Schools that never needed AC are now overheating. Fixes will cost billions.

The Washington Post

Schools that never needed AC are now overheating. Fixes will cost billions.

Anna Phillips and Veronica Penney – May 24, 2024

Nearly 40 percent of schools in the United States were built before the 1970s, when temperatures were cooler and fewer buildings needed air conditioning.

That has changed. In recent decades, heat has crept northward, increasing the number of school days with temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit.

Large parts of the country, where temperatures were previously cooler, now experience at least one month of school days with temperatures above 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Many schools still don’t have air conditioning.

America’s aging school buildings are on a collision course with a rapidly warming climate.

Last fall, school officials were forced to send students home across the Northeast and the Mid-Atlantic – just as many were returning from summer break – because of extreme heat and schools lacking air conditioning. In Baltimore and Detroit, high heat led to early dismissals, the same as it had four months earlier when summer temperatures struck in May.

In Philadelphia last year, administrators moved the first day of school from late August to after Labor Day, in part to avoid a repeat of heat-related school closures in previous years. But the weather didn’t cooperate. They ended up closing more than 70 schools three hours earlier than usual for the entire week.

Hot weather is not a new concern for school districts. But as the burning of fossil fuels heats the planet, it’s delivering longer-lasting, more dangerous heat waves, and higher average temperatures. Across much of the northern United States, where many schools were built without air conditioning, districts are now forced to confront the academic and health risks posed by poorly cooled schools. Fixing the problem often requires residents to pass multimillion dollar school repair bonds, which can be hard to do. Climatic change is arriving faster than most can adapt.

“We have had situations where it’s been 88 degrees outside but the real feel in the classrooms is well over 90 degrees because of the humidity,” said Shari Obrenski, president of the Cleveland Teachers Union. Although most of the district’s schools have air conditioning, 11 switched to virtual instruction during a period of high heat in 2022. “It’s miserable,” she said, “students throwing up, not being able to keep their heads up, just horrible conditions.”

Because of the highly localized nature of U.S. public schools, data on school air conditioning is scarce and researchers rely on surveys to gather information.

In 2021, when the environmental advocacy group Center for Climate Integrity set out to examine air conditioning, its researchers collected information on more than 150 schools and school districts across the country. They found that in places where temperatures historically hit 80 degrees Fahrenheit at least 32 days during the academic year, the vast majority of schools already had air conditioning.

Using this as their threshold for when AC is needed, they modeled what it would cost to keep schools cool in the near future under a moderate warming scenario. Their answer: more than 13,700 public schools in the United States that did not need air conditioning in 1970 need it today. Some have already installed it, some are working on it now and some can only dream of having enough money. The estimated cost of this huge investment exceeds $40 billion.

Paul Chinowsky, a professor emeritus of engineering at the University of Colorado at Boulder who led the analysis, said it showed two distinct trends in America: Northern school districts experiencing hotter school year temperatures that are overheating classrooms and forcing closures, especially in old buildings without enough electrical capacity to run air conditioners. And Southern districts with aging cooling systems outmatched by abnormally hot weather.

A generation ago, few would have imagined that school districts from Denver to Boston would need to spend millions of dollars on cooling. Today, the reality is different.

Aging schools, built for a different climate

The scene at Dunbar Elementary was so distressing that, six years later, it is still fresh in Jerry Jordan’s mind.

In late August 2018, a punishing heat wave gripped Philadelphia just as public school students were returning from summer break. Jordan, the president of the local teachers union, was holding a news conference at Dunbar to demand the state help pay to air-condition schools. Before the event, he walked through the building to get a feel for what its students and staff were experiencing.

“I ran into one teacher as she was walking her first-grade class down to computer science – she was wearing a dress and the back of the dress was literally soaked right through. It was sticking to her,” Jordan said. A little boy got out of line and lay down on the concrete floor. He stayed put, even when the teacher urged him to rejoin the class. “But it’s cool here,” Jordan remembers him pleading.

Today, roughly 30 percent of Philadelphia public schools don’t have fully air-conditioned classrooms, according to district officials. In interviews, teachers said many more buildings don’t have cooling in gyms, cafeterias and libraries. The district has made progress since that 2018 heat wave, thanks in large part to millions of dollars in federal pandemic aid and a $200,000 donation from Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts. But it still has many buildings with only enough power to support window AC units in every other classroom, or on certain floors. Some units are broken or barely functional. At one school, parents said the units are window dressing – they can’t be switched on for fear of using more electricity than the building can safely handle.

The district’s goal is to have all classrooms air-conditioned by 2027, but its pandemic money is about to run out and state funding remains uncertain. “The aspirational is absolutely dependent on funding,” said Superintendent Tony Watlington Sr.

In interviews, teachers said that classroom temperatures have climbed into the high 80s to low 90s in the early fall, past the point when studies have shown heat can impede learning.

“94 degrees F in my classroom today,” teacher Trey Smith wrote on X, formerly Twitter, on a day in late August, posting a photo of a thermometer in his third-floor un-air-conditioned classroom at Marian Anderson Neighborhood Academy. Smith said that, for years, he has had to endure high temperatures with only fans and a portable AC unit that trips the circuit breaker.

“I’m angry,” he said. “Not at the district and not at my administration, it’s just that as a state we’ve underfunded our schools. That’s the crime.”

As hotter-than-normal temperatures become more common in the late spring and early fall, they pose a risk to students’ academic success. Researchers have linked heat exposure to reduced learning, in addition to a range of well-known health effects such as dizziness, headaches and worsening asthma symptoms. Teachers aren’t immune either – especially in places that aren’t used to hot weather.

“On those really really hot days, our attendance is low because kids don’t want to boil in a classroom and asthmatic kids are being kept home by their parents,” said Olney High School teacher Sarah Apt, who also has asthma. “Those are days I have used my inhaler and kind of take it slower.”

Climate change is expanding the swath of the country facing these problems.

At the same time, as school shootings become more frequent, district leaders are under pressure to turn their buildings into fortresses to stop an attacker.

“We’ve got schools that want to button up for security reasons, but that’s making them hotter, stuffier and requiring more mechanical air conditioning,” said Chinowsky. “You’ve got two different goals working against each other.”

Well-off school districts often address this problem by putting a bond before voters, asking them to support higher taxes to pay for cooling. But despite its improving poverty rate, Philadelphia is still the poorest big city in the nation. And a quirk in state law bars the school district from raising its own revenue, leaving it few options but to ask the city and state for money. That hasn’t worked out so well – last year, a state court found that Pennsylvania’s funding formula leaves some schools so underfunded that it violates students’ constitutional right to an education.

Parents and teachers have become increasingly vocal in demanding healthier conditions following scandals over asbestos and lead contamination in schools. The teachers union now employs a director of environmental science and commissioned an app that allows teachers to report extreme temperature problems, as well as leaks and pest infestations.

Yet some families don’t know their children attend schools without air conditioning.

Sherice Workman was among them. When she chose Paul Robeson High School in West Philadelphia for her youngest son, Juelz, she was unaware how hot it was inside until he began bringing deodorant to school to mask his constant sweating. He came home with stories of students sleeping through class to deal with the heat. She and some of the school’s staff delivered a petition to district leaders two years ago.

“When it is 80 degrees outside, it is 90 to 100 in the classrooms. When it is 90 degrees outside, it is 100 to 105 degrees in the classrooms,” the petition read. “This extreme heat in our building has caused our children to pass out and miss classes due to dehydration-related headaches.”

The district installed window air conditioners at Robeson the next year, an experience that Workman said taught her the value of speaking out. When it comes to air conditioning in neighboring suburbs’ schools, she said, “It’s just something they have. Our fight isn’t their fight.

Hotter school days and no cheap fixes

Fall in Colorado’s Front Range can be glorious – with blue skies and aspens changing color in the Rockies. But it is also the time of year when Colorado has experienced its greatest warming, with temperatures rising by 3.1 degrees Fahrenheit from 1980-2022, according to a state report.

That’s when kids are in class. In the northern Colorado city of Fort Collins, classroom temperatures in some buildings reach upward of 90 degrees when the school year starts in mid-August, said middle school social studies teacher Jacque Kinnick, and the heat is lasting longer in the season.

“I used to need sweaters,” in October said Kinnick. “Now, I wear short sleeves.”

Kinnick said one of her colleagues compared the test scores of students in her morning and afternoon classes and found that the children performed worse later in the day, when the heat was highest.

“It’s like you can actually see kids just wilting,” she said. “They’re sweating, they’re laying their heads on the desk.”

University of Pennsylvania economist R. Jisung Park has studied the effect of rising temperatures on students. He found that, even when other factors are controlled for, students who are exposed to days in the 80s and 90s perform worse on standardized tests. His research also suggests that, in the United States, heat has a greater effect on Black and Latino students, who are less likely to have air conditioning at school or home.

The effect may not be noticeable at first – a one-degree hotter school year is linked to learning loss of about one percent – but the damage accumulates and the impact is likely underestimated. A federal analysis published last year noted that while these losses only account for students’ exposure to hot days during high school, newer research suggests heat experienced by elementary and middle school students also impedes learning.

Some of the coldest parts of the country will eventually have to face overheating schools, too. The federal study found that at the 2 degrees Celsius threshold, the states with the highest projected learning losses per student, because of low AC coverage in schools, will be Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, Vermont and Wyoming.

Heat also affects students’ well-being. It increases ozone pollution in cities, extends the pollen season, worsens asthma symptoms and can exacerbate a host of other medical conditions, forcing students to leave their classes in search of relief. Children become dehydrated easily and turn woozy and irritable. After sitting in a hot classroom all day, they may struggle to play sports or participate in after-school activities.

Schools along the Front Range have historically counted on the region’s overnight low temperatures to cool off their buildings. But as climate change causes nights to warm faster than days, such methods are proving ineffective.

Jeff Connell, chief operations officer of the Poudre School District, which is centered in Fort Collins and includes surrounding towns, said the district recorded temperatures between 85 and 90.5 degrees in an elementary school classroom last fall. Poudre’s leaders have discussed postponing the start of school, but with extreme daily highs becoming more common, “it’s harder to know with certainty that if we move the calendar, we’ll avoid the hot days,” said Connell.

Fort Collins exemplifies two trends that confront public education as climate change intensifies. Heat is one problem – in part because urban schools are often ringed by heat-reflecting asphalt parking lots and playgrounds.

Demographics are another. Since funding is tied to enrollment, some school districts face budget crises as their student populations shrink – yet they need more money for air conditioning projects to keep their schools habitable.

Fort Collins’ affordability and easy access to the mountains has long-fueled the city’s growth. But the increasing number of high heat days has put a strain on teachers and students as enrollment is beginning to decline, prompting the school district to consider closing schools. Poudre has a $700 million deferred maintenance backlog. Last year, an assessment of how much it would cost to fully air-condition 36 school buildings came in at more than $200 million – money the district does not have.

The city is hardly an outlier.

In 2020, the Government Accountability Office found that an estimated 41 percent of school districts surveyed needed to replace or update their HVAC systems in at least half of their schools. But the report also found that roughly 40 percent of districts rely on state money for large-scale facilities improvements and don’t have the capacity to issue bonds or raise property taxes.

Persuading school board members and voters to fund air conditioning in schools can be a tough sell. This is an acute problem in Southern school districts where cooling was installed decades ago, but is now breaking down from near-constant use, Chinowsky said.

“The people making these decisions have a tendency to say, ‘We dealt with it when we were in school,’ Or, ‘It’s only hot for a couple of days,’” Chinowsky said. “And the fact is that’s not really the truth anymore.”

Often, the states aren’t coming to districts’ aid. Neither is the federal government. Advocates for more school funding said the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which rebuilds schools once they’re destroyed, is the biggest source of government money.

Decades of planning help keep classrooms cool

Some communities have more latitude to address the problem.

In Denver, about an hour south of Fort Collins, school officials have slowly been preparing their buildings for a hotter world. It began a decade ago with simple measures such as blinds and nighttime cooling. But as the years progressed and nights didn’t cool off like they once did, officials decided they were going to have to install air conditioning. The district began prioritizing retrofits based on factors such as student poverty levels and disabilities, the age and condition of the buildings and indoor temperatures.

Denver residents have approved multiple bond measures to pay for the upgrades and they may be asked to vote on one again soon. The district expects that 30 schools still won’t be fully air-conditioned by the end of the year. Fixing them will cost an estimated $290 million.

“The voters have been pretty receptive,” said Trena Marsal, chief operating officer of Denver Public Schools. “We’ve heard from our teachers, from our community members and our parents that the classrooms are hot.”

Among the districts where voters have agreed to support facilities bonds, some have used the money to not only air-condition their classrooms, but to also electrify their heating and cooling systems with air source or geothermal heat pumps. In St. Paul, Minn., the school district has finished installing a geothermal system at one of its high schools, where heat is pumped out of the building during the summer, transferred to water and stored deep underground in pipes. That heated water is pumped back into the buildings in winter to warm them.

Some of these systems can qualify for major federal subsidies. Yet to the chagrin of environmentalists, large school districts in cities such as New York City, Boston and Philadelphia are buying thousands of window units, which gobble up electricity and break down easily.

“They’re a maintenance nightmare. They’re an operating cost nightmare,” said Sara Ross, co-founder of the group UndauntedK12, which advocates for green building improvements in schools. “The decision to use window units is only going to worsen these districts’ challenges in terms of their emissions because they’re using much more energy.”

The picture in selected areas

Philadelphia: 3.7°F warmer since 1970

197,115 students enrolled

67 out of 218 schools are not fully air-conditioned.

By 2025, students will experience 22 more days with temperatures above 80°F. In 1970, 28 days were above 80°F. In 2025, it is predicted that 50 days will be above 80°F.

Fort Collins, Colo.: 3.4°F warmer since 1970

29,914 students enrolled

36 out of 49 schools are not fully air-conditioned.

By 2025, students will experience 17 more days with temperatures above 80°F. In 1970, 25 days were above 80°F. In 2025, it is predicted that 42 days will be above 80°F.

Denver: 1.3°F warmer since 1970

89,235 students enrolled

37 out of 207 schools are not fully air-conditioned.

By 2025, students will experience 18 more days with temperatures above 80°F. In 1970, 32 days were above 80°F. In 2025, it is predicted that 50 days will be above 80°F.

About this story

Sources: Resilient Analytics and the Center for Climate Integrity (hot school days); NOAA Regional Climate Centers via the Applied Climate Information System (temperature trends); Denver Public Schools.

The Post used data from Resilient Analytics and the Center for Climate Integrity that estimates the increase in hot school days by 2025 using downscaled climate projections for North America from CMIP5. The gridded data has a resolution of 3.7 miles. To calculate the increase in hot days by 2025, researchers used the middle-of-the-road RCP 4.5 scenario.

There are some U.S. counties where varying terrain affects county-level temperature projections. Monroe County, Fla. – just west of Miami-Dade – includes mainland, coasts and islands. The varied terrain creates microclimates that make county-level averages cooler than neighboring counties, even if mainland areas of the county remain very hot.

School years days were defined separately for each state using the 2018-2019 school year calendar for the state’s largest school district. Charter schools are not included in the analysis.

To determine the increase in average temperature for each school district, The Post used station temperature records from NOAA Regional Climate Centers via the Applied Climate Information System. Maximum temperature records for 1970-2023 were analyzed using a linear regression to determine the average rate of warming over the time period. Days with missing temperature measurements were excluded.

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Extreme heat hits Texas and Florida early in the season

NBC News

Extreme heat hits Texas and Florida early in the season

Denise Chow – May 22, 2024

Jason Fochtman

Scorching heat and humidity have descended over parts of Texas, the Gulf Coast and South Florida this week — a bout of early-season extreme heat that has experts bracing for what’s to come.

A full month before the official start of summer, Miami is already in the midst of its hottest May on record, according to experts.

The city’s heat index — a measure of what conditions feel like when humidity and air temperatures are combined — hit 112 degrees Fahrenheit over the weekend, smashing the previous daily record by 11 degrees, according to Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate at the University of Miami. The weekend heat index also beat Miami’s monthly record by 5 degrees, he wrote in a post on X.

Last summer was the hottest on record for Miami — and the entire planet. Forecasters say the coming season could match or surpass the temperatures seen in 2023.

Miami’s recent 112-degree heat index reading was recorded both Saturday and Sunday, marking only the second time in the city’s recorded history that there have been back-to-back days of heat index values at or above that level, according to McNoldy. The other instance was Aug. 8 and 9, 2023.

“But it’s only mid-May!” he wrote. “To anyone who was hoping 2023 was a freak anomaly: nope.”

Miami has already expanded the time period it considers to be the official heat season to span from May 1 to Oct. 31 annually — a response to earlier onsets of high heat and humidity.

Meanwhile, a heat advisory is in effect across much of south Texas. Temperatures up to 113 degrees can be expected in some places, particularly along the Rio Grande, according to the National Weather Service.

The agency said heat index values between 110 degrees and 120 degrees are expected this week, with still more dangerous heat lingering into the weekend.

“As a result, major to extreme risks of heat-related impacts are expected across South Texas,” the weather service said in its advisory. “Be sure to stay cool, drink plenty of water, and take frequent breaks if you are spending time outside!”

High heat and humidity, including heat indexes around 100 degrees, are also expected in Houston in the coming days. The city is still reeling from last week’s deadly storms, with tens of thousands of residents still without power.

Studies have shown that climate change is making early-season heat more likely, in addition to fueling more frequent, intense and longer-lasting heat waves.

The consequences can be deadly. Heat kills more people each year in the United States than any other weather disaster, according to the weather service.

It’s the hottest May ever in Miami. Heat index ‘completely off the charts’

Miami Herald

It’s the hottest May ever in Miami. Heat index ‘completely off the charts’

Ashley Miznazi – May 21, 2024

It’s already the hottest May in Miami, ever — at least judging by the heat index, a “feels like” measure that combines temperature and humidity.

Last weekend’s record temps jacked up the average heat index into a record for May, according to Brian McNoldy, a senior research associate at the University of Miami’s Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric and Earth Science.

“The type of heat and humidity we had this weekend would’ve been exceptional even in another three months,” said McNoldy. “These temperatures in May are completely off the charts.”

McNoldy created an online chart that updates daily with the cumulative amount of time the heat index spent above various heat index thresholds. The reading in 2024 already rivals or tops nearly all end-of-summer 108°+ and 110°+ marks.

Brian McNoldy: Aside from crazy-2023, the heat index has ALREADY spent more time above the 108°F threshold (and tied for the most at 110°+) in #Miami than in *any other entire year*. And it’s not even June yet

Image

Usually, the hottest time of the year is the first and second weeks of August but this weekend temperatures peaked at 112 degrees heat index— that’s a stunning six degrees hotter than any previous May heat index recorded.

Early-season heat events have some of the highest rates of heat illness and heat-related deaths because people are not prepared for it. Nearly 1,200 people die from heat every year, according to NOAA, and record-breaking heat waves fueled by climate change add to that threat.

Margaret Pianelli, a tourist from New York, visits the Hollywood Beach Broadwalk as temperatures soar into the 90s on Tuesday, May 14, 2024, in Hollywood, Fla.
Margaret Pianelli, a tourist from New York, visits the Hollywood Beach Broadwalk as temperatures soar into the 90s on Tuesday, May 14, 2024, in Hollywood, Fla.

READ MORE: When is it too hot to be outside? A new online tool will help you plan your week

Climate change makes things like these record highs more likely. But over the weekend McNoldy said there was also the “perfect combination” of a high pressure ridge (where air sinks and warms), fewer clouds and moist air coming in from the southwest.

Other records were broken over the weekend too. Sunday’s nighttime temperatures averaged (the average of the high and low temperature) to 89 degrees. That is a tie for the third-highest daily nighttime average temperature ever recorded in Miami, and that’s never happened as soon as May.

As of Monday, there had also been four new high daily average temperature records and record-high humidity levels in the past five days.

The National Weather Service is predicting that the record-breaking heat will ease in the coming week, thanks in part to the increasing relief of rain. But it also signals the potential for another scorching summer ahead. Summer 2023 was the hottest on record in Miami.

“What this looks like for June, July, August? Who knows,” McNoldy said. “But it’s not off to a promising start.”

Ashley Miznazi is a climate change reporter for the Miami Herald funded by the Lynn and Louis Wolfson II Family Foundation in partnership with Journalism Funding Partners.

Ukrainian attacks on Russian oil refineries may be proving the Biden Administration wrong, experts say

Insider

Ukrainian attacks on Russian oil refineries may be proving the Biden Administration wrong, experts say

Nathan Rennolds – May 11, 2024

Ukrainian attacks on Russian oil refineries may be proving the Biden Administration wrong, experts say
  • Ukraine has been targeting Russian oil refineries in recent months.
  • The Biden Administration has criticized the strikes, warning of global energy price rises.
  • However, some experts say Ukraine should continue the attacks. Here’s why.

Ukraine has been ramping up attacks on Russian oil refineries in recent months as it seeks to hamper Russian export revenues and curtail fuel supplies to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s forces.

In one of the latest attacks, Ukrainian drones struck an oil refinery in Russia’s Kaluga region, setting it on fire, the RIA state news agency reported on Friday, per Reuters.

Ukraine also hit Gazprom’s Neftekhim Salavat oil refinery, one of Russia’s largest oil refineries, earlier this week, Radiy Khabirov, the head of Russia’s Republic of Bashkortostan, said in a post on Telegram.

However, the Biden Administration has previously slammed such tactics, with Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin saying in April that it risked impacting global energy markets and urging Ukraine to shift its focus onto military targets.

“Those attacks could have a knock-on effect in terms of the global energy situation,” Austin said. “Quite frankly, I think Ukraine is better served by going after tactical and operational targets that can directly influence the current fight.”

But some experts believe such criticism is misguided.

Writing for Foreign Affairs magazine, Michael Liebreich, the founder of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, Lauri Myllyvirta, lead analyst at the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air, and Sam Winter-Levy, a doctoral candidate in political science at Princeton University, argued that Ukrainian strikes on Russian refining facilities would not lead to spikes in global energy prices.

The experts said that Ukrainian attacks on oil refineries would only hinder Russia’s ability to turn its oil into refined products such as gasoline and would not impact the volume of oil it can extract or export.

“In fact, with less domestic refining capacity, Russia will be forced to export more of its crude oil, not less, pushing global prices down rather than up,” they added.

And such strikes will likely continue to affect those within Russia, where prices for refined products like gas or diesel are soaring — meaning Ukraine’s attacks are achieving the aims of failed Western economic sanctions, they continued.

The West has attempted to impose a number of sanctions on Russia to limit its income from energy, with the US and the UK banning Russian oil and gas and G7 leaders agreeing to set a price cap on Russian crude oil at $60 per barrel.

But Russia has largely managed to get around such measures, with its Deputy Prime Minister, Alexander Novak, saying in December last year that Russia had shifted almost all of its oil exports to China and India.

Russia’s oil revenue in April more than doubled year on year, Bloomberg reported, highlighting its success in rediverting operations.

Its total oil and gas revenue for the month hit 1.23 trillion rubles, up almost 90% from April last year, per the report.

Reuters reported in April that Russia also appeared to be able to quickly repair some of the key refining facilities affected by Ukrainian strikes, reducing impacted capacity to roughly 10% from nearly 14% at the end of March, per the agency’s calculations.

Ukraine has since launched a series of new attacks on refining sites, however, and it is as yet unclear how these have affected Russia’s repair efforts.

Shakedown of Oil Execs Gives Dems an Opening

The New Republic

Trump’s Sleazy $1 Billion Shakedown of Oil Execs Gives Dems an Opening

Greg Sargent – May 11, 2024

Ever since Donald Trump descended that golden escalator in 2015, a central tenet of his bond with his supporters has been a simple promise to them: I have seen elite corruption and self-dealing from the inside, and I will put that know-how to work for you.

During that campaign, for instance, Trump could boast that not paying taxes “makes me smart,” knowing supporters would hear it in exactly those terms. More recently he has told the MAGA masses that in facing multiple criminal prosecutions, “I am being indicted for you,” as if he’s bravely journeying into the belly of the corrupt system mainly to expose how it’s victimized them.

A new Washington Post report that Trump made explicit policy promises to a roomful of Big Oil executives—while urging them to raise $1 billion for his campaign—is a powerful story in part because it wrecks what’s left of that mystique. In case you didn’t already know this, it shows yet again that if Trump has employed that aforementioned knowledge of elite corruption and self-dealing to any ends in his public career, it’s chiefly to benefit himself.

That counter narrative is a story that Democrats have a big opportunity to tell—if they seize on this news effectively. How might they do that?

For starters, the revelations seem to cry out for more scrutiny from Congress. Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island, who has been presiding over hearings into the oil industry as chair of the Budget Committee, says it’s “highly likely” that the committee will examine the new revelations.

“This is practically an invitation to ask more questions,” Whitehouse told me, describing this as a “natural extension of the investigation already underway.”

There’s plenty to explore. As the Post reports, an oil company executive at the gathering, held at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort last month, complained about environmental regulations under the Biden administration. Then this happened:

Trump’s response stunned several of the executives in the room overlooking the ocean: You all are wealthy enough, he said, that you should raise $1 billion to return me to the White House. At the dinner, he vowed to immediately reverse dozens of President Biden’s environmental rules and policies and stop new ones from being enacted, according to people with knowledge of the meeting, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a private conversation.

Giving $1 billion would be a “deal,” Trump said, because of the taxation and regulation they would avoid thanks to him, according to the people.

Obviously industries have long donated to politicians in both parties in hopes of governance that takes their interests into account, and they explicitly lobby for this as well. But in this case, Trump may have made detailed, concrete promises while simultaneously soliciting a precise amount in campaign contributions.

For instance, the Post reports, Trump vowed to scrap Biden’s ban on permits for new liquefied natural gas exports “on the first day.” He also promised to overturn new tailpipe emission limits designed to encourage the transition to electric vehicles, and he dangled more leases for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, “a priority that several of the executives raised.”

“The phrase that instantly came to mind as I was reading the story was ‘quid pro quo,’” Whitehouse told me. He also pointed to a new Politico report that oil industry officials are drawing up executive orders for Trump to sign as president. “Put those things together and it starts to look mighty damn corrupt,” Whitehouse said.

So what would be the legislative aim of a congressional inquiry into all this, and what might it look like? One argument is that knowing what transpired between those executives and Trump could inform an analysis of what’s wrong with our campaign finance laws—and how to fix them, says Noah Bookbinder, president for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

The rub here is this: It’s likely that what transpired between the executives and Trump is perfectly legal. It may not have risen to a solicitation of something of value directly in exchange for an official act. But determining whether it was as egregious as it seems, and examining how it may be permissible under current laws, would illuminate the gaping problems with them, Bookbinder noted.

“There’s a clear legislative purpose in determining what happened at the meeting,” Bookbinder said. If this really constituted “an attempt to link significant campaign contributions with specific policy promises,” Bookbinder continued, “that suggests a huge loophole that needs to be closed.”

Or, as Fred Wertheimer, the president of the watchdog group Democracy 21, told me, this episode “certainly looks like an offer of an exchange of policy for money.” Given that this was probably legal, Wertheimer added, Congress could “look at this as an example of what kind of corrupt campaign finance system exists today.”

Such a move could have second-order political effects. Republicans understand that when they use their power in Congress to kick up a lot of noise about something, it induces the media to make more of it than they otherwise might. Democrats could apply that lesson here.

Democrats could also highlight this affair as a clear indication of Trump’s broader priorities. This would entail pointing out that Trump has vowed to roll back Biden’s whole decarbonization agenda, meaning he’d cancel billions of dollars in subsidies and tax incentives fueling a manufacturing renaissance in green energy. This boom is happening in red areas, too: As Ron Brownstein reports, new Brookings Institution data shows that counties that backed Trump in 2020 are reaping outsize gains—including investments and jobs—from the transition to electric vehicles.

Yet Trump would like to see all this reversed, and he’s apparently dangling this before fossil fuel donors while demanding enormous campaign contributions from them. Making this all even more sordid, recall that Trump is channeling millions in donor money to high-priced lawyers who are defending him against multiple criminal prosecutions.

“Hundreds of thousands of good clean energy jobs have been announced, and whole communities are being revitalized as factories are being rebuilt,” Jesse Lee, a Democratic strategist who advises various climate groups, told me. “Trump is promising to crush it all in exchange for a $1 billion check from oil companies to pay his legal fees.” Trump also recently promised billionaire donors he’d keep their taxes low at another recent gala.

As The Atlantic’s David Graham details, Trump has long presented himself as an outsider—despite being a billionaire himself—by purporting to speak traitor-to-his-class blunt truths about how the rich buy politicians. This was always a transparent scam. Yet it seems even harder to sustain now that Trump has apparently placed himself at the center of that very same scam so conspicuously, making his own corrupt self-dealing as explicit as one could imagine.

If elected, Trump would throw into reverse our transition to a decarbonized future, one that’s creating untold numbers of manufacturing jobs—including in the very places that Trump has attacked Democratic elites for supposedly abandoning—all in exchange for mega-checks from chortling fat cats right out of the most garish of Gilded Age cartoons. For good measure, some of that loot could help Trump secure elite impunity for his own corruption and alleged crimes. We can’t say we weren’t warned. Trump has told us all this himself.

What Donald Trump Would Do for $1 Billion

By Jamelle Bouie – May 11, 2024

A cardboard cutout of Donald Trump stands near signs that say “Sale!” and “Clearance.”
Credit…Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call, via Getty Images

Not to spend too much time writing about Donald Trump this week, but I was struck by this report in The Washington Post on the former president’s recent overtures to oil executives. After hearing one executive during an event last month at his Mar-a-Lago club complain about supposedly burdensome environmental regulations promulgated by the Biden administration, Trump made a proposition.

You all are wealthy enough, he said, that you should raise $1 billion to return me to the White House. At the dinner, he vowed to immediately reverse dozens of President Biden’s environmental rules and policies and stop new ones from being enacted, according to people with knowledge of the meeting, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe a private conversation. Giving $1 billion would be a “deal,” Trump said, because of the taxation and regulation they would avoid thanks to him, according to the people.

The rest of the story goes on to describe Trump’s plans to gut the federal government’s response to climate change and facilitate more and greater fossil fuel extraction.

Trump told the executives that he would start auctioning off more leases for oil drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, a priority that several of the executives raised. He railed against wind power, as The Post previously reported. And he said he would reverse the restrictions on drilling in the Alaskan Arctic.

This would be a generational setback on climate change, a large and disastrous mortgage on the future so that oil and gas giants could fill their coffers for just a little bit longer before they are overtaken by clean energy.

I’m obviously angered by the blatant disregard for the planet and its inhabitants. But I’m also struck by the in-your-face brazenness of Trump’s reported quid pro quo. This is more than the hint of corruption; it is the overpowering scent of the rotting corpse of corruption. It is influence trading of the sort that would embarrass a Boss Tweed or a Roscoe Conkling, whose “honest graft” came with at least the pretense of pursuing the public good.

Even more striking than Trump’s corruption, however, is the fact that we seem to be completely unfazed by the fact that the former president has apparently offered to sell his prospective administration to fossil fuel interests. That might be because, from the beginning of his term to its end, Trump was a font for corruption while in office. His hotel, located just down the street from the White House, was a clearinghouse for anyone who wanted to buy a favor. His daughter and son-in-law may not have accomplished much as presidential advisers, but they walked away from the administration with upwards of hundreds of millions of dollars in new wealth. And six months after leaving the White House, Jared Kushner secured a $2 billion investment from a fund led by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia.

If Trump’s latest instance of corruption isn’t a campaign-ending scandal, it may be because it is nothing new. Trump is corrupt to his bones and now that appears to be as noteworthy as the weather.

Suspicious Frying Oil From China Is Hurting US Biofuels Business

Bloomberg

Suspicious Frying Oil From China Is Hurting US Biofuels Business

Kim Chipman, Tarso Veloso and Michael Hirtzer – May 7, 2024

(Bloomberg) — China is flooding the US with used cooking oil that the biofuel industry says may be tainted, hurting American farmers and President Joe Biden’s push to promote climate-friendly energy.

US imports of used cooking oil, an ingredient to make renewable diesel, more than tripled in 2023 from a year earlier, with more than 50% coming from China, according to the US International Trade Commission. American industry groups and biofuel executives are becoming increasingly worried that a significant amount of those supplies are fraudulent, and are urging the government to tighten scrutiny on the imports.

The heightened suspicions come after the European biofuel industry expressed similar concerns about cooking oil from China last year. Used cooking oil has a better carbon intensity score than feedstocks widely produced in the US like fresh soybean oil, so any potentially tainted imports are benefiting from Biden’s renewables incentives at the expense of American farmers.

Read More: Asia Floods Europe with Green Fuel Suspected to Be Fraudulent

“We’re putting more pressure on the US government to say what are we really importing,” said Todd Becker, chief executive officer of Green Plains Inc., which through its production of ethanol sells distillers corn oil, also a green diesel ingredient. “Somebody’s got to figure out that that’s not all Chinese used cooking oil.”

Tainted used cooking oil would exacerbate a challenging situation for farmers and agriculture companies. Companies including Bunge Global SA and Archer-Daniels-Midland Co. have been counting on soaring demand for crop-based green diesel feedstocks, but competition from foreign imports is eating into profits and jeopardizing ambitious expansion plans. More broadly, there is a risk that illegal shipments could worsen trade tensions between China and the US.

Imports of used cooking oil, or UCO, amounted to 1.4 million metric tons (3.1 billion pounds) in 2023 — equivalent to the oil squeezed from more than 6% of US soybeans crushed to make soyoil last season. In addition to having a more favorable carbon intensity score, UCO is also priced about a third cheaper than refined soyoil.

Read More: Soaring Imports of Green Diesel Feedstocks Disrupt US Soy Market

One of the biggest concerns is that China shippers are adding UCO to fresh palm oil. Palm, the world’s most widely used vegetable oil, is a bane to environmentalists and many countries because the industry is a key driver of deforestation in places like Indonesia as well as tied to labor abuses.

China’s Ministry of Commerce didn’t respond to a faxed request for comment.

The Environmental Protection Agency has had discussions with industry stakeholders, including the National Oilseed Processors Association, about concerns over increased imports of UCO and other food wastes, according to agency spokesman Nick Conger. He said the EPA is aware of the increased imports and that will be a factor in establishing volumes for and implementing the Renewable Fuel Standard Program, a law that mandates how much biofuel must be blended into the country’s fuel supply each year.

Under RFS, producers using UCO or animal waste such as beef tallow are required to keep records that vow the ingredients meet the legal definition of “renewable biomass” as well as describe the ingredient and identify the process used to obtain it.

“We are concerned that unless EPA and other agencies get a handle on this pretty quickly, it could potentially undermine the integrity of the Renewable Fuel Standard,” Geoff Cooper, chief executive officer of Renewable Fuels Association, said in an interview.

The surge in UCO imports is a top issue for NOPA, the trade group representing US seed processing industries for soybeans, canola and other crops. CEO Kailee Tkacz Buller said the group has had talks with federal lawmakers and agencies including the EPA and US Department of Agriculture.

Asia is by far the world’s biggest UCO supplier, led by China. The European Union initiated a probe into Asian imports last year at the request of European biodiesel producers, but the request was dropped. While the producers didn’t explicitly provide a reason for the change, they noted that biodiesel shipments to the EU from China’s Hainan Island — a green-fuel hot spot — immediately stopped after the start of the investigation.

“There is plenty of suspicion and lots of stories and anecdotes floating around,” said Cooper. “It appears to be one of the worst kept secrets out there that this is happening.”

–With assistance from Jennifer A. Dlouhy and Gerson Freitas Jr..

Scientists sound alarm as growing threat looms over coastal states: ‘We are preparing for the wrong disaster’

The Cool Down

Scientists sound alarm as growing threat looms over coastal states: ‘We are preparing for the wrong disaster’

Doric Sam – May 7, 2024

Scientists have issued a stern warning over the ongoing threat of rising sea levels caused by the ever-changing climate.

What’s happening?

A detailed report by The Washington Post revealed that coastal communities across eight states in the U.S. are facing “one of the most rapid sea level surges on Earth.” Since 2010, satellite data shows that the Gulf of Mexico has experienced twice the global average rate of rising sea levels, with more than a dozen tide gauges spanning from Texas to North Carolina registering sea levels that are at least six inches higher than they were 14 years ago.

While many understandably assume that extreme weather events like hurricanes are the source of these changes, experts revealed that rising water levels face a “newer, more insidious challenge” of accumulation caused by smaller-scale weather events.

“To me, here’s the story: We are preparing for the wrong disaster almost everywhere,” said Rob Young, a professor at Western Carolina University and director of the Program for the Study of Developed Shorelines. “These smaller changes will be a greater threat over time than the next hurricane, no question about it.”

Charleston, South Carolina recorded its fourth-highest water level since measurements began in 1899, with the city’s average rising by seven inches since 2010. Jacksonville, Florida has seen an increase of six inches during that period, but Galveston, Texas experienced a whopping eight-inch increase in 14 years.

Why is this concerning?

These rapidly increasing water levels are uncommon, and to make matters worse, experts believe they are here to stay even if the rate of the rise tapers off eventually.

“Since 2010, it’s very abnormal and unprecedented,” said Jianjun Yin, a climate scientist at the University of Arizona who has studied the changes. “It’s irreversible.”

Watch now: What’s the true environmental impact of renewable energy?

Rising global temperatures have caused warmer currents that cause water to expand. However, human-induced climate change caused by harmful gases and a lack of care for the environment have also contributed to these concerning issues.

The rising levels have particularly impacted the state of Louisiana, where wetlands that are meant to act as a natural barrier to catastrophic storms are now in a state of “drowning.” This issue would make the state more vulnerable to future major weather events.

Across the rest of the American South, failing septic systems can lead to contaminated water sources. During big storms, roads can fall below the highest tides and leave residents in the community cut off from essential services like medical care. Also, the future value of homes in flood-prone areas is being impacted by rising rates and limited policies from insurance companies.

What can be done about it?

Officials are trying to figure out ways to combat these issues. In Galveston, for example, there is a plan to install several pump stations over the next few years using funding provided through federal grants. However, it was noted that each pump is expected to cost over $60 million, which is likely to exceed the city’s annual tax revenue.

We can help by taking steps to reduce our own carbon footprint, like switching to electric vehicles, supporting local food sources, choosing native species when planting or volunteering for local cleanup projects in areas where rising sea levels pose a threat.

Join our free newsletter for cool news and cool tips that make it easy to help yourself while helping the planet.

New EV tax credit rules mean cars with Chinese materials won’t qualify — but there’s a catch

Yahoo! Finance

New EV tax credit rules mean cars with Chinese materials won’t qualify — but there’s a catch

‘Impracticable-to-trace’ elements like Chinese graphite will be temporarily excluded from EV tax credit rules, a boon for US automakers.

Pras Subramanian, Senior Reporter May 6, 2024

New rules from the Treasury Department will make it harder for vehicles to qualify for the full federal electric vehicle tax credit of $7,500 if key components are sourced from China.

But the rules also offered a two-year reprieve on some materials that are mostly sourced from China.

Late last week Treasury released new rules mandating that manufacturers not use critical materials that originate from a Foreign Entity of Concern (FEOC) — including China, Russia, North Korea, or Iran — by 2025 if they want to receive the full EV tax credit.

The federal government, however, is giving automakers some important leeway in sourcing some rarer materials, like graphite.

“The final regulations also identify certain impracticable-to-trace battery materials,” the Treasury said, adding that “qualified manufacturers may temporarily exclude these battery materials from FEOC due diligence and FEOC compliance determinations until 2027.”

Currently, the Inflation Reduction Act’s (IRA) federal EV credit requires that manufacturers ramp up sourcing of battery “critical materials” such as nickel and cobalt from the US and its trade partners and ensure that battery components are increasingly built in North America.

The White House’s goal with the mandates was to reduce the industry’s reliance on battery materials and components from China.

China’s chokehold over battery mineral production is the main concern for automakers who need to diversify supply chains and for the federal government as it looks to boost domestic production of these minerals. Morgan Stanley estimated that 90% of the EV battery supply chain originates from China, with Chinese companies like CATL and BYD dominating the space.

The “impracticable-to-trace” exemption is a boon for automakers in sourcing low-value and hard-to-trace elements like graphite, which is a critical component of a battery’s anode and comes mainly from China.

The automakers and their main trade group, the Alliance for Automotive Innovation (AAI), cheered the 2027 exemption for non-traceable elements.

“This updated guidance from the Treasury Department is something we recommended. It makes good sense for investment, job creation and consumer EV adoption,” said John Bozzella, AAI president and CEO.

This photo taken on Dec. 8, 2022 shows the graphitization process of cathode materials for lithium-ion batteries at a workshop of a company in Hegang City, northeast China's Heilongjiang Province. In recent years, Hegang City has upgraded the exploitation of graphite resources and boosted the city's industrial transformation by developing graphite industry, promoting the local economic development.   Hegang is rich in graphite resources with an annual production capacity of 6 million tons of ore. (Photo by Xie Jianfei/Xinhua via Getty Images)
This photo taken on Dec. 8, 2022, shows the graphitization process of cathode materials for lithium-ion batteries at a workshop of a company in Hegang City, northeast China’s Heilongjiang Province. (Photo by Xie Jianfei/Xinhua via Getty Images) (Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images)

Bozzella also noted that the EV tax credit was hard enough to qualify for; only 20% of EVs received the credit, and on top of that, requirements will get harder next year. Currently, only 22 vehicles sold in the US qualify for the tax credit, and only 13 of them qualify for the full $7,500.

A restriction on trace or low-value minerals would have meant even fewer (if not all EVs) would no longer qualify for the credit.

“Imagine an EV that complied with all IRA eligibility requirements but is kicked out of the program because of a trace amount of a critical mineral from an FEOC,” Bozzella said. “That makes no sense — especially when you consider the massive investments automakers and suppliers are making in domestic EV manufacturing.”

Read more: Are electric cars more expensive to insure?

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., questions Education Secretary Miguel Cardona during a Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, and Education, and Related Agencies hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, April 30, 2024, to examine the 2025 budget for the Department of Education. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
Sen. Joe Manchin questions Education Secretary Miguel Cardona during a hearing in Washington, on Tuesday, April 30, 2024. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh) (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

“President Biden’s Inflation Reduction Act has unleashed an investment and manufacturing boom in the United States,” Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said in a statement.

“I’ve seen firsthand in Tennessee, North Carolina, and Kentucky how ecosystems have developed in communities nationwide to onshore the entire clean vehicle supply chain so the United States can lead in the field of green energy.”

The White House also noted that 15 battery gigafactories have been commissioned in the US since the start of Biden’s term in office.

But critics, like Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who helped push IRA legislation through the Senate back in 2022, see this loophole as the White House “breaking the law.”

“With this final rule for the consumer credit, their creation of loopholes in the commercial vehicle credit, and their EPA tailpipe rules, the Administration is effectively endorsing ‘Made in China,'” the Democratic senator from West Virginia said in a statement, adding that the White House is “blatantly breaking the law by implementing a bill that they did not pass.”

Manchin has vowed to lead a Congressional Review Act resolution of disapproval for the IRA’s tax credit implementation, which could lead to the repeal of Treasury’s guidance for untraceable elements.

Pras Subramanian is a reporter for Yahoo Finance. 

Donald Trump puts America on notice again: If he loses, he won’t go quietly

Los Angeles Times

Donald Trump puts America on notice again: If he loses, he won’t go quietly

Doyle McManus – May 6, 2024

FILE - In this Jan. 6, 2021, file photo rioters loyal to President Donald Trump storm the U.S. Capitol in Washington. Arguments begin Tuesday, Feb. 9, in the impeachment trial of Donald Trump on allegations that he incited the violent mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)
Insurrectionists storm the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, after then-President Trump urged them to march to the building where lawmakers were certifying Joe Biden’s election win. (Associated Press)

Donald Trump has put America on notice: If he loses the presidential election, he reserves the right to encourage his followers to fight.

When Time magazine asked Trump whether the election would end in political violence if he loses, the former president replied: “If we don’t win, you know, it depends. It always depends on the fairness of an election.”

“If everything’s honest, I’ll gladly accept the results,” he later told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “If it’s not, you have to fight for the right of the country.”

When Trump says “it depends,” here’s the problem: He has never competed in an election that he acknowledged as fair.

Even when he won the presidential election of 2016, he claimed that Hillary Clinton and the Democrats rigged the count to deny him a popular-vote landslide, contending without evidence that millions of noncitizens had voted in California. The official inquiry he ordered up found no significant irregularities.

In 2020, when he lost to President Biden by 7 million votes, Trump not only claimed the result was illegitimate; he worked for months to overturn it, demanding that state officials “find” thousands of new votes in his favor. When his court challenges failed, he summoned supporters to Washington and urged them to march on the Capitol.

“If you don’t fight like hell, you won’t have a country any more,” he told them. The mob responded by invading the building.

He returned to that apocalyptic theme last week, when he told supporters in Wisconsin that if Biden wins a second term, “we won’t have a country left.”

Read more: Biden’s big move on marijuana: Will voters give him credit?

Joe Biden is destroying our country,” Trump said at a rally. “The enemy from within is more dangerous than China and Russia. … I actually think our country is not going to survive.”

Read more: Column: Joe Biden’s empathy was his superpower in 2020. Can he find it again in 2024?

It was as if he was priming his followers for extreme measures if he doesn’t prevail.

And it was part of a long pattern. In January, he warned that if his four criminal indictments prevent him from winning, the result will be “bedlam in the country.”

“It’s the opening of a Pandora’s box,” he warned.

In March, he posted a video on his social media account showing an image of Biden hog-tied like a prisoner.

And for months he has extolled the defendants convicted of violent crimes in the Jan. 6, 2021, insurrection as “hostages,” promising to pardon many or all if he is reelected.

“He’s telling us what his intentions are, as he did before Jan. 6,” Juliette Kayyem, a terrorism expert at Harvard University, said recently on PBS. “The language is the language of incitement. … If he loses, we certainly know from what Trump has said — and we also know from what the FBI is telling us — that there are large groups and organizations that are preparing to continue the fight.”

Read more: Column: Trump has big plans for California if he wins a second term. Fasten your seatbelts

As matters stand in the presidential campaign, that kind of 2020-style crisis may not recur, since Trump stands a good chance of winning.

The average of public opinion polls published by fivethirtyeight.com shows a dead heat in the national popular vote — but it shows Trump winning in all six of the most important swing states: Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.

Trump used a day off from his New York criminal trial Wednesday to campaign in Michigan and Wisconsin, where he returned to his warnings about an unfair election process.

Read more: Column: Trump’s hush-money criminal trial could be a cure for ‘Trump amnesia’

“The radical-left Democrats rigged the presidential election in 2020,” he claimed untruthfully yet again. “We’re not going to allow them to rig the presidential election in 2024. We won’t have a country left … 2024 is our final battle.”

For months, Biden has sought to remind voters that Trump, if reelected, would run roughshod over the norms of American government and politics.

Democracy is on the ballot,” the president often says.

Read more: Column: Trump wants to round up over a million undocumented migrants from California. Here’s how he might do it

By reminding voters that he doesn’t accept the duty to recognize the result of an election he loses, Trump has paradoxically bolstered Biden’s case.

For some voters, this election may come down to a choice between preserving democracy and hoping for a return of the low inflation of the Trump years. They may not find it an easy choice.

A survey last year by the Public Religion Research Institute found that 38% of Americans believe the country needs “a leader who is willing to break some rules if that’s what it takes to set things right.” That substantial minority included 48% of Republicans.

When Time’s reporter asked Trump whether his rhetoric about overriding the Constitution and ruling as a “dictator for a day” might alienate voters, the former president disagreed.

“I think a lot of people like it,” he said.

Unfortunately, he’s right.

Read more: Column: Biden says America is ‘coming back.’ Trump says we’re ‘in hell.’ Are they talking about the same nation?

Read more: Column: Trump loves fossil fuels; California wants clean energy. Cue collision