The new tax bill is a nightmare for the environment.
A seven-decade environmental justice battle just snuck its way into that tax bill.
For all the recent chatter surrounding the Republicans’ new tax plan, there hasn’t been much discussion about the environmental consequences, which are, potentially, pretty drastic, and say a lot about the GOP’s priorities.
One provision in the Senate’s tax plan has the potential to halt investment in renewable energy. According to the Washington Post’s Energy 202, many utility companies that work in renewable energy are financially dependent on multinational corporations like Google and Goldman Sachs, which have, in turn, received tax breaks for their investment in renewables. But a tax in the new legislation, called the base erosion anti-abuse tax (BEAT), is being implemented to keep profits and jobs from going offshore. The way the new taxation formula works could “claw back tax credits that US companies were awarded for investing in renewable energy in the past.”
The House version of the bill is arguably worse: in that proposal, tax breaks for wind and solar development would be completely eliminated. Because the two bills have to be reconciled, we could end up with one or the other, or both.
The news gets worse: the cuts in the bill will add an estimated $1.4 trillion dollars to the national deficit over the next ten years, which would trigger pay-as-you-go, or paygo, cuts, as POLITICO reports, to Medicare, other health and domestic programs, hospital insurance trust funds, and even agriculture – although it’s typically higher on the priority list for conservatives, $20 billion in farm aid could be cut, a potentially catastrophic development for an industry already hemorrhaging small and mid-sized farms.
The bill also authorizes oil drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) – a goal long sought after by Alaska’s delegation, and especially Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), a moderate who famously helped kill the GOP’s Obamacare repeal effort.
In an interview with Democracy Now!, an independent nonprofit news program, Subhankar Banjeree, an environmental activist and professor of Art and Ecology at the University of New Mexico, says the ANWR is “the biologically most diverse nursery, protected nursery, in the Circumpolar North. It’s a nursery of global significance.” To add some perspective, we are currently in the midst of what is commonly known as the sixth extinction – a massive dying-off of species mainly resulting from human actions. Republicans have claimed the footprint of drilling would be limited to 2,000 acres; however, environmental groups say this estimate is deceptive, and doesn’t account for the necessary infrastructure (roads, facilities, pipelines, etc.), which would increase the footprint to 12,000 acres, and sprawl out over an area of roughly 1,000 square miles. There’s also the impact of potential spills to consider – permafrost thaw resulting from rising global temperatures has been shown to negatively impact pipelines and oil and gas infrastructure.
“The ANWR is a nursery of global significance.”
- Subhankar Banjeree
So, how much oil is even under all that snowy crust? Geological surveys report an average estimate of about 10.4 billion barrels, not all of which is recoverable. The GOP has consistently argued that this refuge would allow the US to be energy independent, but the numbers don’t add up. At its peak, the ANWR oil reserves would only contribute about 800 thousand barrels on a daily basis, which would leave Americans wanting for 10.6 million barrels of oil per day from foreign sources.
There’s a thin sliver of hope here, and that’s the fact that there are at least 12 members in the House who are strongly opposed to drilling in the ANWR – enough to write a letter, in fact. We’ll have to wait and see how that particular battle plays out during the reconciliation process.
Dirty energy is starting to clean its act up.
Here’s a cool story in the Washington Post worth checking out: in an ironic twist, one of the largest oil fields in the country is turning to solar power to make its own operations more sustainable. The Belridge oil field in central California uses steam to loosen crude oil for extraction, which takes a helluva lot of energy. Historically, Aera Energy (Belridge’s operator, owned jointly by Shell and ExxonMobil) has used natural gas to generate this steam, but they’ve joined up with GlassPoint Solar to instead employ a solar thermal array to heat water. According to the companies, this implementation of solar-thermal energy will counteract “4.87 billion cubic feet of natural gas per year and avoid the emission of 376,000 tons of carbon.” Even the water used will be recycled back into the ground.
This project is partially a response to California’s recent extension of its cap-and-trade program in an attempt to cut emissions, but it’s also part of a larger transition many energy companies are undergoing as social and political pressures (not to mention global temperatures) rise. Using renewables to produce oil feels backwards and icky, but this is likely an essential part of the move from dirty to clean energy.
Shell also recently conceded to consumer pressure and vowed to increase spending for its new energies division up to $2 billion per year – double its prior spending. This is only a small portion of its annual investment of $25-30 billion, but it’s a start. The oil giant also vowed to cut its carbon footprint in half by 2050. Shell CEO Ben van Beurden released a statement claiming these shifts are being made “in step with society’s drive to align with the Paris goals.”
Trump shrinks Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante.
On Monday, President Trump cut more public lands from the books, shrinking the size of both Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments. This reversal of national monument protections is the largest in history.
- President Clinton’s designation of Grand Staircase-Escalante in 1996 was unexpected by those living in that area of rural Utah, who saw it as a way to restrict and regulate their land. President Obama created Bears Ears under the 1906 Antiques Act near the end of his second term, after years of conflict between American Indian tribes and Republican lawmakers in Utah.
- The Navajo Nation has claimed that Trump refused to engage with them on this issue, even though Bears Ears is considered to be culturally significant – full of sacred burial grounds, ancient artifacts, and cliff dwellings. The 2015 decision to make it a national monument was a huge win for the Navajo Nation, the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe, Ute Indian Tribe, Hopi, and the Pueblo of Zuni, all of whom now plan to take the administration to court.
An aside: This announcement comes only a week after Trump referred to Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas” while honoring Navajo code talkers who served in WWII. He also told them, “You are a special people,” in front of a portrait of Andrew Jackson, the former US president who signed the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which resulted in the Trail of Tears. (If you haven’t brushed up on your high school history in a while, an estimated four thousand Cherokee people died in the forced mass exodus.)
Other interesting things you might have missed this week:
Moody’s Investors Service, a top credit-rating agency, might provide some negative incentives for skeptical cities to prepare for climate change: a lower credit rating and difficulty obtaining low-interest bonds.
On Friday, the EPA’s Scott Pruitt told mining companies they no longer had to prove they have the funds to cover the costs of environmental cleanup, shifting the costs instead to the American taxpayer.
- A telling statistic, cited by Earther: “The EPA spent $1.1 billion on cleanup work at abandoned hardrock mining and processing sites across the U.S. from 2010 to 2014.”
Australia’s got a really big battery, and they’re not afraid to use it. It’s connected to a new wind farm in southern Australia, an area prone to electricity blackouts due to the unpredictable and inconsistent nature of wind. But this battery system, created by Elon Musk, is capable of storing that wind energy and feeding it into the grid as needed. Energy-storage-wise, it’s capable of powering 30,000 homes for an hour. It’s costing Australian taxpayers $50 million, but could be worth it, depending on how efficiently it’s used.