Democrats in Congress are hoping to overhaul the nation’s 150-year-old system for mining the elements needed for battery manufacturing, as high gas prices and Russia’s war in Ukraine underline the need to transition from oil and gas to renewable energy sources.
U.S. House Natural Resources Chairman Raúl Grijalva of Arizona and U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico have each sponsored bills that would set environmental and reclamation standards.
Their legislation also would require mining companies to clean up abandoned mines, lease the federal lands they operate on and pay royalties for the revenue from public lands.
Tuesday, the 150th anniversary of President Ulysses S. Grant’s signing of the General Mining Act of 1872, Grijalva, Heinrich and California Democratic Rep. Alan Lowenthal said those bills were necessary to provide an overdue update to the mining law.
“We’re living in a completely different world than we were 150 years ago,” Grijalva said at a press conference.
Under the law, miners have been able to operate “without any semblance of accountability,” Grijalva said.
Grijalva said he didn’t seek to end mining through the legislation. Lowenthal said he and Grijalva opposed new mining, but that the bill concedes the industry’s continuation while attempting to mitigate its harms.
“The transition to a clean-energy future will inevitably involve mining,” Grijalva said. “That’s not the argument we have. But … we cannot build a 21st century clean-energy economy with a 19th century law.”
The legislation seeks to place environmental requirements and financial costs on miners, as well as require consultation with tribes.
New mines would have to pay a 12.5% royalty rate for operations on federal lands. Existing lands would see an 8% royalty rate. One-quarter of that royalty would go to the state where the mine is located.
The remainder would go into a new Hardrock Mine Reclamation Fund, which was created under the $1.2 trillion infrastructure law President Joe Biden signed last year, to clean up abandoned mining sites.
Heinrich said the new dedicated funding stream for abandoned mine cleanup was the most important part of the bill.
Defunct mines can leach chemicals into the nearby water and soil, Heinrich said. He referenced the Gold King Mine wastewater spill in Colorado that turned waters in New Mexico “the color of Tang” because of heavy metals and other contaminants.
The legislation was more urgent because of the recent push to increase domestic energy, Heinrich said. Volatility in the oil and gas market that resulted from the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has spurred calls in Washington to produce more domestic energy.
“Isn’t it time we had a 21st century approach to mining in this country?” he said. “Especially at a moment when we are making increased efforts to create domestic supply.”
Grijalva said mining would be part of a clean-energy future because metals like copper, lithium and nickel are needed for battery storage, a critical component for electric cars.
Lauren Pagel, the policy director for the environmental group Earthworks, said a transition to “a fully renewable energy future” was needed as soon as possible. Cleaning up mining was essential to reach fully renewable energy, she said.
“We cannot do that on the backs of dirty mining and mining-impacted communities,” she said. “And that’s where we’re headed right now if we don’t reform this.”
Private mining companies have extracted $300 billion of minerals from public lands, without paying royalties and while sticking taxpayers with cleanup bills, Lowenthal said.
“If the federal government is going to allow private companies to extract resources from public lands, the American taxpayer must be compensated,” he said. “Right now they are not being compensated or protected.”
Grijalva has scheduled a hearing on his bill for Thursday at the Energy and Mineral Resources Subcommittee, which Lowenthal chairs. A spokeswoman for the House Natural Resources Committee said the panel would mark it up this year, though a schedule has not been finalized.
Heinrich’s bill has not been scheduling for consideration in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
Members of Congress have launched efforts to reform the 1872 law for decades. Heinrich’s predecessor, Democrat Jeff Bingaman, introduced a bill in 2009.
A spokesperson for U.S. House Republicans said they strongly oppose the legislation.
“Mining industries have shown they’re willing to come to the table and talk about bipartisan solutions, but Mr. Grijalva’s legislation is merely a proposal to end all mining in the U.S.,” said Rebekah Hoshik.“That runs directly contrary to the Biden administration’s own clean energy goals, which will require a dramatic increase in mineral production.”
More than a thousand pages of records that were in the possession of Cyber Ninjas, the now-defunct Florida company the Senate hired to do the review, were released as part of an ongoing lawsuit. Until providing these records, Cyber Ninjas has refused to turn over documents, despite court orders to do so — and daily $50,000 fines that now total $4.3 million.
Some of the documents released Tuesday include contracts between Cyber Ninjas and its many subcontractors who worked alongside Cyber Ninjas CEO Doug Logan. The documents offer insights into the scope of work and the amount of money offered to each subcontractor for their work on the so-called “audit.”
Previously, Cyber Ninjas had released some information about the groups who had funneled money into the “audit” effort, which amounted to approximately $5.7 million from pro-Donald Trump groups.
A document prepared by an unnamed independent accountant showed that those funds were not able to cover the operating costs of the audit which came in at approximately $8.8 million, the bulk of which was $5.2 million in payroll and labor. The report cited a loss of more than $2.1 million for Cyber Ninjas, though the accounting firm noted that Logan failed to submit balance sheets, statements of cash flows and other documents ordinarily included in financial statements.
As of Sept. 15, 2021, the accountant’s report also notes that Cyber Ninjas owed “audit” subcontractors more than $1.9 million.
In its original statement of work for the Arizona Senate, Cyber Ninjas stated it would complete the work for $150,000. However, the payments Cyber Ninjas promised its subcontractors would balloon that and costs would quickly go higher from there.
The documents also showed that conspiracy theorist Jovan Hutton Pulitzer originally planned to bill Cyber Ninjas $2.1 million for his work, but offered “deep discounting” to reduce his fee to $210,000. A line item in the operating expense report titled “research/artifacts” is listed as costing $210,000. Pulitzer is known for an “invention” dubbed “kinematic artifact detection.”
One subcontractor, EchoMail, run by Shiva Ayyadurai, claimed in an email that he was never paid. Ayyadurai, who was later hired by the Senate directly to conduct a flawed analysis of early ballot affidavit envelopes, slammed the “audit” leaders as grifters in a report he issued earlier this year.
Earlier this year Logan revealed that Cyber Ninjas had declared bankruptcy and that he’d be attempting to create a new organization with the same employees.
ORACLE – At the foot of Mount Lemmon, down a short, winding road off State Route 77, a tropical rainforest stands inside Biosphere 2, the University of Arizona’s 3-acre environmental laboratory in the Sonoran Desert.
Research in the rainforest
This graphic depicts the total concentration of methane in the atmosphere each decade in parts per billion. Source: United States Environmental Protection Agency, data as of 2019. (Animation by Hope O’Brien/Cronkite News)
Joost van Haren gets excited when talking about methane emissions and how they feed climate change. An assistant professor at UArizona, he’s the co-principal investigator for a project in the Biosphere 2 rainforest designed to determine how much methane is emitted by seasonally flooded areas of the Amazon. Researchers hope to better explain what’s known as the “methane flux,” the difference between emissions from all sources and how much of the gas is absorbed by oceans, the soil and the atmosphere.
“People have pointed to the flooded forests of the Amazon Basin as being the (methane) source you can’t see,” van Haren said. “But we do not know that for certain, and so this project sets out to figure that out.”
The project, according to its proposal, aims to establish the first-ever “whole-ecosystem measurements of methane emissions” in a seasonal floodplain forest of the Amazon to understand the mismatch between bottom-up and top-down methane estimates and better grasp the seasonal dynamics and other factors that affect emissions in areas that are both terrestrial and aquatic. For the project, van Haren and his team have designed specialized equipment, which they’re testing in Arizona.
Van Haren said the collected data will be a starting point to understand these mismatches and poorly understood pieces of methane emissions across the globe.
“There’s that mismatch between the measurements,” van Haren said. “But there is also still in the global budget an issue: that we don’t understand what causes the annual variability in the methane flux.”
Two devices are set to be tested in Biosphere 2’s controlled environment before they’re sent to Brazil to take measurements, van Haren said.
Methane is the second-most-common greenhouse gas, according to the European Environment Agency, and is “more than 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in the atmosphere,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA says methane is emitted through natural sources and through human activities. Trees growing in the floodplains of the Amazon emitted more methane than all of the Earth’s oceans combined, a 2017 study published in the journal Nature showed.
Going beyond the norm
This animation depicts how methane-measuring mechanisms being tested in Biosphere 2 are built to withstand flooding of wet seasons in the Amazon rainforest. These areas of the Amazon can experience up to 5 feet of flooding every wet season. (Animation by Hope O’Brien/Cronkite News)
Designing the system required innovation, van Haren said, because the automated system needs to be able to take continuous measurements in an area of the forest that can experience up to 5 feet of flooding every wet season, which runs roughly January through June. The devices have to adjust to changing water levels, as even a small amount could destroy them.
Biosphere 2 is unique in that it offers a controlled environment where the new equipment can be tested before it is shipped to Brazil.
“We don’t want to test things out in Brazil because fixing it is a much more difficult problem,” van Haren said.
Once the systems are deemed fit, they’ll be installed at selected sites in Brazil.
Students spearheading innovation
Five undergrad seniors at UArizona representing three branches of engineering designed the measuring devices as their final capstone project.
For more stories from Cronkite News, visit cronkitenews.azpbs.org.
Through the first six months of legalized sports gambling, Arizona’s state coffers have yet to cross the $10 million mark, while sportsbooks have made $225 million.
New February totals show sportsbooks made $24 million off $491 million in bets placed for the month, but the state brought in its lowest total yet for a full month at $670,000.
The state’s general fund has seen just about $8.5 million in revenue from sports gambling between September 2021 and February 2022 — during the professional and college football seasons — an average of roughly $1.4 million per month. If the averages hold, the state would bring in $17 million over its first year of legal betting, though the average is likely to drop outside of the football seasons.
Compare that to sports books making $225 million since gambling launched last year, with licenses operated by the Suns, Cardinals, Diamondbacks, and others. Arizona bettors have spent roughly $2.8 billion to date and won more than $2.5 billion.
When Gov. Doug Ducey signed a new tribal gaming compact and corresponding legislation for mobile gaming last year, state budget analysts predicted the state would bring in roughly $15 million annually. Meanwhile, the bill’s sponsor in the Arizona House, state Rep. Jeff Weninger, said the state’s cut could be potentially as high as $100 million.
The most recent figures from the Arizona Department of Gaming shows the Legislature’s number crunchers were much closer to the target after six months.
The department this month released its report showing February’s wagers, which kicked off with one of the busiest gambling days of the year in the Super Bowl. But that also means football season — the most popular sport for gamblers — ended, setting the state for a decline in bets. How deep that drop will be is up for interpretation by each mobile betting source.
The February figures come on the heels of record-high wagers in January, which crossed $500 million; the state collected only $1.9 million from those wagers.
A spokesman for DraftKings told the Arizona Mirror they could not speak to specific drop-offs in bets during football’s off-season, but noted that as long as there are sports, bets will continue.
“When it comes to sports betting, NFL in particular and college football are certainly king. But we still have a bevy of sports to bet on,” spokesman Stephen Miraglia said, noting that basketball and hockey postseasons are underway, the baseball season has begun and there are major golf tournaments during the summer.
“It’s still a busy time,” he said. “(There is) no shortage of content.”
Promotional credits — usually in the form of free bets — offered by mobile sportsbooks is a point of contention for critics of the legislation, because mobile betting apps are able to write off those promotions out of what they would ordinarily owe to the state’s general fund.
For the first two years, they can write off up to 20% of their adjusted gross receipts, which shrinks to 15% in year three and 10% in years four and five. After that, write-offs are no longer allowed.
For Arizona Coyotes owner Alex Meruelo, sports betting is even more lucrative: He also owns the sports book his team has partnered with. Meruelo owns SaharaBets, which began taking bets in Arizona in January.
The Coyotes also are lobbying legislators for a bill that would allow Meruelo to bring his sportsbook license to the 5,000-seat venue at Arizona State University where the Coyotes will be playing until the team builds a new stadium.
Campaign finance reports show that Meruelo gave roughly $80,000 to the campaigns of the lawmakers supporting the legislation. The bill won approval in the state House of Representatives, but has been held up in the Senate for a month. The only legislative candidate not currently holding office Meruelo contributed money to is Matt Gress, Ducey’s chief budget officer.
Gaming attorney and sports betting legal expert Daniel Wallach said that while it’s common to see a dip in wagers after football season, it’s not a sign that the gambling industry is struggling in Arizona.
“This is not a sign that consumers are disinterested in sports betting,” he said, adding that March and April numbers will likely be on the uptick and that next February will probably be a boon for wagers in the state.
That’s because Arizona is the host of the 2023 Super Bowl and there is a lot of excitement for the game to be played here.
“Even though that’s still the same month, that’s going to be a completely different situation because the state is going to be consumed with the excitement over the Super Bowl, no matter who is playing … [it] will be the first one ever played with an in-stadium sports book,” Wallach told the Arizona Mirror.
Overall he said nobody should really worry what numbers look like at this point because “we’re still operating in the nascent period of the launch of sports wagering in Arizona.”
WASHINGTON – Arizona is in the midst of a surge in Alzheimer’s patients that is rising at the fastest rate in the nation, a crisis that advocates fear the state is not prepared to cope with.
The Alzheimer’s Association estimates that cases in Arizona will increase from 150,000 in 2020 to 200,000 by 2025, a 33% increase that would be the fastest in the nation over that five-year period. But advocates say there are not enough resources to handle the cases the state has now, much less the extra 50,000 that could be coming.
“We have a caregiver shortage, we have a nurses shortage, we have a doctor shortage, and we have a 33% increase in Alzheimer’s diagnosis,” said Pam Ostrowski, the founder of Alzheimer’s Family Consulting. “We have a crisis coming.”
That was echoed by Kinsey McManus, program director for the Desert Southwest Chapter of the Alzheimer’s Association, who said the state needs to prepare now for a “public health crisis” that will only become more pressing.
“We are certainly not in a good place with the amount of growth that we expect, and therefore need to prepare for and accommodate,” McManus said.
Arizona is just the leading edge of a national surge, with all but three states expected to see double-digit percentage increases in their Alzheimer’s cases from 2020 to 2025, according to the association’s report.
The increase comes even though advances in treatment of risk factors, like hypertension, have led to reductions in the number of Alzheimer’s cases per 100,000 people in recent decades. That’s for the simple reason that the number of people reaching prime Alzheimer’s age is booming.
“Throughout the U.S., people are aging, the baby boomer generation is turning 75, and so the age-related changes or increase in Alzheimer’s disease are reflected in that,” said Dr. Pallavi Joshi, a geriatric psychiatrist at the Banner Alzheimer’s Institute.
The “silver tsunami” of baby boomers is a particular problem in Arizona, where the population includes many retirees.
“We are really transitioning to become a retirement state in the same way that California and Florida are,” McManus said.
Joshi said the state needs to “face the fact that we may not have enough physicians and nurses and providers to meet that demand.”
Arizona only had 92 geriatricians – doctors who deal with issues of aging – in 2021, which experts said is not enough to handle the current caseload. And McManus said many of these specialists live in urban areas, which creates issues for rural communities.
“Where are those doctors? They’re mostly in our major urban areas,” McManus said. “So if you’re in a rural community, your access to a current provider is very limited.”
Joshi said there are not currently enough caregivers in the pipeline to meet the growing need in Arizona. The Alzheimer’s Association report calls for a 27% increase in personal care or home health aides to keep pace with the growing need in Arizona. And it said that even if the number of geriatricians could be increased more than tenfold by 2050, to 1,089 doctors, that would only be enough to care for 30% of the people over age 65.
Along with increased demand comes increased costs. The report said Medicaid payments for those 65 and older living with Alzheimer’s or another form of dementia in Arizona is likely to rise from $414 million in 2020 to $545 million in 2025, part of a national increase over the same period from $51.2 billion to $61.6 billion.
That does not take into account the burden on family members caring for an Alzheimer’s patient. The report estimated that 257,000 Arizonans devoted 501 million hours to caring for a family member in 2021, unpaid care worth more than $9.5 billion. In Arizona, 15.4% of caregivers reported suffering from depression.
Joshi called it a “disease that affects the whole family.”
“As the disease progresses, the person who’s affected is less and less able to do things for themselves and they rely on their family members to help out,” she said. “This puts a strain on the family who may need to arrange for formal caregiving or increased medical costs.”
Ostrowski said the disease can be “tricky” for family members, caregivers and patients to comprehend.
“The saddest part for family members is really, that they are losing the memories, the common memories with this individual,” she said.
Alzheimer’s is a fatal form of dementia that typically affects older people, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. It causes memory loss, mood swings and can get to the point where a person can no longer perform daily tasks.
There are few treatments but Joshi said she thinks one of the most important things to do “is to educate families and providers to recognize these early signs, know that they are not normal and seek early diagnosis.” McManus agrees that the best thing for families to do is to be prepared.
“A big piece of why early detection and early diagnosis is so critically important is, it’s not just about what can we be doing now, but how do we plan for what is to be expected?” McManus said.
Ostrowski agreed and said that planning for both caregiving and for finances is crucial.
“Their first question should be, how do I plan for this? How do I prepare for what’s about to happen?” she said. “Because ultimately, everything that happens after that… if you have a way to reference a document that actually says, ‘Oh, when mom can’t speak anymore, it’s time for us to do this.'”
And Ostrowski said that while it can be a lonely time for everyone involved, it’s important for people to remember “you’re not alone.”
“There’s people out here to help and reach out,” she said.
-If you are looking for help for yourself or a family member who may have Alzheimer’s, you can reach out to the Alzheimer’s Association at 1-800-272-3900 or to Alzheimer’s Family Consulting’s website at alzheimersfamilyconsulting.com.
For more stories from Cronkite News, visit cronkitenews.azpbs.org.