Stuff that matters

'tis NOT the season

California is preparing for a weekend of wintertime wildfires.

That’s weird, because the state is technically in the middle of its rainy season right now.

The last few weeks have seen devastating fires in Southern California. Now forecasts show extreme fire risk extending north to the Bay Area, where rainfall has been less than 25 percent of normal since mid-September. According to the National Weather Service, “any fires that develop will likely spread rapidly.”

In Santa Barbara, about 100 miles northwest of Los Angeles, conditions are even more dire. The Thomas fire, now the fourth largest fire in state history, has already consumed more than 250,000 acres — an area nearly the size of L.A. itself. The current forecast shows at least three major wind events in the next week, which could fan the flames even further.

Smoke from the fire has turned the skies orange and caused air quality to plummet, prompting surreal scenes of surfers donning gas masks.

Southern California hasn’t received significant rainfall in more than 250 days. It’s now the 12th consecutive day for extreme fire conditions — an all-time record for any time of the year. That all this is happening in December, during what is normally the peak of the rainy season, is truly remarkable.

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blame game

Pruitt blames everyone but himself for EPA controversies.

The EPA administrator has racked up more than 40 scandals and 10 federal investigations since he took office last February. Nonetheless, Scott Pruitt was smiling when he walked in to testify in front of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on Thursday.

Prior to the hearing, the New York Times reported that Pruitt had a plan to deal with tough questions: Blame his staff instead.

He stuck to it. When New York Democratic Representative Paul Tonko confronted him about raises given to two aides without White House approval, Pruitt said, “I was not aware of the amount, nor was I aware of the bypassing, or the PPO process not being respected.”

And Pruitt’s $43,000 soundproof phone booth? Again, not his fault. As Pruitt told California Democratic Representative Antonio Cárdenas: “I was not involved in the approval of the $43,000, and if I had known about it, Congressman, I would have refused it.”

“That seems a bit odd,” Cárdenas commented. “If something happened in my office, especially to the degree of $43,000, I know about it before, during, and after.”

Democratic Representative from New Mexico Ben Ray Luján pointed out that Pruitt was repeatedly blaming others during the hearing. “Yes or no: Are you responsible for the many, many scandals plaguing the EPA?” he asked.

Pruitt dodged the question: “I’ve responded to many of those questions here today with facts and information.” When Luján pressed him futher, Pruitt replied, “That’s not a yes or no answer, congressman.”

Well … it wasn’t a “no.”


Justin Trudeau is under scrutiny over allegations that the Kinder Morgan pipeline approval was ‘rigged.’

An investigation by the Canadian media outlet National Observer found that a high-ranking federal official directed staff across five different departments to “to give cabinet a legally-sound basis to say ‘yes’” to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion.

Blowback was swift. On Wednesday, Trudeau faced blunt criticism in the House of Commons. “The whole fiasco of an approval process is looking more rigged than a Russian election,” said Nathan Cullen, member of Parliament from British Columbia — where opposition in the courts and in demonstrations have led to Kinder Morgan halting all non-essential spending on the flailing project.

Canada’s constitution stipulates that the government consult with First Nations on projects like Trans Mountain that would impact their land and water. If the allegations are true, the government may have merely paid lip service.

Trudeau is keeping his game face on, denying allegations of any wrongdoing in the pipeline process. “We actually added additional steps to make the process more rigorous,” he said in response.

New Democratic leaders Jagmeet Singh and Guy Caron issued a letter to Trudeau on Wednesday calling for the prime minister to release all documents connected to its review of the pipeline expansion. “These revelations throw into question the legitimacy of the government’s entire review,” Singh and Caron assert.

In an apparent attempt to make peace, Federal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna today proposed a joint scientific expert advisory panel and partnership with the B.C. government and indigenous peoples to address the risk of pipeline spills.

denial and error

Scott Pruitt’s week has been a real March Against Science.

The EPA chief met with forest industry leaders in Georgia on Monday and announced that in the eyes of the EPA, burning biomass — like trees — is now carbon neutral. At least when “used for energy production at stationary sources.” Science suggests otherwise.

Trees are renewable in the sense that you can burn them and grow more. Some science suggests that as a burned forest regrows, it might even suck up the carbon dioxide that a blaze releases.

But “renewable” doesn’t always mean “clean” or “carbon neutral.” Burning wood can actually release more carbon dioxide than burning coal, as Climate Central’s John Upton writes. And think about it: Wood goes up in flames quickly, while regrowing a forest could maybe take a hundred years — leaving that carbon dioxide in the air an awfully long time.

Pruitt’s anti-science rhetoric continued on Tuesday with the announcement of a new rule that would prevent the EPA policymakers from using scientific studies unless the raw data behind them is made public. That same day, Pruitt attended a meeting where climate deniers — but no reporters — were invited. He posed for a photo with Marc Morano, climate misinformation extraordinaire.

The rest of the week may be rough for the EPA chief. He’s got two congressional hearing scheduled for Thursday, and he’s expected to get grilled on ethics.

Yes oui can!

The French president gave America the climate change speech that Trump never will.

After a painfully awkward visit to the White House, Macron addressed Congress and emphasized the need to work together to safeguard the future of our planet.

“I believe in building a better future for our children, which requires offering them a planet that is still habitable in 25 years,” he says.

Macron is confident that “one day” the U.S. will recommit to the Paris climate agreement. After all, as he says in the address, “there is no Planet B.”

Sadly, Macron will return to his home of butter croissants and leave us here with a president who once said climate change was created by the Chinese. C’est la vie!

tried and protested

Activists head to court after shutting down pipelines. Their defense? Climate change.

The Minnesota Court of Appeals ruled on Monday that four anti-pipeline activists facing criminal charges have a legit case to argue the “necessity defense” in court. In 2016, two of them turned off valves for Enbridge oil pipelines that transport Canadian oil to the U.S.

The so-called “valve turners” will argue that climate change is such a daunting threat that taking illegal action — like trespassing — is necessary when there’s no other recourse. Sometimes, the logic goes, it may be more dangerous to follow the law than to disobey it.

The judge approved the valve turners’ request last year to invoke the necessity defense, but the prosecution fought back and appealed. That appeal was just dismissed. Next up, science will take the stand: Climate scientists and other experts will testify about the serious threat posed by global warming.

The necessity defense has worked for climate activists before. Last month, a Massachusetts judge ruled that 13 protesters were not responsible for civil disobedience after they were arrested for sitting in holes dug for a pipeline to block construction.

steak a claim

France declares that ‘vegan bacon’ is not a thing.

For decades, France has been fighting a fruitless battle to ban English loan words from the mother tongue. Now the country has turned its obsession with language purity to vegan products.

The parliament approved a ban last week on borrowing terminology from animal products to market foods not made of animals, like “vegetarian sausage” — apparently because they confuse shoppers into thinking that soy milk, for instance, is really milk milk.

“It is important to combat false claims,” tweeted National Assembly member Jean Baptiste-Moreau, who proposed the ban, in French. “Our products must be designated correctly: the terms of #cheese or #steak will be reserved for products of animal origin.”

Wait, meat-eaters have been accidentally buying vegan steak? If so, that would be a tiny win for climate-change action. Eating a plant-based diet is one of the most effective steps you can take to shrink your individual carbon footprint.

Moreau was inspired by a European Court of Justice ruling in 2017 that said soy and tofu products couldn’t be sold as milk or butter. European meat producers have been lobbying to ban animal-based terms from vegetarian meat alternatives for years.

They’ve got reason to be concerned. Germany is the world’s leader in cooking up new vegan food products, and France isn’t far behind. If companies refuse to comply with France’s new rule, they could be fined up to €300,000 ($370,000).

it's always sunny in florida

Say hello to more solar panels, Sunshine State homeowners!

Up until Friday, Floridians couldn’t lease solar equipment. But that’s no longer the case! State regulators voted unanimously to authorize Sunrun, a San Francisco-based company and one of the nation’s biggest residential solar providers, to begin leasing equipment in the state.

The cost of installing panels has been a major impediment to the spread of solar in Florida. But, as part of the Florida Public Service Commission decision, Sunrun will require zero money up front from customers who have just begun renting panels. Now, households can lease panels for 20 years for a fixed amount instead of buying them outright.

Florida was recently called out for particularly bad solar policies in a report from the Center for Biological Diversity. This is a big step towards alleviating that, so rise and shine, Florida! 

off balance

At least one Sinclair station has been trying to cast doubt on climate science.

Suri Crowe worked as a senior reporter at a local TV news station owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group for three years. She allegedly got the boot in part because of her reporting on climate change, Buzzfeed News reports.

In October 2015, Crowe reported a segment on climate change for WSET-TV in Lynchburg, Virginia. She says she was ordered by management to include Donald Trump’s opinion on the matter to bring “balance” to the story. Crowe defended the mountains of scientific evidence pointing to human-induced climate change and was reprimanded for it in her performance review the following year.

“The management team felt the story was one-sided — indicating that human activity is to blame for global warming — period,” the station’s former news director, Len Stevens, wrote to Buzzfeed News. When Crowe’s contract with Sinclair ended last year, it was not renewed.

Like many of us who saw the creepy viral video of Sinclair’s “must-run” clips with local news anchors repeating rhetoric closely resembling President Trump’s messaging, Crowe is shaken up.

“I believe the ire at me was politically tainted,” says Crowe. “We really have to fight for journalism — it’s worth the fight.” Sinclair is on the precipice of taking over Tribune media, an acquisition that could bring the media giant to 72 percent of American homes.

bad logic

Someone please tell Scott Pruitt that air pollution leads to more deaths than fuel efficiency standards.

The EPA administrator’s latest ploy to justify regulatory rollbacks: ignore mountains of scientific evidence and tell the public that efforts to protect our health are bad for us. (Well, maybe this strategy is not exactly new.)

This time, Pruitt is saying that fuel economy standards are actually killing people. His argument is twofold: First, he contends that the rules force automakers to build lighter vehicles, which don’t hold up well in car accidents and could increase fatalities. Simulated crash testing does not support this Koch-backed theory, according to the California Air Resources Board.

Second, Pruitt says that higher fuel efficiency standards could drive up prices and discourage people from buying newer, safer vehicle models.

Why go to such great lengths to bring back dirtier cars and trucks? The Los Angeles Times reports that the Trump administration is building up a case to revoke California’s ability to set higher mileage standards than federal law, a provision included in the Clean Air Act.

Because it’s such a huge market, California influences worldwide auto standards. A State of the Global Air report recently found that air pollution led to 1 in 9 deaths worldwide and contributed to more than 6 million deaths in 2016. That’s well over four times the number of people who die in car accidents globally each year.

Plus, the American Lung Association’s State of the Air report released this week found that more than 40 percent of Americans live in counties with unhealthy levels of air pollution.