U.S., in reversal, issues permit for Keystone oil pipeline

The New York Times reports: During his presidential campaign, Donald J. Trump repeatedly hailed the Keystone XL pipeline as a vital jobs program and one that sharply contrasted his vision for the economy with that of Hillary Clinton.

“Today we begin to make things right,” President Trump said Friday morning shortly after the State Department granted the pipeline giant TransCanada a permit for Keystone construction, a reversal of Obama administration policy.

The pipeline would link oil producers in Canada and North Dakota with refiners and export terminals on the Gulf Coast. It has long been an object of contention, with environmentalists saying it would contribute to climate change and the project’s proponents — Republicans, some labor unions and the oil industry — contending that it would help guarantee national energy security for decades to come.

When President Barack Obama rejected the project in late 2015, he said it would undermine American leadership in curbing reliance on carbon fuels. [Continue reading…]

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Doctors warn climate change threatens public health

E&E News reports: Growing up in southwestern Pennsylvania, Patrice Tomcik had never heard of Lyme disease — an infectious, flu-like illness transmitted by ticks.

But in the last few years, five of her friends have caught it, she’s had to have her dog vaccinated and she regularly finds herself pulling ticks off her children. It can be disconcerting, she said, having to worry about an illness that she had never been exposed to in the past.

“It’s getting warmer, so the season for ticks is lasting longer,” said Tomcik, a field consultant with Moms Clean Air Force. “There are so many more of them, and they just don’t die off. It’s a big issue here in Pennsylvania, because we have so much wood. Our family has 29 acres of land out in the woods, and I’m picking ticks off my dog and my kids like I’ve never seen before.”

Lyme disease isn’t the only contagious illness that is venturing into new territories under a shifting climate. Across the country, physicians are noticing an influx of patients whose illnesses, they say, are directly or indirectly related to climate change. Now, 11 medical associations — representing around half the doctors and physicians in the country — are creating a group that intends to address the links between climate change and health risks. [Continue reading…]

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Trump to drop climate change from environmental reviews, source says

Bloomberg reports: President Donald Trump is set to sign a sweeping directive to dramatically shrink the role climate change plays in decisions across the government, ranging from appliance standards to pipeline approvals, according to a person familiar with the administration’s plan.

The order, which could be signed this week, goes far beyond a targeted assault on Obama-era measures blocking coal leasing and throttling greenhouse gas emissions from power plants that has been discussed for weeks. Some of the changes could happen immediately; others could take years to implement.

It aims to reverse President Barack Obama’s broad approach for addressing climate change. One Obama-era policy instructed government agencies to factor climate change into formal environmental reviews, such as that for the Keystone XL pipeline. Trump’s order also will compel a reconsideration of the government’s use of a metric known as the “social cost of carbon” that reflects the potential economic damage from climate change. It was used by the Obama administration to justify a suite of regulations. [Continue reading…]

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Even deeper cuts being discussed for EPA

Axios reports: The Environmental Protection Agency isn’t fighting the White House’s initial budget that proposes to cut the agency’s budget by about $2 billion — or roughly 25% — and reduce the agency’s workforce by roughly 3,000 employees.

Climate change programs would be gutted under the proposal and the workforce attached to these programs would be cleared out of the agency — in line with the aggressive vision of EPA transition head Myron Ebell.

The Trump Administration, in fact, is now discussing making even deeper cuts to the EPA, according to a source privy to the White House’s internal deliberations. Senior Trump officials consider the EPA the leading edge of the administration’s plans to deconstruct the administrative state. [Continue reading…]

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Don’t roll back the vehicle fuel standards

Jody Freeman writes: One of the signal achievements of the Obama administration was reaching an agreement with the auto industry to dramatically increase fuel efficiency standards for vehicles, doubling them to 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.

The industry now wants to renege. At its behest, the Trump administration is expected to initiate a rollback.

Weakening these standards would be a mistake for consumers, the environment and the auto industry itself. They are the most important action the United States has taken to address climate change and reduce the nation’s dependence on oil.

From 2022-25 alone, they are projected to reduce American oil consumption by 1.2 billion barrels, cut half a billion metric tons of carbon pollution and save consumers millions of dollars in fuel costs, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The net benefits to society are estimated at $100 billion. And these gains are on top of those achieved through 2016 and expected through 2021. [Continue reading…]

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Carbon dioxide could reach 410 ppm this month

Climate Central reports: A never-ending stream of carbon pollution ensures that each year the world continues to break records for carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This year will be no different.

Like a rite of spring, carbon dioxide is poised to cruise pass the previous mark set last year and reach heights unseen in human history. In the coming weeks, carbon dioxide will start to breach the 410 parts per million threshold on a daily basis at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. The monthly average for May could come close to topping 410 ppm, too, according to the U.K. Met Office’s inaugural carbon dioxide forecast, released last week.

Richard Betts, a climate scientist who helped create the forecast, said we should pass last year’s record-setting monthly peak by April or even as soon as this month. It’s not a question of if but rather when depending on wind patterns and other factors that influence daily measurements. [Continue reading…]

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This climate lawsuit could change everything. No wonder the Trump administration doesn’t want it going to trial

Chelsea Harvey reports: A groundbreaking climate lawsuit, brought against the federal government by 21 children, has been hailed by environmentalists as a bold new strategy to press for climate action in the United States. But the Trump administration, which has pledged to undo Barack Obama’s climate regulations, is doing its best to make sure the case doesn’t get far.

The Trump administration this week filed a motion to overturn a ruling by a federal judge back in November that cleared the lawsuit for trial — and filed a separate motion to delay trial preparation until that appeal is considered.

The lawsuit — the first of its kind — argues the federal government has violated the constitutional right of the 21 plaintiffs to a healthy climate system.

Environmental groups say the case — if it’s successful — could force even a reluctant government to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and take other measures to counter warming.

“It would be huge,” said Pat Gallagher, legal director at the Sierra Club, who is not involved in the case. “It would upend climate litigation, climate law, as we know it.” [Continue reading…]

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Arctic sea ice continues its astonishing streak of lows

Climate Central reports: Here’s your monthly reminder: something just isn’t right in the Arctic. February continued a string of record or near-record monthly sea ice lows.

Warm weather ensured Arctic sea ice hit its lowest extent ever recorded for February. Sea ice covered 5.51 million square miles, which is 455,600 square miles below average or a chunk of missing sea ice four times the size of Italy. That just isn’t normal.

Parts of the region averaged up to 9°F above normal, according to new data released by the National Snow and Ice Data Center. In what’s been a recurring theme this winter in the Arctic, incursion after incursion of warm air has kept the region astonishingly mild for this time of year. [Continue reading…]

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By 2030, half the world’s oceans could be reeling from climate change, scientists say

The Washington Post reports: More than half the world’s oceans could suffer multiple symptoms of climate change over the next 15 years, including rising temperatures, acidification, lower oxygen levels and decreasing food supplies, new research suggests. By midcentury, without significant efforts to reduce warming, more than 80 percent could be ailing — and the fragile Arctic, already among the most rapidly warming parts of the planet, may be one of the regions most severely hit.

The study, published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications uses computer models to examine how oceans would fare over the next century under a business-as-usual trajectory and a more moderate scenario in which the mitigation efforts promised under the Paris Agreement come into effect. In both scenarios, large swaths of the ocean will be altered by climate change.

Nearly all of the open sea is acidifying because of greenhouse gas emissions. But the researchers found that cutting greenhouse gas emissions could significantly delay future changes, giving marine organisms more time to migrate or adapt. [Continue reading…]

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EPA head stacks agency with climate change skeptics; science office removes ‘science’ from its mission statement

The New York Times reports: Days after the Senate confirmed him as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt appeared at the Conservative Political Action Conference and was asked about addressing a group that probably wanted to eliminate his agency.

“I think it’s justified,” he responded, to cheers. “I think people across the country look at the E.P.A. the way they look at the I.R.S.”

In the days since, Mr. Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general who built a career out of suing the agency he now leads, has moved to stock the top offices of the agency with like-minded conservatives — many of them skeptics of climate change and all of them intent on rolling back environmental regulations that they see as overly intrusive and harmful to business.

Mr. Pruitt has drawn heavily from the staff of his friend and fellow Oklahoma Republican, Senator James Inhofe, long known as Congress’s most prominent skeptic of climate science. A former Inhofe chief of staff, Ryan Jackson, will be Mr. Pruitt’s chief of staff. Another former Inhofe staff member, Byron Brown, will serve as Mr. Jackson’s deputy. Andrew Wheeler, a fossil fuel lobbyist and a former Inhofe chief of staff, is a finalist to be Mr. Pruitt’s deputy, although he requires confirmation to the position by the Senate. [Continue reading…]

The New Republic reports: When President Donald Trump took office in late January, his administration began tweaking the language on government websites. Some of the more prominent changes occurred on Environmental Protection Agency pages — a mention of human-caused climate change was deleted, as was a description of international climate talks. The shifts were small, but meaningful; many said they signaled a new era for the EPA, one in which the agency would shy away from directly linking carbon emissions to global warming and strive to push Trump’s “America First” message.

Those initial tweaks were documented by the Environmental Data and Governance Initiative, a group of scientists and academics who spend their free time tracking changes to about 25,000 federal government webpages. On Tuesday, they shared their latest finding with the New Republic: The EPA’s Office of Science and Technology Policy no longer lists “science” in the paragraph describing what it does.

“This is probably the most important thing we’ve found so far,” said Gretchen Gehrke, who works on EDGI’s website tracking team. “The language changes here are not nuanced—they have really important regulatory implications.” [Continue reading…]

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Massive permafrost thaw documented in Canada, portends huge carbon release

InsideClimate News reports: Huge slabs of Arctic permafrost in northwest Canada are slumping and disintegrating, sending large amounts of carbon-rich mud and silt into streams and rivers. A new study that analyzed nearly a half-million square miles in northwest Canada found that this permafrost decay is affecting 52,000 square miles of that vast stretch of earth — an expanse the size of Alabama.

According to researchers with the Northwest Territories Geological Survey, the permafrost collapse is intensifying and causing landslides into rivers and lakes that can choke off life downstream, all the way to where the rivers discharge into the Arctic Ocean.

Similar large-scale landscape changes are evident across the Arctic including in Alaska, Siberia and Scandinavia, the researchers wrote in a paper published in the journal Geology in early February. The study didn’t address the issue of greenhouse gas releases from thawing permafrost. But its findings could help quantify the immense global scale of the thawing, which will contribute to more accurate estimates of carbon emissions.

Permafrost is land that has been frozen stretching back to the last ice age, 10,000 years ago. As the Arctic warms at twice the global rate, the long-frozen soils thaw and decompose, releasing the trapped greenhouse gases into the air. Scientists estimate that the world’s permafrost holds twice as much carbon as the atmosphere. [Continue reading…]

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NOAA cuts could stymie research, put lives at risk

Climate Central reports: On Friday, the meteorology community was riding a major high as stunningly high-definition images came in from the nation’s newest and much-anticipated earth observation satellite. The high came crashing down that evening, though, as the first hints of significant cuts to the budget of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began to emerge.

NOAA oversees weather forecasting and is a major funder of weather and climate research. If these cuts — which an Office of Management and Budget document obtained by the Washington Post pegged at 17 percent agency-wide — materialize, they could significantly hamper improvements in weather forecasting and climate modeling and put the public at risk, experts warned.

“Any weakening of our technological, scientific, and human capabilities related to weather and climate places American lives and property at risk,” Marshall Shepherd, director of the atmospheric science program at the University of Georgia and a former president of the American Meteorological Society, said in a Forbes blog post. [Continue reading…]

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Trump to undo vehicle emissions rules that curb global warming

The New York Times reports: The Trump administration is expected to begin rolling back stringent federal regulations on vehicle pollution that contributes to global warming, according to people familiar with the matter, essentially marking a U-turn to efforts to force the American auto industry to produce more electric cars.

The announcement — which is expected as soon as Tuesday and will be made jointly by the Environmental Protection Agency administrator, Scott Pruitt, and the transportation secretary, Elaine L. Chao — will immediately start to undo one of former President Barack Obama’s most significant environmental legacies.

During the same week, and possibly on the same day, Mr. Trump is expected to direct Mr. Pruitt to begin the more lengthy and legally complex process of dismantling the Clean Power Plan, Mr. Obama’s rules to cut planet-warming pollution from coal-fired power plants.

The regulatory rollback on vehicle pollution will relax restrictions on tailpipe emissions of carbon dioxide and will not require action by Congress. It will also have a major effect on the United States auto industry.

Under the Obama administration’s vehicle fuel economy standards, American automakers were locked into nearly a decade of trying to design and build ever more sophisticated fuel-efficient vehicles, including electric and hybrid models. The nation’s largest auto companies told Mr. Trump last month that they found those technical requirements too burdensome. [Continue reading…]

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Top Trump advisers are split on Paris Agreement on climate change

The New York Times reports: The White House is fiercely divided over President Trump’s campaign promise to “cancel” the Paris agreement, the 2015 accord that binds nearly every country to curb global warming, with more moderate voices maintaining that he should stick with the agreement despite his campaign pledge.

Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s senior adviser, is pressing the president to officially pull the United States from the landmark accord, according to energy and government officials with knowledge of the debate. But, they say, he is clashing with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and the president’s daughter Ivanka Trump, who fear the move could have broad and damaging diplomatic ramifications.

Mr. Trump vowed on the campaign trail to tear up President Barack Obama’s global warming policies, and on the home front he is moving aggressively to meet those pledges with deep cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and a new E.P.A. administrator, Scott Pruitt, who is a skeptic of climate science.

Next week, Mr. Trump plans to sign an executive order directing Mr. Pruitt to start the lengthy legal process of unwinding Mr. Obama’s E.P.A. regulations for cutting greenhouse pollution from coal-fired power plants. Those regulations are the linchpin of the last administration’s program to meet the nation’s obligations to reduce climate emissions under the Paris agreement. [Continue reading…]

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White House proposes steep budget cut to leading climate science agency

The Washington Post reports: The Trump administration is seeking to slash the budget one of the government’s premier climate science agencies by 17 percent, delivering steep cuts to research funding and satellite programs, according to a four-page budget memo obtained by The Washington Post.

The proposed cuts to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration would also eliminate funding for a variety of smaller programs, including external research, coastal management, estuary reserves and “coastal resilience,” which seeks to bolster the ability of coastal areas to withstand major storms and rising seas.

NOAA is part of the Commerce Department, which would be hit by an overall 18 percent budget reduction from its current funding level. [Continue reading…]

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The EPA used to enjoy bipartisan support

Kendra Pierre-Louis reports: The White House is preparing to reduce the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 25 percent, according to reports published earlier this week by Reuters and The Washington Post. In addition to targeting climate change related programs by 70 percent, the administration plans to eliminate 20 percent of EPA employees.

An agency whose total operating budget is .2 percent of the federal budget—and whose mandate is protecting human health and the environment—doesn’t seem like an obvious choice for fiscal reduction. After all, most Americans, regardless of political affiliation, tend to support environmental protections. Increasingly, Americans even agree on climate change, with 70 percent of Americans believing that climate change is real, according to Yale’s Program on Climate Change Communication. In fact, there are only two counties in the country—Grant County, West Virginia and Emery County, Utah—where less than half of residents believe in climate change.

But while the depths of the White House’s proposed cuts are unusual, that a Republican administration would move to curtail the EPA surprises no one who has paid even casual attention to 21st century American politics. Yes, the EPA was created by a Republican president, but bipartisan support of clean air and water proved to be a 20th century trend. Increasingly, the EPA’s mission of protecting human health and the environment has been bifurcated along political lines. So much so, in fact, that you might assume that support of the EPA has always been a liberal battlecry. But you’d be wrong.

“Under Reagan,” said former EPA employee Eric Schaeffer, “environmental issues were more regional than partisan. If you were John Dingell from Detroit, well, you were dragging your feet on car and truck standards. On the other hand, Dingell was great on enforcement and on hazardous waste legislation.”

“There was Guy Molonari, a Republican from Westchester,” Schaeffer added, “if you’ve ever seen pictures of Frankie Vallens and the Four Seasons, he looked like him. He always had this kind of satiny jacket, big white hair. He was very green—the environment was a big issue for him.”

Schaffer joined the EPA under George H.W. Bush and served through both of Clinton’s terms into George W. Bush’s administration. In 2001, Attorney John Ashcroft awarded Schaeffer, then the director of the EPA’s office of regulatory enforcement, the Justice Department’s John Marshall Award for public service for his work on settling oil refinery cases. And yet, this dedicated public servant only lasted a short time into George W. Bush’s administration. He wasn’t the only one. [Continue reading…]

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