OUR CRUCIAL SPRING CAMPAIGN IS NOW UNDERWAY
Please donate now to keep the mission and independent journalism of Common Dreams strong.
To donate by check, phone, or other method, see our More Ways to Give page.
A coalition of conservation organizations filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service today, challenging a rule that permits oil companies, like Shell Oil, to harm Pacific walruses during Arctic Ocean oil drilling beginning as early as next year in key walrus feeding areas.
The Arctic Ocean's sea ice is rapidly melting due to climate change, creating dire consequences for Chukchi Sea walruses which depend on the ice for resting, raising their young, feeding, and avoiding predators. As a result of this melting, the walruses have been forced ashore in recent years. This year it happened again as 35,000 walruses crowded together on the Alaskan Arctic coast just a few weeks ago. Walruses must swim distances up to 100 miles from these coastal haulout areas to reach Chukchi feeding grounds to find the clams and other bottom species they need to survive. They are vulnerable to stampedes and trampling when forced to use coastal resting areas.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife rule puts these already at risk mammals directly in harm's way by allowing risky oil company operations in key walrus foraging areas in the Chukchi Sea. This rule is being challenged by Earthjustice on behalf of Alaska Wilderness League, Center for Biological Diversity, Greenpeace, Resisting Environmental Destruction on Indigenous Lands, Sierra Club and by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
The Fish and Wildlife Service adopted this regulation, which allows for "the incidental take of walruses in connection with oil and gas activities," even though the agency acknowledged that walruses could be affected adversely in large numbers in crucial habitat areas like the Hanna Shoal. Shell Oil intends to drill under this government rule as early as 2015. The company was investigated and fined after multiple missteps and close calls during its efforts to drill in the Arctic Ocean in 2012, only to call its work in the region a success.
Oil operations have the potential to chase walruses away from food-rich foraging areas, trigger stampedes, and harm the animals with deafeningly loud seismic blasts. Drilling risks catastrophic oil spills that could not be cleaned up in Arctic conditions.
The September minimum sea-ice extent reached a new record low in 2012, encompassing only about half the area it covered on average from 1981-2010. In 2014, the sea ice shrank to 5.02 million square kilometers (1.94 million square miles), the sixth-lowest extent of the satellite record.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service needs to do a much better job of protecting walrus mothers and calves struggling to survive in the dramatically changing Chukchi Sea," said Earthjustice Attorney Erik Grafe. "Today's challenge seeks to protect walruses from suffering potential serious harm and harassment at the hands of companies like Shell Oil, which crashed and burned during its Arctic Ocean drilling efforts in 2012. Walruses are already under tremendous stress from climate change -- their sea ice home is literally melting away. Without adequate analysis, the challenged rules would add to walruses' woes by allowing drilling and risking oil spills in the areas most important for food and resting. What's more, drilling would accelerate the climate change already causing so much trouble for walruses."
"Walruses are the Arctic's canary in a coal mine," said Cindy Shogan, executive director for Alaska Wilderness League. "We can't ignore the signs and impacts of climate change in the Arctic. The Interior Department must better protect walruses and the fragile Arctic Ocean with its disappearing shoreline from harm by big oil companies, like Shell. Adding drilling into this already dangerous mix is reckless and irresponsible."
"The last thing Arctic walruses need is dirty drilling in the middle of their most important habitat. It's time for oil companies to stop sticking their drills where they don't belong, and it's up to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to lay down the law," said Rebecca Noblin of the Center for Biological Diversity.
"Shell is putting the Arctic walrus in double jeopardy. Their world is melting because of oil companies' greedy thirst for more fossil fuels, and now their home will could be under imminent threat from a Shell spill. The Obama administration needs to put sane regulations in place that protect this sensitive species," said Greenpeace Arctic Campaign Specialist John Deans.
"The Fish and Wildlife Service wants to decide first, think later," said Michael Jasny, director of Marine Mammal Protection at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "Before it has all the facts, the agency is casting its lot with a few big oil corporations - instead of the tens of thousands of mother walruses who must swim massive distances before hauling up to rest and feed their young."
"Walruses already are under great stress from climate change. This rule would allow oil drillers to risk further harm to the species without proper analysis and mitigation. The risks are too great - if drilling resulted in an oil spill, there would be no way to clean or contain it, and the consequences could be catastrophic," said Robert Thompson of REDOIL.
"The danger to walrus is one more in a long list of serious risks posed by drilling in the Arctic Ocean," said Dan Ritzman, Alaska program director for the Sierra Club's Our Wild America campaign. "We should not sacrifice the Arctic's amazing wildlife, the subsistence culture that depends on it, or our climate to dirty drilling. The effects on walrus and other wildlife will only worsen if we don't begin keeping dirty fuels in the ground."
At the Center for Biological Diversity, we believe that the welfare of human beings is deeply linked to nature — to the existence in our world of a vast diversity of wild animals and plants. Because diversity has intrinsic value, and because its loss impoverishes society, we work to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters and climate that species need to survive.(520) 623-5252
“We cannot continue to capitulate to a far-right Republican Party and their extreme demands while they inflict policy violence on working-class people, gut our bedrock environmental protections, and decimate our planet," said Rep. Rashida Tlaib.
Nearly 40 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus broke with the majority of their House Democratic colleagues late Wednesday to vote against the debt ceiling agreement negotiated by President Joe Biden and Republican leaders.
The legislation, which would lift the debt ceiling until January 2025 and enact painful caps on non-military federal spending, passed the GOP-controlled House by a vote of 314 to 117, with 165 Democrats joining 149 Republicans in supporting the measure.
The bill's passage came after weeks of talks between the White House—which repeatedly said it would not negotiate over the debt ceiling—and Republicans who manufactured the standoff to pursue austerity for low-income Americans, gifts for rich tax cheats, and handouts to the fossil fuel industry.
While Republicans didn't get anything close to what they called for in legislation they passed in late April, progressives who voted against the bill on Wednesday said the final agreement will harm vulnerable people and the planet by imposing new work requirements on aid recipients and approving the Mountain Valley Pipeline—a top priority of fossil fuel industry ally Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).
Progressives also raised alarm over a provision that would codify the end of the student loan payment pause, setting the stage for a disaster if the U.S. Supreme Court strikes down the Biden administration's debt cancellation plan.
"I cannot vote for a bill that guts key environmental protections and greenlights dirty fossil fuel projects for corporate polluters who are poisoning our communities, pushes our residents deeper into poverty by implementing cruel and ineffective work requirements for our low-income neighbors who rely on SNAP and TANF for food and housing, terminates the student loan payment pause, and slashes IRS funding to make it easier for the rich to cheat on their taxes," Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) said in a statement.
"We cannot continue to capitulate to a far-right Republican Party and their extreme demands while they inflict policy violence on working-class people, gut our bedrock environmental protections, and decimate our planet," Tlaib added, referring to the bill's work requirements for food aid.
In total, 38 members of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) voted against the legislation:
Reps. Tlaib, Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), Katie Porter (D-Calif.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), Summer Lee (D-Pa.), Greg Casar (D-Texas), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), Dan Goldman (D-N.Y.), Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.), Nanette Barragán (D-Calif.), Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), Ro Khanna, (D-Calif.), Chuy García (D-(Ill.), Delia Ramirez (D-Ill.), Frederica Wilson (D-Fla.), Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), Sydney Kamlager-Dove (D-Calif.), Gwen Moore (D-Wis.), Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), Melanie Stansbury (D-N.M.), Val Hoyle (D-Ore.), Juan Vargas (D-Calif.), Nikema Williams (D-Ga.), Sylvia Garcia (D-Texas), Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), Mark DeSaulnier (D-Calif.), Jasmine Crockett (D-Texas), Yvette Clarke (D-N.Y.), Judy Chu (D-Calif.), and Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.).
But the CPC members who joined Republicans in voting yes on the bill, including prominent progressive Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), outnumbered those who opposed it.
Jayapal, the CPC chair, said Wednesday that she could not in good conscience be part of the Republican Party's "extortion scheme" by voting for legislation that "rips food assistance away from poor people and disproportionately Black and brown women, pushes forward pro-corporate permitting policies and a pipeline in direct violation of the community's input, and claws back nearly 25% of the funding Democrats allocated for the IRS to go after wealthy tax cheats."
Bush, who represents St. Louis, added that "this agreement, whose worst elements are undoubtedly the fault of MAGA Republicans who shamefully took our economy hostage, pairs raising the debt limit with many policies that will harm our most vulnerable communities."
"I am disgusted with the chief hostage taker Kevin McCarthy and his MAGA insurrectionist conference for threatening economic catastrophe," said the Missouri Democrat. "For the good of our country, and to prevent the GOP from politicizing the debt ceiling to harm our communities moving forward, I believe we must eliminate the debt ceiling altogether."
The bill now heads to the Senate, where lawmakers are expected to act before the June 5 debt-limit deadline set by the Treasury Department.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), the lone Senate member of the CPC, announced ahead of Wednesday's House vote that he will oppose the legislation, calling it "a bill that takes vital nutrition assistance away from women, infants, children, and seniors while refusing to ask billionaires who have never had it so good to pay a penny more in taxes."
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, the measure's new work requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients would put nearly 750,000 low-income adults between the ages of 50 and 54 at risk of losing food aid.
"The fact of the matter is that this bill is totally unnecessary," Sanders said. "The president has the authority and the ability to eliminate the debt ceiling today by invoking the 14th Amendment. I look forward to the day when he exercises this authority and puts an end, once and for all, to the outrageous actions of the extreme right-wing to hold our entire economy hostage in order to get what they want."
This story has been corrected to include Reps. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) and Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) on the list of no votes.
"President Biden and the Democratic Party should know the passage of this negotiation is the type of harmful decision that makes our generation feel disillusioned and defeated," said the Sunrise Movement's leader.
As the U.S. House of Representatives prepared to vote on President Joe Biden's debt limit deal with GOP negotiators Wednesday evening, the youth-led Sunrise Movement warned Democrats that the so-called Fiscal Responsibility Act could have a major impact on the 2024 elections.
"When we're knocking on doors and on college campuses, we constantly hear young people in our generation feel like the government doesn't work for them," said Sunrise Movement executive director Varshini Prakash in a statement. "This debt ceiling deal tells these young people that the U.S. will keep polluting our air and water by approving the Mountain Valley Pipeline, that our government will make life harder for working people, and that our system values billionaires over students."
"Democrats must stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline and achieve their climate goals if they want to energize Gen Z to get out and vote in 2024."
While the proposal would suspend the debt ceiling until 2025, in addition to greenlighting the contested gas pipeline, it would freeze nonmilitary spending, impose new work requirements for federal aid like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), resume student loan repayments, controversially reform permitting for energy projects, and repeal some funding intended to help the Internal Revenue Service crack down on rich tax cheats.
"President Biden and the Democratic Party should know the passage of this negotiation is the type of harmful decision that makes our generation feel disillusioned and defeated about the state of our politics," Prakash warned Wednesday.
"Building new fossil fuel infrastructure right after the approval of the Willow project is politically and morally dangerous, but it's not too late to fix this," the climate activist continued, referring to ConocoPhillips' oil development in Alaska. "Democrats must stop the Mountain Valley Pipeline and achieve their climate goals if they want to energize Gen Z to get out and vote in 2024."
\u201cThe GOP doesn\u2019t have the votes they need to pass this deal. If Democrats hold the line, we can stop it.\n\nTell Dems to vote for a clean debt ceiling deal \u27a1\ufe0f https://t.co/PmR7HGH6F1\u201d— Sunrise Movement \ud83c\udf05 (@Sunrise Movement \ud83c\udf05) 1685464612
Last year, as Common Dreamsreported at the time, young voters played a key role in preventing a "red wave" that political pollsters and pundits anticipated based on previous midterm elections, helping Democrats secure major congressional and gubernatorial victories as well as advancing a variety of progressive ballot measures.
Biden is seeking reelection next year and former President Donald Trump is leading polls for the GOP primary, followed at a distance by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. There will also be fierce battles for both chambers of Congress—currently, the fractured Republican Party holds a slim House majority, and Democrats control the Senate but lack enough votes to defeat filibusters.
Since Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) finalized their deal over the weekend—after Republicans refused to vote on a clean debt ceiling hike, despite U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen's warnings of an economically catastrophic default by June 5—a growing number of progressive lawmakers have come out against the White House's compromise.
As Common Dreams reported earlier Wednesday, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) decried the GOP's "reckless hostage-taking" and highlighted that "House Republicans raised the debt ceiling with no preconditions three times under the Trump administration."
Other House progressives who have made their opposition to the Fiscal Responsibility Act clear include Reps. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.), Cori Bush (D-Mo.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), who chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC).
"Tonight I'll be voting NO on Republicans' hostage bill that maliciously weaponized the debt limit. I came to Congress to stand up for our NY-16 community, kids, and families, but this austerity bill will only end up hurting the people I came here to fight for," Bowman said. "This bill will make the poor poorer, hungrier, and sicker, while further enriching the rich through the prison, fossil fuel, and military-industrial complex."
\u201c"...I cannot, in good conscience, vote for a bill that makes it easier for fossil fuel companies to pollute and destroy the planet by fast-tracking the disastrous Mountain Valley Pipeline."\n\nThank you for standing up for our generation, @SenSanders.\u201d— Sunrise Movement \ud83c\udf05 (@Sunrise Movement \ud83c\udf05) 1685562682
After U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) came out against the bill on Wednesday, other progressives in the upper chamber joined him—including Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who tweeted that "I will not support a deal to fast-track dirty fossil fuel projects at the expense of environmental justice. I will not give polluters a Get Out of Jail Free card. I will vote NO on the default deal."
"Republicans racked up trillions in debt under Trump and would now rather deprive struggling families of food and financial security than ask the wealthy to pay their fair share in taxes," Markey added, as Republican lawmakers plan to unveil a tax proposal that would further serve rich individuals and corporations.
Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) also came out against the bill. Along with detailing his critiques of several provisions in a lengthy statement, he warned that "yielding to this blackmail only guarantees that Republicans will use the debt limit to hold America hostage time and time again."
"Today looks like it might be the start of a new chapter in Amazon's history," one organizer of the nationwide protest remarked optimistically.
More than 1,000 Amazon corporate workers and allies rallied outside the e-commerce giant's Seattle headquarters on Wednesday to protest the company's return-to-work policy and what they called its failure to fulfill its climate pledge.
Sign and chant slogans during the Seattle lunchtime rally—which was organized by Amazon Employees for Climate Justice and Amazon's Remote Advocacy group—included "Amazon: Strive Harder," "Stop Greenwashing," and "Hell No, RTO,"—a rebuke of a mandate from Amazon CEO Andy Jassy to return to the office at least three days per week.
"Morale is the lowest I've seen since I've been working here," one Seattle-based employee who did not want to be named and has worked for the company since 2020 told Wired.
This year, Amazon terminated 27,000 workers, layoffs that mirrored cost-cutting sackings at other tech companies that overhired during the Covid-19 pandemic.
\u201cHundreds of corporate employees at the #Amazon walkout underway at the Spheres in South Lake Union. Workers calling out leadership for the return-to-office mandate and failure to reduce carbon footprint\u201d— Jackie Kent (@Jackie Kent) 1685560576
At least hundreds of other Amazon corporate employees and their supporters took part in similar demonstrations outside company offices around the nation on Wednesday, according to reports.
"Today looks like it might be the start of a new chapter in Amazon's history, when tech workers coming out of the pandemic stood up and said, 'We still want a say in this company and the direction of this company,'" Eliza Pan, a former Amazon corporate employee and a co-founder of Amazon Employees for Climate Justice, toldThe Associated Press.
\u201cThanks to everyone who showed up to make #AmazonWalkout a success!\u201d— Amazon Employees For Climate Justice (@Amazon Employees For Climate Justice) 1685559893
Amazon spokesperson Brad Glasser told Wired that "we're always listening and will continue to do so, but we're happy with how the first month of having more people back in the office has been."
"There's more energy, collaboration, and connections happening, and we've heard this from lots of employees and the businesses that surround our offices," he added.
However, Church Hindley, an Amazon quality assurance engineer, told the AP that working from home has improved his health and quality of life.
"I'm not suited for in-office work," Hindley said. "I deal with depression and anxiety, and I was able to get off my anxiety medication and start living my life."
\u201cMessages in the crowd at the Amazon walkout in Seattle.\u201d— Kurt Schlosser (@Kurt Schlosser) 1685563537
Pamela Hayter, an Amazon project manager, started the "Remote Advocacy" internal Slack channel, which now has 33,000 members.
During the Seattle rally, Hayter slammed the return-to-office mandate, saying, "I cannot believe that a company in this day and age, a company that claims to be an innovative leader in its space, would do that to one of its most precious resources—its employees."