Archive for February, 2017

Action Alert: Help Stop a Destructive Railroad in its Tracks

Tuesday, February 28th, 2017

UPDATE 3/9/2017: Victory! Trinity County Transportation Commission voted 4:1 against the railroad study. 50 locals spoke against the project and 4 out-of-towners spoke in favor of the study.

Take Action! Tell the Trinity Board of Supervisors to reject wasting taxpayer money on a fruitless railroad study.

The Trinity Board of Supervisors, sitting in special session as the Trinity County Transportation Commission, is set to decide on whether to spend $355,000—$276,000 of which coming from you, the taxpayer—on a feasibility study for a proposed railroad connecting Eureka to the west with Gerber, CA to the east. This proposed rail line would be an ecological and fiscal disaster. Let’s stop this bad idea in its tracks. So far, the Trinity Board of Supervisors has only heard from rail fans, a loud but small group. Now it’s time for them to hear from the rest of us! Tell the Trinity Board of Supervisors to reject wasting taxpayer money on a fruitless railroad study.

An east-west railroad has already been extensively studied, starting way back in the 1909 Lentell study and ending with the 2013 study produced for the Humboldt Bay Harbor, Recreation and Conservation District. Rail fans insist that these previous studies are inadequate or biased and therefore we need to look at the problem again. Evidently, rail proponents will not be content until a study concludes what they want to hear.

Based on the previous railroad studies, here are four quick reasons why funding this study is a bad idea:

(1) The railroad would be an ecological disaster

Trains are often billed as a “green” form of transportation, but developing this rail line would be an ecological disaster. All feasible routes would need to run across or near important rivers, such as the Trinity, Mad, Van Duzen and others—many of which are designated as “Wild and Scenic”—and are expected to produce significant sediment and other pollution. All feasible routes would impact existing wilderness areas or would run through potential future wilderness areas.

A rail line would only be economically feasible with a massively developed Humboldt Bay. As one of the most important stops in the Pacific Flyway and a critical aquatic ecosystem home to engendered fish, such as coho salmon and eulachon, Humboldt Bay is a unique ecological treasure. The development necessary to make Humboldt Bay a major West Coast port is extreme and would spoil the bay’s natural beauty and ecological integrity.

Coal is one commodity that may be shipped to Humboldt Bay for export to China. (Indeed, coal trains are one of the presumptive types of trains used in a previous feasibility study.) Coal trains are known polluters—leaving long plumes of coast dust in their wake—they have been sued for violating the Clean Water Act violation, and are the issue of carbon emissions from the export of coal.

(2) The railroad would serve a non-existent market

In short, even if a rail line existed, a port at Humboldt Bay would not make much sense. First, the bay itself is not conducive to the large transport ships in vogue. Rail proponents highlight that Humboldt Bay is one of the few deepwater harbors along the West Coast. However, this ignores the substantial work that would need to be done to get the harbor in condition to handle large boats. The bay would need to be dredged to a deep depth and the construction of large docks and other infrastructure would be necessary. Similarly, the narrowness of the Samoa Peninsula would limit the amount of rail traffic, reducing its feasibility.

Second, other competitive disadvantages—the amount of traffic necessary to generate sufficient net revenue to pay for the line (among the largest amount of volume on the West Coast), the lack of advantage in rail distance in comparison to other ports, the connection only to the Union Pacific line and not the BNSF line—outweigh whatever advantages Humboldt Bay offers. As the most recent feasibility study concludes, “development of rail service to Humboldt County is likely to be both high cost and high risk.”

(3) The railroad would cost a fortune to build and to maintain

No matter the alignment, the rail line would cost over a billion dollars, with a cost per mile generally over five million dollars. Maintenance costs would also be huge. Given the challenging geology, the most recent feasibility study anticipates annual costs of $90,000 per mile and a cumulative sum of $18-20 million. These same high operating costs were the deathblow to the rail line that once ran along the Eel River. Why would this be any different today?

All of this is at a time when Caltrans struggles to maintain our existing roadways. Access to the coast is constantly at risk, from Last Chance Grade, which is slipping into the sea, to Highway 299, which seems to be constantly under siege from the nearby mountain. Let’s work on fixing our existing infrastructure before spending a huge amount on a risky railroad.

(4) Our geography would reduce train speeds to a crawl

It is no secret: the North Coast is a wild tangle of mountains and rivers. This unique geography makes getting to the coast difficult—as evidenced by the routine closures of our major highways and the failure of previous rail lines. (This geography also makes this place a lovely and interesting place to live, but that’s for another day.) A fundamental issue facing an east/west rail line is our geology. The steep slopes would require many miles of twisting tracks to switchback up hills. Previous feasibility studies limited the average speed that could safely be achieved at 25 mph, a snail’s pace. In fact, the pace is so slow, and the distance so long, that halfway to its final destination, there would need to be a pit stop for crews to shift. And forget about passenger rail—can you imagine how torturous that ride would be?

The past feasibility studies proved that a railway of that size and distance is audacious and unnecessary.


Intersectional Ecofeminism: Environmentalism for Everybody

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

chipko-tree-huggersThe Women’s March was certainly a resounding and inspiring event. An estimated 2.5 million people around the world peacefully marched in solidarity for various women’s and social rights issues against the rhetoric of the newfound federal administration. Having attended the march in Eureka, I must admit I was astounded by the diversity of issues and people whom which were present. It was certainly a spectacle, and aimed to leave the crowd with a warm and fuzzy feeling to last them the next news day.

The Women’s March made an impression on everyone, but not without some important critiques. The success of the march set the precedent for the Science March, Peoples Climate March, and any other future collective efforts. However, one important question lingered as the crowds dissipated: was the mainstream feminist movement finally ready to treat the perspectives and experiences of womyn of differing races, sexes, and classes with the same gravity of those as their counterparts—and what does this mean for environmentalist movements whom have been historically female driven?

For the past 60 years, women have comprised some of the most powerful voices within the environmentalist movement. Consider Rachel Carson and her influential book Silent Spring, the Chipko movement ,Vandana Shiva’s and Wangari Maathai’s decades of advocacy— and more recently, Majora Carter of Sustainable South Bronx, Dakota Access Sacred Stone Campground founder and water protector LaDonna Brave Bull Allard, and local favorites Julia Butterfly Hill, Judi Bari, and Alicia Littletree Bales. EPIC has its own series of powerful women such as our co-founder Cecilia Lanman, and long time attorney Sharon Duggan.

Feminism is universally understood as a movement for women (but men can be feminists too!). Unfortunately, that often means that the needs and wants of privileged cis (people whose gender identity matches assigned sex) white ladies get addressed, and the experiences and voices of trans womyn, indigenous womyn, womyn of color, poor womyn, and womyn with disabilities is often ignored. In comparison, female driven environmentalist movements are predominately rooted in ecofeminist theories, which incorporate a wide range of intersectional concerns for all identifying women—including trans and non-gender conforming experiences.

Historically, marginalized groups have been on the front lines of extreme weather due to climate change—like the thousands of displaced families after Hurricane Katrina and the earthquakes in Haiti. Underdeveloped or low-income agriculture communities are more likely to be subject to unlawful work conditions, and are typically the first to interact with toxins and harmful pesticides— communities like Kettlmen, CA, where toxins in water runoff and water pollution caused a swarm of birth effects and miscarriages. People of color have been discriminated in legal systems making it more difficult to combat poor water quality or air pollution—like the water crisis in Flint Michigan. However, despite these difficulties, these communities are also the ones who are doing the most work to mitigate the consequences of environmental harm.

ecofemToday’s environmental issues stem broader than just our waterways and forests. Like traditional feminism, ecofeminism personifies various definitions, but acts as a perspective that looks at environmental issues through a social justice lens, and critically analyzes how the effects of environmental degradation and climate change affects marginalized groups more intensely. Ecofeminism finds parallels in which the environment and women are treated in our contemporary society. In many instances women and nature are viewed one in the same. Karen J. Warren illustrated this concept in Ecofeminism: Women, Culture, Nature: “Women are described in animal terms as pets, cows, sows, foxes, chicks, serpents, bitches, beavers, old bats, old hens, mother hens, pussycats, cats…‘Mother Nature’ is raped, mastered, conquered, mined; her secrets are ‘penetrated’…Virgin timber is felled, cut down; fertile soil is tilled, and land that lies ‘fallow’ is ‘barren,’ useless.” Ecofeminism unveils oppressive societal structures such as racism, classism, and sexism and how they play a significant role in the health of the environment—often because the same systems that are in place to oppress women and minorities are also exploiting the environment.

Applying ecofeminism is the blending of biocentric and anthropocentric concerns. For example, when discussing the harmful effects of the LNG pipeline along the Klamath River, don’t just think of the effects of the ecosystem and the fisheries—dig deeper and consider the communities who live close to the river, such as the various native communities like The Karuk and Yurok Tribes—and then dig even deeper and consider how polluted water negatively impacts their health and cultural traditions.

This perspective allows you to practice and identify with all social justice movements. If you identify as an ecofeminist you’re not only a feminist, but also a universal ally for environmentalism, civil rights, LGBTQ rights, and any other movement that aims to reinforce the needs of marginalized groups —and that is the beauty of intersectional ecofeminism.

The Women’s March represented a catalyst for mainstream feminism. The popular “we are one”, and “all lives matter” rhetoric is counter productive, and negates the experiences of the disproportionately marginalized groups. Those granted privilege whether it be gender, race, or socioeconomic class must understand and be empathic to the communities whom suffer the most when it hits the fan. Those who have privilege must use it for good, and advocate with and on behalf of our fellow communities. Educate yourself, share dialogue with others who may have never heard of the word feminism or intersectionality, and dare I say… initiate that hard conversation with your Trump supporter friend/ family member to help them see the other side of the spectrum.


Photo courtesy of Mark Larson. Times-Standard “Anti-pipeline marches held at local Wells Fargo banks” 1/28/17

Simply put: Feminism, environmentalism, and the LGBTQ movement wouldn’t be where it is today if it wasn’t for low income women of color at the front and center of it all. Therefore, any event that affects these communities should not only concern you—but gain your advocacy and action.

EPIC Speaks up for Northwest California Forests

Wednesday, February 22nd, 2017

rob-air-resources-boardEPIC’s California Forest and Wildlife Advocate made the trip down to the Central Valley to be present in the halls of Sacramento politics and decision-making last week, to represent the voice of Northwest California’s forests. On Thursday, February 16, Rob spent the day at the California Environmental Protection Agency building in downtown Sacramento, attending a meeting of the California Air Resources Board, and an inter-agency workshop on the Draft California Forest Carbon Plan. The Air Resources Board has been charged by the State Legislature with developing and implementing California’s aggressive and innovative policies to combat and adapt to global and regional climate change.

On the morning of February 16, the Air Resources Board heard an update from its staff on the development of the 2017 Scoping Plan Update for attainment of greenhouse gas reduction targets established by the State Legislature last fall by the passage of SB 32, which calls on the state to reduce GHG emissions to 20 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2030. In the afternoon, an inter-agency hearing and workshop was held to take public input on the Draft California Forest Carbon Plan, released on January 17, 2017, which is intended to be the roadmap for how California forests are managed into the future to augment California’s overall GHG reduction and carbon dioxide storage (or “sequestration”) targets.

Action Alert: Congress Threatens Public Input for BLM Lands

Friday, February 17th, 2017

Headwaters Forest Reserve 20 Anniversary Hike

Take Action Now: The Senate is considering S.J. Res 15, a resolution to overturn the Bureau of Land Management’s “Planning 2.0” land-use planning rule, which gives the public a voice in large-scale planning for public lands. If the resolution is passed, public input in the management of our public lands would be drastically limited. the U.S. House of Representatives already voted in favor of the resolution, and the Senate will be voting any day. Senators need to hear that we value our public lands and we should have a say in how these lands are managed.

The BLM manages over 245 million acres of land mostly within Western states, with over 15.2 million acres in California, and 86,000 acres in Humboldt County alone, including the King Range National Conservation Area and the Headwaters Forest Reserve.

Arcata and Redding BLM Field Offices are currently undergoing their Resource Management Plan updates for managing 20-25 years out, and they have combined updates to create a more regional approach for Northwest California planning, which is referred to as the Northwest California Integrated Resource Management Plan.

Hunters, anglers and conservationists support Planning 2.0 because the rule ensures important migration corridors and other intact habitats are identified so these areas can be conserved throughout the planning process.

Click here to send a letter to your Senators asking them to preserve public participation in the planning process for public lands by voting no on S.J. Res 15. Its best if you personalize your letter to reflect your experiences and highlight the places you care about.

OR for those of you in California, please send your comments to the email addresses below, or call:
Senator Feinstein’s office: 202-224-3841
Senator Harris’s office: 415-355-9041 and 202-224-3553

Six Facts About Trump’s Supreme Court Pick

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

gorsuchDonald Trump’s pick for the Supreme Court has gotten a lot of attention for his impressive credentials—with degrees from Columbia, Oxford, and Harvard Law—and snappy legal writing. But being smart doesn’t mean that you will be a good Supreme Court Justice. (See Antonin Scalia.) Looking specifically at Gorsuch’s environmental record, EPIC notices four concerning facts about Trump’s SCOTUS pick and two potential reasons for hope.

(1) He resents public interest legal organizations, like EPIC.

Before he was a judge, Neil Gorsuch published an inflammatory article in the National Review, which claimed that “liberals” were abusing the court system in the fight for social reform: “American liberals have become addicted to the courtroom, relying on judges and lawyers rather than elected leaders and the ballot box, as the primary means of effecting their social agenda on everything from gay marriage to assisted suicide to the use of vouchers for private-school education.”

He may have well been writing about EPIC. Litigation is one of the most important tools in EPIC’s toolbox, and one that we have wielded with great result—from establishing that timber harvest plans need to consider cumulative effects in EPIC v. Johnson to advancing protection for the habitat of endangered species in Marbled Murrelet, to name a few.

Instead of relying on the courts, Gorsuch offers his “friendly” advice to groups like EPIC: achieve your aims through political advocacy.

(2) He is opposed to campaign finance laws.

Gorsuch is on record that political contributions are a form of speech. And as speech, laws that restrict this right to “free speech” should be subject to the highest form of constitution protection, known as “strict scrutiny.” This faulty line of argument is the backing behind major cases, such as Citizens United, which fundamentally undermine our democracy by giving louder “voices” to moneyed interests.

(3) Gorsuch is a foe of federal regulation

If Scalia had one thing going for him, he understood the importance of federal regulation, and afforded appropriate deference to agency rulemaking. Of course, this cuts both ways, as agencies promulgate rules that work both for and against the environment. But given that the bulk of federal environmental law has its roots in agency rules, a relative hands-off approach by the judiciary is a good thing.

Scalia was a strong proponent of the Chevron doctrine, a principle of federal administrative law that gave agency’s deference to interpreting ambiguous or vague statutory language. Gorsuch shows his greatest ideological difference from Scalia in his opposition to Chevron deference. Gorsuch has staked a lonely position among the judiciary, calling for the abolition of Chevron deference, writing, “We managed to live with the administrative state before Chevron. We could do it again.”

Gorsuch’s position is hostile to an active and engaged federal government. EPIC stands with federal administrative law, warts and all.

(4) His mom was anti-environment EPA Administrator.

Environmental antipathy may well run in Gorsuch’s blood. Gorsuch’s mother, Anne M. Gorsuch, was head of the EPA under President Reagan. As EPA Administrator, Anne Gorsuch was more focused on gutting the agency, by slashing the budget by 22% and erasing EPA regulations, than protecting the environment (you know, her job). Because of allegations that she was mismanaging the Superfund program Anne Gorsuch was ordered by Congress to turn over records. She refused and was held in contempt of Congress, and later resigned. Reagan was then forced to bring back William Ruckelshaus, the EPA’s first administrator.

Surely, Neil Gorsuch shouldn’t be held accountable for the sins of his mother. But it makes EPIC wonder: does the apple fall far from the tree?

Two reasons why Gorsuch might be okay.

(1) He is a Westerner and avid outdoorsman

Gorsuch is a fourth-generation Coloradoan. He is also an outdoorsman, who lists rowing, skiing, and fly-fishing as his passions. At his home outside of Denver, Gorsuch and his family raise horses, chickens and goats.

Our greatest environmental Supreme Court Justice, William O. Douglas, also held a fondness for the outdoors. A fellow Westerner, Douglas was a fierce advocate for environmental protection. It is possible that Gorsuch will become an advocate for the environment once he is on the highest bench and draw upon his love of the outdoors, but such radical transformations are rare in our Court’s history.

(2) He sided with enviros…once

Gorsuch appears to be a skeptic of the “dormant commerce clause,” which may have some positive implications for local and state environmental laws. The dormant commerce clause—so-called because it exists nowhere within the Constitution but can, supposedly, be inferred from the “Commerce Clause”—stands for the principle that a state is prohibited from passing legislation that improperly burdens or discriminates against interstate commerce. The dormant commerce clause has acted as an impediment against state environmental laws as they can impact interstate commerce.

In 2015, Gorsuch was on a three judge panel that upheld a Colorado law that required a certain percentage of power come from renewable sources. Coal producers challenged the law, as the law could diminish coal power and therefore coal producers.

(While Gorsuch’s position may be pro-environment here, its ideological roots—hostility to things not explicitly in the constitution—perhaps foreshadows his opinion on the “right to privacy,” found nowhere but in the “penumbras” of the Constitution. The right to privacy is the underpinning of federal judicial law protecting a woman’s right to choose, family planning, and other intimate areas of life.)

Timber Program Under Fire from Environmental Watchdogs

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

DSC00641Lawsuit Alleges CalFire Fails to Meet Climate Change Obligation

Continuing decades of vigilance to protect California’s forests, the Environmental Protection Information Center and Sierra Club submitted arguments to the California First District Court of Appeals in support of efforts to set aside a logging plan near the town of Albion in Mendocino County. EPIC and Sierra Club present arguments to show that the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CalFire) is failing to protect our forests against the impacts of climate change, and is not vigilant in its duty to limit carbon dioxide emissions while ensuring that our forests sequester carbon.

CalFire is charged with the regulation and administration of California’s private forestlands to ensure that whatever logging is done, it is done in a manner that protects the environment. The Legislature has made abundantly clear that CalFire is to regulate California’s forests to ensure that they are a net “sink” of carbon, capturing more carbon than they emit—imperative in California’s fight to mitigate climate change. New research has shown, however, that under CalFire’s watch, our forests are providing less carbon sequestration, not more.[1]

“CalFire is failing to undertake the basic steps to ensure that our forests are providing the benefits we need to protect California against the impacts of climate change,” said Rob DiPerna, Forest and Wildlife Advocate for EPIC. “CalFire’s decision-making fails to undertake the necessary and rigorous analysis to ensure that greenhouse gas emissions are limited and our forests continually increase their capacity to store carbon. Instead, and despite legislative directives, CalFire continues to accept logging plans based on a lack of credible science and evidence. It’s time the agency took climate change seriously.”

In the challenged logging plan approval, without providing an analysis of the cumulative impacts of the logging, CalFire instead relied upon speculative future tree growth projections by the timber harvest plan applicant, to conclude that even though the logging plan would generate greenhouse gases, those impacts would be offset by unsupported future growth estimates. Rather than provide analysis and an accounting, CalFire simply expects the court to trust it.

“By rubberstamping logging applications, CalFire fails to ensure that California’s forests work for all Californians,” said DiPerna. “California needs to be a leader in combatting the effects of climate change, and this means CalFire needs to step up to the plate and provide credible science and analysis before it gives the green light to logging plans.”

EPIC and Sierra Club filed their amicus brief, or “friend of the court” brief, to support the Forest Preservation Society, who has challenged the logging plan approval. EPIC and the Sierra Club ask the First District Court find that CalFire prejudicially abused its discretion and set aside the logging plan.

[1] Gonzalez, Patrick, et al. “Aboveground live carbon stock changes of California wildland ecosystems, 2001–2010.” Forest Ecology and Management 348 (2015): 68-77.

Speak Up for the Future of California’s Forests

Wednesday, February 8th, 2017

tall-trees-trail-rdTake Action: California’s forests aren’t what they used to be. Since the early days of European contact and settlement, destructive logging of our old-growth forests, combined with forest fragmentation, fire exclusion, and conversion of once-diverse native forests to over-dense, under-developed plantations have left much of California’s forests in a state of disrepair.

In the Southern Sierra-Nevada, the combination of logging, plantations, fire exclusion, and now drought, beetle infestation and a rapidly changing climate have led to the unprecedented die-off that some estimate has claimed the lives of some 100 million trees.

Here in the range of the coast redwoods, past, largely unregulated logging of our old-growth forests and conversion of large tracts to industrial sapwood fiber farm plantations have resulted in the total biomass or live woody material, in our forests being reduced to at best 10-15 percent of historic levels. Redwoods are among the longest-lived tree species on earth, are the tallest trees on earth, and grow in some of the most productive forest sites on earth, both in terms of biomass, and the ability to store carbon dioxide in amounts unparalleled anywhere else on earth. Yet even today, industrial timberland owners in the range of the coast redwoods still employ clearcutting to maximize short-term economic value at the expense of the long-term productivity of our forests, and at the expense of our ability to combat and adapt to global and regional climate change.

On January 17, 2017, the State of California’s Forest Climate Action Team (FCAT) commissioned by Governor Brown, released a public review draft of the California Forest Carbon Plan, which is slated to be used as the state-wide roadmap for reducing forest-related greenhouse gas emissions and increase state-wide carbon dioxide storage to assist in meeting state-wide objectives for reducing California’s overall greenhouse gas emissions footprint to 80 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2050.

The Draft Forest Carbon Plan fails to make the grade in several critical ways. First, it continues to perpetuate the myth that manufactured wood products taken out of the forest and run through mills and sent to lumber yards are just as good at storing carbon dioxide long-term as woody biomass and trees left alive, green, and growing in our forests. Second, the Plan relies heavily on the tree mortality crisis in the Southern Sierra-Nevada to justify massive increases in prescribed thinning to remove dead and dying trees and conversion of these into biomass fuel. Meanwhile, the Plan recommends no changes to private lands forest management strategies that have, and continue to contribute to the problems of over-dense, under-productive and unhealthy forest conditions. Finally, the Plan’s regional implementation fails entirely to consider the ability of our coast redwood forests to store increasing amounts of carbon dioxide if managed properly moving into the future; recent research conducted via Humboldt State University confirms that our old-growth coast redwood forests are storing more carbon dioxide per-ace than any other forests on earth. This fact is not considered, and the study is not even included or referenced in the Plan’s analysis.

Take Action:

Tell the FCAT Team you like your carbon dioxide stored in living, breathing, growing trees, not in sapwood fiber-farm fence-posts, decking, and houses. Tell the FCAT Team that forest management changes must be made commensurate with restoration and thinning to reduce die-off and abate fire risk to ensure restoration and maintenance of long-term forest health and diversity. Tell the FCAT Team you want a real long-term plan that ensures regional implementation that takes into the account the unique and critical role our coast redwood forests can and must play in storing carbon dioxide and abating and adapting to global and regional climate change.