Following the Trump administration’s June announcement that it would officially withdraw the United States from the Paris climate agreement, hundreds of cities and businesses, joined by a handful of states, promised to uphold the country’s commitments with or without the federal government.
Now, those cities, states, and businesses — collectively called the We Are Still In coalition — are taking that promise one step further, announcing Wednesday that they will measure their emissions reductions and present a compilation of existing sub-national climate commitments to the United Nations at this year’s climate conference in Bonn.
“To see states and cities in the U.S. and territories and regions around the globe align their ambition and plans with the aims of the Paris agreement is almost unprecedented in the history of U.N. environmental treaties,” Nick Nuttall, director of communications and outreach for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) told ThinkProgress.
So far, seven states, including California and New York — the country’s second and ninth-largest energy-related emitters— have signed on to the coalition, as well as 227 cities and counties and more than 1,600 businesses.
The quantification effort launched on Wednesday, known as America’s Pledge, aims to standardize reporting on emissions reductions and climate action from participating cities, states, and businesses, so that the U.N. — and other countries — can see how the United States is progressing on climate despite a federal plan. In addition to the cities, states, and businesses that have committed to action through the We Are Still In coalition, the effort includes the Climate Mayors coalition of cities and the U.S. Climate Alliance group of states.
On a national and international level, climate action by cities and states can make a big difference. Cities are responsible for 75 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, so even actions that seem hyper-local — like increasing energy efficiency for municipal buildings or replacing fossil-fuel powered city buses with an electric fleet — can help bend the global emissions curve.
“The American government may have pulled out of the Paris agreement, but American society remains committed to it — and we will redouble our efforts to achieve its goals,” Michael Bloomberg, a U.N. special envoy for cities and climate change and coalition leader, said in a statement.
The pledge will not, however, replace the United States’ commitment to the Paris agreement. According to the terms of the agreement, only national governments can be official parties to the treaty. Instead, the cities, states, and businesses — known in official U.N. parlance as “non-party stakeholders” — will join a registry known as the Non-State Actor Zone for Climate Action (NAZCA). NAZCA, which was launched at the 2014 U.N. climate conference in Lima, Peru, already has some 12,549 commitments from cities, territories, regions, and businesses from around the world.
“Although the focus right now is on the states and cities in the United States following the announcement by the new administration, the fact is that this is part of a movement of sub-national governments around the world to contribute to the global climate agenda,” Nuttall said.
Nutall said that while the U.N. welcomes the initiative from U.S. cities, states, and businesses, the challenge will be quantifying the effect of climate action from diverse and potentially overlapping actors, a process that will likely stretch well beyond this year’s climate conference. If a city is located in a state, and both are part of the coalition, for instance, how are those emissions reductions counted?
“The big challenge right now is how to actually aggregate these pledges and actions by sub-national governments in a way that is meaningful and clear, transparent, so that the world knows precisely what is being achieved,” Nutall said. “Sub-national governments are a subset of a national economy, and clearly if they are all moving then the national economy is moving in terms of climate action.”
“To see states and cities in the U.S. and territories and regions around the globe align their ambition and plans with the aims of the Paris agreement is almost unprecedented in the history of U.N. environmental treaties.”
The America’s Pledge coalition is working with the World Resources Institute and the Rocky Mountain Institute to quantify the impact of the sub-national pledges, though the exact mechanism for those measurements remains unclear. According to the New York Times, the measurements will stretch through at least 2025 — the year that the United States, under President Obama, had pledged to meet its national commitment.
Reaching those same commitments without the help of the federal government will be an uphill battle, especially if big emitters like Texas remain indifferent to the effort. And it’s unclear how participating states will drive down emissions — Colorado, for instance, has joined the coalition but announced that it will rely on voluntary emissions reductions from the energy sector.
Still, Nutall said that the growing interest from cities, states, and businesses in moving forward with climate commitments — even without strong national commitments — is a good sign.
“[The commitments] bode well for the years and decades to come,” he said. “There is a real hope that over time we can actually achieve what Paris has asked the world to achieve, which is to spare the world from dangerous climate change,” he said.
Cities and states solidify their plan to move forward on climate without Trump was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
As the Trump administration launches an official initiative to question mainstream, peer-reviewed climate science, some states are looking to better protect climate researchers from intimidation by outside groups.
In Rhode Island, Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) recently signed into law legislation clarifying that certain parts of academic research — such as working papers, preliminary drafts, and notes — are exempt from public records requests.
Proponents of the bill argue that it will help protect researchers from intimidation — from special interest groups trying to sway a researcher’s interpretation of data to public records requests meant to chill communication and collaboration between researchers.
“It’s really important for scientists to be able to be frank with each other and to make each other’s theories and research better by pointing out where it could be improved,” Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, told ThinkProgress. “If every email and handwritten note is going to be dragged out into the public, scientists will be less likely to be frank with each other, and the research itself will suffer.”
While Rhode Island’s new clarification applies to academic research broadly, Aaron Ley, a professor of political science at the University of Rhode Island who helped craft the legislation, noted that it could be especially helpful for climate researchers, who in recent years have become the target of intimidation and harassment campaigns funded by climate denial groups.
In the early 2010s, for instance, the American Tradition Institute — now the Energy and Environment Legal Institute, with ties to both the petrochemical billionaire Koch brothers and the coal industry — filed Freedom of Information requests in at least five states, asking for an extensive trove of documents from climate researchers. The most famous of these requests asked the University of Virginia for documents and emails related to Dr. Michael Mann, a climate researcher whose work has helped scientists understand rapid temperature changes in recent years.
The Virginia Supreme Court eventually ruled in favor of the University of Virginia and Mann, finding that unpublished research is exempt from Virginia public records requests. But records requests asking scientists for unpublished or private correspondence can have a chilling effect on research, making scientists hesitant to openly share information, ideas, or criticism with one another for fear that their words could be twisted by public interest groups. In an email to ThinkProgress, Mann described the records request as an abuse of open records laws as well as “an effort to intimidate me and discredit my research.”
Scientific papers are already subject to rigorous review and documentation through the peer-review process, and many top journals also require that data be made publicly available after a study is published. For that reason, Ley shrugged off concerns that strengthening laws protecting scientists could inadvertently protect scientists working at the behest of industry or producing subpar work. “Research should be able to stand on its own merit,” he said. “At the end of the day, people are really putting their professional integrity on the line if they are producing bad research.”
Ley was also inspired by the current presidential administration, which has shown itself to be antagonistic towards scientists and the scientific process. Administrator Scott Pruitt, for instance, has notified 47 of the EPA’s scientific advisors that they will not be renewed for another term of service, reportedly to make room for more industry scientists. The EPA has also deleted accurate climate science information from the agency’s webpage.
“With the current administration, they’ve sent some very strong signals that free academic research is not going to be tolerated,” Ley told ThinkProgress. “I think that was something that made people realize that is really important to protect the research process.”
The legislation was supported by both the ACLU of Rhode Island and Common Cause, a nonprofit group that advocates for government accountability. Ley says that the legislation was not meant to be overly broad, or to impede on public transparency, but instead was meant to support public university scientists should they ever receive an open records request and find themselves in court.
“If anything ends up before a judge, that judge will see that we went to the legislature, we clarified the law, and at the end of the day we expect that when FOIA laws are being interpreted, that they will err on the side of academic research,” Ley said.
And while no University of Rhode Island researchers are currently embroiled in legal challenges related to public records requests, the Union of Concerned Scientists’ Halpern said that it is helpful for the state to clarify exemptions before any particular challenges might arise.
“Scientists find themselves under enormous scrutiny from all kinds of different commercial interests when their research finds potential harm of products or processes,” Halpern said. “It’s great to see a state getting out ahead of any controversy to clarify the fact that researchers will be able to pursue their work without being harassed.”
Rhode Island strengthens laws protecting scientific research was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
The Trump administration has officially begun repealing the Clean Water Rule, which was finalized by the Obama administration in 2015. The proposed repeal, which was published in the Federal Register on Thursday afternoon, signals the first step in the Trump administration’s promise to rescind and rewrite the regulation.
The proposed repeal was made public on the same day that Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Scott Pruitt testified before the Senate Appropriations Committee and promised that under his leadership, the EPA would focus on its core mission of protecting clean air and water for the American people.
“We are taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation’s farmers and businesses,” Pruitt said in a press statement. “This is the first step in the two-step process to redefine ‘waters of the U.S.’ and we are committed to moving through this re-evaluation to quickly provide regulatory certainty, in a way that is thoughtful, transparent and collaborative with other agencies and the public.”
The Clean Water Rule, which was first proposed in 2014, sought to clarify the legal jurisdiction of the federal government under the Clean Water Act. In doing so, it expanded protection for two million miles of streams and 20 million acres of wetlands. Also known as the Waters of the United States Rule, the rule was widely criticized by industry — including fossil fuel producers, manufacturers, and agribusiness — as well as by Republican lawmakers, who called the rule an example of overreach by a federal agency.
President Trump signed an executive order in February, directing the EPA, which issued the original rule in conjunction with the Army Corps of Engineers, to “review and reconsider” the rule, paying special attention to the definition of “navigable waters.”
The Clean Water Rule had already been put on hold by a federal appeals court in 2015, after 13 states filed a lawsuit against the EPA and Army Corps of Engineers. Since then, it has been on hold while the case works its way through the courts.
The Sixth Circuit, which initially granted the stay, is currently waiting for the Supreme Court to decide whether it has the jurisdiction to hear the case in the first place. It’s possible, however, that the administration will use the rule’s repeal as an argument that litigation regarding the regulation should be suspended, effectively killing environmentalists’ hope that the rule will be upheld by the courts on its scientific and legal merits.
Under the Clean Water Act, the federal government has the ability to regulate pollution that flows into navigable waters, but courts and legislative bodies have struggled to define the term for decades.
The Clean Water Rule was the Obama administration’s attempt at clarifying what exactly constitutes a “navigable” body of water, and it was largely based on an opinion from a 2006 Supreme Court decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, who argued that waters could fall under the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act if they have a “significant nexus” to navigable waters.
A leaked draft of the Trump administration’s proposed rewrite of the Clean Water Rule, which circulated EPA and Capitol Hill offices in late April, revealed that the administration wanted the EPA to focus on a definition of navigable waters offered by the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, rather than on Kennedy’s “significant nexus” test.
That definition would severely restrict the federal government’s ability to regulate pollution, especially in areas like wetlands or seasonal streams, which don’t fit under Scalia’s narrower definition of waters. One in three Americans gets their drinking water from a source that would not qualify for protection under Scalia’s definition.
The administration has not officially released its interpretation of rule meant to clarify the jurisdiction of the federal government under the Clean Water Act, and it’s unclear when such a rule would be finalized or put forward for public comment. But if the rewrite of the rule follows Scalia’s definition of navigable water, legal experts warn that the rule will face an uphill battle in courts, since no federal court of appeals has ever upheld the Scalia definition of navigable waters by itself. In five district court decisions since 2006, only one court has ruled that either Scalia’s test or Kennedy’s test could be used to decide whether the EPA was properly interpreting its authority under the Clean Water Act; all other decisions found that regulations must meet Kennedy’s “significant nexus” test.
Following the administration’s official repeal of the Clean Water Act, environmental groups vowed to fight the administration’s efforts to rollback water protections.
“It goes without saying that the Trump administration doesn’t care about the environment, public health, or its duty to protect our most precious natural resources — and that is why it’s up to us, the American people, to hold them accountable,” Michael Brune, executive director of Sierra Club, said in a statement. “We will fight this and every other attempt by polluters and the Trump administration to destroy our water resources.”
But opponents of the administration’s eventual replacement plan can’t legally challenge the administration until it has finalized a new rule, a process that could take years. That means that in the absence of a clear federal definition of “navigable waters,” businesses, landowners, and environmental groups will have to seek regulatory certainty through the courts, teeing up a patchwork of case-by-case litigation.
Throughout the presidential campaign and into the beginning of his presidency, Donald Trump vowed to undo the Clean Power Plan, the Obama administration’s signature piece of domestic climate policy, designed to curb greenhouse gas emissions from the power sector.
On Monday, parties on both sides of the legal debate over the Clean Power Plan submitted their best arguments for why a federal court should — or should not — rule on the regulation before the Trump administration's EPA has a chance to rescind and remake the rule.
The Trump administration had previously asked the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals not to issue a ruling in a pending lawsuit against the Clean Power Plan. Oral arguments for that suit, lead by West Virginia and joined by a coalition of states that oppose the Clean Power Plan, concluded in September, and the court was expected to release a decision as early as this spring.
That timeline was thrown off track, however, by an executive order, signed by Trump in March, requiring the EPA to review and rework the Clean Power Plan. In April, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals asked both sides in the lawsuit to submit more information about whether the case should be held in long-term abeyance, or whether the rule should be sent back to the EPA.
In briefs filed to the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, lawyers representing environmental groups, states, cities, and power companies in support of the rule argued that the federal court should issue a ruling on the case.
“We continue to insist that the court should just decide the case,” Sean Donahue, legal counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund, told ThinkProgress. “This is not the Supreme Court that has discretion over whether to hear a court or not. If there is a case before you, there is a strong presumption that you should decide it.”
In ruling on the case, supporters argue, the Circuit Court would likely answer crucial legal questions that could help guide the EPA in rewriting the rule — questions like whether the EPA truly has authority, under section 111 of the Clean Air Act, to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.
The Trump administration, by contrast, is asking that the court delay ruling on the case until after the EPA has had a chance to review and rewrite the rule. That process will likely take years, as it will require the EPA to go through a traditional rule-making process including periods of public notice and comment.
“Abeyance is the proper course of action because it would better preserve the status quo, conserve judicial resources, and allow the new administration to focus squarely on completing its current review of the Clean Power Plan as expeditiously as possible,” counsel for both the EPA and Justice Department wrote in a brief filed on Monday.
Complicating the matter, according to Donahue, is the fact that the Supreme Court issued a temporary stay on the Clean Power Plan in February of 2016, effectively ordering that the rule be put on hold as legal challenges worked their way through the courts. If the court were to hold the rule in long-term abeyance, as the Trump administration and other challengers to the rule have requested, it would effectively place the rule under indefinite stay.
“You can’t both suspend something pending judicial review and stop the judicial review,” Donahue said. “That amounts to invalidating the rule.”
Ben Longstreth, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, agreed that holding the rule in abeyance would, in effect, pause the Clean Power Plan indefinitely, meaning fossil fuel-fired power plants would be free to emit greenhouse gases without the constraints of the Clean Power Plan.
“The thing that is unusual about this case is that if the court held it in abeyance, that would give EPA the chance to just sit on this and not act,” he said. “We do think it’s important that the court not just signal that there can be an open-ended abeyance that would allow [the administration] to avoid taking full responsibility for changing the Clean Power Plan.”
If the court chooses not to issue a ruling in the Clean Power Plan case, supporters of the rule are arguing that the court should at least remand the rule to the EPA. Handing the rule back to the EPA would likely prompt the Trump administration to take some kind of action on the regulation, but it would also signal the end of the existing legal challenges to the rule. The Supreme Court’s stay on the rule would also likely be lifted, meaning that — until such a time that the Trump administration released a revised rule — the Clean Power Plan would be law of the land.
“That’s something Administrator Pruitt and the challengers do not want,” Longstreth said. “They feel protected by that stay.”
But perhaps more importantly, remanding the case to the EPA would effectively force the challengers in the current lawsuit to give up their case, since constitutional challenges to a federal law can only be brought within 60 days of the law being issued. That means if the Trump administration were to fail to issue a revised rule — or if a future Trump administration-issued rule were to be challenged and overturned in court — the law would revert back to the Clean Power Plan.
Still, supporters of the Clean Power Plan stress that remanding the rule to the EPA would initiate a lengthy process of rule-making and legal challenges, further hindering the nation’s ability to regulate greenhouse gas emissions.
“These are terrible options,” Donahue said. “It’s distressing that we are not just implementing this thing. [The Clean Power Plan] is important framework and important for setting in place the idea that carbon emissions are a serious harm to society.”
The Trump administration wants to freeze Obama’s signature climate policy indefinitely was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.
The Trump administration’s attack on basic science continues apace, with rumors circulating that President Donald Trump will soon tap former campaign policy adviser and one-time conservative radio talk show host Sam Clovis to be the lead scientist at the Department of Agriculture. Trump will reportedly name Clovis to lead the USDA’s Research, Education and Economics division despite the fact that Clovis has no background in the hard sciences, as well as no demonstrable policy experience with either food or agriculture.
The USDA’s undersecretary of research, education and economics oversees the entire scientific mission of the USDA, as well as the department’s economic agencies — perhaps the only part of the job for which Clovis has any qualifications. Past undersecretaries have been biochemists, plant physiologists, food nutrition experts, and public health experts. Clovis has a doctorate in public administration and was a professor of economics at Morningside College in Sioux City, Iowa. He also unsuccessfully ran for U.S. Senate in 2014.
Clovis joined the Trump campaign in 2015, as national campaign co-chair. He reportedly had a hand in developing the Trump campaign’s proposal to ban Muslims from entering the United States, which caused friction between Clovis and his employer at the time, Morningside College. According to Politico, Clovis was also responsible for enlisting Carter Page to join the Trump campaign. Page has since come under intense scrutiny for his ties to the Kremlin.
Since Trump’s election in November, Clovis has been the administration’s senior policy adviser at the USDA. In January, he signed off on a memo sent to USDA scientists telling them to cease publication of “outward facing” documents, like news releases and fact sheets. Another memo instructed department officials to clear any media communications directly with the acting secretary
Clovis is an outspoken climate denier, telling Iowa Public Radio in a 2014 interview that climate science is “junk science” and “not proven.” In October, he told E&E News that a Trump administration would not prioritize climate science in its agriculture policy.
“I think our position is very clearly [that] Mr. Trump is a skeptic on climate change, and we need more science. Once we get more science, we’re going to make decisions,” Clovis said.
If confirmed by the Senate, Clovis would be in charge of the USDA’s efforts on climate change, which significantly increased under the Obama administration. Catherine Woteki, who served as undersecretary for research, education and economics in the Obama administration, was integral in launching the department’s “Climate Hubs” in 2014, which aim to give farmers more on-the-ground information about climate science and adaptation in their region. She also chaired the “Global Research Alliance to Reduce Agricultural Greenhouse Gasses,” a coalition of countries around the world created to help share climate science and data.
“This position is the chief scientist of the Department of Agriculture,” Woteki told ProPublica in an interview. “It should be a person who evaluates the scientific body of evidence and moves appropriately from there,” she said in an interview.”
Ricardo Salvador, director of the Food and Environment Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists also expressed concern about Clovis’ appointment, saying in a statement that the USDA’s chief scientists should be a scientist, not a political ally.
“If the president goes forward with this nomination, it’ll be yet another example of blatant dismissal of the value of scientific expertise among his administration appointees,” Salvador said. “Continuing to choose politics over science will give farmers and consumers little confidence that the administration has their interests at heart.”
Clovis would not be the only climate denier appointed to the USDA by Trump. Sonny Perdue, Trump’s Secretary of Agriculture, has a history of climate denial, calling climate science “a running joke among the public” in a 2014 op-ed published in the National Review.
Trump expected to name climate-denying conservative talk show host as head USDA scientist was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.