Sierra Club sued the Department of Energy (DOE) Monday for the agency's repeated delays in providing information on Rick Perry's ongoing grid study, amid suspicion that draft versions of the study may be dramatically altered by political appointees in the Trump administration.
Monday's lawsuit was filed after the Department of Energy failed to provide documents in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request filed on May 1, which requested communications between DOE officials working on the report and outside groups representing the fossil fuel industry or grid reliability experts.
"The public has every right to be concerned that the Trump administration is trying to use this study to push alternative facts about our electric grid. We've repeatedly asked DOE for information to ensure reality and science are coming before polluter politics, but we have only been met with delays and secrecy," said Mary Anne Hitt, director of Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign. "If the Trump administration refuses to be transparent in accordance with the law and continues to raise suspicion that it will interfere with the process, we have no choice but to take them to court."
The Many Reasons to Be Skeptical Over Rick Perry's Grid Study https://t.co/bZoNExl1Il @greenpeaceusa @DeSmogBlog @ClimateReality @foe_us— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1500560215.0
The study has been the focus of heightened suspicion from clean energy job creators, policy experts and members of Congress as a ploy by the Trump administration to pressure grid operators and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to put in place rules that force electricity customers to bail out old, expensive coal and nuclear plants. Sierra Club's suspicion of the study was piqued after Trump and Perry repeatedly voiced the debunked theory that coal and nuclear plants were needed for grid stability, despite dozens of studies from energy policy experts at major universities, DOE laboratories and energy trade organizations that found that wasn't the case.
Amid the Trump administration's failure to disclose documents requested under the FOIA process, these concerns increased when DOE's political staff disregarded a publicized draft of the study created by career DOE staffers. The draft presented a realistic picture of the modern energy grid and how clean energy added to the grid's resilience, lowered customer costs, and contributed to the energy sector's growth.
"Study after study shows that clean energy resources like wind and solar add to the grid's resilience, lower costs for electricity consumers, and create thousands of jobs across the country. The secrecy around this grid study, coupled with the lack of input from stakeholders, have raised alarms for us, and we are concerned that Perry will seize this study and strip the science from it to justify not only curtailing clean energy's growth, but also forcing electricity customers to prop up uneconomical fossil fuel plants," Hitt said.
"The draft study captured the reality of what dozens of policy experts, engineers, and utility managers have been saying for years: wind and solar are helping keep the grid reliable and are powering growth in the the energy sector, and the coal and nuclear industries can no longer compete in the open market. If Perry has nothing to hide about interfering with these findings, he should prove it."
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The speed and scale of the response to COVID-19 by governments, businesses and individuals seems to provide hope that we can react to the climate change crisis in a similarly decisive manner - but history tells us that humans do not react to slow-moving and distant threats.
A Game of Jenga<p>Think of it as a game of Jenga and the planet's climate system as the tower. For generations, we have been slowly removing blocks. But at some point, we will remove a pivotal block, such as the collapse of one of the major global ocean circulation systems, for example the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), that will cause all or part of the global climate system to fall into a planetary emergency.</p><p>But worse still, it could cause runaway damage: Where the tipping points form a domino-like cascade, where breaching one triggers breaches of others, creating an unstoppable shift to a radically and swiftly changing climate.</p><p>One of the most concerning tipping points is mass methane release. Methane can be found in deep freeze storage within permafrost and at the bottom of the deepest oceans in the form of methane hydrates. But rising sea and air temperatures are beginning to thaw these stores of methane.</p><p>This would release a powerful greenhouse gas into the atmosphere, 30-times more potent than carbon dioxide as a global warming agent. This would drastically increase temperatures and rush us towards the breach of other tipping points.</p><p>This could include the acceleration of ice thaw on all three of the globe's large, land-based ice sheets – Greenland, West Antarctica and the Wilkes Basin in East Antarctica. The potential collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet is seen as a key tipping point, as its loss could eventually <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/324/5929/901" target="_blank">raise global sea levels by 3.3 meters</a> with important regional variations.</p><p>More than that, we would be on the irreversible path to full land-ice melt, causing sea levels to rise by up to 30 meters, roughly at the rate of two meters per century, or maybe faster. Just look at the raised beaches around the world, at the last high stand of global sea level, at the end of the Pleistocene period around 120,0000 years ago, to see the evidence of such a warm world, which was just 2°C warmer than the present day.</p>
Cutting Off Circulation<p>As well as devastating low-lying and coastal areas around the world, melting polar ice could set off another tipping point: a disablement to the AMOC.</p><p>This circulation system drives a northward flow of warm, salty water on the upper layers of the ocean from the tropics to the northeast Atlantic region, and a southward flow of cold water deep in the ocean.</p><p>The ocean conveyor belt has a major effect on the climate, seasonal cycles and temperature in western and northern Europe. It means the region is warmer than other areas of similar latitude.</p><p>But melting ice from the Greenland ice sheet could threaten the AMOC system. It would dilute the salty sea water in the north Atlantic, making the water lighter and less able or unable to sink. This would slow the engine that drives this ocean circulation.</p><p><a href="https://www.carbonbrief.org/atlantic-conveyor-belt-has-slowed-15-per-cent-since-mid-twentieth-century" target="_blank">Recent research</a> suggests the AMOC has already weakened by around 15% since the middle of the 20th century. If this continues, it could have a major impact on the climate of the northern hemisphere, but particularly Europe. It may even lead to the <a href="https://ore.exeter.ac.uk/repository/handle/10871/39731?show=full" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">cessation of arable farming</a> in the UK, for instance.</p><p>It may also reduce rainfall over the Amazon basin, impact the monsoon systems in Asia and, by bringing warm waters into the Southern Ocean, further destabilize ice in Antarctica and accelerate global sea level rise.</p>
The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation has a major effect on the climate. Praetorius (2018)
Is it Time to Declare a Climate Emergency?<p>At what stage, and at what rise in global temperatures, will these tipping points be reached? No one is entirely sure. It may take centuries, millennia or it could be imminent.</p><p>But as COVID-19 taught us, we need to prepare for the expected. We were aware of the risk of a pandemic. We also knew that we were not sufficiently prepared. But we didn't act in a meaningful manner. Thankfully, we have been able to fast-track the production of vaccines to combat COVID-19. But there is no vaccine for climate change once we have passed these tipping points.</p><p><a href="https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2021" target="_blank">We need to act now on our climate</a>. Act like these tipping points are imminent. And stop thinking of climate change as a slow-moving, long-term threat that enables us to kick the problem down the road and let future generations deal with it. We must take immediate action to reduce global warming and fulfill our commitments to the <a href="https://www.ipcc.ch/sr15/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Paris Agreement</a>, and build resilience with these tipping points in mind.</p><p>We need to plan now to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions, but we also need to plan for the impacts, such as the ability to feed everyone on the planet, develop plans to manage flood risk, as well as manage the social and geopolitical impacts of human migrations that will be a consequence of fight or flight decisions.</p><p>Breaching these tipping points would be cataclysmic and potentially far more devastating than COVID-19. Some may not enjoy hearing these messages, or consider them to be in the realm of science fiction. But if it injects a sense of urgency to make us respond to climate change like we have done to the pandemic, then we must talk more about what has happened before and will happen again.</p><p>Otherwise we will continue playing Jenga with our planet. And ultimately, there will only be one loser – us.</p>
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