Good stuff to know Under normal circumstances, NEPA sets a hard, but simple line for federal action on construction projects. Before the government can move ahead with a proposed project, it must:
- Determine the future environmental impact of the project
- Alert the public of its plans
- Consult other alternatives to the proposal
- Invite public commentary
The court ruling NEPA applies to 'major federal actions,' and courts have recently interpreted this term broadly.
What it means The Trump administration may pick and choose which of its projects count as 'major federal actions'. Discretion on a project’s classification lies with the agencies overseeing its completion.
Now, 'cumulative” and “indirect' effects are no longer required for agencies’ consideration. With that, NEPA maintains that decisions must “make sense for tomorrow as well as today.”
Bottom line This broad interpretation of NEPA eviscerates two of the most important protections of the act.
Civil rights lawyers and community activists are now joining forces to defeat the deafening blow to communities of color in the latest series of Trumpian environmental rollbacks.
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What to Know
- The House and Senate passed the Great American Outdoors Act (GAOA) in a bipartisan agreement
- The GAOA accomplishes two goals.
- $9 billion for deferred maintenance
- Guaranteed $900 million annually in perpetuity for the Land and Water Conservation Fund
- The fund also supports the National Parks Service, Forest Service, U.S Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Indian Education
Why it Matters
- The GAOA will help maintain NPS lands that have been loved to death with a 50% increase in visitor rate since the 1980’s
- Conservation does not have to be a partisan issue. The passing of GAOA demonstrates room for common ground when it comes to environmental protection
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Big picture Two-thirds of Americans believe the US government must act more urgently to slow global warming. As November's presidential election nears, climate change policy will likely earn a top-ten spot in debate topics.
What to know
- 63% of Americans feel as if climate change is directly or indirectly affecting their communities and livelihoods.
- 65% believe the federal government is not doing enough to combat climate change.
- 79% of respondents advise federal investment in alternative energy sources such as solar panels and wind farms.
Politics politics politics
- Democrats have increased their awareness of the dangers of climate change by 27% since 2009.
- Republicans and Republican-leaning voters developed only a 6% greater consciousness of climate change.
- Partisanship seems to color most people's views about local climate change effects more than anything else.
- Democrats are more than twice as likely as Republicans to say climate change impacts their local community.
- Moderate-liberal Republican and Republican-leaning voters acknowledge the local impacts of climate change more frequently than their more conservative counterparts.
Bottom line Come November, policy differences between the presidential candidates on climate change will become abundantly clear. Political analysts will have to examine what level of influence climate will have over election results.
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What to know Congress passed the Air Pollution Control Act (APCA) in 1955, which funded federal air pollution research but did not require or give power to the federal government to regulate air pollution.
The Clear Air Act of 1963 permitted the government to control air pollution in certain capacities. In 1999, several citizens, conservation, and environmental groups filed a petition for the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate air pollution under this act.
The EPA denied the petition, and Massachusetts and several other states filed a class action lawsuit against the EPA to fight for the American people’s right to live in safe environments with clear air.
After a lengthy debate over the ambiguity of the Clean Air Act’s language, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Massachusetts in a 5-4 decision.
Key Takeaways The EPA cannot decline to issue emission standards for motor vehicles based on policy considerations not specifically enumerated in the Clean Air Act.
The Clean Air Act gives the EPA authority to regulate carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.
Some of the progressive rules that resulted from this case, such as the Clean Car and Clean Truck Standards, were recently minimized by the Trump administration in the beginning stages of the pandemic.
Bottom line The government will continue its ableism (discrimination in favor of able-bodied people) without public pressure and scrutiny, so we must come together to vote and advocate for accelerated climate change action.
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The Scoop Two new cases in Minnesota and Washington, D.C. add to the growing body of lawsuits trying to hold Big Oil accountable for deliberately concealing their role in harming environmental and human health.
Breaking down the lawsuits
- Minnesota’s Attorney General (AG) is suing Exxon Mobil Corporation, Koch Industries and the American Petroleum Institute for violating Minnesota laws against consumer fraud, deceptive trade practices, and false advertising. The lawsuit claims that oil and gas companies were aware of the environmental and health effects of their products as far back as the 1970s and 80s, but launched a “campaign of deception.”
- Washington D.C.’s AG similarly is suing ExxonMobil, Chevron, BP and Shell for “systematically and intentionally misl[eading] consumers in Washington, D.C. about the central role their products play in causing climate change.” in violation of Washington D.C.’s Consumer Protection Procedures Act.
Why it matters By charging Big Oil with consumer fraud, Minnesota and Washington D.C.’s cases closely resemble lawsuits against Big Tobacco in the 1990s which charged Big Tobacco with suppressing evidence for the dangers of smoking and misleading the public. With the clear similarities between these cases, there is hope for similar verdicts; including, heavy penalties (up to $6.5 billion) that could fund climate change resiliency programs.
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The scoop In June 2020, the House Select Committee on the Climate Crisis unveiled a 547-page, sweeping climate plan that aims to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 and net-negative emissions thereafter.
Why it matters The plan seeks to uplift Americans and support front-line and low-income communities that are disproportionately impacted by climate change. Driven by science and economics, it also centers around environmental justice, with an opening paragraph alluding to the passing of George Floyd.
Bottom line The report is the most ambitious proposal to combat climate change we've seen from Democrats. Energy Innovation, an independent policy modeling company, projects that the plan would achieve a 37% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and net-zero carbon emissions by 2048. If implemented, it would also save 62,000 lives annually by 2050 and $8 trillion in health and climate costs.
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The global spread of the coronavirus has caused layoff after layoff in the United States, forcing over 40 million Americans to file for unemployment in less than three months. How can America put its citizens back to work while fighting climate change?
What to know
- FDR kickstarted the economy in the Great Depression by creating the Civilian Conservation Corps to restore America’s infrastructure while employing jobless workers – similar programs could help unemployed workers during COVID-19
- Other countries are already doing it – Pakistan has employed 63,000 people in its 10 Billion Tree Tsunami Programme
- Governments control more than 70% of energy investments globally, so they can steer recovery in a positive direction for the climate and their people
- With an additional $15 trillion in a global COVID-19 recovery plan, we can increase our global GDP by 2.4% and add tens of millions of jobs in energy and infrastructure
- Implementing a green stimulus is necessary to effectively combat climate change as we emerge from the grips of COVID-19
- Many communities disproportionately affected by the coronavirus are also disproportionately affected by climate change, so we must target a dualistic recovery
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The scoop: Given recent developments in fiscal policy, there is a compelling case to be made for a green stimulus package.
The proposal: Create millions of family-sustaining career-track green jobs, deliver strategic investments, Expand public and employee ownership, Make rapid cuts to carbon pollution
Bottom line: The Green Stimulus plan must decidedly advocate for ambitious measures and well-reasoned policies to correct the egregious destruction of American land and improve workers’ conditions nationwide. We must follow suit after several European countries’ green stimulus packages; the world is watching.
- The GND was founded on the belief that environmental issues are overlooked and underfunded
- The GND gained traction in 2018, when the Democratic Party took control of the house.
- Biden offered support to the GND, but differs on some policies like an immediate ban on all fracking activities.
Between the lines Biden has been urged to beef up his climate policy platform by climate advocacy groups to deal with the challenges global warming presents.
- Theodore Roosevelt’s Square Deal prioritized conservation of natural resources, control of corporations and consumer protection.
- Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal prioritised relief for poor, economic recovery and financial reform.
- Johnson’s Great Society aimed at alleviating social justice and education reform.
Key talking points
- It helps secure a sustainable future.
- Our society needs a paradigm shift towards the clean energy sector, this legislation could be among the last chances to make that happen.
- The GND is perhaps the encouragement voters need to mitigate the effects of global warming by utilizing the power of voting.
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What to know With the fate of the Clean Water Act hanging in the balance, the Supreme Court delivered a momentous verdict on County of Maui v. Hawai’i Wildlife Fund on Thursday, April 23.
The case centers on the County of Maui’s belief that the CWA only covers direct pollution discharge, not pollution that travels through groundwater. Because the county didn’t dump their wastewater directly into the ocean, they viewed any punishment as completely unjustified. The Trump administration decided to go against 40 years of EPA precedent and sided with the County of Maui.
Why it matters The decision sets a precedent for regulating indirect sources of pollution. Past decisions will need to be re-evaluated, like the 2018 appellate court rulings that ruled against requiring permits for coal ash impoundments.
Bottom line We are privileged to live in a country with a justice system that enables an environmental group to overrule a government-run wastewater treatment plant. Behind the scenes, groups like Earthjustice fight daily to represent our interests and protect the planet.
We must continue to educate ourselves on the nuances of the environmental laws that exist to protect us.
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