American west stuck in cycle of ‘heat, drought and fire’, experts warn

American west stuck in cycle of ‘heat, drought and fire’, experts warn

<span>Photograph: Noah Berger/AP</span>
Photograph: Noah Berger/AP

 

As fires propagate throughout the US west on the heels of record heat waves, experts are warning that the region is caught in a vicious feedback cycle of extreme heat, drought and fire, all amplified by the climate crisis.

Firefighters are battling blazes from Arizona to Washington state that are burning with a worrying ferocity, while officials say California is already set to outpace last year’s record-breaking fire season.

Extreme heat waves over the past few weeks – which have smashed records everywhere from southern California to Nevada and Oregon – are causing the region’s water reserves to evaporate at an alarming rate, said Jose Pablo Ortiz Partida, a climate scientist for the Union of Concerned Scientists, a non-profit advocacy group. And devoid of moisture, the landscape heats up quickly, like a hot plate, desiccating the landscape and turning vegetation into kindling.

Related: In California’s interior, there’s no escape from the desperate heat: ‘Why are we even here?’

“For our most vulnerable, disadvantaged communities, this also creates compounding health effects,” Ortiz said. “First there’s the heat. Then for many families their water supplies are affected. And then it’s also the same heat and drought that are exacerbating wildfires and leading to smoky, unhealthy air quality.”

In northern California, the largest wildfire to hit the state this year broke out over the weekend and has so far consumed more than 140 sq miles (362 sq km). The Beckwourth Complex grew so fast and with such intensity that it whipped up a rare fire tornado – a swirling vortex of smoke and fire.

Meanwhile, the Bootleg fire in southern Oregon engulfed more than 240 sq miles (621 sq km) and has doubled in size three times over the weekend. After the fire disrupted electric transmission lines, California’s power grid operator asked residents to conserve electricity on Monday evening to avoid brownouts.

“The fire behavior we are seeing on the Bootleg fire is among the most extreme you can find and firefighters are seeing conditions they have never seen before,” Al Lawson, an incident commander for the Bootleg fire, said in a statement.

Volunteer firefighters in Washington state.
Volunteer firefighters in Washington state. Photograph: David Ryder/Getty Images

 

The intensity of the fires in California and Oregon is “not something you used to see” so early in the season, absent the strong late summer and fall winds that fuel the west’s biggest fires, said Daniel Swain, a climate scientist with the University of California, Los Angeles. The unprecedented drought gripping the west, alongside “mind-blowing” heat waves, are fueling extreme fires this year, Swain said, adding that the extreme conditions could set the stage for “considerably worse” fires in late summer and fall. Historically, September and October have been the worst months for megafires in California.

This week, smoke from the various fires in the west is expected to carry across the country, reaching up into Minnesota and bleeding into central Canada. Forecasters are predicting that the intense high temperatures that came last weekend as a heat dome smothered the west are likely to ease later this week, and the south-west is likely to see some drought-relieving rain throughout the week. Still, large swaths of the west, including California, the Pacific north-west, and the northern Rocky Mountain region are expected to face dangerous conditions, including the possibility of dry lightning and strong winds.

In Salton City, California, a receding waterline shows the drought&#x002019;s impact.
In Salton City, California, a receding waterline shows the drought’s impact. Photograph: Aude Guerrucci/Reuters

 

“All of these fires bear some sign of climate change, which is really a threat multiplier,” said Faith Kearns, a scientist at the California Institute for Water Resources. “We have always had fires in the west. The landscape is in many ways forged in fire. But the intensity of the fires we’re seeing now, that some of these fires are happening so early in the summer, those things are definitely concerning.”

For climate scientists and fire ecologists who have been warning for decades that global heating would bring on hotter heat waves, drier droughts and more fire, “it can be really demoralizing and very frustrating to find ourselves here,” Kearns said. “Maybe this year will finally be the one to heighten our sense of just how vulnerable we are.”

Whether that leads to big changes in the public’s will to address the climate crisis and adapt to a landscape that is expected to burn with increasing intensity “remains up in the air”, she said.

Western wildfires: Over 300K acres burned across 6 states; 2 firefighters dead after plane crashes in Arizona

Western wildfires: Over 300K acres burned across 6 states; 2 firefighters dead after plane crashes in Arizona

 

More than 300,000 acres are burning across six states across the western United States on Sunday as the region battled yet another brutal heat wave that shattered records and strained power grids.

The largest, the so-called Bootleg Fire, burned across 143,607 acres in Oregon and was 0% contained. Officials in neighboring state California asked all residents to reduce power consumption quickly after the fire knocked out interstate power lines, preventing up to 4,000 megawatts of electricity from flowing into the state.

“The Bootleg Fire will see the potential for extreme growth today,” the National Weather Service in Medford, Oregon, said on Twitter, fueled by extreme drought and temperatures near 100 that aren’t expected to subside until midweek.

“The fire behavior we are seeing on the Bootleg Fire is among the most extreme you can find and firefighters are seeing conditions they have never seen before,” fire incident commander Al Lawson said.

Further south, the equally formidable Beckwourth Complex Fire measured 83,926 acres and was 8% contained in California, edging along the border with Nevada. It’s the largest wildfire of the year in the state.

The fire is composed of the Dotta and Sugar fires. The Dotta Fire is approximately 670 acres and 99% contained. The Sugar Fire is 83,256 acres and 8% contained.

It jumped a major highway, U.S. 395 Saturday night, and threatened homes in Nevada’s Washoe County. Excessive heat warnings were in place in both Nevada and California as firefighters worked in searing drought weather.

NV Energy, Nevada’s largest power provider, also urged customers to conserve electricity Saturday and Sunday evenings.

Western heat wave: Las Vegas tied all-time high of 117; Palm Springs hits 120

Death Valley in southeastern California’s Mojave Desert reached 128 degrees Fahrenheit on Saturday, according to the National Weather Service’s reading at Furnace Creek. The shockingly high temperature was actually lower than the previous day, when the location reached 130,

The 130-degree reading, if confirmed, would be the hottest high recorded there since July 1913, when Furnace Creek desert hit 134, considered the highest measured temperature on Earth.

The National Weather Service warned the dangerous conditions could cause heat-related illnesses.

Palm Springs in Southern California hit a record high temperature of 120 Saturday. It was the fourth time temperatures have reached 120 degrees so far this year, the Desert Sun reported.

In California’s agricultural Central Valley, 100-degree temperatures blanketed the region, with Fresno reaching 111 degrees, just one degree short of the all-time high for the date.

Las Vegas on Saturday afternoon tied the all-time high of 117, the National Weather Service said. The city has recorded that record-high temperature four other times, most recently in June 2017.

California’s wildfires off to ‘a daunting start,’ currently outpacing historic 2020 season

2 firefighters dead after responding to Arizona wildfire

Two Arizona firefighters died after a plane responding to a wildfire in the state crashed on Saturday afternoon, according to the federal Bureau of Land Management. The Cedar Story Basin Fire was 700 acres and was 0% contained.

At least four wildfires were burning in southeast Washington, the largest of which was 46,352 acres, as record-breaking temperatures over the past week left the state very dry, according to Commissioner of Public Lands Hilary Franz.

In Idaho, Gov. Brad Little declared a wildfire emergency Friday and mobilized the state’s National Guard to help fight fires sparked after lightning storms swept across the drought-stricken region. The wildfires there had burned a combined 39,000 acres as of Sunday.

And in Montana, several fires throughout the state closed roads and triggered evacuation orders.

Contributing: Zach Urness and Virginia Barreda, Salem Statesman Journal; Kristin Oh, Reno Gazette-Journal; The Associated Press

Heat wave pounds the West: Over 100 degrees forecast for California, Oregon, Arizona, Nevada

Heat wave pounds the West: Over 100 degrees forecast for California, Oregon, Arizona, Nevada

Emily Shapiro and Max Golembo                       June 1, 2021

 

A heat wave is pounding the West where scorching temperatures will reach Washington state, Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah and Arizona on Tuesday.

Sacramento smashed a record high on Memorial Day, reaching 104 degrees.

PHOTO: Houseboats are moored on Lake Oroville reservoir during the California drought emergency, May 25, 2021, in Oroville, Calif. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)
PHOTO: Houseboats are moored on Lake Oroville reservoir during the California drought emergency, May 25, 2021, in Oroville, Calif. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP via Getty Images)

 

Redding, also in Northern California, reached a sweltering 109 degrees on Monday, breaking the record for the entire month of May.

MORE: How to stay safe in a heat wave

On Tuesday temperatures are expected to climb to 107 degrees in Bakersfield, California; 105 degrees in Las Vegas; 104 degrees in Medford, Oregon; and 104 degrees in Phoenix.

PHOTO: A map shows record heat expected in California and the western U.S., June 1, 2021. (ABC News)
PHOTO: A map shows record heat expected in California and the western U.S., June 1, 2021. (ABC News)

 

The heat wave comes as fire danger is especially high in southern Oregon, where a red flag warning has been issued.

California is also at risk for fires.

California’s snow has been melting ahead of schedule, which means vegetation will be unusually dry as the Golden State approaches wildfire season later this summer and early fall.

MORE: West anticipating dangerous fire season due to severe drought conditions

Meanwhile, four states from Texas to Missouri are under flood alerts Tuesday morning. More flooding is forecast Tuesday as this storm system slowly moves through the area.

By Wednesday, the severe weather and heavy rain will move into the Ohio River Valley and Tennessee River Valley with damaging winds and flash flooding possible.

By Thursday, the storm will reach the Northeast with severe weather and damaging winds expected from Virginia to New Jersey.

Opinion: Texas could be the epicenter of the clean energy future

Austin American Statesman

Opinion: Texas could be the epicenter of the clean energy future

 

By: Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez       May 17, 2021

While everything, including our economy, is bigger in Texas, we are not immune to market forces that have long made working people the victims of the booms and busts in the oil and gas industry. From March to August of 2020, Texas lost 100,000 oil and gas jobs, and while some will say it’s only because of the COVID-19-induced economic recession, the truth is oil and gas jobs were already in decline. In fact, in 2018 and 2019 Texas’ growth in energy jobs wasn’t coming from oil and gas, but from advanced clean energy. Today, there are 161,000 oil and gas jobs in Texas and 254,000 advanced energy jobs.

Texas is the largest carbon emitter in the country, and yet no state can produce as much wind and solar energy as the Lone Star State. Texas’ status as the global energy capital of the country is under threat because of a lack of political will from many of our elected leaders who are refusing to invest the resources to make us a leader in renewable energy. Texas politicians should know it will devastate our economy to stand in the way of progress on this issue. Those who do are paving the way for California or China to eclipse us and become the leader in the clean energy economy. We have to make sure Texas wins this race.

Texans are proud to say that we don’t run away from big problems, we tackle them head-on. But when it comes to leading the global energy transition, many political leaders are burying their heads in the sand. Senator Ted Cruz still claims the “data is mixed” on whether climate change is real, even though 99% of scientists agree the data is clear that climate change is real and carbon emissions are causing it.

Even when Texas’ elected leaders like Senator John Cornyn acknowledge the reality of climate change, they like to paint the climate crisis as insurmountable and too expensive to solve. It isn’t. It’s completely solvable and millions of Americans’ lives would be better off for it—especially in Texas—if our elected leaders demonstrated the courage and vision to lead the global energy revolution already underway.

Texas is the largest wind producer in the country, producing nearly three times more than any state. Many people outside of Texas are surprised that a state so synonymous with oil and gas is actually leading the country in wind energy production. What’s more surprising is how Texas became a leader in wind energy. Despite having elected leaders who boast about Texas having as little government as possible, government intervention and investment led to Texas becoming number one in wind production.

Back in 1999, legislators set concrete goals for the percentage of energy Texas needed to generate from renewable sources and restructured the electricity system to start delivering a greater percentage of wind energy to consumers. Wind and solar occupations are now the fastest-growing jobs in America and they pay $16,000 more than most workers in Texas make annually. If Texas used the same formula of government investment to create a 100% clean energy economy, it would spur growth and create hundreds of thousands of more jobs in construction, manufacturing, and research and development.

Setting ambitious goals to meet the scale of the challenge and investing in the rapid transition to a clean energy economy could be one of the smartest and most effective ways to come out of our current economic recession. Many of the nation’s top economists predict that President Joe Biden’s climate plan would put millions of Americans back to work.

One thing is clear: no state has as much to gain or lose in the energy transition as Texas.

Cristina Tzintzun Ramirez is executive director of NextGen America, the nation’s largest youth voter mobilization organization. A former U.S. Senate candidate she authored a 1 million Good Green Jobs plan for Texas.

As hurricane season approaches, 3 insurers canceling thousands of Florida customers

As hurricane season approaches, 3 insurers canceling thousands of Florida customers

Ron Hurtibise, South Florida Sun Sentinel       May 18, 2021

As another hurricane season bears down on the state, more than 50,000 Florida home insurance customers will soon receive notices that their policies have been canceled or won’t be renewed.

State insurance regulators recently authorized “extraordinary” terminations of thousands of policies of Florida-based insurers Universal Insurance of North America, Gulfstream Property & Casualty, and Southern Fidelity.

And the bloodletting will likely continue over the coming months with other insurers seeking to shed risky or unprofitable policies while refusing to insure older homes with roofs, electrical systems and plumbing that have not been upgraded to comply with current building codes, said Paul Handerhan, president of the consumer-focused Federal Association for Insurance Reform.

“For the average consumer, the outlook is not bright,” he said. “There will be less options at higher price points.”

The consent orders by the state Office of Insurance Regulation authorizing the early cancellations did not specify locations of affected policyholders, and officials of the companies did not respond to requests for information. But if recent history is any guide, affected consumers are likely disproportionately located in Broward, Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, as well as in the Orlando metro area.

Insurers have been reducing their exposure in the three South Florida counties for several years, saying they are the source of inflated damage claims, excessive litigation and outright fraud. The trend recently has spread to Orange, Seminole, Osceola and Lake counties in Central Florida, insurers contend.

The consent orders, signed by Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier, said approval of the cancellations and non-renewals “is an extraordinary statutory remedy reserved to address insurers which [otherwise] are or may be in hazardous financial condition.”

Many, though not all, Florida-based insurers have been reporting operating losses over the past five years as a result of rising claims costs, more frequent severe weather events, increased lawsuits and higher costs of reinsurance — insurance that insurers buy to guarantee they can pay all claims after a catastrophe.

Here are details of what Altmaier authorized in the consent orders:

—Gulfstream Property and Casualty — The Sarasota-based company, which reported a net loss of $22.6 million in 2020, may cancel 20,311 policies before their terms expire with 45 days’ notice. They include 932 condominium owner policies and 47 tenant policies. Refunds for the balance of those policies’ terms must be sent to policyholders by June 1.

—Universal Insurance Company of North America — Also based in Sarasota, the company may cancel 13,294 policies with 45 days’ notice. Not to be confused with Universal Property & Casualty, the state’s largest property insurer, the company also reported a $22.6 million net loss in 2020. The company agreed to administrative supervision by the state if its pending merger with Texas-based Universal North America Insurance Company is not approved by Texas insurance regulators.

—Southern Fidelity Insurance Company — Based in Tallahassee, the company was approved to drop 19,600 residential policies over the next 14 months. About 2,300 insurance customers will be sent notices of nonrenewal with less than the required 120 days’ advance notice. Last year, state regulators authorized cancellation of 23,800 policies following Southern Fidelity’s merger with Capitol Preferred.

Homeowners who get a notice of cancellation or nonrenewal should move quickly to secure coverage with another company, the Office of Insurance Regulation says on its website. Terms of the consent orders require the companies to work with affected customers and their insurance agents to help them find new carriers.

Many, if not most, of those customers will end up with little choice but to buy a policy from state-owned Citizens Property Insurance Corp., the so-called “insurer of last resort.” Citizens policies are considered inferior to private-market policies because the company limits personal liability coverage and subjects its customers to surcharges if Citizens can’t pay all claims after a catastrophe.

Citizens has been rapidly growing as private-market insurers cancel and decline to renew Florida policies. That growth is worrying legislators who know that an inability by a swollen Citizens to pay all claims after a major storm will trigger not just surcharges for Citizens customers but surcharges for all property insurance customers in Florida.

Citizens, which expands and contracts as market conditions warrant, is growing by about 5,000 policies a week and could reach 700,000 by the end of the year. In 2018, it had fallen to 452,000 policies.

Handerhan said policyholders who receive notices of cancellation or nonrenewal should contact numerous agents if necessary to find out if another company will insure them at an affordable price. They should settle for Citizens only if they cannot find a viable alternative, he said.

Citizens spokesman Michael Peltier said he doesn’t know how many of the canceled policies will end up at Citizens. But the company is ready for them, he said.

“We are in a good position to handle any policies that come our way,” he said by email. “We have been in ramp-up mode for some time as we respond to market conditions over the past year.”

Ultimately, owners of older homes in Florida will have some serious and expensive decisions to make if they want to avoid going with Citizens, Handerhan said. More and more companies are deciding it’s too expensive to insure homes that don’t conform to current building codes, he said.

As a result, “owners of older properties are going to have to dig into their pockets and come up to current code” before insurers will accept their business, he said.

Joesph Petrelli, president of the insurance strength rating firm Demotech, said further cancellations could follow, thanks to the Florida Legislature’s failure to pass legal reforms that would have sharply reduced insurers’ obligations to pay roof replacement claims and slashed financial incentives for attorneys who sue insurers.

“The status of the residential property insurance marketplace in Florida is such that carriers are rethinking their business models and their operations,” Petrelli said by email.

While the reforms that were passed — and currently await the governor’s signature — are expected to reduce costs for insurers, those reductions won’t become apparent for 12 to 15 months, Handerhan said.

NM may lose ownership of its water rights

Tribune Publishing

NM may lose ownership of its water rights

Mike Gallagher, Albuquerque Journal, N.M.       April 24, 2021

 

Apr. 24—The New Mexico Supreme Court recently decided to let stand a Court of Appeals decision that the Engineer’s Office says would rob the state of its ability to regulate water rights in New Mexico.

Now, the state engineer is asking the Supreme Court to reconsider that ruling.

The legal path leading to the problem is complicated and centers on the state’s negotiated settlement with the Navajo Nation on allocation of water rights from the San Juan River.

That settlement, approved by Congress, was challenged by the San Juan Agricultural Water Users Association.

In upholding the settlement in 2018, the Court of Appeals reasoned that the state of New Mexico “lacks ownership claim” in water within its borders and that the settlement agreement “preempts” state law.

The opinion was written by retired U.S. District Judge Bruce Black, who was appointed by the state Supreme Court to hear the case. Prior to serving on the federal bench, Black was a state Court of Appeals judge.

“The opinion’s erroneous reasoning that congressional approval of the Settlement Agreement resulted in it becoming federal law that preempts state law would have dire consequences for future settlements of Indian water rights claims in New Mexico,” attorneys for the State Engineer’s Office said in a request for reconsideration.

The request for a rehearing said the Court of Appeals decision “eviscerates the primacy of the State over its water resources, in the face of 150 years of unwavering federal deference to State authority.”

The Supreme Court initially granted a writ filed by the state engineer to hear the case, but then decided not to proceed with hearing the appeal.

The latest court filings ask the court to reconsider and hear the case.

Attorneys for the State Engineers Office and others involved in the settlement with the Navajo Nation say the stakes are high.

The Court of Appeals reasoning, they argue, finds that the federal government, not the state, controls the public waters in New Mexico.

“If congressional approval of Indian water right settlements results in preemption of state law, the state will be forced to choose between losing control over its waters or foregoing the benefit to New Mexico’s economy of millions of dollars in federal funding provided for these settlements,” the Engineer’s Office said.

For example, attorneys said, the settlement agreement with the Navajo Nation brought more than $1.3 billion into the state for construction of the Navajo-Gallup Water Supply Project.

The Court of Appeals decision also puts into question the way the state has traditionally adjudicated water rights.

According to the court filing, the language in the Court of Appeals decision threatens the state’s current negotiations with nine Pueblos and tribes to settle water rights claims.

“If not corrected, the language will create confusion over State permitting authority, impede efforts by stakeholders to address important water management issues like surface land subsidence, groundwater depletion and drought management by shortage sharing,” the state argues in its request.

The Court of Appeals’ reasoning that the settlement agreements preempt state law was based, at least in part, on the need for congressional approval of the settlement agreement between the state and the Navajo Nation.

But the State Engineers Office said that congressional approval was needed because the agreement included waivers of the Navajo Nation’s water rights claims and the need for congressional approval of funding for various water projects.

The involvement of Congress in approving the settlement did not strip the power of the state to regulate the waters within its boundaries, the state said in court filings.

The Albuquerque-Bernalillo County Water Utility Authority and the city of Gallup have joined the State Engineers Office in requesting the rehearing.

The water utility authority serves 700,000 people in the Albuquerque metropolitan area and was part of the settlement because it receives water through the San Juan-Chama diversion project.

The city of Gallup plans to play a central role in using water from the San Juan River to supply not just city residents, but areas of the Navajo Nation that are now dependent on underground water supplies.

What is the filibuster? A look at the Senate’s consequential quirk and debate on its future

USA Today

What is the filibuster? A look at the Senate’s consequential quirk and debate on its future

Matthew Brown                                   March 20, 2021

 

WASHINGTON – Democrats have unified control of Congress and the White House for the first time in a decade, an opportunity the party wants to use to enact an ambitious agenda of stronger labor laws, expanded health care and sweeping packages on infrastructure, climate change and voting rights.

The fate of that agenda – and any legislation passed in Congress – hinges on a rule of the Senate that requires 60 votes to end debate before a simple majority can pass any bill.

The filibuster, once an obscure procedure, has been increasingly used to stall priorities of the majority coalition, most notably on issues relating to race and civil rights. When senators have been at their most intransigent, majority parties have created filibuster exceptions for key areas of legislating, including for executive and judicial appointments.

Now, as a 50-50 Senate split puts the fate of Democrats’ priorities in the balance, many in the party call on the Senate to abolish the practice .

“The filibuster is still making a mockery of American democracy,” Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the second-highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate, said during a floor speech March 10.

“The filibuster is still being misused by some senators to block legislation urgently needed and supported by a strong majority of the American people,” he argued.

Joe Biden, a longtime senator before he was elected president, expressed openness to changing the practice, which allows senators to talk on the floor to delay legislation, often for hours.

“I don’t think that you have to eliminate the filibuster; you have to do it, what it used to be when I first got to the Senate back in the old days,” Biden said Wednesday during an interview with ABC News. “You had to stand up and command the floor, and you had to keep talking.”

Defenders, including Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., argued the supermajority rule requiring at least 60 votes to overcome a filibuster encourages bipartisan compromise and general decorum of the Senate. Republicans, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said the filibuster protects the rights of the minority party.

McConnell warned Tuesday that removing the filibuster would lead to a “completely scorched earth Senate,” cautioning that when Republicans again held the majority, they would pass an expansive conservative agenda, and Democrats would have little recourse to stop them.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., warns Democrats not to tamper with the filibuster.

“If I became skeptical of the filibuster, it’s because of your use of it,” Durbin told McConnell, saying the Kentucky Republican “can’t have it both ways. It can’t be a rare procedure and be a procedure that dominates the actual business of the Senate as this has done for so many years.”

Much of the modern debate about the filibuster centers on the merits of different governing philosophies, long-standing norms and cold political calculus. The origins of the supermajority threshold were much more accidental.

Realized as a quirk of Senate rules, it has since been entrenched through precedent. Here is how American politics reached this pivotal moment.

What is a filibuster?

A filibuster is a practice whereby any lawmaker can stall action by extending debate or using other tactics. Such strategies are as old as representative democracy – in 60 B.C., Cato the Younger effectively filibustered the Roman Senate.

The word “filibuster” has its origins in piracy. Dutch, French and Spanish all share words referring to “vribuyter,” “flibutier” and “filibustero,” or pirates who would plunder ships and colonies. The word was eventually imported into English as “flee-booter,” meaning a pirate who steals loot or “booty.”

By the 19th century, flee-booters had become “filibusters.” The word became an insult in Congress, where politicians accused lawmakers who held up legislation with a filibuster of effectively raiding the Senate.

The American filibuster is 215 years old

The filibuster as a legislative tool was accidentally created in 1806,when the Senate, at the urging of Vice President Aaron Burr a year before, eliminated the “previous question” motion, a rarely used rule that allowed the Senate to vote to move on from an issue being debated. That unexpectedly opened the door for senators to continue debate on a topic indefinitely – the filibuster.

It wasn’t regularly used until the mid-19th century, when senators used the tactic to stonewall debate over the limiting or abolition of slavery. There was no procedure to end a filibuster, so pro-slavery politicians such as Sen. John Calhoun of South Carolina stifled abolitionist and “free soil” measures against slavery’s expansion with impunity.

The filibuster was effectively limited only by Senate norms and the personal relationships between lawmakers until 1917, when the Senate enacted the cloture rule. The rule, passed to support the American war effort in World War I, allowed two-thirds of senators to end debate on a topic.

Sen. Strom Thurmond set the record for longest filibuster in 1957.

The filibuster was infrequently used and often overruled by the governing coalition. The exception during the 20th century was civil rights law. Southern senators supportive of the Jim Crow system of racial segregation and white supremacy used the filibuster to vehemently oppose any expansion of educational, economic or voting rights for Black Americans.

The longest filibuster in U.S. history was South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond’s filibuster of the Civil Rights Act of 1957; he spoke for 24 hours and 18 minutes in opposition. Thurmond and other Southern senators stalled the bill’s passage from March to June 1957.

Senators also filibustered the Civil Rights Act of 1964 for two months until 71 senators came together for a cloture vote.

The evolution of the modern filibuster

Recent decades have seen the filibuster’s influence over all types of legislation grow, causing frustrated majorities to create exceptions for when the practice can be used.

In 1975, the number of votes needed to invoke cloture was brought down to 60 votes. Later years brought minor limits on debate after a filibuster was ended.

The 1970s also saw the Senate adopt rules that allowed a senator to filibuster one topic while the chamber moved on to different business.  The change, on top of the growing policy divisions between the two major parties and the increasing fragility of congressional majorities, caused the filibuster to be used for all types of Senate proceedings.

Starting in the 1990s, the filibuster progressively became a tool of the minority party to thwart the policy ambitions of the majority.

President Bill Clinton’s health care package was stalled by filibusters, frustrating the White House so much it debated ending the rule. During the George W. Bush administration, Democrats used the filibuster to stop judicial nominees they saw as too radical.

In 2013, after Republicans stonewalled any judicial nominee from President Barack Obama, the Democratic Senate eliminated the filibuster’s 60-vote threshold for the confirmation of lower court judges. Obama said the move was necessary to overcome “an unprecedented pattern of obstruction” from the opposition.

In 2017, Republicans expanded the judicial carve-out for the filibuster to include Supreme Court confirmations, clearing the way for Justice Neil Gorsuch to ascend to the high court.

The Senate has two ways to get around the modern filibuster: a “unanimous consent” motion and budget reconciliation. For a unanimous consent vote, all senators are asked if there are any objections to any debate on a given bill. If any senator objects, debate continues.

In budget reconciliation, a bill may be passed with a simple majority if all its provisions relate to the federal budget. This process was used to pass the American Rescue Plan, Democrats’ $1.9 trillion spending package to help people struggling during the coronavirus pandemic.

Future of the filibuster

At the start of 2021, McConnell pressured Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., to promise to protect the legislative filibuster before Republicans would approve the rules to govern the new Congress. McConnell did so by effectively filibustering the rules package.

Manchin and Sinema allayed McConnell’s concerns, when they promised they would not vote to abolish the supermajority threshold.

The episode summed up the current dynamic: Senior Democratic leaders see the rule as a stranglehold on their agenda, and governing in general. The pressure to pass at least some of the party’s top priorities pushes Democratic leaders to call for filibuster changes.

“There’s no way under the sun that in 2021 that we are going to allow the filibuster to be used to deny voting rights. That just ain’t gonna happen. That would be catastrophic,” Democratic Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., said March 7, directly calling out Manchin and Sinema.

Moderates have been difficult to read on the issue. Manchin, who briefly expressed openness to changing the filibuster, quickly backtracked and emphasized he would “never” change the rule.

Some Democrats on Capitol Hill are biding their time, assuming Republicans will force the issue by not compromising on any of Biden’s policy priorities. “If the Republicans block S. 1, that will turn up the heat on taking away Mitch McConnell’s veto,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D- Mass., claimed, referring to the For the People voting rights bill.

Though the highly polarized Senate and anxious desire among many Democrats to fulfill their campaign promises point to a dim future for the filibuster, some senators have begun trying to pull the chamber back from the brink.

“It’s something the group of 20 of us, 10 Republicans and 10 Democrats, will discuss tomorrow and decide whether we take this up. Or whether instead, we focus on the minimum wage,” Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, told Politico in his outline of a new centrist coalition trying to cooperate on bills.

Whatever senators conclude is the best path forward regarding the filibuster, the upper chamber has entered a political era reflective of the nation its lawmakers represent: closely divided, hyper-polarized and anxious about its future.

Could Rubber From Dandelions Make Tires More Sustainable?

Could Rubber From Dandelions Make Tires More Sustainable?

Deutsche Welle

Could Rubber From Dandelions Make Tires More Sustainable? - EcoWatch
Planting dandelions could help reduce deforestation caused by traditional rubber plantations. Tashka / Getty Images

 

In 1931, Soviet scientists were on the hunt for a natural source of rubber that would help the USSR become self-sufficient in key materials.

They scoured the vast and various territories of the Soviet Union and tested over 1,000 different species looking for an alternative to the South American rubber tree, Hevea brasiliensi. Eventually, on the steppes of Kazakhstan, they found one.

By 1941, the Russian dandelion, Taraxacum koksaghyz, supplied 30% of the USSR’s rubber. During the Second World War, shortages of Havea rubber prompted other countries, including the United States, Britain and Germany, to begin cultivating dandelion rubber.

Once the war was over and supplies returned to normal, these countries — including, ultimately, the Soviets — switched back to Hevea tree rubber because it was cheaper.

But now, with demand for rubber continuing to grow, there is renewed interest in the Russian dandelion, particularly from the tire industry, which consumes 70% of the world’s rubber supply.

Diversifying Natural Rubber

Overall, 65% of rubber consumed worldwide is derived from fossil fuels. This synthetic rubber is cheaper and more hardwearing than its natural counterpart. But natural rubber disperses heat better and has better grip, which is why tires are made with a mix of both.

Today, 90% of natural rubber comes from Havea plantations in Southeast Asia, which have been linked to deforestation. And there are commercial as well as environmental reasons the tire industry would like to find an alternative.

Havea rubber trees are vulnerable to a fungal leaf blight that has hit plantations in South America, making some in the tire industry nervous about such dependence on a single crop, with little genetic diversity, grown in a single geographical region.

Developing the Dandelion

Over recent years, projects in both Europe and the US have been taking a fresh shot at making dandelion rubber commercially viable.

Among them is Taraxagum, a collaboration between Continental Tires and the Fraunhofer Institute of Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology in Aachen, Germany.

“Continental Tires tested the performance of the material and said that it was brilliant — in some cases better than Hevea rubber,” said Dirk Prüfer, a plant biotechnologist on the Taraxagum team.

Both Continental and competitor Apollo Tyres have used dandelion rubber to manufacture bike tires, and Continental reports “promising” tests on dandelion truck tires.

Apollo was part of the EU-funded DRIVE4EU consortium, a project that ran from 2014 to 2018 and worked on developing the entire production chain for dandelion rubber, starting with cultivation.

Unlike the rubber tree, the Russian dandelion thrives in temperate climates.

“We cultivated the dandelion in Belgium, the Netherlands and Kazakhstan,” said Ingrid van der Meer, coordinator of DRIVE4EU, adding that other researchers had previously cultivated the crop in Sweden, Germany and the United States.

Fewer Chemicals and Poorer Soils

The Russian dandelion can also be grown on relatively poor soils, meaning it doesn’t have to compete with agriculture. Prüfer said his team was researching whether brownfield land — former industrial sites that may be heavily polluted — might even be suitable.

“There are big areas like this near Cologne or Aachen that could potentially be used for cultivation,” Prüfer said.

Once the dandelions are harvested “hot-water extraction” is used to separate out the rubber. “The roots are chopped up mechanically and water is added,” van der Meer explained. “It has to be heated up, but no large volumes of chemicals are needed.

This is in contrast to Hevea rubber extraction, which requires the use of organic solvents, resulting in chemical waste that poses an environmental hazard if not disposed of properly.

Environmental Problems Persist

But while the Russian dandelion could make the production of tires greener, it won’t improve their environmental impact once they leave the factory.

As tires are used, they shed microplastics, which are then carried on air and end up in oceans. A recent study found that this source of ocean microplastics amounts to 100,000 metric tons each year.

Then, at the end of their life, most tires finish up in landfill, in part because the mix of rubbers make them difficult to recycle.

“Tires are meant to optimize different kinds of properties, so it’s not easy to just use one kind of rubber,” said Francesco Piccihoni, an expert in rubber recycling at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands.

“You could make tires from only natural rubber but it degrades faster, meaning you would have to change the tires much more often,” Piccihoni added.

Even shifting rubber farming to European wastelands wouldn’t automatically avert deforestation in Asia. Georg Cadisch, an expert in tropical agronomy at the University of Hohenheim in Germany, says forests will continue to be felled as long as the land can be used more profitably for agriculture.

“Rubber farmers need to survive, so they would simply produce other crops,” he said, adding that rubber plantations in China and Thailand have already been replaced with crops like palm oil or bananas.

Bright Prospects?

Still, proponents of the Russian dandelion argue that as demand rises, we need a source of rubber that doesn’t rely on expanding into new areas of forest. Growing it close to European and US tire factories would also means fewer CO2 emissions from transport.

And as far as performance goes, tire makers are impressed.

“The moment natural rubber from the dandelion is available in significant quantities, Apollo will resume using the material and develop other tire products,” chief technical officer Daniele Lorenzetti said.

As things stand, though, the supply chain needs some work. “To compete with other rubbers, the production costs of dandelion rubber need to match the market price. This is not yet the case,” said van der Meer, who will continue working on optimizing Russian dandelion cultivation.

For now, Europe’s wastelands aren’t about to be swathed in sunny yellow. But there might just be a bright future for a material that had been consigned to Soviet history.

Reposted with permission from Deutsche Welle.

Opinion: My fellow Republicans, convicting Trump is necessary to save America

Washington Post

Opinion: My fellow Republicans, convicting Trump is necessary to save America

Opinion by Adam Kinzinger                          February 8, 2021

Adam Kinzinger, a Republican, represents Illinois’s 16th Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

 

Opinion | My fellow Republicans, convicting Trump is necessary to save America              Because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. Early on Jan. 6, The Post’s Kate Woodsome saw signs of the violence to come hours before thousands of Trump loyalists besieged the Capitol. (Joy Yi, Kate Woodsome/The Washington Post)

Winston Churchill famously said, “Those who fail to learn from history are condemned to repeat it.” All Americans, but especially my fellow Republicans, should remember this wisdom during the Senate’s trial of former president Donald Trump.

I say this as a lifelong Republican who voted to impeach Trump last month. Virtually all my colleagues on the right side of the aisle took the opposite path. Most felt it was a waste of time — political theater that distracted from bigger issues. The overwhelming majority of Senate Republicans appear to feel the same way about conviction.

But this isn’t a waste of time. It’s a matter of accountability. If the GOP doesn’t take a stand, the chaos of the past few months, and the past four years, could quickly return. The future of our party and our country depends on confronting what happened — so it doesn’t happen again.

The immediate cause for Trump’s impeachment was Jan. 6. But the president’s rally and resulting riot on Capitol Hill didn’t come out of nowhere. They were the result of four-plus years of anger, outrage and outright lies. Perhaps the most dangerous lie — or at least the most recent — was that the election was stolen. Of course it wasn’t, but a huge number of Republican leaders encouraged the belief that it was. Every time that lie was repeated, the riots of Jan. 6 became more likely.

Even now, many Republicans refuse to admit what happened. They continue to feed anger and resentment among the people. On Jan. 6, that fury led to the murder of a Capitol Police officer and the deaths of four other Americans. If that rage is still building, where does it go from here?

Impeachment offers a chance to say enough is enough. It ought to force every American, regardless of party affiliation, to remember not only what happened on Jan. 6, but also the path that led there. After all, the situation could get much, much worse — with more violence and more division that cannot be overcome. The further down this road we go, the closer we come to the end of America as we know it.

The Republican Party I joined as a young man would never take that road. The GOP that inspired me to serve in uniform and then run for public office believed a brighter future was just around the bend. We stood for equal opportunity, firm in our conviction that a poor kid from the South Side of Chicago deserves the same shot as a privileged kid from Highland Park. We knew that if we brought everyone into America’s promise, we would unleash a new era of American progress and prosperity. Outrage and the fear of a darker future were nowhere to be found in that Republican Party.

When leaders such as Donald Trump changed that dynamic, many of my fellow Republicans went along without question. Many are still there because they believe the rank-and-file Republican voter is there, too. But I think that’s an illusion. The anger and outrage are drowning out the much larger group of people who reject that approach. Worse, many have gone silent because they assume the party’s leaders no longer represent them. They’re waiting for leaders who will say what they know is true.

Since my vote to impeach Trump, I’ve heard from tens of thousands of my constituents. Their reaction has been overwhelmingly supportive. Republicans of all backgrounds and outlooks have told me they appreciate my efforts to return the GOP to a foundation of principle, not personality. I’ve even heard from many Democrats. They don’t agree with me on a lot of issues, but they want the Republican Party to be healthy and competitive.

I firmly believe the majority of Americans — Republican, Democrat, independent, you name it — reject the madness of the past four years. But we’ll never move forward by ignoring what happened or refusing to hold accountable those responsible. That will embolden the few who led us here and dishearten the many who know America is better than this. It will make it more likely that we see more anger, violence and chaos in the years ahead.

The better path is to learn the lessons of the recent past. Convicting Donald Trump is necessary to save America from going further down a sad, dangerous road.

Read more:

Letters to the Editor: The choice for America: basic human decency, or Marjorie Taylor Greene

Los Angeles Times

Letters to the Editor: The choice for America: basic human decency, or Marjorie Taylor Greene

February 7, 2021

 

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., goes back to her office after speaking on the floor of the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 4, 2021. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) returns to her office after speaking on the House floor on Feb. 4. (Associated Press)

 

To the editor: The stunning contrast in the stories on the front page of The Times on Friday could not have been clearer or more heart-wrenching. The luminous, inspirational and utterly humbling story of Stephanie Contreras-Reyes, showing us the best of what we can be, versus the grotesque, dispiriting and utterly despicable story of the “gentlewoman from Georgia,” should make us all stop in our tracks.

The choice, I pray, still lies before us. Will we be a country of grace, class, dedication to family and belief in a promising tomorrow, as Contreras-Reyes represents? Or will we be a country that is debased, crass, cynical and fear-mongering, as the Georgia lawmaker represents?

For my family and I, we cast our lot with Contreras-Reyes and her family — and all who, like she, demonstrate what true sacrifice and humility look like. May this country be guided by such examples.

Rabbi Shana Chandler, Reseda

..

To the editor: The search for the Republican Party continues.

I am mystified by the commentaries that followed the House of Representatives voting to strip freshman Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) of all her committee assignments in the wake of escalating controversy over her past support of conspiracy theories, her violent rhetoric and other behavior.

There is much handwringing and thoughts of the establishment Republicans reclaiming the heart of the Republican Party. This speculation is analogous to generals preparing for the last war.

There is no longer a Republican Party. What exists is a Donald Trump personality cult that has captured the GOP and is exploiting its administrative skeleton.

Richard Nelson, Thousand Oaks

..

To the editor: I’m sure I won’t be your only reader to implore the L.A. Times and all other media to stop covering Greene and her outrageous statements.

Now that she has been removed from House committees, there is no further reason to give this highly ambitious, ethically bankrupt politician any additional media attention. Her actions are straight out of the Trump playbook of using the media for personal aggrandizement and political gain.

Did the media learn nothing from the way that Trump used them to further his political career and ascendancy to the presidency? Greene is using the same tactics and she has so far been very successful in gaining recognition.

Carol J. Smith, Cerritos

..

To the editor: I am allowed to believe that the Republican Party, of which I once was a member, has become largely a group whose moral compass seems pointed only in the direction that might get them reelected.

I am allowed to believe that outrage over the insurrection at the Capitol can be easily forgotten.

I am allowed to believe that my former party will not avail itself of the opportunity to convict a former president who represents the racism, bigotry, unkindness and deceit that unfortunately lurk in us.

Please, Republicans, disabuse me of my beliefs.

Nikki Sandifer, Huntington Beach

..

To the editor: Please don’t silence Greene. Let her be the new face of the GOP. We need to hear her continue to espouse and spread her beliefs in hateful conspiracy theories.

To punish her will only make her a martyr in the eyes of her supporters.

David Hiovich, Canyon Country