium-ion batteries.

2. Tweeting Elon Thoughts both inscrutable and paranoid:

3. Landing a lucrative contract for aeronautics company Space-X with the Department of Defense, to help expand U.S. military spy operations into the extraterrestrial. Bloomberg reports that the new gig is a “key source of income for Musk’s company.”

Last week, Vox posited that Musk’s departure from the presidential councils could endanger his companies’ standing with government clients such as NASA. Unfounded concerns, apparently.


from your mouth to bears ears

The Trump administration may shrink Bears Ears national monument.

In a leaked weekend report to President Trump, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke claimed the current boundaries of the 1.3-million-acre monument did not mesh with the Antiquities Act’s provision to designate “the smallest area compatible” with protecting cultural and historical sites.

In its 111-year history, the Antiquities Act has been used to designate over 150 monuments. At times, presidents have also used it to diminish existing monuments. But according to EarthJustice attorney Heidi McIntosh, a 1976 law made it clear that only Congress has that authority. If Trump acts on Zinke’s recommendations, McIntosh says he will “no doubt” face an onslaught of legal backlash questioning his authority — an echo of other administration battles, like the travel ban.

“It won’t be the first time they’ve taken an expansive view of their authority only to be struck down by the court,” McIntosh says.

The recommendations come as part of an ongoing review of national monuments, requested by Trump.