Live long enough in Capital City and you can’t help but gain a feel for what Alice must have felt as she tumbled down the rabbit hole. Had Lewis Carroll been born a century and a half later and needed a city to use as the inspiration for his Wonderland Washington, in the Trump era, might just have filled the bill.
I can hear Donald J. Trump wistfully wishing:
If I had a world of my own, everything would be nonsense. Nothing would be what it is,
because everything would be what it isn't. And contrary wise, what is, it wouldn't be.
And what it wouldn't be, it would. You see?
Yes Donald, I see. I don’t understand, but I see.
As I sat down to write Part 3 of Paris Yearning I had a fairly clear idea of where I would be heading. I made the mistake of checking the evening news stories and, now like Alice, I am a bit disoriented.
Today in Trumpland three events of interest to the clean energy and environmental sectors took place.
“Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited New Zealand today, where despite torrential rains,
his motorcade was greeted by a flock of birds—not of the fine feathered variety.”
Part 1 of the series looked at the theatre of President Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Agreement and discussed the growing partisanship of the climate change debate. Readers were cautioned that facts, figures and legal arguments held less import for Trumpeters than they might otherwise hope.
Part 2 focuses on several of the issues most salient to Trump’s announcement and suggests how they might be addressed going forward by clean energy and climate advocates. It begins by pointing to a way around the dilemma of Trumpsters refusing to be swayed by facts.
It would be difficult to get through life without the capacity to consider various options and to decide what to do. The lack of any decision criteria has caused many a donkey caught between two bales of hay to starve to death.
The alternative to weighing facts—at least for a politician--is to weight the importance of an issue to a voter/constituent or to the party’s leadership.
Prioritization is a key alternative decision criteria often employed by elected officials trying to determine whether to support or to oppose a particular initiative. For elected partisan representatives, consideration goes beyond the voters.
As members of an organized and hierarchical party, a balance must be achieved between the demands of party leaders and voters Prioritization works well in both instances.
A lot has been written these last several days about the meaning, motivation and consequence of Trump’s decision to pull the U.S. out of the Paris Climate Accord; much more will be. The decision is unfortunate at many levels--not, however, at all levels.
The near-term notoriety of an issue central to life on earth—whoever you are and wherever you might be living—is a good thing. It and its many subtexts, e.g. environmental justice, federal support of energy and climate research, the reach of federal environmental regulations, etc., are topics needing to be discussed regularly by the global community—not simply after black swan events.
In these few days away from Trump’s decision, I want to address several of the issues I think most salient to Trump’s announcement and to consider how they might be addressed by clean energy and environmental advocates going forward. It is impossible to cover all the issues involved in a single blog column—actually, in a thousand columns. Still, we must start somewhere.
Scratching out notes for this article, it became clear my starting point for a post-pull-out discussion was not going to focus on hard science and statistics—nor even much on legal issues. Laws—whether of Nature or societies—are of course integral to finding workable solutions to global warming.
The disciplines of physics, engineering, materials research, economics, law and others guide us in what to use in our efforts to combat climate change. They do not, however, tell us much about why anyone chooses to combat global warming.
Have you ever played musical chairs? It was pretty much mandatory at any birthday party I ever attended growing up.
Of course, given where I grew up and the friends I grew up with, it was a contact sport--not for the faint of heart. Still, bruises were badges of honor worn proudly and not to have played was unthinkable.
There came THE TIME at every party when someone would start arranging chairs—every other one facing in the opposite direction---while someone else set about finding just the right song to mayhem by.
It was then the rest of us would start limbering up, knowing when the music started flowing elbows would be flying. Let the pushing and shoving begin!
Oh, how we circled those chairs in frantic anticipation of when the music would suddenly stop—then just as suddenly begin again—but with one less chair and one less player.
Boy or girl, it made no difference—all that mattered was who’d be the last one sitting in that last chair standing.
A zero sum game this was. You were either on the chair at the end or you weren’t—no style points, no second-place trophy, no going home with the title Ms. Congeniality. Possession was all that mattered.
We played hard and forgot quickly. It was a game—a few bruises here and there, no grudges, no worries one of the losers—the victory challenged, for you PC’ers among us—looking to get even.
Friendships were as strong after as before—stronger even for the shared experience.
I hadn’t thought of those parties in quite a while. Then there was the other evening, watching our 45th president—the Apostate Donald John—speaking only for himself--and Russia, of course—denying any collusion, conspiracy or culpability.
It’s hard to tell the players, even with a program
Walk into any ball park in the nation and you’ll hear the hawkers refrain: programs, get your programs, you can’t tell the players without a program.
Here in Capital City, as of May 22, 2017, the players’ program is written mostly in blank verse. According to the Washington Post’s tote board: of the 557 key Trump administration positions requiring Senate confirmation, 33 have been filled, while only 56 have been nominated.
This compares to the same date in prior administrations rather poorly:
Nominations Sent to Senate 20 May
The Donald’s accusations, notwithstanding, the sparsity of key agency personnel cannot be blamed on Senate Democrats. The President himself is to blame for languorous pace
Carbon taxes are witnessing a huge uptick in attention. The advent of the Trump era is causing clean energy and climate defenders to pursue alternative policy priorities to those of the Obama era. Emphasis of state primacy is at the core of the collective rethink currently underway. It is far from the only element.
Policies less reliant on regulation and more dependent on market principles are emerging from the shadows to center stage. The unsettling prospects of a Trump-wellian world is having an interestingly galvanizing effect.
Climate defenders on the right and the left are finding common ground and common purpose. One of the principal organizing threads may be seen in the #PUTAPRICEONIT campaign. It is a remarkably diverse grouping of partner organizations, e.g. Our Climate, Environmental Defense Fund, republicEn, Climate Change and Citizens Climate Lobby, serving as a call to rally ‘round tax policy.
Earlier this year the concept of a national carbon tax made headlines when the Climate Leadership Council released The Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends. Council leaders are not the names one might ordinarily associate with climate defense. They include two former secretaries of state, James A. Baker III and George P. Shultz; two former chairmen of the Council of Economic Advisers, Martin S. Feldstein and N. Gregory Mankiw; and former treasury secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr.
The Paris Climate Agreement Should We Stay or Should We Go?
(This is and update of the previously posted article.)
Predictably there’s been a lot written over the last few weeks about the Paris Climate Agreement and whether the Trump administration will continue to sit with other nations.
Driving the coverage is the on-again off-again meeting between Trump and a pace of senior advisors. The ultimate decision will remain for The Donald to make--purportedly after the G-7 summit at the end of May.
Trumpeters are divided. EPA Administrator Pruitt leads the leaver, while Secretary of State Tillerson and the Kushners—Jared and Ivanka--are shepherding those advising to stay.
Pruitt believes remaining a signatory to the Paris agreement will be used as grounds to challenge the administration’s recent roll back of environmental regulations, including the hold put on the Clean Power Plan. Tillerson is wary of increased diplomatic pressures, should Trump decide to renounce the agreement. Interestingly, both are right.
It is important to be clear about what is really being decided. It’s reported that the question is whether the U.S. will continue to honor the obligations made by President Obama.
The hot air coming off Capital Hill is responsible for today’s high winds in the city
ON THE WINDS OF SPRING
THE 2017 ½ OMNIBUS SPENDING BILL
A proud native of Chicago, I know a thing or two about wind. I’m aware, for example, that the essential elements needed to make it blow are pressure and
I’m also a long-time resident of Capital City, who has come to know a thing or two about political winds and what’s required for them to blow. Unsurprisingly, it is the same two elements.
Both have been in abundance in D.C. for quite some time. A most notable wind passed through Congress just the other day and in the nick of time to avoid shutting down the federal government.
The 1,665 page Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2017 (Act) gained bi-partisan and bicameral support much more rapidly than many had predicted. Republicans and Democrats, in sufficient numbers, agreed there would be no winners should the government be forced to hang a “Gone Fishing” sign on the door.
One of the most surprising outcomes of the Act was how well federal clean energy and environmental programs fared by comparison to the proposed slash and burn preferences of the Trump administration and many Republican members of Congress.
Congressional brinksmanship has become quite commonplace over the last forty or so years. I seriously doubt the framers of the Constitution had ever imagined an annual appropriations process of last minute continuing resolutions.
This and floriferous cherry trees have become rites of Spring here in D.C. Although I doubt whether continuing resolutions will ever make it on to the postcards tourists seem to love.
How the Process Is Supposed to Work—more or less
Signatories of the Constitution had envisioned spending bills wending their way through Congress much like any other piece of legislation, with one notable exception.
The nation had just about the best 100 Days in History. What? You Don’t Believe Me?
THE FIRST 100 DAYS — TRUMPETING THE (UN)ACCOMPLISHMENTS OF THE 45TH PRESIDENT
A lie is more comfortable than doubt, more useful than love,more lasting than truth.
— Gabriel Garcia Marquez
I had thought to resist the temptation of writing about The Big D’s first 100 days in office. I wasn’t really keen to relive those moments; the wounds were still weeping and I saw no reason to risk further infection.
Alas, my mind is proving once again not the captain of my spirit; and, here I am about to add my ha’penny’s worth to the conversation. Even if what follows doesn’t contribute much to the national dialogue, scrabble players should find it to have some redeeming value. Except for UnBannoned, which I needed to make up to make my point, all the other words are legit as far as standard and scrabble dictionaries are concerned.
I came upon this format quite by accident. When gathering my thoughts, I couldn’t help noticing that many of the adjectives I was jotting down started with the un prefix — so I went with it. What follows is a list of the 124 words I think reflect the tenor and (un)accomplishments of the Trump administration in his first c-note of days.
Unabridged: What happened to Chris Christie’s chances of becoming Attorney General.
Unabashed: Trump’s disdain for the liberal press and the middle of the road media.
Unacclimatized: What Trump has directed EPA administer Pruitt to do to the environment.
Washington, D.C. 24 April 2017
Like a bad check, Congress bounced back to Capital City this week from their Easter vacation. Numero uno on their priority list is keeping the federal government open for business—at least a little longer.
This week’s funding story, however, is not just about money. It is about promises made, but still to be kept.
While politicians fiddle, citizens are again being left to suffer--perhaps none more than the nearly 23,000 coal miners in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky and elsewhere, facing the loss of healthcare benefits.
Coal industry employees and their families are provided retirement, disability and survivors benefits through the UMWA 1974 Pension Plan, which is vouchsafed by the federally funded Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC). On April 30th—two days after the current funding resolution lapses and the 101st day of the Trump administration—the fund will be insolvent should Congress fail to act.
With this article, I am asking the sustainable energy and environmental communities to demand of President Trump and their congressional delegations their doing what’s right by those suffering from black lung and other diseases caused by exposure to coal and rock dust.
We--supporters of sustainability--have consistently placed human health effects near the top of our list of grievances with fossil fuels. Do we walk away from those now suffering these illnesses and facing shortened lives--often tethered to oxygen tanks.? Or, do we stand with them, in the pursuit of environmental justice?
President Trump and congressional leaders like Senator McConnell (R-KY) and Speaker Ryan (R-WI) have promised to stop the war on coal and to put miners back to work. But what of the miners who’ve done their time and are no longer able to work? Are they to be ignored—cast off as collateral damage?
What will happen to those they’ve promised to return to the mines? Are they to expect relaxed regulations that will increase their exposure to carcinogens and lead more quickly to their contracting black lung and other diseases?
The incidence of black lung, by any historical measure, is at an unprecedented high. Over the past three years, 644 cases have been diagnosed. A number likely lower than the actual incidence, as miners are frightened of being fired should their companies become aware of their illness.
These are not men and women of faint heart nor necessarily of advanced age:
Mackie Branham, 39, of Elkhorn Creek, Ky., spent 19 years mining coal until he was
diagnosed with complicated black lung. He ran monstrous mining machines and drilled
bolts into mine roofs…He worked double shifts… seven-day weeks every chance he had.
His gallbladder was removed one day and he says he was back at work the next.
He took two days…after knee surgery, before working a 12-hour shift drilling bolts…severe breathing
problems [finally] forced him to leave work in March…he struggles for every breath now.
'My dad has got it. Everybody… has got it…. The more I talk, the more I get out of breath. It's
like I ain't got no capacity.’
The United Mine Workers of America (UMWA) sent out letters on March 1st informing the 23,000 recipients the Health and Retirement Fund would soon be insolvent and warning their benefits would lapse in 60 days. This was not the first time such letters were mailed. Similar notices were received by these same miners just four months earlier; and, in the year before, 16,000 were mailed.
Clean energy and environmental advocates may oppose the uncontrolled extraction and combustion of coal; but, I know of none who would consider themselves an enemy of the miners.
Our communities have always stood in support of the health and welfare of society—and each of its members. It is the essence of who we are. As President Trump and Republican Congressional leaders appear unwilling to keep their promises of protection, it is up to us and to all fair-minded Americans to remind then of their obligations to the miners.
Theirs’s is a story of broken promises and betrayal.
Unwilling To Fund The Health and Retirement Fund
Traditionally, the coal companies have borne responsibility for funding the miners’ health and pension funds. Because of declining market demand, coal companies have been claiming bankruptcy in greater numbers. These filings, however, are not fully reflective of the situation.
Because of lost revenues—particularly during the Great Recession—miners have been willing to accept lower wage packages in order to help the mines stay open and the benefits fund stay solvent over their lifetimes.
It seemed a fair bargain, a fine illustration of a win/win situation. Now, however, companies are seeking the protection of bankruptcy courts--asking to be relieved of their health and pension fund obligations. The courts are complying. Now it is only a win for the mine owners.
Yet A Willingness To Pay For Politicians
The proffered financial problems have not prevented mine owners, executives and the companies themselves from making political contributions during the 2016 elections. The day before it sent layoff notices to 4,400 miners, Murray Energy’s PAC gave $100,000 to Trump’s joint fundraising committee. Bob Murray, the company’s owner, invested $300,000 of his own money in Trump’s run for the roses. Are these the actions of insolvents?
Murray Energy handed a total of: $1.5 million to political candidates, party committees and outside groups over the 2016 cycle, a record high for the company and tops for the industry. It was not alone in its largesse: (Source)
The willingness of coal companies to support politicians, before honoring their health and pension promises, is the more reprehensible given the game of musical bankruptcies played by several of them.
Through a series of setups, Arch, Peabody and Patriot managed to pass the benefits of the hapless miners back and forth between the companies and in advance of their bankruptcies. Once declared bankrupt—legally not morally—they ceased being responsible for the fate of the miners, who once worked for them and were now facing the loss of coverage.
Arch Coal, having cleared $5 billion of its debt off its books through bankruptcy, was one of several companies given the Restructuring Deal of the Year award. The honor was presented to them at the annual Distressed Investing Summit, hosted by The M&A Advisor and held at President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort.
A Case of Double Jeopardy
Retired miners in need of their healthcare benefits are between a lump of coal and a really hard place. Without a federal funds transfer into the Multiemployer Health Benefit Plan, they will be forced to rely on the only other federal assistance available.
A senior policy analyst at The Heritage Foundation had this to say about the situation: it's unfair that miners won't receive the benefits they counted on, but that's not the government's job to fix. These people are going to have to go to Medicare, [Medicaid] and the Affordable Care Act…tough. (emphasis mine) Given efforts by Trump and the many Republican members of Congress to repeal Obamacare—whether it's replaced or not—the dismay, anger and fear of 23,000 miners is understandable.
Few in Congress and the White House seem willing to use the budget resolution that is to re-fund the federal government as the vehicle with which to solve permanently the healthcare problem faced by retired mine workers. A stand-alone bill has been introduced.
Where Things Stand: The Miners Protection Act and The Next Budget Resolution
There is growing bi-partisan support for the Miners Protection Act of 2017 (S. 175/H.R. 179). Within Congress and the states. Leading senate supporters in addition to Manchin D-WV) include: Moore Capito (R-WV); Warner (D-VA); Brown (D-OH), Portman; Heitkamp (D-ND); Casey (D-PA); McCaskill (D-MO); Kaine (D-VA); and Donnelly (D-IN).
House members in addition to the bill’s chief sponsor McKinley (R-WV) include: Doyle (D-PA); Bost (R-IL); Fudge D-OH); Johnson (R-OH); Cook (R-CA); Welch (D-VT); Bucsh (R-IN); and, Lujan (D-NM). Joining them are Governors Wolf (D-PA) and Justice (D-WV).
Senate Majority Leader McConnell has introduced his own bill known as the HELP for Coal Miners Health Care Act (S. 176). Although similar, McConnell’s bill points a legislative finger of blame at environmental regulation, preventing most Democrats from joining on as co-sponsors. The Manchin/McKinley bill stands the greatest chance of passage.
The Miners Protection Act requires the federal government and the coal operators to honor their obligation of lifetime pensions and health benefits for the miners. The pension issue is more problematic—given the greater number of miners involved.
The issues are separable, however. It is possible for Congress and the President to provide the funds necessary to continue miners’ health benefits beyond the April 30th deadline, without addressing the matter of pensions.
Should the final spending resolution presented to Congress for passage and the President for signature not include funding for miners’ healthcare, Manchin and other senators have expressed a willingness to block its passage and to trigger a shutdown of the federal government.
The entire question of a government shutdown is yet to be settled. Trump and members of his senior staff, e.g. Mulvaney, are currently taking a hard line on the border wall--demanding its initial funding. Whether this is real or a bluff is impossible to know as of this writing. As the funding deadline draws near, there will be a lot of dealmaking going on. The miners and their supporters are not likely to have such leverage again.
The time to make a stand is now. Even at the risk of a government closure, I urge all in the clean energy and sustainable environment communities to support the 23,000 miners facing the loss of their healthcare benefits, in violation of the promises made them by President Trump and Republican Congressional leaders.
Joel B. Stronberg
Joel Stronberg, Esq., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.