(de)regulation nation: the farm bill could roll back federal forest protections

"It’s not a land management and wildland fire management problem. It’s an urban planning problem."

Welcome to (de)regulation nation, the newsletter tracking environmental news in the Trump era. Each issue features updates on 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.

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When we reporters “follow the money” in politics, we’re often trying to figure out whether campaign contributions or other financial sweeteners have swayed an elected official’s position towards an industry and away from the public interest they’ve sworn to serve.

This problem becomes starker when it comes to this administration’s energy policies. While writing up this week’s “good” news item, I did a little digging into energy sector employment and trends. President Trump and his appointees champion increases in every possible parameter of engagement with coal, natural gas, and oil. But the facts paint a very different picture of what’s in the public’s best interest.

Right now, there are about 6.5 million Americans employed in the energy generation and energy efficiency industries, according to federal data crunched for the latest “U.S. Energy and Employment Report,” a well-regarded roundup of sector trends. According to the report,

  • There are about 676,000 jobs in the low-carbon sectors of solar, wind, geothermal, heat-capture bioenergy, and hydropower energy generation.

  • Just over 769,000 Americans work in coal, natural gas, oil & petroleum (which alone accounts for over a half-million jobs), and “advanced gas” energy generation.

  • 2.25 million people work in energy efficiency, which means doing as much or more while using less energy of any sort, lowering both energy costs and carbon pollution.

  • Jobs in energy generation overall are projected to rise by 8 percent this year. Just one-quarter of the new jobs are in petroleum- and natural-gas-related generation (and no growth at all in coal), with the rest “comprised of installing and building new renewable energy capacity additions.”

  • If those rates held steady for a few years, jobs on the low-carbon side would surpass those on the fossil-fuel side by 2021.

(I’ve omitted nuclear energy’s 73,700 jobs from these figures, while the report included them in its accounting of low-carbon job trends.)

These numbers suggest the public’s best interest is, at the very least, not favoring fossil fuels over low-carbon energy and energy efficiency. Which of course is the exact opposite of the Trump administration’s position.

Lawmakers face more immediate voter backlash than the president or his cabinet if the surge of low-carbon energy jobs begins to stagnate. Perhaps that’s why most have largely ignored the White House’s annual requests to gut federal funds for every energy program or project that isn’t fossil-fuel related. But there’s nothing new coming out of Congress, either.

How much faster would our low-carbon energy economy be growing without the hostility from the White House?

Onward:

bad: Trump pumps hard for rollbacks in federal forest protections

  • As part of the 2018 farm bill, the Trump administration is pushing for environmental rollbacks in federal forest management.

  • Why in the farm bill? Because the U.S. Forest Service, which manages most federally-owned forested acres, is part of the Department of Agriculture. The Bureau of Land Management (part of the Interior Department) oversees the rest.

  • To build support for these policies, President Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke have returned to demonizing “bad forest management” and “radical environmental groups” for their malign influences on wildfire prevention.

  • It’s right-wing terminology for conservation activists who fight ecologically-unsustainable commercial logging of public lands.

  • What Trump administration wants, as shortly and sweetly as I can write it, is to:

    • Permit federal forest managers to approve certain types of projects on forest tracts up to 9.3 square miles/6,000 acres in size, without having to undertake the public notification and comment periods, or environmental impact studies, that the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) requires.

    • Exempt projects that range from spraying pesticides to control insect or disease problems, to allowing “salvage logging” of areas damaged by wildfire or hurricane winds, cutting trees proactively to reduce wildfire risks, and more.

    • The common theme among the proposed exemptions is that most would make it easier for federal agencies to evade public attention or pushback against poorly-conceived plans for logging or chemical use in federal forests

good: a wave for a “Green New Deal” laps at the Congressional shore

  • Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY14), along with allies in the grassroots climate group Sunrise Movement, are pushing the Democratic Party to create a “Green New Deal.”

  • Nearly a dozen House members so far have backed Ocasio-Cortez’s call for a “select committee for a Green New Deal,” which would draft policies to wean the United States off oil, natural gas, and coal-fired energy within 30 years or less, while creating 15 million new jobs in low-carbon energy and related sectors of the economy.

  • No one seriously expects effective new climate policies to get through the Senate’s Trumpist-Republican majority. But with so little time left to avert catastrophic climate change, working out policy plans now would allow a future reality-based president and Senate to enact them that much faster.

  • Some veteran lawmakers like Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ6), the likely chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee next year, oppose creation of a separate climate committee and urge “realistic” climate goals.

  • My take: The Green New Deal is partially a high-stakes proxy fight over the Democratic Party’s future direction: Will it stay insulated in the D.C. bubble, or become a real people’s party?

  • Sludge reports on the financial links between fossil fuel interests and some House Democrats who oppose the Green New Deal committee.

  • The Nation explains the Green New Deal and wonders if Democrats “will rise to the opportunity” of its promise. “[C]ompeting priorities (to say nothing of raw political calculation) have a way of crowding out even the most promising ideas” in the party.

  • The Hill gives skeptics of the Green New Deal more emphasis in its coverage of the debate.

  • The New Yorker concisely surveys the political and technological challenges of cutting carbon emissions fast enough to avert catastrophe.


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. Learn more about me and see some of my work at my web site.

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This week’s quote is by Max Moritz, a wildfire specialist at University of California, Santa Barbara. He and several other experts spoke compellingly about how California communities need to change if they want to coexist with fire, for this Los Angeles Times story.

Send tips and feedback: emily@deregnation.com