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    Leading News Outlets Are Doing the Fossil Fuel Industry’s Greenwashing / TheIntercept · 6 days ago - 10:00 · 13 minutes

In a recent episode of the podcast “Powered By How,” award-winning journalist Nisha Pillai leads a discussion on the energy transition. Over the course of 25 minutes, the guests — a business psychologist, a renewable energy investor, and the head of an innovation lab — describe the challenges of scaling new technologies to combat the climate crisis. The casual listener could easily miss the first five seconds, when Pillai, a former BBC World News presenter whose voice instills instant confidence, announces that the podcast was produced by Reuters Plus in partnership with fossil fuel giant Saudi Aramco. Pillai never explains that Reuters Plus is the publication’s internal ad studio, nor does she remind listeners of the show’s sponsor when the head of the innovation lab, an Aramco executive, touts the benefits of unproven, industry-backed technologies.

Reuters is one of at least seven major news outlets that creates and publishes misleading promotional content for fossil fuel companies, according to a report released today. Known as advertorials or native advertising, the sponsored material is created to look like a publication’s authentic editorial work, lending a veneer of journalistic credibility to the fossil fuel industry’s key climate talking points.

In collaboration with The Intercept and The Nation, Drilled and DeSmog analyzed hundreds of advertorials and events, as well as ad data from MediaRadar. Our analysis focused on the three years spanning October 2020 to October 2023, when the public ramped up calls for media, public relations, and advertising companies to cut their commercial ties with fossil fuel clients amid growing awareness that the industry’s deceptive messaging was slowing climate action.

All of the media companies reviewed — Bloomberg, The Economist, the Financial Times, the New York Times, Politico, Reuters, and the Washington Post — consistently top lists of “most trusted” news outlets. They also all have internal brand studios that create advertising content for major oil and gas companies, furnishing the industry with an air of legitimacy as it pushes misleading climate claims to trusting readers. In addition to producing podcasts, newsletters, and videos, some of these outlets allow fossil fuel companies to sponsor their events. Reuters goes even further, creating custom summits for the industry explicitly designed to remove the “ pain points ” holding back faster production of oil and gas. (Disclosure: Co-author Matthew Green was formerly a Reuters climate correspondent.)

With United Nations climate talks underway in the United Arab Emirates, oil and gas companies have been sponsoring even more advertorials and events with media partners than usual, primarily designed to portray the industry as a climate leader.

“It’s really outrageous that outlets like the New York Times or Bloomberg or Reuters would lend their imprimatur to content that is misleading at best and in some cases outright false,” said Naomi Oreskes, a climate disinformation expert and professor at Harvard University. “They’re manufacturing content that at best is completely one-sided, and at worst is disinformation, and pushing that to their readers.”

Chevron is the exclusive sponsor of “Politico Energy,” a daily podcast bringing listeners “the latest news in energy and environmental politics and policy.”
Screenshot: Amy Westervelt

Spokespeople for Bloomberg, the Financial Times, the New York Times, Reuters, and the Washington Post told us that advertorial content is created by staff members who are separate from the newsroom, and their journalists are independent from their ad sales efforts (Politico and The Economist did not respond to requests for comment). But the independence of these outlets’ journalists is not in question; what’s important is whether readers understand the difference between reporting and advertising. And according to a growing body of peer-reviewed research, they do not.

“It tarnishes the reputation of that news outlet. So it’s baffling to me why newsrooms are continuing to pursue this.”

A 2016 Georgetown University study, for example, found that advertorials are confused for “real” content by about two-thirds of people . Another study, conducted in 2018 by Boston University researchers , found that only one in 10 people recognized native advertising as advertising rather than reporting.

Michelle Amazeen, the lead author on the Boston University study, found that those who did recognize sponsored content for what it was thought less of the outlet they were reading. “It tarnishes the reputation of that news outlet,” Amazeen said. “So it’s baffling to me why newsrooms are continuing to pursue this.”

COP28 president Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber speaks during a press conference at the United Nations climate summit in Dubai on December 4, 2023. The Emirati president of the UN's COP28 talks said on December 4 he respects climate science, after a leaked video showed him declaring that no science says a fossil fuel phaseout will help achieve climate goals. (Photo by KARIM SAHIB / AFP) (Photo by KARIM SAHIB/AFP via Getty Images) COP28 President Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber speaks during a press conference at the United Nations climate summit in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on Dec. 4, 2023.
Photo: Karim Sahib/AFP via Getty Images

Crafting “Climate Narratives”

This year’s 28 th annual U.N. climate negotiations — known as the Conference of the Parties, or COP28 — are currently being held in Dubai, the largest city in the United Arab Emirates, one of the world’s top oil-producing countries. Presided over by Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber, the head of the UAE’s state-owned oil company, Adnoc, it is the most industry-influenced COP yet.

Fossil fuel companies are seeking to preserve their business models by promoting carbon capture and storage, hydrogen power, and carbon offsets as viable climate solutions, even though the technologies are on track to do little more than extend the life of the fossil fuel industry. As COP28 president, Al Jaber backed these technologies in the leadup to the summit.

The enormous influence oil and gas executives are wielding at COP28 has thrown commercial partnerships between media outlets and the fossil fuel industry into sharper focus. Climate reporters at every outlet we analyzed have diligently covered the challenges that the industry’s so-called solutions face, but when that reporting is placed alongside corporate-sponsored content touting the technologies’ benefits, it leaves readers confused.

In addition to the Reuters Plus podcast produced this year for Aramco, the New York Times’s T Brand Studio created “ the Energy Trilemma ,” a 2022 podcast for BP about how high-emitting industries are decarbonizing — but not by reducing the development or use of fossil fuels. Bloomberg Media Studios, meanwhile, created a video for Exxon Mobil touting hydrogen power and carbon capture and storage, or CCS. In the video, Exxon CEO Darren Woods says the company is “ready to deploy CCS to reduce the world’s emissions” but leaves out the fact that the company also plans to increase annual carbon dioxide emissions by as much as the output of the entire nation of Greece — news Bloomberg’s own climate reporters broke .

Reuters Events offered to help corporations hone their “climate narrative” at COP28 via opportunities to secure “exclusive interviews,” seats at high-level roundtables, coverage on the Reuters website, exclusive dinner invites, and a Reuters presence in corporate pavilions at the Dubai expo center where negotiations are held.

The media plays a fundamental role in shaping both policymakers’ and the public’s understanding of climate issues, according to Max Boykoff, who contributed research and analysis to the most recent climate mitigation report from the U.N.-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “People aren’t picking up the IPCC report or peer-reviewed research to understand climate change,” he said. “People are reading about it in the news. That’s what shapes their understanding.”

Reuters Events marketing email sent to reporter Matthew Green on July 3, 2023.
Photo: Matthew Green

“Vast Sums of Money”

The fossil fuel industry’s attempts to extend its social license by buying friendly advertorials and other sponsored content date back to 1970, when Mobil Oil Vice President of Public Affairs Herbert Schmertz worked with the New York Times to create the first advertorial. The company proceeded to run these pieces, which Schmertz described as “political pamphlets,” in the Times every week for decades — a program that Mobil Oil extended to dozens of other outlets. A peer-reviewed 2017 study of Mobil and then Exxon Mobil’s New York Times advertorials found that 81 percent of the ones that mentioned climate change emphasized doubt in the science.

The advent of “brand studios” inside most major media outlets over the past decade has supercharged such content programs. Now many publications have staff dedicated to creating content for advertisers, and the outlets market their ability to tailor content to their readership. These offerings come at a higher cost than traditional ad buys, making them increasingly important to for-profit newsrooms facing a crisis in the traditional revenue models. And fossil fuel companies have been happy to pay.

“They wouldn’t be spending vast sums of money on these campaigns if they didn’t have a payoff, and it’s well documented that for decades, the fossil fuel industry has leveraged and weaponized and innovated the media technology of the day to its advantage,” said University of Miami researcher Geoffrey Supran, a co-author of the 2017 advertorial study with Oreskes. “It’s sometimes treated as a historical phenomenon, but in reality, we’re living today with the digital descendants of the editorial campaigns pioneered by the fossil fuel industry — the old strategy is very much alive and well.”

“It’s well documented that for decades, the fossil fuel industry has leveraged and weaponized and innovated the media technology of the day to its advantage.”

As their content marketing about the journey to net zero continues to get bigger and better, oil majors’ investments in fossil fuel development have only increased. A peer-reviewed study comparing oil majors’ advertising claims and actions, published in the journal Plos One in 2022, found that while the companies are talking more than ever about energy transition and decarbonization, they are not actually investing in either. “The companies are pledging a transition to clean energy and setting targets more than they are making concrete actions,” the study’s authors wrote.

Reporters at the publications we reviewed often cover this disconnect between advertising and action. Their employers, however, then sell the space next to those stories for industry-sponsored takes that research shows many readers take equally as seriously.

Screen capture of WP Creative Group’s “Our Work” page, taken on Nov. 20, 2023.
Screenshot: Amy Westervelt

Taking a page from Schmertz’s book, the WP Creative Group — the Washington Post’s internal brand studio — describes on its website how it goes about “influencing the influencers.”

In 2022 alone, Exxon Mobil sponsored more than 100 editions of Washington Post newsletters. Throughout 2020 and 2021 , the Post also ran a series of online editorials for the American Petroleum Institute, the most powerful fossil fuel lobby in the U.S., including a multimedia piece that argued renewable energy is unreliable and fossil gas is a needed complement — talking points that the paper’s news reporters often debunk. During this time, the Washington Post editorial team published Pulitzer Prize-winning climate reporting and expanded its climate coverage .

Over the past three years, the Financial Times has also created dedicated web pages for various fossil majors, including Equinor and Aramco , along with native content and videos , all focused on promoting oil and gas as a key component of the energy transition. In that same period, Politico has run native ads more than 50 times for the American Petroleum Institute; organized 37 email campaigns for Exxon Mobil; and sent dozens of newsletters sponsored by BP and Chevron, the latter of which also sponsors Politico’s annual Women Rule summit.

According to data from MediaRadar, the New York Times took in more than $20 million in revenue from fossil fuel advertisers from October 2020 to October 2023 — twice what any other outlet earned from the industry. That number is due largely to the paper’s relationship with Saudi Aramco, which brought in $13 million in ad revenue during that three-year period, via a combination of print, mobile, and video ads, as well as sponsored newsletters.

The revenue figure does not include creative services fees paid to the Times’s internal brand studio. New York Times spokesperson Alexis Mortenson said that the studio creates custom content for fossil fuel advertisers in print, video, and digital, including podcasts, and promotes it to the New York Times audience via “dark social posts”: advertisements that cannot be found organically and do not appear on a brand’s timeline. Mortenson noted that the Times also allows fossil fuel companies to sponsor some newsletters, provided they are not climate related.

“I feel like it’s really important not to beat around the bush and to just recognize these activities for what they are, which is literally Big Oil and mainstream media collaborating in PR campaigns for the industry,” said Supran. “It’s nothing short of that.”

“Gross,” “Undermining,” and “Dangerous”

Of all the outlets we reviewed, only Reuters offers fossil fuel advertisers every possible avenue to reach its audience. Its event arm even produces custom events for the industry, despite counting “freedom from bias” as a core pillar of its “ trust principles ,” which were adopted to protect the publication’s independence during World War II.

Since Reuters News, a subsidiary of Canadian media conglomerate Thomson Reuters, acquired an events business in 2019, the distinction between the company’s newsroom and its commercial ventures has become increasingly blurred . Reuters’ in-house creative studio produces native print, audio, video, and newsletter content for multiple oil majors, including Shell , Saudi Aramco , and BP , while Reuters journalists routinely take part as moderators and interviewers and propose guest speakers for Reuters Events.

In a media kit for “content opportunities in the upstream industry,” Reuters Events staff offers to produce webinars, white papers, and live-event interviews for those hoping to get in front of its “unrivalled audience reach of decision makers in the oil & gas industry.” For its Hydrogen 2023 event, Reuters Events produced a companion white paper on the top 100 hydrogen innovators, which it then used to market the event in various other outlets. Topping the list of innovators were key event sponsors Chevron and Shell.

Reuters Events also stages fossil fuel industry trade shows aimed at maximizing production of oil and gas, and it creates digital events and webinars for vendors in the fossil fuel supply chain looking to connect with oil and gas companies. In June, Reuters Events convened hundreds of oil, gas, and tech executives in Houston for Reuters Events: Data Driven Oil & Gas USA 2023 , a conference held under the banner “Scaling Digital to Maximize Profit.”

“Time is money, which is why our agenda gets straight to key pain points holding back drilling and production maximization,” the conference website said.

In December 2022, Reuters ran an event sponsored by the Oil and Gas Climate Initiative , a lobby group that includes many of the world’s largest oil companies, to discuss the “major part” fossil fuel companies “play in ensuring a sustainable energy transition.” During the event, industry talking points were tweeted directly from the Reuters Events Twitter account.

Other news outlets, including the Financial Times, The Economist, and Politico, have held their own climate-focused events, sponsored by petrochemical majors like BP, Chevron, Eni, and Shell.

“Business-to-business publishers always had an events revenue stream, but consumer-facing news publications didn’t really get into the events business until digital advertising became commodified,” media analyst Ken Doctor said. Now events represent 20 to 30 percent of revenue for some publications. Doctor called them a “thought-leader exercise” for the advertisers. “There are only a few top media brands out there, and if you are associated with any of them, there is a lot of tangential brand building benefit to that.”

“How can we expect people to take our climate coverage seriously after everything these oil companies have done to hide the truth?”

Climate reporters at the outlets we reviewed, who requested anonymity to avoid professional repercussions, described the practice of selling advertorials and event sponsorships to fossil fuel companies as “gross,” “undermining,” and “dangerous.”

“Not only does it undermine the climate journalism these outlets are producing, but it actually signals to readers that climate change is not a serious issue,” one climate reporter said.

Another journalist at a major media organization said the outlet had undermined its credibility by striking commercial deals with oil and gas companies with a long history of casting doubt on climate science. “Where is our integrity? How can we expect people to take our climate coverage seriously after everything these oil companies have done to hide the truth?”

This article was reported in partnership with DeSmog and The Nation .

Additional reporting: Joey Grostern.

The post Leading News Outlets Are Doing the Fossil Fuel Industry’s Greenwashing appeared first on The Intercept .

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    Mother plucker: Steel fingers guided by AI pluck weeds rapidly and autonomously / ArsTechnica · Tuesday, 28 November - 23:09 · 1 minute

The Ekobot autonomous weeding robot roving around an onion field in Sweden.

Enlarge / The Ekobot autonomous weeding robot roving around an onion field in Sweden. (credit: Ekobot AB)

Anybody who has pulled weeds in a garden knows that it's a tedious task. Scale it up to farm-sized jobs, and it becomes a nightmare. The most efficient industrial alternative, herbicides , have potentially devastating side effects for people, animals, and the environment . So a Swedish company named Ekobot AB has introduced a wheeled robot that can autonomously recognize and pluck weeds from the ground rapidly using metal fingers.

The four-wheeled Ekobot WEAI robot is battery-powered and can operate 10–12 hours a day on one charge. It weighs 600 kg (about 1322 pounds) and has a top speed of 5 km/h (2.5 mph). It's tuned for weeding fields full of onions, beetroots, carrots, or similar vegetables, and it can cover about 10 hectares (about 24.7 acres) in a day. It navigates using GPS RTK and contains safety sensors and vision systems to prevent it from unintentionally bumping into objects or people.

To pinpoint plants it needs to pluck, the Ekobot uses an AI-powered machine vision system trained to identify weeds as it rolls above the farm field. Once the weeds are within its sights, the robot uses a series of metal fingers to quickly dig up and push weeds out of the dirt. Ekobot claims that in trials, its weed-plucking robot allowed farmers to grow onions with 70 percent fewer pesticides. The weed recognition system is key because it keeps the robot from accidentally digging up crops by mistake.

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    Secretive Federal Agency’s Days of Killing Pets With Poison Bombs May Finally Be Ending / TheIntercept · Thursday, 27 July - 10:00 · 18 minutes

Patches of snow dotted the ground when Canyon Mansfield stepped outside on March 16, 2017. The hill behind the 14-year-old’s home in Pocatello, Idaho, was not particularly large. At the summit, Mansfield would only be 300 yards from his house, and yet, he treasured the visits.

With its sweeping mountain view, the hill was Canyon’s refuge. His 3-year-old yellow lab, Kasey, was his constant companion there.

The two set off as usual that afternoon. Kasey was thrashing one of his toys when Canyon spotted a sprinkler-like object protruding from the ground. He ran a finger along the device. Suddenly, he heard a pop, and an orange cloud burst forth. Canyon lunged back as the front of his body was doused in chemicals. The burning began immediately.

As Canyon grasped for snow to irrigate his eyes, he heard Kasey grunting near the device. He called to him, but he didn’t come. He stopped what he was doing and ran to him. Dropping to his knees, Canyon watched as Kasey writhed in spasms. Frothing at the mouth, the dog’s eyes turned glossy. The boy didn’t want to leave, but he knew he needed help. He sprinted down the hill for his mother.

Canyon’s father, Mark Mansfield, a family doctor, was at work when the boy called for help. He raced home as fast as he could. Pulling into the property, Mansfield rushed to Kasey and positioned himself above the dog, prepared to perform mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Canyon stopped him. It’s poison, Canyon said.

Kasey was dead, and Canyon’s head was pounding like never before. Toggling between his training as a physician and his horror as a parent, Mansfield struggled to sort out his son’s symptoms from the trauma he’d just experienced. He told Canyon to get into the shower immediately.

While his son cleaned up, Mansfield called the Bannock County Sheriff’s Office. A bomb and hazmat team were dispatched. Longtime Sheriff Lorin Nielsen was at a loss, trying to answer what felt like an absurd question: Who would plant a bomb in Pocatello?

Canyon Mansfield with his dog Kasey on the hill where Kasey was fatally poisoned and Canyon was nearly killed in March 2017.

Photo: Courtesy of Brooks Fahy

Cyanide Bombs

Across the American West lies an untold number of potent chemical weapons, tucked away and waiting to go off. There could be one on your favorite hiking trail, or on the loop where you walk your dog, or in the woods where your kids play. Packed with sodium cyanide, these spring-loaded devices blast clouds of poison gas five feet into the air. Once inhaled, the lethal toxins mount a multidirectional attack on your cardiovascular, pulmonary, and central nervous system. Death can come in a matter of minutes.

The weapons, known as M-44s, are placed by an under-the-radar federal agency called Wildlife Services. The agency was created to protect the livestock industry’s bottom line by killing off the competition: namely, wild predators. The so-called cyanide bombs do kill predators, but they can also kill anyone else unlucky enough to stumble upon them. And they have a hair trigger.

Wildlife Services, which falls under the U.S. Department of Agriculture, is well known in conservationist circles. Most people, however, have never heard of it. For the uninitiated, a glimpse into the taxpayer-funded killing machine can be jarring.

In the past eight years, Wildlife Services killed nearly 21 million animals as part of its mission to oversee “the eradication and control” of species “injurious” to human endeavors, particularly ranching. While agents’ preferred means of killing is by air, with gunmen in helicopters and planes, M-44s were used to intentionally kill more than 88,000 animals from 2014 through 2022 — the period for which the agency has data available online. The total amounts to roughly 30 poisonings a day for much of the past decade.

M-44’s are part of “a broad strategy that also uses non-lethal methods, and that is informed by ongoing wildlife biology research,” Wildlife Services spokesperson Ed Curlett said in an emailed statement to The Intercept. Curlett added that 98 percent of the agency’s poison devices are placed on private lands and “only when the private, municipal, state, or federal landowner or manager requests assistance and enters a written cooperative agreement.”

According to Wildlife Service’s data, an additional 2,200 animals were killed unintentionally over the 2014 through 2022 period, including endangered species, domestic livestock, and pets like the Mansfields’ dog.

After losing Kasey, the Mansfields went on the offensive, suing Wildlife Services and traveling to Washington to spearhead legislation banning the use of M-44s. The hill behind the family’s home is managed by the Bureau of Land Management, an agency of the Department of the Interior. Idaho, at the time of Canyon’s poisoning, had banned M-44s on public land, but they remained legal on private land and on public lands throughout much of the rest of the country.

Surely, thought Mark Mansfield, the near-death of his child would motivate lawmakers to stop government agents from planting poison bombs everywhere. He was wrong.

The 2019 introduction of “Canyon’s Law” — a bill prohibiting M-44s on public land nationwide — went nowhere. “I don’t care if you’re red, blue, purple. I don’t care if you’re rural or urban. It just seems like a no-brainer,” Mansfield told me. “But somehow this still goes on. I’m shocked. I thought it would be a done deal within months. Call me naïve.”

Four years after it was written, Canyon’s Law was reintroduced last month by Reps. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., and Steve Cohen, D-Tenn. Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., introduced companion legislation in the Senate.

“This is remarkable. They weren’t prompted. We didn’t have a clue that they even knew this hearing was going on.”

After years of setbacks, advocates in the Mansfields’ corner believe the tide may finally be turning against M-44s — thanks to the emergence of an unexpected but critical ally. During a congressional hearing on Canyon’s Law last summer, the Department of the Interior submitted a statement outlining its M-44s position. “The Department is concerned that these devices pose a risk of injury or death to unintended targets, including humans, pets, and threatened and endangered species,” the statement said. The Department had “no technical objections” with the proposed bill “and would work to implement the legislation, if enacted.”

Brooks Fahy, the executive director of Predator Defense, a national wildlife advocacy group, was shocked. While the Department of Agriculture manages 193 million acres of public land in the U.S., the Department of Interior manages 245 million. The scale alone made the statement highly significant. That the largest land management agency in the country would take a critical position on the issue was unprecedented. “This is remarkable,” Fahy told me. “They weren’t prompted. We didn’t have a clue that they even knew this hearing was going on.”

Sensing an opportunity, Predator Defense and the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity rallied organizations focused on wildlife preservation in the West. With more than 70 allied groups joining them, the groups filed a formal petition last month, on the heels of the reintroduction of Canyon’s Law, calling on the Department of Interior to ban the use of M-44s on its lands.

Success won’t come easy though. Behind the M-44 lies a well-connected industry that’s influenced the government’s predator killing program for generations, one that’s unlikely to relinquish its bombs without a fight.

The M-44 cyanide canister that killed the Mansfield’s dog, Kasey, in Pocatello, Idaho, in March 2017.

Years of Hell

Mark Mansfield had to figure out two things after his son was poisoned: What was the toxin, and who was responsible?

Luckily, one of the sheriff’s deputies had worked as a federal trapper. He suggested contacting Wildlife Services. Nielsen, the sheriff, had never heard of the agency and had no idea that it was mining his county with spring-loaded poison sprayers.

Mansfield, too, was puzzled. He was even more taken aback when Todd Sullivan, the Wildlife Services supervisor who planted the device, showed up at his house.

“He killed my dog and he had nearly killed my child,” Mansfield said. “At that point in time, there was a lot of stress. It was very difficult for me not to, you know — whatever.”

The family was kept inside while Sullivan escorted law enforcement up the hill. Unbeknownst to the sheriff’s department, Wildlife Services had planted 18 cyanide bombs throughout Bannock County. Sullivan had placed the M-44 that poisoned Canyon and killed Kasey in plain view of the Mansfields’ backyard, a second device 60 feet from the first, and two more elsewhere in the neighborhood.

The public land behind the Mansfields’ home abutted private property, where a local sheep producer had leased an allotment to raise his stock. In an interview with a Bannock County detective, Sullivan said he meant to plant his bombs on private land, in accordance with Idaho law, and while he had the means to differentiate between jurisdictions, he didn’t. The Wildlife Services supervisor also admitted that there had been no livestock predation cases in the area. He was simply trying to “get a jump on the season” by poisoning any coyotes that might pass through.

“It was three years of hell for his parents and more so for him.”

In his thousands of hours in the emergency room, Mark Mansfield had never dealt with a sodium cyanide poisoning. He called specialists around the country to gather as much information as he could. It did not look good. As one toxicologist explained in a 2019 interview, sodium cyanide’s effects on the human body are similar to those of sarin gas , an internationally banned chemical weapon used in war zones.

Canyon’s pounding headache worsened with admission to the ER. He experienced nausea and vomiting on a near-daily basis. His hands and feet went numb. The worst of it lasted more than a month, but the long-term effects, from migraines to mood changes, lingered for years.

“Finally, about 2020, he was back to his baseline,” Mansfield said. “It was three years of hell for his parents and more so for him.”

Canyon Mansfield with his dog Kasey prior to Kasey’s fatal poisoning in March 2017.

Photo: Courtesy of Brooks Fahy

A Family Fights Back

In the days after Canyon was poisoned, his father received an unsolicited call from Fahy, the Predator Defense executive director. “A lot of people helped us,” Mansfield said. “But he was the one who explained it to us.”

Fahy’s first encounters with Wildlife Services began in the 1970s, when the agency was still known as Animal Damage Control. Working as an investigator for the Humane Society in Oregon, he encountered the mummified remains of snared coyotes and orphaned pups at dens in rural areas throughout the state. He started Predator Defense a decade later as an animal hospital before transitioning into advocacy.

Fahy had witnessed the physical damage Wildlife Services’ traps can do but found the agency’s arsenal of poisons more unsettling. “You can’t remove it,” he said. “That poison is in their system and watching an animal die slowly, whether it be from sodium cyanide or strychnine or compound 1080, is extraordinarily disturbing.”

Fahy can rattle off cases going back years. There was the Wildlife Services trapper who scattered M-44s around a Christmas tree farm. And the one who hanged coyote carcasses on a family’s fence after killing their dog. And then there was Dennis Slaugh.

A heavy equipment operator from Vernal, Utah, Slaugh had little in the way of money but took great pride in the work he did for the county. That ended following his brush with an M-44 in 2003. Plagued with daily vomiting, diminished breathing, and soaring blood pressure, the 61-year-old was forced to quit his job. Wildlife Services denied any fault in the matter and claimed that Slaugh exceeded the statute of limitations to file a claim of wrongdoing. Unable to work, the medical bills piled up as Slaugh’s health deteriorated.

“They took my life away,” Slaugh said in a 2020 documentary . “And now I can’t hardly change a light bulb. It’s all from this cyanide. It just took everything away from me.”

As the years went by, Fahy collected case after case of M-44s killing pets and harming people across the West. Never once, he said, did he encounter an incident in which Wildlife Services, per the M-44 use restrictions required by the Environmental Protection Agency, contacted local medical providers to inform them of devices planted in their area. Signage was another problem. A trapper may place a single sign at one entrance on a large plot with several entry points, or they might not place one at all. Both were common in the investigations Fahy undertook.

Fahy had never seen a case quite like the Mansfields’ where a child came so close to death. He shared everything he knew with the family. In June 2018, the Mansfields filed suit against Wildlife Services, accusing Sullivan of failing to follow a slew of regulations meant to govern the placement of M-44s, including the placement of warning signs.

The Justice Department initially responded by blaming Canyon and his parents for what happened, before admitting Wildlife Services’ negligence and agreeing to pay the Mansfields $38,500 to settle the case in 2020.

Brooks Fahy with coyote pups in 1987.

Photo: Courtesy of Brooks Fahy

Thick as Pudding

Despite the national coverage the Mansfield case received, Wildlife Services has clung to M-44s as “an effective and environmentally sound wildlife damage management tool.”

In the wake of Canyon’s poisoning, the agency published a brochure justifying the devices’ use. “Our use of M 44 devices strictly follows EPA label instructions, directions, and use-restrictions; applicable Federal, State, and local laws and regulations; and agency and program directives and policies,” it said. “Our personnel do not use M-44s on any property unless the land’s owner or manager requests and agrees to our assistance. We must have a valid written cooperative agreement, agreement for control, Memoranda of Agreement, or other applicable document signed by the landowner or authorized representative to place any M-44s.”

After years of bad press, Wildlife Services is acutely aware of its reputation as the “hired gun of the livestock industry.” The source of the oft-repeated description is Carter Niemeyer, formerly one of the agency’s most productive trappers and today one of its sharpest critics .

“Their lobbying power makes or breaks Wildlife Services.”

Niemeyer is the author of “Wolfer,” an account of his quarter century as a Wildlife Services supervisor in Montana from 1975 to 2000. The veteran trapper believes the agency has important elements to its portfolio, and that many of its East Coast operations are quite professional. But in the West, he argues, existential ties to the livestock industry still reign. Unwillingness to relinquish M-44, he says, is an artifact of that bond.

“The very existence of Wildlife Services is dependent upon the livestock industry and all of the cooperators,” Niemeyer told me. “Their lobbying power makes or breaks Wildlife Services. If the cattlemen and sheep men lost their faith in Wildlife Services and didn’t do this insistent, persistent, powerful lobbying that they do, Wildlife Services would be dead in the water and probably disappeared.”

One of the starkest examples of that power came in 1998, when then-Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., introduced a bill to cut Wildlife Services’ budget from $50 to $10 million by taking an axe to its predator killing program. DeFazio was a longtime critic of the program, often telling reporters that Wildlife Services was more secretive than the intelligence agencies he worked with on the House Homeland Security Committee. His bill passed, but in a highly unusual turn of events, it was subjected to revote less than 24 hours later. The American Farm Bureau was in a fury. Overnight, agriculture lobbyists convinced 38 members of Congress to change their minds. The proposal died the following day.

From left: Brooks Fahy, executive director of Predator Defense; Rep. Pete DeFazio, D-Ore.; and Dennis and Dorothy Slaugh, in Washington, D.C., in 2006.

Photo: Courtesy of Brooks Fahy

“They were against the ropes, and it was all over,” Niemeyer said. “And in the last minute of the last hour of the last second, the livestock industry lobbyists somehow got to enough congressmen to turn the whole thing around and get that budget back when we’d pretty much heard that it was a done deal.”

Niemeyer never used M-44s and didn’t like them. The trappers who worked for him mostly felt the same. They were dangerous, required lots of paperwork, and trappers had plenty of other tools to do their jobs. “I was not disappointed if a guy didn’t want to use him,” Niemeyer said. “I didn’t blame him. I wouldn’t have either if I was in their shoes.”

There was one problem.

“My walking orders as a supervisor was to make sure the men used them,” Niemeyer said. “There was a real push from higher levels of the livestock industry to push for their registration and push for their use. Some of the sheep men, some of the notorious ones I remember, they figured that if you got snares, put ’em out. You got traps. Put ’em out. And for God’s sake, if there’s M-44s and you got a bunch sitting there in your cabinet, put ’em out.”

In its 2019 brochure on M-44s, Wildlife Services pointed to tens of millions of dollars lost every year by ranchers due to livestock killed by predators. Those numbers, Niemeyer pointed out, reflect survey data, self-reported by ranchers. They are not independently verified.

Though Niemeyer’s Wildlife Services tenure ended more than 20 years ago, the livestock industry’s continued support for M-44s is evident today on the webpage of the American Sheep Industry Association, which represents more 100,000 sheep producers nationwide. The site features a dedicated “Fact versus Fiction” page on the issue of M-44s. Among the fictions listed is the notion that cyanide bombs present a risk to the public.

At this point, Niemeyer argued, clinging to M-44s is as much about symbolism as anything else. “Kinda like the old give ’em an inch, they take a foot,” he said. “If they take our M-44s, next year they’ll take our snares, and then the year after they’ll take our traps.”

There’s a material angle as well. In addition to federal funding, Wildlife Services relies on the financial support of “cooperators” to keep the lights on. In the case of its predator program, the cooperators are often agricultural interests.

“They’re thick as pudding,” Niemeyer said. “That lobbying power of the ag industry is what keeps Wildlife Services afloat. I wouldn’t call it a criminal, but they’re buddies. They needed us and we needed them, and that’s how it keeps going on to this day.”

Dennis Slaugh and his wife Dorothy in the documentary “Lethal Control.” Slaugh died of a heart attack in February 2018. The “conditions contributing to death” listed on his death certificate included “Cyanide Poisoning/Exposure From M44 Device 2003.”

Still: Jamie Drysdale, Lethal Control, 2018

For Dennis

Six years on, it’s impossible to measure the full impact that the poisoning had on Canyon, said Mansfield. “You’re not really going to have a control group on kids nearly killed by cyanide,” he said. “So anything and everything that ever happens to him, mentally and or physically, you say, ‘Oh, I wonder if cyanide has anything to do with that?’ It’s a haunting thought that comes up every single time.”

The family’s goal remains the same: getting Canyon’s Law passed. They are hopeful that the latest round of efforts will be the final push they have been waiting for.

Following Canyon’s poisoning, Idaho issued a statewide prohibition on the use of M-44s pending an environmental assessment that remains in effect today. Fahy, the Predator Defense advocate, had little time to celebrate.

“It literally ripped my guts out, the whole thing, what they got away with.”

In February 2018, he picked up the phone to learn that Dennis Slaugh passed away. The official cause was an acute myocardial infarction. Listed among his “conditions contributing to death” was “Cyanide Poisoning/Exposure From M44 Device 2003.” The words on Slaugh’s death certificate contradicted a claim on Wildlife Services’ brochure the following year — repeated on American Sheep Industry Association’s fact versus fiction page — which read: “No human fatalities have been associated with Wildlife Services’ use of M-44s.” When asked about the death certificate, Wildlife Services pointed to a 2008 federal investigation that purportedly cleared the agency of any culpability in Slaugh’s death.

Fahy was devastated. He, Slaugh, and Slaugh’s wife Dorothy had traveled to Washington together a decade before, urging lawmakers to act on M-44s before somebody was killed. Slaugh had never visited a city like D.C. before. He didn’t know what to expect, and he didn’t know what was happening inside his body — why, for example, he needed to pause periodically to vomit as he passed through the halls of the Capitol.

Looking back at a photo from the visit, Fahy notes the way Slaugh held Dorothy’s hand, squeezing it tightly. “He was scared,” Fahy said. He watched Slaugh’s slow and agonizing deterioration in the years that followed. His death was the outcome Fahy had dedicated his life to preventing.

“It literally ripped my guts out, the whole thing, what they got away with,” Fahy said. Approaching 70, Fahy has had his own health scares — a consequence, he believes, of internalizing decades of secondhand trauma. With Slaugh’s death, however, he vowed to continue their fight. Unlike Canyon’s poisoning, where at least there was some measure of accountability at the local level, he said, “with Dennis, Wildlife Services got away with it.”

“I find it unbelievable that there are people that could have treated him like that,” Fahy said. “Nobody stood up for him. They just walked right over him.”

The post Secretive Federal Agency’s Days of Killing Pets With Poison Bombs May Finally Be Ending appeared first on The Intercept .

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    The Namibian fairy circle debate rages on: Could it be sand termites after all? / ArsTechnica · Wednesday, 26 July - 21:48 · 1 minute

Fairy circles in the Namib Desert.

Enlarge / Bare, reddish-hued circular patches in the Namib Desert known as "fairy circles" are also found in northwestern Australia. (credit: UHH/MIN/Juergens)

Himba bushmen in the Namibian grasslands have long passed down legends about the region's mysterious fairy circles: bare, reddish-hued circular patches that are also found in northwestern Australia. In the last 10 years, scientists have heatedly debated whether these unusual patterns are due to sand termites or to an ecological version of a self-organizing Turing mechanism. Last year, a team of scientists reported what they deemed definitive evidence of the latter, thus ruling out sand termites, but their declaration of victory may have been premature. A recent paper published in the journal Perspectives in Plant Ecology, Evolution, and Systematics offers a careful rebuttal of those 2022 findings, concluding that sand termites may be to blame after all.

As we've reported previously, the fairy circles can be as large as several feet in diameter. Dubbed "footprints of the gods," it's often said they are the work of the Himba deity Mukuru , or an underground dragon whose poisonous breath kills anything growing inside those circles. Scientists have their own ideas.

One theory—espoused by study co-author Norbert Jürgens, a biologist at the University of Hamburg in Germany—attributed the phenomenon to a particular species of termite ( Psammmotermes allocerus ), whose burrowing damages plant roots, resulting in extra rainwater seeping into the sandy soil before the plants can suck it up—giving the termites a handy water trap as a resource. As a result, the plants die back in a circle from the site of an insect nest. The circles expand in diameter during droughts because the termites must venture farther out for food.

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    The Next Big Emissions Fight Is an Old One: Why Some Conservatives Oppose Clean Air / TheIntercept · Sunday, 11 June, 2023 - 11:00 · 10 minutes

Steve Milloy , a longtime lobbyist for polluting industries from tobacco to coal to oil and gas, is back in the news thanks to the wildfire smoke that recently blanketed the U.S. East Coast. Milloy appeared on Fox News to tell people that there are “no negative health impacts” from breathing in wildfire smoke. It’s the latest salvo in a war he’s been waging against air pollution regulation since the 1980s.

For industry operatives like Milloy, air pollution, especially the regulation of particulate matter, has long been a greater concern than climate policy. Regulations on PM2.5 —fine inhalable particles generally smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter — would require many of the same reductions in the combustion of fossil fuels that climate policy would, but without any of the politicization that has obstructed climate action for decades. It’s never been easy for politicians to publicly fight against clean air and water, and it’s doubly hard when the country’s largest city is wrapped in smoke. So Milloy took to the conservative airways to dismiss concerns about wildfire smoke, which peer-reviewed public health research has linked to higher rates of heart attacks, strokes, and emergency respiratory and immune responses.

That research means little to Milloy, who claims that the peer-review process is biased against corporate interests. Although he has a degree in biostatistics from Johns Hopkins, Milloy is not, even by his own account, a medical expert. Nor is he an epidemiologist. But while it might be easy to dismiss him, Milloy has a knack for accessing power and attention. His recent media tour is a good predictor of where we’re likely to see conservatives headed should they regain control of the government in 2024. Spoiler alert: He’d like to see the Environmental Protection Agency go away.

In early 2020, Milloy was basking in the glory of multiple wins under President Donald Trump, posting pictures with his pals inside the EPA and bragging about “ eating the greens’ lunch .”

Trump’s EPA declined to tighten air pollution standards, rolled back mercury regulations, and disbanded the Particulate Matter Review Panel, or as Milloy put it: “blowing out that particulate matter sub-panel, another huge win.” Plus he finally got to introduce an idea he’d been trying to get into the EPA regulatory framework since the 1990s : the so-called secret science proposal. It would lend more weight to studies that make data available to the government and other researchers, which sounds good but would have the effect of discrediting most epidemiological studies because they include human test subjects and are subject to privacy laws. “I’ve got huge wins under my belt,” Milloy told me in a 2020 interview. “It’s been tremendously satisfying for me.”

That’s a lot of policy shifts coming from someone whose ideas have often been considered fringe by his fellow conservatives. As the Covid-19 pandemic hit, Milloy called public health officials “ COVID creeps ” and likened quarantine to communism. He criticizes oil companies for pandering to climate activists, whom he calls “ bedwetters ” or “ watermelons ”: green on the outside but “red” on the inside. In a 2017 presentation at the annual Heartland Institute climate conference, he compared the EPA to Auschwitz doctor Josef Mengele.


Republicans Are Using Big Tobacco’s Secret Science Playbook to Gut Health Rules

But the Trump EPA normalized a lot of previously fringe ideas, and Milloy was an adviser on the transition team. “I was the only person on the team with a background in EPA science, so I was brought on to write the science part of the transition plan,” he said. That meant he had real influence on environmental policy. And that influence is likely to grow if Republicans retake control of the government. In the meantime, Milloy works for Energy & Environment Legal Institute, a nonprofit law firm leading the charge against renewable energy projects and regulation of fossil fuels. Ultimately, the secret science proposal didn’t make it through the final approval process before Trump left office. When I asked Milloy if he thought a Republican-led EPA would take up the proposal again, he replied, “That is on my agenda.”

Also on the agenda: defunding the EPA and handing environmental regulation over to the states. But most of all, reclaiming his Trump-era wins on air pollution, particularly stalling or rolling back regulations on PM2.5. Those regulations are all the more critical to the climate fight today given the legal attack on the EPA’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. Particulate matter and greenhouse gas emissions are mostly generated by the same activity — the combustion of fossil fuels — so if the agency can’t regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, it can accomplish similar goals by tightening restrictions on particulate matter, something Milloy has been pointing out to conservatives for decades.

After Trump left office, the EPA’s disbanded Particulate Matter Review Panel went ahead and published their work in the New England Journal of Medicine . “We unequivocally and unanimously concluded that the current PM2.5 standards do not adequately protect public health,” they wrote. Under President Joe Biden, the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee agreed, and the EPA is in the process of strengthening the standards.

“It’s hard to attack clean air and clean water, they don’t want to do that, so they suggest the science is flawed.”

Milloy is hoping a lawsuit before the D.C. District Court will roll those efforts back. His latest battle against air pollution regulations is happening amid not only an endless respiratory health pandemic, but also a steady stream of studies pointing to the millions of people around the world still dying early thanks to air pollution. According to Milloy, it’s all fraud.

“What I think the right wing has done is try to saw the legs off the infrastructure that holds up environmental decision-making,” Eric Schaeffer, an EPA employee-turned-whistleblower and executive director of the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project, said. “It’s hard to attack clean air and clean water, they don’t want to do that, so they suggest the science is flawed. … We’re seeing right now the impacts of a decades-long campaign to undermine science.”

Steve Milloy appears on C-Span in March 2, 2013.

Steve Milloy appears on C-SPAN on March 2, 2013.

Credit: C-Span

From Tobacco to Wildfire Smoke

Like many of the folks who went on to battle climate regulation, Milloy got his start working for the tobacco industry in the 1990s, particularly dealing with the issue of secondhand smoke. He ran the Advancement of Sound Science Coalition, or TASSC, a front group for Philip Morris that worked to counteract efforts to regulate air pollution. Memos outlining the creation of TASCC could pass as mission statements for Milloy’s enterprise today.

TASCC operated under the principle that if an economic argument can’t keep regulation at bay, the next best move is to undermine the science that regulation is based on. Almost as soon as he started working on air pollution, Milloy had new science to contend with: a 1993 epidemiological study that looked at 8,000 people across six American cities and found that exposure to fine particulate matter — PM2.5, or soot — was correlated to reduced life expectancy. Not what you want to hear when the companies you work for sell the products that produce PM2.5: cigarettes, cars, coal, oil.

Milloy started by picking apart the methodology: The subject group was too small, researchers hadn’t controlled for other factors, and epidemiology’s reliance on observational data made it suspect. He manufactured controversy around the researchers keeping their data private, producing a paper that would become the basis for the secret science proposal. And he targeted the scientists themselves, particularly lead researcher Steven Dockery and one of the statisticians involved, C. Arden Pope.

But it’s hard to discredit scientists who are cautious about the implications of their own findings. “It was a bit bigger than we expected, and we were a bit concerned about it,” Pope said of the correlation between exposure to PM2.5 and premature death. That led the scientists to ask the American Cancer Society to rerun the analysis with an independently collected cohort of subjects. The cancer society got similar results, as did the Health Effects Institute, an organization half-funded by the EPA and half-funded by the automotive industry. Milloy kept fighting, but nothing worked. In 1997, the EPA passed its first regulation on particulate matter. It tightened those regulations every eight years or so right up until Scott Pruitt became administrator of the agency under Trump. Milloy said he put the old secret science paper “in the transition plan and talked with Pruitt about it.”

It wasn’t new science or a new strategy that handed Milloy a win after 25 years; it was just access . Being on Trump’s EPA transition team enabled him to smuggle in all sorts of ideas from his pals, including James Enstrom, a tobacco industry-funded scientist who published one of the few studies contradicting the Six Cities data. While Milloy points to Enstrom’s study as proof that Pope et al. are peddlers of “junk science,” Pope points to the 25 years’ worth of additional studies that have consistently replicated the Six Cities result.

The obscure journal that put out Enstrom’s paper in 2017 is published by another friend of Milloy’s, toxicologist Ed Calabrese, whose research focuses on the idea that a little bit of pollution and radiation are actually good for you. When Pruitt announced in 2018 that the EPA would not strengthen the regulations on particulate matter, he cited Enstrom’s study as evidence that the science on PM2.5 was “too uncertain” to act upon.

A man talks on his phone as he looks through the haze at the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, N.J., Wednesday, June 7, 2023. Intense Canadian wildfires are blanketing the northeastern U.S. in a dystopian haze, turning the air acrid, the sky yellowish gray and prompting warnings for vulnerable populations to stay inside. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

A man talks on his phone as he looks through the haze at the George Washington Bridge in Fort Lee, N.J., on June 7, 2023.

Photo: Seth Wenig

Regulating Air Pollution

Almost as soon as the U.S. government began to mandate quarantine in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, Milloy took to Twitter to take aim at one of his favorite scientific targets, epidemiology , and warn that Covid lockdown would lead to climate lockdown. Aside from political ideology, there’s also a PM2.5 connection with Covid. Studies have found that both chronic exposure to particulate matter and short-term exposure are Covid-19 risk factors.

Milloy’s wins on PM2.5 under Trump illustrate just how much of the U.S. regulatory apparatus the administration was able to dismantle in a short amount of time, but they’re an indicator of something else too: a willingness to go further than conservatives ever have in the battle against environmental regulation, to actually attack clean air and water. Why? In a word, climate. Thanks to the Supreme Court’s decision in West Virginia v. EPA , the EPA’s hands are somewhat tied when it comes to regulating the emissions of power plants. One of the few remaining ways the agency can target CO2 is by regulating particulate matter, since both are emitted via fossil fuel combustion. As Milloy put it to me recently: “PM2.5 is the most important backdoor science scheme for regulating fossil fuel emissions.”

As New York and D.C. residents choked on wildfire smoke from Canada, many saw in the apocalyptic landscape a window into a climate-changed future. The link between climate change and wildfire is nuanced: Climate change doesn’t “cause” wildfires, but it does create the low-moisture, high-heat conditions that make fires more likely and keeps them burning longer. Irregular plant growth driven by climate change can also result in excess fuel for those fires, but forest management and building development choices matter too . The data is unclear on which of these factors played the largest role in Canada’s fires, but it is very clear that climate change will bring bigger fires more frequently in the future.

For Milloy, though, no matter what the data says, there can be no lines drawn between climate change and fire or smoke and respiratory illness. Such a connection would make his clients liable for tens of millions of dollars in health costs, and then they couldn’t afford to fund him anymore.

The post The Next Big Emissions Fight Is an Old One: Why Some Conservatives Oppose Clean Air appeared first on The Intercept .

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    A Massachusetts Town Is Suing Monsanto for Its Cancer-Causing PCBs / TheIntercept · Tuesday, 23 May, 2023 - 18:44 · 7 minutes

Clare Lahey has lived with her husband in the home he grew up in, just up the street from the Housatonic River in the town of Lee, Massachusetts, for nearly five decades. Now, in the twilight of their lives, they’re watching as the same chemicals that have ravaged the health of people living along the river for years are now being dredged and dumped near their home.

Lahey has had bladder cancer twice, 15 years apart; her husband is wracked with illnesses including chronic obstructive pulmonary disease even though he never smoked. She believes that proximity to the river is to blame for their health problems, and she’s not alone: The Environmental Protection Agency, or EPA, warns that the river’s PCBs are likely to cause cancer in humans, and a Massachusetts Department of Public Health study on the cancer link is scheduled to be released this year .

“Why don’t we just move away?” Lahey asked. “Well, because he’s 85 and I’m 82, and we want to finish out our lives here.”

Lee is a working-class town in the heart of the Berkshires, a rural region near the New York border known for its scenic beauty. It’s also known, among locals, as a place polluted by PCBs, dangerous industrial chemicals manufactured by Monsanto and used by General Electric in the electric transformers the company manufactured and serviced . GE ran a plant in the county’s largest city, Pittsfield, and dumped PCBs into the local Housatonic River from 1932 to 1977, when Monsanto ceased production. In 1979, the EPA made PCBs illegal.

Trails in the woods of  Woods Pond. This is the area where GE wants to dump PCBs that they will dredge from the river. Apparently, this park will be closed for more than a year while GE bury’s the PCBs. (A group of ATV riders went the wrong way on the road and turned around to get to the ATV trails) Lee, Massachusets

Trails lead through Woods Pond park near the site of the proposed dump site in Lee, Mass. The town has filed a lawsuit against Monsanto as part of an attempt to find an alternative site outside of the region.

Photo: Lori Grinker/Contact Press for The Intercept

After decades of efforts by local and state leaders and federal agencies like the EPA, GE in 2000 began cleaning the river and nearby areas. But the latest round of dredging, expected to begin in the next few years, would put a dump site in Lee. Residents of the town as well as local leaders — including the Housatonic Environmental Action League and the Housatonic River Initiative, who are challenging the plan in the First Circuit Court of Appeals — are resisting the decision.

The town has filed a lawsuit against Monsanto as part of an attempt to find an alternative site outside of the region.

The lawsuit is asking for compensatory and natural resource damages and for a court order “that will require Monsanto to deposit funds awarded by a jury into an escrow account so that Lee has the funds to move the 2,000,000 tons of PCB soil and mud projected to be dumped in Lee to an out of state location.” Lee Select Board chair Bob Jones told The Intercept that the town doesn’t have a specific site in mind, “although there are certainly licensed sites in existence.”

“We’re hoping if we can show that Monsanto produced these toxic items, cancer-causing PCBs, that if we can come up with enough money to have that, we can then leverage GE taking the stuff out of the area and not having a waste dump in the town of Lee,” Jones said. “That’s really what we’re looking for.”

Bayer, the pharmaceutical giant that bought Monsanto in 2018, rejects the lawsuit completely. The company’s director of U.S. external communications, Nicole Hayes, told The Intercept in an emailed comment that Bayer believes the lawsuit “is meritless.”

“There is no legal basis for imposing liability on Monsanto for the lawful sale of PCBs into the stream of commerce more than four decades ago, over which Monsanto had no control,” Hayes said. “Furthermore, Monsanto ceased its lawful production of PCBs more than 45 years ago and never disposed of PCBs in or near the Town.” The lawsuit does not accuse Monsanto of dumping PCBs, only of manufacturing them, and makes clear that GE was the offending party for the chemical disposal.

Despite Monsanto’s claims, a memo published by the Poison Papers project in 2017 shows that the company was aware of the problems posed by PCBs at least as early as 1969, eight years before it stopped producing the chemicals. The memo shows that Monsanto knew that PCBs could have detrimental effects on people’s health and that the evidence for its persistence in the environment was “beyond questioning.” A series of potential solutions was offered, including immediate cessation of PCB production; the company, apparently, chose the “do nothing” option.

Lee isn’t the first municipality to take Monsanto to court over its production of PCBs that other companies later dumped. Similar efforts in Washington state, California, Missouri, and elsewhere have had varied levels of success: Some cases have been settled, some have resulted in the company being ordered to pay restitution, and others have been found in Monsanto’s favor.

“I feel like we have a good chance of winning because this is so clearly unjust,” Lahey said.

Lee, Massachusets

Signs in town advocate against the future PCB dump site in Lee, Mass., on May 21, 2023.

Photo: Lori Grinker/Contact Press for The Intercept

In 2016, the EPA made an agreement with GE and other nearby towns that GE would dredge the river and remove the contaminated soil out of the county. No sooner was the agreement made, Jones said, than GE went to court to change the parameters. That led to a mediated agreement, done in private with representatives from the affected towns — Lee, Pittsfield, Lenox, Great Barrington, and Sheffield — the EPA, GE, and environmental groups including the Berkshire Environmental Action Team, or BEAT, that resulted in the dump site being placed in Lee.

Jones and Lahey are among the Berkshire residents in and outside of Lee who feel that what they see as the secrecy of the process — former Select Board member Patricia Carlino was the town’s representative — did a disservice to the people of the town.

“To mediate, negotiate, and seal a deal without any knowledge or input from the general public is a failure of representative government,” Jones told The Intercept.

The agreement was signed by the Select Board after 18 months of closed-door sessions and without consulting the rest of the town, something that still angers anti-dump residents. Under the agreement with GE and the EPA, Lee will get $25 million from GE in exchange for the dump site. If the town rejects the site, the funding is off the table.

“A PCB dump was imposed on a town of only about 5,500 people, plus or minus, without their knowledge,” Jones said.

Clare Lahey stands in the area between the Eurovia asnd and gravel mining company  the line of  trees at the edges of the GE property.  The tree area is a 50 acre parcel of which 25 will be used by GE to  dump PCBs that they will dredge from the Housatonic River (to the left beyond where we can see), Lee, Massachusets

Clare Lahey stands near the future PCB dump site, an area with porous sand that is close to the Housatonic River, in Lee, Mass., on May 21, 2023.

Photo: Lori Grinker/Contact Press for The Intercept

Jane Winn, BEAT executive director, agrees that Monsanto should be held responsible for its role in producing PCBs. She remembers a time when the river and surrounding wetlands were in far worse shape than they are today, due to the chemical’s corrosive damage. The river used to change color and catch fire, she said.

Despite Winn’s support for the lawsuit, she doesn’t think it’s likely to succeed. Winn, as BEAT executive director, was a signatory to the consent decree putting the dump in Lee. She told The Intercept that while she’d like to see a more permanent remedial solution, “the site they’ve chosen, if it has to be in the Berkshires, is a reasonable site.”

Winn said that the dump in Lee is a “downside” to the cleanup but that the trade-off of having low-level contaminant soil put in the town site is the compromise in order to get to that point. She understands that Lee feels it’s been treated unfairly but urged perspective: “They’re getting more sediment out of the river in Lee because of it.”

There’s some outright local opposition to Lee’s lawsuit. The Berkshire Eagle, in an opinion piece taking issue with Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s written support for the Lee effort, questioned what the next move would be if the dump were stopped and endorsed the site as an imperfect but ultimately necessary solution to the river’s pollution.

“While the dump disproportionately affects Lee (and Lenox Dale), the fate of a comprehensive Housatonic cleanup plan matters to a much broader part of the Berkshire community,” the paper’s editorial board wrote in the unsigned opinion piece. “Whatever the intensity of the understandable hard feelings in Lee, it’s reasonable to ask what the procedural limits of reflexive opposition are here.”

It’s not lost on Jones that the site is in the poorest town of the towns involved in the discussions. “It’s a working-class town,” Jones said. “It was a mill town, but the mills are gone.”

“We’re the ones who have to bear the burden of it,” he added.

The post A Massachusetts Town Is Suing Monsanto for Its Cancer-Causing PCBs appeared first on The Intercept .

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    The “Electrify Everything” Movement’s Consumption Problem / TheIntercept · Monday, 8 May, 2023 - 19:05 · 11 minutes

In 2019, Thea Riofrancos was splitting her time between researching the social and environmental impacts of lithium mining in Chile and organizing for a rapid energy transition away from fossil fuels in the United States. A political science professor at Providence College and member of the Climate and Community Project, Riofrancos was struck by the contrast: Lithium is essential to the batteries that make electric vehicles and renewable energy work, but mining inflicts its own environmental damage. “Here I am in Chile, in the Atacama Desert, seeing these mining-related harms, and then there I go in the U.S. advocating for a rapid transition. How do I align these two goals?” Riofrancos said. “And is there a way to have a less extractive energy transition?”

When she went looking for research that would help answer that question, she found none, at least not for the transportation sector, which was her area of focus. “I saw forecast after forecast that assumed basically a binary of the future,” she said. “Either we stay with the fossil fuel status quo and the existential crisis that that is causing for the planet and all of its people. Or we transition to an electrified, renewably powered future, but that doesn’t really change anything about how these sectors or economic activities are organized.”

Riofrancos wanted to look at multiple ways to design an electrified future and understand what the costs and impacts of different scenarios might be. So she linked up with other Climate and Community Project researchers and put together a report mapping out four potential pathways to electrification for the transportation sector. Titled “ Achieving Zero Emissions With More Mobility and Less Mining ,” the report concluded that even relatively small, easy-to-achieve shifts like reducing the size of cars and their batteries could deliver big returns: a 42 percent reduction in the amount of lithium needed in the U.S., even if the number of cars on the road and the frequency with which people drive stayed the same.

It’s the sort of thing politicians and electrification advocates need to think through now, when decisions can be made to guide the energy transition in one direction or another. It’s also critical to an underdiscussed component of climate action: demand for products and services and the role energy plays in fulfilling those demands. Which connects right up to another topic that American politicians don’t want to touch with a 10-foot pole: consumption.

Last year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change put out a report on mitigation of climate risks that included a chapter on demand for the first time in the IPCC’s history. Relying on more than a decade of peer-reviewed research, it concluded that people’s needs — food, shelter, water, transportation — are not always explicitly connected to energy, and even when they are, there are ways to dramatically reduce the amount of energy required to meet them.

That conclusion contradicted several decades of economic theory that suggested that increased energy use and, by extension, increased consumption would always equate to a longer lifespan and improved quality of life. Julia Steinberger, an ecological economist and professor at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, contributed to the demand chapter. “In phases of economies when everybody’s in poverty, there’s a lot of demand that drives production,” she explained. “After a certain point, though, you have an overproductive industry that’s constantly driving productivity and competitiveness. … And the outlet for that is various kinds of over-consumption or things like planned obsolescence. Basically you wind up with products looking for markets.”

Steinberger says we reached that point with fossil fuels years ago. She’s led several peer-reviewed studies that prove it, as have dozens of other economists. “The fossil fuel industry is using this fake narrative of demand-driven production to excuse their activities,” Steinberger said. “But as soon as you look at demand, the story crumbles. Because all we need is services; that’s what there is demand for. We don’t need the energy use itself. So let’s think about how we deliver those services in a more efficient way.”

Steinberger says the link between increased fossil fuel use and increased life expectancy or quality of life has also been disproven. “This idea of the fossil fuel industry as this grubby titan who’s sort of holding up the industrial basis for the rest of us, they love that narrative, but it’s simply not true,” she said. “Fossil fuel use does not contribute significantly to improvements in life expectancy.”

Which is not to say that there isn’t a global energy access problem, or even that fossil fuels have no short-term role to play in addressing it. Yale economist Narasimha Rao argues that we need to see a reduction in consumption in the “Global North” so that we can close the energy gap in the “Global South” without increasing emissions. But so far, all executives and politicians have been willing to talk about is expanding energy development in the Global South. Tackling consumption in the Global North has been painted as radical austerity, “taking our hamburgers,” or a slippery slope to communism.

The IPCC report laid out several straightforward steps countries could take to enable a decrease in energy usage without sacrificing quality of life. Increasing the availability of car-free and electrified transportation, improving energy efficiency, and basic things like not setting the default temperatures on thermostats to excessively cold or warm levels could all move the needle in a big way while delivering reductions in monthly bills, according to the report. “Forty to 70 percent of the 2050 level of projected emissions can be reduced by working on the demand side,” Indian economist Joyashree Roy, the lead author of the IPCC report’s demand chapter, said. “I think we really need to communicate this more. With the substitutes we’re talking about, a new economy is going to grow. Rather than, you know, an old economy.”

Electric vehicle charging stations are pictured in Monterey Park, California on Aug.31, 2022.

Electric vehicle charging stations are pictured in Monterey Park, Calif., on Aug. 31, 2022.

Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

Building a New Economy

The transportation sector is the primary source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., which is why it’s a primary target for decarbonization. And thanks to the availability of both electric vehicles and Inflation Reduction Act-related incentives to purchase them, American consumers are embracing the shift, with EV purchases expected to represent half of all vehicle purchases by 2030.

But that shift will bring with it other environmental impacts related to mineral mining and the land required for large-scale renewable projects to provide the electricity all those cars plug into. Policies that reduce car dependency and encourage the use of mass transit can speed decarbonization, make the energy transition more just, reduce environmental impacts, and ease tensions around increasingly scarce resources. Such policies could also help decarbonization advocates get in front of a burgeoning anti-electrification movement that includes folks like Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, who is suddenly very concerned about the impact of cobalt mining on children in the Congo.

Policies that reduce the need for mining and land tend to be popular with voters too. They enable things like more public transit options, which consistently polls well with American voters, and rooftop solar, which has broad bipartisan support across the country.

They’re not so popular with entrenched corporate interests, though. The automotive industry, for example, is not only unlikely to get behind measures to reduce car dependency, but it’s also working hard to sell Americans on the largest possible electric vehicles. According to data from the advertising data firm MediaRadar, the top five largest ad budgets for electric vehicles over the last two years were all for SUVs, not the sedans or compacts that run on smaller batteries. Brands with multiple electric car models, including Chevrolet, Nissan, and Volkswagen, spent more than twice as much money advertising their largest models as their more efficient compact models.

Between April 2021 and April 2023, automakers spent more than twice as much advertising large EVs as they spent on smaller, more efficient models. Source: Media Radar

Between April 2021 and April 2023, automakers spent more than twice as much advertising large EVs as they spent on smaller, more efficient models. Source: MediaRadar

Graphic: Amy Westervelt and The Intercept

In the broader energy space, the popularity of rooftop solar protected it so long as panels were expensive and adoption was relatively low. But as the cost and accessibility of rooftop solar has come down, so has utilities’ tolerance of it. In 2013, when manufacturing was increasing and the cost began to drop, the Edison Electric Institute, a trade group representing electrical utilities, put out a white paper cautioning that distributed renewable energy could kick off a “death spiral for utilities.” For years afterward, other industry experts repeated this idea, and utility executives began pushing for policies that would keep rooftop solar small and expensive.

The most recent example was a move by the California Public Utilities Commission to reduce by more than 75 percent the amount utilities pay for excess energy from solar rooftops. That change, driven largely by utilities, went into effect April 15. Even solar advocates had agreed that the state’s net metering policy — the amount of money residents with rooftop solar can earn by selling excess energy back to the utility — needed to be updated. It was written when far fewer residents were installing solar. But few thought the reduction needed to go quite so far.

“It’s not as draconian as the utilities wanted, but it’s still in line with their political agenda,” said David Pomerantz, executive director of the Energy and Policy Institute.

Utilities complained that the change didn’t go far enough, claiming to be advocating on behalf of low-income Californians, not their own investors. “This final decision was a missed opportunity,” Kathy Fairbanks, spokesperson for Affordable Clean Energy for All, a group headed by the state’s investor-owned utilities, said in a statement. “The current solar subsidy program forces low-income families, renters, seniors, and anyone who doesn’t have rooftop solar to bankroll wealthier Californians’ solar systems.”

“We do want to make sure the benefits of rooftop solar are extended to everyone and are equitable,” Pomerantz said. But “I have a really hard time hearing that argument from utilities that are disconnecting their poorest customers’ power over a few dollars owed, and who have historically sited toxic coal plants in poor communities and communities of color, and who continue to advocate for regressive fixed charges.”

Just as public transit wouldn’t eliminate the need for electric vehicles, unfettered rooftop solar wouldn’t eliminate the need for utility-scale solar projects, but it would reduce the number of them required. And given the major issues with permitting, land use, and conservation around grid-scale renewable projects, that means fewer tensions and fewer environmental impacts.

“We should maximize every bit of rooftop solar that we can,” Pomerantz said. “It won’t solve the tensions between utility-scale renewables and conservation, but rooftop solar doesn’t suffer from any of those thorny issues, so every megawatt of it we can deploy could be a thornier utility renewable project that we might not need.”

Utilities make money off large-scale projects, though, so they don’t love the idea of reducing the number of them. Pomerantz said many of the utilities fighting rooftop solar across the country — including Southern Company in the South, Sempra Energy in California, and Duke Energy in the Midwest and Southeast — are misleading in their arguments. “Utilities love to say that their own renewables that they build and own are cheaper than rooftop solar, but it’s a red herring,” he said. “The problem with that argument is that most utilities are not making a choice between distributed and utility-scale renewables, they’re building and running gas plants and coal plants.”

Ultimately, the most efficient, environmentally friendly way to decarbonize might be the path that offers people the most choices. Despite a whole lot of messaging about how much Americans love trucks and coal, poll after poll shows them loving public transit and rooftop solar even more.

“When I look at the transportation system and also my own interaction with it … I experienced a lack of choices, a lack of freedom,” Riofrancos said. “I have lived in places where it was not only not required, but actually more annoying to have a car than to use a bike or bus or a subway or something else. And I now live in a place where the opposite is true. … The vast majority of Americans use cars to get around because they live in contexts where there really is no other option. I don’t blame individuals for those choices, but nor do I see our current transportation system as a paragon of freedom.”

With the Inflation Reduction Act unleashing a wave of incentives for electrified energy and transportation across the country, the United States sits at a key turning point. It can electrify the status quo or use the opportunity of a large-scale energy transition to substantively change systems that haven’t been touched in a hundred years. Letting “the markets” solve climate change without reining in the companies that have been warping those markets for more than a century seems like a shaky foundation for a new economy. Decisions made today could put the country on a very different path and ensure that the Inflation Reduction Act delivers on the emissions cuts it promised, but the window of opportunity is closing.

The post The “Electrify Everything” Movement’s Consumption Problem appeared first on The Intercept .

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    Biden Is Fulfilling Trump’s Cruel Policy on Wild Horses / TheIntercept · Monday, 27 March, 2023 - 13:00 · 10 minutes

The Biden administration was supposed to have been a reprieve from the Trump years, but for conservationists who want the wild horses of the American West to live long and prosper, this didn’t happen. The anti-horse policies formulated under Donald Trump have been dutifully carried out by his liberal successor.

“We feel betrayed, because we thought this was an administration that really believed in wildlife protections,” Manda Kalimian, president of the wild horse and environmental advocacy group Cana Foundation, told me recently. “For all the hope we placed in Biden, it turns out he’s almost worse than Trump when it comes to wild horses.”

The protections for horses are enshrined in federal law. The 1971 Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act mandated that the animals “are to be considered … as an integral part of the natural system of the public lands,” and as such, they “shall be protected from capture, branding, harassment, or death.”

Under Trump in 2018, the Department of the Interior adopted a bold new program for the management of horses that exploited loopholes in the 1971 law. The program, Path Forward, was the brainchild of Republican Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah, a longtime friend of public land livestock grazers who consider horses to be their cows’ competitors on western rangelands.

Path Forward was a wholesale gift to the livestock industry. It directed the Interior Department’s Bureau of Land Management, or BLM, to expand roundups on federal herd management areas where the animals were alleged to have overpopulated. The benefit to livestock interests was obvious: Cows also use these same management areas, and the fewer horses in them, the better for stock-growers dependent on public forage to fatten their herds.

With Path Forward, the BLM began holding horses in “off-range” facilities in larger numbers than ever before, exposing the animals to rampant disease and extremes of cold and heat. It offered $1,000 a horse to would-be adopters, a much-ballyhooed “adoption incentive.” The agency promised that once the number of horses on the open range had been sufficiently reduced, it would begin widespread fertility control through darting of mares with contraceptives.

By 2020, Congress had fully funded Path Forward, and Secretary of the Interior Deb Haaland, whom Joe Biden celebrated as the first Native American to hold the post, did not hesitate to implement it. Haaland’s BLM has overseen the largest increase in roundups of wild horses on record. It should be remarked as one of the minor ironies of history that a woman whose appointment was supposed to represent a break from the past has ended up perpetuating a violent and cruel status quo.

“Path to Destruction”

Occasional horse roundups, conducted humanely, are not out of keeping with the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act. The legislation stated that when the animals exceed the carrying capacity of management areas, the federal government should step in to regulate their numbers.

The problem is that the BLM has no scientific understanding of the carrying capacity of western rangelands where horses and burros roam free. This was the conclusion of a National Academy of Sciences report in 2013. The NAS investigators found that the BLM had failed to use “scientifically rigorous methods to estimate the population sizes of horses and burros,” failed “to model the effects of management actions on the animals,” and, pivotally, failed “to assess the … use of forage on rangelands.”

When I reported on wild horse controversies for my book on the fate of federal public lands under capitalism, I found that carrying capacity for these persecuted animals was mostly determined by the needs of cattle corporations. In every herd management area, there are cows, and they outnumber horses by orders of magnitude. Allotted the majority of the forage, the cattle do well, and the horses are left to survive on what pittance remains.

The BLM captured and placed in holding facilities some 21,000 horses and burros in 2022.

From the moment the 1971 legislation to protect horses and burros passed, the number of herd management areas, along with the total acreage included in them, has been continually declining. Horses today don’t enjoy full access to the meager acreage federal regulators designate for their survival. Livestock operators dominate even those parcels, while fences bar the horses from moving freely across the landscape. Maltreatment of horses is only one facet of a long historical process in which the BLM has treated wildlife with barely disguised contempt.

None of this appeared to be a consideration when, in 2022, the BLM decided to capture and place in holding facilities some 21,000 horses and burros, nearly twice the number of the last highest capture year, 2012. More horses and burros were rounded up and sent to holding between 2018 and 2022 — a total of 55,000 — than in any four-year period since passage of the 1971 act.

“It’s been year after year of pain and suffering,” Kalimian told me. “So much for the federal law that’s supposed to protect our horses.”

What we’re witnessing today with Path Forward, she said, is “a path to destruction.”

Mustangs recently captured on federal rangeland roam a corral at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management's holding facility north of Reno, in Palomino, Nev., on Sept. 4, 2013.

Mustangs captured on federal rangeland roam a corral at the U.S. Bureau of Land Management’s holding facility north of Reno, Nev., on Sept. 4, 2013.

Photo: Scott Sonner/AP

Secretive Holding Facilities

One of the necessary components of the new program is that the BLM had to massively expand its contracts with private holding facilities to accommodate the rise in the number of animals removed from the range. These operators have the option to bar public access and oversight, a sea change from public processing corrals that are open to visitation.

It’s smart PR to hide behind closed doors because capture and transfer into holding can be mortal events for the animals. Take, for example, the 804 burros rounded up in the summer of 2022 in Nevada’s Blue Wing Complex, 60 miles northwest of Reno. Ten died immediately. After the BLM shipped the remaining burros into private holding, 45 more died from “capture stress,” according to records obtained through Freedom of Information Act requests. The BLM will not allow the public to see those burros and check on their conditions in captivity.

Laura Leigh, executive director of Wild Horse Education in Reno, has been fighting the BLM’s wild horse policies for close to two decades. Path Forward, she told me, is only the latest iteration of the agency’s longtime effort to undermine the survival of wild horse herds so that profiteering interests, primarily stock growers and mining companies, are free to seize resources on public lands.

“The smoke-and-mirrors science from the BLM is all to protect cattle grazing.”

The Blue Wing roundup was so badly planned that Leigh joined with Kalimian’s Cana Foundation to file suit in federal court decrying “the antiquated and unscientific” environmental assessment the BLM used to justify the operation. The suit accused the BLM of lacking any long-term management plans for horses and burros in the Blue Wing Complex. “The smoke-and-mirrors science from the BLM is all to protect cattle grazing,” Kalimian told me.

Capture stress can trigger immune system failure, according to Leigh. Horses thrive in family groups, and when those groups are shattered — as they are in every roundup — this causes psychological distress that can lead to physical compromise. Being moved to a pen is a trigger as well. The BLM claims death rates from roundups are around 1 percent, but the true cost, Leigh says, is much higher: Some 12 percent of horses and burros die within six months of capture, according to her team’s research . That’s an estimated 6,000 deaths between 2018 and 2022. Many have perished of disease, though exact numbers are unknown. Equine influenza and streptococcus, ringworm, pigeon fever, papillomavirus, and salmonella have swept through the populations in holding.

Filth and inadequate sanitation are now the norm with the huge influx of animals. The BLM and its private contractors use the same capture alleys and pens repeatedly, without sufficient cleaning, and do not maintain expert staff who can handle sound sanitary practices, according to horse advocates who have investigated holding facilities. A typical boarding barn has a quarantine process for new arrivals; advocates charge that the BLM process, by contrast, allows disease to run rife.

“The BLM is committed to the health, welfare, and safety of all wild horses and burros, including those in BLM and contractor operated off-range facilities,” a spokesperson said in response to questions about the bureau’s sanitation practices. “Assessments are conducted to determine compliance or identify any corrective actions necessary to ensure proper care is provided.”

Unknowing citizens sometimes stumble on these holding sites and are horrified. Such was the experience of Vicki Cameron, a barber in Wheatland, Wyoming, in the state’s eastern high plains. Ten miles outside Wheatland, the BLM contracted with a company called Zimmetal and Welding LLC to operate a for-profit holding facility, the Wheatland Off-Range Corral. The BLM reports that approximately 2,850 animals from multiple states are now in captivity at Wheatland.

“I’m just an ordinary person driving along one day and saw these corrals full of horses,” Cameron said of her discovery of the Wheatland site in December. “This winter has been brutal, with extreme cold, snow, and wind. The corrals are on an open space with no shelter or break from the wind.”

Wheatland is closed to the public, but Cameron has been spying on its operations from nearby hilltops with binoculars. She told me that horses stand in eight inches of manure and muck in midwinter thaw events. Then the temperature drops abruptly, the wind kicks up, and the wind chill plummets to 60 below. “No human could withstand this weather,” Cameron said.

A Gold Mining Rush

Meanwhile, Path Forward’s vaunted adoption incentive program has gone off the rails. Multiple reputable organizations report that kill-buyers are posing as adopters, pocketing the $1,000 in taxpayer subsidy. The kill-buyers then sell horses and burros into a profitable slaughter pipeline in Mexico and Canada, at the end of which the animals are turned into canned meat for dogs. The BLM has noted that while adopters must pledge not to resell the horses to slaughterhouses, the bureau has no authority to enforce those agreements.

And fertility control has devolved into a second-rate initiative that has only involved a small number of horses, roughly 6 percent of the more than 20,000 captured off the range in 2022 — and an even smaller percentage of those horses allowed to remain on the range. Worse, the BLM has embraced invasive and often dangerous treatments to prevent horses from breeding. The agency, for example, has now proposed using lasers to burn mare’s oviducts, a painful process that causes tubal scarring to prevent conception but comes with serious risk of complications and death.

“Fertility control has turned into a vehicle for just more funding for roundups without regard for the real welfare of the animals,” Leigh said.

This broken system of management has its origin in the BLM’s policy of ever-widening fragmentation of horse habitat. Cattle-growing operations and industrial development on public lands are given priority. Especially worrisome is the breakneck growth in mining on the parcels of public domain reserved for horses, development that has produced more roads and more fences. Mining companies secure water rights on these arid landscapes to supply water-intensive hard-rock exploration, lowering the water table and drying up springs and seeps that horses depend on.

Leigh used to camp in one of the management areas in central Nevada, called the Pancake Complex, where the BLM has fast-tracked the construction of two new gold mines and condemned horse herds to make way for the mining concerns. In a 30-day period in early 2022, the BLM rounded up more than 2,000 horses in the Pancake Complex.

During her most recent visit last autumn, Leigh found new roads on previously unroaded landscapes. There was industrial-scale traffic and the constant noise of machines where previously the Pancake was a place of immense silence. Gone were not only the horses, but also the badger and pronghorn antelope she used to see and the sage grouse that came out at dusk to meet her.

So it goes. The last wild places of the American West are subjugated to money-making interests, and the last inhabitants of those marvelous landscapes are pushed aside.

In her constant and seemingly fruitless rebukes of the BLM for its failure to uphold the 1971 law, Leigh has asked the obvious question: Do we actually care about wild horses? Or are we just pretending to protect the ecosystems where these animals live? If the mandate of the BLM is truly to protect wild horses and burros, as the 1971 legislation tells us it is, the only way to make the program sound is to address the long-ignored issue of habitat preservation — a prospect that seems to be nowhere on the agenda under Joe Biden.

The post Biden Is Fulfilling Trump’s Cruel Policy on Wild Horses appeared first on The Intercept .