Koch Brothers Struggle to Block Climate Action in State Legislatures
An alphabet soup of polluter-funded groups is taking credit for the latest state legislative push against climate action. The groups, including the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), the American Energy Alliance (AEA) and the State Policy Network (SPN), all receive funding from the Koch brothers and their goal is to stymie the Clean Power Plan (CPP), President Obama's signature effort to cut carbon pollution from power plants.
The good news is that, so far, polluter interests are not yielding much return on their investment from the money and these front groups they’ve injected into state capitols.
Of the 50 state bills introduced this year to obstruct the CPP, 56 percent already have died. Another 34 percent of those bills are languishing and we expect most of them to expire when state legislatures adjourn. Polluter interests lost ground in West Virginia, whose legislature passed a bill that improves its ability to act on the Clean Power Plan. The Koch brothers did score a recent victory in their home state of Kansas to stop the state’s work on the CPP, but it’s not a huge loss because the state had already suspended the process anyway. Additionally, the wind industry in Kansas still plans to expand generation despite Clean Power Plan setbacks, because the state has incredible wind energy resources.
The Clean Power Plan is on a solid legal foundation and is likely to be upheld. The stay issued by the Supreme Court only hits the pause button on CPP implementation deadlines and has no bearing on the legal merits of the case. Many governors want to use this extra time wisely to develop the best possible pathway to reduce carbon pollution, so they can hit the ground running when the CPP deadlines are reinstated. Governors generally want to preserve the freedom and flexibility to act in the best interests of their state and these polluter-linked state legislative maneuvers would undermine those best interests. The legislative schemes range from requiring excessive legislative approval for a governor’s plan to Environmental Protection Agency, to mandating a work stoppage for CPP planning.
The Koch groups have been targeting state budgets as a vehicle to protect polluter interests, with limited success. In Colorado, the budget language does not include restrictions to planning for the Clean Power Plan—it only modestly cut the air agency budget (a vast improvement from the initial proposal to defund the entire agency). In Virginia, the budget rider restricting funds for Clean Power Plan work can be interpreted narrowly and Gov. McAuliffe wants to continue with development of a state Clean Power Plan. Gov. McAuliffe views the Clean Power Plan as “a necessary response to climate change and an opportunity for Virginia to become a leader in clean energy.” And, between you and me, I already had low expectations for Wyoming even before the legislature defunded the state’s Clean Power Plan process and I was pleasantly surprised when Wyoming leaders called for continued progress despite the budget restriction. In addition, just a few weeks ago, coal mining and utility executives in Wyoming reinforced this sentiment that the state needs to start planning for carbon reductions.
Outside of state budgets, polluters are also pushing stand-alone bills to restrict the Clean Power Plan progress in states:
- In Pennsylvania, Gov. Wolf vetoed the budget bill that included a rider to obstruct the Clean Power Plan and then coal-friendly legislators pulled the language into a new bill that’s coming up for a vote this month.
- In Ohio, a new bill dropped last week that extends the state's freeze on clean energy standards by an additional three years and also includes provisions to obstruct the Clean Power Plan. Gov. Kasich has said extending Ohio's clean energy freeze is "unacceptable" and that he will veto an extension.
- In Missouri, a number of bills intended to hobble the Clean Power Plan are headed for expiration when the legislature adjourns next month. They include a variety of strategies from requiring legislative approval of CPP plans to creating an interstate compact that supersedes federal authority ( ... a very ambitious proposal, if you ask me).
While many legislatures already have adjourned, some are still in session so a few bills could be in play. We will continue monitoring statehouses for developments, but so far it seems that the Koch brothers and polluter interests are not getting their money's worth in legislatures.
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Disasters stemming from hazards like floods, wildfires, and disease often garner attention because of their extreme conditions and heavy societal impacts. Although the nature of the damage may vary, major disasters are alike in that socially vulnerable populations often experience the worst repercussions. For example, we saw this following Hurricanes Katrina and Harvey, each of which generated widespread physical damage and outsized impacts to low-income and minority survivors.
Mapping Social Vulnerability<p>Figure 1a is a typical map of social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract level based on the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI) algorithm of <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/1540-6237.8402002" target="_blank"><em>Cutter et al.</em></a> . Spatial representation of the index depicts high social vulnerability regionally in the Southwest, upper Great Plains, eastern Oklahoma, southern Texas, and southern Appalachia, among other places. With such a map, users can focus attention on select places and identify population characteristics associated with elevated vulnerabilities.</p>
Fig. 1. (a) Social vulnerability across the United States at the census tract scale is mapped here following the Social Vulnerability Index (SoVI). Red and pink hues indicate high social vulnerability. (b) This bivariate map depicts social vulnerability (blue hues) and annualized per capita hazard losses (pink hues) for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019.<p>Many current indexes in the United States and abroad are direct or conceptual offshoots of SoVI, which has been widely replicated [e.g., <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s13753-016-0090-9" target="_blank"><em>de Loyola Hummell et al.</em></a>, 2016]. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) <a href="https://www.atsdr.cdc.gov/placeandhealth/svi/index.html" target="_blank">has also developed</a> a commonly used social vulnerability index intended to help local officials identify communities that may need support before, during, and after disasters.</p><p>The first modeling and mapping efforts, starting around the mid-2000s, largely focused on describing spatial distributions of social vulnerability at varying geographic scales. Over time, research in this area came to emphasize spatial comparisons between social vulnerability and physical hazards [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-009-9376-1" target="_blank"><em>Wood et al.</em></a>, 2010], modeling population dynamics following disasters [<a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2Fs11111-008-0072-y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Myers et al.</em></a>, 2008], and quantifying the robustness of social vulnerability measures [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-012-0152-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate</em></a>, 2012].</p><p>More recent work is beginning to dissolve barriers between social vulnerability and environmental justice scholarship [<a href="https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2018.304846" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Chakraborty et al.</em></a>, 2019], which has traditionally focused on root causes of exposure to pollution hazards. Another prominent new research direction involves deeper interrogation of social vulnerability drivers in specific hazard contexts and disaster phases (e.g., before, during, after). Such work has revealed that interactions among drivers are important, but existing case studies are ill suited to guiding development of new indicators [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijdrr.2015.09.013" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Rufat et al.</em></a>, 2015].</p><p>Advances in geostatistical analyses have enabled researchers to characterize interactions more accurately among social vulnerability and hazard outcomes. Figure 1b depicts social vulnerability and annualized per capita hazard losses for U.S. counties from 2010 to 2019, facilitating visualization of the spatial coincidence of pre‑event susceptibilities and hazard impacts. Places ranked high in both dimensions may be priority locations for management interventions. Further, such analysis provides invaluable comparisons between places as well as information summarizing state and regional conditions.</p><p>In Figure 2, we take the analysis of interactions a step further, dividing counties into two categories: those experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019. The differences among individual race, ethnicity, and poverty variables between the two county groups are small. But expressing race together with poverty (poverty attenuated by race) produces quite different results: Counties with high hazard losses have higher percentages of both impoverished Black populations and impoverished white populations than counties with low hazard losses. These county differences are most pronounced for impoverished Black populations.</p>
Fig. 2. Differences in population percentages between counties experiencing annual per capita losses above or below the national average from 2010 to 2019 for individual and compound social vulnerability indicators (race and poverty).<p>Our current work focuses on social vulnerability to floods using geostatistical modeling and mapping. The research directions are twofold. The first is to develop hazard-specific indicators of social vulnerability to aid in mitigation planning [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1007/s11069-020-04470-2" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Tate et al.</em></a>, 2021]. Because natural hazards differ in their innate characteristics (e.g., rate of onset, spatial extent), causal processes (e.g., urbanization, meteorology), and programmatic responses by government, manifestations of social vulnerability vary across hazards.</p><p>The second is to assess the degree to which socially vulnerable populations benefit from the leading disaster recovery programs [<a href="https://doi.org/10.1080/17477891.2019.1675578" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"><em>Emrich et al.</em></a>, 2020], such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency's (FEMA) <a href="https://www.fema.gov/individual-disaster-assistance" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Individual Assistance</a> program and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development's Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) <a href="https://www.hudexchange.info/programs/cdbg-dr/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Disaster Recovery</a> program. Both research directions posit social vulnerability indicators as potential measures of social equity.</p>