Ken Burns Dust Bowl documentary: when profits override the environment

Arthur Rothstein captured this photograph of Art Coble and his sons, south of Boise City, Oklahoma, in April 1936The grass covered Oklahoma prairie was new to most citizens of the recently reunited United States of America in the days following the turn of the 20th Century. Buffalo grass covered the ground, its roots woven through an area a foot below the surface, slaking the grassy thirst and stitching the ground in place during dry spells. But the soil was fertile, and wheat commanded a profitable price.

World War I started, and the federal government wanted the land farmed, and offered generous assistance to farmers willing to till the land. And profits would be even higher if the yield could be increased. Initially, farmers used plows that sliced the soil, leaving most of the grassy cover in place while opening furrows into which they could drop seed. A new kind of plow shredded the soil, turning it over to bury grass and expose the no longer moisture-holding soil.

Soil, everyone thought, was the one resource that could not be exhausted, …

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Planet Earth – our home, if we can keep it

The Big Blue Marble is our home, if we can keep itThe just ended election dealt, in part, with Lincoln’s economic formula. At least environmentally, the question seemed focused on whether “new beginners” were to be given a chance or whether their efforts would be stymied by the efforts of financially successful technologies to protect their treasure.

Somewhere deep inside most of us – 98-percenters and 1-percenters alike – is the understanding that we can’t go on the way we have. The forests once were thought to be too expansive, too fast growing, to ever threaten the nation with wood shortage, and few people were aware of the damage clear-cut mountains could render to rivers and streams.

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Of the two ways to vote, one will keep our planet livable

Marking a ballot is the only way most of us participate in the governing process.In high school, my son got in a little hot water with a social studies teacher who had said the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s was about oil. I’m guessing Mitt Romney went to the same class and decided it wasn’t about oil because, he said, Iran is supporting Syria to gain access to the sea.

It makes sense for Iran to want to whup Iraq, since the latter nation stands smack dab in the way between Iran and Syria, the latter which is on the Mediterranean Sea. On the other hand, it would seem cheaper for Iran to simply build a seaport or two on the Persian Gulf (named for Iran when it was called Persia), and the Gulf of Oman – both of which provide Iran with large expanses of ocean front property.

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Arizona threatens secession; it may be a growing trend

The Colorado River took a very long time to carve this ditch in the planet's surface.Come election day, the good citizens of Arizona will decide whether to amend their state constitution, granting themselves sovereignty over the Grand Canyon, allowing themselves to “take it back” from the rest of us. The goal, apparently is to increase mining and other commercial uses in the canyon, and funnel the proceeds into Arizona coffers.

The plan reminds me of the story about a dog walking across a river on a log, carrying a huge fresh bone. About halfway across the river, he looked down and spied another dog carrying a similar bone.

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Exploitation without conservation: a recipe for disaster

What recently was preserved forest has been cleared for access to natural gas.I love traveling. I enjoy meeting people in a variety of places, with different manners of talking and thinking. Though sometimes there aren’t as many differences as one might think.

A friend turned 40 a few years ago, nearly at the top of Engineer Pass, just outside and way above Ouray, CO. I was driving the Jeep that day as we climbed as high as I dared into the San Juan Mountains, part of the Colorado Rockies. One particularly impressive part of the hours-long climb up narrow, rock-strewn switchbacks was looking up at what someone later told me was, as I recall, Steeple Spire. Or something of that ilk.

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Adequate DEP funding should be budget priority

A truck crash dumped “minor amounts of petroleum fluids” into Pine Creek, in Lycoming County.

That’s important where I live because Pine Creek, at the southern edge of a heavily drilled natural gas field, flows into the Susquehanna River, which runs past Harrisburg and the City of York, in its way to the Chesapeake Bay. York Water Company draws water from the river, and sells millions of gallons a day to residents on the eastern side of Adams County, where I live.

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Shorting-funding DEP is false economy

Several pipelines arrive at a compressor collector before gas is sent over a mountain in Loyalsock State ForestPennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection may not be protecting the environment and the Commonwealth’s citizens as much as they deserve.

That is the assertion of a report issued Tuesday by Earthworks, a Washington, D.C.-based environmental watchdog agency.

The report begins by noting “more than 5,700 ‘unconventional’ shale gas wells have been drilled (in Pennsylvania) since 2005.” It also acknowledges DEP’s claim that staffing has increased – including, in 2012, about 83 inspectors. If the “unconventional wells” – a euphemism referring to deep shale fracking wells – were the only wells needing oversight, that would mean about 68 wells for each inspector.

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Courts to rule on fracking regs

Approximately five acres of pad must be constructed for each drill siteCiting a lack of regulations to complain about, a U.S. District Court judge Monday ruled against a requirement for a full environmental review of fracking in the Delaware River Basin.

Meanwhile, Pennsylvania townships await a ruling by that state’s top court that may determine whether traditional municipal control over zoning applies to the controversial method of producing natural gas from deep underground shale.

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Support a farmer, eat heartily, and stomp to some great music

Hamburgers on the hoof wade and feed in a pasture creekFarm Aid 2012 is Saturday, Sept. 22, at Hersheypark Stadium. This is Year 27 of the event begun in 1985 by Willie Nelson, Neil Young and John Mellencamp – Dave Matthews joined the team in 2001 – to raise money for programs that support family farms in their competition with land developers and huge factory farms.

I was raised on a farm, of sorts. There was Mom, Dad and four of us youngsters, and a 50-foot by 100-foot patch that kept us in veggies. We grew corn, asparagus, beets, carrots, and several other crops. And we picked crab apples from the Bates’ tree, bought raw milk from the Ellises.

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Report says GHG cuts could be significant with more taxpayer money and different measuring

Study says fossil-fueld vehicles will be here for foreseeable future.A National Petroleum Council report chartered by the U.S. Secretary of Energy says fossil fuel-powered engines will be the motive power for the nation’s transportation machine for the foreseeable future.

Ya think? Gasoline-powered vehicles sold this year will need gas at least 10-12 years from now to keep them tooling down the road.

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“Seen any deer?”

I let him eat, and he let me shoot.A few years ago, a friend and I took a week in Colorado, driving through the back roads of the Rockies, generally following one of our favorite country music artists – and premiere writer of environmental songs – on what we termed “The Ultimate San Juan Oddysey.” The trip took us above the tree line, to long defunct silver mines, historic avalanche sites, Silverton (via the Durango and Rio Grande narrow gauge railroad), and Black Bear Road, (“You don’t have to be crazy to drive this here road, but it helps.”).

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Some encouragement required

American wind farms mean American jobs and cleaner air.I’m watching an old black and white movie on television, “Cow Country,” made in 1953. It’s about times economic change in the 19th Century West, and cattlemen having a rough time adjusting.

Their situation was like oil companies of the 21st Century saying wind and solar will not work – because it’s easier and more profitable to keep doing what they’re doing than figure out how to do something new.

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Coal, nukes, fracking and 16.9-ounce plastic bottles

A reservoir outflow is dry and rocky with water in the impound more than two feet below normal.Throughout this nation’s history, we have counted on a plentiful supply of water.

With 75 percent of the Earth’s surface covered by water, goes the old adage, clearly man was meant to spend 75 percent of his time fishing.

Unfortunately, with 75 percent of the planet covered by water, the majority of the Earth’s surface, once warmed, will stay that way – or get warmer.

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PA Voter ID could fire up the Dems

Many long-time voting seniors may be excluded by Voter ID lawsDuring my tenure on the planet, I have witnessed numerous outcries directed toward those who would have a national identification card. Such an affront was OK for the less civilized and freedom-loving of fellow nations, but we would not be subjected to such insult.

Opponents of Pennsylvania’s Voter ID law say about 10 percent of the state’s voters will be disenfranchised (and) more likely to be Democrats. But throwing the 2012 presidential election to the Republican ticket isn’t the only goal.

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Behind Door 1, Voter Fraud; behind Door 2, Global Warming

White mountains of northern New Hampshire are nearly snowless.I suppose there is room for some question about whether global warming is even partially manmade. After all, scientists say, the entire globe once was a spinning molten mass.

Then, most of the northern hemisphere was blanketed in miles-deep ice. Next it became warm enough to reliably grow crops while encouraging some of its human inhabitants to, at least part of the year, wear warm clothing. So it’s getting a little warmer. What’s the big deal?

Of course, it does seem a little incongruous that certain politicians would exhort their compatriots to believe science, and then legislate denial of science that says the earth is becoming warmer and humans are helping it happen.

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EVs closing in, slowly, on their niche

More of these are needed to make electric vehicles attractiveElectric Vehicles are coming – as soon as the charging stations are built and the price comes down. They have the mirror image of the problem Marcellus Shale drillers having.

Nissan Leaf  has sold about 1,400 of its all-electric LEAF so far this year, down about 70 percent from 2011 sales. The company only sold 370 of the “clean” little commuter cars in April.

High entry price, commuter-centric miles-per-charge, and few charging stations hinder rapid market expansion.

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Look what I found (and what I didn’t)

A catbird chick, without even many feathers, sits on a bicycle chain, apparently pondering whether to reach the pedalsSometimes you just know something. You can’t prove it, but you know it’s true.

Thus it was with a catbird (at least I think it’s a catbird) in our front yard. Somewhere in the shrubs is a nest. I know that because Mama bird flitters around and squawks and tries to convince me the nest is where it ain’t, so I’ll not detect where it is.

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Nero plays while …

Nero plays while the planet burnsIn the past couple weeks, the evening news has been occupied with obesity, Distracted Walking, and appropriate attire for women playing Olympic beach volleyball.

NBC anchor Brian Williams had the first two items. For more than a week, aided by a steady parade of guest experts, he told us of the consequences of being obese. The obesity stories ran nightly until, I am certain by sheer coincidence, came the announcement of a new miracle drug that just might make everyone slim and sexy.

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Appeals court says municipalities may tell frackers where to go

Commonwealth Court says municipalities may keep wells away from homes, schoolsFor years, Pennsylvania’s municipalities have held zoning power within their borders. As long as they provided a place within their borders for all legal land uses, they were allowed to tell developers of all stripe where to go.

But fracking developers did not want township leaders deciding whether the wells would be allowed near a school, or a pipeline under homes.

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Pocket change: Fracking industry invests $23M in Pa legislature, reaps $1T profit

Fracking money pours from a golden faucet into capitol dome inverted to be a funnelAccording to a release last week by MarcellusMoney.org, the Marcellus Shale natural gas industry has spent $23 million in direct contributions to favored legislator campaigns and lobbying efforts since 2000.

The big winners in the Cash for Legislation sweepstakes between 2000 and April 2012 were:

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