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Green Collaboration With the Enemy

“But the worst enemy you can meet will always be yourself; you lie in wait for yourself in caverns and forests. Lonely one, you are going the way to yourself! And your way goes past yourself, and past your seven devils! You will be a heretic to yourself and witch and soothsayer and fool and doubter and unholy one and villain. You must be ready to burn yourself in your own flame: how could you become new, if you had not first become ashes?”

― Friedrich Nietzsche

The buzzword for Big Greens is collaboration. Let’s explore what this entails.

One of the largest deforestation projects in the United States is about to commence under the name of renewables, designed for the largest emitter of carbon on the planet, and providing private venture capitalists with $75 million in taxpayer subsidies to produce biofuels under guaranteed contracts.

Bomb trains filled with jet fuel will soon roll on a derailment prone track alongside sensitive waterways upstream and yards from the front doors of the XL band of the Pit River people in California. Thousands of artifacts of the ancestors of three sovereign indigenous nations have been identified as being impacted at the construction site alone – more when the forest is gathered – and no formal government to government agreements in place as to their disposition with the Pit, Klamath or Piute. The first peoples refused to sign, the current agreement imposed upon them by the federal and state governments.

***

Red Rock Biofuels, for the U.S. Department of Defense, is building a forest “biomass to fuels” facility in Lakeview, Oregon that proposes to consume 350,000 tons of woody biomass from a 150 mile three state radius (OR, CA, NV) and produce up to 18 million gallons of jet fuel, serving the DoD, Federal Express and Southwest Airlines. A Finding of No Significant Impact was recently announced approving the project with no opposition from any Big Green organization and, barring litigation demanding the preparation of an Environmental Impact Statement, can now move forward.

The project would not be viable were it not for the 680-mile long Ruby natural gas pipeline, constructed in 2012, that runs through the Intermountain West, Great Basin sagebrush steppe, and almost to the Pacific. The nation’s largest, it drains the fracking fields of Wyoming, Colorado and Utah and cuts through Lakeview.

At first, the Western Watersheds Project, an anti-grazing public lands non profit from Boise, ID and the once radical but now two bit bureaucratic Oregon Natural Desert Association from Bend, announced an altruistic intent to litigate pipeline construction. Pipeline officials met with the two groups and after which both dropped their lawsuit and in exchange for $25 million to be placed in special purpose, restricted use, “Funds” for land acquisition, grazing permit retirement and, ironically, “conservation projects for sage grouse” that include clearing dryland forests – feedstock for Red Rock.

Too late, the Center for Biological Diversity attempted to come to the rescue, used Watershed’s legal arguments and won, but had a snowball’s chance in hell of stopping the already months under construction pipeline. The result was the Ruby’s completion, development of the intermountain fracking fields, the currently proposed Pacific Connector to extend the pipeline to the Pacific for export to Asia, and the Red Rock Biofuels project.

Too late, the Center for Biological Diversity used Watershed’s legal arguments and won, but had a snowball’s chance in hell of stopping the already months under construction pipeline. The result was the Ruby’s completion, development of the intermountain fracking fields, the currently proposed Pacific Connector to extend the pipeline to the Pacific for export to Asia, and the Red Rock Biofuels project.

Red Rock is entirely dependent upon natural gas to fire their conversion processes, the project hatched shortly after the Ruby became operational. So much so, Red Rock can perpetually create jet fuel entirely from natural gas in the case of forest “supply disruptions” (i.e. forest sale, permitting & treatment related NEPA litigation), effectively making this an even more evil bait and switch fossil fuel project.

Thank you, Western Watersheds Project. Your form of “buyoff” collaboration and resultant unintended consequences provide a vivid example of how organizational self interest took precedence over the larger Tragedy of the Commons issue of climate change. I look forward to your future highly polished anti-grazing documentaries.

***

Twenty years of institutional inertia has been working on the promise of forest biomass jobs through the Lakeview Stewardship Unit, the oldest government, rancher, timber, environmentalist collaborative in the nation operating under the usual guises of “working landscapes” (grazing; forest jobs), reducing wildland fire risk through mechanical treatment (in lieu of natural fire regimes), and improving environmental conditions (however they be defined by the group). Note that working landscapes never begins at zero base, always starting with a predisposition to the concept of “beneficial use”. The Wilderness Society is the Big Green partner.

Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) – who Oregon Greens consider they put into office 20 years ago and many currently endorse for 2016 reelection – is a vigorous supporter of the collaborative and uses his seniority via the Senate Finance Committee to gain subsidies for the biomass and fuels industry. He is a leading voice concerning the funding of the USFS wildfire and pretreatment activities – well funded unnecessary jobs projects in the wildland/wildland interface – and a vociferous supporter of biomass energy of course due to the bacon it brings home and credit he can claim.

Illustrating this commitment, Wyden is currently is promoting a rider to the ‘17 Federal budget to accommodate the objectives of the Red Rock project and the Lake County Resources Initiative through the creation of a “test project” that will exempt the harvest of forest biomass to support it. The FONSI doesn’t include a Forest Supply Assessment – a critical flaw on which litigation for force an EIS must rest. DoD, Red Rock and Wyden are all betting Big Green won’t step forward and insist one be prepared as part of a larger EIS, the rider at the end of the current legislative session during a change Presidential election designed to justify and save the day.

Forests sequester carbon, and cutting, gathering, transporting, converting and burning biomass and its products releases carbon. This entire process must be modeled and accounted, the neutrality of biogenic carbon fuels and the air quality impacts of their emissions extremely controversial within the scientific community. The U.S. EPA struggled with its treatment under the Clean Power Plan before finally being swayed by a bipartisan group of timber state Senators – Merkley, Collins, Franken – to allow biomass energy be considered “carbon neutral” only if states account for it in their submitted plans. Of course, neither the Red Rock FONSI nor the State of Oregon account for the carbon cycle of the biofuels project.

Biomass to energy projects require vast quantities of air pollutants other than carbon, including particulates, nitrogen oxides, and ozone. Lakeview’s air quality problem is particulate matter (PM2.5), the town in long term violation of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards – but not formally designated.

In 2015, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency gave the town a pass via an infant administrative program called “Advance” that has not received Rulemaking and affects the rigor of the Clean Air Act nationally. Advance allows the Town to punish poor citizens who use woodstoves with fines while Red Rock need not employ Best Available Control Technology on their quarter billion dollar stacks.

I drafted a petition to the EPA to redesignate Lakeview in violation of the Clean Air Act in 2014 with the purpose at a minimum force industry to employ BACT. I appealed to the Wilderness Society, Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council, Center for Biological Diversity, Western Watersheds and a variety of statewide groups like ONDA to join. All but the still altruistic, grass roots, Northwest Environmental Defense Center, who took the lead, and a handful of smaller groups signed on. Despite the great work of everyone, the petition failed and was never further litigated.

***

As a grassroots activist with no money and not being a lawyer, since 2009 I have solicited national Big Green organizations like these to oppose the various biomass energy schemes in Lakeview and have been met by leadership reticent to engage – except only to “sign on” to another’s lead. Leading in Federal Court takes resources, professional and legal knowledge, investment and effort, and all the Big Greens stated the Lakeview issues and projects were not defined within the narrowly defined missions of their organizations. The same is true today regarding my recent calls regarding the impending finality of the DoD Red Rock biofuels project with the FONSI approval.

Environmental organizations share much with their politician counterparts. Revolutions, campaigns akin to the milquetoast of perpetual election, individuals and organizations beholden to benefactors and fundraising to pontificate and claim credit for the hard work of activist others, not immune to the rules of engagement in our capitalist, bureaucratic non-profit model requiring capitulation to the money that pays the bills and greases the skids. All consistently give the bureaucratic excuses of prioritizing, specializing, fragmenting and dehumanizing and even given the time to address each, illustrate to me that their end products are delivered with only marginal efficiency and effectiveness, certainly with little responsiveness to emerging issues.

Pseudo antagonists collaborating through the benefit of prestige and status quo, all protecting their slice of the pie, their own sense of influence or entitlement over issues and processes that includes compromising once altruistic goals for perceived realism even when faced with uncompromising crisis – such as climate change. They are the same working class distaining, largely urban white meritocratic class described by Thomas Frank in Listen Liberal, illustrated directly through Big Green endorsements of establishment Democratic Party candidates rather than their namesake Green.

The Green Party used to be just that: A party composed of environmentalists who wished to unify and exert their influence over the political process. Instead, both the party and the environmental movement have become a farce. There is little or no coordination between the two, no support from the Big Greens who instead retreat to the compromising relationships they have developed with the contemptuous neoliberal political status quo while the lack of serious talent in the Green Party relegates it and it’s platform to well deserved obscurity. Even Bill McKibben, in between his flying about the world, denounces them as not viable. As this Presidential election season illustrates with working class establishment rejection, it is time this changed so that the movement can capitalize on the political future and the necessary, timely work that needs to be done collectively.

Environmentalism is in a state of disarray with no common objectives, little political power nor communal plan to wield it. No longer altruistic, Big Green means urban meritarch bureaucrats far removed from the working class, grassroots, activist. They are organizations that have fully embraced the chaos of the capitalist model and submitted to the financial whims of the oligarchs who hold the purse strings.

In the case of the Western Watersheds Project, its benefactor was going to pull his money if the group didn’t take the Ruby settlement as advised by the lawyers who ended up having a winning case, the Board choosing the easy rather than altruistic road they once travelled.

***

In the end, this is an appeal to Big Greens to starting doing the right things for the right reasons:

+ See the whole instead of just your specialized purpose, including unintended consequences, when you compromise for money.

+ Empower yourselves through returning to altruism, organize away from your current neoliberal meritocratic status quo to a more diverse, unified, and directed political agenda with force. You once had a political party, become one again.

+ Re-prioritize to be less campaign oriented and more responsive to the always emerging permitting and litigation needs to grassroots activists, regardless of whether or not they are a member or donate. Reach a higher form of collective economy of scale, especially regarding monitoring and litigating anthropogenic climate change.

+ Empower activists. Assist them. Let dedicated grassroots activists in their locales do much of your work. Be responsive to their needs rather than at best opportunistic, at worst neglectfully, smugly, contemptuous.

+ Let your good works be your campaign for funds, use the small donor model of empowered people.

+ Create revolutions with moral fortitude and never collaborate with enemies.

***

Big Greens, you let it be known that the enemy of the global environment is the United States military and I’m reminding you of your doublespeak complicity avoiding an easy, effective target. The Red Rock project entails massive subsidized deforestation at great climate expense, complete with bomb trains, waterways, and native sovereignty, safety, lands and culture. It appears you don’t give a damn and I’ve concluded why.

Let the Ruby remind you of Glen Canyon and the damn dam. Let Red Rock remind you of a project in a special place no one knows, including, it seems, you. By choice.

Let me remind you that all of this is being accomplished under the buzzword of your collaboration, raising the question of who, exactly, is the real enemy, especially while you, right at this very moment, are capitalizing on the work of indigenous grassroots activists and the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Big Greens, in the off chance that you’ve had a change of heart in the name of cultural and climate justice, now is the time to litigate and demand an Environmental Impact Statement be prepared for the DoD Red Rock Biofuels project.

Western Watersheds Project, you can repent and break out the war chest.

For more information on the impacts of the Red Rock Biofuels project, please see Zinda’s Scorched Earth: Military Forest to Fuels in Oregon.

More articles by:

Chris Zinda is an activist and writer living in Oregon.

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