TWITE 07.20.17

Posted July 19, 2017

Welcome back, friends, to This Week in the Environment—Greenpower’s aggregation, courtesy of our resident doctor of the environment, Jon Conway, highlighting the top climate news from the past seven days. This week we see a couple of patterns continuing to emerge on the national scene: Trump continues to tap foxes to man the environmental henhouse (more animal metaphors to follow) but the chickens are clawing and scratching in defense of their domain. This week’s heroic hens include the Court of Appeals, a group of earth-loving nuns, and three California communities who make the case that Big Oil might just be Big Tobacco’s big brother. Read on for all that and more.

5. U.S. court gives environmental regulator 14-day extension on methane rule Reuters

It may seem counterintuitive for an industry to push for inefficient and wasteful practices, but that is exactly what the natural gas industry has done via their new ally, the now-misnamed Environmental Protection Agency. EPA head Scott Pruitt has publicly admitted that a new rule requiring natural gas companies to appropriately address methane leaks would protect children’s health (not to mention greatly reduce the climate impact of the natural gas industry), but has tried to freeze its implementation anyway. However, a Court of Appeals ruling has granted the EPA only a 14-day delay, stating,

"To stay issuance of the mandate for longer would hand the agency, in all practical effect, the very delay in implementation this panel determined to be 'arbitrary, capricious and in excess of EPA's statutory authority."

4. Trump taps industry lawyer to lead energy commission The Hill

While not directly related to any current legal cases, Trump’s decision to appoint an energy industry lawyer to head the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) will put an industry insider with a deep legal background in charge of the agency responsible for approving all oil and gas pipelines. FERC has already established itself as a powerful friend to the fossil fuel industry, having only denied two out of hundreds of pipeline requests over the last 30 years. Releasing this new alligator into Trump’s swamp can only spell trouble for everyone but his industry cronies.

3. Pennsylvania nuns oppose fracking gas pipeline through 'holy' land The Guardian

A group of Catholic nuns has filed a legal complaint against FERC’s decision to approve a fracked natural gas pipeline running through their land. After learning of the pipeline’s approval, the nuns erected a simple outdoor chapel directly in the path of the line and are opposing the pipeline on grounds of religious freedom. This case provides interesting parallels to other cases—such as the Lakota resistance to the Dakota Access pipeline, where the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and the other tribes of the Lakota people also claimed that the pipeline impinged on their right to religious freedom since it desecrated lands they consider to be holy. 

However, the nuns may fare better in their legal battle, as they practice a religion recognized and respected by Western culture and have not been subjected to the intense discrimination, racism, and genocide perpetrated on the Lakota people.

2. Climate change will force today’s kids to pay for costly carbon removal technologies, study says The Washington Post

Inspired by the landmark “children’s climate lawsuit” Juiliana v. U.S., noted climate scientist Jim Hansen has published a new paper in the journal Earth Systems Dynamics putting forth the idea that in order to prevent the worst effects of climate change, future generations will need to go beyond emission reductions and spend huge amounts of money on carbon capture and storage facilities. Hansen argues that because the role of feedback loops has not been adequately addressed in international climate goals, countries’ pledges to reduce emissions will not be sufficient on their own. Capturing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in a way that prevents it from returning to the atmosphere is currently a very expensive and inefficient process, and scaling it up to the point needed will be one of the greatest challenges our species has faced. 

All generations pay for the sins of their fathers, but no children will pay a heavier or more tragic cost than those born today.

"Some consequences [of climate change] are already becoming inevitable, but as yet it could be moderate if we begin to reduce emissions rapidly. So that’s the objective—to try to get the global community to understand the importance of beginning those emissions reductions soon, and keeping the task that we’re leaving for young people one that they can manage." Jim Hansen

1. California communities are suing 37 fossil fuel companies over climate damages ThinkProgress

California faces mass migration and the loss of billions of dollars worth of property value due to sea level rise in the coming decades, and now two counties and a city have filed a lawsuit against a number of fossil fuel companies demanding payment for future losses caused by these companies’ climate negligence. Fossil fuel companies have taken many of the same pages (and some of the same key players) from the tobacco industry’s misinformation campaign denying the link between smoking and cancer to spread climate change denial, and this new lawsuit is attempting to use the same tactic that helped cripple Big Tobacco. The tobacco industry was found guilty of being a public nuisance, or causing widespread harm against a community. The fossil fuel industry is doing the exact same thing, only on a much more devastating scale, so this lawsuit may be the key to making these companies pay the price for their gross irresponsibility and greed.

"The environmental harm these companies knowingly caused to our precious shorelines, and the entire world, and their deliberate efforts to conceal those frightening truths, jeopardizes the public’s health and places the financial burden of those consequences on the taxpayers." Don Horsley, San Mateo County Board of Supervisors President

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