Unlike more than 100 of his colleagues in Congress, Rep. Garret Graves of Louisiana’s 6th District is one of those Republicans who pretends he’s not a climate science denier while spouting "The climate's always changed," a tricky trope deployed over the past five years or so by Republicans who have found outright denial too toxic. In an NPR interview in 2018, climatologist Stephanie Herring said in response to Sen. Marco Rubio’s offering up the same talking point:
So technically that's true. The climate has always been changing. But for various reasons, the current change that we're experiencing now is particularly alarming, and that is because in the history of human civilization, the climate has never changed this rapidly. And that's really what concerns scientists. It's not the fact that there is change, but it's the speed of that change.
Graves sits on the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Select Committee on Climate. He’s prominent among Republicans who, in 2020, brought us what they called a new climate plan, an alternative to Democratic plans. David Roberts at Volts wrote at the time:
Notably, the plan includes nothing about solar and wind power, which replace coal and natural gas; nothing about electric vehicles, which replace gasoline vehicles; nothing about efficient buildings or heat pumps, which replace natural gas furnaces; nothing about hydrogen, which can help replace fossil fuels in industrial processes.
What could justify these strange priorities? This is the argument Rep. Garret Graves, a Louisiana Republican who is leading GOP climate efforts, uses: “Fossil fuels aren’t the enemy. It’s emissions. So let’s devise strategies that are based on emissions strategies, not based on eliminating fossil fuels.”
This makes no sense if interpreted literally. The plan Graves was talking about carefully avoids endorsing policies that directly go after emissions, such as a carbon tax or pollution regulations. It avoids setting any particular targets for emission reductions. It avoids mention of most of the technologies and policies with the most potential to reduce emissions, like renewable energy and performance standards.
In a Transportation subcommittee hearing Tuesday, Graves showed it’s not just the climate crisis where this fossil fuel puppet proves wrongheaded.
Listen and subscribe to Daily Kos Elections’ The Downballot podcast with David Nir and David Beard
Via webcast, the hearing featured Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Deanne Criswell. Along with Texas Rep. Beth Van Duyne—who has labeled cutting fossil fuel consumption a “radical far-left” policy and has landed on the League of Conservation Voters’ annual Dirty Dozen roster—Graves challenged the entire idea that environmental impacts disproportionately affect people of color. The two representatives objected to the Biden administration’s efforts to give disadvantaged communities priority in the fight against climate change and give low-income people and people of color better access to disaster aid than they’ve had in the past. Thomas Franks reports:
“I have yet to encounter a racist natural disaster, but it seems to be what some of my colleagues here today are suggesting,” Van Duyne said in a remote appearance. “There are legitimate victims of natural disasters, and I would hope that that would be where our focus is, and not on those manufactured victims by identity politics.”
Graves said natural disasters “don’t discriminate in any way, shape or form” and questioned whether Louisianans of Cajun or Native American descent “are going to be discriminated against through this Justice40 initiative.”
Justice40 is the Biden administration’s plan to direct at least 40 percent of federal climate and clean energy “investment benefits” to disadvantaged communities.
Subcommittee Chair Dina Titus of Nevada finally had enough. “I just can’t sit here and have someone say we’re making up racist disasters. This is not something this committee is making up to try to have some racist policy to benefit some groups over others. We’re trying to do away with that and have a more equitable policy.”
Examples of environmental racism aren’t hard to find. For instance, Watered Down Justice “found a disturbing relationship between multiple sociodemographic characteristics—especially race—and drinking water violations.” Redlining, though illegal for more than a half-century, still has major disproportionate impacts, having shoved people of color into residential areas that are industrially and otherwise polluted. In Louisiana, “cancer alley”—which begins from Graves’ Baton Rouge district and runs south to New Orleans—contains more than 150 highly polluting petrochemical operations. These are killing people. The United Nations reporrts:
The ever-widening corridor of petrochemical plants has not only polluted the surrounding water and air, but also subjected the mostly African American residents in St. James Parish to cancer, respiratory diseases and other health problems.
“This form of environmental racism poses serious and disproportionate threats to the enjoyment of several human rights of its largely African American residents, including the right to equality and non-discrimination, the right to life, the right to health, right to an adequate standard of living and cultural rights,” the experts said.
If I believed Graves and Van Duyne were operating in good faith, I’d recommend they ask Titus to schedule a hearing with Robert Bullard, renowned as the “father of environmental justice.” He could enlighten them the way he has done for so many other Americans. Neither of them, however, has given any indication that they are actually interested in enlightening themselves on the matter.
Scooter Doll at Electrek reports that experts aren’t worried that the accelerated adoption of electric vehicles will overwhelm the U.S. electric grid. Physics Today asked several energy experts at U.S. laboratories who all said there is little chance of EVs overloading the grid. For instance, Matteo Muratori, who leads a research team at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, said the increase in electricity demand won’t be any different than what happened when air conditioning began to be widely adopted.
On the contrary, Muratori stated that the increased demand from EVs charging on the grid should be no different from the past when air conditioners became commonplace in homes and businesses. [...]
As new buildings like offices and schools are erected each day in the US, the grid continuously evolves to support their required energy demand. Adding charger piles outside should not make a difference. “The lights will not go out” says electrical engineer Michael Kintner-Meyer, who leads mobility research at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) and agrees with Muratori.
Offering no explanation, the court majority restored a rule the Environmental Protection Agency finalized when Donald Trump occupied the White House linked to Section 401 of the Clean Water Act. The rule forbids states and tribes from using issues not directly related to water quality— such as, you guessed it, climate change—when evaluating water permits. Daily Kos staff writer April Siese provides details on the matter here. Critics blasted the move on both content and process grounds.
Earthjustice issued a statement:
This decision will harm communities by allowing dangerous fossil fuel projects to get approved without full evaluation of the risks they pose.
“The Court’s decision to reinstate the Trump administration rule shows disregard for the integrity of the Clean Water Act and undermines the rights of Tribes and states to review and reject dirty fossil fuel projects that threaten their water,” said Moneen Nasmith, senior attorney at Earthjustice. “The EPA must ensure that its revised rule recognizes the authority of states and Tribes to protect their vital water resources in its ongoing rulemaking under Section 401.” […]
David George Haskell has written an excellent essay on how habitat loss, species extinctions, and industrial noise contribute to sonic loss that severs a vital human connection the the Earth:
Every habitat on Earth has its own sonic signature, made of the thousands of voices present at each place. It took a long time for this sonic diversity to emerge. Predation likely kept a lid on sonic communication for hundreds of millions of years. The first animals in the oceans and on land could hear, especially in the low frequencies. To sing or cry out was therefore to invite death. To this day, vocal creatures are those that can quickly escape or defend themselves. The frog, cricket, and bird owe their songs, in part, to their jumping legs or wings.
Once communicative sound evolved, starting with ocean fishes and crustaceans and cricket-like insects on land, the creative forces of evolution soon diversified sound, taking simple cries and building the complexity and nuance that we hear around us today. These creative evolutionary processes worked over many time scales, and so sound reveals the many layers of life’s generative powers. Sonic loss erodes the legacy of these different times and diminishes evolutionary creativity and possibility for the future.
[Climate] scientists sound increasingly desperate as the evidence they are carefully accumulating stacks up but fails to prompt the urgency they insist it requires. Science seems only to create panicked paralysis: a language of probabilities, statistics, and numbers fails to gain traction on the public imagination.—Madeline Bunting, 2009
In Defense of the Tennessee Valley Authority. By Matt Huber and Fred Stafford at Jacobin. As our largest federal power utility, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) is a lasting testament to the ambitious scale of the New Deal — and to the lost ideal of cheap public power for all. Part of a suite of federal power programs, the TVA still provides not-for-profit power to 10 million customers. It generates over 5 percent of utility-scale electricity in the American grid, behind only a single private company, and that electricity is cleaner than in neighboring private-power grid areas. A full 60 percent of its workforce of ten thousand are represented by unions in a part of the country not known for its union density. You would think the liberal left’s support for big public power in the TVA would be ironclad. Yet, as a recent New York Times article reveals, the TVA is drawing heavy criticism from the climate movement — mainly for its reluctance to fully switch to renewable energy under the Joe Biden presidency. Some even advocate breaking up the public utility to make way for a mix of private and “community owned” solar and wind projects.
I’m a Scientist in California. Here’s What Worries Me Most About Drought. By Andrew Schwartz at The New York Times. “We are looking down the barrel of a loaded gun with our water resources in the West. Rather than investing in body armor, we’ve been hoping that the trigger won’t be pulled. The current water monitoring and modeling strategies aren’t sufficient to support the increasing number of people that need water. I’m worried about the next week, month, year, and about new problems that we’ll inevitably face as climate change continues and water becomes more unpredictable.”
Biden’s Call to Increase LNG Export Capacity on Gulf Coast is Tantamount To Sarah Palin’s Call to ‘Drill Baby Drill’ According to Environmental Advocates. By Julie Dermansky at DeSmog. About 50 people attended the LDEQ hearing on Commonwealth LNG’s proposed export facility’s draft 850-page air quality permit application. If approved, the permit would allow a massive natural gas liquefaction and export facility to emit 3.5 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, two known carcinogens, and other emissions that are harmful to the environment, including particulates and oxides of nitrogen.Most of the opponents of the permit who commented at the hearing were environmental advocates from across the state. They cited the detrimental environmental impacts the plant will have, from increasing coastal erosion to destroying critical habitat for migratory birds. They also detailed the detrimental climate impact increasing LNG export will have and how expanding export capacity of natural gas is contrary to the need to lower carbon emission in order to stop warming the planet.
We need to redesign cities to tackle climate change, IPCC says. By Adele Peters at Fast Company. As much as 72% of the world’s emissions in 2020 came from cities—and by the middle of the century, urban areas could triple in size. That’s why the latest climate report from the IPCC, the UN’s climate body, makes it clear that we need to build cities differently, as part of a long list of solutions that the world needs to quickly deploy to have a chance of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change. “If you want to resolve the climate crisis, you need to resolve cities,” says Rogier van den Berg, acting global director for the Ross Center for Sustainable Cities at the nonprofit World Resources Institute. “It’s simple.”
We just can’t quit fossil fuels, can we? By Peter Dystra at Environmental Health News. “This past Thursday was an important anniversary in our stormy marriage to fossil fuels. Lest we think that only Republicans are beholden to Big Oil: On March 31, 2010, President Obama announced an ambitious expansion of offshore oil and gas development, saying oil rigs ‘generally don't cause spills’. Three weeks later, the Deepwater Horizon explosion killed 11 workers and spilled for months. Obama relented as the spill grew into the worst in U.S. history. There would be no effort to expand U.S. offshore activity, at least until Trump’s election. Concern over fossil fuels and their central impact on climate change also grew. Then it didn’t. We have an unfortunate history of forsaking climate and energy concerns for the issue of the day, or the issue(s) of the coming election—even as our time to act on climate change grows desperately short.”
The Case Against Closing Nuclear Power Plants. By Charles Komanoff at The Nation. Existing plants like Diablo Canyon obviate the need to draw on fossil fuel generators and should remain in service. “As an energy-policy analyst, advocate, and organizer for 50 years, I have fought for bicycle transportation, congestion pricing, wind farms, and carbon taxes, in large part to reduce the destructive imprints of coal, oil, and gas. The climate crisis has exploded ahead of schedule, not as distant warnings but as actual fires, floods, and the global sea-level rise. Meanwhile, Diablo and other US nuclear plants long ago shed their teething problems to become solid climate benefactors, faithfully churning out electricity without combusting carbon fuels. Others can debate whether to build new nuclear plants to combat the climate crisis. But no one can deny that letting existing reactors like Diablo Canyon remain in service keeps fossil fuels in the ground and their carbon emissions out of our atmosphere. We ignore that benefit at our peril.”
HALF A DOZEN OTHER THINGS TO READ (or listen to)
A Regenerative Grazing Revolution Is Taking Root in the Mid-Atlantic. By Lisa Held at Civil Eats. Farmers are scaling up the practice in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and beyond—and it could simultaneously help clean up the Chesapeake Bay, mitigate climate change, and save small family farms. In September, just over the Maryland border in southern Pennsylvania, a group of ag organizations launched the Dairy Grazing Project to help small farms convert to regenerative grazing systems. The project aims to recruit at least 40 dairies to achieve Regenerative Organic Certification to sell to Origin Milk, a small brand looking to expand its Regenerative Organic Certified supply chain. Some of the same organizations are also involved in the Million Acre Challenge, which aims to implement healthy soil techniques—with regenerative grazing at the top of the list—on 1 million acres in Maryland by 2030. That initiative also overlaps with Pasa Sustainable Agriculture’s Soil Health Benchmark Study, which is quantifying the benefits of soil health practices, including regenerative grazing, on farms in Pennsylvania and Maryland.
Kids Are Really Worried About the Climate Crisis. By Reynard Loki at the Independent Media Institute. In 2019, Lucy Goodchild van Hilten, a science writer and mother of a young child, wrote a piece titled, “How to Talk to Kids About Climate Change.” “Now I am pleased to report on the other side of that coin: How kids talk to adults about climate change. [...] It all started a few weeks ago when my friend Christine Willis invited me to speak to her seventh grade class at the Math and Science Exploratory School in Brooklyn, New York. Christine and her co-teacher Allison Pariani wanted their students—who are all quite aware of the various impacts of climate change—to grasp the power and potential of persuasive writing and thought that my work as an advocacy journalist would help.”
A Paris Agreement Architect Is Now Terrified by Lack of Climate Action. By Natasha White and Eric Roston at Bloomberg Green. The Paris Agreement in 2015 established a 1.5° Celsius goal as a rallying point for every nation in the world, and the Costa Rican diplomat Christiana Figueres was one of its chief architects. With the release of Monday’s latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, she’s faced with the increasingly probable outcome that the temperature threshold she helped establish as former executive secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change will be passed in the years ahead. “I don’t have words to explain. ‘Concerning’ is not enough. This is frankly a terrifying report.” Speaking of rising levels of greenhouse gas emissions, she said, “It’s not really about megatons. It is fundamentally about the long-term wellbeing of the entire web of life on this planet.”
Cleanup of abandoned uranium mines stirs demand for workers. By Marjorie Childress at New Mexico in Depth. A growing industry for environmental remediation needs local workers with the right training. Most of the uranium mining and milling on and around the Navajo Nation occurred before environmental regulations were in place to safeguard human health. When the industry shut down in the 1980s, companies closed shop, leaving hundreds of abandoned uranium mines, extensive surface and groundwater contamination, radon gas releases and vast amounts of radioactive soil and mining debris. [...] With big money flowing in the coming decade from settlements with large corporations and the U.S. government for contamination, cleanup of hundreds of abandoned mines will finally begin after decades of neglect. And that means jobs for tribal citizens and businesses, providing an economic balm for areas that need work. One estimate concludes that about 1,000 jobs could be created over the next 10 years for every $1 billion dollars spent on cleanup, with an average salary of nearly $55,000 per year.
Volts podcast: Audrey Schulman and Zeyneb Magavi on how to replace natural gas with renewable heat. By David Roberts at Volts. Today we’re talking about heat. Specifically, we’re talking about the nearly half of US homes that are heated by natural gas, the natural gas utilities that supply it, and what those utilities might be able to do instead of pumping an explosive fossil fuel beneath American streets. Today’s guests have developed a visionary solution for for America’s sprawling natural gas infrastructure. In short, they want to replace it with “networked geothermal,” water pipes that carry heat harvested from the ground. It’s called the GeoGrid, developed by the HEET (Home Energy Efficiency Team) Coalition, run by Audrey Schulman and Zeyneb Magavi.
World’s fossil fuel assets risk evaporating in climate fight. By Julien Mivielle at Digital Journal. As much as $4 trillion in fossil fuel assets could go up in smoke by 2050 in the fight against climate change, according to UN experts. Oil platforms, pipelines, coal power plants, and other fossil fuel assets could lose trillions of dollars in the battle against climate change in the coming decades, experts say. The warning was issued in a 3,000-page report by UN experts who said fossil fuel assets must be retired and replaced with clean energy faster to mitigate financial losses. Such assets will become “stranded” and worth less than expected because they may never be used, since fossil fuel demand must fall in the near future to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
• Bush, Crow, Sanders Bill Would Use Defense Production Act to Boost Clean Energy • Solar industry: We’re in ‘most serious crisis’ in history • Gordon Plaza was sold as a dream for Black home buyers. It was a toxic nightmare • Rappahannock Tribe gets 465 acres of land back on the Chesapeake Bay • Climate Collaborations in the Arctic Are Frozen Amid War • Don’t Privatize Water