‘Tis the season when food is on most of our minds. What if next year or the year after some of that food was no longer available or even edible? The question is far from idle—ask almost any climate scientist. Better yet, ask a crab fisherman on the California or Oregon coast if climate change is having an impact on her catch and income.
A California court granted the Pacific Federation of Fishermen’s Associations standing to sue major oil producers just before Thanksgiving. It appears to be the first time a food industry has sought to recover lost revenues and wages from fossil fuel companies. The suit, Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, Inc. vs. Chevron and some 30 other companies, stems from the delayed opening of Pacific Ocean waters off the coasts of California and Oregon.
Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA) is the largest commercial fishing trade group on the west coast. On behalf of Dungeness crab fisheries, the organization is seeking compensatory payment for the financial losses incurred as a result of toxic algae blooms. The US Department of Commerce has already allocated $15 million from the $200 million of available disaster assistance funds to help the fishing industry after hurricanes. The allocation falls far short of the Association’s estimated loss of $445 million.
The group is claiming the defendant oil companies have known for nearly a half century that “unrestricted production and use of their fossil fuel products create greenhouse gas pollution that warms the planet, changes our climate, and disrupts the oceans.” According to the complaint:
These changes threaten both the productivity of commercial fisheries and safety of commercially harvested seafood products. In so doing, they also threaten those that rely on ocean fisheries and ecosystems for their livelihoods, by rendering it at times impossible to ply their trade.
It appears from all reports that the 24th Conference of the Parties (COP24) in Katowice, Poland is not going well for the environment. The UN climate conference, in the heart of Poland’s coal country, is being attended by delegates from 200 countries and 30,000 more from governments, businesses, industries, environmental organizations, various issue and technology exhibitors, journalists, and various and sundry other places. The goal of the COP24 is to write the rules to be followed by the signatories on the 2015 Paris Climate Accord.
The Paris Accord was truly historic in its having gotten 195 nations to agree to it. In this day and age getting any agreement between nations on a matter as politically sensitive as climate change ranks as a minor miracle. Getting everyone of the nations to live up to the agreement is quite another matter.
Technically every country on Earth, including the US, are still signatories to the Accord. Syria and Nicaragua, the two original holdouts, penned their signatures to the document in 2017 right around the time Trump announced the US was backing out. Whether the two late signers saw the environmental light or just an opportunity to punk Trump is anyone’s guess—although I have my suspicions.
Enthusiasm for the Accord has clearly cooled since 2015. The first hint that something was amiss in Katowice was a dispute over the words “welcomed” and “noted.” The US, Saudi Arabia, and Russia refused to accept the wish of all the other nations in the room to “welcome” the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report into the record of the proceedings.
It is the report released in October that bluntly states the need to cut global net CO2 emissions by 45 percent over the next 12 years through "rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society" to have any hope of keeping rising temperatures below the Accord’s aspirational target of 1.5 degree Celsius. The three nations—now being called by some the Axis of Evil—demanded that the Report be only “noted” by the conference.
The turmoil of this election year continues. A month after balloting there remains one contest yet to be decided. Voter fraud is suspected in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional district, and it is not known who will emerge victorious. The soon to be Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, has intimated that the chamber will refuse to seat the nominal victor, Mark Harris, until a full investigation is completed. It is even possible that the incoming 116th Congress will take the extraordinary step of calling for a new election.
The suspected fraud in the 9th District is not the worst of it. Several states are now embroiled in post-election maneuvering by Republican lawmakers hell-bent on stripping away the powers of incoming Democratic governors, secretaries of state and attorneys general. Although the very definition of a rigged system, neither Trump nor Kris Kobach, the discredited head of Trump’s disbanded voter fraud commission, have had anything to say about these travesties. The national Republican Party stands equally mute.
In the following paragraphs, I describe some of the targets, tactics, and actions of Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin, Michigan, and North Carolina who would wantonly steal their state’s elections for their own purposes. November balloting in each case has resulted in a split state government, i.e., Republican legislative majorities and Democratic executives.
More than the natural environment is under attack. Should these assaults on democracy succeed, the same or similar tactics will be used in the future to defeat hard won victories to regulate greenhouse gas emissions, preserve wetlands, increase the use of renewable energy source, and all that is necessary to maintain a habitable environment. It is vital for climate hawks to be aware of the tactics being used to diminish not just the duly-elected individuals but the offices they will hold.
Neoliberal establishments are collapsing…around the world
The 2015 Paris climate accord (Paris Agreement/Agreement) was hailed as a historic breakthrough in global efforts to combat climate change. Will history judge the COP24 meeting in Katowice, Poland as a breakdown of the three-year-old Agreement? Between then and now much has changed and not necessarily for the better.
The Paris Agreement established an aspirational goal of limiting Earth’s warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius /2.7 degrees Fahrenheit and a binding target of 2 degrees Celsius/3.6 degrees Fahrenheit above pre-industrial levels. Within the past eight weeks, two assessments of the looming impacts of Earth’s warming have been released. Both warn the world it has far less time than initially thought to meet either of those goals and highlighted the human and capital costs of failing to respond in time.
According to the Fourth National Climate Assessment (NCA) released by the Trump administration:
Earth’s climate is now changing faster than at any point in the history of modern civilization, primarily as a result of human activities. The impacts of global climate change are already being felt in the United States and are projected to intensify in the future—but the severity of future impacts will depend largely on actions taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to adapt to the changes that will occur.
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius gives meaning to the NCA’s use of the word “faster.” The Panel estimates that the currently pledged nationally determined reductions (NDCs) in CO2 emissions by the signatories to the Accord will push global warming to at least 3 degrees Celsius (5.4 degrees Fahrenheit) by 2100. The Panel further predicts that the 2 degrees Celsius threshold will be crossed in only 12 years.
It is hardly surprising that the current voluntary pledge levels are proving inadequate to the task of keeping temperatures below the 2 degrees Celsius target—let alone the 1.5 degrees Celsius mark. Many in the scientific community knew when the 2 degrees Celsius goal was settled on that it would be too little and the year 2100 too late to be spared the more crushing consequences of climate change, e.g., shortages of food and water, rising rates of mosquito-borne disease, strengthening storms and droughts.
(This is the fourth installment in the Civil Notion series on the impact of the 2018 midterm elections on national climate policy. The previous articles are at www.civilnotion.com)
"One of the problems that a lot of people like myself, we have very high levels of intelligence, but we’re not necessarily such believers. As to whether or not it’s man-made and whether or not the effects that you’re talking about are there, I don’t see it. " -- Donald John Trump on climate change
November’s midterm election purged Congress of moderate Republicans leaving in its wake hard-core Trumplicans willing to follow their namesake on to the slag heap of hyper-partisanship. Although I remain a man of the middle—still believing in compromise and collaboration—I recognize the near impossibility of finding common ground in the polluted political environment now surrounding Congress—made worse by the bleating of a petulant president. I’m far from alone in my judgment.
A Gallup poll was taken a week after the election and showed that Americans are largely pessimistic that President Donald Trump and the Democrats in Congress will cooperate much over the next two years once Democrats assume control of the House of Representatives in January. The poll compared the 2018 election with the last time Democrats won control of the House. It too was a time when the blood of partisans ran hot.
What Just Happened?
The Trump administration has once again filed a motion to dismiss Juliana v. United States before the trial even begins. Although rebuffed for the second time by the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) on November 2, 2018, government attorneys thought to go back to the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit with the same hackneyed request to deny the youthful plaintiffs in the case their day in court—hoping for a different outcome.
What is it they— whomever they are—say about insanity and doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different outcome? In the case of Juliana, the Administration’s attorneys are not so much insane—as they are fearful of what the case might mean to Trump’s efforts to roll back environmental protections to a time before Nixon and peddle coal to developing nations.
On November 5th Administration lawyers filed their latest emergency dismissal motion. On November 8th the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court again halted the case pending its decision on the motion. In the November 8th order the appellate court “invited” the trial court judge, Ann Aiken, to reconsider her earlier decision denying the government’s request for an interlocutory review. On November 21st the trial court issued an order certifying Juliana for an interlocutory appeal.
Now that the district (trial) court has certified its orders in Juliana, the Ninth Circuit again faces the question of whether the case needs to go to trial. Interlocutory reviews by appellate courts are matters of judicial efficiency in that the level of legal doubt surrounding a plaintiff’s cause of action is so high as to suggest to the trial judge that a case would be a waste of the court’s and litigant’s time and resources. In Juliana’s case, the doubted matter of law is whether the plaintiffs have a constitutional right to a habitable environment.
Such certifications are “exceptions rather than the rule” as they preempt the role of the trial court to hear and decide questions of fact and law. As a first of its kind lawsuit, it is natural for there to be some doubt about the legal/constitutional basis of the plaintiffs’ suit. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and SCOTUS have both recognized the novelty of the youthful plaintiffs’ claims as has the trial court.
(This is the third installment in the Civil Notion series on the impact of 2018 midterm elections on national climate policy. The previous articles may be seen here and here.)
Youth ages, immaturity is outgrown, ignorance can be educated, and drunkenness sobered, but stupid lasts forever.
When the 116th Congress opens for business in January, it will mark the first time in a decade that the House of Representatives will be controlled by a Democratic majority. Like my neighbor’s Basset Hound who just caught the postal truck, it appears the Democrats are not quite sure what to do with the House now that it is theirs.
November’s balloting served to purge the Republican ranks of its more moderate members in Congress. Some of the more establishment Republicans like Senator Flake (R-AZ) chose retirement over forced fealty to Trump. Others like Representative Curbelo (R-FL) who had distanced themselves from The Donald lost their bid for re-election.
It was a much different story for the Democrats. Sheryl Gay Stolberg describes the incoming freshman class of House Democrats as the most diverse, most female freshman class in history — a group of political neophytes, savvy veterans of the Obama and Clinton administrations, as well as the first Muslim women and Native American women ever elected to Congress. Although ideologically diverse, many of the first-timers share a common concern for the environment and a suspicion of the establishment—incarnate in the form of Nancy Pelosi.
Some 17 or more incoming and incumbent House Democrats have vowed to oppose Pelosi’s assuming the Speaker’s chair for the second time in her career. They, like Trump, have used the Californian as a convenient foil post in campaign speeches although for very different reasons. Trump waves Pelosi in front of his core supporters much like a matador flaps his cape before a bull—to much the same effect. House Democrats in opposition see her as an impediment to putting a progressive agenda in place—much like Sander’s supporters saw Clinton in 2016.
Energy and the environment are playing a prominent role in the Democratic leadership debates with all sides agreeing that climate policy should be near the top of the House agenda in the two years leading up to the 2020 elections. Pelosi along with Democratic members likely to move into leadership positions on key committees have wasted no time in singling out climate as a priority.
Ranking Democrats expected to take over as chairs of their existing committees—Science, Space, and Technology’s Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), Energy and Commerce’s Frank Pallone (D-NY) and Natural Resources’ Raúl Grijalva (D-AZ)—have indicated they would be calling hearings shortly after the 116th Congress comes to order. Pelosi has expressed her support for resurrecting a special committee on climate change that was disbanded in 2011 by the then newly elected Republican House majority.
(This is the second in a series on the impact of the 2018 midterm election on federal climate policies leading up to the 2020 presidential election. The first installment may be found here.)
Dateline November 14, 2018
The most contentious and expensive midterm election in US history is almost over. When the dust finally settles it will have ended pretty much as predicted. The incoming 116th Congress will open for business— divided. Democrats will control the House Republicans the Senate. It is a fitting reflection of the state of the union.
The election results are such that progressives and populists are each spinning them to advantage—with varying degrees of success. Within hours of the polls closing, Trump began a victory lap evaluating his efforts as history-defying. For a change, there is some truth in what The Donald is saying. It was just the third time the party in the White House gained Senate seats in a midterm election. The last time was 1914—Wilson was president. That same year the Democrats lost 61 House seats—a far more significant loss than #Trumplicans have just experienced.
Typical of the nation’s Narcissist-in-Chief Trump congratulated the winners for having embraced him. A day after the election he taunted the losers who refused to wrap their arms around His Greatness and what he represents. To Mike Coffman (R-CO) Trump merely said “too bad Mike.” The Grand Wizard of the White House was sharper in his shout-about to Representative Mia Love (R-UT)--the only Republican woman of color serving in the current Congress. "Mia Love gave me no love. And she lost. Too bad. Sorry about that Mia.
The Democrats did their own bit of crowing. The current Minority Leader and likely next Speaker, Nancy Pelosi, alluded to the results as the dawning of a new day for America. Judging from the row between Trump and a CNN reporter, the forced resignation of Attorney General Sessions, and appointment of an Acting Attorney General that many believe uniquely unqualified, it is just another day in America in which Trump doubles down on being Trump.
How the environment fared in the midterms, like most things these days, is up for debate. Much depends on one’s perch and expectations. Although pleased with the Democratic takeover of the House, most reactions from the climate defense sector were subdued in tone but suggested there might be better days ahead in Capital City. I have my doubts.
The 2018 midterm elections will be memorialized as among the most contentious in modern history. Charges and counter-charges of racism, lies, corruption, and sexual predation are not all the lead up to November’s balloting will be remembered for, however. The 2018 elections are also proving to be the most expensive midterms to date. (See Figure 1)
By any standard, we’re talking big bucks here. Representative Beto O’Rourke (D-TX), by last count, has raised over $69 million in his effort to defeat Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX). In defense of his seat, Cruz has raised over $40 million.
Democratic House candidates have raised nearly $1 billion compared to the Republican's $637 million. The non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics estimates total spending by the parties, candidates, and political action committees will be in excess of $5.2 billion by the time the midterms are over.
Conspicuous by their presence are climate-defending organizations and individuals. The League of Conservation Voters (LCV) is expecting to drop $60 million into Democratic campaign coffers in state and Congressional races. Move.Org Political Action has raised $25.5 million and spent $21 million on Congressional races through the middle of October.
(This is an update of the earlier article Juliana vs. US: Stayed but Not Stopped! For Children of All Ages)
November 2, 2018.
Late this afternoon the US Supreme Court (SCOTUS) released a brief 3-page order denying the Trump administration’s motion to dismiss the Juliana case in advance of trial. The allowance to proceed comes as something of a surprise as it follows Chief Justice Roberts’ stay of the trial just days before it was scheduled to begin in an Oregon federal district court.
I and others saw Roberts’ stay of the trial as a sign that the five conservative members of the High Court didn’t think the case could stand on its merits. I had written earlier that Chief Justice Roberts’ stay of the case before trial is generally considered as an extraordinary step. A step that was taken several years earlier by the Court preventing the Clean Power Plan from going into effect.
It was the second time Administration attorneys had asked SCOTUS to dismiss the case. The first denial of the government’s motion was the last official act of Justice Anthony Kennedy. Kennedy had provided the swing vote in several landmark environmental law cases including Massachusetts vs. EPA.
The appointments of Justices Gorsuch and Kavanaugh to fill the seats of Justices Scalia and Kennedy were thought likely to lead to a grant of the second (mandamus) motion that would have effectively served to stay the case permanently. As it turned out, a majority of the Court confirmed its previous opinion—that dismissal on the merits was premature—and the views of the trial court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Justices Gorsuch and Thomas would have granted the government's request.
Friday’s order allows the case to go to trial; it is not an opinion on either the merits of the plaintiffs’ allegations and arguments accusing the federal government of failing in its constitutional obligation to protect them from the ravages of global warming. Neither is the order affirmation of a federal court's ability to redress plaintiffs’ grievances.
The plaintiffs will now ask the federal court in Oregon to set a new trial date. The trial is expected to take up to two months. It will be the first time that climate science is called to the witness stand. Once the trial begins Administration lawyers are likely again to seek a dismissal claiming some variation of its previous argument that the court is addressing a political question that can only be answered by Congress and the president.
It may be years before a final decision in the case will be made.
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.