SupCt may gut EPA’s regulatory authority; ultra-rightist goes after Liz Cheney’s seat

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At issue is the long-dead Clean Power Plan (CPP) that never was implemented. In 2015, President Obama initiated the plan that called for a 32% cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030. Lawsuits ensued, the Supreme Court stayed the execution of the plan, Trump got elected and repealed and replaced the CPP, actions which the courts threw out, Biden got elected and, since the CPP is now obsolete, the EPA has started work on a new plan that reportedly will be quite different. The administration has argued that there was no reason for the justices to take up the matter, since there is no current rule. But, as several legal scholars, activists, and pundits have pointed out, there’s likely more going on here. 

CASTLE DALE, UT - JUNE 3: A loader moves coal piles that sit outside the Hunter Power plant operated by PacifiCorp that are waiting to be burned to produce electricity on June 3, 2016 outside Castle Dale, Utah. The EPA announced new restrictions on the Huntington and Hunter coal fired power plants in Utah to help reduce pollution and haze at several National Parks in the area. (Photo by George Frey/Getty Images
The 40-year-old, 1.5-gigawatt Hunter Power coal-fired generating plant outside Castle Dale, Utah

As Kate Riga at TPM notes, usually the Supreme Court looks for ways not to take cases. But the Federalist Society hotline must have been abuzz over the justices’ eagerness to take up West Virginia v. EPA on the now-discarded CPP. That’s because it offers the court yet another opportunity to mutilate or reverse judicial precedent.

The majority might go for something narrow, like saying the EPA cannot set rules for the whole power sector. Or it could reverse Massachusetts v. EPA completely, gutting the agency’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases at all. Or it could go even further and write a decision that strips away the regulatory rule-making authority of many or all federal agencies, or at least sets the stage for follow-up rulings to do so. 

Even a fairly narrow decision could be very damaging. As Riga writes:

On environmental policy in particular, Congress has been unable or unwilling to pass major legislation for about 30 years, a stasis that has continued even as the dire threat of climate change has become evident. That leaves agencies like the EPA as the only entities available to take up the slack, slowing climate change through their regulatory and rule-making abilities. If the Court limits the EPA’s power to regulate, there are no strong, dependable avenues left on the federal level to make environmental policy.

Fear of the Court’s potential for aggression here is not mere speculation. Last week’s arguments over a couple of Biden administration vaccine mandates gave the justices ample time to air their skepticism over the exercise of agency power, even in a case concerning health-care facilities where the agency’s congressionally-given authority is fairly explicit.

If the Supreme Six choose to eviscerate EPA’s rule-making authority, it will, of course, cripple efforts designed to defend against the climate crisis. Bad enough. But so much more is possible:

Kisa Needham
Lisa Needham

Lisa Needham at Balls and Strikes gives us a taste of what could be:

A decision in favor of the various challengers in the four now-combined cases could gut the ability of the EPA to enforce the Clean Air Act when it comes to greenhouse gases. And the conservatives have lots of routes to get to that result: Four justices—Gorsuch, Alito, Thomas, and Kavanaugh—have already made their positions on the subject clear. Chief Justice John Roberts, who often casts himself as the conservative wing’s more moderate member, has written things like “A court should not defer to an agency until the court decides, on its own, that the agency is entitled to deference.” During Justice Amy Coney Barrett’s confirmation hearings, she refused to answer a question about climate change because, she explained, doing so would amount to “soliciting an opinion” about “a matter of public policy” rather than acknowledging that climate change is a scientific fact. None of this bodes well for people who think breathing clean air is an important goal for which government should strive.

What would this mean beyond West Virginia v. EPA?

If agencies are less able to issue binding regulations, as Thomas and company would prefer, a lot more, in theory, could be on the chopping block: workplace safety rules, food additives rules, building materials rules, and so on. More will be left to a dysfunctional, gerrymandered Congress—and, if some piece of progressive legislation that delegates power to agencies does somehow sneak through, there remains the ever-present possibility of a judicial veto. This is the future the conservative legal movement has long dreamed of. They are closer than ever to realizing it.

ECO QUOTE

“And Man created the plastic bag and the tin and aluminum can and the cellophane wrapper and the paper plate, and this was good because Man could then take his automobile and buy all his food in one place and He could save that which was good to eat in the refrigerator and throw away that which had no further use. And soon the Earth was covered with plastic bags and aluminum cans and paper plates and disposable bottles and there was nowhere to sit down or walk, and Man shook his head and cried: ‘Look at this Godawful mess’.” Art Buchwald

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SHORT TAKES

Meet the anti-conservation Republican vying to unseat Liz Cheney

Right-wing land-use attorney Harriet Hageman is keen to export “clean coal” from Wyoming and export Rep. Liz Cheney back to the private sector in the state’s Republican primary next August. Of the four candidates opposing Cheney, Hageman, who placed third in her 2018 primary bid to run for governor, is the strongest. A December poll by a Republican consulting group showed Cheney with just 18.6% of the vote, putting her in second place behind Hageman with 38.6%. Cheney’s popularity plummeted among the state’s strongly GOP electorate after she voted with 10 other House Republicans to impeach Donald Trump. The former occupant of the White House has endorsed Hageman, who in 2016 had called him “racist and xenophobic,” but now says that “he was the greatest president of my lifetime.” Only five Democrats have served as Wyoming’s lone congressional representative since it became a state in 1890. The last was Teno Roncalio, who left office in 1978. 

Harriet Hageman, candidate for Wyoming
Harriet Hageman

One of Hageman’s chief complaints is that Cheney is no longer on the House Natural Resources Committee, where the Congresswoman served in her first two terms. Leaving the committee, Hageman says, indicates bad priorities on Cheney’s part when she should be promoting the state’s oil, gas, and coal industry on the committee. Myron Ebell, the prominent climate science denier chosen to lead Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency, said Hageman would follow in the footsteps of “really strong people” on the committee like GOP Reps. Tom McClintock of California, Matt Rosendale of Montana, Lauren Boebert of Colorado, and Paul Gosar of Arizona, who Democrats last year stripped of his committee assignments.

In her 2018 campaign for governor, Hageman labeled one opponent as “anti-coal” and “obsessed with so-called green energy.” In a 2020 column in the online Cowboy State Daily, she wrote in what is practically a parody of Republican views, “While we have been offshoring our industries and jobs, our own neighboring states have blocked Wyoming from accessing foreign markets to sell clean coal and actually improving air quality for millions of people around the world.” 

President Biden’s goal of preserving 30% of the nation’s land by 2030 is anathema to Hageman, who said in an interview on the “Working Ranch Radio Show,” “The federal government under Joe Biden and radical Democrats are intent on taking over and federalizing our private property rights under the auspices or claim of combating climate change. This is a U.N.-driven, unlawful land grab that would be devastating to the economy in this country and dramatically alter the very nature of private property rights and who and what the United States is.” Cue the black helicopters.

EPA prepares to issue clean truck rule

Five states have joined California in adopting an Advanced Clean Truck (ACT) rule that, depending on the state, mandates that 40% to 75% of new medium- and heavy-duty trucks be zero-emission vehicles by 2035. California and Oregon also passed a Heavy-Duty Omnibus rule. This would boost trucks’ fuel economy and make their engines 90% cleaner. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to release a federal rule on the subject this month. Environmental advocates are pushing for something strict, combining the elements of both rules passed by the states. Last month, the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association met at the White House to object to this idea, arguing that the emissions standards would make trucks vastly more expensive and that EVs would eventually eliminate the pollution problem.

Tailpipe emissions of nitrogen oxides and particulates are deadly, and there has been no updating of the EPA rule restricting these in 20 years. A report from the Natural Resources Defense Council calculated that the adoption of the two rules in California would result in 3,900 avoided deaths and 3,150 avoided hospital trips from 2022 to 2050.  

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The thick of it: Delving into the neglected global impacts of human waste

As Taro Gomi notes in his best-selling book on the subject for kids and their parents, everyone poops. We don’t know, however, exactly how much human excrement is dumped into the world’s waterways without treatment or its full impact. One study puts it at 80%. Another says 48%. Regardless, we do know that nearly half the world’s population—3.6 billion people—lacked access to safely managed sanitation services in 2020. Open defecation, still widely practiced in India and other Asian countries, leads to cholera, dysentery, and diarrhea killing more than 485,000 people annually, according to the World Health Organization. But even if the waste you flush goes to a sewage treatment plant, it’s no guarantee it will be properly disposed of. Even treated wastewater can contain nitrogen, phosphorus, endocrine disruptors, and pharmaceuticals. 

Green algae bloom in the Baltic Sea. Around the globe, wastewater is contributing to nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. Both act as nutrients and can exacerbate algae blooms which can be toxic, and which also consume large amounts of oxygen in aquatic ecosystems, leading to anoxia and biodiversity loss.
Green algae bloom in the Baltic Sea. Around the globe, wastewater is contributing to nitrogen and phosphorus pollution. Both act as nutrients and can exacerbate algae blooms which can be toxic, and which also consume large amounts of oxygen in aquatic ecosystems, leading to anoxia and biodiversity loss.

Stephanie Wear, senior scientist and strategy adviser at The Nature Conservancy, told Mongabay’s Sean Mowbray that the sewage pollution problem is an “intersectional threat,” with waste representing a “toxic cocktail” for the environment that negatively affects at least five of the nine planetary boundaries—contributing to nitrogen nutrient pollution, biodiversity degradation, freshwater systems harm, novel chemical entity pollution, and climate change. 

A recent modeling study found that 6.2 million tons of nitrogen are added to coastal water each year. This contributes to algal blooms, eutrophication, and ocean dead zones. It’s not just the health of waterways and oceans. People’s health is at risk, too. Pathogens from human waste have been traced to food sources such as mussels.

Led by Cascade Tuholske at the Columbia Climate School, the researchers scrutinized 135,000 watersheds worldwide and found that 25 of them account for almost half the nitrogen pollution added by human waste. Several of these are in developed nations.

For instance, more than a century ago the United States and the United Kingdom adopted combined sewer overflow (CSOs) for many of their municipal systems, using the same pipes to carry waste and stormwater. When rainfall is heavy, treatment plants are often overwhelmed and forced to release combined storm runoff together with raw or partially treated sewage into rivers, lakes, or the ocean. A report by USA Today found that 97% of U.S. cities with CSOs have experienced “an uptick in both annual precipitation and extreme rainfall over the past 30 years,” as a result of climate change. Fixes aren’t cheap. About 60% of New York City is still served by CSOs, forcing intermittent beach closures for public health reasons. According to a 2012 Environmental Protection Agency estimate, “CSO corrections would cost New Yorkers $5.1 billion over 20 years.” 

two rare Indochinese tigers are killed in Thailand 

Officials inspect the two confiscated tiger skins.
Thai officials inspect two confiscated tiger skins. The five men who admitted killing the protected animals—a sub-species with only around 200 individuals remaining in the wild—have been arrested and charged.

Park Rangers in Thailand’s Kanchanaburi National Park on Jan. 10 discovered two Indochinese tiger carcasses being prepared for grilling over an open fire. Two pelts were stretched out for drying. Five suspects, members of a hill tribe, have since turned themselves into police. The tigers—Panthera tigris corbetti—are extinct in most of Southeast Asia, with only about 200 individuals surviving in protected lands in Thailand. 

The men told police they had killed the tigers because the big cats had been preying on their cattle. But there had been no reports of such predation prior to the killings, and authorities are investigating to see if the men also planned to sell the carcasses on the wildlife black market. Despite laws, Chinese and Vietnamese use tiger pelts, bones, and other body parts for making traditional medicines, carvings, and trinkets. 

The men have been charged with 10 violations of three Thai protective laws. Both tigers had been killed with precise headshots and minimum damage to their pelts. Said Kanitha Krishnasamy, the Southeast Asia director of TRAFFIC, an international wildlife trade monitoring group, “From the killing of a protected and already imperiled species, use of illegally acquired firearms, a high amount of ammunition and weapons at the campsite, to the fact that the skin of the tiger was found drying, along with the cooked meat—all require thorough investigations.”

Companies announce largest-ever North Dakota wind farm

North Dakota ranks No. 2 in oil production among the states thanks to the boom from the fracking revolution that took off there in 2008. It’s in the top 10 coal-producing states and generated 58% of its electricity in 2020 from coal. Environmentally, not so great, especially given the state’s poor reputation for regulating the fossil fuel industry. But besides prodigious amounts of oil, gas, and coal, the state also has tremendous wind resources. A study conducted by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and AWS Truepower ranked it as the sixth windiest state. 

North Dakota currently has more 1,700 wind turbines for a cumulative 4 gigawatts of installed electricity-generating capacity, making it 9th in capacity among the states, with more than 32% of its power having come from wind resources in 2020. That soon could get a boost from Discovery Wind’s planned 400-megawatt wind farm. This would be the state’s largest and located in the heart of the state’s coal country. Great River Energy, a Minnesota cooperative, has agreed to buy all the wind project’s electricity. This will be sent through an existing 436-mile transmission line that the co-op has sold to Rainbow Energy, which is in the final stages of buying the Coal Creek Station, which currently sends its coal-generated electricity down the line to Minnesota’s twin cities of Minneapolis/St. Paul. 

Rather than shuttering the coal plant, however, the plan is to keep it running to power a carbon capture and storage project designed to extract and sequester carbon dioxide. Republican Gov. Doug Burgum tweeted: [The wind project] “will help drive our all-of-the-above energy approach in North Dakota. We can export renewable energy without reducing the use of our reliable and affordable coal resources to supply baseload power with carbon capture and storage at Coal Creek.”

An all-of-the-above approach made sense 45 years ago when President Jimmy Carter was working for energy independence and climate change was only on the minds of a few scientists and oil executives figuring out how to keep quiet about it. Today, “all-of-the-above” is a snare and a delusion. (Dan Gearino at Inside Climate News also wrote about the plans here.)

WEEKLY GREEN VIDEO

ECOPINION

The American Petroleum Institute wants a greener future, as long as it has more oil and gas. The fossil fuel industry’s strongest defender is still putting up a fight. By Eve Andrews at Grist.

Exxon’s Plan to Hit Net Zero Carbon Emissions: LOL. The company announced it plans to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050. There are just a few teeny, tiny problems. By Brian Kahn at Gizmodo

US Government wastes $1 billion on “failed” CCS projects. The fossil fuel industry continues to argue that Carbon, Capture, and Storage (CCS) is an integral solution to our climate crisis. Billions have been spent trying to get the technology to work. Billions have already been wasted. By Andy Rowell at Oil Change International

Norway’s Big Lesson for Build Back BetterElectric vehicles on their own aren’t enough. By Kate Aronoff at The New Republic

A Discredited Myth About Energy Efficiency. Do energy efficiency gains inevitably result in increased energy use? New Yorker columnist David Owen has long thought so, and his most recent broadside implausibly brands efficiency gains in refrigerators as “an agent of climate catastrophe.” But he admits, as he must, that by 2010 “the average refrigerator for sale at that time used only a quarter as much energy as a typical 1975 model yet had twenty percent more storage capacity and cost only forty percent as much,” and “today’s refrigerators and air conditioners are more efficient still.” So what’s the problem? By Ralph Cavanagh at the Natural Resources Defense Council

Why Words Matter in the Fight Against Climate Change. Speak up, identify the stakes, and use language that inspires action and combats right-wing messaging, says climate communications expert Genevieve Guenther. By Tara Lohan.

HALF A DOZEN OTHER THINGS TO READ (OR VIEW)

Inspired by King’s Words, Experts Say the Fight for Climate Justice Anywhere is a Fight for Climate Justice Everywhere. On the holiday honoring the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., scientists, theologians, ministers, and climate justice advocates find commonality in the movement he led more than half a century ago. By James Bruggers

Winter gas bill from hell: Oklahomans face paying $1.4bn over snowstormCustomers saddled with paying 600 times the usual price for energy as regulators are accused of being too close to the industry they monitor. By Miranda Green and Paul Monies

California sea-lion pups in the Coronado Islands, Baja California, Mexico, to observe their development.
Celia Kujala won an honorable mention from the judges at the Ocean Art Underwater Photo Contest for her photo of California sea-lion pups in the Coronado Islands, Baja California, Mexico.

Winners of the 2021 Ocean Art Underwater Photo Contest. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the contest in search of the world’s best photos of marine life behavior—“images that instill an urgency for conserving our invaluable subsurface planet.” Photographers from 81 countries submitted entries. More than $35,000 in prizes were awarded. 



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