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Trump is sneaking environmental rollbacks past a nation in quarantine

In the weeks since the novel coronavirus began its exponential spread across America, schools have closed; churches, synagogues, and mosques have canceled services; and non-essential businesses have shuttered. The U.S. economy has ground to a halt. But the Trump administration and some state governments are still going full steam ahead on rolling back environmental protections.

So what’s been happening while we’ve been sheltering in place? A whole lot. “Consistent” isn’t generally a word used to describe this president, but Trump has been nothing if not consistent in his commitment to ensuring unfettered freedom for big polluters.

On Tuesday, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency put the nail in the coffin of President Obama’s 2012 rule aimed at curbing auto emissions. That rule would have required automakers to improve the fuel economy standards of their cars and light fleet trucks to by 5 percent on average a year. Trump’s new rule will only require them to raise those standards by 1.5 percent annually. For an idea of how easy Trump has made life for automakers, the industry has said it would boost standards 2.4 per year sans regulation.

Trump says the Safer Affordable Fuel-Efficient Vehicles rule will make new cars cheaper and bolster auto manufacturers in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. But loosening restrictions on automakers will lead to a billion more tons of carbon dioxide emitted and 80 billion more gallons of gasoline consumed cars over the course of their lifetimes. California is currently in a courtroom tussle with the EPA over a waiver that would allow the state to sidestep Trump’s rule and continue imposing stricter tailpipe emissions rules on vehicles driven in its jurisdiction.

Speaking of the EPA, the agency, helmed by former coal lobbyist Andrew Wheeler, is steadily moving forward with other rollbacks. Among them, a rule that could hobble future federal health regulations by limiting the studies regulators can use in the rulemaking process. Wheeler says the agency’s new rule to require disclosure of the raw data behind scientific studies used by the government to make regulations will increase transparency. Health experts argue it’ll exclude key studies that rely on confidential medical data.

Not content to move ahead with rollbacks that were already in the works, the EPA is also using the coronavirus as an excuse to let polluters loose on the playground. Last week, the agency announced it was going to let facilities like power plants and factories regulate themselves during the pandemic. The EPA will not issue fines for some air, water, and hazardous waste violations, and that loosening of restrictions will take retroactive effect going back to March 13. Companies should “act responsibly,” according to the EPA. Fat chance.

At the Department of the Interior, a similar saga is playing out. Last week, the department refused to extend the public comment period on its proposed reinterpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, a 1918 rule protecting more than 800 avian species. The agency also kept moving along plans this month to consider drilling projects on previously protected lands in Alaska and New Mexico, and is continuing oil and gas drilling lease auctions apace.

States are getting in on the deregulatory action, too. Over the past two weeks, Kentucky, South Dakota, and West Virginia quietly passed laws that would penalize pipeline protesters. Under the new state laws, fossil fuel infrastructure like the Dakota Access Pipeline are designated “critical infrastructure” or “key infrastructure assets.” Causing damage above a certain dollar amount or tampering with those assets could now lead to felony charges.

Meanwhile, the governors of New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Illinois have already temporarily banned or officially discouraged reusable bags in grocery stores, and Maine’s plastic bag ban is being postponed until January 2021. Republican officials arguing against efforts to limit plastic pollution are taking talking points from the plastics industry. The president of the Plastic Industries Association recently said, “As the coronavirus spreads across the country, single-use plastics will only become more vital.” But the science behind the assertion that plastic bags spread the virus is thin, and a recent study showed the virus is still viable on plastic surfaces after 72 hours.

It’s clear that the coronavirus crisis has handed Trump and conservative state lawmakers a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to do away with environmental protections they find too burdensome. Too bad social distancing isn’t effective for pollution.

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Trump is sneaking environmental rollbacks past a nation in quarantine

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

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House Democrats set to introduce first-of-its-kind climate refugee bill

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

House Democrats are set to introduce the first major piece of legislation to establish protections for migrants displaced by climate change, ramping up a push for a long-overdue framework for how the United States should respond to a crisis already unfolding on its shores.

The bill, called the Climate Displaced Persons Act, would create a federal program separate from the existing refugee program to take in a minimum of 50,000 climate migrants starting next year.

The legislation, a copy of which HuffPost obtained, directs the White House to collect data on people displaced by extreme weather, drought and sea level rise and submit an annual report to Congress. It also requires the State Department to work with other federal agencies to create a Global Climate Resilience Strategy that puts global warming at the center of U.S. foreign policy.

The bill, set to be introduced by Representative Nydia Velázquez, a New York Democrat, is a companion to legislation proposed by Massachusetts Democratic Senator Ed Markey, one of the leading advocates for a Green New Deal. Its introduction in the House of Representatives marks an escalation as Democrats start to flesh out what a sweeping federal plan to eliminate emissions and prepare the country for more climate catastrophe would look like.

The 21-page proposal looks unlikely to become law while Donald Trump, who rejects climate science and slashed the country’s refugee cap to a historic low of 18,000 last month, remains president.

But the bill lays the groundwork for how a future administration could deal with what’s already forecast to be among the greatest upheavals global warming will cause.

Since 2008, catastrophic weather has displaced an average of 24 million people per year, according to data from the Swiss-based nonprofit Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. That number could climb to anywhere from 140 million to 300 million to 1 billion by 2050. The World Bank estimated last year that climate change effects in just three regions ― sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America ― could force 143 million people to flee by the middle of the century.

Yet little to no legal infrastructure exists to classify and process climate refugees. Last December, leaders from 164 countries formally adopted the U.N. Global Compact for Migration, the first major international document to recognize the role of climate change in causing displacement. But it’s a nonbinding and voluntary accord, and the United States, Australia, and several European Union members refused to sign.

Meanwhile, the exodus is already underway. Within the United States, coastal communities in Louisiana, Florida, and Alaska are abandoning their low-lying homes in search of higher ground, albeit with limited federal support. The wave of foreign migrants seeking safety in the world’s largest economy has begun lapping on U.S. shores.

Thousands of Central American migrants making the treacherous journey to the U.S. border with Mexico are farmers escaping lands so parched by drought crops won’t grow. Last month, the Trump administration turned away at least 119 Bahamians heading to Florida to flee the destruction Hurricane Dorian, the kind of Category 5 storm scientists project to be more frequent in a hotter world, left in its wake.

“America will continue to stand tall as a safe haven for immigrants,” Velázquez said in a statement. “This legislation will not only reaffirm our nation’s longstanding role as a home to those fleeing conflict and disasters, but it will also update it to reflect changes to our world brought on by a changing climate.”

The nascent climate refugee crisis comes as the United Nations is already recording more than 65 million people displaced worldwide ― a figure that, depending on how it’s counted, amounts to the highest number of refugees ever. In Europe, the steady stream of refugees escaping war, poverty, and drought in North Africa and the Middle East has spurred a powerful new right-wing movement against immigrants, led by some of the most brazenly ethnonationalist elected officials since the 1930s.

Absent any liberal alternatives, this European right is starting to pitch its hardline immigration policies as a bulwark against climate disruption. Earlier this year, Marine Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right National Rally, criticized “nomadic” people who “do not care about the environment” as “they have no homeland,” harkening to Nazi-era “blood and soil” rhetoric. A spokesman for her party proposed a solution: “Borders are the environment’s greatest ally.”

Climate Displaced Persons Act by Alexander Kaufman on Scribd

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House Democrats set to introduce first-of-its-kind climate refugee bill

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Bernie Sanders’ ‘Green New Deal’ looks like a trillion bucks (OK, 16 trillion)

Washington Governor Jay Inslee vacated the role of “climate candidate” in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary when he dropped out of the race Wednesday night. By Thursday morning, it appeared Bernie Sanders was poised to fill it.

The Vermont senator unveiled a plan to spend more than $16 trillion in federal dollars on “a ten-year, nationwide mobilization centered around justice and equity” to forestall the climate crisis. He’s calling it — stop us if you’ve heard this one before — the “Green New Deal.”

Yep, Sanders told the New York Times that he’s putting “meat on the bones” of the resolution, introduced in February by New York Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey, which called for a “10-year national mobilization” to essentially remake the U.S. into a clean-energy economy. The Ocasio-Cortez and Markey version of the Green New Deal (a.k.a. GND original flavor) is currently being constructed by the think tank New Consensus.

Sanders’ version calls for creating 20 million union jobs he says are necessary for averting climate disaster, phasing out fossil fuels by midcentury, providing $200 billion to the United Nations to aid developing countries in slashing emissions, and spearheading new projects in solar, wind, and geothermal energy. According to the senator’s campaign, the plan will pay for itself in 15 years, in part by levying massive taxes on the income of corporate polluters and increasing penalties for fossil-fuel company pollution. And Sanders said he would declare climate change a national emergency, a step that even Inslee was not ready to commit to. Last month, Sanders proposed a congressional resolution to do just that.

The language in Sanders’s plan indicates he’s ready to tussle with Big Oil: He says he would direct his Department of Justice to go after fossil fuel companies for both civil and criminal penalties. So far, cases winding through the state court systems have not been successful at holding the fossil fuel industry accountable.

“They have evaded taxes, desecrated tribal lands, exploited workers, and poisoned communities,” the proposal reads. “President Bernie Sanders will ensure that his Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission investigate these companies and bring suits — both criminal and civil — for any wrongdoing, just as the federal government did with the tobacco industry in the 1980s.”

The 77-year-old presidential-hopeful also plans to ensure a “fair” and “just transition” for fossil fuel workers. Under Sanders’ Green New Deal, the federal government would provide five years of unemployment insurance, a wage guarantee, housing assistance, and job training to “any displaced worker” who loses their job during the transition to a clean-energy economy.

Moreover, Sanders’ plan pitches a ban on hydraulic fracturing — a.k.a. fracking — and mountaintop coal mining. He also plans on establishing a $40 billion Climate Justice Resiliency Fund specifically to help communities of color prepare for climate impacts.

While the Green New Deal of Ocasio-Cortez and Markey calls for transitioning to 100-percent zero-emission energy generation and slashing emissions from transportation “as much as is technologically feasible” within 10 years, Sanders’ plan ups the ante a bit. He calls for eliminating all emissions from the transportation sector by 2030. And while the original resolution doesn’t exclude the use of nuclear power or developing technologies like carbon capture, Sanders’ proposal prohibits so-called “false solutions,” specifically naming nuclear, carbon sequestration, and geoengineering among them.

But while the Green New Deal (original) and its effect in shifting the conversation on climate in politics has been up to this point most closely identified with Ocasio-Cortez, today’s announcement could essentially transfer the concept to Sanders. So if at the next round of debates, fellow candidate and Senator Kamala Harris utters her support for a “Green New Deal”, as she has in the previous two, she’ll essentially be saying she supports Sanders’ plan. It’s his now — both its transformative allure, as well as its heavy price tag.

But at least, according to Sanders’ estimates, he can get the job done for less than 20 percent of what the Republicans say a Green New Deal will cost.

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Bernie Sanders’ ‘Green New Deal’ looks like a trillion bucks (OK, 16 trillion)

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1 in 5 Americans now live in places committed to 100% clean power

Obsession with the families Stark (both the Iron Man and Iron Throne) is fleeting, but it’s looking like there’s one durable trend unfolding before our eyes: The embrace of clean energy.

On Tuesday, Governor Jay Inslee of Washington state (and presidential contender) signed legislation that aims to make the state’s electricity carbon neutral by 2030. It’s the most recent in a series of similar moves. A couple of weeks ago, on Earth Day, Nevada’s governor signed into law a measure banning fossil-fuel generated electricity by 2050. In March, 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.

“One in five U.S. residents now live in places committed to 100-percent clean electricity,” said Mike Tidwell, director of the Chesapeake Climate Action Network, on a conference call with reporters before Inslee signed the legislation.

There are similar bills pending in Illinois, Minnesota, New York, New Jersey, Virginia, Florida, and Massachusetts. And don’t forget the 100-odd cities — Orlando, Florida and Pueblo, Colorado, among them — 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?”

There’s more than one good reason to focus on building 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.”

Besides the bill mandating Washington state’s switch to clean electricity, Inslee signed four other bills into law that will target greenhouse gas pollution from buildings, appliances, transportation, and super-polluting hydrofluorocarbons. They arose from negotiations between unions, environmental justice groups, industry, and climate hawks, said Lauren McCloy, Inslee’s senior energy advisor. Members of these groups, from the Certified Electrical Workers of Washington, to the Audubon Society, praised the new laws.

“Signing these clean energy bills into law is a commitment to our shared values of justice and stewardship,” said LeeAnne Beres, executive director of Washington Interfaith Power & Light. “People of faith applaud the Legislature for putting Washington on a strong path toward equity and sustainability.”

For Inslee, these new laws are a key selling point as he tries to distinguish himself as the climate candidate among the 21 Democrats running for president. He recently unveiled a “100% Clean Energy for America Plan,” which would keep the United States in the Paris Agreement and ban drilling on public lands, among other proposals. But without laws demonstrating action in his own state, it would be hard to make the case that he could get his climate platform passed in Washington D.C.

*This story updates and adds to a previous story

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1 in 5 Americans now live in places committed to 100% clean power

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Jay Inslee turns up the pressure on the DNC to host a climate debate

The Democratic National Committee sets the tone for the Democratic party every big election. Issues like healthcare and jobs have always been much higher on the organization’s list of priorities than climate change — a topic that got a total of five minutes and 27 seconds of debate time in 2016. But this presidential election is sure to be different: Scientists say we have little time to avert climate catastrophe, extreme weather chewed through swaths of the country last year, and a majority of voters are worried about climate change. The 2020 Democratic primary even has its very first climate candidate.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee is betting that he can stand out in a crowded 2020 primary by making climate change the centerpiece of his campaign. His very presence in the field, and the relative expertise with which he talks about thorny topics like nuclear energy and geoengineering, will put pressure on his rivals to clarify their own climate platforms. That is, if Inslee manages to get more than a few words in edgewise.

On Earth Day, Inslee penned an open letter to his fellow 2020 Democrats asking them to join him in asking the DNC to hold a climate debate. “This is an urgent problem, and we can’t resolve it with soundbites and one-off questions,” he wrote. The DNC, however, doesn’t seem particularly enthused about the idea. “[W]e will absolutely have these discussions during the 2020 primary process,” a spokesperson said, which is a polite way of saying, “Settle down, pipsqueak.”

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But Inslee might be able to generate some momentum by double-dog daring his opponents to match his climate fervor. Already, two of them have endorsed his idea. “A DNC debate focused on climate change would show the world that America intends to lead again on this issue,” New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand told the Daily Beast in a statement last week, when Inslee first called on the DNC to host a climate debate. “I’m in!” Obama’s former Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julián Castro tweeted on Monday, even though his climate record is light and a little spotty.

Recent polls show Castro and Gillibrand both polling at around 1 percent — why not make a splash on climate? Other candidates, like Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, may not feel the need to respond to Inslee’s bait: They have both been long-time climate advocates. Warren just proposed a public lands climate bill.

At one point or another, all of these Democrats are going to have to tell us what they really mean when they say they support climate action or something like the Green New Deal. “Each 2020 candidate needs to have a concrete plan to take on this challenge  —  and we deserve to hear those plans,” Inslee wrote.


Jay Inslee turns up the pressure on the DNC to host a climate debate

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Elizabeth Warren’s latest policy proposal shares roots with the Green New Deal

For all her experience and name recognition, Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren is being out-fundraised by relative newcomers like Texas’ Beto O’Rourke and Indiana’s Pete Buttigieg this quarter. But when it comes to policy proposals, the Democrat is still outpacing most of her rivals in the 2020 Democratic primary.

On Monday, Warren released a proposal that promises, among other things, an executive ban on new offshore leases and drilling on government-owned lands on her first day in office. It marks her sixth policy plan in three and a half months, and is one of the primary field’s first climate proposals that touches on the themes laid out in the Green New Deal.

Warren’s proposal includes free access to national parks for American citizens and pledges to restore protections to national monuments like Bears Ears that were rolled back by the Trump administration. Most interestingly, she introduces the framework for the kind of conservation workforce that would put a smile on FDR’s face.

The 21st Century Civilian Conservation Corps, as she describes it, “will create job opportunities for thousands of young Americans caring for our natural resources and public lands.” The idea is to house the new corps under the umbrella of Americorps — the voluntary civil society program funded by the federal government.

If you squint you can see some similarities between Warren’s notion of putting 10,000 young Americans and veterans to work in conservation and the federal jobs guarantee laid out in the Green New Deal, which promises a family-sustaining wage to every American. The two plans, of course, borrow from Franklin Roosevelt’s economic stimulus package post-Depression in both name and content.

The centerpiece of the larger proposal is two-pronged: a moratorium on new drilling on federal lands with “a goal of providing 10% of [the nation’s] overall electricity generation from renewable sources offshore or on public lands.” Her idea effectively swaps oil and gas for renewable energy projects on public lands.

While some regions across the country have taken it upon themselves to impose their own temporary or permanent fossil fuel moratoriums, doing it on a federal level across all American public lands — more than 25 percent of the country’s total land — is unprecedented. Obama, in his last year as president, accomplished a portion of his (now partially dismantled) climate legacy through executive action. His administration removed certain areas of the country from oil and gas drilling, such as parts of the Atlantic Coast and Alaska, but also encouraged natural gas development as part of its “all-of-the-above” energy policy.

Warren’s public lands proposal contains seeds of what could grow into a full-fledged Green New Deal if the senator manages to clinch the presidency next year. Regardless of where she ends up, her plan is ambitious enough that her fellow 2020 contenders will likely feel the need to produce their own climate and environment proposals lickity-split.

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Elizabeth Warren’s latest policy proposal shares roots with the Green New Deal

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Former oil lobbyist David Bernhardt confirmed as Interior secretary. Yay?

The Senate confirmed David Bernhardt, a former oil lobbyist, as Interior secretary on Thursday afternoon in a 56-41 vote. Three Democrats — West Virginia’s Joe Manchin, New Mexico’s Martin Heinrich, and Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema — crossed party lines to vote in Bernhardt’s favor, along with Angus King, an Independent from Maine.

“I believe Mr. Bernhardt is clearly qualified to serve as secretary,” Manchin, the top Democrat of the Senate committee that oversees the Interior, said during a floor speech. “He knows the Interior Department inside and out and he is well versed on all the issues that come before it.”

The reason Bernhardt knows the department so well? He’s been serving as acting Interior secretary since January when Ryan Zinke, the department’s former head, resigned amid ethics investigations.

Bernhardt’s work as a longtime lobbyist for the oil and gas industry has led to concerns about conflicts of interest. To keep track of all of his recusals for former clients, he carries with him a card listing all of their names, the Washington Post reports. The Interior is entrusted with some 700 million acres of public lands and 1.7 billion acres off the country’s shores, and as the head of the department, there is a high chance that Bernhardt will oversee businesses he once lobbied for.

While Republicans rejoiced the moment, Senator Chuck Schumer, a Democrat from New York, was outraged. “Donald Trump campaigns on cleaning up the swamp and he does exactly the opposite when in office. An oil and gas lobbyist as head of the Department of Interior? My God,” Schumer said during floor remarks on Wednesday. “That’s an example of the swampiness of Washington if there ever was one.”

Speaking of swamps, environmental activists are not having it. Remember the viral video of the “swamp creature” seated behind Bernhardt during one of his confirmation hearings? That was Greenpeace activist Irene Kim, who put on the mask in protest as Bernhardt fielded questions from senators about his previous lobbying.

“David Bernhardt’s ties to Big Oil — the very industry he is tasked w/ regulating — are as deep as an oil well,” Senator Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts and cosponsor of the Green New Deal, wrote in a tweet. “Those ties should be disqualifying for anyone nominated to head the Interior. We must stop the pollution of our democracy by Big Oil interests.”

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Former oil lobbyist David Bernhardt confirmed as Interior secretary. Yay?

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The House Natural Resource Committee’s climate change hearing turned into a heated conversation about race

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On Wednesday, while the rest of the nation was busy scrolling through Pelosi State of the Union golf clap memes, two major panels — the House Natural Resources Committee and a separate subcommittee on energy and commerce — met to discuss the impact of global warming on the nation as a whole.

This marks the first time the Natural Resources Committee has held a hearing on climate change in a decade, and newly empowered House Democrats have even more hearings on climate planned throughout the month.

The hearing started off on a contentious foot, with speakers calling into question everything from climate science, to poverty, to whether the timing of the hearings was somehow disrespectful to Black History Month.

“I know you have made February as climate change month, I appreciate the fact that that you picked the shortest month of the year to to do that,” said Republican Rob Bishop, former chair of the Natural Resources Committee, to the current chair Raul Grijalva. “It also happens to be of course Black History Month, which I wish we could deal with other things.”

Bishop, who is white, went on argue that it would be more within the committee’s purview to focus on the preservation of sites historically relevant to the African-American community — such as historically black colleges or Central High School, where teens later known as the “Little Rock Nine” forced Arkansas to enforce federal desegregation laws — than for the panel to pontificate on climate change.

Throughout the hearing, speakers both emphasized and clashed over climate and energy as a racial and social justice issues.

Reverend Lennox Yearwood, president of the Hip Hop Caucus, a nonprofit organization that produces a podcast combining hip hop music and climate action, called climate change “a civil and human rights issue,” and the “lunch counter moment for the 21st century.”

Elizabeth Yeampierre, representing the Brooklyn community-based organization UPROSE and the nationwide Climate Justice Alliance said that, “Our communities are the first and most impacted by the storms, fires, floods and droughts, and are disproportionately burdened by the pollution, poverty and systemic violence associated with the multinational corporations driving these ecological crises.” While she called for a transition away from fossil fuels, she acknowledged that it would not be “smooth” and that efforts would need to be made so no communities are left behind.

Not everyone agreed on how to uplift low-income families and neighborhoods of color. Derrick Hollie, president of Reaching for America, a group that advocates for affordable energy for communities of color, argued that African-American communities need cheaper sources of energy, as black residents tend to spend a larger proportion of their budgets on heating and cooling costs, partially due to lower-quality housing construction and insulation.

“The African-American community, we don’t have the luxury to pay more for green technologies, we need access to affordable energy to help heat our homes, power our stoves, and get back and forth to work,” said Hollie, who is black.

Instead of focusing on a transition to renewable energy, Hollie argued for greater investment in natural gas, which he said was more affordable. “For many Americans, this allows them not to have to choose between keeping the lights on and feeding their families,” he said.

Reverend Yearwood and Representative Joe Neguse of Colorado — both of whom are black — pushed back on Hollie, pointing to research into how black communities have disproportionately borne the health burdens of natural gas and other fossil fuels.

“For me as a minister, having buried a young girl because of asthma, that mother no longer cares about how much that utility bill would have cost.” said Yearwood. “We can definitely fight poverty and pollution at the same time.”

Several other speakers highlighted the ways in which Americans are already coping with the effects of climate change on health and safety.

“North Carolinians know about [climate change] the hard way. We have weathered two so-called 500 year floods within two years,” Governor Roy Cooper of North Carolina told the committee. “For survivors of these storms, the true costs are incalculable.”

Governor Cooper (a Democrat) and Governor Charlie Baker of Massachusetts (a Republican) then teamed up to defend climate science and denounce efforts to open the Atlantic to offshore drilling.

Republicans invited controversial climatologist Judith Curry, whose work has been used by climate skeptics as an argument against taking action, to speak to the committee. She has voiced doubts over how much of an impact human activity has on the climate, and questions whether climate models projecting the effects of a warming world are reliable. (As a group, climate scientists overwhelmingly agree that climate change is a real threat and a result of human activity)

Curry was joined on the panel by her former colleague Kim Cobb, a climate scientist and professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology (Curry retired in 2017). Unlike Curry, Cobb gave vehement testimony during the hearing’s second panel on the disastrous consequences of climate change, including prolonged droughts, wildfires, and storms.

Although the economic costs of those events “can be measured in the hundreds of billions of dollars,” Cobb said,“their real toll, the vast human suffering left in their wake, is immeasurable.”

The Natural Resources Committee will meet again Thursday afternoon for more livestreamed debate on climate change and ocean health.


The House Natural Resource Committee’s climate change hearing turned into a heated conversation about race

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We’re getting close to a bill for the Green New Deal. Here’s what we (kinda) know.

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The Green New Deal, that bold proposal to avoid catastrophic climate change, has been heralded as exactly the sort of large-scale action such an existential threat demands. But what’s in it? As New York Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey prepare to unveil their bill in the coming days, details about what’s actually in the plan are, well, fuzzy.

The draft framework for the bill, championed by Ocasio-Cortez and an activist group called the Sunrise Movement, and originally posted on AOC’s website, promised a bounty of liberal delights: universal healthcare, a federal green jobs guarantee, a transition to local-scale agriculture, carbon-neutral by 2045, and more. But a lot can change in a month. An ambitious Green New Deal strode into Washington, D.C., at the start of the new Congress last month; a different version could soon emerge.

Most of the negotiation around what is and isn’t in the soon-to-be-released bill is being hammered out behind closed doors, between the two representatives presenting the draft and various justice and environment groups. Some of that haggling has wound up on Twitter.

Here’s a snapshot of where things stand so far: First, a Politico reporter noted that two of the most ambitious tenets of the bill, a federal jobs guarantee and universal healthcare, were on the chopping block. AOC’s Chief of Staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, immediately responded to the rumors, saying those elements are still in play.

Then, bans on nuclear power and carbon capture, and the call for an end to oil, gas, and coal development (a distressing development for some activists) were reportedly axed as well. At a Sunrise Movement watch party on Tuesday night in New York City, representatives of the organization said those bans are still part of the proposal. Bloomberg, on the other hand, is still reporting that the early version of the plan “doesn’t explicitly include the ban on fossil fuels.”

Clarity should come next week, when twin resolutions from AOC and Markey are expected to be introduced, according to representatives from Sunrise. But it’s no surprise that AOC and Markey’s legislation has changed during its gestation in D.C.; it will likely continue to evolve as it moves through the Washington meat grinder.

Democratic candidates for president have been proclaiming their support for the “idea” or the “concept” of a Green New Deal. Why the vague language? It might have something to do with the risk involved in backing a proposal that could require $7 trillion, and a commitment to universal healthcare and a ban on fossil fuels. So, if the bill does drop the more ambitious elements of the original draft, it could encourage more candidates to dream up their own versions that could still garner stamps of approval from progressive politicians.

The hard truth is that any Green New Deal bill, even with a number of concessions, has a zero percent chance of making it through the Senate. And, if by some miracle Congress managed to pass the bill, it would surely perish upon reaching Trump’s desk. But the effort could answer an important question: Is 2019 the year the House rallies behind climate legislation?

Grist staff writer Justine Calma contributed reporting to this article from New York City.


We’re getting close to a bill for the Green New Deal. Here’s what we (kinda) know.

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