(de)regulation nation: Obama's climate change reforms are history

"Breathe. That’s it. Once more. Good. You’re good. Even if you’re not, you’re alive. That is a victory."

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

Each issue includes updates on Trump administration rollbacks of conservation, environmental, and public health protections, as well as news from across the political spectrum about what’s going right and who’s fighting back. I call the format is B2G2: Bad, Better, Good, Great.

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bad: Trump administration finishes taking apart Obama-era progress on climate & air pollution

  • The Trump administration has formally rolled back proposed 2016 updates to rules regarding methane pollution from oil and gas operations on federal public lands and tribal lands.

  • The move pretty much leaves in place a 30-year old regulation, which the Obama administration attempted to modernize.

  • The Obama-era updates would have required oil and gas drillers to slash the amount of methane their operations vented and flared, and to find and fix methane leaks regularly.

  • These measures would have reduced the “fugitive emissions” of this powerful greenhouse gas by about 180,000 tons a year.

  • If captured and burned for energy, it would have been enough to power over six million U.S. homes a year.

  • Methane breaks down in the atmosphere much faster than CO2, and accounts for about 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas pollution (from combined energy, agriculture, and waste management sources).

  • But methane drives 86 times more global warming than CO2 when it’s first released into the atmosphere.

  • Methane leaks, venting, and flaring also create air pollution problems for people and animals living near oil and gas drilling or production facilities.

  • “This is really about fulfilling our commitments to the policy vision that the president has established,” said an Interior Department official during a Tuesday afternoon press conference.

  • Read more about it in The New York Times.

Related, slightly better news:

Sen. Elizabeth Warren has proposed a new law for publicly-traded firms: Disclose your climate risks.

“Warren's bill would … require each company to detail its greenhouse gas emissions; its total amount of ‘fossil fuel-related assets;’ how its valuation would be affected by certain climate change forecasts; and its risk management strategies related to climate change.” reports Boston public media station WBUR.

My take: Activists have called for climate risk reporting requirements for over a decade. But this bill obviously isn’t going anywhere while Trump controls the White House and Republicans the Congress.

Warren may instead be staking a position in order to push fellow Democrats on climate action. If she runs for the party’s next presidential nomination, the proposal will help define her progressive bona fides compared to old-school centrists, too.

better: House lawmakers are trying to save an important conservation fund

  • Democrats and Republicans on the House Natural Resources Committee have recommended reauthorization of the $450 million-a-year Land & Water Conservation Fund.

  • Now the full House, a Senate committee, and the full Senate need to act, in order to send the bill to the White House before the fund expires on Sept. 30.

  • Funding for the LWCF comes from the royalties that companies pay for federally-leased offshore oil and gas drilling.

  • Over 40,000 wilderness, park, wildlife refuge, and other outdoor conservation efforts around the country have benefitted from the fund since it was established in 1964.

  • The Trump White House consistently guts the LWCF in its budget proposals to Congress.

  • But in June, Senate Republicans beat back the latest attempt to slash the fund.

  • Read more about the politics in The Washington Post’s Energy 202.

  • Read more about the fund’s coast-to-coast conservation impacts in The Revelator, from the Maine’s Allagash Wilderness Waterway the California Coastal National Monument: “Even ardent supporters of the fund have a hard time pointing out their favorite projects, because there are so many and they’re so varied.”

good: states start moving to stem toxic drinking water contamination

  • The Trump administration has dragged its heels on the contamination of drinking water supplies across the country with a class of persistent toxic chemicals called PFAS.

  • “The EPA set a nonenforceable health advisory in 2016 for PFOA and PFOS levels in drinking water at a combined 70 parts per trillion, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said in June that exposure to even lower concentrations may pose health risks.”

  • With no federal leadership in sight, regulators in eight states (Colorado, Minnesota, Michigan, New Jersey, New Mexico, Texas, Vermont, and Washington) are preparing water or cleanup standards for PFAS.

  • Eleven additional states are considering such rules.

  • PFAS were once commonly used in manufacture of nonstick cookware and fire-retardant upholstery. They’re also used widely in industrial products and processes.

  • PFAS have been connected to several human health harms, from impairing liver and immune system functioning, to increased cancer risk.

  • Read more in this Bloomberg News report on federal inaction and state action, which features a comprehensive overview of where each state currently stands on PFAS standards.

great-ish: solar energy companies are eager to help rebuild Puerto Rico, and Puerto Ricans are ready

  • Rolling Stone's story on Puerto Rico’s condition one year after Hurricane Maria is TBH disturbing and sometimes grim, but it’s a must-read.

  • This remarkable nugget is buried in the middle:

“In Puerto Rico, there are now millions of people who think … that electricity is just as important as, perhaps more important than, food and water. And rather than depend on a corrupt, expensive electric-power utility like the Puerto Rican Electric Power Authority (PREPA) to deliver it to them, they want to produce it themselves. In a place like Puerto Rico, creating your own power is a radical political act, a way of thumbing your nose at the government that has long abused you with high prices and crappy service.”

  • For now, federal rules on how FEMA spends its money mandate putting back what was there before: expensive, polluting, and centralized fossil-fuel-powered energy.

  • But dozens of solar power companies are eager to help Puerto Ricans revolutionize how they get power.

  • Read more at Rolling Stone.

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

This newsletter is written by me, Emily J Gertz. I’m an environmental journalist, and 2018 Tow-Knight Entrepreneurial Journalism fellow at the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York.

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This week’s quote is by N.K. Jemisin, from her novel “The Stone Sky.”

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