Trump EPA acts to roll back control on climate-changing coal
By ELLEN KNICKMEYER
Friday, December 7
WASHINGTON (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency acted again Thursday to ease rules on the sagging U.S. coal industry, this time scaling back what would have been a tough control on climate-changing emissions from any new coal plants.
The latest Trump administration targeting of legacy Obama administration efforts to slow climate change comes in the wake of multiplying warnings from the agency’s scientists and others about the accelerating pace of global warming.
In a ceremony Thursday at the agency, acting EPA administrator Andrew Wheeler signed a proposal to dismantle a 2015 rule that any new coal power plants include cutting-edge techniques to capture the carbon dioxide from their smokestacks.
Wheeler called the Obama rules “excessive burdens” for the coal industry.
“This administration cares about action and results, not talks and wishful thinking,” Wheeler said.
Asked about the harm that coal plant emission do people and the environment, Wheeler responded, “Having cheap electricity helps human health.”
Janet McCabe, an EPA air official under the Obama administration, and others challenged that. MaCabe in a statement cited the conclusion of the EPA’s own staff earlier this year that pending rollbacks on existing coal plants would cause thousands of early deaths from the fine soot and dangerous particles and gases.
The EPA was “turning its back on its responsibility to protect human health,” McCabe said Thursday.
Environmentalists, scientists and lawmakers were scathing, saying the Trump administration was undermining what they said should be urgent efforts to slow climate change.
The EPA and 12 other federal agencies late last month warned that climate change caused by burning coal, oil and gas already was worsening natural disasters in the United States. It would cause hundreds of billions of dollars in damage each year by the end of the century, the government’s National Climate Assessment said.
“This proposal is another illegal attempt by the Trump administration to prop up an industry already buckling under the powerful force of the free market,” Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, a Rhode Island Democrat and member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said in a statement.
“Did the EPA even read the National Climate Assessment?” Whitehouse asked.
It’s unclear whether the new policy boost will overcome market forces that are making U.S. coal plants ever more unprofitable.
Competition from cleaner, cheaper natural gas and other rival forms of energy has driven down coal use in the United States to its lowest level since 1979, the Energy Information Administration said this week. This year will see the second-greatest number of U.S. closings of coal-fired power plants on record.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said the EPA’s action Thursday was “targeting another regulation that would have made it nearly impossible to build any new plants.”
Citing that and other Obama administration moves to tamp down emissions from coal-fired power plants in the national electrical grid, McConnell called the proposal “a crucial step toward undoing the damage and putting coal back on a level playing field.”
Other Trump administration initiatives rolling aback climate change efforts would undo an Obama plan intended to shift the national electrical grid away from coal and toward cleaner-burning solar and wind power, and would relax pending tougher mileage standards for cars and light trucks.
Jay Duffy, a lawyer with the Clean Air Task Force environmental nonprofit, called the level-playing field argument of the administration and its supporters “laughable.”
“In every rulemaking, they’re placing their thumbs on the scale to prop up coal, at the expense of public health and the environment,” Duffy said.
Speaking alongside Wheeler at a news conference, Michelle Bloodworth of the coal industry group America’s Power contended the new rollback could throw a lifeline to domestic coal-fired power producers.
“It does appear that this proposal would make it feasible for new coal plants” to be built, Bloodworth said.
Syria may be using chemical weapons against its citizens again – here’s how international law has changed to help countries intervene
December 6, 2018
Dean and Director of the Frederick K. Cox International Law Center, Joseph C. Hostetler – Baker Hostetler Professor of Law, Case Western Reserve University
Michael Scharf does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Case Western Reserve University provides funding as a founding partner of The Conversation US.
New reports have emerged from the Syrian civil war that banned chemical weapons are being used in Aleppo, a city on the edge of the last remaining rebel stronghold, Idlib province.
Since 2011, the war has been the deadliest conflict on the planet. Among the Assad regime’s most disturbing actions has been the repeated use of chemical weapons to subdue rebel-supported areas.
After World War I, the use of chemical weapons was prohibited by international treaties. The use of chemical weapons against civilians is now recognized as a war crime and a crime against humanity. The importance of the prohibition is so great that in 2013 President Barack Obama threatened to respond to Syria’s use of chemical weapons with force.
But Russia has blocked efforts by the U.N. Security Council to investigate Syria’s use of chemical weapons, to refer perpetrators to the International Criminal Court and to authorize countries to use force to prevent future chemical weapon attacks. Many observers believe this is payback for Syrian leader Bashar al-Assad allowing Russia to maintain the immense naval base of Tartus in Syria.
Then, in April 2018, the Trump administration, joined by the U.K. and France, fired 103 missiles at three Syrian chemical weapons production and storage facilities. That assault was launched after reports from Syria that more than 40 people were killed in a chemical weapons attack in rebel-held Douma.
The purpose of the airstrikes was to halt Syria’s continuing use of these deadly weapons. For a while, they did the trick.
Now, Syria is preparing for a major offensive in Idlib. The Trump administration warned in September 2018 that if chemical weapons are used again by the Syrian government, the U.S. would deliver a counterattack much more severe than the April 2018 airstrikes.
The conventional view is that use of force against another state is lawful only with U.N. Security Council approval, or in self-defense in response to an armed attack. Neither of these justifications is applicable to the present situation. Russia is preventing the Security Council from acting. And the U.S. isn’t under attack – Syria is using chemical weapons against its own people.
So were the U.S., French and U.K. strikes in April a violation of international law? Would a new attack now violate that law?
New standard: Humanitarian intervention
Having international law on the U.S. side can help enlist allies to the cause being championed by the U.S. In the case of Syria, it can result in greater pressure on Syria to forego chemical weapons in the future.
At an emergency session of the U.N. Security Council the day of the April 2018 airstrikes, the U.K. posed a third justification that would allow one country to use force against another. That exception: humanitarian intervention to prevent the use of chemical weapons against civilians.
At the same session, the U.S ambassador told the Security Council that the U.S acted in “lock step” and “in complete agreement” with the U.K., thereby adopting its legal rationale.
This was the first time in history that the U.S. and U.K. used the legal argument of humanitarian intervention to justify a use of force.
In the past, the two countries have said that actions to halt ethnic cleansing of Kosovar Albanians in Kosovo in 1999 and to save the Yazidis on Mount Sinjar in Iraq in 2014 were morally necessary but they declined to rely on a legal argument. They preferred to say the situations were sui generis, or without precedent.
The historic hesitancy to embrace a right of humanitarian intervention contributed to international paralysis when the Hutus of Rwanda slaughtered the Tutsis in 1994 and when the Serbs exterminated the Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica in 1995.
The past hesitancy by the U.S and its allies to use the humanitarian intervention argument was due to their concerns that this justification could be easily abused, as a pretext for a land grab or regime change.
The U.S. protested when Russia used humanitarian intervention as a rationale for invading South Ossetia, Georgia in 2008 and Crimea in 2014.
But that hesitancy is now history.
Syria sparked change
In my 2013 book, “Customary International Law in Times of Fundamental Change,” I speculated that events unfolding in Syria might bring about a fundamental change in international law regarding humanitarian intervention. In newly published research, I demonstrate how the April 2018 airstrikes have done just that.
Customary international law changes when there is widespread state practice recognizing a new legal right. Examples include the creation of International Criminal Law after the Nuremberg trials in the 1940s, the recognition of the right to resources on the continental shelf in the 1950s, and the development of space law in the 1960s.
Two former State Department legal advisers, Harold Koh and John Bellinger, have said that the U.S. failure to articulate a legal argument for its past humanitarian interventions not only makes it harder for customary international law to form, but at the same time makes it easier for the precedent to be abused by other countries since its contours are left purposely ambiguous.
The April 2018 airstrikes, in contrast, were based on a clearly articulated legal rationale, and were widely supported by the international community.
Only Russia, Syria and a handful of their allies opposed the airstrikes. And Russia’s opposition was largely based on the argument that the Assad regime was not in fact behind the chemical weapons, an argument that has been debunked by evidence on the ground.
This fall, the White House said that the U.S. would respond “swiftly and vigorously” if Syrian forces used chemical weapons in Idlib.
France, the U.K. and even Germany have said they would join in such action.
Taken together, the legal rationale articulated in April 2018 and the international reaction to those airstrikes will make it easier for the U.S. and its allies to quickly marshal support for follow-up airstrikes against Syrian chemical weapons-related targets – if they should become necessary again.
‘Dumb’ and ‘lazy’: Trump responds to Tillerson criticism
Friday, December 7
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump is responding to criticism from his former secretary of state Rex Tillerson by calling Tillerson “dumb as a rock” and “lazy as hell.”
During a rare public appearance in Houston Thursday evening, Tillerson weighed in on his time in the administration. He called Trump “undisciplined” and said the president “doesn’t like to read, doesn’t read briefing reports, doesn’t like to get into the details of a lot of things.”
He also said Trump frequently asked him to do things that he had to explain were illegal or otherwise ill-advised.
Trump says in response that Tillerson “didn’t have the mental capacity needed for the job” and that he “couldn’t get rid of him fast enough.”
He’s also praising Tillerson’s replacement, Mike Pompeo.
How activists are fighting racial disparities in school discipline
December 10, 2018
Mark R Warren
Professor of Public Policy and Public Affairs, University of Massachusetts Boston
Mark R Warren receives funding from the Ford Foundation and the W.K. Kellogg Foundation. He has previously received funding from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation and the NEA Foundation. Although he has no formal affiliation, he collaborates with the Dignity in Schools Campaign.
University of Massachusetts provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Harsh and racially disparate discipline practices are widespread in America’s schools.
Not so long ago in Texas, for instance, 75 percent of black students had been suspended at some point in high school. For black males in Texas, 83 percent were suspended.
Nationally, black students lost nearly five times as many days of instruction due to out-of-school suspensions as white children. Meanwhile, 1.7 million students attend schools with police officers but no counselors.
As a public policy scholar who focuses on education reform, community organizing and racial justice – and as I argue in my book, “Lift Us Up, Don’t Push Us Out” – none of these staggering statistics will change unless there is a new grassroots movement led by people of color.
More specifically, I believe there needs to be an educational justice movement to build the power to transform the nation’s public education system to provide a quality and equitable education for all.
I speak not just as an observer, but as one who has actually collaborated with one of several organizations that are beginning to coalesce into a grassroots movement that is national in scope. That organization – the Dignity in Schools Campaign – along with others like the Alliance for Educational Justice, the Journey for Justice Alliance, the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, are all fighting to end the racial disparities that beset school systems throughout the United States.
Victories at the local level
The new movement is creating important changes in districts across the country.
For example, Zakiya Sankara-Jabar had to drop out of college when her 3-year-old son was repeatedly suspended and expelled from preschool in Dayton, Ohio. As she spoke with other black parents and did some research in her college library, Zakiya learned that her experience was not unusual. She co-founded Racial Justice NOW! to organize other parents to advocate for change.
The group joined the Dignity in Schools Campaign, which provided the new group with much needed support and resources – like a model alternative code of student conduct to replace zero tolerance policies. It also provided training opportunities for parents to learn how to advocate for policy change.
In a few short years, parents in Racial Justice NOW! achieved a series of victories. For instance, they won a moratorium on pre-K to third-grade suspensions in Dayton schools. They also changed the district’s code of conduct to end zero tolerance policies and won the implementation of restorative justice alternative programs in eight schools. Restorative justice approaches help schools get at the root causes of behavioral issues. Rather than punish and suspend, students and teachers gather in circles to discuss the harm caused by conflicts and attempt to restore relationships.
Similar victories have taken place at large school districts elsewhere. For instance, a number of organizing groups working with youth of color in Los Angeles schools who faced repeated suspensions – often for minor misbehavior – formed the Brothers, Sons, Selves Coalition. The coalition led a campaign to lobby the Los Angeles Unified School District to adopt a School Climate Bill of Rights.
Allies are crucial
With allies like Board of Education member Monica Garcia, the bill passed in 2013 and ended suspensions for “willful defiance,” an offense that is subjectively interpreted by teachers and affected by racial bias. As a result, the number days lost to out-of-school suspensions fell from nearly 75,000 per 2007-2008 school year to just over 5,000 by the 2016-17 school year.
The bill also supported restorative justice programs. Research has shown that less punitive and more positive school climates – both chief aims of restorative justice – are tied to improving attendance rates, test scores, promotion rates and graduation rates.
Teacher allies have proved critical to the movement’s ability to implement restorative alternatives. Movement activists fear that restorative justice might fail if it is simply imposed on teachers without their buy-in or the resources to faithfully implement it.
Teachers Unite, a group of New York City public school teachers, lobbies their fellow teachers to change their “hearts and minds” away from zero tolerance discipline and toward less punitive approaches such as restorative justice. At these schools, restorative justice is more than a “program.” It becomes a true partnership with students, families and teachers to transform relationships and create positive school cultures that support student success.
Larger problems loom
Racial disparities in discipline aren’t the only problems the movement must confront. Children from low-income communities of color attend schools that are systematically underresourced. These schools often have less qualified teachers, larger class sizes and less challenging curriculum.
Technical changes – like improvements to curriculum or teaching methods – can help in small ways but ultimately fail to address the systemic nature of inequities in education.
Changing those larger problems requires more services – like social-emotional supports and health care services located in community schools – and greater resources to lower teacher-student ratios, modernize school facilities and provide up-to-date classroom materials.
The new educational justice movement faces challenges with the current administration as well. For instance, the Trump administration is contemplating withdrawing federal guidance that warns school districts against zero tolerance discipline policy.
Yet the movement’s strong local base continues to create change at district and even state levels where the majority of education policy is determined and funded. Public education remains vital to the promise of American democracy: It profoundly shapes the life opportunities of future generations. The new grassroots educational justice movement is working hard to make this promise a reality in the lives of children of color and their families.
The cost of France’s protests running into billions
By JOHN LEICESTER
Tuesday, December 11
PARIS (AP) — France’s wave of protests and violence over the past month or so has already cost the eurozone’s second-largest economy a fortune.
Road blockades, demonstrations and successive weekends of rioting in Paris and other towns have left supermarket shelves empty, stopped shoppers from buying Christmas gifts and scared away tourists.
The government stands to lose out too, with tax receipts set to be lower than anticipated. Government coffers will be tapped into next year to finance tax relief and other fiscal measures announced Monday by President Emmanuel Macron to placate the “yellow vest” movement, which started as a show of anger against fuel taxes but snowballed into a grab-bag of grievances.
Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire says the fallout from the protests, which have seen hundreds of arrests, 1,400 injured and five deaths in protest-related accidents, will shave 0.1 percent off French economic growth in the last quarter of 2018 and is “not good for the attractiveness of our country.”
The forecast costs emanating from one of France’s most acute crises in over a decade are already running into the billions.
The president’s new steps to boost the spending power of retirees and low-paid workers, a shared demand of many yellow vests, include a 100-euro ($110) hike in the minimum monthly wage and tax relief.
The government says the total bill from its climb-downs so far will be around 10 billion euros ($11 billion). That includes around 6 billion euros for Macron’s new measures and an estimated 3.9-billion loss from the government no longer levying a carbon tax hike on fossil fuels.
The scope of the measures took even some of Macron’s own ministers by surprise, who hadn’t expected him to loosen the purse strings quite so much. An estimated 23 million viewers watched Macron’s speech live, more than those who tuned in for France’s victory in soccer’s World Cup final in July.
The government intends to trim costs elsewhere and possibly increase borrowing to finance the hand-outs which it hopes will encourage protesters to abandon their road-side barricades and stop marching in Paris and other towns.
The government had forecast a budget deficit equivalent to 2.8 percent of annual GDP for next year, below the 3-percent ceiling for the 19 countries that use the euro currency, and so feels that it has a bit of wiggle-room.
For retailers, the protests couldn’t have come at a worse time. With the protests having closed down city centers and yellow-vest blockades of shopping malls, many have opted to buy gifts online rather than run the gauntlet of demonstrations.
The Federation of Commerce and Distribution, an industry group representing many of France’s largest chains, estimates retailers have suffered more than 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) in lost revenues, with toy, clothing and food sales among the sectors hit. Lost revenues also mean lost sales tax receipts for the government.
“People are afraid to go shopping. They are not in a shopping mood right now,” said Gontran Thuring, chief executive of the National Council of Shopping Malls, another industry group.
“It’s a disaster if this holiday season is not successful.”
Tourists brave enough to venture into the center of Paris last weekend found many sites shut and boutiques closed and barricaded behind plywood. Hardly an enticing advertisement for France’s capital of art, fashion, gastronomy and romance.
The protests and associated violence are taking the shine off what was shaping up as a great year for Parisian hoteliers — visitor numbers were back to levels enjoyed before terror attacks that killed 130 people in 2015.
Reservations in Paris hotels are down for December, with an estimated 35,000 nights cancelled so far, market research consultancy MKG says.
FRANCE’S REPUTATION AND OTHER COSTS
Storeowners are replacing shattered windows while city workers have been towing away the hulks of burned-out cars and cleaning anti-government and anti-capitalist graffiti off shops, buildings and world-famous sites like the Arc de Triomphe, which reopens on Wednesday, more than a week after it was vandalized.
Also costly are repairs to traffic radars, another target of protests. They cost tens of thousands of euros each to replace.
Less quantifiable is the damage done to France’s image and to Macron’s efforts to project the country as a business-friendly country and open for investment.
AP writer Sylvie Corbet contributed. See the AP’s coverage of France’s protests at: https://apnews.com/FranceProtests