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When the climate and fentanyl crises collide
Plus, the Mining Monitor and the My-Bad Beat
From the totally f*&ed up news department
Officials in the Phoenix area say asphalt and concrete surfaces are so hot these days that they are sending folks to the local medical facilities with second- and third-degree burns. The phenomenon disproportionately affects the elderly and unhoused populations.
And it’s not just the soles of their feet that are sizzling, according to Cronkite News. The Arizona Burn Center is seeing an increase in the number of patients on methamphetamines in the ward. That’s because more and more meth is tainted with fentanyl, which can knock users out cold, leaving them lying unconscious on the scorching pavement. It only takes a minute of contact with a hot surface to inflict a third-degree burn.
The mercury in the Phoenix area has reached 110 degrees Fahrenheit for 11 consecutive days so far, and forecasters predict the streak will continue at least for another week — which would break the 18-day, 110+ F record set in 1974. High nighttime temperatures have brought the daily averages to as much as 6.4 degrees above “normal.” The area has not received measurable precipitation since March 22.
I’m often the first to push back on claims that a single weather event or even streak is caused by climate change: Phoenix is and always has been a hot place, and the current heat spell is not unprecedented. But when you look at the current streak of 110+ high temperatures within the context of other climate records for the area, climate change’s fingerprint becomes blatantly visible.
Phoenix weather records go back to 1896, and during that time, the season of scalding (100+ F) temperatures has grown longer on both ends and the average number of 100+ F days per year has jumped from 93 to 111. The top five hottest days have all occurred since 1990, while the five coldest days occurred before 1971 (three of them in 1913). The mercury almost never drops below freezing anymore.
When I see these numbers on paper (or my computer screen) I tend to tell myself, I could handle that. I love the desert and I can tolerate dry heat if need be. If I lived there, I would build a thick-walled, well-insulated house with a reflective roof and lots of desert-appropriate trees in the yard for shade. And, when I had to, I’d turn on the air-conditioning — powered by my rooftop solar, of course.
And that’s fine and good for folks who can afford these things. But many people can’t. The number of unhoused people in Phoenix — and just about everywhere — continues to climb. Nearly 10,000 people in Maricopa County lack housing, and about half of those people live on the streets and are exposed to the brutal elements both day and night (when the lowest temperature is often in the high-eighties or low-nineties).
More than 90,000 of the homes in Phoenix are mobile homes, which offer little insulation against the heat. According to Arizona State University’s Knowledge Exchange for Resilience, mobile home residents make up about one-third of the region’s heat-related deaths. And even those in higher-quality housing may lack air-conditioning or the ability to pay for the electricity to keep a home habitable.
If drought and heat-driven demand take out the power grid? Then things get ugly for everyone.
Big Breakdown? Beat
Given the mounting evidence and climbing temperatures, one might think folks in Arizona would demand an immediate stop to fossil fuel burning. That ain’t happening. Yes, a few giant coal power plants have been shut down in recent years, including the Navajo Generating Station in northern Arizona and the San Juan Generating Station in New Mexico.
But the Four Corners Power Plant, operated by Arizona Public Service, continues to burn through a half-million tons of coal per month to keep those Phoenix air-conditioners cranking (and homes habitable). It also belches oodles of pollutants into the northern New Mexico air, land, and water — affecting the people who live there.
APS has vowed to rid itself of coal-fired power generation by 2031 (and Public Service Company of New Mexico plans to divest its 13% ownership in the facility even sooner). APS owns the largest stake in the plant, which should mean the coal-burning behemoth would shut down in 2031.
But other entities have other plans. PNM attempted to transfer its stake in the facility to the Navajo Transition Energy Company, which is owned by the Navajo Nation but operates independently, and pay NTEC $75 million. NTEC presumably would have then tried to keep the plant running beyond 2031, since it owns the mine that feeds the plant. The company is now working with Enchant Energy to study of the feasibility of equipping the plant with carbon capture — much as Enchant unsuccessfully attempted to prolong the life of the San Juan plant just across the river.
New Mexico regulators denied the ownership transfer proposal in 2021 and, just last week, the state’s high court affirmed the denial. PNM, feeling dejected, told the Farmington Daily Times that the decision will delay its exit from the facility until 2031 and will put the kibosh on an APS plan to operate one of the plant’s two units seasonally, meaning they would shut it down in the winter months.
Environmental groups are applauding the court’s decision, however, because they say it will lessen the chances of NTEC keeping the plant operating beyond 2031. It also opens the door for regulators to consider the prudence of PNM’s investments in the facility.
The mining industry hype is heating up along with the temperature. Here’s our quick rundown of the current spin:
Consolidated Uranium claims it is beginning the process of re-opening the long-idle Tony M Mine in the Shitamaring Creek drainage south of the Henry Mountains in southern Utah. It says it is beginning a 59-hole exploratory drilling program to provide a clearer picture of the subterranean geology and assess the vanadium extraction potential. The mine mostly lies on Utah SITLA land, and the surrounding sections of BLM land are part of the proposed Bears Ears National Monument land exchange, so they, too, will be under state management if that goes through. The Tony M claims were first staked in the 1930s by Tony Mastrovich, but didn’t do much mining there. Plateau Resources then took over in the 1970s to provide a fuel source for its parent company’s Palisades nuclear plant in Michigan. The Tony M was actively mined between 1979 and 1984 and has sat mostly quiet since.
Atomic Minerals/Kraken Energy have received the go-ahead from federal land managers to build 20 exploratory drilling pads on 324 unpatented uranium mining claims on Harts Point in San Juan County, Utah. Historic exploratory drilling showed “off-scale radioactivity” in the Chinle formation, the company says. They took out a $58,140 reclamation bond for the project.
Moab Minerals says it is drilling exploratory holes at its REX uranium mining project in the Uravan Mineral Belt in western Colorado. The REX claims are less than a mile from the defunct uranium milling community of Uravan and the radioactive resting places of mill tailings and other contaminated material from the town and surrounding facilities.
All of these projects appear on the ever-expanding Land Desk Mining Monitor Atlas.
As a couple of astute readers pointed out, I misused the word “untrammeled” in the last episode of the Land Desk. I used it as if it were somewhat synonymous with “pristine,” when in fact it means something else. Here’s how Merriam-Webster defines the term:
Untrammeled: not confined, limited, or impeded.
Sorry about that. And to be clear, though I drew the word from the Wilderness Act of 1964, my comments weren’t a critique of the law or even the concept of wilderness, in general (I’m a big fan of designated Wilderness areas). I was merely wondering what one might mean when one refers to “nature photography.” I’m not any closer to the answer.
But maybe we can find some wisdom in wilderness, more specifically in the definition posited by the Wilderness Act:
A wilderness, in contrast with those areas where man and his works dominate the landscape, is hereby recognized as an area where the earth and its community of life are untrammeled by man … . An area of wilderness is further defined to mean in this Act an area of undeveloped Federal land retaining its primeval character and influence, without permanent improvements or human habitation, which is protected and managed so as to preserve its natural conditions … .
Huh. Well, that doesn’t really clear it up for me. I guess the conclusion is that defining “nature” or “wilderness” is not easy. You know it when you see it, I suppose. We’ll just leave it at that.
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