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The pipeline fights are only beginning for Biden

A sign in opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline near Bradshaw, Neb. (Nati Harnik/AP)

Joe Biden is about to cancel a big oil pipeline project. It won’t be the last hard choice he has to make about whether to let one be built. 

One of the president-elect’s first actions in office will be to kill a key permit for the Keystone XL pipeline, as our colleagues Steven Mufson and Juliet Eilperin report, fulfilling a campaign promise made in May. The move amounts to a major victory for tribal and environmental group who fought for years to draw attention to the project.

Now some of those same activists are preparing to mount more fights to stop more fossil-fuel infrastructure. At the same time, several labor unions with Biden’s ear are pushing back against the end of projects that provide their members with high-paying construction jobs.

All that puts Biden at the center of future political fights over pipelines.

Attention is already turning east to another cross-border pipeline. Since 2014, the Canadian firm Enbridge has been aiming to replace a nearly 2,000-mile pipe between Alberta and Wisconsin called Line 3 with a higher-capacity tube. 01-19-21

Read more at The Washington Post

Martin Luther King and the Long Arc of Racism

A man flew a Confederate flag as President Trump spoke on Jan. 6 in view of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, before his supporters stormed the Capitol.Jason Andrew for The New York Times

On Jan. 5, exactly 10 days before what would have been the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 92nd birthday, the Rev. Raphael Warnock, the senior pastor of King’s former church, won election to become Georgia’s first Black senator.

As The Associated Press officially called the race in the wee hours of the next morning, pundits on TV hailed the moment as a long-awaited milestone, half a century after Jim Crow had been evicted from the Deep South.

But then, just 12 hours later, those channels were flooded with images of Trump supporters smashing their way into the Capitol building. It was hard to miss the stark symbolism of the push-and-pull: President Trump’s high-profile attempt to overturn his loss in Georgia and other states had helped bring these rioters to the Capitol — and Warnock’s victory only seemed to add fuel to their fire.

“It’s something people of color are fairly accustomed to in the United States: these moments of progress, moments of advance, that always seem to be tempered by these moments of backlash,” Hakeem Jefferson, a political scientist at Stanford University who studies race and democracy, said in an interview.

In a sense, the Capitol riot can be seen as a collision of two main pillars of Trump’s political messaging: disinformation and racial resentment. And in fact, history suggests that they go hand in hand. 01-18-21

Read more at The New York Times

Democrats flipped the Senate. So why is a Green New Deal still unlikely?


Last Friday morning, Representative Sean Casten, a Democrat from Illinois, appeared on a Chicago local news channel to talk about the mob of Trump-supporting rioters who had invaded the Capitol building and interrupted congressional proceedings two days earlier. Before going live, the anchor asked Casten if there was anything in particular he wanted to touch on. “I said, ‘Honestly, I want to talk about energy and climate policy,’” Casten told Grist.

Last week’s events overshadowed a major milestone in the effort to accomplish climate policy in the U.S.: Political newcomers Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock won their Senate runoff elections in Georgia, handing Democrats a de facto majority in the Senate and a political trifecta (control of the presidency and both houses of Congress). In the short term, Senate Democrats will have their hands full with the push to convict President Trump following his impeachment for inciting the riot at the Capitol. But after that’s done — or possibly simultaneously — they’ll turn to President-elect Joe Biden’s legislative agenda and one of his top priorities, climate change.

The narrow margin of victory in the Senate — Democrats hold 50 seats, including two independents, and will need Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to serve as tiebreaker if they can convince conservative Democrats to toe the party line — means that climate action will not look quite the way Biden intended. His $2 trillion climate plan is likely off the table; there probably won’t be huge sweeping bills that satisfy progressive visions of a Green New Deal. Instead, the Biden administration will have to work creatively, leveraging esoteric congressional rules and using all the powers of government to accomplish its goals. 01-15-21

Read more at Grist 

Even With a 50-50 Split, a Biden Administration Senate Could Make Big Strides on Climate

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (right) (R-Ky.) and Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) shake hands after Schumer delivered a speech and answered questions at the University of Louisville’s McConnell Center Feb. 12, 2018 in Louisville, Kentucky. Credit: Bill Pugliano/Getty Images

Democrats’ new edge opens the door to policy tools that can push through legislation. And bipartisan action is not out of reach.

The Georgia victories have given Democrats control of the Senate. But some ardent advocates of climate action are still pessimistic about how much progress can be made with a 50-50 split, in a chamber that has been inert on climate policy for more than a decade.

Yet even the narrow majority the Democrats now have gives them extraordinary power to elevate climate change as a major priority and to take up the more than 120 pieces of legislation that House Democrats have included in a roadmap for a transition to net zero carbon emissions by 2050.

The Democrats’ new majority also offers Biden a smoother ride for his nominees and a chance to use Congress to quickly overturn some of the Trump administration’s last-ditch gifts to the fossil fuel industry.

Biden will have an opportunity to use a budget maneuver requiring just 51 votes for passage that presidents have turned to repeatedly over the last four decades to enact major policies favored primarily by one party. The same legislative vehicle that Presidents Ronald Reagan, George W. Bush and Donald Trump used to ram through massive tax cuts, could help enact large portions of Biden’s $2 trillion “Build Back Better” vision for clean energy and jobs.

Perhaps most significant, Democrats now can test the possibilities for bipartisan action on the world’s most important environmental crisis. There was no prospect for bipartisan agreement on climate when President Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) held sway. 01-13-21

Read more at Inside Climate News

U.S. cities consider treating fossil fuels like nuclear weapons

Grist / Paul Campbell / Floortje / Getty Images

For decades, the potential for a nuclear catastrophe felt like a waking threat, just around the corner. Then, in 1968, many of the nations once responsible for pushing the world to the brink of nuclear war collectively agreed to reverse course, signing the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. Member nations, including the United States and the Soviet Union, agreed to end the stockpiling of nuclear weapons and eventually move toward full disarmament. While it didn’t end the threat of nuclear weapons overnight, this framework helped set in motion a new era. Today, the global arsenal of nuclear weapons is a fifth of what it was during the height of the nuclear arms race in the 1980s.

Half a century later, the nations once stockpiling nuclear weapons are now stockpiling fossil fuels, which are already upending life on earth as we know it. That’s why a group of activists, policy experts, and academics are beginning to push for a Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty, modeled off its predecessor on nuclear weapons. Both treaties are rooted in the idea that “there are certain technologies and certain substances that pose such a global risk to humanity that we have an obligation to address that risk together,” explained Carroll Muffett, the president of the Center for International Environmental Law. Muffett is on the steering committee of the Fossil Fuel Non-Proliferation Treaty initiative, which officially launched last September. 01-12-21

Read more at Grist 

Covid-19 Took a Bite From U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions in 2020

Transportation emissions dropped sharply in 2020 as millions of workers stopped driving to work.Credit…Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Emissions plunged more than 10 percent. If the trend can be sustained, it would put the United States within striking distance of one of its major goals under the Paris climate agreement.

America’s greenhouse gas emissions from energy and industry plummeted more than 10 percent in 2020, reaching their lowest levels in at least three decades as the coronavirus pandemic slammed the brakes on the nation’s economy, according to an estimate published Tuesday by the Rhodium Group.

The steep drop, however, was the result of extraordinary circumstances and experts warned that the country still faced enormous challenges in getting its planet-warming pollution under control. In the years ahead, United States emissions are widely expected to bounce back once the pandemic recedes and the economy rumbles back to life — unless policymakers take stronger action to clean up the country’s power plants, factories, cars and trucks.

“The most significant reductions last year were around transportation, which remains heavily dependent on fossil fuels,” said Kate Larsen, a director at Rhodium Group, a research and consulting firm. “But as vaccines become more prevalent, and depending on how quickly people feel comfortable enough to drive and fly again, we’d expect emissions to rebound unless there are major policy changes put in place.” 01-12-21

Read more at The New York Times

Impeach and Convict Trump. Congress Must Defend Itself.

Trump’s incitement of a riot is a violation of the separation of powers that threatens the foundation of the Republic

It is tempting to try to run out the clock on the Trump presidency. President Trump has already been impeached once and congressional leaders may assume they still lack the necessary Republican votes to convict and remove him in the Senate. Lawmakers concerned about the possibility for new abuses of power before Jan. 20 have been tempted to settle for urging the president to resign. But more is at stake than what the president might do in the next few days. If Congress declines to impeach and convict the president for his actions on Wednesday, its failure to act will weaken the basic structure of the Constitution.

The key issue is this: One of the three branches of the federal government has just incited an armed attack against another branch. Beyond the threat to a peaceful transition, the incident was a fundamental violation of the separation of powers. Prompted by the chief executive, supporters laid siege to, invaded, and occupied the Capitol building, deploying weapons and subjecting members of both chambers of Congress to intimidation and violence in an effort to produce a particular decision by force. 01-10-21

Read more at The New York Times

Read the draft of the Democrats’ new article of impeachment against Trump

Democrats in Congress plan to move forward with impeachment proceedings against President Trump on Monday.

If agreed to by a majority in the House of Representatives, Trump would become the first president in U.S. history to be impeached twice. The Senate could then vote to remove him from office before Jan. 20, the final day of his term.

A draft of the article, which will be introduced in the House by Reps. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, Ted Lieu of California and David Cicilline of Rhode Island, shows that Trump will be charged with “incitement of insurrection” for his role in the Jan. 6 siege on the U.S. Capitol by supporters he called to Washington to protest what he claimed was a “stolen election.”

Here is a draft of the article that will be presented. 01-08-21

Read more at Yahoo News

BREAKING: RCC Calls for Removal of President Trump

On January 6, 2021, at a demonstration called by President Donald J. Trump to oppose the legitimate results of the November 3, 2020 election, and urged on by the president, thousands of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol interrupting Congress’ certification of the presidential election results. At the rally on the National Mall, Donald Trump Jr. gave a profanity-laced speech and said, “We’re coming for you and we’re going to have a good time doing it!” Meanwhile, the president’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani called for “trial by combat.”

The president’s actions amount to the incitement of violence against the elected government of the United States and are treasonous. The Rachel Carson Council calls for the Vice President and Cabinet to invoke the 25th amendment to remove the president from office. If the 25th Amendment is not invoked, we call for the Congress of the United States to reconvene and once again impeach President Trump.

Statement by RCC President & CEO Dr. Robert K. Musil

Carrying out the Rachel Carson Council’s mission to promote climate justice, peace and equity requires respect for the Constitution of the United States and the rule of law which is the bedrock of American environmentalism. It is why the RCC called for the impeachment of President Trump in September 2019, called on our supporters to oppose the actions of the President to roll back the nation’s environmental laws and policies, and urged them to engage fully in the election of 2020 and vote for those who support the environment, peace, and racial justice.

We have opposed as well, the President’s opposition to nuclear arms control and disarmament. With his ability to launch nuclear missiles at a moment’s notice, the President’s continuation in office, even during the short time until the Inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on January 20, 2021, constitutes a threat to United States national security, to the global environment, and to the people of the world.

We therefore call upon the Vice President and cabinet to invoke immediately the 25th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and remove Donald J. Trump as President of the United States of America. If that action is not taken, we call on the Congress to reconvene and immediately commence the impeachment of President Trump.

Robert K. Musil, Ph.D., M.P.H.
President & CEO
The Rachel Carson Council

Georgia Live Updates: Democrats Capture the Senate as Ossoff Defeats Perdue

Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock campaigning in Atlanta. Both defeated their Republican opponents, assuring that the balance of power in the Senate will shift.

The victories by Jon Ossoff and the Rev. Raphael Warnock, both Democrats, solidified Georgia’s political transformation and ensured that President-elect Joe Biden will have an easier time enacting his agenda.

Democrats captured control of the Senate on Wednesday with a pair of historic victories in Georgia’s runoff elections, assuring slim majorities in both chambers of Congress for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. and delivering an emphatic, final rebuke to President Trump in his last days in office.

The Rev. Raphael Warnock defeated Senator Kelly Loeffler, becoming the first Black Democrat elected to the Senate from the South. And Jon Ossoff, the 33-year-old head of a video production company who has never held public office, defeated David Perdue, who recently completed his first full term as senator.

Both Democrats now lead their defeated Republican opponents by margins that are larger than the threshold required to trigger a recount under Georgia law.

The Democrats’ twin victories will reshape the balance of power in Washington. Though they will have the thinnest of advantages in the House and Senate, where Vice President-elect Kamala Harris will break 50-50 ties, Democrats will control the committees and the legislation and nominations brought to the floor. That advantage will pave the way for at least some elements of Mr. Biden’s agenda. 01-06-21

Read more at The New York Times

Democrats inch closer to retaking the U.S. Senate as Warnock declared the winner in Georgia runoff and Ossoff pulls ahead

From left: Raphael Warnock, Jon Ossoff, David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler. (Michael M. Santiago/Getty Images, Paras Griffin/Getty Images, Jessica McGowan/Getty Images, Jessica McGowan/Getty Images)

Democrats were on the verge of taking control of the U.S. Senate early Wednesday morning after Raphael Warnock was declared the winner in his Georgia runoff election with GOP Sen. Kelly Loeffler, and Jon Ossoff pulled into the lead in his race with Republican Sen. David Perdue.

An African American pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church — the Atlanta church made famous by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., — Warnock was declared the winner by the Associated Press with just over 97 percent of the votes counted. He delivered a victory speech shortly after 11:30 p.m. in a videotaped message delivered from his home in Atlanta.

“Georgia, I am honored by the faith you have shown in me. And I promise you this tonight, I am going to the Senate to work for all of Georgia,” Warnock said.

Minutes earlier, Loeffler, who was appointed to her Senate seat in 2019 by Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, gave an impromptu speech but did not concede the race despite trailing Warnock by more than 35,000 votes with 97 percent counted.

“It’s going to be another late night,” she told a gathering of her supporters. “There are a lot of votes out there, as you all know. We have a path to victory, and we are going to stay on it.”

The campaign of Ossoff, a Jewish American activist and documentary film producer, also saw victory on the horizon early Wednesday, minutes before the vote count showed him surpassing Perdue. The race remains too close to call. 01-06-21

Read more at Yahoo! News

A Massachusetts city will post climate change warning stickers at gas stations

Miguel Villagran / Getty Images

Cambridge, Massachusetts, has become the first U.S. city to mandate the placing of stickers on fuel pumps to warn drivers of the resulting dangers posed by the climate crisis.

The final design of the bright yellow stickers, shared with the Guardian, includes text that warns drivers the burning of gasoline, diesel, and ethanol has “major consequences on human health and the environment including contributing to climate change.”

The stickers will be placed on all fuel pumps in Cambridge, which is situated near Boston and is home to Harvard University, “fairly soon” once they are received from printers, a city spokesperson confirmed.

“The city of Cambridge is working hard with our community to fight climate change,” the spokesperson added. “The gas pump stickers will remind drivers to think about climate change and hopefully consider non-polluting options.”

The placement of the stickers follows an ordinance passed by Cambridge in January. The city has a target of slashing planet-heating emissions by 80 percent and offsetting the remainder by 2050, making it carbon neutral.

Transportation, primarily the use of cars and trucks, is responsible for more than a quarter of U.S. emissions but there has been scant success in weaning Americans off their predilection for large, energy-intensive vehicles. Indeed, a boom in SUV salesin the U.S. threatens to cause a surge in emissions if national fuel efficiency standards are not tightened further. 01-01-21

Read more at Grist

How activists successfully shut down key pipeline projects in New York

A protestor calls on New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo to halt work on the Williams pipeline in 2018. SOPA Images / Getty

If all had gone according to plan, the Constitution pipeline would be carrying fracked gas 124 miles from the shale gas fields of Pennsylvania through streams, wetlands, and backyards across the Southern Tier of New York until west of Albany. There it would join two existing pipelines, one that extends into New England and the other to the Ontario border as part of a vast network that moves fracked gas throughout the northeastern United States and Canada.

For a while, everything unfolded as expected. When the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission approved the project in 2014, the U.S. was in the midst of a fracking boom that would make it the world’s largest producer of natural gas and crude oil. Williams Companies, the lead firm developing the project, was awaiting state approval of environmental permits — a largely perfunctory move at the time — and so sure everything would fall into place that it had started clearing hundreds of trees under armed guard along the pipeline’s route.

Yet the developers did not anticipate landowners, neighborhood residents, community leaders, and anti-fracking activists statewide forging a coalition to kill the pipeline. In a landmark defeat, New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation denied the project’s water-quality certificate in 2016, leading Williams to abandon it in early 2020. The land slated to be cleared, the communities fated to be disrupted, and the waterways destined to be disturbed were preserved by a movement that was far from done. 01-04-21

Read more at Grist

The environmental justice issue no one wants to talk about

Grist / MCarson Photography

Environmental justice is having a moment. The term, which encompasses the many ways by which low-income people and communities of color suffer an unequal burden from pollution, contamination, and climate change, has seen a surge in use, largely due to the recent American political campaign.

Democratic primary candidates frequently mentioned environmental justice (or environmental racism) in their stump speeches, campaign pledges, and in debates — an indication that ideas that were not in the political discourse a decade ago, may shape some future climate policies. Environmental justice came up frequently enough in the primary that the first-ever Presidential Environmental Justice Forum was held in November 2019 and drew Senators Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren, as well as billionaire activist Tom Steyer. It’s been a big focus of President-elect Joe Biden’s climate platform and was discussed frequently as he unveiled his climate team in earlier this month. Beyond the race for the presidency, the racial unrest of the past summer, as well as the patterns of infections and death due to COVID-19, focused attention on a number of systemic issues in the U.S., including unfair environmental impacts felt by Black and brown Americans.

Into that political and social moment comes the book Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret, written by Catherine Coleman Flowers, an environmental health researcher, MacArthur “Genius” Fellow, and a founding director of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice. (She’s also a 2017 Grist Fixer.) The book pulls the curtains back on how poor communities and communities of color in Lowndes County, Alabama — located between Selma and the state capital Montgomery — are reckoning with a lack of adequate sewage infrastructure and the health crises that accompany it. 12-29-20

Read more at Grist

Joe Biden’s Climate Team Actually Cares About Climate

Illustration by Michael Houtz; photographs by Getty Images

His administration’s staffing shows how seriously the incoming president takes this issue.

As President-elect Joe Biden rolls out his climate and environment team, it is worth recalling, if only to grasp the distance between then and now, the hopeless bunch President-elect Donald Trump presented us with four years ago. Mr. Trump tapped Scott Pruitt to run the Environmental Protection Agency, Ryan Zinke the Interior Department and Rick Perry the Energy Department.

Mr. Pruitt, by common consent the worst of the mediocrities in Mr. Trump’s cabinet, helped persuade him to withdraw from the Paris Agreement on climate change and set in motion the rollback of every important regulation approved by the Obama administration to reduce greenhouse gases. Mr. Zinke, in plain imitation of Teddy Roosevelt, rode a horse to work on his first day on the job, but within a year had ceded to the oil, gas and coal industries millions of acres of public land that Mr. Roosevelt would almost certainly have tried to protect. In Mr. Perry, Mr. Trump chose a man who back in 2011 recommended the abolition of the very department Mr. Trump was asking him to run.

The Biden team is as different as different can be. For starters, it actually cares about climate. In the two people the president-elect has chosen to be his top advisers in the White House, there is even an element of poetic justice. 12-28-20

Read more at The New York Times

Activists Eye a Superfund Reboot Under Biden With a Focus on Environmental Justice and Climate Change

Satellite image ©2020 Maxar Technologies

The EPA’s program for cleaning up the nation’s hazardous waste dumps has a backlog of sites that lack funding—the largest in 15 years.

The uber challenge facing the incoming Biden administration’s Environmental Protection Agency in its oversight of 1,570 hazard waste sites is best summed in a name that’s become synonymous with the daunting task: Superfund.

The “Superfund” started out as a trust fund created by Congress in 1980 to finance cleanups, paid for by billions of dollars in taxes on the chemical and petroleum industries. Congress allowed the tax to expire 25 years ago.

Now, with the trust fund empty, Superfund has become the name of a drastically underfunded federal program responsible for ensuring the industries responsible for these toxic sites do the cleanup, if possible. The EPA shoulders the financial burden using budgeted funds at sites where responsible entities no longer exist or can’t be found.

President-elect Joe Biden will inherit 34 Superfund sites for which no reliable funding for cleanup exists, the largest backlog of “unfunded” sites in 15 years. The backlog has steadily grown under the Trump administration.

Biden will also assume responsibility for 945 Superfund sites identified last year by the Government Accountability Office as vulnerable to climate-related hurricanes, flooding, wildfires and rising sea level. The Trump administration stopped referring to climate change and all but ended consideration of these risks in overseeing Superfund sites. 12-28-20

Read more at Inside Climate News

The Serviceberry, An Economy of Abundance

Illustration by Christelle Enault

As Robin Wall Kimmerer harvests serviceberries alongside the birds, she considers the ethic of reciprocity that lies at the heart of the gift economy. How, she asks, can we learn from Indigenous wisdom and ecological systems to reimagine currencies of exchange?

The cool breath of evening slips off the wooded hills, displacing the heat of the day, and with it come the birds, as eager for the cool as I am. They arrive in a flock of calls that sound like laughter, and I have to laugh back with the same delight. They are all around me, Cedar Waxwings and Catbirds and a flash of Bluebird iridescence. I have never felt such a kinship to my namesake, Robin, as in this moment when we are both stuffing our mouths with berries and chortling with happiness. The bushes are laden with fat clusters of red, blue, and wine purple, in every stage of ripeness, so many you can pick them by the handful. I’m glad I have a pail and wonder if the birds will be able to fly with their bellies as full as mine.

This abundance of berries feels like a pure gift from the land. I have not earned, paid for, nor labored for them. There is no mathematics of worthiness that reckons I deserve them in any way. And yet here they are—along with the sun and the air and the birds and the rain, gathering in the towers of cumulonimbi. You could call them natural resources or ecosystem services, but the Robins and I know them as gifts. We both sing gratitude with our mouths full. 12-26-20

Read more at Emergence Magazine

He thinks we’re on the cusp of a green building boom

Ericka Lugo

Growing up in a one-bedroom Brooklyn apartment, Donnel Baird and his family relied on a cooking stove for heat. Now, as cofounder and CEO of BlocPower, he strives to retrofit buildings across New York City with safer, greener, more efficient heating and cooling systems. The startup is even expanding beyond the Big Apple to bring heat pumps and solar power to Philadelphia, Milwaukee, and Oakland, California.

Baird offered a few predictions about the future of green construction and the role building electrification will play in a post-COVID economy. His comments have been edited for length and clarity.

As the country looks to recover and rebuild, we need stimulus investments that can create good-paying jobs, tackle the climate crisis, and respond to the ongoing pandemic. In homes, schools, houses of worship, and community centers, we need to install cold-climate heat pumps, which allow whole buildings to move off of fossil fuels in the same way Tesla can move cars off of gasoline. They can also improve ventilation, reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19. BlocPower will demonstrate that technology in 50 to 100 buildings in a pilot project in New York. I think it will show people that this can and should be done on a larger scale. 12-22-20

Read more at Grist

Congress takes action against ‘super greenhouse gases’ in coronavirus stimulus

Katopodis / Getty Images

This week, with Americans distracted by tinsel, wrapping paper, and the prospect of a much-needed $600 stimulus check, Congress achieved something that in recent years has seemed impossible: It passed legislation that will cut greenhouse gas emissions and boost clean energy spending at the same time.

Climate and energy provisions were folded into Congress’s $900 billion coronavirus stimulus package, which passed Monday night after days of political wrangling. Those components of the bill — which authorize $35 billion in clean energy spending and require the U.S. to phase down emissions of a greenhouse gas thousands of times more potent than carbon dioxide — represent the most significant action Congress has taken on global warming in over a decade.

And they provide a signal for what might be possible in the years ahead.

“Obviously, this doesn’t solve the climate crisis by any means,” said Leah Stokes, professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara. “But I think it’s really great that Congress actually managed to do something for the end of the year. And it’s good news that we’re capable of doing something bipartisan.”

Read more at Grist

What California’s farmworkers can teach us during a season of giving

Yair Basurto, 3, hoists a food donation bag to be placed in the trunk of a car in Oxnard, California. Photograph by Daniel A. Anderson

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught a glimpse of tiny 3-year-old Yair Basurto shuffling back and forth between a pile of grocery bags and a long line of cars waiting with open trunks. He and his father, Gonzalo, were loading food deliveries for farmworkers and other families in need in the parking lot of a Masonic temple in the coastal agricultural community of Oxnard, California.

The snack bags were just one small part of the aid distributed that day in September. Every month since April, a local collective of Oxnard farmworkers called “De Campesinxs a Campesinxs (From Farmworkers to Farmworkers): Feeding those who feed us” has provided food, clothing, and school supplies to hundreds of farmworkers and families suffering during the COVID-19 pandemic. In September, families waited in their cars for hours to receive the donations, so the volunteers scrambled to hand them plates of hot quesadillas, brown bags with masks and instructions on pandemic safety, and most importantly, the food: boxes filled with frozen chicken and pork, cheese, other basic staples, as well as the snack bags.

Yair, taking cues from his father, who was directing traffic, seemed to sense the urgency. With a burst of energy that belied his small stature, the boy hoisted each packed grocery bag into his tiny arms and rushed to deposit the treats into the recipient’s trunk, accepting help from his father as necessary.

Throughout the fall, I returned to Oxnard to observe this operation, and I discovered that the project was about much more than handing out sustenance. For the children of the farmworker volunteers, every food delivery gave them a chance to see love in action: what it’s like for a community to come together, and for strangers to be generous — not just with their time and their effort, but with their attitude toward those in need. Every day these children experience the harsh realities of going without, even as their parents go to work to feed America while risking exposing themselves to COVID-19. It can be far too easy to forget these faces every time we retreat into our own worlds: the poverty hidden in plain sight along paths we don’t walk. 12-21-20

Read more at Grist

With historic picks, Biden puts environmental justice front and center

Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) has been nominated to become the first Native American to serve as interior secretary. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

The selection of the first Native American interior secretary and first Black male EPA chief highlights pollution disparities

President-elect Joe Biden chose Rep. Deb Haaland (D-N.M.) Thursday to serve as the first Native American Cabinet secretary and head the Interior Department, a historic pick that marks a turning point for the U.S. government’s relationship with the nation’s Indigenous peoples.

With that selection and others this week, Biden sent a clear message that top officials charged with confronting the nation’s environmental problems will have a shared experience with the Americans who have disproportionately been affected by toxic air and polluted land.

“A voice like mine has never been a Cabinet secretary or at the head of the Department of Interior,” Haaland tweeted Thursday night. “ … I’ll be fierce for all of us, our planet, and all of our protected land.”

In addition to Haaland, Biden has turned to North Carolina environmental regulator Michael S. Regan to become the first Black man to head the Environmental Protection Agency, as well as Obama administration veteran Brenda Mallory to serve as the first Black chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. 12-17-20

Read more at The Washington Post

Trump Admin Delays Protecting Threatened Monarch Butterflies Until 2023

The Trump administration cites 161 vulnerable species that are already waiting in line ahead of monarch butterflies. Steve Satushek / Getty Images

The Trump administration said Tuesday that federal protection for monarch butterflies under the Endangered Species Act is still a few years away. The reason? The administration cited 161 vulnerable species that are already waiting in line ahead of monarchs.

Monarchs will likely have to wait until 2023 to be added by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Reuters reported. The federal agency oversees listing endangered species.

“Protection for monarchs is needed — and warranted — now,” said George Kimbrell, legal director at the Center for Food Safety, Reuters reported.

Monarch butterfly populations have exponentially decreased in the past decade, mostly due to habitat loss, pesticide use and climate change. For example, North America’s Eastern monarch butterflies traditionally migrate up to 3,000 miles every year from the eastern U.S. to Mexico to spend the winter, but migration numbers are falling.

Overall, the Western monarch population declined by more than 97 percent to fewer than 30,000 between 1997 and 2019, Reuters reported, while the Eastern U.S. population declined 84 percent during the same period. 12-16-20

Read more at EcoWatch

Gina McCarthy will be Biden’s ‘climate czar.’ What the heck is a climate czar??

att Stone / MediaNews Group / Boston Herald via Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden will name Gina McCarthy as his domestic “climate czar,” multiple outlets reported on Tuesday, elevating the former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency to a Cabinet-level position in the White House.

In the new role, McCarthy – who is currently president and CEO of the Natural Resources Defense Council, or NRDC – will be responsible for coordinating climate action across multiple federal agencies and Congress. Ali Zaidi, New York State’s deputy secretary for energy and environment, will serve as her number two.

The idea of having a White House “climate czar” isn’t new, but the position has been empty for almost a decade. President Barack Obama appointed Carol Browner, also a former EPA administrator, to fill the role between 2009 and 2011. (Browner’s official title was “energy coordinator,” but the “czar” title stuck.) In 2011, however, the Republican-led House of Representatives defunded and essentially eliminatedthe position. It’s gone unfilled ever since.

Biden, however, has made it clear that he intends to use all the tools of the federal government to take on climate change – from the National Economic Council to the Department of Health and Human Services. In addition to ensuring that all those diverse departments and agencies work seamlessly together, McCarthy will have to reckon with a divided Congress, which will make passing comprehensive climate change legislation difficult. As the climate czar, she will be the domestic counterpart of former Senator and Secretary of State John Kerry, who will be responsible for tackling U.S. climate concerns abroad as the Biden administration’s “special envoy on climate change.” 12-16-20

Read more at Grist

The Forest Loses its Trees

Giant sequoia trees in Sequoia national park, Sierra Nevada, California. Photograph: Alamy

California’s iconic giant sequoias, Joshua trees, and coast redwoods had resiliently survived centuries, weathering fires and droughts. They are among the oldest living things on earth. But this year’s massive wildfires, fueled by the climate crisis, burned four million acres of California and many of its majestic trees.

“These are not mere numbers, not mere trees,” wrote the New York Times in a deep dive into the trees’ devastating 2020 and what their future could be. “They represent something both bigger and more personal.” 

Why This Matters: The damage done by this year’s fires is alarming. For trees that have survived so much over the past thousands of years, to have so many wiped out so suddenly does not bode well. Sequoias, for example, are usually thought of as fire-proof thanks to their thick bark and their “crowns” of needles and branches that only grow at the top of the trees that reach up to 275 feet tall. Like many trees, they benefit from low-severity fires. But this year, the raging wildfire flames leapt high enough to burn the sequoias. Climate trends point toward bigger, hotter, more destructive wildfires. 12-15-20

Read more at Our Daily Planet

As leaders set fresh climate goals, Biden pledges US support

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden pledged Saturday to rejoin the Paris climate accord on the first day of his presidency, as world leaders staged a virtual gathering to celebrate the fifth anniversary of the international pact aimed at curbing global warming.

Heads of state and government from over 70 countries took part in the event — hosted by Britain, France, Italy, Chile and the United Nations — to announce greater efforts in cutting the greenhouse gas emissions that fuel global warming.

The outgoing administration of President Donald Trump, who pulled Washington out of the Paris accord, wasn’t represented at the online gathering. But in a written statement sent shortly before it began, Biden made clear the U.S. was waiting on the sidelines to join again and noted that Washington was key to negotiating the 2015 agreement, which has since been ratified by almost all countries around the world.

“The United States will rejoin the Paris Agreement on day one of my presidency,” he said. “I’ll immediately start working with my counterparts around the world to do all that we possibly can, including by convening the leaders of major economies for a climate summit within my first 100 days in office.”

Biden reiterated his campaign pledge that his administration will set a target of cutting U.S. emissions to net zero “no later than 2050.” 12-12-20

Read more at AP News

The North Carolina hog industry’s answer to pollution: a $500m pipeline project

Hog waste is pumped into a lagoon near Wallace, North Carolina. Photograph: Justin Cook/The Guardian

Instead of implementing safer systems, activists say Smithfield Foods is seeking to profit from hog waste under the guise of ‘renewable energy’

Elsie Herring of Duplin county, North Carolina, lives in the house her late mother grew up in, but for the past several decades her home has been subjected to pollution from nearby industrial hog farms.

“We have to deal with whether it’s safe to go outside. It’s a terrible thing to open the door and face that waste. It makes you want to throw up, it takes your breath away, it makes your eyes run,” said Herring.

She explained they also deal with constant trucks on the road, hauling pigs, dead and alive, in and out of the area, feed trucks, and the flies and mice that the farms attract.

Eastern North Carolina has around 4,000 pink hued pools of pig feces, urine and blood as a result of the hog industry, where 9 million pigs produce over 10bn gallons of waste annually in the state. When the waste lagoons reach capacity, excess waste is sprayed on to nearby fields. In 2000, Smithfield Foods agreed with state officials in North Carolina to finance research to find and install alternatives to the waste lagoons and spraying systems, but none were deemed economically feasible.

But now – instead of implementing safer waste systems – Smithfield Foods is pushing to use the hog waste lagoons to collect, transport and sell the methane gas they produce. That terrifies many local people and environmental activists who see it as seeking to profit from an ecological problem rather than fix it. 12-11-20

Read more at The Guardian

New York’s $226 Billion Pension Fund Is Dropping Fossil Fuel Stocks

The plan, announced by the state comptroller, Thomas P. DiNapoli, could accelerate a broader shift in global markets away from oil and gas companies, some experts and activists said.Credit…Richard Drew/Associated Press

The fund will divest from many fossil fuels in the next five years and sell its shares in other companies that contribute to global warming by 2040.

New York State’s pension fund, one of the world’s largest and most influential investors, will drop many of its fossil fuel stocks in the next five years and sell its shares in other companies that contribute to global warming by 2040, the state comptroller said on Wednesday.

With $226 billion in assets, New York’s fund wields clout with other retirement funds and its decision to divest from fossil fuels could accelerate a broader shift in global markets away from oil and gas companies, energy experts and climate activists said.

The announcement came months after the fund moved to sell its stock in 22 coal companiesNew York City, San Francisco, Washington and several smaller cities have also adopted fossil-fuel divestment programs, but New York State’s commitment to an even more sweeping plan is more significant, especially given the state’s centrality to the global financial markets. 12-09-20

Read more at The New York Times 

US Exported Natural Gas Could Worsen Climate Change

While natural gas has been touted as a solution to the world’s fossil fuel problem, a new analysis by NRDC shows that the U.S’ exports of liquified natural gas (LNG) will only worsen global warming. When looking at the full life cycle emissions of different energy sources, U.S. LNG led to higher emissions than regional sources of LNG, pipeline gas, solar or wind power, and led only to slightly lower emissions than the use of coal.  This question is a live one for several LNG export terminals that are in the process of being approved today, including a controversial one near Philadelphia that is about to be given the go-ahead over the objection of many community groups.

Why this Matters:  It seems increasingly clear that new natural gas infrastructure is controversial. Cities are taking action to ban natural gas from new buildings, and chefs are advertising the utility of electric stoves, but more must be done. The waste and pollution from LNG production, as well as the exorbitant sunk costs for LNG export facilities, are problematic too.  The federal government must under President Biden give these new permits a harder look with more transparency than in the past, and crackdown on the polluters just as promised. Otherwise, we are just digging a deeper climate hole for ourselves.

What’s the problem with exported LNG? 12-09-20

Read more at Our Daily Planet 

How You Can Help Count and Conserve Native Bees

A Bee, or Not a Bee?
There are about 4,000 bee species in the U.S, but many other insects sport their telltale patterns.

Honeybees and their problems get the most attention, but scientists are using tactics learned from bird conservation to protect American bees.

In the last 20 years, the rusty patched bumblebee population declined by 87 percent because of habitat loss, use of pesticides and disease. This fuzzy bee, native to the continental United States, gets its name from the rusty patch on its back.

These bumblebees pollinate fruits and vegetables we eat, unlike the Gulf Coast solitary bee, which gathers pollen from only one plant — the Coastal Plain honeycomb head, a member of the aster family. You could say they’re specialists, whereas, rusty patched bumblebees and honeybees are generalists.

Honeybees — a European import to the Americas — and their colony collapse problems get a lot of attention, but native bees that have their own ecological role are facing similar and perhaps additional threats. The decline among native bees is a known problem, and there are a variety of efforts to save them; however, the full extent of the problem is not well understood.

“While regional studies have tracked the decline of native bees,” said S. Hollis Woodard, an entomologist at the University of California, Riverside, “there hasn’t been a coordinated nationwide effort to monitor these pollinators.” 12-07-20

Read more at The New York Times

Are tides and waves the missing piece of the green energy puzzle?

La Rance tidal-turbine power plant in western France, THOMAS BREGARDIS / AFP via Getty Images

On a foggy October afternoon, a strange vessel chugged slowly through the East River’s mist toward Roosevelt Island.

It looked almost like it was upside down: three 16-foot rotors, attached on a triangular metal base, sat motionless atop the deck of the rusted barge. They resembled propellers but weren’t there to give the boat thrust. Instead, they’d be sent overboard, craned gingerly into the depths of the tidal flat that stretches from just east of Manhattan to the western shore of Queens. All you can see from the surface is a set of six bobbing white buoys, but about 30 feet down the turbines are harvesting the kinetic energy of tides to produce electricity.

Verdant Energy’s East River project will generate just enough electricity to power 500 homes in the nation’s largest city, but it marks one of the first serious attempts in the United States to jump-start what could be a multibillion-dollar industry of tidal energy. More than a dozen states, including New York, have passed laws mandating zero-carbon electricity as a way to slow global warming. In a dense metropolis like New York City, there’s little space to glaze entire fields with solar panels or erect towering forests of wind turbines. And with the city’s last nuclear power plant set to close next year, it’s unclear how it will meet that goal with a meager mishmash of rooftop panels, battery storage and as-yet-unbuilt offshore wind turbines.

That problem isn’t unique to New York, and it’s propelling a new wave of interest in an age-old concept of tidal energy. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates that shifting tides and crashing waves could produce one-third of the United States’ electricity needs and roughly 10 percent of the European Union’s. 12-06-20

Read more at Grist 

Philly parks are going organic with ban on synthetic weed-killers

Parkside Edge, May 2018 (Neal Santos for PlanPhilly)

Synthetic weed-killers will soon be a substance non-grata in Philadelphia parks and public spaces.

In a unanimous vote, City Council Thursday passed legislation banning herbicides linked to health conditions such as cancer, asthma and learning disabilities on all city-owned land.

The Healthy Outdoor Public Spaces bill sponsored by Councilmember Cindy Bass applies to all city parks, trails, recreation centers and playgrounds. These parcels of public land are now maintained with chemicals including glyphosate and 2, 4-D, a common weed killer linked by a growing body of scientific research to harmful impacts on humans and the environment.

The World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer described glyphosate in 2015 as “probably carcinogenic to humans.

In addition to the ban on certain chemicals, the legislation requires the city’s Department of Parks and Recreation to document the usage of any pesticide and report back annually to City Council. 12-03-20

Read more at WHYY/PBS

Toxic ‘Forever Chemicals’ Were Dropped Over Millions of Acres via Aerial Pesticide, Tests Reveal

Mosquito spraying in Southeastern Massachusetts in 2006. THE BOSTON GLOBE/BOSTON GLOBE

A national nonprofit revealed Tuesday that testing commissioned by the group as well as separate analysis conducted by Massachusetts officials show samples of an aerially sprayed pesticide used by the commonwealth and at least 25 other states to control mosquito-borne illnesses contain toxic substances that critics call “forever chemicals.”

Officially known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), this group of man-made chemicals — including PFOA, PFOS, and GenX — earned the nickname because they do not break down in the environment and build up in the body. PFAS has been linked to suppressed immune function, cancers, and other health issues.

Lawmakers and regulators at various levels of government have worked to clean up drinking water contaminated by PFAS. The newly released results of pesticide testing by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection (MADEP) generated alarm about the effectiveness of such efforts.

“In Massachusetts, communities are struggling to remove PFAS from their drinking water supplies, while at the same time, we may be showering them with PFAS from the skies and roads,” PEER science policy director Kyla Bennett, a scientist and attorney formerly with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said in a statement Tuesday.

“The frightening thing is that we do not know how many insecticides, herbicides, or even disinfectants contain PFAS,” added Bennett, who arranged for the testing. “PEER found patents showing chemical companies using PFAS in these products, and recent articles discuss the variety of pesticides that contain PFAS as either an active or an inert ingredient.” 12-02-20

Read more at EcoWatch 

San Jose To Become Largest City to Ban Natural Gas for New Construction

Image: Torsten Dettlaff

The city of San Jose, CA will become the largest city in the United States to ban natural gas from all new construction. The San Jose City Council is expected to approve a proposal that forbids natural gas use in new commercial and high-rise residential buildings, expanding an earlier law that banned natural gas in new single-family homes and low-rise multifamily buildings.

San Jose joins numerous other cities that have made similar mandates.

Why This Matters: Since the natural gas that’s delivered to people’s homes is 85-95% methane, the potential for leaks and indoor air pollution is a serious threat. In San Jose, this natural gas ban would offset approximately 608,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions, given the city’s potential developments over the next five years. 12-01-20

Read more at Our Daily Planet

2020 Hurricane Season Winds Down After Record-Breaking Storms

Hurricane Iota. Image: NASA

As the 2020 hurricane season draws to a close, scientists are reflecting on the devastating records set by this year’s storms. 2020 had the most named storms ever recorded, ten of which were classified as “rapidly intensifying,” a record which occurred only in two other years, 1995 and 2010. Experts say the record-setting season was fueled mainly by rising ocean temperatures caused by climate change that increased the number, strength, and volatility of this season’s hurricanes.

Why This Matters: The 2020 hurricane season is particularly foreboding for the environment. The steep increase in hurricanes and damages caused by them signal an accelerating march toward climate disaster. Recently, scientists found that hurricanes are lingering longer and moving further inland and are predicting that cities like Atlanta could begin to see the full effect of hurricanes in the coming years.

Additionally, coastal cities can expect to be hit multiple times per season in the future; this year, Louisiana was hit by 5 different storms. Experts say that hurricane season is also beginning earlier, especially because bodies of water like the Gulf of Mexico, are staying warmer year-round. 12-01-20

Read more at Our Daily Planet

Learning how to talk: What climate activists must do in the Biden era

Demonstrators call for a Green New Deal at a “Fire Drill Friday” protest in Washington, D.C. John Lamparski / Getty Images

For four years the country has been governed by the GOP and only one guy has gotten to talk — disagree with him and you became a non-person.

That’s not Joe Biden’s style, and it’s not in the Democratic Party’s cellular structure. Indeed, we’re only a few days in to the new world, and there’s already considerable talking underway. Shouting even. Figuring out how to handle it — how to make it constructive instead of destructive — is going to be a big part of making the next four years as productive as they can be. And since we desperately need them to be effective on climate — and on racial justice, on health care, on immigration — we better learn how to talk.

One meta-argument is underway: “left” versus “center,” personified as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez versus some Congresspeople you’ve vaguely heard of from purplish districts who don’t like anyone talking about socialism. But while that splashy fight is drawing the attention of pundits, there’s another subtler communications question that has to get worked out: How do different parts of the Democratic coalition get across the things that really matter to them, like climate change, in a way that makes the point crystal clear, but doesn’t cut off the chance of future dialogue?

This is inherently hard, because activists are deeply invested in the issues they work on — often they’re volunteers, always they’re passionate. As Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor pointed out in a wise essay this week, the pent-up demand for change is almost beyond imagining. Therefore, the urge, when frustrated, to stalk away from your partner in a holy rage will always be there. But those of us who care deeply about climate are married to the Biden administration for at least the next four years — they know it, we know it. It’s not going to be a storybook relationship, but it can be more, rather than less, successful. 11-29-20

Read more at Grist

In Obama’s new memoir, a warning for Biden’s climate plans

Grist / Ron Sachs-Pool / Michael M. Santiago / Getty Ima

President Barack Obama wanted to do something big to combat climate change. He just couldn’t.

That, at least, is one of the takeaways of A Promised Land, the first installment of the former president’s two-part memoir. According to the 768-page tome — which covers his early political career and first term as president — Obama came into office hoping to address the overheating planet (and “save the tigers” for his four-year-old daughter, Malia). One of his campaign promises was a “cap-and-trade” bill that would have set a limit on the country’s greenhouse gases, aiming to cut U.S. emissions 80 percent by 2050.

Despite the best efforts of Obama and his team of advisors, that ambitious bill never made it through the Senate — setting the United States and the world on track for immense warming in the decades to come. The problem? A massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and obstruction from Senate Republicans. 11-27-20

Read more at Grist 

Alaska’s Controversial Pebble Mine Fails to Win Critical Permit, Likely Killing It

The proposed site of the Pebble Mine project this summer.
Credit…Acacia Johnson

The Army Corps of Engineers on Wednesday denied a permit for the proposed Pebble Mine in Alaska, likely dealing a death blow to a long-disputed project that aimed to extract one of the world’s largest deposits of copper and gold ore, but which threatened breeding grounds for salmon in the pristine Bristol Bay region.

The fight over the mine’s fate has raged for more than a decade. The plan was scuttled years ago under the Obama administration, only to find new life under President Trump. But opposition, from Alaska Native American communities, environmentalists and the fishing industry never diminished, and recently even the president’s son, Donald Trump Jr., a sportsman who had fished in the region, came out against the project.

On Wednesday, it failed to obtain a critical permit required under the federal Clean Water Act that was considered a must for it to proceed. In a statement, the Army Corps’ Alaska District Commander, Col. Damon Delarosa, said the mine, proposed for a remote tundra region about 200 miles from Anchorage, would be “contrary to the public interest” because “it does not comply with Clean Water Act guidelines.” 11-25-20

Read more at The New York Times

Biden’s National Security Team Reiterates Commitment on Climate Change

by Miro Korenha, co-founder/publisher Our Daily Planet

As ABC6 reported, yesterday, “declaring “America is back,” President-elect Joe Biden introduced selections for his national security team Tuesday, his first substantive offering of how he’ll shift from Trump-era “America First” policies by relying on foreign policy and national security experts from the Democratic establishment to be some of his most important advisers.”

What stood out about the press conference was that almost every member of the national security team acknowledged that climate change is a serious threat multiplier for global instability. 

Why This Matters: Centering climate change in national security and foreign policy is important because, as the Obama White House wrote: it’s an urgent and growing threat to U.S. national security. President-elect Biden’s new team reinforces his whole-of-government approach to addressing climate change. The press conference was a welcome change, the adults are back in town! 11-24-20

Read more at Our Daily Planet

He’s bringing solar power to Puerto Rico — and political power to its people

María Mari-Narvaez / LESTER JIMENEZ / Contributor / Getty Images

Arturo Massol-Deyá believes solar panels will bring power to the people of Puerto Rico — in more ways than one.

Massol-Deyá is associate director of Casa Pueblo, a nonprofit that, since 1991, has installed close to 1,000 solar panels on homes and businesses throughout Adjuntas, a small mountainside town southwest of San Juan. Beyond providing cheap, renewable energy, Massol-Deyá hopes a growing network of microgrids will help Puerto Ricans break their dependence on an unreliable electrical system and a colonial governing structure that has plunged the island into debt, cut social services, and denied residents a voice in federal politics.

The commonwealth depends upon a creaking grid that generates most of its power from fossil fuels and often collapses during natural disasters. Hurricane Maria devastated the island in 2017, leaving 1.5 million residents without electricity. Many were left in the dark for 18 months before power was fully restored, the longest blackout in the nation’s history. In the aftermath of the storm, Massol-Deyá and his team mounted rooftop solar panels on 150 homes. When a 6.4 magnitude earthquake rocked Puerto Rico last January, those households’ lights stayed on; the rest of the island lost power for more than a week. 11-22-20

Read more at Grist 

Solar companies ask Biden to reverse Trump’s biggest blow to the industry

Justin Sullivan / Getty Images

In January 2018, President Donald Trump slapped tariffs on imported solar panels despite protests from much of the industry, sending jobs in one of the nation’s fastest-growing employment engines tumbling for the following two years.

Now the solar industry is asking President-elect Joe Biden to cut short what was widely seen as Trump’s biggest blow to solar energy during his single term.

On Tuesday, Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group representing more than 1,000 companies, said it wants the Biden administration to revoke the four-year tariffs a year early.

The White House should have the legal authority to end the import fees unilaterally, despite the fact that courts blocked Trump’s efforts to amend his own tariffs to remove an exemption for bifacial panels, photovoltaics that harvest energy from the sun on both sides of the equipment.

“Revoking an exclusion already granted and removing tariffs are two very different procedural policies,” Abigail Ross Hopper, SEIA’s president and chief executive, said during a press call Tuesday morning. 11-20-20

Read more at Grist

Ørsted Works to Bring More Union Labor to Offshore Wind

Block Island wind farm. Image: Wikimedia commons

On Wednesday, Danish energy company Ørsted joined with North America’s Building Trades Unions (formerly known as the AFL-CIO’s Building and Construction Trades Department) to create a program that trains wind energy workers in hopes of deploying more offshore wind along the East Coast.

In doing so, these groups have piloted a new way to create more carbon-free energy while also expanding job opportunities and training to workers in a rapidly growing sector of our economy.

Why This Matters: Some labor unions haven’t always embraced a transition to a clean energy economy fearing that such a transition would wipe out high-paying jobs in existing energy and industrial sectors and replace them with lower-wage alternatives. Yet this program strives specifically to bring labor unions on board to help grow the nascent U.S. offshore wind industry. 11-20-20

Read more at Our Daily Planet 

Lead poisoning endangers generations of Detroit children, with no end in sight

Steve Neavling
In 2007, inspectors found an alarming amount of lead in the soil at Bridgeview Park in the shadow of the sprawling Marathon Oil refinery in Southwest Detroit.

By the time Tamika Phillips found out what was afflicting her only child, he was 7 years old, frail, and hopelessly behind in school. He struggled with basic vocabulary, had explosive temper tantrums, and was forced to repeat first grade. Phillips thought she had done everything to protect her child. What did I do wrong? she asked herself.

Heartbroken and worried, she took him to a pediatrician, who suggested a lead test.

The results were alarming. His blood lead level was 20 micrograms per deciliter, which is four times the federal threshold for an elevated level. Lead is highly toxic to the brain, nervous system, and other organs, especially in infants and young children. Even at low levels, lead is linked to reduced IQ, ADHD, irreversible brain damage, classroom problems, and even criminality and poverty. Lead can also cause headaches, hearing loss, and hyperactive behavior.

There is no safe level of lead, and even a small amount can cause irreversible damage, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“I knew something was wrong, but I didn’t know what,” Phillips tells Metro Times, agreeing to talk on condition that her child’s name not be published because of the stigma attached to lead poisoning. “He’s a sweet boy, but he struggles a lot.” 11-18-20

Read more at The Detroit Metro Times

A record 6 Native Americans were elected to Congress. Here’s where they stand on climate.

Representative Deb Haaland arrives at the U.S. Capitol Building on February 5, 2019. Zach Gibson / Getty Images

Indigenous peoples have a critical role to play in the fight against climate change. Though they make up just 5 percent of the world’s population, their lands encompass more than 80 percent of global biodiversity. Indigenous lands are also at greatest risk from the multiple threats posed by climate change: rising sea levels, warmer temperatures, invasive species, and more severe weather. Indigenous people in the U.S. have been at the forefront of climate planning, using their unique status as sovereign entities to develop ambitious climate change adaptation and mitigation plans for their lands.

Native Americans make up about 1 percent of the U.S. population, but they’ve long been underrepresented in Congress. Since the founding of the country, just 23 Native Americans have served in the legislative body. That slow pace is starting to pick up, however. The 2020 election resulted in victories for a record six Native Americans who will serve as voting members of Congress. Four were reelected, and two were elected for the first time, bringing the historical total to 25.

The victors represent Hawaii, New Mexico, Kansas, and Oklahoma. An additional three representatives from the territories of Guam, American Samoa, and the Mariana Islands are non-voting members. Split between the two parties, the voting members’ views span the ideological spectrum — from Representative-elect Kai Kahele, a Democrat from Hawaii and an ardent supporter of the Green New Deal, to Representative-elect Yvette Herrell, a hard-line conservative and Trump ally who has called the Green New Deal a “radical government takeover.” 11-18-20

Read more at Grist

Yale pledged carbon neutrality by 2050. Students say that’s too late.

Yale students protest the school’s fuel investments in November 2019. Nic Antaya / The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Yale is one of many universities making big pledges to address the climate crisis. This year, it’s on track to cut emissions 43 percent below 2005 levels, and the institution has promised to achieve carbon neutrality in its operations by 2050. But a coalition of students is pressuring it to do much more.

In an op-ed addressed to Yale’s president, Peter Salovey, Yale Law School students Alan Mitchell and Lexi Smith exhorted the university to fully decarbonize by 2030. “It’s time for the university to do its part to ensure that there will still be a habitable world for its students to serve,” they wrote in the essay published last week in the Yale Daily News, an independent student newspaper.

The op-ed was preceded by an open letter that the students sent to Salovey in early October, elaborating their argument with three key points: Yale has almost unrivaled financial resources, its peer universities are stepping up, and faster decarbonization for Yale would put pressure on other institutions to ramp up their climate ambitions.

“A failure by the wealthiest to lead will result in extensive human suffering,” the letter states. As of this writing, it has been signed by 38 campus groups and nearly 200 individual Yale students, faculty, and alumni. Six weeks after sending it, they have yet to hear back from the Yale administration. 11-17-20

Read more at Grist

How a Biden administration could push companies further on climate

Over the past year or so, as the Trump administration continued to roll back or weaken as many climate regulations in the United States as it could get its hands on, the corporate world seemed to be doing the opposite. A steady stream of companies — from tech giants like Apple to oil majors like BP to retail behemoths like Amazon — announced major commitments to decarbonize their businesses. Pledging to go net-zero became the new gold standard for corporate sustainability.

While many companies haven’t yet matched their net-zero promises with specific action plans, that could change under the administration of President-elect Joe Biden. With the executive branch and the private sector pulling in the same direction on climate, experts expect progress on corporate pledges to continue.

“Companies and investors really struggle with uncertainty,” said Tom Murray, who advises companies on reducing emissions for the Environmental Defense Fund. “They often use it as an excuse for inaction. So by making climate change a top priority, president-elect Biden is putting an end to that uncertainty and calling for real action.”

Murray and other experts on corporate sustainability pointed to some key actions that Biden may take that will enable companies to keep up the momentum. 11-13-20

Read more at Grist

Post-election, youth climate activists celebrate, recuperate, and organize

Claire Hedburg, a 15-year-old organizer for Zero Hour and Polluters Out, spent October phone-banking and text-banking for progressive candidates. Courtesy of Claire Hedburg

Now that President-elect Joe Biden has won the White House, Claire Hedburg is ready to finally get back to her chemistry homework.

Hedburg is a 15-year-old climate activist from Richmond, Virginia. Most of the time, she balances high school with organizing for the environment — protesting oil companies, coordinating panel discussions, and recruiting new members for the youth-led organizations Polluters Out and Zero Hour. But for the past few months, as Election Day drew near, her political advocacy took on a new urgency. She spent the weeks before the election phone-banking and text-banking — not only for the Biden campaign, but for down-ballot races in Virginia, including progressive candidates for Congress, mayor, and the local school board.

“I gave up my whole October for this,” Hedburg said, describing the chaotic lead-up to November 3. The presidential election in particular sapped attention that might otherwise have gone into her studies.

“Chemistry homework didn’t have much relevance to getting Trump out of office,” she said.

Hedburg is just one one of many youth climate activists who helped propel the Biden campaign to victory. In general, young people — who are disproportionately worried about climate change — favored the former vice president by a wide margin. He wasn’t the ideal candidate for climate activists, but once Bernie Sanders dropped out of the Democratic primary and the presidential race became a contest between Biden and Trump, it was clear who the environmental candidate was.

“Biden wasn’t who we had envisioned, but we were going to make the best of it,” Hedburg said. “From a climate lens, we know how important it was to advocate for him.”

Now that the results are in and Biden is slated to move into the Oval Office come January 20, youth activists are simultaneously relieved, exhausted, and tentatively optimistic. Many, like Hedburg, are eager to take a deep breath, even as they gear up for continued advocacy at the federal and local levels. In the days following Biden’s victory, I checked in with a few young climate activists to hear what they’ve been thinking. 11-13-20

Read more at Grist

Did Trump scare Americans into caring about climate change?

For those who care about the plight of the planet, President Donald Trump has been something of a supervillain. He pulled the United States out of the Paris climate agreement, rolled back countless environmental regulations, and repeatedly made fun of climate activist Greta Thunberg, who is 17 years old and autistic.

But counterintuitively, all of this might have actually made people care more about our overheating planet.

A record number of Americans now grasp that our planet is overheating and that more disasters may be heading their way. More than a quarter of the population is alarmed about the issue. That’s double what it was five years ago, before Trump was elected, according to the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication.

“I suspect that some of the sharp rise in climate concern is related to Trump’s refusal to address the problem,” said Edward Maibach, who directs George Mason’s Center for Climate Change Communication.

It’s also true that Americans are worried about climate change for plenty of reasons that have nothing to do with Trump. In recent years, the global youth climate movement exploded into the streets. Harrowing scientific reports spelled out a bleak future in excruciating detail, and the bestseller The Uninhabitable Earth raised the alarm among book club members everywhere. The United States was pummeled with disasters that bore the fingerprints of climate change — powerful hurricanes, unprecedented floods, and catastrophic wildfires. The Green New Deal became a progressive catchphrase, and the mainstream media began covering climate change like they actually wanted people to read about it. 11-11-20

Read more at Grist

Here’s what it will take for Biden and Harris to deliver on environmental justice

Trucks drive through the Ironbound district in Newark, NJ. Yana Paskova / The Washington Post / Getty Images

Environmental justice featured more prominently in the 2020 election than it did in any other presidential election in U.S. history. Now that Democratic nominee Joe Biden — who schooled his opponent on the subject during the final presidential debate — has secured the electoral votes to become the next commander-in-chief, environmental justice advocates across the country are expressing excitement about the steps the new administration is likely to take to protect vulnerable communities from the effects of pollution and climate change. This optimism is guarded, however, given the immense challenge of reversing the environmental damage abetted by the administration of President Donald Trump.

“The presidential election results are a critical victory for the climate movement,” Arielle Swernoff, lead communications strategist at the environmental justice coalition New York Renews, told Grist. “We now have a president we can effectively organize to act swiftly and justly on climate, and to take much-needed federal action to build a just, green recovery to our current interlocking COVID-19 and climate crises.”

It’s no surprise that advocates are glad that Biden emerged victorious: His campaign released a detailed environmental justice plan acknowledging that low-income communities and communities of color have endured disproportionate harm from climate change and environmental contaminants for decades. (The plan prioritizes objectives outlined in the environmental justice legislation introduced this summer by then-Senator Kamala Harris, who is now the incoming vice president.) Both his $2 trillion dollar clean energy plan and his plan for tribal nations also prioritize environmental and climate justice. The new administration has indicated that it plans to hold polluters responsible for their contributions to the underlying health conditions that have put Blacks, Latinos, and Indigenous groups across the country at greater risk of dying from COVID-19. 11-11-20

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The Biggest Environmental Wins and Losses of the 2020 Election

Coal train loading at Spring Creek mine, Montana. Photo: WildEarth Guardians, (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0).

Election Day 2020 — the day before the United States officially left the Paris climate agreement — didn’t deliver an immediate rebuke to President Trump or relief for environmentalists.

That would have to wait.

“The election hasn’t produced the outcome that the planet badly needed,” Bill McKibben of summed up in The New Yorker the following day.

But as the votes continued to be counted in battleground states, the mood shifted from despair to hope, and finally, on Nov. 7, to celebration when Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were pronounced victors.

So much was riding on this election — and not just in the United States.

“There is no pathway to meaningful global climate action without our federal government playing a prominent part,” wrote Mary Annaïse Heglar in The New Republic just before the election.

A Biden-Harris victory doesn’t undo all the environmental harm caused by the Trump administration and its 125 rollbacks of environmental protections, but it provides a much-needed opportunity to restore scientific integrity and take action on climate change, environmental justice, biodiversity and other pressing concerns.

Read more at EcoWatch 

Biden won the election. Now can he save the planet?

AP Photo / Andrew Harnik)

After five days of nail-biting, anxiety-inducing ballot counting in half a dozen key swing states, Joe Biden has been declared the winner of the 2020 presidential election. And while Biden’s victory will put an end to the notoriously anti-environment Trump era, it also comes with one burning question: Will the former vice president — who made climate change a centerpiece of his campaign — be able to push the country onto a safer, and cooler, path?

“A Biden win is a first step to a better future,” said Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution, via email. “But we have a long road ahead of us.”

The stakes have never been higher. The United States is responsible for approximately 15 percent of the carbon dioxide spewing into the atmosphere from the burning of fossil fuels. Without dramatic action to slash those emissions in the coming years, the globe is expected to face dangerous levels of warming, combined with heat waves, runaway floods, and catastrophic wildfires. Scientists have recently been warned that another four more years of Trump could have terrible consequences: Michael Mann, an eminent climate scientist, portrayed it as “game over” for the climate. 11-07-20

Read more at Grist 

These 5 US maps have nothing to do with the election

Estimated % of adults who think global warming is happening (72 percent nationally), 2020. Yale Program on Climate Change Communication

Whether you’ve been frantically refreshing the New York Times’ election results page since Tuesday or mainlining cable news coverage for two days straight, the red-and-blue presidential electoral map has been a source of high anxiety for many of us.

As we wait for all the votes to be counted, you can take your mind off things by checking out these alternative, more comforting maps of the United States. Courtesy of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication (YPCCC), they highlight some positive trends in public opinion on global warming. We may be a politically divided nation, but a growing majority accepts that climate change is here, it’s human-caused, and it’s bad. Even some aggressive policy approaches are more widely supported than you might think.

It doesn’t matter how many times you check the news — the vote count will take as long as it takes. So stop refreshing the electoral map and refresh your mind with some happy climate-related data.

Despite President Trump’s high-profile climate denial, a whopping 72 percent of Americans accept that global warming is happening. Even in denialist strongholds like West Virginia, where governor Jim Justice is a former coal mogul and hasdenounced initiatives to fight climate change, nearly three-fifths of the state’s residents accept the unequivocal scientific consensus. In Democratic hotspots like Washington, D.C., that number climbs as high as 83 percent. 11-05-20

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Do Animals (Besides Us) Vote For Their Leaders?

The Waggle Dance Photo: Smithsonian video screen grab

We humans aren’t the only ones who have devised democratic methods for electing leaders. As our count for the presidential winner continues, the Guardian explains how other species “vote” for leaders that can make or break their survival.Honeybees, for example, use a bottom-up process for finding a new spot for their hive. Instead of the queen dictating where to go, a small swarm of workers bees scout out locations, then return and perform a “waggle dance” of directions for the group. The more a scout bee likes the site, the more times she’ll dance the route for other bees to follow. Similarly, homing pigeons usually have a leader that guides the flock to fly in harmony. But that leader can lose power, either falling back into the flock on its own or its fellow pigeons choosing to no longer follow it.

Why This Matters:  We need to ensure 30% of the planet is protected by 2030 because the human-induced imbalances in the natural world are impacting waggling honeybees and soaring birds, among other species. A study published earlier this year found that honeybee populations had dropped by nearly 50% in North America compared to baselines earlier in the 20th century. Most of the world’s crops rely on bees to pollinate them, so this decline could lead to global issues with our food supply.  Despite their natural ways of selecting leaders, the leaders WE select are even more important for those species’ survival and thus our own. 11-05-20

Read more at Our Daily Planet

The U.S. just left the Paris climate accord, even as the presidential race is undecided

Pedestrians walk past a screen promoting news coverage of the U.S. election in Hong Kong on Wednesday. (Lam Yik/Bloomberg)

On Wednesday morning, the result in the race between President Trump and Democratic nominee Joe Biden remains unclear.

But here is what is certain: The United States officially pulled out of the Paris climate accord, the landmark international agreement to combat global warming, on Wednesday, the day after voting ended in a tumultuous race for the White House marked by sharp disagreement over climate change.

With the move, Trump finally fulfills a campaign pledge set five years ago during his first run for president to end U.S. involvement in a climate accord he considered an unfair deal for the country.

Biden, by contrast, has promised to reenter the accord on “day one” should he take the White House. He has vowed to make a main tent of his foreign policy the jawboning China, Brazil and other countries into cutting their own emission and preserving their forests, which keep carbon our of the atmosphere.

“The U.S. leaving the Paris climate agreement demonstrates what’s at stake in this election,” said May Boeve, executive director of, an international environmental organization. “What we need now is all hands on deck for global climate leadership.” 11-04-20

Read more at The Washington Post

Moby Dick is a perfect parable for what’s at stake in the 2020 election

Grist / J. Countess / AndreyPopov / Alhontess / Getty Images

The lines of voters stretch as far as the eye can see, winding their way to polling booths across the country despite a life-threatening pandemic, an economic crisis, and a year that’s been filled with upheaval and uncertainty as the United States heads into an exceptionally heated presidential election. That Americans from Georgia to Nevada to Wisconsin are donning their masks to stand for what they believe in, despite the risks to their health, is telling — and a clear sign of just how crucial this election feels for so many. This is particularly so for Americans who live in some of the country’s most marginalized neighborhoods. They understand that there is much more at stake than who will sit in the Oval Office. They are voting because their lives depend on it.

No one understands this better than Omega Wilson. For 26 years, he and his wife Brenda have fought to deliver basic public services such as sewer lines, city water lines, and paved streets to neglected, historically African American communities settled by formerly enslaved people in North Carolina’s Alamance and Orange counties. The Wilsons began waging this battle in the mid-1990s after they co-founded the West End Revitalization Association (WERA), a community development corporation, after discovering that the state was attempting to build a four-lane highway through the predominantly African American West End community — and doing so without publicly meeting with residents. Part of the West End is just outside the city limits of Mebane, but it is nevertheless under the city’s jurisdiction on matters like zoning and land use. Because of this, some West End residents don’t have a say on basic public service issues, despite living a quarter mile from the city’s sewer treatment plant. The community pushback on the proposed highway and the lack of basic services led WERA to file a civil rights complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice in 1999. Their concern was not just that the city had ignored their community’s voice on this one issue. It was the continuation of a deeply entrenched pattern of denying blacks and other people of color in these neighborhoods a voice by segregating, disenfranchising, and denying them the rights afforded to whites. 11-03-20

Read more at Grist