NRDC Conference Call – March 29th

This afternoon I had the opportunity to listen in on an NRDC (National Resources Defence Council) conference call with its supporters. From what they said on this call, it appears they do this at least on a monthly basis. During this conference call, they provided updates on three major issues.

Issue 1: The Water Crisis in Flint, Michigan:

This was the one issue where they had good news to share. Yesterday the court approved a settlement regarding the contaminated water in Flint, that is completely in favour of the citizens. NRDC has been helping local residents and community organizations in Flint for almost 2 years. Their first attempt, to petition the EPA to use emergency authority to act on the problems in Flint, didn’t pan out. After that, they filed legal motions in the courts to fight the city and state.

Their main goals with litigation was to (a) have the underground lead service lines in the Flint area replaced with non-toxic service lines, and (b) to ensure there’s an ongoing process to test and treat the water in Flint for lead. They also had the short-term goal of ensuring citizens of Flint have access to clean drinking water while their two primary goals are being worked on.

The settlement they won yesterday awards $97 million dollars from the state to repair and replace those lead service lines. The settlement also includes short-term provisions to provide residents with bottled drinking water until in-house water treatment systems can be implemented. Those in-house water treatment provisions include a two year program where city officials will visit each residence in Flint, install water treatment filters, educate the residents how to use and maintain the filters, and provide replacement filter cartridges when needed. In addition, the settlement ensures that an independent monitor will work with the state to setup the water testing program.

Finally, because this is a court-ordered settlement, the courts have the ability to enforce the settlement upon the state and city should they not work quickly enough, or do not follow the agreement. Hopefully, this settlement will help re-build a lot of the lost trust the citizens of Flint have with their city and state government officials. And even more so, hopefully this will ensure the citizens of Flint will always have access to safe drinking water well into the future.

Issue 2: Keystone XL Pipeline Approval from the White House:

The second issue discussed was the Keystone XL pipeline and the fact that Trump issued an order from the White House to re-open and re-evaluate the application. Trump, however, only provided the State Dept with 60 days in which to review and evaluate the application from TransCanada, which they resubmitted quite quickly. Due to the speed in which this had to happen, the State Dept used a 2014 environmental review to make their decision. A review that is deemed too old and out-of-date to be used as a decision-making tool.

NRDC sees this old environmental report as a possible open door for litigation. Many of the assumptions that went into the environmental review, and other cost-benefit analyses, are based on assumptions that have long since been proven untrue. (Like that oil prices would remain above $100/barrel.) Plus, additional environmental studies have been conducted in the meantime which were not taken into account when the State Dept was making the decision. These studies include a look at potential pipeline spills, the terrible impacts those spills will have on the environment, and the fact that we do not currently have the technology to properly clean-up these spills.

Another possible area for a legal battle is within the state of Nebraska. This is the one state along the pipeline that has not yet approved the pipeline’s actual route. Therefore, there is a lot of opportunity to convince Nebraska that there is no good route through the state and to not approve the pipeline at all. Up until now, apparently over 100 different organizations have attempted to intervene in the decision in Nebraska, so it appears that’s where a lot of people are focusing their efforts.

Another interesting point they made about Keystone XL is the fact that, if the cost-benefit analysis were to be conducted today, it would not be a viable business plan to pursue. Low oil prices, increased public concern, oil companies getting out of the tar sands business, new tar sands mines being put on hold, and more, show that this is really no longer a plausible business option. And building a multi-billion dollar pipeline isn’t going to change that.

The one other area where they’d like to concentrate some of their efforts is on the funding side of the project. TransCanada does not currently have all the funding for the project in place. And as potential funding agents are identified, NRDC (and many others) intend to pressure those agents NOT to invest in pipelines. This has already been successful in some cases, and hopefully that will continue. The interesting aspect of this approach is that these potential financiers will do their own cost-benefit analysis to determine if investing is worth the money. If they base those analyses on up-to-date market information, they may determine on their own that it isn’t worth the investment.

They made it very clear that, at the moment, the Keystone XL pipeline is no where near being able to be built, and there’s a lot of ground that can be covered to help prevent it from ever happening. They intend to cover all that ground until the bitter end.

Issue 3 – Trump’s Latest Executive Order:

The latest executive order from the White House is one that is essentially anti-environment and anti-Earth. It was signed yesterday (March 28th) by Trump, while he was surrounded by coal miners (seriously?). Essentially, this E.O. puts in motion the actions required to dismantle each and every piece of climate change policy put in place by the Obama administration, including the Clean Power Plan.

The Clean Power Plan, for those who are not aware, was a plan put in place at the federal level to reduce carbon emissions from power plants by a certain amount, by a certain date. It also included the restriction on the building of new power plants that did not use renewable energy (i.e. coal). Technically, the Clean Power Plan was currently on hold in the U.S., at the federal level, due to multiple court battles. Until those court battles are completed, the Supreme Court put the Plan on hold. However, a large number of states took it upon themselves to implement the Clean Power Plan without the plan being officially in place. (And hopefully those states will continue their implementation even now.)

Thankfully, the changes outlined in the latest E.O. are not quick and easy changes like the immigration-related E.O. Trump signed. He isn’t implementing new policy with this E.O., he’s requesting that old policies be thrown out. Apparently, this is a lot harder to do and takes a lot of time.

NRDC mentioned one concern, something called the Endangerment Finding from the EPA. This relates to the EPA’s previous finding that climate change is bad for humans and the U.S. and limits what can be done that might negatively impact climate change. According to the folks on the call, it takes at least 60 votes in the U.S. Senate to repeat this finding, so they don’t think that will be attempted. THAT would be a good thing, because having this finding in place helps organizations like the NRDC fight the E.O.

Another major thing the E.O. proposed is to stop the moratorium implemented by Obama to stop leasing public land for coal mining. The purpose of the moratorium was to wait until it could be determined what sort of negative climate impact this mining was having before allowing more mines to be leased. Trump has essentially opened all U.S. public land to coal mining.

The E.O. also tries to undo the regulations previously set in place that reduce methane emissions from oil and gas extraction (like fracking). This part of the E.O., thankfully, could take years to implement and NRDC is thinking positively that it’ll never happen. Good thing too because, while carbon is more numerous in our atmosphere, methane is actually the worst of all greenhouse gases.

NRDC did mention that the Conservatives have attempted to remove this regulation in the past, and the Democrats have always banded together to top it. So, they think this will continue to happen and probably won’t ever get implemented.

Finally, the E.O. is also looking to remove the need or suggestion that the Social Cost of Carbon be considered in any cost-benefit analysis. Technically speaking, the NRDC doesn’t think there was a requirement that the SCOC be included in current cost-benefit analyses, but it was recommended/suggested, and it was included in some places. The E.O. essentially says this is no longer needed to be considered so forget it exists.

Ironically, Trump claims that the latest E.O. is focused on making the U.S. more energy independent. That’s a great thought, but none of the actual items mentioned in the E.O. will help the U.S. become more energy independent! The White House is using this excuse because they know more people would support something that claims to help the U.S. become more energy independent than they would support something that claims to dismantle climate change provisions.

What Can YOU Do?

Quite a lot actually! First and foremost, learn the facts. Then, share those facts with your friends and family. The more people are aware of the facts, the more they will come to realize Trump’s orders make no sense.

Second, contact your government representatives. In the U.S. that would be your Congress and Senate reps. But in the U.S., that could also mean your state reps, if you live in a primarily blue state. In Canada, contact your provincial and federal reps.

Third, contact the White House. I just wrote Trump an email about his executive order. As a citizen of this planet, his decisions impact me and my future. In Canada, contact the Prime Minister’s Office.

Fourth, contact the EPA. After Scott Pruitt’s claim on national television that climate change wasn’t real, the EPA was inundated by phone calls and emails from citizens (and non-citizens I imagine). No environmental organization planned that, it was just angry people fighting back. These sorts of things create news stories, which make the U.S. government look like idiots, and that’s helpful. In Canada, you can contact Natural Resources Canada or Minister James Carr (is it weird that I use to cat sit his grand-kitty?).

Fifth, join protests. The People’s Climate March is happening in Washington on April 29th, and they anticipate protests in other cities around the world as well (although I haven’t found one happening in Edmonton). There’s also the March for Science happening on April 22nd (which does have an Edmonton version).


Why did I put U.S. contacts before Canadian contacts?

(1) Because it is possible that Keystone XL is a foregone conclusion in Canada. (I’m not giving up, I’m just being realistic.) It has already received all the permits it needs in Canada, Alberta, etc. The only stumbling block had been the U.S. permits. However, local communities in Alberta and Saskatchewan, through which the pipeline will pass, are fighting back. It is worth fighting the pipeline in Canada, but we have a better chance of stopping it in the U.S.

(2) Executive orders from Trump primarily affect U.S. legislation and regulation. But, we can still ensure our Canadian representatives know we do not support the direction the U.S. government is heading, and that we do not want to follow. Thankfully (except for pipelines) Canada is more progressive (right now anyway) in its fight against climate change.





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