We welcome expressions, support, and collaboration from like-minded organizations

 

 

ENVIRONMENT POLICIES, ANALYSIS, AND RESOURCES

The Environment Domain tracks and reports on policies that deal with the use of natural resources, climate change, energy emissions, pollution, and the protection of endangered species. This domain tracks policies emanating from the White House, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Energy Department, and the Interior Department.

Latest Environment Posts

 

Fishing Boat Dispatch # 2

USRENEW Blog
By Katherine Cart
I came to Amaknak Island by plane. The mountains the plane passes between were, in June, very green. The visual sense that the Aleutian Chain gives is of a treeless Hawaii – its geology is similar; the landscape is very young, and active volcanoes grow the islands sporadically. Extending like a hooked arm, the Aleutians delineate the southern edge of the Bering Sea. Amaknak rises from the North Pacific, 800 miles south of Anchorage. Around the smidge of land that is the Aleutian Chain, there is very little but sea. Amaknak’s Iliuliuk Bay, where 300 foot vessels dock, offload fish, and fuel, drops dramatically to twenty fathoms. The basalt and andesite flows and pyroclastic rocks that form the cliffs of Mounts Ballyhoo and Split Top, and through which obdurate roads have been blasted, rise nearly two thousand feet from the bay edge. Thin soil, reddish, capped by tall grasses and shrub like a fur, holds tremulous purchase on the volcanic substrate. There is a wildness and fragility to Amaknak. With nearly three thousand residents, Amaknak is the most populous of Aleutian islands, and where Dutch Harbor provides anchorage to the North Pacific fishing and shipping fleets. Billions of dollars pass through each year.

read more

Leading Environmental Organizations Went Public with a Letter That Supported the Impeachment of President Trump

Brief #110—Environment
By Shannon Q Elliot
Leaders of America’s most prominent environmental organizations penned a letter to the US House of Representatives in support of House Resolution 24; a second impeachment trial of Donald Trump. The letter was authored by The Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, Greenpeace US, and the Natural Resources Defense Council who concluded the letter gently reminding our leaders that the “health of our democracy and environment are inextricably linked”

read more

The Importance of Preserving the Biodiversity of Our Planet

Brief #109—Environment
By Jacob Morton
The biodiversity of our planet is declining at an accelerated rate. Populations of plant and animal species around the world are dwindling to the point of near extinction, more rapidly than at any other time in our planet’s history. Sir Partha Dasgupta, an economist at Cambridge University, says this rampant and unheeded degradation of our planet “could have catastrophic consequences for our economies and wellbeing,” pointing to Covid-19 as “just the tip of the iceberg.” Earlier this month, Dasgupta and the UK Treasury released an independent report on the economics of biodiversity. The main takeaway? We are draining the bank of our most valuable asset, natural capital. And the consequences are not going to be pretty.

Dasgupta explains it like this, “Just as diversity within a portfolio of financial assets reduces risk and uncertainty, diversity within a portfolio of natural assets increases nature’s resilience in withstanding shocks.” The widespread impacts of climate change and a coronavirus run rampant across the globe are just a couple examples of nature’s loss of resilience. As the report points out in its opening remarks, “Our economies, livelihoods and wellbeing all depend on our most precious asset: nature. We are part of nature, not separate from it.”

read more

General Motors and Wall Street can’t wait to plug into the new economy

Brief #108—Environment
By Todd J Broadman
Soon after President Biden’s election victory, General Motors Corporation (GM) publicly stated their vision: to manufacture vehicles that feature zero carbon emissions. That vision is the leading feature of their “triple zero,” which also includes zero congestion and zero crashes (through advanced safety technologies and self-driving vehicles). Over the next 15 years, GM will completely phase out the production of petroleum powered vehicles and will solely manufacture electric vehicles (EV). There are to be 30 such EV models available by 2025.

read more

President Biden’s Executive Orders Greatly Strengthen US Commitment to Fight Climate Change

Brief #107—Environment
By Jacob Morton
On Wednesday, January 27, President Joe Biden signed a flurry of executive actions to address the climate crisis by reviving environmental protections dismantled by the previous administration and promoting the creation of new ‘green’ jobs. The orders revive many Obama-era protections and regulations, including a rejection of the Keystone XL Pipeline and the protection of sacred indigenous sites in Utah. Biden’s executive actions go even further still, mandating that climate change be considered in all major decisions of the Federal government, and re-establishing a culture of scientific integrity and evidence-based decision making across all Federal agencies. The President’s executive orders  also call for the Federal government to play a larger role in ensuring economic success for communities and individuals affected by an energy industry shift from fossil fuels to renewables.

read more

Trump’s EPA Seeks to Hide Science with New “Transparency” Rule

Brief #105—Environment
By Jacob Morton
On January 5, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized a new rule requiring that any scientific evidence that is to be considered by the agency when crafting new environmental regulation, such as limiting the use of certain chemicals or determining levels of allowable pollution, must make all relevant data publicly available (including study participants’ personal medical records) to be considered credible.

read more
Fishing Boat Dispatch # 2

Fishing Boat Dispatch # 2

Changing Tides: A new blog post on the marine environment written by USRESIST NEWS Reporter Katherine Cart

Fishing Boat Dispatch # 2

March 1, 2021

I came to Amaknak Island by plane. The mountains the plane passes between were, in June, very green. The visual sense that the Aleutian Chain gives is of a treeless Hawaii – its geology is similar; the landscape is very young, and active volcanoes grow the islands sporadically. Extending like a hooked arm, the Aleutians delineate the southern edge of the Bering Sea. Amaknak rises from the North Pacific, 800 miles south of Anchorage. Around the smidge of land that is the Aleutian Chain, there is very little but sea.

Amaknak’s Iliuliuk Bay, where 300 foot vessels dock, offload fish, and fuel, drops dramatically to twenty fathoms. The basalt and andesite flows and pyroclastic rocks that form the cliffs of Mounts Ballyhoo and Split Top, and through which obdurate roads have been blasted, rise nearly two thousand feet from the bay edge. Thin soil, reddish, capped by tall grasses and shrub like a fur, holds tremulous purchase on the volcanic substrate. There is a wildness and fragility to Amaknak. With nearly three thousand residents, Amaknak is the most populous of Aleutian islands, and where Dutch Harbor provides anchorage to the North Pacific fishing and shipping fleets. Billions of dollars pass through each year.

The litoral margins of islands Amaknak and Unalaska house factories, supply stores, dynamite-blasted roads, and small mountains of CONEX containers that grow and shift and diminish as they are offloaded, filled with frozen fish product, and locked onto the decks of six-hundred foot carrier vessels. Semis move containers from factory to dock. Upon completing a two week trip, the lines of factory fishing vessels are caught by longshoremen, and crews of thirty or a hundred begin offloading into warehouse and waiting CONEX hundreds of thousands of pounds flash-frozen pollock, flatfish, rockfish, cod – reduced from individual entities to fillet, surimi, a gutted, buyable product. Everyday, at any hour, this churn twists. There is no night in Dutch Harbor.

I have walked across the island in winter, when the sun has set hours before and only rises perfunctorily. Darkness on the road is a brief punctuation between fluorescent, dazzling lights. Trucks drive back and forth and back again, from Westward Plant on Unalaska Island, to City Dock in Iliuliuk Bay, from Kloosterboer to town. Across the roads we have cut into the land, the dirt bleeds, sod hangs like skin, basalt is boney, black. There is the sense everywhere of wounds not quite healed. And very tired people scurry, moving fish.

Once, during the second world war, Dutch Harbor was a military base. Its ordnance formed Alaska’s Iron Ring and suffered in June of 1942 a Japanese air strike. You can see the remains of the fortification everywhere, and especially well from Mount Ballyhoo. Artillery digs make oddly geometric lines across the hump of Bunker Hill. Cement bunkers sit atop many hills, and beneath, into the rock, are bored caves like wormholes for storage and infantry movement. On Ulakta Head sits the highest battery in North America, at 897 feet. Below, anti-submarine nets once crossed the mouth of Iliuliuk Bay. On Hog Island, in spring, flowers nearly cover the gun shields of Fort Learnard. When the war ended, the U.S. navy leaked away, leaving the cement husks of conflict in the landscape.

Before the war, and before commercial fishing, and before Russian fur-trappers arrived in the eighteenth century and erected the green-steepled Church of the Holy Ascension on the slopes of Unalaska, indigenous Unangan people lived on the islands for thousands of years – though you’d be hard pressed to find their any obvious trace. The last several centuries of human development have been like the sudden, fitful seep of a volcano, radically amending landscape.

Beneath the water, we dig holes too. Trawlers whose nets scrape the benthos pull black mud, coral, old plastic, unsellable sculpin, sand lances and dollars, crab (last summer, a codend dumped five metric ton crab to deck – a slowly crawling mountain, up which deck hands ran, laughing), all to target this fish or that fish, at the whim of buyers. The seafloor we gouge with codends like bombs dropped from the sea roof is delicate spawning ground, quiet habitat in which competition has evolved for millenia. The act of trawl fishing seems to me much like spraying a machine gun through a forest, hoping to kill a deer. I don’t know how long it takes the mud to settle. Perhaps not so long as the ratifying of litigation that would eliminate wasteful fishing, but long enough.

Two noticeable heat “blobs” have bloomed off the west coast of North America over the last decade. In aerial heat maps of water temperature anomalies, the Bering Sea, during these events, registers a deep, brickish red. The color denotes an average temperature increase of 3ºC. Pacific cod, a fatty fish whose eggs are susceptible to heat flux took – and are taking – a beating. The alarmingly low cod stock, when I was collecting data aboard a pollock dragger last winter, limited catch size across fisheries and threatened to close areas to trawl fishing.

In 2019, another heat-bubble bloomed, moving from the South Pacific north, changing ecosystems, coastal climate, weather patterns. I saw, and became quite used to, many tons of northern sea nettle falling like giant raindrops from net to trawl alley. Jellyfish are impossibly durable invertebrates: they can survive in low-oxygen water when other species might seek cleaner currents. Warming trends boost plankton growth, diminishing oxygen. On a different boat, a factory vessel, there were, for a few days, as many jellyfish as pollock in my samples.

A broad sheet of sea ice seen on a clear winter dawn is a tremendous thing. It is soft and pinkish until the horizon, and behind you, the Bering Sea is black, gold, pink, translucent and green at wave tip – it is a field of rippling mirror. Sea ice, each winter, shrinks. Its southern edge moves north. Fish whose habitat is frontier ice move north. Do we follow?

Things are moving. We are moving. Of course, migration is a constant. Living matter seeks new ledges on which to root. Monarchs cross the Atlantic. Humans walk land bridges and steel bridges. Last week, the Perseverance Rover landed on Mars. Cold flamingos come down from the mountains, and the mountains rise up from the sea. The Earth grows callus in ridges, absorbing stampede, monsoon, quake and rot.

Looking at Dutch Harbor from Ballyhoo, I was reminded of a child’s playthings, spilt across a carpet. Blue-roofed houses, factories billowing fishmeal steam, roads that, from so high above, appear benign, even quaint. It’s impossible not to wonder what will happen to that place when, inevitably, we move onwards, perhaps northwards, and settle our boxes and buildings and giant semi trucks elsewhere. How long does it take an island to grow up, grow over, reclaim? And can the seafloor recover?

Learn More:

“New Marine Heatwave Emerges off West Coast, Resembles ‘the Blob’” NOAA (5 September, 2019), retrieved 27 February from: https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/feature-story/new-marine-heatwave-emerges-west-coast-resembles-blob

Leading Environmental  Organizations Went Public with a Letter That Supported the Impeachment of President Trump

Leading Environmental Organizations Went Public with a Letter That Supported the Impeachment of President Trump

Environmental Policy Brief # 110

Leading Environmental Organizations Went Public with a Letter That Supported the Impeachment of President Trump

Written By: Shannon Q Elliott

Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Leaders of America’s most prominent environmental organizations penned a letter to the US House of Representatives in support of House Resolution 24; a second impeachment trial of Donald Trump. The letter was authored by The Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, Greenpeace US, and the Natural Resources Defense Council who concluded the letter gently reminding our leaders that the “health of our democracy and environment are inextricably linked”

The groups affirm that the letter reflects like-minded members who feel that the politically irresponsible actions of January 6, border on treason. They insist that we must hold public officials accountable for continued misuse of their platform. While it’s true that these organizations have their own agenda for disbarring Trump, the letter is not a reflection of their own fight for environmental justice. Their fight will continue in the courts and challenge the rollback back of over 125 protections. Collaboratively the groups have filed over 259+ lawsuits.

During the Trump Administration, the environmental sector saw last minute language changes to The Endangered Species Act; (ESA) which safeguarded land to conserve threatened species. Now, the federal government can commandeer the land if the benefits to humanity are greater  than the retention of species. The changes also included a loss of critical habitat for the northern spotted owl and axed the wolverine off the endangered species list. Additionally, Trump announced the successful installation of 450 miles of protective fencing securing southern points of California, New Mexico, and Arizona. The administration was laser-focused on the completion of the promised border wall and neglected environmental protections leaving the area susceptible to climate change, species diversion, harmful emissions, dwindling water supply, and irreversible landscape changes to the indigenous beauty of these three states.

Analysis

The letter was not written in a retaliatory or vengeful tone. Organizations such as The Sierra Club et al, harbor brilliant educated minds who can sharply articulate how the past four years have impacted the coexistence of democracy and environment. Ramon Cruz, President of the Sierra Club was the Deputy Director of the state environmental regulatory agency in Puerto Rico and held senior positions at the Environmental Defense Fund, Abigail Dillen, President of Earth justice served as the Vice President of Litigation for Climate & Energy; Sylvia Baca , Board of Directors for Defenders of Earth wildlife served as deputy assistant secretary at the Department of the Interior (DOI) from 2009 to 2012 and was assistant secretary from 1995 to 2001. These are just a few board members with outstanding credibility, and whose opinions should be revered.

The groups were optimistic that the letter would show habitual evidence that the ex-president was inconsistent, and a danger to the American people. However, as we now know the Senate failed to convict President Trump and the letter from the environmental organizations is still worth publicizing as a catalogue of environmental abuses by the Trump administration that now urgently must be reversed. It is reproduced for our readers below.

United States House of Representatives Washington, DC 20510

Re: Environmental Organizations Support H.Res. 24, Impeachment of President Trump

Dear Representative,

The undersigned environmental groups write today on behalf of our millions of members and supporters to express our support for Congress using immediate and appropriate processes to impeach President Trump for inciting last week’s white supremacist violent insurrection at the United States Capitol.

President Trump remains a clear and present danger to the safety and security of everyone in this country. He encouraged and incited the deadly mob on January 6, and perpetuated the unfounded and harmful claims about the 2020 election that inspired their actions. The riot caused multiple deaths and directly threatened our national security, and the president responded with inaction followed by further defense of the violent behavior.

These actions, and President Trump’s refusal to take any responsibility or adequately disavow the acts of violence and insurrection, raise serious concerns about the harms he may continue to cause during his final days in office. Taking immediate steps to impeach President Trump ensures accountability for his dangerous behavior and sets a critical precedent that efforts to overturn free and fair elections are not tolerated.

In addition, members of Congress who joined in the incitement of violence, or who returned to the ransacked Capitol building hours later and voted to overturn an election based on the same unfounded lies that motivated the mob, must be held accountable for violating their oaths of office.

Holding elected officials accountable and ensuring our elections remain free and fair are essential for the preservation of our democracy. And the health of our democracy and environment are inextricably linked. For these reasons, we strongly urge you to support H.Res. 24, the impeachment of President Trump.

Sincerely,

Defenders of Wildlife
Earthjustice
Friends of the Earth
U.S. Greenpeace
US League of Conservation Voters
National Wildlife Federation
Natural Resources Defense Council
Ocean Conservancy
Sierra Club
The Wilderness Society
Union of Concerned Scientists

Join the movement

Learn More:

Final Days of Trump . (2021). https://www.wbur.org/onpoint/2020/11/20/what-to-expect-from-the-final-days-of-the-trump-presidency

Midnight Regulations . (2020, December). https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/06/politics/trump-midnight-regulations-record-rulemaking/index.html

The Trump Administration Rolled Back More Than 100 Environmental Rules. Here’s the Full List. (2021). https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/climate/trump-environment-rollbacks-list.html

Trump Administration May Hurt Wildlife . (2021). https://www.nationalgeographic.com/animals/2021/01/trump-admin-midnight-actions-hurt-wildlife-environment/

 

Resistance Resources

Earthjustice : Earthjustice.org

Defenders of Wildlife : https://defenders.org/

National Resources Defense Council: https://www.nrdc.org/

The Sierra Club : https://sierraclub.org

The Importance of Preserving the Biodiversity of Our Planet

The Importance of Preserving the Biodiversity of Our Planet

Brief # 109 Environmental Policy 

The Importance of Preserving the Biodiversity of Our Planet

By Jacob Morton

February 19, 2021

Review

The biodiversity of our planet is declining at an accelerated rate. Populations of plant and animal species around the world are dwindling to the point of near extinction, more rapidly than at any other time in our planet’s history. Sir Partha Dasgupta, an economist at Cambridge University, says this rampant and unheeded degradation of our planet “could have catastrophic consequences for our economies and wellbeing,” pointing to Covid-19 as “just the tip of the iceberg.” Earlier this month, Dasgupta and the UK Treasury released an independent report on the economics of biodiversity. The main takeaway? We are draining the bank of our most valuable asset, natural capital. And the consequences are not going to be pretty.

Dasgupta explains it like this, “Just as diversity within a portfolio of financial assets reduces risk and uncertainty, diversity within a portfolio of natural assets increases nature’s resilience in withstanding shocks.” The widespread impacts of climate change and a coronavirus run rampant across the globe are just a couple examples of nature’s loss of resilience. As the report points out in its opening remarks, “Our economies, livelihoods and wellbeing all depend on our most precious asset: nature. We are part of nature, not separate from it.”

The report points out that the demands we have placed on nature far exceed nature’s capacity to supply us with all the resources we ask of it. For too long we have enjoyed the spoils, at no cost to us, of our fruitful soils, waters, and forests. Now, the costs to our global ecosystems have piled too high to be ignored. Dasgupta says, at this rate “We would require 1.6 Earths to maintain the world’s current living standards.” To frame these demands as costs, Dasgupta notes that “most governments pay people more to exploit nature than to protect it and that destructive farming subsidies cause … $4 trillion – $6 trillion [worth of damage] per year.”

The report presents humanity with “an urgent choice,” neither of which will be easy: continue business as usual or ensure that humanity’s demands do not exceed nature’s capacity to supply. According to the report, “Continuing down our current path presents extreme risks and uncertainty for our economies.” However, the alternative “will require transformative change, underpinned by levels of ambition, coordination and political will akin to, or even greater than, those of the Marshall Plan (under which Europe was rebuilt after the second world war).”

The report suggests six areas in which our global community must seek reform, ranging from food production to education. First, our food production systems must be redesigned to employ progressive practices such as “precision agriculture and genetic breeding.” For example, developing perennial wheat varieties that do not require annual tillage, using geospatial technologies to improve crop yields and reduce inputs, and transitioning from gillnetting to reef-netting practices in our oceans to reduce harm to unwanted by-catch, to name a few. Though these practices will help immensely, the most profound changes to our food systems must start with the consumer. Dasgupta says that overconsumption of food products known to cause the most ecological damage, such as beef, “must be cut.”

Second, the growing human population must be addressed. Dasgupta’s report argues that “Addressing the shortfall [in women’s access to education and family planning] is essential, even if the effects may not be apparent in the short-term.” The report suggests that “There has been significant underinvestment in such programs,” and that “improving women’s access to finance [and increasing] support for community-based family planning programs can shift preferences and behavior and accelerate the demographic transition.”

Third, conservation efforts must be greatly expanded. As the report notes, “It is less costly to conserve nature than to restore it once damaged or degraded.” The report suggests that we ought to be “expanding and improving the management of [already] protected areas,” and that “large-scale and widespread investment in nature-based solutions would help us to address biodiversity loss and significantly contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation, not to mention wider economic benefits, including creating jobs.” Dasgupta also notes that most low-income countries acquire much of their wealth from “natural capital,” as well as “tend to rely more directly on nature.” Thus, “conserving and restoring our natural assets also contributes to alleviating poverty.”

Fourth, Dasgupta implores us to change the way we measure economic success, steering our focus away from GDP. He argues that as a measure of economic activity, GDP “is needed for short-run macroeconomic analysis and management. However, GDP does not account for the depreciation of assets, including the natural environment. As our primary measure of economic success, it therefore encourages us to pursue unsustainable economic growth and development.” Instead of simply focusing on GDP, Dasgupta recommends we develop a more “inclusive measure of wealth” as a means of judging the sustainability of economic development. The report demonstrates that, “By measuring our wealth in terms of all assets, including natural assets, ‘inclusive wealth’ provides a clear and coherent measure that corresponds directly with the well-being of current and future generations.” To do this, Dasgupta suggests, “Introducing natural capital into national accounting systems would be a critical step towards making inclusive wealth our measure of progress.”

Fifth, the report proclaims that we must unite ourselves around the protection of those biomes considered “global public goods,” such as tropical rainforests, whose impacts transcend national borders. The report suggests we ought to explore a system in which payments are made to the nations in which these biomes exist, to protect and conserve those vital ecosystems. Similarly, for the ecosystems that lie beyond national borders, such as the high seas, the global community should consider “imposing charges, or rents, for their use (for example, ocean traffic and ocean fisheries) and prohibiting their use in ecologically sensitive areas should be instituted.” Dasgupta proposes that perhaps the revenue from such charges and rents could serve as the funds for the payments to the nations charged with protecting those biomes considered global public goods.

Sixth, Dasgupta’s report highlights the critical need to begin incorporating the study of nature as a key component of our education systems. Dasgupta says that “The discipline to draw on nature sustainably must, ultimately, be provided by us as individuals;” arguing that the increased urbanization of our societies has created a disconnect between humans and nature. Dasgupta proposes that, “Interventions to enable people to understand and connect with nature would not only improve our health and well-being, but also help empower citizens to make informed choices and demand the change that is needed.” The report firmly states that, “Establishing the natural world in education policy is therefore essential,” and explains that “the development and design of environmental education programs can help to achieve tangible impact” through collaboration with scientists and community organizations to address local environmental issues. Additionally, the report argues, “Our education systems should introduce nature studies from the earliest stages of our lives and revisit them in secondary and tertiary education. … We [must] create an environment in which, from an early age, we are able to connect with nature.”

Analysis

Environmentalists and economists alike have praised the report for its ability to highlight the services we take for granted from our natural environments, and the impacts on our global economy from our failure to protect them. The report has received acclaim for its reinterpretation of economic health as a measure of our natural assets, and its proposal of a new economic model that factors in the sustainability of our natural capital. Peter Blom, Chief Executive at Triodos Bank N.V., says, “The decisions that the financial sector continue to make do not reflect today’s reality, let alone the future we face. … If we do not act on the recommendations of the Dasgupta Review, we risk bankrupting our greatest asset.”

Nina Seega, from the University of Cambridge’s Institute for Sustainability Leadership, says, “The review’s focus on completely rewiring mainstream economic and financial models is key to moving the nature debate on to the agenda of governments, financial regulators and individual financial firms.” Seega and Mauricio Claver-Carone, President of the Inter-American Development Bank, both point to the timely nature of the report as nations work to recover from a debilitating pandemic. Claver-Carone writes, “As we look to a post-COVID-19 economic recovery, the Review highlights evidence that all of us in development can agree with, that greater investment in biodiversity could help boost employment and support a green and inclusive recovery.”

Jennifer Morris, CEO of the Nature Conservancy, acknowledges the urgent need to act now on the recommendations of the report. Morris says, “The upcoming UN summits on climate and biodiversity in 2021 provide an unparalleled opportunity to redefine the relationship between people and nature. Our shared planet is counting on all of us to step up and protect our natural world for generations to come.” Professor Justin Yifu Lin, Dean of the Institute of New Structural Economics, and Honorary Dean of the National School of Development at Peking University shares Morris’s sense of urgency. In reaction to Dasgupta’s report, he says, “Decisive biodiversity actions at the community, national and global levels should be followed immediately for preventing devastating impacts on our health, well-being and economy from pandemics, similar to COVID-19, and other risks fueled by the accelerating loss of biodiversity.”

Dasgupta concludes his report with a sage and optimistic revelation, “To detach nature from economic reasoning is to imply that we consider ourselves to be external to nature. The fault is not in economics; it lies in the way we have chosen to practice it. Transformative change is possible – we and our descendants deserve nothing less.”

Engagement Resources

The Nature Capital Project

  • Pioneering science, technology, and partnerships that enable people and nature to thrive. The Natural Capital Project aims to improve the well-being of people and our planet by motivating targeted investments in nature. Natural Capital Project | (stanford.edu)

Network for Greening the Financial System

  • At the Paris “One Planet Summit” in December 2017, eight central banks and supervisors established the Network of Central Banks and Supervisors for Greening the Financial System (NGFS). The Network’s purpose is to help strengthen the global response required to meet the goals of the Paris agreement and to enhance the role of the financial system to manage risks and to mobilize capital for green and low-carbon investments. The Network defines and promotes best practices to be implemented within and outside of the Membership of the NGFS and conducts or commissions analytical work on green finance. NGFS

The Nature Conservancy

References

Carrington, D. (2021, February 02). Economics of biodiversity review: What are the recommendations? Retrieved February 14, 2021, from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2021/feb/02/economics-of-biodiversity-review-what-are-the-recommendations

Dasgupta, P. (2021), The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review. (London: HM Treasury). Retrieved February 14, 2021, from Final Report – The Economics of Biodiversity: The Dasgupta Review – GOV.UK (www.gov.uk)

Einhorn, C. (2021, February 2). Study Recasts Biodiversity as a Vital Economic Asset and Warns of Depreciation. Retrieved February 14, 2021, from https://blendle.com/i/the-new-york-times/study-recasts-biodiversity-as-a-vital-economic-asset-and-warns-of-depreciation/

General Motors and Wall Street can’t wait to plug into the new economy

General Motors and Wall Street can’t wait to plug into the new economy

Environmental Policy Brief #108

Title: General Motors and Wall Street can’t wait to plug into the new economy

By Todd J Broadman

February 12, 2021

POLICY

Soon after President Biden’s election victory, General Motors Corporation (GM) publicly stated their vision: to manufacture vehicles that feature zero carbon emissions. That vision is the leading feature of their “triple zero,” which also includes zero congestion and zero crashes (through advanced safety technologies and self-driving vehicles). Over the next 15 years, GM will completely phase out the production of petroleum powered vehicles and will solely manufacture electric vehicles (EV). There are to be 30 such EV models available by 2025.

In addition, GM has a goal to transform their internal operations to be carbon neutral by 2040. Their path to that aim includes powering all of their facilities – U.S. and abroad – with renewable energy by 2035. They estimate the cost to re-tool at $27 billion dollars.

Mary Barra, GM’s CEO since 2014, was hired in part for her vision and enthusiastic attitude towards technology. She is aligning GM with the new administration and met recently with: Gina McCarthy, climate change adviser to the President, and Brian Deese who heads the White House National Economic Council. Both administrators will play a lead role in creating the new auto rules.

Other political actors of importance to GM include: California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) who issued an executive order that 100% of medium- and heavy-duty vehicles in the state will be zero-emission by 2045. Former GM executive Debbie Dingell and now a Democrat Representative of Michigan, had cautioned Barra, “When Joe Biden gets elected, your world will turn upside down. You’ve got to be at the table or else this thing gets jammed down your throat.”  States including Massachusetts and New Jersey have since laid the groundwork for setting the same goal as California.

Barra has also found a strange bedfellow in Fred Krupp, President of the Environmental Defense Fund. Mr. Krupp is confident they can reach “common ground” and create a “shared vision for an all-electric future.” Mr. Krupp’s annual compensation is nearly $600,000 and among EDF’s major contributors are the Walton Foundation, Chevron, and Exxon-Mobil. And others like Larry Fink, CEO of the world’s largest hedge fund, BlackRock, who claimed their business model “will be compatible with a net-zero economy.” Like others, the transition to green technology represents the next sector worthy of major investment.

Curiously enough, GM did not join BMW, Ford, Honda, Volkswagen and Volvo when those auto manufacturers signed onto California’s aggressive fuel economy standards: an average of 51 miles per gallon by 2026. Perhaps GM is awaiting the new 2026 – 2035 federal emission rules.

ANALYSIS

Underlying the “save the planet” ethic, what GM and other auto suppliers need is a sustainable business model. 68% of U.S. oil use is from transportation; petroleum is a commodity that will soon be in painfully short supply. Yet less than 5% of GM’s revenue comes from EV sales. Contrast that with the book value of Tesla, the world’s biggest EV manufacturer, at $752 billion, about ten times that of GM. And much of Europe has already said they will ban sales of new gasoline and diesel cars starting in 2030.

President Biden wasted no time in signing an executive order directing the Environmental Protection Agency to develop tough tailpipe pollution regulations, vehicles being the U.S.’s biggest contributor to planet-warming pollution. In terms of the necessary charging station infrastructure, he has an immediate call for 500,000 more public charging stations. Federal agencies will be required to purchase EV. Consumers can expect tax incentives to make the switch. He sees the creation of vast numbers of “green jobs.”

In spite of these trends, The American Petroleum Institute (API), a leading oil trade group, suggested customers, not automakers, should be driving any vehicle transition. “This is a free market, and every auto company is going to do what makes sense for their customers and their business model. Ultimately, it should be up to American consumers to choose what kind of car they want to drive,” according to Frank Macchiarola, API’s vice president for policy.

Aside from the flimsy “free choice” argument, there are more substantial underlying problems with electric vehicles: their range is limited to around 200 miles before requiring a charge; they are still more expensive than gas-engine cars. EV battery technology is relatively new and it takes far longer to charge than to fill a gas tank. EV still isn’t practical for a multiday camping trip or long rural drives. The electric charging infrastructure will take time to build and plugging in thousands of cars could fundamentally alter the country’s electric grid’s patterns. According to Paul DeCotis, a former New York state energy official and an analyst for consultancy West Monroe, “Utilities are going to need to make significant investments in infrastructure to accommodate this.”

GM has already announced operational plans: three of its U.S. plants will immediately begin the transition to produce electric vehicles. An EV battery plant is being built in Ohio. The industry is leaning in the right direction. Whether society will lean with it and how soon remains to be seen.

Engagement Resources

President Biden’s Executive Orders Greatly Strengthen US Commitment to Fight Climate Change

President Biden’s Executive Orders Greatly Strengthen US Commitment to Fight Climate Change

Brief # 107 Environmental Policy

President Biden’s Executive Orders Greatly Strengthen US Commitment to Fight Climate Change

By Jacob Morton

Feb 3, 2021

Review

On Wednesday, January 27, President Joe Biden signed a flurry of executive actions to address the climate crisis by reviving environmental protections dismantled by the previous administration and promoting the creation of new ‘green’ jobs. The orders revive many Obama-era protections and regulations, including a rejection of the Keystone XL Pipeline and the protection of sacred indigenous sites in Utah. Biden’s executive actions go even further still, mandating that climate change be considered in all major decisions of the Federal government, and re-establishing a culture of scientific integrity and evidence-based decision making across all Federal agencies. The President’s executive orders  also call for the Federal government to play a larger role in ensuring economic success for communities and individuals affected by an energy industry shift from fossil fuels to renewables.

 

The list  of President Biden’s environmental executive actions include:

  • A commitment to using the federal government’s purchasing power to order a large fleet of zero-emissions vehicles. According to President Biden, “This will mean one million new jobs in the American automobile industry.”
  • A pledge to reserve 30 percent of federal land and water for conservation purposes, as well as the creation of a civilian “climate corps” to employ people in conservation work.
  • An order to pause all new oil and gas leases on federal lands and in federal waters — though this does not put a stop to drilling all together, the order directs the Interior Department, “to the extent consistent with applicable law,” to “pause” all pending leases while the new administration organizes a review of the effects on climate change associated with drilling on federal land and waters. This action does not address pending permits, only leases. According to reporting from the New York Times, “As of 2019, more than 26 million acres of federal land had been leased to oil and gas companies.” The order further calls for increasing renewable energy production on Federal lands and waters, “with the goal of doubling offshore wind by 2030.”
  • A vow to review more than 100 environmental rules and regulations that were weakened or reversed by the Trump administration and to restore Obama-era protections to two Indigenous sacred sites, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, which are also national monuments in Utah.
  • A “temporary moratorium” on all oil and gas leases in the Arctic national wildlife refuge.
  • An order to rescind the permits for the Keystone XL Pipeline and restore the Obama-era rejection of the project that was reversed by the Trump administration.
  • A mandate (the first of its kind from any president) that climate change be taken into consideration in all major foreign policy and national security decisions.
  • A commitment to build out a network of electric-car charging stations nationwide by manufacturing and installing a half-million new electric-vehicle charging stations.
  • A commitment to build 1.5 million new energy-efficient homes.
  • A commitment to seal off one million abandoned and leaking oil and gas wells.
  • An order to create a task force aimed at economically reviving communities dependent on the fossil fuel industry — an acknowledgement that the government should play a larger role in helping displaced fossil fuel workers find jobs in the clean energy sector.
  • A formal appointment of the former Secretary of State, John Kerry, to play the role of President Biden’s international climate envoy, with a seat on the National Security Council.
  • An announcement that the United States will host a Climate Leaders Summit of major emitting nations and others on Earth Day, April 22. Kerry says that by then, he will announce a new set of specific targets to which the United States aims to lower its carbon dioxide emissions in its commitment to rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, abandoned by the previous administration.
  • A call for the federal government’s 17 intelligence agencies “to create a first-ever National Intelligence Estimate of the national security risks posed by climate change.”
  • A directive to agencies to look for ways to “increase and improve the climate-forecast information available to help governments and others prepare for the consequences of climate change.”
  • An expectation of every federal agency to create plans to prepare their facilities for protection against climate-change effects, such as rising sea levels, storms, and droughts. Many agency headquarters in Washington, including the Justice Department, the Internal Revenue Service, and the Environmental Protection Agency, lie within the 100-year floodplain (a designation of areas likely to see at least one severe flooding event every 100 years).
  • A presidential memorandum instructing all agencies to make what the new administration calls “evidence-based decisions guided by the best available science and data.” As a requirement, every agency, not just those that do scientific research, must appoint “scientific integrity” officials to ensure an adherence to science-based policy.

 

Analysis

While environmentalists and conservation groups praise Biden’s executive actions, many Republicans and fossil fuel industry leaders argue that they are unfair and will cause more harm than good. Senator John Cornyn of Texas said in a statement, “I’m all for transitioning to cleaner forms of energy, but … How are families going to get to work, take their kids to school, or live their life if all of a sudden the very natural resource that they depend on for their cars is no longer available?” Meanwhile, former Republican governor of New Jersey, Christine Todd Whitman, praised the president’s actions, saying, “This is the way the world is going,” noting that “In 2019, about 40 percent of the United States workforce was in clean energy.” Even General Motors has gotten on board, announcing it will halt production of gasoline and diesel light-duty cars and SUVs, transitioning to all electric by 2035.

To many economists the actions represent a mixed bag. While President Biden argues these actions will create “one million new jobs in the American automobile industry,” economist at Syracuse University, David Popp, says, “[Biden’s] basically saying he’s going to double auto manufacturing. I find that hard to believe. … You can’t do that with auto emissions regulations. You can’t do that with government procurement.” However, Popp, along with other economists, admit that studies generally show that the number of clean energy and environmental mitigation jobs created by new environmental regulations, typically equals the number of jobs lost in the fossil fuels industry.

Popp even goes so far as to praise Biden for acknowledging the need to create a task force within the Federal government focused primarily on economically reviving communities dependent on the fossil fuel industry and finding clean energy jobs for displaced fossil fuel workers. Popp says, “The skills in these clean energy jobs — installing and manufacturing solar panels and wind turbines — are actually a decent match” with workers coming from mining, offshore drilling, and other fields. “What’s really important is how well you can match the job losses to gains.” The President’s executive order also calls for the creation of a “civilian climate corps to employ people in conservation work.” Gina McCarthy, Mr. Biden’s top adviser on domestic climate policy, made sure to emphasize in a press conference that, “We’re not going to ask people to go from the middle of Ohio and Pennsylvania and ship out to the coast to work on solar.” She says, “We’re not going to take away jobs,” the idea is to create clean energy jobs where fossil fuel work is already on the decline.

On the other hand, fossil fuel industry executives criticize the President for the scope, speed, and direction in which he is moving, lamenting that President Biden is going far further than President Obama ever did. Senator Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) claims, “This is a radical departure from almost any other administration, and I would even say, President Obama.” West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and five other Republican attorneys general wrote in a letter to the President, “Our states have led the charge in successfully challenging unauthorized and unlawful executive actions, … You can be assured that we will do so again, if necessary.” The Western Energy Alliance, which represents oil and gas producers in Western states, has already filed a lawsuit against the executive order, arguing that “the President exceeded his authority to halt new leases.” Industry executives claim the executive orders, particularly the pause of all new oil and gas leases on federal lands and waters, “will do little to actually reduce United States emissions and lead to lost jobs and more imported oil.”

Former Senator John F. Kerry, now appointed as Biden’s special envoy on climate, explained to reporters following the signing of the executive orders, that the scientific reality of climate change and its economic impact leave the President no choice. Kerry says, “It is now cheaper to deal with the crisis of climate than it is to ignore it,” pointing to the enormous bills footed by taxpayers to recover from the increasingly destructive hurricanes the country has seen in recent years. Kerry says, “We’re spending more money, folks. We’re just not doing it smart. We’re not doing it in a way that would actually sustain us for the long term.”

Heather Zichal, CEO of the American Clean Power Association, and former climate advisor to Obama, says President Biden’s actions are not surprising given the amount of scientific evidence of unprecedented global warming coupled with a significant reduction in cost for renewable energy. Zichal says regarding concerns over the bold scope and pace of the President’s orders, “If we’re going to remove 5.1 billion tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually and get to zero [emissions] in 30 years, this is going to require drastic action.” The CEO says members of the American Clean Power Association are prepared to invest $1 trillion in the coming years on clean energy projects. Zichal says, “We see nothing but opportunity.”

According to energy analysts in the United States, with Biden’s climate plan and executive orders, the new administration “could now reasonably promise to cut emissions between 40 and 50 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.” Despite this improvement to the country’s commitment under the Paris Climate Agreement, Europeans and environmental organizations are pressuring the administration to push for even greater reductions, as far as 70 percent below 2005 levels. Climate envoy John Kerry responded to those concerns saying, it is “way too premature” to talk numbers.

 

Engagement Resources

American Clean Power Association

  • The American Clean Power Association works to champion policies that will transform the U.S. power grid to a low-cost, reliable, and renewable power system. The American Clean Power Association

Center for Biological Diversity

  • Working to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction. We do so through science, law, and creative media, with a focus on protecting the lands, waters, and climate that species need to survive. https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/

National Resources Defense Council

  • Works to safeguard the earth – its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends. Combining the power of more than three million members and online activists with the expertise of some 700 scientists, lawyers, and policy advocates across the globe to ensure the rights of all people to the air, the water, and the wild. https://www.nrdc.org/

Sources Cited

Estes, N. (2021, January 28). Biden killed the Keystone Pipeline. Good, but he doesn’t get a climate pass just yet. Retrieved January 31, 2021, from https://www.msn.com/en-gb/news/world/biden-killed-the-keystone-pipeline-good-but-he-doesn-t-get-a-climate-pass-just-yet/ar-BB1daIP1?MSCC=1605775911

Executive Order on Tackling the Climate Crisis at Home and Abroad. (2021, January 27). Retrieved January 31, 2021, from https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/01/27/executive-order-on-tackling-the-climate-crisis-at-home-and-abroad/

Friedman, L. (2021, January 27). In Sweeping Actions on Climate, Biden to ‘Pause’ Oil and Gas Leasing. Retrieved January 31, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/27/climate/biden-climate-executive-orders.html

Juliet Eilperin, B. (2021, January 28). As Biden vows monumental action on climate change, a fight with the fossil fuel industry has only begun. Retrieved January 31, 2021, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/climate-environment/2021/01/27/biden-climate-change/

Nilsen, E. (2021, January 26). Biden’s “all of government” plan for climate, explained. Retrieved January 31, 2021, from https://www.vox.com/22242572/biden-climate-change-plan-explained

Russonello, G. (2021, January 28). Biden Walks the Climate-Economy Tightrope. Retrieved January 31, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/28/us/politics/biden-climate-economy-jobs.html

Fixation on Fixtures; The Showerhead Rollbacks

Fixation on Fixtures; The Showerhead Rollbacks

Environmental Policy

Brief # 106

Fixation on Fixtures; The Showerhead Rollbacks

Shannon Q Elliott

January 18, 2021

President Trump has rolled back the Department of Energy’s (DOE) standards for consumer appliances. It was concluded that the performance exhibited by showerheads, washers, and dryers is a burden on the American consumer. In December, our sitting president told the press; “People are flushing toilets 10-15 times, water is dripping out of faucets, and water is plentiful in the United States.” As a result of this statement, the administration aggressively pursued the current rule and revised it without conclusive evidence that the rule needed to be amended.

The initial rule set by Congress in the 1990s allowed showerheads a flow rate of 2.5 gallons of water per minute. It was determined that the definition of the term showerhead was to be interpreted as “the part of the shower that water flows out of”. As newer showerhead models entered the market with multiple nozzles, the Obama administration narrowed the definition.  If four nozzles were now part of a showerhead design, 2.5 gallons per minute is what the four nozzles were able to collectively dispense. The quick math will show that under Obama’s redefinition, .62 gallons of water could be dispensed per nozzle on the showerhead, per minute.

When the term showerhead was reworked in December of 2020 to appease Trump, multiple jets, and various models of showerhead systems will now be counted individually. The four nozzles mentioned above are able to spit out 2.5 gallons per minute each, collectively using 10 gallons of water per minute.

Analysis

Contrary to Trump’s belief that “water is plentiful” in the United States, The Waterproject.org reports that water scarcity is an emerging reality. Southwestern states are unable to replenish their water supply, and the shortage will soon affect other regions. Macroeconomics tells us that a larger population equates to more demand. If the water supply continues to dwindle, because the government fails to regulate usage responsibly, the United States may find itself among the countries that ration water.

Other countries struggle to find clean water sources for survival. Trump is dissecting legislation that shows no indication or need for revision. According to David Friedman, Assistant Secretary; DOE under Obama, there was no justification to revise the current rule. This is just another presidential vexation to an Obama era rule, being dissected. As a result, the new administration will have to revisit it, using their time, and taxpayer dollars to protect the water supply, and piece back together legislation that served the country until the last hours of Trump’s presidency.

Learn More:

Leblanc, P. (2020, December 15). Trump administration finalizes rollback of showerhead standards. https://www.cnn.com/2020/12/15/politics/showerhead-standards-trump/index.html

Sprunt, B. (2020, December 17). Trump Bemoaned Water Pressure. Now His Administration Has Eased Standards.: https://www.npr.org/2020/12/17/947251937/trump-bemoaned-water-pressure-now-his-administration-has-eased-standards

Resistance Resources:

Appliance Standards Awareness Project . (2020). https://appliance-standards.org/

Natural Resources Defense Counsel . (2020). https://www.nrdc.org/.

The Water Project . (2020). https://thewaterproject.org/.

Trump’s EPA Seeks to Hide  Science with New “Transparency” Rule

Trump’s EPA Seeks to Hide Science with New “Transparency” Rule

Environment Policy

Brief # 105 

Trump’s EPA Seeks to Hide  Science with New “Transparency” Rule

By Jacob Morton, 1/11/2021

Policy

On January 5, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) finalized a new rule requiring that any scientific evidence that is to be considered by the agency when crafting new environmental regulation, such as limiting the use of certain chemicals or determining levels of allowable pollution, must make all relevant data publicly available (including study participants’ personal medical records) to be considered credible. The rule specifically targets “dose-response” studies that aim to show the effects of exposure to certain toxins and pollutants on human health.

For instance, in the 1990s, a Harvard study, called the Six Cities study, “drew on anonymized, confidential health data from thousands of people to better establish links between air pollution and higher mortality.” The study was “instrumental in crafting health and environmental rules” and “led to new limits on air pollutants under the Clean Air Act.” The EPA’s new rule would require that same Harvard study to officially release all its subjects’ personal and confidential medical information, otherwise risk being categorized as weak or not credible, and potentially lead to rollbacks of its associated environmental policies.

The new rule, known as the Strengthening Transparency in Pivotal Science Underlying Significant Regulatory Actions and Influential Scientific Information Rule, claims not to require the release of Personal Identifiable Information (PII) or Confidential Business Information (CBI). The EPA’s official news release announcing the new rule states that “when proposing a significant regulatory action, the Agency is required to clearly identify and make publicly available the science informing the rule.” However, the rule also states that, “Under certain criteria outlined in the rule, the Administrator can grant case-by-case exemptions to the requirements of this rule.”

Attempts to discredit influential, peer-reviewed science that runs counter to industry interests, in the name of “transparency,” is not new. Early in the Trump administration, former Texas congressman Lamar Smith unsuccessfully attempted to push the “Secret Science Reform Act” through congress, and the idea has floated around the EPA ever since. The New York Times has even traced the idea back to the Tobacco Industry’s attempts to discredit studies warning of harm from second-hand smoke.

 

Analysis

While a rule to require complete transparency of any study used as pivotal scientific evidence seems practical, it becomes problematic when a study uses patients’ confidential medical records. Many believe that by requiring the release of patients’ personal medical information used in these studies, the EPA will no longer be required to consider the evidence presented by studies containing the clearest indications of public harm, because those studies will not legally be able to release their subjects’ medical records. Environmentalists and public health experts fear this will lead to weaker protections or a decision not to regulate at all.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, praised the new rule for its angle on transparency, saying, “We’re going to take all this information and shine light on it, … It’s sunshine, it’s transparency.” Meanwhile, medical experts say the new rule, “essentially blocks the use of population studies in which subjects offer medical histories, lifestyle information and other personal data only on the condition of privacy. Such studies have served as the scientific underpinnings of some of the most important clean air and water regulations of the past half century.”

Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Ranking Member for the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, writes of the rule, “You can’t expect people to believe in science if data is kept secret. It’s impossible. Transparency, public access to underlying data, rigorous review are all key to building trust.” However, critics of the rule say it threatens patient confidentiality and privacy of individuals in public health studies. Richard Revesz, an expert in pollution law at the New York University School of Law says the kinds of studies being targeted are those which would “present the most direct and persuasive evidence of pollution’s adverse health effects” (“dose-response” studies). He says, “Ignoring them will lead to uninformed and insufficiently stringent standards, causing avoidable deaths and illnesses.”

Senator Tom Carper of Delaware, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has criticized the new rule, saying, “We’re going to put at risk the health of a whole lot of people and maybe even lead to their deaths.” Carper’s staff have pointed to several studies that could be deemed ineligible for use by the EPA, including a March 2020 study that describes “how various coronaviruses react on surfaces with chemical agents,” and a 2003 study observing “a statistical correlation between SARS fatalities in China and higher air pollution.”

The Trump administration has already used the policy to deny findings from several epidemiological studies including one from Columbia University, that shows exposure to the pesticide chlorpyrifos (widely used on corn, soybeans, almonds, grapes, and golf courses) can stunt brain development in infants and young children. Had this new rule previously been in place, the E.P.A. under the Obama administration could not have made the case to regulate mercury pollution from power plants “because it could not have shown that the heavy metal impairs brain development” without releasing confidential medical records. Despite the administration’s enthusiasm for the new rule, Trump administration officials have been unable to provide any examples of policies that they say, “were wrongly enacted based on studies that did not make underlying data available.”

Dr. Mary Rice, pulmonary and critical care physician, and chairwoman of the environmental health policy committee at the American Thoracic Society says, “Right now we’re in the grips of a serious public health crisis due to a deadly respiratory virus, and there’s evidence showing that air pollution exposure increases the risk of worse outcomes.” Rice says of the new rule, “We would want E.P.A. going forward to make decisions about air quality using all available evidence, not just putting arbitrary limits on what it will consider.”

An anonymous senior transition official for the incoming Biden administration says the new rule is simply another attempt by Trump to “make it more difficult for the next administration to rebuild the government to do its job.” President-elect Joseph R. Biden has not yet commented on the new rule, but activists expect he will suspend and repeal it. Even if the rule remains in effect, President-elect Biden’s pick for EPA Administrator, Michael S. Regan, may still be able to exempt studies, on a case-by-case basis, from the rule. Advocacy groups such as the Environmental Defense Fund and the Union of Concerned Scientists have begun to discuss taking legal action.

Resources

Environmental Defense Fund

  • One of the world’s largest environmental organizations and a 501(c)(3) non-profit. Preserving the natural systems on which all life depends. https://www.edf.org/

Union of Concerned Scientists

  • The Union of Concerned Scientists is a national nonprofit organization founded more than 50 years ago by scientists and students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The Union uses rigorous, independent science to solve our planet’s most pressing problems. https://www.ucsusa.org/

 

Learn More Sources Cited

Friedman, L. (2020, September 23). E.P.A. Rejects Its Own Findings That a Pesticide Harms Children’s Brains. Retrieved January 11, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/23/climate/epa-pesticide-chlorpyrifos-children.html

Friedman, L. (2021, January 04). A Plan Made to Shield Big Tobacco From Facts Is Now E.P.A. Policy. Retrieved January 11, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/04/climate/trump-epa-science.html?auth=login-email&login=email

Johnson, S. K. (2019, November 13). EPA still moving to limit science used to support regulations. Retrieved January 11, 2021, from https://arstechnica.com/science/2019/11/epa-still-moving-to-limit-science-used-to-support-regulations/

Knickmeyer, E. (2021, January 05). A final EPA rollback under Trump curbs use of health studies – The Boston Globe. Retrieved January 11, 2021, from https://www.bostonglobe.com/2021/01/04/nation/final-epa-rollback-under-trump-curbs-use-health-studies/

Price, A. (2021, January 7). Trump EPA’s Controversial “Secret Science” Policy Faces Pushback from Scientists. Retrieved January 11, 2021, from https://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/articles/entry/trump-epas-controversial-secret-science-policy-faces-pushback-from-scientists

Timmer, J. (2021, January 05). In a parting gift, EPA finalizes rules to limit its use of science. Retrieved January 11, 2021, from https://arstechnica.com/science/2021/01/in-a-parting-gift-epa-finalizes-rules-to-limit-its-use-of-science/

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2021, January 05). EPA Finalizes Rule Strengthening Transparency in Pivotal Science Underlying Significant Regulatory Actions and Influential Scientific Information. Retrieved January 11, 2021, from https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-finalizes-rule-strengthening-transparency-pivotal-science-underlying-significant

The Trump Administration’s Last Push to Open Land to Energy and Mining Companies

The Trump Administration’s Last Push to Open Land to Energy and Mining Companies

Brief # 104 Environment

The Trump Administration’s Last Push to Open Land to Energy and Mining Companies

By Jacob Morton

January 4, 2021

Policy

As the Trump administration’s single term nears its end, top agency officials are attempting a last-minute push to approve a flush of large-scale energy and mining projects for companies hoping to secure contracts to extract various natural resources.

In Arizona, the U.S. Forest Service announced a new release date for the final Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Resolution Copper Mine project in the Tonto National Forest, east of Superior, Arizona. The original release date was set for some time in 2021 or 2022. The Forest Service has moved that date to the end of this year, December 31, 2020. Conservationists and tribal communities have opposed the 2,422-acre mining project for years, citing the destruction of the Oak Flat Campground above the ore deposit and harm to its Emory Oak trees, sacred to the neighboring San Carlos Apache Tribe. Apache communities still harvest acorns from the Emory Oaks.

In Utah, the Bureau of Land Management has attempted to approve a helium mining project in the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness of southwest Utah. In 2018, Congress passed the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management, and Recreation Act (the Dingell Act), “an enormous package of conservation-focused bills,” to protect the Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness from any new energy developments. Despite the move by Congress to protect Labyrinth Canyon, the Bureau of Land Management moved quickly to issue a lease of a 1,410-acre parcel within the soon to be wilderness area to the Twin Bridges mining company. Because the lease was issued in December 2018, before the President officially signed the Dingell Act into law on March 12, 2019, Twin Bridges has maintained the right to develop the lease if the proposed project is approved by the BLM.

The 55,000-acre Labyrinth Canyon Wilderness area “borders the Green River and includes the iconic Bowknot Bend—a deep, red rock river canyon where the river turns 180 degrees and forms a deep, colorful U in the landscape.” Final approval for the helium fracking project was expected to be approved just before Christmas on December 23. However, federal district court Judge Rudolph Contreras of the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia pushed back the approval date until at least January 6, 2021. Local communities and tribes in the Labyrinth Canyon region have fought for permanent protection of the wilderness area for at least 20 years.

In Nevada, the Interior Department has fast-tracked the permitting process for a new 5,500 acre open-pit lithium mine on federal lands. If approved, the mine planned by Canada-based mining company Lithium Americas, would be one of the world’s largest lithium mines. The project was first listed in July 2020 and final approval for the project is expected in early January 2021, meaning construction could start very soon.

In Virginia and West Virginia, the Forest Service and BLM are reviewing the environmental impact statement with expectations to approve construction and operation of “a buried 42-inch natural gas pipeline across approximately 3.5 miles of the Jefferson National Forest.” Drawing from the same Marcellus and Utica oil shale as the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, the Mountain Valley Pipeline (MVP), proposed by Mountain Valley Pipeline, LLC., would extend in total 303.5 miles from West Virginia to North Carolina. A 3.5-mile section of the pipeline would cut across the Jefferson National Forest and burrow beneath the Appalachian Trail. If completed, the pipeline could deliver up to two million dekatherms of natural gas energy per day to the South.

In South Dakota, the Environmental Protection Agency has given its final approval for the construction of a new uranium mine called the Dewey-Burdock project. The mine would extend over 12,613 acres near the Black Hills National Forest region in western South Dakota. Azarga Uranium Corporation, The Canada-based organization backing the project, plans to inject the chemical Lixiviant “into more than 1,461 wells, sending the chemical into the underground water supply. The chemical would cause uranium trapped in sandstone below the surface to leach into the aquifer, contaminating the water but allowing the uranium to be captured, extracted and transformed into so-called yellow cake that can be used to fuel nuclear power plants.” The mine could produce up to one million pounds of uranium a year, much more than all current uranium mines in the country combined, however, the country’s uranium mines are already sitting at excess capacity.

The list of proposed projects goes on. With less than a month until the end of President Trump’s single term, the push by his administration to approve energy and mining projects has only accelerated.

Analysis

Donald Trump and top appointed officials such as Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross have long sought to increase domestic production of fossil energy and key minerals such as copper, uranium, and lithium. Commerce Secretary Ross was a steel industry investor before serving under the Trump administration. Ross has pushed for approval of the Resolution Copper Mine in Arizona, meeting with Rio Tinto Mineral Corporation, the mine’s parent company, at least three times this past year. Andrew Wheeler, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency was an energy lobbyist before joining the Trump administration, lobbying for an electricity utility, a uranium producer, and a coal magnate. David Bernhardt, Secretary of the Department of Interior (DOI), was a former oil and mining lobbyist.

These latest projects all reflect a larger push by the Trump administration’s Interior Department and the Forest Service to increase the country’s domestic mineral and energy production. Supporters of the projects and agency officials, such as Richard Packer, a spokesperson for the DOI, says, “Our science-based decisions are legally compliant and based on an extensive process involving input from career subject matter experts and the public.” Packer adds that the DOI “continues to balance safe and responsible natural resource development with conservation of important surface resources.”

Statements from private industry involved in the latest projects largely mirror that of David Wallace, an executive at Twin Bridges, the mining company hoping to frack for helium in Utah. Wallace says, “We also love these lands and are committed to our project enhancing, and not detracting from them.” He also points out, “the project could ultimately generate hundreds of millions of dollars’ worth of royalty and tax payments to federal, state and local governments.”

Environmentalists, conservation organizations, and tribal communities are skeptical. In South Dakota, the site of the proposed Dewey-Burdock uranium mine is located adjacent to the Oglala Lakota Nation’s 2.8-million-acre reservation. The Sioux tribe claims the land the mine would be built on was illegally taken by the United States and has sued to block the project. Kyle White, a Lakota Tribe member, and the former director of its natural resources regulatory agency, says, “The voice of Indigenous people needs to be heard — and federal Indian policy has made us invisible and dehumanized us.”

Meanwhile, in Arizona, camped out in protest at the site for the proposed Resolution Copper Mine, San Carlos Apache Tribal Leader, Wendsler Nosie Sr. says, “This is a disaster. As far as I am concerned, this is an invasion by a foreign power. We cannot afford to lose our identity and our history. Imagine if the biblical Mount Sinai became a location for mining and it caved in and disappeared. You would not stand by and watch.”

Resolution Copper Company’s own website admits the surface of the mine site will sink 700 – 1,000 feet over 40 years of mining. According to Federal reports, “The project would create 3,700 jobs and supply as much as one billion pounds of copper per year, a quarter of the current annual demand in the United States.” The San Carlos Apache Tribe commissioned its own impact study for the proposed mine and submitted it to the Forest Service when the agency’s original draft environmental impact statement for the mine was released. According to the tribe’s study, the total number of local jobs created by the mine would be only 10% of the total mining jobs in the four counties the Forest Service surveyed, and only 0.5% of the total number of jobs in those counties. The study also showed a substantial loss in revenues to Pinal County’s tourism industry.

In Virginia, Laura Belleville, Vice President of Conservation & Trail Programs for the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, says of the proposed natural gas pipeline, “The Mountain Valley Pipeline [would] carry fracked natural gas for over 300 miles through the Virginia and West Virginia countryside, crossing over dozens of water sources, through protected areas and breaching the [Appalachian Trail] corridor. The pipeline would run parallel to the Trail for over 90 miles and carve ugly gashes in the landscape that could be seen from 20 miles away.”

In Nevada, The BLM’s environmental assessment for Lithium America’s proposed lithium mine admits, “the project will cause harm, including to the habitat of a threatened bird species known as sage grouse.” The birds’ sagebrush habitat could take several decades to recover and for “pre-disturbance sagebrush vegetation community characteristics to return.” Local ranchers and residents also fear surface disturbances from the mine upland of them will cause local springs to dry up both within and outside of the Project area, as well as result in “increased surface flows” in other areas “contributing sediment and debris into riparian areas and wetlands.”

In most cases, when private industry and agency officials have been pressed whether these projects are being rushed for approval before President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s inauguration date, request for comment is denied. However, project manager for Resolution Copper Company, Andrew Lye says of the proposed Arizona mine, “It is not being fast-tracked and Resolution Copper has not sought to apply for programs that are available to expedite projects.”

Randy Serraglio, conservation advocate at the Center for Biological Diversity, thinks otherwise. Serraglio points out that shortening the timeline for the Final environmental impact statement for the proposed copper mine seems premature because the Draft environmental impact statement was not even complete, omitting key details such as, “the site where the tailings will be stored and where the company would locate the pipeline and the power lines to make that work.” Serraglio notes that “the same type of pressure and influence have been applied at the highest levels of the Trump administration for other such projects.” He says, “It seems clear they want to get it out while Trump is still president. It’s not clear whether they’ll be able to do that or not or whether they can do it legally.”

Resistance Resources

Natural Resources Defense Council

  • NRDC works to safeguard the earth, its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends. nrdc.org

Appalachian Mountain Advocates

  • A non-profit public interest law and policy organization dedicated to fighting for clean water and a clean energy future. They work to advocate for a sustainable energy economy, fighting further investment in fossil fuels and forcing polluters to pay the costs of cleaning up the messes they have already made. appalmad.org

Environmental Defense Fund

  • For more than 50 years we have been pioneers, using science and different perspectives to make the environment safer and healthier for us all. Environmental Defense Fund (edf.org)

Sources Cited (Learn More)

Axelrod, J. (2020, December 23). Judge Halts Action on Utah Helium Drilling. Retrieved January 01, 2021, from https://www.nrdc.org/experts/josh-axelrod/judge-halts-permitting-utah-helium-mining

Krol, D. (2020, December 11). Did feds fast-track Resolution Copper mine project in Trump’s last days? Foes say ‘yes’. Retrieved January 01, 2021, from https://www.azcentral.com/story/news/local/arizona/2020/12/11/resolution-copper-may-fast-track-trumps-final-days/5981085002/

Lipton, E. (2020, December 19). In Last Rush, Trump Grants Mining and Energy Firms Access to Public Lands. Retrieved January 01, 2021, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/19/us/politics/in-last-rush-trump-grants-mining-and-energy-firms-access-to-public-lands.html

Mountain Valley Pipeline Project. (2020). Overview. Retrieved January 01, 2021, from https://www.mountainvalleypipeline.info/

Resolution Copper. (2020). Subsidence. Retrieved January 01, 2021, from https://www.resolutioncopper.com/subsidence.html

United States, US Department of Interior, US Bureau of Land Management. (2020, December 4). Retrieved January 1, 2021, from https://int.nyt.com/data/documenttools/thacker-pass-feis-chapters1-6-508/f5d9956ac05f6601/full.pdf#page=78

USDA Forest Service. (2019, August). Draft Environmental Impact Statement: Resolution Copper Project and Land Exchange. Retrieved January 01, 2021, from https://www.resolutionmineeis.us/sites/default/files/deis/resolution-deis-vol-1.pdf

USDI Bureau of Land Management, & US Forest Service. (2020, December). Mountain Valley Pipeline and Equitrans Expansion Project: Final Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. Retrieved January 01, 2021, from https://www.fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd863227.pdf

Trump, Pressured to Reject Mining Permit in Alaska, Races to Sell Drilling Leases in the Arctic

Trump, Pressured to Reject Mining Permit in Alaska, Races to Sell Drilling Leases in the Arctic

Brief # 100; Environment Policy 

Trump, Pressured to Reject Mining Permit in Alaska, Races to Sell Drilling Leases in the Arctic

By Jacob Morton

12/7/2020

Policy

Since the beginning of his presidency, Donald Trump has had his eye on Alaska, hoping to expand extraction of its rich mineral and fossil fuel deposits. While in office, Trump has overturned Obama era limitations on mining activities in the Bristol Bay Region of Alaska and has pushed for increased oil and gas drilling in the Arctic refuge on Alaska’s northeastern coastal plain. In the summer of 2019, despite overwhelming public opposition and allegations of flawed scientific analysis, the Trump administration revived the notorious Pebble Mine project in Alaska’s Bristol Bay.

The Pebble Mine Partnership and its mother company Northern Dynasty Minerals have worked for the past thirteen years to secure the necessary permits to extract minerals from one of the world’s largest gold and copper deposits. If mined, the deposit could produce “70 million tons of gold, molybdenum and copper ore a year.” The extraction, however, would leave a pit 600 meters deep in Alaska’s Bristol Bay watershed. The project’s opponents have argued for years that the mine would threaten the “world-class” sockeye salmon fishery of Bristol Bay and put “more than $1 billion of revenue and over 10,000 jobs at risk.”

In 2014, the Obama administration had blocked any advancement of the Pebble Mine project, citing its concerns of Clean Water Act violations and the impact on the sockeye salmon industry, including a 2013 Bristol Bay Watershed Assessment (BBWA) which confirmed that the Pebble Mine could not be operated without impacting the Bristol Bay and harming its salmon population. In 2015, concerns for the welfare of the Bristol Bay Watershed were so strong that the EPA issued a Proposed Determination to permanently limit all mining activities in the region. Polls at the time showed that 89.5% of the country was in support of establishing strong protections for Bristol Bay.

As previously reported by US Resist News, the Trump administration has since thrown out the Obama era Proposed Determination, ignored claims of a faulty and skewed Environmental Impact Assessment, and has resumed permit processing for the Pebble Mine project despite opposition from environmental groups, First Nation tribal leaders, and members of his own political party. Similarly and as previously reported, while controversy erupted over Bristol Bay and the Pebble Mine project, Donald Trump and a republican controlled congress passed a plan to begin leasing tracts of land in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge along Alaska’s northeastern coastal plain for oil and gas drilling. Until then, this refuge had been protected for nearly six decades.

As 2020 comes to a close, we have all by now learned to expect the unexpected. And with a lame duck president, infamous for breaking norms and ignoring established protocols, recent developments over the past two weeks have proven no exception. In a surprising turn of events, on November 26 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) rejected a Clean Water Act permit required for the development of the Pebble Mine project in Bristol Bay. Upon making its decision, the USACE released a statement explaining that the project’s proposed waste management plan for the displaced rock and other waste materials, “does not comply with Clean Water Act guidelines” and that “the proposed project is contrary to the public interest.” Given that President Elect Joe Biden continues to oppose the mine, this decision by the Army Corps effectively kills any near-future plans for continuing the project.

Meanwhile, the outgoing Trump administration has moved its attention northward, making clear its intentions to solidify the sales of multiple drilling leases in the Arctic refuge before leaving office. On December 3, Trump’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) announced that the sale of lease agreements will take place on January 6. Typically, before a sale date is officially announced by the BLM, a window of anywhere from 1 to 2 months is reserved for private industry to outline which exact tracts of land they propose to drill in, and for the BLM to review these plans. The agency and the Trump administration cut this window down to 16 days before making the announcement. A traditional timeframe would have produced a sale date just before or just after Joe Biden’s Inauguration day on January 20.

Analysis

Though the rejection of the Pebble Mine project in Bristol Bay was certainly unexpected, its support among republicans had grown more and more mixed. Typically, republicans and Alaska politicians tend to support the expansion of domestic mineral production, but perhaps the threat to the sockeye salmon industry, as well as world renowned sportfishing and hunting grounds posed too great a concern. According to Politico, “President Donald Trump faced a public pressure campaign from Republicans, including mega-donor Andy Sabin, Bass Pro Shops CEO Johnny Morris, Fox News commentator Tucker Carlson and his eldest son, Donald Trump Jr., to block the project.” Alaska senators Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) and Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) both joined the opposition after secretly recorded tapes were released this summer “featuring the then-CEO of the Pebble Limited Partnership, Tom Collier, boasting about how he would influence Alaskan politicians to ultimately support the project,” and that the company was planning a mine much larger than they had requested a permit for.

Alaskan congressman Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) disagrees with the rejection. He believes the issue is one of state’s rights and says he is “disappointed that the federal government gets to decide before Alaskans do.” Young argues, “Now there must be a consideration of how the federal government will compensate the State for the loss of economic potential. The proposed mine has always been subject to political intrigue and the whims of outsiders who simply do not understand our state.” John Shively, CEO of Pebble Limited Partnership said the company is “dismayed” at the rejection and has vowed to appeal the decision. Shively argues that the company has worked hard to meet the requirements of the Army Corps, and says, “It is very disconcerting to see political influence in this process at the eleventh hour.”

Opponents of the project, however, are relieved by the decision after over a decade of uncertainty. Nanci Morris Lyon, owner of Bear Trail Lodge in King Salmon, Bristol Bay says, “It is an incredible relief. I felt like sitting down and just crying for a while.” For many Bristol Bay locals, “the prospect of the mine has held the whole region hostage for years. Lodge owners like [Lyon] didn’t know if they could invest in their businesses.” Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, the top Democrat on the Senate natural resources committee, says he is “pleased” by the decision. Manchin said in a statement, “I understand the important role mining plays in our economy, but the Final Environmental Impact Statement for the project did not come near close enough to assuring me this world-class sockeye salmon fishery, which generates $1.5 billion each year and supports 14,000 jobs, would be protected.” The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and The United Tribes of Bristol Bay, representing 15 area tribal governments, have said they would seek permanent protections for the area.

Northward, however, in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, drilling leases are being prepared for sale. The American Petroleum Institute praised the Trump administration’s push to expand drilling in the area, claiming “it would provide jobs and add to Alaska’s revenue, which has been suffering as oil production on the North Slope has declined over the years.” Many Alaskan politicians also support opening the refuge to drilling. Environmental groups feel differently. According to Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, “This is a shameful attempt by Donald Trump to give one last handout to the fossil fuel industry on his way out the door, at the expense of our public lands and our climate.”

Despite the support however, it is unclear what level of interest oil companies have for the area. The cost of drilling in the Arctic is much greater than in other states such as Texas, and for many companies, the risk to their reputation may not be worth the hassle. According to the New York Times, “Most experts say it would be at least a decade or longer before any oil or gas was extracted from the refuge. By then, the drive to reduce worldwide fossil fuel use may mean there is little or no market for the oil.” Many major banks have already said they will not lend money to companies for drilling in the refuge.

For companies that do choose to explore the area, it is uncertain how much oil they will find. The most recent exploratory well was drilled in the ‘80’s, with “disappointing” results. In 2017, the Trump administration claimed a potential of $1.8 billion in revenue for the government over a decade of drilling. However, recent independent analyses, “Based on similar sales in Alaska over the past several decades,” have found “potential revenue over the next decade would likely be in the range of tens of millions of dollars,” significantly lower than the original estimate. Adam Kolton, executive director of the Alaska Wilderness League, says, “We will need [Joe Biden] to use all the tools at his disposal to stop the industrialization of this iconic national treasure.”

 

Engagement Resources

Alaska Wilderness League

  • The Alaska Wilderness League (AWL) is a nonprofit organization that works to protect Alaska’s most significant wild lands from oil and gas drilling and from other industrial threats. The Alaska Wilderness League galvanizes support to secure vital policies that protect and defend America’s last great wild public lands and waters. https://www.alaskawild.org/

National Resources Defense Council

  • Works to safeguard the earth – its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends. Combining the power of more than three million members and online activists with the expertise of some 700 scientists, lawyers, and policy advocates across the globe to ensure the rights of all people to the air, the water, and the wild. https://www.nrdc.org/

United Tribes of Bristol Bay

  • United Tribes of Bristol Bay (UTBB) is a tribal consortium working to protect the traditional Yup’ik, Dena’ina, and Alutiiq ways of life in Bristol Bay that depend on the sustainable harvest of our watershed’s renewable resources, most notably Bristol Bay’s wild salmon. http://www.utbb.org/

References

Adragna, A., & Snider, A. (2020, November 26). Trump administration rejects massive Alaska mining project. Retrieved December 06, 2020, from https://www.politico.com/news/2020/11/25/trump-administration-alaska-mining-project-440626

Fountain, H. (2020, December 03). Sale of Arctic Refuge Oil and Gas Leases Is Set for Early January. Retrieved December 06, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/12/03/climate/arctic-refuge-lease-sales.html?utm_campaign=Hot+News

Lewis, J., & Rosen, Y. (2020, November 25). U.S. rejects permit for Alaska’s Pebble mine, company vows appeal. Retrieved December 06, 2020, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-alaska-pebblemine-idUSKBN2852XM

Ruskin, L. (2020, November 25). Trump Administration Rejects Pebble Mine Project in Alaska. Retrieved December 06, 2020, from https://www.npr.org/2020/11/25/939002676/trump-administration-rejects-pebble-mine-project-in-alaska

Young, D. (2020, November 25). Congressman Don Young Issues Statement Following U.S. Army Corps Decision to Deny Permit to Pebble Mine. Retrieved December 06, 2020, from https://donyoung.house.gov/news/documentsingle.aspx?DocumentID=401842

How Will Amy Comey Barret rule on “Contentious Environmental Issues”?

How Will Amy Comey Barret rule on “Contentious Environmental Issues”?

Written by: Shannon Q. Elliott

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Policy

On Monday November 9th, 2020 Amy Comey Barrett heard her first case as a justice to the Supreme Court of the United States. (SCOTUS) The conservative justice, a former Notre Dame Law School graduate, filled the seat which belonged to the late Ruth Bader Ginsburg. One of the first cases Barret will hear is The U.S. Forest Service v. The Sierra Club, a case in which the Sierra Club initially brought action against the Forest Service in 2014. USFS refused to release documents showing their proposed changes to cooling water intake systems. Barrett, a strict constitutionalist is expected to narrow in on how the statute was written, specifically dissecting the language to determine her ruling. Her conservative views could aggressively tip the scales changing environmental laws throughout the states.

The central argument surrounding the case is whether or not the Freedom of Information Act, specifically exemption 5 (FOIA) should protect internal government documents from public interference. To qualify for exemption 5 the court will have to satisfy two conditions, 1.) Is the source a government agency, and 2.) it must fall within the limits of privilege against discovery. It is important to bear in mind that the FOIA governs the release of information to the public generated by the federal government, however, overuse of exemption 5 undermines the FOIA. Overuse shields the public from information that is only privy to government agencies, working documents, unofficial emails, opinions, and pre-decisional documents that are still being negotiated are examples of privileged information. Sierra Club contests that the documents supporting the change to cooling structures do not qualify for the exemption. They are persistent the public has a right to understand how and why the regulation was changed. Their concerns are the injuries sustained to aquatic life, the release of chemicals, large animals being caught in intake screens; and how these changes will adversely affect the environment, and public health.

Though the central argument will be dissected and interpreted to the best of the court’s ability, environmentalists are waiting with baited breath, to see how a Barrett ruling for The U.S. Forrest Service will affect environmental protections that are awaiting judicial review at the SCOTUS.

Analysis

Barrett is a Trump-appointed judge. This suggests a theory that Barrett has allegiance to the administration and may rule in favor of many of the environmental rollbacks of the past four years. It’s not a definite, however her lack of environmental cases, and being quoted as “not holding firm views over contentious matters of public debate,” are worrisome to those who have done the calculations, and predictions that support conclusive evidence that the environment is on the brink of failure.

Totality of the circumstances, is a judicial test that refers to a method where analysis is based on all the available information rather then the bright lights rule. The rule allows courts to focus on all aspects of the case, rather than any one factor. Whereas environmental litigation is a new to the bench, and the statutes are broadly written, reaching for this tool may provide clarity when entering an opinion. Narrowing in on language and definitions, of statutes that are not clear, could be considered irresponsible on part of the justices because of the extremities of public debate over climate change, intrusion of habitats, disregard for waste water, and so on. All of these matters tie into public health; lung cancer, respiratory issues, asthma, and malaria are identified by the World Health Organization as causation byway of environmental exposure.

An appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States is for the nominee’s lifetime. Let’s hope that the justices currently sitting on the bench are able to realize how destructive Trumps rollbacks are and focus on balancing competing interests.

Learn More:

  • Amy Coney Barrett Takes Up First Supreme Court Case. (2020, Novmber ).  https://www.forbes.com/sites/danielcassady/2020/11/02/amy-coney-barrett-takes-up-first-supreme-court-case/?sh=27a3f9544037
  • By Calling Climate Change ‘Controversial,’ Barrett Created Controversy. (2020, October ).  NYTimes.com : https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/15/climate/amy-coney-barrett-climate-change.html
  • U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service v. Sierra Club, 19-547 (Supreme Court of The United States 2020 October ).

Resistance Resource:

(https://www.sierraclub.org/, 2020)

x
x

Join the Resistance---Your donation helps support the work we do to bring you news and analysis of government policies and the organizations seeking to resist them.

Pin It on Pinterest