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Politics Secretary Haaland, Colorado's epic drought highlights the need to end fossil fuel extraction

02:06  24 july  2021
02:06  24 july  2021 Source:   thehill.com

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Haaland is a tribal citizen of the Laguna Pueblo, and the prospect of an Indigenous person leading the federal department with broad oversight of Native American affairs has galvanized support for her in Indian Country. Several Republican senators have grilled Haaland over her past comments opposing fracking, the At Tuesday’ s hearing, Republican senators grilled her about past comments opposing fracking, the Keystone XL oil pipeline and other fossil fuel projects. But she did have some Republican support. Republican Congressman Don Young of Alaska introduced Haaland before the committee

The new Secretary of the Interior is charged with carrying out Biden’ s pledge to end new leasing for oil-and-gas development on federal land. Fifteen House Republicans sent President Joe Biden a letter demanding that Haaland ’ s nomination be withdrawn, on the ground that her positions amount to “a rejection of responsible development of America’ s natural resources.” Senator John Barrasso, of Wyoming, said that her views are “squarely at odds with the responsible management” of public lands.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland is visiting Colorado this week so she can see up close how heat, drought and rampant fossil-fuel extraction have ravaged once-beautiful parts of our state.

a canyon with a mountain in the background: Secretary Haaland, Colorado's epic drought highlights the need to end fossil fuel extraction © Getty Images Secretary Haaland, Colorado's epic drought highlights the need to end fossil fuel extraction

When she returns to Washington, D.C., Haaland will have all the more evidence to support a ban on new oil and gas leases on public lands and a managed transition away from fossil fuels. The Biden administration's review of what drilling and fracking on public lands is doing to the climate, if done correctly, will show that any new extraction would run counter to climate science and catastrophic to the planet.

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Colorado ’ s oil and gas conflict flared as hundreds of people packed FirstBank Center on Tuesday night hoping to kill — or at least tame — a plan to drill 139 wells from four 8-acre pads near homes in Broomfield. Those opposed to Extraction Oil and Gas’ plan displayed a map showing one pad within 500 feet of a “There are some people who will always be opposed to any form of fossil fuel development no matter what,” Extraction spokesman Brian Cain said. “For those people who are in the middle, they’re doing the right thing by asking questions of operators who come into their communities.”

Haaland , a favorite among progressives, has come under scrutiny by conservatives for her stances on pipelines as well as on a controversial oil and gas extraction method called fracking. “I look forward to working with her to protect our public lands and ensure the responsible use of all our natural resources in a bipartisan manner,” he said. Manchin is not only the evenly split Senate’ s swing vote, he also chairs the committee that oversaw Haaland ’ s nomination, so his support is particularly crucial to her advancement.

On her first day in Colorado, Haaland spoke powerfully about the worsening drought conditions ravaging Colorado and the West.

"Drought doesn't just impact one community," she said. "It affects all of us, from farmers and ranchers to city dwellers and Indian tribes. We all have a role to use water wisely and manage our resources with every community in mind."

Without a doubt, water is the lifeblood of the North Fork Valley, where I live. The North Fork, on Colorado's Western Slope, is home to the state's largest concentration of organic farms. Our produce, wines and cheeses fill dinner plates and glasses in homes and restaurants across the West. But erratic frosts, prolonged droughts and extreme weather are making that harder to do.

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The ethical and financial case for fossil fuel divestment is well founded and has been supported by the president of the World Bank and the director-general of the World Health Organisation (WHO), both public health physicians. Through the political change it has helped catalyse, the same strategy played a vital role in the movements against apartheid and tobacco. Fossil fuels have caused an unbelievable amount of misery around the world including endless wars and health problems. There are alternatives and we need to divest from fossil fuels and invest in renewables.

Ending fossil fuel subsidies is a vital first step. Greenpeace US COO Ebony Martin addresses the crowd as a coalition of groups—including Greenpeace US, Friends of the Earth, Sierra Club, Oil Change International, and others—rally in Washington, D.C. to push Congress to end fossil fuel subsidies. But at every juncture, fossil fuel lobbyists and their climate denier allies stood in the way. This is the year that changes. It’ s up to us to demand that President Biden fulfill his mandate to Build Back Fossil Free by phasing out fossil fuels and prioritizing the needs of workers and communities.

This year some farmers have already run out of water and drinking water concerns are mounting.

No water, no food. No water, no wildlife. No water, no life.

When we run out of water, others do, too. The Gunnison River Basin, which feeds the Colorado River, is in our backyard. The Colorado River supplies 40 million downstream users and it's drying out as temperatures warm. Colorado River flows, already at record shortages, are expected to drop precipitously in coming decades.

And we're feeling the heat on the Western Slope, having already seen warming of more than 2 degrees Celsius, double the global average and making our region one of the country's largest climate hot spots.

But even as warming tightens its grip on our region and North Fork farms fields go fallow for lack of water, federal agencies are approving more fossil fuel extraction.

That's a grave mistake. We must urgently confront the climate emergency and we should start now by banning new leasing on public lands.

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When fossil fuels are burned, they release carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, which in turn trap heat in our atmosphere, making them the primary contributors to global warming and climate change. Considering the world' s continuing dependence on fossil fuels , many argue that in addition to efforts aimed at replacing them, we also need to suck carbon from the air with technologies such as carbon capture, in which emissions are diverted to underground storage or recycled before they reach the atmosphere.

Depending on where fossil fuels are extracted and used, the resource itself may need to travel across long distances—but transporting fuel can generate its own pollution, and increase the potential for catastrophic accidents. Fossil fuel -powered transportation is the primary contributor to US NOx emissions [39]. Acid rain is formed when sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxides mix with water, oxygen, and other chemicals in the atmosphere, leading to rain and other precipitation that is mildly acidic.

In the North Fork Valley, there are more than 100,000 acres of oil and gas leases in the middle of the watershed and the county's climate hotspot. The climate can't afford any new fracking and drilling and Colorado certainly won't have the water to support it.

In addition to no new federal fossil-fuel leasing, Biden's review should outline a managed decline of existing production, coupled with an equitable transition for communities dependent on oil, gas and coal mining.

We're already making this transition in western Colorado. Paonia, Hotchkiss and nearby towns are thriving without fossil fuel extraction.

Delta County has made up lost revenue from the mine closures because communities invested in a different vision, based on organic and sustainable agriculture, recreation, renewable energy and the arts. Real estate values are rising and more people are moving to the area.

This organic agricultural mecca, which employs thousands of people, from Western Slope growers to Front Range farm-to-table restaurants, needs to be protected and supported. The North Fork is becoming a model for how to go from boom-and-bust fossil-fuel towns to clean, renewable, stable economies. We even thrived through COVID-19 as people sought out clean air and water, healthy food and outdoor recreation.

Federal laws require public land managers to protect our climate, wildlife, water and ecosystems. Haaland has the authority to stop new leasing on public lands and she must use it.

Other communities across the country - from New Mexico's Chaco region to Louisiana's Gulf Coast to Montana's Big Sky country - are also urging the Biden administration to follow the law and climate science, and make good on his campaign promise to ban new fossil fuel leasing on public lands and oceans. Our communities and our climate future can't afford anything less.

Natasha Léger is executive director of Citizens for a Healthy Community in Paonia, Colorado.

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