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Alaska Native group protects land coveted by Pebble Mine developers

The Climate 202

Good morning and welcome to The Climate 202! This is our last newsletter of 2022, since we’re taking next week off. 🌴 We hope everyone has a happy and restful holiday season, and we’ll be back in your inbox on Jan. 3. But first:

Exclusive: Alaska Native group finalizes protections for its land, dealing blow to Pebble Mine

An Alaska Native group on Thursday will announce that more than 44,000 acres of land near Bristol Bay, the site of the world’s largest wild salmon fishery, are off limits to future development, according to details shared exclusively with The Climate 202.

The move will make it harder for the developers of the proposed Pebble Mine to build a road across the land, posing another setback for the controversial gold and copper mine that the Environmental Protection Agency is already considering blocking.

The details: Pedro Bay Corp., an Alaska Native group that owns land near Bristol Bay, announced last year that nearly 90 percent of its shareholders voted to let the Conservation Fund, an environmental nonprofit organization, buy conservation easements on more than 44,000 acres.

The corporation will reveal on Thursday that a successful $20 million, 18-month fundraising effort enabled the Conservation Fund to purchase three conservation easements on the land. The new protections cover a portion of the proposed mining road, which would be used to transport ore. 

  • The protections also cover the most productive spawning and rearing habitats for sockeye salmon within the Iliamna Lake watersheds.
  • Half of the funding was provided by the Wyss Foundation, Patagonia’s Holdfast Collective and Alaska Venture Fund. (The specific dollar amounts of the individual contributions were not disclosed.)

“Protecting this last great stronghold for salmon is critically important for the health of the marine resources, the land, and the people who live in the Bristol Bay region,” Larry Selzer, president and chief executive of the Conservation Fund, told The Climate 202.

“It’s important to recognize that mining is a valuable economic activity and provides benefits to society that can’t be derived in any other way,” Selzer added. “However, not all projects should be approved. And the Pebble Mine is the wrong mine in the wrong place: up high in the watershed above the greatest salmon stronghold in the world.”

The fate of Bristol Bay has been contested for more than a decade. While many of Alaska’s elected officials have supported mining there, an unusual coalition of environmentalists, Republicans, fishermen and Alaska Natives helped persuade the Trump administration to deny a key permit for the Pebble Mine in 2020.

Pebble Limited Partnership, the U.S. subsidiary of the Canadian company behind the Pebble Mine, has argued that the project would provide economic benefits for the region and the state.

Asked for comment, Pebble Limited Partnership spokesman Mike Heatwole said in an email: “We respect the rights of Alaska Native corporation shareholders to make decisions about what to do on their lands and hope the Biden Administration will do the same for other Alaska Native corporation shareholders who may have differing views about what they would like do on their lands, especially regarding the Pebble Project.”

EPA’s potential veto

The Pebble Mine faces another potential challenge from the Biden administration. Casey Sixkiller, the EPA’s Region 10 administrator, announced Dec. 1 that he sent a recommendation to the agency’s headquarters to protect the Bristol Bay watershed by vetoing the project.

“This action would help protect salmon fishery areas that support world-class commercial and recreational fisheries, and that have sustained Alaska Native communities for thousands of years,” Sixkiller said in a statement.

Radhika Fox, who leads the EPA’s Office of Water, has 60 days to consider the recommendation. She could issue the veto, modify it, or reject it entirely.

“Hopefully these easements send a message that the local people who live here do not want this [mine] and it encourages the EPA to follow through with what they’ve been trying to do for well over a decade,” said Tim Troll, executive director of the Bristol Bay Heritage Land Trust.

Maria Michalos, an EPA spokeswoman, confirmed in an email that the agency expects to make a final decision by Jan. 30.

Patagonia’s role

The new protections were made possible, in part, by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard’s unconventional approach to capitalism.

  • In September, Chouinard announced that he was giving away the outdoor apparel maker, valued at about $3 billion, and declared that “Earth is now our only shareholder.”
  • Chouinard and his family transferred their ownership of Patagonia to a specially designed trust as well as the Holdfast Collective, a nonprofit organization dedicated to combating climate change and environmental destruction.
  • As one of its first grants, the Holdfast Collective contributed to the fundraising effort that enabled the new protections near Bristol Bay. 

Patagonia spokeswoman Corley Kenna noted that the company, which has a long history of environmental activism, has supported groups working to protect the region since 2006.

“Stopping any further development in Bristol Bay is exactly the kind of thing that we want to do because it gets at the roots of both the climate and ecological crises,” Kenna said.

On the Hill

Exclusive: Democrats call on consumer safety board to regulate gas stove pollution

Twenty congressional Democrats are calling on the Consumer Product Safety Commission to crack down on indoor air pollution emitted by gas stoves, according to a letter sent to CPSC Chair Alexander Hoehn-Saric on Wednesday that was shared exclusively with The Climate 202. 

Led by Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.) and Rep. Don Beyer (Va.), the Democrats argued that pollution from gas stoves poses a growing threat to the climate and public health, especially in disadvantaged communities.

“As you know, the CPSC has broad authority under the Consumer Product Safety Act to regulate consumer products that pose an unreasonable risk of injury,” the lawmakers wrote. “We ask the CPSC to explicitly evaluate the disparate health outcomes that occur from the coupling of gas stoves with the material realities to which the most vulnerable Americans are subjected.” 

The letter comes after Commissioner Richard Trumka Jr. announced last week that the board will solicit information from the public on the potential dangers of gas stoves and possible solutions.

Research has shown that gas stoves can emit significant amounts of nitrogen dioxide, a pollutant that can trigger asthma and other respiratory conditions, as well as methane, a potent greenhouse gas.

The Democrats urged the commission to consider taking the following actions:

  • Issuing mandatory performance standards for gas stoves.
  • Requiring gas stoves to be sold with efficient range hoods that help with ventilation.
  • Mandating labels on gas stoves that educate consumers about their exposure risks.

Budget deal falls far short on Biden’s promise of climate aid

The government spending bill includes just a fraction of the funding that President Biden has promised to deliver to developing countries on the front lines of the climate crisis, The Washington Post’s Timothy Puko reports. 

Biden has pledged to provide $11.4 billion annually to help poorer nations transition to clean energy and adapt to the ravages of climate change. But the government spending bill released this week, known as an omnibus, only authorizes about $1 billion for these efforts.

If approved, the measure could undermine the administration’s international reputation on climate change, especially as it aims to separate itself from previous administrations that had failed to deliver on promises to provide more money for the developing world. 

Democrats were only able to secure $1 billion this year despite controlling both chambers of Congress. Administration officials emphasized that they are committed to securing more international climate aid a year from now, for the next fiscal year, even though Republicans will take control of the House in January.

Pressure points

A dangerous side of America’s digital divide: Who receives emergency alerts

Residents of neighborhoods with little to no cellphone service face heightened risks during weather disasters, when the lack of connectivity can prevent them from receiving emergency alerts, Brianna Sacks reports for The Post

About 25 million homes and small businesses across the country have little to no cell service, according to the broadband consulting firm CostQuest, hindering their access to potentially lifesaving information and making it harder for them to contact authorities.

The consequences of the nation’s digital divide have become clearer as climate-change-fueled disasters have become more common. In August, for example, some Northern California residents said they were never warned that they were in the direct path of a massive wildfire, despite having signed up for the notifications. 

The federal government has launched several initiatives to improve access to reliable cell service, especially for Americans in rural areas and low-income communities.

In the atmosphere


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