Trump’s Anti-Environment Agenda for 2020: When Opportunism Knocks
By Jeff Turrentine
The COVID-19 pandemic has redefined our priorities. Everyone right now is — or should be — concerned first and foremost with keeping themselves, their loved ones, and their communities safe. And when nearly the entire world shifts into triage mode, as it has over the past several weeks, it's hard for many of us to focus on anything else beyond making it through the day and preparing for the next one.
But there are some people who look out at a nation of frightened, grief-stricken, or otherwise preoccupied souls and see an opportunity to get away with something they otherwise wouldn't be able to. A fair number of these opportunists, alas, work within the Trump administration. And over the past few weeks, these officials have been busy checking items off of the fossil fuel industry's wish list — and hoping that most of us won't notice.
It's hard to pick the most egregious example of recent administrative wrongdoing; each is horrible in its own special way. So let's just start with the most brazen. On March 26, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that it would be easing enforcement of a wide swath of legally mandated environmental protections during the COVID-19 crisis, citing "consequences [that] may affect the ability of an operation to meet enforceable limitations on air emissions and water discharges, requirements for the management of hazardous waste, or requirements to ensure and provide safe drinking water." Henceforth, if a regulated business can plausibly blame the pandemic for its noncompliance with monitoring or reporting obligations, the EPA will waive any fines and/or civil penalties for violators. Rules that require the monitoring, recording, and reporting of emissions and pollution data have for decades been one of the few ways that Americans could learn about how industrial activity is affecting their communities and their health. Now, should a facility decide that it would rather not be so transparent, it doesn't have to be.
For how long, you ask? Well, for as long as the pandemic lasts. And how long might that be — from an official, governmental standpoint? Right now, we have no idea. Meanwhile, the scientific and public health communities are buzzing over an alarming new report from the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health that suggests COVID-19 may be more deadly in populations that have faced higher long-term exposure to fine-particle air pollution. Inviting industry to spew more air pollution into our communities right now certainly isn't the best way for the EPA to respond to this historic public health crisis.
The agency's announcement of this indefinite relaxation of environmental protections came only three days after the American Petroleum Institute — the ridiculously powerful trade association that lobbies for the interests of our nation's oil and gas industry — sent a letter to EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler pleading for the same. Other industries with oversize carbon footprints that received similar "relief" weren't even necessarily asking for it. Five days after the EPA's move, on March 31, President Trump decided that the time was right to finalize his rollbacks of Obama-era fuel efficiency standards for automobiles. Even though most automakers had already come to terms with the previous mandate of increasing fuel economy to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 — several were even embracing a similar plan — the president saw fit not only to lower the annual increase in fuel efficiency from 5 percent to 1.5 percent, but also to give automakers more time to reach this weaker threshold.
So, what's in it for consumers? Higher fuel costs, lower air quality, and more climate change. By the Trump administration's own estimates, the rollback could result in drivers purchasing nearly 78 billion more gallons of gas per year, increasing atmospheric CO2 by 867 million metric tons.
That the U.S. government is taking advantage of the public's distraction to push through agenda items that would, under normal conditions, be hotly debated or even aggressively opposed is what makes these anti-environment stunts so galling. In Alaska, where Governor Mike Dunleavy has issued a stay-at-home order and cracked down on travel within the state, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) is proceeding as planned with a major expansion of the ConocoPhillips Willow project. This would add up to five new drilling sites and more than 260 miles of pipeline to the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska on land adjacent to the Native Alaskan Nuiqsut community, which is already surrounded on all sides by oil fields. The next stage of the project, as it happens, is the public review process. With workplaces shuttered, travel banned, schools closed, grocery-store shelves depleted, and everyday life for Alaskans massively disrupted, the BLM (with the hearty support of ConocoPhillips) has nevertheless seen fit to place this expansion in the "business as usual" category.
"As we look to public and private health experts to end this pandemic, the BLM recognizes that it has important, statutory duties to perform," a spokesperson for the agency recently told E&E News. It would be one thing if the White House was sincerely trying to conduct the people's business while the people themselves were temporarily incapacitated. But in a handful of agencies, at least, that's not what seems to be happening. What's being conducted during this terrible crisis seems to be more along the lines of unfinished business — or even funny business. Memo to the executive branch: Bad faith is a bad look.
Reposted with permission from onEarth.
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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By Maria Caffrey
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.