The Coming Assaults on the Environment

Image result for but her emails

The Russia investigations are a grand opera, and there is a strand of thinking among the clever set that it is a Distraction from the real evil of the Trump campaign. To that, as part of the meta-clever set (and we’re just as irritating), I say: very true! But also: nonsense.

It’s nonsense because the Grand Guignol corruption, of which the Russia element is a key part, is a direct threat to our democracy.  That this is making an already deeply-ignorant and hair-trigger dumb President even more unhinged is an enormous issue. Trump’s respect for the mechanisms of our republic are already paper-thin, if that (witness the CinC telling active-duty service members to call their Congressmen in support of GOP policies); if he feels his misdeeds threaten his power, who knows what he’ll do. To say this is a distraction is to say an earthquake is a distraction from your looming heart attack. Both things are bad!

Because, yes: we do get distracted from the day-to-day awfulness of this administration, and the GOP in general. Perhaps the longest-lasting impact will be on the environment, or what is left of it.

Regulations Are For Chumps

 

Mulvaney: As you can see, freedom is dead. 

 

Last week the WaPo did a deep dive on the administration’s dismantling of the regulatory state. This has little to do with Trump, except for his self-sworn and entirely self-centered belief that businesspeople (businessmen, really) would do great if they were just left alone, because they are geniuses and don’t need any interference or help from Uncle Sucker, except when it comes to bankruptcy protection. And patent protection. And the police that protect the interests of the monied class. But still.

It’s mostly gnome-standard GOP stuff above and beyond Trump. The stated philosophy is to unleash the power of the market. The sub-philosophy is that government has no role and that any regulation is bad. The underlying idea is that there is no common good and the rich should be able to plunder.  That’s why they want to dismantle any worker and environmental protections.

We can argue about which regulations are needed and which go too far. We can argue about the role of government. But they truly believe there is no role. And they believe that because workers and the environment are the fodder of capital for other people. They go in, get churned up, and money comes out and into the pockets of the rich.

Congress Takes on Pipelines and Conduits, With Expected Results

Congress is involved too. Last week, a couple of bills passed the House and were sent on to the Senate.

One, HR 2786 seems noncontroversial (and indeed was almost unanimously passed). This makes it easier to build hydroelectric conduits. The good people at Circle of Blue, who flagged both of these bills, explain.

The bill amends the Federal Power Act to encourage the development of small hydropower projects. Currently, a hydropower project installed in a conduit — a pipeline or canal, generally — is exempt from the licensing process if it is less than five megawatts. The bill eliminates the five-megawatt cap. The bill also shortens the time frame for issuing a licensing exemption from 45 days to 30 days. There have been no national assessments of hydropower potential from adding turbines to conduits, but it is assumed to be far less than adding turbines to dams without them. Conduit projects, however, can have significant local benefits.

I admit I don’t know much about this. This might be very needed, and very good. It might be completely insignificant. But it is part and parcel of a desire to step back, to regulate less, to have less interference by experts. Maybe it will turn out great. But when we mess with water, when we alter it, it has a way of coming back to bite us. Dams break down. Cities flood. I think, as we enter an era of water instability, we shouldn’t make moves that make it easier to tamper with the flow.

The second one is less ambiguous and more immediately insidious. H.R.2883 is known as the Promoting Cross-Border Energy Infrastructure Act, so you know it is going to suck. And it is a doozy.

This bill prohibits any person from constructing, connecting, operating, or maintaining a border-crossing facility for the import or export of oil, natural gas, or electricity across an international border of the United States without obtaining a certificate of crossing.

Great! Totally approve. Seems uncontroversial so far. Who wants Canadian companies to lay pipelines willy-nilly?

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), with respect to oil or natural gas pipelines, or the Department of Energy (DOE), with respect to electric transmission facilities, must issue a certificate of crossing for the border-crossing facility within 120 days after final action is taken under the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, unless it is not in the public interest.

120 days doesn’t really seem like a lot, to me. These are huge, often continent-spanning pipelines. The impact they have on natural resources is enormous and hard to judge. I don’t think I like this.

No presidential permit as required under specified executive orders shall be necessary for the construction, connection, operation, or maintenance of an oil or natural gas pipeline or electric transmission facility, including any border-crossing facility.

This is where the bill really kicks in. While this seems like it is taking away power from Trump, what it is really doing is taking these enormously impactful pipelines out of the realm of public dispute and accountability. It is depoliticizing them in the truest and worst sense. The decision, say, to let bitumen in leaky pipes flow under the Great Lakes will be shunted off to a bureaucracy.

While you could say: good! Let the experts decide without political considerations, what this is really doing is making sure that the decisions are made without scrutiny, and without the negative political ramifications that come with posioning the aquifers. And this isn’t a coincidence. They want this bill passed so that the decisions ultimately are in the hands of this guy.

 

Image result for rick perry gun

I know he’s like the least-objectionable person in the admin. He’s still really objectionable. 

 

Rick Perry believes very strongly in pipelines and in “energy independence”. He believes not very strongly in climate science or environmentalism. This bill is a way to greenlight the pumping of Canadian posion into America.

WHAT TO DO?

Call your Senators. Tell them you oppose HR 2883, because you think decisions that can impact the water we drink and the land we farm on should be decided in the open, and not by unelected bureaucrats. It’s ok that it seems hypocritical. They’re being hypocrites about it, and we’re in the right on this one. Call often.

This is a bill that can be easily overlooked thanks to the “distractions”. Which means it is one that a concerted effort can stop. If not, the whole issue of pipelines in this country will be altered, and citizens will have nearly no say in what happens to our land. Which, again, is just the way they want it.

 

Monday Quick Hits: Robots, Water, and Keystone

 

robot-1

“So I says to Mabel, I says…”

 

Did everyone have a good weekend? I had a great weekend. Lots of family, and lots of toast to Trump’s and Ryan’s failure to devastate the lives of millions of people. But this victory is, I think, just a pause. The battle will be to pressure Republicans, who seem to be a bit nervous about ruining the lives of their constituents, to make positive changes to the ACA, rather than repeal it.

Admittedly, they’re in a bind. The Times reported some anecdotes about people in GOP districts shocked that their reps would even think about such a thing, and might not vote Republican again. But then, there are also lots of GOP voters who, having been told that Obamacare was basically the forward thrust of creeping Bolshevism, are mad that it wasn’t repealed. So they are caught in a dilemma, namely: how do we do the things we’ve been saying we were going to do now that people have learned exactly what it is?

So now the question for Democrats is: how much should they work with Republicans? They are, thankfully, not eager to make some kind of “grand bargain” in order to help out the Republicans. The goal should be to fix Obamacare, working where you can to lower costs and make sure that insurance companies stay in. The talk of the “death spiral”, always exaggerated, is made possible by the threat of repeal. With that out of the way, for now at least, it could be possible to woo nervous Republicans to fix the bill at the margins, essentially working around Paul Ryan. That’s why the continued pressure from the outside is the only way to heighten their fear, and maybe force their hand to do the right and sensible thing and fix Obamacare.

Or, you could be like the President, who seems eager to watch the whole thing spiral out of control.

The “do not worry” is an especially nice touch.  He’s got a plan!

-Re/Code had a little story today about how PwC estimates, offhand, that the US could lose 40% of its jobs over the next 15 years thanks to automation. While there would of course be jobs created by automation (engineer, repair, etc) most of these will be high-skill jobs for people with advanced education. This is more than an unemployment trend; even if PwC’s numbers aren’t strictly accurate, this is economic devastation. This is something that can fundamentally alter society.

Massive unemployment of that sort needs to be ameliorated with something like a Universal Basic Income, or, failing that, an effort to create new work around infrastructure, tourism, or more. But there needs to be a collective effort grouped around the ideas that 1) the common good actually exists; and 2) that self-government is a good thing.

This isn’t something private markets can fix alone; indeed, it is the private market that will be at fault. There needs to be collective action to help the less educated and more vulnerable people in the new economy–the same ones who have been hurt for decades by market forces. That many of these are your stereotypical Trump voters (though they will be joined by millions of white collar types as well) represents an opportunity to convince them that the government is not the enemy, and that, in fact, this kind of intervention is the heart of the American experiment.

Of course, we’re debating whether or not it is ok if people just, you know, die because they don’t have employer-based insurance, so consensus on this seems a long way off.

-But we do have an answer on Keystone! That answer, of course, is “yes”. Trump signed off on Keystone on Friday, saying in a signing ceremony that:

It’s a great day for American jobs and a historic moment for North American and energy independence.  This announcement is part of a new era of American energy policy that will lower costs for American families — and very significantly — reduce our dependence on foreign oil, and create thousands of jobs right here in America.

It’s important to note, in the interest of being strictly accurate, that none of this is true. And it is just weird to talk about reducing “our dependence on foreign oil” right before you introduce the President of TransCanada, above and beyond the fact that this isn’t how the oil markets work. The sludge pumped over the largest underground aquifer isn’t going to be shuttled to your car. It goes into the global markets. I honestly don’t know if Trump understands this. I also wonder how he would reconcile the “lower costs” with the fact that, while Keystone was blocked, gas prices plummeted.

It is also good to note that this isn’t a done deal. As the TransCanada President reminded the United States President, they face resistance and lawsuits in Nebraska, where people don’t want a Canadian pipeline bringing dangerous material across their lands and into their water. That led to this exchange.

Trump: So we put a lot of people to work, a lot of great workers to work, and they did appreciate it.  And they appreciated it, Russ, very much at the polls, as you probably noticed.  And so we’re very happy about it.

So the bottom line — Keystone finished.  They’re going to start construction when?

MR. GIRLING:  Well, we’ve got some work to do in Nebraska to get our permits there —

THE PRESIDENT:  Nebraska.

MR. GIRLING:  — so we’re looking forward to working through that local —

THE PRESIDENT:  I’ll call Nebraska.  (Laughter.)  You know why?  Nebraska has a great governor.  They have a great governor.

MR. GIRLING:  We’ve been working there for some time, and I do believe that we’ll get through that process.  But obviously have to engage with local landowners, communities.  So we’ll be reaching out to those over the coming months to get the other necessary permits that we need, and then we’d look forward to start construction.

THE PRESIDENT:  Okay.  I’m sure Nebraska will be good.  Peter is a fantastic governor who’s done a great job, and I’ll call him today.

Remember that the head of an oil company is talking about working with local communities and landowners, and the President of the US is saying he’ll call the governor to get it done. That’s a true populist man of the people right there.

Trump’s Pipeline Policies: As Bad As Everything Else They Do

APTOPIX Michigan River Oil Spill

The aftermath of the Enbridge oil spill in Michigan. Image from salmonguy.org

How many pipeline spills do you think there were last year? Three? Ten? 85? Maybe you remember reading about a few, and think, well, things were pretty hectic last year, what with the dying-fish floparound of liberal democracy, so maybe I missed one here or there.

There were, at least, 220 “significant” leaks220 “significant” leaks, when you count oil (in all its manifest and increasingly sludgy forms), natural gas, and refined gasoline. Because that’s what pipelines do. They burst. Whether they are lurking under the Great Lakes or right at the edge of your town, coursing under the fields where you ran as a child, they are a time bomb, ready to go off.

Of course, we need pipelines. Our economy is still based on dead dinosaurs (which, though not strictly accurate, sort of is, and is actually sort of cool, when you think about it), and that matter needs to be transported. It’s a devil’s deal, maybe, but it’s the one we have. Which is why you think it would be super really important to make sure that those pipelines, which are aging, increasingly prone to busting, and more susceptible to extreme weather (which we’re having more of), are monitored, protected, and upgraded.

Now, the upgrading might be part of the administration’s infrastructure plan, though it seems like they are already planning to “punt” that to 2018, partly because they have other priorities (taking away health care from millions, tax cuts for the wealthy), and mostly because Republicans really don’t want to spend any money on infrastructure, as Yglesias reminds us. So let’s not put our eggs in the upgrade basket.

And, of course, the “monitor and regulate our aging pipelines so as to not poison our air, water, and land” is DOA as well. They are looking to “ease” regulations that the Obama administration imposed that call for strict monitoring.

Regulators in the waning hours of the Obama era wrote rules aimed at changing that, and the industry is looking forward to the new administration rolling them back. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration “has gone overboard,” said Brigham McCown, a former head of the PHMSA who served on President Donald Trump’s infrastructure transition team. “They built a Cadillac instead of the Chevrolet that Congress told them to build.”

While Obama was president, the PHMSA (Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration)budget grew by 61 percent. Then, seven days before Trump’s inauguration, the agency finalized a rule toughening up inspection and repair demands, mandating, for example, that companies have leak-detection systems in populated areas and requiring they examine lines within 72 hours of flooding or another so-called extreme weather event. The American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry’s main trade group, characterized it all as overreaching and unnecessary.

Unsurprisingly (though inconclusively, as it was a small sample size) the total number of spills and leaks actually dropped last year, from 462 in 2015 to 417 (the 220 number above was “significant” leaks, obviously a few hundred are no biggie). So yeah, the new energy team thinks that having the Cadillac of pipelines protection is way worse than having the Chevy.

So let’s sum up.

  • No money for upgrades
  • Fewer regulations
  • Less monitoring
  • No admittance that old pipelines are in more danger due to climate change, because what’s that?
  • More reliance on the materials that lead to climate change
  • More pipelines (even if you have to ignore reasonable arguments against)

It’s a maddening and lunatic philosophy. It’s one thing to want to rely entirely on fossil fuels; it is another altogether to deliberately oppose making the usage of them even slightly safer. I don’t even know if you can call that a philosophy. It’s just insanity, and it is the insanity that is running our country.

Anyway, this was another reminder that Donald Trump is a right-wing Republican who governs like a right-wing Republican.