America’s Cities Are the Vanguard for a Sustainable Future
By Henry Henderson
In the absence of federal leadership on climate change, America's cities have become the vanguard of the country's efforts to create a sustainable future. Recently, 233 mayors from 46 states and territories, representing 51 million residents across the country, have signed an open letter opposing the repeal of the Clean Power Plan (CPP), the nation's most comprehensive strategy to combat climate change.
Last year, after Trump announced the U.S. departure from the Paris agreement, mayors from across North America came together in Chicago to affirm their commitment to the goals of the Paris agreement. Those goals—including improving energy efficiency of buildings and transportation systems, building sustainable infrastructure and securing more energy from renewable resources—not only combat climate change, but strengthen our economies, create jobs and make our communities more resilient.
Participating mayors are making strides to cut carbon pollution locally, including in Chicago, where the City reports a 19 percent reduction in carbon emissions in the last two years from buildings required to benchmark and report their energy use. In Michigan, cities and their residents are calling on an electric utility to rethink building a new natural gas plants and, instead, to invest those funds in cleaner, more cost-effective clean energy options, such as energy efficiency and renewable energy. But cities recognize that climate change must be addressed at all levels of governments, which is why an increasing number of American mayors are calling for federal action to combat this threat.
Last year alone brought more destructive storms, wildfires and yet another year of record-breaking heat. Here in Chicago, extreme storms are becoming the norm—even with massive additions to the region's stormwater system, infrastructure cannot keep up. When violent storms dump incredible volumes of rain in very short periods of time, the Chicago River literally runs backwards, flowing into Lake Michigan—the source of drinking water and quality of life for millions. Chicago's infrastructure—like most of the country's—was not built to deal with the changes brought by the changing climate.
Every community in every city whose mayor signed the letter in defense of the CPP has its own story that speaks to the urgent need for climate action. The CPP has also garnered wide support based on the advantages created by a transition to clean energy. Even in public hearings held deep in coal country, the vast majority of the thousands of people that testified spoke in favor of the health, economic, and environmental benefits of the CPP.
The mayors' letter reflects the voices of communities across the country that are bearing the worst effects of climate change and are eager for solutions. It shows that cities are not going to sit on the sidelines while the Trump administration attempts to take away our country's best hope to cut carbon pollution and address climate change.
Henry Henderson oversees NRDC's advocacy efforts as they relate to air, water, energy and sustainability in eight Midwestern states.
By Simon Montlake
For more than a decade, Susan Jane Brown has been battling to stop a natural gas pipeline and export terminal from being built in the backcountry of Oregon. As an attorney at the nonprofit Western Environmental Law Center, she has repeatedly argued that the project's environmental, social, and health costs are too high.
All that was before this month's deadly wildfires in Oregon shrouded the skies above her home office in Portland. "It puts a fine point on it. These fossil fuel projects are contributing to global climate change," she says.
Moderates Feeling the Heat<p>If elected, Mr. Biden has vowed to stop new drilling for oil and gas on federal land and in federal waters and to rejoin the 2015 Paris climate accord that President Donald Trump gave notice of quitting. He would reinstate Obama-era regulations of greenhouse gas emissions, including methane, the largest component of natural gas.</p><p>The Biden climate platform also states that all federal infrastructure investments and federal permits would need to be assessed for their climate impacts. Analysts say such a test could impede future LNG plants and pipelines, though not those that already have federal approval. </p><p>Climate change activists who pushed for that language say much depends on who would have oversight of federal agencies that regulate the industry. Some are wary of Biden's reliance on advice from Obama-era officials, including former Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz, who is now on the board of Southern Company, a utility, and a former Obama environmental aide, Heather Zichal, who has served on the board of Cheniere Energy, an LNG exporter. </p>
The Push for U.S. Fuel Exports<p>As vice president, Biden was part of an administration that pushed hard for global climate action while also promoting U.S. oil and gas exports to its allies and trading partners. As fracking boomed, Obama ended a 40-year ban on crude oil exports. In Europe, LNG was touted both as an alternative to coal and as strategic competition with Russian pipelines.</p><p>That much, at least, continued with President Trump. Under Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the agency referred to liquified U.S. hydrocarbons as "<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/29/us/freedom-gas-energy-department.html" target="_blank">freedom gas</a>."</p><p>Mr. Trump has also championed the interests of coal, oil, and gas while denigrating the findings of government climate scientists. He rejected the Paris accord as unfair to the U.S. and detrimental to its economy, but has offered no alternative path to emissions cuts. </p><p>Still, Trump's foreign policy has not always served the LNG industry: Tariffs on foreign steel drove up pipeline costs, and a trade war with China stayed the hand of Chinese LNG importers wary of reliance on U.S. suppliers. </p><p>Even his regulatory rollbacks could be a double-edged sword. By relaxing curbs last month on methane leaks, the U.S. has ceded ground to European regulators who are drafting emissions standards that LNG producers are watching closely. "That's a precursor of fights that will be fought in all the rest of the developed world," says Mr. Hutchison. </p><p>Indeed, some oil-and-gas exporters had urged the Trump administration not to abandon the tougher rules, since they undercut their claim to offer a cleaner-burning way of producing heat and electricity. "U.S. LNG is not going to be able to compete in a world that's focused on methane emissions and intensity," says Erin Blanton, a senior research scholar at the Center on Global Energy Policy at Columbia University. </p>
Stepping on the Gas<p>In July, the Department of Energy issued an export license to Jordan Cove's developer, Canada's Pembina Pipeline Corp. In a statement, Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette said the project would provide "reliable, affordable, and cleaner-burning natural gas to our allies around the world."</p><p>As a West Coast terminal, Jordan Cove offers a faster route to Asia where its capacity of 7.8 million tons of LNG a year could serve to heat more than 15 million homes. At its peak, its construction would also create 6,000 jobs, the company says, in a stagnant corner of Oregon.</p><p>But the project still lacks multiple local and state permits, and its biggest asset – a Pacific port – has become its biggest handicap, says Ms. Blanton. "They are putting infrastructure in a state where there's no political support for the pipeline or the terminal, unlike in Louisiana or Texas," she says. </p><p>Ms. Brown, the environmental lawyer, says she wants to see Jordan Cove buried, not just mothballed until natural gas prices recover. But she knows that it's only one among many LNG projects and that others will likely get built, even if Biden is elected in November, despite growing evidence of the harm caused by methane emissions. </p>
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