President Trump told a crowd in Jupiter, Florida Tuesday that he is an environmental president, claiming that "it's true: number one since Teddy Roosevelt. Who would have thought Trump is the great environmentalist?" according to the White House transcript of the speech. He added, "And I am. I am. I believe strongly in it."
The dubious claim was made as he vowed to sign a 10-year moratorium on offshore oil and gas drilling off the Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina coast. Essentially, he is signing a moratorium that is already in place that his own administration proposed lifting, according to The New York Times.
The New York Times also noted how dubious the claim Trump made is when he called himself a great environmentalist after he has abandoned the Paris agreement, rolled back clean air and clean water initiatives, lowered emissions standards on vehicles, allowed toxic pollution to spew into the atmosphere, and warmly embraced a toxic pesticide known to cause brain damage in children.
When he signed the measure Tuesday at the campaign stop near the Jupiter Inlet Lighthouse, he said, "This protects your beautiful gulf and your beautiful ocean, and it will for a long time to come," as ABC News reported. And yet, at no time during the speech did he note that he tried to expand offshore drilling coast-to-coast, but only dialed it back after then Florida Governor Rick Scott asked the President not to lift the moratorium for his state.
In the speech, Trump tried to cast himself as a great protector of the environment in a state that is crucial to his reelection. While he and Joe Biden are in a statistical dead heat in Florida, the climate crisis is an issue that weighs on the minds of both Republicans and Democrats in the state. Florida, which is mostly at sea level, is often battered by hurricanes, susceptible to heat waves, and vulnerable to rising oceans, according to The New York Times.
Trying to claim the mantle of environmentalism, Trump said, "My administration is proving every day that we can improve our environment while creating millions of high-paying jobs. This is a really sharp contrast to the extreme, radical left that you've had to deal with." Without citing any evidence, he added, "Joe Biden's plan would destroy America's middle class while giving a free pass to the world's worst foreign polluters like China, Russia, India, and many others. They don't have to clean up their lands, but we have to clean up ours. The left's agenda isn't about protecting the environment, it's about punishing America."
Trump also failed to mention his recent consideration of opening up the Gulf of Mexico to expanded drilling, as POLITICO reported. Nor did he mention that signing a moratorium for oil and gas exploration off the Atlantic Coast is purely theater since any declaration would have to go through Congress, which is extremely unlikely to take up the issue prior to Election Day, according to the Los Angeles Times.
Trump's bizarre claims of environmentalism after a track record of reducing protections stunned environmentalists who often see Trump as the president with one of the worst environmental legacies in history.
"He's ignoring science, he's ignoring experts and now he's even ignoring his own record," said Pete Maysmith, a senior vice president for the League of Conservation Voters, a nonprofit group, to the Los Angeles Times. "Florida is ground zero for climate change with extreme weather and hurricanes in particular. Donald Trump has attempted to roll back over 100 environmental protections, including dozens related to climate change and clean water. He's an environmental disaster and Florida's paying the price."
The Sierra Club zeroed in what Trump has done to the environment in Florida.
"Failing to adequately fund Everglades restoration, attempting to sell off our waters to corporate polluters and rolling back more than 100 environmental protections doesn't make you anything other than the worst president ever for the environment and climate," said Ariel Hayes, the political director of the Sierra Club, as The New York Times reported. "Voters in Florida and across the country have watched Trump achieve this status for nearly four years, and no amount of greenhouse gaslighting will change that."
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By Brett Wilkins
A report published Tuesday by the eco-advocacy group Environment America urges President-elect Joe Biden to immediately restore critical environmental protections gutted by Trump administration regulatory rollbacks.
"His administration has steadily loosened oversight of polluting industries, eroded protections for endangered wildlife, and stymied efforts to address our most daunting environmental threat: climate change," the report states. "These rollbacks have and will continue to significantly increase greenhouse gas emissions and lead to thousands of premature deaths due to poor air quality every year."
"By undoing the Trump administration's rollbacks of environmental protections, the Biden administration will be able to protect our natural landscapes and give Americans cleaner air, cleaner water, and a more livable climate," the report continues.
Here’s our recommendations for the first actions President-elect Biden can take to protect the environment. 5 thing… https://t.co/yRSojPMrJh— Environment America (@Environment America)1609257900.0
"Many of the rollbacks have been carried out by the Environmental Protection Agency," the report notes. "Others by the departments of Transportation, Energy, and Interior. A lot of them can be undone through swift administrative action in the early days of a Biden administration."
The report says that Biden's actions could and should include:
- Rejoining the Paris climate agreement;
- Repealing the so-called "Dirty Water Rule";
- Raising federal fuel economy and emissions standards for vehicles and reaffirming California's authority to set stronger vehicle emissions standards;
- Withdrawing the Trump draft five-year plan on offshore drilling; and
- Restoring smart energy efficiency policies.
Additionally, the report recommends 15 policies and actions the incoming administration should consider during its first 100 days, including ending oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, protecting endangered species, and reducing methane emissions.
Earlier this year, nine other environmental groups declared Trump "the worst president for our environment in history," citing his administration's "unprecedented assault on our environment and the health of our communities" and policies that "threaten our climate, air, water, public lands, wildlife, and oceans."
Matt Casale, lead author of the new report and environmental campaigns director for the U.S. Public Interest Resource Group Education Fund, said that "air pollution has been on the rise and many of our bodies of water are at risk of pollution."
"As greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, so have the impacts of global warming — from increased wildfires and hurricanes to heat-related illness," he noted.
"There's a lot to do," added Casale, "but so much of the policy damage from the past four years can quickly be fixed through swift administrative action in the early days of the Biden administration."
"Biden has the opportunity to use the first 100 days to put us on a path toward a cleaner, healthier future for ourselves, our children, and grandchildren," said Casale. "He cannot pass up that opportunity. We don't have any time to waste."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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The sprawling size and sunny days of Texas make it one of the top states for solar energy. If you live in the Lone Star State and are interested in switching to a solar energy system, you may be wondering: What's the average solar panel cost in Texas?
In this article, we'll discuss the cost of solar panels in Texas, what factors affect pricing, Texas' solar incentives and more. Of course, the only way to know for sure how much you would pay to install a solar panel system on your roof is to receive a free, no-obligation quote from a top solar company near you. You can get started by filling out the quick form below.
How Much Do Solar Panels Cost in Texas?
Thanks to the growing investment in renewable energy technology statewide, homeowners now enjoy a below-average cost of solar in Texas. Based on market research and data from top brands, we've found the average cost of solar panels in Texas to be $2.69 per watt. This means a 5-kW system would cost around $9,953 after the federal solar tax credit. This is especially valuable when you take into account the unpredictable Texas energy rates.
Here's how that average calculates into the cost of the most common sizes of home solar panel systems:
|Size of Solar Panel System||Texas Solar Panel Cost||Cost After Federal Tax Credit|
Though this data reflects the statewide averages, you'll need to contact a solar installer near you to get an accurate quote for your home. Savvy customers will get free quotes from multiple companies and compare them to the state averages to make sure they receive the best value possible. Bear in mind that the biggest providers of solar won't always have the best prices.
What Determines the Cost of Solar Panels in Texas?
The main factor determining the cost of solar panel installations in Texas is the homeowner's energy needs. No two homes are the same, and installation costs will look far different for a home needing a basic 5kW system and a home needing 10kW with backup power capabilities. The solar financing and installation company a homeowner chooses will also affect a customer's overall solar costs in Texas. Here's how each factor comes into play:
Similar to phones, cars and other technology, solar products and system costs vary greatly based on their quality, scale and included features. Some customers may be satisfied with a modest array of affordable solar panels and inverters, while others may opt for a system with premium panels, full-home backup power and cutting-edge energy monitoring technology.
The overall cost of solar depends significantly on how a customer chooses to finance their system. The three most common solar financing options include paying in cash, taking out a solar loan and solar leasing.
- The most economical way to purchase solar, an upfront cash purchase provides the best long-term return on investment and the lowest overall cost.
- Customers can choose to take out a solar loan to purchase the system outright and make monthly payments to repay the loan. The typical payback period for a solar loan averages around 10 years. Systems purchased with a loan are still eligible for the federal solar tax credit.
- Signing a solar lease or power purchase agreement (PPA) allows a solar customer to rent solar panels from a company or third party. Though requiring the least amount of money upfront, solar leases provide the least amount of overall value. Also, solar leases aren't eligible for the federal tax credit, as the homeowner doesn't actually own the system.
Solar Installation Company
Texas has seen some of the strongest solar energy market growth over the last few years, and the SEIA reports that there are now nearly 600 solar companies based in Texas, and each is looking to expand its market share.
Price ranges can differ significantly based on the installer. Larger solar providers like Sunrun offer the advantage of solar leases and quick installations. Local providers, on the other hand, provide more personalization and competitive prices to undercut the biggest national companies.
Because of this, it's wise to get quotes from a few local and national installers and compare rates — because of the stiff competition between companies, you could end up saving several thousand dollars.
Texas Solar Incentives
For the most part, Texas taxes are administered by local governments. As a result, the state doesn't offer a large number of statewide solar-related policies, and incentives will depend more on the locality in which you live.
However, all homeowners in the state remain eligible for the federal solar tax credit, and there are some statewide local property tax exemptions for both photovoltaic solar and wind-powered renewable energy systems. Let's walk through how to find what incentives are available to you.
Federal Solar Tax Credit
All Texans can claim the federal solar investment tax credit, or ITC, for PV solar panels and energy storage systems. By claiming the ITC on your tax returns, the policy allows you to deduct 26% of the total cost of the solar system from the taxes you owe the federal government.
The tax credit is available to both residential and commercial system owners who have installed solar panels at any point since 2006. The credit is worth 26% through the end of 2022 and will drop to 22% in 2023. It is set to expire at the end of 2023 unless congress extends it.
Net Metering Policies in Texas
Net metering programs allow customers to sell unused solar energy back to their local utility company in exchange for credits that can be cashed in when panels aren't producing energy. Due to the energy bill savings, this incentive can greatly reduce the solar investment payback period.
As is true with most of Texas' solar rebates and incentives, there is not one net metering program that is offered throughout the entire state. Rather, your eligibility will depend on the policy of your local utility company or municipality. Most utilities in the state have a net metering policy, including American Electric Power (AEP), CPS Energy, Green Mountain Energy, El Paso Electric, TXU Energy in Dallas and more.
The rate at which your local utility will compensate for this excess energy will depend on your local policy, so we encourage you to look into the policy offered by your utility company.
Local Solar Rebates in Texas
In addition to identifying your local net metering program, look into any local rebates available to you. Homeowners who live in the top cities for solar in Texas, like Austin, San Marcos or Sunset Valley might have more luck than customers in other areas. The Database of State Incentives for Renewables & Efficiency has a full list of local rebates, solar loan programs and more.
FAQ: Solar Panel Cost Texas
Is it worth going solar in Texas?
Long, sunny days and below-average solar installation costs make Texas one of the best states in the U.S. for generating energy with solar panels. The ample sunshine provides more than enough energy for most families, serving up huge benefits to homes in Texas equipped with solar panels.
How much does it cost to install solar panels in Texas?
As of 2021, the average cost of solar panels in Texas is $2.69 per watt. This means a 5-kW system would cost around $9,953 after the federal solar tax credit. This is slightly below the national average due to the resource availability in Texas, current energy costs and the state's available sunlight. The best way to assess how much solar would cost you is to consult local providers near you for a free estimate.
Do solar panels increase home value in Texas?
Solar panels increase home value everywhere, but mostly in areas with generous net metering policies and solar rebates. As such, the proportion at which solar panels increase home value in Texas corresponds with the areas with the most solar-friendly policies.
How much do solar panels cost for a 2,500 sq foot house?
Though knowing the size of a house is helpful in determining how many solar panels could fit on its roof, the energy use of the house is the more important factor in determining solar panel cost in Texas. The higher your energy use, the greater your solar needs will be.
Karsten Neumeister is a writer and renewable energy specialist with a background in writing and the humanities. Before joining EcoWatch, Karsten worked in the energy sector of New Orleans, focusing on renewable energy policy and technology. A lover of music and the outdoors, Karsten might be found rock climbing, canoeing or writing songs when away from the workplace.
By Donald Boesch
Ten years ago, on April 20, 2010, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 crew members and starting the largest ocean oil spill in history. Over the next three months, between 4 million and 5 million barrels of oil spewed into the Gulf of Mexico.
I was a member of the oil spill commission appointed by President Obama to investigate the causes of the disaster. Later, I served as a courtroom witness for the government on the effects of the spill. While scientists now know more about these effects, risks of deepwater blowouts remain, and the energy industry and government responders still have only very limited ability to control where the oil goes once it's released from the well.
The spill commission found that multiple identifiable mistakes caused the blowout. Our report cast doubt over how safety was addressed across the offshore oil industry and the government's ability to regulate it.
As the oil spill commission's report showed, drilling ever deeper into the Gulf involved risks for which neither industry nor government was adequately prepared. The industry had felt so sure that a blowout would not happen that it lacked the capacity to contain it. Neither BP nor the government could do much to control or clean up the spill.
Safety improvements are threatened
The presidential commission recommended numerous reforms to reduce the risks and environmental damages from offshore oil and gas development. The industry developed systems to contain blowouts in deep water and has deployed them worldwide. Improvements in operational safety were made within companies and across the industry.
The Department of the Interior acted quickly to reorganize its units. It created a Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement to avoid conflicts of interests with its leasing, development and revenue collection responsibilities. After four years in development, the bureau issued new well control rules in 2016 governing drilling safety.
But despite progress on a number of fronts, Congress has not enacted legislation to improve safety or even raise energy companies' ridiculously low liability limits for oil spills – currently just US$134 million for offshore facilities like the Deepwater Horizon. The Trump administration has reversed or relaxed safety reforms. It has loosened the safe pressure margins allowed in a well, dispensed with independent inspections of blowout protectors and removed requirements for continuous onshore monitoring of offshore drilling.
Some of these changes were ordered by political appointees over the recommendations of the safety bureau's technical experts. While the bureau is charged with focusing singularly on safety and the environment, its director, Scott Angelle, has been a prominent proponent of the administration's aggressive "energy dominance" strategy, ordering expanded oil production and elimination of costly regulations. Imagine the message this sends about priorities to people in government and industry who are responsible for ensuring safety.
Where contamination lingers
Before the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the deep Gulf of Mexico ecosystem was egregiously understudied in all respects, while a multi-billion-dollar industry intruded into it. Now scientists know much more about what happens when large quantities of oil and gas are released in a seafloor blowout.
Scientists learned much about the effects of the spill through monitoring the blowout, assessing damages to natural resources and investigating the fate and effects of escaping oil. More has been spent on these studies and more results published than for any previous oil spill.
A substantial portion of oil released from the mile-deep well was entrained in a plume of droplets spreading out 3,000 feet below the Gulf's surface. Footprints of contamination and effects extended far beyond the area where oil slicks were observed.
NASA | Satellites View Growing Gulf Oil Spill
Nearly all of the oil released has since degraded. Populations of most affected organisms have recovered. But contamination lingers in sediments in the deep Gulf, and in some marshes and beaches where oil came ashore. Populations of long-lived animals the oil killed might not recover for decades. These include sea turtles, bottlenose dolphins, seabirds and deepwater corals.
And yet, as scientists synthesize results from this 10-year research initiative, very little practical advice is emerging about what can be done to respond more effectively to future blowouts from ever-deeper drilling in the Gulf.
Surely, we can more rapidly contain blowouts. The effectiveness of injecting chemical dispersants into the plume gushing from the well remains in debate. How much oil do dispersants keep from reaching the surface, where it threatens those working to stanch the blowout, as well as birds, sea turtles and coastal ecosystems? But the research has not revealed more effective approaches in controlling released oil.
Safety first is the big lesson
As I see it, the essential lesson from Deepwater Horizon is that industry and government should be putting their greatest energies into preventing operational accidents, blowouts and releases. Yet the Trump administration emphasizes increasing production and reducing regulations. This undermines safety improvements made over the past 10 years.
Furthermore, the price of crude oil – already low because of high fracked oil production in the U.S. – has declined drastically since the beginning of 2020. Saudi and Russian oil had already glutted the market when the coronavirus pandemic reduced oil consumption.
The federal government's March 2020 oil and gas lease sale for the Gulf of Mexico yielded the lowest response in four years – $93 million in high bids, compared to $159 million in the previous round. To prop up the industry and maintain production, the Trump administration is seeking to lower royalty rates and store excess production in the Strategic Petroleum Reserve.
But as industry acts to cut its expenditures and downsize staff, will safety costs be a priority?
National energy policy was beyond the charge of the 2010 commission, but 10 years later, it is impossible to consider the future of offshore oil and gas without factoring in the need to eliminate net greenhouse gas emission within 30 years to limit climate change. Why would the United States consider expanding offshore exploration and drilling that might yield fossil fuels only 20 years from now?
Even in the historically developed Gulf of Mexico, rather than just "drill, baby, drill," I believe the U.S. should be developing a realistic transition plan for phasing out offshore fossil fuel production. Such a strategy should encompass not only ensuring high standards for safety and industry responsibility for abandoned infrastructure during the drawdown, but also an economic evolution for the region, including opportunities for carbon sequestration and renewable energy production. We need to ensure that there will be a vibrant and productive Gulf long after we cease removing its oil.
Donald Boesch is a Professor of Marine Science, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science.
Disclosure Statement: Donald Boesch served on the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling, a bipartisan presidential commission that operated in 2010-2011. He also served as an expert witness for the U.S. government in its lawsuit against BP for natural resource damages as a result of the spill.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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According to a recent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report card on the species, bowhead whales are the true Arctic baleen whale species and the only one that lives in the cold waters year-round. In the 1700s, they were targeted for their oil, blubber and baleen, or whalebone. Because they're slow-moving and large, they made easy targets and were nearly hunted to extinction by the start of the 20th century.
According to NOAA, the cessation of whaling, improved management and the general inaccessibility of their habitats helped several populations rebound, including the U.S. one off the coast of Alaska.
Still, the Arctic is drastically changing due to the climate crisis, with immense loss of sea ice, soaring temperatures and raging wildfires. This grim reality has caused many to conclude that "The Arctic is Dying."
News from the Arctic has been almost uniformly bad, but the bowhead's conservation success, especially for the U.S. population off of Alaska, stands out as a beacon of hope, The Guardian reported. The NOAA report card found that the whales' recovery actually had accelerated despite Arctic warming.
"This is really one of the great conservation successes of the last century," said J Craig George, a retired biologist with the North Slope borough department of wildlife management, reported The Guardian.
George also credited the Alaska Eskimo Whaling Commission (AEWC) for their sustainable management and stewardship of the species, the Guardian said. AEWC fought against offshore oil drilling and other activities that could harm whales.
"No one has fought harder than the AEWC to protect bowhead habitat from industrial development in the U.S. Arctic," George told The Guardian.
According to the report, scientists were surprised by the whales' population expansion in recent decades. Biologists expected the cold-adapted species to suffer from melting sea ice, but instead, they observed how warmer Arctic seas are becoming more productive by bringing additional nutrients and food for the bowheads, resulting in more successful pregnancies. Now, scientists are looking to the cetaceans to provide broader insights into Arctic marine ecosystem health.
Despite the gains, the bowheads' future is still uncertain. According to NOAA, all bowhead whales remain endangered throughout their range. Oil drilling by Shell in the Beaufort Sea remains a real threat. Scientists also predict that there could be an end to Arctic sea ice by 2035. Melting ice would provide less cover against fishing gear, ship collisions and orca predators as the climate continues to change. Even the increase in food sources could attract competitor baleen whales. And of course, the climate crisis continues.
"They really are headed into an uncertain future," George told The Guardian.
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By Jessica Corbett
Leaders of climate and conservation groups on Tuesday welcomed House Democrats' introduction of landmark legislation that aims to address the ocean impacts of human-caused global heating and reform federal ocean management—recognizing that, as Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva put it, "a healthy ocean is key to fighting the climate crisis."
The Arizona Democrat, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, unveiled the Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act during a virtual press conference. He was joined at the event by co-sponsors—including Rep. Kathy Castor (D-Fla.), chair of the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis—and various backers of the legislation.
"This is the bill we have been waiting for," declared Oregon State University professor Jane Lubchenco, a supporter of the measure with a background in federal government. "It draws on the latest science to tap the treasure-trove of ocean solutions to accelerate progress on climate change. The outcome? People win, the economy wins, nature wins."
"The ocean feeds and sustains, it connects us. The ocean is our past and our future. The ocean has indeed been a victim of climate change, but it also holds powerful solutions," added Lubchenco, former administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and U.S. Science Envoy for the Ocean at the State Department. "This bill will tap those solutions, and everyone benefits."
🎥 We're live! @NRDems, @RepRaulGrijalva, and @USRepKCastor are unveiling #OceanClimateAction legislation. W… https://t.co/pPdylA6cKQ— Select Committee on the Climate Crisis (@Select Committee on the Climate Crisis)1603215217.0
"This bill provides a roadmap for ocean and coastal climate resilience, and responsibly uses them to curb the pollution that is intensifying the climate crisis," Grijalva explained. "We must stop the ongoing damage to our oceans to protect the food, jobs, and coastlines that millions of Americans depend on. A healthy ocean is an environmental justice issue and we made sure to put protections for low income and communities of color at the front and center."
Specifically, as a statement from Grijalva's office outlined, the bill aims to:
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions;
- Increase carbon storage in blue carbon ecosystems;
- Promote coastal resiliency and adaptation;
- Improve ocean protection;
- Support climate-ready fisheries
- Tackle ocean health challenges; and
- Restore U.S. leadership in international ocean governance.
"By presenting smart, focused solutions to the climate crisis, this pioneering legislation propels the oceans into the heart of the climate debate in Congress," said Jacqueline Savitz, Oceana's chief policy officer for North America. "The oceans are bearing the brunt of global warming: rising ocean temperatures will decrease fish catch, endangering livelihoods and undermining food security. This bill shows us our oceans can be part of the answer."
Castor on Tuesday emphasized that "the ocean is a powerful ally in the climate fight, and unleashing its potential will help us reach our goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 or earlier." She noted the new bill incorporates recommendations from the Climate Crisis Action Plan that her committee released in June, which she said "gives Congress a roadmap for creating a healthier, more resilient, and more just America."
Climate action advocacy groups said when the plan from Castor's committee came out that it "is more ambitious than what we've seen from Democratic leadership to date" but also criticized lawmakers' proposed goals as "genocidal negligence" and "wholly inadequate to prevent the risk of catastrophic climate disruption," vowing to maintain pressure on Democrats to pursue bolder policies.
Amid that ongoing pressure from advocates comes the Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act, which Castor said "will unleash the incredible power of the ocean and address the threat that offshore drilling poses to America's coastal communities, including my own community in the Tampa Bay."
Miyoko Sakashita, oceans program director at the Center for Biological Diversity, called the bill "important" and praised particular elements of it. "As sea-level rises we have to end offshore oil drilling and help our coastal communities transition to the resilient, clean energy economy we all need," Sakashita said. "This bill also aims to protect marine mammals from ship strikes, noise pollution, and climate change."
The bill, which is co-sponsored by leaders of multiple relevant House committees, was also applauded by other advocacy organizations, including the Center for American Progress, Earthjustice, Environment America, Greenpeace USA, League of Conservation Voters, National Ocean Protection Coalition, National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Ocean Conservancy, Surfrider Foundation, and Urban Ocean Lab.
"Resilient communities need resilient oceans, and the Ocean Climate Solutions Act pursues both," said Steve Mashuda, oceans managing attorney at Earthjustice. "Restoring and protecting our ocean ecosystems will protect the frontline communities who are most at risk from climate change, while increasing our capacity to secure a just, stable, and biodiverse future.
"Earthjustice thanks the House Natural Resources Committee for continuing to serve the American people by strengthening and stewarding our environment," added Mashuda, "and we look forward to turning these concepts into reality."
Greenpeace USA senior oceans campaigner Arlo Hemphill warned that "protecting 30% of our oceans by 2030 is critical if we hope to restore America's rich ocean ecosystems and mitigate the worst impacts of climate change."
"The Ocean-Based Climate Solutions Act outlines an innovative and ambitious plan to couple this ocean protection with a new generation of Blue Economy jobs and a renewed, climate-ready vision for our nation's fisheries," he said. "This is an inspiring piece of legislation, and exactly what America needs right now."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Andrea Germanos
President-elect Joe Biden will nominate Michael Regan, the top environmental official in North Carolina, to head the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), according to multiple news reports Thursday.
The news drew a range of responses from environmental campaigners, including praise that the apparent choice means the rejection of California Air Resources Board chair Mary Nichols, who faced pushback from progressives over alleged failings to communities on the front lines of dirty industry. Other green campaigners reacted to the possible nomination with a critical eye, pointing to what they see as Regan's "mixed record on environmental justice."
According to The Associated Press, Biden's choice of Regan "was confirmed Thursday by a person familiar with the selection process who was not authorized [to] the discuss the matter publicly before the official announcement and spoke on condition of anonymity."
CNN, citing information from people familiar with the matter, reported that Regan would be formally announced as the pick on Saturday.
"Michael Regan will take the EPA's helm at perhaps the most critical moment in the agency's history, and he has to… https://t.co/LUVF4TrtAr— Center for Bio Div (@Center for Bio Div)1608236897.0
Regan, 44, has served as secretary of the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality since 2017. He previously worked for the federal EPA's air quality and energy programs during the Clinton and Bush administrations. If confirmed by the Senate, Regan would be the nation's second Black EPA administrator; Lisa Jackson, who served in the Obama administration, was the first.
As the Raleigh, North Carolina, News & Observer reported Tuesday:
Under Regan, DEQ created part of the state's Clean Energy Plan. It called for drastically reducing private sector greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and attaining carbon neutrality by 2050, as well as accelerating clean energy innovation to create economic opportunities in rural and urban parts of the state.
Earlier this year, Duke Energy agreed to the largest coal ash clean-up in U.S. history as part of a legal settlement with DEQ, one of highlights of Regan's tenure. Duke agreed to excavate nearly 80 million tons of coal ash at six sites.
His tenure at the state agency also included the 2018 establishment of the Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Board.
"If Regan is ultimately Biden's pick and is confirmed by the U.S. Senate, he will find himself in familiar political territory," Lisa Sorg wrote Wednesday at NC Policy Watch. She continued:
He would inherit an EPA that is struggling with challenges similar to those that faced the Department of Environmental Quality when he became secretary nearly four years ago: a decimated budget, demoralized staff, a previous leadership that favored industry over sound science, myriad regulatory rollbacks, and a politically divided legislative body that uses the purse strings as punishment.
While Regan drew accolades from some environmental groups quoted by Sorg, others suggested Regan hasn't taken on polluting industries forcefully enough. Sorg added:
"He's a great person but I don't think he's done enough for us on PFAS" — perfluorinated compounds — said Emily Donovan, co-founder of Clean Cape Fear. "I understand the agency is understaffed and underfunded. But the agency has made decisions unrelated to those things. We've fought so hard, but received so little."
She cited the consent order between DEQ, Cape Fear River Watch, and Chemours, which opponents of the agreement have noted, is weak. It specifically covers only contamination upstream, including private well owners near the Chemours plant in Cumberland and Bladen counties; downstream communities that are on public water systems in New Hanover and Brunswick counties feel excluded.
"There are a quarter-million people still exposed," Donovan said. "To see the state treat municipal ratepayers different than private well owners is not a good answer. They left municipalities on their own to fight our own battles."
Criticism for Regan's background extended beyond his action on PFAS.
According to the Revolving Door Project:
Regan supported the controversial Atlantic Coast Pipeline despite major opposition from environment, faith, justice, community, and Indigenous groups. His department also failed to respond to recommendations from the Environmental Justice and Equity Advisory Board to halt the construction extension. He also allowed a major liquid natural gas facility to be built in the middle of Lumbee territory, the largest Indigenous tribe East of the Mississippi, and was accused of failing to initiate public discourse or government-to-government consultation before the facility was built.
Regan led a department that approved every permit application from the wood pellet industry in North Carolina despite the industry's massive deforestation problems and failed to resolve critical environmental issues related to hog waste disposal.
Earthjustice president Abigail Dillen, however, welcomed Regan as possible EPA chief, saying in a statement Thursday that he "has dedicated his career to environmental work, advancing clean energy, fighting climate change, and addressing coal ash pollution."
"As EPA administrator, Regan will play a key role in solving the climate crisis and protecting the health of all communities," she added. "We will do everything in our power to support and push Regan to repair the damage done by the Trump administration, take bold action on climate solutions, and genuinely address environmental injustice that has been allowed to go on too long."
BREAKING: Biden just tapped Michael Regan to head EPA — who has not had the best track record on environmental just… https://t.co/ATViRduodf— Friends of the Earth (Action) (@Friends of the Earth (Action))1608231923.0
The choice was similarly applauded by Lori Lodes, executive director of Climate Power 2020, who called Regan "an outstanding choice by the Biden team" and said he possesses "an understanding of the bold climate action this moment requires."
Lisa Ramsden, Greenpeace senior climate campaigner, welcomed the choice as well, praising Biden for not going with the previous rumored pick of Nichols.
"Biden gave himself the chance to choose an EPA administrator who will prioritize justice for the communities most impacted by fossil-fueled pollution," said Ramsden, who urged Regan to "go well beyond simply reversing the Trump administration rollbacks" and to boldly "call out oil and gas corporations for the unjust impacts of their pollution."
"While leading the Department of Environmental Quality in North Carolina, Regan rightly pushed massive utility Duke Energy to clean up its toxic coal ash and fought Trump's offshore oil drilling plans. But he has a mixed record on environmental justice issues in the state, failing to protect communities from the health impacts of living near hog farms and approving multiple permits for the carbon-intensive wood pellet industry," she said.
"Going forward," said Ramsden, "Regan and the rest of the Biden-Harris administration need to pair their lofty rhetoric on environmental justice with consistent action."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Jeremy Deaton, video by Bart Vandever
The 2010 BP oil spill dumped more than 200 million gallons of crude oil into the Gulf of Mexico, where it killed billions of fish. Had things gone as planned, that oil would have fueled cars and trucks, worsening climate change, which is going to kill billions of fish — and that was the best-case scenario. In short, oil is bad for sea life.
Except sometimes it's not.
That's because the legs and bracings holding up oil platforms are the ideal setting for ocean reefs. Fish like to gather around the pylons, which are covered in mussels, barnacles and corals. Emily Hazelwood, who worked as a field technician after the BP oil spill, recalled learning about the reefs firsthand.
"BP had hired all the fishermen who lost their jobs to drive our boats," she said. "Every time we would go out with them, and we would pass one of the many oil platforms, they would say they couldn't wait to go out there fishing."
Experts say offshore oil will peak this year as prices fall, a trend exacerbated by the coronavirus and the ongoing price war between Saudi Arabia and Russia. The slump is expected to send a growing number of rigs offline.
There is a real question as to what to do with the shuttered rigs, which can provide a safe home to ocean life. Oil platforms typically lie far from shore, so they are protected from the water pollution that empties into the ocean, Hazelwood said. They are safe from commercial fishing trawlers that gather up schools of fish out at sea.
"Stretching from sea floor to sea surface, these platforms can be as large as the Empire State Building, which provides a lot of real estate for marine life," Hazelwood said. "That richness of life on an oil platform is just so cool. I have never seen a group of fish like that before."
A diver explores sea life on the Eureka oil rig off the coast of Long Beach, California. Blue Latitudes
Hazelwood and her business partner Amber Sparks, co-founded consulting firm Blue Latitudes. Together, they work with oil companies to preserve the reefs that form on decommissioned oil platforms, lopping off the top while letting the rest of the structure stay in place. This process can save oil firms millions by sparing them the cost of tearing down an old rig.
Naturally, not everyone is wild about leaving the skeletons of oil platforms to rust in the ocean. In 2010, California passed a controversial law that would allow oil firms to convert old rigs into artificial reefs. Critics say it lets companies off the hook for cleanup by making the state liable for the remains of decommissioned oil platforms.
"The oil companies walk away. The state has to deal with this structure in the ocean forever, dealing with any safety issues, any pollution issues, any maintenance issues," said Linda Krop, chief counsel with the Environmental Defense Center in Santa Barbara, California.
Divers explore sea life on the Eureka oil rig off the coast of Long Beach, California. Blue Latitudes
She said it's also unclear if the rigs-to-reef program has much value for sea creatures. If old oil platforms become hot spots for recreational fishing, that could leave reefs mostly barren of marine life.
"We don't know what benefit will arise from leaving a platform at sea. We want that studied. That's what the current law requires. But the proponents are trying to weaken that part of the law," she said.
Hazelwood and Sparks, for instance, have called for streamlining the rigs-to-reef program to make it easier for oil companies to convert old platforms into ocean habitats. They say that tearing down viable reefs just doesn't make sense.
"Most environmental groups, they want to go back to the way the world was 10,000 years ago. And who wouldn't? I mean, that would just be an unbelievable planet to live on," Hazelwood said. "But that's not necessarily the reality of our situation right now, so we advocate for finding that silver lining."
Reposted with permission from Nexus Media.
With Nation Transfixed by Impeachment, Trump Admin Quietly Serves Offshore Drilling Companies a 'Sweetheart Giveaway'
By Andrea Germanos
Interior Secretary David Bernhardt was condemned Monday for a proposed policy shift on offshore drilling panned as a "sweetheart giveaway" for a former client.
The new extraction-encouraging proposal was announced last month in a report by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) and Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), two agencies within the Interior Department and occurred, according to transparency group Western Values Project, "under the cloud of impeachment."
Bernhardt's announcement followed longstanding fears that the former lobbyist would use his position in the federal government to serve the interests of the fossil fuel lobby above those of the American people and public lands. The recommendations laid out in the report pertain to royalties for offshore leasing and drilling.
"Federal officials," as Louisiana's Houma Today reported, "are offering oil and gas companies a discount on the fees they pay the government to drill in the Gulf of Mexico's shallow waters."
If enacted, the policy to "ensure maximum resource recovery" would benefit the oil and gas industry National Ocean Industries Association (NOIA), on whose behalf Bernhardt previously lobbied, said Western Values Project.
Also noteworthy, said the advocacy group, is that the report was co-authored by BSEE Director Scott Angelle, who also has ties to the fossil fuel industry. Western Values Project said that, during the government shutdown, Angelle — who has NOIA's stamp of approval for his current position — green-lit 53 permits for offshore drilling for companies that sit on the board of directors for NOIA.
"Since day one, Secretary Bernhardt has operated as though Interior was his own personal lobby shop by doling out favors for his former clients with impunity. This offshore royalty rate reduction deal is short selling our shared resources and ripping off taxpayers," said Jayson O'Neill, deputy director of Western Values Project.
"With Trump's own corruption dominating headlines," he continued, "Bernhardt probably thought this sweetheart giveaway to his former oil and gas client would slip by unnoticed."
Oil giants like Chevron and Shell are already taking advantage of a loophole in federal law to avoid paying at least $18 billion in royalties on oil and gas drilled in the Gulf since 1996, The New York Times reported in October, citing a report from the Government Accountability Office.
The possible policy shift sparked environmental worries from New Orleans-based advocacy group Healthy Gulf, which called the proposal "a recipe for disaster" in a tweet last month.
"This administration wants to lease areas of the Gulf for 'high-risk, small-upside opportunities' to smaller oil companies who don't have the resources to handle spills," the group said. "This proposal is as illogical as it is dangerous."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Andrea Germanos
Nearly 10 years after the BP Deepwater Horizon oil catastrophe began in the Gulf of Mexico, a leading ocean conservation group warned Tuesday that the threat of another similar disaster looms large and that the fossil fuel industry and U.S. government have learned practically nothing from the world's worst ever such disaster.
Oceana's new publication—titled "Hindsight 2020: Lessons We Cannot Ignore from the BP Disaster"—provides a broad look at what led up to the "preventable tragedy," the ongoing ecological and economic consequences of the disaster, and how the spill failed to act as a wake-up call on the inherent dangers of offshore drilling.
"Offshore drilling is still as dirty and dangerous as it was 10 years ago," said Diane Hoskins, Oceana campaign director. "If anything, another disaster is more likely today as the oil industry drills deeper and farther offshore. Instead of learning lessons from the BP disaster, President Trump is proposing to radically expand offshore drilling, while dismantling the few protections put in place as a result of the catastrophic blowout."
By pulling together information from a number of sources—including government documents, scientific studies, and interviews with Gulf Coast residents and policy experts—the report conveys a chilling reality: It's not a question of another offshore oil spill happening, but simply when.
"What we found was disturbing," says the report.
#BREAKING: New Oceana report examines BP #DeepwaterHorizon disaster’s cause and impacts 10 years later. 200+ millio… https://t.co/5wDEBaDWWy— Oceana (@Oceana)1586868997.0
While the date of the disaster—April 20, 2010—is well in the rear view mirror, the consequences are not.
"Nobody was ready for this scale of pollution," Nova Southeastern University Professor Tracey Sutton told Oceana. "As far as we know, the actual impact of the spill is not over yet."
Among the impacts that are known are that as many as 800,000 birds died in the midst of and following the disaster. The oil gushing from the ocean floor also devastated bottlenose dolphins—over 75% of all dolphin pregnancies failed in the oiled area. The spill also ravaged frontline communities.
"They failed our people," Clarice Friloux, who worked as outreach coordinator for the United Houma Nation during the spill recovery, told Oceana. "At one point, I remember thinking, 'Wow, this could kill off a whole generation of Native Americans living off the coast of Louisiana.'"
Contributing to the threat of another Deepwater Horizon-like spill is that the fossil fuel industry has pushed for riskier drilling—further out and in deeper waters. Yet safety measures matching those riskier moves have not been rolled out.
The Trump administration, meanwhile, has done nothing to dampen the industry's appetite for more drilling.
Instead of strengthening safety regulations, the industry and the Trump administration are dismantling the few protections put in place after the BP catastrophe. Without effective oversight and a more robust safety culture, another disaster at the level of Deepwater Horizon may be just as likely today as it was 10 years ago.
The report also points to the weak approach taken by the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE)—a panel tasked with oversight of offshore drilling safety and was created in the year after Deepwater Horizon.
"The only significant thing that happened was that BSEE did issue a regulation around blowout preventer devices," Cyn Sarthou, executive director of the New Orleans-based environmental policy organization Healthy Gulf, says in the report. "Under the new administration, they have rolled that back. Even that one regulation, which was very little ... has now been rolled back."
Simply put, the report states, "A decade later, the safety culture has not improved, and oversight of the industry remains deficient."
Oceana's report also points to Trump's move to greatly expand offshore drilling which further paved the path for another disaster. To prevent a similar tragedy, the new report outlines a number of recommendations and called on Congress and the White House to:
- Halt all efforts to expand offshore drilling to new areas;
- Direct BSEE to seek transformative changes to the industry's safety culture and reverse efforts to weaken safety regulations;
- Direct BOEM to deny all pending geological and geophysical seismic permits for oil and gas in the Atlantic Ocean; and
- Enact a moratorium on expanded offshore drilling. Congress should incentivize investments in clean, renewable energy.
"When they drill, they spill," said Hoskins. "The BP disaster devastated the Gulf, and we cannot afford to repeat it. Protecting our environment has never been more important than it is today."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
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By Jan Ellen Spiegel
It wasn't so long ago that the issue of climate change was poised to play a huge – possibly even a decisive – role in the 2020 election, especially in the race for control of the U.S. Senate. Many people supporting Democratic candidates saw a possible Democratic majority as a hedge against a potential Trump re-election … a way to plug the firehose spray of more than 100 environmental regulation rollbacks and new anti-climate initiatives by the administration over its first term.
Then came COVID-19.
Now coupled with the singular issue of "Trump" and recently compounded by the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, these matters may be sucking the air out of the room for 2020 election issues. So with weeks to go, will climate change manage to play any kind of specific role in the most competitive Senate races where policy details once upon a time counted?
The answer is – no, yes, maybe.
"Climate change does not seem to be a big issue in the key Senate races," says Kyle Kondik, via email. He is managing editor of Sabato's Crystal Ball at the University of Virginia Center for Politics. "Even the weather disasters of this summer – hurricanes and fires – are not necessarily easy to connect to climate change for voters."
A Pew Research Center survey of registered voters from late June through early August had climate change second from last among a dozen issues voters considered very important. That was actually 10 percentage points lower than a similar survey had found before the 2016 election.
A Quinnipiac University poll of likely voters in the Maine, South Carolina, and Kentucky U.S. Senate races released September 16, two days before Ginsburg's death, showed climate change in single digits among the most important issue for voters. It was last or next to last in each of those state's Senate races.
Climate change 'clearly a motivator' for some potential voters, with 'power to move swing voters.'
That finding was underscored in a national presidential poll by Quinnipiac released September 23 in which climate change was next-to-last at 6% among likely voters as the most important issue.
So it would seem all the little details and nuances of each candidate's climate and environmental positions in the roughly 10 most competitive Senate races … nope, those really don't matter right now. But let's be clear – they DID matter, especially in a few Democratic primaries, most notably Massachusetts Democratic Sen. Ed Markey's win over challenger Rep. Joe Kennedy III, in which Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's (D-NY) support for Markey got him a lot of cred with climate activists.
And it's clear from surveys that people absolutely do care about climate change broadly. So there are those who think the issue of climate change could be a motivating force for select groups that in past elections have been either less than reliable voters or more persuadable voters. Their participation, some feel, could help push a few candidates over the top even given the "You're-either-with-Trump-or-against-Trump" mentality of the elections.
Potential Climate Voters
In a September 1 memo on climate and the election, Andrew Baumann, vice president of the consultants Global Strategy Group, wrote: "Few issues have seen as dramatic a shift in public opinion as climate change has over the last few years. Only marriage equality and the recent shift in views around racial justice outpace the rapid growth in the salience of climate change as an issue."
Calling it a "winning political issue" the memo says: "First, it is clearly a motivator for both younger and Latinx voters. Second, it has the power to move swing voters, particularly center-right white women."
Baumann points to a finding that when a group of such women were asked generic ballot questions, Democrats trailed by nine percentage points. But when the question was revised as a choice between:
"A Democrat who supports taking strong government action to combat climate change.
A Republican who opposes taking strong government action to combat climate change."
… the result was a 29 percentage point shift, putting Democrats ahead by 20 percentage points among that same group.
"I think it is playing a role," says Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, D-RI, a longtime outspoken climate activist who is on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee and also on the Senate Democrats' Special Committee on the Climate Crisis. If Democrats win back the Senate, he stands to play an even more pivotal climate role as part of the majority. He is not up for re-election this year.
"I think from the Democratic side it's playing a role in generating enthusiasm – particularly making younger voters feel that they have a real stake in this election. On the Republican side, I think things have moved enough that candidates can no longer get away with simply scoffing about climate change."
Climate a Top Concern for Youths, Latinx
So who's still thinking climate? Mostly young voters – 18 to 25 or 29 and Latinx voters.
Climate and the environment are the top concern among young voters, just above racism and healthcare according to CIRCLE, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University, which focuses on the political life of young people in the U.S. For Latinx youth, it drops a bit but remains in the top three.
The issues young people care about have an impact on how they volunteer their time, says Kristian Lundberg, an associate researcher at CIRCLE. He says that's played out most notably through the Sunrise Movement, which focuses on climate change and the environment along with other key activist groups such as Black Lives Matter and March for Our Lives.
He points to polling this summer that showed that 83% of 18-to-29-year-olds felt they had the power to change things. "Young people feel much more empowerment than in 2016 and 2018," Lundberg says. "It's intentional these movements are carving out space for young people. It's an important strategy."
In positions of power in these organizations, young people have developed peer-to-peer outreach on activism. And Lundberg says young people have made the leap that connects activism to voting as a lever for change. "In the past in very close races, young people breaking heavily have provided the margin of victory," he says.
CIRCLE is highlighting 10 U.S. Senate races as ones in which young voters can be decisive. Several of them have notable climate or environmental components – most prominently the Colorado and Montana races.
The Republican incumbents in each state – Cory Gardner in Colorado and Steve Daines in Montana – are running against a popular Democratic governor – John Hickenlooper in Colorado, now out of office — and Steve Bullock, still the governor of Montana. Both governors have had to balance their state's fossil fuel economic interests with supporting climate change solutions.
The Trump administration has given both GOP Senate incumbents some environmental gifts – the Great American Outdoors Act and establishment of an EPA Office of Mountains, Deserts and Plains in Colorado designed to help with cleanup of abandoned mines in both states. (There's some question of whether that can be done without congressional approval.)
While both moves are more about land use than climate change, they give the two vulnerable Republican senators a bone to throw to their sizable outdoors enthusiast constituencies.
"Bullock has been no climate champion by any means," says Emily LaShelle, a volunteer with Sunrise in Bozeman. But she's out there working to get him elected anyway.
She believes if Bullock were to make a hard pivot to go all-in on climate, "young people would really turn out."
The Trump administration has also thrown a gift to endangered Republican senators and swing states in the Southeast – a ban on offshore drilling from Florida through North Carolina; the latter state was added after the original ban through South Carolina was announced.
All those states had opposed offshore oil and gas drilling, which the Trump administration has advocated. Florida and North Carolina are considered presidential swing states and incumbent Republican senators in North and South Carolina and Georgia are facing hard-fought races. So there's clearly some recognition that climate activists could make a difference.
Tying Climate Change to the Economy
In August, Data for Progress, a progressive research think tank, released polling on climate change – including in the battleground Senate elections in Arizona, Iowa, Maine, and North Carolina – showing voters back a Senate candidate supporting strong climate action.
Climate change as 'mobilizing issue … key persuasion issue.'
It also showed that linking climate change to the economy may be key. That means talking about clean energy and jobs together, says Danielle Deiseroth, climate data analyst for Data for Progress. She says that in addition to jobs, climate change issues include climate justice and economic equality – both of heightened interest because of fallout from western wildfires.
"Climate change, we've observed over the last year or so, is a key mobilizing issue and a key persuasion issue," she says. "Climate issues can only grow support for Democratic candidates.
"I think it's pretty naive to say climate is the key issue for voters. For a lot of voters it really exemplifies so many things that are wrong with the Trump presidency," Deiseroth says.
So a factor among others. Helpful, but pivotal only in narrow circumstances.
At the League of Conservations Voters, a progressive environmentalist organization putting a lot of money and effort into the 2020 races, Senior Director of Political Affairs Craig Auster says: "I'll push back that climate change doesn't matter or isn't registering."
"It's still showing up in several Senate races. It's been playing a role in almost all of them."
Candidates are still talking about it, he says, pointing to Colorado, Montana, Iowa, and other states where ads are addressing climate and environmental issues. That shows the candidates believe their opponent is vulnerable on the issue or they're strong on it, he says.
Like others, Auster calls climate a motivator.
"Climate change matters," he says. "We have proof point after proof point about what's happening, whether it's a hurricane, a superstorm, derechos in Iowa, or wildfires out west.
"Pre-COVID it was top tier for Democratic voters along with healthcare. If COVID didn't happen I think climate would be a big deal."
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.
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President Donald Trump’s Climate Change Record Has Been a Boon for Oil Companies, and a Threat to the Planet
By Vernon Loeb, Marianne Lavelle and Stacy Feldman
In the middle of his 44th month in office, two weeks before the start of the Republican convention in late August, President Trump rolled back Barack Obama's last major environmental regulation, restricting methane leaks.
The move represented an environmental trifecta of sorts for the president, who had handed the oil and gas industry another gift in his quest for "American energy dominance," thumbed his nose yet again at climate change and came close to fully dismantling his predecessor's environment and climate legacy.
It had been a busy four years, and a breakneck 2020, as Trump and the former industry executives and lobbyists he'd placed in control of the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of the Interior raced to rollback auto emissions standards, weaken the nation's most important environmental law, open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling and reject stronger air pollution standards, even as research showed a link between those pollutants and an increased risk of death from Covid-19.
"I applaud and strongly support President Trump's continued support for the oil and gas industry," Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt said after the administration proposed its rollback of the Obama methane rules. "During these uncertain times, it makes no sense that we would be placing additional regulatory burdens on our vital industries which are not supported by sound science and do not consider economic impact."
Environmental lawyers and climate activists who've been battling Trump since day one are in agreement that Trump, beginning with his decision to lead the nation out of the Paris climate accord, has done more to roll back and weaken environmental laws and regulations than any president in history.
Trump extolled the accomplishment and put a different spin on the superlative during a White House speech in July, saying, "We have removed nearly 25,000 pages of job destroying regulations, more than any other president by far in the history of our country."
A few days earlier, as his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, unveiled a $2 trillion plan to combat climate change, Trump promoted what he called a "very dramatic" series of revisions to the National Environmental Policy Act, the foundation of environmental protection in the United States that had been signed into law by President Richard M. Nixon 50 years ago.
Environmentalists have used the law to block everything from pipelines to the destruction of natural habitats. Trump has now limited environmental reviews under the act to between one and two years and relieved federal agencies from having to consider a project's impact on climate change during the review and permitting process.
"While our world is burning, President Trump is adding fuel to the fire by taking away our right to be informed and to protect ourselves from irreparable harm," Gina McCarthy, Obama's EPA administrator who now serves as president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council, said of weakening the act.
By late summer, Columbia University's Sabin Center for Climate Change Law had counted 159 actions since Trump took office "to scale back or wholly eliminate climate mitigation and adaptation measures." Many have been slowed or blocked by the courts.
Trump's Long Focus on 'American Energy Dominance'
When Trump delivered his first major energy speech in the fracking fields of North Dakota as a candidate in May 2016, he called for American domination of global energy supplies.
"We are going to turn everything around," Trump declared. "And quickly, very quickly."
Once in office, Trump pursued a policy of unfettered support for fossil fuel development. He immediately signed memorandums to revive the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, projects blocked by Obama.
In early March 2017, his administration ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to stop gathering data from oil and gas companies needed to rein in leaks of methane, a potent short-lived climate pollutant. Fossil fuel infrastructure adds to greenhouse gas emissions, in part by leaking methane into the atmosphere.
He followed up, at the end of March, by issuing a sweeping executive order directing all federal agencies to target for elimination any rules that restrict U.S. production of energy. He set guidance to make it more difficult to put future regulations on fossil fuel industries and he moved to discard the use of a rigorous "social cost of carbon," a regulatory measurement that puts a price on the future damage society will pay for every ton of carbon dioxide emitted.
As his first year in office came to a close, Trump and Alaska's Republican senators inserted a provision into his signature tax cut legislation that called for opening the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge for drilling.
In 2018, domestic oil production hit a record high. The result of this, among other things, was the reversal of three consecutive years of declining U.S. carbon emissions.
Many of Trump's regulations have also been tailored to favor the coal industry, often at the expense of cheaper, cleaner energy. Robert Murray, founder of the now-bankrupt coal company Murray Energy and one of Trump's closest industry allies, gave the president a "wish list" early on that became a virtual template for the administration's rollback of regulations.
The administration swiftly lifted an Obama moratorium on new coal leases on federal lands, to no real benefit. The decline of coal continued unabated, but Trump remained an unapologetic champion of the dirtiest fossil fuel.
Trump's War on Science
When U.S. government scientists released their latest volume of the National Climate Assessment in November 2018, it revealed much about the robust, sobering scientific consensus on climate change.
It also revealed the striking disconnect between Trump and essentially every authoritative institution on the threat of global warming.
The president rejected the assessment's central findings—based on thousands of climate studies and involving 13 federal agencies—that emissions of carbon dioxide are caused by human activities, are already causing lasting economic damage and have to be brought rapidly to zero.
"I don't believe it. No, no, I don't believe it," Trump told a reporter after the assessment's release.
In almost every agency overseeing energy, the environment and health, people with little scientific background, or strong ties to industries they would be regulating, were appointed to scientific leadership positions.
One of the administration's first actions was to order scientists and other employees at EPA and other agencies to halt public communications. Several federal scientists working on climate change have said they were silenced, sidelined or demoted. The words "climate change" have been purged from government reports and other reports have been buried.
The administration's mistrust of scientists and its tendency toward science denialism would also become a prominent feature of its response to the coronavirus pandemic, when the president muzzled scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and chafed at the dire predictions of many epidemiological models for Covid-19 deaths.
With the nation in a state of emergency over the pandemic, Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist who serves as Trump's administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, moved in late March to fast-track the "Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science" rule. Wheeler replaced Scott Pruitt, an Oklahoma Republican who served as Trump's first EPA administrator before resigning in 2018 amid an ethics scandal.
Critics call Wheeler's transparency proposal Orwellian and say it would actually limit the use of human health science in environmental decision-making, by eliminating studies that rely on patients' anonymous medical data.
While Trump and his conservative allies contend that the reliance on such studies amounts to "secret science," scientists and leading medical authorities respond that it is standard practice to honor patient confidentiality in peer-reviewed studies.
Numerous studies, including one based on health data from 60 million Medicare recipients, have shown that one of the signature pollutants from the burning of fossil fuels, microscopic particles less than 2.5 microns in width—known as PM 2.5—kill as many as 52,100 Americans prematurely each year.
Less than a month later, as much of the nation remained locked down to halt the spread of Covid-19, a respiratory disease, the Trump administration rejected a recommendation from government scientists to strengthen the national air quality standard for particulate matter. Trump chose instead to maintain the current PM 2.5 standard, handing the fossil fuel industry a major victory.
A 'Concerted Attack' on Alaska, Public Lands
The Trump administration knew no bounds for its fossil fuel agenda, pursuing drilling from the outset on pristine public lands in Alaska and the lower 48 states, where oil companies have long sought access.
Less than four months after taking office, Trump moved to lift Obama's offshore Arctic drilling ban and, then, in July 2017, gave Italian oil company Eni a quick green light to drill exploratory wells.
In March 2018, the Trump administration proposed a resumption of leasing in Alaska's Beaufort Sea. President Obama, shortly before leaving office, had "permanently" withdrawn from drilling there.
By then, Trump had also carved 2 million acres of land from the Grand Staircase-Escalante and Bears Ears national monuments in southern Utah in what amounted to the most sweeping reductions in protections for public land in U.S. history.
In September 2018, the Interior Department finalized a rule that loosens methane requirements for oil and gas operations on federal lands. A month later, the administration proposed a regulation to streamline and expedite oil and gas permits on national forest lands.
The following summer, the administration proposed weakening protections under the Endangered Species Act for threatened species and critical habitat. Shortly thereafter, the Interior Department commenced the public comment period on its plan for oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge that had been included in the 2017 tax bill.
In early August 2020, the president signed the Great American Outdoors Act appropriating $900 million a year to the Land and Water Conservation Fund and $9.5 billion over five years to reduce maintenance backlogs in the national parks.
The bipartisan legislation was sponsored by a House Democrat, but Trump extolled its passage as the most significant act in support of parklands since Teddy Roosevelt.
Still, the administration was preparing, on the eve of the Republican convention, to start selling leases in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The sale was one of six pending projects in which Trump was pursuing more drilling, logging and mining in Alaska.
One environmentalist called it the most "concerted attack" in 30 years on Alaska's natural resources.
All six of the Trump initiatives could still be blocked or rolled back in the courts, or undone by a new Biden administration working with a Democratic Congress. But for now, they are proceeding, with enormous consequences for Alaska's environment, and global climate change.
One by One, Obama's Main Climate Accomplishments Fell
The same could be said for President Obama's environment and climate legacy: Trump's relentless attacks could be wholly or partially undone by a new administration and Congress. But for now, Trump has accomplished his mission: a near total elimination of his predecessor's most significant measures.
After countless piecemeal rollbacks during Trump's first two and a half years in office, the administration in June 2019 launched its long-awaited attack on Obama's signature plan to tackle climate change. Designed to cut emissions from coal-fired power plants, Obama called it the Clean Power Plan.
While the plan was challenged by industry and 27 states and blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court before Obama even left office, it encouraged many states to begin a process of planning for a transition away from coal-fired electricity at a time when cheaper natural gas and renewable energy already were forcing coal plants to shut down.
Next came Trump's rollback of Obama's 2012 automobile fuel efficiency standards, the single largest step any nation had taken to address global warming by cutting carbon emissions from cars and trucks. The weakened Trump plan will allow automakers to deploy fleets that average just 40 miles per gallon by 2025, instead of 54 mpg.
If Trump's standard ultimately survives legal challenges, cars and trucks in the United States would emit nearly a billion tons more carbon dioxide during their lifetimes than they would have under the Obama standards.
Finally, in mid-August, Trump proposed the rollback of the methane rules, the last major Obama environmental regulation still standing. Methane, a super-pollutant, is 86 times more potent in warming the planet than carbon dioxide over a 20-year period.
The Obama rule required oil and gas companies to monitor methane leaks and fix them. The Trump replacement weakens those requirements, allowing companies to release 4.5 million metric tons more pollution each year.
In the climate realm, Obama is best known, of course, as the driving force behind the 2015 Paris climate accord.
Trump first announced in a Rose Garden speech in June 2017 that the U.S. would withdraw from the accord in three years, as soon as the treaty allowed.
So, right on cue, two years later, on Nov. 4, 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo notified the United Nations of the formal exit of the United States, activating the final one-year waiting period.
The actual U.S. withdrawal is set for Nov. 4, 2020, one day after the presidential election.
This story originally appeared in Inside Climate News and is republished here as part of Covering Climate Now, a global journalism collaboration strengthening coverage of the climate story.
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By Scott L. Montgomery
The Trump administration has announced that it is opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil and gas development – the latest twist in a decades-long battle over the fate of this remote area. Its timing is truly terrible.
Low oil prices, a pandemic-driven recession and looming elections add up to highly unfavorable conditions for launching expensive drilling operations. In the longer term, the climate crisis and an ongoing shift to a lower-carbon economy raise big questions about future oil demand.
I've researched the U.S. energy industry for more than 20 years. As I see it, conservative Republicans have backed oil and gas production in ANWR since the 1980s for two overriding reasons. First, to increase domestic oil production and reduce dependence on "foreign oil," a euphemism for imports from OPEC countries. This argument now is largely dead, thanks to the fracking revolution, which has greatly expanded U.S. oil and gas production.
The other motive for drilling in ANWR, I believe, is to score a major, precedent-setting victory over government policies that prioritize conservation over energy production and environmental advocacy groups that have fought for years to protect ANWR as "one of the finest examples of wilderness left on Earth." Capturing ANWR and transforming it into a locus of fossil fuel extraction would be a massive physical and symbolic triumph for politicians who believe that resource extraction is the highest use of public lands.
President Trump seems to understand this, based on his recent comment that "ANWR is a big deal that Ronald Reagan couldn't get done and nobody could get done." But global, national and oil industry circumstances are overwhelmingly arrayed against Trump getting it done.
Years of Debate
ANWR is inarguably an ecological treasure. With 45 species of mammals and over 200 species of birds from six continents, the refuge is more biodiverse than almost any area in the Arctic.
This is especially true of the 1002 coastal plain portion, which has the largest number of polar bear dens in Alaska. It also supports muskoxen, Arctic wolves, foxes, hares, migrating waterfowl and Porcupine caribou, which calve there. Most of ANWR is designated as wilderness, which puts it off-limits for development. But this does not include the 1002 Area, which was recognized as a promising area for energy development when the refuge was created in 1980 and left that way after a 1987 study confirmed its potential.
Climate change is causing especially rapid warming in the Arctic, with probable negative effects for many of these species. Environmental advocates argue that fossil fuel production in ANWR will add to this process, damaging habitat and impacting the Indigenous people who rely on the wildlife for subsistence. But the situation is complex: There are also Indigenous groups who support ANWR development for the jobs and income it would bring.
Energy companies' interest in ANWR, meanwhile, has risen and fallen over time. The discovery of oil at Prudhoe Bay in 1968, followed by two oil shocks in the 1970s, sparked support for exploration and production in the region. But this enthusiasm faded in the late 1980s and '90s in the face of fierce political and legal opposition and years of low oil prices.
A majority of Americas of all political leanings believe the U.S. should develop alternative energy sources rather than expanding production of oil, coal and natural gas. Pew Research Center, CC BY-ND
Scientists performed two major assessments of oil reserves in the 1002 Area in 1987 and 1998. The latter study concluded that ANWR contained up to 11 billion barrels of oil that could be profitably recovered if prices were consistently high. But when prices rose between 2010 and late 2014, companies chose to focus instead on areas to the west of the refuge, where new discoveries had been made.
In the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, a Republican-controlled Congress directed the Trump administration to open the 1002 Area to leasing. The bill required one lease sale within four years, and at least two sales within a decade. But as the Interior Department tried to comply, it was hampered by political controversies and environmental assessment requirements.
The new Record of Decision, released on Aug. 17, 2020, determines where and how leasing will occur. It represents the Trump administration's last chance to bring forward a well-designed leasing plan, and is certain to spark legal challenges from environmental and wildlife organizations.
Is ANWR Oil Worth It?
Today the oil industry is facing its greatest set of challenges in modern history. They include:
- A collapse in oil demand and prices due to the global pandemic, with a sluggish and uncertain recovery
- Companies canceling and reducing activity worldwide, with bankruptcies in the U.S. shale industry and drilling rig counts falling back to 1940 levels
- New uncertainty about future global oil demand as climate concerns push public interest and government policy toward electric vehicles, and automakers respond with new EV designs
- The growing possibility of Democratic victories in the November 2020 elections, which would likely lead to policies reducing fossil fuel use
- Increasing investor pressure on banks and investment firms to reduce or eliminate support for fossil fuel projects.
All of these factors compound the challenges of leasing and drilling in ANWR. Well costs there would be among the highest anywhere onshore in the U.S. Only one well has ever been drilled in the area, so new drilling would be purely exploratory and have a lower chance of success than in better-studied areas. Under these conditions, it would make more sense for companies that are active on Alaska's North Slope to pursue sites they currently have under lease, which pose much lower risk.
Alaska's North Slope outside of ANWR remains rich in oil, according to the latest U.S. Geological Survey assessment. USGS
What's more, as I have argued previously, it's not clear that there's a need to drill in ANWR. Energy companies have made new discoveries elsewhere south and west of Prudhoe Bay – most recently, the Talitha Field, which could yield 500 million barrels or more.
Companies that pursue leases in ANWR also will have to weigh the prospects of litigation, investor anger and a tarnished brand – especially large firms with public name recognition. Shell's experience in 2015, when it abandoned plans to drill offshore in the Arctic under heavy pressure, indicate what other companies can expect.
If Trump is voted out of office, I expect that a Biden administration would quickly move to reverse the directive for leasing in ANWR. In my view, this contested area will have far more meaning and value as a wildlife refuge in a warming world that is starting to seriously move away from hydrocarbon energy.
Scott L. Montgomery is a Lecturer, Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington.
Disclosure statement: Scott L. Montgomery does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
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