Dropping the A

Make America Great Again (MAGA) is a catchy phrase and one that if simply looking at the words seems like something everyone would want to support.  Like most things, the issue comes when you start looking at the specifics.  The word “Again” gives the impression of reverting to a previous time and opens itself up for numerous arguments about what timeline we are hoping to move back to and creates a natural issue of negating progress we as a country have made.  No matter the time in history that anyone would say is when America was best, there were large fundamental problems then which are improved now.  Was America great when women could not vote, when we had leaded gasoline and leaded paint, when no water and air protections existed, or when slavery existed?  No, it is better now in those and many other regards because of progress and innovation.  MAGA has its nostalgic merits, but when the conversation deepens most sane people would concede that the slogan should lose the A.  If our POTUS and his administration were to focus on just ‘Make America Great’, things would be a lot simpler and we could be moving forward to make more progress as opposed to moving backwards.

There are several ways that the “Again” is being implemented and reverting us, as opposed to moving us forward and helping us transform and modernize.  The Brooking Institute, Columbia, Harvard, and many others all track new, repealed, and modified rules and policies and I have leveraged some of their data to create a list of environmental changes and updates you might not even be aware of because we are too busy worrying about the countless scandals or offensive tweets of the day.

  • The social cost of carbon is an estimate of the monetized damages caused by a one-ton increase in greenhouse gas emissions in a given year. On March 28, 2017, POTUS issued an executive order which states that, when monetizing the value of changes in greenhouse gas emissions resulting from regulations, agencies should instead follow earlier guidance from September 2003.
  • In July 2015, the Department of the Interior (DoI) proposed the Stream Protection Rule, which required that land within 100 feet of a stream could not be disturbed by surface mining activities, including the dumping of mining waste.  Two days before that law was to take effect (1/19/2017), several coal producing states filed a lawsuit and shortly after resolution went through the house, senate, and was signed by POTUS nullifying the rule.
  • Among all industries regulated under the Clean Water Act, steam electric power plants contribute the greatest amount of toxic pollutants discharged to surface waters. The power plant water pollution rule establishes limits on the amount of toxic metals and other harmful pollutants that steam electric power plants are allowed to discharge into surface water. The rule was finalized in 2015 but new EPA administrator Scott Pruitt announced that the EPA would reconsider the rule and has delayed its implementation so they can revisit the impacts to industry.  Compliance dates for some of the more stringent portions of the rule dealing with flue-gas desulfurization wastewater and bottom ash transport waste, which both come from the burning of coal have been postponed.  The EPA is now being sued by several organizations regarding its lack of environmental protections.
  • A rule to improve the competency of certified pesticide applicators of restricted use pesticides was halted from going in to effect via executive order and the implementation delayed by Scott Pruitt as it did not promote agriculture and rural prosperity.
  • Corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standards require vehicle manufacturers to achieve an average fuel efficiency over their fleet, or else pay a penalty. The rule was delayed indefinitely, pending reconsideration.
  • In February 2017, POTUS issued an executive order directing the Interior Secretary to review the oil and gas fracking rule, which requires disclosure of certain information by fracking companies to ensure adequate environmental protection. The Department of the Interior then proposed to rescind the rule, noting that it imposes burdensome reporting requirements and other unjustified costs on the oil and gas industry.
  • In March 2017, POTUS issued an executive order to reduce regulatory burdens related to energy production. In response to the order the DoI rescinded the oil, gas, and coal lease valuation rule, which sought to increase royalties paid to the federal government by companies extracting resources on public lands.
  • In June 2017 the EPA published a notice of its intent to extend their deadline for ensuring a portion of the Clean Air Act was being followed.  The specific rule is in regards to national ambient air quality standards for ozone and the EPA is supposed to identify areas of the country not meeting those standards in order to protect of public health.  In August of 2017, sixteen states filed lawsuits contesting the delay. In response, the EPA withdrew the extension.
  • The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) and the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act established a set of performance measures for state departments of transportation (DoTs) to use in assessing the performance of interstate highways in regard to, among other things, environmental sustainability. The greenhouse gas emissions measure requires state DoTs to establish targets and report on progress in reducing carbon dioxide emissions using this measure. In July 2017, several environmental groups sued the DoT for illegally suspending the greenhouse gas emissions measure, and in response, the DoT reinstated them.  A few days later, the DoT officially proposed to repeal the greenhouse gas measures.
  • Formaldehyde is a colorless, flammable gas at room temperature that has a strong odor and is found in certain resins used in the manufacture of composite wood products, including plywood, fiberboard, and particleboard. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen that can cause cancer if inhaled. In September 2017, the EPA extended the compliance date for the formaldehyde emissions standards to December 2018.  The rule reduces exposure to formaldehyde during manufacture of certain wood products.
  • A rule requiring resource extraction issuers to disclose information about payments made to governments for the purposes of commercial development of oil, natural gas, or minerals was nullified in February 2017 by POTUS.  Advocates of the rule claimed that it prevented companies from bribing foreign governments and engaging in other forms of corruption. Detractors argued that the rule placed an excessive burden on companies.
  • A rule addressing mercury waste discharged from dental offices into publicly owned wastewater treatment plants was rescinded by the EPA in January 2017.  In February 2017, the National Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit, claiming the EPA could not rescind the rule absent a notice and comment period. In response to the suit, the EPA reinstated the rule in June 2017.
  • A rule to improve safety at facilities that use and distribute hazardous chemicals was put in place in response to an April 2013 explosion at the West Fertilizer facility in Texas.  In March 2017, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt announced he would delay the rule.  In July 2017, eleven states sued the EPA for delaying the rule.
  • The “Methane Rule” regulated the gas released into the atmosphere during oil and natural gas production through venting (the controlled release of gases into the atmosphere), flaring (the controlled burning of natural gas), and equipment leaks. In January 2017 House of Representatives passed a resolution to nullify the rule but it was then defeated in the Senate.  In March of 2017, POTUS signed an executive order and the department of Interior indefinitely suspending the requirements.
  • In August 2015, the EPA proposed new source performance standards (NSPS) for methane and volatile organic compounds to include several emission sources not covered by the current NSPS. These included fracking wells, which were required to use a process called “green completion” to recover natural gas during flowback. Oil and gas industry firms petitioned EPA and Scott Pruitt proposed extending the implementation of the standards for two more years.  Several environmental groups immediately sued and won and the updated NSPS standards are in place.
  • The goal of the Clean Power Plan (which was finalized in October of 2015) was to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity sector, which is responsible for approximately 30 percent of America’s overall greenhouse gas emissions. In March 2017, POTUS issued an executive order directing the EPA to review the Clean Power Plan and the EPA has since proposed rescinding the plan.

The summary of the above detail is that if you want the EPA to enforce and protect your air, water, and land; you are likely going to have to sue them to get them to do so.  The second takeaway is that moving forward and progressing to a cleaner standard of living is up to us.  We cannot rely on our (U.S.) elected and appointed officials to do the right thing for humanity, they have prioritized profits over people and believe any environmental ‘ burdens’ on the most profitable industry in the world should be removed.    There has been a long existing myth that the only way to improve the environment is to negatively impact the economy and that is simply not true.  There are countless solutions, studies, and historic examples that say otherwise.  Having to decide if you want a sustainable planet or a strong economy is a false dilemma.

It is incredibly frustrating to see every other nation in the world moving forward while in the U.S. our leadership continues to promote, protect, and subsidize a dying industry with a finite amount of product that we know is doing us harm.  It is embarrassing to be represented by leaders who are so foolish and short sighted.  So, let’s remove the A.  Let’s Make America Great by transforming while economically flourishing.  The alternative is to fall behind and watch every other nation kick our asses on clean energy as their disdain for the U.S. grows.

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195-3

Today was a historically sad day as POTUS announced he is withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Climate Accord.  I watched his speech announcing this with frustration and anger but am now residing myself that maybe it is for the best.  My frustration and anger stem from the flawed logic and false narrative that are being used to justify the exit.  The primary focus was about the agreement being a bad deal for the U.S., how it is a ‘massive redistribution of wealth to other countries’ and how if the U.S. remained it would ‘become the laughing stock of the world’.  He went on to boast about our existing “natural” (fossil fuel) energy sources and the value of using those to drive our energy needs.  He went on to paint a picture of ‘brown outs, black outs, and businesses coming to a halt if the U.S. were to remain in the agreement’.  Sometimes I think POTUS chooses to undo things his predecessor did or do the opposite of them just to stick it to him and then creates a narrative to support that, as opposed to critically thinking about what is truly best for our country.

In my opinion, if we were not already, we most definitely are now the laughing stock of the world.  We join Syria and Nicaragua as the only nations not to be signed on to the Paris Climate Accord.  Ironically, Nicaragua is not on board because they felt the goals were not aggressive enough and Syria has other priorities as you can imagine.  Scott Pruitt (EPA) got to follow on and mentioned how ‘America finally has a president who answers only to the American people and not to special interests’.  Which American people does he answer to when making such decisions?  It is not the hundreds of U.S. based companies who asked him to remain in the accord, it is not the leaders of organized religions, it is not the countless U.S. scientists, and it is not the majority of Americans who support remaining in the agreement.

Consider that in the U.S. the clean energy sector is growing at 10x the rest of the U.S. economy.  The idea of making America great again by reviving the coal industry, fracking, and drilling is short sighted and today marks the most irresponsible act of this president to date in my opinion.  The silver lining is that had the U.S. remained in the accord, we would have been a total PITA for the other nations under the current administration.  Now, they can forge ahead uninhibited as they have declared they will.  As other nations adopt a clean energy economy with a carbon fee and dividend policy, It is logical to assume that the U.S. will at some point in the future face tariffs, sanctions, and taxes on our exports to account for the cost of carbon used to create those.  If we follow the current MAGA mantra, the U.S. is certain to be left behind and let a huge opportunity to be world leader and innovator pass us by.  It is sad that we cannot count on our own government to protect the habitability of our beautiful planet, but perhaps we can get this done via cities, states, and businesses until such a time that we have a leader with common sense and courage.

Undo

For a few weeks now I have been thinking about how to surround myself with more positive things and just as importantly, how to minimize my time with things that I do not find fulfilling or rewarding.  This is a bit of a real challenge for me in some regards.  I like to stay informed and yet much of the information I see brings on feelings of despair and hopelessness as it zaps motivation.  One thing that has been going pretty well is my participation in a program through work geared towards helping me get healthier.  I weigh in daily and the scale automatically uploads the data for my health coach to see.  I also have to log all food intake, exercise, etc.  In short, the program adds accountability, reasonable goals, and tracking which have been helping me make positive changes.  As someone who has struggled with their weight most of my adult life, I am hopeful this approach will invoke lasting changes.

This week, my health coach encouraged me to make an “un-do list” which aligns quite well with what I was already thinking about in terms of getting more positive.  Her sample list is below and I have added some additional (mildly comical) thoughts below and plan to spend some of my day off today “unning”.  I will need to think more about additional un-do options.

The UN-DO:

  1. Energy-sapping people
    1. For me this will be cleaning up my Facebook feed, unsubscribing from e-mail feeds, and limiting time with people who are unjoyful.  Kindness matters.

                                                               i.      If the bulk of your contact with me is in regards to asking me for money so you can do pointless things like sending Scott Pruitt (EPA) as many Climate Change for Dummies books as possible, I am unsubscribing.

                                                             ii.      If your friends call my empathy towards indigenous people dumb, I am unfollowing you

                                                           iii.      If you are aware of my efforts and goals towards a healthier body and you take joy in shaming me for drinking a 6oz can of apple juice because of all of the sugar it contains, consider yourself unned.

                                                            iv.      If you do not “believe” in science…

  1. Energy-sapping food
    1. I have done pretty well here but need to continue to improve and be vigilant about portion control and rationing sweets
  2. Over-doing the over-thinking
    1. Maybe I did too much of this on #1 above
  3. More social media than socializing
    1. See 1a (or 1-1 as this goofier editing program made it).
    2. I am also thinking of invoking phones down time for portions of some evenings.  Sometimes our family of four are all within 8 feet of each other and all in our phones.
  4. More hateful than grateful
    1. This is a big one.  It is easy for me to get riled up about the current negative actions on the environment and spending more time with those working on and implementing solutions as opposed to fighting with the naysayers will make me more grateful.
  5. Doing someone else’s to do list rather than my own
    1. There are some areas of my life where this occurs but not too many.  I think of this as needing to ask and be honest with myself about how some things make me feel and then making adjustments as necessary.
  6. Focusing on what I can’t control
    1. Amen

Questioning Gods will

There are many things in life that we can attribute as “Gods will”. Often it is during a time of tragedy or loss where something profound happens that seems too choreographed to just be a coincidence. While I am certain I could find a recent example based in reality of this, my first thought on this subject is about one of my favorite movies; Signs. <Spoiler Alert> In the 2002 suspenseful movie, the Hess family finds crop circles on their farm and the story evolves from there. One of the core subplots is how Reverend Graham Hess’ (Mel Gibson) wife tragically dies as the result of a driver falling asleep at the wheel. That driver (played by writer and director M. Night Shyamalan who appears in all of his films like Hitchcock) talks about the tragedy and how “it was like it was meant to be” based on exactly when he fell asleep and exactly where she was walking. As the film unfolds, it becomes perfectly clear that the death of the reverends wife was Gods will and restores the reverends faith.

In my opinion having faith and believing in a higher power is a good thing. Where things often get tricky is when we hand over or excuse behavior and circumstances and say it must have been Gods will. Certainly there are constraints based on where and when you were born, but most people seem to be accepting of recognizing that they control their own choices and destiny. For example, if I eat tons of processed foods and never exercise it would be challenging for me to convince most people that being overweight was God’s plan for me. If I never change my furnace filter and my kids develop asthma, it is logical that I would need to take accountability as opposed to attributing a higher power.

When it comes to discussing man’s impact on the climate, God is often referred to as the ultimate keeper of the earth. The current chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, James M. Inhofe, is a very vocal opponent of the idea of man having any role in our changing climate. Inhofe has his own book on the subject, has given countless floor speeches, and the core of his argument can be summed up by one of his statements , “God’s still up there and the arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.” The notion that man cannot change the climate and only God has the power to do so is an interesting stance and one that is refuted by nearly every organized religion.

The core problem with the argument is that it removes accountability from mankind for caring for the earth. There are numerous ways to defeat this argument. One is to take a walk through history and look at the ozone hole problems. In the mid 1970’s there was widespread concern about the depletion of the ozone layer, the concerns were based in scientific fact that had proven that the use of manmade halogen atoms (halocarbon refrigerants, solvents, propellants, and foam-blowing agents) were destroying the ozone layer. It was and is also well understood that the ozone layer is what protects us from ultraviolet-B radiation and increases would lead to more widespread skin cancer and other health complications. Until 1987, there was strong opposition by the halocarbon industry to regulatory changes and the politicians they funded followed suit. After the discovery of the hole in the ozone and an EPA leadership change, the U.S. government’s attitude began to shift as well and in 1987 forty three nations signed the Montreal Protocol which phased out the use of most destructive halocarbons. So, in that example, we had a manmade substance which was known to cause destruction put a hole in the ozone layer which is still on the mend today. What if we had just argued that the use of halocarbons was our god given right and if the ozone layer goes away, it must be god’s doing?

I am on board with Inhofe talking about the death of his son in a plane crash while he was taking his first solo flight in 2013 being God’s will. But to throw our hands up in the air and pass accountability on to a higher power regarding the destruction of our climate is a disingenuous cop out. And when that person is the top recipient of funding from the oil industry, very little that they say should be taken seriously.

Guest Blogger: Tim Reckmeyer

My good friend Tim recently penned a guest column for his local newspaper titled The global heat is on for Congress, please give it a read. Below is some additional commentary from Tim.

The science of climate change isn’t what you know it’s what you believe.  More scientific studies and reasoning are not going to help people.  There are just certain things in the scientific realm that have always been that way.  Did you know that when Galileo claimed that the Earth spins on its axis and orbits the sun he was put on trial and forced to recant?  Why was this?  It went directly against the church doctrine.    

I recognize that everyone has different values (politically, spiritually, morally, etc.) which is why Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL) is such a great organization to be a part of.  We listen to all viewpoints and then work to find common ground – not only with our members of Congress but also with people we interact with every day.  Here are just a couple of examples:  

You want less EPA regulations – CCL has a plan for you.
You want to reduce carbon emissions – CCL has the plan for you
You want create healthier air to breath – CCL has the plan for you
You want to grow jobs in America – CCL has the plan for you
You want more money in your back pocket – CCL has the plan for you

People create political will – not Congress.  Please join us.

If you want to join Tim and I at CCL, please let us know at MNCCL-CD2@outlook.com

 

 

 

 

Government of the people, by the people, for the people

One of the core components of Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg address was the notion that all men are created equal.  Lincoln went on to say how ‘this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth’.  Those words are interesting to reflect on 150 years after they were originally spoken.  To me, they say that a government made up of a people who are as reflective and diverse as society itself, will enable humanity to thrive.  I believe those words to be true, but sadly I also believe that we do not have that type of government today.

Today it seems that we are a government of puppets, by the lobbyists, for the corporations.  This is not to say that there are not good people in politics, my blog has even highlighted a few of them who are working to do good.  But the system as a whole seems to be very broken and there are countless examples to illustrate this, here are two recent ones that come to mind.  Last week the Michigan Governor signed in to law (without any opportunity for public debate or comment) Michigan House Bill 5606 with some last minute additions put in place by Senator Joe Hune that make it not only illegal for Tesla to sell to Michigan consumers but also prohibits Tesla from opening a showroom to provide Michigan consumers information about their products.  All the while Senator Hune has the Michigan Automobile Dealers Association as one of his top financial contributors.  As you likely recall, the government has stepped in and helped the Big 3 automakers on numerous occasions.  In fact, the government reported that it lost $11.2 Billion on the GM bailout, meanwhile Tesla repaid it’s Department of Energy loan nine years early.  Putting restrictions on Tesla does not have consumers best interests at heart as the Michigan government who says it is trying to protect consumers from getting “hoodwinked” indicates.  Like in other states, this will eventually get repealed but it is downright silly that a company has to take legal action in order to sell a legal product to consumers.

Another recent example is worthy of some historical information first.  In 1974, the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) was passed by Congress which essentially set standards for drinking water quality.  The law had amendments in 1986 and 1996 to expand the protections of additional water sources.  In 2005, the “Halliburton Loophole” as it was nicknamed (Dick Cheney former Halliburton CEO and former Vice President), was passed which exempted fracking companies from the SDWA and went further to exempt them from needing to pull permits for the use of any hydraulic fracturing agent not called “diesel”.  In short, oil companies were given the green light to use cost effective fracking agents with no regard for human health  as long as they changed the name.  That is exactly what is happening today as oil companies routinely and legally use fluid additives of benzene and other chemicals in fracking operations.  According to the American Cancer Society Benzene is well known to cause cancers like leukemia and other blood cancers in humans.  In 1992 a train hauling Benzene derailed when I was in college which sent me, my girlfriend (now wife), and tens of thousands of others fleeing the cities neighboring the spill at the governments direction.  Now, apparently injecting in to the ground directly underneath millions of residents is perfectly okay.  In August, Governor Jerry Brown of California who had previously been a strong advocate for the environment, signed SB4 into law which allowed for the dramatic expansion of fracking in California and exempts the fracking from review under the California Environmental Quality Act, which is the state’s bedrock environmental law.  Brown later back-peddled and acted confused about what the legislation he passed does, but the $2.5 Million received from the gas and oil industry interests seem to make reality pretty clear.  Two weeks ago the EPA and California regulators needed to shut down 9 fracking wastewater injection wells after confirming that aquifers (protected by the SDWA) were getting contaminated.  So now, a state that has one of the most epic’s droughts in history has to deal with 3 billion gallons of “wastewater” that tested positive for chemicals like arsenic and thallium churning in its dwindling aquifers thanks to fracking and insufficient environmental oversight.

The million dollar question here might be; how can we as a people get campaign and political reform related to monetary contributions when the very people needed to pass laws changing the political system are the ones that would detriment?

Perhaps a variation on the Cree Prophecy says it best; When all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you some politicians discover you they cannot eat money.

Locks and honesty

Growing up my dad had a saying that locks were for keeping honest people honest.  That is the simple way of saying that most people are honest but when presented with an easy opportunity to steal some will make different choices.  In addition, a lock will not stop a person who is determined to steal.  Most of us adhere to this principal by locking doors, keeping valuables out of plain sight in our vehicle, hiding valuables in our shoe while at the beach, and so on.

The world is made up of rules; some social, some moral, and some legal.  Often rules that begin as social or moral will evolve in to legal rules in order to help a greater portion of society do the right thing and create consequences for those that do not.  There are countless examples of this.  Years ago it used to be just fine to burn old tires, dump mercury filled electronics in landfills, use leaded paint on toys, treat asbestos construction debris the same as all other construction debris, dump waste directly in to waterways, etc.  While we might still see a pile of tires on the side of the freeway from time to time or hear about a load of old CRT computer monitors being found at the bottom of a lake; it is safe to say that the majority people understand the reason for laws and abide by them.

As new laws and regulations are introduced for discussion, the default argument against them tends to be that it will have a negative impact on the economy and result in job loss.  As it relates to environmental issues, introducing economic fear in to the equation is typically an effective means of creating inaction.  Businesses, especially those who rely on fossil fuels should be diversifying their portfolio of products and protecting their own financial sustainability while adapting to a changing marketplace.  Laws and regulations have shown us the positive environmental impact of shifts to unleaded gasoline, regulating CFC’s, implementing the clean water and the clean air acts, and countless other efforts put forth by the EPA, PCA, and other agencies.

Today we have regulations around recycling that are intended to prevent hazardous materials from making it in to landfills.  In addition, the list of materials which are banned from MN landfills includes source separated recyclables like aluminum, glass, paper, and certain plastics.  Despite this, in MN over 1/3 of what we throw away is recyclable.  To add some perspective, according to the MN Pollution Control Agency 6 out of every 10 aluminum cans (3.6M per day) are sent to the landfill every day in MN despite being 100% recyclable.  In recent years I have run in to several people who ‘do not believe in recycling’.  This is a bit mind boggling to me as recycling has been made so convenient for homeowners where for the most part we no longer need to sort the recycling and there are obvious environmental and economic benefits.  The money trash haulers make from recycling helps keep waste removal costs down.

Adding regulations to recycling has helped a great deal but making it convenient for people has been equally as important.  In the past few months I have seen a lack of convenience be an issue while at an amusement park, a high school football game, and even a backyard party.  In all three instances there were lots of beverages in single use recyclable containers and yet no easy access to a recycling bin.  Most people when presented with this dilemma simply choose to throw the recyclable item away in the trash.  We (myself included) need to demand more in these situations.  This could be as simple as sending the establishment an e-mail asking for improvements or as heinous as making a spectacle while turning your cooler in to a make shift recycle bin so you can bring the items home and keep them out of the land fill.  Today, there are even options for recycling car seats, shoes, keys, holiday lights, and more.  Many options can be found at Recycle Minnesota and the reasons not to recycle do not hold much weight in today’s society.

While recycling alone is not going to save the planet, it certainly helps make it a lot more habitable and has tangible economic benefits.  Please ensure that events you are a part of organizing have ample recycling capacity so we can keep the honest people honest and reinforce people making good social, moral, and legal decisions.  Just like locks won’t prevent all thefts, recycle bins will not stop all recyclables from getting in to landfills but they certainly increase the percentages.  Recycling should be just as automatic as using a lock to protect something of value.