With disasters mounting by the day, the U.S. may finally enact real climate policy
But there are some big “ifs.”
Firefighters battle the Beckwourth Complex Fire in Lassen County, California on July 12. Scott Strazzante/The San Francisco Chronicle via Getty Images
It’s the summer of cascading disasters in the United States: Downpours have made rivers of major metropoles’ transit lines, a coastal condo collapsed, flames have engulfed vast swaths of land, and triple-digit heat has roasted typically temperate regions. The catastrophes have brought a mounting death toll and incalculable trauma.
But, for the first time in over a decade, the U.S. government may actually do something about the emissions destabilizing the climate.
Last week, the Biden administration and its allies in Congress announced plans to pack the federal budget with resources and rules that could jolt a country long paralyzed by corporate obstruction and science denial into finally confronting an unprecedented crisis.
Democrats plan to use their slim majorities in Congress to pass a $3.5 trillion spending package that includes mandates to cut 80 percent of planet-heating pollution from the electricity sector by 2030, fund a new green jobs corps, and make it easier for drivers to swap gas guzzlers for electric vehicles.
Whether enough funding will make it into the final budget to make the programs significant remains unclear. By tacking the proposals to the budget process, which requires only 51 votes to become law, Democrats can circumvent the 60-vote threshold for passing traditional legislation that grants Republicans filibuster power. 07-20-21
Democrats look to crush states’ highway habit
The proposed changes are riling up opposition from state transportation departments and the road-building lobby.
House Democrats are trying to use a massive climate and infrastructure bill to change how Americans get around — by breaking states’ decades-old fondness for building highways.
Legislation the House passed this month is the biggest advance yet in Democrats’ efforts to bake climate policies into transportation, addressing the largest single contributor to the United States’ greenhouse gas output. It would also represent an historic shift away from the roads-first approach to federal transportation spending that has reigned since Dwight Eisenhower created the Interstate Highway System.
But the bill is riling up opposition from two potential allies of the Democrats’ big-spending infrastructure initiatives: state transportation departments and the road-building lobby. That creates an awkward dynamic for supporters of the House bill, which faces a perilous path through the evenly divided Senate.
Critics say the five-year, $549 billion bill would represent one-size-fits-all Washington meddling at its worst. 07-18-21
Biden Reinstates Roadless Rule, Bans Logging in Tongass
Image: gillfoto via Wikimedia Commons
It’s official: the Biden administration has announced it will end large-scale logging in the Tongass National Forest and restore the “roadless rule” that was previously rolled back under Trump. The administration says it will focus its efforts in the Tongass on forest restoration, recreation, and other non-commercial ventures. Officials are now celebrating the return of stability and safety for 9.3 million acres of the old-growth rainforest, often called America’s Amazon.
Why This Matters: The Tongass is one of the World’s largest old-growth forests and one of the nation’s largest carbon sinks. Experts say that preserving forests like the Tongass will be crucial to removing carbon from the atmosphere as the country works to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
In addition to its value as a weapon against climate change, the forest serves as a crucial tourism, food, spiritual, and cultural resource for local Indigenous communities, which have been at the forefront of the fight to protect the Tongass. Now official, these protections will benefit the entire American public and usher the Biden administration one step closer to protecting 30% of all public lands by 2030. 06-16-21
The “twin crises” of high cancer rates and exposure to toxics in Pittsburgh
How many 500-year floods must Detroit endure in a decade?
Detroit’s flooding problem needs long-term climate solutions.
Matthew Hatcher/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images
At the end of June, Detroit experienced its second 500-year flood in seven years. In some areas, 6 inches of rain fell in just five hours. Rain for the whole month of June is typically three inches. The extreme rains flooded homes and businesses with water and backed-up sewage, left around 1,000 cars stranded on the roads, and caused mass power outages.
It was a distressingly familiar experience for Detroiters. Detroit’s last 500-year flood, in 2014, caused $1.8 billion in damages. More major flooding followed in 2016, 2019, and 2020. A new preprint of a study by researchers at the University of Michigan and Wayne State University found that recurrent flooding is more prevalent than previously thought in Detroit and that primarily African-American neighborhoods are at risk.
In Detroit, flooding is both a climate crisis and an environmental justice crisis. Detroit is one of the poorest big cities in the country and has the most Black residents of any major city, and it’s increasingly being hit by extreme weather events associated with climate change that are impacting its most vulnerable residents. And it’s not just flooding. Detroit has also dealt with increasing cold and hot extremes in the last decade coupled with mass utility shut-offs and frequent outages, creating dangerous conditions for its residents. Last month, a study published in Environmental Science & Technology predicted that a combined heatwave and power outage in Detroit could result in more fatalities than Hurricane Katrina. 07-13-21
Report: Corporate giants have been lobbying against their own emissions targets
Cem Ozdel / Getty Images
Almost every S&P 100 company plans to reduce its emissions. But only 40% have lobbied for science-based climate policy.
Corporate America has made a slew of pledges to reduce its emissions over the past few years. Today, 92 percent of the companies on the S&P 100, an index of leading U.S. stocks, have announced intentions to reduce at least some of their carbon emissions, according to the corporate sustainability advocacy nonprofit Ceres.
But do these companies actually plan to change their business practices, and in some cases their entire business models, to meet the scale of the challenge? Or are these pledges just greenwashing?
A telling way to assess how serious companies are about meeting their own goals is to look at whether they are lobbying in statehouses and in Washington for the policy changes that would make reducing emissions easier and cheaper. But a new report from Ceres published on Tuesday finds that over the past five years, only 40 percent of those S&P 100 companies have engaged with lawmakers at the state or federal level to advocate for science-based climate policy. 07-13-21
For Farmworkers, Heat Too Often Means Needless Death
Advocates say the case of an undocumented Oregon worker during the record-breaking Pacific Northwest heatwave exposes the deadly toll of failed U.S. immigration law.
A farmworker wears a face mask while harvesting curly mustard in a field on Feb. 10, 2021 in Ventura County, California. Credit: Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images
People around the Pacific Northwest piled into emergency cooling centers late last month to escape the region’s life-threatening heat wave. Sebastián Francisco Perez, an undocumented farmworker in Oregon who had arrived from Guatemala just two months ago, did not have that luxury.
No laws required Perez’s employer to provide water, shade or rest breaks—let alone a cooling station—to help workers cope with the punishing heat. On June 26, temperatures approached 105 degrees at the nursery where Perez worked, about 30 miles south of Portland. As the mercury climbed, Perez worked until he collapsed and died. He was 38.
If Congress passed heat standards like those adopted by California in 2005, farmworker advocates say, Perez might still be alive.
The United Farm Workers and Oregon-based Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN) urged state officials to issue emergency rules to protect agricultural workers from unsafe conditions during heat waves.
And on Tuesday, Gov. Kate Brown directed Oregon Occupational Safety and Health officials to do just that, temporarily expanding requirements for employers to provide shade, rest periods and cool water during heat waves until permanent rules are put in place. 07-09-21
A watershed moment: How Boston’s Charles River went from polluted to pristine
And what the cleanup shows us about the power of federal waterway protections
A pair of mute swans nest along the Charles River in the Back Bay of Boston, near a heavily traveled walking and cycling path. Once a national embarrassment for its pollution, the cleaned-up river today teems with wildlife. Derrick Z. Jackson
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Michael Regan officially announced earlier this month that the Biden administration will reinterpret the Trump administration’s definition of what constitutes “waters of the United States” – waterways that are deserving of federal protection.
Trump’s definition was actually a reinterpretation (or rejection) of what the Obama administration delineated as waters worthy of federal oversight. Obama had sought to increase protections under the Clean Water Act, based on EPA science conducted under both his administration and that of his predecessor, George W. Bush. The agency’s researchers had determined that many wetlands and rain-fed intermittent and ephemeral streams were significantly connected to larger bodies of water than met the eye – and thus those tributaries warranted protection.
The Trump administration’s own scientific advisors agreed with Obama’s interpretation. No matter, the Donald’s EPA gutted the rule on behalf of industrial and agricultural polluters by removing half of wetlands and a fifth of streams and tributaries from protection. That shift amounted to an overall 25-percent drop in protected waters, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
The most stunning drama this spring along the banks of the Charles, walking distance from downtown Boston, has been a pair of mute swans. They nested at a landing alongside a walking and biking path in the Back Bay neighborhood and produced nine eggs. Seven hatched. By predation or sickliness, the number of cygnets eventually went down to five. 06-30-21
Op-ed: Another road is possible
North Carolina’s riverkeepers are starting to return to business as usual now, more than a year after the COVID-19 pandemic slowed their efforts to fly over hog and poultry farms looking for violations of the state’s environmental regulations.
According to data from a satellite tracking collar and camera footage, seven months later she is chasing deer, mating, and has even travelled hundreds of miles through the San Gabriel Mountain wilderness in southern California, on those once lifeless feet.
“I’m really proud of that cat,” Deana Clifford, a senior wildlife veterinarian and epidemiologist for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), told EHN. “It shows you how resilient those animals are if they’re given a chance.”
She was found at the edge of a Monrovia resident’s backyard pond, where she crawled in search of water during the Bobcat Fire, one of the largest wildfires in Los Angeles County history at 115,000 acres.
After she was transferred to the CDFW’s Wildlife Investigations Laboratory in Sacramento, Clifford and a team of vets from University of California, Davis and CDFW spent a month monitoring her progress before releasing her into the wild. To accelerate healing, they applied a special treatment using the skin of tilapia, which can relieve pain, provide moisture, and prevent scarring for burn wounds. 07-06-21
All the billions ExxonMobil spent on PR went up in flames this week after a sting operation by Greenpeace recorded one of the oil giant’s lobbyists talking about what goes on behind the scenes — sabotaging climate legislation, secretly manufacturing cancer-causing chemicals, and using trade groups as “whipping boys” to evade public scrutiny.
“It’s pretty damning stuff,” said Geoffrey Supran, a Harvard researcher who investigates fossil fuel propaganda.
The lobbyist, Keith McCoy, has been representing Exxon on Capitol Hill for eight years, chatting with senators as a senior director of the company’s federal affairs team. Earlier this year, an undercover reporter with Unearthed, an investigative site run by Greenpeace, posed as a recruiter and got in touch with McCoy.
In the resulting Zoom job interview in May — segments of which first aired on the British network Channel 4 on Wednesday — McCoy outlines the ways that Exxon is actively sabotaging climate legislation and trying to avoid public scrutiny. A second installment of the interview aired on Thursday revealed that Exxon manufacturers and uses so-called “forever chemicals”linked to cancer, hormone disruption, and more — and used the American Petroleum Institute, a trade organization, to lobby against legislation that would regulate the chemicals. 07-02-21