The recent Supreme Court decision in Gundy v US may portend a significant change in the way Congress drafts environmental legislation—indeed how it drafts all legislation—in the future. The recent Supreme Court decision in Gundy v US may portend a significant change in the way Congress drafts environmental legislation—indeed how it drafts all legislation—in the future. The case, brought by a convicted child rapist, challenges sex offender registration requirements. Looking past the lurid details of the case, the question before the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) involves the question of what constitutes a permissible delegation of power from Congress to the executive branch of government.
It is nearly impossible to conceive of any environmental law enacted in the past half-century or more that does not involve a Congressional grant of authority to the executive branch of government. Take, for example, Section 202(a)(1) of the Clean Air Act[i] (CAA) that provides:
The [EPA] Administrator shall by regulation prescribe (and from time to time revise) in accordance with the provisions of this section, standards applicable to the emission of any air pollutant from any class or classes of new motor vehicles or new motor vehicle engines, which in his judgment cause, or contribute to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health or welfare … . (emphasis added)
The Supreme Court’s interpretation of this and other CAA provisions in the case of Massachusetts v US confirmed the authority of the Administrator of the US Environmental Protection Agency to regulate greenhouse gases (GHG) as qualified air pollutants under the Act. Moreover, the Massachusetts court determined that a finding of endangerment by the Agency obligated it to regulate GHG emissions.
Unless the transition to a clean energy economy is based on unifying politics, this next iteration
will also prove another adventure in pyrrhic rhetoric.
The California Democrat Party held its state convention ten days ago. In addition to organizational business, the 5,000 delegates and guests heard from 14 of the contenders for the right to take on Trump in 2020.
The California convention was described by the Los Angeles Times as a festival of dissent aimed at driving President Trump from office amidst chanting, clapping and occasionally squabbling. Today’s commentary is about the squabbling within the ranks of California’s Democratic Party. It is a squabble playing itself out nationally between union labor and progressive climate activists, and it portends problems for Democrats in the 2020 elections.
As defending against climate change is a priority of the Democratic Party and mostly pandered by the Republican, a Democratic loss in 2020 is a loss for the environment. Four more years of Trump and the entire framework of national environmental protection laws will likely be in total tatters.
Amid the chanting, clapping and soaring oratory in San Francisco was the election of Rusty Hicks as chair of the California Democratic Party. The 39-year old Hicks is a product of organ-ized labor with solid Democratic credentials.
Hicks served in the California Assembly before becoming the political director of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, AFL-CIO (LA Fed) in 2006 and its president in 2015. Hicks also served as the California Political Director for the 2008 Obama for America campaign. His election is considered a win for the establishment, and his victory owed much to union support.
The LA Fed is the chartered Central Labor Council of the AFL-CIO in Los Angeles County. Representing over 300 unions and more than 800,000 workers, the Los Angeles Council is the second largest in the nation
For the purposes of these discussions, let’s all put politics aside and judge the proposals by their content and not their proposer’s party.
--Green New Directions
The 2018 midterm elections swept the Democrats into control of the US House of Representatives and climate change onto the landing pages of most media networks. Since the elections, global heating [i]has continued to be at or near the top of voter priority lists. A recent poll conducted by the communications programs at Yale and George Mason Universities shows that 40 percent of eligible voters now see climate as crucial to whom they’ll vote for in 2020.
Climate polled as a voter priority in previous elections. However, the vouchsafed preference for an aggressive federal environmental agenda never translated into adequate action being taken by either Congress or the president at the time, i.e., G.W. Bush, or Obama. Adequate that is to keep from crossing the 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) threshold above which scientists warn the most devastating and likely irreversible impacts will occur.
I grant it’s not easy to protect the environment while simultaneously trying to save the economy and defending the nation against aggressors—foreign and domestic. The problem, of course, is that neither humanity nor the economy stands much chance of being saved if the physical environment becomes so polluted and heated as to make living in it problematic.
This time around, there is little reason to believe that climate will flash and burn in the minds of voters as it has in the past. A new generation of environmental defender has joined with earlier generations to add its voice to the cries for environmental action—a collective voice raised louder than any that has gone before.
The Green New Deal Is Only the Beginning of the Search for National Consensus
Given all the green talk—positive and negative—that has gone on since Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (D-NY) Green New Deal hit the headlines it’s not surprising that others have begun to step forward with proposed alternatives. The climate debate’s current driver is the run for elective office. What will sustain it long past the 2020 elections is the increasing incidence, costs, and consequences of climate-related weather disasters.
Compared to the Democrats making climate change a principal platform of their 2020 election strategy is the protestation of Donald Trump that there’s no problem to solve and the willingness of many Republican conservatives to follow wherever he leads. The heat of the partisan debate will rise faster and burn hotter than Earth’s temperatures between now and when ballots are cast next November.
Climate calamities don’t distinguish between red and blue states. Voters in ever larger numbers are admitting to having been touched by the consequences of global warming and are recognizing the causal connection between human activity and the release of harmful greenhouse gases (GHGs) like carbon and methane. These personal experiences reflect global reality.
Farmers and ranchers are hurting, and there are pockets of this country where
the economy is not strong.
--a GOP lawmaker
Trump’s crowing about his having launched an unprecedented economic miracle rarely seen before belies the harms his economic and environmental policies are causing farmers, ranchers, and agro-businesses in America’s heartlands. Consequently, Trump and the Republican Party may find themselves victims of climate change come election day 2020. If it happens, their defeat will have been significantly contributed to by the loss of a key core constituency--rural voters.
Combined with the growing number and intensity of climate-related natural disasters Trump’s trade wars with China, Mexico, Canada, and the European Union have put American farmers—particularly family farmers in Midwestern and Plains states—in a much-weakened economic position.
As reported, the White House’s acting chief of staff explained why voters would continue to support Trump’s run for a second term:
You hate to sound like a cliché, but are you better off than you were four years ago? It's pretty simple, right? It's the economy, stupid. I think that's easy. People will vote for somebody they don't like if they think it's good for them.
Dateline May 3, 2019
Yesterday the US House of Representatives passed the first major climate legislation in nearly a decade. The Climate Action Now Act (H.R. 9) prohibits the use of federal funds to advance the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement. The Act also compels the Trump administration to submit to Congress how the United States will achieve an economy-wide target of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 26 to 28 percent below its 2005 level by 2025, within 120 days of its enactment. The targeted reduction levels were the ones President Obama committed to as the US’s nationally determined contributions (NDC) per the provisions of the Paris Agreement.
The outcome of the vote, largely along party lines, was hardly surprising. The Act’s primary sponsor, Representative Kathy Castor (D-FL), was joined by 223 Democratic co-sponsors—five more than the number of votes needed for passage. Most interesting perhaps was the favorable vote of three Republican representatives Vern Buchanan (FL), Brian Fitzpatrick (PA) and Elise Stefanik (NY). Castor is the chair of the newly created Select House Committee on the Climate Crisis.
With Republicans firmly in control of the Senate, the legislation stands no chance of passage. The only surprise I can imagine would be Majority Leader McConnell letting it see the light of day on the Senate floor. It is not to say that there wasn’t any drama surrounding the legislation.
A respect for the limits of your branch of government, a respect for the role of other branches of government is sort of the oil that makes the machinery work. Absent that, things break down. And I think we’re definitely seeing that with this administration in unprecedented ways.
Rep. Gerald Connolly (D-VA)
No matter what the Mueller Report says about Donald John Trump’s possible crimes while in office, by my count, he is batting a perfect seven for seven in the sins department. Of pride, greed, lust, envy, gluttony, wrath, and sloth—it is his pride that most threatens the state of our union. Although Trump’s pride may well lead to his fall from the grace of American voters in 2020--it is not an impeachable offense.
The bombastic 45th president of the United States describes himself in grandiloquent terms.
I think nobody knows more about taxes than I do, maybe in the history of the world.
Trump not only speaks of himself in hyperbolas and the third person he hears what others say—or imagines them having said—in equally braggadocian terms. Responding to a question about US-China relations he quoted the director of the Center for Chinese Strategy, a conservative think tank.
If you look at Mr. Pillsbury, the leading authority on China…he was saying that China has total respect for Donald Trump and for Donald Trump’s very, very, large brain.
Hubris has brought down many a tragic figure throughout history and literature. Would the consequences of Trump’s boasts be his alone to bear and not serve as a precedent for other presidents to follow, I would be less anxious over the fate of the nation. It is no exaggeration to say that Trump’s actions while in office have the potential to weaken the underlying foundation of the republic for which he and we stand.
As president of the United States, Trump has sworn an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; bear true faith and allegiance to the same…and…well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office for which he now holds.
When it comes to Trump’s assault on the constitutional foundation of the country, I am not speaking about theemoluments clause and his possibly profiting off his occupation of the White House. Most presidents these days have found their time in office a stepping stone to immense wealth—whether selling their memoirs or charging exorbitant speaking fees.
The climate is changing, and humans are contributing to these changes. We believe that there is much common ground on which all sides of this discussion could come together to address climate change with policies that are practical, flexible, predictable, and durable.
— The US Chamber of Commerce
The US Chamber of Commerce, through its Global Energy Institute (GEI), recently announced the launch of a major new climate initiative called the American Energy: Cleaner, Stronger campaign. It’s admitted purpose is to “counter the Green New Deal (GND) with an energy innovation agenda…to persuade the public and Congress that technology is better than regulation in addressing climate change.” (emphasis added).
In taking a swipe at the GND, the Chamber has handed its progressive Democratic authors and supporters a key victory—certainly something it had not intended to do.
Whatever the Green New Deal is or isn’t, the idea of it has accomplished what was thought Impossible just months ago--the admission by traditionally conservative deniers that climate change is real and needs to be acted upon now. The Chamber’s announcement boldly states inaction is not an option. The actions to be taken, however, remain matters of dogmatic ideological debate.
On its face, the Chamber’s call to action is a far cry from its 2017 policy priorities. Today climate change is on the minds of voters because it is on the lips of every Democrat in Congress, as well as those vying for the party’s presidential nomination. The Chamber’s newly announced campaign is an effort to remain relevant.
Should there be any doubt about the positive impact of the 2018 midterm elections on the willingness of politicians at least to discuss the realities of climate change and what the reactions of lawmakers should be, let me dispel them now.
It is being reported that the Trump campaign has put out a call for a list of climate change victories that can be attributed to Trump’s time in office. According to the McClatchy report, the call reflects a shift in strategy ahead of the 2020 election as polls show growing voter concern over global warming, two sources familiar with the campaign.
If true, the willingness of Trump to speak in terms of climate change victories marks a stunning turnaround from his usual references to climate change science as a huckster's hoax perpetrated by liberal university-types to frighten governments and foundations into giving them funds for fake research.
A few days ago, Trump was telling the audience at the National Republican Congressional Committee’s annual spring dinner that he hoped Hill Republicans wouldn’t attack the Green New Deal so completely as to defeat the Democrat’s desire to do anything about climate change. Why? Because he intends to beat them up over their socialist notions on energy and the environment.
The Green New Deal, done by a young bartender, 29 years old. The first time I heard it, I said, 'That's the craziest thing.
If they beat me with the Green New Deal, I deserve to lose.
It was during this dinner speech that Trump said that the noise of windmills cause cancer.
Technically the Green New Deal (GND) has yet to live as a formal legislative proposal as compared to “a sense of resolution.” Therefore, any reports of its demise would be premature.
The Senate’s vote on Majority Leader McConnell’s GND resolution seems to have marked the end of a chapter. Although the GND concept will continue to be talked about, America’s climate plan will ultimately be defined by a series of legislative acts rather than a single integrated piece of legislation. Therein, perhaps, lies the problem.
Disaggregation of the various elements of the Green New Deal, as broadly-brushed during the 2018 election cycle by Representative Ocasio-Cortez and socially progressive organizations like the Sunrise Movement and Justice Democrats, is as real as it is apparent. Much less apparent is whether the introduction of individual pieces of legislation reflects a rejection of the broader vision and will ultimately lead to an ignominious end to the newly charged national climate debate.
No one would be blamed for thinking that breaking apart the GND’s component pieces will end as badly for the environment as it did for Mr. Dumpty following his great fall. How many times have politicians parceled out pieces of a broadly integrative policy for solving complex social problems only to make it easier to kill?
Joel B. Stronberg
Joel Stronberg, MS, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.