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Don’t call it a climate bill: Senators unveil bipartisan energy package

On Thursday, Senators Lisa Murkowski, a Republican from Alaska and the chair of the Senate’s energy committee, and Joe Manchin, a Democrat from West Virginia, unveiled the American Energy Innovation Act of 2020. If passed, the bill would be the first comprehensive update to U.S. energy policy in 12 years.

In a statement, Murkowski called the package, which combines bits and pieces of 50 energy-related measures cleared by the energy committee in 2019, America’s “best chance to modernize our nation’s energy policies.” She said she hopes Senate Democrats and Republicans will work together to pass the act, which “will help keep energy affordable even as it becomes cleaner and cleaner.”

That’s the foundational principle of this package, which is expected to be introduced in the Senate early next week. It basically ensures that states like Alaska and West Virginia can keep drilling and fracking while the nation also develops renewables like wind and solar and invests in advanced nuclear energy. In short, it’s an all-of-the-above energy strategy. It’s the kind of approach President Obama took in his years in office — one that has been disavowed in recent months by some presidential candidates.

Senate energy committee aides expect the bill to garner wide support in the Senate, and if the same happens in the House, it means Congress could actually pass bipartisan energy legislation in the year of our Lord 2020. But it certainly isn’t a substitute for a climate bill. Committee staff told reporters that while the committee considers the bill important for the climate, it isn’t claiming it’s “in any way sufficient.” Instead, it’s a “down payment” on tackling the crisis.

There are certainly some climate-friendly elements in the bill. It would require Secretary of Energy Dan Brouillette, a Trump appointee, to establish a pilot program aimed at awarding grants to nonprofits for using energy-efficient materials in buildings like museums and historical centers. It extends current energy-efficiency targets for federal buildings through 2028 and adds in water-efficiency targets through 2030. It would help “weatherize” renewable energy technologies to help them withstand storms. It authorizes the secretary of energy to create a wind and solar technology program to address “near-term, mid-term, and long-term challenges” in development through the fiscal budget year 2025. The list goes on.

Leah Stokes, assistant professor of political science at the University of California, Santa Barbara, says there’s a lot that’s laudable about the bill. “It’s really good that, even though the Republicans are the majority in the Senate, that there’s some willingness on the part of Senator Murkowski to do something” about climate, she said. The emphasis on energy efficiency is good, she said, if ultimately too narrow. Stokes said she’d like to see homes and commercial buildings included in the bill’s efficiency directives, not just schools, nonprofits, and federal buildings.

The biggest head-scratcher, she said, are the portions of the bill that focus on expanding oil and gas production. For instance, the bill would speed up the approval process for small-scale natural gas exports, even though recent research says the production of natural gas, once seen as a fuel that could bridge the gap between oil and coal and wind and solar, emits massive amounts of methane, a powerful greenhouse gas. The bill requires Brouillette to study the possibility of building out new oil and gas facilities in Appalachia. It also includes provisions for research and innovation in carbon capture and storage technology for emissions from power plants and other industrial sources of carbon. Those provisions would, according to the bill, “improve the efficiency, effectiveness, costs, and environmental performance of coal and natural gas use.”

So, instead of banning fracking and other fossil-fuel related activities, the bill encourages those things while simultaneously boosting carbon capture, an unscalable (for the time being) technology the GOP has started to champion as a key part of its belated response to rising temperatures.

“I thought that was very odd,” Stokes said. “I don’t know why we need coal and natural gas technology programs at this point in time.” She said that a better bill would focus those carbon-removal technologies on capturing historical emissions directly from the atmosphere rather than capturing emissions from new fossil fuel developments. “I think that there’s a bit of a mismatch there,” she said.

Her general impression of the bill? “Not at the scale of what’s necessary by any means, but it’s better than nothing.” Stay tuned next week, when the bill moves to the Senate floor.

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Don’t call it a climate bill: Senators unveil bipartisan energy package

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Guess who’s hiding again? Oregon Republicans hoping to squash a climate bill.

When it came time to vote on a bill to limit greenhouse gas emissions in the Oregon Senate on Monday, the Republican state senators’ chairs were empty. All of them except state Senator Tim Knopp of Bend had run away from Salem in an attempt to kill Oregon’s cap-and-trade bill. Again.

That left Democrats one senator short of the 20 they need to hold a vote, effectively putting the state government on pause. If signed into law, the legislation would make Oregon the second state in the country after California to adopt a cap-and-trade program. But that would require bringing Republicans back to Salem.

It’s the third walkout by Oregon Republicans in 10 months: the first for a business tax to raise money for Oregon schools, and the second for the vote on the cap-and-trade bill last June, which ended up lacking enough Democratic support to pass.

“Frankly, the entire world is watching,” Governor Kate Brown said in a news conference on Monday. “We need to get this done now. The votes are there to pass it straight up.”

Brown said she had “bent over backwards” to make compromises with the Senate Republicans. “They’re adults,” she said. “They need to come back to the building. They need to do the jobs they were elected to do. And instead, they’re taking a taxpayer-funded vacation.”

There are still two weeks left of the 35-day legislative session — and if one of the senators comes back, it’ll be enough to hold a vote.

The Senate Republicans have been threatening to walk out for weeks, arguing that Democrats were refusing to compromise with them on the cap-and-trade bill, which is opposed by some odd bedfellows. The logging industry argues that it would raise fuel costs, threatening a compromise the industry had made with the state’s environmental groups. Climate activists with Portland’s Sunrise Movement oppose the cap-and-trade policy, arguing that it isn’t strict enough.

Despite Oregon’s reputation as a green state, a fact sheet from the Northwest-based Climate Solutions shows that it’s falling behind on taking steps to curb greenhouse gas emissions. Though other states have passed policies to put a price on carbon, raised fuel standards, and committed to a timeline for running on totally clean electricity, Oregon is not among them. If the state government doesn’t do something soon, according to Climate Solutions, Oregon won’t be able to meet its own emissions goals for 2020.


Guess who’s hiding again? Oregon Republicans hoping to squash a climate bill.

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Why did Lindsey Graham join a climate group?

Congress has long been a place where climate policy goes to die. That could soon change, and not only because there’s an election coming up in less than a year.

A new bipartisan climate caucus has formed in the Senate. It’s similar to a climate caucus in the House that’s been around since 2016: There must be one Republican for every Democrat who joins, and the group aims to educate members on policy and, ideally, propose pathways to action. But the House version has run into some serious roadblocks: it lost a chunk of its right flank in the 2018 midterm election, and it’s having trouble recruiting enough Republican members for the many Democrats who wish to join.

In the few weeks since it’s been up and running, the caucus in the upper chamber has had no difficulty attracting high-profile GOP members. Senators Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, and Marco Rubio are among the Republicans who have joined the group. Surprisingly, so has South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham, one of President Trump’s staunchest supporters.

“I believe climate change is real,” Graham said in a statement. “I also believe that we as Americans have the ability to come up with climate change solutions that can benefit our economy and our way of life.”

That sounds like the Lindsey Graham of yore, who was more centrist than firebrand. In 2009, Graham teamed up with Democratic Senator John Kerry to push for climate legislation in the Senate. In 2015, he garnered praise for being one of only two Republican presidential contenders who had a history of engaging with climate and environment issues. In 2017, he urged President Trump to stay in the Paris climate accord, arguing that the leader of the Republican Party should not break with the rest of the world on an issue supported by sound science.

In the two years since he disagreed with Trump on the Paris Agreement, an unearthly transformation has transpired: Graham devolved from independent lone wolf to White House lapdog so rapidly that researchers were forced to reevaluate Charles Darwin’s seminal theory. Graham’s sudden zeal for defending the actions of the Commander in Chief — a man he once called “unfit for office” — inspired him to do things like go on Trump’s favorite Fox News show to compliment the president’s golf game. “To every Republican, if you don’t stand behind this President, we’re not going to stand behind you,” he said in South Carolina in February.

Given Trump’s aversion to climate science and working with Democrats, Graham’s decision to join a bipartisan climate solutions caucus is odd. Is Graham reverting to his old centrist ways? Or is there a more cynical explanation for his presence on the caucus?

It’s possible — in the sense that almost anything is possible — that Graham genuinely wants to reach across the aisle to take action on climate change. His recent voting record on the environment is surprisingly strong, by Republican standards. So far in 2019, he has cast five pro-environment votes, according to the League of Conservation Voters, a political group that keeps track of how members of Congress vote on environmental policy. That’s a far better record than other Republican members of the caucus, like Romney and Rubio, who only cast one pro-environment vote this year each.

But there’s another potential explanation, one that’s more in line with the partisan choices Graham has made in the past couple of years of the Trump administration. Perhaps Graham joined the caucus not to work with Democrats, but to stymie them. His motivation might be to ensure that other lawmakers decide to adopt a conservative vision of climate action, instead of something like the Green New Deal.

“If the only thing out there is the Green New Deal, well, the American people will take it,” Bob Inglis, former U.S. representative from Graham’s home state of South Carolina, told Grist. “You’ve got to get out there with an alternative. That’s what Republicans are doing, they’ve figured out how to enter the competition of ideas and present an alternative.”

Whether Graham and his fellow GOP-ers use the caucus as an opportunity to push for meaningful alternatives to progressive climate change solutions remains to be seen. The American Petroleum Institute, a group that has a long history of successfully lobbying against environmental regulations, called the caucus a “promising addition to the national conversation,” something that has climate activists on edge.

But activists would do well to remember that the new Lindsey Graham is in the habit of doing whatever is politically expedient. The South Carolinian may have sensed that denial may not serve the GOP much longer.

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Why did Lindsey Graham join a climate group?

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Congress is losing a major Republican climate hawk. What now?

Representative Francis Rooney of Florida announced he’s retiring on Saturday, citing frustration over increasing partisanship in Congress and a sense that he’d completed what he set out to do as reasons for his abrupt departure. The surprise decision came just a day after the congressman said he was open to considering articles of impeachment against President Trump (the first House Republican to do so).

“I thought the idea was you came and did your public service and left, you accomplish what you want to accomplish and you left,” Rooney told Fox News. “And that’s what I want to be an example to do. And I’m also tired of the intense partisanship that stops us from solving the big questions that America needs solved.”

While Rooney was in office, he championed a carbon pricing measure and advocated for an offshore drilling ban on Florida’s coast. His departure leaves a climate-shaped hole in the GOP, a party that has developed a pretty severe allergy to established science over the past several years. Rooney is the current co-chair of the Climate Solutions Caucus, a bipartisan group in the House of Representatives whose main objectives are to educate members of Congress about climate change and to push for climate legislation. The group, which formed in early 2016, operates on the premise that bipartisanship on climate and environmental issues is still possible, perhaps once a less science-averse president is in office.

But that caucus took a major hit to its Republican flank during the 2018 midterms, when 21 members lost their seats, including the caucus’ Republican co-chair at the time, Representative Carlos Curbelo, also from Florida. Now, less than a year into his tenure as the new co-chair, Rooney is on his way out.

What does that mean for the future of climate change legislation in the United States? It’s true that with President Trump in office, it’s nigh impossible for climate bills to become law, even if they somehow managed to survive the Senate. Historically, however, major environmental legislation has been successful when both sides of the political aisle fight for it. That’s partly why things like public lands bills and the occasional offshore drilling ban stay put no matter which party controls the White House. But recent political polarization around climate change has wrested the title “conservationist” away from the Republican party and bequeathed it to the Democrats.

Members of the Citizens Climate Lobby, a grassroots environmental group that lobbied for the creation of the caucus, are optimistic that Rooney’s departure does not doom bipartisan climate action, though his sudden retirement did catch the group by surprise. “It’s definitely not something we saw coming,” Andres Jimenez, senior director of congressional affairs for Citizens Climate Lobby, told Grist. “[Rooney] was one of our biggest champions on carbon pricing.”

But Jimenez is confident Republicans will step up to the plate in Rooney’s absence.

He cited recent polling that shows growing support for carbon taxes and a Green New Deal among young Republicans. And he said that Republicans from districts that have been touched by extreme weather and other climate-tinged events are wising up to the fact that voters support climate action.

Not to mention recent news that the Senate is starting up its own bipartisan climate group. That initiative builds off of the work done by the House, Jimenez said. “It’s had a huge impact, not only in the House but now in the higher chamber,” he said, adding: “We believe that there will be champions stepping up to take Representative Rooney’s spot.” He did not, however, name any names.

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Congress is losing a major Republican climate hawk. What now?

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2020 candidates have answers to the climate questions debate moderators didn’t ask

On Tuesday night, 12 candidates took the stage in Ohio to debate the issues most important to the Democratic electorate. Gun control, reproductive rights, health care, the company Ellen DeGeneres keeps (yes, you read that right), and more were on the menu. One issue was conspicuously absent: climate change. Somehow, the debate’s two media hosts, CNN and the New York Times, managed to go three hours without bringing up a global crisis that polls show is not only a top issue among Democrats, but young Republicans and independents, as well.

Climate advocates and even some of the candidates themselves were unhappy about the omission. And why wouldn’t they be? Most of the candidates who qualified for the debate are actually quite well versed in climate change, thanks to pressure from activists, previous debates with a former competitor (climate hawk and Washington Governor Jay Inslee), and of course, the impacts of warming they and other Americans have experienced.

Don’t believe us? We have proof.

David Roberts of Vox (formerly David Roberts of Grist) and his colleague Umair Irfan asked all of the 23 currently active Democratic campaigns to answer six questions about climate change. These weren’t softball questions about whether candidates would rejoin the Paris Agreement or when they wanted to reach net-zero emissions. The point was to go beyond the climate science consensus and get into the power dynamics relevant to passing climate policy in 2021.

Nine candidates — Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Pete Buttigieg, Beto O’Rourke, Tom Steyer, Amy Klobuchar, and Michael Bennet (yep, he’s still running!) — sent in responses. Here, we offer some highlights.


The candidates were in agreement that climate change should be a top priority during their first 100 days in office and on a number of other things, including building off of President Obama’s Clean Power Plan and decarbonizing the economy by mid-century. But the questions about eliminating the filibuster (in order to pass climate legislation) and holding fossil fuel companies accountable shed the most light on which candidates will really put the pedal to the metal on averting climate catastrophe.

Abolishing the filibuster — a move that would allow the Senate to approve legislation with a simple majority versus a requisite 60 votes — doesn’t sound climate-related, but it is. Over the past six years, lots of progressive policy proposals have hurtled through the House only to be stopped short, primarily by Senate Republicans. Abolishing the filibuster would give Democrats the potential to actually accomplish something as big as a Green New Deal (an idea almost all of the Democratic 2020 candidates have endorsed). The downside to this, of course, is that it’s an absolute gamble. If Democrats take the Senate, abolish the filibuster, and go hog-wild on progressive legislation, Republicans could do the same with conservative bills down the road, if they retake control.

So who’s willing to take the gamble, or at least reform the filibuster? Seven candidates: Warren, Sanders, Harris, Buttigieg, O’Rourke, Steyer, and Klobuchar. Warren even brought it up during the debate on Tuesday, in response to a question about gun reform. Biden and Bennet said they would not scrap it.  That means those two candidates will have to find another way to pass their comprehensive climate plans by, we guess, trying to appeal to their Republican colleagues.

All of the candidates told Vox they would hold polluters accountable, but a few went above and beyond. Sanders and Steyer used the word “prosecute” in their responses, raising the possibility of pinning polluters on criminal charges. “They have evaded taxes, desecrated tribal lands, exploited workers and poisoned communities,” Sanders said. “[I] believe this is criminal activity, and, when [I am] president, [I] will hold the fossil fuel industry accountable.” Steyer said it’s time to “create real — potentially criminal — consequences for actions they may have taken to knowingly spread false information and slow climate action.” Warren also noted she would hold polluters criminally accountable, noting recent legislation she introduced to do just that.

The candidates’ answers to these questions are a reminder of how important it is that moderators ask questions about climate change during debates. Voters don’t just need to know whether or not their candidate of choice will implement a carbon tax. They need to know whether their candidate is prepared to use the full powers of the executive branch, if she or he is willing to change the rules to get legislation through the Senate, and if fossil fuel companies will ever actually have to pay for past cover-ups and crimes.

Alas, the most recent debate didn’t get viewers any closer to understanding the nuanced differences in how those vying to face Donald Trump will fight for climate action. We do, however, now know that at least two of the 12 candidates on stage dearly miss the late John McCain. But what will they miss when the planet descends into a fiery, sodden, polluted hellscape?

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2020 candidates have answers to the climate questions debate moderators didn’t ask

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Mitch McConnell — yes, that Mitch McConnell — wants the Senate to vote on the Green New Deal

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Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has previously said that he wouldn’t bring legislation to a vote in the Senate that the president wouldn’t sign. But the senator from Kentucky announced on Tuesday that he will force a vote on the giant effort to tackle climate change and overhaul the economy known as the Green New Deal.

Have rising sea levels and worsening forest fires convinced the Republican leader to reassess his position on climate change? Not quite.

McConnell is eager to get Senate Democrats on the record about their support for the resolution introduced last week by Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. Republicans see the proposal as a big liability for Democrats, portraying it as a socialist plot to ban airplanes and cows. It’s the old red-baiting line of attack.

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The proposal includes progressive agenda items like universal healthcare and a federal jobs guarantee. An outdated and since taken down FAQ on AOC’s website confused things by promising economic security for those “unwilling to work.” For the likes of McConnell, that sounds like the kind of left-wing proposal that could alienate moderate voters and give President Donald Trump a boost in the 2020 presidential election.

Trump is already testing out this approach. “I really don’t like their policy of taking away your car, of taking away your airplane rights, of ‘let’s hop a train to California,’ of you’re not allowed to own cows anymore!” he said of the Green New Deal at a rally in El Paso, Texas on Monday night.

It’s no wonder McConnell seemed uncharacteristically gleeful when he said he’d be bringing the Green New Deal to the Senate for a vote. If you’ve never seen him smile before, take a look:

Markey quickly hit back at McConnell on Tuesday, releasing a statement blasting Republicans for failing to have a climate plan of their own. “The Green New Deal resolution has struck a powerful chord in this country, and Republicans, climate deniers, and the fossil fuel industry are going to end up on the wrong side of history,” he said.

Ocasio-Cortez issued her own rebuke hours later. “McConnell thinks he can end all debate on the Green New Deal now and stop this freight train of momentum … all he’s going to do is show just how out of touch Republican politicians are with the American people,” she said in a statement.

It’s hard to say whether McConnell will be successful in his bid to rattle Democrats on the fence about a resolution that promises so much so quickly. But the majority leader, and the rest of the GOP for that matter, might be too hasty in thinking it’s an Achilles heel for Democrats.

The deal is gaining popularity in the House, where more than 15 percent of representatives have signed on as sponsors. And it’s picking up momentum in the Senate, too, especially among White House contenders such as Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Amy Klobuchar, and Kirsten Gillibrand.

To be sure, not all Senate Dems are as enthusiastic. When asked about the Green New Deal on Tuesday, Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who is reportedly considering a presidential run, said that he supports a Green New Deal but is “not going to take a position on every bill that’s coming out.”

Whatever happens next, it’s becoming increasingly clear that the Green New Deal is turning into something the two parties think they can use to their advantage.

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Mitch McConnell — yes, that Mitch McConnell — wants the Senate to vote on the Green New Deal

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Will this human dressed as a receipt convince Californians to ban paper receipts?

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In the wild world of U.S. politics, it isn’t unusual for elected officials to use props to illustrate their points. As you might recall, Republican Oklahoma Senator Jim Inhofe brought a snowball onto the Senate floor to argue against the validity of global warming. But San Francisco Assemblyman Phil Ting might have just won the award for best political prop.

Earlier this month, while introducing a bill that would require California businesses to issue electronic receipts instead of paper ones (unless a customer specifically asks for a paper copy), Ting brought a dejected-looking adult man dressed up as a literal receipt onstage and made him stand there for the entire 20-minute announcement. (The cashier at CVS hands me a two-foot scroll every time I buy a roll of toilet paper, but God bless Ting for ensuring that none of us has to rely on that memory alone to conjure up the image of a freaking receipt.)

I promise you that whatever you’re imagining right now isn’t as good as the actual footage of this poor man standing in front of a crowd with his face sticking out of a receipt-hole: 

Oh yeah, about the actual bill: California Assembly Bill 161 is aimed at reducing paper waste in the state, because unlike a lot of other types of paper, receipts aren’t recyclable. Champions of the bill point out receipts are often printed on thermal paper, which is coated with chemicals, often including bisphenol A (BPA), a known endocrine disruptor that can be transferred to the skin in small amounts and is linked to some kinds of cancers.

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BPA can contaminate recycling, so putting receipts in your blue bin (or, you know, excessively licking your fingers after handling them) is probably a bad idea. And considering California has already passed bills banning single-use plastic grocery bags and straws, making receipts an opt-in paper product could seem like a logical next step. If Ting’s new receipt reducing bill passes, businesses will have to go electronic by 2022 and would be subject to a small fine if they fail to do so.

But is a receipt-ban really the best way to go about reducing our environmental impact?

In the weeks since Ting brought his man-receipt on stage, critics have argued that, much like California’s plastic straw ban, the new bill isn’t exactly a ground-breaking win the environment. First of all, some businesses have pivoted away from BPA-coated receipts in recent years anyway. But more importantly, there isn’t a ton of evidence that receipts pose a huge environmental burden in the first place.

“Even 314,000 tons of paper receipts amount to less than .08 percent of the more than 400 million tons of all paper products — receipts to cardboard — used globally on an annual basis,” wrote Adam Minter of Bloomberg News. He argues spending time and energy on banning something as small as receipts “diverts attention and effort from bigger and far more pressing waste and recycling issues that are negatively impacting the state right now.”

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Will this human dressed as a receipt convince Californians to ban paper receipts?

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Here’s how the government shutdown hurts disaster recovery

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We don’t yet know if 2019 will be a letdown, but it will likely start with a shutdown.

Seven days in, the budget gridlock between Congress and the President over federal funding for his proposed border wall remains at a standstill. The House and Senate adjourned Thursday without a budget deal, meaning the partial government shutdown, which affects about a quarter of the federal government, will continue until at least Monday.

For President Trump, that means no Mar-A-Lago trip for New Year’s. For around 800,000 federal workers, that’s no paycheck for the foreseeable future.

The shutdown caps off a year that’s been marked by several climate-related disasters, from Hurricanes Michael and Florence, which pummelled states like Florida, Georgia, and the Carolinas, to California’s deadly wildfires. Among the Americans affected by the partial shutdown are disaster survivors — and the federal workers and lawmakers working to help them recover.

The failure to pass a federal spending bill also has repercussions for those who have survived disasters and intimate partner violence, as the Violence Against Women Act lapsed during the shutdown. (Studies show that there are upticks in domestic and gender-based violence after super storms.)

Because of the current shutdown, The Federal Emergency Management Agency’s National Flood insurance Program has stopped issuing new flood insurance policies and will not renew existing policies that lapse. “FEMA’s decision will cause upheaval for home buyers and sellers across the country,” Louisiana Senator John Kennedy said in a statement.

As long as the shutdown drags on, federal employees will be furloughed or required to work without pay. FEMA officials have said that staff will stay on the job, much to the relief of residents in hurricane and wildfire-affected areas.

Folks over at the National Weather Service are also still on the job after an exhausting year. “We’ll be here every night, in bad weather or not,” said Jonathan Blaes, acting meteorologist-in-charge at the Weather Service in Raleigh, in an interview with CBS News. “We’ve been tremendously busy weather wise here, to be honest with you, with multiple hurricanes, floods and now a winter storm. So, I know our staff is tired. And, the holidays are a little harder because they’re away from their families.”

Both sides of the aisle have been using the interruption in disaster relief to shutdown-shame and pressure the opposition. Take Representative Austin Scott of Georgia, a Republican, who tweeted out this burn just before the shutdown (after the House voted to include $5 billion for Trump’s border wall to the budget, forcing another, ultimately unsuccessful, Senate vote).

“What the mainstream media fails to report is that in addition to fulfilling Trump’s request on border security $, the House was also able to secure in the [short-term continuing resolution] $8B in disaster assistance for GA, FL, AL, CA & the Carolinas,” he tweeted.

Representative Scott — who has a record of denying climate change — added in a statement that his constituency needs help: “Georgia families, as well as families in Florida, Alabama, the Carolinas and California, desperately need federal assistance to recover from catastrophic weather events this year.”

If the House-proposed version of the budget had passed, $1.1 billion of the $8 billion allocated for disaster assistance would have gone toward paying for crops lost during hurricanes. Austin says that money is urgently needed before farmers are scheduled to plant crops in 2019.

But just like the larger budget, the allocation of disaster relief is a contentious.. Democratic Representative Sanford Bishop — also from Georgia — said in a statement that the $8 million set aside for impacted rural communities would merely be “token disaster relief.” Instead he asked for $150 million in funding for rural areas hit by disasters. He also called for $600 million for nutrition assistance for Puerto Rico (currently not included in the budget at all) and $480 million instead of the allocated $200 million for the Emergency Forest Restoration Program.

This isn’t the first time this year that a government shutdown has hampered negotiations over disaster relief. It’s the third government shutdown of 2018. (That hasn’t happened since 1977 when President Jimmy Carter was in office.) 2018 began with an immigration-fueled three-day shutdown in January, followed by a brief funding gap in February. Hurricanes Florence and Michael hadn’t yet hit states in the south and southeast, but other communities were still reeling from Harvey, Irma, and Maria.

“The delay in passing a budget with a significant disaster package has been devastating for people in Houston,” wrote Michelle Tremillo, executive director of the Texas Organizing Project, in an op-ed for The Hill early this year.

President Trump eventually signed a spending bill in mid-February allocating nearly $90 billion in disaster relief and ending that government shutdown. Some politicians said it still wasn’t enough — Governor Ricardo Rosselló of Puerto Rico said the island alone required $94 billion for recovery from Hurricane Maria.

As to when we may have an end to this shutdown, the House and Senate will return next week to continue negotiations. But it’s possible a solution will get punted to the next session of Congress, slated to begin January 3, 2019, when Democrats will assume the House majority.

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Here’s how the government shutdown hurts disaster recovery

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Florida’s toxic algae gets the Daily Show treatment

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Algae, commonly found in health food stores or clustered along the side of pool, might not appear dangerous. But don’t be fooled. South Florida is currently suffering from a massive algae crisis. The nasty sludge turns tourists away, provokes asthma attacks, and kills manatees. It’s such a mess that algae has turned into a campaign issue in the race for the U.S. Senate.

The Daily Show went full-on Miami Vice to get to the bottom of it. Comedians Roy Wood Jr. and Michael Kosta suited up like Crockett and Tubbs, learning along the way that the toxic fumes from algae can cause liver damage and make it hard for beachgoers to breathe.

As the faux-detectives sip sugary cocktails, Miami Herald environmental reporter Jenny Staletovich tells them that the sugar industry’s farming practices are partly to blame for the algae issues.

“Has anyone ever reached out to the sugar industry and just said, ‘Stop doing that’?” asks Wood Jr.

“Stop doing that, sugar,” Kosta adds.

It’s not just the sugar industry, though. There’s also our old pal climate change: Warmer waters tend to breed larger algae blooms. As if Florida didn’t have enough climate worries already.

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Florida’s toxic algae gets the Daily Show treatment

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College Republicans have a climate change plan, even if their representatives don’t

The chasm between congressional Republicans and Democrats on green issues is widening, according to the annual scorecard released this week by the League of Conservation Voters. The advocacy group evaluated how each member of Congress voted on environmental legislation in 2017. Senate Republicans had an average all-time low score of 1 percent — “meaning they voted against the environment and public health” 99 percent of the time. Their party members in the House didn’t do much better, going green only 5 percent of the time, on average. Democrats, on the other hand, netted an average mark of 94 percent in the House and 93 percent in the Senate on the scorecard.

But not all American conservatives feel the same way about the environment as the ones sitting in Congress. Take college Republicans, for instance.

On Wednesday, a coalition of Republican, Democrat, and environmental groups from public and private colleges and universities across the United States unveiled a plan to tackle climate change. It’s the first time college Republicans have publicly backed a national climate policy. The Students for Carbon Dividends (S4CD) is a group of 33 student-led clubs that aim to harness the power of their academic institutions to shine a national spotlight on the climate.

“S4CD makes clear to our fellow young Republicans that we no longer need to choose between party orthodoxy and the mounting risks facing our planet,” says Kiera O’Brien, vice president of S4CD and a sophomore at Harvard University.

A growing number of Republicans embrace the scientific consensus on human-made warming, and many of them support market-based methods of curbing pollution and expanding renewable energy. Millennials, especially, are broadly concerned about climate change. A new poll from the nonprofit Alliance for Market Solutions found that roughly three out of four millennials agree humans should curb climate change — and a surprising 51 percent of young conservatives are concerned about the issue.

S4CD’s platform centers on a carbon-dividends tax pioneered by the Climate Leadership Council, an international policy institute whose founding members include former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and British astrophysicist Stephen Hawking. The tax is known in conservative circles as the Baker-Shultz Plan — named after former Secretaries of State, James Baker and George Shultz.

It would put a rising price on fossil fuels in order to limit consumption and decrease pollution. The money generated by the tax goes back to Americans through an annual carbon dividend: for an average family of four, that would come in the form of a yearly $2,000 check. The plan also includes a “border adjustment” — penalties on incoming products from foreign countries that haven’t adopted a similar tax plan.

By championing this carbon-tax plan and reminding the Republican Party of its conservationist roots, college Republicans hope to get lawmakers in Congress to go a little greener. But to move their elected officials, S4CD will also have to contend with the fossil fuel industry. Oil companies and a range of well-funded lobbying groups have spent decades and billions of dollars fighting climate change legislation. And they have tremendous sway over many conservative politicians, including the current head of the EPA, Scott Pruitt.

Alex Posner, a senior at Yale University and founding president of S4CD, thinks those industry attitudes toward climate policy are starting to shift. “We’re in kind of a unique moment: What makes most sense for business — a clear predictable price on carbon — is also the policy that almost all economists agree is the most effective way to drive emissions reductions,” he says. “There’s this synergy of interests that’s rare in the climate space.”

It might sound like an uphill battle for a group of adolescents to get congressional Republicans mobilized in the fight against climate change. But, according to Posner, most elected officials have yet to feel the true power of the students involved in the coalition. After all, many of them haven’t had a chance to vote.

“We haven’t had much say over political positions in the past or present,” Posner says. “Our goal is to have a say over the political positions of the future.”

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College Republicans have a climate change plan, even if their representatives don’t

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