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
By Shannon Q. Elliott
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.
By Jacob Morton
The United States Fish and Wildlife Service has announced it will no longer provide federal protections to the gray wolf and will remove the species from the Endangered Species List. The announcement came just days before the presidential election on November 3, fueling the flames of what has been a controversial debate for decades in states considered key battlegrounds for the 2020 election.
The gray wolf has received protections from the federal government since the 1960’s after being nearly eradicated from the contiguous United States under government-sponsored poisoning and trapping campaigns. In 1978, the gray wolf was added to the Endangered Species List, with only 1,000 gray wolves remaining in the lower 48 states. Protected under the Endangered Species Act for over four decades, gray wolf populations have seen a tremendous recovery, with more than 6,000 gray wolves now living below the Canadian border.
Attempts have been made on numerous occasions to delist the gray wolf, including by the Obama administration in 2011. Federal protection of the gray wolf has been a controversial issue since it began. The debate tends to pit environmentalists against hunters, ranchers and farmers who see the gray wolf as a threat to their livelihoods. Ranchers have struggled to protect their herds from wolf attacks, and hunters complain of having to compete with wolves for deer and elk.
The Trump administration’s proposal will go into effect 60 days after being posted to the Federal Register on November 3. Once removed from the Endangered Species List, the protection and management of gray wolves will fall under state and tribal control. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will continue to monitor wolf populations for five years “to ensure the continued success of the species.” U.S. Interior Secretary, David Bernhardt says, “After more than 45 years as a listed species, the gray wolf has exceeded all conservation goals for recovery,” and as determined by the agency, “this species is neither a threatened nor endangered species based on the specific factors Congress has laid out in the law.”
Republican Congressman of Utah, Bob Bishop, praised the decision by the federal government to hand over management to the states, saying, “The gray wolf is one of the most successful species recoveries in history, despite the mounds of federal red tape and abusive litigation preventing this long-overdue delisting.” Bishop says, “It’s unfortunate it took this long for the federal government to turn management back to the states, when in fact state management and expertise is what got us to where we are today.” Former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service director Dan Ashe also agrees gray wolf populations have recovered and the agency should “move on” and redirect energies to other wildlife in need.
The announcement from the Department of Interior points to the growing gray wolf populations across the Western Great Lakes region in Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, as well as expanded ranges “into western Oregon, western Washington, northern California and most recently in northwest Colorado.” The agency’s press release makes a point to note that “No administration in history has recovered more imperiled species in their first term than the Trump Administration,” with 13 species removed from the Endangered Species List since 2017. Environmentalists and conservation organizations argue that delisting a species is only worth praising if done appropriately.
EarthJustice attorney Kristen Boyles, argues that despite the remarkable recovery so far, delisting gray wolves now is premature. Boyles says, “This is no ‘Mission Accomplished’ moment for wolf recovery. Wolves are only starting to get a toehold in places like Northern California and the Pacific Northwest, and wolves need federal protection to explore habitat in the Southern Rockies and the Northeast.” Biologists say the recovery is still fragile in many states and gray wolf populations have not fully recovered throughout their historical habitat. Prior to the mid-20th century, gray wolves existed across most of North America.
Joanna Lambert, a professor of animal ecology at the University of Colorado Boulder says the bulk of the recovered gray wolf population has been seen in the western Great Lakes region and the Northern Rockies, “But outside these clusters, wolves haven’t established viable populations.” Lambert argues, “Although parts of Colorado, Utah and California could be ideal wolf habitat, there are hardly any packs in these states. It’s unclear whether gray wolves will be able to expand their range without the federal protections they’ve had for nearly 50 years.” Several biologists and former government officials claim the administration’s proposal lacks scientific justification and that “the agency’s conclusions were based on factual omissions and errors.” Critics point out that “the proposal barely considered the effects of climate change” and its impact on gray wolf habitat and prey.
Many environmentalists see the delisting proposal as an attempt by the Trump administration to appeal to rural voters in the election battleground states of Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Michigan. Ranchers, farmers, and hunters in these states have largely advocated for leaving the management of gray wolves in the hands of state and tribal governments. Many believe their livelihoods are at stake and feel state regulation provides greater flexibility for managing the relationship between wolves and humans. Ashleigh Calaway of Pittsville, Wisconsin lost 13 of her family’s sheep to wolves in July 2019. Calaway says that giving control back to the states would allow for “state-sponsored hunts” to keep local wolf populations at a managed level and “lower the risk to sheep and cattle.” Miles Kuschel, a third-generation rancher in north-central Minnesota, says he has watched the wolves’ territory expand over the past few decades to surround his land. Kuschel argues that under state management, “farmers and ranchers have the ability to protect their livelihoods and livestock.”
Adrian Treves, professor of environmental studies at the University of Wisconsin recalls that when federal protections had been lifted years prior in the western Great Lakes region, gray wolf populations declined significantly, citing exhaustive hunting seasons and poachers “emboldened by the absence of federal enforcement.” Treves says, “The science is 100 percent clear that there will be a spike in mortality.” Collette Adkins, carnivore conservation director at the Center for Biological Diversity says her organization plans to sue. “The courts recognize, even if the feds don’t, that the Endangered Species Act requires real wolf recovery, including in the southern Rockies and other places with ideal wolf habitat.” She argues that with this proposal, “the Fish and Wildlife Service has just adopted the broadest, most destructive delisting rule yet.”
Maureen Hackett, founder of Minnesota-based Howling for Wolves, is sensitive to the divisions this long-standing debate has created, recognizing it as a complex issue. A survey sent out by the University of Minnesota revealed that Minnesota residents “largely agree that maintaining a wolf population in Minnesota is important, and that they should occupy about the same amount of habitat.” However, opinions diverged over the proposal of a wolf hunting season as an appropriate solution for a sustainable human-wolf relationship. The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, representing 11 Ojibwe tribes in Minnesota, Wisconsin and Michigan opposes the delisting of gray wolves as well as strongly opposes a wolf hunting season. A spokesperson for the Commission says, “Wolves are seen as relatives to the Anishinaabe and we don’t believe in hunting our relatives.”
Many Fish and Wildlife Service scientists believe wolf populations can continue to expand without Federal protection, but support from the states would be crucial. Hackett argues, “We need a non-lethal wolf plan and continued funding for prevention methods for farmers and ranchers to ensure an intact and healthy wolf population, because the wolf is vital for our ecology and the legacy of future Minnesotans.”
- Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit public interest environmental law organization. https://earthjustice.org/
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/
The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission
- GLIFWC provides natural resource management expertise, conservation enforcement, legal and policy analysis, and public information services in support of the exercise of treaty rights during well-regulated, off-reservation seasons throughout the treaty ceded territories. http://www.glifwc.org/
Learn More References
Associated Press. (2020, October 29). Trump officials end gray wolf protections across most of U.S. Retrieved November 15, 2020, from https://www.mprnews.org/story/2020/10/29/trump-officials-end-gray-wolf-protections-across-most-of-us
Brown, M., Flesher, J., & Mone, J. (2020, November 13). Trump officials end gray wolf protections across most of US. Retrieved November 15, 2020, from https://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory/correction-gray-wolves-endangered-story-74192466
Interior Press. (2020, October 30). Trump Administration Returns Management and Protection of Gray Wolves to States and Tribes Following Successful Recovery Efforts. Retrieved November 15, 2020, from https://www.doi.gov/pressreleases/trump-administration-returns-management-and-protection-gray-wolves-states-and-tribes
Kraker, D. (2020, October 30). Gray wolves lose federal protection; state will manage instead. Retrieved November 15, 2020, from https://www.mprnews.org/story/2020/10/30/gray-wolves-lose-federal-protection-state-will-manage-instead
Phillips, A. M. (2020, October 29). Trump administration drops gray wolf from endangered species list. Retrieved November 15, 2020, from https://www.latimes.com/politics/story/2020-10-29/trump-administration-drops-gray-wolf-from-endangered-list-ending-all-federal-protection
Rott, N. (2020, October 29). Gray Wolves to Be Removed from Endangered Species List. Retrieved November 15, 2020, from https://www.npr.org/2020/10/29/929095979/gray-wolves-to-be-removed-from-endangered-species-list
By Todd Broadman
The Tongass forest, referred to as “America’s Amazon,” was designated a National Forest by President Theodore Roosevelt in 1902. The Tongass is one of the largest, relatively intact temperate rainforests in the world. U.S. Forest Service, charged with managing its vast 16.7 million acres, developed a travel plan and new policy for the area in 1990 with passage of the Tongass Timber Reform Act. Since then, the Clinton Administration issued Roadless Rule, prohibiting new road construction on previously undeveloped national forest lands across the country; that included 9.2 million acres of the Tongass. That put an end to larger scale logging.
Recently though, the Trump administration removed Roadless Rule protections from the Tongass National Forest. In combination with the Forest Service’s reclassification of certain old-growth parcels – 168,000 acres – as “suitable timberlands,” a major swath of the forest is open again to clear-cut logging. The underlying rationale follows a predictable pattern: the need for economic growth. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, who oversees the U.S. Forest Service, issued a recent notification concerning the Tongass: “changes can be made without major adverse impacts to the recreation, tourism, and fishing industries, while providing benefits to the timber and mining industries, increasing opportunities for community infrastructure, and eliminating unnecessary regulations.” The Forest Service is charged with approving all above-ground operations and construction in national forests.
The timber industry is among the most prominent lobbyists behind the removal of protections. “The forest products industry has been imperiled for some time,” claims Tessa Axelson of the Alaska Forest Association, and went on to assert that, “There’s a handful of small operators that are working on the Tongass, harvesting timber. In order to continue to survive, those businesses are dependent on a predictable supply of timber.” The industry has the ear of U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, who desires a full exemption from the Roadless Rule to open the Tongass up to recreation and renewable energy, “while ensuring good stewardship of our lands and waters.”
Along with Murkowski, Alaska Governor, Mike Dunleavy, strongly backs the Trump administration’s “job and opportunity creating” move. The governor has a large constituency – the state has experienced declining oil revenues and employment since development of the Prudhoe Bay oil field began in the summer of 1969. According to Dunleavy, “Trump has given responsible resource development a fair shake.”
Dunleavy has carried out massive cuts to the Alaska state budget, and though opposed by many, has been supported in the move by his core conservative constituency in favor of slimming down big government. Although Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay is the largest such oil complex in the country, overall oil industry employment numbers in Alaska are small and have shrunk markedly since the end of the oil pipeline boom in 1978. Since 2000, the industry has employed under 5000 workers, versus retail, for example, that employs ten times that amount. Recently, oil industry layoffs have been constant due to reduced travel due to COVID-19 and the global drop in oil prices.
The Tongass National Forest is an ecosystem of glacier-carved fjords, thick green forests of old-growth hemlock, spruce and cedar; spongey carpets of muskeg, and expansive fields of rock and glaciers. The wild salmon and associated fish industry depend upon an intact landscape. In spite of this, the timber industry cites the high economic value of old growth timber. Clear-cutting would have long-term impacts and opponents claim that government subsidies to the timber industry cost taxpayers far more money than is generated.
Environmentalists call the Tongass “our silent partner” due to its absorption of carbon; they point to its healthy and wild salmon runs. The area contains 14,873 miles of anadromous rivers and streams. The fishing industry says that removing protections would threaten the more than $2 billion per year commercial fishing and tourism industry in the area. According to the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute, Alaska’s seafood industry accounts for nearly $6 billion in direct output as well as $8 billion in “multiplier effects generated as industry income circulates throughout the U.S. economy.”
President Donald Trump, when he stood amid the burned down homes of Paradise, California, nearly two years ago, indirectly blamed lack of forest resource development on the deadliest wildfire in the state’s history. “You’ve got to take care of the floors, you know? The floors of the forest, very important.” He followed that by ordering the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Interior to make federal lands less susceptible to catastrophic wildfires through the removal of dead trees, underbrush and other potentially flammable materials. He gave the Secretary of the Interior the final decision on granting oil and gas leases on National Forest lands and that of course includes Tongass National Forest.
Native tribes have not, as expected, been a significant part of the Administration’s decision. Joel Jackson, president of the Organized Village of Kake on Kuprean said that “They just completely ignored our input and input of the other five tribes, so I felt very disrespected.” In total, a half-dozen tribes withdrew their cooperation with the Forest Service. The Native community strongly opposes the opening up of their lands to logging. They still rely upon the Tongass for their way of life. Richard Chalyee Eesh Peterson, president of the Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska, said “Our health and well-being, identity and worldview are intricately woven into the fabric that is our homeland.”
In response to claims of potential environmental damage, the USDA claims that carbon released from logging will be insignificant. Dominick DellaSala, a scientist with the Earth Island Institute, counters that “There’s no science that supports their analysis.” His own analysis concludes that the carbon dioxide emissions from logging the 160,000 acres of old-growth forest would create the equivalent of adding about 10 million cars to the road.
There is a bill before Congress – the Roadless Area Conservation Act (HR 2491) – that, if passed, would make the Roadless Rule permanent. At stake are the remaining 58.5 million acres of undeveloped forests throughout the country. Two states though – Alaska and Utah – have recently filed petitions seeking exemptions to the rule and open up a combined 13 million acres. The Administration supports these and other exemptions.
Author’s note: As I write this brief, election results are nearing completion and it is likely that former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. will win; if so, reinstating protections to the Tongass and other public lands is expected.
- https://www.outdooralliance.org/ is the only organization in the U.S. that unites the voices of outdoor enthusiasts to conserve public lands and ensure those lands are managed in a way that embraces the human-powered experience.
- https://www.earthisland.org/ supports environmental action projects and helps foster the next generation of environmental leaders in order to achieve solutions to the crises threatening the survival of life on Earth.
- https://alaskaconservation.org/ is the only public foundation solely dedicated to conservation in Alaska.
Brief # 100 The Environment
U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Refuses to Protect Wolverines Under the Endangered Species Act
By Jacob Morton
October 27, 2020
The wolverine is a rather elusive character. Only about 300 of these iconic mammals exist in the United States’ lower 48 states. With a broad head, short round ears and long snout, wolverines resemble a miniature bear with a bushy tail. Each animal covers a wide range, traversing mountainous terrain, trotting across snowpack with large snowshoe-like paws. Wolverines feed primarily on scavenged carrion and can use their strong jaws to pry open frozen carcasses, providing a food source for other scavengers once they have had their fill.
Wolverines were nearly eradicated from the contiguous United States in the early 1900’s, victim to “fur trapping, predator poisoning and lack of prey due to sheep farming” and overgrazing. Over 90% of their potential habitat in the U.S. lies on Federal lands and wilderness areas. Efforts to protect wolverines by placing them on the Endangered Species List, have existed since 1994, but continually face denial by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS). Previous protection attempts have been denied by the FWS, because “conservation groups could not provide empirical data on how wolverines’ range had changed over time because of humans.”
However, in 2013, under the Obama administration, the FWS acknowledged evidence suggesting climate change as an existential threat to wolverine populations due to decreasing snowpack throughout their range in the lower 48. The FWS proposed a rule to federally protect them as “threatened,” under the Endangered Species Act. Female wolverines rely on a substantial snowpack between February and April, seeking out “the deepest snow available to make their dens in snow tunnels or under snow-covered rocks or logs.” The FWS described the wolverine population in the lower 48 as distinct from its neighboring population north of the Canadian border, and thus deserving of protection.
Despite the position taken by the agency in 2013, the FWS withdrew its proposal the following year, rejecting previous studies and insisting that “Even under conditions of future reduced snowpack, sufficient habitat will likely remain.” Following this reversal, Judge Dana L. Christensen of Federal District Court in Montana ordered the FWS to reevaluate their decision. Judge Christensen and the District Court determined that, “immense political pressure that was brought to bear on this issue, particularly by a handful of Western states,” was the reason for the reversal. He called the agency’s rejection of previous studies “arbitrary and capricious,” even pointing to written documents within the agency that “expose the likely motives — freedom from perceived federal oversight, maintaining the public’s right to trap — behind the states’ efforts against listing the wolverine.”
On October 8, 2020, per Judge Christensen’s order to reevaluate its refusal to protect wolverines, the FWS under the Trump administration announced its final decision that wolverine populations in the United States do not require federal protection. The agency wrote, “The best available science show that the factors affecting wolverine populations are not as significant as believed in 2013. … Accordingly, the Service has withdrawn its listing proposal.”
In a press release, the United States Fish and Wildlife Service wrote, “New research and analysis show that wolverine populations in the American Northwest remain stable, and individuals are moving across the Canadian border in both directions and returning to former territories. The species, therefore, does not meet the definition of threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act (ESA).” Noreen Walsh, Colorado’s Fish and Wildlife Service Regional Director said, “In the time since our original proposal, the science on wolverines has been greatly advanced thanks to the work of state wildlife agencies and researchers in the U.S. and around the world.”
Despite the agency’s own 2013 determination that wolverines south of the Canadian border represent a distinct population from those northward, todays FWS claims “New information from genetic and observational studies shows that wolverines in the lower 48 are connected to populations in Canada and Alaska, these populations interact on some level, and migration and breeding is possible between groups.” Thus, “Wolverines in the lower 48 states do not qualify as a distinct population segment and they are instead an extension of the population of wolverines found further north.” Leader of the agency’s Montana project, Jodi Bush, claims the decision was based on new science and “was not a political decision.” Bush says, “If wolverines need snow, we think that there’s going to be enough snow out there for them.”
Environmentalists and conservation groups are skeptical of the agency’s credibility. Jeff Copeland, wolverine expert and director at The Wolverine Foundation says, “My primary concern is that [FWS’s] decision was not based on good science. Either it represents a gross misinterpretation of the science or a purposeful misrepresentation of the science in order to produce a preconceived result.” Copeland notes that wolverines avoid areas used by snowmobilers and backcountry skiers, but climate change has reduced the degree of separation and has forced wolverines to find new habitat. However, as Copeland points out, “This is an animal with extremely specific habitat requirements. It lives in a very narrow environmental niche that can be easily impacted by climate change. There is no reason to believe that it is adaptable to other climate situations.”
Brad Smith, director of the North Idaho chapter of the Idaho Conservation League, said of the agency’s decision, “It’s a continued pattern of wanting to stick their heads in the sand about climate change and not do anything about the impacts that greenhouse gas emissions will have on species. With the current administration, there’s been a rollback of many protections for the environment and for listed or proposed species.” Opinions are mixed however, over how best to manage wolverine populations and habitat. Bob Inman, the carnivore and fur bearer coordinator for the state of Montana, feels that leaving regulation decisions up to local governments might actually “persuade landowners to grant easements for wolverine corridors, connecting one mountain peak’s wolverine population with another.” Inman says, “People get the perception that ‘the feds are coming to take my land.’ That’s not the way to be successful. The way to be successful is to convince people that they would be part of something important.”
Conservationists however, such as Copeland, feel that relying on local regulation may not be enough. Copeland explains that, “Some of the places I worked in the ’90s, where I was able to readily capture wolverines, they’re gone now. These little sub-populations could blink out and be gone without us even knowing.” Eric Odell, species conservation program manager at Colorado Parks and Wildlife argues that with federal protections, “We might be able to increase the [wolverine] population by a third, because there is so much suitable, unoccupied habitat.” But, because of financial and regulatory obstacles resulting from the federal government’s decision, “Now we’re back to square one.” If wolverines had been approved for protection under the Endangered Species Act, “the FWS would have to draft a recovery plan that applies across the species’ entire US range and designates certain areas as critical wolverine habitat.”
Jodi Bush says the Western States Wolverine Conservation Project will continue to fight to protect wolverines at the state level. Andrea Zaccardi of the Center for Biological Diversity says, “We’ve been fighting to get wolverines the federal protection they deserve for decades. And we’re going to keep fighting.” Jonathan Proctor of Defenders of Wildlife says, “With this decision, the Fish and Wildlife Service has abandoned its moral and legal obligation to protect these animals. But we will not abandon our efforts.”
The fight is a contentious one, and as explained by New York Times reporter, Catrin Einhorn, the debate is about more than just wolverines. In this country, there are “deep-seated cultural and political beliefs about how best to protect animals, how much power the federal government should wield over states and even how humans should interact with nature in the first place.” As EarthJustice lawyer, Timothy Preso puts it, “There is a group of people in the Northern Rockies that traps and snowmobiles and wears Carhartt, and another group that wears Patagonia and wants to see a wolverine track in the snow. A lot of these issues are characterized by the tension between those people.” Finding ways to ease those tensions and establish authentic dialogue may prove a necessary step to creating sustainable solutions for the many complex issues facing our country.
The Wolverine Foundation
- A non-profit organization comprised of wildlife scientists with a common interest in the wolverine. The Wolverine Foundation, Inc. (TWF) was formed in 1996 to promote interest in the wolverine’s status and ecological role in the world wildlife community. http://wolverinefoundation.org/
Defenders of Wildlife
- Defenders of Wildlife is dedicated to the protection of all native animals and plants in their natural communities. Founded in 1947, Defenders of Wildlife is the premier U.S.-based national conservation organization dedicated to the protection and restoration of imperiled species and their habitats in North America. https://defenders.org/
- Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit public interest environmental law organization. https://earthjustice.org/
Learn More References
Einhorn, C. (2020, October 08). Wolverines Don’t Require Protection, U.S. Officials Rule. Retrieved October 24, 2020, from https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/08/climate/wolverines-no-federal-protection.html
Supertrooper. (2020, October 12). ‘Heads in the sand’: Conservationists condemn US failure to protect wolverines. Retrieved October 24, 2020, from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/oct/12/wolverines-endangered-species-act-us-fish-wildlife
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. (2020). Wolverine: US Fish and Wildlife Service. Retrieved October 24, 2020, from https://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/es/wolverine.php
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: Mountain-Prairie Region. (2020, October 8). Science Shows Wolverines in the Contiguous U.S. Are Healthy. Retrieved October 24, 2020, from https://www.fws.gov/mountain-prairie/pressrel/2020/10082020-Science-Shows-Wolverines-in-the-Contiguous-US-Are-Healthy.php
By: Shannon Q. Elliott
Tuesday, October 20, 2020
According to the Trump Administration they have been successful in “cutting the red tape” of Obama era environmental policies and protections. While boasting about the strides they have taken to promote economic growth, create jobs, and give industries more flexibility, they fail to recognize that these particular policies are contributing to environmental degradation. The deterioration of the environment will have adverse effects on the “strong economy” as new policies threaten habitats, clean water, fresh air and wildlife, it’s just a matter or time before the economy suffers a catastrophic crash.
Two policies that are being deconstructed under the Trump agenda, are protections for air and water. The Affordable Clean Energy Rule (ACE) and The Navigable Waters Protection Rule, (NWPR) have been amended in an effort to allow industries and businesses to operate without government interference. ACE replaced the Clean Power Plan (CPP) which set a target for coal industries to adjust their emissions and comply beginning in 2018, with strict compliance by 2025. Coal plants are responsible for 43% of mercury emissions, and 30% of toxic water pollution; CPP would have removed 1.4 billion pounds of toxic pollution, which would have given the environment a chance to rebound. ACE allows more flexibility with their carbon emissions, requiring compliance by 2030. ACE is only applicable to the coal industry, and by extending the deadline for compliance, ACE allows toxic pollution to gain more momentum.
The Navigable Waters Protection Rule reduced the number of federally protected waterways. This leaves smaller bodies of water, including streams, wetlands, and habitats vulnerable to pollutants. The rule was rewritten to provide clarity over waterway jurisdiction. Under NWPR, the states retain jurisdiction over smaller bodies of water, leaving the larger waterways regulated by federally. The President contends that the NWPR will allow states to manage their resources in a way that is supportive of farmers and ranchers. By redistributing water protections, this creates a disproportioned system, cleanliness of drinking water will vary by state, an influx of pollution will intrude on rivers and streams, and flood risk increases.
It should not come as a surprise that the two aforementioned rules are tied up in litigation. Environmentalist groups, scientists, and States are lobbying to have these rules amended to support a healthy environment. Not only are they rallying for public health, but they are also trying to prevent an economic nosedive.
How does environmental failure affect the economy? When the administration decides to slash conservation protections, their short-term gains cause an irreversible domino effect. ACE is less restrictive than the 2015 CPP, granting the coal industry the ability to operate 5 years longer resulting in more American deaths vs. jobs saved. According to thirdway.org, Trump’s new plan could result in “1400 premature deaths, 430 non-fatal heart attacks, 48,000 cases of exacerbated asthma, 500 cases of acute bronchitis, 42,000 lost workdays, and 60,000 school absence days annually by 2030.” People who become ill will be unable to work, resulting in a mass health crisis and bankruptcy. The climate will continue to warm, while emissions are being pumped into the air, which paves the way for disastrous acts of nature such as wildfires, hurricanes, tornados, and inclement weather events that will pummel parts of the world. When these events take place, there is substantial damage caused to roadways, airports and infrastructure. Climate volatility will drive up the cost of labor, economic goods, and the supply chain. In North America alone, Morgan Stanley reported that from 2017-2020, events associated with climate change cost about $ 415 billion dollars.
What about clean water? Clean water is essential to a thriving society, and under the NWPR, clean water is in jeopardy. Farmers and landowners are thrilled with the new rule that grants them the freedom to use pesticides, without fear of government interjection. In the short-term, the relaxed rule permits them to grow more crops and raise livestock, but ultimately, the contamination and toxins released into the groundwater will put their farms at risk of flood, unstable climates will kill crops, and agricultural sectors will suffer disruptions in supply and demand.
Climate effects agriculture, infrastructure, tourism, global markets, and human productivity, just to name a few. “We will pay for climate breakdown one way or another, so it makes sense to spend the money now to reduce emissions rather than wait until later to pay a lot more for the consequences… It’s a cliché, but it’s true: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Joseph Stiglitz Noble Prize Winner; Economist Columbia University.
Analyzing Trump’s “Affordable Clean Energy” rule using the EPA’s own data. https://www.thirdway.org/memo/analyzing-trumps-affordable-clean-energy-rule-using-the-epas-own-data
Trump Administration Cuts Back Federal Protections For Streams And Wetlands. (2020, January). NPR.org
US report warns climate change could create economic chaos. (2020, September). https://www.cnn.com/2020/09/09/business/climate-change-economy-cftc-report/index.html
- Climate Group : https://www.theclimategroup.org/partner/state-california
- The World Bank : https://www.worldbank.org/en/topic/climatechange/overview
- Environmental Defense Fund : https://www.edf.org/
The Federal Reserve has made an unprecedented policy change: the Fed is now directly intervening to support corporate credit markets. To do so, it has established two facilities: the Primary Market Corporate Credit Facility (PMCCF) and the Secondary Market Corporate Credit Facility (SMCCF). The SMCCF has been actively purchasing corporate issued bonds, loans, and exchange-traded funds (ETFs).
Overall, the corporate bond market has seen rapid growth since 2008, going from $5 trillion to about $9.6 trillion in 2019. The balance sheets of many larger corporations are debt heavy and the revenues to service that debt have shrunk since the onset of the COVID. In turn, bond ratings have plummeted, many to junk status, and that forces rates higher. The Fed is stepping in to provide much needed liquidity which they propose will keep operations and employment at pre-COVID levels. Over a six-week period, the SMCCF purchased bonds from 500 large companies.
A disproportionate quantity of those bond purchases have been directed at oil and gas conglomerates: about 10% of the Fed’s corporate bond portfolio. In fact, this industry has issued a record amount of new bonds, $129 billion this year alone, according to Bloomberg, most of it issued since the Fed’s purchase program was initiated. 19 of the largest oil and gas companies have been recipients. Outside this industry, a total of $455 billion in corporate debt has been issued.
This includes household giants such as Procter & Gamble who issued $5 billion worth; Coca-Cola added $6.5 billion in bond debt; Apple raised another $8.5 billion while Oracle had a $20 billion debt offering. While the Fed has stated its intervention is intended to stabilize employment, there are no such requirements to prevent layoffs. One analysis showed that a third of companies with the largest bond debt participation have announced sizable worker layoffs.
In June, Fed Chair Jerome Powell testified to Congress that “the intended beneficiaries of all of our programs are workers.”
The petroleum industry has been dramatically impacted by the drop in consumer gasoline demand. The resulting “price collapse” at the pump has left many oil firms unable to service existing debt – much of it used pre-COVID to purchase smaller firms. Bankruptcy looms over many in the industry: 30 percent of the shale sector is “technically insolvent.” Smaller firms financed with private equity are teetering.
As finances for the industry began to unravel, lobbying efforts went into high gear. U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas alongside 10 Republican colleagues issued an influential plea to Mnuchin and Powell in the form of an April 22 letter. Citing the recent downgrading of debt to junk bond status, the letter said, “We face a real and present danger of seeing hundreds, if not thousands of oil producers shuttering, an event that will profoundly and negatively impact the industry, its financial partners and consumers for years to come.”
Then there are the “inside lobbyists” like Interior Secretary David Bernhardt who had represented Big Oil for years. We have Energy Secretary Dan Brouillette whose career included senior posts with Ford Motor Co. and who had served on the Board of a Louisiana agency that oversees leasing of state lands to energy companies.
In spite of the new policy and rescue efforts by the Fed, industry layoffs followed suit. “We have to be simpler, more streamlined,” remarked Shell’s chief executive, Ben van Beurden, in response to another round of layoffs. “We need to be a more competitive organization, more nimble and able to respond to customers.” In a similar vein, Marathon Petroleum issued pink slips to 1000 employees which were intended to “strengthen Marathon Petroleum for short-term and long-term success.” Royal Dutch Shell, another bond purchase recipient, plans to trim its headcount by 9,000.
A number of factors have contributed to the financial stress amongst oil corporations. Prior to plummeting demand, Russia and Saudi Arabia were engaged in a price war and this was followed by a brief glut due to the U.S. fracking boom. Many firms, including those non-oil beneficiaries like Boeing corporation, turned down federal CARES Act funding and chose to increase liquidity through bond issuance. Of note, CARES Act funding came with strings attached: executive compensation was restricted.
Furthermore, a recent report revealed that 383 large firms whose bonds were purchased by the Fed paid dividends to their shareholders. Sysco Corporation is a typical example: they laid off a third of its workforce while paying out shareholder dividends. Other bond purchase beneficiaries, like Tyson Foods, were found guilty of labor and environmental violations. The fact that 15% of the Fed’s corporate bond holdings are issued from large banks raises questions similar to the bailout terms during the 2008 financial meltdown.
The administration’s leanings are summed up in this Trump tweet: “We will never let the great U.S. Oil & Gas Industry down.”
Vocal critics include Alan Zibel, research director of Public Citizen’s Corporate Presidency Project who points out that “when consumers take on too much credit card debt, they can be forced into bankruptcy and face financial ruin. But when the oil and gas industry accumulate too much debt, it gets a bailout on the backs of taxpayers.” The administration is accused of issuing bailouts for industry friends and loyalists, and to those who are harming rather than helping our environment.
While this bond buying program is favorable to the Fortune 500 – municipalities, small businesses, and individuals are offered more restrictive loans at higher rates. Sarah Bloom Raskin, a former top Fed and Treasury official, wrote that this program effectively protects wealthy bond holders from losses, offering them “all the upside that comes with a junk bond, but none of the risk that, before now, made it, well, junk.”
- https://prospect.org/ devoted to promoting informed discussion on public policy from a progressive perspective.
- https://www.politico.com/ strives to be the dominant source for news on politics and policy in power centers across every continent.
- https://www.bondbuyer.com/ the only independent information resource serving the entire municipal finance community.
- https://som.yale.edu/ to educate leaders for business and society.
The Environmental Protection Agency under Donald Trump has released a new assessment of the pesticide Chlorpyrifos, claiming the current science is inconclusive as to the amount of exposure necessary to be harmful. Chlorpyrifos is an organophosphate pesticide typically used on crops, animals, and buildings, to kill various pests, including insects and worms. The chemical has been used extensively in grape, almond, soybean, and particularly strawberry production. It acts on the nervous systems of insects by inhibiting the acetylcholinesterase enzyme.
In 2015 the Obama administration announced it would ban chlorpyrifos citing studies by the EPA warning of the chemical’s potential to make farm workers sick and impede brain development in children. However, in 2017, before the ban could be enforced, the EPA Administrator at the time, Scott Pruitt, reversed the decision, igniting a legal uproar. The EPA was ordered by a federal appeals court to make a final ruling by July 2019 on whether to ban Chlorpyrifos. Upon that deadline, Andrew Wheeler, now EPA Administrator, announced the agency would reject the petition to ban the pesticide, questioning the significance of the data around the chemical’s neurological impact on young children. Despite the agency’s continued rejection of a ban, the EPA is required by law to review a pesticide’s uses at least every 15 years, and with another legal case pending in the U.S. 9th Circuit of Appeals, the agency will be due to deliver a new final ruling on the use of Chlorpyrifos in about two years. Meanwhile, the EPA says it will make an interim decision this October.
Preceding the interim decision and final ruling, while pending legal cases loom from a dozen environmental and labor groups demanding an immediate ban, the EPA released this September, a new assessment of the dangers associated with the use of Chlorpyrifos. The report concludes that “Despite several years of study, the science addressing neurodevelopmental effects remains unresolved…. With respect to effects on the developing brain, very little is known about the duration of chlorpyrifos exposure needed to precipitate adverse effects in the developing brain.”
Some farm groups have defended the use of Chlorpyrifos, claiming the chemical has been a safe, effective, and versatile tool for protecting their crops since 1965. The EPA’s new assessment of the pesticide points to Oregon strawberry growers who have been particularly reliant on Chlorpyrifos for controlling symphylans, a pest that feeds on the plant’s roots. However, it should be noted that many certified organic strawberry growers throughout the country use a combination of alternative management practices to control symphylans and other pests, such as solarizing field soils with tarps, flooding fields, compacting growing beds, and incorporating cover crops. They prevent pest outbreaks naturally by maintaining optimal soil and plant nutrition throughout the growing season and establishing a balanced farm ecosystem.
The EPA’s assessment does acknowledge that Chlorpyrifos can have a negative effect on neurodevelopment, and even identifies “concerns about dietary exposure to chlorpyrifos and to pesticide handlers,” mirroring the same concerns expressed by the EPA back in 2015. However, the agency claims the risk of exposure to residential communities is “negligible,” and argues that there is insufficient data to definitively say what level of exposure is dangerous.
Many in the scientific community dispute this claim, pointing to several epidemiological studies, including one from Columbia University, showing “a correlation between prenatal exposure to chlorpyrifos and developmental disorders in toddlers,” such as lower birth weights, lower IQ’s, and higher risk of autism. The EPA’s recent assessment, however, has rejected those findings, citing a lack of access to the raw data of those studies. Spokesman for the EPA, James Hewitt, said in a statement that the agency “remains unable to verify the reported findings” of the Columbia study (despite having been supported by other peer-reviewed studies), deeming its findings inconclusive. This move by the EPA suggests that the agency may be unofficially adopting its proposed “secret science” regulation, aiming to reject or give less weight to scientific studies that do not (or cannot) publicly release their underlying data.
As previously reported by Lisa Friedman at the New York Times, “This controversial policy would eliminate many studies that track the effects of exposure to substances on people’s health over long periods of time, because the data often includes confidential medical records of the subjects.” Trump’s EPA has used this same argument to justify weakening restrictions and rejecting bans on other toxic chemicals and pollutants, such as perchlorate (a water contaminant tied to fetal brain damage) and asbestos, despite repeated objections from agency scientists. The EPA has not finalized or officially adopted the “[secret science] regulation that would officially restrict using such studies in decision-making, but the chlorpyrifos assessment suggests it has moved forward in applying it.”
EPA officials claim they have been prevented from independently assessing the findings of the Columbia University study, by not being provided the study’s raw data. Lawyers supporting a ban on Chlorpyrifos say researchers from the Columbia University study “were willing to show their data to agency officials in a secure location but have not released the information publicly because of privacy concerns.”
EarthJustice attorney, Patti Goldman, criticized the EPA’s new assessment of the pesticide, saying, “Ignoring the demonstrated harm to children doesn’t make chlorpyrifos safe. It shows a commitment to keep a toxic pesticide in the market and in our food at all cost.” Earthjustice has also accused the administration of “fudging the data” in the new assessment, to reach its preferred conclusion. Erik D. Olson, senior director for health at the Natural Resources Defense Council, said of the EPA’s report, “This shows that EPA has completely abandoned any commitment to protecting children from this extremely toxic chemical when their own scientists recommended twice to ban it. The science is being overridden by politics.”
California, New York, Hawaii, and other states have enacted their own bans and restrictions on the use of Chlorpyrifos. Corteva, the world’s largest manufacturer of the pesticide, says it has already ended production of the chemical. Entomologist Allen Felsot of Washington State University claims the use of chlorpyrifos is in decline, and notes, “The market tends to take care of a lot of this.” The EPA’s Draft Ecological Risk Assessment and Revised Human Health Risk Assessment of Chlorpyrifos will be open to scientific review and public comment once the Proposed Interim Decision is released this month. Both documents will remain open for review and comment for 60 days.
- Behind nearly every major environmental win, you will find EarthJustice. EarthJustice’s legal work has saved irreplaceable wildlands, cleaned up the air we breathe, and fueled the rise of 100% clean energy. It has protected countless species on the brink of extinction, and secured long-overdue, historic limits on our nation’s worst polluting industries. https://earthjustice.org/
Natural 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/
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. UCS uses rigorous, independent science to solve our planet’s most pressing problems. Joining with people across the country, UCS combines technical analysis and effective advocacy to create innovative, practical solutions for a healthy, safe, and sustainable future. https://www.ucsusa.org/
- Friedman, L. (2020, September 23). EPA rejects its own findings that a widely used pesticide harms children’s brains. Retrieved October 02, 2020, from https://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/nationworld/ct-nw-nyt-epa-pesticide-chlorpyrifos-20200923-mehfao7iivatbmtswxhtb4ncgy-story.html
- Jenkins, D. (2020, September 24). EPA releases new assessment of chlorpyrifos. Retrieved October 02, 2020, from https://www.capitalpress.com/ag_sectors/research/epa-releases-new-assessment-of-chlorpyrifos/article_c2869bd2-fdef-11ea-8216-c72882240bbb.html
- Reed, G. (2020, September 25). EPA Chlorpyrifos Assessment: A Harbinger of Restricted Science Rule Havoc. Retrieved October 02, 2020, from https://blog.ucsusa.org/genna-reed/epa-chlorpyrifos-assessment-a-harbinger-of-restricted-science-rule-havoc
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2020, September 22). EPA Takes Next Step in Review Process for Insecticide Chlorpyrifos, Making Draft Risk Assessments Available. Retrieved October 02, 2020, from https://www.epa.gov/pesticides/epa-takes-next-step-review-process-insecticide-chlorpyrifos-making-draft-risk-assessments
Democratic Presidential Candidate Joe Biden has rolled out a $2 trillion climate change plan that has become a hallmark of his candidacy. Biden is pledging to green the nation’s transportation infrastructure in the next decade by funding “high-quality, zero-emissions public transportation options through flexible federal investments.”
The Biden campaign is banking on its climate change plan — which would create millions of jobs — to capture a diverse group of voters on Election Day, from climate advocacy groups to trade unions that support the construction industry.
The plan marks the first time that climate change is a central plank for the Democratic Party, and has the support of popular party leaders, including U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and John F. Kerry, former Secretary of State.
“We can lead America to become the world’s clean energy superpower,” Biden said. The plan would redefine the nation’s transportation and energy industries. Its lofty goals include requiring:
- All new U.S.-made buses to be emissions free in a decade;
- The nation to have net-zero emissions by 2050;
- The electricity industry to end carbon pollution by 2035.
Biden’s climate change plan has emerged as a centerpiece of the Democrat’s campaign and is an issue of “national security,” according to the candidate. The $2 trillion plan indeed is getting heightened attention leading up to the election but not for the reasons the Biden team had expected.
President Trump denies that climate change exists. “I don’t think science knows actually,” Trump said recently about climate change. Biden labeled him a “climate denialist.” There is perhaps no other campaign issue where the candidates are further apart.
- The Biden plan would invest more than $1.7 trillion in the next decade in clean energy, climate research and innovation. It would create incentives in the private sector and with state and local governments for implementing green energy solutions that would total $5 trillion during the same time period.
- The plan would set stringent limits on the use of fossil fuels, impacting the oil and gas industries. It would impose new fuel standards aimed at the auto industry that would transition the nation to 100 percent electric cars and light trucks. Consumers would get rebates or financial incentives to trade in their gas-powered vehicles for electric cars and light trucks.
- Addressing concerns of environmentalists, the Biden plan permanently protects the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and ends new oil and gas permitting on public lands and waters, instead focusing on solar, hydraulic and wind power. Trump is preparing to allow drilling in the refuge.
CALIFORNIA’S ROLE MODEL STATUS CONFLICTS WITH PAST POLICIES
California’s own experience as a national leader in efforts to reduce greenhouse gases demonstrates the opportunities and benefits in moving consumers toward a more energy conscious ethos. California’s emissions of carbon dioxide fell by 14 percent from 2004 to 2017, according to the most recent statistics available. In 2017, the state set a new goal to further reduce its emissions by 40 percent by 2030.
While the state commands one of the largest global economies, it boasts one of the lowest energy consumption levels in the U.S. because of its innovations and use of alternative energy, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.
As the fastest growing energy source in the U.S., renewable energy is a burgeoning industry in the state, growing hundreds of new businesses. For example, California is among the nation’s biggest producers of hydro-electric power. California leads the solar market, and was the first state in the U.S. to get more than 5 percent of utility electricity from solar power. Coal represents only a small portion of its portfolio.
As the first state to set a goal to become carbon neutral, California is setting an example that other states are starting to follow through goal-setting and legislation.
However, California’s environmental policies to mitigate the impact of climate change are running up against its previous, seemingly successful efforts to expand development and further grow its economy. But California’s economy has been thriving in part because of a failure to address important environmental issues, such as curtailing expansion of the human habitat to forest and coastal areas; a lack of management of ground-level heat-sensitive vegetation; and a porous system for the transportation and distribution of water.
These and related economic policies and practices make California vulnerable to the extreme weather fluctuations of climate change. State policy will need to address these conditions in order to reap the benefits of its mitigation policies.
Read about the candidate’s climate change plan in detail on his campaign website.
The Sunrise Movement, a leading environmental activist group largely composed of young people, responds to the Biden climate change plan.
The U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency provides information on the electric vehicles and renewable energy.
The Solar Energy Industries Association offers comprehensive information on the alternative energy source.
The Solar Tribune, an industry publication, outlines the issues at stake for the solar industry and consumers in this presidential election.
Since 2016, President Donald Trump has made quite clear his intention to increase the amount of oil and gas drilling operations along the Atlantic and Arctic coastlines. He vowed upon his election to overturn the Obama era moratorium that has protected these waters and the tourism and fishing industries they support. In 2017, Trump ordered the Department of the Interior to lift restrictions the Obama administration had placed on drilling in the Atlantic and Arctic oceans, and to develop a plan to begin leasing out drilling rights in those waters to oil and gas companies. The following year, the Interior Department proposed a draft plan to begin selling offshore drilling leases in “90 percent of US coastal waterways.”
Several coastal states resisted the proposal, including Florida’s Governor at the time, republican Rick Scott. Later that year, in an unexpected change of heart, the Trump administration allowed Florida to opt out of the leasing plan, but none of the other states, which included New Jersey, Washington, and California (all considered Democratic strongholds). It is worth noting that this was a big win for Governor Scott who was running for a Senate seat that year against the Democratic incumbent, Bill Nelson; Scott narrowly defeated Nelson, landing another Republican in the Senate.
Earlier this month, on September 8, eight weeks before election day, President Donald Trump signed a memorandum to ban the sale of any new offshore drilling leases off the coasts of Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina. This memorandum expands the protections of the already existing Obama era moratorium on new drilling leases in the Gulf of Mexico and extends the protections for ten years — July 1, 2022, to June 20, 2032. Drilling off the Atlantic coast has been a significant political issue for several states in the region, who fear the negative impact on their tourism and fishing industries, as well as other environmental threats. The new moratorium does not protect the coastlines of Virginia and North Carolina, both of which contain significant oil deposits, and both of which have democratic governors. Florida, Georgia, and South Carolina all have republican governors. Florida and Georgia are both key swing states in this year’s general election. Republican Senator of South Carolina, Lindsey Graham is also up for reelection, and is said to have helped draft the new moratorium.
The President has taken the opportunity to praise himself as an environmental steward, proclaiming the title “the great environmentalist.” He spoke at an event in Jupiter, Florida, telling the people, “This protects your beautiful gulf and your beautiful ocean, and it will for a long time to come.” Environmental groups, however, are skeptical. The League of Conservation Voters, an environmental advocacy group, said in a statement, “If this was more than an election year ploy for Trump, we’d have seen a permanent ban on offshore drilling in his first four years.” Jaclyn Lopez, Director for the Florida chapter of the Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund, wrote in a statement, “Voters shouldn’t be duped by this cheap, last-minute maneuver. It can’t even begin to make up for the aggressive efforts to expand dirty offshore drilling since Trump’s been in office.”
Since Trump took office in 2016, he has rolled back numerous regulations that have been protecting our environment for years. He has sought to weaken or eliminate laws that limit the amount of pollution automobiles, pipelines, and power plants release into the air and water. The Environmental Protection Agency, under Trump’s direction, has removed federal protections for millions of acres of streams and wetlands across the country. Trump has shortened the amount of time allowed for studying the potential environmental damage from new highway and pipeline construction projects and has opened lands and waters to drilling and commercial fishing, that have been considered too fragile and too critical to the survival of biodiversity on this planet to be disturbed. The President even withdrew the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord, a global agreement to address the emission of heat-trapping greenhouse gases and strengthen the ability of countries to deal with the impacts of climate change.
Given Donald Trump’s track record on environment and climate policy, it is hard to believe that this is not a political move to appeal to swing voters in Florida and Georgia, and to boost Senator Lindsey Graham’s chances of reelection in November. The fact that only Republican-led states see any protections from this moratorium, further heightens this suspicion. Jamie Williams, President of the Wilderness Society, spoke of Donald Trump and his environmental stewardship, saying, “Trump is the worst President for the environment in our history. No amount of spin from this administration can hide its legacy of abuse, neglect and corruption that threatens our health and the health of our environment.”
Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden has called out Trump for making an election-year flip-flop, writing, “Just months ago, Donald Trump was planning to allow oil and gas drilling off the coast of Florida. Now, with 56 days until the election, he conveniently says that he changed his mind. Unbelievable. You don’t have to guess where I stand: I oppose new offshore drilling.”
The Wilderness Society
- an American non-profit land conservation organization that is dedicated to protecting natural areas and federal public lands in the United States. They advocate for the designation of federal wilderness areas and other protective designations, such as for national monuments. https://www.wilderness.org/#
League of Conservation Voters
- Founded in 1970 by environmentalist Marion Edey (LCV) is an American environmental advocacy group that “advocates for sound environmental laws and policies, holds elected officials accountable for their votes and actions, and elects pro-environment candidates.” The organization pursues its goals through voter education, voter mobilization, and direct contributions to political candidates. https://www.lcv.org/
Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund
- The Center for Biological Diversity Action Fund is an affiliated, but separate, organization from the Center for Biological Diversity, a 501(c)(3) non-profit charity. As a 501(c)(4) social welfare non-profit organization, the Action Fund engages in advocacy and political activities that the Center for Biological Diversity cannot participate in. https://centeractionfund.org/
Miller, Z., & Superville, D., Associated Press. (2020, September 09). Trump expands ban on new offshore drilling sites in Atlantic. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from https://www.sfgate.com/news/article/Trump-claims-environmental-progress-but-he-s-15550171.php
Teirstein, Z. (2020, September 13). “No one knows where this came from”-Trump bans offshore drilling. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from https://www.motherjones.com/environment/2020/09/no-one-knows-where-this-came-from-trump-bans-offshore-drilling/
The Wilderness Society Blog. (2019, July 8). The facts on Trump’s terrible environmental record. Retrieved September 17, 2020, from https://www.wilderness.org/articles/blog/facts-trumps-terrible-environmental-record
On Monday, August 31, the US EPA under the Trump administration announced that it has made revisions to a 2015 Obama era policy that places pollution restrictions on power plants that burn coal. The policy, known as the Effluent Limitations Guidelines (ELG) for coal-fired power plants, limits how much heavy metal toxins and other waterborne pollutants coal powered electric generation plants can release into local waters or wastewater facilities.
Explained very simply, a coal powered electric generation plant burns coal to heat water into steam, which in turn generates electricity. Two waste streams produced by this process are affected by the EPA’s revisions. The first pollution stream results from the toxic gases produced by the burning of coal, which are passed through treated water to remove the toxins and particulate matter before being released from the flue into the air. The water with the dissolved toxins and ash in it is known as Flue Gas Desulfurization (FGD) wastewater. The second waste stream affected by the EPA’s new revisions is known as Bottom Ash (BA) transport water, which is water used to carry away the toxic coal ash leftover in the bottom of the boiler tanks from the steaming process.
The pollution limits and guidelines for these two waste streams, as written by the Obama administration’s regulation in 2015, established the following:
- Set the first ever limits on the amount of pollutants (arsenic, mercury, selenium, and nitrogen) power plants can dump into local water bodies via FGD wastewater. The policy set specific limits on how much of each toxin the FGD wastewater could contain before being released into the local water system. Power plants that needed to meet these compliance standards were required to adopt new best available technologies (BAT) to remove pollutants from the wastewater.
- Required that all coal-fired power plants recycle 100% of their BA transport water (which contains coal ash and other suspended solids and toxic elements), instead of purging into local water bodies.
- Required that compliance with the new guidelines and limitations be met by 2023.
*The Obama administration estimated $451-$566 million annually in monetary benefits to public health, environmental health, and economic health as a result of this regulation.
Today’s EPA under the Trump administration has revised these guidelines and limitations as follows:
- The best available technologies required by the Obama administration’s 2015 guidelines for use in the removal of toxic pollutants from wastewater are no longer a requirement for coal-fired power plants. The EPA claims it has found “more affordable technologies that are capable of removing similar amounts of discharges.”
- Coal-fired power plants are no longer required to recycle 100% of their BA transport water. Instead, the EPA has established a “pollutant discharge allowance,” where the amount of toxic water that a power plant can release into the local water system “will be determined on a case-by-case basis by the permitting authority, based on best professional judgement,” up to 10% of the plant’s daily BA wastewater.
- Power plants that “cease coal combustion by 2028” may be exempt from the guidelines all together.
- The case-by-case deadlines for complying with the regulations have been pushed back so that power plants that have failed to meet their already passed deadlines will not receive any penalty. The Obama guidelines required the necessary power plants to meet compliance by their next permit renewal, the earliest one being by November 1, 2018 and the last deadline being by January 2023. November 1, 2020 is now the earliest deadline for compliance — “in order to allow EPA time for reconsideration of the regulatory provisions.”
*The Trump administration estimates a $140 million annual cost reduction for power plants as a result of these revisions.
The new guidelines set forth by the EPA essentially push back the deadline for coal-fired power plants to comply with reducing pollution; increases the amounts of pollutants allowed to be released by the power plants; allows the use of cheaper technologies that are less effective at removing pollutants from wastewater before it is released; and exempts some power plants all together from meeting compliance, as long as they plan to shut down or switch to natural gas by 2028.
EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler and the coal industry both had praise for the regulation’s revisions. Wheeler claims, “Newer, more affordable pollution control technologies and flexibility on the regulation’s phase-in will reduce pollution and save jobs at the same time.” President of the National Mining Association, Rich Nolan, said of the new regulation, “The coal industry wants to be able to compete while also safeguarding important environmental protections – this rule shows that balance is possible.” The EPA also claims the revisions will reduce “toxic pollution by nearly 1 million pounds per year greater than what the Obama-era controls would have.”
Environmental groups, however, say the revisions allow the industry to “use cheaper, less effective treatment methods on polluted wastewater that puts waterways at risk.” The treatment technologies allowed by the EPA’s revisions use a shorter biological treatment process which leaves the resulting wastewater with a higher concentration of selenium than the technologies required under the previous guidelines. The EPA’s revisions, “sets a daily maximum limit on selenium at 76 micrograms per liter, more than three times the Obama-era limit of 23 micrograms per liter.”
Frank Holleman, senior attorney at the Southern Environmental Law Center wrote in an email to POWER Magazine, “With today’s rollback of clean water protections, the Trump EPA allows dirty coal-burning plants to dump more toxic substances into our rivers, lakes, and drinking reservoirs and exposes our communities to more cancer-causing pollution. The EPA itself has estimated that at least 30 percent of all toxic water pollution from all industries comes from these plants, and the technology to prevent and treat this pollution is widely available. The EPA is making it easier for the most polluting and worst run coal-fired plants to dump poisons into the waterways our communities depend upon.”
Thom Cmar, deputy managing attorney of the Earthjustice Coal Program, agrees. He says of the EPA’s revisions, “The Trump administration is once again jeopardizing people’s health to give coal power industry lobbyists what they want. This dangerous decision will have a big impact because dirty coal-fired power plants are by far the number one source of toxic chemicals in our water.” He argues, “The Trump administration’s rollback will be responsible for hundreds of thousands of pounds of pollutants contaminating sources of drinking water, lakes, rivers and streams every year. We will challenge this rule change in court.”
- Behind nearly every major environmental win, you will find EarthJustice. EarthJustice’s legal work has saved irreplaceable wildlands, cleaned up the air we breathe, and fueled the rise of 100% clean energy. It has protected countless species on the brink of extinction, and secured long-overdue, historic limits on our nation’s worst polluting industries. https://earthjustice.org/
Southern Environmental Law Center
- The Southern Environmental Law Center uses the power of the law to champion the environment of the Southeast. https://www.southernenvironment.org/
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/
Natural 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/
- Proctor, D. (2020, September 02). EPA Loosens Limits on Coal Plant Effluent Discharges. Retrieved September 04, 2020, from https://www.powermag.com/epa-loosens-limits-on-coal-plant-effluent-discharges/
- Smith, A. (2020, August 31). EPA loosens controls on coal plants’ toxic waste that industry said would cause closures. Retrieved September 04, 2020, from https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/policy/energy/epa-loosens-controls-on-coal-plants-toxic-waste-that-industry-said-would-cause-closures
- United States, EPA, Office of Water. (2015, September 30). Final Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Standards for the Steam Electric Power Generating Industry. Retrieved September 04, 2020, from https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-10/documents/steam-electric-final-rule-factsheet_10-01-2015.pdf
- United States, EPA, Office of Water. (2015, September 30). Technical Development Document for the Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Standards for the Steam Electric Power Generating Point Source Category. Retrieved September 4, 2020, from https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2015-10/documents/steam-electric-tdd_10-21-15.pdf
- United States, EPA, Office of Water. (2020, August). Supplemental Technical Development Document for Revisions to the Effluent Limitations Guidelines and Standards for the Steam Electric Power Generating Point Source Category. Retrieved September 4, 2020, from https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2020-08/documents/steam_electric_elg_2020_final_reconsideration_rule_supplemental_technical_development_document_0.pdf
- United States, EPA, Office of Water. (2020, August 31). Final Steam Electric Reconsideration Rule Fact Sheet. Retrieved September 04, 2020, from https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2020-08/documents/steam_electric_elg_2020_final_reconsideration_rule_fact_sheet.pdf
- United States, EPA, Press Office. (2020, August 31). EPA Finalizes Power Plant Effluent Limitation Guidelines that Save Money and Reduce Pollution. Retrieved September 04, 2020, from https://www.epa.gov/newsreleases/epa-finalizes-power-plant-effluent-limitation-guidelines-save-money-and-reduce
- Volcovici, V. (2020, August 31). U.S. EPA rolls back limits on wastewater from coal plants. Retrieved September 04, 2020, from https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-epa-coal/u-s-epa-rolls-back-limits-on-waste-water-from-coal-plants-idUSKBN25R2QK
This past week automakers, Ford, Honda, Volkswagen, BMW and Volvo in conjunction with the California Air Resources Board (CARB), finalized a pact to strengthen emissions and improve fuel economy in California and 13 other states. The pact aims to improve fuel economy from 28 mpg to 51 mpg by the year 2026. The decision comes as automakers recognize the need for stringent environmental protections, whereas the current administration is inflexible, shifting away from environmental protections.
In 2018, there were 15 million vehicles registered in the golden state and 887,000 new vehicles sold. At this point, California still retained the authority via The Clean Air Act, to create their own emissions standards. When The Clean Air Act passed, California was already adopting its own set of innovative rules to combat air pollution. Congress acknowledged this, and made an exemption that allowed California to carve out their own rules, as long as the laws protected public health, and were stricter than federal law. In order to implement such laws, California would need to seek a waiver issued by the Environmental Protection Agency. The latest waiver was obtained in 2013, under the Obama Administration.
In 2019, President Trump revoked California’s authority to set their own standards, derailing years of progress centered around environmental clean-up. His reasoning for the revocation, was a uniformed set of national fuel economy standards. When the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicle Rule (SAFE) passed in March of this year, it rolled back the Obama era policy requiring automakers to improve fuel efficiency in new vehicle models by 5% every year and slash it to a mere 1.5%. The current administration was adamant that their new standard would create more jobs, allow automakers more flexibility, and make vehicles affordable for the masses. They failed to acknowledge that their new rule would allow 6 billion tons of carbon dioxide to be omitted into the air by 2026.
The current administration continues to rollback environmental policies, broadcasting climate change a hoax. CARB has worked tirelessly alongside automakers, and have a common goal; protect Californian’s and their environment from raging wildfires, scorching temperatures, and unpredictable weather patterns attributed to climate change.
Their initiatives include cutting back on greenhouse gases, tailpipe pollutants, protecting public health, and lowering diseases attributed to climate change. Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington are expected to follow suit; recognizing eco- friendly responsibilities, while shaming the Trump Administration, for their ignorance when it comes to environmental issues.
Trump has already tried to dismantle this agreement, by launching an antitrust investigation in September of 2019. The Department of Justice investigated whether or not the pact violated antitrust laws when reaching a deal with California. Ultimately the investigation was inconclusive, leaving the President embarrassed once again by his outlandish assumptions.
- Cole, A. (2020, August 18). California regulators, automakers finalize pact for tougher emissions regulations. The Car Connection : https://www.thecarconnection.com/news/1129288_california-regulators-automakers-finalize-pact-for-tougher-emissions-regulations
- Davenport, H. T. (2019, September 06). Justice Dept. Investigates California Emissions Pact That Embarrassed Trump. The New York Times : https://www.nytimes.com/2019/09/06/climate/automakers-california-emissions-antitrust.html
- Shephardson, D. (2020, August 17). Defying Trump, California locks in vehicle emission deals with major automakers. Reuters: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-autos-emissions-california/defying-trump-california-locks-in-vehicle-emission-deals-with-major-automakers-idUSKCN25D2CH
- (2020). Climate Group : https://www.theclimategroup.org/partner/state-california
- (2020). California Air Resources Board : https://ww2.arb.ca.gov/
- (2020). Coalation for Clean Air : https://www.ccair.org/
- (2020). Environmental Defense Fund : https://www.edf.org/climate/california-leads-fight-curb-climate-change