The POW Dispatch: Our Take On Climate News, December 4, 2020

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WORDS & FEATURED IMAGE: DONNY O’NEILL

Welcome to The Dispatch, Protect Our Winters’ weekly wrap-up of climate news, complete with our take on each topic and how that impacts our ongoing efforts to reduce the effects of climate change.

Right at the time of publication of this week’s POW Dispatch, news broke that the outgoing administration would hold a lease sale for drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge on January 6, 2021. We outline what this means, below. Additionally, the states of Maine and Texas are taking steps to build a renewable energy infrastructure, the EPA’s rush to instate a new scientific rule is met with internal backlash and much more.  

Austin Siadak, Clare Gallagher, Tommy Caldwell and Luke Nelson in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

Photo: Austin Siadak

Notable Quote:

The Bureau of Land Management did not wait for the comment and nominations period to officially end before scheduling a sale date.” – Tegan Hanlon, Alaska Public Media reporter, Alaska’s Energy Desk – Anchorage

Our Takeaway:

At the eleventh hour, the outgoing administration announced it will auction off drilling rights in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) on January 6, 2021. The announcement of the sale date comes despite the fact that the period for comment and nominations doesn’t end until December 17, 2020. The time period is set aside for public comment about the prospect of leasing oil rights on ANWR’s coastal plain, as well as for nominations for specific parcels of land to be auctioned off by prospective buyers. This failure to wait for the end of the comment and nomination period signals a last-ditch effort to enforce a policy of opening public land to fossil fuel development, a signature of the outgoing administration. Additionally, all major American banks, including Bank of America, are refusing to finance oil projects in the arctic (take a look at our work to Stop The Money Pipeline), further evidence that this rushed lease sale by the outgoing administration is a mere attempt to add another notch on their belt of environmental deregulation.

The preservation of public lands is crucial for so much more than just conservation. Currently, 20 to 25 percent of our nation’s emissions come from fossil fuel extraction on public lands, and adding more natural gas development to huge swaths of federal land will only exacerbate that problem. The Arctic is ground zero for the preservation of public lands in order to curb climate change. President-elect Joe Biden has stated his opposition to drilling in ANWR, and his overall position on public lands protections should be a direction the nation moves in now and in the future. For more on our work with public lands, click here

 

 Notable Quote:

“Human subjects research is the most predictive data for establishing the human health impact from environmental exposures… Any rule or guidance that diminishes or removes high-quality research from consideration in rulemaking results in poorly developed rules.” – Dr. Thomas Sinks, former director of the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) science advisory office

Our Takeaway: 

One of EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler’s top tasks prior to Inauguration Day on January 20, 2021, is finalizing the “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science” rule. The rule limits the type of scientific research that can be used to draft environmental public health regulations. It allows the EPA to give preference to studies in which all underlying data is publicly available. Scientists argue this permits the agency to downplay research linking air pollution to premature deaths that relied on the personal health information of thousands of subjects who were guaranteed confidentiality. Medical and scientific organizations state that this hamstrings the EPA’s ability to implement new air and water protections due to the personal privacy considerations put into place. 

Prior to his retirement in September, former director of the EPA’s science advisory office, Dr. Thomas Sinks, filed a “dissenting scientific opinion” stating that the impending rule was a detriment to public health. The formal statement signals a lack of consultation of career scientists in regulatory development by Wheeler and his politically appointed deputies but also gives the incoming administration a tool to repeal the rule. 

POW’s goal to combat the climate crisis doesn’t come down to simply preserving powder stashes, hiking trails or climbing crags, but protecting the health of the planet and the inhabitants of it. The greatest asset we have in that mission is the wealth of scientific data collected by dedicated scientists around the world. Science is a key pillar in our ongoing strategy to act on climate. For more on the standout members of our Science Alliance, click here.

Photo: Ming Poon

Notable Quote:

“I do see Republican support, and not only Democrat support, for an approach that would involve a carbon tax with redistribution. It’s not politically impossible.” – Janet Yellen, US president-elect Joe Biden’s pick for treasury secretary and former chair of the Federal Reserve

Our Takeaway:

Carbon taxing charges a fee on carbon dioxide emissions and is generally measured by the metric ton. The tax is usually applied either on the quantity of emissions produced or on a specific good or service that’s greenhouse gas-heavy, such as gasoline. Janet Yellen, president-elect Joe Biden’s pick for treasury secretary, supports a plan that proposes an initial carbon tax of $40 per metric ton, which would increase yearly by 5% after that. It could cut carbon dioxide emissions in the United States in half by 2035 and would funnel revenues from the tax back to households. 

Carbon pricing is a huge component of POW’s policy agenda. Setting an economy-wide price on carbon is a comprehensive strategy to reduce emissions and mitigate climate change, without having to fight individual legislative battles one regulation at a time. By accounting for the actual cost of burning fossil fuels, it creates a more competitive market for renewable energy, too. For more on carbon pricing, click here.

A cracked river bed in Utah.

Photo: Donny O’Neill

Notable Quote:

“We now have north of 50% of global emissions covered by big countries with a zero-emissions by mid-century goal. When you add all that up, along with what a whole bunch of other countries are doing, then you move the temperature dial from around 2.7C to really quite close to two degrees.” – Bill Hare, Climate Analytics

Our Takeaway:

The Climate Action Tracker group projected world temperatures could be held to 2.1C above pre-industrial levels by the end of this century, after taking into account new climate agendas from China and other countries, as well as the recent climate action plans of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden. 

The creation of the 2015 Paris climate agreement aimed at holding global temperatures at 2C above pre-industrial levels to avoid catastrophic warming of the earth. 

In the past three months, China reported to the UN that the country will reach net zero emissions by 2060, while Japan and South Korea pledged to reach net-zero by 2050. Similarly, South Africa and Canada announced net-zero targets. And the election of Joe Biden in the United States signals a recommitment to Paris agreement goals from the United States.

While there’s still a long journey toward achieving net-zero emissions in the United States, the findings of the Climate Action Tracker group paint a picture of a goal still within reach, one that will take buy-in from countries across the globe. That’s why it remains imperative to continue making progress toward climate-focused policies such as a transition to renewables, carbon pricing, electrified transit and removal of fossil fuel emissions from public lands. The countries signed onto the Paris agreement will meet this month to discuss new carbon reduction targets by 2030. Stay tuned for more coverage on the Paris agreement as the United States is set to rejoin the commitment at the beginning of President-elect Biden’s first term. 

Solar Power Booms in Texas

The Wall Street Journal

Invenergy’s Woodville Solar Farm in Ontario

Notable Quote:

We’ve reached a turning point. These numbers point to the fact that solar is really starting to take off.” – Warren Lasher, senior director of system planning at the Electric Reliability Council of Texas

Our Takeaway:

Due to its wind power, Texas is the leading renewable energy producer in the United States, but its solar energy production is about to skyrocket. A solar farm northeast of Dallas owned by Invenergy LLC broke ground this year and is expected to be the largest in the country when it’s completed in 2023. The project will supply enough electricity to power 300,000 homes. 

The growth in solar is tied in part to a federal tax credit available to solar developers. However, the credit is set to be substantially reduced by 2022, but that could change under the new administration which has pledged support for renewable energy growth. Regardless, the push for solar in Texas is indicative of increasing demand for clean energy and the commitment by more and more large companies to support carbon-reduction goals. 

As part of its policy agenda, POW believes in transitioning to a clean, renewable energy economy. Not only does it make sense with regards to curbing emissions, but by 2035 it will be more expensive to run natural-gas-fired power plants than to build wind and solar farms. It makes sense for the bottom line, too.

For more on POW’s work with renewable energy, click here.

The beautiful Maine coast.

Photo: Andrew Christ

Notable Quote:

Climate change will have profound implications for our state, our economy, and our people, both present and future. This is why Maine won’t wait, and can’t wait, to take action.” – Maine Governor Janet Mills

Our Takeaway:

In remarks made regarding the release of Maine’s new Climate Action Plan, authored by the Maine Climate Council (MCC), on Tuesday, Gov. Janet Mills emphasized the importance of addressing the impacts of climate change on the state of Maine through legislation that doubles the number of clean energy jobs to 30,000 by 2030 and jumpstarting cost-effective renewable energy development.

The document, called “Maine Won’t Wait, a Plan for Climate Action” is a four-year roadmap directed at drastically reducing greenhouse gas emissions and constructing a clean-energy economy to lessen the impacts of climate change. 

POW’s sister organization, the POW Action Fund, worked extensively in Maine to galvanize its passionate outdoor community to take action on climate this fall. Protect Our Winters also gathered the Outdoor State to comment on the MCC’s recommendations on how to achieve statewide carbon neutrality by 2045 and an 80-percent reduction of Maine’s greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Maine’s outdoor community urged the MCC to address specific strategies tied to POW’s policy agenda, including investing in a clean energy economy, electrifying the transportation sector, setting an economy-wide price on carbon and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from public lands. Maine’s renewable energy and electrified transit goals outlined in the plan are among the boldest in the country, and the plan is evidence of the influence the Outdoor State can have in spurring climate action at the legislative level.

The High Lonesome Wind Farm in New Mexico.

Photo: Enel Green Power

Notable Quote:

Where we get our energy will determine whether we can ward off catastrophic climate change and how well we are able to cope with the consequences that are already here.” – Sophie Yeo, freelance journalist

Our Takeaway:

Citing the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan, the article outlines the vulnerability of fossil fuel-powered communities to the disasters caused by climate change. Not only does the switch to reliance on renewable energy help slow the onslaught of climate change, but renewable energy systems are proven to be more resilient against climate disasters.

Solar panels and wind turbines are incredibly versatile, acting as mini power plants in themselves that can be disconnected from a central grid, allowing them to operate even when the main power supply fails. 

POW is working tirelessly to push for a transition to a clean, renewable energy economy to reduce, and eventually eliminate, our reliance on fossil fuels, not only to slow climate change, but also to protect against disasters already impacting communities. Renewable energy systems are a preemptive defense against the current effects of climate change.

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