[1THING] Blog

[ National parks and wildlands are the place for peace & quiet ]

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[ Two Reasons Why Obama’s Keystone Veto Won’t Decide Pipeline ]

The never-ending saga of the Keystone XL pipeline gets new twists with potential problems in Nebraska and South Dakota.

[ National parks install charging stations for electric vehicles ]

Wildlands are changing rapidly due to climate change. Those of us who love them are challenged to visit them while leaving as minimal of a carbon footprint as possible. 

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[ New Pullman and Honouliuli monuments a reminder of the importance of bedrock conservation law ]

President Obama officially announced Browns Canyon National Monument, Pullman National Monument  and Honouliuli National Monument on Feb.

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[ The Wilderness Society Commends President’s Initiative to Get More Youth Outdoors ]

Emily Linroth

The Every Kid in a Park initiative will provide 4th grade students and their families free admission to all national parks and other federal lands and waters for a full year, support transportation for school trips, and provide educational resources for students and teachers through fie

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[ Public meeting to gather feedback on Nevada treasures that deserve permanent protection ]

Anastasia Greene

The Wilderness Society (TWS) applauded Senator Harry Reid and Representative Dina Titus today for convening a public meeting in Las Vegas to spotlight some of southern Nevada’s most treasured landscapes that deserve permanent protection.

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[ U.S. Homes Are Getting Bigger, Again, But More Energy Efficient ]

More McMansions, such as these in Greenwich, Conn., are appearing in affluent U.S. suburbs. Despite the upsizing of American homes, U.S. data show they're using less energy overall because of efficiency gains. (Andrew Watt/Flickr)

More McMansions, such as these in Greenwich, Conn., are appearing in affluent U.S. suburbs. Despite the upsizing of American homes, U.S. data show they’re using less energy overall because of efficiency gains. (Andrew Watt/Flickr)

During The Great Recession, the small-is-better crowd seemed to be winning. After decades of upsizing and the spread of suburban McMansions, the average size of new U.S. single-family homes fell. Yes, it actually shrank—about 5 percent from 2007 to 2010.

Architects like Sarah Susanka, author of the Not So Big House series, cheered. They wondered whether their less-is-more view had, finally, become the new Zeitgeist or whether Americans were simply strapped for cash, as I discussed in a 2009 story.

Turns out, it was just the economy. The downsizing didn’t last, and new U.S. homes are now bigger than ever, according to the most recent Census Bureau data. But how bad is this for the environment, since larger homes typically use more energy?

There’s some good news today on that front.  Efficiency gains are offsetting more than 70 percent of the growth in energy use that would result from the increasing size and number of U.S. households, reports the U.S. Energy Information Administration. In fact, energy intensity—energy used per square foot—was 37 percent lower (or better) in 2009 than in 1980. It meant a reduced use of coal, natural gas and nuclear fuel.

Why this progress? The EIA notes energy prices, shifts in fuel sources as well as new technologies and policies, adding: “Programs designed to increase the adoption of efficient technologies such as residential appliance standards, building codes, incentives, energy labeling (such as the voluntary ENERGY STAR® program), and other informational programs also work to decrease consumption.”

That’s the good news. The EIA also gives the bad: “The gains from energy intensity improvements would have been even larger if it were not for consumer preferences for larger homes and increased adoption of home appliances and electronics.” In the three-decade period studied, the average home size grew about 20%. With more square footage came more and larger devices, such as big-screen TVs that gulp energy. So U.S. households actually used more energy overall, 10.2  quadrillion British thermal units (quads) in 2009—up from 9.3 quads in 1980—even though they used less per square foot.

Moral of the story: Efficiency matters but so does size. An accomplished architect I know was once asked by a client how to make a new 10,000 square-foot home “green.” His response: Don’t build it.

U.S. homes are getting bigger but using less energy because of more efficient appliances and materials, U.S. data show.

U.S. homes are getting bigger but using less energy because of more efficient appliances and materials, U.S. data show.

[ Wilderness Society Statement on the Creation of Browns Canyon, Honouliuli and Pullman National Monuments. Antiquities Act preserves a storied neighborhood, World War II internment site and a premier river canyon. ]

Michael Reinemer

“These proclamations remind us that the spaces commemorating our nation’s heritage come in a rich variety of shapes and sizes,” said Matt Keller, national monuments campaign director wit

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[ Tips for viewing wildlife on our public lands in winter ]

Winter is the time to spy tracks in the snow, dark animals against snowy backdrops and creatures who’ve migrated nearer to us.

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[ Keystone Pipeline Has New Headaches – Beyond Washington ]

Oil pipeline pumping station in rural Nebraska is shown on Feb. 16, 2013. (Shannon Ramos/Flickr)

Oil pipeline pumping station in rural Nebraska is shown on Feb. 16, 2013. (Shannon Ramos/Flickr)

The controversial Keystone pipeline encounters new obstacles that go beyond the politics of the nation’s capital.

President Barack Obama is expected as early as next week to veto a bill approving the multi-billion project, but he’s not Keystone’s only problem. Pending challenges also await in Nebraska and South Dakota—two states that the 1,179-mile (1,897-kilometer) northern leg of the pipeline would cross as it moves oil from Hardisty, Alberta to Steele City, Neb.

Right now, the pipeline’s owner—Calgary-based TransCanada—lacks an approved route through Nebraska and a useable construction permit in South Dakota. Until these problems are fixed, whatever happens in Washington, D.C. won’t matter.

On Feb. 25, Nebraska’s Holt County will hold a hearing on whether to expedite the schedule for resolving a legal challenge to Keystone’s route.  Last week, a county judge issued a temporary injunction to stop TransCanada from using eminent domain to force landowners to sell rights allowing the pipeline on their property.

As a result, TransCanada agreed not to use eminent domain anywhere in Nebraska until the state’s Supreme Court finally settles the legal wrangling over the state law that approved Keystone’s route across the state. Just when that happens is difficult to say.

“Both sides are looking for clarity. The sooner, the better,” says TransCanada spokesman Mark Cooper, adding the company expects the process will probably take about a year.

“It could take a year or two years for the Supreme Court to hear the case,” says Jane Kleeb, director of the anti-pipeline group Bold Nebraska, adding the latest Nebraska injunction is a “huge victory” for opponents.

The two sides are enmeshed in a protracted fight. Proponents say Keystone will provide jobs and bolster North America’s energy security by ensuring delivery of Canadian oil. Opponents say it will foster the development of Alberta’s oil sands, which emit more heat-trapping carbon dioxide when burned, and thus exacerbate global warming. (See related story: “Do Plummeting Oil Prices Weaken Case for Keystone?“)

TransCanada, which first proposed the Keystone XL project in 2008, seemed to be making progress earlier this year. The new GOP-controlled Congress said it would force an Obama decision and for the first time, both the House and Senate approved legislation approving the project although not by veto-proof margins. (See related post: “Keystone XL Veto Threat: Does “No” Really Mean No?

Also, the Nebraska state Supreme Court issued a decision in January that upheld the law approving the Keystone route in that state. Yet that ruling didn’t prevent other lawsuits from challenging the law. (See related post: “Nebraska Ruling Throws Keystone XL Decision Back to State Department“)

So in late January, after TransCanada filed paperwork to begin using eminent domain to acquire land from owners who didn’t agree to sell easement rights, landowners sued. Kleeb says about 40 landowners in Holt County and another 20 in York County object to the pipeline on their property. TransCanada says it has approvals from 90 percent of Nebraska landowners along the pipeline’s path.

“For us, it’s the last resort,” Cooper says of eminent domain, adding TransCanada prefers to work with landowners to reach voluntary agreements.

Not all landowners agree. In South Dakota, rancher Paul Seamans says he initially opposed Keystone because of the way TransCanada “treated us, bullied us.” Now, he says he’s also concerned about the potential environmental damage, citing possible pipeline spills into waterways and the climate change impact of Canada’s oil sands extraction.

So Seamans, who leads the grassroots group Dakota Rural Action, along with 42 other individuals and groups are challenging TransCanada’s bid to extend its construction permit in South Dakota.

In March 2010, the state’s Public Utilities Commission approved such a permit as long as the company met 50 conditions and began construction within four years. Since TransCanada was unable to begin construction, given legal wrangling in Nebraska and delays in the federal review process, its permit has essentially lapsed.

In September, the company filed paperwork to certify that it continues to meet the 50 conditions. Now it’s up to the PUC to decide.

“It will all culminate in the the first week of May with a public hearing,” says PUC chairman Chris Nelson, noting the hearing could last four or five days. He says there’s no deadline for its decision but the PUC will act quickly. “When I say expeditiously,” he says, “I mean it.”

“We know we have strong support in the state,” Cooper says of South Dakota, adding polls show two-thirds of residents back Keystone and 100 percent of landowners along the pipeline route have agreed to easement rights so eminent domain won’t be needed.

Still, Seamans says there are nearly three times as many groups or individuals challenging the construction permit now than did five years ago. “The tribes have got involved quite a bit more,” he says, noting their concern about protecting tribal lands.

Kleeb, whose Nebraska group is also intervening in the South Dakota case, expects the PUC will grant TransCanada’s certification but might tweak the pipeline’s route through the state. She says such a revision might necessitate a new supplemental environmental impact statement from the State Department, which has responsibility  to review Keystone because it crosses the U.S. border.

The State Department has already spent years studying the environmental impacts of various Keystone routes. TransCanada split the initial, 1,700-mile project into two parts and in January 2014, it finished building the the southern leg—from the Midwest to Gulf Coast refineries.