If you read our blog regularly, you know that we frequently comment on human rights cases and campaigns from all over the world, particularly those involving large energy development projects. For instance, in the last few months we’ve written about campaigns to stop the Myitsone Dam on the Irrawaddy River in Burma, the Xayaburi Dam on the lower Mekong River in Laos, and the Belo Monte Dam on the Xingu River in Brazil.

It’s far more rare, however, that we write about similar developments in the U.S. and Canada, so I wanted to mix things up by calling attention to three pieces of encouraging domestic news that have caught my eye in the last few days…

98 year old dam comes down

Less than two weeks ago, in Washington State, crews blasted a tunnel through the Condit Dam, and the ensuing torrent drained the 92-acre Northwestern Lake in roughly two hours. The environmental consequences of this action are complicated – the release of years of accumulated sediment will hurt some downstream species in the short-term, but 33 miles of vital migratory fish runs have been reopened and the long-term impact on fisheries should be very positive.

The video below, which includes some timelapse segments of the lake draining, is absolutely stunning. The remaining dam structure will be removed in 2012.

Tar Sands protestors circle the White House

Yesterday afternoon, roughly 12,000 protestors formed a circle around the White House, asking President Obama to stop the Keystone XL pipeline, which would run from Alberta, Canada all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. Opposition to the pipeline has rallied largely around climate change (the Athabasca Oil Sands hold an enormous amount of carbon which, if tapped, could have catastrophic climate consequences), but the pipeline would also cut across environmentally and culturally sensitive regions (including an active seismic zone).  A spill would threaten aquifers and waterways, animal life and agricultural land, as well as Native American communities.

In a solidarity action in London, protestors circled a miniature mock White House:

Early last week, after a White House spokesperson had suggested that the pipeline was a State Department matter, President Obama backpedaled a bit, saying he would take recommendations from the State Department but also implying that he would make the final call himself.

Krugman blasts fracking, embraces solar

Finally, in an op-ed in the New York Times, Nobel laureate Paul Krugman took the energy industry to task for expanding questionable fossil fuel extraction techniques, particularly “fracking” (hydraulic fracturing, which I blogged about last year), rather than investing in clean energy.

Krugman argues that, because fracking has a special exemption from the Safe Drinking Water Act, the natural gas it yields isn’t priced to reflect the environmental costs of the toxic chemicals that the process injects into the earth:

“special treatment for fracking makes a mockery of free-market principles… letting an industry impose costs without paying compensation is in effect a huge subsidy.”

Krugman’s editorial is ultimately hopeful, though, arguing that the cost of solar energy is dropping so rapidly that it will soon compete with coal as a primary energy source: “Here comes the sun, if we’re willing to let it in.”