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So is coal great again or what?

Some of these articles are sensationalized very nearly to the point of inaccuracy. Others are cases of “elaborate misinformation.”

A review from Climate Feedback, a group of scientists who survey climate change news to determine whether it’s scientifically sound, looked at the 25 most-shared stories last year that focused on the science of climate change or global warming.

Of those, only 11 were rated as credible, meaning they contained no major inaccuracies. Five were considered borderline inaccurate. The remaining nine, including New York Magazine’s viral “The Uninhabitable Earth,” were found to have low or very low credibility. However, even the top-rated articles were noted as somewhat misleading. (Read the reviews here.) 

“We see a lot of inaccurate stories,” Emmanuel Vincent, a research scientist at the University of California and the founder of Climate Feedback, told Grist. Each scientist at Climate Feedback holds a Ph.D. and has recently published articles in peer-reviewed journals.

Vincent says that the New York Times and Washington Post are the two main sources that Climate Feedback has found “consistently publish information that is accurate and influential.” (He notes that Grist’s “Ice Apocalypse” by Eric Holthaus also made the credibility cut.)

“You need to find the line between being catchy and interesting without overstepping what the science can support,” he says.

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So is coal great again or what?

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Business interests are winning out over science under Trump.

Over the next year, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People will install solar panels on 20 households and 10 community centers, train 100 people in solar job skills, and push for equitable solar access policies in at least five states across the U.S.

“Underserved communities cannot be left behind in a clean energy transition,” Derrick Johnson, NAACP President and CEO, said in a statement about the new Solar Equity Initiative. “Clean energy is a fundamental civil right which must be available to all, within the framework of a just transition.”

The initiative began on Martin Luther King Jr. Day by installing solar panels on the Jenesse Center, a transitional housing program in L.A. for survivors of domestic abuse. The NAACP estimated that solar energy could save the center nearly $49,000 over the course of a lifetime, leaving more resources to go toward services for women and families.

Aside from the financial benefits, the NAACP points out that a just transition to clean energy will improve health outcomes. Last year, a report by the Clean Air Task Force and the NAACP found that black Americans are exposed to air nearly 40 percent more polluted than their white counterparts. Pollution has led to 138,000 asthma attacks among black school children and over 100,000 missed school days each year.

It’s just a start, but this new initiative could help alleviate the disproportionate environmental burdens that black communities face.

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Business interests are winning out over science under Trump.

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2017 is officially one of the hottest years on record, surprising no one

This story was originally published by Mother Jones and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

It’s official: 2017 was one of the hottest years ever recorded on Earth. On Thursday, NASA reported that only 2016 was warmer.

Every year, NASA collects data on the planet’s temperature record and releases a report that explains climate trends. On average, the planet’s surface temperature has risen about 2 degrees Fahrenheit during the last 100 years, a change that can be blamed on the increasing amount of human-made emissions, such as carbon dioxide. “[T]emperatures over the planet as a whole continue the rapid warming trend we’ve seen over the last 40 years,” Gavin Schmidt, director of the Goddard Institute for Space Studies that conducted the study, said in a press release.

Notably absent in 2017’s climbing temperatures was the presence of El Niño, a weather pattern that warms up the Pacific Ocean and contributed to 2016’s record-setting heat. Still, in 2017, the U.S. spent a record $306 billion on climate-fueled catastrophes, including 16 billion-dollar disasters such as the California wildfires and Hurricane Harvey in southeast Texas.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which also follows the Earth’s temperatures but uses a different method from NASA, concluded that 2017 was the third warmest year — after 2016 and 2015.

This new data means that 17 of the 18 hottest years on record have all occurred since 2001. “What we’re seeing is an increasing string of years of temperatures more than 1 degree above the pre-industrial era,” Schmidt told the New York Times, “and we’re not going to go back.”

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2017 is officially one of the hottest years on record, surprising no one

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Seeing Red on Climate

Todd Tanner has a pretty sweet offer for his fellow Montanans: a new shotgun in exchange for science-based evidence that he’s wrong about climate change.

The conservationist uses the challenge in an attempt to raise awareness about our warming planet. A lot of people where Tanner lives in Bigfork, Montana, would probably like to take him up on his offer: The state has one of the highest rates of outdoor recreationists in the country, and Tanner is no exception. He was planning on going hunting after we finished our interview. “You wouldn’t know it,” he said over the phone, “but I’m literally walking around in a pair of wool pants.”

Tanner is sure he’ll never have to hand over that new shotgun, though he says he would love to find out that anthropogenic climate change isn’t real. “If someone shows me the error of my ways they can have their choice,” he said. “They can have any rifle, shotgun, pistol, or rod I own, and I’ll walk away feeling like I got the better end of the bargain.”

Since 2011, Tanner has harnessed his prominent position in Montana’s hunting and fishing communities to get people engaged. After wildfires incinerated forests and droughts desiccated rivers in Big Sky Country this year, agitated sportsmen and women have become easier to find. Tanner’s nonprofit, Conservation Hawks, is part of a coalition of grassroots organizations trying to pull conservatives into the conversation about rising temperatures.

And it’s starting to work. There’s a small but growing alliance of concerned conservatives who want to reclaim climate change as a nonpartisan issue. This motley crew of lobbyists, Evangelical Christians, and far-right radicals call themselves the “eco-right.”

Christine Todd Whitman, former chief of the Environmental Protection Agency under President George W. Bush, believes the eco-right has a real chance at inspiring action in Congress. With Republicans controlling both houses of Congress and the White House, and a record-breaking year of environmental disasters finally behind us, 2018 could be the year the party reverses course. “If you look at the damage from just this last summer, from the floods, the droughts, the fires, it’s pushing $300 billion out of our economy,” Whitman said.

In Montana, Tanner diligently crafts his messaging in the hopes that he can turn even a small portion of the red state’s hunters and anglers into climate activists. There’s also a broader, national effort to target American conservatives. RepublicEn, for instance, is a coalition of more than 4,000 conservatives and libertarians pushing for environmental action. The organization hopes that, generations from now, the eco-right will be remembered for leading the United States out of the climate crisis and into the clean energy revolution.

Alex Bozmoski is the director of strategy and operations at RepublicEn. It’s a job he’s well-suited for — he used to be a climate denier himself.


Alex Bozmoski

As an undergrad at Georgetown, Bozmoski enrolled in a climate science class as a joke, planning to heckle the professor. But when challenged to justify his skepticism, Bozmoski found he had drawn erroneous conclusions fueled by conservative radio shows and Fox News. He cast around in his network of fellow Republicans and conservatives for people he could discuss his newfound understanding of climate change with, but he kept coming up empty.

Bozmoski found that, despite a long legacy of environmental leadership in the Republican Party, most modern-day members weren’t even thinking about our overheating planet, let alone figuring out how to address the problem.

Environmental issues weren’t always this polarizing. President Nixon set a firm national precedent when he created the EPA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in 1970. The Senate passed the Clean Air Act that same year, 73 votes to 0.

Fast-forward to the 2012 presidential election, when multiple Republican candidates advocated for abolishing the EPA. Two years later, just one of all the 107 Republicans running for Senate mentioned climate change.

It’s no wonder Bozmoski felt betrayed by his party and ill-equipped to apply his conservative thinking to the issue. Yet he could still understand why his fellow conservatives didn’t care.

“When you don’t trust anyone talking about climate change, when you don’t see your tribe talking about solutions that fit with your worldview, it’s really easy to cope with the problem by ignoring it or denying it,” he said. Bozmoski did neither.

He went hunting for like-minded Republicans and found Bob Inglis, a former U.S. representative from South Carolina who came out swinging against global warming in 2010 (a position that likely cost him his seat in the House). Bozmoski tracked the ousted politician down in 2012, and they started a project called the Energy and Enterprise Initiative. RepublicEn grew out of that project. They popularized the term “eco-right.”

RepublicEn hit the road in 2014, traveling across the country to persuade conservatives that their principles and values can be applied to curbing greenhouse gas emissions. Since then, RepublicEn has held 300 events across America, mostly for expressly conservative audiences. Bozmoski estimates that the organization has reached more than 26,000 Americans. He gets people to listen by reminding them that they have power.

“You are the most important environmental champions on planet Earth,” he tells them. “Republicans won’t lead without first being led by their constituents. You have an outsized influence on our ability as humanity to deal with this problem.”

RepublicEn hopes to generate conservative support for a revenue-neutral carbon tax. “It’s the only solution that’s effective enough to address climate change and fits with conservative principles,” Bozmoski said.

A carbon tax is pragmatic and relatively simple: Put a rising fee on the use of fossil fuels, forcing companies to curb their emissions. To make it revenue neutral — and more acceptable to conservatives — the money generated by that fee goes back to Americans through checks or by cutting payroll or sales taxes.

A carbon tax in any form is unlikely to make it through today’s highly partisan Congress, so, in the meantime, RepublicEn advocates for a level playing field for wind and solar energy, less leaky oil and gas infrastructure, and nuclear power.


Jessica Fernandez, a lifelong Floridian and conservative, was one of the people inspired by RepublicEn’s national eco-right tour. Her upbringing might have had something to do with it. “At my house,” she said, “we grew up with solar panels on the roof and composting.”

Jessica Fernandez

In 2014, she met Alex Bozmoski and Debbie Dooley, head of a subset of the Tea Party called the Green Tea Party. Fernandez, a long-time director of the Miami Young Republicans, liked their pitch that conservatives should be leaders in conserving the environment. “It’s groundbreaking, I know,” she said with a chuckle. When trying to engage other Republicans on green issues, she quickly learned that an alarmist attitude just doesn’t work.

What approach does work? A focus on money. Fernandez said that conservatives are more likely to respond positively if you say, “Hey! Fixing the climate is something that can benefit you economically.” She tells them about community solutions like solar co-ops, groups of homeowners who use their collective purchasing power to install solar on the cheap, thereby reducing monthly electric bills.

Tanner, the conservationist from Montana, approaches the issue from a different angle. He thinks talking to conservatives about climate change requires language that is hyper-specific and localized.

The fine lines between demographics are razor-sharp. Messaging that works for a hunter might not work for a fisherman, even though both face the same set of environmental consequences: a scarcity of fish and game. “It’s almost like code,” he said. “As soon as you try and talk to people who aren’t like you, all of these barriers go up.”

For that reason, Tanner says the messenger and the message have to be authentic. He spends his weeks customizing language that personally appeals to various sub-demographics of sportsmen and women. There are millions of hunters and anglers in the United States. “That’s a ton of us,” he said. “If even 20 percent or 30 percent of them got engaged, it would have a huge impact.”


James Tolbert

James Tolbert is an unlikely environmental lobbyist. He spent 27 years helping big corporations clean up pollution. In 2013, the engineer was wrapping up work on the fallout from a million gallons of crude oil spilling from the Enbridge Pipeline into the Kalamazoo River in Michigan when he decided to switch teams. He traded in his senior position at energy infrastructure firm AECOM for a role as a lobbyist at Citizens’ Climate Lobby.

While Conservation Hawks and RepublicEn use grassroots organizing to drum up support among conservatives, lobbyists like Tolbert use a “grasstops” approach to push Republican representatives in Congress to support solutions.

We “create political space with a member of Congress by showing him that there is support from key members in his community,” Tolbert said. Citizens’ Climate Lobby calls these key community members “influencers” — business leaders, members of the chamber of commerce, even regional newspaper editorial boards. He sees them as crucial to getting anywhere with members of Congress.

When a Republican representative hesitates to accept climate change for fear of losing an upcoming reelection campaign, a well-placed opinion piece in a hometown newspaper or an endorsement from a local business leader can occasionally tip the scales.

It’s premature to say the winds of change are blowing, but we may be seeing the beginnings of a breeze. This month, more than 100 congressional lawmakers, including 11 House Republicans, wrote a letter to President Trump urging him to address climate change and the threat it poses to national security after his administration left the issue out of its national security strategy.

William Ruckelshaus, who served as EPA administrator under Nixon and President Reagan, has met with a number of eco-right organizations. He believes massive support for significant action on global warming is “going to have to include conservative groups, and virtually every discipline in society.” When Republicans do finally warm up to the idea of a conservative environmental movement, the eco-right will step out of the wings.

“They’re going to begin to get worried” about the growing impacts of a warming planet, Ruckelshaus said. “If there are organizations that they feel more comfortable with, they’re more likely to sign on.”


Todd Tanner.Image credit: Jeremy Roberts

The eco-right hasn’t exactly received a warm embrace from the conservative movement. In 2014, the Washington, D.C.-based public relations firm Berman and Company launched the Environmental Policy Alliance — yes, EPA for short. The outfit is “devoted to uncovering the funding and hidden agendas behind environmental activist groups.” Among its targets: climate-conscious organizations like Tanner’s Conservation Hawks.

Shortly after it started, the alliance launched a website called Green Decoys, which claims that left-wing environmental NGOs use sportsmen as a cover for their “radical environmental activist” agendas.

The site has a different informational video targeting each kind of American conservation group. In the “Montana” video, a man in camouflage carrying a rifle speaks straight into the camera. “I’m a real sportsman,” he says. “And I’m a member of organizations that support hunting and fishing.” His double appears on screen, wearing a camo neckerchief. “And I’m a phony sportsman,” the double says. “I support candidates that think we cling to our guns because we just don’t know any better.”

Tanner isn’t worried about people who question his legitimacy. “If the folks who run Green Decoys, and I’m well aware of who they are, want to get together and see who’s a better hunter or fisher, or who’s the real deal and who’s not,” he said, “we are more than happy to have that conversation.”

Bozmoski recognizes that some conservatives have gone too far down the path of denial to be receptive to RepublicEn’s message. “We aren’t big enough to go around persuading people who really believe, to their core, that this is a government conspiracy,” he said. “We don’t worry about the people on the fringe who are hobbyists in antagonism on climate change.”

Fernandez hopes the tide of support for environmental legislation will rise to the highest levels of government.

“Climate change doesn’t have a political affiliation,” she said. She believes that even President Trump might change his tune if the solution is “repackaged as something that benefits the United States of America.”

What should the eco-right do while the top dogs on Capitol Hill insist on looking the other way? Ruckelshaus, the former EPA chief, says to “keep on.” But as we descend into ever-worsening environmental chaos, the question remains: How soon can these conservatives alter the course of history?

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Seeing Red on Climate

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Most members of the National Park Service Advisory Board got so frustrated they quit.

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Most members of the National Park Service Advisory Board got so frustrated they quit.

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We recycle so much trash, it’s created an international crisis

You may have heard the delicate whispers on the wind: “China doesn’t want to take our recycling anymore.” And you ignored those whispers, because you didn’t know China took our recycling in the first place, and there’s no way this has anything to do with your life! Right?

Oh, dear. As a nation, we’ve been passing on too many low-quality recyclables to other countries — China, primarily — to get them to deal with it. Watch our video above to find out what has to change.

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We recycle so much trash, it’s created an international crisis

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Most Ohio conservatives want to pay for renewables and stop propping up coal.

Here’s the idea: Build underwater barriers in front of the glaciers most vulnerable to collapse, keeping warm ocean water from sloshing in to melt them.

Princeton glaciology postdoc Michael Wolovick presented this concept at the American Geophysical Union conference in December, as the Atlantic reports.

The Antarctic glaciers Wolovick studies are subject to disastrous feedback loops: The more they melt, the more they are exposed to melt-inducing seawater. Recent studies have suggested these massive stores of ice could collapse much faster than previously thought, potentially raising sea levels by 5 to 15 feet by the end of the century (that’s seriously bad news for coastal cities).

Wolovick has been researching the feasibility of slowing that collapse with ‘sills’ constructed out of sand and rock along the fronts of these vulnerable glaciers. Unlike a seawall, they would be entirely underwater, but would keep warm ocean water from reaching a glacier’s vulnerable base.

That could stall glacial retreat dramatically, and maybe even reverse it. In Wolovick’s virtual experiments, even the least successful version of the sills slowed a glacier’s collapse by 400 or 500 years.

It’s all still a huge if, Wolovick admits, that requires more research. But if it works, it could buy some crucial time against sea-level rise.

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Most Ohio conservatives want to pay for renewables and stop propping up coal.

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Coal’s death spiral, in 3 charts

The latest reports suggest that coal has the equivalent of black-lung disease: the condition is chronic, and the long-term prognosis is dire.

Power companies plan to shutter more than 10 big coal plants in 2018, extinguishing a major portion of coal burning in the United States (see the map below). According to projections released by the Energy Information Administration this week, coal-fired plants will produce less than 30 percent of the electricity Americans use this year. Back in 2000, coal provided more than half of our electricity. Cheap natural gas has knocked coal out of competition.

2018 will be a bad year to be a gray dot.

EIA

This year is expected be a big one for coal-plant retirements but, as you can see below, so was 2015, and 2012, and, well, much of the past decade.

Pretty much all the plants shutting down are fossil-fuel plants.EIA

“Coal in the U.S. might not be dead, but it is in a death spiral,” said Alex Gilbert, of the energy research firm SparkLibrary. “Coal’s demise is inevitable, but it can still emit significant greenhouse gas and other emissions on its way out. The main policy question now is whether the death spiral should be a decade long or decades long.”

What pushed coal power into the death spiral? In a word, fracking. A crackdown on toxic pollution and the rise of wind and solar power, too. If you look at this map of plants scheduled to open this year, it’s all renewables and gas.

Look at all those renewables… and gas plants.EIA

Gilbert said coal companies also played a supporting role in the dirty fuel’s demise. “Coal’s decline is mainly due to market competition with natural gas with regulations playing a secondary role,” he said. “Fundamentally, however, coal is dying because the industry decided to fight changing times. Instead of innovating into a 21st-century compatible energy source, they played politics.”

So, what does all this mean for greenhouse-gas emissions? Well, even if we stop burning coal, it wouldn’t be enough to solve our emissions problems. And as we squeeze carbon out of our electrical system, carbon emissions from cars, industry, and heating are all going up. That’s consistent with a long term trend.

“Between 2005 and 2016, almost 80 percent of the reduction in energy-related CO2 emissions in the U.S. came from the electric power sector,” wrote Trevor Houser and Peter Marsters of the Rhodium Group, a company which analyzes energy trends. To get greenhouse-gas emissions down, other sectors have to play a larger role.

Rhodium Group

This year, people are expected to drive more, and a growing economy will cause industry to ramp up. All told, the United States is likely to pump out more greenhouse gases this year, according to the new data from the EIA.

“After declining by 1.0 percent in 2017, energy-related carbon dioxide emissions are forecast to increase by 1.7 percent in 2018,” the EIA wrote.

It looks like our biggest problem is no longer coal. It’s cars.

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Coal’s death spiral, in 3 charts

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Mainstream media sucks at talking about climate change.

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Mainstream media sucks at talking about climate change.

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The Interior axed climate change policies right before Christmas

This story was originally published by High Country News and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Just before Christmas, the Interior Department quietly rescinded an array of policies designed to elevate climate change and conservation in decisions on managing public lands, waters, and wildlife. Order 3360, signed by Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, explains that the policies were rescinded because they were “potential burdens” to energy development.

The order echoes earlier mandates from President Donald Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to Interior’s 70,000 employees: Prioritize energy development and de-emphasize climate change and conservation. The order is another in a long string of examples of science and conservation taking a backseat to industry’s wishes at the Interior Department under Zinke.

The sweeping order, which Bernhardt signed Dec. 22., affects a department that manages a fifth of the nation’s land, 19 percent of U.S. energy supplies, and most of the water in the 12 Western states. It fulfills a high-profile executive order by Trump and a secretarial order from Zinke, both announced in March. Interior did not publicize the order but posted it on its website with other secretarial orders. The Interior Department refused to answer questions about order 3360 on Thursday. “Sorry, nobody is available for you,” Heather Swift, the department spokesperson, wrote in an email.

Environmental groups were surprised that the agency failed to tout the policy decisions. “We’ve been waiting for it. We thought they would do it with some sort of great pride,” said Nada Culver, who directs the Wilderness Society’s BLM action center.

The Bureau of Land Management last week did announce a related policy change that makes it easier for companies to develop oil and gas in core sage grouse habitats that were protected in 2015 as part of an unprecedented conservation initiative. The BLM replaced six instructional memoranda that direct field staff on how to manage 67 million acres of prime sage grouse habitat across 10 Western states. Among other things, the new instructions relieve BLM staff from the requirement that they prioritize drilling outside of prime sagebrush habitat areas.

David Hayes, President Barack Obama’s then-deputy secretary of Interior, said the policy rescissions were very significant because these policies guided the agency’s field staff in how to manage the nation’s vast resources at a time when climate change is already impacting public lands in many ways. “It would be irresponsible as land managers not to take into account these risks, such as drought, fire, invasive species, potential sea-level rise, storm surge impacts, wildlife impacts — all of which already are being felt,” Hayes said.

In his March order, Zinke directed staff to scour their agencies to find policies that hamper energy development.

A report published by the Interior Department in October outlined dozens of policy changes in the works to remove barriers to energy development. The report says that even some of the nation’s most treasured areas — including national monuments, national conservation lands and wild and scenic rivers — won’t be spared from Trump administration efforts to promote energy development.

The new order, which was effective immediately and does not require congressional approval, stems from Zinke’s March directive. It did not specify how the rescinded policies hindered energy or what policies, if any, will take their place.

Among the policies erased by the December order was the climate change chapter of the Interior Department’s manual. This chapter stated that it was the department’s policy to “adapt to the challenges posed by climate change to its mission, programs, operations, and personnel. The department will use the best available science to increase understanding of climate change impacts, inform decision-making, and coordinate an appropriate response to impacts on land, water, wildlife, cultural and tribal resources, and other assets.”

This 2012 policy required national parks and other public lands to consider climate change when developing resource management plans and when permitting various activities. It instructed them to consult the departments’ new Climate Science Centers and Landscape Conservation Cooperatives so they can be guided by the best science available. The policy responded to a 2009 executive order by Obama, which Trump rescinded in March.

Joel Clement, who was the Interior Departments top climate change official before he quit in October, was a main architect of the policy. He says it gave agencies the authority to plan for the myriad of challenges public lands face from climate change. Without the policy they no longer have clear authority. “All of these agencies will fail at their missions if they don’t plan for the impacts of climate change,” Clement said.

Another policy erased by Bernhardt’s order was a chapter added in 2015 that encouraged land managers to look beyond the small parcels of land impacted by a single project when considering mitigation. Instead, it asked them to see how mitigation efforts fit into the conservation goals for larger areas surrounding the projects. This applied to permitting various activities such as mining, drilling for oil, or building a solar power plant. The BLM, National Park Service, or Fish and Wildlife Service would require the company to first avoid and minimize any impacts to natural resources. If impacts were unavoidable, a company would have to “compensate” by designing a mitigation project that would have to reflect broader conservation goals. For instance, if they had to fill in a wetland or build a road through sagebrush habitat, they’d have to invest in restoration projects that replaced the habitat lost.

Hayes said traditionally land managers only looked at the areas impacted by the project or perhaps inside the borders of their own park or refuge. But because climate change is impacting resources across large regions, it became important to start managing across jurisdictional boundaries. The department set up eight regional Climate Science Centers and 22 Landscape Conservation Cooperatives to help land managers study how the broad impacts of climate change should impact their work. (The Trump administration has proposed slashing funding the Climate Science Centers and eliminating the Landscape Conservation Cooperatives, but so far Congress has continued to fund both.)

The new order also rescinded BLM’s 2016 mitigation manual and mitigation handbook. These policies guidelines built on the principles of the Interior Department’s mitigation policy and were much more detailed and specific to the kinds of projects BLM authorizes. The handbook both describes how to assess the impacts projects will have on natural resources and outlines how to devise mitigation projects to offset those impacts. BLM is the agency that manages the nation’s energy resources on public lands, including those overseen by the Forest Service.

The agencies are still legally required under the National Environmental Policy Act to mitigate the harmful effects of development and consider climate change. Now they’ve been told not to let climate change considerations or mitigation burden energy development. And they have no guidebook to help them navigate these competing mandates. That confusion could leave the door open for a lot of lawsuits. “That takes you down a very dangerous road for other resources and uses of public lands,” Culver said. “I think it’s going to make the situation worse both for the resources on the ground and for whatever projects they approve.”

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The Interior axed climate change policies right before Christmas

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