Briefly

Stuff that matters


RETURN TO SENDER

Scott Pruitt is now offering lessons in the art of the burn.

Delaware Sen. Tom Carper, the top-ranking Democrat on the Environment and Public Works Committee, publicly chided the EPA administrator Wednesday after his agency responded to an information request with old press releases.

In April, Carper and 22 other Democratic senators sent Pruitt a letter asking for details on how the agency plans to protect public health and cut emissions while simultaneously halting the Clean Power Plan. (A late-March executive order called for a review of climate regulations, including the keystone Obama-era rule designed to limit power plant pollution.)

The response from Pruitt’s office was, well, smug. Instead of the schedules, timelines, and meeting plans that senators requested, Pruitt literally sent two EPA press releases about Trump’s directive, a letter he’d sent to Nevada’s governor informing him that states could disregard the Clean Power Plan, and a note addressed to Carper spelling out what was in Trump’s order.

Really, what did Carper and co. expect? Pruitt has only a passing acquaintance with transparency. Remember the huge email dump from his time as Oklahoma Attorney General? It came only after he withheld the information for two years and was ruled to have violated the Oklahoma Open Records Act. Dude’s a lock box.


easy tiger

Louisiana won’t give the security firm that tracked DAPL opponents a license.

The state Board of Private Security Examiners rebuffed the North Carolina company known as TigerSwan, citing a legal complaint filed by a similar North Dakota agency charging that the outfit operated in that state without legal permission.

Fabian Blache III, the board’s executive director, said that Louisiana law governing the private security industry is designed to protect the state’s people. He said TigerSwan — which was denied a license in North Dakota twice — had not shown it could follow regulations.

Internal company documents obtained and reported on separately by Grist and The Intercept last month revealed the extent of TigerSwan’s surveillance operations during last year’s protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Earlier this month, the Associated Press reported that Energy Transfer Partners said it no longer had a security presence on the ground in North Dakota, and TigerSwan said it had ended work with the Dallas-based pipeline developer at the end of June.

But apparently the firm was still seeking to work for Energy Transfer Partners in Louisiana, where the company is currently planning to build a 162-mile pipeline known as Bayou Bridge, which would shuttle refined crude oil to hubs in Texas. That project, like Dakota Access, faces court challenges.

Regional advocacy groups pleaded with the Louisiana board to deny TigerSwan’s license, citing the type of intrusive surveillance reportedly employed by the company in North Dakota. “TigerSwan follows people as if we were criminals,” said Anne Rolfes, founding director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade. “We can disagree about the pipeline without resorting to such behavior.”


florida, man

A Florida town requires solar on new homes.

South Miami became the first U.S. city outside of California to require solar panels on new residential construction and some home renovations.

The city passed the law after high school student Delaney Reynolds, inspired by the laws in California, wrote to mayors in the area. “We made history [Tuesday] night,” South Miami Mayor Philip Stoddard said. “It’s not going to save the world by itself, but it’s going to get people thinking about [solar].” The 2.3-square-mile city receives an average of 5–10 building permits per year.

Meanwhile, Miami’s mayor asked for $192 million in his proposed budget to help keep Florida above the (ever-rising) water.


beaker speaker

Government scientist to Trump admin: ‘Abuse of power cannot go unanswered.’

Joel Clement, former director of the Interior Department’s Office of Policy Analysis, published a scathing opinion piece in the Washington Post on Wednesday. Clement writes that the administration has chosen “silence over science” and its climate denial endangers communities, like the Alaska Native villages that he used to work with.

The piece was prompted in part because of Clement’s reassignment to the Office of Natural Resources Revenue, a branch of the department that collects royalty payments from fossil fuel companies who operate leases on public land. Clement’s bizarre job switch — for which he says he has no expertise — was one of dozens Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke implemented in June.

“It looks like an attempt to make the agency so it doesn’t work very well or [so] that the powers that be exercise their will more easily on the agency,” Senator Tom Udall, a New Mexico Democrat, told Politico after the reorganization.

Clement believes reassignments are meant to compel people to quit as an effort to cut the department’s staff. Now, he’s calling himself a whistleblower. “Silencing civil servants, stifling science, squandering taxpayer money, and spurning communities in the face of imminent danger have never made America great,” Clement writes.


we oui

That French plan to attract climate scientists? It’s working.

After his election, French president Emmanuel Macron created a program setting aside $69 million to fund researchers, especially from the U.S., to ply their trade in France. “Here, you are welcome,” Macron told scientists via Twitter, in a not-so-subtle jab at President Trump.

A month later, it appears researchers took Macron seriously. According to France’s national research agency, hundreds of climate scientists from around the world have applied for the program. Many hail from the U.S. The agency says most applicants are looking for short sabbaticals, but more than 150 applied to stay for four or more years.

Macron’s idea has its detractors. French researchers felt snubbed because their president built a shiny website to attract new talent at a time when domestic science needed more funds, according to Science. Grist’s own Nathanael Johnson pleaded with leading American climate researchers to “resist France’s allure” because their smarts are so needed here.

But when the U.S. administration casts aside scientists every chance it gets, it’s hard to argue with researchers’ interest in going where they’re wanted. One tenured climate expert told Nature that if her position were more precarious, she’d be “jumping at the opportunity.”


shorter shelf life

The Antarctic ice shelf continues to crack.

The new rift in Larsen C emerged days after a Delaware-sized iceberg broke off from the ice shelf.

Scientists aren’t totally sure of the implications, but it seems the ice shelf isn’t quite done breaking apart yet.

The same team of British scientists who announced last week’s birth of the humongous iceberg spotted the crack in high-resolution satellite data. The scientists noted the crack “may result in further ice shelf loss” in a blog post published Wednesday. The huge iceberg itself has already begun to break apart.

Ice shelves are floating extensions of glaciers, so their breakup has virtually no effect on global sea levels. The worry is the new rift is heading in the general direction of the Bawden Ice Rise, which is “a crucial point of stabilization for Larsen C Ice Shelf,” according to the British team. A destabilized Larsen C could speed up the flow of its parent glaciers to the ocean, which would have a slight effect on sea levels.

As I wrote last week, the amount of ice we’re talking about is relatively small, considering the vast amount of ice contained in the rest of Antarctica.


wake-up recall

3 million Mercedes cars got recalled over emissions concerns.

Nearly every Mercedes-Benz diesel vehicle bought in the U.K. since 2011 needs its engine adjusted to reduce pollutants, according to the recall.

The German automaker Daimler, Mercedes’ parent company, will shell out 220 million euros ($252 million) for the recall after reports surfaced that it may have evaded vehicle pollution rules by selling more than a million cars with excessive emissions in Europe and the United States.

Daimler is not the first carmaker to face pressure for exploiting loopholes in emission regulations. In 2015, investigations found that Volkswagen had installed software to make its diesel cars appear to emit less pollution in testing conditions — when in fact some of its vehicles emitted fumes 40 times more toxic than allowed.

Volkswagen learned a $22-billion lesson, so no surprise that Daimler is looking to avoid the same fate.