Climate, Politics/Capitol Light©, is a service of The JBS Group and Civil Notion
Volume 1 August 12, 2019 Issue 22
This week’s civil notion-- “V” is for Vitriol, When It Should Be for Victory
Dan Levitan argues in the New Republic that Republican deniers of climate change, who are now on the side of the “angels,” don’t deserve redemption by Democrats unless they own-up to the harms they’ve caused by their earlier denials. Prompting Levitan to write his article was the testimony of Republican pollster Frank Luntz before the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis.
Luntz’s invitation was issued by the chair of the Committee, Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI). Unlike the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, the group is not a Senate sanctioned organization. It is a group of Democratic senators wanting to examine how climate change is affecting the country and the planet and to mobilize action and support for bold climate solutions. The Committee will convene a series of hearings through 2019 and 2020 to gather expert testimony from a wide variety of witnesses.
The July 25th hearing was entitled “The Right Thing to Do: Conservatives for Climate Action.” Joining Luntz as witnesses were Kera O’Brien Vice President, Students for Carbon Dividends and Nick Huey, founder of the Climate Campaign and a member of the Utah Chapter of the Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Both O’Brien and Huey are young conservative Republicans who believe that carbon needs to be priced.
Levitan took exception to Luntz for, among other things, his authorship of the now-infamous 2002 memo advising the Republican Party to sow confusion about global warming. In that memo Luntz wrote:
Voters believe that there is no consensus about global warming within the scientific community. Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you [Republicans] need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.
These days Luntz’s message is much different. He was hired by the Climate Leadership Council to take the temperature of Republicans in general on climate change and specifically on CLC’s proposed carbon tax legislation. Luntz’s memo on the results of the poll stated clearly:
The ‘political temperature’ on climate change has shifted – perhaps permanently. Three in four American voters want to see the government step in to limit carbon emissions – including a majority of Republicans (55%). Voters’ concerns simply aren’t being adequately addressed – by the president or Congress. Fully six out of ten of voters believe U.S. climate policy is headed pretty seriously off on the wrong track. And this INCREASES among swing voters… While both parties cling to strong support on their ‘core’ issues, if those should falter, environmental policy – and its influence on younger voters in particular – could prove decisive.
Although Levitan appears willing to forgive—if not forget—other Republican deniers, he feels particular contempt for Luntz:
Most converts should feel welcome in the political discussion about climate change; it’s a virtue to admit fault, after all. But those like Luntz—who actively furthered the climate crisis and continues to refuse to admit it—should be shunned. They have no practical use in the extremely urgent effort to solve global warming. They helped to break the world, and thus can’t be trusted to help fix it. (emphasis added)
I have trouble accepting Levitan’s position on Luntz—at least as a matter of practical politics. Luntz remains a highly sought after and respected Republican pollster. The poll’s findings are a testament to changing Republican attitudes. Luntz’s willingness to carry and stand-by the message not only to CLC but to Republicans in general increases the likelihood it will be heeded at least by some portion of Republicans.
Levitan clearly wants Luntz and other Republicans to flog themselves publicly for their early denials of climate science before they can be accepted into the society of climate activists:
Even if Republicans’ come-to-Jesus moments swayed public opinion, they would have to include an honest reckoning of the harm caused…Embracing public figures who helped cause those harms, without any gestures toward accountability, risks alienating those who have long supported climate action.
Levitan’s expressed vitriol reflects what—in part—is wrong with today’s climate politics. First, it implies that redemption is never possible. Assume that Luntz stood up and flogged himself before God and country about his having advised clients in the past to cast doubt on climate science. Would Levitan’s judgment of him change any? Would he really let bygones be bygones?
OK sure, Levitan might stop Luntz’ fall to the eighth (fraud) rather than ninth (treachery) circle of Hell—but beyond that, I doubt it would make much difference to him. Flogging or not, Levitan would still deny that Luntz can be a convincing messenger to other Republicans, which I believe is itself a mistake.
The quickness to blame decades-old transgressions and the unwillingness to accept that a transgressor can change threatens any chance that a divided nation can once again be unified in its efforts to solve society’s problems. Some acts are, of course, worse than others, but has hate and the desire for vengeance so consumed us that forgiveness is never an option? Moreover, who’s to decide?
Levitan dismisses the denier class as unimportant in the battle to put the nation back on course to limit Earth’s rising temperatures--
But the “cool skeptics”—a.k.a., the deniers—have held steady, at or just below 20 percent of the country, for the last half-decade. There is thus little chance of convincing them any time soon—and even less reason to try.
As a political strategy blowing off the entire 20 percent of the nation that continues to deny Earth’s warming is an act of our and not nature’s is a mistake. Politics today is a game of inches. It is not only how many total votes are won in a presidential election it is, as well, where they are won.
I’ve written before that moderate Republicans can be wooed over to the green side. In that effort, voices like those of Luntz and other past deniers whose stock holds value in Republican circles are likely to resonate more loudly than those who would condemn them out of hand for what they once believed.
Dismissing deniers because they have come to accept the arguments of climate defenders as true is to deny the power of truth. At the end of the day, I would hope that climate defenders will raise a “V” in victory and not in vitriol.
Best in class. EPA has far surpassed deregulatory goals set by Trump's executive order 13771, which stipulated agencies must cut two existing regulations for each new one issued. However, the agency has not been transparent enough in deciding which regulations to cut, according to a new EPA inspector general report.
In fiscal 2017, EPA had the highest number of deregulatory actions (16) of any federal agency compared to one new regulation. In fiscal 2018, the agency took ten deregulatory actions and three regulatory actions.
State limits. The Trump administration proposed a regulation allowing EPA to issue Clean Water Act permits over state objections about a project's impact on climate change or air quality. At issue is Section 401 of the Clean Water Act, which gives states the right to "certify" that projects requiring permits comply with the federal law and state water quality standards. That means projects being permitted by EPA, the Army Corps of Engineers or the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission also must be approved or denied by state regulators.
In recent years, New York and Washington have used this certification process to deny permits for pipelines and coal terminals not just due to water quality concerns, but also because of their contribution to air pollution and climate change.
The proposal would prevent states from considering issues other than water quality in their certifications.
For lands’ sake. Negotiators for the world's governments signed off on a report that describes in alarming detail how agriculture, deforestation and other human impacts on lands are transforming the climate.
The report, from the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), shows the urgent need to overhaul the global food system to help control climate-warming emissions.
Written by more than 100 scientists from around the globe, the report takes an unprecedented look at the impacts of climate change on lands and the effects of land use on the climate.
The entire food production system, with transportation and packaging included, accounts for as much as 37 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions, and that better land use, less-meat-intensive diets and eliminating food waste should be global priorities, crucial to the immediate, all-out effort needed to forestall a climate catastrophe. (Inside Climate News)
Green Acres. Democratic lawmakers and presidential candidates want farmers to play a major role in climate policy in the wake of a landmark report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change urging an overhaul in global land management and agriculture.
Representative Kathy Castor (D-FL), who chairs the Select Committee on the Climate Crisis, is scheduled to sit down with farmers and ranchers to talk about climate change this month as part of a discussion sponsored by the University of Florida's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.
Democratic lawmakers and presidential candidates have floated a handful of ideas to address the intersection of climate and agriculture:
Presidential candidate Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) released a two-part plan posted to Medium.
Presidential candidate Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) release her plan "Rebuilding Rural America to Build Our Future" plan, as detailed by the Des Moines Register, would create a $50 billion USDA fund to distribute block grants for rural communities and tribal nations to invest in issues like roadways, water lines and job training. The plan would also provide support for farmers to develop new practices to put carbon back into the ground, while also working to limit nutrient loss.
Presidential candidate Senator Klobuchar (D-MN) released her Plan from the Heartland posted to Medium which would expand existing farm support programs as part of a broader initiative aimed at spurring job growth in rural America.
While mostly adhering to mainstream agriculture policy, Klobuchar's proposal would endorse paying farmers to adopt conservation practices, including methods that help sequester carbon in the soil, and would hike funding for disaster aid and conservation programs that pay farmers to adopt certain environmentally friendly practices. Other initiatives favored by much of the industry would get a bump as well, including the Renewable Fuel Standard.
Presidential candidate Senator Booker introduced a bill that would provide billions of dollars per year to encourage voluntary farm and ranch conservation practices including forest and wetlands restoration, and sustainable agricultural practices.
Booker’s “Climate Stewardship Act” sets the goal of planting 15 billion trees by 2050 to counteract deforestation and restore 2 million acres of coastal wetlands by 2030 to sequester carbon and reduce flooding. Booker says planting so many trees would sequester more than 13 billion metric tons of carbon — equivalent to more than two years of current U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. (E&E News and other sources as noted in links)
No swimming in these ponds. EPA has sent another round of proposed changes to its 2015 coal ash regulations to the White House regulations office for a routine review.
The most recent change proposes a new "cease receipt" deadline for electricity producers to close or retrofit unlined ash storage ponds that lead to violations of groundwater standards, according to an EPA summary on a government tracking website.
Under an earlier set of amendments, EPA granted power companies an extension until October 2020. Originally, they had six months.
Over the objections of environmental groups who brought a legal challenge, a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit in March declined to vacate that extension.
The panel instead left it in place while EPA works on addressing a separate court ruling from last August, which found that the 2015 regulations were flawed in part because they allowed such unlined ponds to remain open indefinitely absent evidence of groundwater contaminations.
A weak solution. Climate change activists are accusing the head of the Democratic National Committee, Tom Perez, of working to defeat their efforts to get have the Committee host a presidential climate-focused debate.
Perez contends that the candidates own efforts to propose responses to the climate crisis and the remaining scheduled debates on cable news outlets are adequate.
Groups such as the Sunrise Movement, Climate Hawks Vote, and Credo Action are crying foul, as is Washington Governor Jay Inslee, a presidential candidate. They say Perez is trying to compete against a resolution to be considered at the DNC’s August 22nd meeting that seeks to commit the party to host an official debate on climate change.
Delay of game. A final environmental review for America's first major offshore wind project will be delayed, throwing its future into doubt.
Vineyard Wind, the project developer, has said that further delay from the Interior Department would jeopardize the future of its 800-megawatt project, which is proposed for federal waters 15 miles south of Martha's Vineyard in Massachusetts.
ACE is the place. Coal mining interests are preparing to fight for President Trump's Clean Power Plan replacement—the Affordable Clean Energy rule—in court.
The National Mining Association has added its name to a growing list of groups intervening in a legal challenge by public health groups to EPA's Affordable Clean Energy rule.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has also gone to court in defense of the Trump administration's plan to ease limits on power plant emissions, a move that would ensure the nation's top business lobbying group has a say on the matter even if President Donald Trump loses reelection next year.
Stand down. The Navy has quietly cashiered its Task Force on Climate Change (TFCC), created in 2009 to plan and develop "future public, strategic, and policy discussions" on the issue.
The task force ended in March, and its tab on the Navy's energy, environment, and climate change website was removed sometime between March and July, according to public archives.
Retired Navy Rear Adm. Jon White, who ran TFCC from 2012 to 2015, said: "Across all of [the Department of Defense], it is hard for me to see that climate change is taken as seriously at it should be," said White, who is currently president of the Consortium for Ocean Leadership. "The task force ended, in my opinion, without full incorporation of climate change considerations."
"It all goes back to the White House," White said.
Stupid speech is still free. Florida Republican Representative Ross Spano expressed doubt about the link between human activity and climate change in a recent TV interview—showing a continuing vein of skepticism about mainstream science in his party.
Asked in the interview about man-made emissions and their causing climate change, the freshman lawmaker said, "I don't think there's sufficient evidence to show that. I think there's almost an inexorable push and expectation and belief that there is based on certain reporting. I'm not an expert."
With the notable exception of President Trump, many Republicans no longer deny that greenhouse gases from human activity are warming the planet and instead focus on "energy innovation" as a solution.
A coalition of moderate Democrats is backing a climate plan that could draw interest from the business community for relying on carbon pricing and other market-based approaches to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
The House's New Democrat Coalition, a caucus of about 100 centrist Democrats, released its principles for addressing climate change, which the group called "a threat to the health, national security, economic prosperity, and future of our people and planet."
The 11-page document does not endorse any specific legislation but stresses the economic cost of inaction at more than $500 billion by the end of this century.
The group does not set a deadline for any legislation, although its overarching goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 matches a framework for a climate bill recently released by top Energy and Commerce Democrats. Those committee lawmakers say they hope to have a bill drafted by the end of the year.
Full court press. A federal appeals court in Washington, DC is starting to fill in its fall docket and is already set to handle several major cases involving energy infrastructure, air pollution, and environmental rollbacks from the Trump administration.
Clean car standards (CAFE) — September 6. Only one of the multiple car cases around the country.
Cross-state air pollution — September 20
Northeastern states, New York City and environmental groups will make their case against EPA's decision to forgo new requirements for pollution controls on coal-fired power plants that can contribute to smog in downwind states. (New York v. EPA)
PennEast pipeline certificate — October 4
In Delaware Riverkeeper Network v. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, the D.C. Circuit will consider whether FERC's approval of the PennEast pipeline violated the National Environ-mental Policy Act and the Fifth Amendment, which protects property rights.
Air pollution permits — October 7
Environmentalists will face off against the Trump administration in Sierra Club v. EPA to determine whether the agency acted illegally in crafting fresh guidance for facilities seeking new permits in areas with relatively low levels of major air pollutants.
Atlantic Coast pipeline approval — October 16
Climate concerns and property rights will again play a starring role in arguments over FERC's authorization of the Atlantic Coast pipeline.
The 600-mile gas transport project through West Virginia, Virginia and North Carolina have faced many legal obstacles, including two permit battles in the Supreme Court and 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that have the potential to halt the pipeline altogether.
Power plant rules — October 21
Environmental groups want the D.C. Circuit to take a close look at technical EPA rules for emissions of hazardous air pollutants during a power plant's startup period.
In a set of decisions related to EPA's Mercury and Air Toxics Standards, the agency exempted power plant boilers from emissions limits for their first four hours of generating electricity. EPA reasoned that facilities can't accurately measure their emissions during that time and should instead be subject to more general work practice standards.
Marine monument — October 22
In Massachusetts Lobstermen's Association v. Ross, D.C. Circuit judges will review the Obama era designation of the Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument.
The lobstermen and other challengers say the former administration overreached when it outlawed energy development and most commercial fishing in the protected area off the New England coast. They lost their case in a lower court last year and swiftly appealed.
The marine monument stretches across nearly 5,000 square miles.
The same law is at issue in ongoing litigation over President Trump's reductions to Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments in Utah. The issue of federal reach is at the center of these lawsuits.
Renewable fuel standard — October 25
In Advanced Biofuels Association v. EPA, renewable fuel makers are aiming how EPA evaluates petitions from small refineries seeking a break from the RFS, which requires refiners to blend ethanol into fuel or buy renewable fuel credits.
We have the power. Thirty senators urged 14 automakers to buck President Trump and join a deal with California to improve fuel efficiency.
Led by Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), the lawmakers sent a series of letters asking other car companies to join last month's compromise between California and Ford Motor Co., Honda Motor Co. Ltd., Volkswagen AG and BMW of North America.
Under the terms of the compromise, the four automakers agreed to increase the fuel efficiency of their cars and light trucks by 3.7 percent each year. It stands to undercut Trump's rollback of Obama-era clean car standards significantly.
The senators wrote, "As representatives of states that signed the Nation's Clean Car Promise, we believe that ... joining this agreement would save consumers money, reduce emissions, and provide regulatory certainty to the auto industry.”
Forest prime-evil (an opinion piece). The United States Forest Service's most important job is balancing the many needs and uses of the 193 million acres of public land it manages. However, the Trump administration is preparing to abandon the process that makes it possible, eliminating public participation from the overwhelming majority of decisions affecting our national forests. (New York Times)
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Joel Stronberg, MA, JD., of The JBS Group is a veteran clean energy policy analyst with over 30 years’ experience, based in Washington, DC.