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Earth Day at 50: Why the legacy of the 1970s environmental movement is in jeopardy

Denise Chow, NBC NEWS

Changing global and political landscapes have made the kind of broad and bipartisan agreements reached in the 1970s seem impossible.

The first Earth Day, held on April 22, 1970, marked a turning point for U.S. environmentalism, capturing the growing activism of the 1960s and putting the country on track to create the Environmental Protection Agency and many major pieces of legislation in the 1970s.

Fifty years later, those efforts are at risk of being rendered null.

For the 50th anniversary of the first Earth Day, veteran climate activists are offering words of warning about the changing global and political landscapes that have made the kind of broad and bipartisan agreements reached in the 1970s seem impossible.

“What’s disturbing to me about what’s happened over the last 50 years is this steady drift of the Republican Party toward opposing environmental action and dismantling 50 years of environmental progress,” said Michael Mann, a professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University.

And with countries around the world in the grips of the coronavirus pandemic, some experts fear that climate action could fall by the wayside as nations attempt to restart their economies. Rather than investing in infrastructure to support renewable energy and focusing efforts on reducing carbon dioxide emissions, for example, countries could revert back to the status quo in a bid to recoup coronavirus-related economic losses.

But the path ahead won’t be easy. Humanity is quickly running out of time to keep global warming below2 degrees Celsius (3.6 Fahrenheit) and slow the most damaging impacts of climate change. And even with aggressive action, the planet is still at risk of rising seas, drought, wildfires, extreme weather and other potentially damaging consequences of the warming that has already happened.

Still, David Muth remembers when taking environmental action wasn’t always a partisan fight.

As the director of Gulf restoration for the National Wildlife Federation, Muth knows that climate policies have always been hard-won, but beginning in the 1960s, as the severity of human-caused pollution was becoming more apparent, people started to demand change.

Read more at https://www.nbcnews.com/science/environment/earth-day-50-why-legacy-1970s-environmental-movement-jeopardy-n1189506

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An easy, no-fuss, climate fix for that big first day in office

Dan Farber, LEGAL PLANET

No, not rejoining the Paris Agreement, though that’s a good idea too. Something else.

This is kind of like one of those recipe things you see: putting a gourmet meal on the table in five minutes. But it’s more like: the one ingredient that will make all your recipes come out better. More seriously, what I’m about to propose is very conventional, easily integrated into agency procedures, and a big boost for climate policy.

So here’s this simple trick to improve your agency cookouts: fix the social cost of carbon. The social cost of carbon is the number that gets plugged into agencies’ regulatory analyses. The higher the number, the more climate change gets to be a priority. The Obama Administration did a very middle-of-the-road estimate. Trump, being Trump, came up with a figure 10% as big. My suggestion is to start by tweaking the Obama numbers upwards. That automatically means that agency decisions are forced to get a lot more climate friendly. It’s a simple tweak: use Obama’s 90th percentile figure to account for the risks of hitting major tipping points. If this seems too extreme, you could use another figure (the social cost of carbon with a 2.5% discount rate), or an average of these numbers.

The advantage of basing off the Obama numbers is that the numbers are already out there. But these would be higher numbers than Obama used, so you get a much more ambitious suite of policies. Depending on whether averaging was used, the new number would be up to three times as high as the preferred Obama estimate — $123 per ton versus $42 per ton. (Using an average between different estimates would give about $70, at least ten times as high as the Trump estimate.) So that means that, even putting aside co-benefits, we would get much stricter regulation even compared to Obama, let alone Trump. And all by changing one little number!

All this assumes agencies continue to use cost-benefit analysis. A progressive president might have doubts about that. Switching to a new system could take time, however, like learning to cook a whole new cuisine. In the meantime, boosting the social cost of carbon would start things moving quickly in the right direction in many agencies and many types of regulations.

Source: https://legal-planet.org/2020/03/05/an-easy-low-key-day-1-climate-fix/

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EPA dismisses half of key board’s scientific advisers; Interior suspends more than 200 advisory panels

Juliet Eilperin and Brady Dennis, THE WASHINGTON POST
Both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Interior Department are overhauling a slew of outside advisory boards that inform how their agencies assess the science underpinning policies, the first step in a broader effort by Republicans to change the way the federal government evaluates the scientific basis for its regulations. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt decided to replace half of the members on one of its key scientific review boards, while Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is “reviewing the charter and charge” of more than 200 advisory boards, committees and other entities both within and outside his department. EPA and Interior officials began informing current members of the move Friday, and notifications continued over the weekend.
Pruitt’s move could significantly change the makeup of the 18-member Board of Scientific Counselors (BOSC), which advises EPA’s prime scientific arm on whether the research it does has sufficient rigor and integrity, and addresses important scientific questions. All of the people being dismissed were at the end of serving at least one three-year term, although these terms are often renewed instead of terminated.
EPA spokesman J.P. Freire said in an email that “no one has been fired or terminated” and that Pruitt had simply decided to bring in fresh advisers. The agency informed the outside academics on Friday that their terms would not be renewed.
“We’re not going to rubber-stamp the last administration’s appointees. Instead, they should participate in the same open competitive process as the rest of the applicant pool,” Freire said. “This approach is what was always intended for the board, and we’re making a clean break with the last administration’s approach.”

Separately, Zinke has postponed all outside committees as he reviews their composition and work. The review will effectively freeze the work of the Bureau of Land Management’s 38 resource advisory councils, along with other panels focused on a sweep of issues, from one assessing the threat of invasive species to the science technical advisory panel for Alaska’s North Slope.

Read more at: EPA dismisses half of key board’s scientific advisers; Interior suspends more than 200 advisory panels – The Washington Post

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Poll finds Californians back climate change efforts despite cost 

Jeremy B. White, THE SACRAMENTO BEE
Climate change policies appeal to a majority of Californians despite the possibility of higher energy costs, a new Public Policy Institute of California poll has found.
“Californians tend to have a hesitancy to support policies that are going to impact their pocketbooks, but in this case they seem to be willing to do so,” said PPIC president Mark Baldassare, calling the findings an endorsement of “the direction (the state) has taken in the last ten years to be a leader in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.”
Environmentalists laud California for its ambitious efforts to fight climate change, and Gov. Jerry Brown has placed the issue at the center of his fourth-term agenda. Last year Brown signed a measure vastly expanding the state’s use of renewable energy.
But the road ahead for California’s cap-and-trade program, which requires businesses to buy permits for the carbon they emit, has become unclear. A recent auction reaped a comparatively tiny amount of revenue. Its legal foundation has come under question. And the program sunsets in 2020, spurring politically fraught efforts to extend it.
Those headwinds notwithstanding, California residents still support cap-and-trade (54 percent) and the underlying goal of reducing greenhouse gases, according to the poll. Around two-thirds of likely voters (62 percent) back the goal of reducing emissions to their 1990 levels by 2020, a target that is central to cap-and-trade’s mission. Helping explain that support are the large majorities (81 percent of adults and 75 percent of likely voters) who called climate change a serious threat.
Read more at: Poll finds Californians back climate change efforts despite cost | The Sacramento Bee