U.S.: Environment & energy 2018

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U.S.: Environment & energy 2017

High stakes for Dems’ green agenda in midterms
(The Hill) … The committee is also exploring other issues it could address in hearings that Democrats say have been suppressed under Republican leadership, such as the environmental impacts of President Trump’s promised U.S.-Mexico border wall and other issues involving Native American land management, according to staff.
At the EPA, Democrats want to relentlessly scrutinize the Trump administration’s aggressive deregulatory agenda. Thus far, the EPA has worked to repeal rules limiting carbon dioxide emissions from power plants, fuel efficiency rules for cars, methane pollution rules for oil and natural gas drillers, water pollution rules for coal-fired power plants and a wide array of other policies.
If Democrats take the House they could be in a prime position to push Congress to pass bills that aim to remedy the causes and effects of climate change. There has not been a concerted environmental push on Capitol Hill even as the Trump administration pushes ahead on efforts to weaken Obama-era EPA regulations ranging from rules on carbon, methane and vehicle emissions to clean water policies.
Top Democrats who would be in a prime position to push new environmental legislation, though, are signaling that climate change may not be a top priority for them, despite a growing body of evidence suggesting time is running out to address the issue.
The decision, would be a shift in strategy from when House Democrats last controlled the chamber. In 2009, they passed cap-and-trade legislation, which subsequently died in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
The game plan for next year, House Democrats say, is more incremental steps and hearings.

22 October
Trump thinks scientists are split on climate change. So do most Americans
There’s a 97% expert consensus on human-caused global warming, but most Americans are unaware
When queried about the most recent IPCC report, Republican lawmakers delivered a consistent, false message – that climate scientists are still debating whether humans are responsible. The previous IPCC report was quite clear on this, attributing 100% of the global warming since 1950 to human activities. As Nasa atmospheric scientist Kate Marvel recently put it, “We are more sure that greenhouse gas is causing climate change than we are that smoking causes cancer.”
Donald Trump articulated the incorrect Republican position in an interview on 60 Minutes:
We have scientists that disagree with [human-caused global warming] … You’d have to show me the [mainstream] scientists because they have a very big political agenda
To paraphrase, ‘I know scientists. I have the best scientists.’ And of course Trump thinks he has “a natural instinct for science” which, as astrophysicist Katie Mack noted, is not a thing….

30 August
Trump set to tap centrist to head EPA’s chemical safety office
(WaPost) EPA Region 1 Administrator Alexandra Dapolito Dunn, who was appointed to her current post in November, has deep roots working at nonpartisan environmental organizations and academia. Before becoming the agency’s top official for New England, Dunn served as executive director and general counsel for the Environmental Council of States. Before then, she occupied the same role at the Association of Clean Water Administrators, which represents state water officials across the country.
Dunn has taught environmental law at Pace University, where she served as its dean of environmental law programs, and as an adjunct professor at Catholic University’s Columbus School of Law and American University’s Washington College of Law.

16 August
Florida’s water crisis collides with closely watched elections
(Axios) The algae outbreaks are the largest and longest-lasting in years. Weather patterns coupled with pressures on land use are stoking long-held tensions over natural resources between two of the state’s biggest industries — agriculture and tourism. And it’s happening at a time when Florida is also seeing massive population growth. Residents have held town halls and organized rallies to put pressure on elected officials to do more. As a result, candidates are making environmental issues a central part of their campaigns leading up to the August 28 Florida primaries. In states like Florida that are experiencing more extreme weather events, voters may coalesce around climate and environmental issues heading into the next election cycles.
Stalling Trump’s ‘Illegal Rubber-Stamp’ of Keystone XL, Federal Court Orders Full Environmental Review
“This is a huge win for the landowners and Tribal Nation members whose water and environment would be forever threatened by this dangerous tar sands project.”
(Common Dreams) After President Donald Trump reversed the Obama administration’s decision to block the TransCanada pipeline—which would run through Alberta and Saskatchewan in Canada as well as Montana, South Dakota, and Nebraska—regulators in Nebraska approved a path that was not part of the federal government’s 2014 environmental impact statement. Last month, the Trump State Department issued a draft assessment (pdf) for the Mainline Alternative Route (MAR) through Nebraska, but U.S. District Judge Brian Morris on Wednesday ordered a full review.

9 August
At ‘America First Energy Conference’, solar power is dumb, climate change is fake
(Reuters) – Pumping carbon dioxide into the air makes the planet greener; the United Nations puts out fake science about climate change to control the global energy market; and wind and solar energy are simply “dumb”.
The second annual conference, organized by the conservative think tank the Heartland Institute, pulled together speakers from JunkScience, the Committee for a Constructive Tomorrow, and the Center For Industrial Progress, along with officials from the U.S. Department of Interior and the White House for panels that included: “Carbon Taxes, Cap & Trade, and Other Bad Ideas,” “Fiduciary Malpractice: The Sustainable Investment Movement,” and “Why CO2 Emissions Are Not Creating A Climate Crisis.”
The day-long conference reflected the political rise of global warming skeptics in Donald Trump’s America that is occurring despite mounting scientific evidence – including from U.S. government agencies – that burning oil, coal, and natural gas is heating the planet and leading to drought, floods, wildfires, and more frequent powerful storms.

5 July
Robinson Meyer: So Did Scott Pruitt Remake the EPA?
The agency is smaller, poorer, and less driven by science. But “I don’t think there is a big Pruitt legacy,” one legal scholar said. Since taking office last year, Pruitt has waged a campaign to remake key tenets of U.S. environmental law. He began rolling back key Obama-era climate programs, including the landmark Clean Power Plan, which aimed to restrict greenhouse-gas emissions from the electricity sector. He proposed freezing fuel-economy rules for cars and light trucks, and he suspended an Obama-era rule to define the EPA’s jurisdiction over small streams and rivers.
Recently, Pruitt’s scope has widened. In April, he proposed a new policy that would block the EPA from citing most medical research when crafting clean air or water regulations.
There’s no doubt that Trump and Pruitt have already altered the EPA. More than 700 agency employees, including 200 scientists, resigned from the agency during 2017 alone, according to The New York Times. The agency is referring record-low numbers of environmental crime to the Department of Justice. And its science-advisory board was also shuffled to include more industry-friendly researchers.
Clearly there have been near-term consequences of Pruitt’s EPA. But outside experts told me that they were less sure that his legal work would result in long-term policy change. Sure, they said, Pruitt has generated lots of news stories by canceling Obama-era climate programs—but he has actually done this too quickly, with too little bureaucratic process, to secure their permanent scuttling.

2 June
A Courtside View of Scott Pruitt’s Cozy Ties With a Billionaire Coal Baron
(NYT) Mr. Pruitt’s mostly behind-the-scenes relationship with Mr. Craft is emblematic of his unorthodox approach to leading the E.P.A., where he often blurs the lines between personal and official relationships and has created the impression at times that he does the bidding of the industries the agency regulates. As administrator, he has become the subject of a dozen ethical and other investigations, including several focused on his ties to lobbyists and others with business before his agency.

27 April
(The Atlantic) Scott Pruitt admitted before Congress on Thursday that he had sidestepped White House instructions [in order] to give raises to two favored aides, as The Atlantic first reported. Pruitt had initially denied knowing about the raises, and his changes to his story parallel other cover-up scandals from the Trump administration. Pruitt also defended a proposed rule that would require the EPA to publish all the data behind the studies that guide its regulations, expressing an attitude toward science that might be described as DIY analysis.

12 April
Trump Loyalist: Scott Pruitt Is an Even Bigger Monster Than You Thought
Fresh accusations from Pruitt’s former deputy chief of staff paint him in a very, very bad light.
(Vanity Fair) In a six-page letter addressed to Pruitt but circulated much more widely than his pair of very fancy desks, two senators and three House representatives detailed allegations that were brought to their attention this week by Kevin Chmielewski, who served as the president’s body man during the campaign—Trump called him a “star” and a “gem”—before going on to work as the E.P.A.’s deputy chief of staff. (Chmielewski was placed on administrative leave without pay after objecting to Pruitt’s spending policies,

2 – 3 April
On the one hand, Pruitt is a huge ethical headache. On the other, he’s doing exactly what Trump wants.
(WaPost) There were two competing news stories centered on Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt on Tuesday morning.
One of those stories was an extension of an ongoing scandal involving Pruitt’s allocation of federal money. As first reported by The Atlantic, Pruitt leveraged a provision of the Safe Drinking Water Act to reappoint two longtime allies so that he could give them raises that had been rejected by the White House. … At an event in the morning, Pruitt announced that the EPA would be scaling back fuel-efficiency standards enacted under the Obama administration.
The point is that Pruitt is doing exactly what Trump wants, as he has since he came to Washington. …  Since assuming the role of EPA administrator, he’s been effective at scaling back the agency’s regulatory efforts in a slew of ways.
Among them:

  • Scaling back the Clean Power Plan which would have mandated lower greenhouse gas emissions at existing power plants.
  • Released talking points on climate change aimed at downplaying the role of human activity.
  • Postponing a rule mandating that chemical plants warn the public about possible safety issues.
  • Rejecting a ban on a pesticide linked to nervous system damage in children.
  • Pushed to repeal emission standards for truck components.
  • Repealed a rule aimed at giving the EPA broader authority over water pollution.
  • Removed objective scientists from an EPA advisory board.

A long and -deeply discouraging profile for anyone concerned with the issues that EPA should be dealing with
Scott Pruitt’s Dirty Politics
How the Environmental Protection Agency became the fossil-fuel industry’s best friend.
By Margaret Talbot
(The New Yorker) One of the engineers said that it might take a while to “rebuild capacity” after Pruitt. But it would be done. The public, he reminded everyone, “is expecting us to protect the planet.” He said, “Pruitt is a temporary interloper. We are the real agency.”

15 March
Weathering Trump’s skepticism, U.S. officials still fighting global warming
(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump has bashed international efforts to combat climate change and questioned the scientific consensus that global warming is dangerous and driven by human consumption of fossil fuels.
But there is a disconnect between what Trump says at home and what his government does abroad. While attention has been focused on Trump’s rhetoric, State Department envoys, federal agencies, and government scientists remain active participants in international efforts to both research and fight climate change, according to U.S. and foreign representatives involved in those efforts.
The U.S. efforts abroad to tackle climate change have been counter-balanced by Trump’s aggressive push at home to increase production of the fossil fuels scientists blame for global warming. He has also ordered a wide-ranging rollback of Obama-era climate regulations and appointed a self-described climate skeptic, Scott Pruitt, as the nation’s chief environmental regulator.
FEMA Drops ‘Climate Change’ From Its Strategic Plan
(NPR) The Federal Emergency Management Agency, the federal government’s first responder to floods, hurricanes and other natural disasters, has eliminated references to climate change from its strategic planning document for the next four years.
That document, released by FEMA on Thursday, outlines plans for building preparedness and reducing the complexity of the agency. … under a section about “Emerging Threats,” the document cites cybersecurity and terrorism. There are no references to global warming, rising sea levels, extreme weather events or any other term related to the potential impact of rising surface temperatures.

18 January
Trump’s Pick For DOJ Enviro Chief Clears Senate Committee
(Law360) — The Senate Judiciary Committee on Thursday voted to advance President Donald Trump’s nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Justice’s environmental division, Kirkland & Ellis LLP partner Jeffrey Bossert Clark, over strong objections from Democrats.

Trump Names BP Oil Spill Lawyer, Climate Policy Foe as Top DOJ Environment Attorney
Jeffrey Bossert Clark repeatedly challenged the scientific underpinnings of U.S. climate policy while representing the Chamber of Commerce.
(Inside Climate News) Clark, a partner in the Washington, D.C., office of Kirkland & Ellis, has represented the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in lawsuits challenging the federal government’s authority to regulate carbon emissions. In court he has repeatedly argued that it is inappropriate to base government policy making on the scientific consensus presented by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.
“When did America risk coming to be ruled by foreign scientists and apparatchiks at the United Nations?” Clark demanded in a 2010 blog posting on the EPA’s endangerment finding.
Clark was prominently involved in industry challenges to the EPA’s “endangerment finding” that set the scientific basis for all subsequent attempts to regulate greenhouse gases, including from autos and industrial sources. It was a demonstration of opposition to the underpinnings of the whole Obama administration regulatory approach to carbon dioxide, which were consistently upheld by the Supreme Court. (June 2017)

Trump Administration Deserts Science Advisory Boards Across Agencies
While top-level science positions remain vacant, scientific advisory panels have been quietly diminished, disbanded or stacked with industry scientists.
(Inside Climate News) Shortly after President Donald Trump took office, Paul Beier, a professor at Northern Arizona University and a member of a little known government science panel that advised the Interior Department on climate change, got an email.
“It basically said, ‘Thank you very much,'” Beier recalled. “I said, ‘Is this a goodbye letter?’ They said, ‘Yeah, you’re done’.”
Beier was one of 25 people on the Advisory Committee on Climate Change and Natural Resource Science, a panel that advised the Department of Interior on ways to minimize the impacts of climate change at natural and culturally important sites. Like dozens of panels and boards formed to advise government agencies on science-related challenges, the committee met regularly and offered recommendations.

17 January
Nearly all members of National Park Service advisory panel resign in frustration
More than three-quarters of the members of a federally chartered board advising the National Park Service have quit out of frustration that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had refused to meet with them or convene a single meeting last year.
The resignation of 10 out of 12 National Park System Advisory Board members leaves the federal government without a functioning body to designate national historic or natural landmarks. It also underscores the extent to which federal advisory bodies have become marginalized under the Trump administration. In May 2017, Zinke suspended all outside committees while his staff reviewed their composition and work.

11 January
(NYT) This week, the National Centers for Environmental Information — a federal agency that bills itself as the nation’s scorekeeper for extreme weather — released a ranking of the worst years for damaging storms since 1980. At the top of the list was 2017, and it wasn’t even close.
Major weather events caused $306 billion of damage in the United States last year, with floods, wildfires, tornadoes and, of course, three big hurricanes all contributing to the toll. The previous record-holder had been 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina, when the combined cost was slightly above $200 billion (inflation adjusted). The only other year with a toll above $100 billion was 2012. The chart here — which you’ll find just below the map — is striking.
Billion-Dollar Weather and Climate Disasters: Overview
(NCEI) 2017 in Context In 2017, there were 16 weather and climate disaster events with losses exceeding $1 billion each across the United States. These events included 1 drought event, 2 flooding events, 1 freeze event, 8 severe storm events, 3 tropical cyclone events, and 1 wildfire event. Overall, these events resulted in the deaths of 362 people and had significant economic effects on the areas impacted. The 1980–2017 annual average is 5.8 events (CPI-adjusted); the annual average for the most recent 5 years (2013–2017) is 11.6 events (CPI-adjusted).

10 January
Decision to exempt Florida from offshore drilling prompts bipartisan uproar
(WaPost) The Trump administration’s decision to exempt Florida from expanded offshore drilling kicked off a frenzy Wednesday in other coastal states, with governors from both political parties asking: Why not us?
“We cannot afford to take a chance with the beauty, the majesty and the economic value and vitality of our wonderful coastline,” South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R), who backed President Trump in his state’s competitive 2016 primary, said in a statement.
“Not Off Our Coast,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) wrote in a tweet. “We’ve been clear: this would bring unacceptable risks to our economy, our environment, and our coastal communities.”
The Florida carve-out, announced Tuesday by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, created new doubts about the fate of the entire offshore drilling decision — and immediately became another challenge for Republicans as they work to hold off Democrats in the midterm elections. Nine of the 11 states that opposed the drilling order have gubernatorial races this year, and many of the most competitive contests for the House of Representatives will unfold in districts that touch coastline.

4 January
How Trump could vastly expand offshore drilling
In a newly released five-year plan, the Trump administration has proposed opening up vast new areas to oil and gas exploration, including federal waters off the California coast and off the East Coast, from Georgia to Maine. Amy Harder, who covers energy and climate change issues for Axios, describes what this all means.
(PBS Newshour)Judy Woodruff: The Trump administration said today it would allow energy companies to drill for oil in nearly all the waters surrounding the continental United States.
As William Brangham reports, it’s a big shift to roll back even more of the Obama administration’s environmental policies and to increase U.S. energy production.
Amy Harder: Well, it’s a really big deal for the amount of the offshore waters that they’re proposing to possibly allow the oil and gas industry to lease. It’s about 90 percent of the offshore waters that the federal government owns. … That said, it’s also important to remember and to understand the bureaucratic process that goes into something like this. This is what I would call the opening wager of a very long process. … it could be at least a decade before something like this, before drilling is actually put in place. The process works as a funnel. The first phase is the widest, and then over a public comment period, it gets narrower. At least, that’s how the law states it.
So, this is the opening wager. It will take a year or so to go through public comments. And I anticipate that at least some of these leases will be taken off the table.

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