Briefly

Stuff that matters


Just what we needed

The New York Times just hired a climate denier.

Related: Have you seen any ads like this in your newsfeed lately?

Well, here’s a fact: The Times announced this week that Bret Stephens — a longtime climate science denier and current editorial deputy editor at the Wall Street Journal — is its newest op-ed columnist.

“He’s a beautiful writer who ranges across politics, international affairs, culture, and business, and, for the Times, he will bring a new perspective to bear on the news,” Times editorial page editor James Bennet wrote in a glowing announcement.

Yup! A brand-new perspective from another middle-aged white male who once described climate change, institutionalized racism, and campus rape as “imaginary enemies.”

In recent months, the Times has been aggressively expanding its climate coverage as “climate and environment reporting is taking on new urgency.” Now pit that move against hiring Stephens, whose Pulitzer Prize–winning commentary includes gems like this:

Here’s a climate prediction for the year 2115: Liberals will still be organizing campaigns against yet another mooted social or environmental crisis. Temperatures will be about the same.

In fact, the Times’ own climate coverage begs to differ.


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.


up in smoke

British Columbia is having its worst wildfire season in recorded history.

More than 2,500,000 acres have burned there since April 1, nearly six times the typical amount for a full year.

B.C. extended a state of emergency on Friday to help speed the flow of aid to affected communities. More than $300 million has been spent fighting the fires so far, and one remote wildfire is so out of control that the B.C. Wildfire Service called it “a force of nature.”

NASA analysis shows that the thick smoke plumes coming from B.C. are so dense they broke records. Smoke like that can “turn day into night,” said Mike Fromm, a meteorologist with the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory. Scientists worry that massive amounts of black soot will head northward toward Greenland, potentially speeding up ice melt there.

A 2013 study found that Earth’s boreal forests — a broad swath from Alaska and Canada to northern Europe and Russia — are burning at a rate unseen in at least 10,000 years. Some climate models show this vast forest may have already switched from a net carbon sink to a source of carbon emissions.

Though fire season is more than half over, there’s still time for the B.C. wildfires to grow. The latest forecast from Natural Resources Canada shows extreme fire danger in parts of British Columbia, with an outlook for above average severity through the end of September.


The Next #NoDAPL?

Minnesota report: Proposed tar sands oil pipeline would harm tribes.

On Thursday, state regulators released their final environmental review of a proposed replacement for an aging pipeline owned and operated by the Canadian company Enbridge. The $7.5 billion project would cut through sacred Native American lands in northern Minnesota.

If approved, tribes have promised the pipeline would face opposition akin to the demonstrations at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

The state’s final review expressed significant concern over environmental justice, citing “disproportionate and adverse impacts … to both low-income and minority populations … as well as those populations residing or using lands in the vicinity of the Project, in particular American Indian populations.”

All of the potential routes for the pipeline would slice through lakes used to grow wild rice, a crop sacred to the region’s Ojibwe tribes. Activists opposed to the pipeline, such as Honor the Earth founder Winona LaDuke, want the state to consider a “no-build alternative.”

“I want to trust the government of Minnesota to do the right thing,” Duke told the Duluth News Tribune. After additional hearings and public testimony, the Minnesota Public Utilities Commission is expected to make a final decision by April 30.


Money Makes The World Go Round

California scientists are calling for the largest U.S. investment in climate research in years.

The sunny state’s been defying the Trump administration’s, er, lax approach to climate action by leading the way on their own since before the inauguration. Now, a cohort of scientists in the state are proposing plans for a climate research institute. It would focus on projects combating the effects of climate change in the U.S.

Upside: With Trump’s consistently dismissive approach to climate policy, California’s initiative would fill an increasingly wide gap in research on climate solutions.

Downside: It’s expensive, of course. While advocates of the institution are considering the state’s cap-and-trade revenue as a source of funding for the institute, the deets on the rest of that cash are still in the works.

While the proposal for the institute will need to clear California legislature, it’s off to a somewhat promising start. Governor Jerry Brown has reportedly given the initiative an informal thumbs-up, and the institute has the support of nearly all of the state’s academic institutions.