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In Pruitt’s world, climate change isn’t such a ‘bad thing’

Thu, 2018-02-08 19:11

This story was originally published by The Guardian and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, has suggested that global warming may be beneficial to humans in his latest departure from mainstream climate science.

Pruitt, who has previously erred by denying that carbon dioxide is a key driver of climate change, has again caused consternation among scientists by suggesting that warming temperatures could benefit civilization.

The EPA administrator said that humans are contributing to climate change “to a certain degree,” but added: “We know humans have most flourished during times of warming trends. There are assumptions made that because the climate is warming that necessarily is a bad thing.

“Do we know what the ideal surface temperature should be in the year 2100 or year 2018?” he told a TV station in Nevada. “It’s fairly arrogant for us to think we know exactly what it should be in 2100.”

Pruitt said he wanted an “honest, transparent debate about what we do know and what we don’t know, so the American people can be informed and make decisions on their own.”

Under Pruitt’s leadership, the EPA is mulling whether to stage a televised “red team, blue team” debate between climate scientists and those who deny the established science that human activity is warming the planet.

President Trump has also repeatedly questioned the science of climate change, tweeting during a cold snap in December that the U.S. “could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming that our Country, but not other countries, was going to pay TRILLIONS OF DOLLARS to protect against.”

The EPA itself is unequivocal that warming temperatures, and resulting environmental changes, are a danger to human health via heatwaves, smoke from increased wildfires, worsening smog, extreme weather events, spread of diseases, water-borne illnesses, and food insecurity.

This array of health-related challenges has prompted the medical journal The Lancet to state that tackling climate change will be “the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century.”

National security experts, including those at the Pentagon, have also warned that climate change is set to create a sprawling humanitarian challenge, as millions of people look to escape failing crops, inundated land, drought, and conflict.

Research has pointed to some potential benefits in certain areas of the world, such as areas of the Arctic opening up to agriculture and shipping as frozen soils thaw and sea ice recedes. Deaths from severe cold are also expected to drop, albeit offset by rising mortality from heatwaves.

Human civilization has, until now, developed in a relatively stable climate. Rising temperatures, of around 1 degree Celsius since the Industrial Revolution, are pushing humanity into an environment it has never previously experienced. The last time sea surface temperatures were as high as now was around 120,000 years ago, when sea levels were up to 9 meters higher than today’s average.

“As the evidence becomes ever more compelling that climate change is real and human-caused, the forces of denial turn to other specious arguments, like ‘it will be good for us,’” said Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State University.

“There is no consistency at all to their various arguments other than that we should continue to burn fossil fuels.”

Since being installed by Trump to lead the EPA, Pruitt has overseen the repeal or delay of dozens of environmental rules, including the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which sought to curb greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.

“There was a declared war on coal, a war on fossil fuels,” Pruitt said in his Nevada interview. “The EPA was weaponized against certain sectors of our economy and that’s not the role of a regulator. Renewables need to be part of our energy mix, but to think that will be the dominant fuel is simply fanciful.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline In Pruitt’s world, climate change isn’t such a ‘bad thing’ on Feb 8, 2018.

Senators finally agreed on a deal to fund disaster relief. Is it too little, too late?

Thu, 2018-02-08 17:10

In an effort to avert another government shutdown, Senate leaders on Wednesday hashed out a budget agreement that includes $90 billion in disaster relief to help communities affected by last year’s unprecedented hurricanes and wildfires.

$23.5 billion would go toward FEMA’s recovery and repair programs, and another $28 billion would be earmarked for rebuilding housing and infrastructure. Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands would receive about $7 billion in aid. That’s less than 10 percent of the amount Governor Ricardo Rosselló said Puerto Rico needs to recover: $94 billion.

“The delay in passing a budget with a significant disaster package has been devastating for people in Houston,” Michelle Tremillo, executive director of the Texas Organizing Project, wrote in an op-ed for The Hill. “Congress and the administration know they should do better. Hopefully, the latest deal will be passed before politicking wins out over the needs of storm victims.”

The budget must still pass a vote in the Senate, and then later this week, the House.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Senators finally agreed on a deal to fund disaster relief. Is it too little, too late? on Feb 8, 2018.

California to Trump: ‘Not a single drop’ of offshore oil will touch the state.

Thu, 2018-02-08 15:56

California officials sent two letters to Washington on Wednesday, in response to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s proposal to open previously protected waters for offshore drilling projects.

In its letter to the Department of the Interior, the California State Lands Commission wrote that “Californians are vigorous advocates for their coast, and the prospect of new drilling in coastal waters provokes fierce opposition and sparks outrage.” It also criticized federal officials for only scheduling one public meeting on the proposed drilling plan.

Last month, Zinke announced he would exempt Florida from the offshore drilling expansion, because it poses a “unique” threat to the state’s economy. California officials argue their state’s economy — the sixth largest in the world — faces similar threats from drilling. The Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969 still looms large for Californians, a testament to the lingering impact of the kind of disasters coastal states may face.

There’s another hurdle for Zinke’s drilling plans, too: In the 1980’s, 26 Californian coastal cities passed ballot measures requiring residents to vote on any new energy infrastructure proposed by the federal government. That means the Trump administration will face a complex coastal network of resistance in order to transport any offshore oil through the state.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline California to Trump: ‘Not a single drop’ of offshore oil will touch the state. on Feb 8, 2018.

Absolut bares it all in hilarious new video. Literally.

Thu, 2018-02-08 14:08

original video:

This article is published in partnership with:

Absolut is already committed to a carbon neutral distillation process, but now it’s aiming to bring even more transparency to that process. And they’re not letting anything stand in its way.

Not even clothes.

Absolut’s new ad, a short film titled, “The Vodka With Nothing to Hide,” features real employees from the company’s distillery in Åhus, Sweden. And they’re all naked.

We thought nothing could top Peter Dinklage lip-syncing Busta Rhymes, but clearly we were wrong.

Unlike other alcohol brands, Absolut has a pretty good track record when it comes to sustainability.

The company uses renewable energy, recycles heat, and supports reforestation efforts in order for the distillation process to be carbon neutral.

Absolut uses only winter wheat from local farms in southern Sweden — part of a process developed with the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and other Swedish companies — which means it requires roughly half the amount of land to produce its vodka compared to the global average.

The distiller has sustainability efforts in place in almost every part of its process — from reducing water usage per liter of vodka by 23 percent since 2001 (and a goal of 13 percent less by 2020), to using bottles made with 40 percent recycled clear glass, to transporting product locally with biofuel-powered transportation, to turning the distillery’s by-product, stillage, to feed thousands of pigs and cows every day (don’t worry, it’s non-alcoholic).

So pour yourself a tipple and watch Absolut’s hilarious new ad.

Here at Grist, you know what we like almost as much as solar panels? Partners! They help us keep the lights on so we can keep bringing you the best and most Gristy journalism on the planet. Click here for more information.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Absolut bares it all in hilarious new video. Literally. on Feb 8, 2018.

Devil’s Bargain

Thu, 2018-02-08 06:00

A trope of sci-fi movies these days, from Snowpiercer to Geostorm, is that our failure to tackle climate change will eventually force us to deploy an arsenal of unproven technologies to save the planet. Think sun-deflecting space mirrors or chemically altered clouds. And because these are sci-fi movies, it’s assumed that these grand experiments in geoengineering will go horribly wrong.

The fiction, new evidence suggests, may be much closer to reality than we thought.

When most people hear “climate change,” they think of greenhouse gases overheating the planet. But there’s another product of industry changing the climate that has received scant public attention: aerosols. They’re microscopic particles of pollution that, on balance, reflect sunlight back to space and help cool the planet down, providing a crucial counterweight to greenhouse-powered global warming.

An effort to co-opt this natural cooling ability of aerosols has long been considered a potential last-ditch, desperate shot at slowing down global warming. The promise of planet-cooling technology has also been touted by techno-optimists, Silicon Valley types and politicians who aren’t keen on the government doing anything to curb emissions. “Geoengineering holds forth the promise of addressing global warming concerns for just a few billion dollars a year,” wrote Newt Gingrich in an attack on proposed cap-and-trade legislation back in 2008.

But there’s a catch. Our surplus of aerosols is a huge problem for those of us who like to breathe air. At high concentrations, these tiny particles are one of the deadliest substances in existence, burrowing deep into our bodies where they can damage hearts and lungs.

Air pollution from burning coal, driving cars, and using fire to clear land, among other activities, is the fourth-leading cause of death worldwide, killing about 5.5 million people each year. Nearly everybody is at risk, with roughly 92 percent of us living in places with dangerously polluted air. That alone makes reducing air pollution a necessary goal.

And yet we can’t live without aerosols, at least some of them. Natural aerosols — bits of dust, salt, smoke, and organic compounds emitted from plants — are an integral part of our planet’s atmosphere. Clouds probably wouldn’t be able to make rain without them. But as with greenhouse gases, human activity has resulted in too many aerosols (the excess is air pollution), with the bulk of the human-emitted aerosols lingering in the lower atmosphere, worsening their impact on our health. The result is a devil’s bargain: Aerosols are necessary for normal weather and help moderate rising temperatures, but they’re also killing us.

According to a new study, we might be locked in this deadly embrace. Research by an international team of scientists recently published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters says that the cooling effect of aerosols is so large that it has masked as much as half of the warming effect from greenhouse gases. So aerosols can’t be wiped out. Take them away and temperatures would soar overnight.

Turns out we have been unwittingly geoengineering for decades, and just like in the movies, it’s gone off the rails.

People have been aware of the influence of aerosols for centuries. In the 1200s, Londoners complained about the clouds of coal smoke. In 1783, Benjamin Franklin observed that tiny particles from volcanic eruptions tended to chill the weather. Throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, dense smoke from coal blocked out daylight in Chicago, Pittsburgh, St. Louis, and scores of other cities.

In 1990, the first report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a select group of the world’s top experts on climate science, said that “there is no doubt that aerosol particles influence the Earth’s climate.”

Mount Pinatubo in the Phillipines erupted the next year, providing a natural laboratory for studying aerosols’ impact. The resulting research gave scientists solid evidence that particles in the atmosphere tended to cool the planet.


In the decades that followed, scientists continued to puzzle over exactly how aerosols from tailpipes and smokestacks alter the weather, in part because the particles are incredibly difficult to study. Scientists have sought out remote corners of the globe far from industrial pollution, like the seas around Antarctica, to research them. Since aerosols are much bigger than air molecules, they tend to fall out of the sky within days or weeks after they’re released — a relatively short lifespan.

There’s also a 10,000-fold range in their sizes and a wide variety of sources, making their behavior relatively unpredictable. Black carbon aerosols from forest fires, for example, tend to suppress cloud formation by warming the air and making tiny water droplets evaporate. Sulfate aerosols from burning coal can make clouds grow bigger and rainstorms stronger. There’s documented evidence that thunderstorms in China vary on a weekly cycle, in tune with factory schedules.

What’s clear is that they’re cooling us off. If we magically transformed the global economy overnight, and air pollution fell to near zero, we’d get an immediate rise in global temperatures of between 0.5 and 1.1 degrees Celsius, according to the new study. (For reference: The climate has warmed about 1.2 degrees Celsius since the start of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century.) The warming would be concentrated over the major cities of the northern hemisphere, close to where most aerosols are emitted. In the hardest hit parts of highly-urbanized East Asia, for example, the complete removal of aerosols would likely have a bigger effect than all other sources of climate change combined. Temperatures in the Arctic could jump as much as 4 degrees Celsius — a catastrophe that would shove the region further toward a permanently ice-free state.

“It is well understood that [aerosols’] presence is masking a substantial amount of greenhouse gas warming,” says Cat Scott, a research fellow at the University of Leeds whose own work has helped scientists understand the cooling effect of aerosols.

George Frey/Getty Images

This puts our increasingly interdependent global civilization in a tough bind. Get rid of carbon emissions to fight global warming and you get rid of aerosols, pushing temperatures back up.

So what do we do?

In this instance, Hollywood gets it right. Our reluctance to reduce carbon emissions fast enough makes the two goals of eliminating air pollution and limiting global warming mutually exclusive. On our current path, disaster is inevitable. The only choice might be to engage in a delicate and risky gamble. It would involve gradually eliminating pollution from factories and tailpipes; replacing them with artificial aerosols in the upper atmosphere where they’re much less likely to damage human health; and then hope nothing (else) goes seriously awry.

Instead of geoengineering being a last-ditch effort to avert the worst ravages of climate change, it’s going to have to be part of our toolkit to solve the problem.

The good news here is that previous attempts at removing harmful aerosols have proven largely successful, especially in the United States and Europe. The U.S. Clean Air Act, one of the most important fruits of the 1970s environmental movement, led to a sharp and nearly immediate fall in air pollution, likely saving millions of lives.

“This is known territory, at least compared to massively reducing CO2 emissions,” says Bjorn Samset, research director at Norway’s Center for International Climate Research and lead author of the study in Geophysical Research Letters.

Not coincidentally, global temperatures began climbing in the late 1970s after the Clean Air Act was passed, ending a relatively stable 30-year period of global temperatures. Those post-war years were marked by the country’s rapid, coal-fueled economic growth, which bathed the northern hemisphere in aerosols.

This pattern is now repeating itself in Asia. Coal-powered China’s rapid economic rise over recent decades, and the resulting aerosol emissions have blackened skies in Shanghai, Beijing and other megacities — and probably contributed to a brief slowdown in the rate of global warming. China has responded to public outrage over the country’s airpocalypse by putting pollution controls in place. And there’s initial evidence that they’re beginning to work.

Samset thinks the immediate health benefits of curbing air pollution mean that China will likely stick to these efforts, in spite of the potential warming effects. “It’s very plausible that Asian aerosol cleanup — which saves lives directly by reducing air pollution — can get prioritized over strong greenhouse gas cuts,” he explains.

If that happens, prepare for another surge in warming.

The second part of the film-inspired formula — pumping artificial aerosols into the upper atmosphere — should also work, in theory. Balloons and airplanes could spray benign aerosols like calcium carbonate (essentially crushed limestone), that would be carried by the wind throughout the upper atmosphere. One recent study estimated it would take 6,700 business jet flights per day — outfitted with spraying equipment — to keep enough aerosols in the stratosphere to cool the climate by one degree Celsius. The cost: $20 billion per year, more or less in-line with Gingrich’s estimate from a decade ago. It’s just that there’s plenty of uncertainty over what would happen next.

What was once the realm of scary science fiction and conspiracy theory is now entering the mainstream of atmospheric study — only those now conducting the experiments are clear about the risks.

Frank Keutsch, a chemist involved with the Harvard experiment told the Harvard Gazette that “geoengineering is like taking painkillers.” They don’t fix the underlying cause and they may even make things worse.

“We really don’t know the effects of geoengineering,” he said. “That is why we’re doing this research.”

And if geoengineering with aerosols works to offset warming? That, too, could have disastrous side effects, according to another recent study published in Nature Ecology and Evolution.

Embarking on a planetary-scale aerosol geoengineering project would produce “a wide range of unintended regional consequences,” Samset says. One of the biggest risks is that the cooling would work too well, producing shifts in ecosystems at “unprecedented speeds,” according to the Nature Ecology and Evolution study. That could be a fatal shock to animals and plants already stressed by decades of warming.

“I could imagine global conflicts breaking out over these type of actions,” says Susanne Bauer of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, one of Samset’s co-authors. “On the other hand, I do believe geoengineering must be studied, just to be aware and educated about the possibilities.”

The new findings on aerosols don’t change a simple fact: There’s overwhelming consensus among scientists and policy experts that humanity is not doing enough to address climate change. After 25 years of global negotiations, greenhouse gas emissions are still rising. Extreme weather is now considered the biggest risk to the world economy. And of course the leader of the world’s largest economy thinks the whole thing is a hoax.

Time is running short, but that doesn’t mean we should be reckless. We are fast entering a world in which there are no good options remaining to tackle climate change. Geoengineering is dangerous, but so are aerosols, and so is accelerating climate change. Absent a real-life Hollywood miracle, we’ll likely need to try some interventions that would have been better left to the movies.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Devil’s Bargain on Feb 8, 2018.

Coal lobbyist on track to become a top dog at EPA

Wed, 2018-02-07 19:25

This story was originally published by HuffPost and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Andrew Wheeler, President Donald Trump’s nominee to be Environmental Protection Agency deputy administrator, appeared poised and polished at his Senate confirmation hearing in November. He couched his objections to widely accepted climate science in ambiguous legalese, and kept his cool when, at the same hearing, Kathleen Hartnett White, the president’s pick for the Council on Environmental Quality, flamed out, stammering over questions of basic science.

On Saturday, the White House announced plans to pull Hartnett White’s nomination amid waning Republican support. But on Wednesday, the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee voted 11 to 10 along party lines to advance Wheeler’s nomination, putting him one step from the EPA’s No. 2 job.

The restraint that steeled Wheeler’s nomination seems likely to clear the way for his confirmation. Unlike other Trump nominees whose outrageous opinions or lack of qualifications put them on the political fringe, Wheeler boasts both the Beltway aesthetic and the experience needed to become a powerful EPA operator. His confirmation, critics fear, will speed the Trump administration’s rollback of environmental and public health protections, and make a lasting, if quieter, impact.

“It’s very alarming and distressing,” Mary Anne Hitt, a campaign director at the Sierra Club, told HuffPost. “He is right up there with the list of the most extreme people that Trump has nominated for any agency.”

Wheeler, a coal lobbyist and former legislative aide to Oklahoma Republican Senator Jim Inhofe, is widely seen as having the relationships and finesse needed to avoid legal potholes while driving the EPA’s deregulatory agenda. He knows how to work the system from within, having spent four years working at the EPA’s Office of Pollution Prevention and Toxics under Presidents George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton. He said the right things to woo critics at his confirmation hearing, calling EPA staffers “the most dedicated and hard-working employees in the federal government.”

“The mission of the EPA to protect human health and the environment is critical to our country and its citizens and something that I take very seriously and I know you do, too,” Wheeler said.

The EPA did not respond to HuffPost’s request to interview Wheeler, and directed questions about his nomination to the Senate committee. Faegre Baker Daniels, the law firm where Wheeler currently works, directed HuffPost to the EPA.

“Andrew will bring extraordinary credentials to EPA that will greatly assist the Agency as we work to implement our agenda,” EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt said when Wheeler was nominated in October. “He has spent his entire career working to improve environmental outcomes for Americans across the country and understands the importance of providing regularity and certainty for our country.”

Wheeler won approval from the Senate panel last year, but his nomination never came to the full chamber for a final confirmation vote. His nomination was returned to the committee as a matter of procedure when the new legislative session began last month.

If Wheeler has anything stacked against him, it could be a 2016 Facebook post he wrote calling Trump a “bully” who “hasn’t been that successful” in business and who “has more baggage then all the other Republican candidates combined.” The remarks, surfaced in October by The Washington Post, gained new relevance this month after reporters unearthed two 2016 radio interviews in which Pruitt called Trump a “bully” and an “empty vessel” on “the Constitution and rule of law.”

On Wednesday morning, The Intercept published a report detailing fundraisers Wheeler held for Senator John Barrasso, a Wyoming Republican, and Inhofe in May. The Sierra Club called on the Senate panel to delay the vote and open an investigation.

But that didn’t deter Republicans, who held the vote on schedule, even as many federal employees delayed morning activities by two hours because of snow.

“He’ll do a good job and I’m glad he’s going to be confirmed,” Inhofe said after Wednesday’s vote.

Wheeler is likely to be confirmed in the full Senate, where the GOP holds a narrow majority. No Republicans publicly oppose him, and Democrats senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota — who generally vote with the GOP on fossil fuel issues — are likely to vote for Wheeler. Neither senator responded to requests for comment on Monday.

To boot, Democrats have already spent political capital to upend more egregious environmental nominations. Those include Hartnett White — who credited coal with abolishing slavery and suggested increased carbon dioxide emissions were good for the planet — and Michael Dourson, whose consultancy was described in 2014 by InsideClimate News as the “one-stop science shop” favored by the chemical and tobacco industries seeking affirmative research. Pruitt picked Dourson to lead the EPA’s chemical safety division, but withdrew the nomination in December after two Republican senators said they would not vote for him.

Democrats seem more at ease with Wheeler’s nomination. No Democrat raised concerns about Wheeler last week during Pruitt’s first Senate hearing since taking office, though no Democrat voted for Wheeler on Wednesday.

The choice of Wheeler is itself a naked gift to the coal industry, which has yielded outsized influence over the Trump White House. Wheeler lobbied on behalf of coal mining giant Murray Energy as recently as last year, disclosure filings show.

“This is the swamp,” Senator Jeff Merkley said at Wednesday’s hearing. “This does not serve the American people. And we should reject this nomination.”

The company’s bombastic chief executive, Bob Murray, has already played a major role in shaping Trump administration energy and environmental policies. Last month, Murray’s so-called “action plan,” became public. The proposals include a federal bailout of coal-fired plants, repeal of the Clean Power Plan, and reopening of the 2009 EPA “endangerment finding” that determined carbon dioxide pollution poses a risk to public health.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, in a break with the White House, rejected the bailout plan. Pruitt announced his repeal of the Clean Power Plan, a suite of rules to reduce emissions from power plants, in October. But the administration’s decision on the so-called endangerment finding is up in the air. Despite calls from ardent climate-change deniers to reopen the finding, overturning the conclusion would require disproving the science behind human-caused climate change in court — an extremely unlikely prospect. Pruitt said last week that he had not yet decided whether to challenge the finding.

Wheeler could be the man to lead that assault. In October, Pruitt railed against the endangerment finding for citing the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. In what appeared to be a dog whistle to nationalists, he claimed the endangerment finding “represents, and this is the first time in history this has ever occurred, this agency took work product of the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and adopted it, transferred it to this agency and used that as the basis, underpinnings, of the endangerment finding.”

In reality, the technical support document on the endangerment finding references more than 100 published scientific studies and cites peer-reviewed syntheses of climate research by the White House’s Global Change Research Program, the National Research Council of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and the U.N.’s IPCC.

But the criticism echoes Wheeler’s own suggestions. In March 2010, he accused the IPCC of blurring “the lines between science and advocacy” and functioning “more as a political body than a scientific body.” He suggested the EPA could “reconsider its endangerment finding without almost exclusively relying upon the IPCC,” according to remarks posted to his website.

“I believe that man has an impact on the climate, but what’s not completely understood is what the impact is,” Wheeler said at his confirmation hearing when aggressively questioned about the findings of the federal government’s latest climate report.

Wheeler’s Senate career gives pause to environmentalists, too. Inhofe, who serves on the Senate panel voting on his nomination, is one of the most ardent climate-change deniers in Congress. In 2015, the Oklahoma Republican brought a snowball to the Senate floor in a comically flamboyant attempt to prove climate change is a hoax. Inhofe is a close ally of Pruitt, who is said to be considering a bid for his seat when the 83-year-old senator retires. Pruitt’s ambitions raise the prospect that Wheeler could, as The New Republic pointed out, become the next EPA administrator.

“Andrew Wheeler’s nomination is very much in keeping with the Trump administration’s agenda of fossil fuel exploitation and climate inaction,” Michael Mann, a climatologist at Penn State University and coauthor of a book on climate change denialism, told HuffPost. “The environmental community’s celebration of the failed nomination of climate-change denier Kathleen Hartnett White to lead the White House Council on Environmental Quality may be short-lived.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Coal lobbyist on track to become a top dog at EPA on Feb 7, 2018.

Hopi and Navajo miners protest the closure of the largest coal plant in the West.

Wed, 2018-02-07 16:59

Two hundred demonstrators gathered at Arizona’s state Capitol on Tuesday to demand that the Navajo Generating Station, which has been operating since the 1970s, remain open.

The coal plant provides steady employment for nearby Native American communities and funds public services. But it also leads them to lean heavily on the mining industry and takes a toll on people’s health.

As natural gas prices fell over the years, the coal plant has struggled to stay in the black. Last October, the owners decided to shut it down by the end of 2019 unless a new buyer comes in. So far, there have been no takers.

The plant has become a point of contention for nearby Native American communities.

“There’s your jobs, the revenue, the economy, the water, but it goes beyond that,” Navajo Nation Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates said during Tuesday’s protest. “If NGS does shut down … those jobs are going to be very hard to replace.”

On the other side of the debate, there’s Brett Isaac, a Navajo solar entrepreneur. He told Climate Nexus: “The Navajo Nation really didn’t get its fair share out of those operations. It tied us to those jobs and didn’t allow us to diversify.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Hopi and Navajo miners protest the closure of the largest coal plant in the West. on Feb 7, 2018.

The Energy Department expects no decline in America’s carbon emissions by 2050.

Wed, 2018-02-07 16:08

In fact, according to the latest U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) projections, our carbon footprint will only get bigger.

The lines estimating our future emissions look placidly flat, which might appear reassuring — until you remember that to stave off the risk of climate change’s catastrophic effects, we need those lines to plummet. Starting yesterday.

This is fine! U.S. Energy Information Administration

By these estimations, America is pretty much on track to use the entire planet’s carbon budget by 2050.

The EIA report suggests that we’ll see solar power spread, but fewer new wind turbines as subsidies expire. It also predicts that we’ll build a lot more natural gas generators, which play well with surging renewables because they can turn on and off quickly. The problem: Natural gas contributes to climate change.

U.S. Energy Information Administration

Fortunately, we can take these worrying projections with a grain of salt. The EIA is notorious for underestimating the rise of renewables and exaggerating the staying power of fossil fuels. Plus, the projections don’t account for future policies or inventions that might clean up tailpipes and smokestacks.

In other words, Americans can still do something to sway this outcome — which is good, because we kind of have to.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline The Energy Department expects no decline in America’s carbon emissions by 2050. on Feb 7, 2018.

Oregon is about to get a big, $48 million pile of solar panels.

Tue, 2018-02-06 20:02

On Monday, the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) loaned Oregon money to build six new solar developments. The projects will power more than 11,000 homes and businesses and move the state one step closer to its goal of getting half of its electricity from renewables by 2040.

“The more we make these investments, the better our chances in the fight against climate disruption,” Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley, a Democrat, said in a statement.

REAP, a Department of Agriculture program, helps rural farmers and small businesses and farmers pay for renewable energy projects. The loan will be distributed to Klamath, Lake, Clackamas, and Deschutes counties in central and southern Oregon, and the energy generated from the developments will be sold to local communities.

Solar makes up a tiny, but growing percentage of Oregon’s current energy mix. (Hydropower is its main source of renewable electricity generation.) But as the state plans to reduce the costs of solar permits and installation, solar panels could get more competitive — and more popular.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Oregon is about to get a big, $48 million pile of solar panels. on Feb 6, 2018.

FEMA struck a deal with a company that failed to deliver enough meals to Puerto Rico.

Tue, 2018-02-06 15:57

The Federal Emergency Management Agency had awarded a $156 million contract to an Atlanta-based company, Tribute Contracting LLC, to give 30 million meals to hurricane survivors. It only delivered 50,000.

Another problem: The meals that Tribute provided weren’t up to FEMA’s standards as they weren’t able to be heated up easily, the New York Times reports. Citing “a logistical nightmare,” FEMA canceled the deal. (FEMA says it tapped other suppliers to successfully deliver adequate food to Puerto Rico.)

Prior to signing the Puerto Rico contract, Tribute had a history of “at least five canceled government contracts,” according to the Times. And Tiffany Brown — the owner and sole employee of the company — had no previous experience coordinating large-scale disaster relief.

Democrats on the House Oversight Committee are investigating the contract. The snafu with Tribute highlights a potential pattern of behavior: Back in 2005, FEMA scrambled to find qualified contractors after Hurricane Katrina hit. That lack of planning created chaos and wasted hundreds of millions of dollars.

And Puerto Rico has already seen more than its fair share of botched contracts — remember the fiasco with the island’s utility and Whitefish Energy? With 20 percent of residents still without power, Puerto Rico still needs aid. Something it doesn’t need? More shoddy contracts.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline FEMA struck a deal with a company that failed to deliver enough meals to Puerto Rico. on Feb 6, 2018.

13 universities band together to fight climate change.

Tue, 2018-02-06 14:41

While the U.S. government cuts science funding and rolls back environmental protections, some North American universities hope to fill that void with institutional might.

The University Climate Change Coalition, dubbed UC3, is writing a roadmap for university-level action on climate change. Janet Napolitano, president of the University of California and former Homeland Security secretary under Barack Obama, announced the coalition on Tuesday.

The participating research institutions from the United States, Canada, and Mexico have pledged to reduce their carbon footprints and foster climate change action in their local communities:

  • Arizona State University
  • California Institute of Technology
  • Tecnológico de Monterrey
  • La Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
  • The Ohio State University
  • The State University of New York
  • The University of British Columbia
  • The University of California
  • University of Colorado, Boulder
  • University of Maryland, College Park
  • The University of New Mexico
  • The University of Toronto
  • The University of Washington

UC3 will operate in tandem with the Climate Leadership Network, a group of colleges and universities working to provide students with the tools they need to tackle climate change.

“The UC3 coalition believes that addressing climate change is an area where some of the world’s greatest research institutions can, and must, lead,” Napolitano said.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline 13 universities band together to fight climate change. on Feb 6, 2018.

There is a huge amount of mercury trapped in the Arctic.

Mon, 2018-02-05 17:15

Which, by the way, is melting.

“This discovery is a game-changer,” said Paul Schuster, lead author of a new study that quantified the total mercury in the Arctic’s frozen permafrost.

And it’s a lot of mercury! To be precise, 793 gigagrams — more than 15 million gallons — of the stuff is currently locked up in frozen northern soils. That’s by far the biggest reservoir of mercury on the planet — almost twice the amount held by the rest of the world’s earth, oceans, and atmosphere combined.

This wouldn’t be a problem if the permafrost stayed, well, permanently frosty. But, as previous research has outlined, it’s not.

Mercury is a toxin that can cause birth defects and neurological damage in animals, including humans. And mercury levels accumulate as you go up the food chain, which is why king-of-the-jungle species like tuna and whale can be unsafe to eat in large quantities.

As thawing permafrost releases more mercury into the atmosphere and oceans, the implications for human health are troubling. Locally, many northern communities rely on subsistence hunting and fishing, two sources of possible mercury contamination. Globally, the toxin could travel great distances and collect in distant ecosystems.

As if we didn’t already have enough reasons to want permafrost to stay frozen.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline There is a huge amount of mercury trapped in the Arctic. on Feb 5, 2018.

A record-breaking number of scientists are running for office this year.

Mon, 2018-02-05 17:15

To stand up to climate change deniers and protect science, a wave of candidates from science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) backgrounds are running for local and federal office in 2018.

More than 60 STEM candidates have announced a bid for federal office, while almost 200 are running for state legislature and another 200 for local school boards, according to 314 Action, a political action committee.

It’s the one good thing to come out of the Trump administration’s attempts to wipe climate change from websites, silence experts, and generally take scientific censorship to the next level.

There’s currently a small number of STEM representatives in Congress — one PhD physicist, one microbiologist, and a handful of engineers, says Ted Bordelon, 314’s Director of Communications. More than 7,000 potential candidates have reached out to 314, and it’s trained nearly 1,500 of them.

The scientist candidates won’t have it easy. Some are challenging incumbents, who are generally favored. And some opponents will have financial support from the fossil fuel industry and the Koch brothers, who are spending $400 million on the election this year.

Shaughnessy Naughton, founder and president of 314, says that’s to be expected: “There’s basically a direct correlation between money that the fossil fuel industry spends on candidates and their refusal to do anything about climate change.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline A record-breaking number of scientists are running for office this year. on Feb 5, 2018.

Trump’s controversial environment pick is out.

Mon, 2018-02-05 15:47

President Trump’s nominee for the Council on Environmental Quality called CO2 a “plant nutrient,” which is true, I guess, but Kathleen Hartnett White also said that “Carbon dioxide has none of the characteristics of a pollutant that could harm human health,” so …

The environmental adviser nominee faced fierce opposition from congressional Democrats, who argued White’s climate denial disqualified her for the position. On Saturday, the Washington Post reported that White had withdrawn her name from consideration.

White drew widespread criticism after footage of her confirmation hearing made the rounds on social media last November. During that hearing, White said, “I do not have any kind of expertise or even much layman study of the ocean dynamics and the climate-change issues,” as a visibly frustrated Senator Sheldon Whitehouse pressed her on some pretty basic laws of nature.

As head of the CEQ, White would have had to assess the environmental effects of federal energy policies, a task best suited for someone who understands that humans have an effect on the environment.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Trump’s controversial environment pick is out. on Feb 5, 2018.

Closed-door policies imperil climate migrants

Mon, 2018-02-05 13:30

The unprecedented brutality of the 2017 hurricane season showed the potential that natural disasters have to destroy livelihoods, displace families, and uproot entire communities. The most recent example, of course, is the situation in Puerto Rico post-Maria. Experts estimate the U.S. territory will lose close to 500,000 residents in the next two years.

According to a report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, 26 million people each year have been displaced by natural disasters worldwide. And as climate change likely increases the frequency and intensity of these events, larger numbers of environmental migrants will be forced to leave their homes behind in search of safety and opportunity.

Meanwhile, experts warn that countries like the United States are currently adopting policies that indicate climate migrants will be met with closed doors as opposed to open arms. Among those are the recent moves to suspend temporary protected status for people from certain countries, like Haiti in the wake of the devastating 2010 earthquake. And just last week, President Trump nominated Ken Isaacs — who has made public remarks denying climate change — to lead the United Nations’ International Organization for Migration, which has been at the forefront of addressing climate-induced displacement and migration.

As environmental factors compel more and more people to move, it seems apparent that the political winds are forming a perfect storm that will lead to humanitarian crises.

“The conversion of these two factors most often leads to tragedy,” says Mariam Traore Chazalnoel, a climate-migration specialist at the agency Isaacs was just tapped to lead (pending a vote from the organization’s membership).

In addition to boosting natural disasters, climate change is imperiling island and coastal communities by pushing up sea levels. Kiribati has already purchased land on nearby Fiji in anticipation of having to evacuate its citizens. A warming planet is also exacerbating poverty and conflict around the globe. And experts say environmental pressures affecting agriculture, fishing, or other means of livelihood can often be at the root of economic and political destabilization that forces people to leave home.

A recent study published in the journal Science found that if the planet continues to warm at its current rate, the number of migrants who apply for asylum in the European Union is likely to triple by 2100. Even in the case of the more than 5 million refugees fleeing Syria, scientists have pointed to the role warming played in spurring a drought that stoked civil unrest.

“Climate change was just one additional stressor, an exacerbating factor, that when piled in on top of everything else caused this [conflict] to happen,” says Colin Kelley, a senior research fellow at the Center for Climate and Security.

Kelley is the lead author of a groundbreaking 2015 study that detailed how drought, crop failure, and the resulting migration from rural areas to urban centers contributed to the onset of the Syrian civil war.

In 2012, amid Syria’s refugee crisis, the U.S. designated migrants from the Middle Eastern nation eligible for temporary protected status. The Department of Homeland Security can offer the protection to émigrés from nations deemed too unsafe to return to because of armed conflict or environmental catastrophe. The status gives eligible individuals employment authorization to work in the United States, as well as protection from deportation.

“TPS has been incredibly important for thousands of Syrians in the U.S.,” Matthew Chrastek, coordinator at the American Relief Coalition for Syria, tells Grist via email. “It has allowed them to work, to build businesses, to continue their education, but most importantly, to live in peace and security.”

While President Trump announced last week that he will extend relief for nearly 7,000 Syrians with temporary protected status in the U.S., his administration has decided to stop accepting new applications for the program from Syrian migrants.

Temporary protected status is currently the only means to asylum for migrants to the U.S. who were affected by natural disasters. And even that policy has its limitations. Since it was only designed to provide temporary humanitarian relief, status holders are not given a green card. In fact, there is no pathway for them to become permanent residents or U.S. citizens. If the federal government decides not to renew a country’s designation, all those who have been able to build a life for themselves here lose the ability to work lawfully and can be deported.

Of the 10 countries currently designated for temporary protected status, five garnered it after suffering natural disasters. Environmental factors have also played a role in the addition of three war-torn countries: Syria, Yemen, and Somalia.

In the past year, the Trump administration has chosen not to extend the protection for thousands of migrants from El Salvador, Haiti, Sudan, and Nicaragua — effectively deeming those countries safe to return to. This drastic curtailing of the humanitarian program has implications not only for current designees, but also for nations that experience environmental catastrophes in the future.

“It’s possible that it might become less likely that TPS will be granted in the first place or that the threshold for what counts as recovery or enough recovery might be lower in this administration,” says Julia Gelatt, senior policy analyst at the Migration Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.

Another limitation to temporary protected status is that it is only granted to people who are already residing in the U.S. — those who may have entered the country prior to the disaster with a visa (like a student or tourist) or who might have been living in the country without documentation. It doesn’t allow new immigrants to enter after the disaster has occurred. That means people who are displaced and seeking refuge often have to put their lives at risk to get into the U.S.

“There’s a danger that people are just basically trying to move through their own means, and then you have a lot of documented incidents of migrant deaths at borders or at sea,” says the U.N. Migration Agency’s Chazalnoel. Over the weekend, more than 90 migrants died while trying to reach Europe when their boat — operated by human smugglers — capsized off the coast of Libya.

The need for TPS and more long-term immigration policies will grow if we fail to curb the worst effects of climate change. Chazalnoel adds that there is an ongoing concerted effort to develop global principles for protecting people who are forced to migrate due to climate change. “These are policy discussions which I think have intensified incredibly,” she says.

The other long-term solution, of course, is to take action to avert the effects of climate change so that people can reasonably return home or won’t need to leave in the first place.

“There are areas of the world that are getting degraded, and if we do nothing they will become uninhabitable,” Chazalnoel says. “But there is still some time — not a lot — but some time to reverse.

“There is still hope.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Closed-door policies imperil climate migrants on Feb 5, 2018.

Here’s what Yellowstone fieldwork is like. (Hint: Grizzly bear fights, eagle catches, and gnarly elk carcasses)

Mon, 2018-02-05 13:14

original video:

This article is published in partnership with:
Last spring break, Gavin Forster found himself in a decidedly different environment than most students in search of a little R&R and a much-needed break from their studies. The University of Washington student awoke each morning at daybreak, ready to track animals and explore the backcountry in one of the planet’s most revered natural wonders — Yellowstone National Park.

Each year, UW students enrolled in the College of the Environment’s “Wildlife Conservation in Northwest Ecosystems” head to Yellowstone, where they begin a weeklong excursion into the untamed wilds of the park. By working alongside a team of UW professors and National Park Service biologists, they come to understand the rigors and the joys of fieldwork as they study an incredibly delicate and important ecosystem.

Their research, part of a decades-long program in the heart of Yellowstone, helps provide answers to some of the most pressing conservation questions of our day. How does climate change influence what scavengers like ravens, eagles, and bears eat? Do roads and hiking trails change how wolves and cougars hunt? Will Yellowstone’s efforts to reintroduce grizzly bears serve as a model for similar efforts across the country? Sometimes, the best classroom is a living one, amid snow-capped peaks, pristine alpine rivers, and sweeping grasslands dotted with bison. Forster explains why.

Q. What animals did you look for?

A. There were elk and bison, which are both very common throughout the park. We looked for ravens, bald and golden eagles, magpies. Then we looked for mammals such as wolves — which were very difficult for us to find throughout the whole week — grizzly bears, and mountain lions.

Q. Were you successful?

A. Wolves are one of the more elusive animals in the park. There are fewer than 100 in the area where we were looking. We ended up finding them on the day before we left. It was really, really amazing since we had spent so much time and so many hours looking for them. They were far enough away that the only way you could possibly see them was through a viewing scope. They were small, but it was one of the most rewarding experiences, finally getting to see these animals that we’ve learned so much about. To see them in the flesh was pretty awe-inspiring.

Q. Did you spot any other big predators in the wild?

A. We got really lucky with grizzly bears. There were some bison carcasses near the park entrance we used. They had fallen through the ice in the winter. Now that the ice was melting, the carcasses were exposed which brought out tons of scavengers of all sorts like foxes, coyotes, and ravens. We got to see grizzly bears in action every single morning feeding on the carcasses. Our professors said that they had never experienced anything like that. At one point there were two grizzly bears competing for the same carcass to feed on. It was like something out of National Geographic. It was so cool.

Q. Tell me about your fieldwork.

A. We were researching elk and their behavior in relationship to their landscape. We were also doing bird surveys. We would be dropped off in half kilometer increments, one student at a time. We would spend two or three minutes looking and listening for different birds and bird calls and then we would record the birds that we saw or heard. That gave us a sense of a very rough estimate of the total bird population of ravens, magpies, and eagles in the northern region of the park.

Q. Why was this research important?

A. Our elk study looked at how elk stay vigilant to predators. An elk that spends more time wary and alert spends less time on activities to boost its fitness like foraging or resting. We also took note of herd size and how the elks space themselves in the herd, which can help indicate how fearful they are. If we see trends over time where elk are spending more time doing different activities, this can give us an idea for how healthy the population is.

Our bird study focused on scavengers in the ecosystem. Scavengers feed on carcasses of dead animals and a common cause of carcasses is predators. Raven, magpie, and eagle dispersal and number can give us ideas of where predators are making kills and how active they are.

What makes these studies (and most studies in Yellowstone) so important and interesting is that they can be tied back to the reintroduction of grey wolves in 1995. Wolves are a keystone species in the ecosystem and seeing how the wolves influence so many facets of life in the park nails in how important top predators are in the wild and gives us evidence for why they should be protected.

Q. Do you have a favorite experience from your trip?

A. We spent a day hiking through the backcountry with one of the park biologists who was a specialist on wolves and elk and their predation. We were looking for sites where wolves had killed an elk and left the carcass. I walked to one side of the hill and looked down a crest and spotted the carcass. We all gathered around it and took a bunch of measurements on how healthy it was when it died and how large it was. Because I found it, the biologist let me do a bunch of the measurements. I got to saw through its femur bone which was gnarly, but it was very, very cool.

We also got the opportunity to catch some golden eagles out in the field. We didn’t do the physical catching; we watched the trained experts do it and then test for lead poisoning in its blood because that’s one of the biggest threats to the population. Hunters have started using lead bullets again, and the bullets get left in the carcasses which the eagles feed on, and it gets into their blood. That was amazing — the opportunity to get to see this huge bird right up close and see those massive talons. It was really, really memorable.

Q. How does learning out in the field compare to learning in a traditional classroom setting?

A. I’m a visual and hands-on learner. Getting to go out into the field and be hands-on and actually see the animals that we’re learning about is completely different. For instance, getting to hold and feel the weight of the leg of an unhealthy elk is completely different than taking notes on what makes an elk unhealthy.

Q. Why are you so passionate about the natural world?

A. Funny enough, I used to always watch Steve Irwin on TV when I was a kid. We’re now witnessing one of the largest mass extinctions in human history of wildlife species. I do believe that humans play a huge role in that and we should take responsibility for what we’ve done to the environment. It’s definitely a passion of mine, trying to see as many animals as I can in person and this trip was a great opportunity to do that.

Yellowstone may hold the keys to the future of wildlife management, but even the best management practices fail if they don’t consider the needs of people living in the ecosystem. Park biologists and ranching families say building trust is the secret to managing landscapes for wildlife and people. Learn more about what it takes to undertake successful field science by following along on UW’s Yellowstone research trip.

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This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Here’s what Yellowstone fieldwork is like. (Hint: Grizzly bear fights, eagle catches, and gnarly elk carcasses) on Feb 5, 2018.

Tesla solar products are coming to a store near you.

Fri, 2018-02-02 16:15

Shoppers will be able to purchase the tech company’s solar panels and Powerwall batteries (home electricity storage units) at all 800 Home Depot locations across the United States.

Kiosks that sell the products are already up and running in some Southern California Home Depot locations, and more will launch in Las Vegas and Orlando next week. Tesla is also in talks with Lowe’s about carrying its solar products, sources told Bloomberg News.

The Tesla-Home Depot partnership will test solar’s performance on the mainstream market. It comes less than two weeks after Trump slapped a hefty import tax on solar panels, which is expected to make solar installation less affordable across the U.S.

Installing a solar panel system in your home can cost between $10,000 to $25,000 before rebates, plus another $7,000 for a battery. But once it’s up, you start saving on electricity bills. Type your address into Google’s Project Sunroof for an estimate of how much you’d save in the long run.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Tesla solar products are coming to a store near you. on Feb 2, 2018.

New York to EPA: Get a lawyer. Again.

Fri, 2018-02-02 13:58

The Obama-era Clean Water Rule expanded government protection to cover streams and wetlands, and was hailed by environmentalists as a significant step forward for conservation. On Wednesday, EPA chief Scott Pruitt announced the agency is suspending the rule for two years, citing it as an example of government overreach.

New York state has a little something to say about that. On Thursday, New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, vowed to lead a “multistate coalition” to block suspension of the rule in court.

Schneiderman sued the Trump administration 28 times in 2017, and it appears he plans to continue the tradition this year:

Over the last year, we have not hesitated to fight back against the Trump Administration’s assault on the law and New Yorkers’ fundamental right to clean water, air, and environment. We won’t stop now.

He’s just one of many state AGs suing the administration over environmental rollbacks. Washington state’s Bob Ferguson has launched 19 lawsuits to derail Trump’s agenda, and California’s Xavier Becerra has become a nationally recognized expert at keeping the administration tangled up in court.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline New York to EPA: Get a lawyer. Again. on Feb 2, 2018.

Scott Pruitt suspends Obama-era Clean Water Rule for two years

Thu, 2018-02-01 19:05

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

On Wednesday, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt formally suspended the Obama-era Clean Water Rule for two years, while the Trump administration works to repeal and replace the rule with their own, industry-friendly version.

Also known as Waters of the United States (WOTUS), the rule was established by the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers in 2015. Largely celebrated by environmental groups, it expanded the protection of headwaters, streams, and 20 million acres of wetlands under the 1972 Clean Water Act. It also held farmers and real estate developers accountable for runoff pollution in streams running through their property. Over 100 parties initially challenged Obama’s rule, including business groups and some Republican officials, arguing that it was an overstep of government power.

WOTUS has been a target of Pruitt’s for years, even before he was in Washington; as Oklahoma attorney general, in 2015 he helped lead a multi-state lawsuit against the rule, calling it the “greatest blow to private property rights the modern era has seen.”

“Today, E.P.A. is taking action to reduce confusion and provide certainty to America’s farmers and ranchers,” Pruitt said in a statement Wednesday night. “The 2015 WOTUS rule developed by the Obama administration will not be applicable for the next two years, while we work through the process of providing long-term regulatory certainty across all 50 states about what waters are subject to federal regulation.”

Shortly after taking office, President Trump issued an executive order directing the EPA and the Department of the Army to rescind or revise the rule. In June, administration officials signed a proposed rule that aimed to revert environmental protection standards of water and wetlands to pre-Obama levels. A month later, it was published in the Federal Register. Wednesday’s action buys time for the administration to officially kill the rule.

As expected, environmental groups are outraged over the Trump administration’s decision to roll back WOTUS. Jon Devine, senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Water Program, said in a statement the action is “grossly irresponsible, and illegal — and [the NRDC] will challenge it in court.” Last year, the Environmental Defense Fund’s senior vice president for ecosystems, David Festa, said in a blog post that the Trump administration’s rationale for withdrawing the rule is “arbitrary” and “dead wrong.”

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline Scott Pruitt suspends Obama-era Clean Water Rule for two years on Feb 1, 2018.

We might know where Trump has been getting some of his wacky ideas

Thu, 2018-02-01 18:01

Ever wonder who’s behind President Trump’s backward energy policies? The Heartland Institute, a libertarian, climate-denying think tank, seems to be taking credit. Experts from the Koch- and Exxon-funded group took a victory lap after Trump praised “clean, beautiful coal” in Tuesday’s State of the Union address.

“One of the most thrilling aspects of the speech was the total absence of climate change hysteria,” Heartland’s Science Director Jay Lehr said in a statement issued in response to the speech. While Trump mentioned that the nation had “endured floods, and fires, and storms,” he didn’t note climate change — the factor that fanned their flames.

Lehr’s gushing over the president approached the point of satire: “After watching it a second time, I could not find a single sentence I would have changed.”

That’s not too surprising, considering that the White House had reached out to the group a few weeks earlier to ask if they “had other suggestions” for the speech, according to Heartland President Tim Huelskamp.

“The Heartland Institute has been advising many in the administration on climate and energy policy, so we were certainly encouraged and excited the president promoted his pro-energy, pro-America vision in his State of the Union Address,” Huelskamp said in the statement.

Soon after Trump was elected, the Heartland Institute laid out a climate and energy wish list. The administration has already fully or partially accomplished eight of those 13 goals. Some of the policy recommendations: Withdraw from the Paris Agreement, approve the Keystone XL pipeline, roll back air pollution rules, and end “conflicts of interest” on scientific review boards (i.e., bar expert scientists from advisory panels).

Many of the Trump administration’s actions over the past year — even just the past day — align with Heartland’s wish list. On Wednesday, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt formally suspended an Obama-era rule to clean up our streams and waters. (No. 6 on Heartland’s list: “Withdraw implementation of the Waters of the U.S. rule.”)

Heartland isn’t the only group out there with these kind of goals. In October, the Sierra Club obtained emails showing that Peabody Energy, a major coal company, provided input to the Energy Department on a study about how to help coal plants. And last month, the New York Times reported that the administration had already accomplished most of the 16 items on the environmental rollback wish list by coal baron Robert Murray, a longtime Trump supporter.

And even though The Heartland Institute has gotten more than it ever hoped for, it yearns for even more: It wants to stop subsidies for wind and power, shrink more national monuments, and, you know, end the entire EPA.

This story was originally published by Grist with the headline We might know where Trump has been getting some of his wacky ideas on Feb 1, 2018.