Table Of Contents

    Smoke from wildfires burning across the western United States is visible in a satellite image captured in September 2017. Photo courtesy of NASA via

    Cost of Combating U.S. Forest Fires Continues to Escalate

    The U.S. federal government spent $2.7 billion combating national forest fires in fiscal year 2017, surpassing the overall record of $2.1 billion set two years prior. Hotter and drier weather in already fire-prone areas has increased the frequency of fires while extending the wildfire season. Federal, state, and local agencies share the fiscal responsibility for combatting wildfires. The U.S. Forest Service exceeded their firefighting budget by $500 million in 2017, which was 25 percent more than the allocated funds. CalFire, California's firefighting agency, had a more robust budget of $1 billion, plus $469 million in emergency funding for significant fires. However, in three months alone California has used half of its emergency funding. Agencies have considered expanding these budgets, but do not want to cut programs like forest management, which help prevent fires. Two bills to re-label forest fires as natural disasters have been introduced by the U.S. Congress. If passed, some efforts to combat major wildfires could be eligible for financial assistance from the Disaster Relief Fund.

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    Associated Press


    Hazardous Waste from California Wildfires Causes Public Health Emergency

    In the wake of recent wildfires, at least three Northern California counties declared public emergencies over the health risks of toxic ash and debris. The fires burned more than 5,700 structures, most of them homes, each containing a potentially dangerous mix of household chemicals. Risks include pesticides, paint, plastics, propane, gasoline, treated wood, and even melted electronics, which can release harmful metals such as lead. As the wildfires are brought under control, the next challenge for Californians will be cleaning up the waste left behind. Dr. Alan Lockwood, a retired neurologist, called the situation in California "unprecedented" and a "major hazard for the public." Ash and debris, if not swiftly removed, can adversely affect community health and the local ecosystem. Following a 2011 fire in Alberta that destroyed 400 homes, the local landfill was found to be leaching toxins after receiving the fire debris. At the moment, it’s unclear who will take the lead on clean-up efforts - the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), state and local governments, or the impacted homeowners. Many residents fear a prolonged clean-up period will delay rebuilding for years.

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    New York Times

    Plan to Address Climate Change Migration Has Been Overlooked by Trump Administration

    In February 2016, the Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Department of Agriculture led a meeting of nine other agencies to address climate change migration. A memorandum was drafted, declaring that the agencies would “work together to collaborate to support communities’ migration away from vulnerable areas, particularly those threatened by recurring natural disasters and the cumulative effects of severe environmental changes.” A multi-year strategy was to be developed nine months later. However Jeff Payne, a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration official, notes a "lack of direction from the [Trump] administration on what it wants to do in this domain." The climate migration working group has yet to meet nine months into the Trump administration's term. A study in Nature Climate Change estimated that more than 4 million Americans will be threatened by flooding by the end of the century. Prior efforts to relocate small communities displaced by climate impacts have proven costly, underscoring the need for greater federal planning on this emerging issue.

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    Mother Jones


    Hurricane Irma Demonstrates Climate Change Vulnerability of Migrant Farm Workers

    Hurricane Irma battered fields and orchards, costing Florida’s agricultural industry billions of dollars and threatening the lives and livelihoods of approximately 300,000 migrant farm workers. Farm worker communities with low-quality housing and few resources were hard hit by the storm, yet were some of the last places to receive aid. Immokalee, a farming community located outside of Naples, waited days after the storm for aid workers to arrive with basic supplies and almost two weeks for power to return. Across the state, undocumented workers used whatever savings they had to stay in motels or fuel their cars to flee the storm, afraid that shelters would require proof of legal status. Florida’s citrus crops suffered the worst damage in the storm, which will impact thousands of seasonal citrus pickers. Many citrus pickers are guest workers recruited through the H2A program. Climate change and increasingly volatile weather patterns could disrupt agricultural labor dynamics, making the lives of migrant farm workers even more precarious in the future.

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    InsideClimate News


    New California Law Seeks to Reduce Carbon Intensity of State Infrastructure

    On October 15, California Governor Jerry Brown signed into law AB-262, the “Buy Clean California Act.” This new law will require state agencies to evaluate the carbon impacts of infrastructure projects and adhere to carbon intensity standards in sourcing the materials for those projects. Materials covered by the standards include steel, glass, and insulation. The law also requires companies bidding for government projects to submit detailed carbon life-cycle assessments starting in 2019. AB-262 came about from a controversy over the steel used to construct a new portion of the San Francisco Bay Bridge. California bought carbon-intensive steel from China, rejecting bids from cleaner producers in California and Oregon that could have spared 180,000 tonnes of carbon emissions. AB-262 is the first attempt by an American state to regulate the carbon emissions contained in imports, effectively regulating emissions produced beyond the state’s borders. In the short-term, AB-262 will favor domestic producers, but this advantage is unlikely to last if manufacturing countries such as China continue to reform their energy system.

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    Carbon Brief, Los Angeles Times


    Phoenix Tries to Adapt to Searing Heat

    Phoenix, AZ suffered 150 heat-related deaths in 2016, the most since agencies began keeping track. Climate change is expected to make conditions even worse in the future, with average temperatures projected to climb for the Phoenix metropolitan area. Scientists anticipate Phoenix's current record high of 122 degrees Fahrenheit may become the new average yearly high before the end of the century. Today, Phoenix's "hot season," featuring temperatures exceeding 100 degrees F, starts an average of three weeks earlier and lasts two to three weeks longer than it did 100 years ago. Heat-related fatalities are often overlooked since they occur over a prolonged period and tend to make existing health conditions worse, masking some of the blame. Many urban heat wave victims live in poorer neighborhoods that lack cooling greenspaces and the money to either own or operate an air-conditioner. Studies show that neighborhoods with minimal tree cover can experience average temperatures eight degrees warmer during the summer versus areas with more shade.

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    The Republic


    Climate Change’s Effect on Food Security Recognized by G7 Countries and the European Union

    In Bergamo, Italy, agriculture ministers representing the G7 nations (United States, Japan, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom, Canada, and France) and the European Union signed a communique describing climate change as a major threat to “our capacity to feed a growing population and need[s] to be taken into serious consideration.” The ministers stated that recent natural disasters such as floods, droughts, pest infestations, earthquakes, and plant and animal diseases were recognized as threats to the agricultural industry that are likely to be amplified by climate change. The ministers also commissioned a study on the impact of extreme weather events on agriculture and food production. References to the Paris Climate Accord were largely excluded from the communique due to U.S. opposition to any potential endorsement of the international agreement. Although U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue signed the communique, he reiterated his position as a science skeptic to the press, voicing his opinion that human-caused climate change has not been "proven."

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    Climate Home News


    Republican Legislators Resurrect Push to Open Alaskan Reserve to Oil Drilling

    On October 19, during a series of amendment votes for the Senate's federal budget proposal, a Democratic proposal to block oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve (ANWR) failed along a largely party-line vote. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chair Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) has long advocated for opening a portion of ANWR to drilling. The Senate is expected to approve a budget resolution directing Murkowski's committee to craft legislation to raise $1 billion in revenue over a decade, some of which Republicans hope to draw from ANWR development. The U.S. Geological Survey estimated the area in question on Northern Alaska's Prudhoe Bay could contain up to 12 billion barrels of recoverable crude oil. However, ANWR is home to Native American tribes and habitat for many vulnerable species. The House must pass their own version of the drilling revenue proposal for it to be included in a final budget package to be negotiated between the two chambers.

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    FERC Approves Atlantic Coast and Mountain Valley Natural Gas Pipelines

    The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) approved two new pipelines on October 13. Both pipelines will transport natural gas out of West Virginia. The Atlantic Coast pipeline will run 600 miles to North Carolina and cost $5 billion, while the Mountain Valley pipeline will run 300 miles to Virginia and cost $3.5 billion. Many politicians and business leaders in these states have backed the pipelines, while environmental advocates and landowners have expressed opposition. The FERC’s approval allows the pipeline developers to use eminent domain to settle disputes with property owners if necessary. The FERC made its decision in a 2-1 vote. Commissioner Cheryl LaFleur dissented, expressing doubt that these projects were in the public interest and noting that "alternative approaches … could provide significant environmental advantages." The FERC has only rejected two proposed pipelines in the past 30 years. In August 2017, a federal court ruled that the commission must consider climate impacts when it evaluates new pipelines. The FERC claimed in its approval that climate impacts for the two new pipelines “cannot be determined.”

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    Utility Dive, Associated Press


    Solar Industry Offers Assistance in Restoring Power to Puerto Rico

    Solar energy companies have worked to deliver renewable energy capabilities to San Juan, Puerto Rico, following near-total damage to the U.S. territory's electric grid from Hurricane Maria. As part of the humanitarian effort, Sunrun plans on shipping more than 12 tons of solar equipment, while Tesla has promised its Powerwall battery systems to enable energy storage. The Solar Energy Industries Association, a trade group, has received more than $1.2 million in pledges for solar products and financial aid for Puerto Rico from its members. Industry, relief workers, and NGOs have also helped bring solar-powered microgrid systems to help power fire stations participating in rescue and recovery efforts. Sunrun views the solar experiment at the fire stations as a test for expanding renewable microgrids to other locations on the island. While restoring power remains the current priority, Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosello said that they must pursue "[opportunities] to not just rebuild the old system but rather to establish a platform so that we can consider microgrids [and other renewable sources]."

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    State Department Under Secretary Thomas Shannon to Lead U.S. COP23 Delegation

    Remote Alaskan Communities Serve as a Model for Microgrid Usage

    Disaster-Prone Countries Urged to Invest in Resilient Infrastructure to Remain Insurable

    Trump Administration Approves Expansion of Alberta Clipper Oil-Sands Pipeline

    Study: Improved Land Stewardship Practices Could Cut Carbon Emissions Equivalent to Global Oil Use

    Study: Pollution Responsible for Nine Million Fatalities and Trillions of Dollars in Damages Annually

    Writers: Beatrix Scolari and Kiara Ryan
    Editor: Brian La Shier