(de)regulation nation: national park #61
"The awesome thing about the moment that you and I share is that we don’t know which is going to win out."
|Emily J Gertz||Jun 18, 2019|| 1|
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Photo credit: U.S. National Park Service
Did you know that President Trump signed a new national park into being earlier this year? Details below, as one of every issue’s “better, good, and great” chasers to the Trump administration latest attempt at an environmental protection rollback.
bad: forest agency proposes to “streamline” environmental rules
The U.S. Forest Service (part of the Dept. of Agriculture) has proposed new rules to speed up permits for logging, mining, and road-building projects on public lands.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said the changes are needed to fast-track “treatment” for millions of acres of federal forest, reports Reuters via U.S. News and World Report.
“Years of costly analysis and delays are not an acceptable solution,” said Perdue, to lowering the risks of catastrophic wildfires in western forests.
These risks exist in part because of climate-change-driven rising temperatures, along with many years of drought in western states.
The other major factor is decades of fire suppression, a scientifically-outmoded practice dating from the early 20th century (to preserve forests for commercial logging), that has left forests loaded with fuel: thick brush, dead trees, downed wood on forest floors.
Some projects that would be fast-tracked under the reworked rules are unremarkable, like clearing brush from roadsides, or doing prescribed burns to lower forest fuel loads.
But the revised rules would also fast-track some mining and commercial logging projects, by exempting them from the comprehensive environmental reviews required by a keystone environmental law, the National Environmental Policy Act.
Going around NEPA would also give the public less chance to weigh in, pro or con, on these projects, because some public comment periods are timed to the release of those environmental reviews.
This move “comes after other efforts to loosen forest management regulations fell flat in Congress last year,” notes the Sacramento Bee.
Federal agencies and some industries complain about “analysis paralysis” when it comes to environmental studies, but as NPR reports, “a bigger holdup is budget cuts, particularly in the Forest Service, where money has been diverted away from wildlife, habitat and forestry programs to pay for the skyrocketing costs of wildfire suppression.”
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better: New York is on the verge of a statewide climate action deal
New Yorkers sometimes joke that our state capital, Albany, is where good ideas go to die.
But in 2018’s “blue wave” election, Democrats won majorities in both houses of the legislature for the first time in many a year, and have put them to work since passing many liberal-wish-list reforms.
Now, as HuffPost reports, they’re on the verge of enacting an ambitious set of climate action measures called the “Climate & Community Protection Act.”
The act would commit New York to:
Get 70 percent of its power from renewables by 2030, a big jump from the state’s current target of 56 percent.
Remove fossil fuels completely from the state grid by 2040—an even more ambitious goal than California’s 2045 deadline.
Get 85 percent of all power used in the state, grid and transportation, from renewable sources by 2050.
Direct 35 percent of energy funding to low-income and marginalized towns and cities most vulnerable to impacts of climate disruption.
Improve wage and labor standards for jobs created in connection with the law’s mandates.
Cuomo said Sunday night that he’ll sign the CCPA if or when it comes to his desk.
The New York state legislature votes on the bill tomorrow.
good: renewable energy edges past coal
The U.S. can now generate more energy from renewable sources than it can from coal-fired power.
Renewable sources combined (including hydropower and excluding nuclear) make up 21.67 percent of the nation’s generation capacity, according to an April report from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, or FERC.
(Capacity = the amount of power generation possible, not the amount used.)
That edges coal-fired capacity to third place, at 21.55 percent. It was around 40 percent in the mid-2000s. Natural gas dominates the nation’s energy capacity at 44.44 percent.
(Why? The fracking boom has put so much cheap natural gas on the market that utilities have been shuttering aging coal plants and replacing them with gas-fired power.)
One megawatt powers around 1,000 American homes for a year.
“Coal has no technology path,” a clean energy investment expert told CNN in reaction to the report.“It’s got nowhere to go but extinction.”
Check out FERC’s April Energy Infrastructure Report for more energy nerd goodness.
Coal-fired power remains about 40 percent of global energy capacity, according to economist Carine Sebi in The Conversation.
Burning coal for power, which creates massive amounts of heat-trapping CO2 pollution, is the leading driver of global climate disruption.
It’s also a source of many toxic chemical pollutants known to harm human respiratory, heart, and nervous system health.
great: there’s a new national park
After over a century of citizen advocacy, Indiana Dunes has become the 61st U.S. national park.
It was approved earlier this year by Congress and the president, as a rider to the annual government budget bill.
Sited along Lake Michigan’s southern shore, the 15,200-acre park features 15 miles of beaches, 250 foot-high dunes, and forest, prairie, creek, river, and wetland ecosystems now rare in the region.
“Strung between steel mills and rumbling trains, blanketed by dwindling oak savannas and lined with wild lupine, the Indiana Dunes National Park is a Midwestern mix of harsh and wonderful,” according to the Chicago Tribune,“a place where visitors can spot a wildflower and look up to find the same shade of violet in the graffiti sprayed on a passing train car.”
Indiana Dunes’ diversity of wild species ranks seventh out of all 400-plus National Park Service units,” according to National Geographic.
It’s home to 2,300 plant and animal species, around a dozen of them threatened with extinction.
Indiana Dunes is also super accessible, with public transit stops right inside the park.
“America just got better,” Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb told a late May crowd gathered to inaugurate the park’s new status, reports the Tribune.
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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 systems theory scholar and author Joanna Macy, from her 2010 appearance on Krista Tippet’s radio show/podcast “On Being.”