Trump's Coal Mandate Ignores the Real Threat to National Security
David P. Clarke - Writer and Editor
Writer and Editor
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David P. Clarke

Scientists understand that climate change looms ever more urgently as a cataclysmic threat to both the Earth’s biodiversity and human society. Rejecting the issue, however, the Trump administration isn’t content to merely halt or weaken Obama-era carbon regulatory programs and to withdraw from the global Paris climate agreement. In June we learned that the Department of Energy is weighing a proposal to help prop up failing coal and nuclear power plants that market forces would shut down, a policy DOE suggests is needed to avoid a power-generation shortage that might threaten national security.

But the closure of uneconomical plants “is not a national security issue,” says retired Vice Admiral Dennis McGinn, an advisory board member of the Center for Climate & Security, a nonpartisan institute guided by military and security experts. While perhaps once vital to U.S. national security, coal-fired power is no longer essential, and skewing markets to help the fossil-energy sector is generally a bad idea for the U.S. power portfolio and overall economy, McGinn says.

The Defense Department has long recognized climate change as a genuine threat to national security, McGinn adds. In the West, multi-year droughts and resulting possible wildfires hamper the ability of Army and Marine Corps bases to conduct realistic live-fire training. West Coast beach erosion and shifting harbor contours also constitute a threat. At the Hampton Roads military complex in Virginia, sea-level rise as well as the growing frequency and intensity of mid-Atlantic hurricanes are top concerns. Globally, climate change is a threat multiplier for instability, as recognized by the CNA Military Advisory Board in 2007 and again in 2014, when 11 retired generals and admirals concluded climate-related national security risks are “as serious as any challenges we have faced.”

When it comes to national security, DOD civilian and military leaders need the best possible data and objective analyses to understand security environments in which the military will have to operate five to 20 years into the future, McGinn says. For example, when various stresses destabilize societies, para-military groups, drug cartels, terrorist organizations, and others exploit the resulting power vacuum, and a U.S. military engagement could result or resources vital to national security could be threatened.

Regarding the proposal to bail out failing coal and nuclear plants, McGinn notes that an overlooked consequence of DOE’s reliance on the 1950 Defense Production Act’s authority as a basis for supporting the continued operation of uneconomical electricity plants is that billions of dollars would likely be diverted from defense budgets under such a policy, siphoning off more traditional national security funds.

While the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s June 12 hearing made clear that no grid reliability emergency exists, and diverse groups including conservative think tanks, Big Oil, and other energy organizations oppose DOE’s proposal, activists remain concerned that it nevertheless could have traction.

It is troubling that the administration has wrapped its proposal “in the national security flag,” says Gillian Giannetti, staff attorney with the Sustainable FERC Project, a clean-energy coalition, because “certain deferential standards can come with that.” But, even if DOE’s security assertions could make immediately defeating the proposal more difficult, the proposal lacks factual and legal support that ultimately will make it untenable, she adds.

According to Giannetti, dozens of reports have shown that grid outages are the result of distribution system weaknesses and grid elements outside of FERC’s direct authority that could be addressed at state and regional levels. Fuel security is not the reason the lights go out, she says, noting that less than 1 percent of outages were caused by fuel shortages. Real security issues, such as climate change impacts and cyber invasions, could take out distribution systems. But grid resilience and security could be enhanced by encouraging a broader, robust energy system that fully integrates distributed resources, such as wind and solar, with large-scale power generation, Giannetti says. DOE’s proposal would divert finite government resources from the real issues, she concludes, and ultimately consumers and taxpayers would pay for any bailout.

As DOD seeks objective information to understand the climate threat, a recent report by the progressive Center for American Progress, “Burning the Data,” finds that Trump requests would have cut federal climate and energy data and research funding 16.8 percent. Thankfully, appropriators rejected those cuts, though Trump is still trying.

Meanwhile, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, in 2017 the U.S. spent $306.2 billion on weather and climate-related disasters.

Almost no security or energy analysts support the president’s generation policy.

Pollution’s Death, Destruction Huge
Stephen R. Dujack - Environmental Law Institute
Environmental Law Institute
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Pollution’s Death, Destruction Huge

As the world mourns deaths from opioid overdoses, gun violence, terrorism, and killer storms, a study reveals that “environmental pollution is deadlier than all the world’s wars, and it kills more people every year than a plethora of other ills, from smoking and hunger to natural disasters,” as E&E News reports. The research, published in The Lancet, “found that 1 in 6 premature deaths in 2015 was attributable to pollution and toxic exposure. That adds up to about 9 million deaths, with a financial cost of $4.6 trillion — more than 6 percent of the world economy.”

In Europe, “filthy air caused half a million early deaths” in 2014, reports New Scientist, citing the European Environment Agency. The biggest killer “by far” was PM2.5, which alone caused 428,000 deaths in 41 European countries. The main source of this pollution was domestic woodburning. Nitrogen dioxide from vehicles contributed another 78,000 deaths, and ground-level ozone accounted for 14,400 premature departures.

None of the deaths above is directly due to climate change, which adds to the total toll of dying and destruction. Extreme heat isn’t just an inconvenience — it can kill, according to Kim Knowlton, deputy director of the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Science Center. The organization found that 210 million Americans are potentially affected by hotter than normal days.

“Cities like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and Boston could each experience at least six times as many dangerously hot summer days by 2100 as they did, on average, from 1975 to 2010,” NRDC said in an email. “Collectively, 45 major urban areas in the United States could see about 28,000 more deaths each year due to extremely hot summer days by the 2090s.”

So much for deaths. As for destruction, the data crunchers at Zillow, the real estate website, are predicting that one home in fifty in the United States will be flooded if seas rise by six feet, as forecast for century’s end. The value of the affected properties, which surprisingly will be in suburbs more than the cities, is $916 billion. “While the damage caused by recent hurricanes is a devastating reminder of how quickly the weather can undo people’s lives and destroy their homes,” the report says, “the potential for damage from a slower-moving phenomenon could be even more destructive.”

Concerned about droughts, wildfires, hurricanes, and other natural disasters affecting the United States, Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Maria Cantwell (D-WA) requested that the Government Accountability Office assay the costs to American society. GAO found that the federal government spent $350 billion over the last decade on crop losses, extreme weather, and other natural disasters, much of the total attributable to climate change. That sum does not include the cost of the four destructive hurricanes that hit the United States last year nor the huge wildifres that plagued the West, which would push that total over $400 billion.

“These costs will likely rise as the climate changes,” the office said in its summary overview. “GAO recommends that the appropriate entities within the Executive Office of the President, including the Office of Science and Technology Policy, use information on potential economic effects to help identify significant climate risks and craft appropriate federal responses.” Good idea, but OSTP has largely been a “ghost town,” according to the New York Times, and the president has nominated a woman whose expertise is comparative literature and who believes that increased carbon dioxide is actually beneficial to head his Council on Environmental Quality.

In a report on the GAO study, E&E News found that “the document said the fiscal implications of climate change are likely to vary by region. The Midwest and Great Plains are likely to see a decrease in crop yields, while the West could suffer increases in drought, wildfire, and heat waves. The Southeast is at risk for coastal property loss from sea-level rise and coastal erosion. The Northeast is also at risk for storm surges.”

Representative Mike Quigley (DIL) summed it up: “The costs of climate change are staggering and will only continue to mount in the future.” Quigley, the vice chair of the Sustainable Energy & Environments Coalition, declared, “Climate change is a fiscal problem, an agricultural problem, a food and water problem, a housing and transportation problem. There is no area of society or sector of our economy that is immune to climate impacts.”

Notice & Comment is written by the editor and represents his views.


Federalism Down Under

“Referring to laws that protect the environment as ‘green tape’ is like referring to speed limits as transport inefficiencies. Environmental laws are there for environment protection. The regular attempts of state governments to put the environment last demands a federal role.”
— Opposition environment spokesman Tony Burke as quoted in The Australian


Polluter Pays, Precautionary Principle Pulled Out of Pullout Bill

The cornerstones of wildlife and habitat protection have been quietly left out of the withdrawal bill ripping the heart out of environmental law, campaigners say.

A key principle under EU law which provides a robust legal backstop against destruction of the environment — the precautionary principle — has been specifically ruled out of the bill as a means of legal challenge in British courts.

Based on the idea that the environment is unowned, the precautionary principle creates a bottom line forcing those who want to build or develop, for example, to prove in law what they are doing will not damage the environment.

Other key elements of EU legal protection, the polluter pays, and the principle that preventative action should be taken to avert environmental damage, have also been ruled out in the bill as a means to protect the natural world from damage by policymakers, development or industry after Brexit.

The withdrawal bill began to be debated in committee [in October] by MPs. Ministers are facing intense lobbying by Greener UK, an umbrella group of several leading environmental NGOs and backbench MPs, to ensure that the UK does not throw out these key protections.

Richard Benwell, head of government affairs at WWT, said: “Take out principles like precaution and polluter pays and you rip out the heart of environmental law.”
The Guardian


News That's Reused

The temperature was 97 degrees at the start of the World Series in Los Angeles, setting a record for the Fall Classic, reports E&E News. One thinks of managers and relief pitchers wearing team jackets as they go about their business during the games that begin in late October. But the Santa Ana winds roared down from the mountains to Dodger Stadium, where the LA squad faced off against the Houston Astros, a team immune to the weather in its signature dome.

A Peruvian farmer is suing German energy giant RWE for its role in melting a glacier above his town. The meltwater is overflowing a dam protecting the settlement, requiring the equivalent of $4 million in repairs to the aging structure. The suit seeks $20,000, an amount that takes into account RWE’s share of global greenhouse gas emissions, which the farmer calculates as .05 percent.

“The glacial melt is very fast there and some glaciers are about to disappear due to global warming,” Saul Luciano Lliuy told Reuters. “Those responsible are the big industries that have burned coal . . . that have burned petroleum. The main objective of what we want to achieve is that these businesses stop polluting.”

Another farmer, this one in China, is suing a local chemical plant for polluting his farmland. “Wang Enlin, an elderly farmer who left school when he was 10 years old and taught himself law armed with a single textbook and dictionary, makes for an unlikely eco-warrior,” reports The (U.K.) Daily Mail.

“Wang and other villagers from northeast Heilongjiang province have sued Qihua accusing it of contaminating their soil, rendering it untenable for crops, in a case that has stretched on for more than 16 years.”

A local court ruled in his favor, ordering the giant firm to clean up a waste site bordering the farmland and pay 55 affected households the equivalent of $120,000. “But that ruling was overturned on appeal, and Wang is now gearing up to fight back on another day in court.”

Climate change means a good recruitment climate for ISIS, the venerable National Geographic reports. “Across rural Iraq and Syria, farmers, officials, and village elders tell similar stories of desperate farmhands swapping backhoes for assault rifles.” ISIS has found the infertile fields ripe for induction. “Already battered by decades of shoddy environmental policies, which had hobbled agriculture and impoverished its dependents, these men were in no state to navigate the extra challenges of climate change.”

This would not be the first instance of resource stress or scarcity leading to armed conflict — tales go back millennia and include many current conflicts as well. But it is a harbinger of conflicts to come as millions of environmental refugees test receiving countries, and many end up as mercenaries as a means of survival.

California has fined a Russian consulate for burning trash presumed to be secret documents when the facility was ordered to close as part of a tiff between Washington and Moscow, according to Newsweek.

“The Bay Area Air Quality Management District issued the unspecified fine . . . in response to the mysterious plumes of black smoke that escaped the building’s chimney . . . two days before the staff was forced to abandon the post during the ongoing diplomatic spat between the United States and Russia.”

News on deaths from pollution, warming gets even worse.