Tag Archives: environment

Spitting On The Environment

The Trump Administration’s effort to reverse environmental rules–in effect, to accelerate climate change rather than working to retard it–continues to frustrate and astound rational observers.

The administration has rolled back regulations on light bulb efficiency–regulations that dramatically cut energy use and saved consumers money.

It has declared war on California’s automobile regulations–despite the fact that all major automakers have communicated their strong disapproval of Trump’s rollback of fuel standards passed under Obama. The New York Times reports that the Justice Department, which William Barr is turning into a lapdog for Trump, is threatening to sue the automakers who entered into an agreement with California to meet the state’s higher standards.

And now–Trump’s EPA is rolling back regulations on methane, a move that threatens to worsen climate change, and is opposed by many fossil fuel companies. Not by all fossil fuel companies, however, as an August 29th Time Magazine report explains.

The Trump Administration announced Thursday the rollbackof an important environmental regulation on methane emissions that even some of the world’s biggest oil-and-gas companies support. The fact that Big Oil backed a regulation designed to stem emissions of a potent greenhouse gas was immediately wielded by Trump’s critics as evidence of how backward the move must be.

But that reaction missed an important takeaway. The oil-and-gas industry was split on the Environmental Protection Agency(EPA) methane rules, with some prominent companies supporting them and many smaller producers pushing for their elimination. The EPA’s decision to side with a group of smaller fossil-fuel firms shows the influence these obscure companies retain within the Trump Administration—and the power they have to slow climate legislation as addressing the issue grows more urgent.

The larger firms are almost all in the business of producing natural gas; they argue natural gas is a better option for the environment than coal.  Methane emissions, a byproduct of natural gas production, undercut that argument unless leaks are vigilantly policed. It is thus in the interests of those producers to comply with the stricter regulations.

Whatever the motive, methane is clearly bad for the environment.

Methane is more than 20 times as potent at trapping heat in the atmosphere as carbon dioxide on a pound-per-pound basis in the long term, and leaks of the gas could erase many of the gains the U.S. has made in reducing emissions.

But the EPA rollback wasn’t aimed at helping the big multi-national firms. Instead, the agency said it will help smaller oil-and-gas companies, many of which are drowning in debt and vulnerable to anything that increases their compliance costs. The EPA estimated that the rollback would save companies a total of up to $19 million annually—a small sum for oil majors, but a significant expense for some other firms.

This solicitude for the finances of small oil-and-gas companies comes at a substantial cost to the environment the agency is supposed to safeguard. The EPA was not established to coddle marginal businesses; it was established to ensure that Americans had clean air to breathe, potable water to drink, and–not so incidentally–a habitable planet to occupy.

This isn’t the first time Trump has irked big business with regulatory cuts that industry leaders did not want. Earlier this year, the Administration softened vehicle-efficiency standards even though auto companies said it would hurt their business. And the Administration has sought to intervene in energy markets to prop up coal, to the outrage of many energy companies.

The rollback of methane regulations now joins the 80+ environmental rules that Trump’s EPA has either voided or relaxed. There is no evidence that those regulations were ineffective or counterproductive; no data upon which this constant de-regulation is based–in most cases, quite the contrary. What evidence there is supports the efficacy and reasonableness of the prior regulatory approach.

There is, of course, one consistent thread that runs through every insane move made by this administration: if Obama did it, reverse it. If reversal is bad for the country, or the planet, so be it.

Our mentally-ill President’s obsession with his predecessor–his determination to erase Obama’s legacy–threatens the health and well-being of us all.

Stop The World…Your GOP In Action

Evidently, when Ivanka wasn’t being inappropriately intrusive at the recent G20 meeting in Tokyo, her father was trying to talk other heads of state into abandoning their commitments under the Paris accords.

If you harbor any doubt that what remains of the Republican Party is an uninformed and anti-intellectual Trump cult, the party’s assault on efforts to ward off the worst effects of climate change is the most obvious evidence.

What happened just recently in Oregon is an example.

A major climate-change bill, which [activists] had worked on for the last several years, was on the verge of passing the state legislature, which, since last year’s midterm elections, has been controlled by a supermajority of Democrats. Governor Kate Brown, a Democrat, had campaigned on its policies, and planned to sign it. On climate policy, Brown had said, “Oregon can be the log that breaks the jam nationally.” Then, last week, eleven Republican state senators walked out of the statehouse, fled the capitol, and apparently hid out of state, in order to deny the rest of the Senate the necessary twenty-person quorum required to move the bill to a vote. Representatives of fringe right-wing militia groups said that they would protect the state senators “at any cost,” and that protesters supporting the bill at the capitol should be warned of their presence.

The proposal had gone through lengthy negotiations and public meetings. Lawmakers had taken citizens’ comments. The bill was supported by all nine of the state’s federally recognized Native American tribes, and even by the state’s electric utilities. Major corporations in the state supported it.

In order to defy both the majority of the legislature and public opinion, the Republican lawmakers simply fled.

On Friday, members of right-wing militia groups including the Three Percenters of Oregon, who took part in the 2016 takeoverof Oregon’s Malheur National Wildlife Refuge, posted a different form of encouragement on social media, saying that they were willing to provide the hiding senators “security” and “refuge.” They also appeared to be organizing a weekend protest at the capitol, scheduled for when lawmakers gathered on Saturday. A commenter on Facebook offeredto bring “a few pickup loads of manure” to drop on the capitol’s steps. An unnamed source told Will Sommer, of the Daily Beast, that “dozens of armed militia members have ‘mobilized’ to protect the state senators, and said there was potential for violence if law enforcement officials try to bring the senators back to Oregon.” In response, Oregon state troopers recommended that the capitol be closed on Saturday “due to a possible militia threat,” according to a spokeswoman from the Senate president’s office.

Poll after poll confirms that a substantial majority of Americans is concerned about climate change, and believes government should forcefully address it.

I’m old enough to remember when politicians would reflect popular opinion–even when they didn’t agree with it– in order to be re-elected. Thanks to the demise of genuine democracy–courtesy of Citizens United and gerrymandering, among other assaults–today’s Republican lawmakers are responsive only to one constituency: their donors, who prioritize today’s bottom line over tomorrow’s planetary survival.

In an administration notable for lack of consistency (not to mention competence),  there has been one area of single-mindedness: attacks on science accompanied by persistent rollbacks of environmental protections.

Self-destruction is by definition insane.

What if I had been told by trustworthy experts that my furnace had a 95% chance of  blowing up at any moment, but I refused to replace it because I wanted to augment my already fat bank account and there was a 5% chance it wouldn’t blow? That would be nuts. What good would my bank account do me if my furnace blew up and killed me?

Yet that is the position of today’s GOP.  There is no rational defense for that position, because it is indefensible. It is, quite literally, insane.

Unfortunately, in the immortal words of Tom Lehrer, “We’ll all go together when we go.”

 

F**k The Planet

Back in 1992, when I became Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU, I made it a rule to avoid using the word “outrageous” (a term which had evidently been a favorite of my predecessor), because I believed–and still believe– that when you label every policy or court decision with which you disagree outrageous, pretty soon no one pays any attention to you. You become the crank who cries wolf.

On the other hand, sometimes “outrageous” fits. It was the very first word that came to mind when I read this recent news item from PBS.

GENEVA (AP) — Almost every country in the world has agreed on a legally binding framework for reducing polluting plastic waste, with the United States a notable exception, United Nations environmental officials said Friday.

An agreement on tracking thousands of types of plastic waste emerged at the end of a two-week meeting of U.N.-backed conventions on plastic waste and toxic, hazardous chemicals. Discarded plastic clutters pristine land, floats in huge masses in oceans and entangles wildlife, sometimes with deadly results.

The framework will affect a broad range of products and industries, including health care, technology, aerospace, fashion, and the food and beverage industry. Refusing to get on board won’t allow the few non-signatory countries, like the United States, to escape its impact, because most of them ship plastic waste to countries that have signed on.

Norway led the initiative, which was first unveiled in September. As the report noted, the relatively short period of time from introduction to approval was a blistering pace by traditional U.N. standards–especially for an agreement that is legally binding.

The refusal of the Trump Administration to sign on to yet another global agreement–one that we will necessarily obey anyway–is simply a way of giving the middle finger to science, the United Nations, and our allies. It’s of a piece with Trump’s constant efforts to roll back domestic environmental protections. The President sneers when the threat of climate change is raised, and when it comes to protecting citizens from environmental hazards, his EPA demonstrates weekly that it is firmly in the pocket of chemical and fossil fuel companies.

The Trump Administration’s entire approach to environmental policy deserves to be labeled “outrageous.”

Contrast this fast and loose approach by people who evidently don’t care about the world their grandchildren will inhabit to the campaigns of the Democrats running for President, all of whom give evidence of taking environmental issues seriously.

Look, for example, at Jay Inslee’s campaign.

Gov. Jay Inslee (D-WA), candidate for the Democratic nomination for POTUS is near the back of the pack, polling at 1%. But his new Evergreen Economy Initiative is so very bold, matching the size of the response to the huge size of our climate crisis, that he has now moved into 2nd place in my own 2020 preferences. Warren is still first, but I hope she adopts a climate plan as bold as this. It dwarfs the Green New Deal.  The details are here.

It is not socialist, and does not rely entirely on governmental central planning, but it is a WWII sized effort based on the original New Deal.  It aims to revitalize Labor by repealing all “right to work” laws.It invests $9 Trillion in infrastructure (super high speed rail, better/smarter power grids, zero emission vehicles, green buildings, water conservation, etc.) and green energy production. It aims to get to a zero emission economy by 2030. The plan includes a carbon tax and plans to cap methane emissions and HFCs.

There is a “G.I. Bill” component aimed at coal communities to help them transition to new technologies and not be simply left behind (as they are now with all the coal plant closings).I think there needs to be a similar effort for places Alaska and the Gulf Coast to be quickly weaned off oil & natural gas.

Governor Inslee is highly unlikely to secure the Democratic nomination, but a number of the provisions of his bold initiative are likely to find their way into the platform of whoever does become the nominee.

Sometimes, the consequences of our choices in the voting booth aren’t terribly clear. That won’t be a problem in 2020. No one who cares about the environment, or the future of the planet (or, for that matter, human decency) can justify a vote for Trump or his enablers.

That word I tried so hard to avoid–outrageous– accurately describes both this utterly corrupt administration and the voters who continue to support it.

 

 

 

Meanwhile, Behind The Scenes…

While most of our media is caught up in “Mueller frenzy,” and Trump continues to suck all the oxygen out of the room, I thought I’d just share some underreported information about what our disgraceful federal government has been doing largely out of public view.

The Guardian is one of the few publications that seems to be following the day-to-day efforts of the Trump Administration to thwart global environmental efforts.

The United States and Saudi Arabia have hamstrung global efforts to scrutinise climate geoengineering in order to benefit their fossil fuel industries, according to multiple sources at the United Nationsenvironment assembly, taking place this week in Nairobi.

The world’s two biggest oil producers reportedly led opposition against plans to examine the risks of climate-manipulating technology such as sucking carbon out of the air, reflective mirrors in space, seeding the oceans and injecting particulates into the atmosphere.

Geoengineering is the name given to technical efforts to stop or reverse climate change; as scientists have proposed various methods, concerns over the potential for dangerously negative global effects have increased. Assessing the risks of proposed massive environmental interventions would certainly seem prudent–but the fossil fuel industry has seized on these proposals as a way to justify further expansion of their industries, and they aren’t interested in risk assessments that might cast doubt on that expansion. Full steam ahead.

Add that to the administration’s other efforts to sabotage environmental measures.

This was not the only agenda item in Nairobi that Trump administration diplomats were accused of watering down; they were also accused of undermining efforts to ensure strong environmental governance. “They are trying to remove all targets and timelines,” said one senior delegate.

An ambitious Indian resolution to phase out single-use plastics by 2025 has been diluted to resolving to “significantly reduce” them by 2030, said another delegate. The US was supported by Brazil and at least four other countries in pushing back the deadline and making the language more vague.

On marine waste, a Norwegian proposal to build an effective global strategy for dealing with plastics that enter the oceans has also met with resistance from the US. “They want to postpone measures so they can protect their industry,” said an ambassador from a large developing country.

In yet another example of being on the wrong side of history, there is the administration’s push-back against women’s rights. 

US officials in New York are attempting to water down language and remove the word “gender” from documents being negotiated at the UN, in what is being seen as a threat to international agreements on women’s rights.

In negotiations at the Commission on the Status of Women(CSW), which resume at UN headquarters this week, the US wants to replace “gender” in the forum’s outcome document with references only to women and girls.

The move follows similar attempts by the US last year to change languagein documents before the UN human rights council.

In draft documents, seen by the Guardian, the US is taking a step further at CSW by refusing to reaffirm the country’s commitment to the landmark Beijing declaration and platform for action, agreed at the fourth world conference of women held in 1995.

After all, why would practitioners of “locker room talk” and predatory sexual behavior want to empower women?

Under the Trump administration, US negotiators have found themselves more aligned with countries including Iran, Saudi Arabia and Russia than European nations. These countries consistently seek to undermine agreements on women’s rights at the UN, specifically around reproductive health and rights. This year’s US delegation includes Valerie Huber, a proponent of abstinence-only sex education and now a senior policy advisor in the Department of Health and Human Services, and Bethany Kozma, an anti-choice activist and senior advisor for women’s empowerment at the US Agency for International Development.

Just file these “factoids” in the growing category “why the world no longer looks up to the United States.”