Public Lands

Keystone XL Pipeline is NOT a Done Deal – Send Trump a Message

Starting with support for the rally in Washington DC in February 2013, Pittsburgh’s environmental community has seen the Keystone XL Pipeline as a major symbol of what is wrong with our national energy policy. Citing climate change, on Sept. 6, 2015 President Obama rejected the pipeline. Since then we have opposed the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline. On January 24 President Trump signed an executive order that reopens the discussion of whether these pipeline should be built or completed, much to the consternation of groups like the Sierra Club.

Because the actual consequences of Trump’s action are unclear, sending a personal message to President Trump will be timely.

Why there is uncertainty about Trump’s executive order is explained by Duncan Meisel of 350.org:

  • He did *not* approve Keystone XL or Dakota Access. He briefly succeeded in confusing a lot of people on this point
  • On DAPL he told the Army Corps of Engineers to “consider” revoking the environmental review placed on it by the Obama Administration.
  • On Keystone XL, he invited TransCanada to re-apply and if they do, mandated a final decision on the pipeline within 60 days and waived input from environmental agencies.
  • And when TransCanada does re-apply, they no longer have permits in Nebraska, and their permits in South Dakota are being challenged.
  • Trump also placed conditions on approval of the pipelines — like limiting oil exports, and determining where the steel comes from — that the oil companies might not accept.

State Forests Given Stronger Protection from Drilling

Just a few days after his inauguration in January 2015 Gov. Tom Wolf issued an executive order placing a moratorium on additional gas drilling on the state owned forest land, stating that “subject to future advice and recommendations made by DCNR, no State Park and State Forest Lands owned and/or managed by DCNR shall be leased for oil and gas development.”

In the newly announced 2016 resource management plan based in part on public input the DCNR states that it will actively purchase and exchange real estate interests to acquire subsurface oil, gas and mineral rights to conserve state forest and state park lands. As expected, industry sources have opposed this latest move by the Wolf administration

Obama Forms the World’s Largest Marine Sanctuary

On August 26 President Obama expanded the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument (PMNM) off the northwest coast of Hawaii to create the world’s largest marine protected area. In what might be the last part of the most remarkable conservation record of any president, this quadrupling of the area first established by President George Bush in 2006 now covers 582,578 sq. miles of ocean and atolls.

Although the expanded PMNM is now the world’s largest ocean sanctuary, at twice the size of Texas, it is worth noting that it provides protection for less than half of one percent of the Earth’s oceans. Fortunately, the expansion of the PMNM is among a surge of new or expanded marine sanctuaries recently created around the world.

As the National Geographic remarked: “Papahānaumokuākea is a sanctuary for endangered species, including blue whales, short-tailed albatrosses, sea turtles, and the last Hawaiian monk seals. It contains some of the world’s northernmost and healthiest coral reefs, considered among the most likely to survive in an ocean warmed by climate change. The seamounts and sunken islands of its deeper waters are inhabited by more than 7,000 species, including the oldest animals on Earth—black corals that have lived for more than 4,000 years.

New National Monument Protects Maine Woods

One day before forming the world’s largest marine sanctuary off Hawaii, President Obama created a national monument a little closer to home. Under his authority granted by the Antiquities Act of 1906, the President created the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument to be managed by the National Park Service in Maine. Lying east of the Baxter State Park and protecting the East Branch of the Penobscot River (see map), the latest National Monument consists of five parcels of forest land totaling 87,500 acres in Maine’s North Woods. Marking the centennial of the National Parks (see video), and following much dispute, the land is a gift of Roxanne Quimby, founder of the beauty aids company Burt’s Bees.

Democratic Party Platform – Mainly Good, but Some Misses

The 2016 Democratic Party Platform is being hailed as the most progressive ever, and for environmentalists there are some gains. Compared to the GOP platform there is strong recognition of the dangers of climate change, and support for the Clean Air Plan as well as the COP21 agreement, no drilling off the Atlantic coast and in the Arctic, no Keystone Pipeline, protection of public lands, all with a strong call for environmental justice.

However, there is no call for a ban on fracking, although the Halliburton loophole will be closed. The absence of opposition to the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) raises the question of just how strong is the stated opposition of Hillary Clinton to the TPP. The  environmental portion of  the platform is presented with bold highlighting.

Quebec Run Now Part of the Pennsylvania Wild Area Program

Since the late 1970s members of the Sierra Club have argued that the fairly rugged Quebec Run area on the eastern slope of Chestnut Ridge deserved formal protection as a wild area similar to the national Wilderness Areas on Allegheny NF. On June 28 the Dept. Conservation and Natural Resources formally designated five areas in the state Forest system as parts of the state Wild Area Program, including the 6,000 acre Quebec Run Wild Area in Forbes State Forest.

Commercialization Bill Threatens Our State Parks

ACTION: Send a message to your state legislator urging him to oppose H.B.2013.

Once again there is a move to introduce commercial operations into our state parks, including golf courses, amusement parks, and restaurants, to remedy the funding shortfall. A coalition of environmental organizations strongly opposes the move included in the legislation H.B.2013.

For some years Pennsylvania’s system of 117 state parks has suffered from a lack of funds. Today the Dept. of Conservation and Natural Resources relies on the Oil and Gas Lease Fund, but DCNR has consistently diverted those funds away from conservation and our parks, resulting in a backlog of projects to maintain existing facilities and assets.

In urging legislators to reject H.B.2013 and to consider sustainable funding that is more in line with the historical purpose of the park system, opponents point to the following flaws in the legislation;

  • Building new projects the public isn’t asking for.
  • Shifting park management from DCNR professionals to legislative appointees.
  • Increasing legislative pressure to advance politically motivated projects.
  • Reducing public input on state park project development.

Pittsburgh’s New, Wild, and Largest City Park

In a surprise and welcome move, on June 9 the City of Pittsburgh received a gift of 660-acres for what will become Pittsburgh’s largest park. The rugged undeveloped area includes the bluffs high above the Monongahela and across the river from Hazelwood.

When Charles Betters purchased the tract in 2003 he planned to build a horse-racing track, casino, shops, and residences atop the bluff, but first he needed to level the hill top and remove the coal. After strong opposition by residents and environmental groups the DEP permit was denied. Without the required approval for the casino, the project was abandoned in 2005. Since then Hays Woods has continued to mature, providing a quiet natural area for locals (hear audio), and home for a family of bald eagles.

Mayor Bill Peduto deserves our thanks for negotiating this gift. Now the challenge is for the City to properly manage any development in the new park according to the sustainability models adopted by Phipps Conservancy and the new Environmental Center at Frick Park, while also ensuring preservation of the wild nature of this urban gem so close to the heart of Pittsburgh. For the interim, the Urban Development Authority will be responsible for development, and will need to hold public hearings.

Urge Senator Bob Casey to Help Expand Wilderness Protection on the Arctic Wildlife Refuge.

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The nation’s largest wildlife refuge is the 19 million acre Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) on the Alaskan shores of the Arctic Ocean. Established in 1960 and expanded in 1980, ANWR has long been the target of oil companies. To protect this fragile area with its abundance of wildlife, in January President Obama proposed providing Wilderness protection for 12 of the Refuge’s 19 million acres.

To further the President’s proposal, Sen. Michael Bennett (D-CO) introduced in the Senate S.2341 with 33 co-sponsors. Now is the time to urge Senator Bob Casey to help protect the pristine ANWR and co-sponsor S. 2341 by clicking HERE.

Obama Sets Aside Three National Monuments in Southern California

Mojave Trails National Monument

New Mojave Trails National Monument

On February 12 President Obama added three National Monuments to the nineteen Monuments that he has previously established under the Antiquities Act of 1906.  Applauded by conservationists, the Sand to Snow National Monument, Mojave Trails National Monument, and Castle Mountains National Monument  will permanently protect 1.8 million acres of Californian desert land, including parts of the Mojave Desert. All the Monuments  lie in San Bernardino and Riverside counties about one hour from the Los Angeles and Las Vegas metropolitan areas.

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