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A modest proposal

There’s been no shortage of irony and hypocrisy in the environmental policy news of late. For example, readers might have thought the news site The Hill was stating the obvious in its September 5 headline reporting the results of a new opinion poll: “Death estimates tied to Trump coal rule make it less popular.” The story describes the Trump administration’s plans to replace the Obama-era Clean Power Plan, despite the EPA’s own research estimating their new rule will result in 1,400 additional annual deaths from illnesses related to emissions from coal-fired electricity plants. Instead of setting a federal standard for those emissions, however lenient they might be, the new rule cites states’ rights as a rationale for letting individual states formulate their own thresholds. But it also forbids them to set standards that coal-fired plants cannot meet. Commentators were quick to point out the hypocrisy in the administration’s selective respect for states’ rights, which lets coal states set meaninglessly low emissions standards but bars other states from acting to protect the health of their residents.

In other news, oil and gas companies operating along the Texas Gulf Coast have asked Congress to foot the bill for a $12 billion system of sea walls, levees and flood barriers to protect their facilities from the effects of climate change. It seems that, in the wake of Hurricane Harvey a year ago, big oil has become acutely aware of just how vulnerable their concentrated processing assets are along this 60-mile stretch of coastline. The request for taxpayer funding for the project is ardently endorsed by the state’s two Republican senators, Ted Cruz and John Cornyn, who in the past have been outspoken in their dismissal of climate science and general opposition to federal spending. Thus their request as well as a proposal by a special post-Harvey commission that seeks $61 billion in federal funding to “future proof” the state, carefully and almost comically avoids referring to “climate change.” Instead it describes heavier rains, higher tides and stronger storms without mentioning the climate context in which they are occurring, or the role the petroleum industry has played in creating those phenomena while denying climate science and opposing meaningful action over the past five decades.

As a condition of any Congressional appropriation, I think states seeking this kind of assistance should be required to provide a formal acknowledgement of the science of climate change and the fact that the use of fossil fuels has been a leading cause of climate change. If petroleum industry assets are to be protected, those companies should be required to work with their home states to develop a comprehensive plan for the transition away from fossil fuels. To get your insurance to pay for a medical procedure, your doctor has to describe truthfully the nature of your illness. It’s only fair that states trying to insure themselves against the effects of climate change should unequivocally renounce their climate-change denial and engage in a specific, science-based plan that addresses the problem.


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