The Eco News Roundup brings stories and commentary about issues related to climate change, renewable energy and the environment.

Minnesota tribe invokes treaty rights in fight to stop pipeline

By fall, the rice would be at least waist high, and when rice harvesting was at its peak, there were up to 500 canoes out on the lake, each harvesting as much as 200 pounds of wild rice per day.

“I would imagine this lake has been riced on for the last two or three thousand years, at least,” said [Leonard}] Thompson. “It’s just a part of our identity.”

But those ancient rice beds face an unsure future: The proposed $2.6 billion Sandpiper crude oil pipeline, if built, will carry petroleum from the Bakken oilfields in North Dakota through Minnesota to refineries in Wisconsin, cutting through the heart of the White Earth Nation’s wild rice beds.

To secure the route, Enbridge Inc., the company overseeing the pipeline, hopes to exercise the power of eminent domain, the right to take land from owners who refuse to sell to them — in this case, the White Earth Nation.

New pipeline safety chief raises eyebrows amid concerns over oil transport

Barack Obama’s administration has selected a new PHMSA administrator, Marie Therese Dominguez, who has little or no direct experience with hazardous materials, pipelines or railroads and who was unknown to the various groups that have been battling over the shape of new regulations.

“Ms. Dominguez’s appointment kind of surprised us,” said Carl Weimer, the executive director of nonprofit group the Pipeline Safety Trust. “I chatted even with some folks in the industry, and it surprised them too, because everybody thought they knew what names were in the hat for selection and that was a name that kind of surprised everybody.”

Dominguez on Monday began serving as PHMSA’s deputy administrator, pending her confirmation by the Senate as its administrator.

Researchers find 7,300-sq-mile ring of mercury around tar sands in Canada

Scientists have found a more than 7,300-square-mile ring of land and water contaminated by mercury surrounding the tar sands in Alberta, where energy companies are producing oil and shipping it throughout Canada and the U.S.

Government scientists are preparing to publish a report that found levels of mercury are up to 16 times higher around the tar-sand operations — principally due to the excavation and transportation of bitumen in the sands by oil and gas companies, according to Postmedia-owned Canadian newspapers like The Vancouver Sun.

Dutch government ordered to cut greenhouse gas emissions

A Dutch court has ordered the government to cut the country’s greenhouse gas emissions by at least 25 percent by 2020 in a groundbreaking climate case that activists hope will set a worldwide precedent.

A judge in The Hague said the state must “ensure that the Dutch emissions in the year 2020 will be at least 25 percent lower than those in 1990.”

The ruling was a victory for the Urgenda Foundation, an environmental group that filed the lawsuit on behalf of nearly 900 Dutch people. They said that the government has a duty to protect its citizens against looming dangers, including the effects of climate change on this low-lying country, which is threatened by rising sea levels.

Battle over grassland electrical lines looms in Nebraska

Considered their own ecoregion, the Sandhills are the largest sand dune formation in the Western hemisphere — but it’s no desert. The dunes are stabilized by grass and the water table under much of the Sandhills is so close to the surface that the meadows in between the dunes give way to ponds, marshes and wetlands. Wildlife is abundant.

“It’s a special place,” Amy Ballagh, Devyn’s mother, said from the family’s ranch home. As she spoke, a flock of golden finches flew past the back window. A wild turkey skirted the backyard fence, looking for fallen birdseed.

When the Nebraska Public Power District (NPPD) came knocking, families like the Ballaghs were alarmed, to say the least.

“You can’t recreate large, unfragmented pieces of grasslands,” Devyn Ballagh said. “You wish they would recognize the Sandhills for what they are and not what they want it to be: a place where you go to put up a bunch of lines.”

A third of the world’s biggest groundwater basins are in distress

Two new studies led by UC Irvine using data from NASA Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment satellites show that civilization is rapidly draining some of its largest groundwater basins, yet there is little to no accurate data about how much water remains in them. The result is that significant segments of Earth’s population are consuming groundwater quickly without knowing when it might run out, the researchers conclude. The findings appear today in Water Resources Research.

Sudden onset of ice loss in Antarctica detected

A group of scientists, led by a team from the University of Bristol, UK has observed a sudden increase of ice loss in a previously stable region of Antarctica. The research is published today in Science. Using measurements of the elevation of the Antarctic ice sheet made by a suite of satellites, the researchers found that the Southern Antarctic Peninsula showed no signs of change up to 2009. Around 2009, multiple glaciers along a vast coastal expanse, measuring some 750km in length, suddenly started to shed ice into the ocean at a nearly constant rate of 60 cubic km, or about 55 trillion litres of water, each year.

This makes the region the second largest contributor to sea level rise in Antarctica and the ice loss shows no sign of waning.

Severe ozone depletion avoided

We are already reaping the rewards of the Montreal Protocol, with the ozone layer in much better shape than it would have been without the UN treaty, according to a new study in Nature Communications. Study lead author Professor Martyn Chipperfield, from the School of Earth & Environment at the University of Leeds, said: “Our research confirms the importance of the Montreal Protocol and shows that we have already had real benefits. We knew that it would save us from large ozone loss ‘in the future’, but in fact we are already past the point when things would have become noticeably worse.”


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2. The earth is our home, not our trash can.
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