Briefly

Stuff that matters


Dakota Access clash

Police tactics at Standing Rock have escalated to using water cannons in the freezing cold.

On Sunday night, according to numerous news reports and live social media postings, North Dakota law enforcement sprayed a group of about 400 protesters, or Standing Rock “water protectors,” as they were trying to get into position to block construction work on the controversial Dakota Access Pipeline.

Temperatures in North Dakota on Sunday dipped into the 20s. According to the Indigenous Environmental Network, 167 people were injured in the clash with police, and seven went to the hospital.

The Morton County Sheriff’s Department told the Bismarck Tribune that activists had started several fires and claimed that rocks and logs were thrown at officers, calling it an “ongoing riot.” Activists told the Guardian they had lit two small fires because they were trying to keep warm. Police also used tear gas and percussion grenades, according to media reports.

North Dakota officials have come under increasing criticism for using militarized gear and tactics against the activists, who are attempting to stop the pipeline from jeopardizing what they consider the sacred land and water of the Standing Rock Sioux.

For more on the Dakota Access protests, see Grist’s ongoing coverage.


off the grid

The eclipse was a test, and the solar industry aced it.

As the United States momentarily plunged into darkness on Tuesday, from California to North Carolina, the electricity grid ran smoothly — despite the loss of a predicted 12,000 megawatts of solar power supplies.

“Things went really, really well,” said Eric Schmitt, vice president of California’s grid operator, at a press briefing.

Prior to the eclipse, some utilities were worried the temporary dip in solar resources might put strain on the grid. But others saw it a “dress rehearsal” for how the renewable-heavy system of the future might handle such disruptions. As solar and wind resources fluctuate with the weather — as opposed to fossil fuels, which can be burned continuously — it’s important to establish that they can reliably meet America’s energy needs.

For reference, solar made up just 1 percent of the electricity produced in the country in 2016. It reached the 2-percent milestone for the first time in March this year.

So, the eclipse came and went, but solar power — fresh off this small proof-of-principle — appears to be here to stay.


Backup Plans

New Orleans is now planning to evacuate the city if a heavy rainstorm comes.

That’s worrisome, especially for communities still struggling to recover from the damage of Hurricane Katrina — which was 12 years ago this week.

Since Aug. 10, New Orleans has been operating under a state of emergency in the aftermath of a freak storm earlier this month. To make things worse, city officials lied about the state of the below-sea-level city’s pumping infrastructure, which the mayor said has “never been fully operational.” As of Monday, 15 of the city’s 120 pumps were offline for repairs, and fixing the system is expected to take weeks.

Now, the New Orleans Advocate reports that officials are developing a plan to evacuate the city if more than a foot of rain is expected within a 24-hour period before repairs can be completed.

The good news is that the last time that kind of rain fell was 1995, so it’s a pretty rare occurrence. The bad news: Evacuating on the forecast of a rainstorm would be unprecedented in city history. In fact, I can’t recall ever hearing of such an evacuation anywhere in the world.

Potentially related: There’s a tropical system brewing in the Gulf of Mexico with a “near 100 percent” chance of development in the next five days. It’s expected to head very slowly northward — a perfect recipe for intense rain.


life in plastic

Trump reversed a plastic water bottle ban in national parks.

And pretty much nobody is happy about it, except maybe Nestlé.

Since 2011, 23 national parks had ended the sale of plastic water bottles to cut down on trash and litter. Before the ban took effect at the Grand Canyon, for example, water bottles made up 20 percent of the park’s total waste. But on Aug. 16, the Trump administration ended the six-year-old policy that enabled the ban, welcoming plastic bottles back to the Grand Canyon, Zion, and other national parks.

Bottled water companies had lobbied against the Obama-era policy for years. Coincidentally, the National Park Service’s statement on the reversal echoes the industry’s arguments: “It should be up to our visitors to decide how best to keep themselves and their families hydrated during a visit to a national park.”

Sierra Club campaign director Lauren Derusha Florez is calling for park superintendents to resist. “We know that many of our parks want to do away with bottled water,” she wrote in a blog post. “Let’s make sure they know that we support them in that move, even if the current administration doesn’t.”


It's The Economy, Stupid

Psst, Zinke — national monuments create jobs just the way they are!

Ahead of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s Thursday announcement regarding the fate of the bundle of national monuments under review, Democrats tried to level with the conservative on his own terms.

Joint Economic Committee Democrats created a packet of fact sheets urging Zinke to keep monuments as they are for their economic benefits. “Conservation of these lands creates an economic engine that can be sustained for generations,” said a statement from the office of Senator Martin Heinrich, the group’s ranking member.

The areas around national monuments benefit from substantial revenue from activities such as recreation, service jobs, and tourism, as the Committee’s report outlines. For example, travel and tourism account for 44 percent of private employment in the region surrounding Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante.

So far, Zinke has said he’d maintain designations for six of the 27 monuments. But he hasn’t yet revealed a final decision on contentious spots like Grand Staircase or Bears Ears, both in Utah.

Zinke’s June recommendations to President Trump hinted that Bears Ears might lose some of its land — despite that the majority of public comments implored DOI to leave the monument as it is.


Rollbacked into corner

The oil industry fears Trump’s regulatory rollback could backfire.

The fossil fuel industry has largely applauded the administration’s assault on environmental policy, like green-lighting controversial pipelines. Oh, and don’t forget that Trump “canceled” the Paris Climate Agreement.

Now, Politico Pro reports that some industry insiders say the Trump administration’s hasty environmental rule–scrapping has gone too far — and they’re getting worried about what might happen if disaster strikes.

“Every industry wants regulations that make sense,” Brian Youngberg, an energy analyst, told Politico. Trashing too many rules could lead to an environmental catastrophe, and might prompt even stricter regulations down the road.

Imagine a major disaster occurred — say, one akin to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. People might not look kindly upon President Trump’s executive order in April that reversed Obama-era restrictions on offshore drilling. Trump’s move abolished key safety improvements and opened up environmentally sensitive areas in the Gulf, the Arctic, and the Atlantic Ocean to potential oil drilling.

If a disaster were to happen, an anonymous source at an oil and gas company told Politico, “[W]e’d be painted with it as an entire industry.”


forecast: flying pigs

Here’s how a Republican Congress might talk itself into taxing carbon.

Bare with us as we lay this out, it’s a little bit of a Hail Mary-meets-Rube Goldberg bankshot.

  1. Republicans yearn to take advantage of the fact that they control the House, Senate, and presidency by making permanent cuts to corporate taxes.
  2. They go searching the Congressional couches for spare change to pay for those cuts, because Senate rules don’t allow big revenue changes that put the country deeper into the red.
  3. In their desperation to get something done, Republicans partner with Democrats to pass a carbon tax, which covers the corporate tax cuts they so desperately want.

Could this actually happen? The New York Times says this scenario is “widely acknowledged as a long shot.” And Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine points out that “it seems absurd to believe [Congress] might achieve it under a president who denies the very existence of anthropogenic global warming and can’t seem to pass even bills he likes.”

A more likely scenario: Republicans reluctantly abandon their chance to truly shake up the tax code, pass some temporary tax-relief measures for businesses (without the help of Democrats), and declare victory.