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North Dakota tribes issue thousands of IDs to stop voter suppression

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If North Dakota tribal members show up to the polls today without proper ID, indigenous leaders are determined to make sure they’re still able to exercise their right to vote.

The Supreme Court recently declined to hear an appeal of the state’s new, restrictive voter ID law, which requires the listing of a valid residential address. Since many tribal members use P.O. boxes, the law has the potential to disenfranchise a large portion of the state’s Native community. But organizations have been rallying to help tribal members meet the requirement, even as late as Election Day.

“It’s an absolutely critical election. We won’t sit quietly and let our people be denied their right to vote,” Standing Rock Tribal Chairman Mike Faith said in a statement.

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In the days leading up to the midterm election, indigenous leaders rallied to issue thousands of new ID cards for would-be voters. The campaign, dubbed #StandingRockTheVote, is the result of a partnership between several North Dakota tribes and nonprofit advocacy organizations fighting voter suppression. As of last week, the Standing Rock Sioux, Turtle Mountain Chippewa, and Three Affiliated Tribes had distributed more than 2,000 new ID cards to their members free of charge so that they won’t be turned away at the polls. Through a GoFundMe page, the group raised more than $230,000 for the initiative in 17 days. The Native American Rights Fund also donated $50,000.

“We are modeling how we can work together to ensure our Native vote is as a large as possible,” said Phyllis Young, an enrolled member of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and a field organizer for the coalition that is mobilizing voters.

Young is working alongside Four Directions, a nonprofit that supports Native voting rights, and Lakota People’s Law Project, which works to protect Lakota land and resources. Together they’ve devised a “failsafe” plan to make sure no native voters fall through the cracks on Election Day.

For anyone who still doesn’t have a qualifying ID when they show up to vote, tribal officials and volunteers will be present at polling places to issue documents on the spot that comply with voting laws. As long as voters in need of ID can verify their tribal membership and point out where they live on a map, officials will help them find a corresponding residential address and issue a letter verifying their eligibility.

Matt Samp, an organizer at Four Directions says his group successfully tested the method of issuing documents on the spot at the state auditor’s office last week. It’s a technique that hasn’t been tried before this year — and can work, in part, because North Dakota is the only state that doesn’t require voter registration.

“Our first effort has been getting people new IDs. We don’t want to have to use this letter one time, but if we have to we have it,” Samp said. “I shouldn’t have to be on the ground doing this, but that’s the law they made, so we’re complying with it.”

In 2016, members of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa sued the state over the residential address requirement, arguing that the rule would disproportionately impact Native American voters who faced additional barriers to securing the necessary ID. Some critics contended that the law was aimed at suppressing the Native vote. Eighty-three percent of Sioux County, where the Standing Rock reservation is located, voted for Democratic candidate Heidi Heitkamp for in 2012. She ended up winning her Senate seat by just 3,000 votes, and her victory is largely attributed to the support she received from the indigenous community.

Daniel Hovland, chief judge for the U.S. District Court in North Dakota, initially ruled that the new voter ID law placed “excessively burdensome requirements” on the state’s Native American voters. That decision allowed people with mailing addresses on their IDs to vote in the primaries. But the state appealed, and a higher court sided with them this September, putting the restrictive law back into play for the midterm election. The Spirit Lake Tribe filed another suit in federal court asking for emergency relief from the mandate, but Judge Hovland denied their emergency request last week, on the grounds that such a last-minute change would cause “confusion.”

It’s unclear what the new law (and the efforts to issue new IDs to tribal members) might mean for the election. Heitkamp is running for reelection in a close race against Republican candidate Kevin Cramer. Although Heitkamp has been vocal about some issues important to tribes in North Dakota — like addressing the issue of missing and murdered indigenous women — she received criticism for failing to back Standing Rock opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline. Heitkamp’s campaign website also says she supports oil and coal.

But just because of Heitkamp’s stances have left a sour taste with some Native American voters doesn’t mean they won’t show up at the polls. Because of the lengths Young, Samp, and others have gone to get out the vote, Native Americans are now expected to have a higher-than-normal turnout in the North Dakota election on Tuesday.

“We’re trying to turn a challenge into an opportunity,” says Daniel Nelson, Program Director at the Lakota People’s Law Project, adding that the sentiment on the ground is actually pretty jubilant. “Democracy is alive and well at Standing Rock.”

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North Dakota tribes issue thousands of IDs to stop voter suppression

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Did Brett Kavanaugh lie about his environmental record?

Brett Kavanaugh, the Supreme Court nominee accused of sexual assault by Dr. Christine Blasey Ford, wants you to know that, at the time of the alleged incident, he was just an average teenage virgin. His pastimes included “hanging out and having some beers” with his buddies, OK? In normal amounts, allegedly. And you know what? It’s difficult to definitively prove that his version of events isn’t true.

What we do have a record of, however, is how Kavanaugh has voted on the environment. “In some cases, I’ve ruled against environmentalists’ interests, and in many cases I’ve ruled for environmentalists’ interests,” he testified to the Senate Judiciary Committee on September 5. So why did one law professor call him the “Voldemort” of environmental law?

Unfortunately for lovers of the truth and also planet Earth, the honorable judge may have mischaracterized his environmental credentials, as the Intercept reports. Let us please turn to the receipts.

During that testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Kavanaugh named Natural Resources Defense Council v. EPA as an example of a time he upheld environmental regulations. As Sharon Lerner wrote in the Intercept, he actually ruled against three out of four of the challenges brought by environment groups in that case. And the one point he sided with environmentalists on wasn’t “especially environmental,” an NRDC senior attorney told Lerner.
But what of his opinions? Did the judge pen fiery defenses of the environment during his tenure? Not really. An Earthjustice analysis found that, when deciding 26 EPA-related cases, Kavanaugh sided with the deregulation camp 89 percent of the time.
Kavanaugh, unlike most normal human beings, doesn’t seem to have a soft spot for nature’s majestic fauna. An analysis from the Center for Biological Diversity shows that Kavanaugh voted against wildlife 96 percent of the time. Do all judges just hate animals? Nope! That same analysis shows conservative judge David Sentelle voted against animals 57 percent of the time, and moderate judge Merrick Garland voted against them 46 percent of the time.
The last nail in Kavanaugh’s environmental coffin comes from President Trump himself, who sent out an email this summer praising the Supreme Court nominee for overruling federal regulators “75 times on cases involving clean air, consumer protections, net neutrality and other issues.”

For someone who has attended so many sports games, this former football bro is pretty bad at keeping score. Maybe all the beverages he’s consumed in his lifetime have clouded his ability to remember his environmental voting record.

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Did Brett Kavanaugh lie about his environmental record?

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What do vaping and offshore drilling have in common? Amendment 9.

The Sunshine State is no stranger to high drama come election season. This year, Florida is the place to watch if you’re curious how toxic algae has changed the Senate race or how Puerto Rican émigrés are shaping policy on the mainland. It’s also the place to be for voters with a disdain for both fossil fuels and e-cigarette vapors — they’ll get a chance to hit two birds with just one ticked oval on the ballot.

If passed, Amendment 9 would ban both offshore drilling and indoor vaping in the state constitution. A series of unusual events has led to the pairing, which only could have happened in Florida.

Florida is the sole state that appoints a commission with the power to refer constitutional amendments to the ballot. This Constitution Revision Commission only forms once every 20 years — and this is the lucky year. It exercised a unique power: “bundling” several proposals that span multiple issues into a single amendment. In contrast, if a proposed amendment were to make it to the ballot via petition, it’s bound by a “single-subject rule” aimed at preventing “log-rolling” — forcing voters to compromise one issue for another, or leading an unpopular measure to success by tying it to a more likable cause.

“Grouping some ideas which share common elements is for the benefit of the voter,” Brecht Heuchan, chair of the commission’s Style & Drafting Committee, said in a press release. “Grouping some ideas together keeps the ballot from becoming too lengthy to complete.”

The commission is now defending that reasoning in court after a retired Florida Supreme Court justice challenged six amendments on the ballot — including Amendment 9 — and charged the commission with “a form of issue gerrymandering.” In early September, a circuit judge sided with the plaintiff and ruled to have the amendments taken off the ballot, but Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi quickly appealed.

“I’m hopeful and I have every reason to believe it will be on the ballot from November,” Lisa Carlton, author of the proposal to limit where e-cigarettes can be used, tells Grist. “We’ll have to wait and see what the final decision is.”

Carlton, a former Republican state senator, was appointed to this year’s Constitution Revision Commission by Governor Rick Scott. When it comes to pairing her proposal with a stop to offshore drilling, she’s enthusiastic.

“The issues together send a message of clean air, clean water,” says Carlton, who believes her original proposal encompassed both health and environmental benefits. “I cannot think of anything more important than protecting our near shores in Florida,” she says.

Others are worried about marrying the two issues. The Florida League of Women Voters’ endorsement of the amendment comes with a caveat: “Our concern for the environment overrides our concern about putting vaping in the Constitution.”

“Frankly, bundling offshore drilling with vaping — it’s laughable,” says Patricia Brigham, president of the Florida League of Women Voters. Asking Floridians to vote on an amendment that encompasses unrelated issues puts voters in a difficult position, she says. It also makes the amendment harder to understand.

Another pairing that has left some voters scratching their heads is an amendment that addresses both college fees and death benefits for spouses of first responders and military members killed in the line of duty.

Manley Fuller is the president and CEO of Florida Wildlife Federation, the organization that wrote the language on offshore drilling now included in Amendment 9. He wasn’t happy about the bundling at first, either — but if his organization was going to be forced to tango with anybody, he’s glad it happened to be the vaping measure.

“There were other [proposals] which were much more complicated and very divergent,” Fuller says. “Vaping was probably the least objectionable.”

It’s been a long battle to stop offshore drilling. Only recently has it become a cause with bipartisan support. Rick Scott opposed a similar constitutional ban in 2010, but he’s now running to keep his seat on a platform that challenges the Trump administration’s attempts to expand offshore drilling. If passed, Amendment 9 offers permanent protection of the state’s shores and marine habitats.

“The reason we need to put it in the constitution is to send a clear message that Floridians do not want oil or gas drilling in our state marine waters,” says Fuller.

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What do vaping and offshore drilling have in common? Amendment 9.

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Trump’s power plan proposal is “about coal at all costs”

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

When President Obama unveiled the Clean Power Plan in the East Room of the White House three years ago, he called it “the single most important step America has ever taken in the fight against global climate change.” Today, that plan, which would have reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 19 percent in 2030 relative to 2005 levels, will be replaced by the Trump administration’s “Affordable Clean Energy” proposal, which will give states more authority to craft regulations for coal-burning power plants and replaces the “overly prescriptive and burdensome” requirements in the CPP with what they describe as “on-site, heat-rate efficiency improvements.”

These regulations are expected to only decrease CO2 levels by a fraction of the amount that were anticipated under Obama’s plan. The Environmental Protection Agency has acknowledged this will lead to hundreds of more deaths each year, along with sharp increases in the number of hospital admissions, lost work days, and school absences because of the health impacts of dirtier air. Not to mention the fact that increased emissions of carbon dioxide will further accelerate global warming.

“The ACE Rule would restore the rule of law and empower states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide modern, reliable, and affordable energy for all Americans,” said EPA acting administrator Andrew Wheeler in a statement. Wheeler and EPA air pollution chief Bill Wehrum are both former lobbyists for coal-producing companies that benefit from the agency’s new rule.

The Clean Power Plan faced powerful opposition from nearly the moment it was signed. Several coal-producing states, including Texas and West Virginia, led a group of industry stakeholders to ask the Supreme Court to stay the CPP in January 2016 pending an appeals court’s ruling. The Court agreed to temporarily block the plan and it has been suspended ever since.

Republicans, state environmental officials, and fossil fuel industry titans have urged the Trump administration to replace the Clean Power Plan for the past several months, citing its costs and dubious legality under the Clean Air Act. All 11 Republican members of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee wrote to former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt in January asking him to eliminate the rule. “Not only is the CPP bad policy, it is unlawful,” they wrote. “Congress did not give EPA the authority to transform our energy sector.”

Former agency officials blasted the proposal in a call with reporters hours before the EPA unveiled ACE. Gina McCarthy, the EPA administrator who developed the CPP under Obama, called its replacement “galling and appalling.”

“This is all about coal at all costs,” she said. “They are continuing to play to their base and following industry’s playbook step by step.”

Senator Bernie Sanders, an Independent from Vermont and a member of the Environment and Public Works committee, tweeted after the announcement, “Trump is actively destroying the planet in order to enrich his billionaire friends in the fossil fuel industry. We must fight back.”

The savings highlighted in Trump’s proposal — $400 million in annual net benefits with a reduction in CO2 emissions of up to 1.5 percent by 2030 — include a severe human cost, which the agency mentions in the fine print of its 289-page impact analysis.

Because of an increase in a tiny air pollutant known as PM 2.5, which contributes to smog and is linked to asthma and heart disease, the EPA predicts between 470 to 1,400 more deaths and thousands more lost days of school. Depending on how aggressively states make efficiency standards for individual power plants, those numbers could decrease.

“The Clean Power Plan would have reduced particle pollution along with the CO2 benefits by 25 percent by 2030. And we know reduction in particle exposure means saved lives,” said Janet McCabe, the former head of EPA’s Office of Air and Radiation. The EPA deferred a request for comment on former agency officials’ criticism of the Trump plan to an agency press release about the proposal.

The United States’ level of CO2 emissions actually decreased in 2017, but experts fear that a weakened regulatory scheme with decentralized goals could hike up rates of pollution nationwide. “Environmental regulation in many cases is one of the leading causes of the decline in emissions that we observed over the past twenty years,” said Reed Walker, an associate professor at UC Berkeley who co-authored a recent study that found regulation to be a key factor in reducing emissions in the manufacturing sector, even with increasing output. Under Wheeler and former EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, the federal government has started the process of rolling back at least 76 environmental regulations, according to the New York Times. Many of these rules include protections to wildlife habitats and restrictions aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions.

Trump, who will celebrate the Affordable Clean Energy proposal at a rally in West Virginia, has propped up coal miners with several regulatory decisions. In June, he ordered Energy Secretary Rick Perry to bail out struggling coal-fueled power plants and, last month, the EPA finalized a rule that relaxes the requirements for storing toxic coal ash. He also announced his intention to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris climate agreement.

Once the Trump administration’s proposal is formally published, members of the public will have 60 days to comment on it. The EPA also plans to hold a formal hearing.

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Trump’s power plan proposal is “about coal at all costs”

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Fossil fuels are the problem, say fossil fuel companies being sued

Big Oil and the cities suing them in federal court agreed on at least one thing on Wednesday: Human-made climate change is real.

In the country’s first court hearing on the science behind climate change, a lawyer for Chevron, Theodore Boutrous Jr., said the oil company accepts the scientific consensus. He quoted chapter and verse from the reports of the International Panel on Climate Change, the thousands of scientists assembled by the United Nations to figure out exactly what’s going on. “From Chevron’s perspective, there is no debate about the science of climate change,” Boutrous said.

Oil companies have recently started saying they’re on the side of science, but they’ve never said it so clearly in court.

San Francisco and Oakland are suing BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Shell, arguing that the corporations that profit from fossil fuels should pay for the seawalls and pumps needed to protect them from rising tides. But Boutrous, the only oil company lawyer to speak at the hearing, didn’t accept blame, pointing the finger instead at the people who burned the fossil fuels. In other words, oil doesn’t cause climate change. People burning oil cause climate change.

For five hours, the two sides tried to explain climate science, after U.S. District Court Judge William Alsup had asked for a tutorial. A gaggle of 100-some attorneys, climate advocates, and journalists packed the mid-century-modern courtroom. Alsup strode into the room dressed for science, wearing a smart-looking pair of browline glasses and a tie decorated with images of the solar system.

In the run up to this hearing, journalists compared it to the Scopes monkey trial in 1925, which found a teacher guilty of telling students about evolution, but Alsup shot down such comparisons. “We have these tutorials so the poor judge can learn some science — it helps to have science,” he said in a soft southern accent.

The big question going into the hearing: Would the oil companies try to cast doubt on the evidence that their business model is heating the earth? Climate skeptics have been trying to make their voices heard by sending in friend-of-the-court briefs with their own spin on the evidence, but Boutrous stuck to the scientific consensus unveiling a deft bit of legal jiu jitsu that could form the core of the oil company argument as the case moves forward. Alsup would occasionally raise some climate-skeptic argument, and both sides would explain why it didn’t make sense.

Big Oil’s POV

Boutrous started by citing reports from the IPCC as an unimpeachable authority. These reports are an “amazing resource” he said, before quoting them at length. Boutrous explained that the IPCC has found with increasing certainty over the years that humans fossil fuel use is the primary driver of climate change — but that’s not the only point Boutrous wanted Alsup to absorb. He twice read a quote from the IPCC that climate change is caused “largely by economic and population growth.”

Then, Boutrous added his interpretation. “It doesn’t say that it’s the production and extraction that’s driving the increase,” he said. “It’s the way people are living their lives.”

This appears to be the core of the oil companies’ strategy. First, believe everything the IPCC says. Second, the IPCC says the real problem is prosperity, economic growth! Therefore, blame the ones burning the oil — all we did was dig the stuff up.

To hammer it home, Boutrous showed an IPCC graph of emissions from the United States and China since 1970, with a scale that makes U.S. emissions look like a flat line.

“One thing that surprises me is that the U.S. has gone up, but not gone up much,” Alsup mused, leaning on folded hands. “But China has gone up dramatically.”

“Correct,” Boutrous responded. That’s because China’s population has grown, and its coal-burning economy has grown even more. The implication was clear: It is demand for energy driving carbon emissions, not the companies providing the fossil fuels.

Death by PowerPoint

While the oil companies just had one slick lawyer making a focused argument, the cities had three scientists scrolling through their very own PowerPoint presentations. The scientists hammered some simple points, aided by many graphs of temperature over time. They also skated quickly over some bewildering complexity.

Alsup didn’t let the tricky stuff fly over his head — he jumped in to make the presenters explain. At one point, he questioned Oxford scientist Myles Allen on the graph he was using: “Explain that graph there? I still don’t get it,” Alsup said.

Allen’s explanation only muddied the waters further. “I just don’t think your chart demonstrates what you’re telling me,” Alsup said. After a moment, Allen realized he must have grabbed the wrong figure. “You’re absolutely right,” he said.

At another point the court waited on tenterhooks as a scientist tried to get an animation of sea-level rise to work. It didn’t.

To be sure, the plaintiffs had a bogglingly complex task. There are hundreds of thousands of studies on climate change, and Alsup had asked them to boil it all down into a two-hour presentation, which just isn’t the way science works. Science advances through accumulation of evidence backed by piles of data, but law advances through argument.

After the final expert, University of Illinois scientist Don Wuebbles, had plowed through 20 minutes of facts and figures, Alsup tried to pull him from his PowerPoint. “Just in the last 10 minutes: You heard what the other side said right? What critique would you make?” But Wuebbles declined to respond and returned to his PowerPoint presentation.

The showdown that wasn’t

Alsup appeared to want to see some of the classic climate-skeptic arguments fought out, face to face, in his courtroom. But nothing doing. Each side agreed, for instance, that greenhouse gases are more important than water vapor in warming the planet. If nothing else, that seems like a victory for climate hawks: When all the Big Oil companies are willing to say, clearly and unambiguously, that humans burning fossil fuels are warming the planet, it means that the terms of debate have shifted.

Boutrous represents only Chevron, but Alsup held the feet of the other companies to the fire, too.

“You can’t just get away with sitting there in silence then saying, ‘He’s not speaking for us,’” Alsup told to the attorneys for the other companies. “You have two weeks to tell me if he said something you disagree with.”

This court tutorial was the first of its kind for climate science, but it’s not entirely out of the ordinary. Judges are frequently called on to serve as arbiters of scientific uncertainty, so it only makes sense that they sometimes ask for primers from scientists to get themselves up to speed. “In this age of science, we must build legal foundations that are sound in science as well as in law,” wrote Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. “Scientists have offered their help. We in the legal community should accept that offer.”

Even if this tutorial persuades Alsup, the cities could still lose. The oil companies seem poised to argue that those who bought petro-products are just as responsible as those who sold them. And they will almost certainly argue that those suffering the ravages of climate change should try to fix things by passing laws rather than suing businesses. That’s a position even the most liberal members of the Supreme Court have held in the past.

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Fossil fuels are the problem, say fossil fuel companies being sued

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A court showdown poses climate change questions. Scientists have answers.

On Tuesday, the court will hear arguments about a California law that tries to clarify the facts that women receive about their reproductive rights. The accuracy of that information becomes increasingly important as environmental disasters — which are growing more, uh, disastrous — endanger women more than men. Women can be better prepared by having full control of their reproductive decisions.

Crisis pregnancy centers are organizations, often masquerading as medical clinics, that attempt to dissuade women from seeking abortions. California’s Reproductive FACT Act, passed in 2016, requires reproductive health clinics and CPCs to post notices advising their clients that the state provides free or low-cost family planning, prenatal care, and abortion; and that CPCs publicize that they are not licensed to practice medicine.

Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal organization representing the centers suing the state of California, claims that the requirements of the Reproductive FACT Act are unconstitutional because they require CPCs to “promote messages that violate their convictions,” Bloomberg reports. The state of California argues that information provided by medical professionals is publicly regulated, and that women who depend on public medical care and are unaware of their options should not be provided with confusing information.

Last February, a Gizmodo-Damn Joan investigation found that women seeking abortion clinics on Google — because, let’s be real, that’s how a lot of us find medical care — could be easily led to CPCs instead, as Google Maps does not distinguish them from real medical clinics.

We’ll be watching this case.

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A court showdown poses climate change questions. Scientists have answers.

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Kids are beginning to picture scientists as women.

On Tuesday, the court will hear arguments about a California law that tries to clarify the facts that women receive about their reproductive rights. The accuracy of that information becomes increasingly important as environmental disasters — which are growing more, uh, disastrous — endanger women more than men. Women can be better prepared by having full control of their reproductive decisions.

Crisis pregnancy centers are organizations, often masquerading as medical clinics, that attempt to dissuade women from seeking abortions. California’s Reproductive FACT Act, passed in 2016, requires reproductive health clinics and CPCs to post notices advising their clients that the state provides free or low-cost family planning, prenatal care, and abortion; and that CPCs publicize that they are not licensed to practice medicine.

Alliance Defending Freedom, the legal organization representing the centers suing the state of California, claims that the requirements of the Reproductive FACT Act are unconstitutional because they require CPCs to “promote messages that violate their convictions,” Bloomberg reports. The state of California argues that information provided by medical professionals is publicly regulated, and that women who depend on public medical care and are unaware of their options should not be provided with confusing information.

Last February, a Gizmodo-Damn Joan investigation found that women seeking abortion clinics on Google — because, let’s be real, that’s how a lot of us find medical care — could be easily led to CPCs instead, as Google Maps does not distinguish them from real medical clinics.

We’ll be watching this case.

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Kids are beginning to picture scientists as women.

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Climate change will have its Scopes Monkey Trial this week

In 1925, a Tennessee substitute teacher was indicted by a grand jury for teaching evolution to his high school class. That case, the Scopes trial, became famous for pitting science against the Bible, and it helped pave the way for educational reform.

On Tuesday, a case in California could do for climate change what the Scopes trial did for evolution. Last September, San Francisco and Oakland filed major lawsuits against five of the world’s largest oil companies — BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, Exxon Mobil, and Shell.

All of those companies are constantly being sued for making large and sometimes permanent environmental messes. But the people of California aren’t suing BP and co. for spills, explosions, or other easily traceable disasters. Rather, they’re suing because those companies:

  1. knew about climate change decades ago,
  2. continued doing business as usual, and
  3. engaged in a world-wide public relations campaign to sow confusion over climate science.

California says the companies have been using deception to profit as the planet warms, and they should pay for the infrastructure the state needs to protect itself against rising sea-levels.

The lawsuits join others in a new wave of court cases: the climate suits. Two weeks ago, a climate change lawsuit filed by 21 kid activists against the Trump administration was cleared for trial. A week later, Arnold Schwarzeneggar announced plans to sue Big Oil for committing “first degree murder.” And New York City hit polluters with a double whammy in January: the city decided to divest billions of dollars in pension money from fossil fuels and filed a lawsuit against some of the biggest polluters in the industry.

The cases pit people against industry and government, and, whether or not the people win, the legal battles could mark the beginning of a shift in the way fossil fuel companies are held accountable in court. This particular case is especially novel, thanks to an unorthodox judge named William Alsup.

The judge presiding over the Bay Area cities-vs.-oil companies case isn’t your average federal justice. Alsup’s the guy who blocked the Trump administration’s attempt to end DACA, taught himself how to use a programming script for a Silicon Valley lawsuit, and, as part of another tech battle, asked two ride-sharing services to give him a tutorial on self-driving cars to make a better-informed ruling.

Alsup’s quest for a well-rounded education means that before this trial moves forward, both parties must give him a two-part, first-of-its-kind tutorial in climate science in no more than two hours each. It’s a highly unusual request from a judge, experts say, and it will give Americans the opportunity to follow along as big polluters finally go on record about climate science and climate denialism.

Judge Alsup has submitted 14 questions for each party in the case to answer, including:

What caused the various ice ages?
What are the main sources of CO2 that account for the incremental buildup of CO2 in the atmosphere?
Why hasn’t plant life turned the higher levels of CO2 back into oxygen?

Most of the 14 questions could be answered by a precocious fifth grader. But the hearing, according to Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, will be the first time oil companies defend themselves in court against decades of climate science.

“Up until now, fossil fuel companies have been able to talk about climate science in political and media arenas where there is far less accountability to the truth,” Burger says.

The complaint

In addition to providing answers to Alsup’s questions, the plaintiffs will likely present evidence that oil companies knew about the harmful effects of CO2 on the atmosphere at least since the 1970s. They may also highlight the prize-winning 2015 investigation by InsideClimate News, which revealed that Exxon purposefully misled the public about the risks of fossil fuels in order to protect its business. Despite having long known about the dangers of fossil-fuel consumption, California will charge that the “defendants continue to engage in massive fossil fuel production.”

As CO2 levels spike and global temperatures increase, melting glaciers have caused flooding in California’s coastal cities. The state’s argument rests on the charge that fossil fuel producers have caused a public nuisance. While the accusation sounds like something you’d call a drunk guy making a ruckus in the street, in legalese, it’s dead serious, constituting a crime that jeopardizes the welfare of a community.

The defense

While the oil companies are unlikely to deny climate science, they are expected to highlight areas of uncertainty on its specifics. Even though climate science has made leaps and bounds in the past decade, scientists still readily admit how hard it is to pin down exactly how much sea-level rise we can expect in the next 50 to 100 years. You can be sure Big Oil’s lawyers will question the validity of some climate science’s conclusions in court.

But they won’t stop there. The defendants will probably try to get the case dismissed on the grounds that the complaint “calls into question longstanding decisions by the Federal Government regarding, among other things, national security, national energy policy, environmental protection, development of outer continental shelf lands, the maintenance of a national petroleum reserve, mineral extraction on federal lands.” And the lawyers will rightly point out that their clients have “produced billions of dollars for the federal government.” In other words, they’ll try to argue that, by putting this case on trial, the government is biting some of the hands that feed it.

The defendants have already achieved one victory — they requested that the case be heard in federal instead of state court, where local laws are tough on big polluters. Just Friday, fossil fuel companies suffered a blow when a different set of lawsuits from three Californian counties were successfully moved to state court. But, for this case, Judge Alsup agreed with industry, saying a “patchwork of 50 different answers to the same fundamental global issue would be unworkable.”

What happens if California wins

If San Francisco and Oakland win their respective suits, the five oil giants might have to pay billions of dollars into an “abatement fund,” a reserve that the cities can use to pay for seawalls and other infrastructure to protect their citizens against rising oceans.

But the case might not even make it to trial. California could quite possibly ace the upcoming climate change tutorial and lose the case nevertheless. The tutorial puts climate science in the spotlight, but the oil companies could persuasively argue that California’s sea-level concerns (and the damaging storm surges that accompany sea rise) can’t be pinned on individual companies.

“There are legal obstacles that could prevent this case from ever going to trial,” Burger says. “The science could play a role in some of these preliminary arguments, but the ultimate questions about whether the science equates with legal liability for these plaintiffs, the factual connection between these particular parties’ actions and the particular harm suffered by these cities, may never get heard.”

In other words, California could win the battle but lose the war. The oil companies hope the case will ultimately get dismissed or shunted up to the Supreme Court where legal precedent favors polluters. That doesn’t necessarily spell doom for the future of the climate suit.

If the court ultimately rules in favor of the defendants, there’s a long line of similar lawsuits waiting for their day in court. Buckle up, polluters! You’re in for it now.

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Climate change will have its Scopes Monkey Trial this week

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A judge rules that rushing approval for the Dakota Access Pipeline violated the law.

U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg issued a ruling Wednesday that deemed the previous environmental review process inadequate. His decision comes in response to a legal challenge filed by Standing Rock Sioux in February, after President Trump greenlit the pipeline shortly after his inauguration.

Specifically, the judge said the Army Corps of Engineers, which must approve pipelines that cross water, “did not adequately consider the impacts of an oil spill on fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice, or the degree to which the pipeline’s effects are likely to be highly controversial.” According to Jan Hasselman, the Earthjustice attorney representing the tribe, the ruling represents possibly the first time that a federal judge has dinged the Army Corps for not considering environmental justice concerns.

The Army Corps must now do additional review. Hasselman is unsure what form that will take. “Do they just try to paper this over with a supplemental or revised environmental assessment, which is likely to lead to more litigation?” he says. “Or do they go back to the environmental impact statement process?”

The tribe has argued for months that the pipeline would endanger their drinking water and ancestral lands. Since oil began flowing in March, the pipeline has already leaked several times. Oil will continue flowing for now, but Standing Rock Sioux Chair Dave Archambault II said the tribe “will ask the Court to shut down the pipeline operations immediately” while it undergoes further environmental review. A ruling could come on that demand in as soon as six weeks.

Related: Read Grist’s investigation of the paramilitary tactics used to track and target pipeline opponents.

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A judge rules that rushing approval for the Dakota Access Pipeline violated the law.

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Trump Wants to Let Your Boss Take Away Your Birth Control

Mother Jones

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The Trump administration is considering a broad exemption to Obamacare’s mandate on contraceptive coverage, according to a leaked draft of the proposed rule published by Vox on Wednesday.

Since 2011, the Obamacare provision has required that most employers provide insurance that covers birth control, without any cost to the patient. The rule has been the target of a number of lawsuits by religious employers who felt that the requirement violated their religious beliefs. Showing sensitivity to such concerns, in 2014 the Supreme Court ruled in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that some religious employers could opt out of the coverage. But the court required them to file paperwork indicating their objection, in turn triggering separate contraceptive coverage for employees provided directly by the insurance company. That ruling, though, didn’t settle the issue for religious groups. In a follow-up 2016 Supreme Court case, Zubik v. Burwell, a number of religious organizations said that even this accommodation required them to violate their beliefs, as the paperwork made them complicit in providing birth control coverage. The Supreme Court sent the case down to the lower courts, where it has still not been resolved.

Now, the Trump administration seems ready to extend the birth control exemption beyond just religious employers. According to the leaked draft, dated May 23, the new rule would allow virtually any organization to opt out of the mandate if they feel contraception coverage violates “their religious beliefs and moral convictions.”

“This rule would mean women across the country could be denied insurance coverage for birth control on a whim from their employer or university,” said Dana Singiser, vice president for public policy and government relations of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, in a statement. “It would expand the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling to allow any employer—including huge, publicly traded companies—to deny birth control coverage to their employees. Think about it: Under this rule, bosses will be able to impose their personal beliefs on their female employees’ private medical decisions.”

What’s more, this draft doesn’t require employers opting out of the mandate to notify the government they are doing so; they’re only required to notify employees of a change in their insurance plans. Insurance companies could also themselves refuse to cover contraception if it violates their religious or moral beliefs.

This appears to provide an even broader exemption than what team Trump has previously signaled it would enact. Throughout the campaign, Trump assured religious leaders their organizations would not have to comply with the contraception mandate: “I will make absolutely certain religious orders like the Little Sisters of the Poor are not bullied by the federal government because of their religious beliefs,” he wrote in a letter to Catholic leaders last year, referring to the order of nuns that were party to the Zubik Supreme Court case. And on May 4, Trump, flanked by the Little Sisters of the Poor, signed an executive order about religious liberty, which encourages several agencies to address religious employers’ objections to Obamacare’s preventive care requirements, including contraception.

It is unclear what changes may have been made to this draft since May 23, but what is clear is that the rule is in an advanced stage of the process; the Office of Management and Budget announced that it is currently reviewing it, the penultimate step before the rule is enacted via posting in the Federal Register.

You can read the full draft, obtained by Vox, below:

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Preventive Services Final Rule (PDF)

Preventive Services Final Rule (Text)

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Trump Wants to Let Your Boss Take Away Your Birth Control

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