Pandemics, Plastic and Petroleum
Our weekly roundup of climate accountability news
The pace of deregulation seemed to be accelerating this week. We’ve gone from 40 items in our Climate-COVID-19 Policy Tracker just one week ago to more than 60 as of today, and we’re almost certainly still missing some.
Please consider supporting our work by upgrading to a paid subscription below. Somehow Big Oil’s push to leverage the pandemic in its favor has outpaced even our expectations, and keeping tabs is requiring several additional hours of reporting a day!
This week on the podcast we dug into the story behind one policy tracker item a reader tipped us off to: When the city and county of Broomfield, Colo. began floating the idea of an emergency ban on fracking flowback to protect a nearby senior-living facility from the toxic fumes emitted during this phase of the process, Extraction Oil moved first and secured a temporary restraining order against the local government. Who knew such a thing was even possible? Eventually the restraining order was revoked, but the town also dropped the whole thing because, as Guyleen Castriotta, Broomfield Mayor pro tem, put it:
We knew that it would be a big litigation fight. And like most counties, we're already furloughing employees. We have a $12 million shortfall because of lost sales tax revenue with everything shutting down. And, you know, is it prudent to take on something that's going to cost us millions right now to fight?
The issue could very well come back again if residents complain or the town collects more emissions data. In the meantime, the town council did win another beef with Extraction when a Broomfield judge denied the oil company’s motion to dismiss the town’s emergency noise ordinance, which restricts its hours of operation to daylight hours. We expect to see more fights like these in Colorado, thanks to newly passed legislation that allows local governments to prioritize public health over oil industry profits.
Elsewhere in climate accountability reporting this week:
The New York Times reports on the EPA’s move to weaken restrictions on mercury pollution at coal mines. Our favorite snowball Mandy Gunasekara, most recently of the climate denying CO2 Coalition, now of the EPA (sure, why not), has been defending this proposal for month as just “fixing” an accounting problem with mercury emissions reporting, but environmental lawyers say it would fundamentally undermine the legal underpinnings of controls on mercury and many other pollutants.
In Vice, reporter Geoff Dembicki traces various conservative campaigns against renewable energy. In the grand tradition of accusing their opponents of what they themselves are trying to do, pro-fossil fuel groups have been issuing urgent warnings that “radical” liberals are going to try to weigh down the coronavirus stimulus with unreasonable demands for renewable energy. In actual fact, as David Roberts points out, the renewable energy sector has very modest demands while the fossil fuel industry has gone stark raving mad.
Somehow Trump has joined the “Keep it in the Ground” movement? Bloomberg reports that the Department of Energy is weighing a proposal that would pay U.S. oil producers to reduce production. Interesting given that a) Big Oil has persistently spun the fable that it is the world’s only demand-side only industry and b) this is part of the transition policy that Green New Deal-ers have been calling for.
Just as some U.S. states and Canada had been trying to fast-track construction on the Keystone XL pipeline, a federal judge once again smacked the project down, canceling permits for the pipeline and ruling that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had failed to adequately consider the pipeline’s impact on endangered species. The ruling does not impact construction that’s already begun on the pipeline in Montana, where Governor Steve Bullock has made the controversial decision to deem the project “essential” and allow hundreds of out-of-state workers into a county previously untouched by COVID-19. The revoked permit would impact future phases of the pipeline. Nonetheless the ruling creates significant hurdles for the project. Anthony Swift with the Natural Resources Defense Council told the AP, “Regardless of whether they have the cross border segment ... Keystone XL has basically lost all of its Clean Water Act permits for water crossings.”