Weekly news roundup

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Mike Lewelling/Wikimedia Commons

CU research highlights costs and causes of wildfires as 416 Fire grows

As the 416 Fire grows to 26,000 acres in Southwest Colorado, with only 15 percent containment as of June 13, analysts are looking back on the 2017 wildfire season to determine causes and the cumulative costs of wildfires in the U.S.

The study was co-authored by researchers at CU Boulder’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research (INSTAAR), Columbia University and the University of Idaho.

Last year, wildfires cost the U.S. more than $18 billion in damages. Approximately 71,000 wildfires burned 10 million acres of land.

“Last year, we saw a pile-on of extreme events across large portions of the Western U.S: the wettest winter, the hottest summer and the driest fall — all helping to promote wildfires,” said lead study author Jennifer Balch, director of CU Boulder’s Earth Lab in the Cooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), in a press release.

Researchers suggested that climate change has played a major part in the frequency and intensity of wildfires.

“Western wildfire seasons worsen when conditions are dry and fuel-rich, raising the chances of ignition. Climate change likely exacerbates fuels and dryness … and human behavior contributed the sparks,” a CU press release stated.

About 90 percent of last year’s fires were sparked by humans, the research shows, and human activity is estimated to triple the length of the wildfire season.

Rico Moore
The drilling rig has now arrived at Bella Romero Academy

Drilling gets underway at Bella Romero Academy

As evidenced by the photo, the children of Bella Romero Academy in Greeley are now being impacted by oil and gas extraction in this controversial location, which has been making national news as a prime example of environmental racism.

In 2013, Extraction Oil and Gas, LLC was granted a drilling permit by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC) allowing it to drill 64 wells from a location close to Greeley’s Frontier Academy, a school with a predominately white student body. But after parents at Frontier strongly voiced their objections to the location of the drill site, which they believed would expose their children to harmful, even cancer-causing, volatile organic compounds (VOCs), Extraction canceled its plans to drill near that school in May 2016.

Unfortunately for students living in and around Greeley, Extraction proposed a new drilling location by another Greeley school and in March 2017, the COGCC approved a 24-well location nearly on top of Bella Romero Academy. Again, parents and concerned citizens have been loudly protesting the new location. On-site protests that have included at least one person chaining himself to equipment (See BW’s “Protect the Children,” May 3) have been occurring at Bella Romero with increasing frequency. But as the photo shows, Extraction isn’t listening to the parents or the children this time around.

Eighty-seven percent of students attending Bella Romero Academy are Latino or Hispanic.    

Wikimedia Commons

The latest effort to get rid of the ACA

The Justice Department announced on Thursday, June 7 that it won’t be defending the Affordable Care Act — sweeping health care legislation passed in 2010 — in the latest challenge to its constitutionality brought by 20 Republican state attorneys general.

“It’s a rare step, but one I felt necessary,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions told the crowd at the Western Conservative Summit in Denver the next day, acknowledging the fact that the executive branch historically defends existing laws.

At least one longtime Justice Department official, who spent years defending the ACA, resigned following the announcement.

The Texas-led lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of the individual mandate provision of the ACA, and, as a result, certain consumer protections, such as coverage despite pre-existing conditions and setting rates based on communities, not individuals, must be overturned.

But in Colorado, the Division of Insurance says both of these protections are already part of state law.

“Guaranteed health insurance coverage for people with pre-existing conditions is enshrined in Colorado law,” said Interim Insurance Commissioner Michael Conway in a press release.

“Gone are the days of being charged more because you have high blood pressure or because your child has asthma. While the ACA led the way on prohibiting insurers from such practices, Coloradans can rest assured that they will remain protected from any political gamesmanship at the federal level because of the foresight of our State legislators and Governor Hickenlooper.”

At the federal level, it seems the Trump Administration continues its effort to strip the ACA, despite being unable to pass official legislation in Congress to repeal it. The lawsuit is still making its way through the courts and will be heard by a Republican-appointed judge in Texas.