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Calls for law firm to #DropExxon go national with law student boycott

What started as a single protest against the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP by law students from Harvard University last month is now growing into a movement.

During a recruitment event in New Haven, Connecticut on Thursday night for Yale Law students, 40 protestors unveiled a “#DROPEXXON” banner and began to chant at the other students and Paul, Weiss partners mingling with glasses of wine and cocktails at the bar.

“You heard it from students at Harvard, and now you’ll hear it from us,” they shouted in a call-and-response speech. “We will not work for you as long as you work for ExxonMobil. Our future is on fire and you are fanning the flames.”

Paul, Weiss recently helped ExxonMobil win a case brought by the New York district attorney alleging that the company misled investors about the costs of climate change to its business. The firm is also representing Exxon in a similar case in Massachusetts, as well as other climate cases brought by the cities of San Francisco and Oakland, California and Baltimore, Maryland. In those cases, the cities are seeking damages from multiple fossil fuel companies to pay for impacts of climate change they are already experiencing and to fund adaptation measures.

The action at the Yale reception went on for just over 10 minutes before the students pointedly filed out and left the reception. “I think it went well,” Tim Hirschel-Burns, one of the organizers, told Grist. “It is discouraging that the partners from Paul, Weiss continue to not take the climate crisis seriously, but law students certainly are, and I think they’re going to continue seeing that students are not going to accept their indifference.”

Now Harvard and Yale law students are working together to build momentum and start a larger movement. After Thursday’s protest, the coalition launched a #DropExxon pledge that asks law students around the country to refuse to interview with or work for Paul, Weiss until it drops ExxonMobil as its client. Organizers of the pledge said that students at other schools are planning additional protests.

In a press release, Yale students involved with the protest pointed out that Paul, Weiss claims that it does not “sacrifice culture and values in favor of the bottom line,” and that it has a commitment “to serve the broader public interest.” They argued that the firm cannot live up to these values while helping Exxon, citing investigative reporting that found that the company has known the dangers of climate change since the 1970s but chose to fund climate denial to protect its business.

Paul, Weiss did not respond to a request for comment on this story.

An age-old ethical dilemma

The movement raises questions about the role of lawyers in society and the right to equal representation before the law. In Harvard’s newspaper, the Crimson, Harvard student Andrew Liang wrote, “In providing such representation, Paul, Weiss is not defending climate change. It is defending the law. The legal profession does not exist to pass moral judgment on a client, but to uphold the process.”

Organizers at Yale told Grist that they are not disputing that people and companies deserve representation but said that doesn’t mean the firm does not have a choice in whom it represents. “Paul, Weiss has no shortage of paying clients to choose from, but is giving priority to a company that is sabotaging humanity’s chance to address climate change,” Yale Law School student Ify Chikezie said in a press release.

Charles Nesson, a professor at Harvard Law School, said that these are questions students need to think through as they move ahead in the profession. “A lot of students face this problem of going off into law firms and making money to pay off their student debts and finding that they’re doing work that may not be completely savory as far as the climate is concerned or justice is concerned,” said Nesson. “The amount of acceptance within the profession of legal tactics that produce unjust results is considerable.”

Nesson recently had students discuss the protest against Paul, Weiss in a class called Ideal Discourse. He said that most of his class approved of the protest, but brought up concerns about whether the action would be effective, whether it would hurt the protesters’ careers, and why they were targeting Paul, Weiss over other firms. In an online class discussion board for the class, one student wrote, “This discussion about how we square our principles with our professional roles is so important and for a lot of us, hard.”

Divestment campaigns ramp up

Outside of the law schools, others in the Harvard and Yale communities made strides last week in their campaigns to get the two universities to divest their endowments from fossil fuel companies.

On Tuesday, Harvard’s Faculty of Arts and Sciences passed a motion, 179 to 20, to call on the Harvard Management Company, the school’s endowment gatekeepers, to divest from companies that “explore for or develop further reserves of fossil fuels.” An online petition started by a group called Harvard Faculty for Divestment now had almost 1,000 signatures as of Friday. While the faculty vote has no direct influence on the endowment, University President Lawrence Bacow said he would bring the motion to the school’s governing body for consideration.

The faculty vote follows another successful campaign by Harvard alumni to nominate five candidates who will support divestment for election to the Board of Overseers, which has the power to approve who is on the board that manages the school’s endowment.

At Yale, the undergraduate student government voted unanimously on January 25 to become a part of the Yale Endowment Justice Coalition and support the group’s mission to get the school to cancel its holdings in Puerto Rican debt and divest from fossil fuel companies.

Outside of the Ivy League, Georgetown University’s president announced on Thursday that the school’s board of directors has decided to divest its holdings in fossil fuel companies.

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Calls for law firm to #DropExxon go national with law student boycott

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How to Compare Solar Energy Bids & Select a Solar Installer

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More home and business owners are installing solar panels than ever before. And we now have a greater variety of panels and solar equipment to choose from than ever before. Depending on where you live, you probably have at least two or three solar installers that service your area. This means you have a lot of options when installing a solar energy system — which can be overwhelming.

Let’s explore some of the items to consider that will help you select a solar energy installer that can meet your needs.

Research Solar Installers

Like with any other home improvement project, it is wise to get at least two or three bids from licensed solar contractors with liability insurance. Here are a few ideas for finding potential installers.

Seek Recommendations & Online Reviews

If you know people with solar systems, you can ask them about their experience and possibly get referrals that way. Online reviews are also a good way to find some of the best installers in your area. Consider how long the company has been in business, the depth of their experience, their credentials, and their reputation.

Consider Local Businesses

Whenever possible, support small, locally-owned businesses. This is beneficial for your local economy and maybe even your pocketbook. A study from the National Renewable Energy Labs (NREL) found that small- to mid-sized installers charge 10 percent less than big installers.

Review Solar Contractor Qualifications

Another important thing to consider is the qualifications of a given solar contractor. The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) certifies solar PV installers. Their requirements involve passing a written test and accumulating a certain amount of solar field experience. NABCEP certification doesn’t guarantee quality workmanship, but it does ensure a certain level of solar energy expertise and installation experience. Ideally, a NABCEP-certified professional will oversee your solar installation — or you will even have a NABCEP-certified installer on the roof.

Check Installer’s Use of Subcontractors

It is also helpful to know if a solar installer subcontracts out some or all of the solar installation. If so, find out what work the contractor will do themselves and what they outsource to a subcontractor. Subcontracting part of the job isn’t necessarily bad news. For example, they might subcontract a roofer to flash around the installation, which could improve the quality of the final results. 

Compare Project Quotes

Now that you have received quotes from at least two or three reputable solar installers, it is time to compare them. This could be a bit more difficult than you might expect because it is rarely an apples-to-apples comparison.

Some of the most crucial things to consider are the warranties, quality of the solar equipment, appearance of the solar panels, financing, and when they can complete your installation.


The solar equipment will come with its own set of warranties — this varies by the manufacturer and equipment model. There should also be a warranty on labor. Keep in mind that equipment failure can often require a couple of people to climb up on your roof to repair it. This can get expensive if labor is not covered. The more reputable equipment manufacturers and solar contractors are more likely to honor their warranties and to be in business down the road.


Solar installers tend to have solar panels, inverters, and racking equipment that they prefer using. If you are particularly excited about a particular solar product, you can ask the contractor if they will use this equipment. This can also make it easier to make a more accurate comparison between installers’ quotes.

If you don’t have particular products in mind, it is still important to consider the quality of the equipment and that it fits your priorities. Some of the most relevant considerations for solar panels are their long-term power generation, product warranties, environmental performance, appearance, and module testing performance. Cheaper solar panels have a lower upfront cost, but they may also produce less power down the line. Some panels might be more expensive partially because they have a sleek, all-black appearance, which may not be a top priority to you.


Many solar installers partner with financing companies. If you need a loan to install your solar system, consider the financing company they use. For example, what are their rates, fees, and monthly payments? This not an issue if you do not need financing or you are not going through the solar installer to obtain a loan.


When comparing bids, it is also helpful to know when a given installer can get started. Because solar is booming, some contractors have a very full schedule for months. When your solar system is installed can also impact the percentage of the federal solar tax credit as it will taper down for the next several years, effective on the first of each year.

Power Generation

Another thing to consider is power generation. Many contracts will offer estimates on how much electricity a given solar system will produce. Some installers use more conservative methods when estimating this than others, so you do not want to take their estimates literally. For example, one installer may estimate that your roof is more shaded than another installer’s estimate. This means you may want to verify these numbers to make a more accurate comparison between bids. To do this, visit PVWatts Calculator by NREL.

It is a good idea to consider your future electric needs. If a given solar system is estimated to produce more than 100 percent of your electricity needs, it may be larger than necessary. Do you plan a purchase in the near future that will increase your power consumption, such as an electric vehicle or a heat pump? If so, it is useful to slightly oversize the solar system for the time being.

Electric Bill Savings

Also, installers may estimate your electric bill savings. Make sure they used an accurate power rate by viewing your electric bills.

Examine the Contract

It is common when reading solar installer reviews to find dissatisfied customers. In many cases, the salesperson promised the customer something verbally that they didn’t deliver on.

Make sure everything that the salesperson promised is included in the terms in the contract. For example, if your solar installer promised the solar company would remove and reinstall the solar system when the roof is replaced, make sure it is in the contract. If the salesperson promised the system would be installed by December 31, before the federal tax credit tapers down a few percentage points, look for that in the contract.


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Can New York make buildings super-efficient, fast?

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

New York City passed the most aggressive climate bill in the nation in April, and the city got it done in a truly New York way.

The Climate Mobilization Act is the city’s effort to abide by the Paris climate-change agreement even after the Trump administration withdrew the U.S. from the global accords. Before its abrupt about-face, America’s plan had been to cut carbon emissions by 80 percent by the year 2050. New York is taking up that pledge by introducing new regulations to address the energy performance of buildings.

Buildings contribute a huge share of New York’s carbon emissions — nearly 70 percent, thanks to normal everyday use, but exacerbated by inefficient heating and cooling systems — so they’re an obvious target for regulation. But it’s less obvious how the building sector will answer this charge. There’s a fundamental mismatch in expertise: The people who know how old buildings really work aren’t the same people designing energy-efficient retrofits. Only a big push will get them in the same room (at great expense to landlords).

The city’s new “80-by-50” law prescribes several benchmarks along the way to the ultimate goal in 2050. Some buildings will need to produce real results soon; different types of buildings will be subject to specific targets. The city’s first big milestone arrives in 2030: By then, New York buildings will need to have collectively cut their carbon emissions by 40 percent. Any buildings larger than 25,000 square feet will be subject to the cap (with some key exceptions), which means around 50,000 buildings in total. For landlords and building owners, this is an enormous lift in just over 11 years. That’s by design.

“There’s still a lot of details to figure out as to how this gets implemented,” says Lindsay Robbins, a director for strategy and implementation at the Natural Resources Defense Council, which hashed out this policy’s compromises with the Real Estate Board of New York. “I don’t think any city has done this on this scale before.”

The hope is that New York’s climate law is awesomely burdensome. No, that doesn’t mean a ban on glass skyscrapers. But a law that turns over the everyday dealings of real estate in New York has a great deal of promise for upsetting how buildings work everywhere. That’s what this represents, according to supporters like John Mandyck, CEO of the Urban Green Council, a nonprofit devoted to making New York buildings sustainable. “This law could possibly be the largest disruption in our lifetime for the real-estate industry in New York City,” he says.

New York’s new law is an effort to make the road by walking: It’s not something anyone knows how to do until everyone commits to doing it. The fact that this legislation is sweeping in its scope is why it stands a chance of succeeding, its supporters say. It’s the first plank in the suite of legislation that Mayor Bill de Blasio describes as the city’s own Green New Deal. The idea is to build a durable industry in energy retrofitting, one that benefits everyone involved — and by doing so, establishing a model for other cities around the world. And the city can’t get there with a measure that asks building owners to simply swap out light bulbs.

“New York City is going to spend billions and billions of dollars to meet this new law. When we do that, New York Harbor is still going to flood if the rest of the world doesn’t enact aggressive climate reduction strategies as well,” Mandyck says. “Our point all along has been that if we’re going to spend the billions of dollars, let’s make sure we come up with policies that are exportable.”

New York is going it alone here

Other cities are looking at building performance, to be sure. Every city has an incentive to level up the energy efficiency of buildings: In New York, buildings alone account for 95 percent of electricity use for the city, according to the Urban Green Council. But most cities have not taken steps beyond tracking and disclosure.

More than 25 U.S. cities have adopted various energy-benchmarking policies, as have the states of California and Washington. These laws make it mandatory for building owners to report their energy use (namely their electric and gas bills). Disclosure laws have guided net-zero building codes and voluntary agreements. Philadelphia and Washington, D.C., were early signers.

It’s worth noting the limits of disclosure. Building owners who don’t meet voluntary standards don’t pay any price. Importantly, disclosure is not supposed to be a shaming tool: Benchmarking in New York might show a range in energy consumption by hotels, for example, with usage calculated per square foot so as to compare big hotels with small ones, without naming any specific buildings.

What New York is doing is more strident: It’s the first city to attach a dollar value to these disclosure figures. Washington, D.C., passed a building-energy performance standard in December for buildings over 50,000 square feet, and when buildings in the District fall out of compliance, those landlords will be moved into an advisory lane to get back on track. San Francisco passed a law this month requiring big buildings to switch to renewable electricity, an easier goal for a city with a forgiving climate located in a state with a cleaner grid.

In New York, building owners who don’t meet their carbon reduction requirements will pay fines. Potentially very large fines: The statute calls for a penalty of $268 per every assessed ton of carbon over the cap. For landlords just over the line, the fine will be nominal. But the city’s worst offenders could be looking at annual penalties of more than $1 million.

It’s a policy with teeth, in other words. Fortunately for landlords, there’s a lot of room for buildings to improve, according to Vivian Loftness, professor at Carnegie Mellon University and the Paul Mellon chair in architecture.

“Buildings in the U.S., and certainly commercial buildings, have been incredibly sloppy in their energy use,” Loftness says. “We’ve got [older] mechanical systems that are running at 50 percent efficiency, where there’s things on the market that will run at 95 percent efficiency. We’ve got a lot of room for upgrades for boilers and chillers, air-handling units, control systems — there’s so much room in just the hardware of buildings.”

New York’s strict standard may work for landlords

The Climate Mobilization Act sets deep reduction targets over a fairly short period. Since the law establishes 2005 as the benchmark year  — meaning building energy consumption needs to fall 40 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 — landlords who have made some strides in energy reduction will get credit for their work. The poorest performers will need to show improvement sooner, by 2024, but about one-quarter of buildings won’t require substantial changes. Taking the progress already made into consideration, New York will need to level up its building-energy-performance game by 26 percent over the next 11 years.

Still, it’s significant, especially for New York landlords with multiple buildings in their portfolio. The Real Estate Board of New York, which represents many large developers, has vocally opposed the legislation. The legislation “does not take a comprehensive, city-wide approach needed to solve this complex issue,” said John H. Banks, the board’s president, in a statement. The group objects in particular to exemptions that they say put a greater strain on the building owners subject to this regulation.

“A coalition of stakeholders including environmental organizations, labor, engineering professionals, housing advocates and real estate owners came together and proposed comprehensive and balanced reforms that would have achieved these goals,” Banks said. “The bill that passed today, however, will fall short of achieving the 40 x 30 reduction by only including half of the city’s building stock.”

Douglas Durst, the chair of the Durst Organization, wrote in a letter to Crain’s New York Business that under this legislation, “empty buildings score better than occupied ones, and hundreds of thousands of inefficient and energy-intensive smaller, city-owned and [New York City Housing Authority] buildings have significantly less stringent standards.”

“To get down to even 20 percent from where I am today, with the technology that exists, there’s nothing more that I can do,” Ed Ermler, the board president for a group of condo buildings in Queens, told The New York Times. “It’s not like there’s this magic wand.”

It will take work, no question, says Lane Burt, managing principal for Ember Strategies, a consultancy and strategy firm. But it will not take a wizard. For starters, not every individual building needs to make the 40 percent mark: That’s an aggregate goal. And buildings don’t need to hit their target tomorrow.

“If you’re a building owner and your engineers are telling you, it’s impossible to get 20 percent carbon reduction or 30 percent carbon reduction, really, you need better engineers,” Burt says. “What I interpret from that concern is that the owners are saying, ‘It’s financially impossible for me to do this right now.’ And that I believe completely.” He adds, “The good news is, it might be financially impossible for them to do right now, but we’re not necessarily talking about right now. We’re talking about three decades.”

Over a long enough time span, in fact, the heavier lift makes it more likely that landlords will succeed, not less so, according to supporters of the bill.

“What’s smart about this bill is it doesn’t ask for a small increase. It asks for a big increase,” says Greg Kats, president of Capital-E, a clean-energy consultancy and capital firm. “It’s the kind of thing where if you’re going to do something, you should do quite a lot of it, because the transaction costs [for landlords] to set it up, to engage with tenants, are substantial fixed costs.”

Switching to solar might show gains in kilowatt hours fast. But often, measuring energy efficiency is trickier. It means achieving a negative outcome, a reduction in energy consumption, usually by introducing additive systems that contribute to an overall decrease. Buildings are complex systems: Higher-efficiency windows lead to lower air leakage, which reduces heat loss, which lowers heating bills. Buildings are all different, though, so figuring out the suite of improvements suited to a particular building is complicated.

After all, the work involved is interruptive, whether it means overhauling HVAC processes or considering more costly improvements to a building’s roof or facade. While tenants see the benefit of this work once it’s done, they hate it while it’s happening. With a long-enough runway, landlords can plan around the natural business cycle of a lease (around 10 years, generally) to find the lowest-cost window for this work. And given a tall order, building owners have an incentive to spend in order to achieve big savings.

The hassle of getting to a 10 or 15 percent reduction is not that different from reaching 40 percent, Kats says. Either way, a landlord needs to capture data, engage with landlords and utilities, meet with vendors and consultants, and buy new equipment. These transaction costs are high, but many of these costs are the same whether the goal is 15 percent or 40 percent.

A bad bill — something that asked landlords to make smaller changes more gradually, or with less certainty about future benchmarks or timing — might encourage landlords to look for the low-hanging fruit, the barest improvements necessary to meet the regulatory burden. But big asks translate into benefits that landlords can show to tenants. A law firm may not love an interruption from building management — but replacing office lighting with LED lamps that improve visual acuity? A promise against freezing-cold workspaces that landlords can actually keep? Tenants want those changes!

“If you go deep on [energy efficiency], there are some real economies of scale,” Kats says. Landlords can make changes “that save on capital costs or create more space for you that’s rentable space. It’s that kind of systems approach which deep upgrades allow that makes it much more cost effective.”

How will building owners come up with the capital?

Deep upgrades require capital, of course. Improvements for buildings are expensive, and the payback is long. Most investors don’t think of the building sector as a 50-year investment or even a 30-year investment. It’s rare for a building owner to weigh upfront investments against long-term operating costs, because the capital comes from different pockets, and the savings may variable or may not be guaranteed, according to Loftness. Building improvements ought to pay out within the lifetime of the equipment or materials, but not within, say, five years — so there’s a mismatch between up-front costs and long-term savings.

Owners who also occupy their buildings tend to have longer views about costs, she says, but they may not share the same long-term economics. The question is academic for a building owner who doesn’t have the capital to pay for building upgrades. So it’s good news, for both investors and owner-occupants alike, that the market has an answer to help New York meet this new burden.

The solution comes from California. When the state passed energy-conservation laws 30 years ago, it made utilities responsible for achieving those savings, with the idea being that utilities can bear to wait 30 or 50 years to see a gain. So California utilities have actively promoted investments, financed by the utilities themselves, as a way to meet the regulatory burden. A similar approach is likely to be popular in New York to meet the new energy benchmarks.

“Rather than you, the building owner, having to come up with the money, the utility is coming up with the money, and basically taking the payback through the energy savings,” Loftness says. “Your bill stays the same, but 10 years later, you’ve paid back the ‘loan’ of what they invested in the building.”

The most common category of energy-efficiency financing are negotiated payments known as energy service performance contracts (ESPCs). Under this arrangement, a third party finances the upgrade, sharing the savings with the property owner and making a profit. Third parties that develop, design, build, and fund these improvements are called energy service contract organizations (ESCOs). When utilities are directly involved, as in the California model, the savings-backed arrangements are called utility energy service performance contracts (UESPCs or USPCs), to complete the acronym soup of energy-efficiency financing.

Whether it’s Con Edison or Siemens, these organizations play an important function, as lenders, consultants, or engineers who help building owners bridge the gap for their capital needs.

The federal government, for example, can literally print the money it needs to invest in its own energy retrofits. But federal agencies have a hard time getting Congress to actually allocate the funds to meet these standards (namely set by the Energy Policy Act of 1992). So the government relies on ESCOs to finance and perform this work for federal buildings. As silly as it sounds, the federal government pays private entities to finance this work, through anticipated future savings, even though it’s a safe bet that the U.S. Department of Energy will still be here 50 years down the road.

State and local governments offer their own avenue for financing energy retrofits. Known as property assessed clean energy (PACE) programs, these municipal assessments are effectively loans that are attached to the property. PACE programs, such as the one that New York is introducing with the Climate Mobilization Act, offer long-term financing for little or no money down, with an alternative approach to underwriting that opens up access to these loans to a greater number of consumers than private lenders might. By attaching a loan to a property (and not the property owner who takes out the loan), PACE assessments can transfer with the property when the title changes — meaning that a building’s former owner is not stuck with the tab.

Loftness says that she expects that this meta-industry around energy efficiency financing will be a much bigger part of the New York landscape by 2030 and beyond. “It makes financial sense,” Loftness says. “They make more money on the savings than they do on the expense to upgrade the building.”

An industry may emerge to fully support the changes coming to New York buildings. That doesn’t mean it won’t be a challenge. The city will need to help building operators and owners — the people who know the most about their buildings — talk with the people who can design the solutions to improve them over time. Operations and design engineering aren’t the same skill sets. It may take the full three decades between now and 2050 to find all the answers.

“The reality is, this is difficult. This is the engineering challenge of our time,” Burt says. “There’s not a lot of folks around who really understand how big buildings work, especially the way they were designed 50 or 60 years ago.”

This problem is not specific to New York. The knowledge gap between operating buildings in St. Louis and boosting building performance in St. Louis is just as wide. But if New York can figure out a solution that touches all the buildings in New York, then it will have necessarily developed the knowledge, the expertise, and the specialization that can serve the entire country. Or the world.

Saving the climate through better bureaucracy

New York’s law aims to put officials and experts in an optimal position to answer the questions that haven’t even come up yet. To that end, it creates a new sub-department under the New York Department of Buildings. While its precise mandate is still to be determined, this department will be outside the mayor’s office and fully integrated into the function of the city. “That’s the city sending a signal to building owners that this is something you need to manage, just like vacancy or rent,” Burt says.

The law also establishes an advisory board, with members appointed by the mayor and the city council, to evaluate several issues on an ongoing basis. The board will at times reconsider the per-square-foot carbon reduction goals for each of 10 building category types, from residential to hospitals to retail. While the legislation has set standards for the first compliance period, there are still a lot of details to determine for the next phase (2030–2034), and the fine print will fall to the Department of Buildings, the advisory board, and the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability.

“For this [policy], the Department of Buildings is also the same department that has administered the benchmarking legislation and the audit requirements that have been in place, so I think that’s they were also chosen to administer this,” Robbins says. “Since this is a whole other level of oversight and decision-making, and paperwork and processes, that’s why they decided to create a whole new division and a new person to head that up, to make sure this legislation is successfully implemented.”

The city’s forthcoming Office of Building Energy and Emissions Performance will be headed up by a registered design professional, the legislation stipulates. No director has been named yet.

Still to come: Carbon cap-and-trade for buildings

One of the most formidable policy ideas in the bill also falls in the TBD category: It sets the stage for a carbon-trading market between buildings. It authorizes a study and guidelines for implementing a real-estate carbon market by 2021. If and when carbon trading comes to town, building owners could trade carbon-emissions credits in order to meet the cap. Owners of large portfolios could trade between their buildings to meet targets.

If New York’s policy is done right, carbon trading could serve low-income neighborhoods in particular. Extra credit could be given to upgrades performed in distressed areas, creating an incentive in areas that lack access to capital, whether the factor is 2-to-1, 3-to-1, or 10-to-1. Picture an ESCO — a Siemens or a FirstEnergy — meeting with building owners in low-income neighborhoods and offering do the building upgrades in exchange for the credits.

“This creates an entirely different source of capital to finance efficiency upgrades in low-income neighborhoods,” Mandyck says.

“The overall importance of trading is that it’s globally relevant,” he adds. “It doesn’t matter what political system you have, what climate you’re in, what your building stock is. Building carbon trading can work anywhere in the world.”

There are still lingering questions that the Climate Mobilization Act hasn’t addressed. Some involve the carbon trading market: how those low-resource neighborhoods will engage in the carbon market shaping up around them, for example. Robbins notes that New York State has committed to a number of energy-efficiency investments; it’s unclear whether buildings owners can apply for these grants in order to meet New York City goals, or whether the state will deem them “free riders” for whatever political reasons.

Robbins also notes that an enormous chunk of New York City buildings were exempted from the guidelines. Any building with more than one rent-regulated housing unit will face a different regulatory path. If buildings with affordable housing — and this means buildings with any affordable housing — don’t comply with the carbon caps, they’ll face a list of “pre-set prescriptive measures,” Robbins says. A slap on the wrist compared to fines.

Residential buildings over 25,000 square feet with affordable units represent half the large buildings in New York. This means half of the applicable buildings won’t be required to meet the energy standards, which also means the other half will need to work that much harder to get to 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent the following decade. New York lawmakers feared that the cost would be passed on to renters, or that rents on buildings might be raised to the point at which units are no longer considered rent stabilized.

“We understand the constraints and the reasons why rent-regulated housing was dealt with the way that it was,” Robbins says. “But that is such a huge swath of the multi-family buildings in this city, and it is a sector that we really want to see get the benefits of energy efficiency.”

There are other features of the bill that could produce big changes in industry. Mandyck notes that the law enables building owners to switch to renewable energy sources in order to get to compliance; currently, 70 percent of all electric energy use in New York City is generated through fossil fuels. He says that a renewable-energy credit will create a much higher demand for renewable energy in New York.

There are drawbacks to be addressed, too. Laurie Kerr, president of LK Policy Lab, a research and design institute for energy efficiency, says that it might be a mistake to set a single target for compliance in 2030. Rather than asking owners of half of New York’s buildings to hit a single deadline, the city might consider cascading annual targets for different building typologies.

But she praises the potential of a building-to-building carbon-trading market as a “least-cost path” for a bill that otherwise sets stringent targets for buildings. She points to a similar, smaller ordinance in Tokyo as a model for carbon trading. New York’s bill is strict, she says; any degree of freedom for building owners is going to help.

While the long runway and high benchmarks for success set by New York’s climate law makes it worth the trouble for building owners — and tenants, and providers, and consultants — it will still mark a huge shift for the city. The Real Estate Board of New York is joining forces with the Institute for Market Transformation, an energy-efficiency nonprofit, to provide training sessions to help the real-estate industry adjust.

It could fail — it could fall to corruption, incompetence, or politics. Sweeping climate answers such as the Paris accords have demonstrated that they are vulnerable to populism and the slow-moving wheel of democratic consensus.

But if New York real estate and New York regulators can get it right? If a climate bill can work in New York, it can work anywhere.

“There was a time before cities had departments of sanitation. There was a time before cities had departments of health,” Kerr says. “These were all game-changers in the histories of cities. This is another turning point.”

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Can New York make buildings super-efficient, fast?

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Atlantic Coast Pipeline delayed until 2021

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Dominion Energy’s Atlantic Coast Pipeline boondoggle only grows worse.

If all had gone according to the company’s original plan for the contentious Atlantic Coast Pipeline, it would already be well on its way to carrying fracked gas. But the completion of the 600-mile pipeline — planned to run from West Virginia into North Carolina — has been delayed until 2021.

According to a spokesperson for Dominion, Karl Neddenien, all construction is halted because of multiple factors including increasing costs, and in part over a dispute regarding permits to cross the Appalachian Trail and national forests. He says the delay, caused by what he calls “well-financed” opposition groups, are impacting more than just the construction schedules, according to Neddenien.

“Their impact [of these delays are seen] in the communities and the families in their region. It’s really time to stop these pointless delays and get back to work building the Atlantic Coast Pipeline,” he said. “These delays are not improving or increasing environmental protections. We already have in place some outstanding protections.”

Opponents to the pipeline project, on the other hand, were encouraged by the announcement of the new, pushed-back timeline. “Anytime there’s a delay, we’re happy.” Chad Oba, chair of the Friends of Buckingham, an organization of Virginia residents opposed to the pipeline, told Grist. “It gives the public more opportunity to be informed about fossil fuel projects and how we don’t need more of them.” Buckingham is a historically black community where Dominion is slated to build a natural gas compressor station for the pipeline. Last month, the state’s Air Pollution Control Board voted unanimously to approve permits for the station despite vociferous community opposition.

Beyond construction setbacks, the project is going to cost a pretty penny: Estimated costs for the pipeline have ballooned to $ 7.5 billion (the original project was budgeted for around $6 billion.) And considering how demand for the pipeline is dwindling — thanks to competition from cheap, renewable sources — some experts aren’t sure the project will get up on its feet again.

Patrick Hunter, a Southern Environmental Law Center attorney, said the barrage of legal challenges and missing permits “leaves us with a serious question as to whether this thing will ever be built.” The Southern Environmental Law Center is one of many organizations to challenge Dominion’s construction, calling for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to issue its own stop-work.

(Dominion Energy did not immediately respond to Grist’s request for comment.)

Though the delay is good news for environmental groups, it’s a bit too early to whip out the champagne: Dominion said it currently expects the now-halted construction could begin again later this year.

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Atlantic Coast Pipeline delayed until 2021

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California has big dreams — and they’re stuck in traffic.

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When environmentalists want hope, they often turn to California, a state taking strong climate action and promising even more, all while maintaining a robust economy. But the state is also a home of car culture, high-schoolers cruising down mainstreet, lowriders parading, and Angelenos telling each other how to take the 10 to the 405. It’s built on a foundation of squat, sprawling development connected by jam-packed freeways.

And, according to a new report, California is dreaming if it hopes to achieve its climate goals with all that driving. The state is “moving in the wrong direction” when it comes to transportation, its biggest source of emissions, according to the California Air Resources Board, a state agency.

Californians are driving more, burning more gas, and spewing out more pollution from their tailpipes. That’s because the state has failed to take the kind of actions needed to get people out of their cars. By 2030, the state wants to get greenhouse gases 40 percent below 1990 levels. And outgoing Governor Jerry Brown has set a far tougher goal: Making the state carbon neutral by 2045.

But if the Golden State can’t scrap its car culture, California won’t meet its 2030 goals, according to the agency’s report.

“California will not achieve the necessary greenhouse gas emissions reductions to meet mandates for 2030 and beyond without significant changes to how communities and transportation systems are planned, funded and built,” the report said.

The state is still spending the lion’s share of transportation dollars on building and maintaining roads for cars. It’s also been unable to build enough housing near jobs, forcing workers to make long commutes to far flung developments.

California has plans to build more apartments in walkable neighborhoods and improve transit systems, said Ella Wise, a policy advocate for the nonprofit group, ClimatePlan. “We need to translate those plans to action on the ground,” she said. “That’s not what’s happening, yet.”

In 2008, California passed a law requiring communities to upend their land-use and transportation plans to reduce pollution and stem climate change. But nothing much changed. California is just as sprawling and traffic-choked as it was a decade ago.

This isn’t a problem that can be solved by Tesla slashing prices on its Model 3s. The report found that even if the number of people buying zero-emission cars soared 10 fold, Californians would still need to drive less to meet the state’s climate goals.

“We know what we need to do,” Wise said. “This is about healthier communities, safer streets, and more equitable access to jobs. It’s about real people and real lives.”


California has big dreams — and they’re stuck in traffic.

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Scott Pruitt’s job is to protect the environment. God has other plans for him.

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

About a month after President Donald Trump’s inauguration, Scott Pruitt arrived at the Environmental Protection Agency for his first full day of work. The new administrator had weathered a contentious confirmation battle, with bitter debate over his long-standing ties to the industries he was now responsible for regulating — not to mention the 14 lawsuits he had filed against the agency as Oklahoma’s attorney general. But as he stepped into the EPA’s stately Rachel Carson Green Room, Pruitt wore the satisfied grin of a man in charge.

He took the stage with Catherine McCabe, the acting head of the agency. In the front rows sat some members of the EPA’s “beachhead team,” a group of mostly men whom Trump had installed to begin the process of dismantling the department of the Obama years. Among them were some familiar faces, such as David Schnare, a former career EPA official and prominent climate-science skeptic. A conspicuous number of security staffers circulated among the crowd.

McCabe handed Pruitt two gifts. One was a beige baseball hat inscribed with the EPA’s logo — a nod to Pruitt’s career as a college second baseman and a minor league co-owner. The other was an EPA pin, which she advised he should “proudly wear … on your lapel as you represent the agency.” Pruitt considered the pin for a moment and then set it on the podium. He appeared uncomfortable sharing the spotlight; as he stood next to McCabe, I saw him fidgeting with his glasses, his eyes shifting between her and the audience while she read a version of his biography that omitted the lawsuits.

Half a head shorter than many members of Trump’s Cabinet, a bit stocky, and balding on top, Pruitt didn’t visibly command the space. But once McCabe stepped aside, he relaxed as cameras broadcast his address to 15,000 EPA staffers nationwide. “I am excited about being in a city that actually has a Major League Baseball team,” he said, using his new hat as a prop. The speech was light on the environment and the agency’s mission and heavy on where the Obama administration had gone wrong. He covered talking points that he would repeat ceaselessly during the next few months: “Regulations ought to make things regular”; it was time to be “pro-energy and -jobs”; “process matters”; he would “listen, learn, and lead.” When it was over, Trump’s men enthusiastically pumped his hand while career staffers silently filed out the back.

It was not quite the fire and brimstone of his boss, but Pruitt’s quieter style masks the extent to which his approach to governing is the practical implementation of the president’s wrecking-ball rhetoric. On the campaign trail, Trump promised to “get rid” of the EPA “in almost every form.” In just his first year in office, Pruitt has already made stunning strides in that direction. He’s dismantling the Obama administration’s landmark Clean Power Plan, which imposed greenhouse gas limits on fossil fuel-fired power plants. He has slashed enforcement efforts against polluters and tried to repeal rules meant to safeguard drinking water supplies. He has threatened to roll back fuel economy standards. He’s moved to weaken new rules for smog, coal ash, and mercury pollution, poorly enforced a new toxic-chemical law, and refused to ban the dangerous pesticide chlorpyrifos. He’s taken aim at dozens of lesser-known rules covering everything from safety requirements for replacing asbestos to emergency response plans in hazardous chemical facilities. In the process, Pruitt has driven away hundreds of experienced EPA staffers and scientists while putting old friends and industry reps in charge of key environmental decisions — a troubling trend that has led former EPA administrators from both parties to warn that he is doing irreversible damage to the agency.

For the president, Pruitt has become a trusted partner. “We’ve been through our battles, Scott,” Trump said a few weeks after sharing his Rose Garden podium with Pruitt as they announced plans to withdraw the United States from the landmark Paris climate agreement. “Not with each other, with the world.”

Thanks to his habit of tenting his fingers, Pruitt has prompted comparisons to C. Montgomery Burns, the villainous nuclear power plant owner in The Simpsons. And indeed, Pruitt has been almost cartoonishly contemptuous of the EPA’s work, pushing draconian cuts to the agency’s science, climate, regulatory, and enforcement offices. Meanwhile, in just his first year, he has reportedly expanded his around-the-clock security detail at a cost of at least $2 million annually. He spent $25,000 on a secure phone booth inside his office, at least $12,000 for flights around the country between March and May (each of which included a leg in Tulsa), $58,000 on chartered and military flights over the summer, and nearly $40,000 on a trip to Morocco to promote natural gas exports. His frequent first-class trips with his security detail have added more than $200,000 to that tally. He also issued a $120,000 no-bid contract to a Republican opposition research firm to target and track journalists, though the contract was canceled after I exposed it.

Mother Jones

Like Trump, Pruitt has engaged in a continuous battle against the press. Within weeks of his arrival, the EPA’s public affairs office stopped responding to many reporters’ questions and sharing his complete schedule. Instead, the agency has mostly focused on spreading its message through the right-wing media, talking frequently to Fox News and conservative radio hosts while dismissing less favorable coverage as fake. The EPA’s social media accounts spent the first months of Pruitt’s tenure blasting out photos of him fist-bumping EPA staffers and meeting with politicians. In the Obama years, the EPA tweeted about the agency’s programs and environmental issues. During Pruitt’s first three weeks in office, 90 percent of the agency’s tweets were about him.

For those of us who cover the EPA, Pruitt’s profound impact on policy has been hard to miss. What’s tougher to see, behind the secrecy and paranoia, is how his new job has advanced his own future plans. There have been rumors he is interested in replacing Jeff Sessions as attorney general and whispers that he sees himself as a future president. His zeal — or overzealousness — might be seen as typical behavior for an inexperienced man thrust into the major leagues of a Cabinet position. But his political calculations and driving ambition can all be traced 1,210 miles west of Washington, D.C., to the place he’s called home for nearly three-fifths of his life.

Broken Arrow, Oklahoma, 15 miles southeast of Tulsa, is a prosperous town, named for Native Americans forcibly relocated there in 1836, during the Trail of Tears expulsion organized by Trump’s hero President Andrew Jackson. Like much of Oklahoma, it’s dominated by the energy industry. A largely white town of 107,000 residents, with a median income 43 percent higher than the rest of the state, Broken Arrow is also home to many evangelical mega-churches.

One is the First Baptist Church of Broken Arrow, whose campus is marked by a water tower, emblazoned with its name, that’s visible for miles. With a coffee shop, a bookstore, and an indoor basketball court, the church has expanded to meet the needs of 2,800 members and, as its website proclaims, “to reach everyone that we can with the Gospel of Jesus Christ in Broken Arrow, Tulsa, Oklahoma, North America, and the Ends of the Earth.”

I met Nick Garland, an animated 66-year-old senior pastor who had just returned from a trip to D.C. There, he and a few dozen others — Pruitt’s friends from around the country and other influential Oklahomans — attended a private reception in the EPA administrator’s offices. Garland was one of the few who had known Pruitt for decades, not from his political life, but as a family man and deacon, deeply committed to his evangelical faith. Garland has watched Pruitt since the early ’90s, when Pruitt was a law student and the pastor recruited him and his wife to First Baptist. Over the years, Pruitt’s commitment to the congregation has been unwavering. His two children grew up in this church. Shortly after law school, he joined fellow parishioners on a missionary trip to Romania. When he was the state’s attorney general, he taught a seminar on how to blend one’s faith into communication and current events.

During his early days in Oklahoma, Garland says, Pruitt knew “there was something more he’s supposed to do than be a student of law.” Garland, who has a collection of eagle-themed memorabilia scattered around his office, compares Pruitt to the bird. “Eagles are one of the rare creations of God that delight in the storm,” he says. The 114-year-old Broken Arrow church subscribes to a conservative branch of the Southern Baptist tradition. When dozens of evangelical leaders endorsed Pruitt’s nomination in late 2016, they wrote an open letter explaining their rejection of “any ideology that sees human beings as a blight upon the planet and would harm human flourishing by restricting or preventing the rightful use and enjoyment of creation.” This echoed a view of environmental stewardship that has become widely accepted in conservative evangelical communities: “He created human beings in His own image, bearing responsibility to advance human flourishing through many forms of human activity, from agriculture and enterprise to technology and innovation,” the religious leaders wrote. In other words, the planet’s resources are there for the purpose of human use.

This approach is the polar opposite from that of other religious leaders — including Pope Francis — who interpret stewardship as the responsibility humans have to protect God’s creation for as long as possible. “Is true environmentalism ‘do not touch’?” Pruitt remarked last year. “It’s like having a beautiful apple orchard that could feed the world, but the environmentalists put up a fence around the apple orchard and say, ‘Do not touch the apple orchard because it may spoil the apple orchard.’”

I asked Garland to shed some light on the remark. “Either we’re going to steward the Earth and use it for God’s glory and man’s good, or we serve the Earth,” Garland says. Failing to use the Earth for our benefit, he notes, would violate Genesis 2:15, which concerns the relationship between humans and the natural world: “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” Garland does not believe humans are the main cause of climate change, and neither does Pruitt. “I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see,” Pruitt said in March 2017. But his biblical references are not restricted to climate change. Pruitt’s two guiding stars — evangelical faith and political zeal — sometimes seem interchangeable. In October, when he announced a controversial new “conflict of interest” policy barring researchers who receive EPA grants from serving on the agency’s science advisory boards, he quoted the Book of Joshua: “Choose this day whom you’re going to serve.”

If the roots of Pruitt’s religious approach to policy are deep, so is his yearning for power and influence. In a 2010 campaign ad, Pruitt explained that his will to succeed began at his birth as a three-pound premature baby. He grew up in Kentucky, spent his freshman year at a state university, and then graduated in 1990 from Georgetown College, a Christian school, with a degree in political science and communications. He played second base and dreamed of going pro. His friends told E&E News that his appearance inspired the nickname “the possum” — a creature that deceives its enemies by playing dead.

Pruitt married Marlyn Lloyd in Louisville, Kentucky, after graduation and they moved to Tulsa for law school. I visited Jim Thomas, Pruitt’s administrative law professor, at the small firm he shares with his son. Wearing an Oklahoma sweatshirt, he settled into an armchair at a large conference table. The 89-year-old recalled Pruitt as conservative, personable, and striving, someone who had already set his sights on elected office, with hopes to perhaps become governor someday. Pruitt was driven not by a fascination with the workings of government — Thomas remembers he had little interest in environmental law or policy in general — but by sheer political ambition. “I’ve had a lot of politicians go through the University of Tulsa,” says Thomas, who’s been active in Oklahoma’s Democratic Party and says he knows how “to spot somebody who seems suited for politics … And that’s the way I saw Scott Pruitt.”

Pruitt remained in Tulsa and ran a small private practice, Christian Legal Services, where he specialized in constitutional and employment law and worked with several local firms. One of his first major clients, whom he met through church, was J.D. Young, an executive at a well-known oil equipment company, Tulsa Rig Iron. Young had deep connections in the community. David Page, the senior attorney who worked alongside Pruitt for the client, recalls that “on more than one occasion, [Young] said that Scott’s real ambition in life, from his perspective, was to be a well-known politician.”

When Pruitt turned 30 in 1998, he ran for the state Senate against a longtime incumbent Republican. He won on the unexpected strength of the evangelical turnout. David Blatt, a political scientist then working as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma state Senate, remembers colleagues taking note of the surprise win. As a state senator and eventually the Republican whip, Pruitt was a conventional social conservative and a member of the right-wing American Legislative Exchange Council. He was particularly focused on the religious right’s core causes, including prayer in public schools and stopping same-sex marriage and abortion.

Pruitt left the Legislature after eight years, following losses in Republican primaries for a U.S. House seat in 2001 and the lieutenant governor’s office in 2006. In 2003, while he was still in his state seat, Pruitt returned to his first love by becoming the co-owner and managing general partner of the RedHawks, a minor league baseball team based in Oklahoma City. Why might a legislator from Tulsa want to run a baseball team in Oklahoma City? Blatt, who now heads Oklahoma Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank, says it made sense in the context of Pruitt’s ambition: “Owning the RedHawks would have definitely cemented relationships with the business elite of Oklahoma City and some of the oil industry folks.”

By 2010, when Pruitt announced his candidacy for attorney general, he had built a deep network, and with help from the new Citizens United ruling and the rise of the tea party, donors who had previously supported him — the likes of Devon Energy’s Larry Nichols and Koch Industries ­— ­stepped up. He campaigned on a platform of resisting the Obama administration, promising to file a lawsuit against Obamacare and pledging to push back against Washington at every opportunity, which often meant fighting environmental regulations. He won easily.

By this time, Pruitt’s old colleague David Page had been working with the attorney general’s office for five years on a major case against poultry companies accused of dumping manure that seeped into the Illinois River watershed. These same poultry companies contributed to Pruitt’s campaign. So when Page saw Pruitt at Tulsa’s Dilly Diner one Sunday after church, he thought he’d ask about his plans for the case. “I don’t believe in using lawsuits to change public policy,” Pruitt replied. Eventually, Pruitt agreed to a settlement that set aside some money for a study on the issue but required no concrete action.

Even more striking for Page was that while Pruitt insisted he had no interest in changing policy through the courts, he soon launched lawsuit after lawsuit to do just that. Pruitt enthusiastically joined more than a dozen suits filed by Republican-led states and energy companies against the federal government over environmental policy and health care. He also fulfilled a campaign promise to set up a Federalism Unit, committed to battling so-called interference from Washington. And he disbanded Oklahoma’s environmental protection unit.

This was in contrast to Pruitt’s Democratic predecessor, Drew Edmondson, who is now running for governor. “We were there to enforce consumer protection laws and antitrust laws and environmental laws,” he says. “That’s what the attorney general is supposed to do. I’m certainly not naive enough to believe that other philosophies don’t exist.”

Pruitt’s philosophy went over well within Oklahoma’s conservative policy circles. When oil prices sank globally and state revenue plunged, most agencies saw their budgets cut. Pruitt’s expanded by 40 percent, and he hired nearly 60 new employees focused on fighting legal battles against the Obama administration, according to the Associated Press.

On the national level, Pruitt became active in the Republican Attorneys General Association, which has received substantial money from the fossil fuel industry, and served as chairman of the dark-money nonprofit the Rule of Law Defense Fund. A Pulitzer Prize-winning New York Times series detailed the web of connections Pruitt developed through these groups. In one instance, he copied and pasted a letter that the oil and gas corporation Devon Energy had drafted in opposition to an Obama administration attempt to rein in methane leaks from drilling operations. After making a few small changes and printing it on government letterhead, he signed his name to fight the regulation.

“I think he’s made the bet that the fossil fuel industry will take care of him one way or another,” says Rhode Island Democrat Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, a member of the committee that oversees the EPA. “They reward obedience, and nobody has been more obedient than Scott Pruitt.” Indeed, what environmentalists see as Pruitt’s boundless loyalty to corporate interests, or “stakeholders,” as he invariably calls them, is considered an asset by his supporters. One of them is former GOP Oklahoma Governor Frank Keating, who was serving the second of his two terms while Pruitt was in the state Senate. “Scott Pruitt is a conservative icebreaker. He doesn’t tread water,” he says. “Pruitt always tried to find a hard solution. I found him to be focused but sensible.”

Throughout Pruitt’s tenure as Oklahoma’s attorney general, activists tried to pry open his email records, which his office refused to disclose. On Pruitt’s first day at the EPA, his former office finally released some of those emails under a court order. They included correspondence from Pruitt’s staff thanking Devon Energy executives for their help drafting an argument against Obama’s methane regulations, and others from executives thanking Pruitt’s office. “You are so amazingly helpful!!!” read an email from Pruitt’s chief of staff to Devon Energy. The messages also revealed that Pruitt had used a private email account for state business, despite having denied doing so during his EPA confirmation hearing.

This case is ongoing as public interest groups try to obtain thousands of other messages that appear to have been left out of the public disclosure. The Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union is suing for the emails. For Brady Henderson of the ACLU, Pruitt’s lack of transparency as attorney general and his claim under oath that he didn’t use a private email account were early indications of what has become business as usual in the Trump administration. “It’s very possible to have enough confidence to say, ‘Yeah, I’m just going to lie, and who’s going to do anything about it?’”

In an administration full of deregulators, Pruitt stands out, bringing to the EPA the anti-Washington playbook he developed with industry in Oklahoma. In December 2017, the White House trumpeted presidential accomplishments from Trump’s first year — a list dominated by handouts to the energy industry. Pruitt’s fingerprints were everywhere, from “exiting the Paris climate agreement” to “ending the war on coal.” It’s an agenda that taps directly into the right-wing populism that was integral to Trump’s success — and a corporate donor base that will be vital to Pruitt’s future.

One of Trump’s first actions as president was the creation of a new (and illegal, according to a complaint filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council and other groups) order requiring agencies to jettison two existing regulations for every new one created. Once more, Pruitt was an overachiever. After 10 months, the EPA had put forward just one new rule — restricting the amount of mercury that dentists’ offices can release — while leading other agencies by freezing or reversing 16 regulations. By early 2018, Pruitt had placed nearly 50 existing regulations under review.

The EPA’s regulatory framework is vast and complex, meaning little can be built in a year. Often, the legal battles over rule-making span multiple administrations. During Obama’s eight years, the EPA pushed forward several long-delayed regulations — some mandated by courts — to strengthen the nation’s ozone standards, impose limits on pollution that crosses state lines, curtail mercury emissions from coal-fired plants, and protect drinking water.

Under Trump and Pruitt, much of the hard-won progress of the Obama administration has been attacked, including landmark climate policies such as the Clean Power Plan’s caps on carbon pollution from power plants and limits on methane emissions from oil and gas operations. So have dozens of rules that, with the Clean Power Plan, would have prevented tens of thousands of premature deaths and saved billions of dollars in public health benefits.

Meanwhile, enforcement has dropped precipitously, with fines on offenders down 60 percent in just the first seven months of 2017. “We have a full-on captive agency right now that is obedient not to the public, but to the fossil fuel polluters,” says Whitehouse.

The situation may be permanent. Staffers who have served at the agency for decades predict that the EPA of the future will be a regulatory body essentially controlled by industry — operating on a shoestring budget, unable to fill entry-level roles, and lacking institutional knowledge at higher stations. About 800 employees have already left, meeting Trump’s goal of cutting agency staffing to levels not seen since the 1980s. At the end of 2017, Pruitt put a check mark next to “Reagan-era staff levels” on a list of his accomplishments from the year.

Another accomplishment on Pruitt’s list was “science board transparency” — a reference to one of the more obscure ways in which well-established facts have come under relentless assault. The EPA has two major independent scientific advisory boards, the Science Advisory Board and the Board of Scientific Counselors, which serve as a backstop to ensure the agency’s policy reflects the best available science. Appointments can include experts from academia, government, or industry. Because the government also funds environmental research, it’s not uncommon for a scientist, appointed to the board for her public health expertise, to also receive EPA grants to conduct her own research.

On Halloween, to an audience that included few reporters but several industry reps — including Steve Milloy, the former policy and strategy director of Murray Energy and a prominent climate denier — Pruitt announced a new plan. No scientist who received agency grants could serve on the boards. Seven board members were forced to leave immediately; two more chose to decline the EPA grants. Rush Holt, CEO of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, called the move a “desire to limit expert perspectives and the role of scientific information.”

To replace the departing scientists, Pruitt appointed industry supporters, including Michael Honeycutt, a toxicologist from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality who has built his career arguing that the impacts of air pollution are overstated. He is now the chair of the Science Advisory Board. Pruitt picked more than a dozen people to fill the empty seats of the 18-member Board of Scientific Counselors and 15 others for the 47-member Science Advisory Board, many of them former executives and staffers from organizations that have a stake in limiting the EPA’s chemical and air quality work, such as the utility Southern Co., Phillips 66, Total, and the American Chemistry Council.

Many of Trump’s appointees arrived in Washington with agendas that conflict with their agencies’ historic missions. Trump’s energy secretary, Rick Perry, famously called for eliminating the Department of Energy when he ran for president in 2011. But here, too, Pruitt led the pack. “I’ve never known any administrator to go into office with such an apparent disregard for the agency mission definition or science,” says former New Jersey Governor Christine Todd Whitman, a Republican who ran the EPA under President George W. Bush. Politics has always been part of agency decision making, she acknowledges, but now it “is starting to override science and the mission of the agency.”

Pruitt has proved especially creative in pursuing this political agenda by drumming up public confusion around climate science. Instead of taking any formal action, he’s interested in hosting what’s basically a reality show contest on the legitimacy of science. Take the endangerment finding, the agency’s key scientific determination that carbon pollution’s impact on climate change harms human health. Prompted by a 2007 Supreme Court decision, it allows the agency to regulate carbon emissions under the Clean Air Act and served as the basis for Obama’s Clean Power Plan. Climate deniers detest the endangerment finding, and many hoped the Trump administration would do away with it entirely. Pruitt has thrown red meat to the skeptics, saying on television that humans aren’t the “primary contributor” to global warming.

But a direct attack by Pruitt on the endangerment finding would entail a great deal of work, lots of lawsuits, and an unclear payoff. As former EPA air and radiation officer Janet McCabe told me, “Review of the endangerment finding would need to consider all the available science and respond to the public comments that will certainly be provided to the agency on such an important issue.” Big energy companies and industry groups tend to prefer a less risky strategy and have lobbied instead for simply replacing Obama’s Clean Power Plan with weaker rules.

Pruitt has opted for an idea floated in conservative editorials that would undermine the finding in the minds of the public. He proposed holding high-profile “red team, blue team” debates over climate science. On one side would be scientists who represent the consensus that greenhouse emissions are dangerously warming the atmosphere, and on the other would be the tiny minority of skeptics and fossil fuel advocates. Perhaps with an eye to Trump’s voracious viewing habits, Pruitt said he wanted the debate, which has been put on hold, televised.

Still, that hasn’t been enough for some Trump allies. A month after the new administrator took office, Trump’s EPA appointee David Schnare resigned, later explaining that Pruitt never tried to understand the regulations he was dismantling, refused to meet with experts on staff, and only relied “on the extremely short briefs I provided at his morning staff meeting.” Myron Ebell, who led Trump’s EPA transition team, reportedly told fellow climate deniers that Pruitt’s lassitude in filling rank-and-file jobs amounted to a “totally dysfunctional personnel process.”

There are other, less visible influencers in Pruitt’s work as well. During Trump’s campaign, a photograph appeared in OKC Friday, a small Oklahoma newspaper, of local politicians and powerful oil and gas executives attending a September 2016 fundraiser. One photograph was of Pruitt, laughing with Devon Energy’s Nichols, who had previously supported Senator Marco Rubio. A co-chair of the event was oilman Harold Hamm, a self-made billionaire who pioneered hydraulic fracturing and chaired Pruitt’s reelection campaign for attorney general in 2014.

After the inauguration, Hamm revealed one of his expectations for the new administration. At an oil and gas panel in Houston, he made an observation that seemed to cause the other two oil executives onstage to shift uncomfortably in their seats. He announced that the Obama administration “wanted to eliminate our industry like they wanted to eliminate coal,” despite the fact that oil and gas enjoyed boom times under Obama. But it was clear what Hamm intended: By positioning itself as a victim of the Democratic administration, his industry would receive even more robust protection from Trump.

What transpired may have exceeded his expectations. In December, Pruitt flew with a seven-person entourage and security personnel to Morocco. He toured some solar and thermal energy projects, and there were photos of him deep in conversation with Moroccan leaders. But he also went, according to an EPA press release, to promote U.S. exports of liquefied natural gas (from companies such as Hamm’s). When asked to respond to the criticism that the trip was outside the scope of the administrator’s duties, the EPA replied with a link to its press release.

Inside the agency, Pruitt has surrounded himself with security and walled himself off from the experts on staff. Before Betsy Southerland retired from her position in the EPA Office of Water in protest, she remembers observing him walk down the halls of the agency flanked by two men with earpieces. Employees tend to notice the guard who now surrounds the administrator because it’s a departure from customary EPA practices; past administrators relied on door-to-door protection only for events outside the agency. The 24/7 security detail is composed of staffers who would otherwise likely be investigating enforcement cases for the agency. The EPA’s reasoning for Pruitt’s guard is that this administrator has faced more threats than others. He has built a secure communications facility inside his office, justifying the expense as “necessary for me to be able to do my job,” though the EPA already has one in its buildings. Staffers have reported not being allowed to take notes in meetings or carry their cellphones, limiting the paper trail that can be requested under the Freedom of Information Act.

This kind of secrecy is unprecedented and absurd, says Bush-era EPA chief Whitman: “We’re not talking about the FBI. We’re not talking about Homeland Security.” None of it adds up — that is, until you consider that the security provides another layer of opacity to the agency’s operations and makes it more difficult for whistleblowers to undermine Pruitt’s efforts. “I think he views his administration as a hostile takeover of the agency,” says Southerland.

As part of that hostile takeover, Pruitt spent most of his first year meeting with his stakeholders in industry. According to a Washington Post analysis of his public schedule, Pruitt held 218 meetings in 2017 with representatives of industries he regulates. He also gave dozens of interviews to Fox News and right-wing talk radio and delivered speeches in front of conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation. He met just a dozen times with environmental and public health groups.

During Hurricane Harvey, while a scattered, demoralized EPA was handling its emergency response, Pruitt’s press office was focused on challenging accounts of disarray. In one memorable press release, the EPA attacked an Associated Press report about the lack of agency presence at flooded Superfund sites as “yellow journalism.” The agency pointed to the fact that it had conducted an aerial review of the sites and referenced Breitbart News to further discredit the AP’s additional reporting.

Without much hope that the agency will answer questions, mainstream reporters have turned to its glacial open records process for answers. Senators have complained that the agency has done no better for them. Democrats, who have already asked for EPA inspector general audits of Pruitt’s travel, including his frequent trips to Oklahoma, recently requested that the independent office add the Morocco visit to their list and examine “whether the purpose of travel is consistent with the EPA’s mission.”

At the same time, Pruitt installed fellow Oklahoma conservatives in EPA positions that don’t require Senate confirm­ation. He has hired several old friends, as well as four staffers who have worked for the Senate’s most prominent climate denier, Oklahoma Republican James Inhofe.

One of those hires was Albert Kelly, a former banker with no environmental experience, whose company issued three mortgages to the Pruitts, according to an investigation by the Intercept, for their $605,000 home in an upscale Tulsa neighborhood. Kelly’s company also financed Pruitt’s stake in the RedHawks. Last year the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation fined Kelly for his alleged involvement in a loan that hadn’t received FDIC approval. Two weeks later, Pruitt hired him to lead the EPA’s Superfund Task Force — which Pruitt has singled out as a priority for the agency and an early success story.

As almost everyone I spoke with noted Pruitt is a far more political creature — and quite talented in that respect — than his predecessors have been. When I was in Oklahoma, his old friends and associates openly speculated about which office he would set his sights on next: Maybe the seat held by the 83-year-old Inhofe? A governor’s race? The White House?

One way or another, “I don’t think EPA is his ultimate destination,” University of Tulsa law and environmental professor Gary Allison says. According to Politico, Pruitt is reportedly interested in Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ job, should Sessions resign from his post — a move that could put Pruitt squarely in the middle of the Russia investigation. (Jahan Wilcox, a spokesman for the EPA and a longtime Republican operative, told news outlets the rumors were “not true.”)

Will Pruitt remain as EPA chief for Trump’s entire four — or eight — years? That’s anybody’s guess. But what’s clear is that this position will not be the pinnacle of Pruitt’s career. Before each previous campaign, Pastor Garland recalls, Pruitt “would come and visit and say, ‘Pray for me. I’ve got something I feel like I’m supposed to run for.’” He describes a similar pattern after Trump won and Pruitt was summoned to Trump Tower in New York City. “We prayed for him through that process when he went up there for the interview,” he says. “He felt very humbled but very eager to serve in a national capacity.”

So, I asked Garland, what’s next?

“Stay tuned,” he replied with a big, loud laugh. “We may have this conversation again sometime.”

Taken from: 

Scott Pruitt’s job is to protect the environment. God has other plans for him.

Posted in alo, Anchor, Anker, Casio, Citizen, Everyone, FF, G & F, GE, LAI, Landmark, ONA, ProPublica, PUR, solar, Ultima, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Scott Pruitt’s job is to protect the environment. God has other plans for him.

Tesla solar products are coming to a store near you.

On Monday, newly minted Governor Phil Murphy signed an executive order to rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a multi-state carbon trading program that aims to reduce greenhouse gases from the power sector.

New Jersey’s former governor (and bona fide bully) Chris Christie had pulled the state out in 2011, saying the initiative increased the tax burden for utilities and failed to adequately reduce greenhouse gases. Murphy said that Christie’s decision to withdraw had cost the state $279 million in revenue.

The state Department of Environmental Protection and the Board of Public Utilities will begin drawing up a game plan to re-enter the pact.

Nine eastern states already participate in RGGI: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. Now, New Jersey is joining the fray, and Virginia may soon follow.

“With this executive order, New Jersey takes the first step toward restoring our place as a leader in the green economy,” Murphy said. Jersey shore knows what it’s doing!

Continue reading – 

Tesla solar products are coming to a store near you.

Posted in alo, Anchor, Citizen, FF, G & F, GE, LG, ONA, PUR, solar, solar panels, solar power, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Tesla solar products are coming to a store near you.

Every year, more cows are milked by robots.

On Monday, newly minted Governor Phil Murphy signed an executive order to rejoin the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a multi-state carbon trading program that aims to reduce greenhouse gases from the power sector.

New Jersey’s former governor (and bona fide bully) Chris Christie had pulled the state out in 2011, saying the initiative increased the tax burden for utilities and failed to adequately reduce greenhouse gases. Murphy said that Christie’s decision to withdraw had cost the state $279 million in revenue.

The state Department of Environmental Protection and the Board of Public Utilities will begin drawing up a game plan to re-enter the pact.

Nine eastern states already participate in RGGI: Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. Now, New Jersey is joining the fray, and Virginia may soon follow.

“With this executive order, New Jersey takes the first step toward restoring our place as a leader in the green economy,” Murphy said. Jersey shore knows what it’s doing!


Every year, more cows are milked by robots.

Posted in alo, Anchor, Citizen, FF, G & F, GE, LG, ONA, PUR, solar, solar panels, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Every year, more cows are milked by robots.

More than 10,000 Interior employees say they were harassed or intimidated.

Forests in the American West are having a harder time recovering from wildfires because of (what else?) climate change, according to new research published in Ecology Letters.

Researchers measured the growth of seedlings in 1,500 wildfire-scorched areas in Colorado, Wyoming, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Across the board, they found “significant decreases” in tree regeneration, a benchmark for forest resilience. In one-third of the sites, researchers found zero seedlings.

The warmest, driest forests were hit especially hard.

“Seedlings are more sensitive to warm, dry conditions than mature trees, so if the right conditions don’t exist within a few years following a wildfire, tree seedlings may not establish,” said Philip Higuera, a coauthor of the study.

Earlier this month, a separate study found that ponderosa pine and pinyon forests in the West are becoming less resilient due to droughts and warmer temperatures. Researchers told the New York Times that as trees disappear, some forests could shift to entirely different ecosystems, like grasslands or shrublands.

You’d think the rapid reconfiguration of entire ecosystems would really light a fire under us to deal with climate change, wouldn’t you?

Read this article: 

More than 10,000 Interior employees say they were harassed or intimidated.

Posted in alo, Anchor, Eureka, FF, G & F, GE, Jason, LAI, ONA, organic, solar, solar power, Uncategorized, Wiley | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on More than 10,000 Interior employees say they were harassed or intimidated.

Trump’s pick to head chemical safety at the EPA is no longer in the running.

Forests in the American West are having a harder time recovering from wildfires because of (what else?) climate change, according to new research published in Ecology Letters.

Researchers measured the growth of seedlings in 1,500 wildfire-scorched areas in Colorado, Wyoming, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. Across the board, they found “significant decreases” in tree regeneration, a benchmark for forest resilience. In one-third of the sites, researchers found zero seedlings.

The warmest, driest forests were hit especially hard.

“Seedlings are more sensitive to warm, dry conditions than mature trees, so if the right conditions don’t exist within a few years following a wildfire, tree seedlings may not establish,” said Philip Higuera, a coauthor of the study.

Earlier this month, a separate study found that ponderosa pine and pinyon forests in the West are becoming less resilient due to droughts and warmer temperatures. Researchers told the New York Times that as trees disappear, some forests could shift to entirely different ecosystems, like grasslands or shrublands.

You’d think the rapid reconfiguration of entire ecosystems would really light a fire under us to deal with climate change, wouldn’t you?


Trump’s pick to head chemical safety at the EPA is no longer in the running.

Posted in alo, Anchor, Eureka, FF, G & F, GE, Jason, LAI, ONA, organic, solar, solar power, Uncategorized, Wiley | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Trump’s pick to head chemical safety at the EPA is no longer in the running.