By blocking these common sense standards, the administration is reversing progress in cleaning the air we breathe and fighting climate change

On Thursday, President Trump made international headlines by announcing his intent to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement—a landmark decision that was met with outrage and dismay from climate activists and environmentalists. But while the gesture carries great symbolic significance, signaling the president’s disinterest in international climate efforts, any hope of actually achieving our domestic climate goals pledged under the agreement had already long since vanished.

Since January, the Trump administration has taken swift steps to dismantle numerous climate and environmental priorities established under the Obama administration, including the repeal of multiple environmental regulations. And environmentalists are fighting back—by way of the courts, that is. Just about every environment-related action the Trump administration has taken has been met with a legal challenge.

Trump is no stranger to litigation—reports suggest he was sued thousands of times as part of his career in real estate before ever becoming president. But since assuming office, he’s also been met with record-setting numbers of legal challenges. In his first two weeks as president alone, his administration was sued more than 50 times, mostly over the travel ban he implemented shortly after his inauguration. By March, reports suggest the number of lawsuits had risen above 100.

A major reason for the high rate of litigation has to do with the president’s generous use of executive orders, often in ways that environmental and social groups feel oversteps his authority, according to Michael Burger, executive director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia Law School. The travel ban is perhaps the most high-profile example of these.

What we’ve seen with Trump is an attempt to really use the executive order to create whole new policies.

“Executive orders tend to be directives from the president to administrative agencies to carry out internal tasks,” he said. “On occasion, they’re used to set broader policy agendas. But what we’ve seen with Trump is an attempt to really use the executive order to create whole new policies. And some of the policies that these executive orders are seeking to create are at direct odds with the statutes that provide the executive branch with its authority to take any action at all.”

To date, several dozen of the lawsuits currently filed against the Trump administration are directly related to climate and environmental issues. A number of them, although certainly not all, are related to executive orders.

In regard to Paris, White House advisers had actually cited potential lawsuits as an extra reason the president should withdraw from the treaty. Prior to Thursday’s announcement, they’d suggested that if the U.S. remained in the treaty while failing to enforce greenhouse gas-reducing regulations—namely, the Clean Power Plan, which the Trump administration has been actively working to unravel—environmental groups could pin new lawsuits advocating for climate regulations on the commitments laid out in the Paris agreement.

But as The Washington Post’s Amber Phillips recently pointed out, Trump’s getting sued for his environmental policies either way. He’s already facing a handful of cases over major policy points—and now that the Paris announcement has dashed hopes that the administration will make climate action a U.S. priority, more may be coming in the future.

We’ve put together some of the major examples of recent federal actions and the lawsuits they’ve inspired so far.


What we’ve seen with Trump is an attempt to really use the executive order to create whole new policies

The promised border wall

A cornerstone of President Trump’s campaign, from its earliest days, was the promise of a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico. And a January executive order on the topic of immigration sealed his intent, calling for the immediate construction of a wall along the Mexican border.

The idea has been met with resistance from a wide array of social communities and organizations, but it’s also been challenged by environmentalists concerned about its effect on the natural landscape. In April, conservation group Center for Biological Diversity and Arizona Congressman Raúl M. Grijalva filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration that would block the project’s construction, claiming that the government failed to adequately assess the wall’s potential environmental impact. The plaintiffs express concern that the wall could have a negative impact on water systems and native species, particularly endangered ones like jaguars.

The revival of the coal industry

Another key Trump campaign promise involved the reinvigoration of the declining coal industry. And in March, the Trump administration took a step in that direction by lifting an Obama-era moratorium on new coal leases on public lands. This directive was also issued in an executive order.

Almost immediately, the Northern Cheyenne tribe in Montana, along with a group of environmental organizations, sued the Trump administration for lifting the ban without completing an environmental review of the coal-leasing program. The plaintiffs suggest that the government should have first evaluated the program’s “significant environmental, health, and economic impacts—including impacts from climate disruption caused by the burning of fossil fuels such as coal, and socioeconomic and environmental impacts to local communities.”

Another chance for Keystone XL

Among the most controversial environmental issues that arose during the Obama administration was that of the Keystone XL pipeline. This proposal called for a new pipeline branch between Alberta and Nebraska, running through parts of Montana and South Dakota in the process. The idea was met with fierce protests from Native American, social justice and environmental groups, and it was ultimately rejected by President Obama.

But in January, Trump signed an executive order aimed at advancing the project, and in March the administration officially approved the pipeline’s construction. In response, multiple environmental organizations sued the administration, arguing that the approval of the project relied on an outdated environmental assessment and ignored new information about the pipeline’s potential impact. A separate lawsuit was also filed by conservationists and representatives of indigenous groups.

Tough breaks for wildlife

In yet another reversal of an Obama-era rule, Congress voted in February to undo a regulation aimed at protecting certain Alaskan wildlife from predator control operations on public lands, prohibiting the shooting of denning mother bears and wolves as well as certain types of trapping and aerial hunting. President Trump signed the reversal into effect.

In April, the Center for Biological Diversity filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the strategy Congress used to repeal the regulation—a little-known law that allows Congress to overturn federal regulations within a limited amount of time after they’re finalized. The case challenges an aspect of this law that stipulates that after a rule has been repealed in this manner, no substantially similar regulation may be enacted again without congressional approval. The case argues that “this constraint on future rulemaking violates the separation of powers that must be maintained between the legislative and executive branches under the U.S. Constitution.”

At the time it was filed, Reuters reported that the lawsuit—the first of its kind to make such a challenge—stood little likelihood of success.

The expansion of offshore drilling

Last month, President Trump signed an executive order that could expand offshore oil and gas drilling, directing Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to review an Obama ban on drilling in certain parts of the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic Oceans. In May, a group of environmental groups responded with a lawsuitchallenging the president’s authority to make such a move.

The plaintiffs point out that President Obama initiated the ban in the first place under a law called the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act, which provides guidelines for oil and gas development leasing. They argue that this act allows presidents to withdraw certain areas from consideration for leasing—but that “neither OCSLA nor any other provision of law authorizes Presidents to undo such withdrawals.”

Attacks on energy efficiency programs

It’s not just environmental groups that are pushing back against the Trump administration’s environmental policies—states are jumping on the bandwagon now as well.

By blocking these common sense standards, the administration is reversing progress in cleaning the air we breathe and fighting climate change.

In January, the White House directed federal agencies to place new or pending regulations on hold until they could be reviewed by incoming Trump administration agency heads. Among the regulations delayed as a result were a series of energy efficiency appliance standards introduced by the Obama administration. Energy efficiency standards are widely regarded by environmentalists as an important way to cut down on the energy consumption of individual households, businesses and other buildings, reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the process.

As a result, in April a coalition of state attorneys general filed a notice of intent with the Department of Energy to sue within 60 days. The states were joined in their protest by the city of New York and the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.

In a statement at the time, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman decried the delays as harmful to both public health and the environment. “By blocking these common sense standards, the administration is reversing progress in cleaning the air we breathe and fighting climate change – and denying consumers and businesses some $24 billion in savings,” he said.

Written by CHELSEA HARVEY, published in FUSION 5 June 2017.


How Climate Change Denial Set the Stage for Fake News

I wasn’t worried when the newspaper I worked for started publishing “climate skeptics.” I should have been

Written by  and published in The Walrus the 1st of May 2017

The website recently ran an image of a hospitalized senior citizen along with the following garbled caption: “BREAKING: This is 78 years old Trump supporter who was beaten by Muslim refugees in Ohio. Trump going to support them all do you support this?” It’s a painfully obvious example of the sort of fake news that spreads deliberate misinformation in exchange for easy clicks. In the wake of Donald Trump’s election, media watchdogs have been naming and shaming these sites; meanwhile, new tools being rolled out by Google, Facebook, and Wikipedia promise to filter out this sort of nonsense from our news feeds.

But even if these groups succeed, it will not completely solve our fake-news problem—because some of the most damaging misinformation on the web is spread in subtler ways. While it is a simple thing to fact-check whether refugees beat an old woman in Ohio, it is not so easy to correct misapprehensions caused by faux-authoritative articles about vaccines, GMOs, or the purported benefits of organic food. In part, this is because the science behind such issues is complicated. But it is also because misleading articles on scientific subjects often appear in otherwise respectable publications. In 2010, for instance, Bret Stephens wrote in the prestigious Wall Street Journal that “global warming is dead, nailed into its coffin one devastating disclosure, defection and re-evaluation at a time.” This was fake news, yet the article is still up there on their web site. And Stephens himself has just been named as a columnist for The New York Times. Even before Donald Trump came around, there were certain subjects that always lent themselves to fake news—and the mainstream media was a willing partner.

Some years ago, I attended a fundraising dinner in New York City for a well-known conservative magazine that I then contributed to regularly as a book reviewer. As a mere Canadian, I considered it a great honour to hob-knob with America’s right-wing brain-trust—this being the era when conservative American punditry was still defined by the respectable likes of Charles Krauthammer and David Brooks.

At my table were several wealthy donors, who seemed understandably disappointed not to be seated with a more well-known contributor. But their eyes brightened when I said that I worked at the National Post. They told me that they knew the newspaper well, and that they regularly visited the web site to surf their favourite columnists. Then they recited, from memory, the headlines of several recent articles—all variations on the idea that man-made climate change is a hoax. “Your newspaper is very brave,” one of them told me. “We don’t have many real newspapers in the United States that are willing to tell the truth like that.”

Señor Codo

When I think about the origins of what we now call “fake news,” I come back to this story. The Post is, in just about every other respect, a scrupulously fact-based newspaper. And over its lifetime, it has been home to numerous award-winning journalists who have broken huge stories—from the early days of Shawinigate to its recent scoop about a former Vice Canada editor allegedly running a global smuggling operation out of his office. It’s a newspaper that I continue to read and trust.

But there always was an unwritten rule at the Post that when it came to global warming, all bets were off. As with the Wall Street Journal and other conservative media, global-warming denialism turned the Post into a weird hybrid: a beefy entrée of genuine information, with a 1 percent garnish of fake news—a situation that persists to this day. And since many conservatives have an enormous hunger for respectable-seeming news sources that confirm their ideologically motivated skepticism of environmentalism, this tiny slice of fake fare accounted for a massively disproportionate share of our most popular stories. Like other journalists in the newsroom, I would complain to Post brass about these stories—sometimes even doing so publicly, on Twitter. But it was quietly understood that this niche was simply too popular to give up. And as I learned in New York, climate-change denialism truly did give us an international profile.

Besides: How much harm could this fake climate news do? We were telling readers the truth in every other area. We didn’t promote bogus anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, or suggest that George W. Bush blew up the Twin Towers, or question the birthplace of Barack Obama. So was it really the end of the world if we published fake news on this one specific subject? If the Wall Street Journal could do it, why not us?

The fake-news climate columns we were running didn’t look like conspiracist propaganda. They often came with all sorts of impressive looking graphs and tables, and many were written by people who seemed to have some sort of scientific credential—even if they generally weren’t actual climatologists, and even if the data and arguments they were presenting had never passed peer review at a mainstream scientific publication. I reasoned that the people who write and read these articles were true believers who were never going to be convinced by science anyway. So what was the harm in letting them use the Post to babble at one another about “Climategate”?

What I didn’t realize then was that the (largely successful) effort to sow confusion about climate change could never be contained within that one narrow pseudoscientific silo. That’s because one of the core dogmas of the global-warming denial movement—whose adherents now include the President of the United States—is that both the media and the international scientific community are both completely corrupt. I say “dogmas” because, absent the presumption of such corruption, there is simply no way to explain why every prestigious scientific body and A-list media outlet in the Western world acknowledges the truth that the world is getting hotter, and that the main reason for this is the production of greenhouse gasses by human activity.

In this particular sense, climate denialists are very similar to, say, Obama Birthers, or anti-vaccine conspiracy theorists—who also believe that the entire mainstream media is a bought-and-paid for subsidiary of some global puppet-master. Indeed, that is why there are so many conspiracy theorists who come to inhabit all of these conspiratorial sub-categories simultaneously (such as Trump himself, or his friend Alex Jones). Once you have popularized and legitimized the idea that the most respectable intellectual and political institutions in our society are lying to us about something so fundamental as our climate, the wall between truth and fiction starts to vanish.

Out of the climate denial movement emerged all sorts of useful basic strategies that would become broadly applicable to other fake news campaigns on the right. For instance, since no layperson can really understand the vastly complicated business of modeling the earth’s climate, denialists have come to rely on isolated factoids and mantras that they can understand, and which traffic well in 140 characters or less: Ice has gotten thicker in some parts of Antarctica. The earth has always exhibited natural variation in temperature from year to year. Snippets of email from a hacked University of East Anglia server, removed from context, suggest statistical foul play. Through the groupthink of the conservative internet silo, every Rebel or Breitbart fan you meet is armed with the same canon of “smoking gun” denialist lines. Put enough of these together, and you can hold your own in any dinner-party debate. Of particular note: Unlike the creationists of yore, climate deniers give the appearance of engaging in rigorous scientific analysis—even if they’ve never heard of Boyle’s law or the Stefan–Boltzmann constant.

Finally, global warming deniers were smart enough to realize that, at root, most of us trust people, not numbers. And since global warming is complicated, even the most well-informed lay activist is occasionally going to say or do something that exposes them to the claim of hypocrisy or ignorance within the environmentalist movement. Go back and read the climate denial columns of Ezra Levant, Rex Murphy and Conrad Black over the last decade or so. You will find little discussion of the technical fine points of solar irradiance and thermal inertia, but much sneering about the fancy international conferences where David Suzuki and Al Gore hold court. By this fashion, the denialists gradually have deftly turned the debate over a scientific subject into a referendum on the moral character of sanctimonious globetrotting leftists. Columnist Mark Steyn was especially passionate about this tactic, and even went so far as to compare one of the world’s most acclaimed climate scientists to a pedophilic sex criminal—an act of journalistic lunacy that has tied him up in libel litigation for the last five years.

There is a direct line between the right-wing campaign to discredit legitimate science and the post-truth atmosphere that suffuses virtually every aspect of Donald Trump’s political cult. Trump and his acolytes don’t have to engage intellectually with the mainstream media, because they already have decided the media is dishonest and corrupt. (Indeed, 76 percent of US Republicans—compared with 6 percent of Democrats—now agree with the statement “journalists and the media are the enemy of the American people.”)

I don’t know when—or even if—the era of fake news will end. But if we do get our societal sanity back, we should guard it more preciously. What this means is that we cannot afford to treat any important arena of public discourse as somehow beyond the realm of fact. To adapt George Orwell, unless you insist that two plus two makes four—not just usually, but always—you’re never far from the shrieking la-la-land of a late-night Donald Trump Tweetstorm.