Stuff that matters

It's The Economy, Stupid

Psst, Zinke — national monuments create jobs just the way they are!

Ahead of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s Thursday announcement regarding the fate of the bundle of national monuments under review, Democrats tried to level with the conservative on his own terms.

Joint Economic Committee Democrats created a packet of fact sheets urging Zinke to keep monuments as they are for their economic benefits. “Conservation of these lands creates an economic engine that can be sustained for generations,” said a statement from the office of Senator Martin Heinrich, the group’s ranking member.

The areas around national monuments benefit from substantial revenue from activities such as recreation, service jobs, and tourism, as the Committee’s report outlines. For example, travel and tourism account for 44 percent of private employment in the region surrounding Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante.

So far, Zinke has said he’d maintain designations for six of the 27 monuments. But he hasn’t yet revealed a final decision on contentious spots like Grand Staircase or Bears Ears, both in Utah.

Zinke’s June recommendations to President Trump hinted that Bears Ears might lose some of its land — despite that the majority of public comments implored DOI to leave the monument as it is.

Standing Rock

Security firm TigerSwan was paid to build a conspiracy lawsuit against DAPL protesters.

Energy Transfer Partners, the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline, brought on the paramilitary outfit to surveil pipeline opponents with the intent of mounting a racketeering case against Greenpeace and other activist organizations, say three former TigerSwan contractors who spoke to The Intercept.

The lawsuit alleges that environmental groups engineered the #noDAPL movement in order to garner donations by paying protestors and inciting them to commit criminal activity and domestic terrorism.

Greenpeace general counsel Tom Wetterer told The Intercept that the lawsuit “grossly distorts the law and facts at Standing Rock.” While he’s certain Energy Transfer Partners won’t win, he notes that “what they’re really trying to do is silence future protests.”

Earlier this year, Grist and the Intercept independently reported on leaked TigerSwan documents that revealed its targeting of activists as jihadists in an intrusive military-style surveillance campaign. Within a month, a North Dakota state agency filed a complaint against the firm for operating there without a license. And Louisiana later denied TigerSwan permission to work there.

A lawyer representing DAPL opponents suing law enforcement, alleging police brutality and civil rights violations, told the Associated Press that online reports about TigerSwan’s operations are only strengthening her clients’ case.

Mind the gap

The U.N. climate talks have a gender gap. Women plan to fix it.

Since women are disproportionately affected by climate change, it’s about time they get a bigger seat at the negotiating table.

The Women and Gender Constituency, a group that works to ensure women’s rights are embedded in U.N. negotiations, is pushing for a new gender action plan set to be approved on Friday at the climate talks in Bonn, Germany.

Little progress has been made since negotiators proposed a “gender balance” goal to boost female participation five years ago. (The U.N. process initially failed to include gender in its agenda.) A recent paper from the U.N. climate change secretariat shows that women made up 32 percent of conference delegates in 2015 and 2016, up only one percentage point from 2012.

In addition to meeting the goal of gender balance among climate change decision-makers, the new plan aims to allocate more funding to women (particularly in developing nations), create a rights-based platform for indigenous peoples and local communities, and ensure climate solutions are “gender-just.”

That would be progress. Assessments based on 2015 U.N. global population projections suggest that increased access to education and family planning for women and girls is the No. 1 method of reducing global emissions.

scientific method

Another side effect of Puerto Rico’s power problems: Scientists struggle to do their work.

Nearly two months after Hurricane Maria, public health researchers in Puerto Rico are limited by the same lack of power, clean water, and infrastructure they are there to study.

Puerto Rico–born José Cordero is one such scientist. In the journal Nature, he describes leading a team through the devastated landscape to collect data on how drinking water contamination affects pregnant women. The scientists have to hurry to finish their work everyday, before night falls across the largely powerless island. Limited telephone access makes it difficult to get in touch with subjects.

Cordero’s project started six years ago to focus on water pollution and pre-term births, but this year’s hurricane has changed both the focus and the level of difficulty of the work. Other researchers have been hampered by hospitals that can’t administer routine tests and hurricane-damaged equipment, making it difficult to collect data on how air and water pollution are affecting health.

Still, Cordero’s team has managed to contact several hundred woman and collect samples of groundwater and tap water from homes near flooded Superfund sites. As he told Nature: “The kind of work we’re doing … has to be done now, because a few years from now, it’s too late.”

Jerry, are you ok?

Jerry Brown said some kinda weird things on his Europe tour.

The California governor is currently touring Europe to talk about his pet cause: climate action. He’s representing multiple coalitions of state and local governments — the international Under2 Coalition and U.S. Climate Alliance — that are trying to push for the social reform and clean energy infrastructure that would achieve the climate goals put forward by the Paris Agreement.

Anyway! Brown’s tour — throughout which he’s taken a strong, critical stance against the type of lifestyle that’s put us in a climate crisis — culminated in the U.N. Climate Conference in Bonn, Germany. He sounds … in a bad way.

The Huffington Post reported that Brown insisted on some extreme soul-searching at the Vatican at the beginning of the month: “At the highest circles, people still don’t get it … We need a total, I might say ‘brain washing.’ We need to wash our brains out and see a very different kind of world.”

In the most recent days of the tour, things have gone a bit off the rails. Brown has declared that he does not “conceptualize the world” in terms of “joy,” conceded — after some harassment — that he enjoys the occasional bite of cheeseburger, and had to apologize for Donald Trump.

Governor … we relate.

Clean sweep

California may use 50 percent renewable electricity by 2020, a decade ahead of schedule.

While Trump tries to push the United States back toward fossil fuels, California, the seventh largest economy in the world, is embracing clean energy with better economic results.

More than a quarter of California’s electricity already comes from renewables, according to a report from the state’s Public Utilities Commission. That’s particularly impressive because California doesn’t count large hydropower dams or nuclear power in its definition of “renewable.” Add those, and the state is currently running on 45 percent clean energy.


The state’s three biggest investor-owned utilities are forecast to reach the 50 percent renewable goal in just three years.

So how did California do it? After the state told utilities they had to get more electricity from renewables — beginning in 2002 and ratcheting up with new laws in 2006, 2011, and 2015 — it triggered a building spree of wind and solar plants.

A boom in renewable-electricity generation. California Public Utilities Commission

Perhaps the only downside from the report is that, because the big utilities are on track to meet their goals, they’ve stopped investing as much in renewables. But it looks like California is getting ready to set higher goals again.

on again, off again

Puerto Rico JUST met the halfway mark to restoring power. Then the lights went out again.

On Wednesday morning, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló tweeted that power was back to 50 percent of utility customers. Shortly thereafter, a massive power outage swept San Juan.

The Cambalache Manatee 230KV line had failed — in fact, that was its second failure in less than a week. The high-voltage transmission line had been repaired by Whitefish Energy, a small Montana company initially awarded a controversial $300 million contract to repair Puerto Rico’s grid.

Though Rosselló canceled the Whitefish deal at the end of October, the contract requires Puerto Rico’s bankrupt electric authority to pay Whitefish for an additional 30 days of work after the cancellation, at a cost of millions of dollars. This week, a congressional investigation revealed that Puerto Rico’s utility ignored lawyers’ advice when it signed the contract, which failed to meet several FEMA standards.

Fifty-six days after Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico is still experiencing the longest blackout in U.S. history — and even where power has been restored, it keeps going out.