The tasks that need doing require money, resolve, and ingenuity--and they are too big to be done by government alone. They call for fundamentally new philosophies of land, air and water use, for stricter regulation, for expanded government action, for greater citizen involvement, and for new programs to ensure that government, industry, and individuals all are called on to do their share of the job and to pay their share of the cost.
-- Richard M. Nixon[i]
Long promised, the Trump administration has now issued its final revisions to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA or Act). The changes are among the most aggressive and widespread deregulatory actions taken to date by an administration that has already moved to rescind or substantially revise 100 environmental regulations.
Signed into law by President Nixon in 1970, NEPA is a cornerstone of the nation’s environmental protection framework. The Act requires the government to assess in varying degrees of detail major federal agency actions that potentially impact the environment and provides for public involvement in the regulatory process.
The Act has proven particularly vexing to a president who has set his sights on rolling back the nation’s environmental framework to a time before the Nixon administration. The new rule is an attempt at reducing the number of projects requiring an environmental review, speeding through projects before their potential impacts are known, and curbing the public’s involvement in the NEPA process.
Should Joe Biden win in November, he will be returning to reign over a federal government he may not recognize. A government that could be hard-pressed to put his climate policies and programs into operation. For that--he’ll have Donald Trump to thank.
Trump has never hidden his disdain for the Capitol City crowd that includes the 300,000 or so individuals who work directly for the federal government in the Washington metro area. That is to say nothing of the tens of thousands of support contractors who augment the work of the agencies and thousands of lobbyists who daily swarm Capitol Hill and agency headquarters wanting to make sure that budgets and regulations have something in them for their clients. As George Packer writes in The Atlantic:
To Trump and his supporters, the swamp was full of scheming conspirators in drab DC office wear, coup plotters hidden-in plain sight at desks, in lunchrooms, and on jogging paths around the federal capital: the deep state.
In this episode of Zero Net Fifty, Jennifer Delony and Joel Stronberg look at new climate proposals currently being considered by Congress and lawmakers in Vermont.
In Vermont, a new policy for action on global warming is making its way through the legis-lature. The proposed law comes complete with the rules needed to hold the state accountable should it fail to meet the aggressive emissions reduction goals established by the Act.
At the federal level, we saw the U.S. House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis release its proposed pathway to a net zero emissions target by 2050. The Select Committee’s report is dubbed the “Congressional Action Plan for a Clean Energy Economy and a Healthy, Resilient and Just America.”
While the release of pathway document presents a good opportunity to see what Democrats on the Committee are thinking, the thoughts of its Republican members were left out. Surprisingly, the Republicans’ response was not as negative as one might expect. Does it point to an interest on the part of Republicans to open a dialogue that could result in forward progress on climate policies? Possibly—but only time will tell.
Further action by the Democrats in Congress came wrapped in the packaging of an infrastructure bill complete with plenty of green provisions, along with a proposed on energy efficiency. Like all legislation coming out of the U.S. House these days, sweeping legislation other than on the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 or and needed appropriations for the coming fiscal year that starts on October 1, 2020 has little chance of passage.
The big picture priorities, specific to how the U.S. thinks about climate change and how it will address it, are changing. Among those changes is the prominence of environmental justice in the minds of Democratic politicians.
Energy and climate are front and center in the national debate that will continue until the polls open on November 3rd, when America votes. The next watershed moments for the debate, however, will as both parties hold their nominating conventions later next month.
Click the link below for the podcast:
Lead image courtesy of David Clode on Unsplash
Winning the election may be the easiest task Joe Biden and the Democratic Party have to accomplish over the next several years. Governing, however, is another matter. In both cases, climate policy has a prominent role to play. Will a President Biden be able to do what Obama didn’t—put the nation on a path to sustainability?
It’s hardly a revelation to say that the outcome of the 2020 elections—for the presidency and Congress—are of historical importance in the nation’s fight against Earth’s warming and the transition to a sustainable economy.
The election of Donald Trump has been an unmitigated disaster for the environment. If his administration’s assault on 100 environmental regulations were not bad enough, there is the time lost in moving to slow the rate of Earth’s temperature rise and helping cities and farm communities adapt to the changes wrought by it.
Climate-related issues in previous presidential election years would rank high on voter priority lists at the beginning of each cycle only to be overshadowed by issues or circumstances thought more pressing. IT WAS THE ECONOMY STUPID—for the last three election cycles.
If it wasn’t the economy, then it could have been healthcare or terrorism or almost anything but the environment. In 2016, the environment barely earned a mention by either candidate during the campaign.
The coronavirus pandemic is a constant reminder that facts matter
and that objective reality cannot be wished away.
— Jennifer Rubin/The Washington Post
There are significant parallels between the response to the COVID-19 contagion and what the nation must do to combat and adapt to Earth’s warming. In both cases, national science-based policies must be put in place to address the considerable threats posed by each. Legislation alone, however, is unlikely to prove an adequate response in either case.
Changes in the pace and magnitude necessary to defeat the current contagion or effectuate the transition to a low-carbon sustainable economy have a strong cultural element that cannot be ignored. Millennial activism, for example, has led to a growing investor and consumer preference for companies with high environmental, social, and governance (ESG) scores. Even though those types of companies may be less profitable in terms of their bottom-lines than other investments, they are credited for being beneficial to society. Although laws can be passed to encourage such investments, e.g., a lower tax on gains, a cultural disposition to such investments multiplies their impact and acts to stabilize them should the incentives be removed.
Cultural preference—whether of a corporation or a nation—has much to do with the values and character of its leaders. The current debate over mask-wearing has taken on tribal traits, i.e., cultural. President Trump’s personal stance on these issues, as well as more traditional partisan differences in the way Republicans and Democrats view science and scientists overshadow the scientific evidence that suggests mask-wearing is a critical part of the solution to the unchecked spread of COVID-19.
Several weeks ago, I had commented during a Zero Net Fifty podcast that I thought there was a coming together—under the Biden banner—of progressive and establishment Democrats on climate matters. It was naïve of me to believe the wings of the Democratic Party would begin to flap in unison so far ahead of the convention.
Diversity has always been both the strength and weakness of the Democratic Party. In the past, compromise—or at least some accommodation for long enough to get presidents elected—has been possible. Today differences of opinion on issues like climate change and racial justice may defy traditional negotiation. In part, the differences of opinion are complicated by demands for a generational shift in party and congressional leadership.
Youth movement groups often see matters like climate and racism as more moral than political, which causes them to be viewed as binary. They accuse older generations of having compromised their futures away. I think the coming together of generations in the streets call-ing for racial justice and systemic change is evidence that morality is hardly unique to any one generation. Older generations have learned through experience that you often need to give in order to get and that failing to compromise can mean gridlock. The differences between the generations is more a matter of where each is willing to draw the line.
The COVID-19 contagion shows once again the disdain President Trump and his administration have for science-based policies and actions. Over these past months Trump has suggested that the coronavirus would just go away with the heat of the summer, touted his natural genius for the practice of medicine, and implied that a Clorox cocktail might make the sick well again.
His statements about the contagion closely parallel those he's made about the scientific basis of climate change--its origins and solutions. Just recently the President has signed a new executive order using the pandemic as an excuse to waive the requirements of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) as they apply to energy infrastructure projects like oil and gas pipelines. The Order is based on what legal experts believe is an intentional misreading of the emergency provisions of various environmental laws like the Endangered Species and Clean Water Acts.
The podcast addresses how climate will be treated by both Trump and former Vice President Biden in the run-up to the November elections--including how the President has compromised the nation's leadership in the world on energy and climate matters.
To hear the podcast click here. The link will take you directly to the Zero Net Fifty site where you click on the episode.
Lead image courtesy of David Clode on Unsplash
As the nation struggles to free itself from the grip of the coronavirus contagion and a disease of a different sort—racial, economic, and environmental injustice—our president continues to lay waste to the country’s environmental protections.
The COVID-19 contagion shows once again the disdain President Trump and his administration have for science-based policies and actions. Over the past several months, Trump has suggest-ed that the coronavirus would just go away in the heat of the summer, touted his natural genius for the practice of medicine, and implied that a Clorox cocktail might make the sick well again. His outlandish statements about the contagion closely parallel those he’s made about the scientific basis of climate change--its origins and solutions.
You never want a serious crisis to go to waste. Although one of the more cynical phrases ever uttered by a politician, the pilfered phrase[i] of the former mayor of Chicago and Obama adviser are also among the most honest.
The COVID-19 contagion is proving no exception to the Emanuel rubric. Over the past several months, Republicans and Democrats have attempted to use the pandemic to political advantage—not just as it applies to healthcare but as it pertains to other issues of the day. Within their statements and acts can be found messages—some subtle, some not—of their intentions towards climate change in the post-pandemic period.
In what can only be called “remarkable,” a deeply divided Congress and antagonistic White House were able to come to agreements on four pandemic-related pieces of legislation—culminating with the CARES Act. A repeat of such cordial cooperation is unlikely going forward. With the national election less than six months away, the gloves and masks are coming off as old positions are being defended and contentious new ones staked.
They say a picture is worth a thousand words. The thousand words of the lead image have to do with how differently Democrats and Republicans in Congress view the relationship of the current coronavirus contagion and the other great existential threat to the nation—climate change. Their opposing views are again coming into focus as debates over the next rounds of stimulus legislation break out on Capitol Hill. Their differences are as stark as that between someone sees a rabbit instead of a duck in the drawing.
Congressional Republicans, like Senate Majority Leader McConnell, and leading conservative groups like the Heartland Institute gesture to today's empty streets, idled factories, and historically high unemployment rates, and ask Is the Coronavirus Lockdown the Future Environmentalists Want? They look up to the clearest skies in a generation—temporarily bereft of visible pollution and airplanes—and say the price is just too high!
The view across the aisle is predictably different. Congressional Democrats and climate activists point to the administration's haphazard response to the COVID-19 contagion and the blocks-long lines at community food banks and say--this is what happens when the nation's leaders ignore the scientists and fail to plan for existential threats! They look up at the clearest skies in a generation and advocate investing in low-carbon technologies and community resilience and adaptation measures as both the way to get America working again and rise to meet the threat of global warming.
Joel B. Stronberg
Joel Stronberg, MA, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.