No one needs more evidence of the worsening climate crisis. The trends are too powerful – the planet is heating up, storms are increasingly more intense, droughts are turning parts of the globe to deserts.
The season’s first major storm, Hurricane Fiona, has pummeled the Caribbean and then Bermuda with torrential rain and wind. Fiona battered parts of Puerto Rico with 12 to 20 inches of rain. Some areas received a maximum of nearly three feet of rain during the storm.
Of course, serious damage caused by hurricanes in the Caribbean is not news, unfortunately. But big hurricanes hitting Canada is.
Fiona hit Canada this past weekend with such force that it was described as “a historic storm for eastern Canada.” The intensity of the storm drove 40-foot waves that hit Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, washing away homes and destroying roads. Hundreds of thousands lost power as a result of the storm.
While hurricanes do occasionally hit Atlantic Canada, Fiona was a rare storm in its intensity and an ominous predictor of what’s to come.
The world has already warmed nearly 2 degrees Fahrenheit above the preindustrial average. Scientists at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) expect that, at 3.6 degrees Fahrenheit of warming, hurricane wind speeds could increase by up to 10 per cent. NOAA also projects the proportion of hurricanes that reach the most intense levels — Category 4 or 5 — could rise by about 10 per cent this century.
Of course, more intense and deadly storms are not the only result of a rapidly heating planet: sea level rise will threaten coastal communities, infrastructure and ecosystems; and higher temperatures will drive forest fires, drought, and famine worldwide.
Global warming’s threats are so great that experts have urged that fossil fuels – oil, coal and gas, the main contributors to climate change – be “kept in the ground” and that civilization immediately stop expanding use of this source of power. Stopping now will not prevent devastating impacts but would forestall those otherwise expected to end civilization as we know it. Failure to act, on the other hand, will do so.
With all that as a backdrop, the US Senate is planning to take up legislation this week that will, among other things, make it easier to use fossil fuels and prolong their use.
Last week, U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (WV) released his legislation on environmental permitting that is part of a side deal the Senator made as a condition for his support for environmental climate legislation passed by the Congress last month.
Reportedly the plan is to tie the Manchin legislation to a Congressional “continuing resolution” bill needed to keep the federal government running. If the continuing resolution doesn’t pass by September 30th, the federal government will shut down.
The bulk of the Manchin bill revises the National Environmental Policy Act, or NEPA, a 1970 law that requires federal agencies to review the environmental impacts of nearly all decisions before they’re implemented. The Manchin legislation would set a two-year time clock on NEPA reviews of major infrastructure projects and a one-year ceiling on reviews of minor projects. The bill also shrinks the statute of limitations for court challenges against agency permitting decisions from six years to about five months.
When it comes to federal permitting, there is evidence that the complaint of NEPA review delays is primarily caused not by the constraints of the law itself but by staffing shortages at the administrative agencies charged with doing the reviews. There is nothing in the Manchin plan to address staffing shortages.
The change in the permitting timetables will make it harder for communities vulnerable to the harms of polluting infrastructure to protect themselves by weakening the review process for new projects and closing off avenues for litigation.
Significantly, the Manchin plan would clear the path for the construction of a 303-mile gas pipeline from Manchin’s home state of West Virginia to southern Virginia. The pipeline has faced sustained opposition from several community groups that cite environmental, public health, and safety concerns.
The Manchin plan would mean that community groups would likely be unable to challenge the pipeline’s permits in court. It would set a standard making it difficult if not impossible, for any local challenges to have a chance at success.
The plan is clearly designed to expand fossil fuel infrastructure in America. A new pipeline would expand the use of fossil fuels and given the typical life and construction cost of the project, lock the nation into long-term use.
The Manchin plan runs counter to what climate science is telling us; namely that we have no time to waste reducing the use of oil, coal, and gas. Science tells the world what it must do; the Manchin plan dangerously moves in the opposite direction. Congress should, and must, reject this dangerous deal.