The Natural Resources Defense Council is a New York City-based, non-profit international environmental advocacy group, with offices in Washington, D.C., San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Beijing. Founded in 1970, NRDC today has 1.4 million members and online activities nationwide and a staff of more than 400 lawyers, scientists and other policy experts.The charity monitoring group Charity Navigator gave the Natural Resources Defense Council four out of four stars overall and three out of four stars for its financial practices. Wikipedia.
News Article | February 17, 2017
This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. Scott Pruitt will almost certainly be the next head of the Environmental Protection Agency. The Oklahoma attorney general’s nomination is expected to sail through Senate — possibly as soon as Friday — despite Democrats’ protests that he is unfit to lead an agency that he has repeatedly sued. The administration has already imposed a freeze on the EPA’s social media, halted its rulemaking, and reportedly mandated that all agency research be reviewed by a political appointee before being released to the public. But next week, once Pruitt is sworn in, the real frenzy will begin. According to Reuters, President Donald Trump plans to sign between two and five environmental executive orders aimed at the EPA and possibly the State Department. The White House is reportedly planning to hold an event at the EPA headquarters, similar the administration’s rollout of its widely condemned travel ban after Defense Secretary James Mattis took office. While we don’t know what, exactly, next week’s orders will say, Trump is expected to restrict the agency’s regulatory oversight. Based on one administration official’s bluster, the actions could “suck the air” out of the room. Trump may have hinted at the forthcoming orders in his unwieldy press conference on Thursday. “Some very big things are going to be announced next week,” he said. (He didn’t make clear whether or not he was referring to the EPA.) Former President Barack Obama’s array of climate regulations, including the Clean Power Plan limiting power plant emissions, are certainly high on conservative activists’ hit list. So too is the landmark Paris climate deal, in which Obama agreed to dramatically cut domestic carbon emissions and provide aid to other countries for clean energy projects and climate adaptation. The EPA’s rule that defines its jurisdiction over wetlands and streams is also a prime target. As attorney general, Pruitt launched lawsuits against a number of these regulations. “What I would like to see are executive orders on implementing all of President Trump’s main campaign promises on environment and energy, including withdrawing from the Paris climate treaty,” said Myron Ebell, who headed Trump’s EPA transition and recently returned to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, in an email to Mother Jones. H. Sterling Burnett, a research fellow the Heartland Institute, which rejects the scientific consensus on climate change, says Trump could start by revisiting the Obama administration’s efforts to calculate a “social cost of carbon” — and by forbidding its use to determine costs and benefits of government regulations. He also wants to see broader restrictions on how the EPA calculates costs and benefits. In particular, Burnett hopes Trump will prohibit the agency from the considering public health co-benefits of regulations — for example, attempts by the EPA to argue that limits on CO2 emissions from power plants also reduce emissions of other dangerous pollutants. Or Trump could take a cue from Republican Attorneys General Patrick Morrisey (W.Va.) and Ken Paxton (Texas), who recommended in December that Trump issue a memorandum directing the EPA to “take no further action to enforce or implement” the Clean Power Plan. (The Supreme Court halted implementation of the rule a year ago while both sides fight it out in federal court.) The holy grail for conservatives would be reversing the agency’s so-called “endangerment finding,” which states that greenhouse gas emissions harm public health and must therefore be regulated under the Clean Air Act. The endangerment finding is the legal underpinning for the bulk of Obama’s climate policies, including the restrictions on vehicle and power plant emissions. Undoing the finding wouldn’t be an easy feat and can’t be accomplished by executive order alone. The endangerment finding isn’t an Obama invention; in 2007, the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA must regulate greenhouse gasses if it found they harmed public health. Pruitt said during his confirmation hearing that the administration wouldn’t revisit the finding, but he also launched an unsuccessful lawsuit against it in 2010. Neither Ebell nor Burnett expects to see Trump to tackle the endangerment finding just yet. Environmentalists are already planning their response. Litigation is certainly an option, but it would of course depend on the details of Trump’s executive actions. Several groups, including Earthjustice and Natural Resources Defense Council, have already sued to block Trump’s earlier executive order requiring that every new regulation be offset by scrapping two existing regulations. Their case: The administration can’t arbitrarily ditch regulations just because the president wants fewer of them on the books. They could be making a similar case soon enough. “A new president has to deal with the record and evidence and findings,” Earthjustice’s lead attorney, Patti Goldman, said. “If you take climate and the endangerment finding, that is a scientific finding that is upheld by the court. That finding has legal impacts. If there’s a directive along those lines, there will have to be a process.” Of course, anti-EPA Republicans disagree about what is constitutional, which is one reason the agency is in for a tumultuous ride over the next four years. For many conservatives, no EPA at all — or at least one that has no regulatory powers — is the best option. “I read the constitution of the United States, and the word environmental protection does not appear there,” said Heartland’s Burnett. “I don’t see where it’s sanctioned. I think it should go away.” A freshman House Republican recently introduced a bill to do just that, but there’s no sign that it’s going to pass anytime soon. And while Burnett acknowledges that the EPA probably won’t be vanishing in the near future, he’s been happy with the direction Trump has taken so far. He’s pleased with the president’s moves to restart the Keystone and Dakota Access pipelines, and he’s hopeful that the administration will move toward an EPA with “smaller budgets and a smaller mission, justified by the fact that you’ll have fewer regulations.” Depending on what Trump does next week, that could be just the beginning.
News Article | February 17, 2017
Bees are in danger. The falling population of the pollinators has led bumblebees being recommended to the endangered species list. Worries are escalating as to what would happen to food production if pollinators disappeared so rapidly. In this bleak scenario, Iowa town Cedar Rapids is leading by example as it initiated a novel step of creating a bee paradise in 1,000 acres of land and is starting with 188 acres by seeding wild flowers and prairie grasses. According to scientists, the pollinator crisis has been aggravated by the loss of habitats triggered by excessive use of pesticides, pathogens and after effects of climate change. The loss of natural habitat is accentuated by farming, mowing of lawns, parking lots and human developments, which have displaced fields of wildflower. Now Cedar Rapids' gesture may give pollinators fair places to nest and feed on the flowers. Mooted by Daniel Gibbins, Superintendent of Cedar Rapids Park, the 1,000 Acre Pollinator Initiative is coming up under a partnership with the Monarch Research Project that is aiming to bolster monarch butterfly populations. "With the agricultural boom around 100 years ago, about 99.9 percent of all the native habitat of Iowa has been lost," said Gibbins. The plan is to convert the entire stretch of 1,000 acres into a habitat of bees for which funding of $180,000 has been committed by the MRP and state agencies. He said the bees' habitat would help birds, amphibians, reptiles, mammals and everything that relies on native vegetation. To fortify the habitat of bees, Cedar Rapids is developing a mix of grasses and wildflowers for wider diversity. As flowers draw bees and butterflies, the prairie grasses will thwart weeds and invasive species from choking out the flowers. Meanwhile, the Trump administration has been sued by an environmental group for delaying the entry of rusty patched bumblebees into the list of endangered species. The plan was to add the species to the list on Feb. 10 after the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service proposed in 2016 that the creature must be brought under the federal protection list. Bumblebees are predominantly found in the Midwest and the Northeastern United States. The Natural Resources Defense Council reasoned that the delay followed a review ordered by the White House on the rules issued by the Obama administration in the domain of environment and public health. In the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court in New York, the group accused wildlife officials of breaching a law by suspending the listing of bumblebee without any comment or public notice. "The science is clear – this species is headed toward extinction, and soon. There is no legitimate reason to delay federal protections," Natural Resources Defense Council senior attorney Rebecca Riley said in a statement. Native bumblebees in the United States and Canada are spread in 47 varieties with a quarter under threat of extinction, said the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Meanwhile, lawmakers and beekeepers in Western Maryland are demanding protection for apiarists who would shoot black bears to save the bee colonies from attack. Though using force against black bears to defend livestock is held legal, the Maryland Department of Natural Resources is not recognizing bees as animals and have classified them as insects. "Currently by law, if you are defending your property, your livestock, you can shoot at a bear to save the livestock," McKay said. He wanted bees and bee colonies granted the same protection as other farm animals. In the region, the risk is that bees – being classified as insects and not animals — offers no legal protection to anyone who harms a bear while protecting a bee colony. The Department of Natural Resources website says it is illegal to kill a bear unless it attacks livestock or threatens a person's life. It implies that killing a black bear for a bee colony will attract same penalties as in any other case of endangerment with maximum $1,500 fine and six months' imprisonment. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | February 15, 2017
NEW YORK (Reuters) - As U.S. President Donald Trump takes aim at what he considers an excess of federal regulations, a new lawsuit accuses the Environmental Protection Agency of illegally rescinding a rule to reduce the discharge of mercury from dental offices, mere hours after Trump took office. In a complaint filed on Wednesday, the nonprofit Natural Resources Defense Council said the final rule was withdrawn on Jan. 20, the date of Trump's inauguration, after White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus directed federal agencies to "immediately withdraw" final rules slated for publication. But the NRDC said the mercury rule could not be withdrawn before its expected Jan. 24 publication in the Federal Register because it was subject to a Clean Water Act provision that, given the wording of Priebus' memorandum, forbade withdrawal. As a result, the EPA had no authority to rescind the rule without first getting public comment, according to the NRDC, an environmental advocacy group. Its lawsuit filed in Manhattan federal court seeks to undo the rule's rescission. "The Trump administration, and President Trump himself, have made it seem like it will be easy to wipe away environmental protections for the American people," David Goldston, director of government affairs for the NRDC, said in an interview. "We view this rule as one that is final, and which can be rescinded only through the full rulemaking process." An EPA spokeswoman had no immediate comment. Mercury discharged into the environment can damage people's health, including through seafood consumption. Dentists nonetheless can use mercury safely in amalgams for fillings. The EPA rule would have reduced discharges by dental offices of mercury and other metals into municipal sewage treatment plants by more than 10 tons annually. It would also have required dentists to adopt "best management" practices recommended by the American Dental Association. (https://www.epa.gov/eg/dental-effluent-guidelines) On Monday, Trump issued an executive order requiring many federal agencies to eliminate two regulations for each new regulation introduced. Trump is not a defendant in the NRDC lawsuit. The case is Natural Resources Defense Council v EPA et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 17-00751.
News Article | January 31, 2017
Now that Republicans have quietly drawn a path to give away much of Americans’ public land, US representative Jason Chaffetz of Utah has introduced what the Wilderness Society is calling “step two” in the GOP’s plan to offload federal property. The new piece of legislation would direct the interior secretary to immediately sell off an area of public land the size of Connecticut. In a press release for House Bill 621, Chaffetz, a Tea Party Republican, claimed that the 3.3m acres of national land, maintained by the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), served “no purpose for taxpayers”. But many in the 10 states that would lose federal land in the bill disagree, and public land rallies in opposition are bringing together environmentalists and sportsmen across the west. Set aside for mixed use, BLM land is leased for oil, gas and timber, but is also open to campers, cyclists and other outdoor enthusiasts. As well as providing corridors for gray wolves and grizzly bears, low-lying BLM land often makes up the winter pasture for big game species, such as elk, pronghorn and big-horned sheep. Jason Amaro, who represents the south-west chapter of Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, describes the move as a land grab. “Last I checked, hunters and fishermen were taxpayers,” said Amaro, who lives in a New Mexico county where 70,000 acres of federal lands are singled out. In total, his state, which sees $650m in economic activity from hunting and fishing, stands to lose 800,000 acres of BLM land, or more than the state of Rhode Island. “That word ‘disposal’ is scary. It’s not ‘disposable’ for an outdoorsman,” he said. Scott Groene, a Utah conservationist, said the state’s elected officials were trying to “seize public lands any way they can”, without providing Americans a chance to weigh in. If residents knew their local BLM land was being threatened, said Groene, “I’m sure the communities would be shocked”. Chaffetz introduced the bill alongside a second piece of legislation that would strip the BLM and the US Forest Service of law enforcement capabilities, a move in line with the Utah delegation’s opposition to all federal land management. “The other bill hamstrings our ability to manage and ensure that our public lands are being kept safe,” said Bobby McEnaney of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “When you have those two combined, it’s a fairly cynical approach to how public lands can be managed.” The 10 states affected are Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah and Wyoming. Residents can see how much acreage is earmarked for “disposal” in their counties by checking a PDF on Chaffetz’s website. Due to a controversial change this month to the House of Representatives’ rules, the sale does not have to make money for the federal government. A representative for the interior department, Mike Pool, who weighed in on a version of the bill in 2011, said selling those 3.3m acres “would be unlikely to generate revenue”. A Republican conservation group in Utah likened it at the time to “selling the house to pay the light bill”. The acreage identified is drawn from a 1997 survey conducted by the Clinton administration, which sought to identify potential offsets to revive the Florida Everglades after decades of pollution from the sugar cane industry. The actual language of the 1997 survey, which did not result in land being sold, prefaced its findings with a caution: “Please note many lands identified appear to have conflicts which may preclude them from being considered for disposal or exchange.” The vast majority of the thousands of parcels have “impediments to disposal”, according to the survey, including hosting endangered species and wetlands or having “cultural significance”. Barack Obama created at least two federal protections in counties with large swathes of BLM land now designated for disposal: New Mexico’s Organ Mountains-Desert Peaks national monument, in 2014, and Utah’s Bears Ears national monument, in 2016. Arizona’s Parashant national monument, near the Grand Canyon, was designated by Bill Clinton in 2000 and also sits in a marked county. A spokesperson for Chaffetz said he was not available for comment. To outdoorsmen like Amaro, selling off individual parcels of national land creates a “multiplier problem”, where a small parcel of land turned private can cut off access for many. That’s what happened in Coronado national forest, he said. Ten acres that led on to hundreds of thousands of acres of public property were turned into state trust land. “Access has been eliminated for much of the forest. The private landowners now effectively have their own private hunting preserves by not allowing public hunters a way into the national forest,” Amaro said. Chaffetz’s proposal might in fact be in violation of the common-law Public Trust Doctrine, which requires that the federal government keep and manage national resources for all Americans. Courts have upheld the policy that sale or use must be in Americans’ interest. John Gale, conservation director for Backcountry Hunters and Anglers in Missoula, Montana, said the Utah representatives were pushing the bills despite their proven unpopularity. “It’s not only an assault on our traditions,” Gale said. “It’s the idea that they’re stealing that from our children.”
News Article | February 15, 2017
An environmental group is suing U.S. President Donald Trump for the delay in an action that would protect the rusty patched bumblebee through an endangered species designation. The Natural Resources Defense Council, filing the suit Tuesday, said the listing proposed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service back in September has been delayed until March 21 as part of a bigger freeze imposed by the White House. The rule formalizing the listing was published in the Federal Register Jan. 11 and was supposed to take effect last Friday. The rusty patched bumblebee is the first bee species to be classified as endangered in the continental United States. It once buzzed on the East Coast and a large portion of the Midwest, until the 1990s and today when only scattered groups are spotted in 13 states. "The science is clear — this species is headed toward extinction, and soon. There is no legitimate reason to delay federal protections," said the group’s senior attorney Rebecca Riley in a statement, as reported by Reuters. According to the lawsuit filed in New York, the federal wildlife managers had violated the law when they abruptly suspended the bumblebee’s listing without notifying the public or seeking comment. Technically, the rule is already final given it was published in the Federal Register, it added. The suit urged that a judge declare the USFWS’s delaying of the listing an unlawful one, as well as order the agency, which falls under the Interior Department, to rescind the said move. Officials from the Interior Department and USFWS could not be reached for comment. In declaring the bumblebee endangered last month, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service harped on the species’ environmental importance, stressing that they contribute to food security and healthy ecosystem functioning as pollinators. “Bumble bees are keystone species in most ecosystems, necessary not only for native wildflower reproduction, but also for creating seeds and fruits that feed wildlife as diverse as songbirds and grizzly bears,” the agency’s website stated. Featuring a striped black and yellow marking on its back as well as a long black tail, the rusty patched bumblebee has been historically found in 28 states in the East and upper Midwest, along with parts of Canada. Its crash took place so rapidly that few scientists took special notice, with the number and range of its colonies dropping by about 87 percent since the late ‘90s. In fact, it disappeared from about 90 percent of its historical range in recent years, the lawsuit contended. The plummeting numbers of the bee species has been linked to factors including loss of prairies and grasslands, increased pesticide exposure, and climate change. It is among the 47 varieties of bumblebees native to the United States and Canada, and it’s not alone in this challenge: over a quarter of those species also face the threat of extinction, warned the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In related news, scientists in Japan have explored insect-sized drones, featuring horsehairs on their backs and a special gel for picking up and releasing pollen grains, as a potential aid of bees in pollination. © 2017 Tech Times, All rights reserved. Do not reproduce without permission.
News Article | February 28, 2017
The Trump administration is moving to roll back an environmental rule intended to define which small bodies of water are subject to federal authority under the Clean Water Act. President Trump signed documents Tuesday directing the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to review the Obama administration's "Waters of the United States" rule. In doing so, Trump said he is "paving the way for the elimination" of the rule. He asked for the reviewers to assess its consistency with "promoting economic growth" and "minimizing regulatory uncertainty," among other factors. Supporters say the regulation is needed to ensure safe drinking water. But a long list of opponents say it goes too far and poses a burden on them. The rule is currently on hold after a stay by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. "It was a massive power grab," Trump said as he prepared to sign the documents, surrounded by a group of farmers, homebuilders and county commissioners. "Regulations and permits started treating our wonderful small farmers and small businesses as if they were a major industrial polluter. They treated them horribly." But as NPR's Greg Allen has reported, "overturning the rule isn't something that can be done through executive order. The EPA would have to restart the lengthy rule-making process, according to Jon Devine, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council." Trump's executive order has been sharply criticized by environmental groups. Earthjustice accused the president of "demonstrating that he puts the interests of corporate polluters above the public's health." When the Clean Water Act passed in 1972, it defined waters that would need protection from pollution as "navigable." For most of us, that means big enough to float a boat. Over the years, though, it became clear that smaller streams and wetlands needed protection as well, especially those that feed into rivers and lakes that provide drinking water. But Congress and successive administrations tried, and failed, to clarify exactly which waters were subject to the act. The Army Corps of Engineers interpreted the act differently in different regions of the U.S., and courts only added to the confusion. The Obama administration tried once and for all to settle the question with the Waters of the United States rule in 2015. At the time, it was hailed by the Obama administration as protecting the water supply for about 117 million Americans. But it faced heavy criticism and lobbying against the rule from farmers, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, real estate developers and golf course owners, among others. In Tuesday's executive order, Trump said that in any future proposed rule, the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers should consider Justice Antonin Scalia's opinion in a 2006 Supreme Court ruling, which focused on the scope of the Clean Water Act. In that case, Scalia stated that the "waters of the United States" are limited to "only relatively permanent, standing or flowing bodies of water." He added: "The phrase does not include channels through which water flows intermittently or ephemerally, or channels that periodically provide drainage for rainfall." After the 2015 rule, Owen McDonough of the National Association of Homebuilders said a developer who buys a rural piece of land "is all of a sudden faced with jurisdiction waters, and then he has to secure federal permits, and offset his impacts." He said builders must hire expensive environmental consultants to get those permits. Last August, then-candidate Trump echoed that criticism when he addressed the homebuilders association. It's worth noting that Trump has a stake in the rule's fate. As Greg has reported, the Trump Organization has about a dozen golf courses across the U.S. And the president's new EPA chief, Scott Pruitt, sued the agency over the water rule when he was Oklahoma's attorney general. The American Farm Bureau Federation also launched a campaign called "Ditch the Rule." In an ad featuring a farmer's wife running barefoot in a field, it asserted that the Waters of the U.S. rule would force farmers to get a permit for every ditch or puddle on their land. The bureau also says the rule goes overboard by including so-called prairie potholes, which don't have water in them year-round. "The [Obama] administration really belittled a lot of farmers' concerns," says the Farm Bureau's Don Parrish. He says growers who fail to get a needed permit could face heavy fines or even jail time. But Ellen Gilinsky, a former EPA administrator who advised on the Waters of the U.S. Rule, says many such fears are overblown. She says the rule actually reduced the number of ditches that would require permits and that both farmers and ranchers have numerous exemptions. "I really think there's a lot of blood shed over this rule that didn't need to be," Gilinsky says. "I think there's an opportunity to take another look at it and bring everyone to the table and get a rule everyone can feel good about." Supporters of the Waters of the United States rule say states simply don't have the resources to ensure healthy streams and clean drinking water on their own. Gilinsky says she hopes the Trump administration can finally get all sides to agree on which waters the federal government should protect.
News Article | February 15, 2017
A group of prominent Republicans released a “conservative” plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions today, arguing that replacing Obama-era policies with a carbon-tax-and-dividend system would be a politically feasible way to fight off the worst effects of climate change. The plan, released by the Climate Leadership Council in a report titled “The Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends,” would tax carbon beginning at $40 per ton. The price would then rise each year to help push emissions down. The revenues generated—about $194 billion in the first year, rising up past $250 billion within a decade—would then be redistributed by the Social Security Administration in the form of quarterly checks to every U.S. household. Proponents hope that idea would swing public support toward aggressive climate change mitigation. “If you look at the priorities of President Trump, our plan ticks every one of his boxes,” said Ted Halstead, founder and president of the council, in a press conference in Washington, D.C., this morning. “It is pro-growth. It is pro-jobs. It is pro-competitiveness. It would balance trade. And last but hardly least, it would be good for working-class Americans.” The report was co-authored by prominent Republicans, including James A. Baker III, the former secretary of State under George H. W. Bush and of Treasury in the Reagan administration, along with other former Treasury secretaries and other economic leaders. It has also received support from current party notables including Mitt Romney. The authors were reportedly set to meet with White House officials today to discuss the proposal. The plan arrives as the Trump administration has promised to roll back Pres. Barack Obama’s climate policies, including the Clean Power Plan, which was designed to cut emissions from power plants. According to an analysis done by the council that accompanied the new plan, the carbon tax-and-dividend system would “allow the United States to meet the upper end of its 2025 Paris commitment,” meaning it would achieve the goal of a 28 percent emissions reduction that the U.S. promised under the major international Paris climate agreement. Some experts agree the tax could put the U.S. on the right track. An analysis by the nonprofit Carbon Tax Center found that if the initial carbon price of $40 per ton rises by $5 each year beginning in 2018, it would result in a 40 percent emissions reduction from 2005 levels by 2030. The center’s director, Charles Komanoff, noted the plan does not specify the rate of increase, and that the $5-per-ton annual increase is actually “a little slow,” in terms of achieving rapid emissions reductions. “But it’s more important to get the ball rolling,” he said. The plan also includes a border tax adjustment: U.S. companies exporting goods to countries without a similar carbon price would receive a rebate of tax paid, and imports from companies outside the U.S. would face fees based on the carbon content of their products. This is designed to convince other countries to follow suit, hopefully eliminating what economists call the “free rider” problem of climate change mitigation programs. Noah Kaufman, an economist with the non-profit World Resources Institute, said that if implemented as written, the new plan would achieve the Obama policies’ cuts “and much more.” Not only does this plan work on all sources of carbon emissions rather than just the power sector, but its starting point for a price on carbon far exceeds the effective price that the Clean Power Plan would have achieved, Kaufman said. A 2016 World Bank report found that of the various carbon pricing systems in use around the world, “about three quarters” of all emissions covered are priced at less than $10 per ton. Higher carbon prices mean a bigger incentive to cut emissions. Still, some environmental groups and other experts are not huge fans of replacing all the work done over the last eight years. The Natural Resources Defense Council released a statement saying that although a price on carbon “could be an important part” of climate mitigation, “it can’t do the job alone.” A Brookings Institution expert wrote that setting aside some of the carbon tax revenue—$30 billon is the suggested starting point—to be used for clean energy research and development might help the plan achieve its emissions reduction goals. Kaufman said that the most important point is the “tax” part of tax-and-dividend—what one does with the revenue is a secondary consideration, but offering the money back to the public could be a political winner. “An approach like this, where you sort of give the money back to the people, has real political advantages, especially for those who don’t instinctively trust the government,” he said. At the press conference, Halstead said a Treasury Department analysis showed that Americans in the bottom 70 percent of income—223 million people—would “come out ahead” with this approach; the checks received would outweigh any price increases in goods that are carbon taxed, such as gasoline. Of course, getting the new administration and prominent congressional Republicans on board with any carbon-reduction plan would be something of a coup. The revenue neutrality of this plan, though, where theoretically the government does not grow in size at all, could break through. “It has so few moving parts,” Komanoff said. “It’s quite elegant, and I think it could be politically palatable.”
News Article | February 15, 2017
Protection for the beleaguered rusty patched bumblebee was set to begin on February 10. Jeez, the bees just can't get a break. Pollinators are being knocked out left and right, and as soon as they get some good news, bam, in comes the federal government to rain on their parade. The rusty patched bumblebee has lost more than 90 percent of its range in the past 20 years and was set to become the first-ever bee species in the continental U.S. to be listed as endangered – the listing was to go into effect February 10. But now, just one day before, President Donald Trump has signed an executive order freezing any regulations passed under President Obama that have yet to take effect – which includes protection for the bee. Sorry, dying endangered bumblebee, such is life in politics. The rusty patched bumblebee is native to the Midwest and East Coast and is a crucial crop pollinator. Once abundant, its numbers began declining in the 1990s, like many of its apian kin. Although last year the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) added seven other bee species to the endangered list, they all hailed from Hawaii; the rusty patched is the first from the Lower 48 to earn the depressing distinction. According to FWS, the bumblebees are suffering from the effects of: Habitat loss and degradation; intensive farming; disease; pesticides: and global climate change. Due to the new executive order, the FWS says now that the effective date will be March 21, according to the Associated Press. But it still feels like a precarious limbo – a lot can happen in six weeks, and that's it there aren't further executive freezes and orders. The Natural Resources Defense Council is “exploring all options, including litigation,” Rebecca Riley, senior attorney at the NRDC, told The Verge. “This bee is critically endangered, it’s one of the most critically endangered species in the United States,” she adds. “The bee can’t wait. It needs the protections of the Endangered Species Act and it needs them now.” Cue fantasy of sci-fi horror movie in which bumblebees descend upon the White House. Seriously, we can't lose the bees – resist, little guys!
News Article | February 15, 2017
On the eve of a Senate hearing Wednesday to consider “modernization of the Endangered Species Act,” an environmental conservation group sued the Trump administration for halting implementation of federal protections for the first bumblebee in history placed on the endangered list. The Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit against the Interior Department and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service it oversees for delaying protections for the rusty patch bumblebee from Feb. 10 until at least mid-March without allowing public comment or hearings. The bee’s status as an endangered species was finalized in early January under the Obama administration. [This bumblebee was everywhere. Now it’s the first bee ever on the endangered species list.] “The Trump administration broke the law by blocking the rusty patched bumblebee from the endangered species list,” the NRDC said in a statement announcing its suit filed at a federal court in New York. “The science is clear — this species is headed toward extinction, and soon. There is no legitimate reason to delay federal protections for this bee. Freezing protections for the rusty patched bumblebee without public notice and comment flies in the face of the democratic process.” The striped black and yellow pollinator with a long black tail “once flourished in 28 states and two Canadian provinces,” the NRDC said. “But the bee’s population and range have declined by approximately 90 percent in the last 20 years.” Officials at the Interior Department declined to comment on the lawsuit, but a department spokeswoman, Heather Swift, said the agency “is working to review this regulation as expeditiously as possible and expects to issue further guidance on the effective date … shortly.” Last week the agency announced that it published a notice of the delay in the Federal Register, overstepping procedures that involve notices of public hearings, the hearings themselves and comment from the public that can take up to a year. Wildlife conservation groups described the delay and the upcoming Senate hearing led by Republicans as attacks on the 43-year-old Endangered Species Act. The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee did not define what “modernization” meant, leaving one conservationist to offer her own definition. “Modernization of the Endangered Species Act is code for gut and weaken,” said Jamie Rappaport Clark, president and chief executive of Defenders of Wildlife. “The Endangered Species Act works. It has stopped extinction of 99 percent of listed species.” Clark is one of two leaders of conservation groups scheduled to testify at the hearing. The other is the recently departed Fish and Wildlife director under Obama, Dan Ashe, who is now president and chief executive of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. Others scheduled to testify include David Freudenthal, the former governor of Wyoming, a state that successfully fought a proposed federal threatened or endangered listing for the greater sage grouse. That chicken-like bird’s population plummeted as the western sage brush was developed, grazed by hundreds of thousands of cattle and opened to mineral mining and natural-gas drilling that drove the birds from their habitat. Gordon S. Myers, executive director and president of the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, is also scheduled to testify. The commission resisted a federal Fish and Wildlife program to restore critically endangered red wolves by establishing a population in North Carolina. It issued a resolution calling on the agency to remove them from private lands in the red wolf recovery area near the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. [The government was letting residents kill nearly extinct wolves. A court put a stop to it.] Last September, a federal district court in North Carolina issued a preliminary injunction barring the Fish and Wildlife Service from capturing and removing red wolves in the state or issuing permits that allowed private landowners to kill the animals when they stray onto their property. Following a lawsuit filed by several nonprofit environmental groups, Judge Terrence W. Boyle of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina ruled that Fish and Wildlife was “enjoined from taking red wolves, either directly or by landowner authorization without first demonstrating that such red wolves are a threat to human safety or the safety of livestock or pets.” Any other decision would ignore that Congress had mandated the program to prevent the extinction of red wolves, the judge said. Scientists say the government’s new plan to save red wolves is backward The world just agreed to the strongest protections ever for endangered species The horn and ivory trade is obliterating elephants and rhinos
News Article | February 15, 2017
For decades, American coal companies exploited a loophole in the federal coal program that allowed them to dodge royalties and shortchange taxpayers. These fossil fuel giants avoided paying up to $850 million in government returns between between 2008 and 2012, through a network of subsidiaries and cost manipulation, at the expense of the average American. Last year, the Office of Natural Resources Revenue (ONRR), a small agency within the Department of the Interior (DOI), successfully closed the loophole. And now, Republicans are fighting to open it again. The sweeping rule, proposed by the DOI under Secretary Sally Jewell and called the "Consolidated Federal Oil & Gas and Federal & Indian Coal Valuation Reform," required oil, natural gas, and coal companies to pay royalties to taxpayers on the actual market value of their commodities. The rule would also make the valuation process more transparent, and was part of a larger effort to modernize America's aging federal coal program. GOP members say the reform "places undue accounting burdens on US energy producers." The joint resolution (H.J. Res. 71) to void the ONRR rule was introduced by Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO) this week. He and 11 co-sponsors, all from leading fossil fuel states, are using the Congressional Review Act to roll back the "midnight rule," or regulation creation during the Obama administration's final months. The incentive behind the resolution isn't difficult to spot. Rep. Tipton, its lead sponsor, has received $448,713 in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry throughout his career, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. If passed by both chambers of Congress, the bill will fall into President Trump's lap to approve or veto. Trump campaigned on a dubious promise to revive America's dying coal industry, so it's likely he'll support the resolution. Still, even if the rule is overturned, market forces outside of royalties, such as the booming natural gas industry, are expected to keep coal down, no matter how many exemptions Republicans make for it. "The Russians may be pulling the strings in the White House, but it's still Big Oil pulling Republican strings in the US House. They have spent the first weeks of this Congress doing one favor after another for the fossil fuel industry, and now it's Scott Tipton's turn to lead the effort to provide Big Oil yet another taxpayer-funded windfall," Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), who also serves as ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee Democrats, told me. The way fossil fuel companies were avoiding royalties was deceptively simple. A coal producer, for example, would sell its product to a self-owned subsidiary at a decreased price. In turn, that subsidiary would sell the company's coal on the open market for a profit. But the company, instead of paying royalties (12.3 percent on average, according to DOI) adjusted for the coal's market rate, would pay them based on the artificially depressed rate (approximately 4.9 percent). These are called "non-arm's-length" transactions, which are sales between affiliated companies. And while legal, they allowed fossil fuel producers to make windfalls at the expense of federal (aka taxpayer owned) and Native American leaseholders. "The coal program has been plagued by manipulation for more than 30 years. This is foul play and self-dealing underhanded by the industry," Theodore Spencer, a senior policy advocate for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told me. A Reuters investigation in 2012 blew the lid open on several of these schemes in Wyoming and Montana's Powder River Basin. The practice, they found, cost taxpayers around $40 million in annual revenue. An audit these transactions was opened in 2013 by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), which led to the creation of ONRR's rule. Royalties are just one of the ways taxpayers are supposed to be compensated for coal production on public lands. Non-competitive bidding for mining leases has similarly lost an estimated $28.9 billion in revenue over 30 years, according to a report from the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis. One of the resolution's co-sponsors, Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT) has introduced several bills that would turn public lands over to private interests. "Most Democrats will oppose Tipton's resolution, but we know the Republicans have the votes and President Trump will sign the bill," Rep. Grijalva added. "Once again these House Republican will succeed in making some of the wealthiest companies on earth a little richer, while making average Americans a little worse off."