Trump EPA Curbs State Power to Reject Fossil Fuel Projects
By Jessica Corbett
With the nation focused on the coronavirus pandemic and protests against U.S. police brutality that have sprung up across the globe, the Trump administration continues to quietly attack federal policies that protect public health and the environment to limit the legal burdens faced by planet-wrecking fossil fuel companies.
The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday announced a final rule about the Clean Water Act Section 401 certification process for energy infrastructure projects. The rule, first proposed in August 2019, sets a one-year deadline for permitting decisions and restricts the scope of what state and tribal officials can consider.
"Donald Trump and his administration are nothing if not vindictive, spiteful, and capricious," Food & Water Action executive director Wenonah Hauter said in a statement Tuesday. "This new rule from the EPA, which seeks to undermine a bedrock environmental law and hamstring the rights of states to protect communities from water contamination and climate change, is just the latest example."
The Trump administration has completed 66 rollbacks of climate and environmental policies and is pursuing 34 more, which brings the first term total so far to 100, according to a New York Times analysis updated on May 20. The greatest number of completed and in progress rollbacks relate to air pollution and emissions; 11 are about water.
Critics slammed the president and EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist, for curbing states' power to protect residents and the planet by rejecting dirty energy projects—and for making yet another assault on national environmental safeguards in the midst of multiple global crises.
And while attention is elsewhere, another Trump assault on the Clean #Water Act and the ability of states to protec… https://t.co/Utqe7IkGt9— Peter Gleick (@Peter Gleick)1591049857.0
The administration's new rule, Hauter declared, "is a direct response to repeated actions by concerned local communities and responsible state officials in New York and elsewhere to reject dangerous fossil fuel projects that have no business being built where they're not wanted."
"Like so much of what Trump is pursuing now, this is a targeted strike against environmental justice and racial justice," she said. "It's a fact that people of color and low-income communities are disproportionately impacted by the air pollution, water contamination, and climate chaos produced by fossil fuel projects."
"As we're seeing so clearly now across society," Hauter added, "this president and this administration are at war with justice and well-being—particularly for the communities that lack these fundamentals the most."
Wheeler said in a statement Monday that new rule comes in response to an April 2019 executive order from Trump, and is intended to "curb abuses of the Clean Water Act that have held our nation's energy infrastructure projects hostage, and to put in place clear guidelines that finally give these projects a path forward."
Wheeler also reportedly took aim at New York Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo, calling the governor's rejection of the Constitution Pipeline "probably the worst environmental decision by an elected official last year." The canceled pipeline would have brought fracked gas from Pennsylvania to the New York's Southern Tier.
In a series of major wins for climate campaigners, New York regulators and Cuomo have also repeatedly blocked construction of the $1 billion Williams Pipeline. Citing a longtime EPA employee, HuffPost explained how the new rule could impact state deliberations over projects including that one:
Pipelines―like the Williams Pipeline, which aimed to carry gas from the fracking fields of western Pennsylvania to homes in New York City and beyond―"might cross 20, 30, 40 streams, and each stream requires permits," said Mark Ryan, who specialized in Clean Water Act enforcement and permitting during his 24 years as the former EPA regional counsel for the Seattle area.
"With these very, very complex permits like with pipelines, the states will say, 'OK, we want more information... but we don't want to deny certification, but you have to withdraw the permit application,'" he said. "This new rule says states can't do that."
That means states must either grant or deny permits within 12 months or the EPA will deem the state permit waived. This incentivizes pipeline companies to withhold information states would need to fully assess a projects' impacts on water "to try to force the state to certify the permit," Ryan said.
Ryan told the Times the rule is "a pretty significant retreat from what they were doing the last 40 years" and could be "very vulnerable" to a legal challenge considering past rulings, including a 1994 U.S. Supreme Court decision. As he put it: "The EPA will have a very hard time convincing the Supreme Court that its current interpretation of the Clean Water Act is correct."
.@epa’s rule change is a blatant attack on states’ rights and flies in the face of decades of Supreme Court rulings… https://t.co/k42d4AgTL5— Environmental Protection Network (@Environmental Protection Network)1591102556.0
Hauter vowed that Food & Water Action "will be pursuing all avenues available—legal, electoral, and otherwise—to ensure that states have the right to reject fossil fuels as they see fit, and support vulnerable communities everywhere seeking to protect themselves from this malicious administration."
Reposted with permission from Common Dreams.
- Trump's EPA Budget: 5 Critical Programs on His Chopping Block ... ›
- Trump's EPA Limits States' and Tribes' Rights to Block Pipelines ›
- States Sue Trump EPA for Suspending Environmental Regulations ... ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
NASA scientists say that warmer than average surface sea temperatures in the North Atlantic raise the concern for a more active hurricane season, as well as for wildfires in the Amazon thousands of miles away, according to Newsweek.
By Andrea Germanos
Oxfam International warned Thursday that up to 12,000 people could die each day by the end of the year as a result of hunger linked to the coronavirus pandemic—a daily death toll surpassing the daily mortality rate from Covid-19 itself.
- These 6 Men Have as Much Wealth as Half the World's Population ... ›
- Climate Change Forces 20 Million People to Flee Each Year, Oxfam ... ›
By Jun N. Aguirre
An oil spill on July 3 threatens a mangrove forest on the Philippine island of Guimaras, an area only just recovering from the country's largest spill in 2006.
- 15,000 Gallon Oil Spill Threatens River and Drinking Water in Native ... ›
- Mysterious Oil Spill on Massachusetts' Charles River Spurs Major ... ›
- Disastrous Russian Oil Spill Reaches Pristine Arctic Lake - EcoWatch ›
- Scientist Behind Florida's Coronavirus Database Says She Was ... ›
- Younger People Now Driving Spikes in New Coronavirus Cases ... ›
By James Shulmeister
Climate Explained is a collaboration between The Conversation, Stuff and the New Zealand Science Media Centre to answer your questions about climate change.
If you have a question you'd like an expert to answer, please send it to firstname.lastname@example.org
What was the climate and sea level like at times in Earth’s history when carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was at 400ppm?<p>The last time global carbon dioxide levels were consistently at or above 400 parts per million (ppm) was around <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nature14145" target="_blank">four million years ago</a> during a geological period known as the <a href="http://www.geologypage.com/2014/05/pliocene-epoch.html" target="_blank">Pliocene Era</a> (between 5.3 million and 2.6 million years ago). The world was about 3℃ warmer and sea levels were higher than today.</p><p>We know how much carbon dioxide the atmosphere contained in the past by studying ice cores from Greenland and Antarctica. As compacted snow gradually changes to ice, it traps air in bubbles that contain <a href="https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/annals-of-glaciology/article/enclosure-of-air-during-metamorphosis-of-dry-firn-to-ice/09D9C60A8DA412D16645E6E6ABC1892F" target="_blank">samples of the atmosphere at the time</a>. We can sample ice cores to reconstruct past concentrations of carbon dioxide, but this record only takes us back about a million years.</p><p>Beyond a million years, we don't have any direct measurements of the composition of ancient atmospheres, but we can use several methods to estimate past levels of carbon dioxide. One method uses the relationship between plant pores, known as stomata, that regulate gas exchange in and out of the plant. The density of these stomata is <a href="https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/095968369200200109" target="_blank">related to atmospheric carbon dioxide</a>, and fossil plants are a good indicator of concentrations in the past.</p><p>Another technique is to examine sediment cores from the ocean floor. The sediments build up year after year as the bodies and shells of dead plankton and other organisms rain down on the seafloor. We can use isotopes (chemically identical atoms that differ only in atomic weight) of boron taken from the shells of the dead plankton to reconstruct changes in the acidity of seawater. From this we can work out the level of carbon dioxide in the ocean.</p><p>The data from four-million-year-old sediments suggest that <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2010PA002055" target="_blank">carbon dioxide was at 400ppm back then</a>.</p>
Sea Levels and Changes in Antarctica<p>During colder periods in Earth's history, ice caps and glaciers grow and sea levels drop. In the recent geological past, during the most recent ice age about 20,000 years ago, sea levels were at least <a href="https://science.sciencemag.org/content/292/5517/679.abstract" target="_blank">120 meters lower</a> than they are today.</p><p><span></span>Sea-level changes are calculated from changes in isotopes of oxygen in the shells of marine organisms. For the Pliocene Era, <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2004PA001071" target="_blank">research</a> shows the sea-level change between cooler and warmer periods was around 30-40 meters and sea level was higher than today. Also during the Pliocene, we know the West Antarctic Ice Sheet was <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/nature07867" target="_blank">significantly smaller</a> and global average temperatures were about 3℃ warmer than today. Summer temperatures in high northern latitudes were up to 14℃ warmer.</p><p>This may seem like a lot but modern observations show strong <a href="https://journals.ametsoc.org/jcli/article/23/14/3888/32547" target="_blank">polar amplification</a> of warming: a 1℃ increase at the equator may raise temperatures at the poles by 6-7℃. It is one of the reasons why Arctic sea ice is disappearing.</p>
Impacts in New Zealand and Australia<p>In the Australian region, there was no Great Barrier Reef, but there may have been <a href="https://link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007/BF02537376.pdf" target="_blank">smaller reefs along the northeast coast of Australia</a>. For New Zealand, the partial melting of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet is probably the most critical point.</p><p>One of the key features of New Zealand's current climate is that Antarctica is cut off from global circulation during the winter because of the big <a href="https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.3402/tellusa.v54i5.12161" target="_blank">temperature contrast</a> between Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. When it comes back into circulation in springtime, New Zealand gets strong storms. Stormier winters and significantly warmer summers were likely in the mid-Pliocene because of a weaker polar vortex and a warmer Antarctica.</p><p>It will take more than a few years or decades of carbon dioxide concentrations at 400ppm to trigger a significant shrinking of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. But recent studies show that <a href="http://nora.nerc.ac.uk/id/eprint/521027/" target="_blank">West Antarctica is already melting</a>.</p><p>Sea-level rise from a partial melting of West Antarctica could easily exceed a meter or more by 2100. In fact, if the whole of the West Antarctic melted it could <a href="http://citeseerx.ist.psu.edu/viewdoc/download?doi=10.1.1.695.7239&rep=rep1&type=pdf" target="_blank">raise sea levels by about 3.5 meters</a>. Even smaller increases raise the risk of <a href="https://www.pce.parliament.nz/publications/preparing-new-zealand-for-rising-seas-certainty-and-uncertainty" target="_blank">flooding in low-lying cities</a> including Auckland, Christchurch and Wellington.</p>
- Scientists Sound the Alarm: CO2 Levels Race Past Point of No Return ›
- Global Carbon Levels Surpass 400 ppm for First Time Ever for Entire ... ›
- Carbon Dioxide Levels Set to Pass 400 ppm and Remain Above ... ›
By Jo Harper
Investment in U.S. offshore wind projects are set to hit $78 billion (€69 billion) this decade, in contrast with an estimated $82 billion for U.S. offshore oil and gasoline projects, Wood Mackenzie data shows. This would be a remarkable feat only four years after the first offshore wind plant — the 30 megawatt (MW) Block Island Wind Farm off the coast of Rhode Island — started operating in U.S. waters.
Corporates Shift<p>Helping to drive offshore growth, U.S. corporate buyers <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/cities-leading-the-transition-to-renewables/a-42850621" target="_blank">are increasingly relying on wind energy to power their businesses</a>. Walmart and AT&T are the two top corporate wind buyers, while 14 newcomers entered the wind market in 2019, including Estée Lauder and McDonald's.</p><p>"Oil and gas companies have jumped into the U.S. offshore wind market, where they can transfer expertise in offshore fossil fuel development to clean energy investments," says Max Cohen, principal analyst, Americas Power & Renewable research at Wood Mackenzie. Many international oil and gas companies have already recognized this huge potential and entered the US offshore wind market, including Orsted, Equinor and Shell.</p><p>"Given the recent tumult in oil prices, fossil fuel companies may more and more be looking to diversify their portfolios, particularly with assets that are contracted or offer returns uncorrelated with oil and gas," Cohen says. "Offshore wind is an area where they may have a comparative advantage, and they can then leverage the experience with that technology to make the leap to onshore wind, solar, and other renewable technologies," he says.</p>
East Coast leads the way<p>"There is enormous opportunity, especially off the East Coast, for wind. I am very bullish," said former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. "Market excitement is moving towards offshore wind. I haven't seen this kind of enthusiasm from industry since the Bakken shale boom," he said.</p><p>Offshore wind initiatives require excessive upfront spending: a 250 MW venture costs about $1 billion, based on International Energy Agency data, but as costs fall the tipping point after which costs fall faster gets nearer</p><p>"The opportunity has been created by Northeastern states seeing the large price declines for offshore wind in Europe," says Cohen. Onshore wind is historically the lowest cost renewable resource, but is at its most expensive in the Northeast, he adds. "But costs are falling slower than for other technologies," he says.</p>
Jobs and Coastal Revitalization<p>U.S. wind energy now supports 120,000 US jobs and 530 domestic factories. A study by the University of Delaware predicted that the supply chain needed to build offshore turbines to feed power to seven East Coast states by 2030 would generate nearly $70 billion in economic activity and at least 40,000 full-time jobs. An American Wind Energy Association's (AWEA's) March 2020 report estimated that developing 30,000 MW of offshore wind along the East Coast could support up to 83,000 jobs and $25 billion in annual economic output by 2030.</p><p>Having said that, not all of the jobs are American jobs. The offshore wind developers with commercial leases in the US are all foreign companies. There is growing interest from the shipbuilding sector in the Gulf of Mexico in partnering with offshore wind companies to provide services. As a result, some of the US oil trade associations have submitted comments supporting certain aspects of offshore wind. "However, it is unclear to what extent offshore wind developers plan to use US vessels and crew, and the existing projects did not incorporate US vessels or labor at all," Hawkins says.</p>
- World's Cheapest Offshore Wind Farm to Power 600,000 Homes ... ›
- Offshore Wind Power Could Produce More Electricity Than World ... ›
The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed both the strengths and limitations of globalization. The crisis has made people aware of how industrialized food production can be, and just how far food can travel to get to the local supermarket. There are many benefits to this system, including low prices for consumers and larger, even global, markets for producers. But there are also costs — to the environment, workers, small farmers and to a region or individual nation's food security.
- UN: Acute Food Shortages Worldwide May Double Due to COVID-19 ›
- The Climate Crisis Is 'a Perfect Storm' Headed for the World's Food ... ›