Republican policymakers who maintain climate denialist views are increasingly at odds with the majority of their constituents, according to a new analysis by researchers at Yale University.
The researchers compared votes by U.S. senators on a January climate change measure with their constituents' posture based on a new model that extrapolates localized climate views from polling data. The vote was on an amendment to recognize that "(1) climate change is real; and (2) human activity significantly contributes to climate change."
Republican Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner, for example, voted no on the amendment. Yet 58 percent of Coloradans accept the scientific evidence for anthropogenic warming. Similarly, Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida—a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination—also voted no, though 56 percent of Floridians say climate change is real and man-made. So did Sen. Dean Heller, a Republican from Nevada, where 57 percent would have voted yes.
Three federal appeals court judges sounded unlikely to accept early challenges to the Environmental Protection Agency's forthcoming Clean Power Plan, at least until the regulation is published in final form this summer.
A conservative think tank connected to the political network overseen by Charles and David Koch is publishing a series of misleading reports attacking the Obama administration's plan to reduce carbon emissions from power plants, according to advocates of clean energy.
The free-market Beacon Hill Institute, the research arm of the Suffolk University economics department in Boston, argues that the Clean Power Plan will mean exorbitant increases in electricity rates, cause over $8 billion in losses to the economy by 2040 and have "grave effects" on the reliability of the nation's electricity supply.
But the reports, whose findings have been published in op-eds and cited by a member of Congress, are based on questionable and at times bizarre assumptions, environmental groups say. According to the Union of Concerned Scientists, the analyses:
Ignore the impact of renewables on the energy market.
Undervalue the cost of burning carbon to society.
Fail to recognize the health effects and other benefits of adopting the Clean Power Plan.
David Tuerck, executive director of the Beacon Hill Institute, said the report was intended to determine the impact of "the inevitable increase in electric rates on the economy."
The environmental case being argued on Thursday in a federal appeals court in Washington is equal parts legal freak show and serious legal business.
On the serious side, it is the latest attempt by fossil-fuel interests to embalm the Environmental Protection Agency and the Obama administration's climate plan. But it is the legal sideshow orchestrated by constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe of Harvard that is unsettling to many environmental lawyers.
Weakness in state regulations governing hazardous oil-and-gas waste have allowed the leftovers to be disposed of with little regard to the dangers they pose to human health and the environment, according to a recent study by the environmental organization Earthworks.
The report says states disregard the risks because of a decades-old federal regulation that allows oil-and-gas waste to be handled as non-hazardous material. Those rules, established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in 1988, exempted the waste from the stricter disposal requirements required of hazardous substances and allowed the states to establish their own disposal standards.
In its report, "Wasting Away: Four states' failure to manage gas and oil field waste from the Marcellus and Utica Shale," Earthworks studied rules governing disposal of the often toxic waste––and the gaps in those regulations in New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio.
The organization, which is often criticized by the industry as being consistently biased, concludes the EPA was wrong when it applied the non-hazardous label to oil-and-gas waste.
"Drilling waste harms the environment and health, even though states have a mandate to protect both," said Bruce Baizel, co-author of the report and Earthworks' energy program director.
"Their current 'see no evil' approach is part of the reason communities across the country are banning fracking altogether. States have a clear path forward: if the waste is dangerous and hazardous, stop pretending it isn't and treat it and track it like the problem it is."
Disposal of oil-and-gas waste has generated little attention, yet it puts people at risk of exposure to chemicals including benzene, which can cause cancer. It has escaped scrutiny as a factor in air and water pollution and a possible contributor to the acceleration of climate change.
With more and more companies abandoning the American Legislative Exchange Council over its refusal to act on climate change, the prominent conservative organization finds itself in a bind: eager to stanch the exodus of high-profile members, yet at risk of alienating the powerful fossil fuel interests that make up its core membership.
"What they're wanting to do is speak out of both sides of their mouth," said Nick Surgey, research director at the Center for Media and Democracy, a liberal watchdog group that focuses on corporate influence on public policy.
The departure of Google last fall over ALEC's position on global warming prompted the group to publicly refute allegations that it denies climate change. "ALEC recognizes that climate change is an important issue," and "no ALEC model policy denies climate change," it said. This month ALEC sent cease-and-desist letters to two progressive advocacy organizations demanding they retract statements that ALEC denies global warming.
But as recently as December, an ALEC summit brought together state legislators to develop a model bill for their home states that would dismantle federal environmental and carbon policy, and featured a speaker who said, "Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant. It is a benefit. It is the very elixir of life."
"Basically [ALEC is] saying, 'We've turned a new leaf and it's a new day and we're not living in the past,' said Kert Davies, executive director of the Climate Investigations Center, a Virginia-based watchdog group. "Yet there's not been one model bill they've generated that is a solution to climate change. All of them are to block current pathways—from renewables to EPA regulation. Their whole slate of work is actively anti-climate."
CAMBRIDGE, Mass.––As top-notch experts met at Harvard University to discuss global warming impacts and solutions Monday, dozens of Harvard students and alumni held protests encouraging the university to divest from fossil fuels.
The two events––one organized by Harvard's Office of the President, the other by students, alumni and environmental activists––share a common concern, but they highlight a rift over how the university should address climate change.
The Presidential Panel on Climate Change brought scientific and public policy leaders to a sold-out event at Harvard's 1,000-seat Sanders Theater. For more than an hour, the speakers, moderated by broadcaster Charlie Rose, discussed climate science, policies and solutions.
Meanwhile, divestment activists continued various sit-ins on campus to pressure the administration to shed its oil, gas and coal assets. Harvard President Drew Gilpin Faust has repeatedly said the university will not divest.
The panelists began by summarizing the urgency of the climate crisis and describing what needs to be done.
While plenty of people found humor in the recent news that officials in Florida and Wisconsin are censoring state workers' ability to talk about, much less work on, climate change, other states are not necessarily laughing. In fact, several political and environmental experts told InsideClimate News they could use it as a model to imitate.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott became the leader of this potential trend last month when news emerged that he had ordered environmental staffers not to use the terms "climate change" or "global warming" in communications or reports. Wisconsin established a similar policy last week, voting to ban staffers who manage thousands of acres of forests from working on or talking about global warming.
Experts now say that conservative lawmakers and public officials were far from embarrassed by the censorship revelations; they were emboldened by them. It could lead to a bevy of Republican lawmakers enacting similar policies in other states.
The National Press Foundation has honored the collaborative investigative project "Big Oil + Bad Air," by InsideClimate News, the Center for Public Integrity and The Weather Channel, with its Thomas L. Stokes award for energy writing.
The award, the latest in a string of recognition for the project, was announced Monday in Washington, D.C.
NPF judges called the series, "First-rate investigative work with a human pulse. The collaborative project blended hard facts with a powerful narrative of real people that made you care. The description of fracking consequences in Texas is now playing out elsewhere, in the Bakken and Utica shales. The project triggered meaningful impact, forcing concessions from state regulators."
"Big Oil + Bad Air" was the result of an eight-month investigation into the hydraulic fracturing boom in south Texas, revealing the toxic chemicals released into the air by oil and gas production and the widespread impact on public health. It exposes how little the Texas government knows about such pollution in its own state and shows that the Texas legislature is intent on keeping it that way.
Update: The Maryland house passed the two-year moratorium bill on Friday, Apr. 10, by a vote of 102-34, a veto-proof margin.
A Maryland bill calling for a two-year fracking moratorium in the state is expected to land on Gov. Larry Hogan's desk in the coming days.
The state Senate voted in favor of the bill 45-2 Monday evening. Now the measure—which requires the state to adopt new fracking rules by Oct. 1, 2016, and prohibit fracking permits until October 2017—heads to a vote in the House. The governor's position on the bill is unknown, but the Senate passed the bill with a veto-proof majority and there's a good chance the House will, too.
If Maryland passes this bill, it will become the first state to temporarily ban fracking twice. The move would also underscore the growing pushback against fracking nationwide.
Last December, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo banned fracking in his state. His decision was based on a state-sponsored study that found unacceptable human health, environmental and climate change risks associated with fracking. Dozens of towns and counties across the country have likewise passed local bans.
Although hailed by environmentalists and lawmakers for delaying the controversial energy extraction process in the state, the bill falls short of the expectations of many legislators. An earlier version of the bill that passed in the House with overwhelming support called for a three-year ban and a study on fracking's public health risks. The Senate bill calls for no such study.
Sen. Karen Montgomery, a Democrat from Montgomery County and supporter of the bill, said she is pleased something passed but "did not like the fact that we didn't pay enough attention to possible health effects" of fracking.