Climate, Politics/Capitol Light©, is a service of The JBS Group and Civil Notion
November 6, 2019
The big news of the week—kind of—was Trump’s starting the paperwork for getting the US out of the Paris Climate Accord (Accord). Although Trump announced his intentions in June 2017, the rules of the Accord prohibited any formal action before a few days ago. The US won’t actu-ally be off the Accord until November 4, 2020—a day after the next presidential election.
At one level, the Accord with or without the US has not achieved what had been hoped. Only a few nation-states have upped their voluntary greenhouse gas reduction pledges to the point needed to keep global temperatures from crossing the temperature threshold the science community warns of as being points of no return.
Trump’s withdrawal, however, sends the wrong message. It will be used by populist leaders in Brazil, central and eastern European nations, and elsewhere as an excuse for them to retract their country's support for the Accord.
The withdrawal diminishes US standing in climate negotiations, as well as its moral leadership position—not just now but into the future. As in so many other areas, Trump’s willingness just to walk away—with no regard for what’s left in his wake—is making the US an unreliable partner.
US manufacturers are going to have to build their products to the higher environmental standards of the EU and elsewhere if they want to do business in global markets. Trump’s deregulation of the US environment doesn’t change that.
Rolling back US environmental regulations and instituting policies distinctly anti-climate runs the risk of making the US the dumping ground for products that fail to meet the stricter environmental standards of other nations.
Trump’s having acted on his June 2017 promise, therefore, is hardly a surprise. Should a Democrat win the 2020 campaign for president, I would imagine one of his or her first acts will be to take back the letter that just went out over Trump’s signature. It won’t restore the US to the global community, but it will be a start.
A taxing time? Probably not. Efforts to extend and revise an assortment of expired or soon-to-lapse energy tax breaks before the end of the year are struggling to find air in a crowded agenda. Policy and process disagreements are also getting in the way.
Lawmakers and interest groups for months have eyed the end of the year to enact an extenders package to revive more than two dozen tax breaks — including key biofuel and efficiency incentives — that have expired or will lapse by Dec. 31.
But the lack of progress on appropriations and daily partisan rancor over the House's impeachment inquiry may deprive congressional tax-writers of one crucial ingredient: a legislative vehicle.
Senate Finance Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has been looking to the Nov. 21 expiration of the current stopgap funding measure for moving extenders, but with the annual appropriations process already months behind schedule, there's talk of simply punting spending decisions into February or March.
Rolling dunder. The Environmental Protection Agency announced plans to relax rules that govern how power plants store waste from burning coal and release water containing toxic metals into nearby waterways, according to agency officials.
The proposals, which scale back two rules adopted in 2015, affect the disposal of fine powder and sludge known as coal ash, as well as contaminated water that power plants produce while burning coal. Both forms of waste can contain mercury, arsenic, and other heavy metals that pose risks to human health and the environment.
The new rules would allow extensions that could keep unlined coal ash waste ponds open for as long as eight additional years. The biggest benefit of the regulation governing contaminated wastewater would come from the voluntary use of new filtration technology.
Trump administration officials revised the standards in response to recent court rulings and to petitions from companies that said they could not afford to meet stringent requirements enacted under the Obama administration. They also reflect President Trump’s broader goal of bolstering America’s coal industry at a time when natural gas and renewable energy provide more affordable sources of electricity for consumers. (Washington Post)
A case of flagrancy? The EPA inspector general has raised the alarm about a top political appointee sparring with investigators.
EPA Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson is the subject of an Oct. 29 "seven-day letter" from the IG, a tool used sparingly by EPA's internal watchdog to report to the agency's head "serious or flagrant problems" it has uncovered. The letter must then be submitted to Congress seven days later, which gives the document its name.
"The particularly serious or flagrant problem I am reporting concerns two instances of refusal to fully cooperate and provide information to the IG, one during an audit and one during an administrative investigation. They center on a single employee — Chief of Staff Ryan Jackson," said acting EPA IG Charles Sheehan in the letter to EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler.
Sheehan discussed two matters for which the IG office sought help from Jackson. "Mr. Jackson's cooperation has been patiently sought multiple times over protracted periods by OIG auditors and investigators," he said.
Sheehan had harsh words for Jackson in his letter to the administrator.
"If information is choked off, we cannot fulfill our congressional charter and produce work of the rigor and quality expected by the American public," Sheehan concluded.
"To countenance open defiance even in one instance — much less two, both by a senior official setting precedent for himself and all agency staff — is ruinous." (E&E News)
Give us land, lots of land—to bomb. The U.S. Air Force is seeking to assert control over as much as two-thirds of a wildlife refuge in Nevada for training troops and testing weapons, according to a legislative proposal sent by military planners to the Department of the Interior and obtained by The Washington Post.
The military’s Nevada Test and Training Range already encompasses much of a vast stretch of southern Nevada desert originally set aside for bighorn sheep, desert tortoises, and other wildlife. But the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service retains primary authority over the refuge to halt military drills that would otherwise disturb key habitat for plants and animals.
The draft legislation would instead carve out 1.1 million acres of Desert National Wildlife Refuge to be used “primarily for the military purposes” and only “secondarily” as a nature preserve. The military wants to add as much as 260,000 acres of the refuge — the largest in the contiguous United States — to the testing range. (Washington Post)
With liberty and justice for all. 2020 Democratic presidential contenders are giving new attention to the idea of "environmental injustice," heartening green advocates who argue that polluting industries have gone unchecked.
A number of candidates have rolled out ambitious plans to tackle decades of pollution and harmful practices that have been concentrated in the nation’s poorest neighborhoods and communities of color. (The Hill)
Oil, oil everywhere. The flood of crude will arrive even as concerns about climate change are growing, and worldwide oil demand is slowing. And it is not coming from the usual producers, but from Brazil, Canada, Norway, and Guyana - countries that are either not known for oil or whose production has been lackluster in recent years.
This looming new supply may be a key reason Saudi Arabia’s giant oil producer, Aramco, pushed ahead on Sunday with plans for what could be the world’s largest initial stock offering ever. (New York Times)
The molecule that would roar. Scientists at the Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg have figured out how to harness the energy and keep it in reserve so it can be released on demand in the form of heat—even decades after it was captured.
The system starts with a liquid molecule made up of carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen. When hit by sunlight, the molecule draws in the sun’s energy and holds it until a catalyst triggers its release as heat.
The most advanced potential commercial use the team developed is a transparent coating that can be applied to home windows, a moving vehicle, or even clothing. The coating collects solar energy and releases heat, reducing electricity required for heating spaces and curbing carbon emissions. (Bloomberg)
An increasingly frequent barrier. Electrical-generating facilities are often controversial in the communities that host them, and projects along Lake Ontario and in the North Country have fizzled amid concerns about noise, view-sheds, and impacts on migrating birds. (Wall Street Journal)
A full fifth. Brazil's National Institute of Space Research, which tracks forest damage, calculates that one-fifth of Brazil's Amazonian rain forest-the world's largest remaining "green lung," which absorbs billions of tons of carbon dioxide—has been destroyed since the nineteen-seventies. (The New Yorker)
All Americans. "Climate refugee" is likely a new term for most Americans. Also referred to as environmental migrants, climate refugees are people who are now forced to seek refuge from the life-threatening impacts of the climate crisis.
The article is an opinion piece by Representatives Yvette Clark (D-NY) and Michael Shank, a professor at New York University and Director of the Carbon Neutral Cities Alliance.
He really, really hates California. Trump commented on California’s recent stretch of wildfires for the first time this weekend, saying that the state needs to do a better job managing its forests to prevent fires.
“The Governor of California, @GavinNewsom, has done a terrible job of forest management,” Trump tweeted Sunday. “I told him from the first day we met that he must “clean” his forest floors regardless of what his bosses, the environmentalists, DEMAND of him.”
Kamala Harris, the California senator, and presidential candidate tweeted back to Trump:
“Raking leaves is as effective at combating the climate crisis as your phone’s spellcheck is at fixing your tweets,” she tweeted “@GavinNewsom is doing his job. Maybe you should try it.”
Influence run amok. Major homebuilders have, for years had a secret pact to block climate-friendly changes to building codes, The New York Times reports. The agreement has enabled the industry’s top trade organization “to prevent changes that would have made new houses in much of the country more energy-efficient or more resilient to floods, hurricanes, and other disasters.”
Outrageous. The Trump administration has not responded to dozens of Congressional document requests related to its environment and science policies, reports The Hill. “The agencies that have failed to turn over documents include the Environmental Protection Agency, Interior Department, Department of Commerce and Department of Agriculture, according to [House Energy and Commerce] committee staff.” (The Hill)
Just being lazy, you think? The Trump administration is chasing down fewer environmental crimes than any administration since the mid-1990s, according to new data from an independent research group.
During fiscal 2019, the Justice Department reported 302 new environmental prosecution cases, the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse said in a recent report on environmental crime prosecution.
That contrasts with the 850 cases the Justice Department filed in fiscal 1999, 491 in 2009, and 335 in 2014. (Bloomberg Environment)
Bulb-us. Dual lawsuits filed in a federal appeals court in Manhattan seek to block the Energy Department from withdrawing an Obama-era requirement that requires bulbs commonly used in recessed lighting, track lighting, bathroom vanities, and decorative fixtures meet the same energy efficiency standards that effectively phased out the traditional incandescent bulb.
The standards, which had been scheduled to take effect in January 2020, applied to roughly half of the six billion lightbulbs in use today and would save consumers billions of dollars in energy costs and avoid millions of tons in carbon dioxide emissions, according to environmental groups backing the rules. (Bloomberg)
Time well spent. Italy will next year become the world's first country to make it compulsory for schoolchildren to study climate change and sustainable development, Education Minister Lorenzo Fioramonti said. (Reuters)
Psst, pass it on. Investment banks have begun quietly sounding alarm bells about climate change. Their worries are showing up in the documents that accompany municipal bonds they underwrite. (Morning Consult)
Can 11K scientists be wrong? The world’s people face “untold suffering due to the climate crisis” unless there are major transformations to global society, according to a stark warning from more than 11,000 scientists.
“We declare clearly and unequivocally that planet Earth is facing a climate emergency,” it states. “To secure a sustainable future, we must change how we live. [This] entails major transformations in the ways our global society functions and interacts with natural ecosystems.”
There is no time to lose; the scientists say: “The climate crisis has arrived and is accelerating faster than most scientists expected. It is more severe than anticipated, threatening natural ecosystems and the fate of humanity.”
The statement is published in the journal BioScience on the 40th anniversary of the first world climate conference, which was held in Geneva in 1979. The announcement was a collaboration of dozens of scientists and endorsed by further 11,000 from 153 nations. The scientists say the urgent changes needed include ending population growth, leaving fossil fuels in the ground, halting forest destruction, and slashing meat-eating. (The Guardian)
Ghost gear. Lost and abandoned fishing gear, which is deadly to marine life makes up the majority of “large“ plastic pollution in the oceans, according to a report by Greenpeace.
More than 640,000 tonnes of nets, lines, pots, and traps used in commercial fishing are dumped and discarded in the sea every year, the same weight as 55,000 double-decker buses.
The report, which draws on the most up-to-date research on “ghost gear,” polluting the oceans, calls for international action to stop plastic pollution, which is deadly for marine wildlife.
Lease to suit. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced that its annual oil and gas lease sale in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska would be on Dec. 11. The sale will be the 15th in a series of oil lease sales held by the BLM for that region on the western side of Alaska's North Slope. (Reuters)
Not just wind and solar. Getting the power grid to net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 will be far less costly if nuclear power, along with wind and solar energy, can be expanded, according to scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (The Chronicle)
Worse than we thought? If it feels like the Paris withdrawal has been coming for years, that’s not wrong. It was already clear on the day he was elected that President Donald Trump would leave the Paris Agreement. After some vacillating early in his term, Trump made a sunny, pomp-dense Rose Garden speech in June 2017 and promised to depart the treaty. But under the agreement’s terms, he could not formally notify the United Nations of his intent to leave until this week, and American diplomats attended climate negotiations in the interim. (The Atlantic)
Companies are judged by the company they keep. The company has spent decades building its image as an environmentally-friendly automaker, touting its investments into hybrid cars. Toyota owners who were attracted to the company’s green image have responded to the move by submitting complaints to the company and on social media and promising to buy cars from those automakers who have sided with California. Experts believe automakers that sided with Trump could face potential losses from environmentally-focused consumers, but it is not clear how the backlash will play out over the long term. (Washington Post)
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Joel Stronberg, MA, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.