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Does New York need a new natural gas pipeline? It’s about to decide.

Last week, more than 100 protesters tuned into a virtual rally for a milestone push in a three-year battle against the Williams Pipeline, a controversial project that would bring a new supply of natural gas into New York City and Long Island. With individual pleas, homemade signs, musical performances, and speeches from the likes of Bill McKibben, Cynthia Nixon, and New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, the protestors tried to summon the people power of a live event to tell New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration to stop the pipeline once and for all.

“We can’t pretend we are making progress on combating climate change if we continue to build out fracked gas infrastructure that will lock in emissions for years to come,” said Stringer, who is rumored to be considering a run for New York City mayor in 2021. “Let’s finish stopping this pipeline and move on to building out a cleaner, more sustainable city.”

The rally was held ahead of the May 17 deadline for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation to rule on a key permit for the project. The pipeline would cut through northern New Jersey and then out about 23 miles into New York Harbor to connect with the existing gas system. One year ago, the agency denied the permit on the grounds that it failed to meet the state’s water quality standards. New Jersey’s environmental agency did the same. Both rejections were issued “without prejudice,” meaning Williams could reapply — which it quickly did.

National Grid, a gas utility that operates in Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island, would be the sole customer of the pipeline’s gas. As the fate of the project hangs in the balance, so do National Grid’s long-term plans — and, according to many observers, the fate of New York City and New York State’s climate goals. Both the city and state passed landmark laws last year that seek to drastically reduce carbon emissions by 2050. The city’s Climate Mobilization Act specifically aims to cut emissions from buildings — the majority of which come from natural gas heating systems.

After the Williams Pipeline permits were denied last summer, National Grid began rejecting new customer applications, claiming that it would not be able to meet future demand unless the pipeline was built. Real estate developments were stalled, new restaurants were left in limbo, and homeowners finishing up repairs couldn’t get the gas turned back on. The issue came to a head in November when Governor Cuomo accused the utility of extorting New Yorkers and threatened to revoke its license. The resulting settlement required National Grid to go back to the drawing board and come up with a slate of alternatives to make sure New Yorkers aren’t left in the cold if the pipeline isn’t built.

In February, before the novel coronavirus swept the country, the utility released a report with 10 ideas. One of them was the Williams Pipeline. The rest were smaller projects, none of which would alone solve the supply problem, the report said, although a scenario with some combination of them could. Most of the solutions involved building new gas infrastructure, like a liquefied natural gas terminal where gas would be delivered by tanker, or a smaller “peak shaving plant” that would store excess gas during the summer for when demand ramps up in the winter.

Some of the solutions on the menu were projects National Grid was already working on, like the construction of a new compressor station that will increase the amount of gas received through an existing pipeline. There were also three “no infrastructure” options that would expand existing programs that reduce demand for gas, like incentives for people to weatherize their homes and to replace their gas boilers with electric heat pumps. (National Grid is already required to offer these kinds of programs under New York State law.)

Critiques of the company’s report poured in from activists, environmental groups, politicians, and even the City of New York during a series of virtual public meetings the company was required to hold and in an online forum for public comments. During the meetings, National Grid President John Bruckner asserted that the company had not decided on any particular solution yet. However, some commenters felt the company’s report continued to make it seem like the Williams Pipeline was the only viable way for National Grid to avoid another moratorium, which could scare regulators into approving it. “If targets are not met, will have to restrict new gas customer connections,” the report reads, referring to potential scenarios with minimal to no new gas infrastructure.

Several groups, like the Environmental Defense Fund and NY Renews, an environmental justice coalition of more than 200 groups across New York State, criticized the company for failing to analyze the emissions impacts of each option, which would be necessary in order to evaluate whether they’re compatible with New York’s climate targets.

In comments submitted on behalf of New York City, lawyer Adam Conway wrote that adding new gas infrastructure runs counter to the city’s policies, and therefore only the “no infrastructure” options were viable tools for National Grid to address supply and demand gaps. An analysis performed by Synapse Energy Economics, a research and consulting firm, on behalf of the Eastern Environmental Law Center, alleged that National Grid’s assessment was flawed even prior to the pandemic, and that the company does not actually face an impending supply shortage. It found that the utility did not account for city and state energy efficiency and emissions reduction programs that will reduce demand for gas in the coming years.

At both the virtual meetings and among the online comments, some parties, like a nonprofit called Heartshare that provides utility grants to low-income households and the Community Development Corporation of Long Island, argued that the Williams Pipeline would be the safest option to ensure that low-income New Yorkers have an affordable way to heat their homes.

But National Grid agreed to play ball and evaluate its options again. On Friday, one week after the comment period closed, the company filed a supplemental report that incorporated some of its critics’ suggestions, including a greenhouse gas analysis and an update to the way the forecasted gap between supply and demand was calculated — which slightly reduces the projected gap. The new report narrows down the solutions and proposes two viable paths forward. Option A consists of the compressor station upgrade, a combination of “no infrastructure” measures to reduce demand, and a brand new option that was not in the original report — upgrading an existing liquified natural gas plant to increase its capacity. Option B is the Williams Pipeline.

If all of the criteria National Grid considered are given equal weight — safety, reliability, cost, compatibility New York’s climate targets — the report recommends Option A. However, if greater importance is placed on reducing risk and making sure the company can meet demand, “then the preferred choice is Option B” it says — the pipeline.

The company’s settlement with New York indicates that one of these paths will have to be decided upon by early June. Whether or not Option B is really on the table now sits in the hands of the Department of Environmental Conservation and Governor Cuomo.

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Does New York need a new natural gas pipeline? It’s about to decide.

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Democrats want travel industry to reduce emissions in exchange for coronavirus bailout

As you read this, U.S. lawmakers are rushing to push a third coronavirus aid package through Congress to help alleviate the economic burden the pandemic has placed on people and industry. (The first, passed two weeks ago, was an $8 billion package that boosted funding for COVID-19 testing, and the second round of funding, signed Wednesday night, was aimed at providing paid family and sick leave to affected Americans.) Democrats want the new package to include measures that will reduce emissions from major polluters.

In a letter to the majority and minority leadership of both houses in Congress on Wednesday, eight Democratic senators, including former presidential candidate Cory Booker of New Jersey, asked Congress to include stricter environmental requirements for industries asking for bailouts from the economic fallout of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Specifically, the senators highlighted the aviation and cruise industries, which are major contributors of greenhouse gas emissions — the former account for 2.5 percent of total carbon dioxide emissions globally, and the latter burns heavy fuel oil (“one of the dirtiest fuels,” the letter points out). The aviation industry has asked Congress for $50 billion in aid, more than three times the amount it received in the aftermath of 9/11.

“If we give the airline and cruise industries assistance without requiring them to be better environmental stewards,” the senators wrote, “we would miss a major opportunity to combat climate change and ocean dumping.” In addition to Booker, the letter’s signatories were Senators Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, Tina Smith of Minnesota, Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, Ed Markey of Massachusetts, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, and Jeff Merkley of Oregon.

On Twitter, Whitehouse made his point more forcefully.

His colleague Markey, co-author of the Green New Deal resolution introduced in the Senate and House last February, agreed.

Unfortunately, it’s unlikely these Democrats have the leverage to compel the Republican-controlled Senate and President Trump to enforce stricter environmental regulations in exchange for coronavirus aid. And it’s not clear that their colleagues in the Senate and House have the bandwidth to tackle both coronavirus and climate change at the moment under such a tight deadline. But with airlines and cruise companies desperate for a bailout, there may never be a better time to make them change their polluting ways.

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The climate change ‘tipping point’ has already arrived for these 70 U.S. counties

For years now now, we’ve been hearing warnings about 2 degrees Celsius of warming — the global average cautioned against as part of the 2015 Paris accord. But according to a Washington Post interactive published on Tuesday, that so-called “tipping point” has already arrived in many towns across the country.

The earth is warming at an uneven rate. The Post looked at 100+ years of data from over 3,000 U.S counties and found that over 70 have already exceeded 2 degrees C of warming above pre-industrial levels. That translates to 34 million people (roughly 1 in 10 Americans) living in regions that are heating especially rapidly.

So where are the U.S. hot spots? The counties that have already reached 2 degrees C or warming are spread throughout the U.S., but there are some regional trends. The fastest-warming state in the country is Alaska, which may come as no surprise given its recent spate of heat waves and wildfires. In the Lower 48, Rhode Island’s average temperature increase is the first to pass 2 degrees Celsius, with other parts of the Northeast, including New Jersey, Connecticut, Maine, and Massachusetts, not far behind.

While the east coast has been sizzling this summer, the Post found that most regional increases were driven by warming winter temperatures, not summer heat waves. That’s means lakes can’t freeze (causing algae blooms, in some cases) and pests don’t die as per usual in certain historically cold regions. Less snow and ice also means those regions are less able to reflect solar radiation during winter, further feeding into the warming cycle.

The freezing point “is the most critical threshold among all temperatures,” David A. Robinson, New Jersey state climatologist and professor at Rutgers University’s department of geography, told the Post.

Scientists aren’t yet sure why the Northeast is warming so quickly. But experts say these 2-degree C hotspots are like little pieces of the future here in the present, showing us what’s coming.

Of course, climate catastrophes aren’t just about higher average regional temperatures. Cold, heat, flood, drought, and sea-level rise all pose significant risks to U.S. communities, according to a newly released analysis by the group Clever Real Estate. And bad news: The report found that many of the cities most at risk to the impacts of climate change are also the least prepared for it.

Clever Real Estate

There’s some concerning crossover between the Post’s list of rapidly warming counties and the areas identified by Clever Real Estate’s analysis (which was compiled by Eylul Tekin, a Ph.D. candidate at Washington University in St. Louis’ Memory Lab). Four of the top five cities with the “lowest degree of readiness” are located in Southern California (Anaheim, San Bernardino, Santa Ana, and Riverside). The counties in question have reached between 1.8 degrees C and 2.1 degrees C of warming compared to pre-industrial levels.

Parts of New Jersey also didn’t fare well on either list. Essex County has already hit the 2 degrees C warming mark, and Newark snagged the fifth spot on the list of places with the “largest difference between risk and readiness scores.”

So in short, there’s already a lot to sweat in many parts of the U.S. (which is even more reason to take climate action now). To get a better sense of the way your specific area is being affected, check out the two studies we mentioned here and here.

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The climate change ‘tipping point’ has already arrived for these 70 U.S. counties

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Washington and Nevada join the swelling list of states aiming for 100% clean power

The peer pressure to clean up the electric grid is gripping the country.

Recent weeks have brought a flurry of ambitious clean-energy pledges. On Earth Day, Nevada’s governor signed into law a measure banning fossil-fuel generated electricity by 2050. Washington’s legislature just sent a bill to Governor Jay Inslee (the presidential contender) that would have the Evergreen State running on purely carbon-free electricity by 2030. Last month, New Mexico committed to 100 percent clean electricity by 2045. California, Hawaii, Washington D.C., and Puerto Rico, passed similar laws a bit further back. There are similar bills pending in Illinois, Minnesota, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Florida, and Massachusetts. And don’t forget the 100-odd cities —  from Orlando, Florida to Pueblo, Colorado — that have vowed to kick their fossil-fuel addiction.

“Voters and state legislatures are being pretty darn clear that there’s widespread support for getting the electricity sector to 100 percent clean,” said Josh Freed, who runs the energy program at the Third Way think tank in Washington, D.C. “In our wildest expectations, we couldn’t have anticipated this much action this quickly.”

It’s a seismic shift from the 1990s and 2000s, when states made goals to get get a certain share of their electricity from renewable power. Those laws were designed to help the nascent renewables industry find its footing, Freed said. Now that the industry is up and running, “the next question is, how do we get carbon off the grid?”

That’s why everyone seems to be excited about the same goal. And this isn’t just the flavor of the month — there’s a good reason to focus on a carbon-free electric system. Though there are still hurdles to leap, states basically know how to eliminate emissions from the electrical grid, said Mike O’Boyle, head of electricity policy at the think tank Energy Innovation in San Francisco. You can’t say the same about eliminating emissions from air-travel or concrete production, at least not yet. So squeezing the greenhouse gases out of electricity is a clearly achievable goal. And there are beneficial knock-on effects: It paves the way to clean up transportation (by switching to electric vehicles) and buildings (by switching to electric heating and cooling).

“It think its a robust and meaningful trend,” O’Boyle said. “A lot of gubernatorial candidates, and presidential candidates, have campaigned on 100-percent clean electricity. It’s become part of the conventional wisdom that it’s a realistic and effective policy goal.”

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‘Monumental step backwards’: The $1 billion gas pipeline project dividing New York

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

A battle is erupting over a proposed gas pipeline on the doorstep of New York City, with environmental groups claiming the project is unnecessary and would lock in planet-warming emissions for decades to come.

Energy company Williams, based in Oklahoma, plans to build a 23-mile-long underwater pipeline through New York’s lower bay to bring fracked gas from Pennsylvania to New York. The $1 billion project would link existing infrastructure in New Jersey to the Rockaways in the New York borough of Queens.

Pipeline proponents argue the project is needed to allow thousands more New Yorkers to switch from oil to gas for their heating, but environmental groups are marshaling a growing protest movement to pressure Andrew Cuomo, New York’s governor, to block the development.

“This pipeline would incentivize reliance on gas, which is way more carbon-intensive than renewables,” said Robert Wood, a campaigner at 350.org, a climate advocacy group. “It would be a nightmare happening, not in a rural area, but right here in New York City.”

A draft of a study commissioned by 350.org disputes many of the assertions made by Williams and National Grid, the utility that will be the sole customer for the gas. According to the analysis, New York is already well on its way to eliminating the dirtiest types of oil, a carbon-heavy fuel, for heating, and the state’s power operators are forecasting a drop in electricity use due to efficiency improvements.

Measures such as installing heat pumps, replacing old boilers, expansion of renewable energy, and planned improvements to building energy efficiency should be “ramped up before considering construction of costly and potentially risky infrastructure like a massive pipeline in the New York harbor,” concluded the analysis, conducted by Suzanne Mattei, a consultant and former regional director of the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

Environmentalists also fret that the pipeline’s construction could stir up toxins from the harbor’s seabed and potentially harm vulnerable marine life such as humpback whales, which have made a comeback to the New York area in recent years.

Wood said a decision on the pipeline will be a “major test” of Cuomo’s green credentials. The Democratic governor previously banned fracking in New York and has set climate change goals that would cut emissions by 80 percent by 2050.

The building of the pipeline would be a “a monumental step backwards” in meeting this target, according to Scott Stringer, comptroller of New York City. Stringer, along with a host of other local elected officials and green groups, contends that while gas has a lower carbon content than oil or coal, methane leaks from gas drilling and transportation can make it a nefarious fossil fuel.

However, National Grid said it has experienced “significant growth” in the need for natural gas in New York City and Long Island, with demand expected to grow by more than 10 percent over the next decade as households make a city-mandated switch away from oil to gas for heating.

“A clean energy transition is good for our customers and the economy, and the right thing to do,” said a statement from National Grid that estimated the so-called Northeast Supply Enhancement Project (NESE) would displace 900,000 barrels of oil a year, the equivalent of removing 500,000 cars from the road.

New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has been holding public hearings into the pipeline in the wake of its approval by the federal regulator. Williams has said it could start construction within a year.

The battle over the pipeline is a microcosm of the struggles within the Democratic party over whether to follow a more incremental approach to climate change or heed the warnings of scientists and conduct a rapid shift away from fossil fuels.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a congresswoman from New York, has spearheaded the more energetic approach as outlined by the Green New Deal, while Cuomo is seen as more of a moderate on the issue.

While environmental groups are planning a series of protests to sway Cuomo, labor unions, another key part of the governor’s base, have said they support the Williams project because of the promise of thousands of construction jobs.

Meanwhile, it emerged last year that Cuomo hired a Williams lobbyist to run his re-election campaign.

Comment was sought from the offices of Cuomo and Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York City, but neither would answer whether they supported the Williams project.

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The dirty truth about oat milk

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

Move over, almond and soy milk: An oat milk boom, as I argued in a piece last year, could help the Midwest solve some of its most dire agricultural issues. And now there’s new research out this month to help support the case for covering the region with oats.

In states like Iowa, fertilizer runoff from corn and soybean farms pollutes drinking water and feeds algae blooms, fouling water from local lakes and rivers down to the Gulf of Mexico. These farms also lose soil to erosion at an alarming rate, compromising the region’s future as a crucial hub of the U.S. food system.

Back in 2013, I reported on “one weird trick” that could go a long way toward solving these problems: biodiversity. When farmers add more crops to their dominant corn-soybean rotation, it disrupts weed and pest patterns and means they can use fewer pesticides. It also frees up space for planting legumes, which capture nitrogen from the air and reduce the need for synthetic fertilizer. One great contender for this third crop is oats.

Earlier this month, researchers from Iowa State University and the University of Minnesota came out with a paper that adds more weight to the case for diversification. The paper reports on results from trial plots established in 2002 by Iowa State at a farm outside Ames. In one swath, the ground was planted in a two-year rotation of corn and soybeans, the standard recipe in the Midwest. In another, a three-year rotation held sway: corn, soybeans, and oats inter-planted with red clover, a legume. In the final one, the rotation was extended to four years, adding a round of alfalfa, another legume, and a forage crop for cattle.

The paper found that the longer rotations — the ones with the added crops — bring the following benefits:

Water pollution drops dramatically

Nitrogen fertilizer is a key crop nutrient, and when it’s washed away into the Midwest’s rivers and streams, it also supercharges algae growth, especially in salt water. That’s bad news for the Gulf of Mexico, where these waterways ultimately drain. Since Midwestern agriculture intensified in the 1970s, annual dead zones have been appearing in the Gulf, sucking oxygen out of the water and turning huge swaths of it into fetid dead zones. The annual Gulf dead zone fluctuates in size based on weather patterns. Last year’s turned out to be below average in area covered — but it was still the size of Delaware. In 2017, the dead zone set an all-time record, clocking in at a size four times larger than the federal target for a healthy Gulf ecosystem.

In the Iowa State farm study, the plots managed with three- and four-year rotations lost 39 percent less nitrogen to runoff than the corn-soybean control plots, partially because the presence of more nitrogen-fixing legumes in the mix reduces the need to apply synthetic nitrogen fertilizer.

And on these plots, 30 percent less phosphorus leaked away as runoff. Phosphorus is another key crop nutrient applied to farm fields, and it’s the main driver for blue-green algae blooms in freshwater bodies like lakes. These blooms produce toxins called microcystins, which, when ingested, cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, severe headaches, fever, and liver damage. Lakes downstream from farms throughout the Midwest have been increasingly saddled with these “harmful algae blooms” in recent years. Toledo struggles annually to keep microcystins out of its city water, which is drawn from algae-plagued Lake Erie. Freshwater blooms also generate massive amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas with 30 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide.

Soil stays in place

According to Iowa State agronomist Richard Cruse, Iowa farms lose topsoil at an average rate of 5.7 tons per acre annually, versus the natural rate of regeneration of 0.5 acres per year. As soil washes away, farmland doesn’t sponge up or hold water as well, making it more vulnerable to droughts. Erosion is already reducing crop yields in Iowa, Cruse’s research has found — an effect that will accelerate if the trend continues. On the Iowa State plots planted with oats, clover, and alfalfa, erosion rates decreased by 60 percent.

Crop yields improve — and so could the bottom line

The diverse plots in the study delivered higher yields of corn and soybeans (in the years when those crops are grown), and also required drastically lower amounts of off-farm inputs like fertilizers and herbicides. (A 2012 paper on the same group of test plots found that the diverse fields require 88 percent less herbicides because the addition of another crop disrupts weed patterns.) As a result, the authors found that the more diverse plots were slightly more profitable than the control ones.

Natalie Hunt, a University of Minnesota researcher and a co-author on the study, told me that the economic analysis assumed that the oats and alfalfa generated by the biodiverse plots would find a profitable use by being fed to cattle and hogs “on-farm or on neighboring farms.” That setup works best for diversified operations that include crops as well as livestock. A farm that planted alfalfa during its fourth year of rotation, for example, could “harvest” it by simply turning cattle loose on it for munching; and the resulting beef provides an income stream.

But such farms are increasingly rare in states like Iowa, which are made up mainly of huge corn and soybean farms, and separately, an ever-growing number of massive confined hog farms, highly geared toward consuming that corn and soy.

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Another obstacle, Hunt says, are the “heavily taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance programs that keep farmers locked into a corn- and soybean-producing system year after year, even when market prices are poor,” as they have been for the past several years.

She adds, though, that if consumers demanded food from the Midwest that didn’t pollute water and damage soil, the “market would respond pretty quickly” — that is, if farmers could get a premium price for crops, meat, and milk “grown with biodiversity” or some such label, farmers would have incentive to add them to their rotations. And that was precisely the thesis of my oat milk piece. I calculated that turning grain into a beverage doesn’t require nearly enough product to create a demand surge sufficient to bring oats to millions of acres of Midwestern farmland; however, it could be a lever to raise consumer awareness of the ecological damage endemic in the Midwest.

Meanwhile, oat milk does appear to be taking off. When I was researching the topic a year ago, I was able to identify two major brands: Oatly and Pacific. Now, Oatly is constructing a new factory in New Jersey to satisfy surging thirst for its product; Pepsi’s Quaker Oats is peddling a “super smooth” oat beverage; and California’s almond milk titan Califia Farms has announced plans to come out with an oat product, as has soy milk giant Silk.

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The dirty truth about oat milk

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EPA nominee Andrew Wheeler wasn’t ready for the Senate’s questions on climate change

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

It was clear about halfway through Andrew Wheeler’s confirmation hearing to lead the Environmental Protection Agency that he wasn’t prepared for the number of questions he was getting on climate change.

Senator Ed Markey (a Democrat from Massachusetts) asked Wheeler on Wednesday whether he agreed with the fourth National Climate Assessment’s conclusions on how Americans will be affected by the world’s relative inaction on climate change, a report that was vetted by 13 federal agencies including the EPA.

Wheeler didn’t exactly answer, saying that he had not been fully briefed on the report because much of his agency’s staff isn’t working right now. “We’ve been shut down the last few weeks,” he said, explaining that he had only been briefed once by staff since the report was published in late November. He said his additional briefings were postponed; about 95 percent of his agency is furloughed.

The Republican majority gave Wheeler an unsurprising pass, defending his record as a lobbyist for an assortment of industries he now regulates, including his main old client, coal baron Bob Murray. But most of the Democratic members, which included several potential 2020 presidential contenders, grilled Wheeler on climate change.

Senator Bernie Sanders asked Wheeler if he considered climate change to be “one of the great crises that face our planet.”

“I would not call it the greatest crisis, no sir,” he answered. “I would call it a huge issue that needs to be addressed globally.”

When senators grilled him on climate change, Wheeler attempted to walk a fine line to sound more reasonable than the president’s talk of a “hoax,” but not go too far to suggest he would do much to crack down on rising greenhouse gas pollution.

“On a one to 10 scale, how concerned are you about the impact of climate change?” Senator Jeff Merkley (a Democrat from Oregon) asked Wheeler, saying that 10 would be an issue that keeps him “up at night.”

“I stay awake at night worrying about a lot of things at the agency,” Wheeler said, before volunteering an “eight or nine.”

Merkley didn’t hide his surprise. “Really?”

The senator challenged Wheeler on his go-to talking point that the EPA was taking action on pollution via its Affordable Clean Energy rule replacement for an Obama-era coal plant regulation and fuel efficiency standards. ACE doesn’t reduce carbon emissions from coal any more than market forces, and the EPA is weakening car standards and considering ending a waiver for California that implements more aggressive targets.

These policies already didn’t come close to the reductions needed to limit warming below a disastrous 2 degrees C (3.6 degrees F). But reversing them risks even more. Last year, greenhouse emissions continued to rise globally, including by 3.4 percent in the United States.

There was an even sharper focus on climate change than in past Trump-era EPA hearings. The conversation around climate change has shifted quite a bit since Wheeler last appeared before the Senate in August, a few weeks after he took the helm of the agency. Now Trump officials face more questions from the opposing party that dig deeper than the usual “Do you believe in climate change?”

The three senators who are considering presidential bids, Cory Booker of New Jersey, Sanders, and Merkley, all centered their questions around climate change. Since August, the issue has become a top item for the House Democratic majority, and progressives have talked of an ambitious “Green New Deal.” Meanwhile, the science has grown more alarming: In addition to the National Climate Assessment, an October report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change looked at the damaging effects from 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) of warming.

A protest interrupted Wheeler when he began on Wednesday, which never once mentioned the words “climate change,” as he ran through his greatest hits — deregulatory and otherwise — from his first year at the EPA.

The protests could still be heard faintly from the hallway when he continued his introductory remarks. “Shut down Wheeler! Not the EPA!”

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The election cleared the way for bold climate policy in these 6 states

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Most of the climate-related coverage of this week’s midterm elections was pretty pessimistic. But if you dig down to the state level — the true hotbed of climate policy in the Trump era — the results were much brighter, even hopeful.

Climate-friendly Democrats won governorships and state legislatures across the country. In several key states, they managed to do both at once, achieving a “trifecta”: Unified control of the governor’s mansion and both branches of the statehouse. In most cases, that means there’s a wide-open lane for an expansion of renewable energy mandates and other climate-friendly policy from coast to coast — at a critical moment in planetary history.

Before the election, Democrats had trifectas in Washington, Oregon, California, Hawaii, New Jersey, Delaware, Connecticut, and Rhode Island. This week, they added Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, Illinois, New York, and Maine. Combined, those 14 states are home to more than a third of the U.S. population.

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Here’s a quick look at some of states that are gearing up to finally put climate change on the front burner:

New Mexico

Newly elected Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham is aiming to transform New Mexico — the third largest oil-producing state in the country, behind Texas and North Dakota — into an environmental leader. She wants the state to be able to produce so much renewable energy that they can export it to California.


Incoming Governor Jared Polis campaigned on a promise of 100 percent renewable energy by 2040, which would be the boldest state-level policy in the country. That goal is so ambitious that even Polis admits it will be a heavy lift, but he’s got the backing of the legislature to help make it a reality.


Voters in Nevada managed to pass a 50 percent renewables mandate by 2030 on Tuesday, one of the most aggressive in the country — and one of the few big direct democracy victories this week. Incoming Governor Steve Sisolak campaigned in support of the ballot measure, and will have the full support of his state legislature to roll out policies to make it happen.


Newly elected Governor JB Pritzker has vowed to turn the most populous state in the Midwest into a renewables powerhouse, boosting its relatively weak 15 percent by 2025 mandate to 25 percent, and ally his state with others vowing to uphold commitments under Paris agreement.

New York

It was the state senate that flipped, not the governorship, in New York. That will free up Andrew Cuomo to answer his critics and pass legislation to put the state on a path to 50 percent renewables by 2030, something he’s been trying to do for a while now. This comes a year after New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s plan for the city to purchase 100 percent renewable energy “as soon as sufficient supply can be brought online.”


Janet Mills, the first woman elected governor in Maine, is aiming to reduce the state’s emissions 80 percent by 2030 and supports the development of offshore wind farms — widely seen as more efficient and reliable than onshore wind. Maine’s potential offshore wind resources are 75 times greater than its current statewide electricity use, meaning it could soon sell energy to other parts of New England and the East Coast.

In these state plans, it’s easy to get a glimpse of a future United States that’s actually on a path to holding global warming to less-than-catastrophic levels. Today’s bold state policies could quickly grow into regional hubs entirely reliant on renewable energy, leapfrogging the broken incrementalist approach of the past few decades at the national level and stealthily achieving the kind of world we need.

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The election cleared the way for bold climate policy in these 6 states

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This map shows the 5 hottest midterm races for climate

Earlier this fall, the world’s top climate scientists gave humanity about 10 years to avoid a future that really sucks. With the midterm elections right around the corner, that warning means voters are effectively deciding which candidates to trust with the keys to the climate. If voters are sufficiently worried about warming, that anxiety might help determine who is put in office.

According to Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, worry is a stronger predictor of policy support than other emotions. “We found that it’s not fear, it’s not anger, and it’s not disgust or guilt,” he explained. “Worry doesn’t hijack, doesn’t overwhelm, rationality. It can really spur it.”

So just how worried about the planet’s future are voters in the nation’s tightest congressional races? Grist created a map overlaying competitive elections, as identified by The Cook Political Report, with climate concern data from Yale’s 2018 Climate Opinion Maps.

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These toss-up elections are spread throughout the country. Some are sprawling rural districts, others are comprised primarily of dense cities or metro areas. (Keep in mind that congressional districts vary in size, but each holds roughly the same number of people.) Each district varies in what percentage of its constituents report being worried about climate change — represented from yellow (not that worried) to red (pretty worried).

Interestingly, even in those districts where folks seem less concerned about climate change, a majority of people worry about it. Most of the seats in play are currently held by Republicans. And while several Democrats have doubled down on environmental policies, like renewable energy, climate change is a bipartisan issue in many of these communities.

Look closely at the map, and you’ll see a handful of neck-and-neck races in places chock full of climate-worriers. These communities range from the beaches of Miami and Southern California to the suburbs of Houston. Grist examined five of these highly climate-concerned toss-up districts to see what local factors may shift the balance of power in Congress.

Editor’s note: This map is based on up-to-date data at the time of publishing. Also, Grist’s analysis excludes districts from Pennsylvania, because it recently redrew its congressional maps — and Yale’s data was collected before the redistricting effort. Sorry, Keystone State!

California 48th district (67 percent of residents are worried)

Members of various political and environmental groups pose for a group picture after press conference against offshore drilling along the California coast in Huntington Beach, CA, on Wednesday, July 25, 2018.Jeff Gritchen / Digital First Media / Orange County Register / Getty Images

California’s 48th congressional district includes much of coastal Orange County, and the local midterms are about as melodramatic as an episode of The O.C.

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Republican Dana Rohrabacher has represented this affluent, conservative bastion in a deep-blue state since 1989, but his seat is in play due in part to a few recent scandals: He had more than one clandestine meeting with Marina Butina, the former NRA darling arrested on suspicion of Russian espionage and election interference. That’s landed him on the radar of the Mueller investigation — and in hot water with voters. “They call me Putin’s best friend,” he told ABC last year. “I’m not Putin’s best friend.”

But even Republicans who deny Russian entanglements can’t get away with denying climate change in this sea-level community. The district’s stunning coastlines — from Huntington Beach to Laguna Beach — could see chronic flooding by 2030. That science isn’t lost on homeowners in the area, says Ray Hiemstra, co-chair of the Sierra Club’s Angeles Chapter Political Committee. “They’re actually starting to think, ‘Maybe I should start thinking of selling my place.’”

Rohrabacher says he supports solar and nuclear energy, as well as expanding oil and gas production. The staunch Trump supporter has stated in the past that offshore drilling is safer than importing oil on tankers, pointing to incidents such as the 1984 American Trader spill. In contrast, his opponent, Democratic candidate Harley Rouda, says he’ll promote clean energy while pushing back on offshore drilling efforts.

Florida 26th district (67 percent are worried)

REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

The tides are already lapping at the door in the low-lying Florida Keys. Within the century, scientists predict that much of South Florida could be underwater.

It’s no wonder that residents in Florida’s 26th congressional district — the state’s southernmost region which includes all three of its national parks, as well as part of Miami-Dade County — are some of the Americans who are most concerned about climate change in the nation. Almost 70 percent of its constituents are Latino, most of them Cuban-American. Polls show that Latinos consistently want climate action more than the population at large.

So what are people most concerned about? In addition to king tides, Elizabeth Bonnell, chair of the Sierra Club’s Miami Group, points to “climate gentrification” — when developers buy up future beachfront properties in low-income neighborhoods, pushing out current residents. Then, there’s the stifling heat, toxic algae, and dangerous hurricanes that have been brewing in the Atlantic recently.

The seat is one of the top 10 House races to watch in 2018, according to Politico. But District 26 is a special place where both candidates running for the House seat — yes, including the Republican — have explicitly backed climate action.

Incumbent Carlos Curbelo is one of only a handful of Republicans to openly address climate change. In February 2016 he co-founded the bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus, which earned him a spot on the 2017 Grist 50 list. But this year, in the wake of Hurricane Michael, Curbelo called people who linked the historic storm, which intensified rapidly thanks to the Gulf of Mexico’s warmer-than-normal waters, climate change “alarmists.” The stance earned him some criticism.

“Those of us who truly care about #climatechange must be sober when discussing its connection to #HurricaneMichael or any other storm,” Curbelo tweeted. “Florida has had hurricanes for centuries. There’s no time to waste, but alarmists hurt the cause & move our fight for #climatesolutions backward.”

One week out from the election, the race is narrowing. And Democratic challenger Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, a former associate dean at Florida International University, has made the environment a key component of her political ads.

Texas 7th district (65 percent are worried)

Residents of the Houston neighborhood of Meyerland wait on an I-610 overpass for help during the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey on August 27, 2017.Brendan Smialowski / AFP / Getty Images

The Texas 7th is affluent, well-educated, largely residential — and as a result of Hurricane Harvey, still recovering from being underwater for a chunk of 2017.

While the east side of Houston has long been infamous for its oil and gas infrastructure, the more affluent west side is becoming increasingly vulnerable to climate change in the form of freak storms. It has suffered extensive flooding from Harvey and at least two other storms in the past five years.

Republican John Culberson has represented Texas 7th since 2001. As he faces a tough reelection this year against Democratic challenger Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, he’s largely avoided talking about climate change, including declining an invitation in January to a community climate forum held in his district. While he has eschewed those exact words during his re-election bid, Rep. Culberson has used last year’s hurricane as a major talking point, name-dropping the storm in more than half of his emails to voters this year.

“He hasn’t been one of the snowball throwers calling climate change a hoax,” said Daniel Cohan, an environmental engineering professor at Rice University. “But he takes a wait-and-see attitude, falsely indicating that the science isn’t clear.”

For a district that’s borne the brunt of so many environmental disasters, it’s unclear how much sway climate change will have over the results of this race. According to Mark Jones, a political scientist at Rice University’s Baker Institute for Public Policy, there may not be enough swing voters in the Texas 7th who care about the issue. Those that do care already know how they’re voting. But Jones adds, there are “not an insignificant number” of voters who are still grappling with Harvey and could be potentially influenced by talk of climate policy.

Read more coverage on how climate politics are playing out in west Houston.

Texas 32nd district (65 percent are worried)


Texas has a lot of skin the game when it comes to climate change. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) scientist once dubbed the state “the disaster capital of the United States” for its unique meteorological conditions.

Texas’ 32nd congressional district, which includes the suburbs northeast of Dallas, saw unprecedented rains and flooding in September and October. The storms led to multiple deaths in the Dallas area. An extreme drought and heat wave this past summer resulted in a remarkable uptick in heat-related hospital visits.

Like Texas overall, the 32nd is a “majority-minority” district: 49 percent white, 25 percent Latino, 15 percent black, and eight percent Asian. Environmental polls have shown that people of color are more likely to care about climate change compared to white people. And the district’s demographics are now colliding with extreme weather to drive climate concern.

At least for now, climate politics in the 32nd — which is more affluent than much of the state — are traditionally partisan. Pete Sessions, the incumbent Republican who’s represented the district (and its previous incarnation, District 5) since 1997, has a lifetime score of two percent from the League of Conservation Voters, indicating a strong anti-environment record. Sessions’ campaign platform includes “reining in the EPA” and opening public lands for drilling. When Sessions was questioned early last year about his support for controversial EPA head Scott Pruitt, he hanged the subject, putting the blame on New York and the Northeast for polluting America.

Sessions’ main opponent, Democrat Colin Allred, is an ex-football player and current civil rights attorney whose main focus is on reducing voter disenfranchisement. His environmental platform states he believes in promoting investment in renewable energy, “rejoining” the Paris climate accord, and defending the independence of the EPA and NOAA.

New Jersey 7th district (64 percent are worried)

The lower level of Lambertville Inn is covered in water as the Delaware River crests August 29, 2011, in Lambertville, New Jersey.William Thomas Cain / Getty Images

New Jersey’s 7th congressional district stretches from New York City’s western suburbs all the way to the banks of the Delaware River. Not only does the river serve as the water supply for more than 15 million Americans, but it’s also a source of considerable climate worry for constituents.

Polluted runoff finds its way into waterways which add to the district’s rising rivers, damaging families, homes, and businesses. Climate change-related flooding threatens the quality of life across the district according to Ed Potosnak, executive director of the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters. “That’s where lack of action by Congress has left families vulnerable,” he told Grist.

New Jersey is the most densely populated state in the U.S., and the district runs the socioeconomic gamut, with a mix of suburban, exurban, and rural communities.

Republican Congressman Leonard Lance has represented the district since 2009. He’s also a member of the Climate Solutions Caucus. Though Lance has been a rare voice espousing the reality of climate change within the GOP, he also has a track record of siding with big business and the fossil fuel industry on legislation. Lance has a lifetime score of 23 percent on the League of Conservation Voters’ scorecard, hardly the marks of an environmentalist.

Lance’s opponent, Democrat Tom Malinowski, is new to New Jersey, but not to politics. He served as Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor under President Obama. According to the League of Conservation Voters, he has dedicated his career to people’s rights to breathe clean air and drink clean water. Like his opponent, Malinowski has stated he believes that humans are exacerbating climate change. He has promised to oppose pipelines that will run across the state and has spoken out against offshore drilling,

Additional Reporting Credit

Map development: Lo Bénichou  from Mapbox

Map data: The Cook Political Report and Yale’s 2018 Climate Opinion Maps (as of 10/30/2018)

Community profiles: Justine Calma, Kate Yoder, Stephen Paulsen, Eve Andrews, Paola Rosa-Aquino

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This map shows the 5 hottest midterm races for climate

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California wants all of its electricity carbon-free. How’s that possible?

If you want to get electricity generated by fossil fuels in California you’re soon going to be out of luck. A bill that just made it through the legislature requires the state’s electricity to come entirely from zero-carbon sources by 2045.

Environmentalists campaigned hard for the bill. Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, called its passage, “a pivotal moment for California, for the country and the world.”

That’s assuming Governor Jerry Brown signs it into law. Brown reportedly said he won’t sign unless the legislature also passes a bill to expand the energy grid to cover several states.

There’s a key term of art in this clean-energy bill that’s easy to miss if you aren’t clued in. Activists and like-minded politicians often campaign for “100 percent renewable,” but this bill mandates 100 percent carbon-free sources of electricity. Catch that? It means California is likely to replace fossil fuels with more electricity from large hydroelectric dams (not considered renewable under California rules), nuclear reactors, and any new technologies, like fusion, that become viable in the next 30 years.

There’s a big debate among greens over how much wind and solar an electric grid can handle.

Right now, California gets about a third of its electricity from renewables. Another third comes from natural gas. The rest comes from large hydroelectric dams, nuclear, and a little coal.

Most experts say that California — and the United States as a whole — could eventually get 80 percent of its electricity from renewables, but it’s really hard to fill that last 20 percent (see explanations here and here). A few academics, most famously Stanford’s Mark Jacobson (a 2016 Grist 50 member), think 100 percent renewable energy is within our grasp.

The new bill says that California will have to get half its electricity from renewables by 2027 and 60 percent by 2030. That seems within reach because the state expects to produce 50 percent renewable electricity by 2020.

Where will the other half come from? California’s network of dams provides as much as a fifth of its electricity in some years, but that depends on the weather. In the middle of the drought in 2015, California hydropower was less than half of what it is in an average year.

California Energy Commission

In-state nuclear looks like a long shot. It provides 10 percent of the state’s electricity, but the state’s only nuclear plant, near San Luis Obispo, is slated to shut down in 2025.

And then there’s conservation: If people turn off their lights and air conditioners, the state won’t need to generate as much electricity.

Finally, there’s generation from outside the state, which is the most likely way that California will compensate for any shortfall. Californians already buy hydropower from Washington and Oregon, along with some nuclear electricity from Arizona. If Brown signs the mandate into law, they’re likely to get more.

Of course, climate action is a planetary problem, not a local problem, so there’s only so much one state can do. It doesn’t help the climate if California buys Arizona’s low-carbon electricity while Arizona buys the fossil-fuel power that California shunned. But California could prove to other states that switching to clean electricity isn’t so hard. Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Washington, D.C are considering bills to make the switch. Hawaii already has a carbon-free law — not just for electricity, but for all forms of energy.

Brown is holding out for another bill that would allow California’s electric grid to bring in renewable resources from say, windy Wyoming, to big coastal cities like Los Angeles. The larger the grid, the greater the likelihood that it contains a spot where the wind is blowing and the sun is shining. But many labor and environmental justice groups are fighting against that bill on the grounds that it would give away local control. The Sierra Club and Earthjustice oppose it; the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Union of Concerned Scientists back it.

In the meantime, it seems like every environmental group is cheering the passage of the zero carbon bill.

By shooting for 100 percent carbon free, instead of 100-percent renewable, California is shifting from the true north of activists’ demands. Yet activists appear exultant. It’s like what New York’s Governor Mario Cuomo said back in 1985, “You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose.”

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California wants all of its electricity carbon-free. How’s that possible?

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