Nats double down on commitment to coal, Joyce rants against wind and solar | RenewEconomy

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If there were any questions over the National Party’s commitment to the coal sector after the loss of Matt Canavan from the resources portfolio, they were quickly answered by new deputy leader David Littleproud who reasserted his party’s commitment to a new coal generator in Queensland on his first day in the job.

In an interview with ABC’s RN Breakfast program on Wednesday, Littleproud trotted out the three consistent assertions of the coal lobby; that you can reduce emissions using more coal, that more coal generation is necessary to lower electricity prices and that baseload power is a necessary feature of the future energy system.

Each of these three assertions have been repeatedly debunked, but it confirms that it’s business as usual in a Morrison cabinet that will continue to face internal divisions over a need to act on climate change and the fossil fuel advocates within its ranks.

It is understood that Queensland Nationals MP Keith Pitt is the front runner to take over Canavan’s former positions as the minister for resources and Northern Australia when new ministerial appointments are announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday.

Pitt himself has been an outspoken advocate for a new coal-fired power station in Queensland, so while Canavan – who liked to describe himself as “Mr Coal” – has exited the federal cabinet, the pressure to push forward with the Collinsville project is likely to continue.

Pitt has also been a strong supporter of a nuclear industry in Australia, and will have the backing of failed Nationals leadership candidate Barnaby Joyce, who again argued for nuclear power to be considered as part of Australia’s efforts to reduce emissions as part of a bizarre Facebook rant against renewable energy.

“We have to recognise that the public acceptance of wind towers on the hill in front of their veranda is gone, and the public dissonance on that issue is as strong as any other environmental subject,” Joyce said.

“If zero emissions are the goal then surely nuclear energy should be supported, but it is not. If wind towers are a moral good and environmentally inoffensive, why can’t we have them just off the beach at Bondi so we can feel good about ourselves while going for a surf? It would cause a riot.”

“Do you want a 3,000ha solar farm next door to you? Lots of glass and aluminium neatly in rows pointing at the sun. I am not sure others will want to buy that view off you when you go to sell your house.”

The coal industry might have lost its most enthusiastic advocate from the federal cabinet, but the Nationals were quick to show that it won’t lead to any changes on the party’s energy and climate change policies.

In his interview, Littleproud, who is also tipped to take on the now vacant agriculture portfolio, told the ABC that investments in new coal generators would help lower emissions and lower electricity prices.

“You need to make sure that you create an environment in the marketplace with a mix of renewables and coal-fired power stations, and if you can improve the emissions of coal fired power stations, you should make that investment if it means that we hit our targets and we reduce energy prices,” Littleproud claimed.

It has been well established for some time that the cheapest source of new electricity generation capacity are renewable sources like wind and solar.

A recent update to the CSIRO’s GenCost assessment of the costs of different generation technologies re-confirmed that new wind and solar are, by far, the cheapest sources of electricity generation. Even when additional storage is accounted for, prices of firmed renewables are competitive with fossil fuel generators when the costs of carbon emissions are considered.

Renewables are already helping to drive down electricity prices.

This week, the ACT, which has recently achieved its 100 per cent renewable electricity target, is also set to see an almost 7 per cent fall in its electricity prices this year, as the territory’s investments in wind and solar projects have helped deliver lower electricity prices for Canberra households, ensuring they continue to pay some of Australia’s lowest electricity prices.

But this also didn’t stop Littleproud asserting that it is possible to achieve reductions in greenhouse gas emissions while still embracing coal.

“You can invest in clean coal technology in and reduce emissions,” Littleproud said.

“I’m not disputing the science, what I’m saying is I’m not gifted academically to have that science background myself.” – @D_LittleproudMP when asked about his recent statement that he didn’t know if climate change was man made. #abc730 @leighsales #auspol pic.twitter.com/sFh44eNP2a

— abc730 (@abc730) February 4, 2020

Again, there are fundamental limits to how much emissions from coal-fired power stations can be improved. Even with a complete transition to the Coalition’s favoured high-efficiency low-emissions (HELE) coal power station technologies, the most generous estimates put the amount of emissions reductions at 20 per cent.

In his review of the National Electricity Market, chief scientist Dr Alan Finkel compared the emissions intensity of different generation technologies, showing that the HELE coal-fired power stations promoted by the Nationals will still produce 0.7 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent for each megawatt-hour of electricity produced, and is only slightly below the NEM’s current average emissions intensity.

When the science, and the international commitments made under the Paris Agreement, are calling for governments to achieve zero net emissions by 2050, a 20 per cent cut in coal power station emissions is going to be grossly insufficient.

It’s a position that leaves the Nationals at odds with science, but also the business community which is undergoing an accelerating exit from the coal industry. This includes BlackRock, which manages USD$7 trillion (A$10.15 trillion) in investments, which announced in January that it was divesting its portfolios from thermal coal companies.

Littleproud argued for the need for “baseload” power, suggesting that coal-fired power stations are necessary, as Australia currently lacks sufficient levels of battery storage.

“We’ve still got to have baseload, the thing is that we don’t have battery storage to the capacity that we need to be able to keep the lights on,” Littleproud said.

With the emergence of new energy management technologies, a growing market for energy storage that is outpacing growth in coal generation in Australia, demand response platforms and the falling prices of renewables, the concept of baseload is quickly becoming outdated.

With system planners recognising the crucial role that a ‘flexible’ energy system will have into the future, pushing new inflexible baseload power stations, like a new coal generator, into the energy system will only be counterproductive.

Chair of the Energy Security Board, which has been tasked with redesigning Australia’s energy market in response to the widescale transformation underway in the energy sector, labelled Australia’s existing “baseload” generators as “dinosaurs”, singling out coal-fired generators Bayswater and Liddell saying that their inflexibility made them poorly suited to a future energy system.

There has been a surge of installations of large-scale battery storage systems, and new investments continue to be made in deploying storage projects, while coal-fired generators are readying to exit the market.

The renewed push from the Nationals for a new coal generator appears to have been bolstered by the findings of a $10 million feasibility study into a potential new coal-fired power station in Collinsville. The feasibility study was funded as part of the government’s Underwriting New Generation Investments initiative and has yet to be released publicly.

“Collinsville, there’s a there’s now a report that’s come back to say that that business case should advance and then obviously, that will be backed by the economics of it,” Littleproud told ABC’s RN Breakfast.

The saga of the Collinsville power station has been a source of tension within the Coalition party room. Outgoing resources minister Matt Canavan had been desperate to get the project off the ground, and confronted prime minister Scott Morrison when he thought progress on the proposal was progressing too slowly.

Those tensions continue to play out in the party room, with a fiery confrontation occurring during the first coalition party room meeting of the year, and after a summer dominated by bushfires and calls for stronger climate action.

Several Nationals members shouted down calls from moderate Liberal MPs, who called for the Morrison government to demonstrate that it was taking climate change seriously.

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In the ground and off the page: why we’re banning ads from fossil fuels extractors | Membership | The Guardian

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In a bid to reduce our carbon footprint, confront greenwashing and increase our focus on the climate crisis, the Guardian this week announced it will no longer run ads from fossil fuel extractors alongside any of its content in print or online. The move will come into immediate effect, and follows the announcement in October last year that we intend to reduce our net emissions to zero by 2030.

Once upon a time, a newspaper was a rather straightforward business. You generated enough material of interest to attract a significant number of readers. You then ‘sold’ those readers to advertisers happy to pay to get their ideas, products or brands in front of consumers with cash to spend.

Of course, digital disruption over the past 20 years has upended that model, but advertising remains an important part of the media business ecosystem. At the Guardian, it is still responsible for about two-fifths of our income.

But what happens when the readers don’t like the adverts? What do you do when the message that advertisers want to spread jars awkwardly with the work your journalists are doing?

What if your journalists are some of the best in the world at revealing and investigating the deepening climate catastrophe and the disaster that is fossil fuel growth, while some of your advertisers are the very people digging the stuff out of the ground?

This contradiction has bothered us – and some of you – for some time. We came up with a rather bold answer this week: turn away the money and double down on the journalism.

“It’s something we thought about for a long time,” says Anna Bateson, the interim chief executive officer of Guardian Media Group, the Guardian’s parent company. “We always felt it was in line with our editorial values but were cautious for commercial reasons.”

She said it was the logical next step after the Guardian committed last year to becoming carbon neutral by 2030 and was certified as a B Corp – a company that puts purpose before profit. But she added that the move had to be weighed carefully, given the fact that the Guardian only recently returned to breakeven after years in the red.

“You have to be careful you are not making cavalier decisions,” she said. “ We are still having to fight for our financial future. But because of the support we get from our readers, it is less of a risk.”

On the advertising side of our business, Adam Foley said there were no complaints at all that potential customers were suddenly off-limits, adding that staff felt that “being part of a company that shares their values” was the biggest motivation for his teams.

“A statement like this reaffirms to all of us that we’re contributing to a business that really lives those values – to the extent where it is prepared to sacrifice profit for purpose.”

The response from the wider world has been a pleasant surprise. Hundreds of you have written in, pledging your support, and in some cases, one-off contributions to start making up the shortfall. (EDS: See below – I’m going to append the best responses below. In print you can use as the panel)

The environmental movement was instantly appreciative, with activists quickly urging our peers to follow suit. “The Guardian will no longer accept advertising from oil and gas companies,” Greta Thunberg tweeted. “A good start, who will take this further?” Greenpeace called it “a huge moment in the battle against oil and gas for all of us.”

Some readers have been calling for the Guardian to go the whole hog and forsake advertising from any company with a substantial carbon footprint. Bateson said that was not realistic, adding that such a move would result in less money for journalism. She said the fossil fuel extractors were specifically targeted because of their efforts to skew the climate change debate through their lobbying effort.

“We are committed to advertising,” she said. “It will continue to be part of our future. We want advertisers who want to be appear alongside our high quality journalism.”

And how will we know if this has worked?
“We will listen to our readers, we will listen to our advertisers. The response so far has been gratifying. If we continue to hear positive noises from our readers and supporters, then it will have been a success.”




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Responses from our supporters

That is such a brilliant decision and it will be tough, but it is the correct one and I am very proud of The Guardian. Barbara Syer

Following the Guardian’s decision to ban ads from fossil fuel companies I’m making a monthly contribution to support its fearless journalism: reader support is essential for independent scrutiny of the powerful in business, finance and politics. Titus Alexander, Hertfordshire, England

I live at present in Canada, home to the Alberta Tar Sands: another name for ecological devastation resulting from fossil fuel extraction. I fully support The Guardian’s action in ceasing to be a vehicle for advertising by fossil fuel extractive companies, and I’m proud to be a supporter. My monthly donation is small, but when I can I will make it much greater. Rosemary Delnavine, Canada

Congratulations. At this time it may be a bold step, indeed, within this industry, but true leaders have to take bold steps for the betterment of the quality of life, and more importantly for the life of future generations. I applaud this decision, and will spread the word. Raphael Sulkovitz, Boston MA

What a bravery! This is what the life on earth needs, thank you. Karri Kuikka, Finland (EDS: please leave her wonderful Finglish intact!)

Keep it up. Here in Canada, we’re still trying to have it both ways — sell the product internationally but discourage buying domestically. As I recall, it was the same with tobacco. Eventually, it took a change in public opinion to solve the problem. As a news source, your efforts are part of this solution. Robert Shotton, Ottawa

I applaud your decision to”walk the talk.” I will therefore continue to contribute to The Guardian. Bob Wagenseil

Bravo yr decision to eschew $ from the FFI. Please do continue to hold to the fire(s) the feet of the deniers and the willfully ignorant. Sydney Alonso, Vermont, US

I am very happy to hear that good news. It’s quite courageous on your part, and I’m happy to support you! Have a great year ahead, you’ll have my continuous support! Julien Psomas

I completely support your plan to refuse ads from fossils, despite the
financial hit to the Guardian. I have made a donation to help out. David Thompson

A very commendable decision, very much in keeping with the Guardian’s position as leader of green issues to leave a better planet for following generations. Richard Vernon, Oxford

Yay! I’m so proud of the Guardian! We can no longer support or fund in any manner the fossil fuel industry if we have any chance of survival as a civilization on this planet. You’ve taken a courageous and moral step that will hopefully embolden others to join you. Good on you! Best, Carol Ross, Missouri, US

Good decision. I’ll support you as much as I can, which unfortunately is not much as I live on age pension only. Keep up the good work, we need it desperately! Ursula Brandt, South Australia

I am absolutely delighted by this decision. So many people pledge to do something about Climate Change, but few actually are willing to get uncomfortable and DO it. I am very proud of you as my favourite source of Information and this only makes a case for me to donate next time to you again. Christiane Gross

It was great reading what The Guardian is doing re the climate. As a Guardian on-line reader from The Netherlands I’m going to contribute monthly now instead of ‘now and again’. The amount will be relatively small as I do not have a great income. I really hope more of your supporters will do so, because it is really great what you are doing.
With kind regards, Aleida Oostendorp, Netherlands

I congratulate you and your team on taking this step regarding fossil fuel companies. The Guardian’s stance on the environment and its excellent coverage of related stories and events is the major reason for my support. Well done, and good luck in the future. Deirdre Moore

Love your new policy about accepting money from fossil fuels. Will contribute more to help make up for the shortfall. Todd Misk

I live on a fixed income with a strict budget so my continuing support of your excellent news organisation represents my commitment to the fight to address climate change. Every step counts. Barbara Hirsch, Texas, US

Only when we speak truth to power can change take place. thank yo for your courageous and expensive decision. Nancy Shepherd, Vermont, US

Love your journalism, especially your investigative work and the climate change topic. And with the bold statement about not receiving any more sponsorship from the fossil extracting companies? Well, the already great newspapers became even more impressive now. Keep up the good work. Miroslav Řezníček, Czech Republic

Thank you for taking the bold step of refusing advertising from fossil fuel extractive companies. I think it is the right thing to do & hope many more companies do the same. We must all work together if we want to save our planet. It is one of the most important issues of our times. Ginger Comstock, New York, US

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Against the Death Cult: We Must Not Let Ruthless Ideologues Destroy the Climate and Kill Us All

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Agriculture

The Niger delta is burning. The oil companies plumbing the river basin of its black gold have found an ingenious way of dealing with the natural gas they consider a waste by-product of the extraction process. Capturing the gas would be costly, inefficient – so instead, they flare it off. Across the delta, towers of flame burn day and night, some of them stretching ten storeys into the sky.

Gas flaring was officially banned in Nigeria in 1984 – but still, two million people live within four kilometres of a flare site, at risk of the cancers, neurological, reproductive and respiratory problems linked to the pollutants released into the air. The soil is hotter, and crop yields have dwindled; “You plant, and before you know it, everything is dead”. When the rains come, they are black. Oil spills spew from the pipelines of Shell and ENI, the biggest operators in the area. Shell has reported 17.5 million litres lost since 2011; Amnesty International say that’s likely a hefty underestimate. The spills have poisoned drinking water, and destroyed the livelihoods of the fishermen who once combed the delta. 

We are over the brink. People have already lost their lives to hurricanes and bush fires and flooding, to toxins and crop failures – all disasters rooted in fossil-fuel dependent extractive capitalism, bankrolled by a deregulated financial sector. People continue to lose their lives. Global temperatures soar, and a monstrous future slouches towards us from the ecocidal imaginations of the handful of humans directly invested in a doctrine of global annihilation. Now, the death drive built into the heart of our economy reveals itself in ever more undeniable terms; the skull is showing through the skin. 

Scientists at ExxonMobil confirmed the truth of climate change in the 1980s, at the very latest. Since then, Exxon and its fellow fossil fuel companies have spent decades sponsoring climate change denial and blocking efforts to legislate against apocalypse. Under their auspices, newspapers and broadcasters and politicians revelled in a vicious subterfuge disguised as pious gnosticism; asking how we can know for sure that climate change is caused by human activity. In recent years, this strategy has buckled under the weight of public outrage and scientific proof.

The science is clear: only an ambitious, rapid overhaul of the fundaments of our economy gives us hope of survival. And that hope is tantalisingly within our grasp. We have the technology, and we have the financial capacity; all that’s missing is the political will to give those solutions heft, muscle and cold hard cash.

Now, culprit companies are suddenly flouting their green credentials to shore up their position as custodians of the future. Shell Oil has made a big song and dance about its investments in green technology. Goldman Sachs has funded research into how to make cities “resilient to climate change”. These are little more than attempts to seduce and cajole worried publics and skittish investors. Still these companies hoard over-valued assets, continue ploughing resources into carbon-heavy industries, show no signs of leaving enough fossil fuels in the ground to avoid the breakdown of the climate, the potential collapse of civilisation and the extinction of life on earth. Negotiators were banned from mentioning climate change in recent UK-US trade talks. the UK government has subsidised the fossil fuel industry to the tune of 10bn in a decade, and its legislators continue to take its lobby money in return. They defend their right to starve out and flood and burn chunks of human existence – and make money doing it. 

We are being held hostage by a cabal of ruthless ideologues whose only loyalty is to a doctrine of global death. Their success thrives on silence, isolation, manipulation, denial. They are united in their opposition to reality, in their determination to hunt down or hound out real alternatives that threaten their mortal stranglehold on power. All other doctrines are heresy, and their preachers envoys of a sinister delusion. They are unique guardians of a dark and dazzling reality.

If this took place among a handful of hippies beckoning oblivion from the heat haze of a california desert we would call it is: a death cult. Instead, it is orchestrated from sumptuous glass towers, from the velvet inner chambers of parliament – so we call it business as usual. 

To these science-backed suggestions that economic alternatives are possible – even urgent, necessary, beautiful – they react with vitriol and incredulity. Saving the world may sound appealing, but it clashes intolerably with the cultish diktat: ‘There Is No Alternative”. Partisans of the Green New Deal like Alexandra Ocasio Cortez are dismissed at best as well-meaning dreamers or childish hysterics, and, at worst, nightmarish envoys of backdoor totalitarianism. Indeed, grassroots activists have been murdered for organising against big polluters. The political allegiances are clear: Defending life is foolish. Annihilation is inevitable. We have only to accept it graciously, to walk into its arms.

Rightwing politicians barter casually about the difference between a decarbonisation target of 2030, 2045, 2050, 2060 as a matter of messaging and electoral success. As though that difference were not cashed out in millions of deaths. Such differences slide off the sunny, addled mind of the cultist, for whom life and death are indistinguishable. 

A chosen few will be spared; the golden ones who walk in the light. As the asset-stripping and plundering continues apace, so the market for luxury disaster insurance packages has grown, with companies offering high-tech flood defences, private firefighters, private security to guard against mobs of looters. Theirs is a gilded world where disaster can never truly happen to them – because it never truly has. That no insurance policy in the world will provide them with breathable air or sustainable agriculture is a matter for the others, the ghosts, the un-living, those whose existence never really registered. Us.   

Broadcasters tried to haul Boris Johnson before the court of the living on Thursday night for the climate change debate, to account for Conservative policy proposals which present a 50% risk of tipping the world into irreversible, runaway climate breakdown, to account for his fossil fuel backers. He responded by threatening them with censure and legal action. Cult leaders can tolerate no scrutiny of their fragile world picture, no challenge to their power. 

We can break the stranglehold, and commit the death cultists to the bleak annals of history where they belong. It is time to choose only those who have chosen life.   

Eleanor Penny is a writer and a regular contributor to Novara Media. 

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How Fossil Fuel Companies Are Killing Plastic Recycling

So many things we buy come packaged in plastic containers or wrappers that are meant to be used once, thrown away and forgotten ― but they don’t break down and can linger in the environment long after we’re gone. It’s tempting to think that we can recycle this problem away, that if we’re more diligent about placing discarded bottles and bags into the curbside bin, we’ll somehow make up for all the trash overflowing landfills, choking waterways and killing marine life.

For decades, big petrochemical companies responsible for extracting and processing the fossil fuels that make plastics have egged on consumers, reassuring them that recycling was the answer to our trash crisis. Just last month, Royal Dutch Shell executive Hilary Mercer told The New York Times that the production of new plastics was not the problem contributing to millions of tons of plastic waste piling up in landfills and drifting in oceans. Instead, she suggested, the problem is one of improper waste disposal. Better recycling, she implied, is the solution.

“We passionately believe in recycling,” Mercer told the Times.

But plastic recycling is in trouble. Too much of the indestructible material exists in the world, more than our current recycling networks can handle. And the very same companies that say recycling is the answer are about to unleash a tidal wave of fresh plastics that will drown recyclers struggling to stay afloat.   

“We’ve been trained [to think] that we can purchase endlessly and recycle everything,” said Genevieve Abedon, a policy advocate at the environmental nonprofit Californians Against Waste. “There is no way that recycling can keep up.” 

Big oil, natural gas and chemical companies have poured an estimated $200 billion into more than 300 petrochemical expansion projects across America from 2010 to 2018, according to the American Chemistry Council. Fossil fuel giants ExxonMobil and Shell, as well as plastic makers like SABIC and Formosa Plastics, are building and expanding at least five ethane cracker plants in Appalachia and along the Gulf of Mexico. The facilities will turn ethane, a byproduct of natural gas fracking, into polyethylene pellets, which can be made into a variety of products, including milk jugs, shampoo bottles, food packaging and the air pillows that protect your Amazon orders.

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Many consumer goods companies would rather purchase newly made plastic resin pellets than those made from recycled materials.

Already, over 350 million metric tons of new plastics are produced worldwide annually. In the next decade, production will jump 40%, spurred in part by the new manufacturing plants, according to an analysis by The Guardian. 

Current rates of recycling are dismal. In Europe, about 30% of plastics are recycled, but the U.S. recycles only 9.1%, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. That’s about all our networks can manage without significant improvements and investments in recycling technologies and infrastructure.

Recycling will suffer when the new manufacturing plants begin pumping out more virgin plastic, said Ted Siegler, a resource economist at waste management company DSM Environmental Services Inc., based in Vermont. 

“They will hurt recycling,” he said.

The Making Of A Recycling Emergency

In theory, more plastics should be good for recyclers. But the industry is already in the midst of a crisis.

America has grown accustomed to shipping low-value trash overseas for recycling. This practice began on a large scale in the early 2000s. Last year, that system fell apart, leaving recyclers scrambling and consumers confused.

The country never developed recycling networks that would handle all kinds of plastics, according to Heidi Sanborn, executive director of the nonprofit National Stewardship Action Council. Instead, local recyclers process only the stuff they can make money off of. Most high-value plastics, like soda bottles (which come stamped with a “1” symbol) and milk cartons or shampoo bottles (which bear a “2” stamp), are pulled out and recycled domestically. Everything else ― that’s anything stamped with the numbers 3 through 7 ― remains unsorted and gets shipped as “mixed plastics” to other countries, where they can still turn a profit. (Things like potato chip bags and candy bar wrappers are practically worthless and aren’t considered recyclable. People still try to mix them in with their household paper and plastic, much to the consternation of recyclers.) 

“We did the world a disservice by not doing our due diligence and saying it’s worth paying American citizens to do the work and keep the jobs and the recycling infrastructure solid at home,” Sanborn said.

Plenty of other countries export their recyclables as well. Until recently, China had been the world’s largest buyer of recyclables, taking 40% of America’s scrap paper and plastic. At the end of 2017, however, China blocked shipments of foreign recyclables, causing mixed plastics (numbers 3 to 7) and paper to pile up at ports around the world. Prices for these scrap materials tanked, wiping out what little value the plastics had to begin with.

In the wake of China’s ban, with no place for mixed paper and plastics to go, curbside collection programs from Maine to Michigan to Florida were suspended. Reports have emerged from cities and towns across the country about collected recyclables ending up in landfills and incinerators.

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Recyclers across America have had to cancel service or scale back after China’s clampdown on imports of contaminated foreign waste. Some have had to send recyclables to landfills. 

The latest big blow to recycling came in early August with the closure of rePlanet, California’s largest chain of recycling centers where consumers could return empty containers and redeem bottle deposits. Even though plastic bottles still have some value in the States, it’s not what it was before the China ban.

“The scrap value of recycled materials has dropped across the board for every material, some much worse than others,” explained Martin Bourque, who heads up the Berkeley, California-based Ecology Center, home to one of the country’s oldest curbside recycling programs. 

For recyclers like rePlanet, which made money only on the materials it sold, low scrap prices make it difficult to cover operating costs. In rePlanet’s case, there were other factors at play: For one, a state-run mechanism designed to help recyclers ride out hard times didn’t adapt quickly enough to save the company. 

But there was another problem, too: Consumer goods companies don’t necessarily want to source recycled plastics for their products, not when they can save money by purchasing freshly made plastic.  

“It’s so much cheaper to buy new, virgin resin,” Bourque said. 

A Glut Of Virgin Plastics

Since oil and natural gas are the raw materials for making plastic, the price of virgin plastic is tied to oil and natural gas prices, which are currently low. Natural gas, in particular, is now very cheap due to the fracking boom in the U.S. Remember the ethane crackers getting built in Appalachia and the Gulf of Mexico? They will only make virgin plastic cheaper, according to Siegler. 

“All the new plants that are coming online are just going to continue to drive the price of virgin plastics down, which will encourage consumption on new plastic and discourage recycling,” Siegler told HuffPost.

Some contend that virgin plastic prices are already artificially low. 

“The government has intervened and subsidized virgin materials extraction and made it impossible for recycling to compete,” said Sanborn. 

Companies that are building new plastic manufacturing plants are getting help from the government, too. Oil and gas giant Shell is building a massive complex in Pennsylvania that will open in 2020 and produce 1.6 million metric tons of polyethylene every year. The plant will also receive $1.65 billion in tax breaks over 25 years. A Shell official told the Northeast U.S. & Canada Petrochemical Construction Conference in 2016 that without this fiscal package, the company may not have gone ahead with the project. (The company did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

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Part of a petrochemical plant being built on the Ohio River in Monaca, Pennsylvania, for the Royal Dutch Shell company. The plant, which is capable of producing 1.6 million tons of raw plastic annually, is expected to begin operations by 2021.

Recycling efforts, from collection to sorting to reprocessing, have not received comparable subsidies, Sanborn said.

Some of the big fossil fuel and chemical corporations are funneling money into projects meant to improve recycling ― though not nearly as much cash is going toward this effort. In January, 28 oil and gas, chemical and plastics companies, including Exxon, Shell, SABIC and Formosa, formed the Alliance to End Plastic Waste and collectively pledged $1.5 billion over five years for improving recycling infrastructure. That amount is far short of what’s needed to see real change start to ripple across the recycling industry, Siegler says. 

Petrochemical companies, if they wanted to, would need to make investments of up to $20 billion every year for a decade to make sure that 50% of global plastics get recycled or reused, according to a McKinsey analysis. The Alliance said in a statement to HuffPost that it hopes its initial investment will encourage governments, banks and other big corporations to spend more on recycling. 

Where Do We Go From Here?

Conservationists still believe that recycling is a worthwhile endeavor, just not a silver bullet to fixing our plastic waste crisis.

Recycling definitely has to be a part of the solution,” Genevieve Abedon, of Californians Against Waste, told HuffPost.

Siegler years ago proposed a plastic tax to pay for much-needed recycling infrastructure. Charging plastic producers just a penny a pound ― roughly a 1% tax, since most resins cost a dollar a pound ― would raise $4 billion to $5 billion per year, Siegler estimated. 

“The price of plastic is too low,” he told HuffPost. “It doesn’t reflect the environmental damage associated with plastic.” 

His idea has not caught on.

A landmark pair of bills in the California Legislature would help recyclers compete with virgin plastic producers by boosting demand for recycled plastic. The measures seek to force manufacturers to use more recycled materials in their plastic products.

“If we can increase the demand for recycled plastic, investment will then flow through the whole recycling chain,” said Kara Pochiro, of the Association of Plastic Recyclers.

Though the bills failed to pass before the end of the legislative session, they’ll be eligible for a vote again next year. 

Consumer goods companies could make a big difference by signing long-term contracts with recyclers for material, Pochiro says. This would help insulate recycling companies from fluctuations in the commodity market and potentially stop more collapses like that of rePlanet. 

Last November, beverage maker Nestle Waters North America signed a multiyear contract with CarbonLITE, a company that recycles and produces food-grade PET plastic. With this guaranteed demand, CarbonLITE is now building a new facility in Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania, that is expected to recycle more than 2 billion used bottles every year. 

There are things that shoppers can do, too. 

“Buy recycled,” Pochiro recommended. 

Sanborn said that consumers who don’t like the plastic packaging they receive with their products should lay it all out on the floor, take a photo of the plastic, upload it to social media, tag the company that sent it to them and complain. 

“Be really loud and squeaky. The squeaky wheels get greased,” she said. 

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Revealed: how the FBI targeted environmental activists in domestic terror investigations

Protesters were characterized as a threat to national security in what one calls an attempt to criminalize their actions

Dakota Access pipeline

Helen Yost, a 62-year-old environmental educator, has been a committed activist for nearly a decade. She says she spends 60 to 80 hours a week as a community organizer for Wild Idaho Rising Tide; to save money, she lives in an RV. Shes been arrested twice for engaging in non-violent civil disobedience.

Yost may not fit the profile of a domestic terrorist, but in 2014 the FBI classified her as a potential threat to national security. According to hundreds of pages of FBI files obtained by the Guardian through a Freedom of Information Act (Foia) lawsuit, and interviews with activists, Yost and more than a dozen other people campaigning against fossil fuel extraction in North America have been identified indomestic terrorism-related investigations.

The investigations, which targeted individual activists and some environmental organizations, were opened in 2013-2014, at the height of opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline and the expansion of fossil fuel production in North America.

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From an FBI communication on Helen Yost, dated 24 July 2014.

The new Foia documents reveal the bureaus motivation for investigating a broad cross-section of the environmental movement and its characterization of non-violent protesters as a potential threat to national security.

In 2010, the DoJs inspector general criticized the FBI for using non-violent civil disobedience as grounds to open domestic terrorism investigations. US citizens swept up in such investigations can be placed on terrorism watchlists and subjected to surveillance and restrictions on international travel. The designation can also lead local law enforcement to take a more confrontational approach when engaging with non-violent activists.

The FBIs 2013-2014 investigation of Keystone XL activists in Houston violated internal agency guidelines designed to prevent the bureau from infringing on constitutionally protected activities. The investigations opened in 2013-2014 were closed after the FBI concluded that the individuals and organizations had not engaged in criminal activity and did not a pose a threat to national security.

In 2015, the Obama administration rejected the Keystone XL pipeline project, which required state department approval because it would cross international borders, handing the environmental movement a major victory. More large-scale protests followed, including the standoff over the Dakota Access pipeline, which temporarily delayed the project.

But those decisions have been reversed in recent years. Donald Trump has approved construction of the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, and his administration has also advocated for stiffer penalties against activists who engage in non-violent direct action targeting fossil fuel infrastructure. Meanwhile, in the wake of the Standing Rock protests, seven states have passed legislation making it a crime to trespass on property containing critical infrastructure.

In its July 2014 file on Yost, the FBI cited federal anti-terrorism legislation prohibiting attacks and other violence against railroad carriers as the primary justification for opening the investigation. Violation of the law can lead to up to 20 years in prison. Activists who engage in non-violent civil disobedience and are charged with minor offenses such as trespassing are typically released within 48 hours.

The FBI characterized Yost as being driven by a desire to stop fossil fuels which, in her political view, are destroying parts of the US, specifically Montana, Idaho and Washington. In addition, the FBI discussed the case with the US attorneys office in Idaho, local law enforcement, and BNSF Railway, which operates the main rail line delivering coal and oil to export terminals in the Pacific north-west.

FBI
From an FBI communication on Helen Yost, dated 24 July 2014.

According to the FBI file, the bureau opened the investigation based on information that Yost was organizing and planning on conducting illegal activities against railroad companies from Montana into Idaho and Washington.

Yost said Wild Idaho Rising Tide (WIRT) never organized direct action protests to disrupt oil train traffic passing in the region. The heavily redacted Yost investigation concludes that no potential criminal violations or priority threats to national security warranting further investigation were identified.

WIRT did participate in a series of community-led events and workshops in July and August 2014 opposing the transport of oil and coal by rail. Investigators may have conflated several community events to assume such fictitious allegations, Yost said in an email.

For several years, WIRT, founded in 2011, had been publicizing its actions on the organizations Facebook page. Much of its activity had focused on stopping the passage of huge trucks known as megaloads, which transport processing equipment to tar sands oil fields in Canada and weigh hundreds of thousands of pounds, along one of Idahos scenic byways.

The campaign involved posting public records on the megaload routes, tracking their progress, and at times blockading their movement.

Yost was also active in protesting against the shipment of coal and oil by rail to export terminals in Seattle. In the summer of 2014, WIRT, along with several other environmental organizations and native groups across the Pacific north-west, sponsored a series of rallies and workshops in the region.

Those protests were peaceful a handful of activists in Montana including the environmental writer Rick Bass were arrested for trespassing and in the end the FBI concluded that Yost did not pose a threat to national security. Several months later the investigation was closed.

However, in the file closing the case, it appears that Yost has been watchlisted, which is standard for named subjects of FBI domestic terrorism investigations, according to Mike German, a former FBI agent who is now a fellow with the Brennan Center for Justice. Being watchlisted can lead to heightened scrutiny from law enforcement and delays or additional screenings when traveling. Yost said she had not traveled overseas since the FBI investigation.

Yost, who was contacted by an FBI agent when the case was still active, said she was not surprised by the agencys actions. Surveillance was a form of suppression, she said, and this was another attempt to criminalize the actions of normal people working to protect natural resources. But she remains undeterred.

Assume they know the color of your underwear every morning and get up and resist anyway, Yost said.

Herb Goodwin, a 70-year-old activist, has a similar philosophy. Were all under surveillance, Goodwin said. If they want to look at your stuff, theyre going to.

In 2013-2014 Goodwin frequently participated in actions organized by Yost and WIRT. He was also part of the Occupy Wall Street protests in Bellingham, Washington, in 2011 and was one of 12 individuals arrested that year for blockading a BNSF coal train passing through the city. They became known as the Bellingham 12.

Goodwin was one of at least a dozen environmental activists, many of them affiliated with the group Deep Green Resistance, contacted by FBI agents in autumn 2014. In early October that year, not long after Goodwin returned from a megaload resistance campaign in Idaho, an FBI agent and a police intelligence officer showed up at his residence.According to Goodwin, they wanted to ask him questions about the environmental group Deep Green Resistance. Goodwin refused to cooperate and referred the agents to his lawyer, who himself became a subject of interest to the FBI.

Founded in 2011 Deep Green Resistance (DGR), based on the principles laid out in the book of the same name, describes itself as a radical organization that uses direct action in the fight to save the planet. Though the group supports underground movements, its members abide by a code of conduct that includes a commitment to nonviolence and operating entirely above-ground. According to the groups website, We do not want to be involved in or aware of any underground organizing. In another FBI interview with a DGR member documented in the files, the activist even invited the agents to attend one of DGRs presentations.

FBI files show that the bureau initiated the two-year investigation into DGR to determine if the group or any of its members were planning to engage in the destruction of energy facilities or attacks against railroad companies, referring to the same federal statute cited in the Yost investigation.

But the FBI also took an interest in constitutionally protected activities, including DGR members participation in public meetings and lectures and the groups early organizing efforts.

Even though the FBI investigation found no evidence that DGR was planning to engage in violent activity, it often portrayed the group as an extremist organization. One individual contacted numerous times by the FBI was said to have been a suspected member of the Deep Green Resistances extremist wing and a participant in DGRs Midwest extremist planning process. DGR did have a strategic planning conference in Wisconsin in spring 2012 which they said was attended by about 30 people, but it was publicly advertised and focused on building the organization, fundraising and leadership training.

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From an FBI communication on Deep Green Resistance, dated 28 November 2014.

The FBI also focused its attention on DGR organizing at Western Washington University, which hosted a lecture in 2011 by two of the groups members, Max Wilbert and Dillon Thomson. Information about the lecture, titled Environmentalism for the New Century, and about the professor who hosted it was included in the FBI files. Wilbert, who attended WWU, is also a member of DGRs board of directors.

As part of the investigation, the FBI met with the universitys police department to discuss possible Deep Green Resistance presence on the WWU campus. The FBI also said it would attempt to determine whether any of the professors in the environmental sciences department were involved in the DGR movement.

FBI
From an FBI communication on Deep Green Resistance, dated 21 November 2013.

The sweeping investigation into DGRs activities was formally closed in 2014 but Wilbert assumes that the group is still being closely watched. Wilbert, who is also a writer and photographer, frequently posts short polemical essays on his Facebook page or the Deep Green Resistance website.

Wilbert said that on 7 September 2018, nearly four years after the investigation was closed, he got a call from an FBI agent in Seattle informing him that the bureau had received an anonymous tip regarding something he had written online. The agent also left a card at Wilberts parents home.

Im pretty outspoken about being a revolutionary, somebody who believes in the necessity for revolutionary change, Wilbert said. Its not something I hide.

An FBI file documenting the online tip describes Wilbert as an environmental extremist involved in inciting violence in Seattle.

German, the former FBI agent, whose recent book, Disrupt, Discredit, and Divide, chronicles the troubling post-9/11 expansion of the FBIs domestic surveillance powers, said the agency had failed to heed the warnings laid out in a 2010 justice department IG investigation that criticized the FBIs targeting of certain domestic advocacy groups. According to German, the Yost files and the two-year DGR investigation show how ineffective these internal oversight mechanisms are to preventing abusive and wasteful investigations of non-violent protesters.

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How Worried Are Americans About Climate Change? It Depends On Whether They’re Republican Or Democrat

While it appears the White House is doing its very best to dismantle any climate-related progress made over the last 10 years, concern for the environment amongst the American public is up – according to a 2019 Pew Research survey, the percentage of Americans who believe climate change is a major threat to the well-being of the country is 57 points (up from 40 points in 2013).

But, as the researchers point out, this increase largely stems from those who describe themselves as Democrat or Democrat-leaning (84 percent as of July 2019, compared to 58 percent in March 2013). Opinions among Republicans and Republican-leaning Americans appear to remain relatively stable and statistically insignificant when you consider the 95 percent confidence level (27 percent in 2019 and 22 percent in 2013).

Break down the political ideologies of the respondents even further and the difference is even starker, highlighting just how partisan climate change is as an issue in spite of the fact that 97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree that recent climate-warming patterns are being driven by human activity. The results of the survey suggest that 94 percent of liberal Democrats agree climate change is a major threat. Only 19 percent of conservative Republicans say the same.

That is still 5 percent higher than 2013 (though, again, this might not be statistically significant). While the number of self-described moderate Republicans who agree climate change is a major threat has increased by 9 percent. This trend may be spearheaded by younger Republicans who, according to the 2018 Pew Research survey, are twice as likely as their Baby Boomer counterparts to say global heating is caused by human activity (36 percent versus 18 percent). Millennials were also less likely to back greater use of fossil fuel energy sources than their elders. 

When it comes to politics, two-thirds of Democrats (including 83 percent of liberal Democrats) believe tackling global climate change should be a top priority for Congress and the President (up from 46 percent in 2015). Two in 10 (21 percent) of Republicans say the same – a statistically insignificant rise of 2 percentage points from 2015 (19 percent). 

How does the rest of the world compare? According to the 2018 Pew Research survey, 67 percent of responders from the 26 countries surveyed say climate change is a major threat. Half of those countries consider it the biggest threat of all threats surveyed. 

Among the most concerned are Greece (90 percent), South Korea (86 percent), and France (83 percent). Those least concerned appear to be Russia (43 percent), Nigeria (41 percent), and Israel (38 percent). Of the Australians surveyed, 60 percent say climate change is a major threat. Sixty-six percent of Brits and Canadians say the same.

Back in the US, how does climate change stack up to other threats?

Again, the survey shows there is a clear split along party lines. Climate change is the leading global threat listed by Democrats (84 percent), followed by cyberattacks from other countries (76 percent), and Russia’s influence (65 percent). Republicans are most concerned about cyberattacks (72 percent), Iran’s nuclear program (65 percent), ISIS (59 percent), and China’s power and influence (58 percent).

 

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Perhaps the best dinosaur fossil ever discovered. So why has hardly anyone seen it?

A Montana rancher found two skeletons in combat the Dueling Dinosaurs. But who do they belong to, and will the public ever see them?

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The early June morning in Montana was already very hot and dry by 7.30, when Clayton Phipps and his friend, Mark Eatman, set out to search for fossils. Phipps, a rancher who calls himself the Dino Cowboy, was wearing his trademark black felt Stetson cattleman hat.

The two had gone bone collecting before, but they were joined on this day for the first time by Phippss cousin, Chad OConnor. The trio fanned out to hike through the badlands of what they thought was the Judith River Formation; later, they would learn they had actually been in an area called Hell Creek, a division of gray and ochre sandstone, shale and clay deposited about 66m years ago during the Late Cretaceous, when the area was a swampy floodplain.

Phipps, like most locals, calls it the Hell Crik. Its one of the most storied dinosaur fossil sites in the world.

At lunchtime, the group reconvened for roast beef sandwiches. Phipps asked Eatman if he had found anything. Yes, he said, a pelvis weathering out of a hill not a big deal, except this one appeared to have an articulated femur, potentially suggesting a rare level of completeness. They went to the site. Phipps could tell right away it was from a ceratopsian, a group of herbivorous, beaked dinosaurs. He brushed away some of the sand, and thought there might be more of the dinosaur buried in the hillside.

But excavating it would have to wait for another day: he had 260 acres of hay to cut for cattle feed.

Eatman went back to Billings, where he had gotten a job at a carpet store after a run of bad luck put an end to his 13-year career as a full-time fossil hunter. (His wife said: Were starving to death you gotta get a real job, Phipps recalls.)

OConnor and Phipps headed home to Phippss ranch. We werent all that excited, he says. It was a pelvis in the ground at the bottom of a canyon that was really remote and no roads to it at all. We had no plans to go back, but Chad convinced us to. Im sure glad we did.

The
The site in Montana is one of the most storied dinosaur fossil sites in the world. Photograph: Clayton Phillips

Phipps and OConnor returned to the site about a month later, this time with Lige and Mary Ann Murray, ranchers who owned the land where the bones had been found. In the US, fossils found on private land belong to the landowner; prospectors simply need their permission to dig. The Murrays signed off, and Phipps and OConnor got to work. They built a road to the site. They began excavating the ceratopsian with penknives and brushes. Business partners were brought in; secret contracts were arranged. Eatman came to help when he could, along with a rotating cast of confidants.

After two weeks, the body of the plant-eater had been revealed. It was more than a pelvis and femur it looked like a fairly complete skeleton of Triceratops horridus, which is the triceratops youre thinking of. One day, Phipps was behind the wheel of his uncles backhoe, scooping out soil from around the fossil so it could be removed. Carefully watching each dump of the bucket, at one point he noticed dark fragments among the light-colored sandstone.

Bone chips.

Oh no, he thought. He jumped down, combed through the sand, found the claw of a theropod. Theropods, like Tyrannosaurus rex, are three-toed carnivores. That doesnt match the plant-eater, Phipps thought. What is happening here?

Phipps scrambled down into the quarry where he had been digging and brushed away more sand. A hand appeared. Then a leg. It was clear: there was another dinosaur in the outcrop.

It was just surreal, Phelps remembers. Obviously, these two dinosaurs werent friends, so what were they doing in there together?

Phipps had been hunting for dinosaur fossils since 1998, excavating and preparing them to sell at trade shows and to museums and private collectors. But he had never found anything like this. I think, he says, my hat went in the air that day.

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This was in 2006. Three months of intensive excavation followed, during which Phipps lost 15 pounds. In the end, he and his partners had a 28ft-long ceratopsian and a 22ft-long theropod in four multi-ton blocks. A little cowboy ingenuity, and we got em out of the hills, Phipps says.

The
The number of people who have seen the fossils remains in the low double digits. Photograph: Peter Larson

The meat-eater was either a juvenile T rex or its relative, Nanotyrannus lancensis, a rare dwarf species whose existence is disputed. Both dinosaurs were extraordinarily well-preserved, fully articulated, with envelopes of skin and, possibly, mummified internal organs.

Best of all, they seemed to have died together, not washed into their grave separately. And they appeared to have been battling when they died: teeth were found in the spine and near the pelvis of the ceratopsian, and the theropods skull was split laterally, as if it had been kicked.

Phipps dubbed them the Montana Dueling Dinosaurs. Theyre remarkable specimens, says Mark Norell, chairman of paleontology at the American Museum of Natural History. Especially the tyrannosaur it could go a long way toward resolving whether nanotyrannus was its own species.

Thirteen years later, the number of people who have seen the fossils remains in the low double digits. Theyve still not been fully extracted from the rock matrix, cleaned, prepped, studied or put on display. Phipps isnt even at liberty to say where they are hell only reveal that theyre at an American museum, pending the resolution of Murray v BEJ Minerals LLC, which deals with who owns whats on top of the land versus whats beneath it.

Dinosaurs bring drama, Phipps says, and being a cowboy, Im not a drama fan. You can have it.

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For years after unearthing the Dueling Dinosaurs, Phipps and his team tried every tactic they could think of to drum up interest for a sale. They set up a website, and a marketing campaign called the Paleo-Incident Project. They tried to get sponsors, like Dr Pepper, to fund further work on the fossils. They posted videos on YouTube, men in western wear standing around the fossil jackets, taking turns talking into microphones.

They contacted natural history museums around the world, including the Smithsonian where the bones were offered for a reported $15m and the Museum of the Rockies, in Bozeman, Montana, whose then head paleontologist, Jack Horner (the inspiration for the character played by Sam Neill in Jurassic Park) told them they were scientifically useless.

In order for a specimen to be of scientific use and publishable, we have to know its exact geographic position, its exact stratigraphic position, and the specimen must also be in the public trust, accessible for study, which this specimen is not, Horner says.

The
The bones were offered to the Smithsonian for $15m. They didnt sell. Photograph: Peter Larson

Phipps called Horners reaction sad, adding: If somebody in his position is telling the world that the best dinosaurs possibly ever discovered in the world are worthless, what donors gonna donate anything to paleontology?

Acrimony between commercial and academic paleontologists is abundant. The haters are always gonna hate, Phipps says. No question about that.

In the meantime, other valuable dinosaur fossils were found on the 27,000-acre Murray ranch, including a well-preserved triceratops skull and nearly complete adult T rex, which a Dutch museum purchased for several million dollars. The Dueling Dinosaurs themselves went to auction in 2013 at Bonhams in New York, but no bid met the reserve price of $6m.

Though the fossils technically belonged to the Murrays, they ceded control of what to do with them to Phipps and his team via a contract, the details of which remain private. We have a pretty loose arrangement, to be real truthful, Mary Ann says. The deal specifies that any proceeds be split between the Murrays and Phipps; Phipps will then subdivide his percentage with his team, which includes the owners of CK Preparations, a commercial fossil services company, and Peter Larson of the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research, which has unearthed some of the most complete T rex specimens ever found.

Larsons story is also one of loss. After the T rex known as Sue was discovered by Black Hills in 1990, a dispute arose over its legal ownership. Two years later, the bones were seized by the FBI and South Dakota national guard in a highly publicized case, and ownership was returned to the landowner, a Sioux rancher whose deed was held in trust by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. He sold Sue at auction for a record $8.36m to the Field Museum in Chicago. Subsequently, Larson was sentenced to two years in federal prison on separate charges related to trafficking fossils, including failing to report to customs travelers checks and cash transported internationally, and illegally taking a fossil worth less than $100 from federal land.

His experience with the legal morass around dinosaur fossils would prove useful later.

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Lige and Mary Ann Murray were young hired hands in 1983 when they began working for George Severson, a longtime Montana rancher. The Murrays had a good relationship with him and a few years later, near the end of his life, Severson sold them half of his ranch, leaving the rest to his sons, Jerry and Bo, who live outside the state.

For 14 years, the Seversons and Murrays operated the ranch in amicable partnership. But in 2005, the Murrays purchased the other half of the land. Exactly why is unclear; the Seversons say Lige called to ask about buying them out, while Mary Ann says the Seversons approached them unexpectedly. An agreement was reached to split the estate: the Murrays would control all of the surface rights and one-third of the mineral rights, and the Seversons would retain the rest of the mineral rights.

The following summer, the Dueling Dinosaurs were found.

Lige and I knew nothing about fossils, Mary Ann Murray says. We just ran cows and farms, thats all we did.

Last
Last November, a court ruled that fossils on Montana state and private land could be considered minerals. Photograph: Peter Larson

Fossils, undoubtedly, can be composed of minerals, but they have generally been recognized as belonging to the surface estate owner whom we normally think of as the landowner in cases where the estate is split. The Department of the Interior ruled in 1915 that fossil remains of dinosaurs and other prehistoric animals are not mineral, after the Carnegie Museum of Natural History paleontologist Earl Douglass had tried to procure a huge deposit of dinosaur bones with a mining claim. (The site today is Dinosaur National Monument.) This imposed some semblance of order after the wild west days of fossil hunting, when rivalrous collectors like Edward Drinker Cope and Othniel Charles Marsh would freely roam public lands, digging up fossils to sell to museums or wealthy collectors. It has been the precedent ever since.

The Seversons say they didnt know the bones were worth much until 2013, when they were appraised between $7 and $9m before the auction. So they decided to assert a mineral rights claim after the Murrays refused to share any of the future proceeds. The following year, the Murrays filed a lawsuit seeking a declaratory judgment that the fossils were theirs because they owned the surface estate. A district court ruled in their favor, leading the Seversons to appeal to the US ninth circuit.

In a test, last November that court ruled that fossils on Montana state and private land could be considered minerals. Once upon a time, in a place now known as Montana, dinosaurs roamed the land, begins Judge Eduardo Robrenos opinion. On a fateful day, some 66m years ago, two such creatures, a 22ft-long theropod and a 28ft-long ceratopsian, engaged in mortal combat. While history has not recorded the circumstances surrounding this encounter, the remnants of these Cretaceous species, interlocked in combat, became entombed under a pile of sandstone. That was then this is now.

The decision sent shockwaves through the field of paleontology, jeopardizing as it did the status of any fossil found on private land in Montana. The Murrays filed for an en banc appeal, supported by an amicus curiae brief from paleontological institutions including the Field Museum, the Museum of the Rockies and the Society of Vertebrate Paleontology which had opposed Larson in the Sue case.

By reversing a widely accepted understanding of land rights, the brief states, the panel decision subjects scientifically important fossil collections to damaging ownership disputes and impedes future efforts of the paleontological community to discover, collect and study fossils.

The state of Montana, meanwhile, unanimously passed legislation clarifying the definition of fossils and distinguishing them from minerals.

En banc appeals are rarely granted, but in May the Murrays got good news: the ninth circuit, in the spirit of comity and federalism, vacated its decision and punted the case to the Montana supreme court, where it will be taken up later this year.

Larson sees some similarities to the Sue case when people, through a lot of hard work, make a fantastic discovery, theres always somebody with their hand open but hes more optimistic about the outcome for the Dueling Dinosaurs. And while the Seversons, the Murrays and the commercial paleontologists disagree on much, they all claim to want the fossils to end up in a museum, where their immense scientific potential can be explored, and they can be put on display for people the undisputed inheritors of natural history.

The question of who owns a fossil gets slippier the further back one goes. Before the Murrays or Seversons ever set foot in Montana, it was Sioux, Cheyenne, Crow and Blackfoot territory. The oldest dated human burial site in North America is near present-day Wilsall, Montana. For millions of years before that, the uplift of the Laramide orogeny, which created the Rocky Mountains in the west, was depositing thousands of feet of sediment in what is now eastern Montana, creating the rare conditions needed to fossilize the remains of the terrible lizards that had roamed that land long before, for humans to later find and fight over.

But that was then. This is now.

To get it down in cowboy terms, Im getting an education in our justice system I never wanted to pay for, Phipps says. Im in my 40s and Id never needed an attorney until this. I try to live my life to avoid em.

This article was amended on 17 July 2019. The Museum of the Rockies is located in Bozeman, Montana, not Billings as stated in an earlier version.

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