Climate Crisis: KXL Legal Precedent, War and Climate, Slow Streets

By: Steve Horn | May 5, 2020

Welcome back to TRNN’s Climate Crisis News Roundup. In recent weeks, this column has focused heavily on the intersection between COVID-19 and the climate crisis, and that will continue as the pandemic sweeps through the world. But climate change and the politics of surrounding this important issue are still happening outside of the context of COVID-19, and we will use this space to tell those stories, too.

If you have a story you think deserves a spot in the roundup or story pitches in general, get in touch with me at [email protected] or on Twitter at @SteveAHorn. You can read last week’s edition here.


KXL Pipeline Ruling

The Real News recently reported that a federal judge had nullified a permit given to the owner of the long-contested Keystone XL Pipeline, TC Energy (formerly known as TransCanada).

In effect, the ruling has called the future of the pipeline—and many pipelines—into questionNationwide Permit 12 is granted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Judge Brian Morris cited a violation of the Endangered Species Act when he gave the permit to TC Energy. Morris ordered the corps to do a deeper analysis to demonstrate whether TC Energy could construct the pipeline without harming endangered species such as the pallid sturgeon fish or the American burying beetle.

Since early in the Obama administration, the climate movement has opposed the pipeline from Alberta, Canada to Steele City, Nebraska, slated to carry oil extracted from the Alberta tar sands to market. The ruling on Nationwide Permit 12, however, now has implications for federal pipeline and energy project permits going far beyond Keystone XL because Morris’ ruling also vacated the Nationwide Permit 12 program at large.

Historically, Nationwide Permit 12 was utilized for small “single and complete” projects crossing water parcels half an acre in size or smaller. But during the Obama years, in reaction to the protests and civil disobedience actions taken against Keystone XL, the Obama administration began using that permitting process to split pipelines into hundreds or thousands of half-acre pieces. The process was a way around the more robust and democratic National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) regulatory process, which involves both a public commenting and public hearings phase. Nationwide Permit 12 was used to push through the Dakota Access Pipeline, as well as the southern leg of the Keystone XL greenlit by President Barack Obama.

NEPA is now under further attack by the Trump administration. The Trump administration has also utilized Nationwide Permit 12 over 37,000 times since renewing the blanket permitting mechanism in March 2017.

The Army Corps of Engineers has advised other federal agencies to treat Morris’ ruling as precedent-setting and has put 360 permit applications on hold. First reported on by the Associated Press, the Army Corps wrote that because the judge did not say his ruling applied exclusively to Keystone XL, the Army Corps has said federal agencies should no longer use Nationwide Permit 12 “out of an abundance of caution” until the issue gets resolved in federal court. The Trump administration has already requested a procedural halt on implementing Morris’ decision until the appeal it intends to file waves its way through the court system.

“The Court has eliminated Nationwide Permit 12 for use by any utility line project anywhere in the country, which has extraordinary and immediate implications for numerous projects,” the U.S. Department of Justice attorneys wrote.

The American Petroleum Institute, the lobbying voice of the oil and gas industry, has also filed an affidavit in favor of putting a procedural halt to Morris’ ruling. External corporate attorneys, too, have taken notice and expressed their own concerns about Morris’ district court ruling.

“The decision puts in limbo thousands of infrastructure projects nationwide that rely on NWP 12 for the construction, maintenance or repair of utility lines and poses particularly acute problems for the oil and gas industry, which relies on the permit to facilitate projects ranging from large interstate pipelines to smaller gathering lines at exploration and production sites,” wrote attorneys from Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, a firm with close ties to the Trump administration, in one such reaction to the ruling.

And one fresh lawsuit filed on April 30 has already cited this new precedent in the fight against another contested pipeline called the Permian Highway in Texas, filed by the Sierra Club against the Army Corps of Engineers in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas.

Morris will make a decision on how broadly his ruling applies on or around May 8. Stay tuned for coverage on that here at The Real News.


War Causes Climate Change

A new report by the National Priorities Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, released on Earth Day, has pointed to something seldom acknowledged within the U.S. climate movement: Put simply, war does not just kill people, but it is also killing the planet by worsening the climate crisis.

Titled “No Warming, No War: How Militarism Fuels the Climate Crisis—and Vice Versa,” the report makes a point that even the U.S. The Department of Defense readily admits: that climate change will increasingly act as a “threat multiplier” in fueling armed conflict as the climate crisis worsens. This is also a thesis conveyed in Christian Parenti’s 2011 book Tropic of Chaos: Climate Change and the New Geography of Violence.

“Rather than understanding it as a national security crisis, characterizing climate change as a ‘planetary emergency’ may help to see beyond a militarized worldview and instead foster a spirit of global cooperation,” the report reads. “Choosing solidarity over security, real safety comes when we care for each other and our environment.”

Pointing to a 2019 study by Brown University’s Neta Crawford, who The Real News interviewed back in July, the report points out that the Pentagon emits more greenhouse gases than countries such as Denmark, Sweden, and Portugal. And citing a 2018 report published by the group Securing America’s Energy Future, the report further points out that the U.S. military spends $81 billion per year protecting global sealanes for oil. Yet another example of imperial excess, the report points to the B-52 military jet, which emits more greenhouse gas into the atmosphere in one hour than an average car does in seven years.

Beyond rejecting the “national security” framework, the report also challenges the notion of “greening the military,” something promoted by U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) during her bid to become the Democratic Party presidential candidate. 

“Plans to make the U.S. war machine more fuel-efficient miss the point entirely,” they write. “The climate justice movement calls for a restructuring of an extractive economy that is harming people and ecosystems. Such aspirations and militarism are fundamentally at odds.”


Slow Streets

And lastly for this week, we’ll end on a good note.

One of the outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic previously covered here has been less cars on the road, with cleaner air and what will likely amount to lower greenhouse gas emissions as a result. It has ensued as the vast majority of the U.S. economy has come to a standstill and as employers with the ability to do so have implemented work-at-home regimes. Besides bringing animals out of hiding and into public view, the new paradigm has also opened up a discussion on the future of driving and roads. And in particular, on the proposal for “slow streets.”

Slow streets are, in essence, the antithesis of typical American roads. They are pedestrian friendly, have lower speed limits and also offer space and protection for cyclists. In most major U.S. metropolises and suburbs, such streets are non-existent. But social distancing protocols have opened up a need for such streets to enable people to get fresh air while also maintaining proper spacing between one another.

On April 10, Oakland began the most extensive slow streets program in the United States on 74 miles—or 10% in total—of its roads. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio also opened up 100 miles of slow streets, as well. Other American cities such as San Diego, Portland and Denver have all followed suit. Baltimore, where The Real News Network is based, is also considering doing so.

In California, where use of the car reigns supreme, 41% of greenhouse gas emissions came from automobiles, according to the most up-to-date data from 2017. Nationally, 28% of emissions come from cars, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency data. Cars are also a major source of microplastics emissions, circulating PM (particulate matter) 10 into the atmosphere via the friction of rubber tires meeting the road. Inhalation of particulate matter and tailpipe exhaust is linked to higher odds of obtaining respiratory illnesses, with that same population of people also more susceptible to contracting the coronavirus. Beyond their emissions and health repercussions, U.S. roads saw 38,800 traffic deaths in 2019 and air pollution from auto emissions kills nearly twice over 58,000 people per year.

Slow streets are part of a broader new paradigm of thinking on roads called “complete streets,” which optimize more convenient access to public transit, access to safe bikeways, abundant greenspace and connected to a network of low-carbon mobility devices such as electronic scooters, mopeds and ride-sharing vehicles.

 

 

An earlier version of this article stated that “the Pentagon emits more greenhouse gases than the countries of Denmark, Sweden, and Portugal—combined.” In actuality, the Pentagon emits more greenhouse gases than each of those countries, but not more than all of them combined. We regret the error.

Related Bios

Steve Horn

Steve Horn is a San Diego-based climate reporter and producer. He was also a reporter on a part-time basis for The Coast News—covering Escondido, San Marcos, and the San Diego North County region—from mid-2018 until early 2020. Also a freelance investigative reporter, his work has appeared in The Guardian, Al Jazeera America, The Intercept, Vice…