Briefly

Stuff that matters


Standing Rock

The security firm that tracked DAPL opponents denies providing illegal services.

Last week, North Carolina–based TigerSwan answered a lawsuit brought by the North Dakota Private Investigative and Security Board alleging it operated without a license for months during anti-pipeline protests.

In its filing, TigerSwan describes its business in North Dakota as “management consulting” as opposed to security work. While the firm admitted to making recommendations to local law enforcement, it claims it “did not undertake or furnish ‘private security service’ or ‘private investigative service’” in the state.

In early June, Grist and the Intercept published details from situation reports prepared by TigerSwan for its client, Energy Transfer Partners — the company constructing the Dakota Access Pipeline. The documents describe the firm’s military-style surveillance tactics against anti-pipeline activists and their allies during the protests. That month, a spokesperson for Energy Transfer Partners said it was no longer employing TigerSwan — though Louisiana later denied TigerSwan a license to work on another Energy Transfer Partners pipeline.

The North Dakota board sued TigerSwan in late June, seeking thousands of dollars in penalties. TigerSwan says the regulations referred to in the complaint are vague and asks for the court to dismiss the lawsuit.


green light

The NAACP is bringing renewable energy to communities of color.

Over the next year, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People will install solar panels on 20 households and 10 community centers, train 100 people in solar job skills, and push for equitable solar access policies in at least five states across the U.S.

“Underserved communities cannot be left behind in a clean energy transition,” Derrick Johnson, NAACP President and CEO, said in a statement about the new Solar Equity Initiative. “Clean energy is a fundamental civil right which must be available to all, within the framework of a just transition.”

The initiative began on Martin Luther King Jr. Day by installing solar panels on the Jenesse Center, a transitional housing program in L.A. for survivors of domestic abuse. The NAACP estimated that solar energy could save the center nearly $49,000 over the course of a lifetime, leaving more resources to go toward services for women and families.

Aside from the financial benefits, the NAACP points out that a just transition to clean energy will improve health outcomes. Last year, a report by the Clean Air Task Force and the NAACP found that black Americans are exposed to air nearly 40 percent more polluted than their white counterparts. Pollution has led to 138,000 asthma attacks among black school children and over 100,000 missed school days each year.

It’s just a start, but this new initiative could help alleviate the disproportionate environmental burdens that black communities face.


follow suit

Los Angeles schemes to sue major oil companies over climate change.

California has had a hell of a year: droughts, wildfires, and now, mudslides. As taxpayers shoulder the brunt of the state’s enormous disaster relief tab, two L.A. lawmakers say fossil fuel companies should take financial responsibility for climate change-related damages.

In a written proposal, L.A. city council members Mike Bonin and Paul Koretz say fossil fuel companies did “nothing to stop their destructive ways” even though they knew their actions exacerbated climate change. They request a meeting with city attorney Mike Feuer to assess the feasibility of pursuing legal action against oil and gas companies.

In addition, the proposal suggests filing a motion to bolster New York City’s lawsuit against five major oil companies. That case, filed last Tuesday, also looks to shift the costs of climate change back on the companies responsible for causing the damage.

San Francisco and Oakland filed similar lawsuits in September 2017, arguing that oil and gas companies have failed to curtail emissions despite evidence that “global warming has become gravely dangerous.”


interiority complex

Hey — everyone can get into national parks for free on Monday.

The Department of Interior is doing something that isn’t the worst! Happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Wait — the National Park Service had 16 free-entrance days in 2016. This year, there are just four. Plus, there are plans to nearly triple entrance fees at a bunch of the most popular national parks during peak season.

Let’s review what else the ol’ Interior Department has been up to lately.

A massive overhaul: On Wednesday, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke proposed the biggest reorganization in the department’s history. It would shuffle tens of thousands of workers to new locations, and divide up the department’s current state boundaries into 13 new regions, affecting more than 500 million acres of land and water.

A monumental change: President Donald Trump recently downsized two national monuments in Utah, and Zinke has recommended shrinking a bunch more. Cool.

A Christmas story: On Dec. 22, the Interior quietly rescinded a bunch of climate change policies issued by the Obama administration, Elizabeth Shogren reported. Apparently, the rules were “potential burdens” to energy development.

So, uh, between the proposed fee hikes and the concern that climate change is slowly taking away our parks’ namesake glaciers and forests, you might want to take advantage of those free-entrance days and visit America’s beautiful landscapes ASAP.


Polled move

Most Ohio conservatives want to pay for renewables and stop propping up coal.

A new poll from Republican polling firm Public Opinion Strategies surveyed Republican and independent voters in Ohio and found something surprising: A full 60 percent say they would support rules requiring more renewable energy production in Ohio. And 56 percent said they’d be willing to pay $5 or more per month for renewable energy. 

That’s not all! The poll shows that those same voters “definitely” or “totally” (which kind of sounds like the same thing …?) don’t want their money going toward keeping old coal plants operational. Two-thirds of conservatives polled oppose new fees to keep coal and nuclear plants online. Don’t believe me? Look at this chart!

Public Opinion Strategies

In sum: A majority of Ohio conservatives don’t want to fund coal and overwhelmingly support expanding renewable energy — and would be willing to pay more for it. So, why have state GOP lawmakers been trying to kill renewable energy standards and shore up old coal and nuclear plants in Ohio?

Contrary to what we’ve seen from the White House, clean energy is pretty popular with conservatives. Most Republicans have supported renewable energy development for years.


be sill my heart

Could we retrofit Antarctica’s glaciers to keep them from collapsing?

Here’s the idea: Build underwater barriers in front of the glaciers most vulnerable to collapse, keeping warm ocean water from sloshing in to melt them.

Princeton glaciology postdoc Michael Wolovick presented this concept at the American Geophysical Union conference in December, as the Atlantic reports.

The Antarctic glaciers Wolovick studies are subject to disastrous feedback loops: The more they melt, the more they are exposed to melt-inducing seawater. Recent studies have suggested these massive stores of ice could collapse much faster than previously thought, potentially raising sea levels by 5 to 15 feet by the end of the century (that’s seriously bad news for coastal cities).

Wolovick has been researching the feasibility of slowing that collapse with ‘sills’ constructed out of sand and rock along the fronts of these vulnerable glaciers. Unlike a seawall, they would be entirely underwater, but would keep warm ocean water from reaching a glacier’s vulnerable base.

That could stall glacial retreat dramatically, and maybe even reverse it. In Wolovick’s virtual experiments, even the least successful version of the sills slowed a glacier’s collapse by 400 or 500 years.

It’s all still a huge if, Wolovick admits, that requires more research. But if it works, it could buy some crucial time against sea-level rise.


stranger things

Puerto Rico’s power outage keeps getting weirder and more infuriating.

It turns out that the territory’s utility has been withholding supplies needed to restore power after Hurricane Maria.

In a tense, armed standoff last weekend, FEMA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers seized much-needed electrical equipment from a warehouse owned by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, Kate Aronoff reported for the Intercept. Governor Ricardo Rosselló said the Department of Justice is investigating the power utility after the incident.

The feds quickly distributed the seized materials to contractors — who were apparently spending their time watching movies in their trucks because they didn’t have the supplies they needed.

Because the energy infrastructure in Puerto Rico is more than twice as old as the rest of the United States, many of the parts needed to repair the damaged grid aren’t readily available and need to be manufactured. The lack of materials has contributed to the epically slow recovery on the island.

Needless to say, people are really pissed off. “Hundreds of thousands of families have been in the dark for more than 125 days, people keep dying, and businesses continue to close due to the lack of energy while the necessary spare parts were in the possession of PREPA,” Eduardo Bhatia, minority leader of the Senate of Puerto Rico, told the Intercept.

This week’s drama is just the latest in a string of mismanagement that has plagued the recovery process, including the canceled contract with Whitefish Energy.