Category Archives: Citizen

Bribery trial reveals Jeff Sessions’ role in blocking EPA action targeting major donor

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

When a coal executive and two lawyers stood trial in Alabama last month for bribery and related crimes, it was clear from the start that things might get uncomfortable for Jeff Sessions. The attorney general’s name, after all, appeared on a list of possible witnesses.

Though he was never called to the stand, detailed references to Sessions and key members of his staff thread their way through the record of the four-week trial, which concluded on July 20 when David Roberson, vice president of Drummond Coal, and Joel Gilbert, a partner in the Birmingham-based law firm Balch & Bingham, were found guilty of paying off an Alabama lawmaker to oppose a federal environmental cleanup effort that could have cost Drummond millions. (The judge dismissed the charges against a second Balch lawyer, Steve McKinney.)

Sessions has long had close ties to Balch and Drummond — the companies respectively ranked as his second- and third-biggest contributors during his Senate career, collectively donating nearly a quarter of a million dollars to his campaigns. And as Mother Jones and the Project on Government Oversight have previously reported, then-Senator Sessions directly intervened with the Environmental Protection Agency to block the cleanup at the center of the federal bribery case.

Upon becoming attorney general, Sessions had a glaring conflict of interest in a criminal prosecution that he was technically overseeing as the nation’s top law enforcement official. Yet despite questions from Senator Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont,  and others, he repeatedly refused to say whether he had recused himself from the matter. His silence seems even more questionable given evidence introduced as part of the case.

Billing statements, meeting minutes, and other records briefly made public during the trial — and quickly placed under seal by the judge presiding over the case, but not before Alabama columnist Kyle Whitmire saved copies — reveal that Sessions and his Senate staff coordinated more closely with the defendants than previously known. The documents indicate extensive contact on the EPA action between Sessions’ office and Roberson, Gilbert, and McKinney, including at least 13 phone calls and two in-person meetings in Washington, D.C. And they show that Drummond’s attorneys at Balch & Bingham coached Sessions’ staff on how to attack the EPA’s position and that Sessions’ staff reported back to the lawyers about their interactions with the agency.

The backdrop for the bribery case is North Birmingham’s 35th Avenue neighborhood — an impoverished, largely black enclave sandwiched between the city’s airport and various industrial sites, including a Drummond plant. For years, residents have reported unusually high levels of cancer and respiratory illness, and they have complained about the dark soot that coats their homes. In 2013, the EPA found such high levels of toxins in the area that it designated a 400-acre section of the neighborhood a Superfund site; federal health authorities warned parents not to allow their children to play outside in their own yards. The EPA determined that Drummond was one of the companies potentially responsible for the pollution, and thus possibly on the hook for some of the cleanup costs.

When, in 2014, EPA officials tried to elevate the neighborhood to the National Priorities List — a select group of highly polluted sites picked for accelerated and more extensive cleanups — they hit a brick wall of resistance from Alabama’s mostly Republican political establishment. But to the surprise of EPA officials, a local Democratic state lawmaker, Oliver Robinson, also joined the opposition, sending a February 2015 letter to Alabama environmental authorities decrying the EPA effort.

It would later turn out that this letter was ghostwritten by Balch & Bingham’s Joel Gilbert, who, on behalf of Drummond, was funneling money to Robinson’s personal foundation in order to secure the lawmaker’s cooperation in blocking the EPA cleanup. Last summer, Robinson pleaded guilty to accepting $360,000 in bribes. He then began cooperating with prosecutors as they built their case against the Drummond and Balch officials he said were at the heart of it: Roberson, Gilbert, and McKinney (lawyers for all three men declined to comment for this article.)

Like Robinson, Sessions also sent a letter ghostwritten by Balch lawyers, this one to the EPA. Records released during the trial shed light on how this letter, sent a year after Robinson’s, came to be, as well as the extensive actions Sessions took on behalf of his top political donors to thwart EPA action in North Birmingham. Sessions’ office did not respond to requests for comment on this story.

On Feb. 4, 2015, Balch lawyers convened to discuss their plan to derail the 35th Avenue site’s inclusion on the National Priorities List. According to notes of that meeting released at trial, Balch had prepared a draft “letter but no signatures” for Alabama’s congressional delegation that disputed the methods the EPA had used to determine responsibility for the pollution (and thus potential liability for the cleanup). The Balch meeting notes list a Sessions staffer named Brandon Middleton as the only lobbying contact for Alabama’s congressional delegation on the matter. The day after the meeting, internal Balch records show that Gilbert reached out to Sessions’ office. And they note that on Feb. 18, McKinney spoke with Middleton “regarding North Birmingham.”

The next month, Drummond and Balch’s political action committees contributed a combined $10,000 to a political action committee controlled by Sessions — and run in part by a former Sessions staffer named Ed Haden,who is now a senior partner at Balch.

During the rest of 2015 and into early 2016, Sessions staffers communicated extensively with representatives of Balch and Drummond over the letter, sending drafts back and forth. On September 15, 2015, Drummond’s Roberson and Balch’s Gilbert flew from Birmingham to Washington, D.C., for meetings with staffers for Sessions, Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Alabama), and Rep. Gary Palmer (R-Alabama). In an “Environmental Update” subsequently posted on Balch & Bingham’s website (and since removed), the firm said its attorneys “met with Senator Jeff Sessions” and predicted that a letter issued “shortly” from “key members of the Alabama congressional delegation” would make the case for opposing the effort to make Drummond and other companies pay for cleaning up the polluted site in Birmingham. Two months later, on Feb. 26, 2016, Middleton delivered a letter signed by Sessions, Shelby, and Palmer to the EPA. The letter also summoned top EPA officials to a meeting “to discuss the concerns.”

“Any information given to Senator Shelby’s office would have been one of many tools used to help inform the senator,” said a spokesperson. Palmer’s office did not respond to questions.

After the letter was delivered, Sessions’ office continued to work in close coordination with the Balch attorneys at the center of the bribery case to aggressively undermine the possibility of a cleanup. In March 2016, the EPA responded to Sessions’ letter, expressing disagreement but offering to meet. According to an email obtained through the Freedom of Information Act, Middleton told an EPA official that he was “waiting to hear back from our folks and boss on how they’d like to approach meeting.” But Sessions’ staffers weren’t just looking for feedback from Sessions. Balch records show that over the course of several months, Balch attorneys and Middleton exchanged emails and spoke over the phone about how to deal with the EPA’s response and prepare for the meeting with EPA officials.

Meanwhile, Balch’s political action committee continued contributing to Sessions’ campaign coffers. On June 30, 2016, Balch donated $1,000 to Sessions’ political action committee. That day, according to another email obtained under FOIA, Middleton sent the EPA a message setting the agenda for a July 7 sit-down in Sessions’ office to discuss why the proposed Birmingham cleanup should not go forward.

The day before the meeting, McKinney met Sessions staffers to prep them, according to the firm’s billing records.

On July 7, two high-level EPA officials met with members of Sessions’ staff, who grilled them on the Birmingham cleanup and attacked the methods the agency had used to measure toxins in the neighborhood. Sessions himself was scheduled to attend, but at the last minute he backed out to spend the day with then-candidate Donald Trump, who had decided to make a round of visits to Republican senators on Capitol Hill.

One of the EPA officials who attended the meeting told Mother Jones that he was surprised by the stridency with which Sessions staffers opposed the EPA’s actions in North Birmingham, especially considering the situation on the ground. “For residents, there was an immediate threat,”said Mathy Stanislaus, who was then an assistant EPA administrator, but “the public health risk didn’t seem to be a prominent concern from those who opposed it.”

During his confirmation process to become attorney general, Sessions was asked how he would handle an investigation involving campaign donors. Sessions said he would consult with Justice Department ethics officials on any investigation where a possible conflict might exist, but his office has repeatedly refused to discuss whether he insulated himself from the Drummond bribery case.

And he isn’t the only Justice Department official linked to matters involving the 35th Avenue Superfund site. When Sessions became attorney general, he installed in key positions at least two people involved in the conversations his office had on the subject. Among them was Brandon Middleton, who served as the liaison between Sessions’ office and the Balch lawyers working to undermine the 35th Avenue cleanup. Sessions appointed Middleton as a top deputy in the Justice Department’s environmental and natural resources division — the office responsible for bringing cases against corporate polluters, such as Drummond, to force them to fund environmental remediation. (Middleton has since moved on to a position at the Interior Department.) And Sessions named Jeff Wood, a Balch & Bingham partner who was part of the firm’s 35th Avenue lobbying effort, to the top job in that division. (Wood recused himself from the matter.) Middleton and a spokesman for Wood did not respond to questions.

With the convictions of Gilbert and Roberson, the lead prosecutor in the case claimed victory for the people of North Birmingham. “We’re happy for the citizens of Birmingham that someone is finally speaking on their behalf,” prosecutor George Martin told reporters after the trial ended. “This is a righteous verdict.”

Balch’s managing partner Stan Blanton said in statement, “Although our firm was not a party to the case, I and the rest of our partners, associates and staff are deeply disappointed in any conduct that does not adhere to our commitment to the rule of law and to the communities in which we are fortunate to live and work.” Yet Drummond blamed Balch for Roberson’s legal troubles. “We consider David to be a man of integrity who would not knowingly engage in wrongdoing,” according to a company statement, “When an environmentalist group raised allegations regarding our operations in the Birmingham area, Drummond responded by hiring one of Alabama’s most well-respected environmental law firms … We were assured the firm’s community outreach efforts on our behalf were legal and proper.”

If anything, what the trial exposed was just how intricate the ties were between powerful corporate interests such as Drummond and Balch and members of the Alabama political establishment, notably Sessions.

If justice was delivered for North Birmingham, it still may not feel that way to the people who continue to live there. Roberson and Gilbert may have been convicted on bribery charges, but the plan they carried out has worked so far. With the help of Sessions and other Alabama lawmakers, they blocked the EPA from mounting a large-scale cleanup — and Drummond has yet to pay a dime for any role it might have played in turning an impoverished neighborhood into a Superfund site.


Bribery trial reveals Jeff Sessions’ role in blocking EPA action targeting major donor

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The EPA failed Flint. Now we know exactly how.

As if the EPA hasn’t disappointed us enough this year, a report released today by the Office of the Inspector General found that the agency consistently dropped the ball during the Flint water crisis.

In a blistering 74-page report, the agency watchdog critiqued EPA Region 5, the district responsible for protecting human health and the environment in Michigan, for an inadequate response to the water crisis that exposed thousands to lead and caused a 58 percent spike in fetal deaths in the largely black community.

The mistakes are sobering. Despite receiving 87 citizen complaints about water quality between May 2014 and January 2016 — including many that directly referenced lead — the EPA did not take any significant action before releasing an emergency order on Jan. 21, 2016.

Instead, the report says, the EPA sent the residents form letters which recommended that they contact the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality or Flint water officials. In 11 cases, the EPA sent no response at all.

“As I have said before, the Flint water crisis was a failure of all levels of government,” said Dan Kildee, Democratic representative from the Michigan district that includes Flint, in a statement reacting to the report.

EPA officials had the chance to save Flint residents from months of exposure to toxins. The report cites five possible oversight actions that the EPA could have taken under the Safe Drinking Water Act, including alerting Flint residents about possible harms and acting in the place of state authorities when there is “substantial endangerment” to human health.

But in almost every case, officials deferred to their state counterparts, rather than using their legal authority to step in. As the report’s authors note, such oversight tools — like most tools out there — are “only effective when used.”

The OIG also pointed to a memo written by Region 5 scientist Miguel Del Toral, who repeatedly warned the region’s Director Susan Hedman that the lead levels in Flint water were at sky-high levels. (Anything over 15 ppb is considered unsafe — one home tested at 13,000 ppb). Hedman later resigned when it became clear that she had attempted to suppress Del Toral’s findings.

According to the report, Hedman and other EPA officials “lacked a sense of urgency” to address the water issues. Instead they failed to communicate with state officials, displayed significant “management weaknesses,” and ultimately delayed the federal response to the crisis.

And while they waited, thousands of residents were exposed to unsafe water. The consequences, for some, could last a lifetime.

“Justice for Flint families comes in many forms,” Kildee said in his statement. “The release of this report is one form of holding those responsible accountable.”

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The EPA failed Flint. Now we know exactly how.

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Meet 6 House Republicans who could get behind a carbon tax

The House of Representatives voted to reject the mere idea of a carbon tax on Thursday morning. But don’t worry — it was a non-binding resolution, meaning that it’s purely symbolic.

So why have the vote in the first place? The Koch brothers-backed resolution, sponsored by House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, a Republican from Louisiana, has popped up before to discourage the legislature from taking economic action on climate change. While every single House Republican supported a similar measure when it came up in 2016, this time, six Republicans broke from party ranks.

According to a statement by Mark Reynolds, executive director of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby, the defections are “an indication that there are cracks in the wall separating Democrats and Republicans on climate change.”

Scalise’s resolution stated that taxing carbon dioxide emissions would be “detrimental” to the economy. While most House Republicans buy that reasoning, it goes against the economic consensus: Two comprehensive reports out this week showed that a well-constructed carbon tax wouldn’t hurt the economy. And perhaps more importantly, it won’t slow growth nearly as much as the alternative — the failure to act quickly on climate change.

The six GOP members weren’t the only ones to buck their party’s trend. Seven Democratic representatives supported Scalise’s amendment, which ended up passing 229-180. They were: Sanford Bishop (Georgia), Henry Cuellar (Texas), Vicente González (Texas), Conor Lamb (Pennsylvania), Stephanie Murphy (Florida), Tom O’Halleran (Arizona), and Kyrsten Sinema (Arizona).

The vote came as House Republican Carlos Curbelo from Florida — who opposed the anti-tax measure — plans to bring forth a carbon tax proposal of his own. It would be the first carbon-pricing plan from a congressional Republican in nearly a decade.

Curbelo, a Grist 50 member, is the cofounder of a group called the Climate Solutions Caucus, which has been criticized as a safe space for House Republicans to “greenwash” their climate record without taking any real action. Thursday’s vote provided further evidence for that idea. The caucus has 43 Republican members, but only four of them voted against the anti-tax resolution.

So who are the other five Republicans who joined Curbelo in rejecting it? Some of them are solid climate champions. As for the others … well, maybe they’ve had a change of heart and will soon further denounce their anti-environment ways?

Brian Fitzpatrick, Pennsylvania: This guy voted in favor of the environment 71 percent of the time in 2017 — his first year in office — according to the League of Conservation Voters. That’s the best score of any congressional Republican. He also acknowledges humans’ role in causing climate change — and he kinda speaks our language:

“Washington needs independent voices now more than ever – especially when it comes to the environment and public health,” Fitzpatrick said last year upon receiving the Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s Climate Leadership Award. “It is vital that we never politicize protecting our environment or let partisanship prevent Washington from accomplishing common goals.”

Trey Hollingsworth, Indiana: This Hoosier representative went pro-environment just 6 percent of the time last year, voting to slash the EPA’s budget and prevent the implementation of methane pollution safeguards. One glimmer of hope? He voted to keep language directing the Department of Defense to prepare for climate change and warming’s threats to national security.

Mia Love, Utah: Love is a rare kind of conservative. She’s the first black female Republican elected to Congress, and she publicly states that climate change is a problem.

“I think it would be inappropriate for any of us to say we don’t want to do anything about this,” she told Utah’s KSL-TV, adding that she doesn’t think climate solutions have to come “at the detriment of our economy.”

Despite all that, she earned a score of just 3 percent from LCV for her anti-environment voting record last year.

Francis Rooney, Florida: Though this Sunshine State representative’s official site says that “no issue is more important to our District than clean water and a healthy environment,” his voting record indicates that he has other ideas. He had exactly zero pro-environment votes last year. Yep, zero.

Oh, and he also supported pulling out of the Paris Agreement. Come on, Rooney. Way to watch out for your constituents in soon-to-be underwater South Florida!

To end on a positive note: At least he’s working to ban offshore drilling in the eastern Gulf of Mexico.

Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Florida: A 66-year-old Cuban American and the first Latina in Congress, Ros-Lehtinen wasn’t always so sure about the established science of climate change. The representative of South Florida credits Carlos Curbelo with showing her the light. Ros-Lehtinen, now a member of the Climate Solutions Caucus, earned a score of 33 percent from LCV for her environmental voting record last year.

“Sea-level rise due to climate change is a scientific reality,” she told Cosmo last year. “People who argue that it isn’t changing, that the sea levels are the same, are just delusional.”

Too bad she’s retiring this year. We’ll miss ya, Ros-Lehtinen!

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Meet 6 House Republicans who could get behind a carbon tax

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A new GOP carbon tax proposal is a long shot, but it’s a shot worth taking

There’s a very small chance that President Trump, later this year, could sign into law the country’s first-ever federal climate change legislation — and it might actually be a good thing.

I know, I know. I hear you. Yes, this is the same Trump who bailed on the Paris climate agreement last year. But there’s now a possibility that he could have the opportunity to meet its goals anyway.

According to E&E News, Florida congressman Carlos Curbelo — a Republican — will introduce legislation next week that calls for a gradually escalating carbon tax specifically designed to accelerate the decarbonization of the U.S. economy.

Starting in 2020, the proposal would require fossil fuel companies and manufacturers to pay a fee of $23 per ton for their carbon emissions, rising slightly faster than inflation. It’s a relatively low tax to start, but it could ramp up significantly over time. The fee would rise an additional $2 each year emissions targets aren’t met — a clever twist. Preliminary modeling shows that the policy would be sufficient to meet former President Obama’s climate target under the Paris Agreement — a 26 to 28 percent reduction in U.S. emissions by 2025, compared with 2005 levels.

There’s a catch, though. In exchange for the fee, the proposal would completely eliminate the gasoline tax and press pause on the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gas emissions (that’s in jeopardy anyway under the changing Supreme Court). It would also devote most of its revenue to building new transportation infrastructure nationwide. That it raises money at all is controversial — most Republicans in favor of a carbon tax want a completely revenue-neutral proposal.

In the midst of a tough reelection race in his Florida district, Curbelo (a member of the Grist 50) is bucking his own party by even proposing the legislation. It’s a long shot, but with the right mix of ideas, it just might work. Even if this specific bill doesn’t find its way to Trump’s desk, another one could, like the plan put forth by two Republican former Secretaries of State last year.

Almost 10 years after the last major attempt at climate legislation, the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill, failed in Congress, there’s reason to believe that this time, Republicans will lead the way.

The vast amount of America’s renewable energy is now produced in Republican-voting districts, and recent polling shows that Republicans nationwide are more willing than ever to support a carbon tax — especially one that will boost the growth of innovative technologies and reduce the burden of uncertainty on businesses that deploy them.

And the renewable industry seems to think Republicans are its best shot. In the 2016 election cycle, the industry’s political donations went disproportionately to Republicans for the first time. So far in 2018, that financial gulf has widened, and now favors Republicans roughly 2-to-1. More and more, renewable energy is a bread-and-butter right-wing issue.

Still, passing climate legislation is a tall order for an administration led by someone who has said climate change is a hoax. And, this week, congressional Republicans planned a symbolic resolution against carbon taxes that could be divisive — 42 Republican members have joined Curbelo in a bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, and this vote would be the first chance for them to show real support. But now that Republicans control all three branches of government, it’s up to them to craft the next steps for environmental policy, for better or worse.

There are, of course, some serious flaws with Curbelo’s idea. In contrast to recent Democratic-led carbon pricing proposals, Curbelo’s bill is decidedly less aggressive. Taken as a standalone policy, replacing the gasoline tax with a carbon tax will do little to address transportation emissions, now the leading source of carbon pollution in the United States. To put the transportation sector’s emissions on a diet, there’d need to be accompanying incentives for electric vehicles and public transit.

That said, the final text of the bill has not yet been released, and these details could change.

Before you dismiss this GOP plan, remember the unyielding truth of climate change: We can’t wait for the perfect moment or the perfect piece of legislation. We have to do as much as we can, as soon as possible.

According to a report released this week, even a modest carbon tax would substantially improve the prospects for solar, wind, geothermal, and hydropower — and may help spawn a next-generation nuclear renaissance.

The most effective ways to address climate change are big and complex: reversing the demise of tropical forests, reducing food waste, encouraging family planning, shifting away from coal and natural gas. A carbon tax really only addresses that last one. But the other efforts can move forward alongside the push for a carbon tax, as part of a broad-based, radical rethink of civilization at a critical moment in our history.

Curbelo is turning the debate away from the science and toward solutions, and that should be celebrated. Now, let’s hope the other party leaders follow his lead.

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A new GOP carbon tax proposal is a long shot, but it’s a shot worth taking

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Trump and Putin are clearly in cahoots — over saving the fossil fuel industry

Eric Holthaus is a meteorologist and staff writer for Grist, covering climate science, policy, and solutions. He has previously written for the Wall Street Journal, Slate, and a variety of other publications.

Whether Russia meddled in the U.S. presidential election in 2016 is not up for serious debate — numerous intelligence agencies, both foreign and domestic, concluded it did.

During a joint press conference with President Donald Trump in Helsinki on Monday, Russian President Vladimir Putin went a long way toward answering why. 

“I did [want Trump to win] because he talked about bringing the U.S.-Russia relationship back to normal,” Putin said.

That statement was widely covered, but I’m convinced something else Putin said during the press conference is more important.

“I think that we as a major oil and gas power, and the United States as a major oil and gas power, as well, we could work together on regulation of international markets,” he said. “We do have space for cooperation here.”

Some close observers have drawn this connection before, but it’s worth saying again explicitly: There’s no way to understand Trump’s relationship with Russia without putting oil and climate politics at its center. If you’re upset at Trump and Putin for undermining our democracy, just wait until you find out that they are likely colluding to destroy our planet’s climate system, too.

After Monday’s meeting in Helsinki, it’s clearer than ever that we are at a crucial moment in our American democracy as well as in the biggest and most important fight we’ve ever had — the fight against climate change.

Fossil fuels still power 80 percent of the world’s economy, and the leaders of that dying industry might start acting in desperation to stave off its decline. You can see why rapidly eliminating dirty energy sources — exactly what science says we have to do — might be fiercely opposed by politicians who have a substantial stake in their success.

Russia is a petrostate, and the U.S. is now, too. In fact, the two countries are the world’s largest non-OPEC oil producers, extracting nearly as much as all OPEC countries combined. They also own an even greater share of the global natural gas market: Added together the two countries produce six times more natural gas than the rest of the world.

By working together, they can keep the global economy swimming in oil and gas.

And what’s the primary force working against the fossil fuel industry these days? Climate activists. It’s not difficult to see the Trump-Putin alliance as a deliberate attempt to delay action on climate change. Consider these moves:

Trump’s promise to withdraw from the Paris climate accord was specifically designed to weaken that agreement — and the spirit of cooperation it helped embody
Trump’s moves to open up offshore drilling in the Arctic will help both the U.S. and Russia access the oil-rich and increasingly ice-free region
Trump’s steel tariffs on Europe will help bolster bolster Russia’s pipeline-building oil and gas industry
Trump’s claims that by purchasing natural gas, Germany was being “controlled by” Russia is a window into his vision of fossil fuel-driven geopolitics
Trump’s buddying with North Korea might even be designed to clear the way for a Russian gas pipeline there

From their comments leading up to Monday’s meeting, it’s clear that Trump and Putin see the oil and gas industry as a critical component to their working relationship.

But here’s the thing: They will lose. Radical action on climate change is now inevitable, and the era of fossil fuels is quickly drawing to a close. Either the world bands together to shift culture and the status quo away from fossil fuels, or the climate system will do it for us.

With the costs of counteracting climate change coming down and the risk of locking in existential damages rising by the day, the only reason to delay is greed. And the truth is, now that more people than ever support action on climate change, it’s strong democratic institutions that are a direct threat to the oil industry.

The quicker we resolve to move away from our dependence on fossil fuels, the quicker Putin and Trump will become powerless.

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Trump and Putin are clearly in cahoots — over saving the fossil fuel industry

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WeWork kicks meat to the curb in the name of climate change

WeWork announced a company-wide meat ban on Thursday: Poultry, pork, and red meat are officially no longer on the menu at WeWork events. And employees can’t charge meals that contain meat to the company card, either. That’s because the coworking Goliath seems to be moderately concerned that the human race is hurtling toward ecological collapse.

Like it or not, eliminating meat and dairy from your diet is probably the No. 1 thing you can do for the planet. Cutting out plastic straws? Sea turtles the world ’round appreciate it, but in terms of addressing climate change on a planetary scale, it doesn’t cut the mustard. That’s why the folks here at Grist dot org didn’t throw a party when Starbucks made plans to ditch straws and replace them with … plastic sippy cup lids. Perhaps it should take some inspiration from WeWork?

The company’s cofounder dropped the meat ban announcement on his employees in a memo. WeWork, valued at $20 billion, serves 253,000 members across the globe, and none of them will be nibbling on pigs-in-a-blanket on company premises anymore — unless they bring them from home, I guess.

The new meat ban will do the following by 2023, according to the company’s estimates:

Save 16.6 billion gallons of water
Prevent 445.1 million pounds of CO2 from entering the atmosphere
Spare the lives of more than 15,000,000 animals

While WeWork’s meat-free commitment is no doubt the most environmentally impactful step it’s taking, the company is also working to reduce its energy consumption by installing LED lights, automatic light switches, and a “global energy consumption dashboard,” something it hopes will help employees keep track of energy usage. It’s also working to reduce construction waste, increase the density of its real estate, and minimize additional construction. The company says its spaces are already 2.5 times more efficient than a typical office.

That’s pretty impressive! And to those of you who say you can’t give up meat, I ask you: Would you rather drink from a plastic sippy cup like a giant baby, or forgo the chicken skewers at your next company picnic like a well-adjusted grownup? The choice is yours. Unless you’re at WeWork, because your bosses already decided for you.

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WeWork kicks meat to the curb in the name of climate change

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Scott Pruitt can’t escape his investigations just because he resigned

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

Scott Pruitt may be out at the EPA, but he left in the midst of more than a dozen federal investigations into his conduct. The bulk of these investigations are audits that the EPA’s Office of Inspector General agreed to take on. A week after Pruitt’s resignation, the OIG confirmed that these investigations won’t be ending just because Pruitt is no longer in office.

The independent EPA office will continue work on at least five audits, “all of which focus on programmatic, systemic, and/or operational agency issues,” Kentia Elbaum, a spokesperson for the OIG office, wrote in an email to reporters. Some of these audits were already examining issues that predated Pruitt’s arrival, but they have all expanded in scope to include revelations about how Pruitt deployed EPA resources. That includes whether the EPA adhered to its policies on Pruitt’s first-class flights and travel through December 2017; Pruitt’s approval of raises for two employees using the Safe Drinking Water Act; and reports of his staff deleting records that should be preserved under the Freedom of Information Act. And the two others pertain to his 24/7 protective security detail.

Three of these audits could be completed as soon as August, according to Elbaum.

Now, audits are not the same as criminal investigations. Once the office issues its findings, Pruitt would only face public embarrassment since he’s no longer employed by the agency and can’t be directly reprimanded. But a number of Pruitt’s critics have said that he is worthy of a criminal probe, given the reports that he used his public office to find a job for his wife. OIG would not comment on whether Pruitt faces a criminal investigation. “While the EPA OIG announces nearly all of our audit work, we cannot confirm or deny the existence of criminal investigations, which look for violations of law,” Elbaum said. “We can say that any criminal investigations that may have existed at the time of Mr. Pruitt’s resignation will continue.”

In May, Pruitt confirmed that he established a legal defense fund to help him through his investigations. As head of the EPA, he would have had to walk a fine line to not run afoul of ethics law in collecting his donations. Now, he’s free from those restraints.

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Scott Pruitt can’t escape his investigations just because he resigned

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This year’s global hurricane boom could go into overdrive

The powerful weather pattern known as El Niño has been blamed for massive wildfires, crippling droughts, and global food shortages. And it’s looking increasingly likely that another one is on the way.

The latest outlook from the National Weather Service, out Thursday, says there’s a 70 percent chance that El Niño will arrive before the end of the year. Summertime outlooks for El Niño are generally pretty accurate, so it’s a big deal that the weather pattern is still in the forecast.

Another El Niño would carry far-reaching consequences for the world’s weather, one of which may have already arrived: Hurricanes and typhoons have been popping up more often than normal this year. (Both are place-specific names; the meteorological term for these storms is tropical cyclone.) El Niño warms the waters of the Pacific Ocean, providing additional fuel for tropical cyclones and increasing their activity by about 15 percent.

As of Thursday, according to Grist’s analysis of available weather data, cyclone activity in the Pacific Ocean is running about 42 percent above normal; in the Indian Ocean, it’s about 40 percent above normal. But in the Atlantic, it’s a whopping 370 percent above normal. Some of this is just random chance, but at least in the Pacific, the early signs of El Niño have already arrived.

All this has already led to several cyclone disasters in a season that’s just getting started.

In May, Cyclone Mekunu struck Oman, bringing two years’ worth of rainfall in a few hours and creating a huge swath of temporary lakes in one of the driest deserts on Earth. This week, more than 600,000 people were evacuated in China’s Fujian province before Typhoon Maria made landfall. Meanwhile storm-weary Puerto Rico received a scare from Hurricane Beryl, before it fizzled shortly after reaching the Caribbean.

Earlier this month, Typhoon Prapiroon kicked off a record-breaking torrential downpour in southern Japan. More than 70 inches of rain have fallen — about four-months worth in 11 days — a precipitation level on par with what Texas experienced during Hurricane Harvey last year. More than 200 people have died so far as a result, and the damage is so widespread that Japanese officials are comparing it to the 2011 earthquake and subsequent tsunami.

To be clear, El Niño is a natural, cyclical phenomenon that the Pacific Ocean has undergone for millennia. And just because there’s an El Niño brewing doesn’t mean every rainstorm everywhere is connected to it. But there’s growing evidence that climate change is starting to make stronger El Niños happen more often. And that evidence, combined with the fact that climate change is increasing cyclone-related rainfall intensity anyway, is easily enough implicate human activity in the worst of  floods that occur against the backdrop of an El Niño year.

We need to look back only to 2015 — the last visit from El Niño — to find the busiest tropical cyclone season in recorded history. So far, this year is just a storm or two off that pace.

Over the past 15 years, the National Weather Service has called for an impending El Niño in their July outlooks six times. They’ve been wrong only once, in 2012. Sure, they could be wrong this year, but don’t bet on it. If the building El Niño arrives, global air temperatures will surge, lagging a few months behind the warmer oceans. That would give 2019 a good shot at knocking off 2016 as the warmest year on record. With a strong El Niño, global temperatures might even tiptoe across the 1.5 degree-Celsius mark — temporarily crossing a major milestone that climate campaigners are fighting to prevent.

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This year’s global hurricane boom could go into overdrive

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Lab 257 – Michael C. Carroll


Lab 257

The Disturbing Story of the Government’s Secret Germ Laboratory

Michael C. Carroll

Genre: Science & Nature

Price: $1.99

Publish Date: October 13, 2009

Publisher: HarperCollins e-books


Strictly off limits to the public, Plum Island is home to virginal beaches, cliffs, forests, ponds — and the deadliest germs that have ever roamed the planet. Lab 257 blows the lid off the stunning true nature and checkered history of Plum Island. It shows that the seemingly bucolic island in the shadow of New York City is a ticking biological time bomb that none of us can safely ignore. Based on declassified government documents, in-depth interviews, and access to Plum Island itself, this is an eye-opening, suspenseful account of a federal government germ laboratory gone terribly wrong. For the first time, Lab 257 takes you deep inside this secret world and presents startling revelations on virus outbreaks, biological meltdowns, infected workers, the periodic flushing of contaminated raw sewage into area waters, and the insidious connections between Plum Island, Lyme disease, and the deadly West Nile virus. The book also probes what's in store for Plum Island's new owner, the Department of Homeland Security, in this age of bioterrorism. Lab 257 is a call to action for those concerned with protecting present and future generations from preventable biological catastrophes.

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Lab 257 – Michael C. Carroll

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How to trick Scott Pruitt into reading about environmentalism

Scott Pruitt runs a “factory of bad ideas.” All five feet and eight inches of him are fully submerged in a scandal bog of his own making, he’s cut staffing levels at the EPA to below Reagan-era levels, and the dude thinks climate change could help “humans flourish.”

Evidently, good samaritans have tried to help Pruitt become a better EPA administrator by sending him a few crucial works of environmental literature. In all, the rumor-ridden science-denier has received 11 books from concerned citizens, including: Pope Francis’ 2015 climate encyclical Laudato Si, Rachel Carson’s game-changing Silent Spring, Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, and two copies of Global Warming for Dummies.

Alas, like that old dude who wouldn’t eat his green eggs and ham, Scott Pruitt won’t read his green literature. At least one of the people who sent in a book reported that it had been returned. But what would happen if Pruitt read up on climate change? And, more importantly, how could we trick him into getting a well-rounded education? Glad you asked! We have a few ideas.

Tactically slip a copy of Silent Spring into his tactical pants. What better book to carry around in the back pocket of your $1,500 sneaky pants than a seminal work about the chemicals silently killing America’s treasured wildlife?
Print excerpts from An Inconvenient Truth on the back of that Ritz-Carlton lotion he loves so much. Yeah, sending your aides all over Washington, D.C., to track down your favorite lotion is inconvenient, but Pruitt could deal with scaly elbows AND the planet’s dry patches at the same time. Talk about convenience!
Add Pope Francis’ Laudato Si to a Chick-Fil-A menu. Is that a new chicken nugget combo? No, Scotty! It’s “On Care for Our Common Home.” You might be trying to get your wife a job at the Home of the Original Chicken Sandwich, but we’re trying to save the planet: Home of the Original Human Race.
Two copies of Climate Change for Dummies? No problem. We’ll put one copy in the front-seat pocket of his seat on a first class flight, and we’ll use the other to tastefully wallpaper the bathroom in the energy lobbyist’s condo he was staying in.

Look, Sam-I-Am got that guy to eat green eggs and ham in the end — he even ate them in a boat and with a goat. We know Scott Pruitt won’t be reading books about climate change in the rain or on a train anytime soon. But if, as he’s lying on his old Trump hotel mattress one night, Little Scotty P does happen to pull a stack of climate change encyclicals out from under his pillow, we say to him:


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How to trick Scott Pruitt into reading about environmentalism

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