Scott Pruitt’s short tenure as EPA chief already a scandal

Chicago Sun-Times Opinion

Scott Pruitt’s short tenure as EPA chief already a scandal

Sun-Times Editorial Board      July 5, 2017

Scott Pruitt, administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, is not doing his job. Quite the opposite.

Rather than do the hard work of making our nation’s environmental regulations work better for business while still protecting Americans — always a difficult  balancing act — Pruitt wants to incinerate the rules, belching the resulting smoke into the atmosphere and tossing the residue into the nearest creek.

Day by day, he makes it clear he is in the wrong job.

On Monday, a divided federal appeals court shot down Pruitt’s ill-advised effort to delay rules designed to cut down on methane leaks, which contribute to global warming.

But if Pruitt has his way, that will slow him down only temporarily.

In his five months on the job, Pruitt has tried to block, delay or entirely uproot more than 30 environmental regulations. He is shredding the Clean Power Plan, designed to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas. He wants to revoke plans to reduce pollution in waterways. He has ended a ban on a pesticide the EPA had found was dangerous to children. He has delayed a rule to stop chemical plant explosions and spills. He has become Donald Trump’s point man in undermining America’s compliance with the Paris climate change accord and wants to gum up the works by starting a debate on whether human-caused climate change is real.

As for going after any new threats to the environment? Not a chance.

Pruitt has a long history of unprincipled attacks on environmental regulations. When he was the attorney general of Oklahoma, he repeatedly sued to block EPA regulations that irked business interests. He signed letters to regulators that were written by industry lobbyists.

As EPA administrator, he mostly ignores the EPA’s career experts. In recent weeks, he has shown the door to 47 members of the EPA’s respected Board of Scientific Counselors. For advice, he turns instead to ex-lobbyists, anti-environment politicians and industry figures themselves.

The Trump administration’s environmental policies need a housecleaning.

Scott Pruitt’s EPA has spun out of control

The Dallas Morning News

Scott Pruitt’s EPA has spun out of control

Written by Dallas Morning News Editorial

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt continues to wield an ax to Obama-era environmental regulations, a ham-fisted effort that could come back to haunt consumers and the industries he’s letting off the hook.

In less than four months, Pruitt, formerly Oklahoma’s climate-change-denying attorney general, has rejected, delayed or blocked more than 30 environmental rules. And to make matters worse, he’s done it with scant input from EPA career professionals and relied on political appointees, former lobbyists and industry officials to shape policy.

So much for environmental protection in the public interest. It is natural that different EPA administrators will have different priorities, but previous ones at least demonstrated a commitment to the agency’s core mission.

Not Pruitt. He’s eviscerating Barack Obama’s Clean Power Plan, a voluntary agreement to align states and industries behind a plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. Oil and gas companies are about to get a pass on plugging methane leaks from their wells, a blow against reducing greenhouse gases. Pruitt also has delayed compliance with a rule to prevent explosions and spills at chemical plants,  reversed a ban on the use of a pesticide that EPA scientists and doctors link to damage of children’s nervous systems, and wants to roll back Clean Waters authority over streams and small bodies of water.

A regulatory agency is supposed to be the cop on the beat and put its public protection mission ahead of corporate profits, ideological myths about climate change and expediency. When regulators allow an industry to go Wild West, people start getting hurt and corporations lose America’s trust. Corporations soon become vulnerable to criticism by activists, whether grounded in reality or not.  And when a disaster occurs, the predictable response is: Why didn’t regulators do their job?

Texas knows firsthand the hazards of lax regulation. The fertilizer explosion that virtually leveled the town of West in 2013 was ruled to have been intentionally set. Nonetheless, investigations cited numerous city, state and federal regulatory failures for contributing to the magnitude of the explosion and death toll.  Likewise, hydraulic fracturing became a flash-point issue both in Texas and in other states when gas industry bad actors paid too little regard to the environmental and societal concerns.

There is room for industry’s concern about the reasonableness of environmental regulations. No matter how well-intentioned, regulations trigger compliance costs. The answer is not Pruitt’s industry-friendly overcorrection.

The EPA, like other state and federal agencies, has had its share of regulatory failures. Nonetheless, Americans should expect that regulators will try to prevent dangerous excesses whenever possible.

The energy world has a big stake in sensible, strong dependable regulations that citizens can trust. The industry would be wise to not bask in these short-term “gains” and guide the EPA back to a more sustainable policy that recognizes that regulatory laxity is a recipe for corporate irresponsibility and eventually problems for all of us.

The lessons of  regulatory failures

Deepwater Horizon (2010): Offshore drilling companies in the Gulf of Mexico claimed they had adequate spill prevention and cleanup plans. They didn’t. Post-disaster reports showed that drillers cut corners and lax federal oversight and coziness with the industry insiders allowed those abuses to go unchecked. The entire industry faced delays and red tape in its wake.

West explosion (2013):  Although investigators ruled the ammonium nitrate explosion that virtually leveled the town West was intentionally set, other post-disaster reports indicated that numerous city, state and federal regulatory failures contributed to the magnitude of the disaster.

Fracking: Combine decades of mistrust of the oil industry with the refusal of natural gas and oil producers to go along with even the most benign regulations on fracking, such as disclosing the contents of chemicals used in the process, and grass-roots protests ensued. Now, the industry is banned from fracking in cities and regions across the country.

Amish farmers square off against Big Organic in milk battle

Washington Post Business

Amish farmers square off against Big Organic in milk battle

By Peter Whoriskey    July 5, 2017

KALONA, Iowa — This small town has become a landmark in the organic-farm movement, and it has nothing to do with foodies or hippies.

Instead it has been Amish farmers who, in their suspenders and wide-brimmed hats, have helped develop one of the densest clusters of organic farms in the United States. More than 90 operations certified by the Agriculture Department have emerged within a 10-mile radius, producing, among other things, corn, soybeans, eggs and, perhaps most important, milk.

“This is our living and our way of life,” said Eldon T. Miller, 71, an Amish dairy farmer here. A little over 20 years ago, Miller began holding informational meetings in his basement about organics, and the idea slowly spread across the area.

The question for small organic dairy farmers is how long they can hold out against growing competition from very big dairies producing large volumes of organic milk that, in the view of many here, does not deserve the label.

A glut of organic milk has sunk prices across the United States, threatening livelihoods and rekindling long-standing suspicions that some of the large organic dairies that have emerged are swamping the market with milk that does not meet organic standards. Over the years, some of these very large dairies, most of them in the West, have been cited for violating organic rules by the USDA or inspection agencies. To the chagrin of many here, most have been allowed to continue operating.

[How millions of cartons of ‘organic’ milk contain an oil brewed in industrial vats of algae]

Then, last month, The Washington Post reported that one of the nation’s largest dairy producers, Colorado-based Aurora Organic Dairy, a supplier to Walmart, Costco and Albertsons, appeared to fall short of organic grazing standards.

“Nobody’s real happy right now,” said James Swantz, an Amish father of eight who milks about 70 cows here. “We’d like to know what our milk check will be, and right now we can’t tell.”

Over the past year, the price of wholesale organic milk sold by Kalona farms has dropped by more than 33 percent. Some of their milk — as much as 15 percent of it — is being sold at the same price as regular milk or just dumped onto the ground, according to a local processor. Organic milk from other small farmers across the United States is also being dumped at similar rates, according to industry figures.

“At first, when the prices started falling, the guys here were just really mad,” said Phil Forbes, a liaison between the Amish farmers here and the company that buys their milk and sells it under a brand called Kalona SuperNatural, which can be found at Whole Foods and similar grocers. “But it’s been going on so long, they’re telling me, ‘I can’t keep going much longer at these prices.’ What kills me is the customers of those big brands think it’s something like a small Amish farmer who is producing the milk. But the reality is quite different.”

What makes milk ‘USDA Organic’?

The central issue in the debates over whether the mega-dairies are producing legitimately organic milk revolve around the concept of “grass-fed.”

Organic cows are supposed to be grass-fed during grazing season, and many consumers prefer grass-fed milk in the belief that grazing is more natural, is better for the cows and produces higher-quality milk. It is one of the reasons that people pay roughly double for milk with the “USDA Organic” label.

Organic dairies, on the other hand, have an incentive to skimp on grazing: A grass-fed cow produces less milk; keeping a cow in a feed lot eating grain boosts production. Adding to the suspicions about the industry, there is statistical evidence of a curiously large increase in the amount of milk each organic cow is producing.

Between 2008 and 2015, the number of organic cows in the United States rose from 202,000 to 229,000, a jump of about 13 percent. The amount of organic milk products, however, rose from 1.8 billion pounds to 2.4 billion pounds, a 35 percent jump, according to USDA statistics.

Why did the amount of organic milk rise almost three times as fast as the number of organic cows? Some of the increase in production is attributable to better practices, said Edward Maltby, chief of the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance. Some of it could be from the larger dairies reducing the amount of grazing to the very minimum required by the regulations.

“But the reason for such a large jump,” Maltby said, also has to do with “the increase in those mostly larger herds where the cows are fed in the barn instead of going out to pasture as the organic regulations require.”

Questions about enforcement

Another reason for skepticism about whether the milk from these large dairies is truly organic arises from the perception that enforcement of “USDA Organic” standards has been lax.

To manage enforcement, the USDA relies on inspection agencies hired by the farmers. The Cornucopia Institute, a Wisconsin-based watchdog group representing small farmers and consumers, has filed repeated complaints against some of the massive dairies out West. But even when violations are reported, punishments can be mild.

Ten years ago, for example, the USDA found “willful violations” of organic standards at Aurora because of, among other things, a lack of grazing. In 2008, an inspection agency found that the Rockview Farms operation in Nevada was violating the organic pasture requirement and suggested that related dairy records could have been falsified. In 2010, an inspection agency proposed suspension of a large Arizona dairy, known as Shamrock, for denying pasture to its herd.

In those three cases, however, the USDA did not fine the dairies for the violations of organic rules even though the agency has the power to do so.

These investigations all began with Cornucopia, not the USDA or the inspection agencies. “The USDA has shown a remarkable lack of interest in whether these big organic dairies are really organic,” said Mark Kastel of the Cornucopia Institute. “Most times, they don’t even investigate. And when they find a problem, there’s very little punishment, if any. It’s a gross betrayal of the spirit of the organic law.”

Many retailers, thus far, have continued to trust the “USDA Organic” seal on milk from the large mega-dairies. The Post reported last month that, based on visits to pastures and a chemical analysis of the milk, Aurora appears to be falling short of organic grazing requirements. In response, Aurora said it operates according to organic standards.

Reactions from the major retailers that use Aurora milk as their house-brand milk were varied. Walmart would not say whether it will continue to use Aurora’s organic milk.

Costco said it has “investigated” but will continue to use Aurora: “Costco Wholesale has discussed with Aurora and otherwise investigated recent media statements concerning Aurora,” John Sullivan, a company senior vice president and general counsel, wrote in an email. “Costco has satisfied itself that its continued reliance on the [National Organic Program] certification of Aurora’s organic milk remains appropriate.”

From Albertsons: “Aurora is a minority supplier to Albertsons for our O Organic brand today and we will continue to ensure through our agreement with [inspection agency Quality Assurance International] that they are compliant with all Organic standards.”

The USDA said it is reviewing the information provided in The Post’s reporting, but others said the agency ought to be doing more enforcement. “The USDA ought to have boots on the ground at Aurora,” said Richard Mathews, former assistant deputy of the USDA office that oversees the organic program and other efforts. “But they don’t. They should be looking at farmers. They should be looking at certifiers. If they’re not doing that, they’re not doing it right.”

Bigger herds need bigger pastures

While consumers might picture organic milk coming from a small family farm, the reality is often quite different.

Much of that milk is being produced by huge dairies with thousands of cows, including a few with herds of more than 10,000 animals. By contrast, the average herd at an organic dairy is about 100 cows, and in Kalona the herd sizes are even smaller. The large dairies are staffed by employees rather than family members.

The difference between the mega-dairies and the typical organic dairy is not just a matter of scale. Most of the large, new dairies have emerged in Western states — Colorado, Texas, Arizona and New Mexico — where the weather is drier and pasture is harder to grow, but where the land is cheaper.

But it is the vast scale of the mega-dairies out West that raises suspicions around Kalona.

The larger the herd, the more pasture is required to feed it. But at a certain point, the acreage needed to feed a herd grows so large that it’s impractical to expect a cow to walk all the way to the pasture’s outer edges to graze and then back to the barn, typically twice day, to get milked. Some farms do have multiple milking facilities.

[The surprising number of American adults who think chocolate milk comes from brown cows]

“We know with that high concentration of cows that it’s impossible to meet the grazing rule,” Swantz said. “They’re not organic. No way.”

During a break driving a steel-wheeled tractor over his fields, Amish farmer Glen Mast asked, “Fifteen thousand cows out there, and that’s certified organic?”

“The cows would go hungry looking for grass,” Miller said, asserting that the Iowa pasture is better than any out West. “Those cows probably get as much cactus as grass.”

The Kalona farmers say the organic movement dovetails with Amish ideals. The higher prices on organic products allow their small farms to turn a profit, allowing community members to stay on the farm and away from town. (Their tractors have steel wheels to lessen the temptation to head off the farm, too.) And some said they had harbored doubts about the health effects of the chemicals they had used on their fields before going organic.

“The Amish are more inclined to doing things naturally,” Mast said as his oldest son worked a tractor. Mast, 38, has seven children, ages 1 to 14. “We have large families, and we have a close connection to the soil.”

But critical to the future of organic dairy, several here said, is for the USDA and the inspection agencies to enforce the organic rules on the large players in the industry.

“The little guy is getting hurt here,” said Bill Evans, who shares ownership with a trust of Amish farmers of the processing company behind the Kalona SuperNatural brand. “The USDA really needs to apply the rules. Otherwise, it’s not a fair game.”

Peter Whoriskey is a staff writer for The Washington Post handling projects in business, healthcare and health. You can email him at:   peter.whoriskey@washpost.com

Volvo to go all electric with new models from 2019

Reuters

Geely’s Volvo to go all electric with new models from 2019

By Niklas Pollard, Reuters       July 5, 2017 

STOCKHOLM (Reuters) – All Volvo car models launched after 2019 will be electric or hybrids, the Chinese-owned company said on Wednesday, making it the first major traditional automaker to set a date for phasing out vehicles powered solely by the internal combustion engine.

The Sweden-based company will continue to produce pure combustion-engine Volvos from models launched before that date, but its move signals the eventual end of nearly a century of Volvos powered solely that way.

While electric and hybrid vehicles are still only a small fraction of new cars sales, they are gaining ground at the premium end of the market, where Volvo operates and where Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors has been a pure-play battery carmaker from day one. As technology improves and prices fall, many in the industry expect mass-market adoption to follow.

“This announcement marks the end of the solely combustion engine-powered car,” Volvo Cars CEO Hakan Samuelsson said.

The company, owned by Zhejiang Geely Holding Group, said five new models set to be launched in 2019 through 2021 – three of them Volvos and two Polestar-branded – would all be fully electric.

“These five cars will be supplemented by a range of petrol and diesel plug in hybrid and mild hybrid 48-volt options on all models,” Volvo said. “This means that there will in future be no Volvo cars without an electric motor.”

The electric models will be produced at Volvo plants world-wide – it has factories in Europe and China and is building one in the United States – while development costs will be met from within its existing budget, Samuelsson told Reuters.

“This also means we won’t be doing other things. We of course will not be developing completely new generations of combustion engines,” he said about future investment needs.

Volvo has invested heavily in new models and plants since being bought by Geely from Ford in 2010, establishing a niche in a premium auto market dominated by larger rivals such as Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz and BMW.

Part of its strategy has also been to embrace emerging technologies that allow higher performance electric vehicles as well as, eventually, self-driving cars.

Only last month, Volvo said it would reshape its Polestar business into a standalone brand, focused on high-performance electric cars aimed at competing with Tesla and the Mercedes AMG division.

Volvo has also said it will build its first fully electric car in China based on its architecture for smaller cars which will be available for sale in 2019 and exported globally.

Still, Volvo is not alone among traditional carmakers in pushing strongly into electrics and plug-ins – or among premium brands in resorting to 48V mild hybrid systems to lower fuel consumption and CO2 emissions from their combustion-engine cars.

Among them, BMW plans to introduce an electric version of its popular 3 series in September to meet the challenge from Tesla, Handelsblatt reported last month.

Volvo has also taken steps towards an eventual listing, raising 5 billion crowns from Swedish institutional investors through the sale of newly issued preference shares last year, though the company has said no decision on an IPO has been made.

“It is still an option and a question for our owner,” Samuelsson said.

(Additional reporting by Laurence Frost; Editing by David Evans and Mark Potter)

DC appeals court orders EPA to move ahead with methane rule

Associated Press

DC appeals court orders EPA to move ahead with methane rule

Michael Biesecker, Associated Press     July 3, 2017

WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal appeals court in Washington ruled Monday that the head of the Environmental Protection Agency overstepped his authority in trying to delay implementation of an Obama administration rule requiring oil and gas companies to monitor and reduce methane leaks.

In a split decision, the three-judge panel from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ordered the EPA to move forward with the new requirement that aims to reduce planet-warming emissions from oil and gas operations.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced in April that he would delay by 90 days the deadline for oil and gas companies to follow the new rule, so that the agency could reconsider the measure. The American Petroleum Institute, the Texas Oil and Gas Association and other industry groups had petitioned Pruitt to scrap the requirement, which had been set to take effect in June.

Last month, Pruitt announced he intended to extend the 90-day stay for two years. A coalition of six environmental groups opposed the delay in court, urging the appeals judges to block Pruitt’s decision.

In a detailed 31-page ruling, the court disagreed with Pruitt’s contention that industry groups had not had sufficient opportunity to comment before the 2016 rule was enacted. The judges also said Pruitt lacked the legal authority to delay the rule from taking effect.

“This ruling declares EPA’s action illegal — and slams the brakes on Trump Administration’s brazen efforts to put the interests of corporate polluters ahead of protecting the public and the environment,” said David Doniger, director of climate and clean air program for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

EPA spokeswoman Amy Graham said the agency was reviewing the court’s opinion and examining its options. The EPA could seek to appeal the matter to the Supreme Court.

Natural gas is largely made up of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that traps dozens of times more heat in the planet’s atmosphere than the same amount of carbon dioxide. Environmental groups contend that actual methane emissions from leaks and intentional venting at fossil-fuel operations are many times greater than what is now publicly reported.

Oil and gas companies say they were already working to reduce methane emissions and that complying with the new rules would make many low-production wells unprofitable.

Pruitt has repeatedly moved in recent months to block or delay environmental regulations opposed by corporate interests.

Prior to his appointment by President Donald Trump to serve as the nation’s chief environmental regulator, Pruitt was attorney general of Oklahoma and closely aligned with the state’s oil and gas industry. In recent weeks, Pruitt has moved to scrap or delay numerous EPA regulations enacted during the Obama administration to curb air and water pollution from fossil fuel operations.

EPA chief pushing government wide effort to question climate change science

Washington Post Energy & Environment

EPA chief pushing government wide effort to question climate change science

By Brady Dennis, Juliet Eilperin      July 1, 2017

The Trump administration is debating whether to launch a government wide effort to question the science of climate change, an effort that critics say is an attempt to undermine the long-established consensus human activity is fueling the Earth’s rising temperatures.

The move, driven by Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, has sparked a debate among top Trump administration officials over whether to pursue such a strategy.

A senior White House official, who asked for anonymity because no final decision has been made, said that while Pruitt has expressed interest in the idea, “there are no formal plans within the administration to do anything about it at this time.”

Pruitt first publicly raised the idea of setting up a “red team-blue team” effort to conduct exercises to test the idea that human activity is the main driver of recent climate change in an interview with Breitbart in early June.

“What the American people deserve, I think, is a true, legitimate, peer-reviewed, objective, transparent discussion about CO2,” Pruitt said in an interview with Breitbart’s Joel Pollack.

But officials are discussing whether the initiative would stretch across numerous federal agencies that rely on such science, according to multiple Trump administration officials, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because no formal announcement has been made.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry, who once described the science behind human-caused climate change as a “contrived phony mess,” also is involved in the effort, two officials said.

At a White House briefing this week, Perry said, “The people who say the science is settled, it’s done — if you don’t believe that you’re a skeptic, a Luddite. I don’t buy that. I don’t think there is — I mean, this is America. Have a conversation. Let’s come out of the shadows of hiding behind your political statements and let’s talk about it. What’s wrong with that? And I’m full well — I can be convinced, but let’s talk about it.”

The idea, according to one senior administration official, is “to get other federal agencies involved in this exercise on the state of climate science” to examine “what we know, where there are holes, and what we actually don’t know.”

Other agencies could include the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy and NASA, according to the official, all of which conduct climate research in some capacity.

EPA officials on Friday declined to comment, and DOE could not immediately be reached for comment.

A plethora of scientific assessments over the years have concluded that human activity — such as the burning of fossil fuels — is driving climate change, and it poses grave risks to the environment and to human health. In its most recent report, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that it is “extremely likely” that, since the 1950s, humans and their greenhouse gas emissions have been the “dominant cause” of the planet’s warming trend.

But that conclusion, shared by the vast majority of experts in the United States and around the world, has done little to stop Pruitt, Perry and other administration officials from raising doubts.

The head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, says he is not convinced carbon dioxide from human activity is the main driver of climate change and wants Congress to weigh in on whether CO2 should be regulated.

The idea of a “red-team blue-team” exercise stems in part from a Wall Street Journal commentary by New York University professor Steven Koonin. E&E News on Friday reported that Pruitt intended to formalize the “red team, blue team” effort to challenge mainstream climate science. But should Perry and other agency leaders join the effort, the move would embed the Trump administration’s approach to climate science across the government in a very public way.

Kelly Levin, a senior associate with the World Resources Institute’s major emerging economies objective, wrote in a blog post last month that the kind of adversarial process Pruitt is advocating is better suited for policy debates than for scientific findings. Scientific arguments, she wrote, are mediated through a peer-review process in which experts in the same field evaluate one another’s work.

“Scientific understanding, unlike proposals for what to do about a given problem, is well established through the scientific method,” wrote Levin, noting that 97 percent of peer-reviewed papers on climate change support the idea that humans play a contributing factor. “If skeptics want their voices heard in scientific discourse, they should try to get their findings published in the peer-reviewed literature. They would then be assessed on their merits through peer review.”

Some members of EPA’s scientific rank-and-file, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal, questioned Pruitt’s plan.

“It’s an obvious attempt to cast doubt on climate science under the guise of a common sense-sounding process,” said one EPA employee who focuses on climate issues. “But of course, we already have a process for scrutiny of the science — the peer review process is a much more robust assessment of scientific integrity than a childish color war.”

The employee called the effort “incredibly insulting” and said the red team-blue team idea “is a weaker process than we already have in place for peer review and scientific assessment.”

The efforts to question the existing science on climate change has raised questions within the government and among industry officials about whether Pruitt intends to try to roll back the EPA’s 2009 “endangerment finding,” which determined that greenhouse gases posed a risk to public health and created the basis for Obama-era regulations on emissions from power plants, automobiles and other sources.

Two people with knowledge of the “red-team blue-team” undertaking — one inside the Trump administration and one lobbyist — said its purpose was not explicitly to help target the agency’s 2009 finding that emissions of greenhouse gases linked to climate change constitute as pollutants under the Clean Air Act, though that idea is still under discussion among administration officials

President Trump questioned the link between human activity multiple times during the 2016 campaign, though he has not addressed the issue directly since his inauguration. In his most recent remarks, in an interview with “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace in December, Trump said that “nobody really knows” if climate change is real.

After the president announced a month ago that the U.S. would be withdrawing from the 2015 Paris climate agreement, multiple reporters have asked White House officials to clarify the president’s views on climate science. But they have declined to do so.

Pruitt’s EPA also took down an agency website in late April that was focused on climate change and highlighted the scientific consensus that it is caused by humans.

Steven Mufson contributed to this report.

Brady Dennis is a national reporter for The Washington Post, focusing on the environment and public health issues.

Juliet Eilperin is The Washington Post’s senior national affairs correspondent, covering how the new administration is transforming a range of U.S. policies and the federal government itself. She is the author of two books—one on sharks, and another on Congress, not to be confused with each other—and has worked for the Post since 1998.

Seattle Times

EPA chief works closely with industry, not environmentalists

Coral Davenport, The New York Times    July 1, 2017  

WASHINGTON — In the four months since he took office as the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) administrator, Scott Pruitt has moved to undo, delay or otherwise block more than 30 environmental rules, a regulatory rollback larger in scope than any other over so short a time in the agency’s 47-year history, according to experts in environmental law.

Pruitt’s supporters, including President Donald Trump, have hailed his moves as an uprooting of the administrative state and a clearing of onerous regulations that have stymied U.S. business. Environmental advocates have watched in horror as Pruitt has worked to disable the authority of the agency charged with protecting the nation’s air, water and public health.

But both sides agree: While much of Trump’s policy agenda is mired in legal and legislative delays, hampered by poor execution and overshadowed by the Russia investigations, the EPA is acting. Pruitt, a former Oklahoma attorney general who built a career out of suing the agency he now leads, is moving effectively to dismantle the regulations and international agreements that stood as a cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s legacy.

“Just the number of environmental rollbacks in this time frame is astounding,” said Richard Lazarus, a professor of environmental law at Harvard. “Pruitt has come in with a real mission. He is much more organized, much more focused than the other Cabinet-level officials, who have not really taken charge of their agencies.”

Since February, Pruitt has filed a proposal of intent to undo or weaken Obama’s climate-change regulations, known as the Clean Power Plan. In late June, he filed a legal plan to repeal an Obama-era rule curbing pollution in the nation’s waterways. He delayed a rule that would require fossil-fuel companies to rein in leaks of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, from oil and gas wells. He delayed the date by which companies must comply with a rule to prevent explosions and spills at chemical plants. And he reversed a ban on the use of a pesticide that the EPA’s scientists have said is linked to damage of children’s nervous systems.

In a sign of Pruitt’s influence in the White House and the high regard in which Trump holds him, he will take a leading role in devising the legal path to withdraw from the 194-nation Paris agreement on climate change, a job that would typically fall to lawyers at the State Department.

He is doing all this largely without the input of the 15,000 career employees at the agency he heads, according to interviews with more than 20 current and former EPA senior career staff members.

“I have been consistently informed by multiple career people at EPA that Administrator Pruitt is not meeting with them before making decisions like rolling back these major regulations,” said James J. Jones, who had worked at the agency since the Reagan administration before retiring in January. Jones, an expert in chemical and pesticide pollution, was appointed by Obama as the EPA’s assistant administrator for chemical safety in his final years at the agency.

Instead, Pruitt has outsourced crucial work to a network of lawyers, lobbyists and other allies, especially Republican state attorneys general, a network he worked with closely as the head of the Republican Attorneys General Association. Since 2013, the group has collected $4.2 million from fossil fuel-related companies like Exxon Mobil, Koch Industries, Murray Energy and Southern Co., businesses that also worked closely with Pruitt in many of the 14 lawsuits he had filed against the EPA.

Within the agency, Pruitt relies on the counsel of a small network of political appointees, including a number of former lobbyists and senior industry officials. For example, he tapped Nancy Beck, previously a policy director for the American Chemistry Council, which lobbies on behalf of companies such as Dow and DuPont, to oversee the EPA office charged with enforcing regulations on hazardous chemicals.

“It amounts to a corporate takeover of the agency, in its decision- and policy making functions,” said Robert Weissman, president of Public Citizen, a government watchdog group.

Pruitt, 49, sees himself as a champion of states’ rights, pressing to diminish the intrusive authority of an overbearing federal agency. Hanging near the fireplace on the wood-paneled walls of his office is a portrait of President James Monroe, who opposed ratifying the Constitution because he said it gave too much power to the federal government.

Pruitt pushed that message in his first speech to the agency’s staff. “Congress has been very prescriptive in providing, in many instances, a very robust role, an important role of the states,” he said. He did not mention public health or climate change.

Since then, Pruitt has begun what he calls his “back to basics” agenda for the EPA, one he has described to multiple people as an effort to rein in the regulatory efforts of the Obama era, which focused on invisible greenhouse gases from tailpipes and smokestacks. Instead, Pruitt has said, he wants to focus on “tangible” pollution — for example, the Superfund program, which cleans up hazardous waste at old industrial sites.

“I am making it a priority to ensure contaminated sites get cleaned up,” he said. “We will be more hands-on.” (His proposed budget for 2018, however, would cut the Superfund program by about 25 percent.)

Attorney General Ken Paxton of Texas, who worked closely with Pruitt when he was Oklahoma’s attorney general to sue the EPA, said he was pleased that Pruitt’s new job hadn’t changed him. On March 1, Paxton met with Pruitt to request that the agency withdraw a rule requiring energy companies to collect data on emissions of methane from oil and gas wells. Paxton delivered the letter with the signatures of 11 attorneys general, laying out the case for walking back the rule.

“I personally handed him the letter, and the next day the rule was personally withdrawn,” Paxton said.

Meanwhile, the agency’s career scientists and legal experts say they have been largely cut out of the process. Senior staff members with decades of experience in environmental law and science said they had been consulted rarely on the agency’s major decisions to undo environmental protections.

Pruitt’s main source of counsel on industry regulations appears to be the industries he regulates. An excerpt from his calendar for Feb. 21 to March 31, acquired through the Freedom of Information Act by the energy trade publication E & E News, details multiple meetings with chief executives and lobbyists from oil, gas, chemical, agribusiness and other industries regulated by the EPA, as well as with Pruitt’s personally appointed political staff — but few meetings with career employees or environmental groups.

Leaders of at least three major environmental and public-health groups — the Audubon Society, the Nature Conservancy and the American Lung Association — have had meetings with Pruitt, they said. EPA officials said he had also met with advocacy groups such as the American Public Health Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the March of Dimes, the National Medical Association, the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of American, and the National Environmental Health Association.

But the influence of those groups, which have pushed to retain environmental rules, appears to be outweighed by the counsel of industry groups.

Reuters Science

Germany produced record 35 percent of power from renewables in first half

Reuters    July 1, 2017

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany raised the proportion of its power produced by renewable energy to 35 percent in the first half of 2017 from 33 percent the previous year, according to the BEE renewable energy association.

Germany is aiming to phase out its nuclear power plants by 2022. Its renewable energy has been rising steadily over the last two decades thanks in part to the Renewable Energy Act (EEG) which was reformed this year to cut renewable energy costs for consumers.

Germany has been getting up to 85 percent of its electricity from renewable sources on certain sunny, windy days this year.

The BEE reported on Sunday the overall share of wind, hydro and solar power in the country’s electricity mix climbed to a record 35 percent in the first half.

The government has pledged to move to a decarbonized economy by the middle of the century and has set a target of 80 percent renewables for gross power consumption by 2050.

It aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 40 percent in 2020 from 1990 levels and 95 percent by 2050.

(Reporting by Markus Wacket; writing by Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

Truthout

The Planet Is in Our Hands: Countering Trump’s Climate Crimes

Curtis Johnson, Truthout Op-Ed      July 01, 2017

In light of the tremendous stakes of the climate crisis for the future of life on Earth, Donald Trump’s decision to pull the US out of the Paris climate accord was a monstrous act. It came after previous acts by the regime to gut climate and other environmental protections, undermine the Endangered Species Act and protections for wildlife, open public lands and the oceans to further exploitation of fossil fuels, put science-deniers who are hostile to protecting the environment and the public in charge of key government environmental positions, suppress climate research and scrub climate change information from government websites.

Taken together, Trump’s order to dismantle the Clean Power Plan, which would have cut emissions from US power plants, and his Paris decision mean that instead of US greenhouse gas emissions falling, they will likely remain at the level they are, or even rise. The result? Worsening an already growing climate cataclysm. Trump’s actions are predicted by scientists to make it that much more difficult to prevent the world from breaching temperature limits needed to prevent dangerous climate change. The longer that deep cuts in emissions are avoided, the more serious the damage will be, and the less likely climate disaster can be prevented.

Trump’s decision may also mean that other countries are less likely to meet their Paris goals, despite statements from some that they remain committed to the accord.

Given these impacts, Trump’s decisions on climate and the environment should be called what they are: crimes against the planet, against life and against human beings.

“America First” — the Planet and People Be Damned

Trump justified his decision in the most selfish and chauvinist of terms:

This agreement is less about the climate and more about other countries gaining a financial advantage over the United States. The rest of the world applauded when we signed the Paris Agreement — they went wild; they were so happy — for the simple reason that it put our country, the United States of America, which we all love, at a very, very big economic disadvantage.

He went on to claim that the Paris accord would have meant massive loss of jobs and shuttering of coal plants in the US, while other countries like China and India expanded their own, and other unacceptable economic losses. Trump thinly lied that he wants to renegotiate the agreement to make it “more fair” to the US and that the US would remain “the world’s leader on environmental issues.”

Firstly, it must be said, there is no country on the Earth more responsible for climate change and its depredations on species and humans than the US. The US is today the second largest contributor to greenhouse emissions. China now produces more greenhouse gases than the US, but US emissions per person are more than those in China and India combined. This doesn’t even include the fact that much production in China and India contributing to emissions is done for the international market, essentially for the benefit of the wealthier countries.

Additionally, the US is far in the lead of any other country in producing the largest portion of greenhouse emissions over time that have built up. It’s responsible for fully 20 percent of the carbon emissions in the atmosphere. But Trump and his people don’t care anything about this. They don’t care about what damage has been and is being done, or the responsibility of the US to alleviate the destruction for which it is responsible. In fact, as part of this decision, Trump said he would stop US contributions to the Green Climate Fund, the UN-sponsored program to assist poorer countries to develop by investing in cleaner energy technologies. Instead, Trump says all that matters is what is an “advantage for America.” So, in essence, what damage the US emissions have already caused, and what happens going forward to the rest of humanity or the species of the planet, are of no consequence. That’s not acceptable.

Some critics of Trump say the decision to pull from the accord “will only hurt the US” and its standing in the world, and so the US should stay in for this reason. But people in this country should not identify their own interests as the same as those who hold power in this country, which are in fact opposed to the interests of the majority of people here and throughout the world.

Further, Trump completely misunderstands (or is just trying to cover up) that the Paris accords and goals for each country were set by each country on a voluntary basis. Whether and how they are met is also completely voluntary. Some call this the “beauty” of the agreement, but it is actually one of the big problems with the accord, because all of these countries are only making steps they precisely think won’t harm their own “economic and national interests” too much, whether the planet can stand it or not.

So, under this voluntary agreement, there was no forced shuttering of factories or job losses by any country on any other country, including on the US. This is entirely false and meant to create a dangerous and vengeful “we’re the victim” narrative. And let’s be truthful; Trump does not care about the lives of coal miners. And it is not other countries that are eliminating coal jobs, but the workings of the capitalist market itself (of which Trump is a personification), principally the outcompeting of coal by natural gas production — yet another destructive fossil fuel. Trump’s figures for his “argument,” like most everything else from this president, are just falsehoods. In this case, they are based on cherry-picking worst-case scenarios from studies commissioned by a group known as the American Council for Capital Formation, which is composed of some of the largest fossil fuel and other pro-business interests. (Point by point fact-checking and refutations on Trump’s justifications have been done elsewhere; one of the best is here.)

Further, any country or leader who can only promise jobs for people (like increasing coal mining jobs) that would contribute further to the destruction of the natural world that all species and humans need to survive and thrive is entirely illegitimate.

A very important point that needs to be made in all of this is that Trump’s Paris decision is not just a big “screw you” to the planet and the people worldwide, it is also a further “doubling down” on attempts to consolidate a fascist form of government. It doesn’t stand alone, and can’t be understood correctly apart from the moves by this regime and its allies on every level to silence the press, to attack the rule of law, to attack protest and democratic rights, enforce a vicious white supremacy and misogyny, unleash vile deportations and hatred toward immigrants, and threaten the world, even former allies under the signboard of “America First.”

It’s a further attempt to coalesce an unthinking, anti-scientific, anti-evidence, “post-truth” and vicious ethos as the ruling norm, where reason, concern for others (besides white Americans) and critical thinking are seen as weak, and worthy of not just disdain, but destruction. Trump’s Paris decision came in the same week that white supremacist, brown-shirt types wielding knives on both coasts targeted people of color and then killed them or others who stood up for them. Trump’s Paris decision resonated with these types of fascist elements throughout our society.

Trump’s portrayal of a victimized US that has been taken advantage of by the rest of the world and is now being laughed at is chillingly reminiscent of Hitler’s constant assertions that Germany had been betrayed — “stabbed in the back” by foreign enemies and abetted by domestic ones. Let’s not forget how this was a key way the Nazis galvanized the population to unthinking obedience, and to lay down their lives in committing the most atrocious crimes against others. We cannot allow this to be repeated.

All of this raises further the need for mass repudiation, denunciation and resolute resistance to stop Trump and this whole fascist regime, and to force them out before they can do further untold damage.

The Climate Stakes

A November 2016 report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) predicted that if all countries meet their current Paris goals, (including those by the US), the result would still be a 3 degree Celsius temperature rise. So, what is needed is emissions cuts not just meeting the Paris goals, but cuts that would actually prevent temperatures from exceeding a 1.5-degree Celsius rise — a level we are already dangerously close to. This planetary need demands an emergency footing.

Obama set as an aspirational goal for the Paris accord, a US 26-28 percent cut in emissions below 2005 levels by 2025. According to Climate Action Tracker, the US, even with Obama’s policies fully realized, was on track to cut emissions only 10 percent by 2025.

But now even these small cuts that fall far short of the declared US Paris goal, (which wouldn’t cut emissions enough), are being tossed aside by the Trump regime. Trump’s decision to pull out of Paris, to seek to do away with any restrictions on burning of fossil fuels at a time when the necessity of protecting life and people is immediate, makes this president and all his cronies that support this entirely illegitimate and a tremendous danger to the future.

What are the stakes if global temperatures are not kept below the 2-degree Celsius aspirational goal of Paris? Increases beyond this would make it much more likely that the Arctic, Greenland and parts of the Antarctic ice caps, as well as glaciers worldwide — already rapidly melting — will be locked into a death spiral. This could rapidly escalate the release of methane and carbon locked in permafrost and in frozen ocean hydrates, which are already releasing greenhouse emissions with just the approximately 1 degree Celsius warming that has already occurred.

The vast impacts of this — from further transforming the planet’s weather patterns and its climate system, to undermining key planetary ecosystems that sustain life, to sea level rise, to spreading drought and more damaging storms, and to increasing conflict, wars and mass forced migrations (especially impacting the poorest people on the planet) — can only be called catastrophic. When looked at in interaction with extinction of species, transformations of the world’s oceans, the death of coral reefs, habitat destruction and many other related building threats to world ecosystems, it’s clear that such a scenario must be prevented to sustain a livable planet.

Stopping Trump’s Regime, Saving the Planet

Some commentators are arguing that since the EU and other countries are vowing to uphold the Paris accord and meet their climate goals, and that a number of governors and mayors in the US have also said they intend to follow through on cutting emissions in line with original US proposals, that Trump’s decision may not be too harmful. And that because of changes in the viability and lowered cost of new sustainable energy technologies, Trump’s aim to stick with and even expand fossil fuel production is destined to fall by the wayside. This line of thinking says, in effect, that the destructiveness of everything this regime is trying to do (and not do) on climate will just be pushed aside by the sweep of history. I believe this is mistaken and would steer people away from seeing the seriousness of this decision and the need to resist it.

It’s true that wind, solar power and other new sustainable energy technologies are spreading and taking hold in ways not seen previously with the ordinary workings of things. Also, that states or cities actually significantly cutting emissions would be a positive thing. But a much more drastic and rapid transformation of the world’s energy system — a more or less immediate decision to stop extractions of the dirtiest of fossil fuels and an overall plan for rapid elimination of fossil fuel use in general and a switch to general use of sustainable technologies — is really what’s required, given the emergency state of the climate crisis.

This is what’s needed now — not piecemeal or moderate cuts in line with profitability for large capitalist interests. This will not occur by hoping for “the adults in the room” in government to do the right thing, waiting for the next election or by identifying what is needed as what is in line with “US economic interests.” This can only occur by people in the US joining with people around the world — standing up, rising up to save life on our planet, taking the future into our hands. This starts with stopping Trump and his whole administration from carrying out their dangerous direction on this and every front.

Curtis Johnson is a research scientist and freelance writer who has reported on the Gulf oil spill, the Fukushima nuclear disaster, the extinction crisis and the climate crisis, as well as other environmental topics.

What Republicans in Dallas can teach us about saving the planet…Just don’t call it ‘climate change’

Business Insider-Undividing America

Just don’t call it ‘climate change’

What Republicans in Dallas can teach us about saving the planet

By Rebecca Harrington   June 29, 2017

DALLAS — It was the afternoon before Earth Day in April when an imposing Republican stood up and declared war.

John Walsh III had spent the past half-hour sitting in the front row listening to former Democratic presidential candidate Wesley Clark, who happens to be a retired four-star general, try to convince the crowd that climate change is a national-security issue.

Then Walsh took the microphone.

“This is a war, and we need to treat it like one,” he said. “I’m on the other side of the aisle from you politically, but I’m right in the trench with you on this issue.”

It was already a day of contrasts. A conservative had organized this Earth Day celebration. It attracted 100,000 people to Texas’ state fairgrounds, including climate researchers from elite universities as far away as New York City, oil-company executives, and families.

In this polarized political environment, and at a time when many of the people running the government won’t acknowledge the reality of climate change, this sounds like a remarkable moment of common ground. But 1,300 miles from Washington, DC, this kind of agreement is commonplace.

Sixty-eight percent of Americans accept the overwhelming scientific consensus that our climate is changing, and most say they worry about it. But Texas shows it’s when we talk about it that things seem to fall apart.

Take away the charged language and start talking about clean water, clean air, and clean soil, and there’s a lot of agreement. And a lot of opportunity.

You can find consensus in the war against climate change — as long as you don’t call it “climate change.”

Tree huggers

Walsh never had one specific moment when he accepted that the climate was changing.

His father taught him to respect the land growing up. And as a Christian, he learned to be a good steward of God’s Earth.

He’s the CEO and founder of a real-estate firm headquartered in Frisco, Texas. And he’s been a tree hugger for decades.

In 1984, Walsh’s company, TIG, was starting to put up some high-end office buildings in Carrollton, Texas. The site had many old-growth trees, but instead of bulldozing them wholesale, as most developers would, he decided they were worth saving.

On signs in front of each tree, he wrote a message: “It took God 50 years to put this tree here. Don’t even think about moving it.”

Walsh personally signed each message so the workers would know who they’d have to answer to if they cut a tree down. By keeping all the trees, TIG actually ended up saving money on energy and new plantings. Walsh says it’s logical arguments like that people need to hear if everyone is going to get on-board to fight climate change. Wear your jeans three days instead of one, he recommended, and you’d be surprised how much energy, resources, and money you can save.

It’s a modern day echo of Teddy Roosevelt-style Republicanism.

To Walsh and others in the movement, environmentalism has always been a conservative idea. They say Democrats stole the mantle.

“To conserve is conservative,” Earth Day Texas founder and Republican Trammell S. Crow said in March, when he visited Business Insider’s offices to try to persuade New York journalists to come to Earth Day Texas.

Ryan Sitton, the Texas Railroad Commissioner, agrees. An engineer by training, he was elected to the post overseeing the state’s agency regulating the oil and gas industry (much to Sitton’s chagrin, the job has nothing to do with railroads).

What Sitton finds most challenging is that because everything is so polarized these days, there’s no dialogue.

“Yes, I’m a Republican. I’m also a huge environmentalist,” he says.

“Parties are black and white. ‘Oh, Republicans are the party of the economy and jobs, and Democrats are the party of the environment.’ Yet all of us in this nation want a good economy, we all want good jobs, and we all want to protect our environment for future generations,” he told a crowd of two-dozen constituents at a town-hall-style talk. “None of those are partisan issues.”

A new message

If you want to understand how so many conservatives these days can be pro-environment and still deny climate change, meet Paul Braswell. He’s a chemist turned computer consultant who raises Texas longhorns. And he’s on the executive committee for the Republican Party of Texas.

He says there’s a common misconception that farmers and Republican landowners are all for using resources at the expense of the environment. They’re “good stewards,” he said.

He wants to protect the land. But ask him about climate change and his tone changes.

“They’re fudging their data,” he said of climate scientists. “There are flaws in their global-warming theory. And instead of adjusting their hypothesis, they’re adjusting their data.”

Braswell says that he’s more conservative than most Republicans in Texas. But his line of thinking echoes that of EPA Chief Scott Pruitt and President Trump. And it sounds a lot like what the president used as his justification for pulling the US out of the global Paris climate agreement.

Braswell is a scientist himself, of course, and when you talk with him, he’s just as likely to start talking about Einstein’s theory of relativity, or how farmers can use better chemicals for the earth.

“To conserve is conservative.”

Trammell S. Crow

That’s partly why, for all he does personally to protect the environment on a small scale — buying a fuel-efficient truck and limiting the use of insecticides on his land — he doesn’t believe climate change is happening. He says humans couldn’t possibly cause that much warming, and if it is getting hotter, the earth will fix itself.

Scientists leading the fight against climate change see people like Braswell as a missed opportunity.

“Climate scientists failed to relate what we know to the public,” Peter de Menocal, a renowned climate scientist at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, told Business Insider.

“There’s a big, angry mob out there. Those are very real feelings. I respect that. All I can do is tell people what I know about how the climate is changing.”

Food, water, shelter, energy

Until recently, when experts tried to convince Americans to care about climate change, they’d often show them a chart of the Keeling Curve, which visualizes carbon levels in the atmosphere, in parts per million, measured from ice cores before 1958, and from the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii thereafter.

Over hundreds of thousands of years, the climate has gone up and down in a fairly consistent cycle, and then at the very end, it’s like a hockey stick: the amount of carbon in the atmosphere skyrockets.

It’s compelling to look at, but for many, it’s too abstract.

Former President Barack Obama can call climate change the greatest threat facing humanity, but if you can’t see it in your own life, it’s hard to really care.

That’s why at a Columbia University event at Earth Day Texas, de Menocal said when he’s trying to convince people to take climate action, he’s started referencing tangible things everyone can get behind. These are humanity’s basic needs: food, water, shelter, and energy.

In a sign of burgeoning common ground, at the town hall the next morning, Sitton was making the case that Texas could help developing nations climb out of poverty by showing them how to regulate their natural resources.

“When you look around the world and you say, what is the No. 1 thing when you talk about the basic elements of society — shelter, food, and water are the first three. When you look at society’s needs, energy is a huge component of that.”

This line is breaking through the partisanship in a way that talk of warming has not.

“The best way to communicate with those minds-made-up climate deniers is not to talk about climate change but air quality,” Crow said. Improving food, water, shelter and energy also help reduce the amount of carbon emitted, and global warming.

“Temperature can take care of itself if you deal with air quality. That’s a public-health issue; that’s not an argument. Everybody believes in that.”

A 2016 Pew survey found that 48% of Americans believed that the Earth was warming because of human activity, a belief that 69% of Democrats and 23% of Republicans share.

But concern is growing. A March 2017 Gallup poll found that 45% of Americans worried “a great deal” about global warming and 68% believed humans were causing it.

And three-quarters of Americans said in an Earth Day Pew survey that they were particularly concerned about protecting the environment, and 83% said they try to live in ways to help protect it all or some of the time in their daily lives.

So there is common ground. Now what can be done about it?

Smokestacks to carbon tax

Braswell remembers growing up on the Texas panhandle, when his dad worked at a factory that made carbon black, which went into black paint and tires. The smoke stacks spit out so much pollution that the white-faced cattle turned black.

As he got older the plant installed scrubbers and filters to clean up the air. The cows returned to their normal color.

We have made progress since Rachel Carson sparked the environmental movement with “Silent Spring ” in 1962, and we can keep capitalizing on that momentum.

If you listen closely, the next logical step in this climate war we’re waging is clear to liberal environmentalists — and to a growing number of Republicans.

Several conservatives, including former Secretaries of State James A. Baker III and George P. Shultz, have put forth a plan for a carbon tax.

And as a local organizer for the nonpartisan Citizen’s Climate Lobby told Business Insider at the group’s booth at Earth Day Texas, it looks a lot like plans that it’s proposing along with Democrats. A carbon tax, or carbon fee as liberals prefer to call it, would put a price on carbon dioxide.

A similar cap-and-trade system limiting the amount of sulfur dioxide and nitrogen dioxide the US could emit per year is what stopped the acid-rain crisis and closed up the holes in the ozone layer surrounding Earth. And that was passed with Democratic majorities in Congress in 1990 and signed into law by Republican President George H.W. Bush, who ran for office as the “environmental president.”

Made in America

While Braswell doesn’t think humans burning fossil fuels that emit carbon dioxide is changing the global climate, he is willing to plan for the chance that scientists are right.

The answer, to conservative Republicans like Braswell, Pruitt, and Sitton, is never more government regulation like Obama enacted — it’s innovation. You want to shut down a dirty power plant? Fine, they say, do it in a way that doesn’t kill American businesses.

Trammell S. Crow, founder of Earth Day Texas, discusses how he thinks we can undivide America.

“If it’s not a good idea, let’s not build it again,” Braswell said. “If there’s something better, then we can do things smarter using technology.”

His belief that American innovation can lead the way sounds just like what de Menocal of Columbia says convinces him there’s momentum to vanquish climate change.

“As long as we make enough progress in the right direction, it’s all good,” de Menocal said. “Let’s repower the planet. Let’s get miners back to work installing solar panels. If I can wave the American flag for a minute, this is the kind of challenge we respond best to. They can be the heroes of this story. From a purely conservative standpoint, fighting climate change allows us to create jobs, protect national security, and ensure American resilience. What good American doesn’t want those things?”

“They can be the heroes of this story.”

Peter de Menocal

One example is “carbon capture,” which sucks up carbon emissions from power plants and sticks them in the ground so they don’t enter the atmosphere.

At Earth Day Texas, Business Insider asked the new US Energy Secretary Rick Perry, the longest-serving governor of Texas, whether Americans could expect more carbon-capture projects under the Trump administration.

“The short answer is yes,” he said, and he’s particularly excited that American companies can sell such technologies to our allies so they can reduce their carbon footprints.

“We make it in America. You know, made in America, sold to our friends around the world. It makes a lot of sense. I think that’s the president’s, that’s his mindset, as well, so you’re going to see a lot of technologies. Not just on the carbon-capture side, but in a host of different ways,” Perry said. “If we’re going to really affect the world, it’s going to be innovation that does that.”

Coming to grips

Minutes before Trump announced his decision to exit the Paris accord on June 1, de Menocal called. His voice was soft. He sounded beat.

Rolling back Obama-era regulations that it deems stifling to the economy at a breakneck pace, the Trump administration is slowing the federal government’s climate progress at a time when scientists say it’s crucial to speed up more than ever.

But on the phone that day, de Menocal was feeling hopeful.

“I’m not that pessimistic. I’m devastated, of course, but I’m not that pessimistic,” he said. “If you think about it, if the nation’s largest cities maintain their commitments, then we can do it without the government.”

Market forces, an appealing motivator to conservatives, can also help lead the way.

The world added more energy from renewable sources than from fossil fuels in 2015 and 2016, and the plummeting price of clean energy has allowed the US to decrease its carbon emissions over the last three years while the country’s GDP has increased.

But eventually, agreeing on clean air, water, and land won’t be enough, says Lynn Scarlett, who served as the deputy secretary and acting secretary in President George W. Bush’s Department of the Interior. Now she’s the managing director for public policy at the Nature Conservancy.

“You can drive forward a lot of solutions under the banners of clean energy, energy reliability, energy efficiency, and not have to grapple with ‘climate change’ as a word. You can do a whole lot,” Scarlett told Business Insider.

“At some point, one has to really actually embrace the problem.”

Lynn Scarlett

“But at some point, to really come to grips, we really need to address greenhouse-gas emissions, carbon-dioxide emissions. That requires understanding that those emissions are a pollutant. That requires understanding that those emissions are in fact responsible for a changing climate. That requires understanding that there is that linkage between human action and greenhouse-gas emissions and all these bad things we’re seeing — melting permafrost, unpredictable storms, rising sea levels. At some point, one has to really actually embrace the problem.”

Until then, there are Americans across the political spectrum clamoring for climate action. There are states making their own emissions reductions pledges, and cities making their own plans for sea level rise, and companies making their own clean-energy investments, and farmers installing wind turbines on their own land, and homeowners installing solar panels on their own rooftops.

And somewhere in Texas, there’s a Republican real-estate developer doing his part to save one tree at a time. And he’s telling us to join the war — before it’s too late.

Credits
Reporting: Rebecca Harrington
Editing: Dan Bobkoff
Graphics: Skye Gould
Video: Devan Joseph and Corey Protin
Special Thanks: David Marshall, Mo Hadi, and Mike Nudelman

Chinese Province Larger Than Texas Just Ran For An Entire Week On Only Renewable Energy

HuffPost

Chinese Province Larger Than Texas Just Ran For An Entire Week On Only Renewable Energy

Dominique Mosbergen, HuffPost     June 29, 2017

While the U.S. flounders on environmental action and a growing number of cabinet officials out themselves as climate deniers, China continues to make waves as an emerging leader in this space.

Chinese state media announced this week that the sprawling province of Qinghai in the country’s northwest had run for seven consecutive days entirely on renewable energy. The province, which is larger than Texas, relied only on wind, solar and hydroelectric power from June 17-23, reported Xinhua. These renewable energy sources reportedly provided Qinghai and its population of 5.8 million with 1.1 billion kilowatt hours of electricity — equal to about 535,000 tons of coal.

Qinghai’s fossil fuel-free week was part of a trial that the Chinese government initiated to see if an entire province could successfully achieve zero emissions for an extended period of time. Wang Liming, deputy governor of Qinghai, told China Daily this month that the experiment would set a new global clean energy record.

“It will break the current record of four days held by Portugal,” he said, referring to the four days in May last year when the European nation of 10 million ran on just renewable energy.

As Grist notes, Qinghai is a hub for clean energy in China. Located on the northeastern part of the Tibetan Plateau, the province gets plenty of sun (more than 3,000 hours of daylight every year) and is home to the world’s largest solar farm. Also the location of the headwaters of Asia’s three largest rivers ― the Yellow, Yangtze and Mekong ― Qinghai’s hydropower potential is immense.

“Qinghai is the country’s important warehouse of natural resources and it plays a vital role in the development of the nation’s green industry,” said Miao Wei, China’s minister of industry and information technology, this month, according to China Daily.

China has been positioning itself as a global leader of green energy in recent years. In January, the Chinese government announced plans to spend $360 billion on renewable energy by 2020, an investment they could create 13 million jobs.

With its commitment to clean energy development and reduced its coal consumption, China is set to overachieve the pledges it made in the Paris climate agreement, according to a recent Climate Action Tracker report. Together with India, China’s climate commitments have been so significant that they could offset the negative impacts that President Donald Trump’s climate policies could have on the globe, the report’s authors said.

“Five years ago, the idea of either [China or India] stopping — or even slowing — coal use was considered an insurmountable hurdle, as coal-fired power plants were thought necessary to satisfy the energy demands of these nations. Yet, recent observations show they are now on the way towards overcoming this challenge,” the report said. “This stands in contrast to the decisions of the U.S. administration under President Trump, who appears intent on going in the opposite direction.”

This article originally appeared on HuffPost .

Business Insider

An entire region of China just ran on 100% renewable energy for 7 days

Leanna Garfield, Business Insider      June 27, 2017

From Pittsburgh to Frankfort, cities around the world are pledging to stop burning fossil fuels for electricity by 2050 or sooner.

But the Chinese province of Qinghai has already reached that goal, according to news outlet Xinhua. For seven days — from June 17 to 23 — the region ran on 100% renewable energy, including solar, wind, and hydropower.

The week was part of a trial conducted by the State Grid Corporation of China, which aims to test the viability of relying on renewables long-term. During that time, the Qinghai province generated 1.1 billion kilowatt hours of energy for over 5.6 million residents. That’s equal to burning 535,000 tons of coal.

Hydropower contributed to approximately 72% of the electricity generated during the seven days, Xinhua News said. As of May 2017, Qinghai’s power grid had a total installed capacity of 23.4 million kilowatts, with around 82% of that capacity made up of solar, wind, and hydro sources. By 2020, the province plans to expand its clean energy capacity to 35 million kilowatts, which could supply 110 billion kWh of renewable energy annually.

Nationwide, China hopes to produce 20% of its electricity from clean sources by 2030. Despite the recent rapid growth of clean energy, wind power accounted for just 4% and solar for about 1% of China’s electricity in 2016, according to The Guardian.

Qinghai is not the first place to run on 100% renewable power. Tokelau, a set of three tiny islands between Hawaii and New Zealand, replaced its diesel energy system with one that uses solar in 2012. And Costa Rica ran on 100% clean energy for 285 days in 2015, and on 98% renewables for 250 days in 2016. Austria’s largest state also currently gets all of its energy needs from solar, wind, and hydropower.

These efforts signal that a power grid that doesn’t rely on fossil fuels is possible for other cities, too.

Related: Tesla will begin selling its Solar Roof this year.

Business Insider, Science

ExxonMobil and BP want to tax themselves and give the money to Americans

Leanna Garfield      June 21, 2017

Oil companies, corporate giants, and several prominent individuals — from Stephen Hawking to Michael Bloomberg — announced Tuesday they are joining the Climate Leadership Council, a group proposing a plan to tax carbon emissions from fossil fuels.

A group of Republican elder statesmen introduced the plan in February 2017. They called it a “conservative climate solution” that would tackle global warming by taxing greenhouse-gas emissions and returning the money to American taxpayers.

The coalition argues that, by raising the price of energy that comes from fossil fuels, the free market will naturally gravitate toward renewable energy solutions.

Under the plan, the US government would tax oil companies $40 per ton of CO2 they produce, which would add about 36 cents to the cost of each gallon of gasoline at the pump. Some of that money, which the council calls “climate dividends,” would then go to Americans in monthly installments through the Social Security Administration.

The plan’s supporters include ExxonMobil, BP, Johnson & Johnson, Unilever, PepsiCo, and Procter & Gamble. Individual backers include physicist Stephen Hawking, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Laurene Powell Jobs (the widow of Steve Jobs), and Stephen Chu, a secretary of energy under Obama.

While it may seem unexpected that oil companies would support such a plan, they would reap some financial benefits if it comes to fruition. In addition to instituting the carbon tax, the plan would roll back some Obama-era environmental regulations and protect oil companies from lawsuits over greenhouse-gas emissions.

For those reasons, some environmentalists are skeptical of the plan. Greenpeace called it a way for oil companies to skirt lawsuits over their contribution to climate change. ExxonMobil, for example, is under investigation to determine whether the company lied to the public or investors about climate change risks.

“ExxonMobil will try to dress this up as climate activism, but its key agenda is protecting executives from legal accountability for climate pollution and fraud. Buried in pages of supposedly ‘free market’ solutions is a new regulation exempting polluters from facing legal consequences for their role in fueling climate change,” Greenpeace’s Climate Liability Project Lead, Naomi Ages, said in a press release.

Insider

High school girls with no engineering experience won a $10,000 grant for inventing a solar-powered tent to combat homelessness

Talia Lakritz, Insider     June 21, 2017

The INSIDER Summary:

  • A team of 12 high school students invented a solar-powered tent that folds into a backpack for the homeless.
  • It has insulated fabric, solar panels, a safety locking system, and a UV sanitization system.
  • They presented their invention at MIT after winning a $10,000 grant.

For some high school students, after-school activities might consist of rehearsals, study groups, or babysitting gigs. These 12 kids invented a high-tech tent to help combat homelessness in their spare time.

The inventors, juniors and seniors at San Fernando High School in California, are part of a nonprofit organization called DIY Girls that aims to inspire girls to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math.

Last year, MIT awarded the group a $10,000 Lemelson-MIT InvenTeam Grant to put towards solving a real-world problem with engineering. They chose to combat the homelessness they encounter in their low-income community by inventing a solar-powered tent that folds into a backpack.

Through a combination of sewing, coding, and 3D printing, they equipped the tent with insulated fabric, solar panels, a safety locking system, and a UV sanitization system.

MIT invited them to Boston to present their invention, but they couldn’t afford the trip on their own. Thanks to a GoFundMe campaign, they surpassed their $15,000 goal and raised enough money to fly all 12 members of the group to Boston.

“The ingenuity that is possible when students are given the time and resources to explore their passions is remarkable,” the group’s coordinator wrote on their GoFundMe page.

Read the original article on INSIDER.

A Real Christian

              A Real Christian

John Hanno, tarbabys.com       June 28, 2017

What if God was one of us,                                                       Just a slob like one of us,                                                         Just a stranger on a bus,                                                          Trying to make his way home,

by Eric Bazilian (of the Hooters)

Got a heads up listening to the Norman Goldman Show on Chicago Progressive Radio Station WCPT, 82 AM. Norman marked the passing of Sister Sam, founder of Meals on Wheels, by asking his listeners: Who is a Christian…#whoisachristian ? Many progressives have been asking themselves the same question ever since Evangelical Christians and self-professed conservatives decided to install very-unchristian like and un-conservative Donald J. Trump in the White House. These last few weeks have been especially troubling. I’ve blogged often about the Trump administration and the Republi-con controlled congress’ attempts to strip away life saving health care from 23 million poor and challenged Americans, so no need to rehash this calamity.

The Donald, clearly truth challenged, and evidenced by the recent New York Times full page list of all of Donald’s lies just since he’s been in office, likes to portray himself as something he is not. In Trumps own words:

“I’m a big Christian.”

“People were not sure I was a nice person,” he said, “and I am. I am. I am. I am. I’m a giving person. I believe in God, I believe in the Bible. I’m a Christian. I have a lot of reasons. I love people.”

“Paul [Ryan] wants to knock out Social Security, knock it down, way down. He wants to knock Medicare way down. … I want to keep Social Security intact. … I’m not going to cut it, and I’m not going to raise ages, and I’m not going to do all of the things that they want to do. But they want to really cut it, and they want to cut it very substantially, the Republicans, and I’m not going to do that.”

“I was the first & only potential GOP candidate to state there will be no cuts to Social Security, Medicare & Medicaid.”

“The Republicans who want to cut SS & Medicaid are wrong. A robust economy will Make America Great Again!”

“Every Republican wants to do a big number on Social Security. They want to do it on Medicare. They want to do it on Medicaid. And we can’t do that,” Trump said in 2015. “And it’s not fair to the people who’ve been paying in for years.”

“I’m not going to cut Social Security like every other Republican and I’m not going to cut Medicare or Medicaid,” Trump said. “Every other Republican is going to cut, and even if they wouldn’t, they don’t know what to do because they don’t know where the money is. I do.”

“I’m an environmentalist, I’m the biggest environmentalist.”

But Mr. Trump fully endorsed the AHCA passed by the Republi-cons in the House, a debacle of a replacement for Obamacare, favored by only 16% of America. He then later called it “mean,” after public outcry, because it cut $880 billion from Medicaid and cut 23 million American’s healthcare. Now he’s touting a meaner and even more punitive flim-flam version of the ACA replacement proposed by the Republi-con Senate, favored by only 12 to 17% of us, because it still cuts $780 billion from Medicaid and kills healthcare for 22 million American. Both of these plans are simply enormous $1 trillion tax cuts for the richest Americans and have nothing to do with improving Obamacare or America’s health care system. It’s a historic transfer of wealth from the poorest Americans to the richest 1%.

The only explanation I can fathom from listening to Trump, is that the definition of words mean nothing to him. Words are not true or false; they’re just words, tools used to get what you want. Tools used by salesmen to close the deal. Facts are likewise not true or false, they’re just more groups of words, used for the benefit of the speaker or fabulist.

Trump’s proposed budget, roundly dismissed by anyone with any sense, including many conservatives, proposes enormous cuts to environmental programs and to social safety net programs.

Vox reports Trumps budget “will violate his promises in a rather flagrant fashion. Axios’s Jonathan Swan reports that the 2018 budget proposal will include $1.7 trillion in cuts to mandatory spending programs over the next 10 years, “from programs including SNAP (food stamps), CHIP (Children’s Health Insurance Program), and SSDI (Disability Insurance).” But Swan obfuscates the issue by saying the plan, “won’t reform Social Security or Medicare — in line with his campaign promise.”

“Let’s be extremely clear about something: SSDI stands for Social Security Disability Insurance. It is part of the Social Security program. While in the public mind, “Social Security” usually connotes payments you receive in retirement based on your prior earnings, Social Security also encompasses a program compensating past workers who develop disabilities that prevent them from participating in the workforce. That’s disability insurance, the program that Trump’s budget is set to cut.”

And yes, Trump proposes cutting Sister Sam’s “Meals on Wheels” program and other safety net programs for the same poor and disadvantage souls Sister Sam has ministered to for the last 40 years. Norman and I and most Americans don’t believe Mr. Trump or the Republi-cons in Congress are real Christians. And we don’t need a dictionary to prove it.   John Hanno

 Sister Sam

LA Times

Sister Sam, founder of St. Vincent Meals on Wheels, dies at 82

Sister Alice Marie Quinn, known as Sister Sam, was once called “L.A.’s Mother Teresa” by former Mayor Richard Riordan. She died Friday at 82.

Andrea Castillo, Los Angeles Times     June 25, 2017

In 1977, Sister Alice Marie Quinn started what became St. Vincent Meals on Wheels with a single pot of stew served to 83 seniors in a church basement near MacArthur Park.

On Friday — days after celebrating her 82nd birthday — Sister Sam, as she was known by friends, died of natural causes.

As executive director  of St. Vincent Meals on Wheels, Sister Sam would rise every morning before dawn for an hour of prayer, then get to work overseeing the preparation and delivery of nearly 3,500 meals to the city’s homeless, homebound, disabled and terminally ill.

Her cause arose from observation. A registered dietitian, Sister Sam noticed that many low-income, elderly people living in apartments near St. Vincent Medical Center, where she had served as assistant dietary director, weren’t eating right.

“Over the years it became so much more than plates of food,” she once said. “It became friendship, family and nourishment for the soul.”

Now headquartered in an industrial-sized kitchen in the same neighborhood, the nonprofit has a staff of 78 and more than 300 volunteers who prepare, deliver and serve hot and frozen meals, as well as weekly breakfasts, to more than 1,800 Angelenos.

Chef Wolfgang Puck organized an extravagant 75th birthday party for Sister Sam. The two had been friends since the 1980s, when Puck asked her if St. Vincent could benefit from some of the proceeds from his annual American Wine and Food Festival. He has been a major fundraiser ever since.

At the time, Puck said no one deserved the honor more than Sister Sam.

“She’s like a saint,” he told The Times in 2010. “If anybody should go to heaven, it should be her. She should sit in the first row up there. Or at the best table.”

Among the accolades she and St. Vincent garnered are the International Foodservice Manufacturers Assn. Silver Plate Award in 2006, for outstanding achievement in specialty food services, and she was named “Woman of the Year” in 1988 by the state of California. In 2013, the Los Angeles City Council declared the day before Thanksgiving as St. Vincent Meals on Wheels Day.

St. Vincent Meals on Wheels is a ministry of the Daughters of Charity, an order of nuns dedicated to the poor. Sister Patricia Miguel, a fellow Daughter of Charity who was close to Sister Sam, said she never wavered in her commitment to serve homebound seniors.

“Her life of service has inspired everyone who knew her,” Miguel said.

The Daughters of Charity has named the organization’s longtime director of development, Daryl Twerdahl, as the interim executive director.

“Sister Alice Marie mentored us, loved us, chided us, but above all else, she taught us to serve with compassion and respect,” Twerdahl said. “We will continue her legacy with every meal served.”

The viewing is at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday and the rosary will be held at 7. A mass and burial will be held at 10 a.m. Wednesday. Services will be at St. Vincent de Paul Church, 621 W Adams Blvd. Burial will be at Resurrection Cemetery, 966 Potrero Grande Drive in Rosemead.

GOP health-care debate turns to stark question: help vulnerable Americans, or help the rich?

Washington Post    PowerPost

GOP health-care debate turns to stark question: help vulnerable Americans, or help the rich?

By Sean Sullivan, Juliet Eilperin and Kelsey Snell        June 29, 2017

The Republican debate over how to overhaul the Affordable Care Act turned sharply Thursday to a divisive and ideological question: How much money should the Senate health-care bill spend on protecting vulnerable Americans, and how much on providing tax relief to the wealthy?

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), in an effort to strike a balance between centrists and conservatives, is now making concessions to both factions of his caucus, according to lawmakers and aides.

But this effort was complicated by a new Congressional Budget Office estimate Thursday finding that the Republican plan to change how Medicaid payments are calculated starting in 2025 would lead to significantly deeper reductions in its second decade than at the end of the first decade.

By 2036, the new analysis says, the government would spend 35 percent less on Medicaid than under the current law, compared with a 26 percent decrease in the first decade.

McConnell is rewriting his proposal to provide tens of billions more for opioid treatment and assistance to low- and moderate-income Americans, in part by potentially preserving a 3.8 percent tax on investment income provided under the Affordable Care Act that the current draft of the Senate bill would repeal. At the same time, the new draft aims to placate the right by further easing the existing law’s insurance mandates and providing higher tax deductions for the health-savings accounts that conservatives favor, Republicans said.

By Thursday afternoon, Senate leaders agreed to dedicate $45 billion to opioid funding, according to GOP aides, a concession that Sens. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) had been seeking for weeks. The draft released last week includes only $2 billion.

It remains unclear whether these changes, if adopted, would garner enough support for the bill to pass. But they may represent the most viable path forward if Republicans want to rewrite the 2010 health law known as Obamacare without any help from Democrats.

“We will, it appears to me, address the issue of ensuring that lower-income citizens are in a position to be able to buy plans that actually provide them appropriate health-care,” said Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.). “And with that, my sense is that the 3.8 percent repeal [in the current draft] will go away.”

The 3.8 percent tax applies only to individuals making over $200,000 a year, and married couples earning more than $250,000. Repealing it as of Dec. 31, 2016, as the bill does now, would cost the federal government $172 billion in revenue over the next 10 years, according to a recent CBO analysis.

The updated Medicaid estimate from the CBO, which shows how spending would shrink over the next 20 years, underscored the extent to which McConnell’s plan would squeeze the longstanding public insurance program.

The current draft already cuts $772 billion over 10 years from Medicaid, which covers poor Americans as well as the elderly, children and pregnant women.

The updated analysis, requested by Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and other Senate Democrats, calculated the impact of pegging the program’s inflation rate to the Consumer Price Index for urban consumers, as opposed to the medical inflation rate.

According to analysts at the health consulting firm Avalere and the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget, this would translate into a cut of at least $330 billion in 2036.

The report suggested that as the spigot of federal funding constricted over time, “states would continue to need to arrive at more efficient methods for delivering services (to the extent feasible) and to decide whether to commit more of their own resources, cut payments to health care providers and health plans, eliminate optional services, restrict eligibility for enrollment, or adopt some combination of those approaches.”

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) used the report as an opportunity to push GOP leaders to abandon plans to repeal the ACA and begin negotiations with Democrats over how to fix the health-care system.

“Rather than pushing a partisan bill that cuts taxes for the rich and slashes Medicaid, Senate Republicans should start over on health care and work with Democrats on a bipartisan plan to improve our health care system,” Schumer said in a statement.

With senators leaving town Thursday for a 10-day break over the July 4th holiday, Republicans are not likely to announce any new deal or unveil full legislation until after their return next month. That would give time for the CBO to analyze the new proposals and for senators to hear from constituents, setting up a few more days of haggling when they return July 10 and a vote possible the week after that.

Corker, who met with GOP leaders Wednesday, said he believes “the route being pursued” is to preserve the tax and use that money to provide subsidies for lower-income people.

He added that he voiced directly to President Trump his unease with the idea of slashing taxes for the wealthy while “increasing the burden” on lower-income Americans.

Minutes later, Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.) acknowledged that keeping the tax was being discussed, but he underscored that no final decision had been made.

In a sign of the sharp disagreements that continue to plague Senate Republicans, Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) disputed Corker’s notion that the tax cut would be jettisoned, calling the proposal a “very bad idea.”

“I’m not at all convinced that that’s where it’s going,” Toomey said.

Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) said that while he thought it was a bad idea to use the investment tax to help fund the ACA’s existing programs, lawmakers may need to keep the tax. Scott said there is clear pressure from at least three senators to preserve it, and their votes are critical to passing the bill.

“Keeping it now is a whole new conversation,” Scott said. “particularly when you have three senators already heading in that direction.”

The dispute underscores the challenge Senate leaders face as they reexamine the tax portion of their Better Care Reconciliation Act. One bit of wiggle room in their negotiations is the CBO’s analysis of the bill’s impact on the federal deficit, which allows them to spend as much as $198 billion without violating Senate budget rules.

The draft bill that stalled this week would phase out the program’s expansion under the ACA over three years and rein in spending on the overall program, especially starting in 2025. It would also repeal or delay $541 billion in taxes, primarily on wealthy Americans and insurers.

The measure eliminates every tax imposed under the ACA except the “Cadillac” tax on employers offering generous health plans. That tax is suspended until 2026 to comply with congressional budget rules.

The move to cut Medicaid, which covers nearly 70 million Americans, helps offset the bill’s generous tax cuts. But it has generated significant opposition among more than a half-dozen centrists who fear the reductions will impede the nation’s effort to address the opioid crisis and could leave many vulnerable Americans without any health coverage at all.

With Vice President Pence prepared to cast the tiebreaking vote, Republicans need the support of all but two of their 52 senators.

Pence was in the Capitol Thursday as the health-care talks continued in small and large group settings. Asked if he was changing any minds, the vice president replied: “We’re working hard.”

McConnell hopes to send a revised version of the bill to the CBO as soon as Friday to get a vote on the bill before Congress’s August recess.

Meanwhile, according to lobbyists briefed on the matter, negotiators are looking at how to provide states with more ways to opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s insurance mandates — a key demand of conservatives. These rules include an essential benefits package that any ACA-compliant plan must offer, such as maternity and newborn care as well as preventive care and mental-health and substance-use treatment.

Republican Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and Mike Lee of Utah have indicated they could potentially support the bill if leadership tacked on an amendment offered by Cruz, allowing insurers to opt out of all the Obamacare insurance regulations as long as they provided one fully compliant plan.

House conservatives also asserted themselves in the upper chamber’s debate Thursday, as House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) came over to the Senate side of the Capitol. Meadows said Cruz’s amendment, or something similar, would be essential to win his support.

A growing number of senators have said they back the Cruz proposal but leaders worry that it may run afoul of Senate rules. McConnell is using the budget process to pass the health bill with a slim majority of 51 votes, rather than the 60 votes needed for most other legislation. But that also restricts the legislation to policies that have an impact on taxes, spending and the deficit.

Cornyn told reporters that leaders held a special meeting on Thursday to figure out if the Cruz amendment fits within those rules.

“We’re trying to figure it out,” Cornyn said. “Because there is a lot of support for the idea.”

Lee spokesman Conn Carroll said he also wants a provision to ensure the executive branch can’t single-handedly block states from revamping their ACA marketplaces. The current measure makes it much easier for states to use an existing federal waiver system, under Section 1332 of the law, to make changes as long as they are approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

While the Senate bill gives states wide latitude to alter the marketplaces through this system, it would preserve a requirement that CMS has to determine that these changes would not increase the federal deficit. Lee wants an independent agency, such as the Government Accountability Office, to make that determination rather than a division of the Health and Human Services Department.

But if leadership added on the Cruz amendment, that might be enough to win over Lee’s vote. “I think that would be enough for us,” Carroll said in an interview.

The main tax change conservatives are now seeking — allowing people to put more money into health-savings accounts — would also benefit wealthier Americans. Families earning over $60,000 made up nearly 65 percent of the total that contributed to HSAs in 2014, according to recent data from the Treasury Department. Nearly two-thirds of those people earned between $75,000 and $200,000.

Paige Winfield Cunningham, Mike DeBonis and Amy Goldstein contributed to this report.