Briefly

Stuff that matters


boxed in

Trump’s plan to swap food stamps for Blue Apron–style meals is seriously the worst.

The White House’s new budget proposes slashing food stamp funding in half and offering low-income families a monthly box of nonperishable foods instead.

Mick Mulvaney, director of the Office of Management and Budget, calls it a “Blue Apron–type program.” But unlike Blue Apron, the boxes wouldn’t include fresh food: They’d be filled with shelf-stable milk and canned meat, fruits, and vegetables. Yum!

Meal kits have some environmental drawbacks. They usually require more packaging than what you’d pick up at the grocery store because of the non-standard quantities of ingredients used in recipes.

And while the White House says the boxes would save the federal government $214 billion, states would have to foot the bill for distributing the boxes and cope with the associated carbon emissions.

Proponents of ready-to-make dinners say that the portion-controlled meals help reduce food waste. But this wouldn’t be the case for Trump’s “America’s Harvest box,” which would essentially dictate what 16 million low-income households should eat — regardless of differences in culture, preference, allergies, or medical needs. And rather than expanding access to fresh produce, the program would render families dependent on canned and processed foods.


Montani Semper Liberi

A woman was forcibly removed from a public hearing for listing lawmakers’ oil and gas donations.

Lissa Lucas is running for a seat in West Virginia’s state legislature, against a Republican incumbent who has received thousands of dollars from fossil fuel companies.

On Friday, Lucas took to the West Virginia House floor to enumerate those dollars while speaking out against a bill that would allow companies to drill on private land with permission of only 75 percent of the affected landowners.

At the public hearing, Lucas began by listing the donations to members of the West Virginia House judiciary committee, Charlotte Lane (at least $10,000 from industry interests) and John Shott (at least $8,000). She was starting in on Jason S. Harshbarger, the Republican she plans to run against in the upcoming midterm elections, when Shott cut her off for making “personal comments.”

Lucas continued to list Harshbarger’s campaign donations until she was removed from the floor. As she left, she shouted Montani Semper Liberi — “Mountaineers are Always Free,” the motto on West Virginia’s state seal.


enjoy the review

The nation’s biggest warehouse project meets a legal obstacle.

Last week, a judge ruled that the environmental impact report for the proposed World Logistics Center in Moreno Valley, California, is inaccurate. That means that Highland Fairview, the controversial warehouse’s developer, may need to perform additional studies before construction can begin.

A cohort of environmental groups sued the City of Moreno Valley after the project was approved in 2015, alleging that the environmental review process was inadequate. Residents are concerned about the health effects from exhaust. Cars and trucks would take an estimated 69,000 trips to and from the center each day.

The warehouse complex, slated for completion by 2030, would encompass an area equivalent to 700 football fields — making it 25 times more massive than the largest warehouse in the United States today.

Moreno Valley is part of Southern California’s “Inland Empire,” a region that has become one of the nation’s top hubs for storing and moving consumer goods. The city’s residents, more than half of whom are Latino, live in one of the most ozone-polluted places in the nation.

“After the court’s decision, we can all breathe a sigh of relief,” Earthjustice attorney Adrian Martinez, whose organization is representing the plaintiffs, wrote to Grist in an email. That reprieve may be brief: The warehouse project will likely continue despite the legal setback.


supercuts

Trump’s new budget would eliminate nearly all EPA climate change programs.

The White House sent a $4.4 trillion budget blueprint to Congress on Monday, but the odds of it passing in its current form are slim to none.

That’s good, because 14 climate change partnerships and research programs are on the chopping block. “An American Budget” would trim the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by 34 percent, or $2.8 billion, and slash the Office of Science and Technology’s spending in half.

One of the programs barely spared was the Hazardous Substance Superfund Account, which cleans up some of the most polluted sites in the U.S. The new budget had proposed cutting the program’s funding by more than 30 percent, but a last-minute addendum restored that $327 million.

The EPA’s Superfund spending is about half of what it was 30 years ago, and 1,343 high priority sites are awaiting cleanup. Who knows how bad things would be if EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt hadn’t made the Superfund program a cornerstone of his agenda.

This post has been updated to reflect the addendum to the budget.


coal story, bro

We could be in a little less trouble than we thought.

Here’s how humanity could all but ensure its own demise: Dig up all the coal we have left and burn it, warming the planet 4 to 6 degrees C.

But that worst-case scenario doesn’t match up with what’s really happening in the world, Justin Ritchie, lead author of a new study published in Environmental Research Letters, told Grist.

That’s because money spent on climate change measures goes further than it did 30 years ago. Plus, baseline trends show greenhouse gas emissions are on the decline. Most studies underestimate the effect these factors have on global decarbonization.

The study indicates that the goals outlined in the Paris Agreement are more achievable than previously projected — but that’s not to say humanity isn’t in deep trouble.

It’s not “4 to 6 degrees bad,” Ritchie says. “It’s 3 degrees bad. You can’t say we don’t have to worry about implementing policies, we do. But it’s not going to reach the truly catastrophic scenarios.”

Another recent study published in the same journal shows that if all the coal plants currently planned actually get built, humanity could blow past the Paris goal of limiting warming to 2 degree C above pre-industrial levels.

Ritchie said his research doesn’t counteract that finding. “There’s a whole range of scenarios that can occur,” he says. “What our paper is trying to do is look at that whole range and how can we design policies that are more robust.”


Making backtracks

The Trump administration brought a climate change policy back from the dead.

Last August, right before Hurricane Harvey hit Houston, President Trump revoked a rule that toughened up federal building standards in flood-prone areas — presumably because it had to do with Barack Obama and climate change, two things he loves to hate (among others).

Now, curiously, the Obama-era flood protection standards are back. On Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) offered $7.4 billion to states recovering from hurricanes. Nestled into HUD’s lengthy directive: floodproofing requirements nearly identical to the ones Trump rescinded.

“All of this is being done without mentioning the words ‘climate change,’ but clearly these are the same types of actions,” Rob Moore, a senior policy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council, told Bloomberg.

Last month, the Pentagon withdrew climate change from its national defense strategy — only to turn around and release a report about climate change threatening half of U.S. military sites. And in November, 13 federal agencies released an eyebrow-raising report confirming that humans are undoubtedly the cause of climate change.

You’d be forgiven for thinking, with all this backtracking, we’re just going in circles.


turn over a new relief

Senators finally agreed on a deal to fund disaster relief. Is it too little, too late?

In an effort to avert another government shutdown, Senate leaders on Wednesday hashed out a budget agreement that includes $90 billion in disaster relief to help communities affected by last year’s unprecedented hurricanes and wildfires.

$23.5 billion would go toward FEMA’s recovery and repair programs, and another $28 billion would be earmarked for rebuilding housing and infrastructure. Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands would receive about $7 billion in aid. That’s less than 10 percent of the amount Governor Ricardo Rosselló said Puerto Rico needs to recover: $94 billion.

“The delay in passing a budget with a significant disaster package has been devastating for people in Houston,” Michelle Tremillo, executive director of the Texas Organizing Project, wrote in an op-ed for The Hill. “Congress and the administration know they should do better. Hopefully, the latest deal will be passed before politicking wins out over the needs of storm victims.”

The budget must still pass a vote in the Senate, and then later this week, the House.


California Drillin'

California to Trump: ‘Not a single drop’ of offshore oil will touch the state.

California officials sent two letters to Washington on Wednesday, in response to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s proposal to open previously protected waters for offshore drilling projects.

In its letter to the Department of the Interior, the California State Lands Commission wrote that “Californians are vigorous advocates for their coast, and the prospect of new drilling in coastal waters provokes fierce opposition and sparks outrage.” It also criticized federal officials for only scheduling one public meeting on the proposed drilling plan.

Last month, Zinke announced he would exempt Florida from the offshore drilling expansion, because it poses a “unique” threat to the state’s economy. California officials argue their state’s economy — the sixth largest in the world — faces similar threats from drilling. The Santa Barbara oil spill in 1969 still looms large for Californians, a testament to the lingering impact of the kind of disasters coastal states may face.

There’s another hurdle for Zinke’s drilling plans, too: In the 1980’s, 26 Californian coastal cities passed ballot measures requiring residents to vote on any new energy infrastructure proposed by the federal government. That means the Trump administration will face a complex coastal network of resistance in order to transport any offshore oil through the state.


blow the coals

Hopi and Navajo miners protest the closure of the largest coal plant in the West.

Two hundred demonstrators gathered at Arizona’s state Capitol on Tuesday to demand that the Navajo Generating Station, which has been operating since the 1970s, remain open.

The coal plant provides steady employment for nearby Native American communities and funds public services. But it also leads them to lean heavily on the mining industry and takes a toll on people’s health.

As natural gas prices fell over the years, the coal plant has struggled to stay in the black. Last October, the owners decided to shut it down by the end of 2019 unless a new buyer comes in. So far, there have been no takers.

The plant has become a point of contention for nearby Native American communities.

“There’s your jobs, the revenue, the economy, the water, but it goes beyond that,” Navajo Nation Council Speaker LoRenzo Bates said during Tuesday’s protest. “If NGS does shut down … those jobs are going to be very hard to replace.”

On the other side of the debate, there’s Brett Isaac, a Navajo solar entrepreneur. He told Climate Nexus: “The Navajo Nation really didn’t get its fair share out of those operations. It tied us to those jobs and didn’t allow us to diversify.”