Biden’s Green Agenda Meets Environmental Red Tape

“One test is unfolding in Nevada in a fight over a planned lithium mine and a rare desert wildflower. A mining company, ioneer Ltd., has proposed building a large-scale lithium-boron mine in western Nevada (the first of its kind in the United States) to supply materials for electric vehicle batteries, wind turbines, and other clean-energy technologies. If approved, the mine could quadruple domestic lithium production and help build 400,000 electric cars each year, according to the company’s estimates, helping to advance Biden’s goal “to win the EV market.”

But a rare plant may stop the project from breaking ground. The site is also home to Tiehm’s buckwheat, a pale yellow wildflower that is only found on a 10-acre patch of lithium-rich soil within the project area. Last year, the Center for Biological Diversity, a litigious environmental group, sued the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, demanding emergency protections for the buckwheat to block the mine. On Thursday, in response to a court order, the service proposed listing the buckwheat under the Endangered Species Act. The Biden administration now has until September 30 to issue a proposed rule to protect the plant, which could all but doom the lithium mine.

It’s a familiar story: A tangled web of environmental laws and regulations gives litigious groups ample opportunities to stall development projects or thwart them altogether. That strategy works well when environmentalists’ goal is to stop things from happening, but it’s likely to be a major obstacle to building the infrastructure and technological capacity to achieve Biden’s clean-energy vision, which will require many new mining operations, solar and wind farms, transmission lines, and other forms of development.”

Why the US won’t join the single most important treaty to protect nature

“The US still hasn’t joined the most important international agreement to conserve biodiversity, known as the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). And it isn’t just a small, inconsequential treaty. Designed to protect species, ecosystems, and genetic diversity, the treaty has been ratified by every other country or territory aside from the Holy See. Among other achievements, CBD has pushed countries to create national biodiversity strategies and to expand their networks of protected areas.

Since the early 1990s — when CBD was drafted, with input from the US — Republican lawmakers have blocked ratification, which requires a two-thirds Senate majority. They’ve argued that CBD would infringe on American sovereignty, put commercial interests at risk, and impose a financial burden, claims that environmental experts say have no support.”

The right-wing effort to derail Biden’s conservation plan, explained

“These arguments seem to assume that, to hit the 30 percent goal, the federal government will forbid access to public land, seize private property, and ignore the conservation benefit of working lands that are managed with biodiversity in mind.

But as far as we know, that’s not what the government is proposing, according to Collin O’Mara, the CEO of the National Wildlife Federation. “This is the furthest from a land grab,” O’Mara said. “There’s nothing proposed that affects private property rights.”

On public lands, which are far more expansive in the West, the Interior Department may continue to restrict access to extractive industries, said Weiss, of the Center for Western Priorities. In late January, the Biden administration paused new oil and gas leasing on federal lands.

But those restrictions are unlikely to target working lands, said Weiss and O’Mara. On the contrary, 30 by 30 is likely to open up more federal land to recreational activities, and even make them more productive through restoration and better management, they added. Just last month, the Interior Department announced a proposal for the largest expansion of hunting and fishing opportunities in US history. (The Interior Department declined to comment for this story.)

When it comes to private lands, the government has made it clear that any conservation efforts will be voluntary for the landowner. “The government rarely uses eminent domain,” Weiss said. (A notable exception would be the Trump administration, Weiss added, which seized private property to build the US-Mexico border wall, though outcry from conservatives was absent then. “That is the biggest irony here,” he said.)”

Will Biden’s ’30 by 30′ Conservation Plan Protect Both Property Rights and Wild Landscapes?

“the Biden administration released a report, “Conserving and Restoring America the Beautiful,” that outlines the ambitious goal of “conserving at least 30 percent of our lands and waters by 2030.” The administration’s “30 by 30″ proposal is consonant with ongoing negotiations under the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), a multilateral treaty which the U.S. has signed but not ratified. The treaty aims to preserve sites of particular importance for biodiversity through the implementation of protected areas and other effective area-based conservation measures. These measures would help cover at least 30 percent of land and sea areas, with at least 10 percent under strict protection.”

“Property and Environment Research Center (PERC) CEO Brian Yablonski observed that President Joe Biden’s earlier 30 by 30 executive order “references conserving 30 percent of our lands and waters, not protecting or preserving. The word conserve implies multiple and sustainable uses, not locking up land. This means managed and working lands should count.”

The 30 by 30 report does, at least rhetorically, endorse this view.”

“The report further observes that the administration’s 30 percent conservation and restoration goal will be advanced by “providing incentives for voluntary conservation practices,” as this “rewards ranchers and farmers for being good stewards of working lands, waters, and wildlife habitat.””

After four years of inaction, the EPA is finally regulating this superpollutant

“HFCs have only been used in appliances since the 1990s, as a replacement for ozone-depleting chemicals, but their use has grown at a terrifying rate. While HFCs still only comprise about 1 percent of total greenhouse emissions, they are thousands of times better at trapping heat than carbon over a 20-year period.”

“another big task awaits for President Joe Biden to rein in HFCs: ratifying the 2016 Kigali Amendment, the global agreement to phase down these dangerous chemicals by 85 percent before 2050. It’s one of many amendments that has been added to the Montreal Protocol since 1987, a treaty that has been used to phase out ozone-depleting chemicals.
Every one of these amendments was ratified and implemented successfully by the US —except Kigali, the one that came along just as Trump and Republicans took power and brought climate action to a standstill.”

What Netflix’s Seaspiracy gets wrong about fishing, explained by a marine biologist

“The film includes all the damning evidence and dramatic footage required to make the important point that industrial fishing is — throughout the world — a too often out-of-control, sometimes criminal enterprise that needs to be reined in and regulated. In this, it reinforces and shares with a wide audience a knowledge that is widespread in the ocean conservation community, but not in the public at large.

However, overall Seaspiracy does more harm than good. It takes the very serious issue of the devastating impact of industrial fisheries on life in the ocean and then undermines it with an avalanche of falsehoods. It also employs questionable interviewing techniques, uses anti-Asian tropes, and blames the ocean conservation community, i.e., the very NGOs trying to fix things, rather than the industrial companies actually causing the problem.

Most importantly, it twists the narrative about ocean destruction to support the idea that we — the Netflix subscribers of the world — can save ocean biodiversity by turning vegan. In doing so, Seaspiracy undermines its tremendous potential value: to persuade people to work together, and push for change in policy and rules that will rein in an industry which often breaks the law with impunity.”

The ‘Green Energy’ That Might Be Ruining the Planet

“Here’s a multibillion-dollar question that could help determine the fate of the global climate: If a tree falls in a forest—and then it’s driven to a mill, where it’s chopped and chipped and compressed into wood pellets, which are then driven to a port and shipped across the ocean to be burned for electricity in European power plants—does it warm the planet?

Most scientists and environmentalists say yes: By definition, clear-cutting trees and combusting their carbon emits greenhouse gases that heat up the earth. But policymakers in the U.S. Congress and governments around the world have declared that no, burning wood for power isn’t a climate threat—it’s actually a green climate solution. In Europe, “biomass power,” as it’s technically called, is now counted and subsidized as zero-emissions renewable energy. As a result, European utilities now import tons of wood from U.S. forests every year—and Europe’s supposedly eco-friendly economy now generates more energy from burning wood than from wind and solar combined.”

“Nevertheless, the global transition away from fossil fuels has sparked a boom in the U.S. wood-pellet industry, which has built 23 mills throughout the South over the past decade, and is relentlessly trying to brand itself as a 21st-century green energy business. Its basic argument is that the carbon released while trees are burning shouldn’t count because it’s eventually offset by the carbon absorbed while other trees are growing. That is also currently the official position of the U.S. government, along with many other governments around the world.”

“critics of the industry have suggested an alternative climate strategy: Let trees grow and absorb carbon, then don’t burn them. Deforestation is a major driver of climate change, and the United Nations climate panel has warned that the world needs to end it worldwide to meet the ambitious Paris emissions targets for 2050.”

“European experience shows that general policies to promote renewables can spark a massive shift to wood-burning if biomass isn’t specifically excluded.”

“Enviva’s product would not exist without loggers who clear-cut forests into barren fields with motorized “feller-bunchers,” but the company tries to emphasize that its business is about growing trees as well as killing trees. Enviva requires the landowners who supply its wood to promise to replant their forests, and it uses GPS technology to track and trace every harvest to see if they comply. The company has also committed to help protect 35,000 acres of threatened bottomland hardwood forests and restore 5,000 acres of natural longleaf pine.”

“Jenkins wants the public to see the big picture: Southern forests are growing overall, with more trees being planted than cut, and Enviva’s demand for wood helps encourage landowners to keep their forests as forests. The Southeastern U.S. produces one-sixth of the world’s timber, and less than 4 percent of that harvest ends up as pellets.

“one thing both sides agree on is that it matters what kind of wood ends up in the pellet mills, and what would have happened to that wood otherwise. Policymakers and academics have made all kinds of theoretical assumptions, but it’s not hard to find the reality on the ground.”

“In the decade since Enviva started manufacturing pellets, the Dogwood Alliance has repeatedly exposed gaps between the company’s sustainability rhetoric and its actions. In 2018, for example, a Dutch TV station working with Dogwood followed some logs from another cypress swamp near the Virginia border back to Enviva’s mill. Smith and I returned to the scene three years later, and while the deforested high ground around the swamp had been recolonized by a thick tangle of grasses, bushes and scrub oak, there wasn’t much growing back in the low-lying wetlands, just some sad-looking stumps poking out of the murky water. Smith warns that if governments keep subsidizing the conversion of trees into energy, enormous swaths of environmentally valuable forests around the world will end up looking like that.

Enviva officials say they no longer accept any cypress wood at their mills, or for that matter any other wood harvested from ecologically sensitive areas. They say they now source only 3 percent of their wood from the increasingly rare bottomland hardwood forests that are such culturally resonant symbols of the South—and only from “non-sensitive” ones. But Jenkins admits the company made some questionable sourcing decisions in the past.”

“what’s clear from talking to people in North Carolina, and from a few hours standing outside two Enviva mills watching logging trucks come and go, is that much of the wood that gets pelletized isn’t unmerchantable waste wood. It’s pulpwood—whole pine and hardwood trees as well as wood chips that could otherwise be sold to paper mills. It’s not thick or unblemished enough to turn into telephone poles, houses or high-quality furniture, but much of it is fine for Amazon boxes, toilet paper and the fluff inside diapers; one member of Enviva’s sustainability team described it as Walmart wood rather than Gucci wood. I later spent an hour outside a nearby paper mill watching what kind of wood arrived there, and the trucks were bringing in the same kind of logs they brought to Enviva.

That means Enviva isn’t just cleaning up around the edges of the logging industry—it’s increasing demand for wood in the South. And that means additional trees would need to be logged to feed the paper mills that are losing trees to Enviva; the increased demand for pulpwood will require an increased supply of pulpwood. Even if new trees are planted in their place, many studies suggest they will take decades, and in some cases centuries, to absorb enough carbon to “pay back” the carbon debt from burning the older trees. That’s a problem, because scientists don’t believe the world can wait decades, much less centuries, to cut emissions.”

2020 ties for the hottest year on record

“2020 was one of the two warmest years on record, tied only with 2016.

According to the European Union’s Copernicus Climate Change Service, in 2020, average temperatures globally were 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit (1.25 degrees Celsius) warmer than preindustrial levels — the point at which scientists agree that human activity, and particularly the burning of fossil fuels, began to accelerate global warming.

In nearly every way, 2020 was a record year for climate-related disasters.

The impacts of the record heat have been felt both around the globe and in the United States. Historic wildfires burned in California, Colorado, Australia, and the Amazonian rainforest. The Atlantic hurricane season produced a record 30 named storms.

Swarms of crop-destroying locusts invaded East Africa, causing devastation to a region already struggling with food insecurity. The Arctic, the area that is currently warming faster than any other place on the planet, saw record declines in ice cover as well as records for how late in the year the ice actually froze.

Even more troubling, 2020’s high temperatures occurred despite the absence of an El Niño event, which typically has the effect of warming the globe; 2016, the other warmest year on record, had an El Niño.”

“Our culture is not up for sale”: The stakes of Trump’s push to drill in the Arctic refuge

“The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, an expanse of public land in Alaska the size of South Carolina, is one of the last untouched landscapes in the world. The native Gwich’in people — who have lived in harmony with the area’s migratory Porcupine caribou herd for centuries — call the refuge’s vast coastal plain Iizhik Gwats’an Gwandaii Goodlit, or “The Sacred Place Where Life Begins.”

But in the past few years, the fate of the refuge’s roughly 19.5 million acres has become rather bleak: Its permafrost is melting rapidly, along with the rest of the Arctic region. The refuge’s coastal plain also remains at risk to oil and gas development, which companies have long had their eye on but have been barred from doing — until now.

Drilling in the US Arctic is what President Trump has longed to do, in hopes of making the US the No. 1 energy producer in the world. And in early December, the administration made a stunning, last-ditch announcement that it will auction off drilling rights in the refuge on January 6 — two weeks before President-elect Joe Biden takes office. It’s the administration’s final attempt to turn a profit on Indigenous lands with little regard for the environmental or cultural ramifications.”

“For centuries, the Arctic refuge — particularly the coastal plain — has been central to Alaska Natives’ way of life. The ancestral name of the plain refers to the calving grounds for the caribou, whose migratory path still guides the Gwich’in and other Indigenous people today. If oil drilling rights in the sacred land are sold, Alaskan Natives fear it would disrupt the caribou’s migratory patterns along with other wildlife. It would also interrupt the way the Gwich’in people prepare for sacred harvest as their ancestors have thousands of years ago.

“This is not just a Gwich’in issue; there are a lot of Alaska Natives who depend on the caribou and the animals that migrate there,” Bernadette Demientieff, a Gwichyaa Zhee Gwich’in and the executive director of the Gwich’in Steering Committee, told Vox. “Our identity as Gwich’in is not up for negotiation and our culture is not up for sale. We will fight this every step of the way.”

Already, the Trans-Alaska oil pipeline on the west end of the national refuge, which has had multiple hazardous oil spills in the region, provides a stark reminder of the fossil fuel industry’s menacing presence on Indigenous lands. Fossil fuel operations emit tons of greenhouse gases that contribute to the planet’s warming temperatures. And to do so on Indigenous lands in the Arctic — already dubbed ground zero for the climate crisis — only adds insult to injury for communities most vulnerable to climate change, like the Gwich’in people.”

The US is back in the international climate game

“On Wednesday, Biden kicked off the process to undo Trump’s prolific environmental rollbacks — totaling nearly 100 during his presidency — and jump-start new climate regulation. One executive order covers a broad range of policies including methane regulations, energy efficiency standards for appliances, fuel efficiency standards for cars, and blocking the Keystone XL pipeline and drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. It will take months for agencies to review and rescind Trump’s environmental decisions, but tackling all these regulations at once shows the new administration’s commitment to climate action.”

“The US will have to play catch-up once it rejoins the Paris agreement. Countries are supposed to impose stricter targets on themselves every five years, with the goal of limiting emissions to keep temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees Celsius compared to preindustrial levels. Several top emitters, including the European Union, submitted new targets on schedule last month, five years after the first round of targets in 2015.
Biden says he will reestablish the US as a global climate leader, implying that the US will set a new, ambitious 2030 target. But years of inaction under Trump have delayed US emissions reductions, making Biden’s job more difficult.”

“new legislation for investment and standards will be essential to achieve the rapid emissions cuts the climate emergency calls for. With the narrowest Democratic majority in the Senate, climate legislation will be dependent on the will of the most conservative members of the party, including Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV), and the intricacies of the budget reconciliation process”