After WV v. EPA: 5 Ways We Keep Fighting For The Climate

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Climate and Energy

by Mark Schlosberg and Tarah Heinzen

Last week, the Supreme Court rounded out a term full of extremist rulings with West Virginia v. EPA. The court ruled that the EPA can’t mandate an energy sector transition from coal power to less polluting energy sources. This gift to the fossil fuel industry is a major blow to federal efforts to address the climate crisis. But we can’t let the corporatist Supreme Court push us over the climate cliff. Instead, we need to redouble our efforts. There is still so much we can do — at the federal level, in the courts and in states and municipalities across the country.  

Here are five ways we can fight for and win a livable planet: 
1. Pressure Our Other Branches Of Government Toward Climate Action

WV v. EPA pulled one tool from the EPA’s toolbox, but President Biden and his agencies still have plenty of options. Biden could declare a climate emergency, allowing him to, among other things, halt fossil fuel exports. He and his agencies could also stop approving new fossil fuel projects and new drilling on federal lands. They could stop advocating for industry scams like carbon capture, which will prolong our fossil fuel dependence. And Biden could use his bully pulpit to rally governors, state and local officials and heads of state toward bold climate action. 

Even after the Supreme Court’s decision, the EPA can still take meaningful action. It can adopt rules that will ratchet down climate pollution at fossil fuel plants. It can target other dangerous co-pollutants, leading to reduced climate pollution as well. And, while WV v. EPA focused on Section 111 of the Clean Air Act, the EPA can use Section 112 to classify carbon emissions as hazardous. This would open doors to further regulation. Food & Water Watch filed a petition calling on the EPA to do just this in 2019. 

Meanwhile, Congress still has the power to act decisively. We need to continue to work with and cultivate climate champions within Congress. Those champions can pass legislation that will confront the fossil fuel industry, stop fracking, ban fossil fuel exports and advance our transition to renewable energy.

2. Continue Taking The Fossil Fuel Industry To Court

Despite WV v. EPA, we have other options for holding our government and fossil fuel interests accountable in court. By law, agencies like the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission must consider the environmental impacts of projects like pipelines before approving them. These impacts cover climate change, air pollution and environmental justice. If FERC fails to fully consider them, courts can — and do — strike down approvals as unlawful. This can delay and sometimes kill projects altogether. 

Litigation is also key to adopting and protecting a wide range of Biden administration rules, including rules to strengthen these environmental reviews. Proposed rules could restore states’ rights to block infrastructure projects that will harm their environment. They could also require climate change disclosures and stop oil and gas leasing. 

With our allies, Food & Water Watch is on the front lines of these legal fights. We’re holding fossil fuel companies accountable in court for violating existing laws. We’re also pushing the federal government to finally start accounting for climate change and stop greenlighting polluting projects. All of this work helps to stop fossil fuel companies from locking us into decades more climate emissions. 

3. Organize For Aggressive Action At The State And Local Level

Beyond federal action, we have many options for action at the state and local level. For example, California is currently considering its near-term climate plans. As the fifth-largest economy in the world, the Golden State has a huge influence on the future of our climate. 

Food & Water Watch and over 150 of our allies recently submitted comments calling on Governor Newsom and the California Air Resources Board to chart a bold path. That includes a rapid transition off oil and onto 100% renewables, as well as a ban on all new oil drilling and gas infrastructure.

From Pennsylvania to Iowa, Oregon to Florida, we’re working with communities against fracking and factory farms, pipelines and power plants. We know firsthand that when communities organize and come together, we can win real change. 

4. Expose The Illegitimacy Of Today’s Reactionary Supreme Court And Fight For Court Reform 

The rightwing supermajority on the Supreme Court is the result of years of organizing by the Federalist Society and rightwing activists. The Court is now executing its reactionary agenda in a way that undermines environmental protections, civil liberties and ultimately, our democracy.

It’s no coincidence that five members of this majority were appointed by presidents who lost the popular vote in their elections. This majority has advanced deregulatory and dangerous agendas, while straying further from public opinion. On top of that, this fall, the Court will hear a case that could take away the people’s power to decide elections. Instead, it could place that power in the hands of state legislatures. Election protections and accountability have never been more important.

Our elected leaders cannot just accept this rightwing hijacking of the judiciary. Instead, they must fight back with every tool at their disposal. This means publicly attacking the legitimacy of these decisions. It means pushing to restore balance by expanding the number of justices on the Court. Food & Water Watch has joined coalition efforts to reform the Court. This must be a priority if we are to preserve our democracy.

5. Vote Like We Live Here

Finally, we need more people engaged in elections at the local, state and federal level. People need to register to vote and engage their friends, family, and neighbors — especially those who haven’t voted before. We need to generate a massive turnout at the ballot this November and at every ballot moving forward. 

To beat back the avalanche of corporate money shaping the courts and controlling legislatures, we need an overwhelming show of people power. We can’t win alone. It’s going to take all of us fighting like we live here to win the livable climate and just society we all want and need. 

The fight is far from over. Help us spread the word!

7 Ways Biden Can Prove He’s Listening To Science When It Comes To Fossil Fuels

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Climate and Energy

When Biden announced his early actions on climate change — notably stopping the climate-busting Keystone XL pipeline and halting oil and gas leases on federal lands — he emphasized the need to rely on science in guiding his administration’s efforts. This is good news, but if Biden is really committed to following the science and combating climate change in a meaningful way, he will need to do much more. He will also need to commit to banning fracking and blocking a litany of fossil fuel infrastructure projects that are planned or underway. It’s crucial for him to fully embrace the need to build back the economy and our energy system fossil free.

Building new oil and gas pipelines, power plants and export facilities will lock us into future decades of reliance on fossil fuels. But we do not have decades to act on this crisis — we need to transition to 100% renewable energy in less than a decade.

With no time to waste to avert the worst effects of climate disaster, Biden must take bold action. Here are some of the top projects he could block through executive action, to protect our climate, water, land and communities for future generations.

Dakota Access Pipeline

The Dakota Access Pipeline moves over 500,000 barrels of fracked oil per day from North Dakota through the Midwest. In addition to being a climate disaster, it impinges on Standing Rock Sioux treaty rights and threatens their water supply. It was the subject of massive protests in 2016, and a court confirmed that the environmental review of the project was inadequate. While the pipeline was completed under Trump and allowed to operate without a permit, Biden could shift course and shut it down immediately.

Line 3

Line 3, a proposed tar sands oil pipeline in Minnesota, would have the climate impact of 50 coal power plants. Line 3 also poses a significant risk to more than 200 bodies of water it crosses, and would violate treaties with the Ojibwe people. There has been and continues to be a massive Indigenous movement leading resistance to this project. While a permit has been granted, Biden should direct his agencies to take all possible actions to stop Line 3. He must also direct his team to make respecting Ojibwe treaty rights a priority.

Gulf Coast Export Facilities

There are currently six liquified natural gas (LNG) export facilities proposed in Texas and Louisiana, and more oil and petrochemical facilities proposed along the Gulf Coast. This region has borne the brunt of toxic fossil fuel pollution for decades, which was amplified in 2015 when the federal crude oil export ban was lifted. The Gulf Coast also continues to face devastating climate impacts, including supercharged hurricanes and rising sea levels. Approving additional fossil fuel infrastructure would be harmful for the health of communities in this region, and lock in decades of fracking and climate pollution. Biden could block these proposed export facilities through the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). He could also block new petrochemical facilities, like the proposed Formosa plastics and petrochemical facility in Louisiana, by directing the Army Corps of Engineers to reject the required permits.

Mountain Valley Pipeline

The Mountain Valley Pipeline is a 303-mile fracked gas pipeline that would run through West Virginia and Virginia. The project would not only facilitate more fracking and use of fracked gas, but would also cut across the Appalachian trail, impacting this iconic and well-travelled recreational treasure. It would also conflict with recently-passed Virginia clean energy goals. The Biden Administration has the power through FERC to block this project.

Delaware River Basin Fracking

The Delaware River Basin provides water to over 17 million people in the Northeast. Biden has significant decision-making power over fracking and fossil fuel infrastructure in the basin via the Army Corps of Engineers, which has a key vote in its governing body, the Delaware River Basin Commission (DRBC).

Biden should exert leadership in adopting a full and permanent ban on fracking and fracking waste disposal in the Delaware River Basin. He should also block — again through DRBC and FERC — the Gibbstown Logistics Terminal, a large fracked-gas export facility that has been proposed in New Jersey. This export facility and the transmission of gas to it poses significant risks to the water supply of 17 million people, nearby communities and the climate.

Appalachian Petrochemical Storage Hub

Because the glut of fracked gas already being produced is a financial sinkhole for investors, the plastics and petrochemical industries are looking to massively expand capacity in Appalachia, where a key project is this storage hub. The intent is to find new markets for unprofitable fracked gas so investors can recoup their losses. While this buildout will no doubt reap huge profits for the industry, these dirty projects will cause significant public health and environmental impacts for residents. The combination of shale gas production and petrochemical facilities would create what Crain’s Cleveland Business dubbed “an ethane tsunami.” At a time when we need to be moving away from fracked gas and plastics, this project would trap us into decades of additional production. Biden can stop this by overhauling the regulations of the Department of Energy loan guarantees that support this project — rendering it ineligible.

Power Plants in Virginia (And Nationwide)

Two large gas-fired power plants — the C4GT and Chickahominy Power — are being planned just a mile apart in Charles City, Virginia. It is well documented that gas power plants are ticking time bombs for the climate, locking us into years of future carbon emissions. Additionally, like many power plants, these would be located in a majority Black and Native county, representing significant environmental justice impacts. Both plants face delays due to financing and other issues. Biden should halt any permit extensions and direct his agencies to prevent these projects from moving forward until a new review is completed.

Call on President Biden to take these actions as well as banning fracking.

Urge President Biden to listen to scientists and ban fracking immediately.

Biden’s 100-Day Must-Do List for a Cleaner, Healthier Country

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Clean Water

President Biden has the work of a lifetime ahead of him if we have any chance of undoing the damage and destruction of the Trump administration — much less stopping the worst effects of climate change, fixing our broken food and farm system, and ensuring clean, accessible water for all. There is no time to lose, and Biden’s first 100 days will be a litmus test for whether his policy vision comes close to matching what this moment in history demands.

Ban Fracking on Public Lands

During the campaign, President Biden promised to put an end to new fossil extraction on public lands and waters. In 2015 we worked with Representative Mark Pocan to introduce the first legislation that would have banned fracking on public lands – the Protect Our Public Lands Act. We know that to fight the worsening effects of climate change, we must keep fossil fuels in the ground. Banning new extraction on public lands and waters would be a good start. About a quarter of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions come from energy extraction on federal lands and waters.

Under the Trump administration, our public lands and waters have been practically given away to the oil and gas industry. According to The Wilderness Society, 90 percent of U.S. public lands managed by the Bureau of Land Management are open to oil and gas leasing; only 10 percent are protected for wildlife, conservation or recreation. The number of public land acres leased for oil and gas production jumped 117 percent between 2016 and 2018. Over 100 million acres of onshore and offshore leashes have been offered by the Trump administration. Over five million acres have been sold. President Biden must protect our public lands and waters and fulfill his campaign promise to stop new fossil fuel extraction on them — period.

Let President Biden know you support banning fracking on public lands.

Halt All Water Shutoffs During the Pandemic

Throughout the COVID pandemic the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have said that one of the top ways to fight the spread of the coronavirus is to wash your hands. Yet millions of Americans still face the threat of having their water shutoff because they cannot afford their bills.

President Biden must issue an executive order instructing the CDC to use its public health authority to ban water shutoffs for the full duration of the Covid-19 national emergency. The local and state moratoria issued by local authorities have sporadically protected some Americans from water shutoffs. But their issuance is localized, while the disease is not. Biden’s CDC director-nominee Dr. Rochelle Walensky can take a strong stance to ensure this public health protection is in place for everyone to prevent the further spread of the virus and allow people to stay safe at home. No person should be forced to weather this pandemic without running water in their home.

With more than 20 million Americans having contracted the coronavirus and nearly 400,000 deaths, it’s clear that people can’t wait for safe water. Our country needs the incoming Biden administration to act immediately by issuing a national moratorium on water shutoffs.

Stop Agri-Business Mega-Mergers

If his campaign and administration appointments are any indication, President Biden has no clear vision for what his agencies must do to hold Big Ag accountable for its anti-competitive practices, threats to workers and consumers, unregulated air and water pollution, and destruction of rural America. Biden has already doubled-down on failed USDA policies of the past by appointing Tom Vilsack to reprise his role as Secretary of Agriculture. Under the Obama administration he failed to tackle corporate consolidation and oversaw policy initiatives that made our food supply less safe. On the campaign trail, Biden was out-of-touch in championing ethanol, biotechnology, and other “rural investment” strategies proven to benefit corporate agribusiness, not rural communities.

If Biden is serious about revitalizing rural America, tackling climate change and undoing the worst damage of the Trump administration, he must begin correcting course on day one. He should start by enacting a moratorium on large agribusiness mergers and increasing antitrust enforcement in the food and ag sector.

Protect Workers and Communities from Big Ag

Biden must also prioritize worker safety, both through rescinding dangerous Trump USDA rules that increased hog slaughter line speeds and took federal inspectors off the line (and abandoning similar plans for poultry and beef plants) and by enacting long-term meat and poultry worker protection standards.

Big Ag has long profited from being able to pollute communities with impunity, but Biden’s EPA should immediately restore the few protections in place that Trump removed — including rules gutting the scope of the Clean Water Act and eliminating rural communities’ right to know about toxic factory farm air emissions. But returning to Obama-era policies is not nearly enough. Biden’s EPA must move beyond the agency’s decades-long approach of exempting factory farms from all meaningful pollution regulation, and it must adopt strong new air and water pollution rules for factory farms during the first 100 days.

So far, President Biden has given very little indication that his to-do list is aligned with what our communities and planet need. But with your support we can hold this administration accountable and not only undo the worst damage of the last four years, but begin to make the progress needed to address the most urgent issues of our time. As a first step, will you add your name to the growing list of people telling President Biden to ban fracking on public lands?

Your voice can make a difference in matters this important.