See You in Court, Mr. Trump (Part 1)

By William S. Becker The rising number of Americans who want the government to do something about climate change should be thankful that there are three branches of government in the United States. That’s because the Legislative Branch has not done anything since October 1992, and the hard work done by the previous Executive Branch is being trashed by Donald Trump. So, climate action groups have turned to the courts, not only in the U.S. but worldwide. In the first 2.5 years of his presidency, Donald Trump and his team have tried to undermine or reverse federal climate policies 94 times. Analyzing the first two years of Trump’s tenure, the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University reviewed 159 legal cases involving federal policies related to climate change. Cases filed by the good guys outnumbered the bad guys 4 to 1. The Trump Administration’s batting average is not good. Not once during 2017 and 2018 have the courts ruled in favor of the Administration. Thanks largely to the legal eagles at organizations pressing for climate action, the cases

July 19th, 2019|home, Uncategorized|

When the Legislative and Executive Branches Fail to Act

Editor’s Note: During the first two years in office, Donald Trump and his administration tried to undermine or reverse federal climate policies 94 times. The result was at least 129 lawsuits to defend those policies. More broadly, there were more than 1,000 climate-related lawsuits in the U.S. as of May 2019, brought by individuals and organizations against corporations and governments. PCAP invited retired Magistrate Judge Thomas Coffin to comment on the role of the judiciary in forcing climate action. He is the former Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California and the Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Oregon. He served as the U.S. Magistrate Judge for the District of Oregon from 1992 to 2016.   By Honorable Magistrate Thomas Coffin (retired) Global climate change is the most urgent issue of this or any century, but the Executive and Legislative Branches of the U.S. government have so far failed to address it with the level of substance and seriousness it requires. The two branches of our three-branch government have been locked in a power struggle for many

July 15th, 2019|home, Uncategorized|

Another Way Trump is Dissing Congress

By William S. Becker The President of the United States must “take care that the laws be faithfully executed” and must take an oath to “faithfully execute the office of the President.” – Article II, U.S. Constitution Between its other investigations of Donald Trump and his administration, Congress may want to defend its right to pass laws with confidence that the Executive Branch will implement and enforce them. More specifically, the House should look into whether Trump’s war on federal regulations is letting polluters violate the letter or the spirit of the nation’s environmental statutes. By one count, the Trump administration has or is trying to roll back more than 80 federal rules on air pollution, drilling, water pollution, and toxic substances. As I noted in a recent blog, nine out of 10 of these attempts have been defeated in court, an indication that Trump’s team is firing its anti-regulation shotguns without much care for what they hit. Trump realizes that this doesn’t look good for reelection. A spokesman at the White House says Trump will hold an event Monday

July 5th, 2019|home, Uncategorized|

Impeachment? Take It to the People

By William S. Becker She is third in line to the presidency and arguably the most powerful woman in America. She’s widely regarded as a political genius. But nobody should envy Nancy Pelosi right now. As Speaker of the House in the age of Trump and the wake of Mueller, Pelosi is walking a high-wire between politics and principle. The principle is that the House of Representatives has a constitutional responsibility to keep a president of the United States from abusing the powers of that office. The political issue is Pelosi's concern that her party would lose control of the House if the American people believe that impeachment is not justified. I am not remotely qualified to offer Pelosi advice on how to walk the tightrope. But I will do it anyway: First, principle should trump politics. The House's most important responsibility is to carry out its constitutional mandate. Second, rather than waiting for the House to finish its many investigations of Trump’s performance in office, Democrats should take the case of impeachment home to the American people. Members should

June 20th, 2019|home, Uncategorized|

What is the Social Cost of Carbon?

Reprinted from MIT Technology Review By David Rotman In contrast to the existential angst currently in fashion around climate change, there’s a cold-eyed calculation that its advocates, mostly economists, like to call the most important number you’ve never heard of. It’s the social cost of carbon. It reflects the global damage of emitting one ton of carbon dioxide into the sky, accounting for its impact in the form of warming temperatures and rising sea levels. Economists, who have squabbled over the right number for a decade, see it as a powerful policy tool that could bring rationality to climate decisions. It’s what we should be willing to pay to avoid emitting that one more ton of carbon. For most of us, it’s a way to grasp how much our carbon emissions will affect the world’s health, agriculture, and economy for the next several hundred years. Maximilian Auffhammer, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, describes it this way: it’s approximately the damage done by driving from San Francisco to Chicago, assuming that about a ton of carbon dioxide spits out of

April 26th, 2019|home, Uncategorized|

Congressional Action on Resilient Infrastructure: Areas of Progress and Future Needs

By Brian La Shier, Jessie Stolark, and Ellen Vaughan The Environment and Energy Study Institute (EESI) has issued this informative paper on recent congressional actions to encourage the development of resilient infrastructure.  INFRASTRUCTURE Natural and built systems that can better withstand severe weather and other hazards. Resilient infrastructure saves lives and property during catastrophic events, reduces the cost of recovery, and provides significant cost savings over the life of infrastructure systems. Climate-resilient infrastructure is designed and built with future weather patterns in mind, based on observed events, data and modeling. Even though the 115th Congress did not enact a comprehensive infrastructure bill as many had hoped, lawmakers passed and advanced several pieces of legislation that address resilience in homes, defense facilities, airports, and water infrastructure. Going forward, resilience should be a central goal for the new construction, repair, or modernization of any infrastructure project, from early planning, budgeting, and design, through the duration of a project's life cycle. At a minimum, Congress can require resilience metrics and mitigation strategies for federally-funded projects. Prioritizing resilience in planning decisions can help meet

April 17th, 2019|home, Uncategorized|

Why We Need the Feds

By William S. Becker For at least 20 years in the United States, the relationship between climate-action advocates and the federal government has been like the relationship between Charlie Brown and Lucy's football. Every time it looked as though congresses and presidents might do something, the climate movement ended up on its clunibus. We have to go back to 1992 to find Congress's last positive act on climate change. That was the year the Senate blessed and President George H.W. Bush ratified the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. Since then, the two presidents who used their own authority to cut the nation’s carbon pollution were succeeded by presidents who forced the country to backslide. When Donald Trump announced that he plans to pull America out of the Paris climate agreement, a monumental achievement of the Obama Administration, it was no surprise that many in the climate-action movement gave up on the Feds. The silver lining in Trump's stupid decision, however, was that many cities, states and businesses stepped into the leadership void. More than 3,500 corporate executives, college

April 8th, 2019|home, Uncategorized|

What will it take to decarbonize on time?

By William S. Becker Several committees in the new House of Representatives have put climate disruption on their agendas -- a long overdue departure from silence, snowballs and stupidity when deniers are in control of Congress. If the committees discuss America’s energy mix – which they should since fossil fuels are what's changing the climate – things could get very interesting. Why? It will be interesting not only because the carbon cartel will flex its muscles publicly and privately to prevent any talk about keeping its assets in the ground.  It will be interesting, too, because environmentalists, climate hawks, advocacy groups and citizens might not agree on how to do what we must: achieve a net-zero carbon economy within 30 years. In other words, we will have to take as much carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere as we put in. In broad strokes, this requires that a) we dramatically increase our energy productivity; b) we reduce, if not completely abandon, the use of fossil fuels to provide electricity, transportation fuels, industrial energy requirements and so on; and c) we

February 1st, 2019|home, Uncategorized|

Shooting at the Wrong Tax Target

By William S. Becker Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been in Congress just a few days, but she's already looking like the Robin Hood of the climate-action movement. She and her merry band of progressives in the House of Representatives are the kind of heroes we need right now. But Ocasio-Cortez has aimed her first arrow at the wrong target. Ocasio-Cortez is a champion of the Green New Deal, a plan to combat climate change by producing 100% of the nation’s electricity with renewable resources within 10 years.  While so much progress in so little time may seem unrealistic, America has done great things even faster. The shift to zero-carbon energy is the right idea and Congress should be aiming high. The Green New Deal has a social justice dimension, too, so Ocasio-Cortez has proposed that it be financed by raising the marginal tax rate to 70% for people making more than $10 million annually. That would kill two big birds at once. It would reduce income inequality as well as carbon emissions. Some of her progressive Democratic colleagues in the

January 14th, 2019|home, Uncategorized|

Building the Green New Deal

By William S. Becker The always informative blog Grist reports that the proposal for a national Green New Deal is stirring up criticism from grassroots organizations that have worked for a long time on social justice, renewable energy, the sovereign rights of Native Americans and other dimensions of the idea pushed by freshman U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Some long-time activists are concerned that the idea was developed “top down” by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign, rather than at the grassroots where boots with well-worn soles are on the ground. Grist reports that Ocasio-Cortez’s staff is now taking in ideas from many of those organizations and the Green New Deal is growing from a concept into a more specific set of objectives. In case there still is any friction about the top-down origins of the idea, let’s consider how these things often work. The idea of a Green New Deal has been around for a long time before Rep. Ocasio-Cortez adopted it, but the way it has appeared on the congressional stage is not untypical. In the intense pressure and pace of political

January 10th, 2019|home, Uncategorized|

2019: Year of the Carbon Revolution?

Second in a series of occasional articles about the new Congress and climate change. The clear and present danger of climate change means we cannot burn our way to prosperity. We already rely too heavily on fossil fuels. We need to find a new, sustainable path to the future we want. We need a clean industrial revolution. -  Ban Ki-moon By William S. Becker It is dangerous to recommend a revolution in a nation whose citizens are armed to the teeth. Some people might get the wrong idea. But it is also dangerous for a complacent citizenry to leave the country in the hands of leaders who violate the trust we have placed in them. That's what is happening today as members of Congress ignore the wishes of the people who elected them. Research shows, for example, that the American people want more federal protections for the environment. Instead, President Trump is rolling them back and Congress is acquiescing. However, the most dangerous example of official negligence is the refusal of Congress and/or the President to do something about two

December 29th, 2018|home, Uncategorized|