U.S. Environment & energy 2020-

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U.S.: Environment & energy 2019 – 2020

Biden’s new conservation corps stirs hopes of nature-focused hiring spree
As part his recent climate policy spree, Biden announced the establishment of a “Civilian Climate Corps Initiative” that could harness the energy of the very generation that must face – and solve – the climate crisis by putting them to work in well-paying conservation jobs.
After Biden’s omnibus executive order, the heads of the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture and other departments have 90 days to present their plan to “mobilize the next generation of conservation and resilience workers”, a step toward fulfilling Biden’s promise to get the US on track to conserve 30% of lands and oceans by 2030.
“We’re really excited that the Biden administration is taking this on,” said Mary Ellen Sprenkel, head of the National Association of Service and Conservation Corps, a loose association of about 135 corps organizations across the country that already provides young adults and veterans with work on public lands and in rural and urban communities. “Some of our programs have quite a bit of experience in doing this, and hopefully we’ll be called upon to help develop and implement the initiative.”
Far beyond just planting trees, a new conservation corps could pour money into tackling a bevy of other environmental problems, too. According to Biden’s website, projects will include working to mitigate wildfire risks, protect watershed health, and improve outdoor recreation access. Sprenkel thinks the effort could also include more activities at the community level, like urban agriculture projects and work retrofitting buildings to be more energy-efficient. And as Sprenkel pointed out, the federal government owns and manages thousands of buildings that need help to become more energy-efficient. The buildings “could even become sources of renewable energy generation with solar or wind power installations.”
Inclusion must be front and center in President Biden’s focus on clean energy jobs
Mark Muro, Joseph W. Kane, and Adie Tomer
(Brookings) … But a simple counting of job numbers overlooks several significant points in the economics of climate change mitigation and adaptation. Namely, it fails to account for the nature of the coming work, the occupations necessary to do it, and who will fill those roles—all topics we looked at in a 2019 Brookings report.
What did we find in that report? Overall, that the coming clean energy transition represents a major opportunity for accessible, inclusive employment—if more is done to bolster the clean energy workforce pipeline and ensure it becomes much more accessible to underrepresented populations.
In the report, we used federal datasets and industrial classifications from prior clean energy economy research to conclude that the transition to a clean economy will primarily involve some 320 unique occupations spread across three major industrial sectors: clean energy production, energy efficiency, and environmental management.

30 January
Dizzying pace of Biden’s climate action sounds death knell for era of denialism
Analysis: The new president has framed the challenge of global heating as an opportunity for US jobs, saying: ‘We have to be bold’
(The Guardian) The vision laid out in the actions signed by Biden on Wednesday was transformative. A pathway for oil and gas drilling to be banned from public lands. A third of America’s land and ocean protected. …
Biden may eschew the politically contentious framing of the Green New Deal but there was even an echo of the original New Deal with his plan for a civilian climate corps to restore public lands and waterways. … The dizzying list of actions demonstrated the breadth and depth of the climate crisis. Biden’s administration will spur new climate-friendly policies for farmers while also devoting resources to the urban communities, typically low-income people of color, disproportionally blighted by pollution from nearby highways and power plants.

27 January
Biden, Emphasizing Job Creation, Signs Sweeping Climate Actions
The array of directives — touching on international relations, drilling policy, employment and national security, among other things — elevate climate change across every level of the federal government. … The actions also call for the federal government’s 17 intelligence agencies to create a first-ever National Intelligence Estimate of the national security risks posed by climate change.
President Biden on Wednesday signed a sweeping series of executive actions — ranging from pausing new federal oil leases to electrifying the government’s vast fleet of vehicles — while casting the moves as much about job creation as the climate crisis.
Mr. Biden said his directives would reserve 30 percent of federal land and water for conservation purposes, make climate policy central to national security decisions and build out a network of electric-car charging stations nationwide.
… Mr. Biden argued that technological gains and demands for wind and solar infrastructure would create work that would more than make up for job losses even in parts of the country reliant on the fracking boom. Using the government’s purchasing power to buy zero-emissions vehicles, Mr. Biden said, would help speed the transition away from gasoline-powered cars and ultimately lead to “one million new jobs in the American automobile industry.”

18 January
After Alarmism The war on climate denial has been won. And that’s not the only good news.
By David Wallace-Wells
(New York) In the political sphere, the uneasy alliance between activists and those in power will be tested, producing new conflicts, or new equilibria, or both. Consider, though, that Varshini Prakash, whose Sunrise Movement gave Biden’s primary candidacy an F, later helped write his climate plan along with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Climate expertise has been distributed throughout the incoming administration, as was promised during a campaign that closed, remarkably, with a climate-focused advertising blitz. During the transition, Biden’s pick for director of the National Economic Council, Brian Deese, was targeted by the environmental left for his time with BlackRock, but even this purported stooge had been married by Bill McKibben, one of the godfathers of modern climate activism.

14 January
Trump administration slashes imperiled spotted owls’ habitat in Pacific Northwest
(AP) The Trump administration has slashed more than 3 million acres of protected habitat for the northern spotted owl in Oregon, Washington and northern California, much of it in prime timber locations in Oregon’s coastal ranges. Environmentalists are accusing the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service under President Donald Trump of taking a “parting shot” at protections designed to help restore the threatened owl species.
“This revision guts protected habitat for the northern spotted owl by more than a third. It’s Trump’s latest parting gift to the timber industry and another blow to a species that needs all the protections it can get to fully recover,” said Noah Greenwald, endangered species director for the Center for Biological Diversity.

5 January
Trump administration finalizes rollback of migratory bird protections
(The Hill) The Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) has finalized a rule rolling back protections for migratory birds, according to a document that will be published in the Federal Register this week.
The new rule changes the implementation of the 1918 Migratory Bird Treaty Act (MBTA) so that companies are no longer penalized for accidentally or incidentally harming or killing these birds.
The MBTA has protected more than 1,000 different species of birds for more than 100 years by punishing companies whose projects cause them harm.
EPA finalizes rule to limit science behind public health safeguards
The Trump administration’s ‘transparency’ rule requires researchers to disclose their raw data. Opponents argue that the goal is to exclude important research on human health.
Many of the nation’s leading researchers and academic organizations, however, argue that the criteria will actually restrict the EPA from using some of the most consequential research on human subjects because it often includes confidential medical records and other proprietary data that cannot be released because of privacy concerns.

4 January
Interior finalizes plan to open 80 percent of Alaska petroleum reserve to drilling
The Trump administration on Monday finalized plans to open more than 80 percent of Alaska’s National Petroleum Reserve (NPRA) to oil drilling, pushing ahead over objections from environmentalists who have already challenged the plans in court.
The decision from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) opens more than 18 million acres to oil and gas drilling, including scaling back protected areas designed to be off-limits to development.
“This action is a significant achievement in delivering on our commitment to provide energy for America, from America,” said Interior Department Deputy Assistant Secretary Casey Hammond. “With this decision, we are expanding access to our nation’s great energy potential and providing for economic opportunities and job creation for both Alaska Natives and our nation.”

3 January
Wall Street Eyes Billions in the Colorado’s Water
Investor interest in the river could redefine century-old rules for who controls one of the most valuable economic resources in the United States.
A few years ago a firm called Greenstone, a subsidiary of a subsidiary of the financial-services conglomerate MassMutual, quietly bought the rights to most of Cibola’s water. Greenstone then moved to sell the water to one of the right places: Queen Creek, a fast-growing suburb of Phoenix 175 miles away, full of tract houses and backyard pools.
Transferring water from agricultural communities to cities, though often contentious, is not a new practice. Much of the West, including Los Angeles and Las Vegas, was made by moving water. What is new is for private investors — in this case an investment fund in Phoenix, with owners on the East Coast — to exert that power.

2020

17 December
With historic picks, Biden puts environmental justice front and center
The selection of the first Native American interior secretary and first Black male EPA chief highlights pollution disparities
(WaPo) President-elect Joe Biden tapped Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) Thursday to serve as the first Native American Cabinet secretary and head the Interior Department, a historic pick that marks a turning point for the U.S. government’s relationship with the nation’s Indigenous peoples.
With that selection and several others this week, Biden is sending a clear message that the officials who will confront the nation’s environmental problems will look like the Americans who are disproportionately affected by toxic air and despoiled land. He has named North Carolina environmental regulator Michael S. Regan to become the first Black man to head the Environmental Protection Agency and Obama administration veteran Brenda Mallory to serve as the first Black chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality.
Biden makes historic pick with Haaland for Interior secretary

15 December
The Trump administration’s major environmental deregulations
(Brookings) With the issuance of Executive Order 13771, the administration’s two-for-one rule, federal agencies were directed to eliminate two regulations for each new rule issued. Much of this effort has focused on scaling back previous Obama-era regulations and weakening agencies’ statutory authority. Notably, environmental regulation has proven a prominent and easy target, as many existing policies and regulations had never been enshrined into law. The Trump administration has replaced the Clean Power Plan, redefined critical terms under the Endangered Species Act, lifted oil and natural gas extraction bans, weakened the Coal Ash Rule, which regulates the disposal of toxic coal waste, and revised Mercury and Air Toxic Standards–just to name a few.

8 December
Court Rejects Trump’s Arctic Drilling Proposal in ‘Huge Victory for Polar Bears and Our Climate’
(EcoWatch) Climate action advocates and wildlife defenders celebrated Monday after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit rejected the Trump administration’s approval of Liberty, a proposed offshore oil-drilling project in federal Arctic waters that opponents warned would endanger local communities, animals, and the environment. … the Hilcorp Alaska project, was approved in 2018. The energy company planned to construct an artificial island, wells, and a pipeline along the Alaska coast in the Beaufort Sea. … The court determined that the administration hadn’t properly considered Liberty’s climate impacts as required by the National Environmental Policy Act, specifically taking issue with an economic model claiming the project would benefit the climate.

16 November
Trump Administration, in Late Push, Moves to Sell Oil Rights in Arctic Refuge
The lease sales could occur just before Inauguration Day, leaving the administration of Joseph R. Biden Jr. to try to reverse them after the fact.
In a last-minute push to achieve its long-sought goal of allowing oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, the Trump administration on Monday announced that it would begin the formal process of selling leases to oil companies.
… Any sales would then be subject to review by agencies in the Biden administration, including the bureau and the Justice Department, a process that could take a month or two. That could allow the Biden White House to refuse to issue the leases, perhaps by claiming that the scientific underpinnings of the plan to allow drilling in the refuge were flawed, as environmental groups have claimed.

9 November
What Will Trump’s Most Profound Legacy Be? Possibly Climate Damage
President-elect Biden can restore many of the 100-plus environmental regulations that President Trump rolled back, but much of the damage to the climate cannot be reversed.
(NYT) President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. will use the next four years to try to restore the environmental policies that his predecessor has methodically blown up, but the damage done by the greenhouse gas pollution unleashed by President Trump’s rollbacks may prove to be one of the most profound legacies of his single term.
Most of Mr. Trump’s environmental policies, which erased or loosened nearly 100 rules and regulations on pollution in the air, water and atmosphere, can be reversed, though not immediately. Pollutants like industrial soot and chemicals can have lasting health effects, especially in minority communities where they are often concentrated. But air quality and water clarity can be restored once emissions are put back under control.
That is not true for the global climate. Greenhouse pollution accumulates in the atmosphere, so the heat-trapping gases emitted as a result of loosened regulations will remain for decades, regardless of changes in policy.

15 October 2020
The Trump Administration Is Reversing Nearly 100 Environmental Rules. Here’s the Full List.
(NYT) Over four years in office, the Trump administration has dismantled major climate policies and rolled back many more rules governing clean air, water, wildlife and toxic chemicals.
While other administrations have emphasized cutting regulations, calling them burdensome to industries like coal, oil and gas, the scope of actions under Mr. Trump is “fundamentally different,” said Hana V. Vizcarra, a staff attorney at Harvard Law School’s Environmental and Energy Law Program.
In all, a New York Times analysis, based on research from Harvard Law School, Columbia Law School and other sources, counts more than 70 environmental rules and regulations officially reversed, revoked or otherwise rolled back under Mr. Trump. Another 26 rollbacks are still in progress.
The bulk of the rollbacks identified by the Times have been carried out by the Environmental Protection Agency, which has weakened Obama-era limits on planet-warming carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and from cars and trucks; removed protections from more than half the nation’s wetlands; and withdrawn the legal justification for restricting mercury emissions from power plants.
At the same time, the Interior Department has worked to open up more land for oil and gas leasing by limiting wildlife protections and weakening environmental requirements for projects.

4 November
U.S. Quits Paris Climate Agreement: Questions and Answers
President Trump has said the Paris Agreement would “punish the American people while enriching foreign polluters.”
(NYT) Au revoir, Paris Agreement. As of Wednesday, under United Nations rules, the United States is officially out of the global climate accord. Here’s a look at how it happened, what it means and what might happen next.
President Trump’s withdrawal formally came into force the day after Election Day in the United States.
As of Wednesday, in addition to the United States, the countries that originally signed but have not formally adopted the Paris Agreement are: Angola, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, South Sudan, Turkey and Yemen.
So far, no other country has followed the United States in renouncing the Paris Agreement. At one point President Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil threatened to do so but he later reversed course.
Is the U.S. withdrawal final?
No. Any future president could opt back in.
Former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. has pledged that he would recommit the United States to the Paris Agreement on Day 1. In practical terms that means on Inauguration Day, Jan. 20, his administration would send a letter to the United Nations notifying it of America’s intention to rejoin. The American return would become official 30 days later.
If the United States stayed out of the agreement, it could still have a voice in United Nations climate negotiations. That’s because it would still be a member of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the body that created the Paris Agreement. America would, however, be reduced to observer status, which means its negotiators would be allowed to attend meetings and work with other countries to shape outcomes but not be allowed to vote on decisions.

25 October
Biden Pledges Ambitious Climate Action. Here’s What He Could Actually Do.
If elected, Joe Biden and his allies are preparing to pass climate change legislation, piece by piece — knowing full well that the candidate’s $2 trillion plan would be a tough sell.
(NYT) Joseph R. Biden Jr.’s $2 trillion plan to fight global warming is the most ambitious climate policy proposed by a leading presidential candidate, a political lightning rod spotlighted on Thursday night when the Democratic nominee acknowledged during a debate that it would “transition” the country “from the oil industry.”
But no one knows better than Mr. Biden that it almost surely will not be enacted, even if his party secures the White House and the Senate.
Still, a President Biden could have real impact: solar panels and wind turbines spread across the country’s mountains and prairies, electric charging stations nearly as ubiquitous as gas stations and a gradual decrease in the nation’s planet-warming greenhouse pollution.
… even a narrow Democratic majority in the Senate would leave a President Biden with options. And this time around, Mr. Biden wants to do it differently, not with a stand-alone climate bill but by tucking climate measures into broader, popular legislation to insulate them from partisan attack.
Democrats’ initial pass would most likely come in an economic recovery package. The $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act passed in 2009, which Mr. Biden was responsible for putting in effect, included about $90 billion in clean energy infrastructure spending.

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