Study: Climate Change Skeptics More Eco-Friendly Than Believers

It’s usually assumed that climate change skeptics simply don’t care about the environment. If they did, as the reasoning goes, they would accept the science that climate change is primarily man-made and support government measures designed to curb it. 

But a recent study has found that climate change skeptics are actually more likely to engage in eco-friendly behaviors in their individual lives than those who claim to be “highly concerned” about climate change.     

As reported by Pacific Standard, a publication of The Social Justice Foundation:

“Participants in a year-long study who doubted the scientific consensus on the issue ‘opposed policy solutions,’ but at the same time, they ‘were most likely to report engaging in individual-level, pro-environmental behaviors,’ writes a research team led by University of Michigan psychologist Michael Hall.

Conversely, those who expressed the greatest belief in, and concern about, the warming environment ‘were most supportive of government climate policies, but least likely to report individual-level actions.’”

The study is yet one more reminder that there are two very different attitudes toward free will currently operative in America.

One attitude, represented by many climate change believers, holds that the primary job of the individual will is to give assent to the will of the collective, and that the collective will often trumps that of the individual will. This attitude assumes that the macro-level is where real change happens, and thus, where one’s energies should be directed. In the case of climate change, the majority (supposedly, 97% of scientists) has deemed that man-made climate change is a fact, and that the best way to curb it is through government policy interventions. The most important job of the individual is to simply support this conclusion through their votes and their rhetoric.

The other attitude, represented by many climate change skeptics, gives priority to the individual will, and is wary of attempts to provoke its hasty submission to the collective will. It tends to assume that lasting macro-level change ideally comes about as a result of changes at the micro-level of individuals and small communities. It believes that the individual will should first “be the change” it wants rather than waiting for a change to be imposed upon it from without. In regard to climate change, this attitude toward will often manifests itself in a suspicion toward expensive and burdensome government interventions, but in a welcoming of self-imposed, environmentally-friendly disciplines at the individual level.  

That’s a long way of saying that the study’s results are not in the least bit surprising to me.

This post Study: Climate Change Skeptics More Eco-Friendly Than Believers was originally published on Intellectual Takeout by Daniel Lattier.

 

Australia’s Election Shock Shows the Perils of Moralizing Climate Change

Climate-based politics appeal primarily to those insulated from the potential economic consequences of climate policies by their high incomes, and shielded from even seeing those effects by their urbanized lifestyles.

Heading into last Saturday’s election in Australia, Prime Minister Scott Morrison was a dead man walking.

Polls showed the left-wing Labor Party pulling away from his conservative Liberal-National Coalition in what newspapers across the globe were calling “The Climate Change Election.” Polls were being thrown around showing that more and more Australians were prioritizing climate action as their top issue, and opposition leader Bill Shorten was being heralded as the next prime minister.

Fast forward 24 hours to Sunday morning: Morrison’s shock re-election has made him a conservative folk-hero, while Shorten has resigned the leadership of Labor in the face of a humiliating defeat.

So, what happened?

For one, it appears that the polls were just plain wrong, with the Australian media noting that polling as a science is struggling to keep up in a world without landlines, and increasingly relying on robocalls rather than live operators.

That said, polling failure only explains why Morrison’s re-election was a shock, not why it happened.

Among the big takeaways from these results is the massive swing against Labor in industrial and working-class areas. Australia’s national broadcaster profiled several towns where the bottom fell out of Labor’s vote, and the first two towns listed were (respectively) centers of mining and sugarcane farming. These were places where people actually do the type labor that give the Labor Party its name.

Perhaps even more illustratively, the night’s only real breakthrough for climate activists was the defeat of conservative former Prime Minister Tony Abbott in his campaign for re-election to Parliament.

Abbott has represented the wealthy suburban-Sydney seat of Warringah since 1994, a seat that has been held continuously by conservatives since the foundation of the Australian Parliament. Yet, Abbott was ousted by a centrist independent Zali Steggall, who ran a campaign on climate change and described her win as a repudiation of Abbott’s conservative stances on climate policy.

So, what makes Warringah different from everywhere else?

Well, one answer might be that Warringah has the single highest median household income of any electorate in Australia. Abbott himself mentioned this in his concession speech, which oddly came on a night when his party won big on the exact issue he lost on.

“It’s clear,” he said, “that in what might be described as ‘working seats,’ we are doing so much better. It’s also clear that in at least some of what might be described as ‘wealthy seats,’ we are doing it tough, and the green left is doing better.”

More importantly, he went on to say that where climate change was a “moral issue, we do it tough. But where it’s an economic issue, we do very, very well.”

The tilt of Australia’s high-income urban areas to the left on climate issues is not new, and not limited to Warringah. The parliamentary seat of Melbourne—which encompasses only Melbourne’s downtown—is also the only seat held by the Green Party. The Greens also poll well in the richer seats immediately bordering Melbourne, and climate plays a role in some of Sydney’s wealthiest electorates.

One post-mortem on the election from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation pointed out the wealth issue thusly:

In [Warringah’s] case and in other inner-city seats, support for climate action looks broadly consistent with a “post-materialist” sensibility. … Here the emphasis on quality of life over immediate economic and physical needs encourages a focus on issues like climate change. But this is a sensibility that speaks to those in higher socio-economic brackets, and principally with higher levels of education.

Put more bluntly, climate-based politics appeal primarily to those insulated from the potential economic consequences of climate policies by their high incomes, and shielded from even seeing those effects by their urbanized lifestyles.

Those not materially blessed enough to live as “post-materialists,” however, still make their decisions based on what it takes to put food on the table, pay the rent, and provide for their families.

This sort of growing rich-poor political divide is not unique to Australia. In Israel, working-class Israelis have solidified behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while wealthy areas swing strongly against him.

In the United States, Donald Trump won states like Michigan and Wisconsin while some of Brooklyn’s trendiest neighborhoods elected Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to the House.

It’s not just that the working class is drifting right. The upper classes, especially in gentrifying inner cities, are gravitating hard to a left that is increasingly focused on perceived moral issues and less interested in bread-and-butter economics.

However, there is one key difference that makes Australia unique. Perhaps more than any other nation, Australia has seen climate change loom over its politics for over a decade.

Former Labor Prime Minister Kevin Rudd made it the signature issue of his premiership from 2007-2010, with at least one costly program literally going up in flames. Rudd’s plan to re-insulate Australian homes for energy efficiency failed to account for the flammability of the new insulation and led to the deaths of four workers.

In 2009, Rudd’s cap-and-trade proposal caused a massive split in the Liberal Party when then-party leader Malcolm Turnbull tried to force the party to support Rudd on the issue—leading the party’s legislators to remove him and replace him with anti-cap-and-trade leader Tony Abbott.

Australia has been through “climate change elections” before, and experimented with environmental policy as much as any nation on Earth. The results illustrate what happens when politics becomes centered on creating a “better world” by making life harder in the real world.

Such ideas may gain traction among those who know they can afford to weather the storm, and the rich can condemn the poor for their “materialism” in rejecting the new order, but working people (rightly) prioritize feeding their children as a higher moral goal.

Given that Australia’s ever-shifting politics has sometimes drawn comparisons to “Game of Thrones,” perhaps it’s worth noting that Australian Labor and Daenerys Targaryen learned the same lesson in their big finales this weekend: No matter how lofty your aims, there’s little morality in burning the world down in the name of building a better one.

Commentary by Adam Brickley.
Originally published at The Daily Signal.
https://www.dailysignal.com/2019/05/22/australias-election-shock-shows-the-perils-of-moralizing-climate-change/

Senators Reintroduce REINS Act

WASHINGTON, D.C. –  U.S. Senator Rand Paul (R-KY), along with Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Joni Ernst (R-IA), Todd Young (R-IN), Ted Cruz (R-TX), and 29 other cosponsors, reintroduced the “Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny” (REINS) Act to increase accountability and transparency in the federal regulatory process. Senator Paul has been lead Senate sponsor of the bill each Congress since 2011.

The REINS Act would rein in unelected federal bureaucrats by requiring that Congress affirmatively approve every new “major rule” proposed by the Executive Branch before it can be enforced on the American people, as opposed to the status quo, where regulations ultimately take effect unless Congress specifically disapproves.

“Last Congress, we made tremendous progress on relieving the burdens placed on the American people by unelected bureaucrats, but much more remains to be done. Passing the REINS Act would reassert Congress’ legislative authority and help us further reduce unnecessary, overreaching government interference in Americans’ everyday lives,” said Senator Paul.

“Even when well-intended, government regulations are all too often ineffective, counterproductive or even outright harmful. Heavy-handed Washington regulators frequently fail to understand the real-world effect of their actions. As the Constitution outlines, laws are written and passed by the people’s branch of government, not by unseen and unknown executive branch employees behind closed doors who can’t be voted out of office. Thankfully, the Trump administration has taken significant action to repeal burdensome regulations. But more needs to be done to reclaim the rightful role of Congress as the lawmaking body of government and restore democratic accountability for rules that impact the lives and livelihoods of Americans,” said Senator Grassley.

“We must increase transparency and hold regulatory agencies accountable to ensure they are upholding the congressional intent of our nation’s laws. The REINS Act gives Congress the authority to review sweeping rules and regulations and is a step in the right direction to rein-in burdensome, out-of-control government regulations that impact Iowans, and all Americans,” said Senator Ernst.

“We have made significant progress reining in costly, job-killing regulations since I first introduced the REINS Act in the House six years ago, but we still have more work to do to protect hardworking Americans. I will continue fighting for the passage of this common-sense legislation in the new Congress,” said Senator Young.

“In an age where unelected federal bureaucrats have unprecedented power to unilaterally invent binding, economically destructive federal regulations, the REINS Act is a necessary step in curbing this excessive power. If enacted, the REINS Act would be the most significant, far-reaching structural regulatory reform ever passed, and I will continue to fight for this important reform,” said Senator Cruz.

Reiterating current federal law, the bill defines a “major” rule as one that the Office of Management and Budget determines may result in an economic impact of $100 million or greater each year; “a major increase in costs or prices” for American consumers, government agencies, regions, or industries; or “significant adverse effects” on the economy.

By passing the REINS Act, the American people – through their elected officials – will once again have the final say on whether or not such rules are the right course for our future.

In the 115th Congress, the legislation passed the U.S. Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on May 17, 2017, while the U.S. House passed Rep. Doug Collins’ (R-GA) companion legislation by a vote of 237-187 in January 2017.

A Double Win in the Dusky Gopher Frog Case

By a vote of 8-0 (Justice Kavanaugh did not participate), the Supreme Court today gave a rational reading of both the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and its own power to review administrative agency actions. The decision in Weyerhaeuser v. U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is an important win for property owners against arbitrary agency decisions. See Cato’s amicus brief here.

The case arose when the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), which administers the ESA on behalf of the Secretary of the Interior, designated a large parcel of land in Louisiana owned by Weyerhaeuser and a group of family landowners as critical habitat for the endangered dusky gopher frog, a small population of which lives today in Mississippi. The problem, however, was that the frog had not lived in Louisiana for decades and, worse still, the land in question, far from being critical habitat, was no habitat at all since it was unsuitable for sustaining the frog’s life cycles. On appeal, FWS did not dispute that critical habitat must be habitat; it argued instead that habitat includes areas that would require “some degree of modification” to support a sustainable population of a given species. In her dissent from the Fifth Circuit’s decision, Judge Priscilla Owen nicely summarized the immense practical implications of that view: “If the Endangered Species Act permitted the actions taken by the Government in this case, then vast portions of the United States would be designated as ‘critical habitat’ because it is theoretically possible, even if not probable, that land could be modified to sustain the introduction or reintroduction of an endangered species.”

Fortunately, Chief Justice Roberts, writing for the Court, today carefully parsed the ESA’s language to avoid that result. And of equal if not greater importance, he did the same to sustain the Administrative Procedure Act’s “basic presumption of judicial review” of agency action, finding here that the ESA requires the Secretary to take into consideration economic and other impacts before making a critical habitat designation. The economic impact to these plaintiffs of losing their right to develop their land was estimated to be $34 million—all to preserve a frog’s uninhabitable habitat. No wonder the decision was 8-0. Still, the plaintiffs had to go all the way to the Supreme Court to vindicate their rights.

The Court sent the case back to the Fifth Circuit to be resolved consistent with today’s opinion.

How to Keep the US Natural Gas Boon Going

America is becoming a major liquefied natural gas exporter. According to the latest statistics, the U.S. liquefied natural gas exports quadrupled from 0.5 billion cubic feet of gas per day in 2016 to 1.94 billion in 2017.

Of U.S. liquefied natural gas exports last year, 53 percent went to Mexico, South Korea, and China, with the largest share, 20 percent, going to Mexico.

A growing share of American liquefied natural gas exports is headed to Europe, too. Since the arrival of the first U.S. liquefied natural gas carrier in the Portuguese port of Sines in April 2016, the European Union has increased its imports of America’s liquefied natural gas from 0 to 2.8 billion cubic meters. NATO members, particularly Poland and Lithuania, have built new liquefied natural gas import terminals.

Given that the global liquefied natural gas market has become increasingly fluid and competitive, the value of U.S. liquefied natural gas exports is expected to be almost $5 billion this year. With plentiful reserves and innovative technologies that have unleashed an energy renaissance, the United States is the world’s leading natural gas producer and exporter and has a vital interest in protecting and expanding world energy trade.

In a welcome move at their July meeting in Washington, President Donald Trump and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker agreed to strengthen U.S.-EU strategic cooperation on energy trade, through which the EU would import more U.S. liquefied natural gas to diversify its energy supply and make it more secure.

However, U.S. law still requires prior regulatory approval for liquefied natural gas exports and constrains the timely expansion of much-needed energy infrastructure. These restrictions need to be addressed sooner rather than later so that energy companies can capitalize even further on America’s liquefied natural gas abundance and Europe’s energy demands.

The U.S. needs to make sure it does not get in its own way by keeping outdated and onerous restrictions. Regrettably, more than a dozen export facilities are awaiting permit approval from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. In fact, it has been three years since the commission last approved a new liquefied natural gas export terminal.

Heritage Foundation energy policy expert Nick Loris made the case for reformsuccinctly in a recent paper:

[A] burdensome environmental review process and an unnecessary public interest determination made by the Department of Energy slows the process of shipping [liquefied natural gas] to the desired destination. Both administrative and legislative reform will stimulate investment in energy in the U.S. and increase supply diversity for America’s allies, providing greater choices for consumers and creating a more mobile natural gas market. Further, empowering the states would create different and more efficient options for permitting, reducing the time frame in which [liquefied natural gas] reaches the market.

While strengthening relationships with trading partners around the world, America’s liquefied natural gas exports, supported by the timely expansion of much-needed energy infrastructure, would provide an additional boon to the economy and create more jobs.

That means, as The Economist has opined, “a cleaner world and a richer America.” The time to act on that is now.

Commentary by Anthony Kim. Originally published at The Daily Signal.

Court Order for EPA to Ban Pesticide Spotlights Need for ‘Transparency’ Rule

How can Americans be certain that scientific studies that are the basis of costly EPA regulations are accurate, and that the benefits of the regulations outweigh the expense?

Contrary to what critics say about a proposed rule from the Environmental Protection Agency, part of the answer lies in greater openness and transparency by federal officials, according to a new report from the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a Washington-based libertarian think tank.

The rule, called “Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science,” would require the EPA to publish the scientific data behind regulations so that the information would be available for public scrutiny.

The value of the proposal became apparent Aug. 9, when a federal appeals court ordered the EPA to ban the pesticide chlorpyrifos within 60 days, says CEI senior fellow Angela Logomasini, who authored the study.

“The Trump administration should certainly challenge this ruling, which goes beyond the bounds of reason and conflicts with all the best science on chlorpyrifos,” Logomasini, who specializes in environmental and consumer issues, said in a press release, adding:

The EPA is currently pursuing a scheduled scientific review on chlorpyrifos, and there is no reason they should stop that because of a misguided activist petition. The Trump administration was right to reject the proposed ban because it was based on a single study that EPA’s science advisory board indicated was inappropriate for drawing any conclusions.

In addition, the researchers refuse to release the underlying data of this study, preventing anyone from doing legitimate scientific review to ensure its validity. This case offers yet another reason why EPA should finalize its pending rule to increase scientific transparency at the agency.

If Congress decided to impose a ban, it would hinder farming and raise consumer prices for food, Logomasini noted in a recent op-ed. Proponents of a ban on chlorpyrifos see a connection between the pesticide and developmental disabilities in children.

report in The New York Times about the order from the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit cites studies concluding that the effects of  chlorpyrifos on children “included lower birth weight and reduced I.Q., with farm workers also reporting loss of working memory and other health consequences that at times resulted in hospital admissions.”

Court watchers consider the 9th Circuit to be one of the most liberal federal courts in the nation, and President Donald Trump hopes to reshape it through his appointments.

What the Rule Would Do

The EPA’s transparency rule would help to counter unsubstantiated claims against pesticides such as chlorpyrifos that protect crops from insects, Logomasini argues.

The proposed rule would require the EPA to “use peer-reviewed information, standardized test methods, consistent data evaluation procedures, and good laboratory practices to ensure transparent, understandable, and reproducible scientific assessments.” It is modeled after legislation that would have banned the practice of “secret science.”

Several versions of the bill passed the House, but not the Senate.

The EPA’s proposed transparency rule includes language similar to the legislation. EPA officials also included provisions that are quite different from what advanced through the House.

“The rule affords the EPA administrator considerable leeway to permit regulators to use research in cases where privacy or other concerns limit public availability,” Logomasini writes, adding:

In fact, under some laws, such as the newly reformed Toxic Substances Control Act, the EPA must use such research if it constitutes the ‘best available science’ on an issue. In that case, even if data were not fully available, the agency would still be required to rely on those critical studies. However, in cases where data can be more transparent without privacy concerns, the EPA could not refuse to release the data on arbitrary grounds.

If implemented, the transparency rule would not cover all EPA regulatory activities, but it would be applicable to regulations that would be expected to cost at least $100 million a year, according to the report. The rule also includes provisions that safeguard “confidential business information” and is “sensitive to national and homeland security,” Logomasini writes.

The transparency proposal has attracted criticism from some researchers who have expressed concern that it would hinder the scientific process. Logomasini analyzes some of these arguments in the report.

For example, John Ioannidis, a Stanford University professor of medicine, warns in a recent editorial that if the rule is implemented, “science will be practically eliminated from all decision-making processes” and that any new regulations “would then depend uniquely on opinion and whim.”

Despite his expressed misgivings toward the EPA proposal, the CEI report notes that Ioannidis raises “some good points” that make a strong case for greater transparency in science.

Transparency as ‘Inherently Pro-Science’

“Many critics of EPA’s transparency rule claim it is ‘anti-science’ and represents an ideological attack on regulation,” Logomasini says in her report. “It is true that those who prefer less regulation hope that the rule would eliminate unnecessary regulations that are based on poor-quality science. And it is also true that many oppose the rule because they fear it will weaken regulation. But irrespective of these ideological views, increasing transparency in science, whether used for government regulation or not, is an inherently pro-science goal.”

Logomasini also addresses claims raised in some news stories that suggest the transparency rule is laced with a “hidden pro-industry agenda” aimed at undermining air quality regulations.

The EPA implemented those rules for the purpose of alleviating airborne particles smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, known as PM2.5. The regulations were based on science produced in a taxpayer-funded study from Harvard and Brigham Young University researchers that the agency kept sealed from public scrutiny.

The 1993 study, known as the Six Cities Study, is built around a statistical analysis that found a relationship between the life span of people living in six cities and the levels of the small airborne particles. The study concluded that people living in cities with higher levels of PM2.5 had shorter life spans than those in cities with lower levels.

Researchers who were part of the Six Cities Study have said they never agreed to release the data attached to the study and cited a need for anonymity. The EPA repeatedly has resisted congressional requests to disclose the information.

>>> Related: EPA Chief Moves to End Reliance on ‘Secret Science’

If researchers have genuine privacy concerns, the transparency rule can accommodate them, Logomasini says in the report. But she also points out that if the study’s findings are accurate, release of the data would serve only to strengthen the case for the air regulations:

Privacy concerns might be a legitimate challenge for releasing some or all of the Six Cities data. If that is the case, the rule, as noted, provides exemptions for rare cases where data cannot be made anonymous and privacy must be maintained. Accordingly, regulators can still use the Six Cities data, if legitimate privacy concerns prevent full release.

In cases where the data can be made anonymous, it should be released regardless of whether it supports weakening or strengthening regulations. After all, if a study’s findings are valid, releasing the data will only strengthen claims about the benefits of these regulations. If the findings are not valid, then we know that regulatory costs may not be justified, and that society actually suffers net negative effects because of those costs.

Indeed, regulation can translate into higher prices for food, transportation, consumer products, and even medicines. The debate over the rule is not about whether it benefits industry or not, but about how it impacts public health and well-being overall.

A Matter of Trust

The EPA’s public comment period for the transparency proposal ended Aug. 16.

Daren Bakst, a senior research fellow in agricultural policy at The Heritage Foundation, submitted comments that same day and credited the agency for recognizing the importance of public participation in the regulatory process.

“A transparent rulemaking process helps to ensure that decisions are being made in a proper fashion,” Bakst wrote, adding:

The public should not be expected to just trust the EPA (or any agency) to promulgate any rule it wants and draw its own conclusions without the public knowing how those conclusions were reached. This expectation does not change simply because the agency is dealing with a scientific study. Further, the EPA is not immune to seeking preferred policy outcomes and using questionable science to achieve those outcomes. Transparency helps to minimize these problems.

But the proposed rule remains the subject of criticism from other researchers and environmental advocacy groups.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, a nonprofit based in New York, argues in a blog post that the rule would “roll back health protections” because it could be used to prohibit studies that were the basis for regulations that protect the public from pollution and other dangers.

“There are many reasons why a  study cannot be made fully public, or replicated,” the NRDC blog says, adding:

For example, the original raw data may no longer exist, the original exposure conditions may no longer exist (such as lead exposures from leaded gasoline), and patient protection and privacy rules may prevent full disclosure of the raw data and information. EPA has long-established and transparent methods for evaluating data in these situations.

Supporters of the EPA proposal view it as a commonsense measure that will bring an added element of accountability to the regulatory process.

“EPA’s proposed rule strengthening science transparency is as common sense as rules come,” Tom Pyle, president of the Institute for Energy Research, told The Daily Signal in an email.

“The public must be able to hold government institutions accountable and that can only be done if the science used to justify costly regulations is rigorous, reproducible, and holds up to independent scrutiny,” Pyle said. “Peer review and factual analysis are hallmarks of scientific research. If the EPA doesn’t have to follow these standards, how can we trust that the rules they put forward are based on sound science and not political science?”

The Institute for Energy Research is a Washington-based nonprofit that favors free-market solutions in setting energy policies.

The EPA said it has begun to review the more than 479,000 comments, a process that could last through fall. The agency then will determine a timeline for making a final decision.

Report by Kevin Mooney. Originally published at The Daily Signal.

Companies blocked from using West Coast ports to export fossil fuels keep seeking workarounds

A year after Washington state denied key permits for a coal-export terminal in the port city of Longview, the Army Corps of Engineers announced it would proceed with its review – essentially ignoring the state’s decision.

This dispute pits federal authorities against local and state governments. It’s also part of a larger and long-running battle over fossil fuel shipments to foreign countries that stretches up the entire American West Coast.

We are sociologists who have studied how people respond to news about plans for big energy facilities in their communities. With President Donald Trump pushing hard for more fossil fuel production and exports, we believe it could get significantly harder for local communities to have a say in these important decisions.

Access to Asia

Oil and gas exports have dramatically increased nationwide over the past decade, ever since technological advances turned the U.S. from a top importer of these fuels to a growing exporter.

Energy companies have sought more access to West Coast ports for decades for routes to Asia and Australia. The region’s deepwater ports, railroad and pipeline networks, and proximity to some of the nation’s most productive oil, gas and coal fields make it particularly attractive for export terminals.

In some cases, exporting through the West Coast is the only economically viable option, as longer overland transportation routes would be too costly. Moreover, shorter trips by sea to reach China and other growing Asian markets cut costs.

Yet Western ports do not export as much crude oil as other American coastal areas.

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In addition, there are no facilities yet in California, Oregon or Washington for exporting liquefied natural gas, a form of the fuel that has been cooled to very low temperatures for easier storage and shipping.

This is not for lack of trying. All the numerous export terminals energy companies have proposed for liquefied natural gas up and down the West Coast have faced significant public opposition that made securing permits hard if not impossible.

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Likewise, relatively small volumes of coal are being shipped abroad from ports on the West Coast despite efforts to build new export terminals there.

https://datawrapper.dwcdn.net/h1P45/2/

Energy dominance

With his “energy dominance” policy, Trump has emphasized expanding production and export of fossil fuels and weakening environmental regulations – including those that address climate change.

His administration is siding with energy companies and landlocked states like Wyoming and Colorado angling to ship coal, oil and natural gas mined and drilled within their borders to lucrative and growing Asian markets.

At the same time, many local and state governments on the West Coast are on board with demands made by environmental activists for renewable energy development and advocates for more local control over development.

Local supporters of fossil fuel exports point to the positive local effects these facilities can have. Labor unions, county governments, business councils and ports frequently argue that bolstering fossil fuel exports would create jobs, entice investment and increase the tax base.

Opponents argue that transporting, storing, handling and shipping fossil fuels – via railroads, pipelines and ships – endangers nearby communities and contributes to climate change.

They point to oil train derailments, the public health perils of increased diesel fumes and coal dust, and pipeline explosions and leaks. They also highlight the climate implications of shipping fossil fuels abroad that may affect the carbon footprints of other countries, where the fuel would be burned.

These people have maintained a virtual blockade against new export facilities so far. But in our study of this issue, we have found it remains unclear if the federal government will overturn or override local and state decisions to deny permits.

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Mobilization

Public opinion research indicates both support and opposition for fossil fuel export depending on fuel type. Our 2017 national survey showed that about a third of U.S. citizens sampled opposed exporting natural gas, while about half supported it and almost a fifth were undecided. Our forthcoming survey of Washington residents found similar levels of opposition to natural gas exports. We also detected higher rates of disapproval of oil and coal exports, with about half of residents opposing them.

Activists in the Pacific Northwest have established what they call a “thin green line” of resistance against any big new fossil fuel infrastructure. Their protests have contributed to state and local decisions to deny permits, as well as the passage of ordinances and resolutions limiting such development. Cities like Portland, Oregon, have banned these projects altogether.

Tribal governments have actively opposed many of these proposals, too. For example, the Lummi Nation played an essential role in stopping the Gateway Pacific coal terminal proposed for Bellingham, Washington.

Legal fights have ensued. After Washington denied the permit for the Millennium Bulk Terminals coal export proposal, six interior states and several industry groups joined the company in a lawsuit. They allege that the state’s decision violated the Constitution’s commerce clause, which grants Congress – not states – the power to regulate trade.

In some cases, the courts have determined that local bans are not allowed. In others, companies have simply withdrawn proposals, especially after sustained public protests.

Silencing local voices

The administration is pursuing multiple workarounds for expanding fossil fuel export, including a recent proposal to set up export facilities on retired military bases. Energy companies and energy-producing states are trying to capitalize on the fossil-friendly administration.

For example, senators from Texas, Colorado and Montana have encouraged Trump to use his authority under the North American Free Trade Agreement, or the deal that may replace it, to override Washington state’s denial of the coal export permit.

These moves at the federal level appear to be restricting opportunities for public participation in siting decisions, a development we find troubling.

In the case of the Jordan Cove natural gas export project in Oregon, the federal agency with permitting authority over the proposal used a new process for soliciting public comments in 2017. Instead of taking part in a hearing where those attending could hear all comments, members of the public met one-on-one with agency staff and a stenographer.

In previous research, we have shown how public hearings on energy projects are critical to the formation of active community groups, who use these opportunities to connect with like-minded individuals.

While one-on-one meetings may seem more efficient and less prone to conflict, they may also stifle important local debates on these issues. And they could potentially push activists toward more confrontational tactics because they do not feel their voices are adequately heard through official channels.

In addition, some companies have used existing permits and zoning to start handling a different fuel or expand facilities without undergoing environmental review and associated public comment processes.

Despite years of successfully blocking fossil fuel exports from the West Coast, whether the thin green line will hold is far from clear. Its resilience will partly depend on what happens with global fossil fuel markets and the success of export proposals in Canada and Mexico. Its resilience will also depend on how hard the Trump administration is willing to push and how hard the West Coast is willing to push back.The Conversation

Shawn Olson-Hazboun, Faculty, Graduate Program on the Environment, Evergreen State College and Hilary Boudet, Associate Professor of Sociology, School of Public Policy, Oregon State University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.