Spare Yourself the Guilt Trip This Earth Day—It’s Companies That Need to Clean Up Their Acts
More and more states are looking to pass a new kind of recycling law that asks manufacturers to foot the bill for the waste created by their products.
Bales of plastic sit ready to be processed and recycled. Koron/Getty Images
Coined in the 1970s, the classic Earth Day mantra “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” has encouraged consumers to take stock of the materials they buy, use, and often quickly pitch—all in the name of curbing pollution and saving the earth’s resources. Most of us listened, or lord knows we tried. We’ve carried totes and refused straws and dutifully rinsed yogurt cartons before placing them in the appropriately marked bins. And yet, nearly half a century later, the United States still produces more than 35 million tons of plastic annually, and sends more and more of it into our oceans, lakes, soils, and bodies.
Clearly, something isn’t working, but as a consumer, I’m sick of the weight of those millions of tons of trash falling squarely on consumers’ shoulders. While I’ll continue to do my part, it’s high time that the companies profiting from all this waste also step up and help us deal with their ever-growing footprint on our planet.
An investigation last year by NPR and PBS confirmed that polluting industries have long relied on recycling as a greenwashing scapegoat. If the public came to view recycling as a panacea for sky-high plastic consumption, manufacturers—as well as the oil and gas companies that sell the raw materials that make up plastics—bet they could continue deluging the market with their products. 04-16-21
Despite Tensions, U.S. and China Agree to Work Together on Climate Change
China and the United States must “prove we can actually get together, sit down and work on some things constructively,” John Kerry, President Biden’s climate envoy, said in an interview in Seoul on Sunday.Credit…Chang W. Lee/The New York Times
The two countries said they would treat global warming “with the seriousness and urgency that it demands.”
The United States and China have said they will fight climate change “with the seriousness and urgency that it demands” by stepping up efforts to reduce carbon emissions, a rare demonstration of cooperation amid escalating tensions over a raft of other issues.
The agreement, which included few specific commitments, was announced on Saturday night, Washington time, after President Biden’s climate envoy, John Kerry, visited China for three days of talks in which the negotiators managed not to be sidetracked by those disputes.
“It’s very important for us to try to keep those other things away, because climate is a life-or-death issue in so many different parts of the world,” Mr. Kerry said in an interview on Sunday morning in Seoul, where he met with South Korean officials to discuss global warming. “What we need to do is prove we can actually get together, sit down and work on some things constructively.”
The agreement comes only days before Mr. Biden is scheduled to hold a virtual climate summit with world leaders, hoping to prod countries to do more to reduce emissions and limit planetary warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels. Many scientists now argue that warming must be kept below that threshold to avert catastrophic disruptions to life on the planet. 04-17-21
Biden prepares sweeping order on climate-related risks
The Biden administration is assembling the plan ahead of a major international climate summit the president plans to host April 22-23. | Andrew Harnik-Pool/Getty Images
In a draft executive order, President Joe Biden reaches into all corners of the federal government with plans that would touch every sector.
President Joe Biden is preparing to instruct federal agencies to take sweeping action to combat climate-related financial risks to government and the economy, including moves that could impose new regulations on businesses.
In a draft executive order obtained by POLITICO, Biden reaches into all corners of the federal government with plans that would touch every sector of American industry, including banking and insurance, oil and gas, housing, agriculture, and federal contracting, purchasing and lending.
The Biden administration is assembling the plan ahead of a major international climate summit the president plans to host April 22-23. It reflects growing global concerns about how rising sea levels and devastating disasters could have knock-on effects on the financial system.
The order, titled “Climate-Related Financial Risk,” directs White House economic and climate advisers to work with the Office of Management and Budget on a government-wide strategy to measure, mitigate and disclose climate risks facing federal agencies. Banking, housing and agriculture regulators are among those that will be asked to incorporate climate risk into their supervision of major industries and the lending of federal funds. 04-15-21
How Wall Street funds environmental injustice against women
SAUL LOEB / AFP via Getty Images
A new report examines the link between banks, fossil fuels, and health risks to women
It’s not just oil and gas companies that are causing the climate crisis — the financial sector has played a role, too. A new reportfrom the environmental advocacy group Women’s Earth and Climate Network International, or WECAN, outlines connections between the banks, asset managers, and insurance companies that finance oil and gas development and the damage inflicted by the fossil fuel industry — in particular to women, hitting women of color hardest. It also lays out how the financial sector can clean up its act.
The report examined projects that produce significant harm to frontline communities in the United States and parts of Canada, ranging from intensive oil extraction in Kern County, California, to the construction of Minnesota’s Line 3 pipeline, to chemical plants in St. James Parish, Louisiana, an area known as ‘cancer alley.’ It then identified the financial institutions that enabled those projects through both direct and corporate-level financing, including the banks that funded those projects, the asset managers that invested in them, and the insurance companies that underwrote them.
The order, titled “Climate-Related Financial Risk,” directs White House economic and climate advisers to work with the Office of Management and Budget on a government-wide strategy to measure, mitigate and disclose climate risks facing federal agencies. Banking, housing and agriculture regulators are among those that will be asked to incorporate climate risk into their supervision of major industries and the lending of federal funds. 04-15-21
BlackRock Inc. headquarters in New York, U.S Photographer: Jeenah Moon/Bloomberg
With the annual proxy season about to kick off, corporate executives are encountering increasing investor scrutiny about their environmental policies. But rather than support green initiatives or even compromise with shareholders, some of the world’s biggest companies instead plan to crush efforts to slow the climate catastrophe.
Shareholders will be voting on at least 20 separate resolutions that are calling for more transparent climate disclosures at companies ranging from oil giant Chevron Corp. to rail freight operator Union Pacific Corp. to cable-television operator Charter Communications Inc.
“Almost universally, the quality of corporate reporting needs to improve to show how climate change is impacting a company’s bottom line, not only now but in the future,” said Jonathan Bailey, head of ESG investing at Neuberger Berman Group LLC, adding that his firm has held discussions about environmental risks with fossil fuel behemoths including Chevron and Exxon Mobil Corp.
The increase in investor activism is emerging at the same time President Joe Biden’s administration is considering a pledge to cut U.S. greenhouse-gas emissions by 50% or more by the end of the decade relative to 2005, almost doubling the previous commitment. At the Securities and Exchange Commission, the first-ever senior policy adviser for climate and ESG was just appointed, putting both issues atop the agency’s priorities, according to analysts at UBS Group AG. 04-14-21
Lobbying for good? New campaign asks Big Tech to push for bold climate action
MHJ / Getty Images
The top five U.S. tech firms devote very few resources to lobbying for climate policy, but a new employee-driven campaign could change that.
There’s no doubt that Big Tech has been talking a big climate game lately. In the last two years, Microsoft committed to running its operations entirely on renewable energy by 2025; Apple pledged to become carbon neutral across its supply chain in a decade; Amazon announced it would be putting 100,000 electric delivery vans on the roads by 2030; and Google’s parent company, Alphabet, committed to operating all of its data centers on carbon-free power round-the-clock within a decade.
But while major tech companies are making genuine efforts to clean up their own climate pollution, they’re doing very little to lobby for pro-climate policies at the state or federal level, despite the fact that such advocacy could play a much bigger role in helping the United States meet its climate targets. Now, one organization is trying to change that by calling on tech industry employees to tell their bosses to step up.
On March 31, ClimateVoice, a corporate climate advocacy nonprofit, launched the “1 in 5 Campaign,” which is asking the five biggest tech companies in the U.S. — Alphabet, Amazon, Microsoft, Apple, and Facebook — to devote one-fifth of their lobbying dollars to climate policy in 2021. That would amount to a seismic shift for corporations that only devote a small fraction of their lobbying resources to climate issues today. ClimateVoice founder Bill Weihl, a former sustainability executive at Google and Facebook, believes that if major tech corporations want to show true climate leadership, there’s never been a better time for them to put their money and influence where their mouth is. 04-13-21
7 million Californians live near oil and gas wells. This bill could change that.
David McNew / Getty Images
Despite its green reputation, California has a big fossil fuel problem on its hands: neighborhood oil and gas drilling. In California, there’s nothing preventing frackers or drillers from setting up shop right next to your home, school, or hospital — and indeed, this is the reality for 7.4 million Californians currently living within 1 mile of oil and gas drilling operations, who are disproportionately non-white and low-income.
Now, a new state bill called S.B. 467, slated for a hearing in the California Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Water on Tuesday, may reshape the lives of frontline communities by eliminating fracking and instituting mandatory buffer zones between oil and gas extraction and places where Californians live, work, and study. These buffer zones, known as setbacks, have long been fought for by communities impacted by the oil industry.
The oil and gas industry makes a huge impact on public health in California, especially for the frontline communities living the closest to oil and gas wells. These extraction sites release toxic pollutants into the air, including chemicals known to cause neurological damage, increased cancer risk, and reproductive harm, like volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxide, formaldehyde, hydrochloric acid, and others. Proximity to oil and gas extraction sites has been linked to a range of health problems, including acute symptoms like rashes, migraines, and nosebleeds, as well as higher rates of asthma attacks, cancer, general hospitalization rates, high-risk pregnancies, and preterm birth. The COVID-19 pandemic adds another dimension of health risk: Exposure to pollution, in particular the fine particulate matter known as PM2.5, has been found to make the virus even deadlier, and conditions like lung disease that are linked to pollution from oil and gas extraction have been found to increase the risk of COVID-19 mortality. 04-12-21
Retreat from coastlines? Politicians don’t want to talk about it.
Why managed retreat is still a political third rail.
Last week, President Joe Biden unveiled a $2 trillion infrastructure plan that, if passed by Congress, would protect the U.S. from climate change and prepare its economy for a transition to clean energy. The plan has a little something for just about everyone — out-of-work fossil fuel workers, public housing advocates, lovers of research and development — but it almost entirely avoids mentioning a looming crisis. Biden’s plan barely mentions managed retreat, a term that refers to the coordinated movement of communities away from coastlines and other vulnerable areas as sea levels rise and climate disasters worsen. The White House infrastructure plan included just one sentence about it, saying the American Jobs Plan will provide “transition and relocation assistance to support community-led transitions for the most vulnerable tribal communities.”
In the coming decades, vulnerable tribes will comprise a tiny fraction of the communities that will need relocation help. Studies show that 13 million Americans could become displaced by rising sea levels and $1 trillion worth of homes and commercial property could be inundated by the end of the century. Southeastern Louisiana, Miami, and New York City are some of the spots that will see precipitous sea-level rise before then. The National Flood Insurance Program, the federally funded insurance program that is one of Congress’ best tools for making people understand flood risks, is mismanaged and has been bankrupted by years of catastrophic flooding events. State governments don’t have nearly enough policies in place to deter people from building and buying homes in flood zones. And federal buyout programs that provide incentives for people to leave their homes are limited and tend to favor wealthier homeowners. 04-08-21
Can a Pipeline Firm Defy a Governor’s Orders? Gretchen Whitmer Is About to Find Out.
An Enbridge crew works on a stretch of pipeline in June 2019. Richard Tsong-Taatarii/ZUMA
As governor, Gretchen Whitmer vowed to provide clean and affordable drinking water for the Great Lakes state of Michigan. Last year, she implemented a statewide moratorium on water shutoffs to provide relief during the COVID-19 crisis, allocated $500 million dollars for improving water infrastructure, and in November stood by a campaign promise when she ordered Enbridge Energy to shut down its Line 5 pipeline, which carries crude oil and natural gas liquids under the Great Lakes from western Canada to Michigan and on to eastern Canada.
Whitmer’s order gave Enbridge until May 12 to shut down Line 5. But the company has so far refused to comply, leading to a showdown between the biggest mover of oil in the United States, Enbridge, and one of the country’s emerging political leaders on climate, over land in her own state.
A review by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources last year found that Enbridge has repeatedly violated requirements laid out in the 1953 easement that allowed it to build the pipeline, with infractions varying from not having the required support on the lake bed to inadequate corrosion control. Whitmer said in a press release that Enbridge “failed for decades to meet these obligations under the easement, and these failures persist and cannot be cured.” 04-08-21
ewable energy projects boomed in 2020, including solar, wind and hydropower. zhihao / Getty Images
Despite the difficulties associated with the Covid-19 pandemic, the world added a record amount of new renewable energy capacity in 2020, according to data released Monday by the International Renewable Energy Agency.
IRENA’s annual Renewable Capacity Statistics 2021 shows that global renewable energy capacity grew by more than 260 gigawatts (GW) last year, beating the previous record set in 2019 by nearly 50%. Last year marked the second consecutive year in which clean energy’s share of all new generating capacity increased substantially, with renewables accounting for over 80% of all new electricity capacity added in 2020.
Total fossil fuel additions, by contrast, fell by more than 6% last year—from 64 GW worth of new electricity capacity in 2019 to 60 GW in 2020.
“These numbers tell a remarkable story of resilience and hope. Despite the challenges and the uncertainty of 2020, renewable energy emerged as a source of undeniable optimism for a better, more equitable, resilient, clean, and just future,” IRENA Director-General Francesco La Camera said in a statement.
“The great reset,” as La Camera called the coronavirus-driven economic slowdown, “offered a moment of reflection and chance to align our trajectory with the path to inclusive prosperity, and there are signs we are grasping it.” 04-06-21
White House Climate Advisor Sees A Path To A Clean Energy Transition Through Coal Country
Jeff Young | Ohio Valley ReSource Kudzu grows near a coal preparation plant in eastern Kentucky.
For decades now, rhetoric around action on climate change has been about things like saving the planet, or saving polar bears. Just think: How many times have you seen an image of ice crashing into the sea from a melting glacier, or a sad-eyed seal atop a floe, as part of a climate change message?
But Gina McCarthy — the veteran environmental policy maker President Joe Biden has picked as his top climate advisor — is making a very different case for climate action.
“I want people to know that this isn’t about a planet. This is about our people. This is about our families,” McCarthy said in our recent interview.
Forget about polar bears and seals. McCarthy wants to talk about plumbers and steelworkers and the other blue-collar Americans who could play a part in greening the country’s infrastructure and economy.
It’s not that melting ice caps and the like don’t matter for her — they do. But she’s more interested in making action on climate change something that ordinary working people can feel that they have a stake in, rather than something they have to worry about as a potential threat to their livelihoods.
“We do have to act, we have to act on climate,” she said. “But we also have to act to make sure that there’s no worker and no community left behind.” 04-05-21
NAACP Report: Fossil Fuel Industry Uses Deception to Conceal Damage to BIPOC Communities
The fossil fuel industry continues to use a long list of deceptive tactics to conceal environmental destruction that harms Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and low-income communities.
That’s the top finding of a newly released NAACPreport titled “Fossil Fuel Foolery.” The report identifies 10 tactics that polluters, industry lobbyists, and politicians often deploy to deflect accountability for the impacts of fossil fuel production and pollution on the environment and human health.
This report updates material on fossil fuel industry influence tactics that the NAACPpublished in 2019.
Many of the industry’s tactics are familiar, such as obscuring or denying the true effects of pollution. In one glaring instance, a firm named Mobile Gas did not report a 2008 Alabamaspill of tert-butyl mercaptan, a chemical that is mixed with natural gas to give it an odor that can help with detecting leaks. The spill probably contributed to respiratory ailments and other health problems affecting nearby residents of a mostly Black and working-class community. Years later, Mobile Gasmaintained that the amount spilled was “safe.”
Another top-ten industry tactic identified by the NAACP is to “co-opt community leaders and organizations and misrepresent the interests and opinions of communities,” sometimes with financial support, to “neutralize or weaken public opposition.”
Utilities have lavished donations on churches, nonprofits, and advocacy organizations to obtain local community buy-in on pollution-generating projects, or to stifle the push towards renewable energy. In a situation that directly affected the NAACPitself, the utility Florida Power & Light donated roughly $225,000 to the group’s Florida state chapter between 2013 and 2017. The donations alarmed the national organization when the Florida chapter began repeating industry talking points against the growth of solar energy in the state, and helped spur the NAACP’s initial 2019 report. 04-02-21
Fossil Fuel Firms Slashed Nearly 60,000 Jobs In 2020 While Pocketing $8.2 Billion Tax Bailout
Oil workers faced tens of thousands of layoffs in 2020 while their employers raked in billions in pandemic-related tax benefits
Last year was $8.2 billion less painful for 77 big fossil fuel companies, thanks to a tax bailout provision in a big pandemic stimulus bill.
The tax-law change did little, however, for nearly 60,000 workers those companies fired, leaving them stretching the $1,200 checks they received under the same law. Individuals were not eligible for the CARES Act loophole, which allows big polluters to reduce past taxes owed based on their recent yearly losses.
As Washington debates ending tax subsidies for fossil fuels, part of President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure proposal, fossil fuel companies are quietly reporting their employee headcounts and final tax bills for 2020. The data underscore the hypocrisy of claims that fossil fuels are a necessary engine of employment and succeed on an equal playing field in the free market.
A BailoutWatch analysis of public filings by companies primarily involved in oil, gas, and coal finds:
Seventy-seven companies pocketed $8.24 billion as a result of tax-law changes in the CARES Act stimulus law
Payrolls were cut by a net 58,030 jobs at the 74 of these companies that reported employee headcounts for the end of 2019 and 2020
The 62 companies that laid off workers collected $7.65 billion through the tax bailout — about $131,000 for each of the 58,488 people they left jobless.
Five companies filed for bankruptcy protection after receiving $308.7 million in tax bailouts and laying off a total of 5,683 workers 04-02-21
Biden unveils a ‘once-in-a-generation’ infrastructure plan in Pittsburgh
“The American Jobs Plan will lead to a transformational progress in our effort to tackle climate change with American jobs and American ingenuity,” Biden said.
Drew Angerer / Getty Images
Speaking at a carpenters’ training facility in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, President Joe Biden unveiled an economic recovery proposal called the American Jobs Plan, a plan reminiscent of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal in scope and ambition. It would pump $2 trillion into the economy this decade and heavily invest in fighting climate change and building green infrastructure. “This is no time to build back to the way things were,” the White House said in its preview of the plan. “This is the moment to reimagine and rebuild a new economy.”
That’s exactly what this plan would do over the next eight years. The American Jobs Plan would direct $621 billion toward transportation infrastructure, with $174 billion of that going toward building out the U.S.’s electric vehicle market. It would pour $111 billion into shoring up the nation’s crumbling water infrastructure and eliminate all lead pipes and service lines. It would direct $100 billion toward revamping the country’s electric infrastructure, in no small part to avoid the kind of power crises that have hit different parts of the country, most recently Texas, in the wake of extreme weather. The plan shoots for 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2035 — a timeline climate activists pushed Biden toward during his presidential campaign.
More than $200 billion would go to “produce, preserve, and retrofit more than two million affordable and sustainable places to live.” One hundred billion would go toward workforce development, and a portion of that money would be dedicated to job training programs for green industries. Workers who lose their jobs “through no fault of their own” — think out-of-work coal miners — would have access to a Dislocated Workers Program that would train them in new skills for sectors like clean energy, manufacturing, and caregiving. 03-31-21
DC Tidal Basin in peak bloom, 2021. Image: Miro Korenha
Both Kyoto, Japan, and Washington D.C. are known for their cherry blossom seasons in the first few weeks of warming spring weather. This year, cherry blossom season came early in both of these cities. In Kyoto, the blooms peaked last Friday, the earliest in more than 1,200 years of records. Meanwhile, in Washington D.C, the blossoms peaked on Sunday, four days ahead of the average date over the past 30 years and almost a week ahead of the 100-year average of April 3.
Why This Matters: These early blooms conform to a trend of earlier springs resulting from a warming planet (known as season creep). Japan started tracking cherry blossom season in 812, producing thousands of years of data. Cherry blossoms are very sensitive to changes in temperature, so having such a long record of peak blooms provides meaningful data about how the climate has changed over the past couple thousand years.
Dr. Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Pennsylvania State University, told the Washington Post:“Evidence, like the timing of cherry blossoms, is one of the historical ‘proxy’ measurements that scientists look at to reconstruct past climate. In this case, that ‘proxy’ is telling us something that quantitative, rigorous long-term climate reconstructions have already told us — that the human-caused warming of the planet we’re witnessing today is unprecedented going back millennia.” 03-30-21
Biden’s Cabinet Talks Big Plans for Offshore Wind Power
Yesterday, National Climate Advisor Gina McCarthy, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, and Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg met with state officials, industry executives, and labor leaders to announce a set of actions to significantly expand offshore wind.
The new leasing, funding, and goals will emphasize the Biden administration’s whole-of-government approach to fighting climate change and bolstering the U.S. economy with a clean energy revolution. This specific plan would generate 30 gigawatts of offshore wind power by 2030, enough to meet the demand of more than 10 million American homes for a year, and avoid 78 million metric tons of CO2 emissions.
Why This Matters: In his first week in office, President Biden issued an executive order, outlining his priorities for climate action and renewable energy expansion. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that the United States has enough offshore wind capacity potential to double the nation’s current electricity use. The administration’s most recent announcement seeks to harness this potential by creating domestic supply chains, focusing on union jobs, and adequately examining the environmental implications of these projects while also funding innovation. 03-29-21
The U.S. is finally looking to unlock the potential of wave energy
After decades of false starts, the federal approval of a new testing site off the coast of Oregon could give wave energy a much-needed jolt.
A rendering of the PacWave South wave energy testing site. PacWave / Oregon State University
At first glance, waves have the makings of an ideal renewable energy source. They’re predictable, constant, and tremendously powerful. Their energy potential is astonishing — researchers estimate that waves off the coasts of the United States couldgenerate as much as 2.64 trillion kilowatt-hours annually, or the equivalent of 64 percent of the country’s total electricity generation in 2019.
But capturing the immense power radiating across our oceans’ surfaces is no easy feat — wave energy technology is challenging to engineer, start-up costs are high, and testing in open ocean waters is a regulatory nightmare. That’s why wave energy’s trajectory has been a stop-and-go affair plagued by false starts for decades. But things may finally be starting to shift for the industry: The federal government recently approved the first full-scale, utility grid-connected wave energy test site in the U.S.
The Oregon State University-led project, PacWave South, is a 2-square-mile patch of ocean 7 miles off the rugged Oregon coast, where developers and companies can perform large-scale testing of their wave energy technologies. It will cost $80 million and is scheduled to be up and running by 2023. The design includes four testing “berths,” where wave energy devices will be moored to the seafloor and connected to buried cables carrying electricity to an onshore facility. In total, the PacWave South facility will be able to test up to 20 wave energy devices at once. 03-29-21
The ‘Green Energy’ That Might Be Ruining the Planet
A truck hauling logs enters the Enviva wood pellet plant in Garysburg, North Carolina. | Mehmet Demirci for POLITICO
The biomass industry is warming up the South’s economy, but many experts worry it’s doing the same to the climate. Will the Biden Administration embrace it, or cut it loose?
Here’s a multibillion-dollar question that could help determine the fate of the global climate: If a tree falls in a forest—and then it’s driven to a mill, where it’s chopped and chipped and compressed into wood pellets, which are then driven to a port and shipped across the ocean to be burned for electricity in European power plants—does it warm the planet?
Most scientists and environmentalists say yes: By definition, clear-cutting trees and combusting their carbon emits greenhouse gases that heat up the earth. But policymakers in the U.S. Congress and governments around the world have declared that no, burning wood for power isn’t a climate threat—it’s actually a green climate solution. In Europe, “biomass power,” as it’s technically called, is now counted and subsidized as zero-emissions renewable energy. As a result, European utilities now import tons of wood from U.S. forests every year—and Europe’s supposedly eco-friendly economy now generates more energy from burning wood than from wind and solar combined. 03-26-21
Farms, feathers, and fins share water in California
A coalition of conservation non-profits is creating innovative ways to put farmland to work supporting wildlife.
C. M. Burge / Getty Images
From the air, California’s Central Valley looks like an enormous patchwork quilt, squares of green and gold fields stitched together by grey threads of roads and highways. This region is known as “the breadbasket of the world.” The rich alluvial soil produces a quarter of the nation’s food. Close to 20% of all the rice grown in the U.S. comes from here.
This region and its water are also crucial to another group: migratory birds. Far above the roads that thread the Central Valley landscape is an enormous aerial freeway known as the Pacific Flyway. Tens of millions of migratory birds travel thousands of miles up and down this superhighway in the sky each year. Some make the heroic journey from their arctic breeding grounds in Alaska or Canada to as far south as Ecuador or Chile.
“On an international level, the Central Valley is one of the most important regions in the Western Hemisphere for these migratory birds,” says scientist Catherine Hickey, a director at the nonprofit Point Blue Conservation Science. “It’s where they stop to rest and refuel so they can go on.” 03-24-21
Why This Matters: Americans, according to recent polling by Yale University’s climate communications project, overwhelmingly want to see Congress and the administration take bold action on climate change. Members of Congress could be persuadable — in a little-discussed move, the Congress is now willing to allow “earmarks” for projects — so Members can ensure that their districts get a share of the benefits of all this spending. Both parties (Republicans voted by secret ballot) supported restoring earmarks and maybe that will mean the long-awaited, infrastructure bill finally has a chance.
Nearly half of Pennsylvania government electricity to come from solar power by 2023
Gov. Tom Wolf sees a bright future for solar power in Pennsylvania and Monday announced a new clean energy initiative that will build seven new solar arrays, enough to supply about half of state government electricity.
The project, touted by the governor’s office as the largest solar commitment by any state government in the U.S., is projected to produce a total of 191 megawatts of electricity for government buildings, and is scheduled to go into operation on Jan. 1, 2023.
The solar arrays are part of the governor’s previously announced GreenGov initiative, Pennsylvania PULSE — Project to Utilize Light and Solar Energy — which set a goal of obtaining at least 40% of electricity from clean energy generated in the state. The project announced Monday would exceed that goal.
“Pennsylvania has been a national energy leader for more than one hundred years. As we continue to diversify our grid with clean renewable sources of energy, we want to maintain Pennsylvania’s leadership position and bring the associated economic, health and environmental benefits to all Pennsylvanians,” the governor said in a statement. 03-22-21
Students find obscure law that could make university fossil fuel investments illegal
A new legal strategy could give Harvard the kick it needs to divest.
Grist / Keith Bedford/The Boston Globe via Getty Images
College students fighting to get their schools to stop investing in fossil fuels have stumbled on a new idea that could bring fresh attention to their cause: Those investments might be illegal.
Students with the group Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard filed an official complaint with the Massachusetts attorney general’s office last Monday alleging that Harvard’s investments in oil, gas, and coal violate the Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act, or UPMIFA, a state law that regulates how nonprofit institutions can spend their endowment funds. The move follows in the footsteps of Boston College students who filed a similar complaint with the attorney general’s office in December.
“Our hope is that attorney general Maura Healey, if she chooses to take action on this, will hold Harvard accountable for its dangerous fossil fuel investments,” said Sofia Andrade, a sophomore at Harvard and one of the organizers of Fossil Fuel Divest Harvard. “And our hope is that this sends a powerful signal to other institutions about what investments are acceptable.” 03-22-21
A groundbreaking environmental justice bill is poised to become law
Grist / Michael Brochstein / SOPA Images / LightRocket / Erik McGregor / LightRocket via Getty Images
With slim majorities in Congress and an ally in the White House, the Democrats who drafted the Environmental Justice for All Act, a comprehensive piece of federal legislation that aims to address environmental disparities in vulnerable communities across the country, are “exceedingly optimistic” that their groundbreaking bill will become law. On Thursday, they officially reintroduced the bill on Capitol Hill.
“With new leadership in Congress and the White House, we’re in a window of opportunity to save lives and establish environmental justice that the country can’t afford to miss,” said Representative Raúl Grijalva of Arizona in a statement on Thursday. “Today is the first step in pushing this bill and the principles behind it as far as they can go in our federal government.”
Grijalva, who is chair of the House Natural Resources Committee, reintroduced the bill into the House of Representatives with Representative A. Donald McEachin of Virginia, who co-authored the bill. Meanwhile, Senator Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, who is co-chair and co-founder of the Senate’s first environmental justice caucus, followed suit in the legislature’s upper chamber. She is picking up where Vice President Kamala Harris left off when she first introduced a companion environmental justice bill into the Senate last summer. McEachin told Grist that he has high hopes the bills will pass in both the House and the Senate. 03-19-21
Northern California’s kelp forests declined by as much as 95% since 2013due in part to an intense ocean warming period between 2014 and 2017 which stressed kelp and likely supercharged a mass die-off of starfish. Starfish prey on native purple urchins, keeping their numbers in check and without these predators, the urchins proliferated, devouring kelp forests at a staggering pace.
Why This Matters: As global efforts focus on protecting and replanting forests, we can’t forget about the world’s underwater forests. Ecosystems like kelp and seagrass have immense ability to sequester carbon–kelp especially, a process that cleantech companies are looking to supercharge. It’s unclear if kelp restoration programs and urchin culling can overcome the stresses posed to California’s kelp forests, though scientists and volunteers aren’t giving up. 03-16-21
Green groups launch $10 million ad campaign pressuring Biden, Congress to spend huge on climate
The Dave Johnson coal-fired power plant is silhouetted against the morning sun in Glenrock, Wyo., on July 27, 2018.J. David Ake / AP file
“The Great American Build” campaign aims to set an aggressive starting point for negotiations over the size and scope of the infrastructure package.
A coalition of environmental groups backed by Democratic governors is launching a $10 million-plus ad campaign pressuring the Biden administration and Congress to spend trillions on climate change and clean energy as Washington gears up for its next fight over President Joe Biden’s infrastructure and jobs plan.
Dubbed “The Great American Build,” the campaign aims to set an aggressive starting point for negotiations over the size and scope of the infrastructure package, which is coming into focus as Biden’s next major push after last week’s passage of the $1.9 trillion Covid-19 relief package.
Biden campaigned on spending even more on infrastructure and green jobs. But many Democrats have said they are concerned that his commitment to reaching out to Republicans, combined with a lack of appetite for another huge round of spending so soon after the Covid-19 deal, could lead to a scaled-back infrastructure deal that would fall short of the trillions they say is needed to address the climate problem.
The first TV ad, which starts airing Tuesday on cable, uses black-and-white images of blue-collar workers to argue that America’s builders, roofers, electricians and steelworkers would be the ones to benefit from investing heavily in new, climate-friendly infrastructure, reinforcing the Biden administration’s claim that clean infrastructure and jobs go hand in hand.
“Your country is calling you to rebuild America, to create a cleaner, safe, more prosperous future for all,” the ad says. “Tackling climate change — this is the job of our lifetime.”
Why Hawaii’s seawalls are doing more harm than good
joshuaraineyphotography / Getty Images
Pu‘uloa, a coral-lined stretch of sand along the southern curve of O‘ahu, is a sacred place. To the native people of Hawaii, it is home to an ancestral shark goddess, the spot where humans first stepped foot on the island. To mainlanders, parts of it are known as Pearl Harbor, home to the only site of foreign attack on American soil in the last century. But while the various stakeholders agree on the beach’s cultural importance, they have very different opinions about a proposed method of protecting it — namely, a 1,500-foot seawall designed to push against the rising tides of climate change.
The plan, put forward by the U.S. Marine Corps in 2019, would involve driving interlocking sheets of metal 20 feet into the underlying bedrock along the Pu‘uloa Range Training Facility. The wall would provide theoretically provide a protective barrier against the ocean’s encroaching waters. Beach erosion coupled with rising sea levels and heavier rains has intensified flooding in the state. Just last week, Hawaii Governor David Ige declared a state emergency after heavy flooding on O’ahu forced thousands of people to evacuate their homes.
But some residents and lawmakers say the Pu‘uloa seawall will just speed up erosion at Pu‘uloa’s Ewa Beach. When a wave hits a seawall, its energy can be reflected along the shore, resulting in beach sand loss and damage to nearby natural structures like coral. 03-15-21
Hawaii’s rains, floods cited as examples of climate change
A house on Haleiwa Road is surrounded by floodwaters Tuesday, March 9, 2021, in Haleiwa, Hawaii. Torrential rains have inundated parts of Hawaii for the past several days. (Jamm Aquino/Honolulu Star-Advertiser via AP)
Heavy rains are part of the winter wet season in Hawaiian Islands. But the downpours triggering flooding that destroyed homes and bridges and set off mass evacuations on multiple islands this week are also an example of the more intense rainstorms officials and climate scientists say are occurring more frequently as the planet warms.
Two key ingredients came together in Hawaii in recent days to deliver the rain: an upper-level disturbance and extra moisture in the lower layers of the atmosphere. The downpours first affected Maui, moved northward up the island chain to Oahu and Kauai, then circled around and hit the southernmost part of the Big Island.
Meteorologists on Wednesday extended a flash flood watch for the entire state through Friday because of the potential for more rain and because the ground was already saturated.
The onslaught destroyed and heavily damaged two Maui bridges, along with at least six homes on the island.
The rain filled a 138-year-old reservoir once used to irrigate sugar plantation fields that has recently been kept empty as its owners prepare to dismantle it this summer. So much water accumulated it started overflowing from the 57-foot (17.4-meter) high structure at one point Monday, and county officials ordered people downstream to evacuate amid fears the earthen dam could breach. Ultimately, the reservoir didn’t fail, and water levels dropped as the rain let up. 03-11-21
After 20 years of advocacy, Black farmers finally get debt relief
ANGELA WEISS / AFP via Getty Images
On Wednesday, Congress passed one of the most sweeping relief programs for minority farmers in the nation’s history, through a provision of President Biden’s pandemic stimulus bill. Although the landmark legislation, which would cancel $4 billion worth of debt, seemed to emerge out of nowhere, it actually is the result of more than 20 years of organizing by Black farmers.
The Emergency Relief for Farmers of Color Act will forgive 120 percent of the value of loans from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, or from private lenders and guaranteed by the USDA, to “Black, Indigenous, and Hispanic farmers and other agricultural producers of color,” according to a release from the bill’s sponsors, Senators Raphael Warnock of Georgia, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Ben Ray Luján of New Mexico, and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan.
Advocacy groups say the debt relief will begin to rectify decades of broken promises and discrimination from the USDA that caused Black farmers to lose roughly 90 percent of their land between 1910 and today.
Although the program will be administered as pandemic relief — and apply to all farmers of color — the intellectual forces behind the bill say its main objective is to address failures in two landmark civil rights settlements between the USDA and Black farmers. 03-11-21
Federal Courts Help Biden Quickly Dismantle Trump’s Climate and Environmental Legacy
Trump’s success in appointing conservative judges has so far been no match for his team’s own ineptitude, the skill of the environmental bar and industry’s desire to work with the new administration.
President Joe Biden speaks in the State Dining Room of the White House on March 6, 2021, in Washington D.C. Credit: Oliver Contreras/For The Washington Post via Getty Images
As the Biden administration begins the daunting job of rebuilding U.S. climate policy, it has gotten help from an unexpected, and perhaps unlikely, source—the federal courts.
In Biden’s first few weeks in office, federal judges scrapped the Trump administration’s weak power plant pollution regulation, its rule limiting science in environmental decision-making and a decision opening vast areas of the West to new mining.
The rulings show that although President Donald Trump left his mark on the federal courts with his record-breaking pace of judicial appointments, his influence has not been great enough to prevent federal judges from playing a part in dismantling his deregulatory legacy. And the series of decisions also allows the Biden administration to move forward with some confidence about its own ambitious regulatory agenda, as White House National Climate Adviser Gina McCarthy explained at a major energy industry conference last week.
“As time goes on, we realize how unsuccessful the prior administration was in actually rolling back good regulations,” McCarthy said in a virtual discussion session at CERAWeek by IHS Markit, an annual conclave of top oil, gas and utility executives. “In the courts, even with the new appointees under the Trump administration as judges, we still won over and over and over again, because there is a law in our country. And when you put on that black robe, you tend to want to do your job.” 03-09-21
Florida Republicans are ready to stop rising seas — just not climate change
Michele Eve Sandberg / Corbis via Getty Images
Before it was pumped, leveed, and paved, south Florida looked like a network of spongy wetlands. Over the course of about a century, those damp lowlands were transformed into a paradise for more than 9 million people, complete with a bustling tourism industry and trillions of dollars worth of infrastructure. Now, the flattest state in the union is uniquely threatened by sea-level rise: the lower third of the state could be submerged in just a few generations. The ocean is threatening to turn paved paradise back into a sponge.
After years of dragging their feet, Republican lawmakers in the state are trying to prevent that from happening — but they still aren’t talking about the most necessary solutions to the problem.
Last week, Republican state legislators in Florida announced a suite of measuresintended to save the Sunshine State from rising seas. The central plank of the plan, which is widely expected to become law, will direct $100 million per year over the next two years toward protections against sea-level rise and flooding. As a result, homeowners who pay to raise their houses higher off the ground will get a tax break. Local governments will get funding to come up with targeted strategies to deal with impending rise. The Florida government, in partnership with the University of South Florida, will establish a Flood Hub for Applied Research, which will exclusively focus on the state’s exposure to flooding and how to reduce those risks. 03-09-21
Women Are Powering the Environmental Justice and Climate Change Movement
Heather McTeer Toney, Moms Clean Air Force
Today we celebrate International Women’s Day by profiling six women who are leading the global and U.S. movement to advance climate change solutions, protect nature and lift global ambition to achieve the sustainable future we need for today and the future. These women are breaking barriers, moving governments, and holding the private sector accountable to take more aggressive actions.
It’s not surprising why — women are disproportionately impacted by climate change and environmental justice because they are more likely to be poor and generally in developing countries work at home where climate impacts are greater. At COP25 the delegates adopted a comprehensive enhanced work program and “Gender Action Plan” (GAP), which should begin to increase women’s power and impact globally.
Why Women Matter: While women are advancing the dialogue, there should be many more women at the table. Indeed a group of more than 400 women signed an open letter last December to Prime Minister Boris Johnson and the U.K.’s COP leadership team as part of a campaign called #SHEChangesClimate calling on gender parity for women at the negotiations and for the leaders to ensure that climate finance is gender-inclusive (developing minimum standards) to increase access to finance for women-led and women’s rights organizations addressing climate change impacts on the front line. It’s on all of us to elevate the role of women on these issues. 03-08-21
Racial justice and climate justice are inseparable. Few would deny this, but that wasn’t always so. For much of its history, the environmental movement has been overwhelmingly white and gave little thought to the impacts pollution and climate change had on people of color and underserved communities. The convergence of the two, which happened no more than a generation ago, came only after the tireless work of activists like Cecil Corbin-Mark.
Corbin-Mark was a towering, didactic man from Harlem who always offered criticism with love. He was equally adept at organizing his neighbors as he was lobbying policymakers. Never afraid to denounce the injustice deeply entrenched in Black and brown communities, much of his life was spent tirelessly battling the colonial mindset so many live under. Growing up in a family actively engaged in the civil rights movement, it’s no surprise that Corbin-Mark became one of the earliest champions of environmental justice, which was a novel, even radical, idea at the time.
For three decades, he demanded justice for underserved and overlooked communities, a campaign he waged until his sudden passing last October at 51. He never stopped getting into what the late civil rights activist Rep. John Lewis would call “good, necessary trouble.” 03-05-21
As coal dies, the US has no plan to help the communities left behind
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Here are two tales of the energy transition unfolding in coal country, USA.
In late 2019, Pacificorp, an electric utility that operates in six Western states, told Wyoming regulators it wanted to shut down several of its coal-fired power plants early and replace them with wind and solar power and battery storage. It said this plan would save customers hundreds of millions of dollars on their electric bills and promised to work with local leaders on transition plans for workers and communities affected by the closures.
Wyoming, a state whose economy relies significantly on coal mining and coal power, went on the defensive. State lawmakers had already passed a law requiring coal plant owners to search for a buyer before being allowed to close a plant. Now, with support from the governor, regulators ordered an unprecedented investigation to scrutinize Pacificorp’s analysis and conclusions. Ultimately they determined the plan was deficient — that the company had not adequately considered allowing the coal plants to stay open or installing technology to capture the plants’ carbon emissions. 03-03-21
Here’s why this new fracking ban in the Northeast is a big deal
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The Delaware River Basin, a 13,539-square-mile area bisected by a sparkling riverthat stretches from New York’s Catskill Mountains to the Delaware Bay, is officially closed to fracking. Last week, a little-known but powerful interstate commission called the Delaware River Basin Commission, or DRBC, voted 4-0 to make a 2010 de facto ban on fracking in the basin permanent.
The ban, which outlaws fracking in Marcellus Shale gas deposits in the parts of the four states that fall within the basin’s boundaries, is the result of more than a decade of work by regional environmental groups and growing public opposition to fracking. It may be the biggest anti-fracking milestone in the Northeast to date.
Northeast US: Walking, Biking Could Save Billions, Lives
“Investments in active mobility would not only increase physical activity but would also reduce air pollution levels and start to address the climate crisis,” says Jonathan Levy. (Credit: Getty Images)
Investing in walking and biking, coupled with proposed emissions caps, could save hundreds of lives and billions of dollars each year in the Northeast United States.
Infrastructure investments to promote bicycling and walking—proposed by the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI), a regional collaboration of 12 northeastern states and Washington, DC—could save as many as 770 lives and $7.6 billion annually. Those findings appear in the Journal of Urban Health.
The analysis shows that the economic benefit of lives saved from increased walking and cycling far exceeds the estimated annual investment it would cost to promote such infrastructure, without even considering the added benefits of reducing air pollution and increasing access to climate-friendly transportation modes.
In December 2020, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, and DC became the first jurisdictions to formally join the TCI. “Our study suggests that if all the [northeastern] states joined TCI and collectively invested at least $100 million in active mobility infrastructure and public transit, the program could save hundreds of lives per year from increased physical activity,” says the study’s lead author Matthew Raifman, a doctoral student in environmental health at the Boston University School of Public Health. 03-01-21