EPA suspends enforcement of environmental laws amid coronavirus

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a sweeping suspension of its enforcement of environmental laws Thursday, telling companies they would not need to meet environmental standards during the coronavirus outbreak.  

The temporary policy, for which the EPA has set no end date, would allow any number of industries to skirt environmental laws, with the agency saying it will not “seek penalties for noncompliance with routine monitoring and reporting obligations.”

Cynthia Giles, who headed the EPA’s Office of Enforcement during the Obama administration, called it a moratorium on enforcing the nation’s environmental laws and an abdication of the agency’s duty. 

“This EPA statement is essentially a nationwide waiver of environmental rules for the indefinite future. It tells companies across the country that they will not face enforcement even if they emit unlawful air and water pollution in violation of environmental laws, so long as they claim that those failures are in some way ’caused’ by the virus pandemic. And it allows them an out on monitoring too, so we may never know how bad the violating pollution was,” she wrote in a statement to The Hill.

The EPA has been under pressure from a number of industries, including the oil industry, to suspend enforcement of a number of environmental regulations due to the pandemic.

“EPA is committed to protecting human health and the environment, but recognizes challenges resulting from efforts to protect workers and the public from COVID-19 may directly impact the ability of regulated facilities to meet all federal regulatory requirements,” EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler said in a statement. 

In a 10-page letter to the EPA earlier this week, the American Petroleum Institute (API) asked for a suspension of rules that require repairing leaky equipment as well as monitoring to make sure pollution doesn’t seep into nearby water.

Other industries had also asked to ignite the “force majeure” clauses of any legal settlements they had signed with the EPA, allowing for an extension on deadlines to meet various environmental goals in the face of unforeseen circumstances.

But Giles and others say the memo signed Thursday goes beyond that request, giving industries board authority to pollute with little oversight from the agency. 

“Incredibly, the EPA statement does not even reserve EPA’s right to act in the event of an imminent threat to public health,” Giles said. 

“Instead, EPA says it will defer to states, and ‘work with the facility’ to minimize or prevent the threat. EPA should never relinquish its right and its obligation to act immediately and decisively when there is threat to public health, no matter what the reason is. I am not aware of any instance when EPA ever relinquished this fundamental authority as it does in this memo.”

The memo says companies should try to minimize “the effects and duration of any noncompliance” with environmental laws and should also keep records of their own noncompliance, along with identifying how the coronavirus was a factor.The EPA on Friday pushed back against characterization of the memo as a waiver of environmental rules. “During this extraordinary time, EPA believes that it is more important for facilities to ensure that their pollution control equipment remains up and running and the facilities are operating safely, than to carry out routine sampling and reporting,” agency spokeswoman Andrea Woods told The Hill by email. “If a facility has exceedances of limits on pollution the policy does not offer any no action assurance. We retain all our authorities and will exercise them appropriately. It is a temporary policy and will be terminated when this crisis is past.”

Critics say it’s not unreasonable to refrain from environmental enforcement on a case-by-case basis when companies are unable to comply with the letter of the law, but many were alarmed by the breadth of Thursdays memo.

“It is not clear why refineries, chemical plants, and other facilities that continue to operate and keep their employees on the production line will no longer have the staff or time they need to comply with environmental laws,” Eric Schaeffer, a former director of civil enforcement at the EPA who is now with the Environmental Integrity Project, wrote in a letter signed by a number of environmental groups in anticipation of the memo.

The letter writers also criticized the requests from the API, arguing nearby communities would face prolonged exposure to a number of air and water pollutants that might be expelled through oil production — something they say would have “a very specific impact on public health and safety.”

The diminished compliance requirements for industry comes at a time when the EPA has refused to budge on deadlines for comments as they proceed with a number of deregulatory actions.

Environmental and public health groups had argued that those with science and health backgrounds who would normally weigh in on such regulations have been pulled into the coronavirus fight, leaving them unable to divert their attention.

“The Environmental Protection Agency has not shown the same concern for the impact the coronavirus has had on the ability of community and public interest groups to respond to various proposals to weaken environmental standards,” Schaeffer wrote in the letter.

But the EPA has argued exceptions were not needed.

“We’re open and continuing our regulatory work business as usual,” an EPA spokesperson told The Hill in a statement. “As regulations.gov is fully functioning, there is no barrier to the public providing comment during the established periods.”

[The Hill]

A Trump Insider Embeds Climate Denial in Scientific Research

An official at the Interior Department embarked on a campaign that has inserted misleading language about climate change — including debunked claims that increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is beneficial — into the agency’s scientific reports, according to documents reviewed by The New York Times.

The misleading language appears in at least nine reports, including environmental studies and impact statements on major watersheds in the American West that could be used to justify allocating increasingly scarce water to farmers at the expense of wildlife conservation and fisheries.

The effort was led by Indur M. Goklany, a longtime Interior Department employee who, in 2017 near the start of the Trump administration, was promoted to the office of the deputy secretary with responsibility for reviewing the agency’s climate policies. The Interior Department’s scientific work is the basis for critical decisions about water and mineral rights affecting millions of Americans and hundreds of millions of acres of land.

The wording, known internally as the “Goks uncertainty language” based on Mr. Goklany’s nickname, inaccurately claims that there is a lack of consensus among scientists that the earth is warming. In Interior Department emails to scientists, Mr. Goklany pushed misleading interpretations of climate science, saying it “may be overestimating the rate of global warming, for whatever reason;” climate modeling has largely predicted global warming accurately. The final language states inaccurately that some studies have found the earth to be warming, while others have not.

He also instructed department scientists to add that rising carbon dioxide — the main force driving global warming — is beneficial because it “may increase plant water use efficiency” and “lengthen the agricultural growing season.” Both assertions misrepresent the scientific consensus that, overall, climate change will result in severe disruptions to global agriculture and significant reductions in crop yields.

Samuel Myers, a principal research scientist at Harvard University’s Center for the Environment who has studied the effects of climate change on nutrition, said the language “takes very specific and isolated pieces of science, and tries to expand it in an extraordinarily misleading fashion.”

The Interior Department’s emails, dating from 2017 through last year and obtained under public-records laws by the watchdog group Energy and Policy Institute, provide the latest evidence of the Trump administration’s widespread attacks on government scientific work. The administration has halted or scaled back numerous research projects since taking office, including an Obama-era initiative to fight disease outbreaks around the world — a decision that has drawn criticism in recent weeks as a deadly coronavirus has spread globally.

[The New York Times]

Trump blasts wind turbines in Palm Springs at campaign event

President Donald Trump thinks the windmills in Palm Springs, California, are “rusty,” “rotting,” and “look like hell.”

Trump was talking about energy dependency and the use of wind turbines at a campaign event in Colorado Springs on Thursday, a day after he was in Palm Springs for a fundraiser, according to KESQ. That’s when he “spoke out against” the Palm Springs windmills.

“And they’re all over the place,” The Desert Sun reported Trump said. “You look at Palm Springs, California. Take a look. Palm Springs. … They’re all over the place. They’re closed, they’re rotting, they look like hell.”

He said the windmills are made in China and Germany, have an effect on the ozone layer and kill birds, KESQ reported.

“You know if you shoot a bald eagle they put you in jail for a long time,” Trump said, according to KESQ. “But the windmills knock them down like crazy.”

It’s not the first time Trump has been angry about the Palm Springs windmills. In 2012, Trump tweeted that Palm Springs had been “destroyed” by the “world’s ugliest wind farm.”

In 2016, Trump said Palm Springs was a “poor man’s version of Disneyland” on a radio show, The Desert Sun reported.

Palm Springs Mayor Geoff Kors fired back at Trump on Friday, praising the city’s mission to use only carbon-free energy, NBC Palm Springs reported.

“It is unfortunate that, at this critical time in our history, we have a president who lies about and denigrates clean green power while embracing and promoting dirty power such as coal and offshore oil drilling, which is destroying our planet,” Kors said in a statement to the news outlet.

[Sacramento Bee]

Trump Administration Cuts Back Federal Protections For Streams And Wetlands

The Environmental Protection Agency is dramatically reducing the amount of U.S. waterways that get federal protection under the Clean Water Act — a move that is welcomed by many farmers, builders and mining companies but is opposed even by the agency’s own science advisers.

EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler, who announced the repeal of an earlier Obama-era waterrule in September, chose to make the long-anticipated announcement Thursday in Las Vegas, at the National Association of Home Builders International Builders’ Show.

“All states have their own protections for waters within their borders, and many regulate more broadly than the federal government,” Wheeler told reporters on a conference call before the announcement.

“Our new rule recognizes this relationship and strikes the proper balance between Washington, D.C., and the states,” he added. “And it clearly details which waters are subject to federal control under the Clean Water Act and, importantly, which waters falls solely under the states’ jurisdiction.”

The biggest change is a controversial move to roll back federal limits on pollution in wetlands and smaller waterways that were introduced less than five years ago by President Barack Obama.

The Obama executive action, which broadened the definition of “waters of the United States,” applied to about 60% of U.S. waterways. It aimed to bring clarity to decades of political and legal debate over which waters should qualify.

However, various business interests painted the regulation as a massive federal overreach. Within weeks after the change was announced in May 2015, 27 states sued to block it. At the time, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, a leading critic, called the new rule “so broad and open to interpretation that everything from ditches and dry creek beds to gullies to isolated ponds formed after a big rain could be considered a ‘water of the United States.’ “

The revised rule announced Thursday states that ephemeral bodies of water — those that form only after rainfall or that flow only part of the year and dry up at other times — are among those that are not subject to federal control. This exception also applies to waste treatment systems, groundwater, prior converted cropland and farm watering ponds.

It also identifies four categories that are federally regulated under the Clean Water Act: large navigable waters such as the Mississippi River, tributaries, lakes and ponds, and major wetlands.

“This isn’t about what is an important water body. All water is important. This is about what waters Congress intended for the agencies to regulate,” Dave Ross, assistant administrator of the EPA’s Office of Water, told reporters on the conference call. “And we have clearly established those lines.”

However, the revision has also encountered broad criticism. As the proposed rollback was taking shape last year, 14 states sued the EPA over the impending rule change, saying it “ignores science and the law and strips our waters of basic protections under the Clean Water Act.”

In a draft letter posted online late last month, the 41-member EPA Science Advisory Board, which is made up largely of Trump administration appointees, said the revised definition rule “decreases protection for our Nation’s waters and does not support the objective of restoring and maintaining ‘the chemical, physical and biological integrity’ of these waters.” The letter is signed by the board’s chair, Michael Honeycutt.

Gina McCarthy, the EPA administrator under Obama who implemented the 2015 regulation, is among the revision’s most vocal critics. Now president and CEO of the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council, McCarthy slammed Thursday’s announcement.

“So much for the ‘crystal clear’ water President Trump promised. You don’t make America great by polluting our drinking water supplies, making our beaches unfit for swimming, and increasing flood risk,” McCarthy said in a statement.

“This effort neglects established science and poses substantial new risks to people’s health and the environment. We will do all we can to fight this attack on clean water. We will not let it stand.”

In a speech on Sunday at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual gathering in Austin, Texas, Trump hinted at the change, calling the 2015 Obama rule “one of the most ridiculous regulations of all.”

“That was a rule that basically took your property away from you,” he said. “As long as I’m president, government will never micromanage America’s farmers.”

He said the new regulations would “allow states to manage their water resources based on their own needs and what their farmers and ranchers want.”

When Trump first proposed the new rule in late 2018, Randy Noel, then chairman of the National Association of Home Builders, told NPR that “I’m pretty excited about it because we hadn’t had any lots to build on.”

Noel lives in south Louisiana, an area with a lot of wetlands. He said developers were running scared because it wasn’t ever clear which wetlands were federally regulated and which weren’t. “Hopefully, this redefinition will fix that,” he said.

But Janette Brimmer, with the legal advocacy group Earthjustice, said in a statement that under the new rule, “few protections will remain to stop polluters from dumping toxic byproducts into our waters.”

The kinds of ephemeral waterways now excluded from federal regulation under the revamped rule make up a large part of the waterways in the arid Southwest and states such as New Mexico.

Rachel Conn, the project director with Amigos Bravos, a New Mexico-based conservation group that focuses on water issues, says those ephemeral streams are important to bigger water systems though, like the Rio Grande.

“And it is from these bigger systems that close to 300,000 New Mexicans receive their drinking water,” she says.

Trump ordered a review of the nation’s waterways barely a month after taking office. He said at the time that while clean water was “in the national interest,” it must be balanced against “promoting economic growth, minimizing regulatory uncertainty, and showing due regard for the roles of the Congress and the States under the Constitution.”

Since taking office, Trump has aggressively sought to roll back environmental regulations, particularly those seen as an obstacle to business. According to an analysis by The New York Times that was updated a month ago, the administration has revised or eliminated more than 90 environmental rules in the past three years, although several were reinstated following legal challenges and several others are still in the courts.

[NPR]

Trump moves to overhaul the National Environmental Policy Act

The Trump administration on Thursday unveiled significant changes to the nation’s landmark environmental law that would make it easier for federal agencies to approve infrastructure projects without considering climate change.

Many of the White House’s proposed changes to the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act have been supported by business groups that contend the law has delayed or blocked projects like laying out oil pipelines and building dams and mines, among other things.

Environmentalists said that the rules would endanger wildlife and lead to more carbon dioxide emissions into the atmosphere, and contend that the regulations should be strengthened not weakened as the world copes with global warming.

If the proposals are enacted, it would be the first overhaul of NEPA in more than 40 years.

The plan, released by the White House Council on Environmental Quality, would no longer require any form of federal environmental review of construction projects that lack substantial government funding. The change would also widen the category of projects that will be exempt from NEPA regulations.

“We want to build new roads, bridges, tunnels, highways, bigger, better fast and we want to build them at less cost,” President Donald Trump said at the White House on Thursday.

The move is the latest effort by the Trump administration to roll back a slew of environmental regulations in place to curb greenhouse gas emissions and protect natural habitats from drilling and development.

The changes are expected to be published in the Federal Register on Friday. There will be a 60-day comment period and two open hearings before the final regulation is delivered.

The administration has argued that the law can increase costs for builders, block construction projects and threaten jobs for American workers and labor union members.

“The step we’re taking today, which will ultimately lead to final regulations, I believe will hit a home run in delivering better results to the American people by cutting red tape that has paralyzed common sense decision making for a generation,” Interior Secretary David Bernhardt said Thursday.

Jay Timmons, president and chief executive of the National Association of Manufacturers, said that the president’s plan is exactly what his group wanted.

“Our efforts should be used for building the infrastructure Americans desperately need, not wasted on mountains of paperwork and endless delay,” he said.

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., a senior member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, argued that the changes prioritize polluters and corporations over the environment.

“This NEPA rewrite favors big polluters and corporate profits over balanced, science-based decision making and would prevent Washingtonians from voicing their views on proposals ranging from siting a new fossil fuel pipeline in their backyard to building an open-pit mine that could destroy the world’s largest sockeye salmon fishery,” she said in a statement.

“We need to make smarter environmental decisions, not roll back the safeguards we already have,” Cantwell said.

The administration’s proposed changes might not make it through court, according to Bruce Huber, an environmental law professor at Notre Dame Law School.

“The law requires federal agencies to report the environmental impacts of their actions that significantly affect ‘the quality of the human environment,’” he said. “If the regulations announced today drive agencies to diminish the extent or quality of their reporting, federal courts may very well conclude that their reports do not comply with the law.”

William Snape, senior counsel at the Center for Biological Diversity, said that the White House’s proposal is consistent with other environmental regulation rollbacks.

“This is all about the election and Trump getting out there and shoring up his base,” Snape said. “The Trump administration has been losing more cases than it’s winning in oil and gas – and this is a chance to blame someone else.”

[CNBC]

Trump Calls Climate Change ‘Very Serious,’ But Touts Book By His NJ Golf Consultant Praising His Environmental Record

During a press gathering today, President Donald Trumpunexpectedly backtracked on his previous, stated belief that climate changes is a “hoax” and instead called it a “very serious subject” and claimed that he had a book about the topic he was going to read.

In the midst of massive, cataclysmic wildfires ravaging Australia, the devastating impacts of climate change have become a worldwide news topic. So, Trump’s apparent reversal on the issue, noted by New York Times’ climate change reporter, Lisa Friedman, seemed to have the potential for a breakthrough moment.

But as Trump expounded on the book referenced, it became clear he was not discussing one based on scientific research.

After a follow-up, the Times’ Friedman confirmed the book that Trump, who is notoriously averse to reading long news articles or briefing folders let alone books, plans to read is a hagiographic, self-published book written by his former New Jersey golf course consultant during the 2016 campaign. Russo worked for Trump for 17 years and is not a climate scientist.


[Mediaite]

Trump lashes out at an old enemy: Wind turbines

President Trump lashed out at a familiar foe during a speech on Saturday, calling windmills “monsters” that “kill many bald eagles,” ruin the visual appeal of “magnificent” farms and fields, and “look like hell” after 10 years.

“I never understood wind,” Trump said at the start of the lengthy tangent, days after he became the third president in U.S. history to be impeached. “You know, I know windmills very much. I’ve studied it better than anybody I know. It’s very expensive. They’re made in China and Germany mostly — very few made here, almost none. But they’re manufactured tremendous — if you’re into this — tremendous fumes. Gases are spewing into the atmosphere.”

He continued: “You know we have a world, right? So the world is tiny compared to the universe. So tremendous, tremendous amount of fumes and everything. You talk about the carbon footprint — fumes are spewing into the air. Right? Spewing. Whether it’s in China, Germany, it’s going into the air. It’s our air, their air, everything — right?”

Critics of wind energy often cite carbon emissions from the manufacture, transport and installation of the turbines. But research has found that wind energy has among the smallest carbon footprints of any source of electricity generation. Once in place, studies have found, the turbines significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

Yet Trump has repeatedly ranted about

The president’s latest attack on wind turbines came as he kicked off his holiday stay in Florida with an appearance at Turning Point USA’s annual summit. The event by the conservative student group was staged in West Palm Beach, near Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort, presenting an opportunity for him to, as Politico put it, “bask in the love of some of his fiercest supporters, with scores of 20-somethings donning ‘Make America Great Again’ hats and rhinestone ‘TRUMP’ hair clips.”

In an address that stretched to more than an hour, Trump cycled through some of his greatest hits, saying that he brought back the expression “Merry Christmas” and that his administration “achieved more in this month alone than almost any president has achieved in eight years in office.” He took aim at “Crazy Nancy” Pelosi, “Crooked Hillary” Clinton, Hunter Biden, the “almost totally corrupt” media, the “Washington swamp,” the “illegal, unconstitutional and hyperpartisan impeachment” — and wind turbines.

Trump’s disdain for wind energy can be traced to about a decade ago, when he bought property for a luxury golf resort in Scotland and found out that a wind farm was planned nearby. Concerned that it would detract from his course’s views, he mounted a vigorous campaign against wind energy. Over the years, he has suggested that wind turbines threaten schoolchildren and even cause cancer — a claim not grounded in any robust evidence.

He has also tweeted about them.

On Saturday, Trump arrived at the topic by way of complaining about the Green New Deal, climate change legislation championed by liberal Democrats. After talking about the “tremendous fumes” generated by wind turbines, he moved on to complaints that wind turbines are ugly and kill birds. (They do kill birds, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, although collision with glass buildings, communication towers, electrical lines and vehicles are by far the worst offenders.)

“You want to see a bird graveyard?” he asked. “You just go. Take a look. A bird graveyard. Go under a windmill someday. You’ll see more birds than you’ve ever seen ever in your life.”

There was laughter and scattered applause in the crowd.

“You know, in California, they were killing the bald eagle,” Trump continued. “If you shoot a bald eagle, they want to put you in jail for 10 years. A windmill will kill many bald eagles. It’s true. And you know what? After a certain number, they make you turn the windmill off. That’s true, by the way. This is — they make you turn it off after you — and yet, if you killed one, they put you in jail. That’s okay. But why is it okay for these windmills to destroy the bird population? And that’s what they’re doing.”

Someone yelled, “Because they’re idiots!”

“Okay,” Trump said, laughing. “This is a conservative group, Dan. No, but it’s true. Am I right?” He had referenced Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.) earlier in the program.

Then: “I’ll tell you another thing about windmills. And I’m not — look, I like all forms of energy. And I think in — really, they’re okay in industrial areas. Like you have an industrial plant, you put up a windmill — you know, et cetera, et cetera.

“I’ve seen the most beautiful fields, farms, fields — most gorgeous things you’ve ever seen, and then you have these ugly things going up. And sometimes they’re made by different companies. You know, I’m like a perfectionist; I really built good stuff. And so you’ll see like a few windmills made by one company: General Electric. And then you’ll see a few made by Siemens, and you’ll see a few made by some other guy that doesn’t have 10 cents, so it looks like a — so you see all these windows, they’re all different shades of color. They’re like sort of white, but one is like an orange-white. It’s my favorite color: orange.”

That line drew a wave of applause. But Trump wasn’t done with the turbines.

“No, but — and you see these magnificent fields, and they’re owned — and you know what they don’t tell you about windmills?” he asked. “After 10 years, they look like hell. You know, they start to get tired, old. You got to replace them. A lot of times, people don’t replace them. They need massive subsidy from the government in order to make it. It’s really a terrible thing.”

With that, the president moved on to his next target: former presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, who left the 2020 race almost two months ago.

[Washington Post]

Media

Trump EPA to roll back Obama-era chemical rules

The Environmental Protection Agency is set to roll back a set of Obama-era standards outlining how companies must store dangerous chemicals, the Washington Post reports.

Where it stands: The rules were enacted following a 2013 explosion in Texas that killed 15 people. Officials blame arson for the deadly blast, but the fertilizer plant fire was fueled by 80,000–100,000 pounds of unsafely stored ammonium nitrate. Under the EPA’s newly weakened rules, companies will no longer have to provide public information on what chemicals they store onsite.

  • Companies will also be freed from several safety procedures, including obtaining a third-party audit following an accident or conducting an analysis after major chemical releases.

Between the lines: This is the latest rollback that shows how the broad reach of President Trump’s deregulatory push goes far beyond the climate change policies of his predecessor, Axios’ Amy Harder notes.

[Axios]

Trump formally pulls out of landmark Paris climate agreement

President Trump on Monday began the yearlong process of withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate accord.

The official announcement cements a promise Trump made in the White House Rose Garden in 2017 when he first announced his intention to withdraw from the global climate change agreement signed by every other country in the world.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the move in a statement.

“President Trump made the decision to withdraw from the Paris Agreement because of the unfair economic burden imposed on American workers, businesses, and taxpayers by U.S. pledges made under the Agreement,” Pompeo said. “The United States has reduced all types of emissions, even as we grow our economy and ensure our citizens’ access to affordable energy.”

“The U.S. approach incorporates the reality of the global energy mix,” he added, arguing “innovation and open markets” will drive emissions reductions.

Trump’s views on the deal have been widely criticized by Democrats, environmentalists and even some Republicans, who say the U.S. is abdicating global leadership at a time when urgent action is required to stem the most dangerous impacts of climate change.

“It is shameful. It is cowardly when we need to be brave and act boldly. Long after the rest of us are gone, future generations will remember this president’s failure to lead on the greatest environmental challenge of our time,” said Sen. Tom Carper (Del.), the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. 

“By breaking America’s commitment to the Paris Accord, President Trump is reducing America’s standing in the world,” Carper added.

The president has repeatedly boasted about already withdrawing the U.S. from the deal, despite the rigid timelines required by the agreement for nations seeking to leave it.

The agreement allowed the U.S. to begin the process to withdraw on Monday and finalize the U.S. exit from the agreement on Nov. 4, 2020 — just one day after the presidential election.

The process will kick off just weeks ahead of a United Nations summit in Spain, where leaders will hammer out final details for complying with the agreement.

Democrats have already asked U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft to recuse herself from the withdrawal process, given her financial and personal ties to the fossil fuel industry. Craft’s husband, Joe Craft, is CEO of Alliance Resource Partners, one of the largest coal companies in the U.S.

Recommitting the U.S. to the Paris climate accord has become a box to tick for Democrats running for president in 2020, most of whom have said they would do so their very first day in office.

While some Republicans may have changed their rhetoric on the realities of climate change, many remain opposed to the deal, arguing the U.S. should not have to make efforts to curb emissions without more efforts from other countries first.

House Democrats have taken steps aimed at preventing Trump from leaving the climate pact, passing a resolution in May that would block the move.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) immediately said the bill “will go nowhere” in the Senate.

Climate experts have called the Paris deal the price of admission to the climate conversation, but warn that even the near-global effort may fall short of the action necessary to limit rising temperatures.

The landmark 2015 agreement signed by former President Obama requires the U.S. to reduce emissions about 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025.

The withdrawal kickoff earned harsh rebuke from environmental groups.

“Donald Trump is the worst president in history for our climate and our clean air and water. Long after Trump is out of office, his decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement will be seen as a historic error. Trump has once again demonstrated that he is more interested in catering to the interests of the world’s worst polluters than he is in listening to the American people,” the Sierra Club said in a statement.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) called the move a “grave and reckless mistake.”

“Climate change won’t be solved without a global effort. It won’t happen without U.S. leadership. It won’t happen as long as the world’s second-largest climate polluter is backsliding on the climate pledge it has made to the rest of the world,” NRDC President Mitch Bernard said in a statement. 

[The Hill]

Trump Administration Moves To Expand Logging In Nation’s Largest National Forest

The Trump administration is proposing to exempt Alaska’s Tongass National Forest from long-standing protections against logging and development, opening the door for potential timber harvesting on 165,000 acres of old-growth forest.

The proposal, announced Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, comes in response to a request from the state, which wants to be fully exempted from a Clinton-era rule that limits road construction and timber harvesting in tens of millions of acres of national forest.

State officials, including Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), have asked the Trump administration for a “full exemption” from the 2001 Roadless Rule, which limits road construction and timber harvests. They argue that the protections are stifling the local economy.

“We have to be able to have a plan that is specific to us,” Murkowski told Alaska Public Radio in August, explaining that she spoke with the Trump administration early on about addressing the Roadless Rule.

Owen Graham, President of Alaska Forest Association, tells Alaska’s Energy Desk that Tuesday’s announcement a “great thing.”

“What we want is year-round manufacturing jobs and a lot more stability,” he says.

But, he says, this is just one step in the right direction. Retaliation tariffs placed on logs shipped to China have been hitting some sectors of the small industry hard. Graham is uncertain how long it will take to see big systemic changes in how the Tongass National Forest is managed.

“Right now the industry’s just crumbling apart. There’s hardly anybody left,” he says. “Every year we lose more of our loggers because there’s not enough to keep everyone going.”

But conservation groups say that removing protections would hurt the region’s fishing and tourism industries, while also worsening the effects of climate change.

The Tongass National Forest is the largest intact temperate rainforest in North America. Temperate rainforests sequester huge amounts of carbon dioxide, keeping the climate-warming gas out of the atmosphere.

“By seeking to weaken the Roadless Rule’s protections, the Forest Service is prioritizing one forest use — harmful logging — over mitigating climate change, protecting wildlife habitat, and offering unmatched sight-seeing and recreation opportunities found only in southeast Alaska,” said Josh Hicks of The Wilderness Society in a statement.

Tribal governments in Alaska also oppose lifting protections against logging.

Joel Jackson is President of the Organized Village of Kake, a remote village that depends on the wild food the Tongass provides. Historically, large-scale industrial logging damaged salmon streams.

“You know it’s sad that we have to continue to fight our own government to protect our forests and streams,” Jackson tells Alaska’s Energy Desk.

He says the Organized Village of Kake is considering filing a lawsuit against the Forest Service. “We don’t throw our hands up in the air,” he says. “We just buckle down and start talking [about] what’s the next step.”

The Forest Service’s proposal outlines six potential paths forward for the Tongass National Forest, ranging from doing nothing to removing protections for all of the forests 9.2 million acres of roadless area.

The agency says it prefers the latter, more extreme option. It would convert 165,000 acres of old-growth forest and 20,000 acres of young-growth that had been “previously identified as unsuitable timber lands to suitable timber lands.”

A formal notice is expected to be published in the Federal Register later this week.

The Forest Service says it will hold a series of public meetings on the proposal and open it to public comment through Dec. 17, with a final decision by 2020.

[NPR]

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