Rep. Huffman and North Bay eco-warriors preach hope and lawsuits
by Tom Gogola, Bohemian
Trump may have the Winston Churchill bust in the West Wing, but the people own the legendary British leader’s Nazi-stomping message, in the North Bay and the nation of dissent at large.
Speaking to an overflowing crowd at Santa Rosa Junior College in Petaluma last Thursday, environmental lawyer Michael Wall alluded to the famously spine-tingling Churchill quote: “We shall defend our island, whatever the cost may be, we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds, we shall fight in the fields and in the streets, we shall fight in the hills; we shall never surrender.”
Wall, co-director for ligitigation at the National Resources Defense Council, was joined on the panel by Drew Caputo of Earthjustice and Ann Hancock of the Santa Rosa–based Center for Climate Protection. U.S. Rep. Jared Huffman, recently named ranking vice-member on the House Committee on Natural Resources, organized the event—and, given the tenor of the times, everyone hoped it was just some tape that gave when the seal of the U.S. House of Representatives fell off the table during the event. The congressional minority has not yet been outlawed, whew. A couple of dark chortles emerged from the crowd.
The meeting mirrored the spirit of recent protests and marches—a demonstration of resiliency, decency and solidarity. Questions at the event boiled down to “What the heck is going on in Washington with that maniac tweeter in chief, and what is to be done?”
Huffman noted the “unprecedented threats facing our environment,” which include attacks on state efforts at carbon-gas emission reduction as well as bills Huffman authored to sequester carbon in cattle fields and keep fossil fuels in the ground. The fate of those bills is up in the air, as is Huffman’s bill to permanently ban offshore drilling.
“I’m going to keep trying to move the bills, keep the conversation alive,” Huffman said. “Those bills are unlikely to get hearings in this congress, they are not supported by this administration—it’s environmental policy in exile right now.”
The panelists touched on a number of topics:
Obama’s Executive Orders
Huffman warned that Congress can override regulations put into effect by the previous administration. Any of Obama’s last-minute regulations can be repealed without review if they were implemented in the final months of his administration. And the proposed REINS Act (Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny) would be “the kill switch on any regulation of any kind,” Huffman said. The act from House Republicans would require that any regulation proposed by the president would be subject to congressional pre-approval.
Huffman noted that the bill would run into a stiff separation-of-powers wall in the Senate, and that a power-consolidating Trump probably wouldn’t like it either.
But overall, Huffman said, “this is a very aggressive and ambitious agenda that [legislators] are setting, and they are going to get a lot of help from . . . Trump.”
In the short term, new and stringent regulations that set standards for venting and flaring of natural gas on public lands are on the firing line, as are orders that regulate toxic slag removal from coal-blown mountaintops.
Donald Trump picked the former Texas governor to be his Secretary of Energy after Perry himself couldn’t recall the name of the agency during a 2012 GOP primary debate, while vowing to eliminate it all the while, never understanding that the DOE is responsible for the nation’s nuclear arsenal. Huffman described him as “a guy who combines Texas swagger with a memory problem.” The Senate has hit pause on his full confirmation vote “indefinitely,” so there’s that.
“If we’ve learned anything in six days, it’s: worry,” said Drew Caputo, executive director of Earthjustice, which is representing the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in its battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Obama administration stopped the pipeline from crossing sacred Sioux land in its waning months and ordered a full environmental review on the project. Last week, Trump signed an executive order declaring that the pipeline would be built and that the Obama-rejected Keystone project would go forward as well.
Caputo described the Trump executive order as a “wink-wink, nod-nod” gesture to expedite a process that’s been stalled under the Obama order—and compared it to King Henry VIII, “won’t someone relieve me of this troublesome priest,” to nervous chuckles from the audience. “If and when the Army Corps does the wrong thing and grants the easement without the review, we will sue them,” Caputo said.
Trump’s financial interests in the Dakota Access project have been widely reported, and Huffman joked that attendees—live or on Facebook, where the event was live-streamed—should sell their stock in Energy Transfer Partners. “Get out of there!”
Obstruct or Accommodate?
“We’ll give him a chance for success that the Republicans never gave President Obama,” Huffman said. “I’m skeptical, but I always leave open the possibility. Speaking as a Democrat, obstruction worked across the board for [John] Boehner and [Mitch] McConnell—they shut it down. That’s not my brand. We want government to be good and to do good things for people. That said, most of what is coming at us is really bad, and we have to work to defeat it.”
Trump’s choice for the Environmental Protection Agency has sued the agency a dozen times; case closed, he’s a disaster. Huffman pointed to his colleagues’ “heroic nature to spotlight the terrible choice. [But] this is a 51-vote question, and every GOP member is going to vote for Scott Pruitt. I don’t think there is realistically a chance to stop Scott Pruitt.”
See You in Court
Well, maybe not Pruitt himself. The speakers noted generally that while voters put Trump into office, they did not vote against the environment and called upon conservationist-minded Republicans to prevail on Trump to address climate change. They celebrated Obama’s move to ban drilling in the Arctic and Atlantic oceans, even as the soon-to-be secretary of state and former Exxon-Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson leaves a multinational energy concern that plans to drill in the Arctic. If Trump’s EPA won’t defend attacks on the environment from an unloosed corporate community, “looking over the long term, we have the capacity to fight everywhere we can in the federal court system,” Caputo said.
“People know there is a difference between fact and fiction,” said the NRDC’s Hall before throwing down the justice gauntlet on Trump. “The president is going to try and undo a lot of good things,” he noted. “He doesn’t rule by fiat, and executive orders are not necessarily the law of the land. He has to comply with statutes and the law. He can’t just wave a pen and make them go away. We’ll fight in congress, in the court of public opinion—and, most importantly, in the courts.”
Reasons for Hope
“The White House is a lost cause,” Huffman said, “but the courts—most of the laws get made in the appellate courts around the country, and 10 of the 13 have a majority of judges who were appointed by champions of the environment. Others aren’t political—they’re fair and they enforce the law. Every step of the way, when he does things that are illegal, we will meet him here in court, and that is a genuine cause for hope,” Huffman said, to the delight of all in attendance.
“The American people didn’t vote against the environment, but not enough people voted for the environment,” Wall said. State, local and regional efforts reducing greenhouse gases are the new normal, as are gas-efficiency standards and a roaring wind- and solar-power economy that sparked the much-cited observation that the number-one in-demand job in the country right now is wind power tech.
Hancock at the Center for Climate Protection cited the bending curve of dirty energy use in Sonoma County and anywhere the community-choice movement has taken foot. Locally, she said, Sonoma Clean Energy “has lowered greenhouse gas emissions by 48 percent.”
Further Reasons for Hope
Gov. Jerry Brown nearly blew a righteous aneurysm last week when he took to the California bully pulpit and told Trump, in effect, We ain’t playin! The stiffening opposition to the administration has hit its stride in recent days over the cruel and unusual refugee ban and the quicksilver protests in the state and nation that greeted Trump’s announcement on the Dakota Access and Keystone pipelines. Brown’s cri de coeur was well-timed and delivered from the highest perch in a state that has gone beyond federal calls for greenhouse gas emissions and fuel-efficiency standards.
Some of California’s energy reforms on greenhouse gases were implemented only through the issuance of federal waivers, permitting them to go beyond federal standards. Those waivers, alas, may be wavering under the hot hand of a climate-change denying administration bent on sticking it to blue states. More to the point, Hancock noted that there are more jobs available in renewables than in fossil fuels these days.
“There are lots of benefits to an energy-efficient future,” she said, recalling to attendees and activists that California’s achieved all of this within the framework of a growing economy. “As we go green, our economy continues to flourish,” she said.
When Does Impeachment Start?
It’s coming, folks, Huffman says, it’s coming.
“This president is like a walking target for impeachment, so stay tuned.” He cited congressional and outside investigations in declaring, “I think there is reason to believe there will be the most credible case for impeachment you’ll ever see, in the short-term.”
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