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Tag: environment

Climate Envoy Kerry Vows US Will Meet Emissons Goal Despite Court Setback

Washington (AFP) - US climate envoy John Kerry vowed Friday the United States will meet goals it submitted to the United Nations on slashing greenhouse gas emissions, despite a Supreme Court ruling that curtailed the government's powers.

"We are determined to achieve our goals. We can achieve our goals," Kerry told AFP.

"But obviously it would help if we had a majority of the Supreme Court in the United States of America that actually understood the gravity of the situation and was more willing to try to be helpful rather than present a hurdle of one kind or another," he said.

President Joe Biden, after defeating the climate-skeptic Donald Trump, in April last year said the United States would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 to 52 percent by 2030 from 2005 levels, dramatically increasing the climate ambitions of the world's largest economy.

He submitted the so-called nationally determined contribution to the UN climate body in line with the 2015 Paris Agreement, the landmark deal brokered by Kerry when he was secretary of state.

China, the world's largest carbon emitter, called Friday on all nations to live up to Paris commitments, with foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian saying of the United States, "it is not enough to just chant slogans."

Kerry, who has worked with Chinese officials in his climate role despite soaring tensions between Beijing and Washington, said that he was "not surprised by the messaging" from the Asian power.

"We will show China precisely how we're going to get the job done," Kerry said.

Stephane Dujarric, the spokesman for UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, called the Supreme Court decision "a setback in our fight against climate change."

Why Biden Proposes Drilling

Despite Biden's pledges to wean the United States off fossil fuels, the Interior Department on Friday released a five-year proposal that would authorize offshore oil and gas drilling in federal waters in the Gulf of Mexico and Alaska, although it would still ban drilling in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

The proposal comes amid soaring gas prices and as Biden seeks to woo Senator Joe Manchin, a Democrat from coal-producing West Virginia with the crucial vote, to back a package that would also boost clean energy.

Environmentalists see the legislation as a last hope amid expectations that Trump's Republican Party will make advances in November congressional elections.

The Supreme Court, finishing a term in which three justices nominated by Trump pushed it sharply to the right, on Thursday cut the wings off a key way in which the government could have tackled climate change without fresh legislation.

In a 6-3 ruling branded "devastating" by Biden, the top court said the Environmental Protection Agency did not have authority to order sweeping cuts on emissions from coal-fired power plants.

"I am convinced -- and our legal people are looking at it very carefully -- that this decision leaves plenty of latitude for us to be able to do a lot of things that we need to do," Kerry said.

Asked about calls by some lawmakers from his Democratic Party for Biden to declare a climate emergency, Kerry said, "I think the president needs to evaluate every option available."

'Pin Into Balloon'

Coal accounts for around 20 percent of US electricity generation -- still roughly on par with renewables. China, despite investing heavily in wind and solar, has also kept building coal production capacity.

But Kerry said that the marketplace showed that coal is not the future.

"Nobody's going to fund any new coal power in the United States -- no bank, no private lender. Coal is the dirtiest fuel in the world," he said.

Scientists warn that the world is far off track in avoiding the worst ravages of climate change including severe heatwaves, floods, droughts, rising sea levels and storm surges.

The Paris accord set the goal of limiting end-of-century warming to two degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels -- and preferably not beyond 1.5 degrees -- but the planet has already warmed by nearly 1.2 Celsius.

Ruth Greenspan Bell, a climate expert at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, said it was difficult for the United States to show climate leadership while also fighting internally on whether it is a priority.

"It's kind of putting a pin into a balloon. There's a little bit less air in the balloon than there was before," she said of the court decision.

"The times call for a moonshot but imagine trying to pull off a moonshot when you are at the same time in a defensive crouch."

Biden Restores Environmental Safeguards Dumped By Trump

Washington (AFP) - The administration of President Joe Biden on Tuesday announced it would restore safeguards in a cornerstone environmental law weakened under Donald Trump -- including a duty to assess the climate impacts of proposed infrastructure projects.

The changes concern the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which was enacted by Congress in 1969. Rules about how it was applied were tweaked in 2020 by the then Republican president, an ardent supporter of the fossil fuel industry.

"Restoring these basic community safeguards will provide regulatory certainty, reduce conflict, and help ensure that projects get built right the first time," said White House Council on Environmental Quality (CEQ) chair Brenda Mallory in a statement.

"Patching these holes in the environmental review process will help projects get built faster, be more resilient, and provide greater benefits to people who live nearby."

The restorations include a requirement that federal agencies evaluate both the direct and indirect impacts of projects, including by assessing climate change impacts and the consequences of releasing additional pollution in communities already affected by air pollution and dirty water.

It will also allow agencies to work once more with local communities to devise alternate plans to minimize environmental and health harm, and establish NEPA regulations as the floor, rather than the ceiling, for environmental review standards -- paving the way for stricter measures if needed.

The White House said it was also working to further broaden the scope of NEPA and would announce more changes soon.

Reacting to the announcement, Leslie Fields of the environmental group Sierra Club said: "We are encouraged to see the Biden administration take action to restore this bedrock environmental protection.

"NEPA plays a critical role in keeping our communities and our environment healthy and safe, and Donald Trump's attempts to weaken NEPA were clearly nothing more than a handout to corporate polluters."

The move comes days after the Biden administration was slammed by critics for announcing a resumption of oil and gas leasing on public lands, violating the Democrat's campaign promise.

On Friday, the interior department said it would post notices "for significantly reformed onshore lease sales" across roughly 144,000 acres of land.

Experts say steering clear of new fossil fuel projects is vital to meet the goal of limiting long term warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and averting a climate catastrophe.

Biden Infrastructure Plan Can Slow Climate Change: Expert

Reprinted with permission from American Independent

A bipartisan infrastructure deal backed by President Joe Biden could be key in addressing climate change, one climate expert says, even if talks on the bill have been slowed by GOP pushback.

Evan Endres, climate and energy policy manager for The Nature Conservancy in Pennsylvania, told The American Independent Foundation on Monday that his state has a "complicated carbon puzzle that needs to be solved" and that a set of bipartisan infrastructure investments being considered by Congress could be one part of the solution.

Last month, Biden and a bipartisan group of senators agreed on a $579 billion framework for those investments in transportation, broadband, and water systems infrastructure. Although negotiations on the exact language of the bill have stalled, discussions are ongoing.

The framework includes funds to invest in electric vehicle infrastructure, electrify school and transit buses, upgrade the power grid, and clean up pollution.

Addressing those issues alone would be a boon to Pennsylvania, Endres said. "A lot of positive things are being discussed — concrete climate solutions that would create jobs and opportunity in Pennsylvania," he said.

Electrification of trucks and "heavy duty equipment," for instance, would jumpstart the state's economy directly, he explained.

"Mack Trucks, an American stalwart brand, makes an electric truck right here in Pennsylvania, at the Lehigh Valley Operations in Macungie ... heavy duty electric trucks you might see in a municipal trash fleet," he said. "A lot of the support for heavy duty electrification of equipment speaks directly to a brand that's part of the heart and soul of Pennsylvania."

He also noted that investments in battery and storage capacity could benefit the state. "We're a major exporter of electricity to other states," Endres said. "The more we can improve storage, the more we can export renewable energy."

As of now, the state is not only emitting greenhouse gases at home — it is also sending it out to other states.

"We're fifth in the nation for carbon emissions, we're a major exporter of energy to most states in the mid-Atlantic. We're the second largest net exporter of electricity behind Texas," he said. "Not only are we a large carbon emitter, but we're exporting that carbon-intensive electricity to other states who are also working to solve the carbon problem, the climate problem."

Endres is similarly bullish on provisions to deploy renewable energy generation efforts on the same lands that were once used for coal mining.

"That's something that should excite Pennsylvanians, particularly communities close to those formerly mined lands," he said. "You're bringing a new economic stimulation, development to those same lands through renewable energy, solar energy. That's a great intersection for those areas."

With a bipartisan infrastructure package passed, he added, more jobs will follow. "That tech requires a lot of construction, jobs for pipefitters, electricians, building trades, laborers," he said.

Endres also flagged another area that could lead to a jobs boost: cleaning up abandoned oil and gas wells.

The state's fossil fuel legacy, he said, includes "an unfathomable number of abandoned oil and gas wells. It's not uncommon to hear of hunters in the woods in Pennsylvania stumbling on an open well emitting methane as a pollutant — maybe it was drilled 80 or 90 years ago and no one is responsible."

Pennsylvania's Department of Environmental Protection has documented about 9,000 of those orphaned wells — but estimates the number that need to be capped is in the hundreds of thousands.

"Going through, finding these things, capping them safely," Endres said, is "not only a climate solution but a big job that will require engineers, technicians, people who know how to work safely with open gas wells, people being out in the field to identify, tag them, and assess the priority."

He added, "It's a big problem and a climate liability. Methane is a far more potent greenhouse gas than just carbon emission."

In all, the bipartisan package is a series of "really great first steps" and some "really great second steps," but ones that need to be hurried along soon.

"There's a lot of promising change happening. What we need is the kind of policy and investments that put a little gasoline on that fire of change," he concluded, before adding jokingly, "...Or flip the switch on the solar panels."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

Why Nature Needs A Right To Self-Defense

There was a white oak tree in Athens, Georgia, that was so treasured by the locals it was not owned by anyone, not even the city. It was an autonomous entity known as the The Tree that Owns Itself.

Around the 1820s, William Jackson, owner of the property where the oak resided, wrote a formal deed in which he proclaimed, "(I)n consideration of the great love I bear this tree and the great desire I have for its protection for all time, I convey entire possession of itself and all land within eight feet of the tree on all sides."

Naturally, age finally took its toll, and in 1942, the tree was downed by a big windstorm. Yet, its autonomy lives on! That's because residents took a seedling from the original and planted it in the same plot of land, and that offspring is still there, known as the Son of the Tree that Owns Itself.

One tree with the legal rights of selfhood is a sweet novelty, but what if all trees, watersheds, canyons and other natural ecosystems had a legal right to exist, thrive, evolve and regenerate? This concept of nature existing in its own right as a living entity — not merely as inert property to be extracted and exploited for profit — is the essence of a rapidly spreading Rights of Nature movement. A legal comprehension that Earth is an indivisible, interrelated and interdependent community of living beings is enormously empowering for the health of the planet but also for the ordinary families and local communities who're now routinely abused by profiteering corporate giants that plunder nature. All across our country (and around the world), people wake up to find that faraway financial elites have come in by stealth, using legalistic ruses to poison local waters, strip forests and fields, defile the air and otherwise destroy people's natural surroundings. Regulators and legislators, owned by the defilers, enable the plunder.

Sometimes, aloof corporate interests get absurdly, almost-comically hypocritical, yet they're so obtuse that they don't even realize it. In that case, is it still hypocrisy ... or are they just dimwitted?

To see this phenomenon in action, look at the histrionic outburst of horror emanating from a myriad of corporate bunkers over rising public approval for the idea that nature be given legal rights that are enforceable in courts. The Rights of Nature movement argues that if a mining conglomerate decapitates a mountain or a chemical giant dumps mercury in a bay, those injured citizens of our natural world ought to have their day in court. "Outrageous!" shriek the honchos of Corporate America. "The courts and legal rights are for people , not for pieces of property!"

Hello, hypocrisy. After all, what is a corporation? Not a person. Not a sentient, living creature — no brain, no pulse, no soul, no life. It's not even a real piece of property, just an inert document printed by a state. Yet, the owners of that piece of paper claim that it magically bestows "personhood" on their corporation, giving it the legal and political rights of real people. Yet, these "paper people" cry that Earth's actual living creatures, which they've felt free to destroy for their own profit, can't have any legal rights because they are just property. Excuse me, but a single drop of water has more life in it than all the corporations in the world.

Also, let's note that the long evolution of law has constantly progressed to transform "property" into beings with fundamental rights. Generations of enslaved people, indentured servants, women, child laborers and other humans have been brutally denied personhood — even the right to exist. Even that fight hasn't been won, but the body of legal (and moral) rights has grown, and it enhances our own humanity to recognize that we and nature are one. Crass corporate exploitation, on the other hand, diminishes all living things, threatening life itself.

Those who reflexively mock the Rights of Nature movement — scoffing at the idea of legal standing for marshes, grasslands, forest networks and other wildlife — might consider taking a moment by a quiet stream in the woods to ponder: Does nature need us, or do we need her?

To learn more, go to the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund website.

To find out more about Jim Hightower and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators webpage at www.creators.com

Trump’s EPA Prepares Another Gift For The Coal Industry

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Trump’s EPA administrator wants to redraw our nation’s mercury standard to benefit coal-fired power plants that belch out nearly half the nation’s mercury emissions. But the agency’s Science Advisory Board is balking.

The board, headed by Trump administration appointee Michael Honeycutt who previously opposed tougher mercury standards, told the EPA it needed to look again at how much mercury people get from fish and the harm from mercury.

“EPA should instigate a new risk assessment,” the board wrote.

Under former President Barack Obama, the EPA only looked at IQ losses in children born to mothers who ate freshwater fish caught by amateur anglers from lakes where the EPA had information on fish tissue. This excluded most of the fish eaten in our country, much of it imported or fish from the ocean.

“It’s absolutely incorrect,” said Elsie Sunderland, a professor of environmental science and engineering at Harvard.

Ellen Kurlansky, a former EPA air policy analyst, said the board recommendation isn’t clear about whether ocean fish should be included in a new assessment.

“What does that actually mean?” she asked.

The Trump EPA packed the Science Advisory Board with industry-friendly appointees like air pollution researcher Robert Phalen who said air can be “a little too clean” for children’s health and consultant Brant Ulsh who claims radiation at low doses may not be dangerous.

The mercury report mentioned a discredited study by consultant and board member Tony Cox that claimed soot in the air can be beneficial.

But even this tainted board couldn’t stomach what the Trump EPA wants to do to our planet. The board also questioned a proposed rule that would limit which wetlands and waterways are protected by the Clean Water Act and the rollback of clean car standards.

Mercury exposure at its worst can mimic cerebral palsy. When airborne mercury settles on water or land that’s often damp, microbes convert it to methylmercury which is highly toxic and becomes more concentrated as it moves up food chains to people and predators.

Mercury raises the risk of diabetes and causes cardiovascular problems for adults, including higher chances of a fatal heart attack. Even how birds sing is affected.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler twisted the math for a proposed federal rule to knock out the legal justifications for limiting mercury emissions, claiming that “the only health benefit” to reducing mercury emissions “that the EPA could quantify and monetize” was children’s IQ loss.

In March 2017, coal magnate Robert Murray, who donated $300,000 to Trump’s inauguration, gave the Energy Department a wish list that included rescinding or revising the mercury standard, which Murray Energy had sued to block. Wheeler is a former lobbyist and Murray Energy was his best-paying client.

Murray Energy, once the largest privately held coal company in the country, filed for bankruptcy in October. At least seven coal companies filed for bankruptcy in 2019.

EPA is required by law to base decisions on the “best available science.”

The Obama restrictions on mercury have worked. Mercury emissions from U.S. power plants plunged by 65 percent from 2015 to 2017. The standards prevent up to 11,000 premature deaths a year, 4,700 heart attacks and 130,000 asthma attacks, according to EPA estimates.

The Trump EPA also wants to quash rules on sulfur dioxide emissions from coal-fired power plants which cause acid rain.

EPA Will Ease Rules On Storage Of Deadly Coal Ash

Reprinted with permission from DCReport

Utilities soon could get federal approval for the riskiest way to get rid of coal ash.

The latest Trump EPA proposal to prop up the financially struggling coal industry would make water supplies more vulnerable to the ash, the toxic remnants of burning coal.

report from the Environmental Integrity Project warns that the enduring legacy of coal ash will be groundwater pollution such as that in Memphis where city water is threatened.

The EPA proposal to set up a permit program to dispose of coal ash applies in Native American territory and states except two. Oklahoma and Georgia have set up their own permit programs. The Oklahoma program, which allows dumping in unlined ponds unless they leak, is being litigated.

Coal-burning power plants produce about 100 million tons of coal ash yearly. Arsenic, lead and mercury lace the ash. Companies mixed the ash with water and stored  it in unlined pits called coal ash ponds.

Such carelessness led to catastrophes, including 130 million gallons of coal ash and water being released into the Clinch River near Cleveland, Va., in 1967. The spill killed an estimated 217,000 fish and damaged the river for 35 years. In 2014, a break in a pond at Duke Energy’s plant in Eden, N.C., sent 27 million gallons of  sludge into the Dan River.

Jenny Cassel, an attorney for Earthjustice, said the language in the proposed Trump regulations would allow utilities to seek permits to continue to operate coal ash ponds which fail more frequently than landfills.

The Environmental Integrity Project found that 92 percent of plants with regulated ponds have at least one that leaks. Also, 76 percent of plants with regulated landfills have at least one leaking landfill. Researchers found the groundwater often has unsafe levels of four or more pollutants. They included arsenic, which causes cancers, and lithium, which can cause kidney damage and birth defects.

The levels of contamination at many sites are hundreds of times greater than what could be considered safe. For example, some of the wells at New Castle Generating Station in West Pittsburg, part of TaylorTownship, Pa., and Allen Fossil Plant near Memphis, Tenn., have enough arsenic to cause cancer in one out of six people.

The contaminated groundwater near Memphis is connected to the aquifer that supplies the drinking water for Memphis. About a third of coal ash ponds are within five miles of a public drinking water intake or reservoir. About 80 percent are within five miles of a drinking water well.

Obama administration regulations would have allowed unlined ponds to remain open until they showed statistically significant evidence of contamination.

In August 2018, the Court of Appeal for the D.C. Circuit threw out this part of the law, writing that many of the 575 known unlined ponds are likely to contaminate groundwater. The Trump EPA recently proposed that unlined ponds stop accepting coal ash by Aug. 31.

Trump EPA Guts Chemical Plant Safety Regulation

Reprinted with pemrission from DCReport

Just before the holidays, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency quietly threw out regulations protecting an estimated 177 million Americans who live and work near dangerous chemical plants. The EPA’s move came just 22 days after horrendous fire and multiple explosions 95 miles east of Houston threatened thousands.

The Chemical Disaster Rule, written under former President Barack Obama, covered about 12,500 industrial facilities nationwide using or storing highly hazardous chemicals. It included safeguards such as requiring an independent party to investigate spills and explosions and plant owners to keep safety information current.

‘People Will Die’

“People will die,” said Eric Whalen, a spokesman for Environmental Justice Health Alliance for Chemical Policy Reform.

For example, the explosion at Texas Petroleum Chemicals Group in Port Neches on Nov. 27, Thanksgiving eve, killed one person and forced out 50,000 people.

The plant manufactures butadiene, an extremely flammable, colorless gas used to make tires and plastics. Butadiene is a known human cancer-causing agent. It can cause blurred vision, nausea, unconsciousness and respiratory paralysis.

The EPA finalized the Chemical Disaster Rule just a day before Obama left office in 2017. The rule was supposed to prevent tragedies like the April 17, 2013, explosion near Waco, Texas, at the West Fertilizer Co. plant. That inferno killed 15 people, injured more than 250 and damaged or destroyed hundreds of homes.

No Inspections

The fertilizer plant stored 270 tons of ammonium nitrate,1,350 times the amount that would ordinarily trigger safety oversight by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. There was no full plant inspection in almost three decades.

“The American people and American politicians, they have a short memory,” said West Mayor Tommy Muska. “They’re going to say everything is fine, and every few years something like this is going to happen again.”

At least one in three children attend school near a hazardous chemical facility. School in Port Neches was canceled after the explosions. People had to shelter in place because of the levels of butadiene.

Environmental Groups Sue

Thirteen environmental groups, including the Sierra Club and Air Alliance Houston, sued the EPA over gutting the Chemical Disaster Rule.

The EPA previously calculated that its protections before the rule failed to prevent more than 2,200 chemical fires, explosions, leaks and other incidents during a 10-year period, including about 150 a year that caused injuries.

Industrial groups including American Fuel & Petrochemical Manufacturers and the Chamber of Commerce worked to kill the rule.

Trump Appointees Blast His Anti-Science Environmental Policy

Reprinted with permission from Alternet

2020 will mark the 50th anniversary of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which was founded in 1970 under executive order from President Richard Nixon. The EPA has existed under nine presidents; President Donald Trump arguably has the worst environmental record of all of them, and new changes in environmental policy are drawing vehement criticism from a panel of advisers — including those Trump has appointed.

The Washington Post’s Juliet Eilperin is reporting that the proposed changes would “weaken standards that govern waterways and wetlands across the country, as well as those that dictate gas mileage for U.S. autos.” Moreover, Eilperin reports, the changes would “restrict the kinds of scientific studies that can be used when writing new environmental regulations” and “change how EPA calculates the benefits of limiting air pollutants from coal-fired power plants.”

Three out of four draft reports that were published online on Tuesday, according to the Post, assert that proposals by Trump’s administration are at odds with established science. The reports were prepared by the EPA’s Scientific Advisory Board, which Congress created under President Jimmy Carter in 1978.

Steve Hamburg, chief scientist for the Environmental Defense Fund, wonders if the changes are “politically motivated” rather than “fact-based.” Other new environmental rules would affect the types of chemicals that could be used near waterways and weaken fuel efficiency standards for cars and light trucks.

According to Hamburg, “The board has consistently said there (are) substantive scientific issues related to many of the proposed rules. Slow-walking any response to those requests and then saying there isn’t time is a deliberate effort to block any scientific input.”

Christopher Frey, who served on the Scientific Advisor Board from 2012-2018, complains that Andrew Wheeler (EPA administration under Trump) has marginalized the Board’s expertise. Eilperin quotes Frey as saying, “In effect, (Wheeler has) said, ‘No, I’m not interested in your advice.’ He’s just sidelining the Scientific Advisory Board. He obviously has an ideological agenda of pursuing regulatory rollbacks, and the science is not always going to be consistent with that ideological agenda.”