Table Of Contents

    The retirement of Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy could make many long-standing environmental laws vulnerable under a more conservative court. Photo courtesy of

    Sudden Departure of FERC Commissioner May Slow Pipeline Permitting

    On June 28, Robert Powelson made a surprise announcement that he would be stepping down from his seat on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) by mid-August. Powelson, a Republican and Trump appointee, has only been with FERC since August 2017. His term would have run through June 30, 2020. His departure would leave the commission divided between two Republican and two Democratic members until a replacement can be confirmed by the Senate. Powelson will step down to become CEO of the National Association of Water Companies, a lobbying group for water utilities. He was an outspoken critic of the Trump administration's proposal to provide financial assistance to struggling coal and nuclear power plants. He was also known as an advocate for states' rights and often sought to avoid "blow[ing] up the markets" when it came to federal regulation of the energy sector. Powelson's empty seat could have significant implications for the approval of natural gas pipeline applications. Democratic commissioners Cheryl LaFleur and Richard Glick have dissented on recent FERC permitting decisions due to concerns over environmental and climate impacts.

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    E&E News


    Agency Summit Hints at Removal of Climate Change from NOAA's Mission Statement

    In a recent presentation for the Department of Commerce’s “Vision Setting Summit,” the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) revealed a new mission statement that excluded the term “climate” from its main priorities. This change in NOAA’s mission statement is a drastic shift, as the agency is considered one of the nation’s leading producers of publicly available, climate-related data. The new mission statement instead focuses on the agency’s commitment “to protect lives and property, empower the economy and support homeland and national security.” The presentation was delivered by Tim Gallaudet, the acting head of NOAA, who later said that the new mission statement was “a simplified draft for discussion,” and that it “was not intended to create change in NOAA mission or policy.” The reported statement, however, drew widespread criticism from the scientific community. Many claim that shifting NOAA’s focus away from climate can have serious social and economic consequences. Whether this shift in NOAA’s mission statement becomes permanent remains to be seen.

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    New York Times


    Hawaii Looks to Move Forward with Microgrid Development

    Having set goal of relying on 100 percent renewable energy by 2045, Hawaii is in the midst of a push to redesign its electrical grid. And, as is the case in Puerto Rico, people are paying attention to Hawaii’s grid, hoping that it provides a model for future grid planning. There is currently legislation before Hawaii's governor that would push for more microgrids, but the islands’ grids already reflect such an array. An energy cooperative on Kauai has made huge investments into solar energy so far and is racing ahead of schedule for the island's shift to renewables. Hawaiian Electric Light Co., the islands’ largest utility, has expressed its openness to incorporating microgirds into its design, though it has been accused of fighting changes to the grid system in the past. But despite all of the back and forth, Hawaii’s grid has proven its resilience in the face of recent volcanic eruptions, as the affected region continues to maintain power in spite of the destruction of a geothermal power plant that provided 25 percent of the Big Island's electricity.

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    Utility Dive

    Atlanta Aims for 100 Percent Renewable Energy by 2035

    On June 26, Atlanta city officials presented their plan to transition the city to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. This ambitious plan outlines three routes the city can take to achieve this goal: 1) buy out-of-state “renewable energy credits” to offset Atlanta’s carbon emissions; 2) combine renewable energy credits with solar power and efficiency upgrades; or 3) generate renewable energy locally. If Atlanta were to generate local renewable energy, it could add 8,000 new jobs to the area. While a boost in local employment is one possible benefit (among many) that Atlanta could experience if their proposal is implemented, it also brings potential challenges. Atlanta will have to collaborate with Georgia Power (Atlanta’s electricity utility), the Georgia Public Service Commission (a regulatory agency), and the Georgia State Legislature – three organizations with competing interests. Still, the city believes that this goal is feasible and necessary. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, explained, “We not only have the capacity to act; it is morally incumbent that we do so.”

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    InsideClimate News

    Spike in CFC Emissions Traced Back to China

    Just over 30 years ago, the international community came together to create the Montreal Protocol, a seminal global agreement ordering the phase-out of CFCs. CFCs, which damage the ozone layer, were once used widely in refrigerants before becoming regulated. After decades of reductions in CFC emissions, a sudden uptick in atmospheric CFCs drew attention to a rural Chinese town producing foam. Local factory producers responded to rising labor costs by reverting to CFCs for their foam production, and the chemical has remained available in spite of the government’s efforts to crack down on the foam industry, which they knew still used the outlawed chemical. The country’s foam production has grown to meet the demand for insulants triggered by China’s tightening energy efficiency standards in buildings. As the country has sought to incentivize a transition entirely away from HCFCs (itself an interim replacement for CFCs), many manufacturers have reverted to CFCs to avoid the cost of safer, costlier, alternatives.

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    New York Times


    Devastating Deforestation Continues at an Alarming Rate around Globe

    In spite of growing global action to combat climate change, rates of deforestation in 2017 were at their highest ever, averaging around a soccer pitch a second. Much of this deforestation is illegal and jeopardizes work being done in other sectors to reduce carbon emissions. Combating deforestation can greatly reduce the carbon released into the atmosphere, and protecting forests is also critical to the preservation of biodiversity and endangered species. Often, there is an immediate impact on communities from deforestation, as indigenous leaders are often killed for protecting their homes from development or destruction. Much attention is given to Brazil, as its access to the Amazon makes it a vital site for forest preservation. Though Brazil has taken strides to protect its forests, deforestation rates have risen in recent years as the country has gone through political upheaval. The Amazon has also come under stress in Colombia as the softening of armed conflict there rendered large swaths of land vulnerable to illegal deforestation.

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    United Nations Group Advances Plan to Measure International Aviation Emissions

    On June 27, the United Nations' International Civil Aviation Organization approved new standards to determine how much commercial airlines may have to reduce the growth of their greenhouse gas emissions. A 2016 agreement dictated that airlines flying international routes must begin measuring their emissions starting January 1, 2019. The data collected will be used to assess the quantity of emissions airlines will be responsible for offsetting in the future. Although aviation accounts for around two percent of global greenhouse gas emissions today, this share is expected to grow rapidly relative to other sources of pollution. The organization is currently debating how to implement its Carbon Offsetting and Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA), which is designed to cap aviation carbon emissions at 2020 levels. Airline companies would be permitted to purchase credits to offset emissions, though critics contend this would lead to little environmental benefit. A point of contention at the organization's latest gathering dealt with the categorization of slightly cleaner-burning fossil fuels under as "alternative fuels" – a term typically reserved for aviation biofuels.

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    ABC News


    Federal Environmental Law May Drastically Change after Justice Kennedy’s Retirement

    On June 27, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy announced his retirement – a departure that could significantly impact federal environmental law. Although Justice Kennedy is known as a swing vote on the Court, he often sided in favor of environmental regulation. In a case involving the Clean Water Act, Justice Kennedy broke from both the conservative and liberal Justices, writing his own opinion that essentially justified the federal regulation of wetlands. This opinion, however, would likely be overruled by a conservative Court and weaken federal water protections. Legal scholars also believe that the Clean Air Act and the Endangered Species Act would be weakened without Justice Kennedy on the bench. Law professor Richard Lazarus of Harvard University, describes how drastically environmental law could change without Justice Kennedy: “He’s been on the court just over 30 years, and he’s been in the majority in every single environmental case but one. You don’t win without Kennedy.” Massachusetts v. EPA, which underpins much of American climate law, was one such case where Kennedy served as a crucial swing vote.

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    The Atlantic


    In First of Many Cases Pitting Cities against Big Oil, Judge Dismisses Lawsuit

    San Francisco and Oakland brought oil companies to court in a case that sought to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for its part in fueling climate change. The case was one of many targeting the fossil fuel industry that will be brought before judges in California, Washington, and New York. On June 25, Federal Judge William Alsup dismissed this initial case, ruling that it was outside the jurisdiction of the court to determine whether or not the damage done by the fossil fuel industry outweighs the value it brought to civilization and the United States. The plaintiffs alleged that the industry’s emissions created a public nuisance and that the five oil companies sought to mislead the public about the dangers of climate change, despite long-held knowledge about the risks associated with fossil fuel combustion. Judge Alsup ultimately ruled that the debate belonged in the Legislative and Executive branches of the federal government.

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    San Francisco Chronicle


    At the ICLEI World Congress, Pittsburgh Is a Leader on Climate Action

    The International Council for Local Environmental Initiatives (ICLEI) recently held their World Congress in Montreal, Canada, where mayors and local leaders from around the world convened to discuss local approaches to addressing climate change. Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto, was among the notable attendees at this conference. Peduto gained international fame last year when responding to President Trump on Twitter, stating that Pittsburgh will continue to follow the Paris Agreement despite the United States’ withdrawal. Peduto’s resolve to address climate change has only strengthened, as he has set out an ambitious climate plan for Pittsburgh. The plan includes lowering GHG emissions two million tons per year by 2050 and powering the city with 100 percent renewable energy by 2035. The city hopes to accomplish these goals by building up local renewable energy infrastructure, which can also bring much needed infrastructure jobs to the region. Pittsburgh is representative of a recent trend, both nationally and globally, of cities being on the forefront of climate change action.

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    Public Source


    Eleven States and DC Sue EPA for Rescinding HFC Regulations

    Fourteen European Union Countries Call on Body to Strengthen its NDCs by 2020

    World Bank: Climate Change Impacts Projected to Lower Standard of Living in India

    Global Warming Making Arable Land Increasingly Scarce for Nigeria's Farmers

    Warmer Weather Leading to Spread of Toxic Algae in United States

    Study: Arctic's Barents Sea Could Transition to Warm, Salty Atlantic Ocean Conditions by 2040

    Writers: Maria Pfister and Tim Manning
    Editor: Brian La Shier