Blog from Scott Strand, Executive Director


Read Scott's thoughts on important environmental issues in Minnesota, the United States, and worldwide.

Climate free-riding

Nice piece in the New York Review of Books from William Nordhaus, reviewing the recent book Climate Shock from Gernot Wagner and Martin Weitzman.  The book and review both explain why nations cannot and will not take the steps necessary to address greenhouse gas emissions effectively.  Nordhaus proposes a "climate club" where countries committed to doing something serious impose trade sanctions on those who do not "join the club."

Carbon tax success story in BC

Nice interview with University of Ottawa professor who has analyzed the impact of British Columbia's decision seven years ago to impose a revenue-neutral, economy-wide carbon tax. Eventually, some U.S. states will seize the initiative and take this step, recognizing that the competitive future rests with lower-emissions economies.

"I'm not a scientist."

Ignorance is bliss, I guess.  Elizabeth Kolbert (author of The Sixth Extinction) reports in the New Yorker that the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee just voted to gut the funding for NASA's earth science and climate science work.  I suspect that Sen. Cruz, the chair of the corresponding Senate committee, would be happy to do the same.  The war on science continues.

Supreme Court also ominously agrees to hear "standing" case

Lest today's good news about the FERC "demand response" case leave anyone feeling good about the direction of the US Supreme Court, there is last week's decision to grant cert in Spokeo v. Robins.  Spokeo is a class action lawsuit challenging false statements made in "consumer reports" (reports on individual's age, wealth, etc. used by lenders and prospective employers)  under the Fair Credit Reporting Act.  The issue is standing, particularly whether the named plaintiff had suffered an "injury in fact" from the alleged statutory violation.

What is ominous about this is the way the Court's order framed the question:

Whether Congress may confer Article III standing upon a plaintiff who suffers no concrete harm, and who therefore could not otherwise invoke the jurisdiction of a federal court, by authorizing a private right of action based on a bare violation of a federal statute.

That matters in environmental litigation because lawsuits under the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, and most other federal environmental statutes are often based on what the Court calls "bare" violations.  In the credit report case, the lower court had found that the plaintiff's claims that the false statements had hurt his employment prospects were too speculative, but the statute essentially presumes that someone with false statements on his or credit report has been harmed.  Same is true in environmental cases.  Plaintiffs don't have to show that they have gotten sick from pollution; they just have to prove that the unlawful pollution happened and they were on the receiving end.

This is an unusual case, because the Solicitor General urged against taking the case, and the Court overrode that.  It is not clear that the facts in the case actually allow the question to be posed as starkly as the Court did.  Nevertheless, this is one to watch.  Spokeo will get argued this fall.

Northern long-eared bats go on "threatened" list in Minnesota

This species of bat is threatened by something called "white nose syndrome," and the US Fish and Wildlife Service is putting it on the threatened list.  That may lead to restrictions on timber harvest or at least some modified practices.  The agency will take comments for 30 days, and we will see how the timber industry responds.

Supreme Court agrees to hear "demand response" case

The US Supreme Court today granted cert in a case involving "Order No. 745" from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC).  Order 745 directed utilities to pay energy consumers to reduce their consumption during peak periods, an approach to energy conservation called "demand response."  One of the problems with our electricity system is that we build generation capacity to meet demand during "peaks," (like summer evenings when everyone turns on the AC at once).  If we can moderate those peaks, we can reduce the need for peak generation and the environmental consequences that follow.

The lower court had held that FERC lacked authority to issue such an order--that only the states could do that under the Federal Power Act, a sort of "reverse preemption" ruling.  By agreeing to hear the case, the Court may be signalling that it may well reverse, which would result in Order 745 staying in effect.  Big win for clean energy and environmental groups. 

Regulations creating jobs?

The modifier "job-killing" has been attached to "regulation" in certain political circles for a long time.  The data tell us that, typically, regulations actually create jobs in most cases, although the job effects are usually pretty small.

This research was summarized in a book called Does Regulation Kill Jobs?, edited by Cary Coglianese, Adam Finkel, and Christopher Carrigan, and published in 2013. Now a team of economists has done a thorough analysis of the probable job effects of the President's Clean Power Plan.  Again, the conclusion is modest job growth, not the destruction of millions of jobs claimed by industry opponents.  Here's the report.

Pope and UN vs. Minnesota House?

The pope and the UN Secretary General have come out in support of facts. Good for them. As this article notes, NGO's funded by the fossil fuel industy are putting pressure on the Vatican, because they are very concerned about the pope's impending encyclical on the environment.

Your government in action

Jon Tevlin has a nice column in the Star Tribune about the proceedings in the Minnesota House of Representatives on the energy and environment omnibus finance bills.  As he reports, every Republican in the House but one voted "no" on an amendment to acknowledge that climate change is real and human activity is part of the cause. They all repeated the standard talking point that "they are not scientists" but they believe the 3% of climate scientists who are paid not to accept the scientific consensus.  At the same time, these same representatives insist that it should be the legislature, not the scientists at MPCA and EPA, who should determine what our water quality standards need to be to meet minimum federal requirements.  On that point, they are joined by the Republicans and the DFL leadership in the Senate.  Discouraging.

Farm pollution, drinking water, and taxpayers

Important piece from Tony Kennedy in Sunday's Star Tribune on the enormous costs being imposed on municipalities to get nitrates from farms out of their drinking water.  Those costs need to be pushed upstream.

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