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President Trump’s ongoing war on migrants and refugees has extended to the Bahamas, where some residents say they’ve received little to no help from their own government after Hurricane Dorian absolutely devastated the area less than two weeks ago. The storm, which hit the islands as a Category 5 hurricane, killed at least 50 people (though that number is expected to rise, as more than 1,000 people are still missing).
While the United States has granted temporary protected status, or TPS, to natural disaster victims in the past, the Trump administration has decided not to extend the designation to Bahamas residents who were displaced by the monster storm. That means Bahamians can still travel to the U.S. temporarily if they have a travel visa, but they will not be granted work permits.
TPS is a form of humanitarian relief intended for people from designated countries where war, famine, natural disaster, or other crises make it difficult for people to return home safely. People with TPS can generally stay in the U.S. for a period ranging from six and 18 months, but the Department of Homeland Security can extend this time if conditions in their home country remain unstable. Those protected under TPS are granted work permits, allowing them to support themselves while living in the U.S. Created by the Immigration Act of 1990, TPS has protected immigrants from 22 countries at various times.
“Generally, under circumstances like this really catastrophic hurricane … TPS would be granted,” the Migration Policy Institute’s Doris Meissner told the Washington Post. The U.S. has over the years offered TPS to residents of Haiti and Nepal after earthquakes devastated those countries in 2010 and 2015 respectively, as well as in South Sudan and Venezuela following armed conflicts in those countries. In the late 1990s, Honduras and Nicaragua were designated for TPS after Hurricane Mitch killed more than 11,000 people in Central America.
One of the Trump administration’s main immigration goals has been to overhaul how the U.S. grants legal immigration status. It envisions a “merit-based” immigration system in which individual immigrants are selected based on their education level, relevant professional skills, and financial self-sufficiency. But critics say the administration is setting the bar so high that many Americans couldn’t pass it.
Trump’s goal of limiting legal immigration has run afoul of many longstanding U.S. immigration policies, but TPS might be the biggest affront to his vision of merit-based entry. Not only does the program extend legal protections to people who want to enter the U.S. based entirely on what’s happening in their home countries, but it also applies to people, whether they are tourists or undocumented immigrants, who are already in the U.S. when TPS is granted. As such, it came as no surprise to some humanitarian workers in Washington that this administration would not be continuing the tradition of offering a temporary home to Bahamians fleeing the storm.
The impacts of Trump’s new TPS approach will likely extend far beyond the hurricane season. As climate change continues to increase the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, it’s likely that ever-larger numbers of environmental refugees will be forced to leave their homes behind in search of safety. According to a new report from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center, for example, 7 million people worldwide were displaced by natural disasters in the first six months of 2019 — “the highest mid-year figure ever reported for displacements associated with disasters.” But with the White House closing off avenues for migrants hoping for respite in the U.S., those climate refugees will see their options shrink just as they need help the most.
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“Don’t mess with your hometown.” That was the message New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio had Monday afternoon for real-estate-mogul-turned-President Donald Trump, who has several properties subject to carbon emissions targets recently set by the Big Apple.
If the Trump organization fails to reduce the carbon footprint of the eight buildings in question, it could face more than $2 million in yearly fines starting in 2030.
“[Trump’s] not just a problem because of his policies in Washington. He’s a problem because his buildings are among the biggest polluters in New York City,” said de Blasio, who has confronted the president time and again over issues ranging from global warming to immigration.
Trump has often undermined the science of global warming, including reports issued by his own administration. He’s also said he intends to take the U.S. out of the Paris climate agreement — a promise House Democrats symbolically attempted to block by passing a doomed pro-climate bill earlier this month.
In April, New York City passed the Climate Mobilization Act, a package of 10 bills aimed at keeping the city compliant with carbon reduction goals outlined in the Paris accord. De Blasio expanded municipal climate policies by outlining his city-level “Green New Deal” (not to be confused with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s own statewide version, or Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s much-discussed federal Green New Deal, which in its most clearly formed iteration is still just a non-binding resolution).
Keeping to NYC, De Blasio’s $14 billion deal would cut down greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030.
Nearly 70 percent of New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions come from its buildings. The Climate Mobilization Act mandates buildings larger than 25,000 square feet reduce emissions by 40 percent by 2040 and 80 percent by 2050. These megastructures are just two percent of real estate in the city but are responsible for half of building emissions.
According to the mayor, Trump’s buildings’ carbon footprint is equivalent to 5,800 cars. “Maybe President Trump has forgotten where he comes from. This is the city that has suffered because of global warming and we are still vulnerable,” said de Blasio, referencing the devastation caused by Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
Speaking alongside the mayor at a rally inside Trump Tower, New York Communities for Change board member Rachel Rivera spoke about how she and her daughter are still recovering from Sandy seven years later. “We ran into the night with nothing . . . When it rains extremely hard, [my daughter] gets extremely anxious,” she said. “New York City will not survive without a radical action to stop climate change.”
Rivera’s comments were met with both cheers and boos — the latter from counter-protesters who interrupted the gathering bearing signs that read, “Trump 2020.”
“Clearly the Trump Organization is a little sensitive to the fact that we’re calling them out for what they are doing to the climate and the way this building is a part of the problem,” de Blasio said. “But, we will not back down.”
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Just a couple of weeks ago, it looked like TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline was in hot water. Decades of activism, protests, and court cases were paying off, big league, as delays harmed the financial viability of the project. On Friday, the president revived the project with a stroke of his executive pen.
TransCanada had been losing in U.S. courts for the past few years: Obama-appointed federal judge Brian Morris ruled in November that President Trump failed to consider climate change when he approved the pipeline in 2017. In response, TransCanada turned to the San Francisco-based 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to override the ruling, which had required the Trump administration to draw up a new environmental impact report. But that court sided with Morris, a decision that threatened to cause the company to miss out on the 2019 construction season.
Luckily for TransCanada, the company has a friend in the White House. Trump just signed a presidential permit that allows it to sidestep the courts and “construct, connect, operate, and maintain” the line between the U.S. and Canada, in addition to maintaining a facility in Montana that will ship tar-sands crude oil into the United States.
Like many Trump administration decisions, the move is considered highly unusual. If Trump’s decision holds up, it revokes a previous permit granted by Trump — the one that had been found insufficient by Morris — and reissues it.
“Our first response upon seeing this White House communication was that it must be an April Fools joke,” a spokesperson for the Northern Plains Resource Council, a plaintiff in the ongoing lawsuit against Keystone XL, said in a press release. “This new effort appears blatantly illegal on its face and is an unprecedented effort by a United States president to supersede the judicial branch of the United States government.”
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North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper addressed the president in a letter today, explaining that the ongoing partial government shutdown (now on its 19th day) is holding up key disaster relief for the state. North Carolina needs to repair flood damage from Hurricane Florence last year and 2016’s Hurricane Matthew, and prepare itself for future storms.
Cooper writes: “Our critical long-term work to rebuild stronger and smarter is delayed with every day that federal funds are held in Washington.…Please work with Congressional leaders to end this shutdown so our communities can rebuild quickly and effectively.”
Last April, North Carolina was allocated $168 million for disaster recovery from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). And in September, HUD allotted an additional $1.68 billion to be shared between North Carolina and other states affected by 2018 storms. But states can’t access those funds until they are given guidance from HUD and the Federal Register, both of which are closed during the shutdown.
The shutdown is making things worse for disaster-affected communities across the board, but there was already a backlog in undisbursed funds. Bloomberg reported last week that the Trump administration has been sitting on $16 billion earmarked for storm protection while HUD delays the release of instructions for how states can apply for those funds.
Trump is more explicitly blocking disaster relief to disaster survivors in drier (and blue-er) parts of the U.S. In 2018, wildfires took the lives of nearly 100 people and completely leveled the town of Paradise, California. This morning he tweeted (then deleted, then retweeted after correcting some spelling errors): “Billions of dollars are sent to the State of California for Forest fires that, with proper Forest Management, would never happen. Unless they get their act together, which is unlikely, I have ordered FEMA to send no more money.”
Whether or not Trump’s California-centered threats have teeth remains up in the air. Such a move would be without precedent, and The Washington Post reported this afternoon that it’s unclear whether the Federal Emergency Management Agency is taking steps to comply. To add to the confusion, much of California’s forests are federally managed — so Trump can ask feds can rake their own leaves once they’re back on the job.
Despite states’ pleas, signs do not look good for a resolution to the shutdown. President Trump stormed out of a meeting with Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday, tweeting that it had been “a total waste of time.”
He ended the tweet by saying, “Nancy said, NO. I said bye-bye, nothing else works!”
California is on fire again. In an alternate universe, the president of the United States would acknowledge the effects of climate change on wildfires as she directed a barrage of federal resources to the afflicted state. In this universe, however, the president blamed forest management and threatened to withhold funds. And then … Guns N’ Roses lead singer Axl Rose got involved? Here’s what happened.
On Saturday, as a trio of wildfires whipped through California and terrified people evacuated, President Trump took to Twitter to berate the state. Yes, at least 31 people died in the Camp Fire and the president thought now would be a good time to threaten to withhold federal relief:
“There is no reason” for the wildfires except for forest mismanagement? Sir! Poor management is certainly one element of a complex problem, but most forests in the state are managed by the federal government. And rising temperatures play a role too: They make wildfires like the Camp Fire bigger and more common by creating drier conditions.
The lead singer of an iconic ‘80s band isn’t exactly the first person you’d call on to debunk Trump’s tweet, but Twitter is a bizarro melting pot so of course Axl Rose hit back at the president with some wildfire knowledge.
We can’t speak to the “demented n’ truly pathetic” part of the tweet, but the lack of federal funding bit is spot on. The U.S. Forest Service can barely keep up with fire suppression, let alone prevention.
California does need more prescribed burns in order to alleviate some of the state’s fuel load (not the commercial logging that the Trump administration would like to promote but rather the small trees, shrubs, and brush that build up). Less fuel load equals more manageable forest fires. But doing so costs billions of dollars — money that policymakers aren’t sending to the state.
N’ what about climate change? Axl didn’t fit that detail in his Tweet. One person remembered though: the Los Angeles County fire chief. In response to Trump’s tweet, Chief Daryl Osby said, “We’re in extreme climate change right now.”
The Trump administration is one step closer to dismantling a major federal energy policy aimed at improving air quality and lowering carbon emissions — just on the heels of a World Health Organization report highlighting the impact of air pollution on children’s health.
Former Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt announced last year that his agency would repeal the Obama-era Clean Power Plan (CPP), which the EPA had estimated would prevent 90,000 asthma attacks in children and save 4,500 lives each year. The plan’s replacement, the “Affordable Clean Energy Rule,” relaxes regulations for coal plants. If implemented, it could lead to 1,400 more premature deaths each year by 2030, according to EPA estimates.
Public comment on the proposed replacement plan just closed Wednesday. A dozen national medical and public health organizations — including the American Lung Association, the National Association of County and City Health Officials, and others representing physicians and nurses — submitted a joint comment urging the EPA to stick to the original Clean Power Plan. Their letter highlighted the dangers of both air pollution and climate change, which can increase the production of smog and fuel wildfires and dust storms that can also make it harder to breathe.
“The changing climate threatens the health of Americans alive now and in future generations,” they wrote. “The nation has a short window to act to reduce those threats.”
In case you’re in need of a “just how bad is it” reality check, earlier this week, the World Health Organization released a report stating 93 percent of kids under 15 are breathing air that endangers their health and development. Even in wealthy countries like the U.S., more than half of children under the age of 5 are exposed to pollution levels above the WHO’s air quality guidelines.
Kids are particularly vulnerable to air pollution because they’re short and air pollution concentrates closer to the ground, the report says. Their growing bodies and brains are more affected by toxins that can, among other health risks, affect neurodevelopment and cognitive ability.
“Air pollution is stunting our children’s brains,” Maria Neira, director of WHO’s Department of Public Health, said in a statement. But, she added, “There are many straight-forward ways to reduce emissions of dangerous pollutants.”
Which brings us back to the EPA’s proposed energy plan.
Green Latinos submitted a comment on the plan, highlighting the disproportionate burdens placed on communities of color: “One of two Latinos in the United States lives in a county that does not meet EPA’s public health air quality standard. We also know that 40 percent of Latinos live within 30 miles of a power plant, and that Latino children are 40 percent more likely to die from asthma than non-Latino white children…Carbon pollution also endangers Latinos nationwide by driving climate change. Already, we see Latinos on the frontlines of climate change, in the line of fire of extreme heat in the Southwest, extreme drought in California, and sea level rise in Florida.”
The National Mining Association, on the other hand, applauded the EPA’s repeal of Obama-era emissions regulations. “[The Clean Power Plan] is based on the misguided notion that the nation must stop using fossil fuels because these fuels are harmful to the public interest,” wrote Association President and CEO Hal Quinn.
The EPA is expected to put forward a final rule by the end of the year.