By James Bruggers
In Maine, state officials are working to help residents install 100,000 high efficiency heat pumps in their homes, part of a strategy for electrifying the state. In California, an in-demand grant program helps the state's largest industry—agriculture, not technology—to pursue a greener, more sustainable future. Across Appalachia, solar panels are appearing on rooftops of community centers in what used to be coal towns.
In Maine, Federal Funding 'Would Make a Big Difference'<p>The fingerprints of climate change are all over the state of Maine, from the invasion of temperate species into the rapidly warming Gulf of Maine to summers that are now two weeks longer than they were a century ago. But despite all this change, one thing will stay the same: Winter in Maine will still be cold.</p><p>In a state that uses more home heating oil per capita than anywhere in the nation, Maine's climate hawks are looking to make a major change in the way people heat their homes, and help mitigate climate change at the same time.</p><p>In 2019, Gov. Janet Mills signed a bill with the goal of installing 100,000 heat pumps into homes in Maine by 2025. This would represent nearly a fifth of the homes in the state. </p><p>"It's clearly the electrification strategy," said Hannah Pingree, the state's director of the Governor's Office of Policy Innovation and the Future. "Electrify homes, electrify transportation. That's a strong theme of the Climate Council."</p><p>Maine's Climate Council—a group of scientists, industry leaders, local and state officials and residents—is charged with figuring out how Maine will meet a <a href="https://www.maine.gov/governor/mills/news/governor-mills-signs-major-renewable-energy-and-climate-change-bills-law-2019-06-26" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">trio of ambitious goals</a>: reducing emissions by 45 percent by 2030 and at least 80 percent by 2050; increasing the state's renewable energy portfolio standard to 80 percent by 2030 and 100 percent by 2050; and making the state carbon neutral by 2045. </p><p>Heat pumps—which also cool homes—draw in air from outside and use the difference in temperature between inside and outside air to keep a home comfortable. They are run on electricity, and can be paired with clean energy sources like solar or wind power to eliminate the carbon footprint of home heating.</p><p>Mills' plan offers incentives for installing the pumps, thanks to state funding that's being supplemented by some federal low-income housing funds. The program is up and running, but it's something that Pingree said could benefit from an infusion of federal funds.</p><p>"The governor's heat pump program is already ambitious and innovative, but to really get to the full scale and take it even further, federal investment would make a big difference," said Pingree, who co-chairs the Climate Council. "Especially when it comes to people's homes, investments in transportation and housing stock, the federal government's participation is extremely helpful and it helps put people to work."</p><p>The heat pump program is part of a bigger picture of state and local governments working to get consumers to move away from using fossil fuels for heating. <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/news/12122019/natural-gas-ban-cities-legal-cambridge-brookline-massachusetts-state-law-berkeley-california" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Some local governments</a> in other states are banning natural gas hookups for new construction, and some electric utilities and clean energy advocates are asking California regulators to enact a <a href="https://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/california-nears-tipping-point-on-all-electric-building-regulations" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">statewide ban</a> as part of the next update of the state's building code.</p><p>Heat pumps are just one part of Maines's strategy, which will likely include a massive expansion of offshore wind and community solar projects and a push to electrify the transportation sector. At a meeting earlier this summer, more than 230 people from six working groups presented ideas to the council—more than 300 actions in all—which are being weighed now.</p><p>"If you look at the recommendations from the working groups, one of the cross-cutting ones is finance. We do need to raise revenue, and we also need the federal government to step up," said David Costello, the clean energy director of the Natural Resource Council of Maine. "It's going to be hard for Maine to implement many of the actions that we'd like to implement without increased funding."</p>
California's Grants for 'Climate Smart Agriculture' Are Successful—and Threatened<p>To say California farm country is central to its ambitious plans to combat climate change seems redundant. The $50 billion agricultural sector is a pillar of the state's economy, the world's fifth largest, encompassing 70,000 farms and ranches. </p><p>With such a vast and vital industry (which includes parts of every county in the state), California has created a suite of "climate smart agriculture" programs. The first-of-their-kind programs, launched in 2014 and expanded in 2017, are <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/news/25062020/california-farmers-coronavirus-emissions-climate-change" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">helping farms become more resilient </a>to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, conserve land and protect ecosystems and communities. </p><p>The programs provide grant funds and technical assistance to farms in four key areas: conserving agricultural land against non-farm development; increasing on-farm water efficiency; improving soil health and managing manure to mitigate its climate impacts. The programs, popular with farmers, are receiving at least twice as many applications as there are grants.</p><p>They are also popular with nonprofit environmental and agricultural advocacy organizations. The California Climate and Agriculture Network (CalCAN), evaluated the programs' climate benefits and found impressive results. To date, the programs collectively have funded more than 1,250 climate smart agriculture projects and reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than 1.1 million metric tons of CO2 e (carbon dioxide equivalent) over the life of the projects, the equivalent of removing 67,000 passenger vehicles from the road for a year. The water efficiency programs have saved more than 110,000 acre feet of water (the equivalent of more than 50,000 Olympic-sized swimming pools).</p><p>They are also affordable, costing between $43 and $100 per metric ton of CO2 reductions. In a pre-pandemic California, one with a budget surplus and climate policy priorities, the programs would be expanding. Instead, climate smart agriculture funding is in jeopardy. The state, still partially wracked by the coronavirus, is in a worsening recession. Supporters of climate smart agriculture programs worry the state will spend its funding on other priorities.</p><p>This at a time when the coronavirus has exposed the need for greater investment in farm country, said Jeanne Merrill, CalCAN's policy director. "We're seeing the pandemic impacts on farmers is clearly a major disruption," she said, "and it's a disruption that can point to weaknesses in our current system. We're taking the lessons learned from the pandemic and applying that to how we can prepare for greater climate extremes. Investing in resilient farming is key."</p>
Across Appalachia, a New Post-Coal Economy Beckons<p>Coal mining jobs have been crashing for decades in eastern Kentucky, from roughly 30,000 in 1984 to about 3,000 now, undercutting what has long been among the most impoverished regions of the country.</p><p>For a long time, elected leaders <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/news/24092019/mitch-mcconnell-coal-miners-pensions-fund-appalachia-senate-campaign" target="_blank">held</a> what turned out to be false hope that the coal industry would come back.</p><p>But a nonprofit based in Berea, Kentucky, the Mountain Association for Community Economic Development, has been working toward a post-coal economy since 1976. </p><p>Among its programs: training entrepreneurs and providing low-interest loans to small businesses. In the past dozen years, MACED added energy efficiency and solar power to its mix of programs, saving clients money and cutting carbon emissions at the same time.</p><p>It's an ironic twist that rural Appalachian counties that helped power the nation with cheap—though dirty and climate warming—coal have seen residents' electricity bills <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/news/14082018/coal-energy-prices-appalachia-mining-electric-bill-kentucky-economy-aep-rates" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">skyrocket</a> as coal has given way to cheaper natural gas and increasingly competitive wind and solar. Utility customers have been shouldering the costs of shuttering old coal-burning power plants and cleaning up the toxic messes they leave behind, while the power companies doubled down on more expensive coal.</p><p>Since May 2015, <a href="https://maced.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">MACED</a> has helped with 30 solar installations, saving almost $400,000 in energy costs, said Ivy Brashear, MACED's Appalachian transition director. And since 2008, MACED has helped hundreds of homes and businesses reduce their energy bills by scrutinizing them for errors and helping to pay for energy efficiency retrofits, she said. She added that it included, for example, helping a grocery store stay in business to prevent a rural area from becoming a food desert.</p><p>"We listen and collaborate with people who are living and working in these communities, and help advance that new economy in ways that are really just and really equitable," Brashear said.</p><p>In solar work, MACED has focused on Letcher County, with a population of about 22,000, where businesses, faith communities and nonprofits are <a href="https://www.letcherculture.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">tapping</a> their cultural strengths to create a new economy. </p><p>Whitesburg-based Appalshop, the 50-year-old arts and education nonprofit, for example, partnered with MACED to put solar panels on its new outdoor performance <a href="https://appalshop.org/solar" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pavilion</a>, which opened a year ago, to power its headquarters building and reduce electricity bills.</p><p>"In the last decade, our energy costs have gone up by 50 percent and were expected to keep rising," said Alexandra Werner-Winslow, Appalshop communications director. "That was not sustainable."</p><p>MACED, she said, "was tremendously helpful with our construction," and with the low-interest loan. At the same time, Appalshop sees solar development and energy efficiency as an important economic engine for eastern Kentucky.</p><p>MACED's funding includes grants from government and philanthropic foundations. With Congress weighing further ways to help the nation recover from an economic recession caused by the novel coronavirus, it could further a transition to cleaner energy and energy savings in rural areas through targeted investments and tax rebates, said Peter Hille, president of MACED.</p><p>"Anything that can (bring) down the front-end cost makes a big difference since that also reduces interest cost on financing over the life of the loan," he said.</p>
Mountain Towns in the West Hope for a 'Green Pathway' Stimulus<p>Jessie Burley is the sustainability director for the town of Breckenridge, Colorado, a posh, outdoorsy community in the Tenmile Range. Not only is Breckenridge a member of the statewide Colorado Communities for Climate Action but the town is also part of a national organization, Mountain Towns 2030, that's swapping ideas about how to meet a goal of net-zero carbon emissions within a decade, and one of many tourist towns focused on clean energy long before the coronavirus pandemic.</p><p>And the resulting economic downturn hasn't changed the goal, said Burley. Sustainability-minded communities recognize that jobs and businesses ought to be a focus of the Covid-19 recovery, since the pandemic has revealed how exposed existing economic systems are, she said.</p><p>"Whether it's a virus or whether it's global warming or whether it's some other kind of disaster, we are more susceptible," she said. "We also can't lose sight of the fact that going back to business as usual is not going to be enough."</p><p>Members of a Mountain Towns 2030 task force on Covid-19 are pressing for any new stimulus package to include provisions supporting "green pathway" programs, such as green infrastructure, electric vehicle charging or renewable energy jobs. In that spirit, although Breckenridge has suffered steep, pandemic-related revenue losses, a community solar program is pressing forward this year, its grants scaled back from 25 to 20.</p><p>Similarly, in Montana, where revenue from natural resource industries makes up 12 percent of the state's general fund and paychecks for 1.2 percent of the workforce, a task force is finalizing a statewide climate change plan this month, said Mark Haggerty, an economist with Bozeman-based Headwaters Economics and a member of the governor's climate task force. Planning is still underway to decarbonize Montana's electricity sector by 2035 and to decarbonize Montana's economy by 2050, he said.</p><p>"A lot of this needs to be done in recognition of the fact that [the energy transition] is already happening," said Haggerty, noting that the task force is diverse, including everyone from conservationists to energy officials.</p><p>"It is a broad-based challenge, and everyone is affected regardless of where you live or what your political affiliation is," he said of the new climate goals in a world also dealing with Covid-19's economic fallout. "But, also, we need everyone to buy into and ultimately benefit from the changes that we can enact and that will benefit the entire state."</p>
Virginia is the South's First State to Commit to Carbon-Free Energy<p>In the wake of a political upheaval that put Democrats firmly in control of state government, Virginia in 2020 became the <a href="https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-solutions/virginia-becomes-the-first-southern-state-with-a-goal-of-carbon-free-energy/2020/04/13/4ef22dd6-7db5-11ea-8013-1b6da0e4a2b7_story.html" target="_blank">first state in the South</a> to commit to 100 percent carbon-free energy and to join the northeast's <a href="https://www.rggi.org/sites/default/files/Uploads/Press-Releases/2020_07_08_VA_Announcement_Release.pdf" target="_blank">Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.</a></p><p>Most of the state's coal power would have to shut down by 2024 under the Virginia Clean Economy Act, which also lays the groundwork for a burst of new renewable energy construction. Lawmakers declared large amounts of solar and wind energy and energy storage to be "in the public interest," sweeping aside the regulatory barriers to new renewable energy projects.</p><p>This transition to renewable energy already has a footprint in the Hamptons Roads area, where the state plans to develop a wind industry hub to be overseen by a newly created state agency aimed at fostering offshore wind farms. The bill that created the agency stated Virginia's opposition to offshore drilling. </p><p>About 25 miles east, Virginia Beach is considering an array of plans to protect homes and businesses from increased climate-related flooding, storm surges and sea level rise, hoping for either state or federal funds to do everything from buying out flood prone homes to possibly building large floodgates to protect its shoreline. </p><p>In Norfolk, the state is supporting construction of new reefs using crushed concrete and granite that can serve as a habitat for the eastern oyster and also help shield the city against storm surges and erosion. The effort enabled state officials last year to declare the Lafayette River fully restored under the Chesapeake Bay Watershed agreement. </p><p>The Legislature, meanwhile, considered, but rejected, the idea of a Virginia "Green New Deal" public works-style program. Instead, lawmakers opted for a business-friendly approach that had the support of the state's big utilities, Dominion Energy and Appalachian Power, by the time the legislation was<a href="https://www.governor.virginia.gov/newsroom/all-releases/2020/april/headline-856056-en.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> signed into law</a> by Gov. Ralph Northam on April 11. </p><p>The new Clean Economy Act makes it easier for rooftop solar to spread across Virginia, by expanding "net metering" for households—giving electricity customers credit for the excess solar energy they produce and sell back to the grid. It enables Virginians for the first time to save money on their monthly electric bills by going solar.</p><p>If utilities fall short on their obligations to cut carbon energy and expand renewables, they will be subject to penalties that will go into an account to fund job training, with priority given to historically disadvantaged communities, veterans and individuals in Virginia's coalfield regions. Some critics note that this set-up means there is no assured funding for worker transition programs, which could be provided by stimulus programs from the federal government.</p><p>Virginia already has more solar jobs (<a href="https://www.thesolarfoundation.org/solar-jobs-census/factsheet-2019-va/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">4,489</a>) than coal jobs (<a href="https://www.eia.gov/coal/annual/pdf/table18.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2,730)</a>, and the latter are concentrated in the rural southwestern part of the state, a Republican stronghold which has lost political power to the state's burgeoning northern suburbs. Diverse, highly educated and tech-heavy communities in the northern part of the state helped Democrats take full control of Virginia's Legislature in 2019, paving the way for passage of Northam's clean energy agenda. A chief challenge in implementing the law will be ensuring that the Republican-dominated, fossil fuel-dependent rural regions that have been resistant to change don't get left behind.</p>
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
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.
Trump's Long Focus on 'American Energy Dominance'<p>When Trump delivered his <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/news/27052016/donald-trump-republican-party-election-fossil-fuels-coal-oil-gas-fracking-climate-change-paris" target="_blank">first major energy speech in the fracking fields of North Dakota</a> as a candidate in May 2016, he called for American domination of global energy supplies.</p><p>"We are going to turn everything around," Trump declared. "And quickly, very quickly."</p><p>Once in office, Trump pursued a policy of unfettered support for fossil fuel development. He immediately signed memorandums to <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/news/24012017/keystone-xl-dakota-pipeline-donald-trump-executive-order" target="_blank">revive the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines</a>, projects blocked by Obama. </p><p>In early March 2017, his administration ordered the Environmental Protection Agency to <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/news/03032017/scott-pruitt-environmental-protection-agency-methane-greenhouse-gas-climate-change" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stop gathering data from oil and gas companies</a> 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. </p><p>He followed up, at the end of March, by issuing <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/news/28032017/trump-executive-order-climate-change-paris-climate-agreement-clean-power-plan-pruitt" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">a sweeping executive order</a> 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. </p><p>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.</p><p>In 2018, domestic oil production hit a record high. The result of this, among other things, was the <a href="https://rhg.com/research/preliminary-us-emissions-estimates-for-2018/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reversal of three consecutive years of declining U.S. carbon emissions</a>.</p><p>Many of Trump's regulations have also been tailored to favor the coal industry, often at the expense of cheaper, cleaner energy. <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/news/11102017/climate-denial-coal-industry-global-warming-robert-murray-energy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Robert Murray</a>, founder of the <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/news/29102019/coal-bankruptcy-bob-murray-energy-chapter-11-trump-regulations-rollback" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">now-bankrupt coal company Murray Energy</a> 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. </p><p>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. </p>
Trump's War on Science<p>When U.S. government scientists released their latest volume of the <a href="https://science2017.globalchange.gov/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">National Climate Assessment in November 2018, </a>it revealed much about the robust, sobering scientific consensus on climate change.</p><p>It also revealed the striking disconnect between Trump and essentially every authoritative institution on the threat of global warming.</p><p>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.</p><p>"I don't believe it. No, no, I don't believe it," Trump told a reporter after the assessment's release. </p><p>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. </p><p>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. </p><p>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 <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/05/20/politics/coronavirus-travel-alert-cdc-white-house-tensions-invs/index.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">muzzled scientists at the Centers for Disease Control </a>and chafed at the dire predictions of many epidemiological models for Covid-19 deaths. </p><p>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, <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/news/23032020/trump-epa-health-secret-science-coronavirus" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">moved in late March</a> 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. </p><p>Critics call Wheeler's transparency proposal Orwellian and say it would actually <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/news/07042020/epa-secret-science-coronavirus-covid" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">limit the use of human health science</a> in environmental decision-making, by eliminating studies that rely on patients' anonymous medical data.</p><p>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. </p><p>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.</p><p>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.</p>
A 'Concerted Attack' on Alaska, Public Lands<p>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. </p><p>Less than four months after taking office, Trump moved <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/news/28042017/doanld-trump-arctic-offshore-drilling-ban-obama-executive-order" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">to lift Obama's offshore Arctic drilling ban</a> and, then, in July 2017, gave Italian oil company Eni a quick green light to drill exploratory wells. </p><p>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. </p><p>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. </p><p>In September 2018, the Interior Department finalized a <a href="https://www.blm.gov/sites/blm.gov/files/Final%20Rule%20-1004-AE53%20-%20%20Ready%20for%20OFR%209.18.18_508%20%281%29.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">rule</a> 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. </p><p>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. </p><p>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. </p><p>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.</p><p>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 <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/news/26082020/trump-administration-alaska-oil-drilling-mining-projects" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">one of six pending projects</a> in which Trump was pursuing more drilling, logging and mining in Alaska.</p><p>One environmentalist called it the most "concerted attack" in 30 years on Alaska's natural resources. </p><p>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.</p>
One by One, Obama's Main Climate Accomplishments Fell<p>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.</p><p>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.</p><p>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. </p><p>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.</p><p>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. </p><p>Finally, in mid-August, Trump <a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/news/13082020/trump-epa-methane-emission-rollbacks" target="_blank">proposed the rollback</a> 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.</p><p>The Obama rule required oil and gas companies to monitor methane leaks and fix them. The Trump replacement weakens those requirements, allowing companies<a href="https://insideclimatenews.org/news/13082020/trump-epa-methane-emission-rollbacks" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> to release 4.5 million metric tons more pollution each year. </a></p><p>In the climate realm, Obama is best known, of course, as the driving force behind the 2015 Paris climate accord. </p><p>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. </p><p>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. </p><p>The actual U.S. withdrawal is set for Nov. 4, 2020, one day after the presidential election.</p>
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By Kristoffer Tigue
In many ways, Maleta Kimmons defines her neighborhood by what it lacks.
Several houses near her home remain vacant. Last week, she had to drive seven miles just to buy groceries. And two weeks ago, at the height of the Minneapolis protests sparked by the killing of George Floyd by a police officer on May 25, looters broke into the only pharmacy in the area, forcing the store to close and leaving many in the neighborhood without easy access to life-saving medication like insulin or inhalers for asthma.
St. John the Baptist Parish, Louisiana: "We've Already Been Written Off"<p>Reserve, Louisiana, had an agrarian economy when Robert Taylor was born. His parents worked at a local sugar refinery. "I'm a lifelong resident," he said. "I was born here in 1940, so I've seen some changes." When he was a boy, he said, "I could just walk out my house and go out my backyard and I was in a sugarcane field."</p><p>By the time he was a young man, the petrochemical industry was moving in. He bought a plot of land on the edge of town and built a home, finished by the time his fourth child was born, he said. "I went and got my wife from the hospital and brought her with our child to our new home."</p><p>Around the same time, he said, DuPont began operating a new chemical plant less than a thousand yards from the home.</p><p>St. John the Baptist Parish, which includes Reserve, lies within Louisiana's "Cancer Alley," a stretch along the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge and New Orleans that is cluttered with petrochemical development and the pollution it brings. The Environmental Protection Agency's National Air Toxics Assessment, which uses emissions estimates to model health risks, estimates that the risk of developing cancer in Reserve is 50 times the national average, and that the <a href="https://www.epa.gov/la/laplace-louisiana-frequent-questions#highest-risks" target="_blank">five census tracts with the highest risk</a> are all in the area.</p><p>But as Taylor watched the development spring up around him, he didn't know any of that. All he knew was that a lot of people seemed to be getting sick. Several family members have died of cancer, he said, while his wife is a cancer survivor. It wasn't until four years ago that Taylor began to connect what he saw with the industry that had developed around him.</p><p>"I came home one night and my wife was so sick, and the odor was so horrible coming from the plant, that I called 911," he said. "And the emergency personnel, they were taken aback by the odor. Of course, all of them was white, none of them lived in the community I lived in," he said. Almost two-thirds of Reserve's residents are black.</p><p>It never occurred to him that other parts of the parish didn't have it as bad. And soon after that incident, the EPA arrived and began monitoring for a chemical, chloroprene, that is used in the nearby plant and is considered by the agency to be a "likely carcinogen."</p><p>"I got the first results of the monitoring, it scared the heck out of me," he said. When the EPA found high levels of the chemical in the air near a school, "that's really what sparked the people to join me and we formed this Concerned Citizens of St. John."</p><p><a href="https://www.ccosj.com/" target="_blank">His group</a> has been trying ever since to get Denka Corporation, which bought the plant from DuPont in 2015, to limit emissions. Denka did not reply to requests for comment from InsideClimate News, but a <a href="http://denka-pe.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/DENKAFAQ.pdf" target="_blank">company website</a> says it has voluntarily reduced emissions and that "there is no evidence to suggest Denka's operations are harmful to local residents."</p><p>Taylor's wife now lives in California, to be away from the pollution. Some of his children have moved out of the parish, too. His great-granddaughter was born recently nearby, "and she has no future here," he said. </p><p>But he feels trapped with his home. Beyond the low value of the property, Taylor said, he wouldn't feel right selling to another family, only to have them live with the same burden.</p><p>"We've already been written off. We're walking dead people," he said. "We've been sacrificed."</p>
Bears Ears National Monument, Utah: Trump Ended Tribal Governance<p>Alfred Lomahquahu helped build the five-tribe <a href="https://bearsearscoalition.org/" target="_blank">coalition</a> that proposed the Bears Ears National Monument in southeastern Utah.</p><p>The land might seem remote, but the struggle against racial and environmental injustice has been no different for the indigenous people of the Southwest than for those protesting on the streets of the world's cities.</p><p>"People are actually getting united," said Lomahquahu, a Hopi. "That's the main thing that the government is afraid of, that's why they don't want these protests going on."</p><p>The coalition's work focused on protecting red rock canyons and pinion-dotted desert containing hundreds of thousands of archaeological sites and areas of deep cultural significance to the Hopi Nation, Zuni Tribe, Navajo Nation, Ute Indian Tribe and Ute Mountain Utes.</p><p>"We started speaking with Obama on a one-to-one, government-to-government basis," said Lomahquahu, now community administrator in the Hopi village of Baqavi in northern Arizona. "Part of our strategy was that we were going to work side by side with [the U.S. Bureau of Land Management] and all these other government entities as part of the planning for the whole monument."</p><p>The Obama administration embraced the idea, establishing and empowering a Bears Ears Commission when it <a href="https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2016/12/28/proclamation-establishment-bears-ears-national-monument" target="_blank">created</a> the monument. Lomahquahu was the commission's co-chair until it was abolished when the Trump administration <a href="https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/presidential-proclamation-modifying-bears-ears-national-monument/" target="_blank">downsized</a> the monument by 85 percent not quite a year later.</p><p>Trump administration officials rebuffed commissioners and other monument supporters, he said. "But we already knew at that point that everything that we achieved was going to go down the drain—and for every other minority too."</p><p>Yet, the experience also showed the tribes, which have historically been at odds with one another, the power of working together, he added. And, later, conservation groups, professional societies, recreation groups and even large companies like Patagonia joined the tribes' campaign to protect the land from mining and pollution.</p><p>"Some people are going to use their privilege in order to help others that aren't privileged," Lomahquhu said. "I think that's something that you really need to look at now ... Some people are privileged more than others and willing to use that privilege to help everyone get back on their feet."</p><p>New uranium mining, coal-fired power and oil and gas development in the region are other threats that the Four Corners region has faced. More recently, Indian Country communities have united against Covid-19.</p><p>"We're just waiting for Trump to leave office," Lomahquhu said, "so we can get back in there and regroup again and bring all entities back together."</p>
The Rockaways, Queens, N.Y.: Young Leaders of Color Building Resilient Communities<p>Milan Taylor was 21 when he founded the <a href="https://rytf.org/" target="_blank">Rockaway Youth Task Force</a> in 2011, to sponsor community clean-ups and encourage voter registration in this outlying neighborhood on a barrier island in Queens.</p><p>A year later, after Hurricane Sandy left homes four- to 10-feet underwater and knocked out power for days, Taylor found himself helping to lead rescue and relief efforts in a neighborhood that was 60 percent African American and Hispanic and the poverty line was 20 percent higher than the state average.</p><p>He mobilized hundreds of volunteers in a <a href="https://www.huffpost.com/entry/hurricane-sandy-far-rockaway_b_2109224?guccounter=1" target="_blank">widespread effort</a> to assess the needs and deliver food and medications to hundreds of home-bound community members, including elderly and disabled residents. As they meticulously canvassed high-rise apartment buildings, the major relief organizations and the NYPD seemed strangely missing in action.</p><p>"Sandy gave us the exposure that [the Rockaway Youth Task Force] needed to grow," said Taylor, now 31 and the group's executive director.</p><p>And a good thing that is, with climate scientists predicting sea level rise of at least a foot by 2050, which will make the Rockaways more prone to climate change-fueled flooding and storm surges than they already are. </p><p>"What we're trying to accomplish as an organization is to build more resilient communities," Taylor said, "We want to be there, whether it's a disaster brought about by climate change or even human disasters"—a reference to the ongoing protests for racial justice and an end to police violence. </p><p>Taylor said that it is important for the task force, made up largely of young people of color, to be "led by our own constituency, meaning that those who are directly impacted decide which direction and which campaigns we take on as an organization." </p><p>Despite being told after Sandy that his organization couldn't grow, he said, "We're still here ... still doing work, still helping our communities, and still training the next generation of leaders."</p><p>He noted that one former RYTF organizer, Khaleel Anderson, is now <a href="https://khaleel4thepeople.com/" target="_blank">running</a> for the New York State Assembly. </p><p>In the future, Taylor said, he hopes the broader climate movement embraces his work with the task force, which recognizes how race, gender and socioeconomic factors contribute to environmental injustice. "The conversation of Black lives mattering isn't just limited to police violence," Taylor said. "It also extends to climate justice." </p>
Los Angeles: Latino Children in Boyle Heights Play in Lead-Contaminated Soil<p>Idalmis Vaquero sees such joy in the exuberance of a neighborhood boy named R.J.</p><p>The six-year-old runs to her to show off his newest feat—a backflip—on the dusty patch of grass outside of their aging apartment complex owned by the Los Angeles Housing Authority. </p><p>Yet there is a dark contradiction between the glee of this boy and the reality of life in the shadow of a lead recycling plant that has poisoned the ground that dirties R.J.'s bare feet.</p><p>The boy, like so many other children and families living in this neighborhood, is exposed every day to the high concentrations of lead that have contaminated this mostly Latino community just southeast of downtown Los Angeles.</p><p>The Exide Technologies recycling plant and its predecessors emitted lead, arsenic and other dangerous pollutants, leaving homes, apartments, schools, parks and day care centers with dangerously high levels of lead contaminated soil.</p><p>Vaquero, 26, a third-year student at the University of California, Los Angeles School of Law, grew up in public housing in the Boyle Heights neighborhood, where she still lives and where her parents settled after emigrating from Mexico nearly 30 years ago.</p><p>There has been little change in her neighborhood since she was a child. Factories, smoke stacks and exhaust-belching diesel trucks define the community more than grassy parks and welcoming recreation centers.</p><p>So she worries about the future of R.J. and other children.</p><p>"Living here will have an impact on the quality of life for the rest of their lives," she said. "It makes me mad that our lives are not considered equal when it comes to addressing environmental hardships."</p><p>As many as 250,000 residents, mostly working-class Latinos, face a chronic health hazard from exposure to airborne lead and arsenic that subsequently settled into the soil from the recycling plant, according to <a href="http://www.aqmd.gov/docs/default-source/exide/exideab2588hra15jan13_15may13_cor.pdf?sfvrsn=2" target="_blank">a 2013 health risk assessment by the South Coast Air Quality Management District</a>.</p><p>Lead contamination has been found in children growing up in neighborhoods surrounding the now-shuttered Exide battery plant, <a href="https://news.usc.edu/156523/lead-in-baby-teeth-exide-battery-plant/" target="_blank">a USC study found</a>. Lead is a neurotoxin, and there is no level that is considered safe in humans.</p><p>The 15-acre recycling facility operated in the industrial city of Vernon for decades with minimal regulatory oversight. It churned out poisonous pollution around the clock seven days a week as the lead from 25,000 old car batteries was melted down every day for use in producing new batteries.</p><p>The facility received more than 100 environmental violations for such things as lead and acid leaks and maintaining an overflowing pond of toxic sludge.</p><p>The Exide plant was shut down in 2015 by the U.S. Department of Justice, which also ordered the company to pay $50 million to clean up the site and nearby neighborhoods. The state later pledged $75 million for the ongoing cleanup, which is being overseen by the <a href="https://dtsc.ca.gov/exide-home/" target="_blank">California Department of Toxic Substances Control</a>.</p><p>The cleanup has been painfully slow, which Vaquero takes as yet another signal that her neighborhood and neighbors are just a forgotten footnote in a city defined by the glitz of Hollywood and Beverly Hills. </p><p>Vaquero majored in environmental studies at Wellesley College in Massachusetts, where she made the decision to stand up for her community and others like hers.</p><p>She described <a href="https://www.documentcloud.org/documents/6945854-Vaquero-Paper-Fighting-for-Environmental-Health.html" target="_blank"> the environmental injustices in her community in a 2016 thesis</a>: </p><p>"The health of these communities need to be prioritized and protected from any more pollution from Exide and other environmental injustices," she wrote. "The community's power and resilience will prevail and environmental justice will be served to Southeast Los Angeles."</p>
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By Ilana Cohen, Evelyn Nieves, Judy Fahys, Marianne Lavelle, James Bruggers
When New York Communities for Change helped lead a demonstration of 500 on Monday in Brooklyn to protest George Floyd's killing in Minneapolis, the grassroots group's activism spoke to a long-standing link between police violence against African Americans and environmental justice.
'I Worry About My Kids and Their Kids'<p>Watching the events of recent days unfold have been very painful for Arnita Gadson, a veteran environmental justice advocate who has played a pivotal role helping to keep a large chemical industry in Louisville accountable through a local task force, and also serves as Kentucky's Environmental Climate Justice Chair for the NAACP.</p><p>She is contributing to a local climate adaptation plan, and that work has continued through the recent strife, Gadson said, adding, "but I've been scared.</p><p>"I am a black woman living in a white world," she said. "If I go out, I might get shot and I may get killed. I worry about my kids and their kids."</p><p>In Salt Lake City, Utah, Grace Olscamp has been reaching out on social media, calling on environmentalists to do more than pledge support for people of color on behalf of the environmental group HEAL Utah, which has focused for two decades on hazardous and nuclear waste, as well as air pollution and climate change.</p><p>"It shouldn't have taken us this long to really step up and take action," said Olscamp, HEAL's communications director, noting that she, the group's staff and many of its members are white and "definitely in a place of privilege."</p><p>It's a problem among environmental organizations, generally, that they have failed to include more people of color and to hold themselves accountable for working toward real change.</p>
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