The More Climate Changes

The more things stay the same in Washington (DC)

We have a super important report on climate policy from Elissa below, but I wanted to jump in and let you know about a City Council candidate forum on housing next week hosted by the Washington Low Income Housing Alliance and a host of local groups.

It’s important that we let politicians know we care and are watching this issue. Here’s a link to the event description and a direct link to register for the virtual meeting, in case Facebook goes down again. — Luke

The More Climate Changes

The more things stay the same in Washington (DC)

A Southern California oil spill that sent an estimated 144,000 gallons of crude oil gushing into the Pacific Ocean last weekend added pressure on the Biden administration to take meaningful action on carbon-based fuels. The spill shut down California beaches and harmed wetlands — critical animal habitats that act as natural water filters. The spill put yet another hole in the idea that oil pipelines can be safe.  

Prior to the spill, the Biden Administration was already experiencing increased friction with climate activists growing impatient with the President’s talk versus his walk when it comes to fossil fuels and overall environmental protections.

Perhaps you’ve heard of “Line 3” or “The Enbridge Line,” a tar sands pipeline project by the Canada-based Enbridge fossil fuel company. It reroutes and adds to an existing line that drops down from Canada and then cuts through Northern Minnesota, violating long-held tribal treaties. In August, Minnesota’s White Earth Band of Ojibwe sued the state’s DNR in tribal court over the pipeline’s threat to wild rice, a sacred subsistence crop for Indigenous people. A 19th-century treaty guarantees tribes the right to freely gather the rice. The lawsuit also attempts to distinguish wild rice as a separate entity that requires protection.

Whereas Biden took swift action (on his first day in office!) to stop the Keystone XL pipeline by revoking the project’s permit — citing concerns over a worsening climate crisis — he has been silent on Line 3, even as activists and celebrities have spoken out about the fossil fuel project. While Biden remained quiet, though, his DOJ lawyers were busy legally defending the pipeline. Separately, Enbridge paid Minnesota police $2 million to crack down on Indigenous protestors and environmental groups. According to reporting from the Intercept, cops expect this windfall to be a downpayment on years of increased tax revenue leading to bigger budgets for equipment and guns. 

“They clearly have a belief or awareness that there is a pot of gold should they succeed in stopping the water protectors from being able to stop Line 3,” said Mara Verheyden-Hilliard, director of the Partnership for Civil Justice Fund’s Center for Protest Law and Litigation told the publication.

The Intercept has extensive reporting on Line 3. You can dig in here.

Biden, who’s fond of calling the climate crisis an “existential threat,” could use his executive authority to halt Line 3 construction in Minnesota, just as he could take action to stop development of Puget Sound Energy’s fracked LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) facility over in Tacoma. Like Line 3, it’s another carbon-based project opposed by area tribes and environmentalists. Elsewhere, other climate activists are calling on Biden to issue an executive order that would protect the financial system from disruptions related to climate change, in an attempt to stop big banks and institutions from financing similar fossil fuel projects. 

But Biden isn’t doing any of that. 

As longtime community organizer Joye Braun of the Indigenous Environmental Network puts it: “President Biden can claim to be the climate president, but if he’s allowing all these fossil fuel projects to continue, that doesn't make sense.” Like presidents before him, Biden campaigned on big promises to his base. That base includes environmental justice advocates and people disproportionately affected by climate crises. While an initial flurry of pen strokes from Biden made small but meaningful changes, those pen strokes have ceased. 

This is no time for inaction. As the IPCC’s latest report warned us all: Our window for bold moves to prevent global climate-related death is small, finite, and here now. The planet can’t survive more can-kicking. 

One way for Biden’s environmental goals to be realized is with the ambitious infrastructure bill and reconciliation package currently being hammered out in congress. According to the Whitehouse, Biden’s infrastructure blueprint “includes historic components that will help combat climate change, advance environmental justice, and create good-paying, union jobs.” 

The bill seems increasingly in doubt, though it’s not Republicans standing in the way of those ideals, but rather right-leaning democrats like Senators Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin. A coal-country politician who takes more fossil-fuel money than any other Democrat and even owns his own coal brokerage companyEnersystems — Manchin is insisting that carbon-based “natural gas” be part of the clean energy package, even though the IPCC report explicitly warned natural gas, and the methane it contains, contribute to global warming. Methane has 80 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide. 

While no major carbon-related measures have come from Biden’s desk lately, on Friday he is reinstating and expanding protections for Utah’s Bear Ears National Monument that were slashed by President Trump in 2017. Biden is also restoring protective boundaries that include Grand Staircase-Escalante Monument. Apparently Utah’s Republican lawmakers are not pleased with Biden’s move, which they view as unilateral and uncompromising. The 1.5-million-acre national monument, that includes many public camping sites, was designated by an outgoing President Obama in 2016, at the behest of tribes with ties to the land. The area in question includes important archeological sites, burial grounds, and waterways. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland helped coordinate the restoration, meeting with tribal leaders and Utah officials back in April. 

It’s an odd, but perhaps not unexpected dichotomy: a Democratic president who takes great pains to preserve — in this case re-preserve — some of the world’s most incredible natural areas while balking on climate policies that would help the human race stick around to enjoy them.

— edited by Luke Baumgarten