#6 Protesting Pipelines & Collaborating Against Climate Change
As we go into 2022, I wanted to thank you for subscribing to this newsletter. It has been a labor of love, and I appreciate everyone who has shared, liked, commented, and read this over the past five months. Sorry to be that person, but I’d be extremely grateful if you could please share this newsletter with your friends and/or family. It always feels awkward to self-promote, so I appreciate anything you’re able to do.
“The President has a plan for global warming. He says that if we need to, we can lower the temperature dramatically just by switching from Fahrenheit to Celsius.” - Jimmy Kimmel
After 17 years of fighting, December finally saw the end to the Jordan Cove project, a 36 inch pipeline that would transport liquid natural gas (LNG) 229 miles from Canada to Coos Bay, Oregon.
In 2004, Pembina Pipeline Corporation, a Canadian energy company, set out to build this pipeline to supply the U.S. people. However, in 2012, Pembina shifted to make the Coos Bay an export station where the LNG would be shipped to Asian markets. The original plan was already invasive enough, crossing hundreds of rivers, streams, and wetlands, but this new goal dared to be even more, requiring the bay to be dredged to fit the necessary transport ships.
Natural gas pipelines, specifically ones for distribution as this would’ve been, are incredibly dangerous operations. Aside from environmental concerns such as leaks and land clearing, distribution pipelines pose a considerable physical danger. Between 2010 and 2018, they caused 475 injuries and 91 deaths in the U.S. alone.
Labor unions, landowners, native tribes, and environmental activists all opposed the Jordan Cove project, protesting repeatedly throughout the nearly two-decade endeavor. In 2019, many gathered in Oregon’s state capitol to protest the project, attracting a lot of attention to the controversial pipeline. Despite this, however, under President Trump’s administration, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved the project in 2020.
Even more concerning, FERC also approved the use of eminent domain, a dangerously aggressive practice where land can be taken from landowners without their approval. Many questioned this decision, including congressman Peter DeFazio who was very vocal about his opposition to the project, citing that eminent domain should only be used for public use.
Thankfully, that approval wasn’t an immediate greenlight, for Pembina still had to gain the necessary permits from state agencies. With the pipeline planned to cross so many water bodies, they needed a water quality permit from the Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). Fortunately, the DEQ denied the permit, and after the denial was appealed, FERC, now under Biden’s administration, denied that as well.
As of December first 2021, Pembina notified FERQ they would not continue to gain the required permits, thus ending their pipedream (sorry). Now, the thousands of people who have spoken out against this project are able to breathe a sigh of relief after a long and hard-fought battle.
Though this battle was long and taxing, it shows the power of public persistence and the influence a government has over issues like this.
In 1935, Hoover Dam created the largest reservoir in the United States: Lake Mead. Drawing its water from the Rocky Mountains’ snowmelt, the lake supplies water to farms, cities, and industry across Arizona, California, Nevada, and even Mexico. More than that, Lake Mead also generates an incredible amount of hydroelectric power. However, since 2000, worsening droughts due to, you guessed it, climate change have put both the water supply and power generation in jeopardy.
Previously, the turbines generating electricity required the lake to be at an elevation of 1,050 feet, but due to rapid declines, the turbines were retrofitted (added more efficient ones) in 2015 so they could continue at an elevation of 950 feet.
With this concerning decrease in elevation, the Department of Interior required Wyoming, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Arizona, California, and Nevada in 2017 to create Drought Contingency Plans (DCP) in order to prevent Lake Mead from declining any further. However, Lake Mead has continued to decline. As of 2021, Lake Mead saw its lowest elevation since its creation– a mere 1,067 feet. Only five years after creating the initial DCPs, the continued decline forced the lower basin states to come together again to protect the ever dwindling water supply.
In a three-month span, Arizona, California, and Nevada all formed an agreement called the “500+ Plan”. With a price tag of $200 million, the states intend to conserve 500,000 acre-feet per year (enough water to serve 1.5 million homes), and with surprising haste for a government, the plan is set to begin early this year.
The 500+ Plan allows the states to conserve water through four different avenues:
Utilization of new water-saving technologies
Leave existing Intentionally Created Surplus (ICS) in Lake Mead
ICS is water that has been conserved within a state through other means (more efficient systems, better conservation efforts, etc.) that the state has claim to but no longer needs since it was conserved. Later on, they are able to withdraw the amount if they need it.
Example: I have claim to six bottles of water at the office, but since I drank tap water from home I don’t need all six. So instead of taking it anyways, I’m going to leave two. If I get super thirsty in a week, I can take my six plus two extra as a quasi-“credit.”
Pledge to leave new ICS in Lake Mead
Reduce withdraw voluntarily or incentivize through compensation
Many are rightfully criticizing this plan as a “band aid” on a larger issue, which is true. Climate change will only exacerbate (make worse) this issue further, and eventually, further actions will be required to ensure the safety of everyone relying on Lake Mead. However, there are many great things that have come of this effort.
Firstly, cutting water usage and increasing conservation is a win in and of itself. Second, the implications of this plan bring to light the vulnerability a large portion of the U.S. is to drought and water shortage, which hopefully will discourage frivolous water usage.
Beyond the literal changes, though, the swiftness with which all three states came together and agreed upon this plan is incredibly hopeful. Three months is a wildly short timeframe to decide on something costing $200 million and creates far more changes beyond budgets. If anything, this plan serves as an example of how governments can efficiently and effectively combat the effects of climate change when they want to.
If you’re feeling in the mood to take some action in your life towards a greener tomorrow, I’ve got some recommendations for you! One very simple yet impactful thing you can do is purchasing second hand.
This is more than clothes, which I know many may not be keen on anyways. For instance, need a new toaster? Rather than going out to Target and buying one, I’m 100% positive your local Goodwill will have one. I’ve never been to a Goodwill that didn’t have at least 86 toasters decorating the kitchen aisle. Plus, that toaster will more than likely be a fraction of the price you’d pay, and it will work exactly the same. Need new pots and pans? Second hand stores are chock-full of them!
This is also a great idea for anyone moving into an apartment/ dorm for the first time when they don’t have a lot of money to spend on the essentials. You’ll be saving money, reducing packaging waste, and just reducing waste in general! Woohoo!
zhc is a photojournalist based in Bangladesh whose work focuses on social issues like climate change, refugees, child labor, human rights, transgender, public health, and many more. They have also been published in magazines like TIME, The Guardian, and Mirror. My favorite image of theirs is Climate Crisis (below), but you can check out all their work HERE.