(de)regulation nation: offshore drilling up in the air

"Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of hope"

Welcome to (de)regulation nation, the newsletter tracking bad, better, good, and great environmental news in the Trump era.

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bad: no easy summary

1.

  • A Trump appointee to the Department of Interior named Landon Tucker Davis had a hand in permitting a coal mine in West Virginia to re-open, even though it was degrading the river habitat of endangered crustaceans, reports Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post.

  • Davis, a former lobbyist for the state’s coal industry, was apparently instrumental in the creation of a 2017 rule aimed at easing mine compliance with federal environmental laws.

  • “Federal, state and industry officials bypassed the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to win approvals for operations near sensitive habitat” for two species of endangered crayfish, writes Eilperin, illustrating “how environmental rollbacks enacted at the start of the administration are reshaping the nation’s landscape in ways that could harm threatened species.”

2.

  • The U.S. went on to torpedo a joint Arctic Council statement on climate change, rejecting “wording that climate change was a serious threat to the Arctic,” according to Simon Johnson of Reuters.

  • “It was the first time a declaration had been cancelled since the Arctic Council was formed in 1996,” said Finland Foreign Minister Timo Soini in a statement, even though “a majority of us regarded climate change as a fundamental challenge to the Arctic.”

3.

  • A federal court ruled that the Environmental Protection Agency violated the Clean Air Act by failing to act on climate-heating methane pollution and other toxic emissions from landfills.

  • “The waste sites are the third-largest emitters of human-caused methane,” reports Ellen Gilmer of E&E News (via Scientific American). “They also release benzene and other pollutants that can harm human health.

4.

better: Republican senator slams Trump for stonewalling on an international environmental agreement

  • It’s not much, but…

  • …according the Capitol Hill watchers at Roll Call, Republican senators are criticizing the Trump administration for failing to send the Senate ratification papers for 2016’s Kigali Amendment to the international Montreal Protocol.

  • “Without ratification” of the Kigali update, which adds new forms of HFCs to the treaty, “the U.S. could be subject to trade sanctions under the Montreal Protocol, the legal backstop of Kigali itself, and lose out on more than 30,000 new manufacturing jobs and billions of dollars worth of exports, according to industry estimates,” Roll Call notes.

  • Sen. John Kennedy (R-La.) told reporters, “It’s somebody over at EPA and/or the White House that doesn’t like the idea,” but wouldn’t name names and risk “the potential of defaming somebody.”

  • Under the 1987 Montreal pact, nations have steadily phased out ozone-layer-eating chemicals called hydroflurocarbons, which damage the Earth’s UV-blocking ozone layer, and also heat the climate.

  • It’s arguably the most successful environmental treaty ever. “In a rare piece of good news about the environment — and proof of what concerted global action can achieve— the United Nations announced in a [November 2018] report that the ozone layer, which was significantly damaged over the course of decades by humans, is on the road to recovery,” reported Climate Desk last year.

good: Trump’s offshore drilling plans hit new rocks

  • House Democrats have introduced three bills that would block the Trump administration’s plan to open more than 90 percent of offshore waters to oil and gas drilling, reports Oil & Gas Journal.

  • Whether or not the bills see any votes, they send a message that the House Democratic majority will reject any budget requests from the White House that include funding for its offshore drilling plans. (Here’s more than you ever wanted to know on the federal budget process, from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.)

  • Secretary Bernhardt told a House committee this week that he’s “not inclined to move ahead with the administration’s offshore drilling proposal” before legal challenges are settled, reports Kellie Lunney for E&E Daily.

  • Bernhardt was referring to the recent federal ruling that Trump’s executive order opening U.S. Arctic and Atlantic ocean waters to drilling exceeded his authority. The agency “is evaluating all of its options,” a spokeswoman told AP reporters.

great: there’s a way to forge ahead on climate and energy reform…although it hits up how bad this democracy thing is working right now

  • Even as climate action has foundered at the federal level for much of the past three decades, dozens of U.S. subnational governments have set themselves ambitious clean energy mandates and other climate action goals.

  • Among them, more than 120 cities, towns, counties, townships, districts, and territories have set firm goals to get 100 percent of their power from non-fossil-fuel-burning sources within the next two to three decades.

  • As I’ve noted in past issues of (de)regulation nation, some of the strongest moves have come very recently, such as New York City’s new suite of laws to slash carbon pollution from skyscrapers, the city’s leading emitters.

  • (Dept. of SMH: NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio used the new laws as an excuse to hold a pre-presidential-bid-press-bait at Trump Tower this week, “ostensibly to put the city’s landlords—including the Trump Organization—on notice that failure to comply” with the new rules “could result in heavy fines,” as WNYC political reporter Brigid Bergin reported.)

  • What’s the “one weird trick” that’s helped these diverse subnational entities make climate progress, asks Vox’s enviro policy ace, David Roberts? “The trick is: elect Democrats.”

  • Bipartisan efforts like Illinois’ huge 2016 energy reform are so rare at this point that climate-first U.S. voters have a stark choice between Democrats and Republicans no matter what they think on other issues, Roberts says.

  • A small eco-right movement has begun to challenge the Republican establishment’s irrational refusal to deal on climate and energy, as the Guardian and the Financial Times recently reported.

  • They have decades of bad faith Republican climate politics to unravel, topped off by the current party leader’s determination to overturn any climate progress made under former President Barack Obama.


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 and a graduate of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism’s annual fellowship. You’ll find links to my past reporting and more biographical goodness at my website.

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This week’s quote is by writer Victoria Safford. The whole thing reads:

Our mission is to plant ourselves at the gates of Hope — not the prudent gates of Optimism, which are somewhat narrower; nor the stalwart, boring gates of Common Sense; nor the strident gates of Self-Righteousness, which creak on shrill and angry hinges (people cannot hear us there; they cannot pass through); nor the cheerful, flimsy garden gate of “Everything is gonna be all right.” But a different, sometimes lonely place, the place of truth-telling, about your own soul first of all and its condition, the place of resistance and defiance, the piece of ground from which you see the world both as it is and as it could be, as it will be; the place from which you glimpse not only struggle, but joy in the struggle. And we stand there, beckoning and calling, telling people what we are seeing, asking people what they see.

Thanks, Jesikah Maria Ross, for introducing me to Safford’s work.