Sunset over a melting Arctic.
President Trump signed executive actions Tuesday to advance the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines, two major targets of the movement to push back against the fossil fuel industry and fight climate change. The resurrection of Keystone XL, in particular, is a slap in the face for the broad coalition of activists that persuaded Obama, in 2015, to halt its construction.
Jane Kleeb, of Bold Alliance in Nebraska, a major player in creating the coalition against Keystone XL, said in a press call Tuesday:
“This is what we’ve seen from Trump right from the early days, putting out false solution to the real problems working class families are facing. He is pretending to approve these pipelines, and yet both of them face a lot of local resistance and legal challenges, including on-the-ground permitting they have to get through.”
“Everyone counted us out when we took on KXL before,” she continued. “With our brothers and sisters in Nebraska, we will rise up again—and this time we have millions of women in the streets with us.”
"We will rise up again—and this time we have millions of women in the streets with us.”
This news comes on the heels of a report from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that 2016 was the warmest year ever, and the third warmest year in a row. NASA’s impressive climate visuals clarify just how much more heat and less ice planet Earth is experiencing, although if you haven’t seen it, hurry, because that nifty visualization, and the data behind it, might disappear at any moment.
The day Donald Trump took office, a new White House web page displayed a list of “top issues” which, unlike on the Obama White House site, does not include climate. Instead, topping those “top issues,” we find “An America First Energy Plan.” Here is paragraph two, the only place where climate is mentioned:
“For too long, we’ve been held back by burdensome regulations on our energy industry. President Trump is committed to eliminating harmful and unnecessary policies such as the Climate Action Plan and the Waters of the U.S. rule. Lifting these restrictions will greatly help American workers, increasing wages by more than $30 billion over the next 7 years.”
That wage increase, by the way, is based on research commissioned by a fossil fuel industry nonprofit on the economic impact of opening up oil, gas, and coal exploration on all federal lands.
Obama used his executive power to create the Climate Action Plan in 2013, the first law to limit carbon emission on all coal-fired power plants. It also directed the Interior Department to to move forward on wind and solar projects on public lands by 2020. At the time, many climate activists and scientists saw that legislation as falling far short of needed action.
The Waters of the U.S. rule protects freshwater wetlands and waterways by placing them in the jurisdiction of the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversee the Clean Water Act. Arguing that pollution upstream impacts water quality downstream, and that weak state and local regulations leave drinking water and streams vulnerable, Obama created the Waters of the U.S. rule in 2015 to help clarify and expand what waters the federal government could move to protect. Republicans say the rule is government overreach—and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit issued a nationwide stay on the rule in the fall of 2015.
These two pieces of legislation are important tools for diversifying our nation’s energy sources, building a renewable energy industry, and protecting our drinking water, lakes, and streams.
During his Senate confirmation hearing, Scott Pruitt, Trump’s pick to head the Environmental Protection Agency, faced repeated questions about his support from, and for, fossil fuel interests. U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, Democrat of Rhode Island and member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, pointed to a chart listing ExxonMobil, Murray Energy, and Koch Industries, among other companies that he says have contributed to Pruitt's campaigns and organizations.
Senator Sheldon Whitehouse questioning Scott Pruitt on his associations with the fossil fuel industry.
Pruitt was also hammered by Democrats asking him for his opinion on climate. He said he didn’t think that climate change was a “hoax,” as Trump has called it. But he stopped well short of naming it an issue of central concern for the top administrator of the EPA:
“Science tells us that the climate is changing and that human activity in some manner impacts that change . . . The ability to measure with precision the degree and extent of that impact and what to do about it are subject to continuing debate and dialogue, and well it should be.”
Senator Bernie Sanders was flabbergasted: “You aren’t certain, but most scientists are telling us . . . that unless we act boldly there is a real question about the quality of the planet we will leave our children and grandchildren,” he said. “You are applying for a job as administrator for the EPA to protect our environment, and an overwhelming majority of scientists say we have to act boldly, and you are telling me there needs to be more debate on this issue.”
Senator Bernie Sanders at the confirmation hearings for Scott Pruitt's to head the EPA.
The glaciers are moving a great deal faster than the U.S. political process on climate change. (At the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland this past week, China stepped into the gap on climate change left by the United States, promising to take a lead on renewable energy.)
The word “denial” is too passive to capture the extent of rightwing Republicans’ retrograde posturing on climate. As the world gets hotter, and the science gets better, their strategies are ever more aggressive.
“Earth’s climate is changing. Human activities that increase heat-trapping (‘greenhouse’) gases are the main cause.”
“As it has done throughout the centuries, the earth is going through a change. The reasons for this change at this particular time in the earth’s long history are being debated and researched by academic entities outside the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.”
The blowback to this change included a statement from a group of scientists at the University of Wisconsin:
“[T]he revised version is simply incorrect . . . Greenhouse gases created by burning fossil fuels are driving these dramatic and accelerating changes in climate. The consensus on this is clear... Ignoring facts and this responsibility, hobbles the state agency entrusted to manage natural resources and protect the public. It also portrays the Wisconsin state government as anti-science.”
This isn’t just climate denial, it’s climate scrubbing, climate erasure, climate redaction. What is a rational person who believes in science to do?
A coalition of social justice activists, landowners, climate change scientists, indigenous rights proponents and others is already forming to fight back. The group 350.org has proclaimed January a “month of resistance,” and is preparing for a People’s Climate Mobilization march on April 29th in Washington, D.C.
Groups vulnerable to the predations of the fossil fuel industry include indigenous people whose tribal lands and water are threatened by pipelines, people living with pollutant-laced drinking water or in houses with foundations cracking from hundreds of earthquakes caused by fracking, people who have lost livelihoods due to oil spills that destroy coastlines, and people, especially children, sickened by polluted air.
As attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt filed fourteen lawsuits against the agency that he now aims to head but, as Senator Cory Booker’s questioning during his hearing exposed, never concerned himself with the high rate of childhood asthma in his state, a problem directly linked to air pollution.
Do you know how many kids in Oklahoma have asthma?” Booker asked. “I do not, Senator,” Pruitt replied.
Senator Cory Booker questions Scott Pruitt, nominee to head the EPA.
“More than 110,000 kids in Oklahoma, more than 10 percent of all children, according to the American Lung Association, have asthma . . . one of the highest rates in America,” Booker said.
The health and safety of vulnerable people are threatened by the same industries and lax regulation that exacerbate climate change. A coalition representing these groups is gathering forces, preparing to push back against the Trump Administration’s assault.