Climate, Politics/Capitol Light©, is a service of The JBS Group and Civil Notion
Volume 1 August 27, 2019 Issue 24
I'm an environmentalist. I think I know more about the environment than most people.
Donald Trump on why he could afford to miss the G-7 session on climate.
There goes the neighborhood. Construction crews broke ground on a small portion of the $664 million border fence project in the Arizona desert that is funded through President Trump's national emergency declaration.
Crews plan to install 30-foot steel fencing to replace older barriers on 2 miles in Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, next to the official border crossing known as the Lukeville Port of Entry.
The project is funded through the Defense Department. Use of the department's money was previously frozen by lower courts while a lawsuit proceeded. However, the Supreme Court last month cleared the way for the use of about $2.5 billion (E&E News)
Do the hustle. The Trump administration has been scrambling to stem the tide of rising anger in Farm Belt states after its decision this month to allow numerous oil refiners to mix less ethanol into their gasoline.
Seeking to tamp down political fallout in U.S. farm states essential to his re-election, Trump has ordered federal agencies to shift course on relieving some oil refineries of requirements to use biofuel such as corn-based ethanol.
Trump and top cabinet leaders decided they wouldn’t make changes to just-issued waivers that allow small refineries to ignore the mandates but agreed to start boosting biofuel-blending quotas to make up for expected exemptions beginning in 2021. The outcome was described by four people familiar with the matter who asked not to be named before a formal announcement could be made. (Reuters and Bloomberg)
And then there were 5. The White House, blindsided by a pact between California and four automakers to oppose President Trump’s auto emissions rollbacks, has mounted an effort to prevent any more companies from joining California.
Toyota, Fiat Chrysler, and General Motors were all summoned by a senior Trump adviser to a White House meeting last month where he pressed them to stand by the president’s own initiative, according to four people familiar with the talks.
Even as the White House was meeting with automakers, it was losing ground. Yet another company, Mercedes-Benz, is preparing to join the four automakers already in the California agreement — Honda, Ford, Volkswagen, and BMW — according to two people familiar with the German company’s plans. (New York Times)
And now there will not be one but ten. Democratic National Committee (DNC) members on Saturday (August 24th) voted down a resolution that would have resulted in single-issue debates among candidates -- including on the issue of the climate crisis.
Democratic presidential candidates are barred from appearing together on stage outside of DNC-sanctioned debates.
The Resolutions Committee approved language that would have "essentially lifted the ban on candidates being unable to appear together on a stage at a forum or a candidate gathering." When the committee language was presented to the full DNC, it was rejected by a vote of 222-137.
Still barred from their all being on the same stage, CNN will now hold ten individual town halls on the climate crisis all on the same night—September 24th.
He just stopped running—or did he? Washington Governor Jay Inslee has dropped out of the race for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, facing his inability to garner enough support to qualify for the third round of candidate debates and the upcoming CNN town hall on climate change. (Seattle PI)
The withdrawal poses a question likely to be answered soon. Will Inslee try to become the second Washington governor -- Dan Evans was the first -- to serve three consecutive terms?
They should pay for their crimes. Nearly 62 percent of voters said they'd support legal liability for energy companies or utilities "if it could be proven that they misled the public about the consequences of climate change" in a survey by the progressive pollster YouGov Blue. Of that figure, more than 47 percent said they "strongly support" such a policy. Support for the idea is especially strong among Democrats and independents.
Does this make sense to you? More than 100 storage sites for coal-burning power plants' toxic leftovers lie in areas that federal emergency managers have labeled a high risk for flooding, according to POLITICO's examination of government and industry data.
That finding comes as scientists and pollution experts warn that coal ash — a multibillion-dollar liability problem for communities across the country — may become an even greater danger because of heavier rains triggered by climate change. Already, federal agencies warn that the government’s flood maps most likely understate the risks of deluges in much of the country, including the Southeast, where at least 42 storage sites in POLITICO’s analysis are located.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration is moving to weaken an Obama-era regulation meant to prevent a repeat of past coal ash disasters. (POLITICO)
Who’s the one who should be apologizing here? Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro on Tuesday said Brazil would only accept an offer of international aid to fight Amazon fires if French leader Emmanuel Macron retracts comments that he finds offensive.
Bolsonaro said Macron had called him a liar and he accused the French president of questioning Brazil’s sovereignty amid tensions over fires sweeping the Amazon region.
Macron has to retract some of his comments “and then we can speak,” Bolsonaro said.
He spoke a day after the Group of Seven nations pledged $20 million to help fight the flames in the Amazon and protect the rainforest, in addition to a separate $12 million from Britain and $11 million from Canada.
Tariff-ick. The American Petroleum Institute (API) warned Trump that his trade war with China is harming the oil and gas industry and poised to cause more damage.
The oil and gas industry trade group issued an unusually aggressive statement after China announced another round of retaliatory tariffs on $75 billion worth of U.S. goods, including U.S. crude oil and several other petroleum products.
China had already imposed 25 percent retaliatory tariffs on U.S. liquified natural gas, just as the country is poised to be a top consumer of the fuel.
“This escalation of the U.S.- China trade war is another step in the wrong direction, the consequences of which will be felt by American businesses and families,” said Kyle Isakower, API’s vice president of regulatory and economic policy. “In addition to the impacts on the U.S. economy and jobs, U.S. energy leadership and global competitiveness are threatened as U.S. natural gas, and oil exports continue to serve as targets for retaliation.”
Already feeling the damage: Even before China’s retaliation against U.S. crude exports, API said the trade war had harmed the oil and gas industry.
From October 2017 to June 2018, China had imported 22% of all U.S. crude oil, but that number has dropped to 3 percent. (Washington Examiner)
Carbon copy. Presidential candidate Andrew Yang released a plan to combat climate change that would focus heavily on helping communities adapt to the effects of global warming.
“Innovation must also be relied on to reverse the damage already caused,” Yang said in a post on his website. “While the role of the federal government is important, much of the work will be done at the state, or even neighborhood, level.”
Yang would extend his trademark universal basic income idea and apply it to climate change, proposing a carbon tax and dividend that would return the revenue to American households. He also would “invest heavily” in carbon capture and geoengineering technologies to “reverse the damage” already caused by climate change. (Washington Examiner)
Whose turn is it now? Representative Joe Kennedy (D-Mass.) said he is considering running for Senate against incumbent Democrat Ed Markey. Kennedy - who filed a statement of candidacy and organization of a campaign committee for the Senate race today - said he would spend the next "couple weeks" discussing a potential campaign with supporters.
"I hear the folks who say I should wait my turn, but with due respect — I'm not sure this is a moment for waiting," Kennedy said. "Our system has been letting down a lot of people for a long time, and we can't fix it if we don't challenge it. I've got some ideas on how to do that."
A glimpse of the future? Heat-related deaths have increased sharply since 2014 in Nevada and Arizona, raising concerns that the hottest parts of the country are struggling to protect their most vulnerable residents from global warming.
In Arizona, the annual number of deaths attributed to heat exposure more than tripled, from 76 fatalities in 2014 to 235 in 2017, according to figures obtained from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Heat-related deaths in Nevada rose almost fivefold during the same period, from 29 to 139.
Most of those deaths were in the Phoenix and Las Vegas areas, according to state records.
The long-term health effects of rising temperatures and heat waves are expected to be one of the most dangerous consequences of climate change, causing “tens of thousands of additional premature deaths per year across the United States by the end of this century,” according to the federal government’s Global Change Research Program. The effect could be even more severe in other parts of the world, potentially making parts of North Africa and the Middle East “uninhabitable.” (New York Times)
Upping the ante. Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee will consider raising onshore oil and gas revenue rates when they return in September; a committee aide told Bloomberg Environment.
The idea of raising federal royalty rates isn’t new, but it has surfaced as a priority for Democrats and environmentalists because of growing concerns about both climate change and value to taxpayers, said Jayni Hein, natural resources director at New York University School of Law’s Institute for Policy Integrity.
“For a long time, powerful special interests have opposed any fiscal reform,” Hein said. “And it hasn’t been until recently that this call for a fair share of taxpayers has gotten traction among public interest groups and the media.”
The Government Accountability Office found in 2017 that raising federal royalty rates could decrease production, but would also boost overall federal revenue. GAO wasn’t able to precisely measure the extent of those effects, saying they depend on factors such as market conditions and prices. (Bloomberg Environment)
DIY testing. Some appliance manufacturers are pushing back against an energy efficiency testing proposal from the Department of Energy (DOE) designed to benefit the industry.
The agency currently sets forth how companies must test their products to determine whether they meet energy efficiency standards, but under the new proposal, companies would be able to develop their own testing procedures.
The rule would apply to everything from refrigerator motors to air conditioners to light bulbs.
“Carrier thinks this is bad policy as it opens the door for bad actors to abuse the system and introduce and/or misrepresent underperforming products into the marketplace,” the air conditioning and refrigeration company wrote in comments to the Energy Department earlier this month.
Environmental groups and state attorneys general have also spoken out against the proposal, but the public comments show a division within the industry over the proposed changes. (The Hill)
Sustainability is now in fashion. A bevy of fashion's most prominent companies is joining hands by way of a pact that sets sweeping goals to reduce the industry's environmental impact.
Thirty-two fashion giants joined François-Henri Pinault, the chief executive of Kering, the Paris-based company that owns Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent SAS, in the industry-wide initiative to act on climate change.
The effort primarily focuses on addressing the fashion industry's role in three broad environmental issues: global warming, waning biodiversity, and ocean protection. In each area, the pact lays out a series of strategies that companies can take to improve their environmental track record. Among the suggested actionable steps are pursuing net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, taking "wildlife-friendly" approaches to production and eliminating single-use plastics across operations.
The pact notes that it is nonbinding for signatories, so, ultimately, it remains up to those companies to determine how, or if, they'll deploy the suggested strategies. (E&E News)
Page limits, really? The Department of Transportation (DOT) today took steps to limit the scope of environmental reviews for infrastructure projects, drawing concern from environmentalists and praise from conservatives.
According to a notice in the Federal Register, DOT is releasing two interim policies on environmental reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act.
The first policy directs sub-agencies to limit the length of environmental impact statements to 150 pages unless they're "of unusual scope or complexity."
It further recommends that sub-agencies keep environmental assessments to 75 pages or fewer.
The second policy offers guidance on implementing President Trump's "One Federal Decision" mandate, which calls for one agency to take the lead on permitting, issuing a single environmental impact statement for the entire federal government.
Trump spelled out the mandate in Executive Order 13807, which aims to limit the permitting time for big projects to two years.
DOT explained in the Federal Register notice the interim policies were part of the Trump administration's overall push to streamline the permitting process for large projects.
"DOT finds it necessary to issue this interim policy because lengthy NEPA documents, containing extraneous detail and needless data, have resulted in increases in both time and cost to complete the environmental review process and has made it increasingly difficult for agency decisionmakers and the public to find the relevant information regarding proposed actions," the agency said.
Raul Garcia, legislative counsel at Earthjustice, expressed concern that the first interim policy was "arbitrary" in nature.
"It seems arbitrary to me," he said in an interview. "There's no justification for why 75 pages or 150 pages is the right number. Why not 76?"
It’s not always about the money. Environmentalists scored a major win as a federal appeals court rejected industry challenges to Obama-era ozone standards and ordered EPA to take a closer look at one part of the requirements that green groups deemed too lenient.
The long-awaited decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit cast aside industry and red-state arguments that the 2015 primary ozone standard — which said levels of the air pollutant must be limited to 70 parts per billion to protect public health — was impossible to achieve.
"The court really put the kibosh on the polluters' arguments," Earthjustice attorney Seth Johnson, who argued the case for environmental groups, told E&E News after the ruling.
"It ruled that their arguments about costs are foreclosed by existing case law and their arguments that EPA had to consider or could consider whether background levels of ozone affected attainability, there's no room for this under the statute," he added. "And that's a big deal."
Murray Energy Corp. led the charge against the Obama-era standards, joined by a coalition of states and industry groups representing energy producers and manufacturers. They said implementing the 2015 EPA requirements would cause "adverse economic, social and energy impacts."
A three-judge panel unanimously rebuffed the arguments today, noting that the Supreme Court 2001 decision in Whitman v. American Trucking Associations bars EPA from considering the cost of Clean Air Act standards. Industry's argument about "impacts" was simply a veiled reference to costs, the court found.
Better get a move on. Indonesia's president announced today that the country's capital would move from overcrowded, sinking and polluted Jakarta to a site in sparsely populated East Kalimantan province on Borneo island, known for rain forests and orangutans.
President Joko Widodo said intense studies over the past three years had resulted in the choice of the location on the eastern side of Borneo island.
The new capital city, which has not yet been named, will be in the middle of the vast archipelago nation and already has relatively complete infrastructure because it is near the cities of Balikpapan and Samarinda, Widodo said.
Jakarta is an archetypical Asian megacity with 10 million people or 30 million, including those in its greater metropolitan area. It is prone to earthquakes and flooding and is rapidly sinking due to uncontrolled extraction of groundwater. The groundwater is highly contaminated, as are its rivers. Congestion is estimated to cost the economy $6.5 billion a year. (Washington Post)
NIMBY. A Nuclear Regulatory Commission review panel deemed at least one environmental contention to the proposed nuclear waste interim storage facility in West Texas worthy of further inspection during the license application process.
The ruling sets the parameters for debate for environmental groups looking to stop the proposed private waste facility in Andrews, Texas.
The planned site by Interim Storage Partners, a joint venture of Waste Control Specialists and Orano USA, is considered the most immediate location for consolidating some of the nation's more than 80,000 metric tons of commercial nuclear waste.
The Atomic Safety and Licensing Board agreed with the contention filed by the Sierra Club that the application's environmental review document did not adequately explain the site's potential impacts to the habitats of the dunes sagebrush lizard and the Texas horned lizard.
Maybe there’s hope for the rest of us. Countries have agreed to protect more than a dozen shark species at risk of extinction, in a move aimed at conserving some of the ocean's most awe-inspiring creatures who have themselves become prey to commercial fishing and the Chinese appetite for shark fin soup.
Three of the proposals, covering the international trade of 18 types of mako sharks, wedge fishes, and guitarfishes, passed with a needed two-thirds majority in a committee of the World Wildlife Conference known as CITES.
Alaska needs oil money. The Interior Department completed a draft environmental review that would allow ConocoPhillips to expand oil and gas operations in the northeast corner of the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska (NPR-A).
The Bureau of Land Management estimated the Willow project would create between 400 and 600 jobs during operation and produce an estimated 590 million barrels of crude.
The proposed project joins a list of industry advances boosted by the Trump administration, including an anticipated oil and gas lease sale in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) and a revision of protected lands within NPR-A, which the Trump administration has promised will come in months.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.
Joel Stronberg, MA, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.