(de)regulation nation: snagging a conservation victory from the paws of deceit

“Go into the bowels of the government and never go to the top. The lies start at the top.”

Welcome to (de)regulation nation, the newsletter tracking environmental news in the Trump era.


Stakeholders across the political spectrum are beginning to show their hands for and against the Green New Deal, the climate action resolution that Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) introduced in Congress in early February. Here’s a rough breakdown of the sides:

  • Trumpist Republicans and industry groups, who favor climate denial, deregulation, and continued dependence on fossil fuels.

  • Republicans who are breaking with Trump in calling for an alternative plan in favor of carbon taxes.

  • Centrist Democrats such as senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), who now see a political upside to staking out a position for climate action.

  • Fervent supporters inside and outside Congress, such Ocasio-Cortez and Markey, the Sunrise Movement, Hip Hop Caucus, and school children worldwide mobilized by Swedish teen activist Greta Thunberg

  • The Big Green environmental groups, which are GND-positive overall, but differ on whether it goes far enough, is or is not politically unrealistic, etc.

Then there’s organized labor. On Monday, 11 AFL-CIO-affiliated labor unions announced their opposition to the GND via this letter (tweeted out by Payday Report’s Mike Elk) to Markey and Ocasio-Cortez. While affirming their love for climate change action, particularly when it includes an expanding clean energy workforce, the unions state that the GND “is far too short on specific solutions that speak to the jobs of our members and the critical sectors of our economy.”

Advocacy group Friends of the Earth has responded by calling the labor letter “out of touch with the present, not to mention the future, of energy in America,” terming the unions “climate deniers like the Koch brothers, the Republican Party and Big Oil.”

It’s a striking stand-off, given that until switching to candidate Trump in 2016, “Big Labor” was almost synonymous with “Democratic Party.”

For the deepest examination to date about the forces aligning against the GND, check out the Public Accountability Initiative’s new report, “The Anti-Green New Deal Coalition.” While you’re at it, check out PAI’s awesome LittleSis database, too, which tracks the connections between the globe’s political and business elites.

Onward:

bad: Park Service fires climate scientist who resisted censorship

  • Maria Caffrey, a climate scientist studying the risks that rising seas pose to U.S. national parks, has lost her contract job with the National Park Service (which is part of the Department of Interior).

  • Caffrey resisted bullying and other pressures by agency officials to remove all the references to the human causes of climate change from her final report, as Reveal first reported in April 2018.

  • That story led Congress to investigate, and the Park Service ultimately published the report uncensored.

  • In its follow-up, Reveal reports that even though she was assured last year that her contract would be renewed, officials in Feb. told Caffrey there was no longer funding for her position. Caffrey’s supervisor refused to confirm or deny to her that the move was retaliation for “the cliamate change stuff.”

  • The Trump administration has sought to justify and protect its environmental rollbacks by fiercely attacking climate and environmental science. Reveal notes that there are “194 examples of the federal government censoring, hindering or sidelining climate change science since Trump was elected.”

  • On March 7, Senate Democrats introduced a bill to block Trump’s proposed White House “climate change commission” led by prominent denier William Happer. It faces a steep climb with the chamber’s Republican majority, and some fossil energy state Democrats could resist it as well.

also bad: a Democratic gov is trying to censor her own state scientists on fossil fuel deal

  • Climate and science denial aren’t just for Republican Party operatives, lobbyists, hacks and flacks.

  • As DeSmog — where I used to work — has reported, Rhode Island Governor Gina Raimondo (D) “squashed a letter by her own state health agency, which raised serious concerns about a proposed liquefied natural gas (LNG) facility in a densely populated Providence neighborhood.”

better: Florida moves towards regulating fracking, sort of

  • It’s not exactly what environmental activists wanted and it’s not even close to a ban, but the Florida Senate Agriculture Committee has advanced regulatory safeguards for fracking, along with a ban of some types of fracking in certain places, too.

  • While far from a drilling mecca akin to areas of Wyoming, South Dakota, or Texas, Florida has slowly but surely opened for business to the oil and gas industry, particularly for shipments of LNG-by-rail.

  • Environmentalists criticize the bill for claiming to ban fracking on its face while actually ushering drilling in the state.

  • “It’s appalling that senators have chosen to only focus on one type of fracking technique,” Michelle Allen of Food & Water Watch, told The Miami Herald. “Most tellingly, legislators continue to use the oil industry line that matrix acidizing is just a cleaning technique when it is clear toxic chemicals are used in this type of drilling for the purposes of reaching new pockets of oil.”


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good: Trump has signed the Land and Water Conservation Fund reauthorization into law

  • On March 12, President Trump signed a bill into law that permanently reauthorizes the Land and Water Conservation Fund. The legislation passed Congress with veto-proof bipartisan majorities.

  • The fund “protects vital habitats in Montana, Oregon, Washington, and California; creates new wilderness areas in New Mexico; establishes new national parks and expands existing ones; blocks exploration of a gold mine north of Yellowstone National Park; guarantees that federal lands stay open for recreation; and so much more,” exulted the outdoor industry business publication SNEWS. Still,“outdoor advocates are both hopeful and skeptical of how the legislation will play out.”

  • Why? Well, even as administration officials claimed warm fuzzies over the law’s enactment, the White House’s new federal budget proposal called for not funding the LWCF .

  • White House budgets are statements of a president’s priorities, not demands that Congress must follow. So singling out the LWCF for demolition was likely a dog-whistle to Trump’s anti-regulation allies. It could also be a move to inhibit Republican lawmakers from supporting future conservation legislation.

  • U.S. Sen. John Tester (D-MT) slammed the administration’s hypocrisy. “It is easy to understand why folks hate Washington when politicians cheer on the President as he signs a bill to authorize LWCF just one day after trying to gut its funding,” Tester told the Missoulian. “I hope the President’s cheerleaders put money where their mouth is and fully fund this critical conservation initiative.”

also good: instead of running for president, this billionaire is going “beyond carbon”

  • Mike Bloomberg, the business tycoon and former mayor of New York, made the headlines recently by announcing he’s not going to run for president.

  • Bloomberg said that instead, he’ll continue ruling at the intersection of Big Philanthropy and Big Green, by backing the Sierra Club’s “Beyond Carbon” campaign to phase out fossil fuel energy in the U.S.

  • The campaign will be a grassroots effort “to being moving America as quickly as possible away from oil and gas and toward a 100 percent clean energy economy,” according to an opinion piece Bloomberg published on his namesake business news site.

  • I’ve learned as a seasoned investigative journalist to second-guess the whims of multi-billionaires (Bloomberg is the 11th richest man on the Earth), or even multi-millionaires for that matter.

  • Still, to his credit, Bloomberg has already donated more than $100,000 to Sierra Club’s existing “Beyond Coal” campaign to get all U.S. coal-fired power plants shut down by 2030, and says he’ll continue to fund that as well.

  • Emily reminds me that he’s also been an important force in galvanizing the C40 Cities alliance of 90 cities worldwide taking leadership on climate action.

great: a Republican-dominated city council passes an offshore drilling ban

  • Here in northern San Diego County, Calif., a Vista city council member named John Franklin introduced and got a resolution passed at the March 12 city council meeting that calls for a ban on offshore drilling in the Pacific Ocean.

  • In introducing the resolution, Franklin said he learned about it from a constituent, thanking her for her activism on the issue and saying an “unspoiled” oceanfront is something everyone can agree on.

  • Franklin’s move is remarkable because he isn’t just a random member of a random mid-sized city council. In his day job, he manages campaigns for Republican Party candidates within San Diego County, via his business Pacific Political. Clients have included former Congress member Darrell Issa, a staunch climate denier.

  • Franklin’s resolution cuts against the grain of the Trump administration’s proposed deepwater offshore drilling in the Pacific, although it’s consistent with the pro-environmental-conservation stances of other California conservatives.

  • The city has a 3-2 conservative-liberal balance and yet, perhaps because it was introduced by a Republican, the resolution passed unanimously.

  • The audience in attendance clapped and cheered as the city council approved the ban.


Thanks for reading (de)regulation nation, a production of Brooklyn Radio Telegraph LLC.

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This week’s edition was researched and written by Steve Horn, a San Diego, Calif.-based reporter and producer for The Real News Network. Steve has freelanced for The Intercept, The Guardian, Al Jazeera America, Vice News, and others. From 2011 to 2018 he was an investigative reporter for the climate and environmental news site DeSmog. In his free time Steve is a competitive distance runner and serves on the screening committee of the Dan Diego International Film Festival.

This edition was edited and produced by journalist Emily Gertz, the founder of (de)regulation nation.

This week’s quote is by Myra MacPherson, a former reporter for The Washington Post and author of author of “All Governments Lie: The Life and Times of Rebel Journalist I. F. Stone.” Describing Stone’s journalistic philosophy in 2014, MacPherson said, “The first [rule] was to go into the bowels of the government and never go to the top. The lies start at the top.”"

Send your feedback, questions, and story tips: emily@deregnation.com

(de)regulation nation: meet the new boss

“It is failure that guides evolution; perfection provides no incentive for improvement, and nothing is perfect.”

Welcome to (de)regulation nation, the newsletter tracking environmental news in the Trump era.

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This afternoon, the Senate confirmed Andrew Wheeler as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Wheeler had been the EPA’s deputy administrator since April and began running the agency in July, after then-administrator Scott Pruitt resigned under an Acme-sized anvil of ethics investigations.

Pruitt’s stumbles ranged from illegally firing staff to dodging government transparency rules. Some seemed to emanate from an outsized degree of self-regard. Remember his $3,000 “captain’s desk”? Or his $43,000 eavesdrop-proof telephone booth? Good times.*

There’s no hint that Wheeler will make similar unforced errors. He’s a D.C. insider who combines Pruitt’s pro-industry lean and deregulatory zeal with the expert legal knowledge of a coal lobbyist, which is what he was for eight years before becoming a Trump administration appointee. Before that, Wheeler was a longtime aide to Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a foe of environmental regulations who once threw a snowball in the Senate to disprove climate change. (It was wintertime.)

Reporters for The Intercept last year found that Wheeler hosted fundraising events for Senate Republicans while awaiting confirmation as the EPA’s Number Two. But that was neither illegal nor a formal ethics violation, and Wheeler has steered the EPA ship quietly and professionally since Pruitt’s departure, advancing and adding to Pruitt’s deregulation drive.

Under Wheeler, the EPA is moving to upend a 2012 regulation to reduce legal levels of mercury pollution from power plants, along with cancer-causing metals such as nickel, chromium, and arsenic, and tiny particle pollution that causes asthma and heart disease. The proposed changes would alter how regulators factor the public health benefits of a pollution control policy against what it will cost industry to implement it. The change Wheeler’s EPA has proposed would allow regulators to consider only the expense to industry.

Check out Undark’s award-winning Breathtaking series for a look at what’s at stake in this seemingly abstract battle of how to tote up cost-benefit ratios. It’s a multimedia tour of the terrible toll that tiny particle air pollution (called PM2.5, because it’s particulate matter 2.5 micrograms across or smaller) is taking on people’s health worldwide, including more than four million unnecessary deaths every year. One of the features areas is California’s San Joaquin Valley.

• Not good times.

Onward:

bad: ex-lobbyists are running the Department of Interior

  • A half-dozen of the top appointed officials in Trump’s Interior come from a rogue’s gallery of arch right-wing and anti-environmental regulation organizations like the NRA, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, and the Heritage Foundation.

  • These appointees are violating so many ethics rules, the nonpartisan watchdog group Campaign Legal Center told The Intercept, that it “calls into question the true motives of our public servants tasked with the immense responsibility of managing the country’s natural resources.”

  • Among them: David Bernhardt, current acting Secretary of Interior and Trump’s nominee to replace scandal-magnet Ryan Zinke as agency chief.

  • Bernhardt is a D.C. insider: a former oil industry and Big Ag lobbyist, he was also Interior’s senior-most lawyer during the George W. Bush administration. He “has made it his mission to master legal and policy arcana to advance conservative policy goals,” and spearheaded the department’s drive to expand oil and gas drilling on federal lands, according to The Washington Post.

  • Bernhardt has publicly promised to fully follow ethics rules, and to remove himself from decision-making in matters involving former lobby clients, reports the McClatchy DC Bureau.

also bad: EPA semi-punts on a drinking water crisis

better: a GOP senator admits Trump’s policies “are not in the best interest of our environment and public health, particularly given the threat of climate change”

  • Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) broke party ranks to oppose Andrew Wheeler’s confirmation as the new head of the EPA, as Popular Science and other outlets reported.

  • Collins announced her intention the day before the vote:

good: Congress has begun digging into the Trump administration’s environmental moves

great: some Appalachian post-coal towns are cultivating outdoor recreation jobs

  • “Rural coalfield communities [are] seeing success building recreational opportunities on old mineland,” reports Mason Adams in this great feature for Ensia. “For example, West Virginia’s Hatfield-McCoy Trails consist of about 600 miles (966 kilometers) of off-roading trails weaving around and through former mining sites in multiple counties.” These outdoor amenities are already propelling about $22 a year in economic activity.

  • Other communities are also attracting hikers, bikers, paddlers, sport fishers, and off-roaders to nearby trails, lakes, and rivers, although coal mining has left enduring scars on the landscape.

  • In other towns, defunct surface mines are providing coveted flat tracts for new office and industrial parks, or “growing crops that do well on mineland, such as lavender or hemp.”

  • Renewable energy is another promising new economic sector in the region.


Thanks for reading (de)regulation nation, a production of Brooklyn Radio Telegraph LLC.

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This newsletter is written by me, Emily J Gertz. I’m a veteran environmental journalist. Learn more about me and see some of my work at my web site.

This week’s quote is by Colson Whitehead, from his novel “The Intuitionist.”

I love story tips. Send ‘em to: emily@deregnation.com

(de)regulation nation: seismic testing delayed in the Arctic Refuge

“All you have is what you are, and what you give.”


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Last week the Democratic-led House held three hearings on climate change science, impacts, and responses. Most of the lawmakers present affirmed that climate change is real, it’s a problem, and humans are responsible for it. Expert witnesses offered cogent advice on what should be done in response.

After being knocked dizzy by years of ignorance, nonsense, and lies coming out of Washington, it felt as if the room stopped spinning for a little while. There’s a tinge of amazement in Pacific Standard’s headline, “The House Science Committee just held a helpful hearing on climate science for the first time in years,” that I seriously relate to.

Something else has kicked off, too: a (mostly) reality-based public discussion on climate policies. For that we can thank week’s introduction of a Green New Deal resolution by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), a move designed to spark public debate and conversation.

What are the GND’s details? How much will it slow down the advancing climate disaster? Will the public mobilize behind spending trillions of dollars in taxpayer cash on a national campaign that isn’t being waged by the Defense Department?

On the one hand, why even ask? President Trump, ally of coal barons and possibly a stooge for petro-states Russia and Saudi Arabia, isn’t going to sign a Green New Deal into law.

On the other: As crazy-making as it can be, talk must come before action in a democracy. The more we delve now into the scope of climate responses and solutions —what to do, and how quickly it needs doing—the better we’ll be prepared to put them into action if and when voters shift the power further in Washington towards the facts.

Esquire caught Capitol Hill’s change in tone last week as Trump and his allies lost control of the climate conversation, headlining that “the Green New Deal has put climate change denial out to pasture.

Onward.

a roundup of bad:

  • A federal judge gave a win to the EPA on Feb. 12, reports The Hill, ruling against a coalition of public health groups that sued agency for taking recipients of EPA research grants off its scientific advisory boards.

  • Civil liberties, pshaw! Minnesota police have “engaged in a coordinated effort to identify potential anti-pipeline camps and monitor individual protesters,” reports The Intercept, “repeatedly turning for guidance to the North Dakota officials responsible for the militarized response at Standing Rock in 2016.”

  • Bill Wehrum, the Trump administration’s top appointee for air pollution policy, kept in regular contact with folks at his former law firm after becoming EPA’s head of air policy, the Washington Post discovered. The firm lobbies on behalf of many fossil fuel, energy utility, and chemical interests regulated by the EPA.

  • Wehrum also refused, for nearly a year, to release a list of the clients he’d lobbied for, and the regulations he’d challenged in court on their behalf, while working at the law firm, reports E&E News. After a Democratic senator challenged him on it, Wehrum finally filed this “recusal letter” in September.

  • The Hill reports that on Feb. 11, a federal court of appeals upheld a lower ruling that the Trump administration has the authority to waive dozens of environmental laws, including the Endangered Species Act, to build barriers along the southern border.

  • For no clear reason that I have yet uncovered, the Department of Energy proposes to roll back Obama-era lightbulb efficiency standards due to take effect in 2020. The rule would save consumers $12 billion annually, reports The Philadelphia Inquirer, and curb greenhouse gas pollution by 34 million tons a year.

better: new House bill would ban oil and gas drilling in the Arctic Refuge

  • On Feb. 11, two California Democratic lawmakers teamed up with a Pennsylvania Republican lawmaker to introduce the legislation in the House of Representatives.

  • Co-sponsors Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) and Alan Lowenthal (D-Calif.) chair the House Natural Resources subcommittees on Water, Oceans and Wildlife, and Energy and Mineral Resources, respectively. Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) also co-sponsored the measure…

  • …which aims to repeal the section of the GOP’s 2017 tax law that opened the refuge to drilling. Knowledgeable Observers have generally credited Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Ak.) with hooking that rider onto the tax law.

  • “The Trump administration is in a red hot hurry to try to get leases in place," Huffman told reporters at a press conference. “And we all know why. They know that a Democratic administration is going to undo this wrongheaded thing that they’re trying rush through.”

  • “Critics are not willing to trade an intact wilderness ecosystem and scoff at the tax bill’s projections that lease sales will put more than $1 billion into federal coffers over 10 years,” reports the AP.

  • But some supporters say Alaskans need the jobs that the drilling would directly and indirectly create.

    some Arctic background:

    Around 700 species of animals and plants call the refuge home for some or all of the year, including millions of migratory birds.

    But lawmakers have hoped to lease off its estimated 7.7 to 11.8 billion barrels of underground oil for decades, as described in this 2017 write-up of the situation on Columbia Univ.’s State of the Planet Blog.

    The 200,000-animal strong Porcupine caribou herd, a spiritual touchstone and food source of the Indigenous Gwich’in Natives in both Alaska and Canada, bears its young in the refuge each spring.

    "People like money, and so do I, but not if it's going to wipe out a whole nation of people, and not if it's going to disturb our future nation's chance at survival,” Bernadette Demientieff, who leads the Gwich’in Steering Committee, said at a Feb. 13. hearing on the drilling plan in D.C., according to CBS 2 KTUU.

good: Interior nixes seismic testing in Arctic Refuge until next winter

  • Late last week the Department of Interior told the Anchorage Daily News that there wouldn’t be any seismic testing on the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge until December 2019.

  • The head of SAExploration, the firm planning to run the tests, told the Daily that “options are still on the table,” such as staging its equipment during late spring for testing later in the year.

  • But Interior has not publicly affirmed SAE’s comments.

  • President Trump’s recent shutdown of many federal agencies (a failed gambit to force Congress to fund a wall across the entire southern border as part of a larger federal budget bill) included Interior.

  • A next-winter seismic testing timeline could push attention on drilling in the refuge much closer to the 2020 presidential campaign. However, the federal government can auction drilling leases whether or not seismic testing occurs.

  • Interior tried to keep its original timeline ticking during the shutdown. That stopped after Congressional Democrats inquired about the agency’s selective recalls of staff to work on oil and gas leasing tasks, as noted in a recent (de)regulation nation.

  • Now Interior has extended the public feedback period on its draft environmental assessment of the plan, to March 13, 2019. This Bureau of Land Management web page has info on how to comment.

  • Seismic testing involves positioning multi-ton equipment on the tundra to send powerful sound waves into the ground. The sound waves would create a picture that petroleum geologists could “read” for underground oil and gas potential.

  • But the seismic waves would also disturb hibernating bears and cubs denning on the coastal plain. As rising temperatures melt Arctic sea ice, more bears are overwintering on land.

  • Read additional reporting in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.

great: Trump leaned on a utility to keep a 49-year-old coal-fired power plant open. The utility will close it anyway.

  • Powerful Republicans, including President Trump and Kentucky Gov. Matt Bevin, pressured the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) to keep the half-century-old Paradise Fossil Plant operating.

  • The TVA (the nation’s largest public energy utility) nonetheless voted this week to shutter both the Paradise and Bull Run coal-burning plants, as InsideClimateNews reports, by 2020 and 2023 respectively.

  • Trump publicly twisted the TVA’s arm via tweet, prompting a careful reply from the utility:

  • TVA’s environmental review found that the breakdown-prone Paradise plant has become a boondoggle, creating higher energy costs and more air pollution for ratepayers.

  • Closing down Paradise will curb smog in the TVA’s seven-state operating area by up to 11.5 percent, and greenhouse gas pollution by more than 4 percent.

  • In the past several years, the utility has lowered its fuel costs by $1 billion a year by replacing coal with renewable, nuclear, and natural gas energy.

  • The Kentucky mines supplying coal to the Paradise plant are owned by Murray Energy, which is led by Bob Murray, a Trump supporter who contributed over $300,000 to his election campaign.


Thanks for reading (de)regulation nation, a production of Brooklyn Radio Telegraph LLC.

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This newsletter is written by me, Emily J Gertz. I’m a veteran environmental journalist. Learn more about me and see some of my work at my web site.

This week’s quote is by Ursula Le Guin, from her novel “The Dispossessed.”

I welcome your feedback, questions, and story tips: emily@deregnation.com

(de)regulation nation: House Democrats poised to rock Trump's world

“I can conceive of no better service… than boldly exposing the weakness, liabilities and infinite corruptions of democracy.”

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bad: EPA gives a climate change denier spot on top agency science panel

  • John Christy, an atmospheric scientist at University of Alabama, is among the 3 percent of climate researchers worldwide who disagree with the other 97 percent on the realities of climate change.

  • EPA is putting Christy, a longtime critic of regulations to protect environmental health, on the agency’s influential, 45-member Scientific Advisory Board.

  • According to Christy, EPA invited him to apply.

  • Christy says his top priority will be convincing fellow panel members that the vast majority of climate scientists worldwide have erred in crediting climate change to human actions instead of natural phenomena, or warning that climate change is harming public health and welfare.

  • This is the latest in an ongoing series of moves by the Trump administration to sever good science from environmental and public health regulations.

  • “The Trump administration has been stacking EPA’s science advisory boards with researchers and consultants whose work is often funded or promoted by industry,” notes E&E News reporter Scott Waldman. “It has reached out to critics of climate science and air pollution regulations to serve on the boards.”

  • Read more in E&E News via Scientific American

Fast fact: It’s been official US government policy for a decade that greenhouse gas emissions endanger the public’s health and welfare. (See “CO2 endangerment finding” on your favorite online search tool for more info.)

also bad: Christy’s own Alabama will suffer, a lot, as the climate gets hotter

  • Coincidentally, during the same week that Alabama-based Christy ascended to a top federal science advisory role…

  • …a new county-by-county analysis of climate impacts suggested that the southeastern states will be hardest hit in the US.

  • Between 2080 ad 2099 (well within the lifetimes of today’s youngsters), changing climactic conditions in the southeast will include:

    • Farming yields lowered by up to 80 percent

    • Increases in annual premature deaths by roughly 50 persons or more per 100,000 residents (which would add up, at the lower end, to around 2,450 additional premature deaths per year in Alabama alone)

    • Lowered income of 5 to almost 30 percent on a county-by-county basis

  • Political analysts at the Brookings Institution, a centrist DC think tank, have found a silver lining amid these and other downbeat findings.

  • “What if we flip the frame from emissions to impacts?,” they write. “From that perspective, the current gridlock might not be as permanent as it now seems, as many of the jurisdictions that have selected political leaders opposed to climate policy are the most exposed to the harms of climate change.”

  • In other words, they believe forecasts like these may break the “brown blockade” of fossil-fuel-producing states that has stalled progress on federal energy and climate policies, and lead to a new era of policy progress. Hurrah!

  • Read more at the Brookings Institution, which includes links to the original study, created by over 20 scientists and other researchers via the Climate Impact Lab.

better: newly empowered House Democrat vows to hold natural resource agency accountable

  • During the first two years of the Trump administration, the Republican majority in the House of Representatives uncritically supported its aggressive expansion of mining, fracking, and drilling on public lands, and erasure of many pro-conservation policies.

  • Now Democrats control the House, and Rep. Raul Griljava (D-Ariz.), the new chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, says he’ll focus the committee on climate change, and much influence regulated industries have on the doings at Interior.

  • In early January, Griljava confronted Interior acting director David Bernhardt by asking via letter (the standard form of early engagement between agencies and oversight committees) why agency staff were arranging public meetings about plans for drilling in the Arctic Refuge, even though Interior was closed, and its staff supposedly furloughed, during the government shutdown.

  • Two days later, Interior postponed the meetings.

  • Griljava can’t be sure his letter sparked that action, but it’s a better outcome than nothing at all, which is what he got in response to dozens of letters sent to former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke in 2017 and 2018.

  • Read about all this and more in Audubon magazine’s profile of Raul Griljava.

Remember: From blowing up the multi-state plan to save the sage grouse, to slashing the Bears Ears National Monument by about 2 million acres (coincidentally, acres targeted by industry for resource extraction), Trump-era environmental policies have been heavy on reversals of Obama-era conservation- and public health-oriented wildlife, federal lands, and ocean policies.

good: the heat’s still on Interior ex-chief Zinke for potential corruption

  • Raul Griljava also told Audubon magazine that he’ll call former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to testify before Congress about the ethics and corruption allegations that piled up against him during his agency tenure.

  • Last fall, when Griljava fired a volley by calling on Zinke to resign, the then-official responded by calling Griljava a drunk, as Vox reported at the time.

  • Zinke’s December resignation came after the White House told him to leave voluntarily by the end of the year or be fired, as the Washington Post discovered.

  • Zinke announced his departure a few days after schmoozing at Interior’s annual Christmas party with “lobbyists and conservative activists [in] his executive suite,” according to the Post, “where he posed for photos in front of a large stuffed polar bear wearing a Santa cap, according to an attendee.”

  • The Post also broke that the Department of Justice has been investigating Zinke since at least last October for possibly lying to investigators.

  • DOJ’s investigation is related two investigations of Zinke from within Interior, one of them for a federal lands deal that would benefit Zinke and his wife by $$$.

great: LOL opportunity

  • Nothing came across my sightline this week that lived up to my highest ambitions for GREAT—a real life something (citizen action, government move, law, court decision, switch flipped on a massive new solar power farm, etc.) that changes something tangibly for the better, or at least bodes well to do so.

  • What did happen, though, was that I laughed out loud at this bit on late night TV’s The Daily Show, loudly, for at least upwards of a minute. That felt so unusual and GREAT that it makes me wonder if many lovely (de)regulation nation readers could use a great laugh as well.

  • It’s about this week’s blast of polar weather in the lower 48, and climate change, and President Trump, and stale TV news tropes, and the funny that results when they get combined. Enjoy:


    Thanks for reading (de)regulation nation, a production of Brooklyn Radio Telegraph LLC.

    If you’ve received (de)regulation nation from a friend and like it, please subscribe.

    Subscribe now

    This newsletter is written by me, Emily J Gertz. I’m a veteran environmental journalist. Learn more about me and see some of my work at my web site.

    This week’s quote is by Walt Whitman. I found it at Brain Pickings, in a thoughtful essay titled “Walt Whitman on Democracy and Optimism as a Mighty Form of Resistance.”

    I welcome your feedback, questions, and story tips: emily@deregnation.com

(de)regulation nation: selective shutdown staffing at Interior

"He had grown up in a country run by politicians who sent the pilots to man the bombers to kill the babies to make the world safe for children to grow up in."

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If you feel a slight twist of the gut reading these words, it might be because I’m writing this week from the belly of the beast: Washington, D.C. I’m here to attend the “2019 Journalist’s Guide to Energy and Environment,” an enviro-nerd-fest featuring a half-dozen of D.C.’s best policy and politics reporters (this year including the Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin, The New York Times’ Eric Lipton, and The Guardian’s Emily Holden).

This afternoon, starting at 3:00 p.m. ET, these and other expert truth-tellers of the Trump era will discuss what Congress and the White House are likely to do (or fail to do) over the coming year on regulations, science, climate denial, and enviro-related public health. If you’re local to D.C., there may still be a few open seats, so RSVP here. If you’d rather watch from your own comfy chair or couch, connect to the live web stream just before 3:00 p.m. ET on Friday.

Rolling back environmental protections, fulfilling industry’s deregulatory wish lists, wish lists, and severing good science from policy-making are among the few arenas where the Trump administration has proven itself effective. So it should be a super-interesting discussion.

Just fyi, this event is organized annually by the Society of Environmental Journalists, where I’m a longtime member and current board member.

This year’s panel will also feature an interview with Bill Wehrum, the EPA’s Assistant Administrator for the Office of Air and Radiation. As an industry lobbyist Wehrum fought the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. As a Trump appointee, he’s guided the administration’s re-write of that plan, which rolls back mandates to reduce climate-heating carbon dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants, and in the process allows a lot of other toxic spew into the air. As WIRED reported last year, the EPA itself estimates that by 2030, the air pollution allowed under this plan will cause an uptick of 470 to 1,400 premature deaths a year due to respiratory illnesses.

Will moderator Emily Holden hold Wehrun’s feet to the fire on these and other Trump rollbacks? Tune in to find out.

Onward:

bad: the shutdown’s environmental toll

  • The Trump administration continued to keep national parks open a month into the federal shutdown, an action that “has risked the safety of people and parks,” a national parks scholar writes in Slate Future Tense. By contrast, By contrast, during the 2013 shutdown Obama ordered all parks closed. Around 21,000 National Park Service employees have been furloughed by the shutdown.

  • The National Science Foundation has distributed $0 in research grants since Dec. 22, the day the federal shutdown began, compared to $127.3 million over the same span of days a year ago. Scientists report that they cannot hire research assistants, pay for ongoing work, or plan ahead for time-sensitive field work. “The impact on science is a slow strangling of the American scientific enterprise,” a science advocate told HuffPost.

  • House Democrats told Politico Pro ($) that the shutdown has been a distraction from focusing on developing bills to grapple with climate change.

  • I usually avoid links to raw politicking by lawmakers in (de)regulation nation. But an exception seems warranted for these tweets from the Democrats on the Senate Environment and Public Works committee, highlighting news coverage of shutdown-driven lulls in environmental enforcement that have put the public’s safety and health at risk:

also bad

  • In late December this major investigation by The New York Times revealed how the Trump administration’s industry-friendly deregulation is sickening farmworkers in California, increasing heavy metal pollution of inland waters in West Virginia, and allowing polluters to spew more toxic air pollution in Virginia and North Dakota.

  • The federal government’s own Energy Information Agency reports this week that the U.S. is lagging far behind at slashing reliance on fossil fuels to power energy generation and transportation, as Utility Dive explains. Failure to cut carbon pollution from these sources will make climate change even worse.

  • E&E News reports that Trump’s climate change rollbacks, according to researchers across multiple disciplines, will intensify something he claims to care about stopping: flows of refugees from the global South to the North. DJT in 2017 nixed an Obama-era order for agencies to study and plan for climate change-driven mass migration.

  • President Trump may issue executive orders to push through pipeline projects opposed by states, along with other boosts for oil and gas, reports Politico

  • Scientists and beekeepers say a pesticide called dicamba is devastating wild plants that honeybees need for food, reports Reveal. Last fall the EPA extended its approval for the pesticide, claiming it wouldn’t harm bees or other pollinators.

  • The Pentagon’s latest report to Congress about the impacts of climate change on U.S. armed services largely failed to analyze the effects of climate change on U.S. armed services. JustSecurity pokes a sharpened pencil through the holes.

  • Civil fines for breaking environmental regulations fell 85 percent during the first two years of the Trump administration, reports the Washington Post. Compared to about $500 million a year for the two decades prior, Trump’s environmental enforcers collected just $75 million a year, according to the EPA’s own record-keeping.

better: more newborn right whales sighted off Florida

  • Last week I noted that whale researchers and fans had seen a North Atlantic right whale calf off the coast of Florida, the first known newborn in over a year to this critically endangered whale species.

  • Well, it’s gotten better: Now they’ve seen two more calfs, for a total of three newborns.

  • The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Fish and Wildlife Research Institute photographed the third mother-calf pair via aerial survey on Jan. 17.

  • “It’s a spark of hope” for the species, whose numbers hover just above 400 individuals, a research scientist told the Daytona Beach News-Journal, although “not even quite to the point of guarded optimism.”

good: federal judge hoists Trump administration by its own petard on oil and gas permits

  • On Friday a federal judge blocked federal permitting for seismic testing off the Atlantic coast, as Reuters reported.

  • It was part of a decision to delay court proceedings on a lawsuit seeking to block the administration’s offshore drilling plans.

  • Federal Judge Richard Gergel of the U.S. District Court in South Carolina granted the delay at the request of the Justice Department, which argued it didn’t have the resources to respond to the suit during the federal shutdown.

  • But Gergel applied the same reasoning to the Interior department, ordering a stop to drilling-related work until all furloughed federal employees have returned to their jobs.

  • Interior had selectively recalled staffers during the shutdown to continue work on permitting for offshore seismic testing.

  • “It’s common sense that if the federal government is shut down and doesn’t have the resources to perform most of its normal functions then it doesn’t have the resources to start this proposed seismic testing offshore,” South Carolina Attorney General, a party to the suit, told a McClatchy papers reporter.

  • The Trump administration has green-lit seismic testing off several East Coast states, in waters on or near the migratory route of the critically endangered North Atlantic right whale.

  • How does seismic testing affect whales and other marine life? “Imagine that some time mid-May, or maybe in June, there is a spaceship flying back and forth over western Long Island, all the boroughs of New York, and extending into New Jersey,” a bioacoustics expert told me in 2016 for a story at TakePart.com. “Every 10 seconds that spaceship sets off a massive explosion, and that extends all summer, about 300 feet above you.”

related good

A public employees advocacy group has filed a complaint against the Department of Interior, reports The Revelator. PEER charges that the agency broke the law by continuing to pay staffers tasked with advancing permits and planning for two favored stakeholders, oil and gas drillers and wildlife hunters. Those jobs were not covered by the shutdown law’s sole exception for who to pay during a shutdown: employees whose work involves protecting human life or property.

great: a “Trump bump” drives recognition that climate change is a real problem we need to solve

  • A record 48 percent of U.S. citizens surveyed say they believe climate change is a real and present problem in their own backyards, rather than a quandary for polar bears now, and no one else for decades to come.

  • “That is up 9 percentage points since last spring and double the response recorded for the same question in early 2010,” reports InsideClimate News.

  • Citizens “come to really expect real solutions to be put forward by our national and our community leaders” when concern about climate hits this level, said one researcher who worked on the survey.

  • Other survey findings:

    • 73 percent of adults surveyed say global warming is happening

    • 62 percent understand that human activities are the main driver of the warming

    • 69 percent are at least "somewhat worried" about climate change

  • “I’ve never seen jumps in some of the key indicators like this,” another survey researcher told The New York Times, adding that President Trump may be a factor in driving higher public recognition of the realities.

  • “Every time he talks about climate change he drives more media attention to the exact issue,” said the researcher, and “he tends to drive a majority of the country in the opposite direction.”

  • Go to the source: “Climate Change and the American Mind,” at the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.


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This newsletter is written by me, Emily J Gertz. I’m a veteran environmental journalist. Learn more about me and see some of my work at my web site.

This week’s quote, on how living with political doublespeak creates a mild kind of insanity, is by novelist, author and poet Ursula K. Le Guin, who died one year ago this week. It’s from her 1971 novel, “The Lathe of Heaven.”

I welcome your feedback, questions, and story tips: emily@deregnation.com

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