Climate, Politics/Capitol Light©, is a service of The JBS Group and Civil Notion
Volume 1 October 4, 2019 Issue 31
The impeachment inquiry is doing a great job of sucking up all the available oxygen on Capitol Hill. Although Speaker Pelosi wants the investigation to move expeditiously through the House, these things generally take on a life of their own. As exciting as this latest Trumpian drama, maybe Congress does have other work to do--not the least of the tasks in need of tending is funding the federal government after November 21, 2019 when the current continuing resolution (CR) lapses.
As I'd written previously, Trump is so tightly wound over the prospect of impeachment that anything is possible at this point--including closing down the government. Diversion is a tried and true Trump maneuver, and I would imagine he's not feeling warm and fuzzy when it comes to the Washington bureaucracy. Congressional Republicans, however, will put a lot of pressure on him not to go nuclear on the budget so close to the holidays and the 2020 elections. A shutdown now could last a long time.
The cast of characters in the impeachment drama seems to keep growing. Although it seems a stretch, Secretary of Energy Perry is being dragged into the impeachment investigations because of his having spent considerable time in discussions with Ukraine and other Eastern European countries peddling US coal and natural gas. The Trump administration has made breaking the energy hold that Russia and the Middle East have on these countries, as well as Germany and other EU nations.
Ordinarily, these types of diplomatic overtures would bear little suspicion of their having dark undercurrents; these are not ordinary times, however. The possibility that Vice President Pence was used by Trump in ways that the Pence didn’t understand certainly contributes to the suspicions over Perry’s activities.
Also, feeding conspiracy theories involving Perry is the POLITICO report that Perry is expected to leave the Trump administration by the end of the year. Little information is available on why Perry is going. Although some are saying that he is being wooed by the money he could make outside of politics, from the Secretary's point of view, getting out of the fray and into the gravy line must have a certain allure.
Of all that’s been reported and written about in the last week or two, the most disconcerting for me is the reports documenting the Trump administration’s policy of swapping scientific truth for political convenience. It’s no longer just a matter of not mentioning climate change, i.e., as is reported in the case of the auto efficiency standards, but of ordering scientists either to refrain from telling the truth or twisting it like a pretzel. (See below)
Since the beginning of the Trump administration, government websites have been cleansed of climate-related information. The administration’s becoming more aggressive in shielding the truth should be considered as dangerous an offense as any for which Trump may end up being impeached. In taking the oath of office presidents promise to uphold the Constitution which in part binds them to promote the general welfare of the nation. Keeping the truth about climate change a secret and acting on "alternative science" puts populations at risk.
Finally, a note to readers, Congress will be out next week, so look for only one Climate Politics issue next week—unless something happens that warrants two.
Also, if you are finding Climate Politics useful, please, please let friends and colleagues know about it and encourage them to sign up on the Civil Notion website for automatic notices each time it is published.
The truth is the truth—or is it? The treatment of science by the Trump administration has hit a “crisis point” where research findings are manipulated for political gain, special interests are given improper influence, and scientists are targeted for ideological reasons, a nonpartisan task force of former government officials has warned.
Safeguards meant to ensure that government research is objective and fully available to the public have been “steadily weakening” under recent administrations and are now at a nadir under Trump, according to a report released on Thursday by the National Task Force on Rule of Law and Democracy.
There are now “almost weekly violations” of previously cherished norms, the report states, with the current administration attempting “not only to politicize scientific and technical research on a range of topics but also, at times, to undermine the value of objective facts themselves.” (The Guardian)
Under President George Bush, the report noted, the White House altered the scientific testimony of James E. Hansen, a NASA scientist, to make his conclusions about climate change appear less certain. The E.P.A. under President Barack Obama made last-minute changes to a report to downplay the risks of an oil and gas extraction technique known as fracking on the nation’s water supply. In another instance, the Obama administration issued a memo discouraging members of EPA’s scientific advisory boards from speaking publicly without agency approval.
Cleaning up its language. The White House deleted language about how climate change poses a "serious challenge" from a proposal to preempt California's clean cars program, new docu-ments show.
An earlier draft of the proposal from EPA and the National Highway Traffic Safety Admin-istration contained the phrase, "while global climate change is a serious challenge."
That language was nixed while the proposal was under review at the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.
Also axed was a footnote linking to the Fourth National Climate Assessment, which found that American life and prosperity will be increasingly at risk from global warming (Climatewire, Nov. 26, 2018).
What a dump. The Trump administration issued an environmental notice of violation to San Francisco on Wednesday, fulfilling Donald Trump’s threat to cite the city over an inaccurate claim that linked water pollution with the city’s homeless crisis.
Trump said the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) would issue a notice because the city allowed needles and waste from its homeless population to flow from the sewer system into the ocean – an allegation city officials dispute. In a letter, Wednesday, the EPA administrator, Andrew Wheeler, accused the city of improperly discharging waste into the bay but avoided mentioning Trump’s comments directly.
San Francisco officials have repeatedly said that needles and human waste are not flowing into the ocean en masse. According to the city’s Public Utilities Commission, catch basins trap any debris coming out of storm drains, while two city treatment facilities process any runoff or pollutants that hadn’t been filtered out.
The city attorney Dennis Herrera responded to Wednesday’s notice by submitting a Freedom of Information Act request to the EPA “for records related to these unwarranted attacks on San Francisco.”
“These attacks on San Francisco are a politically motivated ploy,” Herrera said in a statement. “The Trump administration is ignoring facts and misusing the EPA to attack people it disagrees with.”
A subject too often ignored. An economy that works for all Americans depends on access to safe jobs that pay well, builds up communities, and protects the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the climate we live in. It just happens to describe the fastest-growing jobs sector in the entire energy industry: energy efficiency.
To be introduced. In honor of Energy Efficiency Day, Senators Maggie Hassan (D-NH) and Susan Collins (R-ME) and Reps. Jimmy Gomez (D-CA and Mike Kelly (R-PA) will announce today a bill, dubbed the New Home Energy Efficiency Act, to strengthen energy efficiency in the construction of new homes. The lawmakers will officially introduce the bill once the cong-ressional recess is over. It follows a separate bill — the Home Energy Savings Act — they intro-duced last week to help lower energy costs and reduce carbon emissions via a tax credit for energy-efficient home upgrades. (Politico morning newsletter)
The senator doth protest too much? This a link to McConnell’s article in defense of self. What follows is an excerpt:
Once again, this shrinking paper has confused its news and opinion pages. Instead of professional reporting, The Courier Journal published on its front page a 2,400-word liberal smear of my record of fighting for Kentucky.
This partisan hit job wasn’t a product of The Courier Journal, but something called Inside Climate News from an environmentalist writer who previously editorialized about “problems with coal.” Not surprisingly, he tried to dismiss my achievements for coal workers and com-munities with misleading assertions. I had to respond.
When they’re right, they’re right. This is an excerpt of an editorial written by UN Secretary-General Gutterres on the recently held Climate Summit.
I called on the climate action summit to serve as a springboard to set us on the right path ahead of crucial 2020 deadlines established by the Paris agreement on climate change. So many leaders – from many countries and sectors – stepped up.
A broad coalition – not just governments and youth, but businesses, cities, investors, and civil society – came together to move in the direction our world so desperately needs to avert climate catastrophe.
From the beginning, the summit was designed to jolt the world and accelerate action on a wider scale. It also served as a global stage for hard truths and to shine a light on those who are leading and those who are not. Deniers or major emitters have nowhere to hide.
Our planet needs action on a truly planetary scale. That cannot be achieved overnight, and it cannot happen without the full engagement of those contributing most to the crisis.
Who will hear the case? Baltimore’s legal effort to hold dozens of oil and gas companies responsible for the consequences of global warming reached the U.S. Supreme Court, with the energy giants asking the nation’s highest court Wednesday to halt all proceedings in the case pending an appeal they filed over the proper jurisdiction for the claims.
While the city filed the case in state court, and a U.S. District Court judge has ruled in favor of keeping it there, the companies believe it should be heard instead in federal court — where similar cases have been tossed out. So, the companies appealed the district court’s ruling to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Virginia.
Do you take milk, sugar, or plastic in your tea? With all the distressing news about microplastics in your food, you might be tempted to comfort yourself with a nice cup of tea. Not so fast. A new study reveals tea brewed in “silken” tea bags could contain billions of plastic particles in a single cup, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation reports. Researchers steeped the plastic tea bags in hot water, and found the number of particles released into a cup was orders of magnitude greater than those in other food and drinks; they report this week in Environmental Science & Technology. The scientists aren’t sure whether these particles pose a risk to tea drinkers, because few studies examine microplastics’ effects on human health. When they exposed water fleas to the microplastics, though, they say the tiny creatures swam “crazily.” Apparently, the particles weren’t their cup of tea. (Science Magazine)
Let’s take a vote. Conservative climate activist and former congressman Bob Inglis is suing South Carolina's Republican Party for canceling its primary for next year's presidential election.
Inglis, an outspoken opponent of President Trump, joined with South Carolina voter Frank Heindel in the state court case filed yesterday.
They said the party's September 7 decision to go all-in for Trump and cancel the primary deprives them of their democratic rights. (E&E News)
What does it all mean? The White House refused to meet with two groups of air pollution regulators regarding its rollback of clean car standards, despite holding several meetings with industry advocates.
Late on Monday (October 1st) night, the White House Office of Management and Budget denied requests for meetings on the clean cars rollback from the California Air Resources Board and the National Association of Clean Air Agencies.
The rejection came after OMB had already met with seven other groups, including industry heavyweights such as the American Chemistry Council, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and Chemours Co., according to Reginfo.gov.
Other groups the White House refused to meet with were #CleanCars, the Sierra Club, Consumer Reports, Moms Clean Air Force, and the Environmental Law and Policy Center. (E&E News)
Good neighbors. A panel of appeals court judges scrapped a Trump-era rule that it said did not set strong enough restrictions on downwind states' exposure to smog-forming air pollutants produced by upwind neighbors.
The 2018 regulation, known as the closeout rule, relies on a part of the Obama-era Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (CSAPR) update that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit recently instructed EPA to revisit (Greenwire, Sept. 13).
EPA's closeout rule "did not require these reductions to be made by 2021, the next applicable attainment deadline," the court wrote in a judgment issued yesterday afternoon. "Recently, we reaffirmed that the Clean Air Act requires upwind states to make such reductions." (E&E News)
If it’s too good to be true… In general, offsets allow polluters to get credit for cutting their own emissions by paying someone in another city, state, or country to reduce theirs. ProPublica reported on the historic failure of many setups like these, which have not actually canceled out the amount of carbon they've promised.
While the net-zero buzzword was as ubiquitous at last week’s United Nations Climate Action Summit as the presence of teenage activist Greta Thunberg, the details of how the countries would reach their ambitious goals were elusive. There was little talk of eliminating the use of fossil fuels, a drastic but economically tricky and politically painful step that would guarantee those emissions reductions.
Instead, some experts fear, the answer involves an overreliance on offsets, a word that has become so unfashionable; it has been replaced by euphemisms like “nature-based solutions.” In general, offsets allow polluters to get credit for cutting their own emissions by paying someone in another city, state or country to reduce theirs.
ProPublica reported on the historic failure of many setups like these, which have not actually canceled out the amount of carbon they’ve promised. After the story, the UN, which had long supported such projects, published a warning that “carbon offsets are not our get-out-of-jail-free card.” (ProPublica)
Bankrupt financially, pandering politically? Murray Energy Corp. was unable to make several payments to lenders this week and may be moving toward default, while creditors have said they will not take legal action against the coal giant until October 14th . The St. Clairsville, Ohio-based company's chief executive, Bob Murray, has hosted fundraisers for Donald Trump and worked to shape the president's energy agenda. (Bloomberg)
Are big banks funding the climate crisis? The power of banks and other financial institutions is often overlooked when talking about tackling the climate crisis, but they are enormously powerful actors.
For the past decade, the environmental nonprofit, Rainforest Action Network (RAN), has published its “Banking on Climate Change” report, ranking the banks investing most heavily in fossil fuels. This year’s report, published in March, found JPMorgan Chase to be, by some margin, the world’s top funder of fossil fuels — investing $195 billion since 2016. The top four funders of fossil fuels worldwide, according to the RAN report, are all American. Along with JPMorgan Chase, the list includes Wells Fargo, Citi, and Bank of America. (The HUFFPOST)
Fed up with climate crisis. After devastating fires in Northern California and corrosive storms on the Carolina and Florida coasts, the Fed's regional banks are delving deeper into how the earth's warming will impact U.S. businesses, consumers, and the country's $17 trillion asset banking system.
That’s a sharp departure from the position of much of the Trump administration, which has rejected the science on climate change, installed climate science deniers in key roles including at the Environmental Protection Agency, censored or downplayed research on the risks of global warming, and rolled back regulations designed to limit greenhouse gas emissions. (Reuters)
Hating their oil and having it too. Employee activism and outside pressure have pushed big tech companies like Amazon, Microsoft, and Google into promising to slash their carbon emissions. However, there's another thing these tech giants aren't cutting: Their growing business ties to the oil and gas industry.
When Microsoft held an all-staff meeting in September, an employee asked CEO Satya Nadella if it was ethical for the company to be selling its cloud computing services to fossil fuel companies, according to two other Microsoft employees who described the exchange on condition they not be named. Such partnerships, the worker told Nadella, were accelerating the oil companies’ greenhouse gas emissions. (AP News)
A maybe deal. The Trump administration reached a tentative agreement over biofuels under which the Environmental Protection Agency could offset waived blending volumes by adjusting targets based on a three-year rolling average of small refinery exemption volumes, according to three people familiar with the matter. Sources said the White House would not intervene to prevent Renewable Identification Number price spikes, and the deal could still fall through ahead of the 2020 biofuel mandate deadline of Nov. 30. (Bloomberg)
A road of their own. The 12 Northeastern and mid-Atlantic states participating in a joint Transportation Climate Initiative released a draft policy framework to address regional transportation pollution by capping vehicle emissions through requiring fuel suppliers to hold allowances that would be auctioned via a "cap-and-invest" program. The initiative expects to start the effort as soon as 2022 and hit its target emissions threshold in 2032. (MassLive)
One out of two. Trump nominates Republican James Danly to fill one of two vacancies on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Tradition has it that presidents nominate FERC commissioners in pairs—one Republican and one Democrat. It appears for the moment that Trump will not follow tradition and that the veering poses no problem with Senator Murkowski (R-AK), the chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee—the committee that vets FERC nominees.
Murkowski is likely open to the single nomination because FERC currently lacks the quorum necessary to conduct business. Trump’s motivation is likely less rational and more partisan. FERC has something of a reputation for being above politics—notwithstanding the fact that even with a new Democratic commissioner, Republicans would have a one-vote majority and Commission decisions often being made along party lines.
Cold winds are blowing. For years, the mighty wind blowing off the Massachusetts coast has beckoned developers with visions of clean, emission-free electricity. The latest to be seduced, Vineyard Wind LLC, aims to install 84 Statute of Liberty-size turbines about 15 miles off the state’s shoreline, which would together generate enough electricity to power 400,000 homes as soon as 2022.
The project hit a snag in August when the U.S. Department of the Interior ordered additional analysis of how the wind farm—and potentially 14 others that have been granted leases across almost 1.7 million acres of Atlantic waters—would affect the $1.4 billion fishing industry along the Eastern seaboard. U.S. regulators had sought to fast-track Vineyard Wind and could still sign off on the project by their self-imposed deadline in March, but the additional review is a blow to the companies behind Vineyard Wind, Avangrid Inc. and Copenhagen Infrastructure Partners, which had hoped to begin construction this year.
The review also spooked the budding U.S. offshore wind industry, which has long struggled in the shadow of a previous high-profile failure, Cape Wind. (Bloomberg)
Free speech or just a pain in the a*s? This is an editorial written by Representative Jim Banks (R-IN)--
As #ShutDownDC protesters descend on Washington, D.C., again on Friday, I am working on a bill that would force arrested protesters to pay for police overtime and other related fees. We need to hold illegal protesters accountable and let taxpayers off the hook for essentially subsidizing their illegal actions.
On Monday morning, over 500,000 car commuters found themselves in gridlock traffic because twerking, glitter-throwing "climate rebels" shut down intersections across Wash-ington. A bright yellow boat appeared in one intersection. Protesters used metal to bind themselves to the boat, forcing police to find tools to cut them free. These protesters were not simply practicing their First Amendment right; they exceeded their rights by protesting illegally and costing taxpayers across this country thousands of dollars.
All told, D.C. police arrested 26 individuals in association with the protest. U.S. Capitol Police arrested another six. (Washington Examiner)
A nickel for your thoughts. Global producers of electric cars have big ambitions and an even bigger problem: supplies of a key material are running short. (Morning Consult)
It’s Tom’s turn. Democratic presidential candidate Tom Steyer on Friday unveiled his plan to combat climate change globally, including a "Global Green New Deal Fund" that would cost $200 billion over ten years.
The plan would commit $20 billion annually for ten years to fund global climate justice projects, according to a statement from his campaign. A post outlining the plan said that the fund would be U.S.-led and would "leverage private capital."
They Won't Need Us Anymore. The milkman went missing thanks to the rise of refrigerators. Switchboard operators were done in by the dawn of direct dialing. Moreover, in the car industry, auto workers are deathly afraid the engine assembler will give way to battery builders.
Dread over the prospect that plug-in cars -- which have fewer parts and require less labor to build -- will doom auto jobs helped spark the first United Auto Workers strike against General Motors Co. in over a decade. Ford Motor Co. and Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV, which are rolling their own battery-powered models to market in the coming years, could face a similar fate if they’re unable to quell the UAW’s concerns that widespread adoption of EVs endangers the employment of 35,000 union members.
A paper chase. Banks are shielding themselves from climate change at taxpayers’ expense by shifting riskier mortgages — such as those in coastal areas — off their books and over to the federal government, new research suggests.
The findings echo the subprime lending crisis of 2008 when unexpected drops in home values cascaded through the economy and triggered recession. One difference this time is that those values would be less likely to rebound because many of the homes literally would be underwater.
In a paper to be released Monday, the researchers say their findings show “a potential threat to the stability of financial institutions.” They warn that the threat will grow as global warming leads to more frequent and more severe disasters, forcing more loans to go into default as homeowners cannot or would not make mortgage payments. (New York Times)
Chickens anonymous. A group backed by anonymous donors launched a campaign to promote the benefits of cheap, abundant natural gas against what it called “radical” proposals like the Green New Deal that would phase out the use of the fossil fuel. The donors prefer to remain anonymous because of fears they will be harassed by environmental activists. The group also declined to comment on its budget.
The Empowerment Alliance, or TEA, will fund advertising and research to advocate the use of natural gas, which burns cleaner than coal, in the run-up to the U.S. presidential election in November of 2020, said Terry Holt, a spokesman for the group.
It’s just not OK anymore. The once-innocuous OK hand sign has now been officially recognized as a hate symbol by the Anti-Defamation League, just like Pepe the Frog and the milk emoji. Co-opting such mundane icons as emblems of fear is all part of the alt-right’s hunt for attention, explains Poppy Noor. (The Guardian)
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.