'No Other President Has Had the Gall': Environmental Groups Balk as Trump Proposes Major Rollback of Infrastructure Review Process
President Donald Trump proposed one of his most aggressive environmental rollbacks yet on Thursday, announcing a change that would exempt federal agencies from considering the climate impacts of pipelines and other infrastructure projects.
The president's proposal would significantly limit enforcement of the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which mandates that federal agencies consider how proposed construction projects like pipelines, highways and dams would impact land, air, water and wildlife, The Associated Press explained. NEPA also gives the public a say in the review process. The law was signed by Richard Nixon in 1971 following national outrage over the 1969 oil spill off Santa Barbara, California. Along with the Clean Air and Water Acts, it is one of the bedrock environmental laws of the last half century.
"No other president has had the gall to try to back polluters and turn back the clock to pre-Santa Barbara," Rice University presidential historian Douglas Brinkley told The New York Times. "Nothing compares to what Donald Trump is doing."
Trump, who announced the proposed changes Thursday at the White House surrounded by men in hard hats and safety vests, argued that the law as currently enforced delays important projects with needless bureaucracy.
"America's most critical infrastructure projects have been tied up and bogged down by an outrageously slow and burdensome federal approval process,″ he said, according to The Associated Press. "The builders are not happy. Nobody's happy.″
However, conservation groups warn the changes will benefit fossil fuel companies and other polluting industries at the expense of the environment, the climate and the communities most at risk from the fallout.
"The implications for access to clean air and clean water and for public input, especially among the low-income communities and communities of color most impacted by climate change and toxic pollution, could be dire," League of Conservation Voters President Gene Karpinski told USA Today.
So what exactly is Trump proposing to change?
1. Faster Reviews
The new regulations would set deadlines for how long a review of a project can take: one year for smaller projects and two years for larger ones, The New York Times explained.
White House Council on Environmental Quality Chair Mary Neumayr told NPR that the average environmental impact statement currently takes four and a half years to complete, and the average for highways takes seven years, a delay that "deprives Americans of the benefits of modernized bridges and roads that enable them to get home to their families," she said. But environmental groups argue that two years is too tight for a thorough review.
2. Cumulative Impacts
The regulations get rid of the requirement that agencies consider the cumulative impact of new projects. This is the requirement courts have pointed to in mandating that agency reviews include an assessment of how a project will contribute to the climate crisis, The New York Times explained. Neumayr said the new rules would not prevent agencies from considering the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions, but they also would not require them to do so. Under the new regulations, NPR explained, agencies would have to consider the impacts of building a pipeline, but not the impacts of the oil or gas it would transport.
"Ignoring the future impact of climate change as part of the nation's core environmental review law will only increase costs of development and future disaster recovery on taxpayers and communities, while making us all more vulnerable to its already apparent effects,″ the American Planning Association and the Association of State Floodplain Managers said in a statement reported by The Associated Press.
3. Less Government Oversight
The new regulations would also decrease the number of projects subject to review altogether, NPR reported. "Non-federal" projects receiving limited government money would be exempt, for example. The changes would also let private companies conduct their own reviews.
"This is a clearly a conflict of interest," Center for American Progress Senior Vice President Christy Goldfuss told NPR. "It's baffling that the Trump administration thinks handing the keys of environmental review to big polluters is going to pass muster."
Indeed, legal experts agree it may not. The Trump administration has attempted almost 100 environmental rollbacks since taking office, according to The New York Times. But it has also been sued almost 70 times to stop attempts at deregulation and only won four times.
Legal scholars agree there is a good chance Trump's changes to how NEPA is applied won't stand up in court.
"The law require federal agencies to report the environmental impacts of their actions that significantly affect 'the quality of the human environment,'" Bruce Huber of Notre Dame Law School told NPR. "If the regulations announced today drive agencies to diminish the extent or quality of their reporting, federal courts may very well conclude that their reports do not comply with the law."
The proposed changes will be published on the federal register Friday and will be followed by a 60-day public comment period, according to The New York Times. There will also be two public hearings before the final changes are enshrined, probably in the fall.
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By Victoria Masterson
Using one of the world's problems to solve another is the philosophy behind a Norwegian start-up's mission to develop affordable housing from 100% recycled plastic.
Sustainable Homes<p>UN-Habitat says an <a href="https://unhabitat.org/un-habitat-aims-to-use-plastic-waste-to-support-housing-for-all" target="_blank">estimated 60% of people living in urban areas of Africa are in informal settlements</a>. At the same time, between 1990 and 2017, African countries imported around 230 metric tonnes of plastic, "which mostly ended up in dump sites creating a massive environmental challenge," the agency adds.</p><p>UN-Habitat deputy executive director, Victor Kisob, said the aim of the partnership with Othalo was to "promote adequate, sustainable and affordable housing for all."</p>
Artist's impression of an Othalo community, imagined by architect Julien De Smedt. Othalo<p>Othalo's process involves shredding plastic waste and mixing it with other elements, including non-flammable materials. Components are used to build up to four floors, with a home of 60 square metres using eight tons of recycled plastic. A factory with one production line can produce 2,800 housing units annually.</p><p>Following successful laboratory tests, Othalo's factory in Estonia has started producing components to build three demonstration homes for Kenya's capital, Nairobi; Yaoundé, the capital of Cameroon and Dakar, the capital of Senegal.</p><p>Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti has been developing and testing the technology since 2016 in partnership with <a href="https://www.sintef.no/en/" target="_blank">SINTEF</a>, a 70-year-old independent research organization in Trondheim, Norway, and experts at Norway's <a href="https://en.uit.no/startsida" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">University of Tromsø</a>.</p>
Othalo founder Frank Cato Lahti. Othalo<p>Almost <a href="https://www.un.org/development/desa/publications/2018-revision-of-world-urbanization-prospects.html" target="_blank">seven out of every 10 people in the world are expected to live in urban areas by 2050</a>. More than 90% of this growth will take place in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.</p><p>"In the absence of effective urban planning, the consequences of this rapid urbanization will be dramatic," UN-Habitat warns.</p><p>Lack of proper housing and growth of slums, inadequate and outdated infrastructure, escalating poverty and unemployment, and pollution and health issues, are just some of the effects.</p><p>Mindsets, policies, and approaches towards urbanization need to change for the growth of cities and urban areas to be turned into opportunities that will leave nobody behind, UN-Habitat says.</p>
Pioneers of Change<p>Reimagining cities and communities for greater resilience and sustainability was a key topic at the<a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020" target="_blank"> World Economic Forum's Pioneers of Change Summit 2020</a>.</p><p>The digital event brought together innovators and stakeholders from around the world to explore solutions to the challenges facing enterprises, governments and society.</p><p>Opening the summit, <a href="https://www.weforum.org/events/pioneers-of-change-summit-2020/sessions/opening-plenary-8f731cbc65" target="_blank">Stephan Mergenthaler, the Forum's Head of Strategic Intelligence and a member of the Executive Committee</a>, said: "We need to change the way we produce, the way we live and interact in our cities to make this transition to net-zero emissions a reality…</p><p>"And as this year has illustrated so dramatically, we need to make every effort that we keep populations healthy, if we want to avoid jeopardizing all this progress."</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/un-africa-recycled-plastic-housing/" target="_blank">World Economic Forum</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649069252#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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By Dolf Gielen and Morgan Bazilian
John Kerry helped bring the world into the Paris climate agreement and expanded America's reputation as a climate leader. That reputation is now in tatters, and President-elect Joe Biden is asking Kerry to rebuild it again – this time as U.S. climate envoy.
Energy Is at the Center of the Climate Challenge<p>The <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/1/" target="_blank">effects of climate change</a> are already evident across the globe, from <a href="https://theconversation.com/100-degrees-in-siberia-5-ways-the-extreme-arctic-heat-wave-follows-a-disturbing-pattern-141442" target="_blank">extreme heat waves</a> to <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/chapter/12/" target="_blank">sea level rise</a>. But while the challenge is daunting, there is hope. Solar and wind power have become the <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2020/Jun/Renewable-Power-Costs-in-2019" target="_blank">cheapest forms of power generation globally</a>, and technology progress and innovation continue apace to support a transition to clean energy.</p><p>In the U.S. under a Biden administration, long-term national climate legislation will depend on who controls the Senate, and that won't be clear until after two run-off elections in Georgia in January.</p><p>But there is no shortage of <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/features/2020-biden-climate-change-advice/" target="_blank">ideas for ways Biden</a> could still take action even if his proposals are blocked in Congress. For example, he could use executive orders and direct government agencies to tighten regulations on greenhouse gas emissions; increase research and development in clean energy technologies; and empower states to exceed national standards, <a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">as California did in the past with auto emission standards</a>. A focus on a just and equitable transition for communities and people affected by the decline of fossil fuels will also be key to creating a sustainable transition.</p><p>The U.S. position as the world's largest oil and gas producer and consumer creates political challenges for any administration. U.S. forays into European energy security are often treated with suspicion. Recently, France blocked <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/frances-engie-backs-out-of-u-s-lng-deal-11604435609" target="_blank">a multi-billion dollar contract</a> to buy U.S. liquefied natural gas because of concerns about limited emissions regulations in Texas.</p><p>Strengthening cooperation and partnerships with like-minded countries will be critical to bring about a transition to cleaner energy as well as sustainability in agriculture, forestry, water and other sectors of the global economy.</p>
Creating a Global Sustainable Transition<p>How the world recovers from COVID-19's economic damage could help drive a lasting shift in the global energy mix.</p><p>Nearly one-third of Europe's US$2 trillion economic relief package <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-07-21/eu-approves-biggest-green-stimulus-in-history-with-572-billion-plan" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">involves investments that are also good for the climate</a>. The European Union is also strengthening its 2030 climate targets, though each country's energy and climate plans will be critical for successfully implementing them. The <a href="https://joebiden.com/clean-energy/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Biden plan</a> – including a $2 trillion commitment to developing sustainable energy and infrastructure – is aligned with a global energy transition, but its implementation is also uncertain.</p><p>Once Biden takes office, Kerry will be joining ongoing <a href="https://www.un.org/en/conferences/energy2021/about#:%7E:text=The%20overarching%20goal%20of%20the,2030%20Agenda%20for%20Sustainable%20Development.&text=Accelerate%20delivery%20of%20United%20Nations,related%20issues%20at%20all%20levels." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high-level discussions on the energy transition</a> at the U.N. General Assembly and other gatherings of international leaders. With the U.S. no longer obstructing work on climate issues, the G-7 and G-20 have more potential for progress on energy and climate.</p><p>Lots of technical details still need to be worked out, including international trade frameworks and standards that can help countries lower greenhouse gas emissions enough to keep global warming in check. <a href="https://www.carbonpricingleadership.org/what" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Carbon pricing</a> and <a href="https://www.csis.org/analysis/how-can-europe-get-carbon-border-adjustment-right" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">carbon border adjustment taxes</a>, which create incentive for companies to reduce emissions, may be part of it. A consistent and comprehensive set of national energy transition plans will also be needed.</p><p>The global shift to <a href="https://www.irena.org/publications/2019/Jan/A-New-World-The-Geopolitics-of-the-Energy-Transformation" target="_blank">clean energy will also have geopolitical implications for countries and regions</a>, and this will have a profound impact on wider international relations. Kerry, with his experience as secretary of state in the Obama administration, and Biden's plan to make the climate envoy position part of the National Security Council, may help mend these relations. In doing so, the U.S. may again join the wider community of countries willing to lead.</p>
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As we approach the holidays I, like most people, have been reflecting on everything 2020 has given us (or taken away) while starting to look ahead to 2021.