A few thoughts about 'reform.'
Assuming that the Congress decides to avoid pushing the global economy off a cliff over the debt ceiling (and this is almost certainly an incorrect assumption, since Marjorie Taylor Greene has announced that any sign of compromise from her fellow Republicans "would be a career ending move unless they want to switch parties”), sometime later this year the House and Senate might take up the question of “permitting reform.” The argument is that if we’re going to build the renewable energy we need to get out of the ever-deeper climate hole, and particularly if we’re planning to do it in the time that physics allows, there needs to be an easier path to getting projects permitted. If it does come up, advocates need to be prepared.
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There’s an analogous process underway in the field of housing right now—rents and home prices have become absurdly high because we’ve largely stopped building new housing (in this case, zoning has often been a way for racists to make sure that no one builds in their neighborhoods.) But in California—ground zero for the housing crisis—the legislature has reformed the process to make permitting ‘by right’ standard practice in at least some zones. And it’s spreading—if you read my last book, I’m happy to report that my hometown of Lexington Mass, 52 years after it blocked plans for affordable housing, finally last month rezoned the town to allow many more multi-family units.
But energy permitting is an even more touchy business, because—well, because the goal is not more permits. The goal is less carbon and more equity, and so a sound permitting scheme would take those things into account. I wrote a piece for Mother Jones not long ago aimed at people like me (older, white, and good at tying things up in knots) trying to suggest when we might, as individuals, hold off on opposing new projects. The Senate (also older, white, and good at tying things up) is doubtless eager for my advice as well, and that would be: be careful. Trying to gut federal laws like the National Environmental Policy Act could lead to more backlash and actually consume time. If there ends up being some kind of legislation, three things I’d push for if I were a Senator (which, thank heaven, I’m not)
Looking forward: a climate test. When he was trying to make up his mind over the perhaps the most contentious energy permit yet, for the KXL pipeline, Barack Obama said “our national interest will be served only if this project does not significantly exacerbate the problem of carbon pollution.” Given that the climate crisis is the greatest threat our species has yet faced, that seems like the most no-brainer position anyone could ever take. But of course the fossil fuel industry and its Congressional harem would like to use permitting reform to build more stuff that would produce carbon. This is literally absurd. As Abigail Dillen, president of EarthJustice, says: "The only science-based climate screen is no new fossil fuels projects. The world’s climate scientists are crystal clear about that, and we can do it." If there’s going to be permitting reform, it should take physics into account.
Looking backward: a fairness test. You don’t actually have to be a history professor to know who’s been damaged by our energy system in the past: Indigenous people, whose land has been too often wrecked, and vulnerable communities who have gotten to live next to the refineries and highways. So Indigenous communities and environmental justice communities deserve an extra layer of protection from big projects—how that should be structured is not for me to decide, but I note that the Inflation Reduction Act targets dollars at those communities, which in one respect is good but may also raise the pressure to do developments in those place. One small example: sign up for this seminar on lithium mining, from experts like Leslie Quintanilla and Mariela Loera—and take what they say seriously. A great way to educate yourself on these issues is to check out the key takeaways from the forum convened in March by the Roosevelt Institute—at least take the few minutes to watch the opening remarks from the always-savvy Rhiana Gunn-Wright. If there’s going to be permitting reform, it should take history into account.
This one’s more of a long shot—but I’d try to insure it would be easier to get a permit if the ownership of the, say, wind farm was going to be public. Some excellent news on this front: thanks to great organizing from, among others, the Democratic Socialists of America, as Kate Aronoff described last week, New York State has adopted the Build Public Renewables Act, which may see the New York Power Authority “build clean energy in a way that wouldn’t be dictated by the whims of profit-seeking shareholders.” This seems increasingly important given the reporting today from Brett Christophers on the way that asset management firms are most likely to end up gobbling most of the money from the Inflation Reduction Act. Since asset managers are “focused on optimizing returns on the assets they control by maximizing the income they generate while minimizing both operating and capital costs,” that would be…bad. If there’s going to be permitting reform, try to use it to weaken corporate control of energy, not extend it.
Politics is politics; you don’t always get what you want, and environmentalists don’t have anything like absolute power here, nor are they all working to the same ends. It’s entirely crazy-making, for instance, to see the clean energy industry line up with the fossil fuel folks. But it’s a good reminder that windpower companies want to make money from wind, not solve the climate crisis. Which—fair enough, but keep your eyes open. Jamie Henn from Fossil Free Media puts it like this: “The battle ahead is to ensure that in an attempt to speed up clean energy and transmission lines, we don't lock-in a generation more of polluting infrastructure that poisons vulnerable communities and puts our climate goals out of reach."
Anyway, those are three of the things I’d focus on.
In other climate and energy news:
+Forest defenders in Atlanta are now facing felony charges and twenty years in prison for circulating flyers with the names of one of the police officers who shot Manuel ‘Tortuguita’ Téran during the Cop City protests. Given that the names of the shooters had already been released by the Georgia Bureau of Investigation this seems insane—but also reminiscent of policing in Georgia during the civil rights era of the 1960s.
“Ever since state police killed Tortuguita, their top priority has been to keep the situation quiet. Now that the public is calling attention to it, police are doubling down,” said Marlon Kautz, an Atlanta-based organizer with the Atlanta Solidarity Fund, which provides bail funds and legal support to protesters. “It’s exactly the same strategy they’ve used before against Stop Cop City protesters: wave around extreme charges, throw activists in jail without bail, and hope the problem goes away.”
Nicholas Dupuis told The Intercept that his family learned of his 24-year-old sister’s arrest upon receiving a call from animal control in Cartersville, explaining that they had her dog, as she had been arrested. While Julia Dupuis, a freelance writer and anti-racist activist, is primarily based in Massachusetts, she had spent a number of months in Atlanta as a part of the Stop Cop City movement.
+Veteran pipeline fighter Barbara Stamiris has a hard-hitting oped explaining here view that Line 5, through the Great Lakes, is “the most dangerous pipeline in the world,” arguing that “no other pipeline endangers 20 percent of Earth’s freshwater, 700 miles of shoreline, and the drinking water of 40 million.” She also provides a powerful illustration of the pipeline’s route to help make her point
+Europe unveils its first solar-roofed bike path in the German city of Freiburg, about two hours south of Stuttgart
The photovoltaic (PV) pilot project consists of a 300-metre-long installation featuring over 900 translucent glass solar panels, and will generate around 280 MWh of solar power per year. Solarwatt, the producer of the panels covering the path, says they are particularly durable as the solar cells are enclosed on the front and back by robust glass panes.
But Germany is trailing Korea in this particular arms race
This may be Europe’s first solar panel roof-covered bicycle path (excluding several projects where the path itself has been covered with PV panels). However, since 2014, South Korea boasts a 9 km bicycle lane covered by a roof made of solar panels.
This 4-metre wide lane runs in the middle of an eight-lane highway, and connects the cities of Daejeon and Sejong. Its 7,502 solar panels are capable of producing 2,200MWh per year – the equivalent of powering around 600 households, according to the country’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.
+Affairs are proceeding in customary fashion for Exxon in Guyana, where a court found it in breach of its obligation to insure against oil spills in its vast new offshore development. Exxon "engaged in a disingenuous attempt" to dilute its obligations under its environmental permit for Liza One, the project that inaugurated Guyana's oil production in 2019, High Court Justice Sandil Kissoon said in the ruling.
+Great animated video from the Sierra Club succinctly explains Wall Street’s role in the climate crisis
+Ruth Greenspan Bell offers a vivid first-person account of the mobilization among retired EPA officials to protect the agency during the first Trump administration
Americans who were appalled by the new Administration’s policies resisted in many different ways. The Environmental Protection Network, which I helped form, used information strategically. Intimate knowledge and experience with EPA were deployed to fact-check the Trump version of environmental protection and to defend the integrity of the agency and its personnel. We provided this information to reporters, environmental organizations, and Capitol Hill. And we ended up playing a significant role in illuminating the Trump Administration’s wrecking-ball approach to environmental protection and distaste toward a well-functioning federal government. Within months of that first meeting, we would shine an informed light on the implications of the Trump Administration’s budget plans for EPA. Later, our cadre of retired EPA science gurus led the charge when Trump’s appointees tried to slim the role of informed science in EPA decision-making. The Trump Administration is thankfully in the past, but it is not beyond imagination that these attacks could start again. What we did, our theory of change, can offer lessons for future efforts to protect the integrity of government action, particularly if there is a need to defend other specialized, technical, science-based units of government.
+Important new effort from an outfit called Climate Forests, which is mounting a major effort to protect old growth and big trees on America’s federal forests. As someone who shares a boundary with the Green Mountain National Forest (where a major cut at a place called Telephone Gap is being hotly contested) the new science behind this effort is crucially important
Forests offer the single most powerful and effective way to remove carbon from our atmosphere. Mature and forests and big trees are the natural champions of carbon sequestration, storing carbon for decades, if not centuries. They are a low-cost resource that continues to grow as we all benefit from the services they provide, including clear air, clean water, habitat for wildlife, a haven for biodiversity and myriad options for recreation.
Oh, and if you’re in the Green Mountain National Forest area, a net zero music festival this weekend
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