Briefly

Stuff that matters


Hurricane Harvey

People of color and low-income residents still haven’t gotten the help they need after Hurricane Harvey.

A new report by Kaiser Family Foundation and the Episcopal Health Foundation found economic and health disparities among those affected by Harvey.

Sixty-six percent of black residents surveyed said they are not getting the help they need to recover, compared to half of all hurricane survivors. While 34 percent of white residents said their FEMA applications had been approved, just 13 percent of black residents said the same.

And even though they are receiving less assistance, black and Hispanic respondents and those with lower incomes were more likely to have experienced property damage or loss of income as a result of the storm.

Additionally, 1 in 6 people reported that someone in their household has a health condition that is new or made worse because of Harvey. Lower-income adults and people of color who survived the storm were more likely to lack health insurance and to say they don’t know where to go for medical care.

“This survey gives an important voice to hard-hit communities that may have been forgotten, especially those with the greatest needs and fewest resources following the storm,” Elena Marks, president and CEO of the Episcopal Health Foundation, said in a statement.


risky business

Inmates are risking their lives to fight California’s raging fires.

As wildfires tear through the greater Los Angeles area, destroying hundreds of homes, officials have warned nearly 200,000 people to evacuate.

Thousands of firefighters have arrived on the scene — many of them inmates, who make up about a third of the state’s wildfire-fighting force. Since the 1940s, California has relied on inmates to combat the flames by digging containment lines and clearing away brush. In return for this difficult and dangerous work — which has been compared to slave-era labor conditions — inmates get credit toward early parole and $2 per day in camp plus $1 per hour for their time on the fire line.

Roughly 250 women inmates serve on California’s firefighting force, risking their lives to get out of prison faster.

“I’ve seen women come back with broken ankles and broken arms, burns, or just suffering from exhaustion, you know, the psychological stress that people go through trying to just pass the requirements,” Romarilyn Ralston, a former firefighter trainer, told PBS.

As climate change makes wildfires worse, state officials are scrambling to recruit more inmates to fight them.


The vanishing Mr. Pruitt

A House Energy and Commerce subcommittee finally got to grill Scott Pruitt on Thursday.

It was the EPA chief’s first appearance on Capitol Hill in six months.

Republicans and Democrats on the panel pressed Pruitt on the EPA’s budget and staffing issues, and the agency’s overall approach to climate change. The EPA administrator hedged his comments on the Supreme Court’s climate endangerment finding and diligently stuck to his talking points.

Pruitt told lawmakers he will replace Obama’s Clean Power Plan instead of repealing the carbon-emissions rule like he originally said. He plans to conduct a “review of questions and answers around the issues around carbon dioxide” by the beginning of next year.

The panel then broke for three hours to allow the EPA head to attend a White House meeting on biofuels. Texas Senator Ted Cruz told Politico that it was going to be a “free-ranging discussion” about the Renewable Fuel Standard — a decade-old, politically contentious program that requires transportation fuel to partially contain biofuels.

A group of environmental and health advocates rallied on Capitol Hill on the morning of Pruitt’s testimony to highlight the EPA chief’s dismantling of science advisory boards, questionable spending patterns, and lack of policy enforcement.

Pruitt is supposed to make a series of similar appearances in Congress, but his next visit won’t be until Jan. 31.


Coincidences

Southern California is burning, and so is Rupert Murdoch’s house.

For your consideration, a series of facts:

1. There are five (five!) wildfires currently burning in the Los Angeles area today, and upwards of 50,000 people have been evacuated.

2. They look like this.

3. This has been (and continues to be) California’s worst wildfire season to date.

4. There are many reasons for that — including increased drought, tree disease, and rising temperatures due to climate change.

5. California news station NBC4 reported that media mogul Rupert Murdoch’s $30 million Bel-Air estate is one of the homes to succumb to the blaze.

6. Rupert Murdoch has deemed climate change “alarmist nonsense.”

7. The last two facts, taken together, are definitely a total!!! coincidence!!!!

8. Destruction wrought by climate change has a disproportionate effect on low-income people and people of color.

9. Rupert Murdoch will be fine.*

*That’s an educated guess, not a fact.


Shrinky Zinke

Ryan Zinke wants Trump to downsize even more national monuments.

The interior secretary, once a Prius-driving proponent of environmental conservation, recommended shrinking four national monuments on Tuesday.

Earlier this week, President Donald Trump officially downsized two of them, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante in Utah. Zinke’s final report recommends shrinking two more, Nevada’s Gold Butte and Oregon’s Cascade-Siskiyou, although he did not specify exactly how much land those monuments would lose. Zinke also recommended that Trump reorganize six national and marine sites.

Under Zinke, the Interior has pushed to take advantage of the fossil fuel resources beneath national public lands. National monuments have long enjoyed protected status under the Antiquities Act, passed in 1906 by Zinke’s hero, Theodore Roosevelt. But in a recent call with reporters, Zinke said that the act’s power has been “abused.”

Conservationists, environmental groups, and Native American tribes are gearing up for a legal battle against Trump over the Utah monuments, and even retailers have joined the fray. Outdoor clothing designer Patagonia made its stance clear. This is what its site looks like right now:

Patagonia

Zinke isn’t too happy about it. He told reporters that Patagonia’s claim was “nefarious, false, and a lie.”


Late Capitalism

Let’s check in on some of the brands increasingly running your life.

Consumerism drives climate changesorry! — and there have been plenty of developments in the weird, dark world of retail this week. Let’s go:

  1. Brands are yelling at Trump: Outdoor retailer and newly, weirdly posh brand Patagonia has declared outright war on the Trump administration. “The President Stole Your Land,” the banner on Patagonia’s homepage read as of Monday, after the administration passed two orders cutting massive chunks out of Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. Those formerly protected public lands are now open to private interests (read: fossil fuel extraction).
  2. Brands are profiting from rural poverty: Dollar General, the super-discount chain, has grown in sales and profits over the past seven years by expanding into increasingly poverty-stricken rural areas devoid of economic opportunity. “The economy is continuing to create more of our core customer,” Chief Executive Todd Vasos told the Wall Street Journal.
  3. Brands are expanding their empires: Carbon secret-keeper/urban development scourge Amazon dot com surprise-opened its Australian site on Tuesday. Amazon, however, is waiting to trot out the free express shipping option for Aussies until after the New Year. That little feature is both one of the company’s more significant competitive advantages and one of its biggest environmental offenses.

You're fired

A federal panel helped cities cope with climate change. Trump killed it.

After President Trump announced that he intended to withdraw the United States from the Paris Agreement, cities across the country stepped up to fill the void on climate change action by adopting ambitious renewable energy targets and cutting pollution.

But the Trump administration has placed another proverbial banana peel in the path of cities seeking to modernize their responses to climate change. This week, the National Institute of Standards and Technology disbanded a panel that worked with federal agencies to help local officials prepare for extreme weather and natural disasters.

The Obama administration had established the panel, called the Community Resilience Panel for Buildings and Infrastructure Systems, in 2015. The panel had its final meeting on Monday. It’s the most recent casualty in the Trump administration’s affront on climate-related groups in the federal government.

“It was one of the last federal bodies that openly talked about climate change in public,” the panel’s chair, Jesse Keenan, told Bloomberg News.


Dakota Access

Energy Transfer Partners has until April to develop an oil-spill response plan for the Dakota Access Pipeline.

A federal judge ruled Monday that the pipeline developer must create a scheme to address potential leaks and complete an audit by a third party, to ensure they’re complying with state and federal regulations, in fewer than four months.

The judgment comes as a result of the Standing Rock and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes calling for additional measures to protect their drinking water and sacred lands at Lake Oahe. U.S. District Court Judge James Boasberg ordered the Dallas-based gas company to work with local tribes and the Army Corps of Engineers on the oil-spill response plan and also submit bimonthly reports on the pipeline’s operations.

The court’s orders come on the heels of a Keystone pipeline spill in November that spewed 210,000 gallons of oil in South Dakota. Judge Boasberg cited the leak in his ruling: “Although the court is not suggesting that a similar leak is imminent at Lake Oahe, the fact remains that there is an inherent risk with any pipeline,” he wrote.

Boasberg’s mandates are interim measures while the pipeline is in the middle of a court-ordered environmental review. Despite the tribes’ objections, Dakota Access has been transporting oil since June.


monumental decision

5 Native American tribes are gearing up for a legal battle with Trump on national monuments.

Today, the president signed two proclamations drastically cutting land from two federal monuments, Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante, by 80 percent and 45 percent, respectively.

When President Obama designated Bears Ears a national monument last year, it was a huge victory for five Utah tribes — the Navajo Nation, Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe, Hopi, and the Pueblo of Zuni — who came together in 2015 to push for the preservation of what they estimate are 100,000 cultural and ancestral sites, some dating back to 1300 AD, in the region.

“More than 150 years ago, the federal government removed our ancestors from Bears Ears at gunpoint and sent them on the Long Walk,” Navajo Nation Council Delegate Davis Filfred said in statement. “But we came back.”

The Antiquities Act of 1906 gives the president authority to establish national monuments, largely to thwart looting of archaeological sites. Trump is the first president to shrink a monument in decades.

The five tribes have said they will bring a legal case against the administration — the outcome could redefine the president’s powers to use the Antiquities Act. “We know how to fight and we will fight to defend Bears Ears,” Filfred said.