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ENVIRONMENT POLICIES, ANALYSIS, AND RESOURCES

The Environment Domain tracks and reports on policies that deal with the use of natural resources, climate change, energy emissions, pollution, and the protection of endangered species. This domain tracks policies emanating from the White House, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Energy Department, and the Interior Department.

Good til the last drop: Colorado river’s drought contingency plan

Good til the last drop: Colorado river’s drought contingency plan

POLICY
40 million people in Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming depend upon the Colorado river for their water. This is in addition to a water-hungry $5 billion-a-year agricultural industry. There is a 2007 agreement – that includes Mexico – governing water usage; this agreement expires in 2026.

The Colorado river feeds two major reservoirs: Lake Mead and Lake Powell, both of which are at historically low levels. Currently, the reservoirs are about half full.

A 19-year drought coupled with a pattern of hotter and drier temperatures have forced all parties back to the negotiating table to agree upon a “drought contingency plan.” This is a voluntary agreement to use less water than allowed under the original 2007 agreement. Quality of life issues along with environmental justice have moved front and center in these discussions.

Although California and Arizona failed to meet an earlier deadline to wrap up negotiations, they did finally come to agreement in May of 2019; all parties are now signed onto the revised usage plan with all agreeing to use less water.

Signatories also include Native Indian tribes. There are 29 tribes in the Colorado River Basin; they have annual rights to 2.8 million-acre-feet of river water – approximately the amount allotted to the entire state of Arizona.

California’s Imperial Valley is the largest single user of Colorado River’ water – 20% of the total water allotment. Farmers there use that water to grow about 80 percent of the nation’s winter crops, including lettuce, broccoli, cauliflower, carrots, sweet corn, watermelons, cantaloupe, and onions. Farmers also produce alfalfa and Bermuda grass hay, which is used as dairy feed in the U.S. and abroad.

The United States Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) is the federal agency which oversees nationwide water resource management, and its current Commissioner, Brenda Burman, has been actively facilitating negotiations. The USBR falls under the U.S Department of the Interior.

ANALYSIS

Some climate models show the Colorado River flows dropping as much as 30 percent by the middle of the century. Water managers will have to face the fact that there is less water in the system. As a whole though, the Trump administration and its Department of Interior, which oversees the Colorado River and its management, have not been willing to acknowledge climate change.

Are the Arizona’s golf courses and the fountains of Las Vegas more important than irrigating farms for food? There are complicated tradeoffs between sustainable management of water supplies, conservation, affordability, infrastructure investment and equity. And while Phoenix citizens  get only 7.5 inches of rain a year, they are not solely reliant upon the Colorado; they draw from two other rivers: Salt and Verde and have over a trillion gallons of native groundwater, which they fastidiously protect as a savings account for future generations. And demand has been reduced. In Phoenix, usage has fallen 30 percent in the last 20 years – while serving nearly 400,000 more people, the result of a long-term culture change regarding the way residents view water.

Another significant consideration is the hydro-electricity supplied by the Colorado River.The Hoover Dam on Lake Mead generates, on average, about 4 billion kilowatt-hours of hydroelectric power each year for use in Nevada, Arizona, and California – enough to serve 1.3 million people. A large drop – below 950 feet – would be enough to shut-off the turbines.

President Trump did finally sign a bill in April of 2019 authorizing the drought contingency plan (DCP), following the bill’s passage through Congress with bipartisan support. Trump’s Interior Secretary, David Bernhardt, has indicated that he wants the USBR to be more inclusive of tribal leaders, environmental groups, non-governmental organizations and others interested in the management of the river.

Resistance Resources:

Photo by Ramin Khatibi

US Contributes to the Failure of Global Climate Change Meeting

US Contributes to the Failure of Global Climate Change Meeting

Policy Summary
Last week, the Chile/Madrid UN Climate Change Conference closed with disappointingly familiar lip-service to the value of addressing climate change while doing nothing to challenge the status quo or address historical emission sources. Officially called the 25th Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Climate Change (COP 25), the meeting in Madrid was meant to discuss progress made towards the goals set in the 2015 Paris Climate Accord. The Paris Climate Accord is an agreement signed by over 200 nations to reduce and limit greenhouse gas emissions in order to keep global temperatures from rising beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius, which is thought to be the point at which Earth will experience the most destructive effects of climate change. United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres opened the conference with a speech that declared it as the “point of no return” in the fight against climate change, which makes the outcome that much more discouraging and further highlights the fact that such talk is nothing but hollow words.

Worldwide, greenhouse emissions continue to rise despite the promises of elites and governments across the board. In 2015 at the signing of the Paris Climate Accord, those states officially recognized that global greenhouse gas emissions need to be reduced and declared that said emissions were to peak in 2020 at the latest and begin to fall through the concerted effort of countries who signed the Agreement. However, in order to reach the set goals of the Paris Climate Accord, emissions will now need to drop by an annual 7.6% for the next ten years. On full display at the COP 25 conference was the impact of the U.S.’s absence from the Paris Climate Accord, along with the interests of other powerful, industrialized states. Both of these facets will be examined in the analysis. Despite Trump’s formal withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord and the absence of any Trump administration officials at the COP 25, Democratic Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and a 15-member congressional delegation were in attendance. Speaker Pelosi noted that “we’re still in,” meaning the US Paris Agreement withdrawal doesn’t legally take effect til after the next US Presidential election.

A major hope for COP 25 was the construction of rules for an international emission-trading system, which was discussed at the 2018 COP conference in Poland. Such a system would involve a global market for carbon dioxide emissions, where each state and business would receive a supply of carbon credits. Those that emit below a set cap are able to sell their left-over allowance of credits to those that do not, letting governments and businesses trade their carbon dioxide outputs. Proponents argue that trading will encourage greenhouse gas producers to limit their emissions. However, those at the COP 25 were unable to come to an agreement over the rules of such a system.

Analysis
COP 25 was hamstrung from the start and drastically hindered by wealthy state’s unwillingness to admit to and reduce their impacts upon increasing greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice, fossil fuel companies are lobbying and encouraging wealthy countries to force through carbon emission-trading markets. Such markets do not actually reduce emissions, which is what is needed to meet the Paris Climate Accord targets but compensate for increased emissions and create the false image that governments and businesses are addressing climate change. It ignores the fact that the vast majority of historical greenhouse gas emissions have come from the Global North, that the over-consumption of the Global North is the direct cause of climate change, and that those that are the most privileged will have to surrender thought-to-be inherent pleasures and patterns to ensure that the marginalized do not shoulder the burden that they did not create.

Emission-trading does not actually limit emissions, as each new business is afforded a new supply of carbon credits and those industries that over-produce carbon dioxide can easily access more credits rather than limit their production. Market-based solutions cannot hope to address climate change, as it is the market itself and the pursuit of profit and continual economic growth that has created anthropogenic climate change. If governments, corporations, and the people themselves cannot accept that human and ecological well-being should come before growth, then the future of human civilization is doomed to hang in the balance.

The U.S. has displayed disappointing leadership and a complete unwillingness to engage with climate and environmental justice matters. The Trump administration has signaled its intention to withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, and even the Democratic congressional delegation that attended the COP 25 conference objected to provisions that would hold the U.S. and other wealthy states accountable for the destruction that climate change has wrought. The fossil fuel industry is expected to grow, at a minimum, 50% more than what is needed to meet a 2 degree Celsius cap by 2030, and 120% farther than what is required to meet the 1.5-degree Celsius target recommended by the Inter-Governmental Panel for Climate Change in a recent report.. The U.S. will certainly be a principle driver of this expansion, as its domestic fossil fuel industry, the international fossil fuel corporations based within it, the American military-industrial complex, and the consumption habits of its population show no signs of ramping down. It appears that everything, including greenhouse gas emissions, is big in America.

The hollow promises and lip-service of elites and governments must be resisted. It is the privilege of those in the U.S. and the Global North to have the power to affect change to a disproportionate degree. The burden of climate change is being unduly forced upon those that are marginalized within the global order, and the abuse of people of color, women, youth, indigenous peoples, and those communities on the frontline of climate change cannot be tolerated.

Engagement Resources:

  • Global Campaign to Demand Climate Justice – a global movement of over 200 environmental justice, climate justice, civil rights, environmentalist, and other civil society groups that are fighting for change in the struggle against climate change
  • ActionAid – fights for women’s rights, poverty alleviation, and climate change issues
  • NYRenews – a coalition of over 200 community groups in New York fighting for progressive climate laws
  • Got Green – an environmental justice organization based in Seattle seeking to grow community power in environmental, racial, economic, and gender issues

Photo by unsplash-logoRoxanne Desgagnés

The weather is right for climate-focused agricultural policy

The weather is right for climate-focused agricultural policy

POLICY

Over 10,000 small farmers and ranchers are making their voices heard, uniting to form a coalition in support of the Green New Deal (GND). This coalition views changes in the agriculture sector as essential to addressing climate change; they want to be front and center, and resolve to work alongside lawmakers to form policy.

The current system of industrial agriculture is responsible for about 13 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Those emissions are largely due to large-scale monoculture farming and beef production.

97% of beef produced comes from concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). These feedlots with their thousands of animals have an adverse impact on groundwater, surface water, and air. About 50% of the U. S. corn crop and its vast acreage in the Midwest, is dedicated to feeding these animals – mostly cattle. The balance is largely used for ethanol and high-fructose corn syrup production. Less than 5% goes into quality food (corn) that we eat.

These farming practices are not only unsustainable in the long-term – as contends this coalition of farmers and ranchers – they accelerate weather extremes and natural disasters.

Together, the administration and agribusiness monopolies are focused upon short-term economic benefits. Currently, corporate agriculture receives around $13 billion in annual subsidies through the Farm Bill. In addition to corn, other monoculture crops grown largely in support of industrial-scale livestock operations include: wheat, soybeans, rice, and peanuts.

While pointing to the ills of the current system, the small farmers coalition also highlights the sustainable benefits of building small-scale, local food systems: carbon sequestration in rich soils, local access to healthy food, and safe conditions for farmworkers. They insist that diversity of food produced, the re-building of rural communities, and racial diversity of farm ownership also be part of the solution. They want to go beyond organic and advocate for regenerative practices.

ANALYSIS

As part of the GND, this resolution aims to incentivize a shift back toward quality food grown in a way that values rich, living soils and a healthy environment. A shift to local food suppliers would mean a shift away from the dominant corporate commodity paradigm. Industrial-scale economics would be displaced by sustainable operations that produce a variety of crops and integrate all aspects of agriculture into each productive farm.

Raising livestock using grass-fed, regenerative ranching methods is labor intensive and does result in expensive meat. The resulting economics would decrease demand and consumption. If met with equivalent shifts in organic vegetable production, both the environment and public health will benefit.

In 2019, in spite of the current administration’s strong ties to the corporate-led food supply chain, the Dept. of Agricultural awarded $41.4 million in funds for projects that promote and provide incentives for low-income consumers to purchase more fruits and vegetables directly from local, small-scale farmers.

A recently released policy position paper authored by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition: Agriculture and Climate Change: Policy Imperatives and Opportunities to Help Producers Meet the Challenge, edifies funding opportunities and areas that can benefit from new legislation. (See first link under Resources).

Lawmakers united with this coalition include: U.S. Representatives Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), and Debra Haaland (D-NM). They have stepped forward in favor of ending subsidies for industrial monoculture, and recognize the link between these methods and rising temperatures, drought, irregular and severe storms, and flooding. They anticipate that American family farm culture can be revived.

Resistance Resources:

  • https://sustainableagriculture.net/  is an alliance of grassroots organizations that advocates for federal policy reform to advance the sustainability of agriculture, food systems, natural resources, and rural communities.
  • https://regenerationinternational.org/  is to promoting, facilitating and accelerating the global transition to regenerative food, farming and land management for the purpose of restoring climate stability.
  • https://www.sunrisemovement.org/ is building an army of young people to make climate change an urgent priority.
  • https://www.buylocalfood.org/  strengthens farms and engages the community to build the local food economy.
  • https://cfaky.org/  organizes cooperation among rural and urban citizens through leadership development and grassroots democratic processes to ensure an essential, prosperous place for family-scale agriculture.

 

 

Photo by NASA

Trump Administration Plan to Drill for Oil and Gas in Central California

Trump Administration Plan to Drill for Oil and Gas in Central California

The Trump administration has recently re-introduced plans to lease hundreds of thousands of acres of federal land in central California to oil and gas developers, ending a five-year moratorium on such practices and opening the door for hydraulic fracking on public lands.

 Policy Summary: 

The Trump administration has recently re-introduced plans to lease hundreds of thousands of acres of federal land in central California to oil and gas developers, ending a five-year moratorium on such practices and opening the door for hydraulic fracking on public lands. The aforementioned moratorium was put in place by federal courts in 2013 when the Obama administration tried to allow similar leasing, with the judge in question citing that such practices should not be allowed until the environmental risks of fracking were better understood.

Trump’s plan aims to open both public lands and mineral estates stretching across eight counties in Central California to oil and gas drilling; totaling more than 700,000 acres. The administration has argued that the negative impacts on air quality, wildlife, Native American resources, and surrounding communities can be prevented or greatly minimized. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM), which is a division of the Department of the Interior, approved Trump’s oil and gas preliminary exploration plan supporting  the administration’s objective of establishing domestic independence from foreign energy sources.

The BLM is critical to Trump’s leasing plan because under split-estate parcels, it possesses the underground mineral rights of certain properties while private entities own the surface. When it made the recommended leasing plan available to the public, the BLM received more than four hundred objections over the thirty-day protest period, but officials say that none of them were valid. Moving forward, the agency is set to begin collecting decisions from energy companies on which parcels of land they wish to lease and then arrange lease auctions.

In terms of defending Trump’s leasing plan, the BLM posits that the fossil fuel industry supports 3,000 jobs and produces $623 million in tax revenue within the counties in question. California oil production has progressively declined over the past thirty years, and Trump made American energy independence a cornerstone of his campaign, calling for an increase in domestic drilling. He has tried to lift environmental regulations on federal lands across the country beginning in 2018, which has pitted him against Californian politicians who are looking to a greener future rather than one driven by oil and gas.

Californians point out that the maps included in the BLM report, which show areas where fracking leases could be most productive, center around land that borders national parks and national forests. The Western Energy Alliance, a coalition of private oil and gas companies, have released a statement saying that these areas are not actually national parks but wilderness areas that were already approved by the Obama administration for controlled drilling. 

Analysis
Hydraulic fracking is the process of fracturing rock to allow pressurized oil and natural gas to be collected near the surface for extraction. Primary concerns surrounding the practice of fracking are its negative impacts upon air quality, water quality, the quantity of water used, seismicity, and effects upon surrounding wildlife.

Supporters of Trump’s leasing plan, which are mainly oil and gas companies, say that limiting Californian oil production will cause an increase in oil imports from other states that do not have California’s stringent regulations and environmental protections. They also posit that quashing the leasing plan will increase domestic demand for foreign oil, eradicate jobs in California’s oil and gas industry, and will bring no environmental benefits.

However, environmentalists argue that opening wilderness areas to drilling and fracking will increase pollutants and increase disease among Californian citizens, do irreparable harm to endangered species, and increase climate change. Central California is cited as having some of the worst air quality in the nation and it is said that drilling and fracking will only make this worse. California’s attorney general, Xavier Becerra, claims that the plan is a misuse of national power. It is pointed out that the national parks, although they may not be the areas where the fracking and drilling is directly occurring, would experience worse air quality due to proximity and that pollution would create health threats to both visitors and the flora and fauna within the parks. Of particular concern are the properties near both public and private schools, parcels next to the Hopper Mountain National Wildlife Refuge, and an area in Point Mugu State Park. Yosemite and Sequoia National Park are also on the map, with the Pacific Crest Trail in the Sierra Nevada Mountains being under threat as well. Fracking also poses more risks than drilling, with dangerous petroleum hydrocarbons such as xylene being released and an increased ejection of ground-level ozone which causes respiratory problems.

The BLM report says that the proposed fracking wells may necessitate the annual use of eighty million gallons of water, which is morally dubious due to the fact that many citizens in central California currently experience drinking water scarcities. Fracking also involves the use of chemicals linked to cancer such as naphthalene, trimethylbenzene, and methanol, with much of the proposed properties up for lease being on or near groundwater catchments that supply drinking water to both residential, urban, and agricultural areas.

Although the Trump administration may be right in that opening public lands to oil and gas development will increase economic growth in the short-term, it would appear to have little positive impact in the long-term. Oil production is already declining in California and has been for decades, and fossil fuels are projected to become more expensive as alternative fuel sources and technologies become less expensive and more efficient. The U.S. must lead the way towards a more sustainable future and leave behind artifacts of industrial, fossil fuel-driven capitalism that no longer suit the realities of climate change. In addition, fracking and drilling near national parks and drinking water supplies is incredibly damaging and short-sighted. It threatens the last remaining habitats for many species, endangers visiting citizens, and poisons the most necessary resource for society’s survival: water.

Engagement Resources: 

  • Center for Biological Diversity – involved in extensive anti-fracking policy and the proliferation of the natural world.
  • Sierra Club – has launched a campaign against the BLM proposed leasing plan.
  • Climate Reality Project – have local chapters throughout California resisting pro-fracking and anti-environmentalist policies.

Photo by unsplash-logoZbynek Burival

Administration intent on keeping ranchers happy and wolf numbers down

Administration intent on keeping ranchers happy and wolf numbers down

POLICY

Wolves are native to Europe, Asia and North America and once were the most widely distributed land mammal on Earth. In the early 1990s, wolves were listed as endangered under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. The Trump administration is now actively trying to delist gray wolves from the Endangered Species Act.

When deemed endangered, 35 (Canadian) wolves were introduced in Yellow National Park by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 1995, wolves were reintroduced into other wilderness areas, most notably in central Idaho. Today, there are some 2000 wolves located throughout the Pacific Northwest.

The intent was to bring an apex predator back into nature, to make the ecosystem healthier by weeding out sick and weak big game animals. At the point at which 10 to 15 breeding pairs recolonized wilderness, the wolf was to be delisted. In Idaho, where the wolf population has grown faster than in other areas, there are currently about 800 animals there divided into roughly 100 packs.

Based upon a 2016 environmental assessment, the Administration’s Agriculture Department’s Wildlife Services agency has sanctioned the expanded killing of predators: mountain lions, coyotes, bears and wolves. This federal agency carries out wolf kills at the behest of state agencies like the Idaho Department of Fish and Game. Kills are very efficient and make use of helicopters and location radio collars around the necks of reintroduced wolves.

The state agencies are in turn reacting to powerful interest groups, most notably cattle ranchers and big game hunters. Several wolf packs in their entirety were exterminated recently in Idaho and Washington due to cattle being taken by wolves. Policy guidelines explain that only a minimum of four livestock animals taken by wolves over a 10-month period is sufficient to trigger a “harvesting” of a guilty wolf pack. Big-game hunters claim that elk hunting has changed “forever” due to the reintroduction of wolves.

ANALYSIS

Wolves require 9 pounds of red meat per day; their prey of choice are elk, deer and moose. Those species are more abundant in those habitats where agricultural land meets the forest. And although wildlife ecologists are certain that wolves, as a keystone species, improve wilderness areas, ranchers and sportsmen are just as certain that the wolf is exacting a steep economic and lifestyle toll. Ranchers and hunters claim they are fighting for a way of life.

According to a 2015 U.S. Department of Agriculture report: 2% of cattle and 28% of sheep losses in the country were due to predators. Wolves accounted for a small percentage of these losses: 4.9% for cattle and 1.3% for sheep. The bigger culprits are coyotes, who accounted for 40.5% of cattle and 54.3% of sheep depredation, and wild dogs responsible for 11.3% of cattle and 21.4% of sheep deaths.

In the Trump administration’s effort to delist gray wolves from the Endangered Species Act, they argue that gray wolves have entirely recovered. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has stated: “We propose to list or delist, open a public comment period, gather all available information about the species, and then publish a final rule with our decision, based on the best available science.” The U.S. Fish and Wildlife service received over 1.8 million comments opposing the proposal and more than 100 scientists formally oppose the rule change. All along, hikers and environmentalists have argued that ranchers fail to take reasonable steps to protect their cattle.

For their part, the cattle lobby opposes what they term “ballot-box biology.” They don’t believe that urban elites understand the issues on the ground. If the effort to delist the wolf does not pass, ranchers may be less likely to work with public wildlife agencies and step up their “shoot, shovel and shut up” practices.

States like Colorado and Minnesota are not waiting for another Federal ruling. The Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund is gathering signatures to place a measure on the 2020 ballot forcing the state to reintroduce wolves. In Minnesota, there is a one-page bill aiming to restore a previous federal policy which removed federal protections from gray wolves and permitted states to set their own wolf policies.

At core though, predation and economic numbers do not explain the plight of the wolf. Their future rests upon a set of widely divergent core beliefs: are wolves and other wild predators on this planet here to serve human intentions or is their reason for being and validity independent of arbitrary human perspective?

Resistance Resources:

  • https://www.westernwatersheds.org/  The mission of Western Watersheds Project is to protect and restore western watersheds and wildlife through education, public policy initiatives, and legal advocacy.
  • https://www.woodriverwolfproject.org/  The Wood River Wolf Project collaborative promotes the coexistence of livestock and wolves by proactively using nonlethal measures to prevent depredation.
  • https://www.wolfactionfund.com/   The Rocky Mountain Wolf Action Fund (RMWAF) is an organization of committed conservationists motivated by the belief that Coloradans overwhelmingly support the gray wolf’s return to the state.
  • https://centerforahumaneeconomy.org/  The Center for a Humane Economy is the first non-profit animal welfare organization that focuses on influencing the conduct of corporations to forge a humane economic order.
  • https://www.conservationnw.org/  Keeping the Northwest wild since 1989, this organization connects the big landscapes, restores iconic wildlife and protects our natural heritage for future generations.
  • https://www.wolfquest.org/   A game about wolf ecology in Yellowstone National Park.

Photo by unsplash-logoEva Blue

Trump’s Roll Back of Fuel Economy Standards

Trump’s Roll Back of Fuel Economy Standards

In August 2018, President Donald Trump called for the replacement of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, which identify mile-per-gallon targets for vehicles by 2025, with the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicle (SAFE) rules.

Policy Summary:

In August 2018, President Donald Trump called for the replacement of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards, which identify mile-per-gallon targets for vehicles by 2025, with the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicle (SAFE) rules. Meant to limit and improve automobile emissions through the requirement of meeting a minimum of 54.5 miles-per-gallon by 2025, CAFE is a cornerstone of mitigating the transportation sector’s impact upon the environment. Through this action, the Trump administration has once again displayed its commitment to rolling back key environmental policies and betrayed its true bedfellows: corporate interests.

CAFE standards were first created in 1975 following the Arab oil embargo. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration was tasked by Congress to create mile-per-gallon targets, with the Environmental Protection Agency joining the effort in 2007 due to its charge of regulating vehicle emissions. The CAFE 2025 mile-per-gallon objective was a hard-fought settlement arranged by the Obama administration with the American auto industry. Each vehicle was given a fuel economy target decided by its size and class, and monetary fines are applied if a manufacturer does not meet these benchmarks. However, the concession was made with the auto industry that the average target across all cars sold in a respective fleet was more important than the individual vehicle target. This allows manufacturers to still sell inefficient vehicles by producing fuel-efficient cars in conjunction that outstrip their given emission goals. CAFE is also a credit system in that auto firms can amass credits if they surpass standards, with it being permissible for these credits to be used in the future or given to past vehicles. In addition, credits can be relocated to other fleets or exchanged with fellow manufacturers. With such flexibility, a company can underperform on CAFE targets and still meet standards with the application of past credits or credit trades from others in the auto industry.

The Trump administration is arguing against the findings of a 2016 EPA review of CAFE standards for model years 2022 – 2025, which kept said targets and claimed that the auto industry had reasonable options for fulfillment. Trump claims that the standards are throttling the auto industry, keeping manufacturers out of the U.S., and therefore stifling economic growth. He and the former and current heads of the EPA, Scott Pruitt and Andrew Wheeler respectively, have unveiled the SAFE rules as a replacement for CAFE standards. SAFE applies to model years 2021 – 2026 and would hold mile-per-gallon standards at 2021 CAFE levels. SAFE also annuls California’s Clean Air Act waiver to set its own emission standards and would force the state and thirteen others that followed its lead to conform to federal emission levels. Although SAFE was anticipated to be signed by Trump sometime around March 2019, the standards have yet to be put into place and it is unclear of when and if they will come to pass.

Analysis:

Trump’s call for the elimination of CAFE standards is obvious kowtowing to auto industry interests. Car producers have decried the targets for years, threatening rising vehicle prices due to the supposed cost of production. Mark Fields, the CEO of Ford, even told Trump that CAFE standards could be met, but at the loss of 1 million U.S. automotive jobs. They also posit that the 2016 EPA review was rushed and that due to lower gas prices, Americans are moving away from fuel-efficient cars. However, instituting SAFE rules would do little but increase air pollution, further contribute to anthropogenic climate change, and pad the pockets of auto companies.

Under SAFE standards, manufacturers pursuing higher profit margins will naturally produce more trucks and SUVS, which have far higher price-tags than fuel-efficient cars. This is only a short-term gain concentrated in the hands of the auto industry. CAFE standards benefit both Americans and the economy. When people spend less money on gas, they have more money to spend on goods that are not provided by foreign oil powers, increasing domestic economic growth. CAFE also makes the U.S. auto industry more competitive with foreign producers, which are increasingly making inroads into fuel-efficient, electric, subcompact, and hybrid car production. If the U.S. auto industry thrusts all of its weight behind less fuel-efficient vehicles, it will hamstring itself in pursuit of short-term profits, as automobile trends are already drifting towards higher fuel-efficiency and will no doubt accelerate as the effects of climate change snowball further.

Freezing mile-per-gallon standards at 2021 CAFE levels also increases air pollution and furthers the impact of anthropogenic climate change. We must make headway against greenhouse gas emission from the transportation sector, and siding with corporate interests that desire short-term economic gain over long-term environmental sustainability is like shooting ourselves in the foot. Air pollution is a serious health detriment to the domestic U.S. population, along with the rest of the planet, as air currents connect us all no matter where we live. In addition, emissions are only accelerating and further adding to the issue of climate change. Although the Trump administration may encourage an ignoring of and belittling of climate science, we must recognize the falsities being fed to us and work towards collective action to resist short-sighted policies such as the proposed SAFE standards.

Photo by Sara Farshchi

Trump’s War on Emissions Standards

Trump’s War on Emissions Standards

Policy:

Trump is at war on the environment and on the state of California.  California has legislation which would impose more stringent emissions standards and increases  the efficiency standard of miles per gallon to 54.5 for autos and light trucks.  As California goes, so it is said, so goes the nation.  Forty percent of the US auto market resides in states or DC which have adopted the California standards.  Trump has made federal regulations which would lower the mpg to 37 and force all of the country to one standard.  It would also revoke a waiver allowing California, and other states and DC, to set their own standards.

There is a legal case challenging the administration’s mandate and several automakers are intervening in that dispute.  GM, Chrysler Fiat, and Toyota all support the administration’s rollback of standards.  Interestingly, these three automakers have dramatic records regarding these standards.  GM and Chrysler-Fiat are in the very bottom of 13 companies ranked for efficiency and emission.  Toyota is fifth from the bottom but is the only company to have worsened their ratings between 2012-2017.  Ford, VW, BMW, and Honda have made their own agreement with California to impose strict standards matching the state’s.  The group of manufacturer’s supporting the administration’s rollback claim to do so because the federal government is promoting “one national program,” and they maintain it will make regulation and enforcement easier.

Analysis:

Transportation, including air travel, accounts for the biggest portion of carbon dioxide emissions.  Attention to emissions standards and efficiency is essential since the International Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) declared that if climate change is not significantly reduced by 2030 irrevocable damage to the ecosystem will occur.  They suggest aiming for zero emissions by 2030.  The global elite, the 20% of global citizens accounting for 70% of emissions, are essential to mounting a viable effort to reduce the effects of climate change.  Instead of declaring war on California, and its leadership in imposing stringent emissions standards, the federal government should be adopting the same standards for use nation-wide.

Photo by veeterzy

Administration dismantles environmental protections that improve our “quality of life.”

Administration dismantles environmental protections that improve our “quality of life.”

POLICY

The Trump administration continues to aggressively roll back energy and environmental policies set by the Obama administration. The efforts aim to increase energy production and advance energy independence. The thinking is that keeping prices low translates into “improving the quality of life for all Americans.”

Among the numerous deregulation targets are:

The Clean Power Plan – enacted in 2015, which limits carbon emissions from power plants with a goal of reducing the ozone rate from 75 to 70 parts per billion. Ozone forms when carbon emissions from cars and factories react with volatile compounds, making the air hard to breathe and harmful to plants and animals. In Earth’s upper atmosphere, the colorless gas acts as a critical shield to space radiation.

The Stream Protection Rule – which regulates the restoration of water flows effected by mining operations. Trump signed H.J.Res.38 which blocked the Stream Protection Rule. The administration’s contention is coal mines have no off-site impacts and that lands are being safely restored. They claim that removing the rule reduces clean up expenses, keeps electricity costs down, and maintains $6 billion in state and federal tax revenue annually.

The Keystone XL pipeline – which would carry up to 830,000 barrels of tar sands oil per day from Alberta, Canada to Nebraska. Local supporters say the pipeline could more than double property tax receipts. On October 29, the Keystone pipeline spilled 383,000 gallons of crude oil across a quarter-mile area of northeastern North Dakota.

ANALYSIS

As the U. S. has experienced record heat, flooding, and fires, President Trump has stuck to his commitment to pull this country out of the Paris Climate Accord, which committed the U. S. to cutting greenhouse gases up to 28% by 2025 based on 2005 levels. According to the agreement, no country can officially withdraw until three years from the date on which it entered into the pact. The United States can and will formally submit its notice of withdrawal on Nov. 4.

The Trump administration is deeply connected and sympathetic to the energy industry and their lobbying efforts who tend to manipulate scientific uncertainties and emphasize the extremes in order to argue for their personal interests.

Examples include Robert Murray, head of Murray Energy, the country’s largest underground coal mining company whose policy wish list included withdrawing from the Paris Climate Accord. Another Murray alum, Andrew Wheeler, was appointed director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Long time corporate energy lobbyist, Mike McKenna, was recently appointed deputy assistant to the President, and is expected to work on further dismantling energy and environmental rules and “improving the quality of life for all Americans.”

Trump’s senior science advisor, Kelvin Droegemeier, has stated: “Climate change is happening. There’s no question about it. The question is what are we doing about it…A strong economy is critical. We can’t upend the economy and expect to arrest climate change.”

Economics are at work though. The natural gas industry has become larger than coal in terms of employment and investment. As natural gas prices have fallen, coal is being pushed out of the market. Natural gas power plants emit 50 percent less CO2 than comparable coal-based power plants. During the production process though, methane gas is released – a potent greenhouse gas.

Indiana Sen. Mike Braun, a Republican, and Delaware Sen. Chris Coons, a Democrat, are introducing the first-ever bipartisan Senate Climate Solutions Caucus. This group aims to work on improving energy efficiency and investment in R&D, as well as provide a forum through which proposals can be turned into meaningful legislation.

Meanwhile, the comment period for the State Department’s environmental draft of the Keystone Pipeline ends Nov.18. This draft is an update of the 2014 Statement; it analyzes the impacts related to changes since that time and incorporates new studies. Three law suits against the Pipeline, including one filed by the Native American Tribes, are being heard by a federal judge in Great Falls, Montana.

Resistance Resources

  • https://www.wilderness.org/  Their mission and passion has been to protect our nation’s shared wildlands.
  • https://www.postcarbon.org/  Their mission is to lead the transition to a more resilient, equitable, and sustainable world by providing individuals and communities.
  • https://www.nrdc.org/keystone-xl-pipeline The National Resources Defense Council’s “stop the pipeline” campaign.
  • Public comment on Keystone Pipeline can be made to: Ross Alliston, Keystone XL Program Manager, Office of Environmental Quality and Transboundary Issues, U.S. Department of State, 2201 C Street NW, Washington, DC 20520 – or electronically:
  • https://www.regulations.gov  and enter docket number: DOS-2019-0033
  • https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/   Their mission is to secure a future for all species, great and small, hovering on the brink of extinction.

Photo by unsplash-logoMarkus Spiske

White House and Congress at Odds Over Great Lakes Carp Threat

White House and Congress at Odds Over Great Lakes Carp Threat

POLICY

The silver carp is a variety of Asian carp, a freshwater cyprinid fish native to China and eastern Siberia. The fish can grow up to 4 feet long and weigh 100 pounds and were brought to the United States to control algae in catfish ponds and waste-treatment plants in Arkansas and Mississippi. They escaped into rivers after flooding or were released and made their way up the Mississippi River.

This invasive species is now a serious environmental and economic threat to U. S. freshwater environments. A female silver carp can lay up to five million eggs at once. They rapidly eat the bottom part of the food chain in a lake–the phytoplankton and zooplankton. Phytoplankton include algae, which use photosynthesis to produce energy.

Researchers have concluded that the Illinois River has highest concentration of silver carp on the planet where they now account for 70% of the aquatic life. The lurking threat is that the Asian carp reach the Great Lakes. For almost two decades, a population of Asian carp has been multiplying downriver from Chicago. The is a possibility that the fish could transit the Great Lakes Chicago Sanitary and Ship Canal on route to the Great Lakes.

In an effort to prevent this, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is a key player. In May of 2019, they sent Congress a $778 million proposal to install a series of electric barriers, flushing lock systems and using underwater speakers to bombard the fish with noise. Environmentalists are hoping Congress approves this proposal so that the fish can be stopped at a dam near Joliet, Ill.

Scientists forecast that there is a small window of time to stop this invasive species before it inflicts irreparable damage to the Great Lakes and the $7 billion fishing industry.

ANALYSIS

The Army Corps proposal represents a compromise between proposals to erect barriers that would seal off Lake Michigan from the river and less drastic measures such as stepped-up commercial fishing. For example, the Illinois Department of Natural Resources has contracted with commercial fishing operators and that effort has removed 8.5 million pounds of Asian carp from the upper Illinois River. (The captured fish are processed into non-food products such as fish oil, fertilizer and pet treats).

The Trump administration has made repeated efforts to block this proposal and associated report; the report was finally issued only after the U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee approved a bill to force its release. The administration has felt the influence of cargo carriers who do not want waterways blocked. For example, the American Waterways Operators, which represents the barge industry, gave $108,500 in campaign contributions to the representatives who voted against the appropriations bill. The barge industry’s PAC has donated $50,500.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., does support the “war on Asian carp,” and wants to double ongoing funding to $25 million for efforts in Kentucky made through the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. His bill also includes more than $9 million for the U.S. Geological Survey and its work to combat the spread of Asian Carp in Western Kentucky lakes and in the Ohio River and Tennessee River basins.

A total of 28 states are actively lobbying for additional carp management funds.

Resistance Resources

Photo by unsplash-logoJohn Westrock

EPA Changes Rules to Allow Pesticide Harmful to Bees

EPA Changes Rules to Allow Pesticide Harmful to Bees

Policy Summary
The EPA is being sued over its approval of the pesticide Sulfoxaflor, a pesticide which has historically been strictly regulated or banned to prevent harm to bees, and has recently been given a series exemptions to be used on plants which bees and other pollinators find attractive. The pesticide, which the EPA’s own risk assessment calls “very highly toxic” to bees, is usually only allowed for plants which bees do not naturally pollinate, or during times where the plants are not in bloom and therefore not being visited by bees. The exceptions, granted under special emergency power, give farmers the ability to spray the pesticide in ways more likely to harm bees and native pollinators.

The EPA is charged with the approval of pesticides, and is therefore required to make adequate risk assessments on the toxicity to both humans, non-target plants, and animals. This is not the first time in the past year the EPA has come under fire for its regulation of pesticides, with the EPA’s Office of the Inspector General publishing a report charging that the procedures in place for approval of pesticides were inadequate for assessing their risks. This particular pesticide approval has reportedly caused strong backlash among advocates for bee and pollinator health.

The pesticide Sulfoxaflor was embroiled in court challenges from beekeepers and advocates which ultimately lead to its banning shortly before being reintroduced with stricter regulation in 2016. The new exemption comes at a time where the Trump administration is rolling back efforts to collect data on the health of the nation’s key pollinators, and in a year where bee populations have faced some of their harshest declines.

Policy Analysis
The Trump administration has a long history of rolling back environmental regulation, most notably in the energy sector. Pesticides, are at the intersection of several important interests: public health, the agricultural industry, and environmental protection.

Bees are well known to be the single most vital species to many ecosystems of pollinated plants, and the systematic use of industrial farming techniques including pesticides is linked to the decimation of bees around the world. Meanwhile, pesticides and herbicides have caused some of the most grim ecological and human tragedies of the past century, and yet they have been absolutely pivotal in increasing crop yields and reducing insect borne diseases. At the heart of both of these issues is the effect on agriculture through the sometimes-competing needs of safety, productivity, and low-costs in farming.

In dealing with these competing interests, the Trump administration does not seem to take a strategic or long-term view in terms of agricultural policy. Food security is not the top priority of the administration, as the sustained impact of the trade war, and subsequent aid, on farmers and farming communities has shown. Nevertheless, it is in the language of food security and agricultural success that these pesticide policies are justified, even when they have sounded alarm bells for the long-term sustainability of the United States agricultural system.

The most convincing analysis of this deregulatory trend in the agricultural industry is that it has the same animating philosophy as the deregulation of the coal industry — the disavowal of responsibility for the climate crisis and a neoliberal animus towards regulation as the dampener of economic progress. This policy trend within the EPA fails to either strengthen food supply in the long term, or to increase the ecological and human wellbeing of the country, and therefor it fails to live up to any rhetoric except that of blanket deregulation.

Resistance Links

  • Earthjustice is the organization providing legal support for the beekeepers in their lawsuit against the EPA over this regulation
  • Bee informed is an informational organization which collects data about bee health and best practices. Their work is especially important as the Department of Agriculture is shuttering certain public data programs about bee health.
  • Natural Resource Defense Councilworks to provide scientific and expert support to environmental advocacy, including providing documents examining the health effects of pesticides like Roundup.

Photo by Boris Smokrovic

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