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Trump has no standards when it comes to vehicle emissions

President Donald Trump just slashed vehicle mile-per-gallon requirements. That will not only lead to more gas guzzlers on the roads, but more greenhouse gases and pollution-related deaths.

The move stops gas mileage standards from ratcheting up past 2020 levels, nixing Barack Obama’s Administration standard which ramps up to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025. Instead, that target will top out at around 37 mpg after 2021.

The Trump administration also announced it was trashing a decades-old waiver that allows California to set its own pollution and gas-mileage standards above the federal government’s. Because California has so many car buyers, automakers follow the state’s guidelines, effectively making California’s higher standards the country’s.

Scrapping current mileage standards is likely to cost Americans billions of dollars, according to Energy Innovation, a pro-clean energy nonprofit. Allowing cars to guzzle more gas will also contribute to a host of pollution-related health problems: heart attacks, strokes, and respiratory disease.

Energy Innovation

Another risk is runaway climate change. By 2035, these changes will likely bump up yearly emissions by 11 percent from where they would be under the Obama standards. But, thanks to the popularity of electric cars, Energy Innovations expects things to take a turn for the better. More EVs on the road could help emissions reverse course by 2040.

Energy Innovation

The Trump administration’s move will also leave your wallet a little lighter. Junking the efficiency standards and the California waiver means we’ll all be buying more gas  — $457 billion more, according to Energy Innovation. It’s as if the Trump administration added a 57-cent tax in 2040. But instead of paying that money to the government so that it can repair roads and build better transit options, we’ll be giving it to the oil industry.

Energy Innovation

None of this is guaranteed. California’s Attorney General Xavier Becerra is fighting to keep the standards in place. “We’re ready to file suit if needed to protect these critical standards,” Becerra said in April when the EPA said it might slash them. A few weeks later California and 16 other states sued the Administration.

At the very least, legal challenges could delay the revisions into November, when midterm elections will gauge the public’s enthusiasm for the administration’s policies. The legal wrangling could also reopen the case that gave the EPA authority to regulate greenhouse gases, giving an increasingly right-leaning Supreme Court the chance to weigh in. In the meantime, all this creates a lot of uncertainty for automakers, as they try to figure out what goals they’ll need to hit seven years from now.

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Trump has no standards when it comes to vehicle emissions

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Hold on to your snowballs: More Americans accept the reality of climate change than ever before

Seventy-three percent! That’s the proportion of Americans who now think there is “solid evidence” of global climate change, according to a new report released by National Surveys on Energy and the Environment (NSEE). It’s the highest percentage since the survey started in 2008.

Good news? Sort of. Even those who accept the reality of climate change are still hazy on the causes. Only 34 percent of those sampled believed that climate change is due primarily to human activity, as established science indicates. As for the rest, 26 percent thought it was partially due to humans and 12 percent blamed natural causes. Come on, people!

Before you tear your hair out, here’s a quick lesson in the types of climate denial. “Trend deniers” are people who question whether the climate is changing at all — like the infamous snowball-throwing James Inhofe. “Attribution deniers,” on the other hand, question whether the changes can be linked to human influence — more in line with Scott Pruitt’s oh-so-vague climate beliefs.

Evidence suggests that trend deniers are on a sharp decline. Only 15 percent of those sampled in this study believed the climate was not changing at all. “That’s the lowest percentage since we started the survey,” says Barry Rabe, coauthor of the report and professor at the University of Michigan.

This has been a long time coming. Americans are experiencing more extreme weather on a personal level (heat waves, anybody?) and are seeing a growing number of reports about rising sea levels and melting polar ice.

National Surveys on Energy and Environment

But at the same time, attribution deniers are still around — and they present problems for anyone hoping to pass climate legislation.

“Those who are averse to mitigation aren’t as vehemently challenging the science of climate change, as they are the ability of policies to make any difference,” says Christopher Borick, director of the Muhlenberg Institute of Public Opinion and another coauthor of the report.

This has been particularly visible in the Trump administration, where climate denial has taken the form of rejecting human influence rather than rising temperatures more generally. And, by denying the role of humans, the Trump team has absolved itself of making any significant policy changes — well, except for rolling back environmental regulations.

At least we don’t have to waste as much paper showing why a single snowball doesn’t disprove the reality of a warming world. But if you think that climate change is only partially — or not at all — caused by humans, you’re even less likely to take the drastic actions needed to prevent catastrophe.

“In general, having Americans accept the existence of climate change is a necessary condition for policy action,” Borick argues. “But it’s not sufficient.”

Borick and Rabe are hopeful that we will continue see slow movement toward both acceptance and action. The surveys show some hints that trend deniers can become attribution deniers — and that attribution deniers, in turn, may eventually accept the full science of climate change. But, if the last decade is any indication, it’s going to take a while.

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Hold on to your snowballs: More Americans accept the reality of climate change than ever before

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Losing Justice Kennedy puts fundamental environmental protections in peril

In a letter hand-delivered to President Trump on Wednesday, Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement after 30 years on the Supreme Court.

Trump has already hinted at a list of potential replacements — all of whom are likely to side with the court’s now clear conservative majority. Kennedy has been the swing vote for decades. And without his moderating influence, advocates of the environment will face a steep challenge in winning over a majority of the justices.

With time quickly running out before the world locks in dangerous levels of climate change, that’s a frightening proposition. A more conservative-leaning court could make broad modifications to U.S. law that could last for decades. With environmental protections weakened, future presidents who want to take action on climate will have a much tougher time making lasting policy decisions.

It’s not an exaggeration to say that, when it comes to climate change and environmental protection, the next Supreme Court justice’s opinions will have consequences that are planetary in scope.

Since the implications of a solidly conservative Supreme Court are so far-reaching, Grist reached out to several environmental law experts to learn which specific rulings and regulations could be most at risk. Responses were lightly edited for clarity.

Massachusetts vs. EPA: Gives the government authority to regulate greenhouse gases as pollutants.

Justice Kennedy was in the majority on Massachusetts v. EPA. It would be quite something if a new court, by a 5-4 decision, opted to reverse such recent precedent. But given what we have seen in the last few days [from the Supreme Court], it’s not impossible to see it happening.

—Michael Burger, Columbia University Law School

The Clean Air Act and climate protections are most at risk. Kennedy was the deciding vote on Massachusetts v. EPA, which reaffirmed the Clean Air Act as the most important mechanism for regulating greenhouse pollution economy-wide. We’re one vote away from losing fundamental protections for our climate.

—Kassie Siegel, Center for Biological Diversity

“Waters of the United States” Rule: Provides protection to some wetlands.

The Trump Administration’s proposal to rescind the Obama-era Waters of the United States Rule — which would curtail the federal government’s authority to limit pollution in wetlands and other smaller bodies of water under the Clean Water Act — may well ultimately end up before the Supreme Court. Justice Kennedy’s replacement will influence how we protect our air and water, as well as how we respond to climate change, for generations to come.

—Augusta Wilson, Climate Science Legal Defense Fund

Clean Power Plan: Limits greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

I’m particularly concerned about the regulations that the Trump administration will introduce to replace Obama-era climate protections — for example the replacement to the Clean Power Plan. The administration will no doubt be gutting some of these rules and potentially violating statutory mandates in the process. It’s much more likely that the Supreme Court will uphold the replacement rules with another Trump nominee replacing Kennedy.

—Jessica Wentz, Columbia University Law School

​There is a good chance that the new justice will go along with the other conservative justices in narrowly reading the regulatory authority that statutes like the Clean Air Act and the Clean Water Act give to EPA and other federal agencies. This could be bad news if the next President tries to revive something like the Clean Power Plan, which was widely portrayed as pushing the envelope of EPA’s authority — an issue the courts still haven’t decided.

—Michael B. Gerrard, Columbia University Law School

Standing: Allows plaintiffs to bring environmental grievances to court more often.

My main concern is how the newly configured court will interpret environmental groups’ standing to sue to enforce federal laws. Justice Kennedy had a nuanced take on standing, and it is likely that Trump’s nominees will have a more blunt approach, one that seeks to significantly curtail the ability of these groups to get into court.

—Burger

The future for environmental laws or standards:

Litigation is often the only option for those seeking to protect air and water and ensure public input on the value of sensitive ecosystems, endangered species, other wildlife species, and for those wanting to preserve important national landscapes. My general thought is that Kennedy was the last bulwark of reasonableness against the Trump Administration’s environmental onslaught. Every environmental lawyer I know is incredibly fearful of what this retirement will mean for the future of environmental protection in the United States.

—Hillary Hoffmann, Vermont Law School

I think just about any environmental rule that makes its way to the Supreme Court after Kennedy’s successor is appointed will be in jeopardy. We already have four hyper-conservative justices who tend to vote along ideological/party lines — and antipathy towards regulation, particularly environmental regulation, is a core part of that ideology. I have no doubt that Trump will nominate another conservative justice who shares his anti-regulation agenda. Through this justice, Trump will be able to continue advancing his deregulatory agenda for years after he his presidency ends.

—Wentz

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Losing Justice Kennedy puts fundamental environmental protections in peril

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Trump’s new tariffs could make America suck again for coal miners

One of President Trump’s new policies is making America less great for the very people he promised to make it great for: coal miners and fossil fuel executives.

Back in March, Trump decided to slap tariffs on steel and aluminum imports — 25 percent on the former, 10 percent on the latter. To no one’s surprise, the two industries in question are pretty overjoyed. You know who’s less enthused? Almost everyone else — particularly U.S. coal miners, who say the levies are dousing China’s appetite for American coal with a bucket of lukewarm water.

And coal isn’t the only sector steeling itself against a trade fallout. Trump’s zeal to boost production in steel country is backfiring on the fossil fuel industry, just as people predicted. Let’s take a closer look:

At the 2018 World Gas Conference on Monday, the CEOs of the biggest oil giants in the world, ExxonMobil’s Darren Woods and Chevron’s Michael Wirth, said the tariffs will likely slow oil and gas growth — right smack in the middle of a pretty historic shale oil and gas boom. The tariffs “run the risk of making [energy] projects less competitive,” Woods said. That’s because the tariffs raise the costs of materials for new pipelines and liquified natural gas facilities.
Last year, Trump and China’s president, Xi Jinping, agreed to build something called the Appalachian Storage and Trading Hub — a multi-billion dollar project composed of an enormous network of pipelines, gas processing facilities, and below-ground storage. If built, the hub would sprawl from Pennsylvania all the way to Kentucky, and it would be the biggest infrastructure project in Appalachia to date. But Trump’s new tariffs, and a possible ensuing trade war, have put the project in jeopardy because they could cost China billions of additional dollars.
America’s coal industry isn’t doing so hot domestically, but coal exports are going through something of a boom right now. Guess what Beijing just put on a list of U.S. products that could get hit with Chinese tariffs, thanks to Trump’s dedication to aluminum and steel? Yep — coal. The tariffs also put a major deal between a big Chinese coal importer and two U.S.-based companies on the rocks. The deal concerned 1 million tons of coal exports per year.

Well, there you have it. Who woulda thunk Trump would be the person to get in the way of his own dumb plan?

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Trump’s new tariffs could make America suck again for coal miners

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Even Scott Pruitt’s friends have given up on him

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

EPA chief Scott Pruitt may still be clinging to his job despite his ever-expanding list of controversies, but his inner circle of allies is shrinking fast.

Since April, seven key EPA staffers have resigned, four of whom had once worked for him or were longtime friends he brought to the EPA from Oklahoma. And while not directly affiliated with the EPA, Senator James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican who has been a key ally of Pruitt’s, recently revealed some cracks in his support. On Wednesday, when Fox News personality Laura Ingraham observed that Pruitt was “hurting the president”and it was time for him to go, Inhofe replied,“I’ve seen these things. They upset me as much as they upset you, and I think something needs to happen to change that.” He suggested that one solution “would be for him to leave that job,” and that the deputy EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler “might be a good swap.”

Inhofe’s connection to Pruitt runs deep. His former chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, became Pruitt’s chief of staff and reportedly wanted to quit the agency, according to an E&E report in early April. So far, he has remained in his position, and the House oversight committee plans to interview him as part of its investigation into Pruitt’s conduct. Four of his former EPA colleagues who have since left have also been asked to appear before the committee.

A turning point in staff loyalty may have occurred in April, when news broke that Pruitt had rented a $50-a-night condo co-owned by an energy lobbyist for six months. After that, a series of stories about his questionable behavior appeared, and one by one, his formerly loyal staff began to exit the EPA.

Here they are:

Samantha Dravis: One of Pruitt’s first and closest advisers, she worked for the EPA Office of Policy and was often seen by his side. She knew Pruitt from her days as general counsel to the Republican Attorneys General Association and president of its affiliate dark-money group Rule of Law Defense Fund, both of which Pruitt chaired during his time as Oklahoma attorney general. On April 20, she officially left the EPA for the private sector after taking a three-month leave from the agency between November and January. Unnamed agency officials told CBS and the Washington Post that her decision had nothing to do with the bombardment of news that came days later about Pruitt renting a condo from the lobbyist and approving inappropriate pay raises for two staffers.

Albert “Kell” Kelly: Two weeks after the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation fined Kelly for his alleged involvement in a loan that hadn’t received FDIC approval, Scott Pruitt hired his old friend “Kell” at the EPA in 2017 to lead the Superfund Task Force. The former banker’s company had issued three mortgages to the Pruitts and provided a loan to finance Pruitt’s stake for co-ownership of a minor league baseball team, according to an investigation by the Intercept. Kelly, seen as a close confidante of his EPA boss, left the agency in early May (on the same day as another official, Pasquale Perrotta). In a statement, Pruitt praised the “tremendous impact” Kelly had on the Superfund program, which Pruitt has singled out as his personal achievement, adding, “Kell Kelly’s service at EPA will be sorely missed.”

Pasquale Perrotta: Pruitt’s head of security, Perrotta, quit the agency on the same day as Kelly, accelerating his retirement after serving under four EPA administrators. Perrotta came under fire for helping to enable Pruitt’s expansive spending, signing off on regular first-class flights that Pruitt had justified as necessary because of security concerns. The EPA hired Perrotta’s business partner at his private security firm, Sequoia Security Group, for security sweeps when Pruitt arrived.

Liz Bowman: A four-year veteran of the chemical lobby American Chemistry Council, Bowman arrived at the EPA to run its communications team. During Pruitt’s tenure, the press shop has shut out reporters who cover the EPA from events while turning to conservative media to create an echo chamber amplifying Pruitt’s message. Bowman sent her resignation letter as the chief spokesperson for the agency on April 30 and, in early May, assumed her position to handle communications for Senator Joni Ernst, Republican of Iowa. Just after her resignation letter, the Atlantic reported that a communications staffer had been reportedly shopping negative stories about another Cabinet member, the Department of Interior’s Ryan Zinke.

John Konkus: Konkus was second-in-command in the press shop, and his departure was announced on May 4, making him the fourth staffer to leave that week. Last year, the aide was tasked with cutting contracts from the Obama years, and reportedly combed through grants and contracts looking for the phrase “climate change.” True to his communications roots, on his LinkedIn page, Konkus frames this experience in a positive light: “Completely reformed the $4B/annual grant award and solicitation process at the agency to adhere to the new EPA strategic plan and better reflect the policies of the Trump Administration.” He also sparked a minor controversy for receiving an ethics waiver to work as a Republican political consultant while at the EPA. A former field office director in Florida for Trump’s presidential campaign, Konkus is headed to another federal agency — this time, the Small Business Administration, where he will be in charge of communications.

Sarah Greenwalt: Another Oklahoma aide from when Pruitt worked as state attorney general, Greenwalt, a senior counsel, announced her departure in early June. She was one of the two aides who received a 53 percent raise from Pruitt, who used the Safe Drinking Water Act to approve the raises after the White House rejected them. She is leaving to become an attorney for the Oklahoma Workers Compensation Commission.

Millan Hupp: Once an employee of Pruitt’s in Oklahoma, Hupp came to the EPA to do his scheduling. She was one of the five staffers interviewed by the House oversight committee for her involvement in finding Pruitt a used Trump hotel mattress and housing with the energy lobbyist, which Democrats say violates federal law forbidding Pruitt from using EPA staff and resources for private gain. The Atlantic quoted an anonymous staffer saying she left because she was “tired of being thrown under the bus by Pruitt.” Hupp was one of the two staffers to receive a raise unauthorized by the White House from Pruitt. Her sister Sydney Hupp also worked at the agency and left last year. She helped Pruitt’s wife, Marlyn, set up a meeting with Chick-fil-A in an unsuccessful bid to own a franchise. She may not have a franchise, but she was responsible for yet another possible violation of federal law.

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Even Scott Pruitt’s friends have given up on him

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The U.S. forced Bikini Islanders to deal with nuclear tests and climate change. Now, it’s walking away.

Anderson Jibas, the mayor of Bikini Atoll, has for years wanted to assert his nation’s financial independence from the United States. And late last year, he found an unlikely ally in his battle: the Trump administration.

At the end of last year, the Department of the Interior released $59 million to the Bikini government to spend on whatever it wants, whenever it wants. The decision ended almost three decades of what Jibas has branded a colonialist system.

Bikini Atoll is part of the Marshall Islands, a widespread chain of more than 1,000 islands. In 1946, the U.S. evacuated its 167 residents and spent the next 12 years testing nuclear bombs in the area. To this day, Bikini is uninhabitable, and its natives’ descendants remain in exile — mainly on the previously uninhabited Kili and Ejit islands, roughly 500 miles to the southeast.

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Today, Kili and Ejit, as well as the entire Marshall Islands, face a grave threat from sea-level rise spurred by climate change. In fact, a new report funded by the U.S. military, which appeared in the journal Science Advances, argues that previous estimates of many tropical atolls being uninhabitable by the 22nd century were too conservative. The recent research suggests that rather than the sea swallowing these islands, titanic waves crashing over them will ruin freshwater supplies for residents closer to 2050.

The U.S. set up a trust fund to help the Bikinians settle on these unfamiliar islands, doling out a yearly allowance to local officials. The Bikini Resettlement Trust Fund, as it is known, has become the subject of an acrimonious battle and ideological debate over the future of Bikini. For the Kili-Bikini-Ejit (KBE) government, Interior’s decision to hand over control of the fund represents a move towards self-determination. It sees control over the funds as crucial to being able to fortify Kili and Ejit from climate change-related hazards. But others — including Lisa Murkowski, the Republican Senator from Alaska, which also faces threats due to a warming world — wonder if the U.S. has essentially washed its hands of the islanders, leaving atoll officials to face the future without any support.

In December 2017, Murkowski introduced legislation to re-establish U.S. oversight of the Bikini trust fund. In February, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing to discuss the bill.

“We need the opportunity to move ahead and not just sit back and get slapped in the face with old colonialist and paternalistic systems that demean our honor and our integrity and treat us like children who do not know what they are doing,” Mayor Jibas said during his testimony.

According to his government, its limited annual budgets are almost depleted by funding food, fuel, housing, and education on Kili Island, leaving little for climate mitigation. With the newly released money, the council is making plans to place riprap along most of the seashore, plant vegetation that will prevent sea water from pouring inland, replace the current housing stock with buildings three to four feet above ground, and install solar-powered pumps to redirect rising water.

If all this fails, the spectre of another relocation looms, and Bikinians will likely require a bail out from the world’s richer nations.

Jack Niedenthal is skeptical of the council’s sudden windfall. An American citizen who lives on the islands and managed the Resettlement Trust Fund for 30 years, he — like Murkowski — believes the U.S. is simply abdicating its responsibility to the islanders.

“Think about it: Here’s this embarrassing event that’s been a thorn in your side for decades; and now, in a congressional hearing, you have a Bikinian saying ‘We’re never coming back to the U.S. again for anything,’” Niedenthal says. “If I’m the U.S., I’m doing cartwheels.”

Gordon Benjamin, the Marshallese lawyer representing the Bikini government in its negotiations with Interior, says he’s pleased at the faith Department officials are placing in the council. “I don’t like Trump, I’ll say that right now,” he explains, before noting that the move is “very Republican: Basically, they love to see communities taking charge of themselves.”

The decision to hand the KBE government control over the nearly $60 million fund is a substantial change to an arrangement where Interior would essentially set a yearly allowance for the council, which would then decide how to spend these funds. Interior officials would occasionally inquire about proposed expenditures, but they largely approved whatever the islanders wanted.

But on August 2017, the KBE government passed a motion rejecting U.S. oversight of the fund. The trust was not supposed to last forever, it argued, and the current annual allowance was too meager to allow the islanders to make long-term investments. To the Bikini council’s surprise, the U.S. didn’t push back. In a letter sent this past November, Doug Domenech, assistant secretary for insular areas at Interior, told Jibas that the department would no longer ration the fund.

Lisa Murkowski, the U.S. senator from Alaska who has a history of standing against the Trump administration, argues the decision runs counter to a U.S vow made in 1946, which stated that, “No matter where the Bikinian people found themselves, even if they were adrift on a raft at sea or on a sandbar, they would be taken care of as if they were American’s children.” She has suggested that Interior is abandoning its responsibility to the people of Bikini.

The move represents an awkward deviation from her usual ideology, as she herself acknowledged during February’s hearing. “I need you all to know that I am very sensitive to the notion that Washington, D.C., should not dictate local government decisions,” she said. “Alaskans have dealt with that mentality since we were a territory.”

But Murkowski has always had a reputation as an independent-minded politician — she won her 2010 Senate election as a write-in candidate — and has a history of engaging closely with issues relating to the Marshall Islands. She visited the country in person in April, meeting with ministers and chiefs. As an Alaskan, she also sees common ground with the Marshallese. Amchitka Island, part of the Aleutian Island chain in western Alaska, was the site of three underground nuclear detonations between 1965 and 1971. She found that, there too, residents weren’t given the continuous support they needed to recover in the aftermath of the bombing.

But this debate could all be moot if Murkowski’s bill dies before it reaches the Senate, as Jack Niedenthal thinks it might. Recalling the hearing in February, he says that there was only one senator left in the room by the time the Bikinians had finished testifying.

As the legislation languishes in Congress, the KBE government is making big plans for its newfound millions. In addition to its climate-adaptation plans, it intends to lease an airplane, revive its diving industry, and develop an informational tour around the atoll, which UNESCO listed as a World Heritage site in 2010.

“These are things we wanted to explore,” Benjamin says. “And we couldn’t do that with $2.5 million a year.”

Niedenthal, however, is unconvinced of the council’s claims it will put significant amounts of the added money toward climate change. He fears the islanders could be left destitute, without money to run their power plant, make housing repairs, pay for health insurance, fund scholarships, or even hold council meetings. And, once the Trump administration is out of office, it could be a challenge to hold the U.S. accountable, even as the descendants of the people it once bombed sink into poverty.

“If they had put together a proposal, for example, and said, ‘Look, we need extra money out of the trust fund to spend on these walls,’ I think [Interior] would have said yes, if it was specifically going to be spent on climate change activities,” he explains. “I think what’s happening now is you use whatever excuses, and it’s just spending money.

“They can talk about investments,” Niedenthal adds. “But I don’t see any investing yet.”

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Look! A federal agency is pushing for urgent climate action.

It’s well-understood at this point that the Trump Administration is no friend to science-based governance. But there’s one federal agency bucking that trend.

The Bureau of Reclamation, a division of the Department of Interior, raised fresh alarm in a press release this week about the dire drought in the Southwest.

“We need action and we need it now,” said Trump appointee Brenda Burman, who runs the bureau, in the release. “We can’t afford to wait for a crisis before we implement drought contingency plans.”

Looking at the data that Burman’s agency supplied, though, it’s clear that the crisis is already here. Runoff from the Rocky Mountains into the Colorado River is expected to be just 42 percent of normal this year, which would continue a 19-year dry spell that ranks as the driest on record for the region. Such clear-eyed focus on the urgency of climate action has been almost unheard of for a Trump-era official.

“Dating back to 2000, this current period is one of the worst drought cycles over the past 1,200 plus years,” the bureau’s statement said.

It’s worth emphasizing that last point: There’s a megadrought happening right now in the United States. Over the past decade, according to the bureau’s latest numbers, the risk of reservoirs falling below critical levels has approximately tripled. And there’s “no indication the current low runoff and drought conditions will end anytime soon,” according to the agency. With this winter’s dry weather, the chances of the first official shortage on the Colorado River in U.S. history have risen to 52 percent in 2020.

The Bureau of Reclamation has responsibility for managing much of the water of the western United States, and, so far, it looks like it’s taking that responsibility seriously — using weather and climate forecasts as a primary guide.

As Grist recently reported, tensions are rising along the Colorado River as water levels plummet. The river supplies 40 million people with drinking water, and also nurtures millions of acres of some of the most productive farmland in the country. With booming populations and climate change already strangling water supply, the outlook is increasingly dire.

The way the laws governing the Colorado River are structured, Arizona is first in line for significant cuts should conservation efforts fall short. The state’s water allotment from the Colorado River would be cut by 20 percent starting in 2020, jeopardizing its economic growth. Understandably, folks there are watching what Burman has to say very closely.

The need for quickly coming to consensus on conservation is “vitally important to Arizonans,” said Thomas Buschatzke, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources, in the bureau’s statement.

While Burman didn’t actually utter the words climate change in her comments this week, her insistence on the urgent need to ramp up conservation is in line with the overwhelming scientific consensus of how climate change is expected to worsen droughts in the Southwest in coming decades.

In her confirmation hearings last year, she said, “I believe that climate change is not a hoax,” which is about as good as can be expected from anyone tied to the Trump administration these days.

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Look! A federal agency is pushing for urgent climate action.

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A former EPA chief’s got advice for surviving the Trump era

If the last year and a half has been rough for you, just imagine you’re Gina McCarthy, former EPA administrator under Obama, watching as your legacy is dismantled by Scott Pruitt.

In a speech in Seattle on Wednesday, McCarthy said people have been coming up to her and asking, “Gina, how are you?” like she’s a dead woman walking.

Her response? She’s doing just fine.

McCarthy, now the director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard, addressed a crowd gathered to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Climate Solutions, a nonprofit working to give the Pacific Northwest a 100-percent clean energy grid.

The best advice she gave to EPA employees when she left office, McCarthy said in her keynote address, was to “keep your asses in your seats” and wait out the Trump era. Her speech contained some great advice for the rest of us too.

Trust the courts to take care of Pruitt

McCarthy didn’t mince words when it came to Pruitt, her scandal-ridden successor at the EPA. “You’ve got an administrator who doesn’t know the law … and huddles in the corner with the few people he trusts,” she said.

In Pruitt’s eagerness to reverse Obama-era rules, he’s produced sloppy work that risks being struck down by the courts. It’s happened to six of his proposed rollbacks already.

McCarthy admitted that she’s “ticked off” about what’s going on in Washington, D.C.: “The Trump administration is rolling back everything we did — or even considered.” But she added, “Good luck with that.”

Have faith in young people

McCarthy points that creative ideas generally don’t start with the federal government. “It’s not trickle-down economics, it’s trickle-up grassroots,” she said.

Grassroots efforts like the Women’s March have inspired McCarthy. Her favorite sign? “I can’t believe we still have to march for this shit.”

She says that young people demanding equity and justice are going to keep the country from moving backwards, in addition to local climate action and the business community’s growing commitment to social causes.

“If you think young people can’t change the world, look at Florida,” she says. There, high schoolers from Marjory Stoneman Douglas stood up, sparking a gun control law in Florida and a renewed national movement against gun violence.

Don’t be a Debbie Downer

McCarthy sometimes wakes up in the morning and her husband is watching TV, upset about the latest Trump Twitterstorm. And she tells him, “Shut up!” as nicely as possible.

“Let’s be hopeful once in a while,” she says. “Get off MSNBC and Fox News and get out there.”

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A former EPA chief’s got advice for surviving the Trump era

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Lyft pledges to cancel out the carbon from your next ride

Lyft, the ridesharing technology company, announced Thursday that it’s balancing out the carbon emissions from its fleet by purchasing carbon offsets. Basically, this means the firm will plow some of its revenue into funding projects that reduce greenhouse gases — think: planting trees or investing in wind energy projects — in order to cancel out the emissions from the more-than-a-million rides its app facilitates each day.

The carbon-neutral pledge suggests the company is taking some responsibility for the roughly 50 million monthly rides serviced through its platform. It’s also part of a larger strategy to lessen Lyft’s carbon footprint and to provide a billion rides a year via autonomous electric vehicles by 2025. Some energy experts have applauded the announcement, while suggesting it should be the first in a multistep process to ensure Lyft isn’t just removing the pollution it adds, but that it’s making less in the first place.

“I think it’s very much a partial step,” says Daniel Kammen, a professor of energy at University of California, Berkeley. “Recognizing it and offsetting it is not the full answer,” he says. “But it’s certainly a great start.”

While ridesharing has certainly been an innovative technology, Kammen notes, it’s not great for the planet. (Kammen adds that Lyft’s director of sustainability, Sam Arons, was a graduate student in his lab.) Emissions-wise, Americans continuing to hop into cars across the country is something to worry about.

“Transportation, primarily driven by an increase in vehicle miles, has surpassed the power sector as the largest source of climate emissions in the United States,” writes Regina Clewlow, a transportation expert and founder of the mobility data platform Populus, in an email to Grist.

At University of California Davis, Clewlow researched the ecosystems around ride-hailing apps like Lyft and Uber. Her report from last fall found that the startups’ services discourage people from using public transportation, walking, and biking. In fact, 49 to 61 percent of the trips offered by those companies would have either not happened or been made by bike, foot, or public transit.

In New York, an urban transportation consulting company’s report found that app-based transportation companies have added more cars to the city’s streets. The firm, Schaller Consulting, led by a former New York City Department of Transportation senior official, found that the surge in vehicles could be increasing the amount of idling time for drivers, presumably between rides. In their analysis, they noted that on weekdays, there’s been an increase in the amount of unoccupied taxis, Lyfts, and Ubers in Manhattan’s central business district.

As for the carbon-offsetting tactic, Kammen says that in the past, these credits have not always proven to be solid. “The gripe has been that these credits are sometimes suspicious. A number of companies have done them in the past, and there have been claims everything from the same piece of conserved forest or project is being sold multiple times — there’s no verification,” he explains. “All that’s true, but definitely credits have gotten better in time.”

In its announcement, Lyft says it is working with sustainability consultant 3Degrees to verify the offsetting projects, and that all the initiatives will be in the U.S., with a majority near the app’s most popular service areas. And the company adds that it will only support projects that are new and wouldn’t have happened without Lyft’s support.

And hey, Uber — which is desperate for a public relations win — hasn’t taken such a bold step as it deals with sexual harassment scandals, ties to the Trump administration, and the recent death of a pedestrian from a self-driving Uber. Going green could help further Lyft’s clean reputation relative to its primary competitor.

Still, some have criticized carbon offsetting as a way for companies to “go green” without making more substantive changes. Kate Larsen, a director who focuses on climate change at the independent research organization Rhodium Group, says that getting cleaner vehicles into Lyft’s fleet, both autonomous and not, is an important next step. In order to meet decarbonization goals set under the Obama administration — not a formal policy under President Trump, but commonly used as a U.S. decarbonization benchmark, Larsen says — half of all cars on the road by 2035 need to be zero emissions or electric.*

“Having commitments from transportation-network companies like Lyft and Uber and others that align with those kind of goals, I think, are really what we would hope to see in the coming years as sort of the next step,” Larsen says, adding that Lyft could look at incentivizing their drivers to get electric cars.

Derik Broekhoff, a senior scientist at the Stockholm Environment Institute, a Swedish think tank, says that while Lyft’s announcement is an encouraging sign, it’s best to look at carbon offsets as an interim solution. He explains that long term, the company should look to electrify its fleet, encourage carpooling, and try to integrate more with public transit systems.

“But all those things take time,” Broekhoff says. “Carbon offsets are a good way to yield immediate results in terms of reducing your carbon footprint on the way to these deeper reductions that at least in principle they are trying to move toward.”

*Grist originally identified that under Obama-era goals, half of all cars on the road by 2030 need to be zero emissions or electric. Grist has sentenced the author to a lifetime of riding public transit.

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Lyft pledges to cancel out the carbon from your next ride

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Former administrators say Pruitt’s impact on EPA can be reversed

Amid a deluge of ethical scandals, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt seems to be on the ropes, teetering between his apparent propensity for corruption and his perceived effectiveness as President Donald Trump’s master de-regulator.

Recent articles in The New York Times, Politico, and The New Republic point out that from a policy standpoint, a lot of what Pruitt’s done may not survive in courts or outlive his tenure. Basically, all of those splashy repeals of Obama-era regulations may not hold up because Pruitt often moves too quickly and poorly crafts his regulations. Other times, he simply trumpets a proposed change that could take years to come to fruition. For example, Politico points out that Pruitt’s announced intention to roll back car-emission regulations set by the Obama administration won’t happen anytime soon. Plus, it’s likely to face legal challenges.

But when Pruitt does leave the EPA, he will not leave it unscathed. Two former EPA chiefs tell Grist that, from a gutted staff to the agency’s recent disregard for science — the very principle that’s supposed to guide the organization — a major rebuild will be necessary when a new presidential administration takes office. It could take time, they say, but they both noted the EPA could rebound from its current state.

“Their biggest rebuilding is going to be in staffing,” says Christine Todd Whitman, who served as EPA administrator from 2001 to 2003 under President George W. Bush. “They’ve lost a lot of career staff — people who were dedicated to protecting the environment and have just been so frustrated that they have moved on. Once you lose that institutional knowledge, it’s very hard to rebuild.”

In a complicated government agency, this knowledge is particularly vital. With its credibility undermined, she says convincing people of the importance of working at the EPA could be challenging.

“Every week I hear about another person leaving and these are sort of the bread and butter of the agency — they have historic knowledge, the intellectual background to do the work,” adds Carol Browner, who was EPA administrator for President Bill Clinton’s entire eight-year term. “My sense is that they want these people to leave, so they’re making life miserable.”

Browner explains that Pruitt has dismantled the agency’s reliance on science, which is supposed to undergird the EPA’s decision-making. “There’s a lot of damage being done to scientific integrity and the sort of scientific body of work that’s available to the agency making pollution decisions,” she says.

As evidence, Browner points to Pruitt’s announcement last month to disregard studies using nonpublic data, such as databases of medical records that legally need to remain confidential, in EPA analyses. These studies, she says, have been vital in better understanding public health and pollution — a position echoed by Gina McCarthy, Pruitt’s immediate predecessor at the agency.

“He’s really shrinking the amount of science that will be available for important decisions,” Browner says, “I think it’s an intentional move.”

She adds that regulation enforcement is also down. A New York Times analysis showed that in the first nine months of Pruitt’s tenure, the number of civil cases brought by the EPA fell by a third compared to the same period under Obama’s first EPA administrator, Lisa Jackson. (The number of cases was down a quarter compared to the first nine months Whitman was on the job.) The analysis also found Pruitt’s EPA has gone after fewer civil penalties from polluters, and it’s ordered fewer factories make retrofits to lessen emissions.

“That’s pollution in the air that we’re not going to get back out,” Browner says. “That’s pollution in the water that we’re not going to get back out.”

In the face of these issues, paired with Pruitt’s ethical scandals, trust in the EPA will inevitably have to be rebuilt. But the current administrator’s reputation as a tool of industry could actually be a benefit in building back the agency he’s decimated.

“Everytime that they take a step that flies in the face of protection, it becomes an opportunity for the next administration to really rebuild public trust,” Browner says.

Trust within the agency is another big project awaiting a post-Trump administrator. Whitman notes that Pruitt’s antagonistic agenda has demoralized the EPA’s workforce. Restoring the morale and mission of the EPA will be critical to getting it back on track.

“A strong new president with a new administrator who actually believes in the role of the agency—which Scott Pruitt clearly does not—that will make a big difference,” Whitman says. “It can come back. It will come back.”

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Former administrators say Pruitt’s impact on EPA can be reversed

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