President Donald Trump’s nominee to head the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has a record of hostility for environmental and public health protection at both state and federal levels. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt may be best known for suing the agency he hopes to lead 14 different times in an attempt to block EPA rules protecting the air and water. In his own state, Pruitt disbanded the Attorney General’s environmental protection unit and repeatedly sided with agribusiness and energy interests over protecting the environment.
In the 2016 election Pruitt supported and, according the Oklahoma Farm Bureau, inserted important language into a resolution that would have changed the state’s Constitution to prevent the state legislature and local governments from protecting their land and water from agriculture-related pollution “without a compelling state interest.” This so-called Right to Farm resolution was soundly rejected by Oklahomans at the ballot box.
Rural communities in the U.S. and around the world are vulnerable to industries, often with headquarters elsewhere, who view local natural resources simply as an asset to be extracted. No global corporation better exemplifies this approach than the oil giant ExxonMobil. Now, President Donald Trump has nominated the company’s CEO, Rex Tillerson, to run the U.S. State Department. Tillerson’s damaging record at ExxonMobil, often at the expense of the public good and even U.S. security interests, should disqualify him from managing U.S. policy around the world.
Tillerson is deeply infused with ExxonMobil DNA, having spent his entire professional career of 41 years working at the company and serving as CEO since 2008. ExxonMobil operates in more than 100 countries. During Tillerson’s time at ExxonMobil the company has: aggressively advocated for corporate-friendly free trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP); used past free trade deals to sue governments who try to regulate it; done deals with dictators and human rights violators; and all the while leading a multi-decade disinformation campaign to oppose action on climate change.
This week, Congress begins the first round of confirmation hearings for President-elect Trump’s Cabinet. After a bombastic Presidential campaign that was often short on policy specifics, the Cabinet selections provide an initial glimpse into how first-time public officeholder Trump will actually govern. While the role of rural America in electing Trump has been well documented, the first impression from the proposed Cabinet is troubling and is raising red flags for how the Trump Administration will respond to key rural issues. It is notable that a position very important to rural America, the Secretary of Agriculture, remains vacant and appears at the bottom of the list of priority positions.
In too many rural communities, natural resources and profits are extracted for the gain of outside—often multinational—investors at the expense of the people that live there. The Rural Compact, an effort we contributed to in 2008 as part of the National Rural Assembly, outlines a set of values and priorities for rural America and continues to be relevant today in assessing Trump’s appointees. The Compact states:
Rural America is more than the land…When rural communities succeed, the nation does better, and cities and suburbs have more resources on which to build. Conversely, when rural communities falter, it drains the nation’s prosperity and limits what we can accomplish together.
As Trump’s appointees make their way through the confirmation process, we’ll be looking at how the proposed Cabinet addresses four key challenges particularly relevant to rural communities:
This month marks the one-year anniversary of the announcement of the Clean Power Plan, President Obama and the EPA’s regulation to reduce carbon pollution from existing power plants. While the Clean Power Plan focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, it also includes a program to make sure all communities benefit from a clean energy transition. This program—the Clean Energy Incentive Program—is currently open for comment, providing an important opportunity to shape the environmental justice and rural implications of the Clean Power Plan.
The Clean Energy Incentive Program (CEIP) is a voluntary part of the Clean Power Plan that provides support for low-income communities to undertake renewable energy and energy efficiency projects. The CEIP will match state funds to incentivize early investment in renewable energy and energy efficiency before the Clean Power Plan’s first compliance deadline in 2020. The renewable energy projects can happen anywhere, but the energy efficiency projects must happen in low-income communities. This is an excellent opportunity to level the playing field for low-income communities, which often face barriers to accessing renewables and energy efficiency upgrades.
In this season of political speeches and debates, a harmful myth continues to surface: taking action on climate change will ravage the economy. Recently, this myth has been applied to the Clean Power Plan, the first regulation in the U.S. to limit carbon emissions from existing power plants.
In February 2016, the Supreme Court halted implementation of the Clean Power Plan until a federal appeals court rules on its legality in June 2016. Although implementation of the plan has been stayed, officials in the Obama Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency remain confident that they have strong legal footing and that the Clean Power Plan will resume as planned once it has made its way through the courts.
A new IATP report, titled “The Clean Power Plan: Opportunities for an Equitable Energy Transition in Rural America,” outlines how the Clean Power Plan can benefit all communities, especially the rural communities that produce most of the nation’s energy. The report makes the case that the artificial divide between the environment and the economy obscures the many opportunities for rural America that come along with clean energy development.
At the Paris climate talks, negotiators chose not to address the sticky issue of trade rules, and how those rules undermine each nation’s efforts to address climate change. A new ruling today from the World Trade Organization (WTO) may make that willful silence more difficult. Today, a WTO dispute panel ruled in favor of an Obama Administration challenge to India’s solar program—a program that bears a strong resemblance to solar programs in many U.S. states.
India’s solar initiative, known as the Jawaharlal Nehru National Solar Mission (JNNSM), is designed to boost the nation’s renewable energy use and create local, green jobs. India’s program requires the purchase of domestically manufactured solar cells and modules in order for companies to receive a variety of government benefits, including favorable rates for electricity purchases. The U.S. Trade Representative charged that India’s “local content requirements” violate WTO national treatment obligations (which require foreign firms to be treated the same as domestic firms). The WTO agreed.
In responding to the WTO ruling, U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman issued a warning to other governments attempting to support local, green businesses: “This is an important outcome, not just as it applies to this case, but for the message it sends to other countries considering discriminatory `localization’ policies.”
The ability of the United States to make its own decisions regarding how, where and why to build transcontinental oil pipelines has been challenged by TransCanada Corporation, which sued the U.S. yesterday for the loss of potential future profits associated with the cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline. The move represents a threat to both U.S. national sovereignty and national security, given the role of energy policy in protecting the homeland. The suit could also establish a precedent for challenging sovereign rights to address climate change through energy policy, not just in the U.S., but in any country that is party to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
The standing of TransCanada to sue the American government is provided not in any formal U.S. legal judiciary setting, but through rules laid down in a trade regime, NAFTA. The terms of this agreement, and other similar trade agreements, are designed to protect the rights of foreign investors over the rights of the states in which they are investing.
If successful, the suit will incur more losses to U.S. citizens than those associated with sovereign rights and national security. TransCanada is asking for $15 billion dollars in lost potential future profits. Furthermore, in an additional suit filed in Houston, Texas, TransCanada is seeking to limit the power of the President of the United States in setting U.S. energy policy by claiming that the Keystone decision was unconstitutional.
Can genetically modified algae feed and fuel the world, as scientific entrepreneur J. Craig Venter predicted in 2011? For entrepreneurs of manufacturing with algae biomass, the future is now. That was the message of the Algae Biomass Organization (ABO) Summit held September 30th to October 2nd in Washington, DC. Yet, to the product developers who rely on synthetically modified microbes to genetically “edit” and customize algae for industrial and agricultural purposes, an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) hearing on “new microbes” modified by “Advanced Genetic Engineering” posed a lot of questions. For some of those questions, there are not yet answers; at least parts of the algal future are not now.
Last week, President Obama announced the Clean Power Plan, the United States’ strongest climate policy to date. The plan aims to reduce coal-fired power plant emissions by allowing states to devise their own plans to reach federally-mandated emissions reduction targets. This choose-your-own-adventure policy could send states down very different paths, some worse for the environment and community resilience than others.
A bragging point for the Clean Power Plan is its flexibility; all currently identified low-carbon energy sources can play a role in state plans, including natural gas, nuclear, hydropower and other renewables. But despite the low-carbon nature these energy technologies share, they differ greatly in overall community and environmental benefit. Natural gas is abundantly available today due to controversial fracking technology (most of which occurs near rural communities); hydropower requires dam construction (sometimes on massive scales); and nuclear power comes with the risk of disastrous accidents, issues around extraction and long-term storage problems.
Tomorrow, June 6, thousands of people from across the Great Lakes region will come together for the Tar Sands Resistance March in St. Paul, MN. This will be the largest action against tar sands to date in the region; speakers include Bill McKibben, Winona LaDuke, and Keith Ellison among others. Tar sand extraction and distribution is driven largely by trade policy set out in NAFTA. Former Canadian Prime Minister Brian Mulroney has been quoted as saying, “… a major tenet of NAFTA … the U.S. was guaranteed unfettered supply in exchange for unfettered access by Canadian exporters to its market.” The articles pertaining to energy and corporate rights found within NAFTA highlight the shortcomings of our current trade system. You don’t have to be an environmentalist to march against the tar sands. If you believe in fair trade, national sovereignty and human rights, you should attend this rally.
By Congressional Research Service estimates, the tar sands contribute 14% more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions than conventional oil.1 The European Union places increased emissions from tar sands at 22% higher than conventional oil.2 Increased emissions are attributed to the extensive processing needed to convert the tar-like bitumen to oil.3 Mining of the tar sands has also lead to massive deforestation in the Alberta province. In terms of climate change and the environment, the tar sands represent a global catastrophe.