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Trump’s national security agenda to have big environmental impacts on both borders

The Trump administration axed climate change from its national security strategy, with huge implications for how America adapts to the threats of a warming world. But that’s not the only way we’re seeing the environmental fallout of Trump’s national security agenda.

Along our borders with Canada and Mexico, conservation and climate justice fights are getting tangled up with national security interests. To the south, Trump’s proposed wall threatens dozens of endangered species, like the Mexican gray wolf. And in the north, Canada’s purchase of the Trans Mountain Pipeline hinges in part on a U.S. assessment of national security threats.

The wall

The Department of Homeland Security essentially has a get-out-of-federal-law pass that allows them to ignore environmental regulations. In the case of the border wall, the department can move forward with construction without an environmental impact analysis and won’t be subject to following the Endangered Species Act or National Environmental Policy Act.

This capacity to be above the law has enormous impacts for the survival of species found along the U.S.-Mexico border. Leading scientists, including Paul Ehrlich and E.O. Wilson, published an article on the dangers in the journal BioScience last week. More than other 2,500 other scientists signed onto a call to action urging Homeland Security to follow federal law, evaluate the environmental impact of its border wall, and take action to mitigate the harm.


The wall would restrict the movement of communities and scientists working on conservation on both sides of the border, says lead author Rob Peters. Beyond the human angle, “any sort of barrier to the free movement of animals is a threat to their existence,” Peters says. “The borderlands are not the empty wastelands that so many people think they are. They’re incredibly rich in biodiversity.” According to the report, the wall would impact up to 62 species listed as critically endangered, endangered, or vulnerable by the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

The pipeline

Meanwhile, up north, it’s now up to federal authorities, with Trump making the ultimate decision, to allow or veto Canada’s purchase of Kinder Morgan’s TransMountain Pipeline.

Kinder Morgan halted non-essential spending on the pipeline expansion this spring and was ready to drop the project completely. That’s when the Trudeau administration announced it was going to foot the bill to keep the flailing project alive.

So, why does that require Trump’s approval? Canada’s purchase of TransMountain includes the acquisition of an offshoot pipeline: the Puget Sound Pipeline, which moves oil from British Columbia to Washington state. As a result, the deal can’t move forward without national security clearance from the U.S. Committee on Foreign Investments. It’s also subject to review by the State Department, which issues presidential permits for cross-border liquid pipelines.

Normally, those procedures are pretty cut-and-dry. But under the Trump administration, experts say, anything goes. “Once upon a time, there was a set of regulations that could tell you more or less what the considerations were. I don’t think those are operative at all right now,” says Tom Sanzillo, director of finance at the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. “I think whatever the president wants he’ll do,” Sanzillo says.

In its 2017 National Security Strategy, the Trump administration mentions streamlining federal approval of pipelines as a good thing for Americans. But these are weird times; trade tensions and Trump’s fighting words with Trudeau over the summer could make the U.S. president an unlikely trump card for those hoping the pipeline deal will die.

There are legitimate concerns about Canada owning a slice of American energy infrastructure, according to Clark Williams-Derry, director of energy finance at Seattle-based think tank Sightline Institute (Williams-Derry was also the webmaster for Grist back in 1999). “This is the only case for a foreign government to outright own a U.S. pipeline. It’s a little bit unsettling,” Williams-Derry says.

If Trump decides he doesn’t want to Canada to have the Puget Sound Pipeline, it would deal a significant blow to the Kinder Morgan Deal. But both Williams-Derry and Sanzillo say that although it would further delay the Trans Mountain Pipeline expansion, it wouldn’t altogether kill it. With $3.5 billion on the line, Kinder Morgan and Trudeau’s government could find a way to take the Puget Sound Pipeline out of the deal in order to bypass U.S. intervention on the purchase.

The looming threat

And if the pipeline expansion is successful and leads to significantly more crude oil pumping out of Alberta’s tar sands, there’s another huge threat to consider: “Climate change is certainly a threat to national security,” says Williams-Derry. “If a hostile foreign power said, ‘We’re going to devastate Miami or we’re going to increase the chance of a major incident on the Gulf Coast,’ we would say, ‘No way. Absolutely not.’”

And climate change is a concurrent threat for species at the border. The wall would hamper their efforts to adapt, especially in places like in the Southwest where animals may migrate to cope with drought. “We can’t say exactly how [climate change] is going to affect them,” says Rob Peters. “But we sure as hell can say it ain’t going to be good.”

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Trump’s national security agenda to have big environmental impacts on both borders

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Trans Mountain pipeline opponents vow to keep fighting

Canada is coughing up $3.5 billion to buy the floundering Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project from Kinder Morgan. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had vowed “to get that pipeline built,” but pipeline resistance groups aren’t backing down, either.

“This is a declaration of war against indigenous people because they’re not recognizing our own sovereignty,” says Kanahus Manuel, a Secwepemc midwife and mother of four. “So we are putting on our war paint and we are putting on our battle gear and we’re going to fight.”

The Houston-based company had stopped all non-essential spending on the project last month after facing broad opposition from environmental groups, indigenous communities, and the province of British Columbia. Canada says it plans to fund construction of the project until it can find another buyer to take over. If completed, it would nearly triple the pipeline’s capacity to transport crude and refined oil from Alberta to B.C.

Manuel’s group, Tiny House Warriors, plans on physically blocking construction of the pipeline. The group has constructed 10 tiny houses on wheels that they’ll use to deter construction of the pipeline on Secwepemc land. “We’re going to stand with our bodies as our weapons to defend the last of our sacred lands from any type of further encroachment or invasion,” Manuel says.

Will George is a leader with the Tsleil-Waututh, which built a Watch House — traditionally used to monitor an enemy — atop Burnaby Mountain as part of their opposition to the pipeline. “If anything, we’re going to ramp up our demonstration and our movement,” George says. “We’ll do whatever it takes to stop this pipeline.”

Greenpeace, the Coast Salish Watch House, and other grassroots indigenous and environmental groups have already planned an emergency rally in Vancouver this evening.

Over the weekend, an oil spill at a pump station near Barriere, B.C., forced Kinder Morgan to temporarily shut down the existing Trans Mountain pipeline. Pipeline opponents are also calling out Trudeau for abandoning federal commitments to take action on climate change and respect the rights of indigenous nations.

“It’s an outrageous and reckless decision by the Canadian government. This was a government that stood up in Paris and promised climate action. It’s a government that committed to the U.N. declaration on the rights of indigenous peoples,” says Mike Hudema, climate and energy campaigner at Greenpeace Canada. “Today it is breaking both of those promises by not just supporting a pipeline but buying a new massive tar sands pipeline project.”

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Trans Mountain pipeline opponents vow to keep fighting

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Lin-Manuel Miranda and thousands more marched on Washington to call attention to Puerto Rico.

In a long-awaited decision, the Nebraska Public Service Commission announced its vote Monday to approve a tweaked route for the controversial tar sands oil pipeline.

The 3-2 decision is a critical victory for pipeline builder TransCanada after a nearly decade-long fight pitting Nebraska landowners, Native communities, and environmentalists activists against a pipeline that would carry tar sands oil from Alberta to refineries on the Gulf Coast.

After years of intense pressure, President Obama deemed the project “not in the national interest” in 2015; President Trump quickly reversed that decision earlier this year. But TransCanada couldn’t go forward without an approved route through Nebraska, which was held up by legal and political proceedings.

In the meantime, it’s become unclear whether TransCanada will even try to complete the $8 billion project. The financial viability of tar sands oil — which is expensive to extract and refine — has shifted in the intervening years, and while KXL languished, Canadian oil companies developed other routes to market.

The commission’s decision also opens the door to new litigation and land negotiations. TransCanada will have to secure land rights along the new route; one dissenting commissioner noted that many landowners might not even know the pipeline would potentially cross their property.

Meanwhile, last Thursday, TransCanada’s original Keystone pipeline, which KXL was meant to supplement, spilled 210,000 gallons of oil in South Dakota. Due to a 2011 Nebraska law, the commissioners were unable to consider pipeline safety or the possibility of spills in their decision.

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Lin-Manuel Miranda and thousands more marched on Washington to call attention to Puerto Rico.

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The sea is rising three times faster than we thought.

A lot of climate hawks spent late 2016 and early 2017 in reassessment or mourning. Meanwhile, Anthony Torres was busy channeling his fellow engaged millennials into direct action, including coordinated sit-ins at the offices of New York’s Chuck Schumer, the new Senate Minority Leader, and Sen. Tom Carper of Delaware. The message: Do not play ball with the polluter-in-chief.

The son of a Nicaraguan immigrant father and a working-class New Yorker mother, Torres grew up with sea-level rise on his Long Island doorstep, and he understands how poverty, climate, and other social challenges are all knitted together. He’s proven especially adept at rallying peers to his side, both in an official capacity at the Sierra Club (where he helped coordinate communications and direct actions that aided in a defeat of the Trans-Pacific Partnership) and in extracurricular work with groups like #AllOfUs, a progressive collective aimed at organizing young people around threatened communities.

His advice on connecting different constituencies: “Activists need to create a story that is accessible to people who are not necessarily in our movements but who are in need of a bold and inspiring vision,” Torres says. “To me, it’s telling a story of America that intersects with race, gender, and class” and turning what might seem like differences into “a weapon in our arsenal that creates an America that never has happened before — a country for all of us.”

Meet all the fixers on this year’s Grist 50.

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The sea is rising three times faster than we thought.

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The country’s biggest offshore wind farm is coming to Long Island.

On Thursday, TransCanada, the corporation behind the infamous project, resubmitted an application to the State Department for permission to build the pipeline across the U.S.-Canada border.

Just two days earlier, President Donald Trump had signed a presidential memorandum formally inviting the company to give the pipeline another go. Apparently, TransCanada got right down to work.

“This privately funded infrastructure project will help meet America’s growing energy needs,” said TransCanada CEO Russ Girling, “as well as create tens of thousands of well-paying jobs.” A 2013 State Department report found the pipeline would create 28,000 jobs, but just 35 would be permanent.

Barack Obama rejected the pipeline plan in 2015, after indigenous groups and environmentalists fought it for nearly a decade. Now that a new application has been submitted, the project needs to be OK’d by both the State Department and Trump to proceed. Nebraska also needs to review and approve the project, which it’s expected to do.

Last June, TransCanada took advantage of the North American Free Trade Agreement — a deal Trump disdains — to file a $15 billion claim against the U.S. government for rejecting its Keystone proposal. Oh, what a tangled web we weave.

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The country’s biggest offshore wind farm is coming to Long Island.

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Will the Farm Belt Eventually Abandon Donald Trump?

Mother Jones

Ed Kilgore says that it’s not clear yet how much of Donald Trump’s appeal to rural white voters is economic:

We may soon have an answer in rural communities that still largely depend on agriculture for jobs and income. While it did not get much, if any, national attention during the presidential general election, it may soon matter a lot that Trump is largely at odds with the farm lobby when it comes to two of his signature economic policy issues: his opposition to trade agreements and to comprehensive immigration reform. The American Farm Bureau has traditionally viewed trade agreements — particularly those with fast-growing Asian countries — as creating export opportunity for farmers and agribusinesses. It strongly supported the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that Trump (and eventually Clinton) opposed. And it has also favored comprehensive immigration reform in order to stabilize the farm-labor supply and protect undocumented migrant farm workers.

I’m not buying it. First off, take a look at the chart on the right—and pay special attention to the units on the vertical axis. It comes from the International Trade Commission’s report on the “likely impact” of TPP. In the agricultural sector, it’s minuscule. By ditching the TPP, farm employment will lose a benefit of 0.031 percent per year. That amounts to maybe a hundred workers each in the biggest Midwest agricultural states.

You wouldn’t notice this if you lost that many jobs, let alone merely failed to gain them. And that’s assuming that Trump kills TPP in the first place, rather than renegotiating a few bits and pieces and then declaring victory. Either way, it’s just not big enough for any of his supporters to notice.

As for migrant farm workers, the business community has been in favor of comprehensive immigration reform forever. Likewise, the base of the Republican Party has been against it forever. There’s nothing new here, and nothing that’s likely to split Trump’s coalition.

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Will the Farm Belt Eventually Abandon Donald Trump?

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These Rust Belt Democrats Saw the Trump Wave Coming

Mother Jones

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Like labor unions everywhere, the local Plumbers & Pipefitters union in Ohio’s Mahoning Valley—a historically Democratic bastion due to the influence of labor—endorsed Hillary Clinton for president in September 2015 and urged its members to vote for her. But unlike in years past, when Roland “Butch” Taylor briefed about 200 members on the union’s support of Clinton and the prospective benefits of a Clinton presidency in May, the meeting didn’t go well. “I got a lot of boos,” he recalls. “I got a lot of chatter back. And out of the group, only one person came up and asked me for a T-shirt.”

“Right then and there, I knew something was wrong,” says Taylor, who retired a few months later. “I thought, ‘Well, maybe it will change as the campaign moves forward.'”

As the results on election night show, it didn’t change. Clinton fell well short of polls and expectations in the Rust Belt, losing two key swing states, Pennsylvania and Ohio, and two that were thought to be safe bets, Michigan and Wisconsin. Working-class white voters, including many union members, banded together into a pro-Donald Trump force that the strategists in Clinton’s Brooklyn headquarters didn’t see coming until it was too late.

But local Democrats did. And they tried to warn the Clinton campaign.

In May, after thousands of Democrats had switched parties to vote for Trump in the primary, Mahoning County Democratic Party Chairman David Betras circulated a memo cautioning that Trump was making headway in his Rust Belt region and urging the Clinton campaign to take the threat seriously. The memo focused largely on the issue of trade, arguing that because Democratic politicians in Ohio regularly denounce the North American Free Trade Agreement and free trade generally, Trump’s anti-trade message was familiar and its appeal powerful. If the Clinton team didn’t find a way to counter it, Betras warned, she would lose a lot of votes she was counting on.

Betras sent the memo to Aaron Pickrell, an adviser to Clinton’s Ohio campaign team; David Pepper, the chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party; Rep. Tim Ryan, a Democrat who represents northeast Ohio; and union leaders in the region.

To counter Trump’s populist appeal, Betras urged Clinton to go vigorously after blue-collar workers by promising to bring back jobs. The key, Betras argued, was to have this message delivered not by politicians but by local blue-collar families in radio and television ads across the region. “The messages can’t be about job retraining,” he wrote. “These folks have heard it a million times and, frankly, they think it’s complete and total bullshit.” Instead, he argued, the ads should “focus on the reinvigoration of American manufacturing, and I don’t mean real high-tech stuff because they’ve heard that a million times before and they aren’t buying it.”

Betras wrote:

Talk about policies that will incentivize companies to repatriate manufacturing jobs. Talk about infrastructure—digging ditches, paving roads, building buildings and producing the materials needed to do it all. The workers we’re talking about don’t want to run computers, they want to run back hoes, dig ditches, sling concrete block. They’re not embarrassed about the fact that they get their hands dirty doing backbreaking work. They love it and they want to be respected and honored for it. And they’ll react positively if they believe HRC will give them and their kids the opportunity to break their backs for another ten or twenty or thirty years. Somewhere along the line we forgot that not everyone wants to be white collar, we stopped recognizing the intrinsic value of hard work.

Clinton did revoke her support for the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade deal, supported unions and higher wages, and talked about an economy that would work for all people. While Trump spoke in broad strokes, her website boasted detailed economic plans, including one to bring back manufacturing. But it was clear from Bernie Sanders’ primary victories in Wisconsin and Michigan that she was lagging with the white working class. Like Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney four years ago, she was the candidate who made millions by giving speeches to Wall Street banks. (It certainly didn’t help that when pieces of those speech transcripts were released in the WikiLeaks hacks, the sentence that stood out most was: “My dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders.” Trump used that line at his campaign rallies to claim, falsely, that Clinton was going to open the borders completely.)

“Somewhere in all of this, we forgot that we’re the party of the working class,” says Betras, trying to explain Clinton’s loss. He believes the campaign did try to reach out to the blue-collar families of the Rust Belt, but that the attempts never reached the pitch and fervor they needed. “I did like her message of ‘Stronger Together,’ but that doesn’t get anyone a job, does it?”

The Ohio Democratic Party shared Betras’ memo with Clinton’s Ohio campaign team, according to state party spokeswoman Kirstin Alvanitakis. In an email to Mother Jones, Alvanitakis wrote that “Chairman Betras’s memo was a helpful reminder that Democrats should not neglect working-class voters and the Clinton campaign should acknowledge the very real struggles working families are facing in Ohio.”

She added, “The Ohio Democratic Party was the first state party in the nation to pass a resolution against fast-tracking the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and our leaders—including Sen. Sherrod Brown, Rep. Tim Ryan, Rep. Marcy Kaptur and more—acutely understand the economic pressure facing working-class families because of terrible trade deals and big banks and corporate special interests run amok. The fact is that the typical Ohio household had a higher income three decades ago than it has had in the past few years.”

Betras believes strongly that economic populism was to thank for Trump’s Rust Belt victories, saying, “It was people who want a job and want to be able to work and want a job, and they would accept an imperfect messenger because at least he was saying that.” But of course there was more to Trump’s message. Some African American residents of Youngstown, the largest city in Mahoning County, have long believed that Trump’s appeal in the region had more to do with racial resentment than with economic populism—that Trump’s racially charged rhetoric united white voters against others who they believed were taking their jobs, their culture, and their country. (On Tuesday night, Clinton won Mahoning County by a hair thanks to backing in minority-majority Youngstown but lost the mostly white surrounding counties of the Mahoning Valley.) As a local African American labor organizer told Mother Jones this summer, “This whole racist rhetoric plays well with some people here.”

Like Betras, Taylor doesn’t believe his peers and neighbors who supported Trump are racist. But he understands how Trump’s talk about immigration appealed to people in the Rust Belt. A few years ago, his union was working on a billion-dollar natural gas processing plant, and the workers noticed that the bulk of the work was being done by Spanish-speaking laborers who arrived each morning on buses. “It brought a lot of resentment to the area because they’d never seen it before,” Taylor says. “People see that and then they go tell everybody else, and social media, the way it is, it just runs wild.” He believes Trump benefited when the community saw immigrants “taking jobs that Americans think they should be doing.”

When went to Youngstown in June and met Taylor, jovial and smartly dressed in a suit, he believed his peers would see through Trump’s demagoguery on trade and manufacturing and reject him. “We also are citizens of this country concerned about how he’ll react, whether it’s a nuclear war, God forbid, to racist comments, to deporting immigrants,” he said. “These are core beliefs that as citizens of this country we don’t stand for.”

In the aftermath of the election, even as Taylor looks backs and sees the writing on the wall, he sounds shaken by what the country—and specifically white-working class voters in the Rust Belt—allowed to happen. He acknowledges that the Clintons were “wrapped so close to NAFTA” (which Bill Clinton approved as president) and that Hillary Clinton’s speaking fees from big banks looked bad. “I see where people would have resentment,” he says.

But then, sounding close to tears, he adds, “She’s the most qualified person ever to run for the position, and I agree, she would have done a great job if given the opportunity. But she did not—she had the opportunity to win. She did not win.”


These Rust Belt Democrats Saw the Trump Wave Coming

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High Schools Are the Next Battleground in the Fight Over Transgender Athletes

Mother Jones

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Robby Dyas didn’t play very much as a freshman on Lincoln High School’s softball team. The shortstop got a concussion from a pop fly early in the season, and spent the following weeks learning “a lot about the strategic side” of the game from the bench. After that, Dyas was done with softball.

The Nebraskan teen was also done being a girl: Junior year, Dyas came out as transgender and began using male pronouns and the name Robby. But the longtime athlete—who’d competed in taekwondo, basketball, wrestling, and softball as a kid—never got to pitch overhand. “I just remember getting a rude comment about girls playing on the baseball team,” he recalls.

This year, transgender teens may have a better shot at high school sports in Nebraska: The state’s new policy allows trans girls and boys to compete on teams corresponding with their gender preference. But before they can do that, they’ll have to prove to a four-member Gender Identity Eligibility Committee that they’re “consistently” transgender. Trans girls, who are born male but identify as female, will have to undergo sex reassignment surgery or a year of hormone therapy to play.

Nearly 40 states have adopted policies for high school transgender athletes. Some allow students to play on teams based on gender identity, without any kind of hormone requirement, while others restrict them to teams matching the sex on their birth certificates. Nebraska’s policy takes a middle road—and has fueled outrage on all sides. It also comes at a time of national debate over trans rights in schools. Nearly half of all states are currently suing the Obama administration over whether Title IX, a law that prohibits sex discrimination in federally funded schools, should protect trans kids, too. While that legal battle centers on questions of bathroom access, experts say it could also affect athletic participation.

In the crosshairs will be kids like Robby Dyas and Asher Wells, another trans boy at Lincoln High. Wells takes gym classes during summer school instead of the regular academic year so he can avoid the girls’ locker room. When I first spoke to him, he was pondering whether to try out for the boy’s tennis team before he graduates.

It might be simpler if Asher were just a few years older. In college, the aspiring tennis player would probably get to choose whether to try out for the men’s team or the women’s team, without having to brave any gender committees; that’s because the NCAA, which makes rules for college sports at universities around the country, came up with a policy for trans athletes back in 2011. Trans men who take testosterone—to appear more masculine—can only play on men’s teams, since the hormone has been linked with muscle mass. Those like Asher, who aren’t taking testosterone, can play on whichever team they prefer. And trans women, born with male bodies, need to medically suppress their natural testosterone levels if they want to compete against other women. (In January, the International Olympic Committee updated its policy to include similar regulations.)

At first, many high schools followed the NCAA’s lead. Some hadn’t given much thought to creating their own policies, because until recently they “really hadn’t had a lot of kids come up through the school ranks identifying as transgender,” notes Karissa Niehoff, executive director of the Connecticut Association of Schools, whose policy for trans athletes once mirrored the college guidelines. Then her association, like some in other states, changed its tune, perhaps realizing that college and high school sports aren’t the same—different ages, different goals. Connecticut ditched its hormone-based policy in 2013 and adopted more inclusive rules, allowing kids to play based on their self-identification as male or female.

Pat Griffin, a professor emerita at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst who helped develop the NCAA’s hormone-based policy, supports that kind of move. High schoolers shouldn’t have to take hormones, she says, because at that age, “most students are playing to participate.”

But absent a national governing body, high school guidelines vary widely. In Texas, a new rule prohibits students across the state from participating on teams that don’t match up with the sex on their birth certificates. On the other hand, in 2013 California became the first state to pass a law allowing trans students to play on teams matching their gender identity, no hormone therapy required; about 15 states now have similar policies. A handful of other states require trans girls to take hormones for a year before playing on girls’ teams. (See map below.)

Chris Mosier/TransAthlete.com

In Nebraska, the school athletics association had never been able to pass an athletic policy for gender-nonconforming kids, in part due to the state’s deeply conservative roots. Then in 2015, two schools alerted the Nebraska School Activities Association about some trans students who wanted to compete on winter sports teams, so the NSAA decided to take up the issue again.

In January this year, the NSAA announced its big idea: A Gender Identity Eligibility Committee will make decisions on a case-by-case basis for trans student athletes who want to play on teams matching their gender identity. The committee—made up of a doctor with experience in trans health care, a mental health professional, a school administrator, and an NSAA staff member—will consider testimony from the student’s parents, friends, and teachers, plus medical documentation, to make sure the student consistently identifies as transgender. It will also require trans girls to have sex reassignment surgery or a year’s worth of hormone therapy to reduce testosterone levels. And to play on a team, a student will need unanimous approval from the committee.

The backlash came quickly, with critics on the left decrying the gender review process as burdensome. “They have essentially put up a sign that transgender students need not apply,” said Amy Miller, a legal director for the ACLU. For starters, critics say, many teenagers don’t want to go on hormone therapy. “It’s expensive, it’s a lot of effort, it’s like going through puberty again,” says Dyas. And the idea of proving your gender to a group of strangers can be intimidating: “I would not be comfortable with that,” says Dyas, who organized a protest against the policy at the state Capitol with a handful of trans-rights supporters.

Critics on the right worry the policy makes it too easy for trans kids to compete. “As the father of two daughters, I would be very concerned about boys competing against my daughters in sports,” Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts said. The Nebraska Catholic bishops weighed in, too, noting that “this would certainly have a negative impact on students’ and society’s attitudes towards the fundamental nature of the human person and the family.”

Another concern is competitive advantage. When a trans girl raced in a high school track and field state championship in Alaska in May, protesters showed up at the track. “Allowing students to play on teams of the opposite sex disproportionately impacts female students, who will lose spots on a track, soccer and volleyball teams to male students who identify as female,” said Jim Minnery, president of the conservative group Alaska Family Action. Karissa Niehoff, of the Connecticut Association of Schools, says signs of a competitive advantage haven’t come to fruition in her state since it dropped its hormone-based policy for trans teen athletes.

Susan Cahn, a professor at the University at Buffalo who wrote Coming on Strong: Gender and Sexuality in Twentieth-Century Women’s Sport, can understand why female athletes might be wary about trans competitors. “Historically, girls and women have been the disadvantaged group, and they’ve been kept out of sports or haven’t been given the same kinds of training or resources,” she says. But trans kids are a disadvantaged group, too, who often put up with bullying and discrimination, she points out.

And even when we segregate sports by sex, certain kids have physical advantages. For boys’ sports, “if you look at a 9th- or 10th-grade team, you’ve got these little kids who haven’t hit puberty yet, and these giant kids, boys who have totally hit puberty. They have completely different bodies, and no one says they shouldn’t play together,” she explains. What’s more, a kid can have an upper hand for reasons unrelated to sex, like if his family has enough money to pay for summer training camps or traveling teams with the best coaches. Of all the different types of advantages, she says, testosterone is not the most critical, especially for teenagers, “so to fixate on that one is really about the politics of gender and not actual bodies.”

And the politics of gender—or rather, gender identity—have reached a fever pitch, not only in Nebraska, but on the national stage. In May this year, the US Department of Education sent a letter to public schools across the country, saying they could lose federal funding if they discriminated against transgender students. The letter made waves for its guidance on bathroom access—it said trans kids should be allowed to use facilities of their choice. It also called on schools to allow transgender kids to play on sports teams matching their identity, notes Sarah Axelson, a Title IX expert at the Women’s Sports Foundation.

Leaders in many states saw this letter as an overreach. So they turned to the courts. Now, Nebraska and 22 other states are suing the Obama administration, arguing that it has interpreted Title IX too broadly by including protections for transgender kids. On August 21, a federal judge in Texas ruled in their favor, granting a nationwide injunction that temporarily blocks the Obama administration from enforcing the recommendations in its letter about transgender rights. The administration is expected to appeal. Meanwhile, the US Supreme Court is considering whether to take up a separate case about whether Title IX protects transgender students. Griffin, who helped develop the policy for trans college athletes, says she suspects that if Nebraska and other states prevail in their legal fight with the Obama administration, it will affect not only bathroom access, but sports participation.

Nebraska’s new athletic policy, adopted before this legal drama unfolded, says trans athletes have to use bathrooms and locker rooms corresponding with their birth sex or, when possible, a private facility—even if they qualify to play on teams matching their preferred gender.

“You’ve fought and you’ve fought to be able to play on the sports team,” Dyas says in response to this caveat. “And finally you’re allowed to be the boy, you’re allowed to have everything you’ve ever wanted. And then right then and there, they rip it all out of your hands and are like, ‘But actually you can’t even use the locker room.'”

Jim Tenopir, the head of Nebraska’s high school athletics association, acknowledges that this rule “flies in the face of” the Obama administration’s guidance but aligns closely with the state of Nebraska’s position on protecting the privacy rights of other kids.

Asher Wells just started his junior year at Lincoln High. He’d been considering whether to try out for the boys’ tennis team this year, but in the end he decided against it. Even if he were good enough, he worries the Gender Identity Eligibility Committee wouldn’t approve his application, he says. “And I would have to get a school physical exam, and I haven’t done that because I feel uncomfortable.” He’s also nervous about getting bullied during matches at other schools. “I’ll think about it for next year,” he says.

As executive director of the NSAA, Tenopir says he intended to create an athletic policy that gave all Nebraskan kids a chance to compete, regardless of gender identity: “Although there may be some steep hills that a transgender student has to climb to be eligible to participate, at least that opportunity is there.”

Tenopir acknowledges that high school “is probably a borderline age for kids to consider” hormone therapy. But he adds that the policy would have never been approved without this requirement—given the political muscle of right-leaning critics who argued that trans girls would otherwise have an unfair advantage. “You don’t begin to have an idea what conservative values are until you get to a place like Nebraska,” he says.

As the school year kicks off, it’s unclear when the state’s new Gender Identity Eligibility Committee will be put to the test—Tenopir says that so far, not a single transgender student has applied.

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High Schools Are the Next Battleground in the Fight Over Transgender Athletes

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TransCanada’s latest move perfectly illustrates why so many people hate free-trade deals

Ceci n’est pas une pipeline

TransCanada’s latest move perfectly illustrates why so many people hate free-trade deals

By on Jun 27, 2016Share

TransCanada is demanding that the U.S. fork over $15 billion to make up for the fact that the company didn’t get to build the Keystone XL pipeline. That’s one damned expensive temper tantrum.

On Friday, TransCanada filed a formal request under NAFTA seeking to recover costs and damages related to the thwarted pipeline project, following through on a threat it made in January. The Canadian firm claims that the Obama administration’s decision to reject the pipeline was unjustified and violated the U.S.’s obligations under NAFTA. “[T]he rejection was symbolic and based merely on the desire to make the U.S. appear strong on climate change,” TransCanada complained in its filing.

Climate activists and other environmentalists say this is a perfect example of why they oppose many trade deals, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which Obama is currently trying to get approved. “The TPP would empower thousands of new firms operating in the U.S, including major polluters, to follow in TransCanada’s footsteps and undermine our critical climate safeguards in private trade tribunals,” said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club.

The State Department argues that the Keystone rejection was consistent with NAFTA requirements, but some trade experts say there’s a real chance TransCanada could win its case.

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TransCanada’s latest move perfectly illustrates why so many people hate free-trade deals

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Keystone pipeline still a pain in nation’s butt

Keystone pipeline still a pain in nation’s butt

By on May 11, 2016Share

Will it ever end?

Six months after President Obama nixed the Keystone XL pipeline — a decision it took him seven years to reach — Keystone is back in the news.

The Hill reports that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce — along with Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Texas — filed briefs this week in support of a lawsuit against the Obama administration. Pipeline company TransCanada filed the suit in federal court in January, arguing that Obama exceeded his constitutional authority when he denied a permit for Keystone. (Also in January, TransCanada filed a separate claim under NAFTA arguing that the U.S. should pay the company more than $15 billion to compensate it for “costs and damages that it has suffered” because of Obama’s decision. Boo hoo.)

In the newly filed briefs, the states argue that by rejecting the pipeline, the president dampened employment opportunities. These so-called “employment opportunities” were an oft-cited argument in favor of building the pipeline, but the State Department estimated that Keystone would have created as few as 20 permanent jobs.

Maybe the states could just open one Arby’s and call it even.

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Keystone pipeline still a pain in nation’s butt

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