Nobody understands how the hell this is going to be addressed.
This is one of the most complex scientific problems that we've got in the world.
— John Dingell
Politics like most of life moves in a circle. I was reminded of this the other day when Senator Markey (D-MA) and Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) stepped onto the Congressional stage to announce their proposed Green New Deal Resolution on the day John Dingell, Jr. died. A decade ago Dingell, Markey, and Speaker Pelosi were the actors in a different production. As the 111th Congress got underway, a fight over the leadership of the House Energy and Commerce Committee was going on. Speaker Pelosi and Congressman Dingle had different ideas of national environmental policy. While Dingell fought to keep his chairmanship—a position he held from 1981-1995 and again for the two years of the 110th Congress—Pelosi wanted a change.
Dingell was a genuine force of nature throughout his nearly sixty years on Capitol Hill. The Congressional scholar Norman Ornstein wrote: Dingell has had a hand—a hugely constructive hand—in nearly every major advance in social policy over the past five-plus decades, including civil and voting rights, health, and the environment.
Although proudest of his role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act (1964), his environmental record is impressive by any standard. He either wrote or was instrumental in the passage of the: National Wilderness Act (1964); Water Quality Act (1965); National Environmental Policy Act; Endangered Species Act (1973); Natural Gas Policy Act (1978); Clean Air Act Amendments (1990); and Energy Independence and Security Act (2007). Dingell also took pride in having had his hands in the passage of Medicare and Medicaid. He was a supporter of single-payer healthcare long before Medicare for all.
Dingell used his power as Chair of the Energy and Commerce Committee to investigate irregularities at EPA during Anne Gorsuch’s ill-fated term as Administrator. Dubbed Sewergate, by the press, the incident involved the misuse of Superfund dollars by Rita Lavelle. Lavelle was indicted for contempt of Congress and ultimately served a year in prison on one count of wire fraud and two counts of lying to the FBI. Others he took down included Mike Deaver, a top Republican strategist for lying under oath and Stanford President Donald Kennedy for using federal grants to help pay for a 72-foot yacht.
A day before he died Dingell dictated a letter to his wife—the current member of a clan serving in House since Dingell, Sr. was elected in 1933. The Washington Post ran the letter My last words for America. Many of those words focused on today’s politics and the environment.
After I posted last week’s article Juliana v. US: For Children of All Ages/The Last Hurrah? the plaintiffs filed an Urgent Motion For a Preliminary Injunction. The motion asks the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to enjoin the federal government from authorizing the following activities through leases, permits, or other federal approvals:
The motion alleges much of what their original petition accused the federal government of doing in contravention of the plaintiffs’ rights to a habitable environment. The youthful plaintiffs in this instance are not asking the Court to enjoin the government from engaging in the enumerated activities permanently—but for a time that coincides with the Court’s decision on the government’s interlocutory appeal.
In lay terms, the plaintiffs are pushing back on the government’s continued efforts to prevent the case from going to trial. The Administration’s strategy these days is to go around trial and appellate court rulings by directly seeking relief from an increasingly conservative Supreme Court.
I’ve been writing about Juliana vs. US for over three years—slightly less time than the plaintiffs in the case have been waiting to have their day in court. To date, Juliana has turned not on the substantive scientific or constitutional questions the plaintiffs have asked the courts to answer but on such procedural issues as whether the 21 youthful petitioners have standing to sue, e.g., have they suffered an actual harm that a court can redress?
For Juliana, I believe the end is nigh—or at least can be predicted with some certainty. Based on the judicial events that have taken place since the middle of October 2018 the case is not likely to be won.
Over the course of the past several years, I’ve endeavored to give readers an understanding of the substance of the plaintiffs’ legal claim that they have a constitutional right to a habitable environment and their allegation that the federal government has actively abridged that right by favoring fossil fuels.
Equally, I have tried to present fairly the government’s counter-arguments that the problem of climate change, if it exists, is neither of its doing nor within the judiciary’s power to redress. It is, according to Department of Justice (DOJ) attorneys, a matter for the legislative and executive branches of government to decide.
The number of climate-related lawsuits has been rising steadily over the last five years. Since Trump was elected, the trendline has gone vertical. Recent polls show a substantial majority of Americans recognize the realities of climate change, and an increasing number of respondents indicate they have personally experienced its effects.
Just today (2/7/2019) two simultaneous hearings on solving the climate crisis were held by the House Natural Resources and Energy and Commerce committees. It was the first time in nine and six years respectively that these committees had addressed the issue.
Under Republican control, years of committee time were wasted trying to prove what was happening in front of their eyes was a hoax. A week ago, Trump was tweeting that a few days of record cold was all the proof he needed to continue ordering his administration to roll back existing environmental protections and peddle the nation’s fossil fuels at home and abroad.
It is hardly surprising, given the failures of the legislative and executive branches of government, that the judiciary is being turned to as courts of last resort. Integral to the rising number of legal actions is the testing and refinement of the novel legal theories upon which they are based. Juliana is a case in point.
If the Juliana plaintiffs fail in their quest, it will not be because their arguments lack merit or their science is fake. Lawsuits are brought, argued, and decided within certain strictures. Like many things in life, there are rules to follow.
It is critical for climate defenders to understand why a case succeeds or fails in the courtroom for two basic reasons. The first is to carry the knowledge and experience forward when choosing the next case to pursue; the proposition is true whether the case just decided won or lost.
Things are getting back to what passes for normal in Capital City. The agencies shuttered by the longest government shutdown in US history are once again open. Whether they remain that way when the continuing resolution (CR) keeping them open passes its February 15th sell-by date is quite another matter. The odds of a second shutdown-showdown are admittedly slim. There are simply too many Republicans in Congress not wanting to face their constituencies—yet again—having to explain Trump’s manic attachment to a wall—whether of concrete or steel. However, we are talking about Donald John Trump and a feckless bunch of Republican Senators, so anything is possible.
The fallout from the month-long melee between Trump, Speaker Pelosi, and ultra-right political opinionators like Anne Coulter will take a toll on the environment in ways less obvious than cutting down protected trees in Joshua Tree National Park. Trump, as he twits endlessly, doesn’t like losing; a thing he seems to be doing a lot more of these days.
After two years in office, the president is still learning that politics—whether in the District of Columbia or Albian, Iowa—isn’t played like real estate or the casino business. The odds of rising from the ashes of a political bankruptcy in Washington are infinitesimal compared to Atlantic City. It is hardly surprising in a town whose motto is “if you want a friend in Washington, buy a dog.”
The fallout I’m speaking of here is Trump venting his pent-up frustration on the environment through the singular power of the presidency. One of the few things Trump can do with relatively little interference by Congress or the courts is to issue executive orders and directives demanding federal agencies like the US Departments of Energy, Interior, and Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency prop up coal companies and clear the way for oil and gas pipelines.
I have a certain mistrust of opinion polls—believing in the spirit of A.E. Housman that statisticians use numbers the way a drunkard might use a lamp-post, more for support than illumination. Results can vary widely from survey to survey. How questions are asked and whether respondents say what they really feel or what they think the researcher wants to hear all factor into a poll’s reliability. Current events, e.g., massive forest fires or a terrorist attack, can lead to momentary opinions that will be left quickly behind as media coverage dwindles. Moreover, there can be critical differences between what a person says and what they do—or what you would expect them to do based on their poll answers. Witness the 2016 presidential election—an outcome that few pollsters predicted.
I’ve written frequently over the past several years about the consistent inconsistency of opinion surveys on climate change. On average more—sometimes many more—than half of those surveyed consistently express concern over Earth’s warming and their willingness to pay extra to decarbonize the economy. Post-election analyses over the past several cycles, however, strongly suggest that many do not follow their feelings when casting their ballots, and therein lies the inconsistency.
Patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel.
Samuel Johnson, 1775
I have a colleague who is a substance abuser. Wait, let me rephrase that. A colleague of mine is perpetually frustrated by the unwillingness of climate-science deniers to see the truth about climate change in the data she and the vast majority of the world’s scientists present to them. As the data grows stronger, her frustration grows greater.
Our conversations over the years have followed pretty much the same pattern. She tells me her frustration; then I try to explain that for many deniers it’s not really about the numbers, it’s more about their politics.
Then she says--if they would only look at the substantive peer-reviewed data, they would see…. Then I say, exactly—maybe they only see what they want to see and, mumble something under my breath about her numbers being boring.
Then she says I heard that…and I say…heard what…and anyway what’s changed and why do we have to have this same stupid conversation over and over again? I own that I’m not the adult in the room here.
The other day in the midst of our usual banter my friend stopped me at what’s changed? Then she said, what’s changed is the deniers are attacking my politics; they use to make more of a pretense of attacking the numbers. Why do you think that is?
I didn’t have an answer at the time, but I think now it might have something to do with the findings of a pair of opinion surveys that have been reported on over the last week or so.
(Part 3 of the Slouching Toward Suburbia series.)
The Green New Deal (GND) has clearly struck a chord with climate defenders. The most remarkable things about the GND, at the moment, are the breadth of its vision and how quickly the concept is being embraced by Democrats and environmental groups. It is even being talked about by deniers.
It is all the more remarkable for the support it has garnered because it isn’t actually there. The Green New Deal is the title of a story that’s yet to be written. It being a work in progress is both blessing and curse.
As positive as it is to have climate policy back on the front pages of newspapers and social media sites, there are danger signs having to do with the polarization of the Democratic party in much the same way the Tea Party impacted Republicans. Part 3 of Slouching Towards Suburbia continues the discussion of how the Green New Deal is affecting the political debate on national climate and what it might mean for the Democrats’ chances to capture both chambers of Congress and the White House in 2020.
The Green New Deal came roaring into Capital City along with a very assertive group of progressive freshman Democratic House members. Originally part of the policies proposed by Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and supported by the youth climate organ-ization the Sunrise Movement, the concept is now being signed onto by members of Congress and hundreds of and social justice environmental organizations.
Conceptually the GND rests on three primary pillars.
Although there is hardly a quibble in the climate community over the need to make a rapid transition to a low-carbon economy, there are and will be battles fought over how to get there.
As the bones of the basic concept are fleshed out over the next year or more, there will be myriad proposed additions and subtractions—some of which will lead to contentious disputes within Democratic ranks. These will be the kind of arguments that reflect the core beliefs of identity groups within the Democratic Party, e.g., progressive, establishment and blue dog. I don’t think it an exaggeration to suggest that how these battles are fought and decided could determine the outcome of the 2020 elections.
It’s useful—as well as heartening—to begin Part 2 of Slouching Towards Suburbia saying that most Americans agree that the climate is changing, and government is doing too little to combat it. Opinion surveys conducted in 2018 by Gallup, Pew, Stanford, Yale, and other reputable institutions all support the conclusion.
As deeply divided as Americans are these days about—well everything—who would have thought it to be true? According to the latest Yale/George Mason (GMU) survey, climate plays well in the aggregate with voters, particularly Democrats and independents. Figure1 shows, with hardly an exception that adults in the US believe that global warming is happening—as illustrated by the overwhelming yellow-to-dark red colors on the map. Large majorities believe climate change is real and majorities, in most communities, attribute it to human activity.
‘was the day before Christmas and all through the White House the only creature stirring was Donald Trump—everyone else jetted to Florida. The image of a president roaming the halls of the Nation’s principal residence—stirring the partisan pot with his tweets—is more than a little depressing—both for he who stirs, and the nation being stirred to no useful purpose. It is, however, a nearly perfect political meme for the moment.
The first lady and her son were not the only ones to flee. Growing numbers of senior presiden-tial advisors are also exiting the House Trump’s trying to gild. Given the outcome of the mid-term elections, it appears that some members of the much vaunted #Trumplican [voting] core have also begun to leave the fold. Only time will tell if their flight from Trump is temporary or permanent.
Republican candidates in 2018 continued to lag the Democrats in the total number of votes cast nationwide. It is a replay of the 2016 elections when Democratic Senate and presidential candidates out-polled Republicans by several million votes. One thing that has changed since 2016 is that Democrats running for the House in 2018 garnered more support nationally than their Republican opponents.
As reported by MarketWatch, a nationwide poll of 115,000 participants found fractures in the Trumplican base. Correlating the poll data with the outcomes of the 2018 midterms leads easily to the conclusion that America’s suburbs will be the battlefields on which the 2020 election will be fought—and with it the fate of the nation’s energy and environmental policies for the decade of the 2020s.
Forty percent of Congressional districts are comprised mainly of suburban communities. Once decidedly more Republican than Democrat, the suburban rings around major cities across the country are showing themselves more evenly divided but with a distinct portside tilt. In the 2016 election, 49 percent of suburban voters cast their lots with Trump, while 45 percent did the same with Clinton. Just two years later, suburban voters sent a majority of Democrats to the US House of Representatives.
Whether the perceived fractures in Trump’s 2016 voter-base bode well or ill for the environment will depend in large measure on how successful efforts are to convince suburban swing voters that climate matters enough to make it an actionable priority when marking their ballots.
This first part of the series on wooing suburban swing voters is meant to establish a defensible foundation for why suburban voters are critical to the overall effort first to stop—or at least slow—the Trump administration’s dismantling of existing climate-related policies; and, second to begin putting in-place the aggressive policies needed to heed the warnings of the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Trump’s own climate scientists.
‘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.
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.