Welcome to (de)regulation nation, the newsletter tracking Trump administration environmental rollbacks, along with who’s fighting back and what’s going right.
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Scheduling note: There will be one edition of (de)regulation nation next week, on Friday.
Unless voters evict Trump from the White House in 2020, his fight to strip California’s authority to set its own air pollution standards is almost certain to end up in the Supreme Court.
A duo of legal experts from Yale and San Francisco State universities are arguing that the court’s current conservative majority is so willing to take decisions off the rails of legal precedent, that it might skew environmental and climate cases like that one for decades to come.
“In their challenge to the Affordable Care Act, a challenge that ultimately came within a hair’s breadth of succeeding, conservatives took arguments once considered absurd and beyond the pale ‘from off the wall to on the wall,’” they write.
“If Congress enacts climate change legislation, the Supreme Court could be expected to recycle this playbook, and to rely on implausible legal arguments to evaluate and, in all likelihood, strike down the law.”
There has been So. Much. Great. climate-change-related coverage across news outlets large and small this week. Congratulations, Covering Climate Now and all the news teams who’ve jumped on board. (Now, keep it up.)
My biggest praise for a groundbreaking political report goes to NBC News, for uncovering how the Trump administration ignored and buried research by its own Customs and Border Protection linking the large number of Central American migrants coming to the US southern border with the impacts of climate change on their farms.
CBP found that climate change-driven crop failures are contributing to such intense poverty and near-starvation on Guatemalans, that fleeing home to embark on a difficult and dangerous overland journey to the Mexico-US line seems like a better choice than staying put.
“But inside the Trump White House, that message was largely ignored in both policy decisions and messaging around what should be done to stem the flow of migrants,” NBC News reports. “With evidence of a correlation between acute food insecurity and migration in hand, the Trump administration instead focused on an agreement with the government of Guatemala to stem the flow of immigrants through law enforcement means.”
NBC sent a reporter to Guatemala to witness and confirm the climate-change-driven human desperation that the Trump administration denies and ignores:
There’s also been a lot of good coverage of the Trump administration’s move to revoke California’s longstanding authority, written right into the Clean Air Act, to set stronger-than-federal tailpipe pollution curbs (also called CAFE or fuel efficiency standards).
Many reporters seem to be getting this is not just a wonky policy story, but a vital environmental+public health story:
Thirteen states and Washington, DC, follow California’s lead on tailpipe standards.
That means that for decades, millions more people nationwide have breathed cleaner air, living healthier and living longer, than if those states had followed the federal tailpipe pollution standard.
Last year California led 18 states and DC in suing the Trump government for rolling back strict (one might say California-esque) Obama-era nationwide tailpipe pollution rules.
Now 23 states have joined California to sue the Trump administration for revoking California’s clean air power, as The Guardian and many other national outlets report.
Obama’s rule sets benchmarks for improving auto fuel efficiency (which reduces air pollution) over the next several years, hitting 51 miles per gallon around 2025.
Trump’s replacement rule, if it comes into effect, will freeze that process at its near-lowest rung of 37 miles per gallon in 2021.
The Obama rule was overtly both a clean air mandate and a major climate action, since spewing tailpipes are among the nation’s top sources of climate-heating carbon pollution.
All that could vanish, if Trump succeeds at gutting California’s clean air authority. Will he?
Probably not, according to a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, because “the administration is venturing onto thin legal ice by revoking the state’s waiver, which is based on authority specifically written into the Clean Air Act in 1970 and strengthened in 1977.”
While Trump’s EPA and Transportation chiefs say their sole goal is to help the auto industry by creating a unified national tailpipe standard, a law expert tells Mother Jones why this explanation makes no sense:
The rhetoric you’re hearing from the administration is ‘one standard, one standard, one standard,’” says University of San Francisco law professor Alice Kaswan. “But with the Clean Air Act, we’ve always had two standards for the last 40 or 50 years. The automakers appear to have survived that.
Arch-conservative outlet National Review, in an unsigned editorial, sees it differently. “We are fans of federalism,” say TNR’s unsigned, but — surprise! — they don’t stan states tackling climate change if there’s a federal law involved. California’s special power under the Clean Air Act was a direct response to that state’s “compelling and extraordinary” smog problem, TNR argues, but “there is nothing compelling and extraordinary about Californian climate change. Climate change is happening to the rest of the country.”
Four automakers have publicly thrown in with California on tailpipe pollution, jointly agreeing to an Obama-like regulation that will ratchet up fuel efficiency (thus lowering auto pollution) over the next decade. In response, Trump’s Department of Justice is opening an anti-trust investigation into that deal.
“A source told the [Wall Street] Journal the DOJ “is acting on its own accord and without direction from or coordination with the White House,” writes the MIT Technology Review. “Yeah, right…the intent of antitrust laws is to prevent monopolies and cartels. It’s not to block regulations that could drive innovation and cut climate emissions.”
Four million people worldwide left school and work to march their city, town, and village streets on Friday, to demand climate action from political, industrial, and financial elites.
The youth activists leading these climate strikes and marches seem astute about the current political moment.
Their immediate elders (my generation, Gen X, and the Boomers) came of age in a global political system that was faulty, but seemed to be working overall, and evolving for the better.
These young climate activists are coming of age amid that system’s potential collapse.
During my childhood, lawmakers created the Environmental Protection Agency. They passed groundbreaking wildlife, air and water protections. The Cuyahoga River stopped burning.
In my young adulthood, we came out the other side of the Cold War without a nuclear war. One major global environmental treaty successfully stemmed the pollution destroying the ozone layer, making it seem almost reasonable to hope that another one might do the same, some day soon, for carbon pollution.
Compared to us middle-agers, these youth climate activists have only the early years of the 21st century for reference. It’s not an era that inspires much confidence in the elites of the world to do the right thing.
So these youth activist leaders speak, to my ear, with a combination of optimism, desperation, and pragmatism. They sound like people prepared to go a distance to survive that they know is undefined. (Maybe it’s not unsimilar to what’s propelling so many Guatemalan villagers to abandon their failing farm fields for the Mexico-US border.)
Here’s how climate activist Alexandria Villaseñor (a New York City teenager, co-founder of US Youth Climate Strike and founder of Earth Uprising, and the subject of this March profile in Teen Vogue) laid it down to reporters earlier this week:
My message to any politicians who really don’t listen to us on Friday, is that they can listen to us now, or they can listen to us later. Because every single Friday sees us striking, and it’s that continuous pressure on people in power that is going to make sure they listen to us. Because our voice is going to continue getting louder as the climate crisis gets more urgent.
Thanks for reading (de)regulation nation, a production of Brooklyn Radio Telegraph LLC.
This newsletter is written by me, Emily J Gertz. I’m a veteran environmental journalist. You’ll find links to my reporting and more biographical goodness at my website .
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This week’s quote is from the Oblique Strategies.