Climate Update: The Opposition We Face and Recommendations on The Path Forward

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Last year the growing impacts of climate change hit the United States hard. Wildfires scorched California and storms pounded the East Coast. The South saw record heat and the Midwest unprecedented flooding.

2019 was the second warmest year on record and the last five years were the warmest five years ever recorded.

2020 is starting off even worse particularly for Australia. Australians are experiencing a humanitarian catastrophic. Wild fires have already scorched nineteen million acres, killed over one billion of their native animals, destroyed over 5,000 homes and killed 30 people.

This should be the moment when governments finally begin urgent efforts to stave off the climate crisis. Unfortunately, that is not the rational response we are getting. In fact, the Australian anti-environmental government seems utterly unmoved, as environmental nightmares become reality.

In the United States we are seeing a similar reality. Instead of President Trump declaring a global climate emergency and calling on Congress to work together to establish an effective national climate strategy to address this crisis, he has continued his destructive actions to weaken our environment regulations. In the past 90 days there are three more shameful examples of these actions:  

  • On November 4th 2019, President Trump notified the international community that the United States will officially withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord. This move will leave the country that is world’s second largest overall emitter of greenhouse gasses abandoning global efforts to combat climate change instead of taking a leadership role to address this global climate crisis.
  • On January 9th 2020, President Trump announced his most brazen action yet to reduce environmental regulations on clean air, water and the environment by revising the 50-year-old National Environmental Policy Act. The proposed revisions to this landmark legislation will impact nearly every major project that receives federal funding: pipelines, power plants, bridges and highways. The new rules would narrow the range of projects that require assessment and impose strict, new and shorter deadlines for completing these studies.

It is important to recall why this legislation was signed into law just over 50 years ago. Demands for greater oversight occurred when an oil tanker spilled three million gallons of crude oil off the coast of Santa Barbara California in 1969. We do not want to turn back the clock to pre-Santa Barbara.

  • On New Year’s eve, December 31st 2019 (a day when few people followed the news), President Trump directed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to introduce place a new rule that will require renewable energy (solar, wind) and nuclear power to be priced higher in the wholesale electricity market and to be removed from the grid.  This decision will ensure that highly polluting energy sources such as coal and natural gas that can bid at a lower price will replace carbon free energy.

This decision will undermine state initiatives to increase renewable sources of energy such as solar and wind as well as nuclear power.  It will also result in a consumer rate increase of $2.4 billion dollars per year nationally and cost the utility customers of Illinois a 60% increase in their utility rates.

These actions to weaken environmental regulations, divert accessibility of renewables, and increase pricing on clean renewable energy are just the latest in nearly 100 environmental rollbacks that Trump has announced in the past three years. Some of these include weakening protection for endangered species, lowering limits on the release of the highly potent methane greenhouse gas, loosening offshore drilling safety rules and canceling the automobile emissions standards that were put in place by the Obama administration. Unfortunately, there are many others.

Let’s be honest, prospects for a clean energy future are not looking good currently. However, giving up is not an option. So, what must we do?  We must find a path forward. 

The Path Forward

As environmentally concerned citizens, we cannot realistically expect to meet the United Nations IPCC targets to reduce carbon emissions by a minimum of 45% by 2030 to avoid the most catastrophic impacts of climate change as long as Donald Trump is president.  In November, we must elect a president who is a national and global champion of the environment to address this climate crisis. We must do whatever we can to achieve this objective.

  • While Trump has introduced over one hundred actions that would weaken our environmental regulations, it is important to note that 70 of these actions have been challenged with lawsuits in the courts. So far, the Trump Administration has won only four of them. 
    We fully expect a court challenge on Trump’s announcement to weaken regulations on the National Environmental Policy.  We must provide financial assistance whenever possible to the organizations or state agencies that are establishing these lawsuits. Some of these organizations include: Earth Justice, The Sierra Club, Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and League of Conservation Voters (LCV).
  • We have some good news for the people of Illinois on the Trump Administration’s decision to remove renewable energy and nuclear power from the federal grid and by so doing significantly increase renewable energy and nuclear power pricing. We expect the Legislature in Springfield to pass the Clean Energy Jobs Act in the first quarter of this year. It contains a provision that allows Illinois to establish its own energy grid that will be run by the Illinois IPA. We will no longer be using the federal energy grid and will not be subject to the punitive price increases imposed by Trump on renewable energy and nuclear power.  We will not be increasing our energy costs by 60%. We will be reviewing plans to pass this legislation with our elected representatives in the weeks ahead.
  • We must continue to stay engaged in monitoring the actions of our national political leaders on environmental actions. We must encourage the development and support of a comprehensive national environmental strategy like “The Green New Deal”.

We also need to challenge our political leaders when they have failed to stand up to the bullying tactics of President Trump, Mitch McConnell and Senator Inhofe who recently rejected the efforts of democratic leaders to include two significant renewable energy initiatives in the National Budget/ Defense Authorization Act for 2020.

  • Our primary focus during the coming months will be to get a comprehensive energy strategy passed in Springfield Illinois. We must then work to implement this strategy in the North Suburban communities of Chicago. We have outlined the details of this holistic state environmental strategy in the attached open letter to Governor Pritzker. We will give you more detailed information on how we can all work together in the weeks ahead to make Illinois one of the leading states in making the transformation to clean renewable energy.
  • Lawrence D. Fink, founder and chief executive of Black Rock, a $7 trillion investment firm, recently stated that his firm would make investment decisions solely with environmental sustainability as a core goal. In our divestment discussions with large financial banks, such as J. P. Morgan Chase, we will emphasize this important directive from Mr. Fink, as we encourage Chase and other financial institutions to divest from fossil fuels.

If you are interested in becoming more active in working with the CAPA Climate Group on these issues please email Catherine Buntin (mbuntin@yahoo.com) or Jack Kelly (kellyjack@comcast.net) Thank you.     

CAPA Climate Group
Catherine Buntin and Jack Kelly
Co-chairs

The US Public Doesn’t Want War With Iran. The Senate Must Reaffirm That.

Originally published on Truthout.org | January 12, 2020 | By Hassan El-Tayyab

Join us for a Global Day of Protest – No War on Iran! on Saturday, January 25th. Find more details here.

 As early as this coming week, the U.S. Senate may vote on whether to join the House of Representatives in asserting the rightful role of the U.S. Congress in deciding whether the president is authorized to wage war against Iran.

It’s not looking likely that the Senate will vote on the same bill passed by a bipartisan majority of 224-194 in the House on Thursday because Republicans leadership may not allow this bill to get out of committee. The passage of that bill, H.Con.Res.83, which was introduced by Rep. Elissa Slotkin, was a critical move by Congress at this moment of escalating tensions, making clear that the House doesn’t want more military aggression against Iran.

Senate Republicans should obey the law and bring this up for a vote, as the War Powers Act of 1973 explicitly states that this concurrent resolution is privileged and must be brought to the floor. If not, the Senate will have the chance to vote on Senator Tim Kaine’s Iran War Powers Resolution, S.J.Res.68, regardless.

A Symbolic Victory in the House or Something More?

The bill passed by the House on Thursday invoked the War Powers Act of 1973 to limit the president’s ability to launch unauthorized war against Iran by forcing him to obtain congressional authorization before taking further military action.

Three Republicans voted in favor of the resolution, including Republicans Reps. Matt Gaetz and Francis Rooney of Florida as well as Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky. It was less than many supporters of the bill had hoped for, as a similar provision to the FY2020 Defense policy bill had 27 Republicans vote in support, but it was still a significant statement of bipartisanship in support for congressional war powers.

On the House floor during debate, Rep. Gaetz said, “I represent more troops than any other member of this body. I buried one of them earlier today at Arlington. If our service members have the courage to fight and die in these wars, Congress ought to have the courage to vote for or against them. I’m voting for this resolution.”

Though peace activists have lauded the passage of the bill as historic, there has been a dispute over whether this bill is binding and has the force of law because it is a concurrent resolution, meaning it doesn’t go to the president for a signature and cannot be vetoed. But House Democrats and several legal scholars have argued that concurrent resolutions under the War Powers Act are a special case that hasn’t been tested by the courts yet and should be interpreted as legally binding until the courts explicitly say otherwise. Rep. Ro Khanna has argued that the Supreme Court case Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer could be used as precedent for enforcing war powers resolutions, as it was an example of the courts stepping in to allow Congress to limit the powers of the president.

The bottom line is that if Rep. Slotkin’s concurrent resolution were to be passed by the Senate — which is unlikely, considering Majority Leader McConnell won’t bring this up for a vote — then Democratic leadership would argue that the Youngstown Supreme Court case says that it is binding. Republican leadership and the Trump administration might then argue that it is not, citing the Immigration and Naturalization Service vs. Chadha Supreme Court case. Ultimately it wouldn’t bind the president unless Democrats forced the Supreme Court to make a decision.

The Senate Vote Ahead

Now that the House has spoken out, the question of Iran War Powers goes to the Senate, which is expected to vote on Sen. Kaine’s Iran War Powers Resolution either this week or next. Kaine’s resolution was structured as a joint resolution and will not face the same legal criticisms as Rep. Slotkin’s concurrent resolution, since there is no question that a joint resolution can be enacted into law.

In a huge win for the peace movement, Senators Mike Lee and Rand Paul have come out publicly in favor of Sen. Kaine’s bill. After being briefed on the intelligence used to justify Trump’s strike on Suleimani, Sen. Lee saidit was, “the worst briefing I’ve seen, at least on a military issue, in the nine years I’ve served in the United States Senate.” He is now an original cosponsor on Sen. Kaine’s resolution.

To get over the hurdle of passing Senator Kaine’s Iran War Powers Resolution, all Senate Democrats need to vote in favor, along with at least four Republicans. Senators Todd Young and Susan Collins have both asked for changes to the text and have indicated that if these are made, they are open to supporting it. The changes include removing any language criticizing Trump for assassinating Suleimani — which would attempt to make this an apolitical war powers issue. Other members on the swing list include Senators Lisa Murkowski, Jerry Moran, Steve Daines, Doug Jones and Joe Manchin, who all voted in favor of the Yemen War Powers Resolution last May.

A Momentous Moment

While we wait for the Senate to act, it’s important to reflect on the importance of this House vote and this moment. The War Powers Act reaffirms what’s already in Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution and makes explicitly clear where war powers reside – Congress. The law was passed in 1973, not just as a rebuke to President Nixon for bombing Cambodia in secret and the unpopular Vietnam war, but to also ensure that Congress going forward had a mechanism to force votes and debates on where and when we go to war. It’s a welcome sign to see members reasserting a constitutional power that has been left on the shelf to gather dust for decades without use. The House has made it clear that Trump does not have the authority to attack Iran. The House vote also showed that members of Congress are with the American people, who according to recent polling, overwhelmingly want no war with Iran and a diplomacy-based approach for easing tensions.

While we may not have the votes to override an almost inevitable Trump veto should this legislation pass both chambers, it’s critical that Congress force the question. Even if this is not enacted into law, it will help deescalate tensions with Iran, win in the court of public opinion, and set the stage for further congressional action during consideration of defense appropriations and authorization bills later this year. Some legal experts have also argued these votes could be used in a potential Supreme Court lawsuit against the President over separation of powers issues.

After authorizing a $738 billion FY2020 military budget that was stripped of measures preventing the President Trump from starting an unauthorized war with Iran, Congress now has an opportunity to change direction. At a time when we need to address so many issues here at home, from crumbling infrastructure, rising inequality, climate change, and more, it’s absolutely critical for Congress and the American people not to let the president waste trillions of dollars and human lives on a war of choice with Iran. The last thing America or the world needs is another endless war in the Middle East. The House and Senate must pass the Iran War Powers Resolution immediately, uphold their constitutional responsibilities and find a pathway to peace with Iran through diplomacy.