States cite climate worries in push to stop US coal sales
By MATTHEW BROWN
Thursday, December 13
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Four states that say burning coal will hurt their residents as it makes climate change worse are trying to stop the Trump administration from selling vast reserves of the fuel that are beneath public lands.
Attorneys for California, New Mexico, New York and Washington argue the coal sales have been shortchanging taxpayers because of low royalty rates and cause pollution that puts the climate and public health at risk.
The states were joined by conservation groups and Montana’s Northern Cheyenne tribe in a lawsuit that seeks to revive a coal leasing moratorium imposed under President Barack Obama. The moratorium blocked new lease sales from federal lands that hold billions of tons of the fuel.
U.S. District Judge Brian Morris is presiding over a Thursday hearing on whether the moratorium should be reinstated.
The Trump administration said in court filings that ending the moratorium last year was of critical importance to the economy. That claim comes despite the slow pace of lease sales in recent years and a precipitous drop in demand for the heavily polluting fuel.
U.S. lands in Western states including Wyoming, Montana, Utah and Colorado are a major source of coal for mining companies. There are 7.4 billion tons of the fuel in roughly 300 leases administered by the Bureau of Land Management .
Morris, who was appointed by Obama, recently ruled in a separate case that the administration must consider reducing coal mining in the Powder River Basin of Wyoming and Montana to help combat climate change.
The judge has played the role of spoiler to Trump on another Obama administration policy reversal — the contentious Keystone XL oil sands pipeline from Canada. Trump approved the pipeline last year, but Morris blocked it temporarily in March. The judge said further environmental reviews were needed for the line to comply with federal laws.
Some of those same laws are at the center of the coal moratorium dispute.
The states and their allies want push to stop further leasing and resume a sweeping review of the program’s environmental effects. Government attorneys and the National Mining Association say the review started under Obama was a voluntary step and the Trump administration is within its rights to end it.
“We view this as a legal issue and believe this is an open-and-shut case,” said Conor Bernstein with the mining association, which has intervened in the case.
Growing concerns over climate change have put a spotlight on the once-obscure coal leasing program, which has gone largely unchanged and not been through a major environmental review since 1979.
Companies have mined about 4 billion tons of coal from federal reserves in the past decade, contributing $10 billion to federal and state coffers through royalties and other payments.
The Obama administration blocked the sale of new leases in 2016 out of concerns over climate-changing greenhouse gases from burning coal and to review royalty rates paid by mining companies for federal coal.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke withdrew the moratorium in March 2017. He said the Obama administration’s environmental review would cost “many millions of dollars,” and improvements to the program could be made without prolonged study.
California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said Zinke’s actions fly in the face of a government report released last month that predicted dire consequences from climate change for the U.S. economy.
“He ignored the law in opening the door to expanded coal leasing without taking a hard look at the environmental consequences,” Becerra said in a statement.
Federal officials and members of Congress have said for years that royalty rates were shortchanging taxpayers. Under Obama, officials began considering raising rates, but it was not done.
After the Trump administration ended the moratorium, Zinke appointed a committee to review royalty rates. Critics contend he has stacked the panel with industry-friendly representatives interested in maintaining the status quo.
Since January 2017, the government has sold leases for 134 million tons of coal on more than 13,000 acres of public land in six states, according to figures provided by the Interior Department.
That’s a relatively small amount compared with previous years, for example 2011 and 2012, when more than 2 billion tons were sold in Wyoming alone.
Despite the slowdown in sales, the outcome of the court case could be pivotal to the industry’s long-term outlook and determine if it has access to a cheap and readily available supply of coal. For environmentalists, it’s a question of making sure that coal is never burned to prevent carbon dioxide emissions tied to climate change.
“The idea that they lease millions of acres of public lands every year to private companies so that they can extract the coal and we’ve never once studied the climate impacts, that should bother people,” Sierra Club attorney Nathaniel Shoaff said.
Follow Matthew Brown at https://twitter.com/matthewbrownap
China’s climate progress may have faltered in 2018, but it seems to be on the right path
December 13, 2018
Author: Phillip Stalley, Associate Professor and Fulbright Scholarship Program Advisor, DePaul University
Disclosure statement: Phillip Stalley 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.
Despite clear signs that the need to act on climate change is becoming more urgent, global greenhouse gas emissions are set to rise for the second straight year.
China, the world’s second-largest economy and ground zero in the global effort to combat climate change, is among the biggest drivers of this increase. Accounting for 27 percent of global carbon dioxide emissions, China has been the world’s leading emitter for more than a decade. Although its emissions stayed flat between 2013 and 2016, they rose again in 2017 and increased by an estimated 5 percent in 2018.
While recent increases are certainly cause for concern, based on my research on China’s climate change policies, I see grounds for optimism in terms of what to expect with China’s carbon footprint.
Consuming coal, expanding economy
China’s challenge in addressing climate change is the same as it ever was. It relies heavily on coal to power its rapidly growing economy.
The factory of the world, more than two-thirds of China’s emissions come from electricity generation and industry, which includes both manufacturing and construction. These sectors rely heavily on coal, which accounted for approximately 70 percent of China’s emissions in 2016.
Today, China uses more coal than the rest of the world combined. At one point, more coal was consumed within 400 miles of Beijing than in the entire U.S. Unsurprisingly, the 2018 increase largely comes from industry and power plants.
Aside from reliance on coal, China’s carbon emissions are driven by the speed of its economic growth. Studies often demonstrate that this growth is the single biggest factor influencing China’s energy use.
And while both China’s vulnerability to climate change and its pollution problems provide ample incentives to lower emissions, Beijing has no intention of slowing down its economy simply to protect the environment. With a per capita GDP less than one-third of U.S. levels and millions still living in dire poverty, China has a compelling need to continue to expand its economy.
In fact, it is the Chinese government’s attempt to maintain economic growth that explains the last two years’ upward turn in energy and emissions. Local governments, relying on debt financing from central government stimulus packages, engaged in rapid infrastructure development. This included building new coal plants.
One report estimates that local governments took advantage of a decentralized permit system to develop 259 gigawatts of new coal capacity – roughly equivalent to all the power currently generated by U.S. coal plants. Mired in a trade war with the U.S. and concerned about a slowing economy, China could engage in more fiscal stimulus in 2019. That would boost energy consumption – and emissions.
Carbon Brief, a UK-based website, has mapped where coal-fired power plants have shut down around the world, as well as planned future closures.
If China’s economy is going to continue to grow rapidly for the foreseeable future, is there any hope in the war against climate change?
I believe that the answer is “yes, but it depends.” Chiefly, China’s success in lowering emissions rests on how fast it can change its energy and economic structures.
The country is already aiming to reduce the share of coal and other fossil fuels it consumes. Its latest five-year plan envisions cutting the share of coal in total energy consumption to 58 percent by 2020 from 64 percent in 2015. As recently as 2010, it was 80 percent. In the same period, China seeks to increase the share of electricity it gets from nuclear, solar and other renewable energy sources, including wind, to 20 percent.
At the same time, China is reforming its economy. Rather than investment and manufacturing, it will emphasize consumption and services.
Today, China is the world’s largest manufacturer of energy-intensive goods accounting for roughly 35 percent of the global total. The production of cement alone accounts for over 10 percent of China’s carbon emissions, nine times more than India.
Services use less energy than manufacturing – think of an insurance company versus a steel mill. So the more China can change what makes its economy hum, the less energy it will consume.
According to the Energy Information Administration, a U.S. federal agency, if China can rapidly shift to a service-based economy, it can reduce the amount of energy it uses by five quadrillion British thermal units by 2040, an amount roughly equivalent to what Spain consumes annually.
Fortunately for everyone on Earth, most scholars say China can hit these targets.
China has, for instance, made great progress reducing the energy-intensity of its economy, defined as the amount of energy consumed per unit of GDP. China surpassed its official target, lowering its energy intensity by more than 55 percent between 1990 and 2015.
Despite its current emissions growth, the United Nations Environment Program says that China remains one of the few major economies “on track” to meet its Paris targets for reining in carbon dioxide emissions.
China’s strong track record is largely due to a combination of aggressive spending and a bold mix of climate, energy efficiency and economic policies. China has implemented more than 100 climate change policies related to lowering its energy use and emissions, estimates Tufts University’s Fletcher School scholar Kelly Sims Gallagher.
In short, despite recent fluctuations, I remain optimistic that China remains on the path toward meeting its Paris target of capping carbon emissions by 2030 and deriving 20 percent of its energy from sources other than oil, gas and coal.
Despite the recent setbacks, the most likely scenario is that China’s emissions will peak before 2030. How quickly they might decline after 2030 is not yet clear.
This is not to say China is doing everything it can to combat climate change.
Like the U.S. and all other countries, China must make its climate policies more ambitious if the world is to keep global warming well below 2 degrees Celsius, as the Paris climate accord is intended to do. For example, global emissions will be lower in the long run if China phases out its fossil fuel subsidies and stops building coal-fired power plants in other countries.
But given the pace of its economic growth, China’s accomplishments to date are notable. As the Center for American Progress, a think tank, found, if regulatory trends continue, by 2020 no American coal plants would meet China’s carbon emission standards.
That is a good reminder that the whole world, and not just China, needs to do more if we are to be spared from the worst impacts of climate change.
Judge tosses lawsuit by GOP congressman who lost election
By MARINA VILLENEUVE and PATRICK WHITTLE
Thursday, December 13
AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) — A federal judge rejected a lawsuit Thursday by a Republican incumbent from Maine who lost the nation’s first congressional election held under a candidate-ranking system.
Democrat Jared Golden defeated Bruce Poliquin in the November contest, which allowed voters to rank up to four candidates. Poliquin won the most votes but failed to get a majority. Votes cast for two trailing candidates were then reassigned to voters’ second choices, which swung the election to Golden.
Poliquin then filed a lawsuit alleging that the new balloting system, also called ranked choice, violated the U.S. Constitution.
He asked Judge Lance Walker either to declare him the winner or order a second election for the 2nd Congressional District. But Walker, a recent appointee by Republican President Donald Trump, did neither.
The judge said he failed to see how Maine’s candidate-ranking system undercut voters’ First Amendment rights “in any fashion.” The system, he said, was “motivated by a desire to enable third-party and non-party candidates to participate in the political process, and to enable their supporters to express support, without producing the spoiler effect.”
The new method of voting “actually encourages First Amendment expression, without discriminating against any voter based on viewpoint, faction or other invalid criteria,” said Walker, a judge with the U.S. District Court in Bangor.
Walker rejected Poliquin’s arguments that ranked balloting gives some voters more expression than others or proves too confusing for the average voter. Even when votes cast for trailing candidates were reassigned, Walker said, all votes “remained and were counted.”
“The point is that ‘one person, one vote’ does not stand in opposition to ranked balloting, so long as all electors are treated equally at the ballot” Walker said.
Poliquin’s lawyer had argued the candidate-ranking system required voters to “guess” which candidates would survive until the second, runoff-style round of tabulations. Poliquin also argued several thousand Maine voters who didn’t select Poliquin or Golden were effectively disenfranchised.
But Walker said it’s just as likely that such ballots were “protest votes.”
“I am not persuaded that it is unduly burdensome for voters to educate themselves about the candidates in order to determine the best way to rank their preferences,” Walker said.
The judge said the U.S. Constitution is “perfectly silent” on how states must elect federal representations, and noted other states require election by majority. Critics can question the wisdom of ranked-choice voting, Walker said, but such criticism “falls short of constitutional impropriety,” Walker said.
“The Constitution does not require an easy ballot,” Walker said.
Meanwhile, the state is about halfway through a recount in Augusta, the state capital, of the 2nd Congressional District election. Poliquin requested the recount.
After the judge’s ruling was announced Thursday, Poliquin said he remained concerned about some Maine voters expressing confusion with the voting system. He defended Maine’s old system as a “common sense, one-person, one-vote process.”
Golden and supporters of ranked voting said after the ruling that they felt vindicated by Walker’s decision. Golden said that Walker’s “decision is clear” and that he hopes Poliquin works with him to ensure a smooth transition for the congressional district.
James Monteleone, an attorney for the Committee for Ranked Choice Voting, said he believes Walker’s ruling “will stand up to any appeal.”
Voters in the November election were allowed to rank as many of the four candidates in the race as they wanted. Independents Tiffany Bond and Will Hoar were eliminated after the first round of voting.
Maine voters approved the new voting method in 2016. It’s used only in primaries and federal elections. The state doesn’t use it for state-level elections because of concerns that it violates the Maine Constitution.
Maine Republican Gov. Paul LePage, an opponent of ranked choice voting, sent a letter to Walker before the ruling stating that he feels the ranked process is “repugnant to the governing legal principles that each person’s vote be counted in every election, as well as the constitutional guarantees of due process and equal protection.”
Half of iconic Bert & I duo dies 60 years after recording
By DAVID SHARP
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Bob Bryan, one half of the comedy duo Bert and I, which had fun at the expense of Maine Yankees and popularized the immortal punchline, “You can’t get there from here,” has died at his home in Quebec. He was 87.
Bryan and the late Marshall Dodge created punch lines in a dormitory room at Yale University, and their 1958 album was the first of several that shaped the state’s humor and image.
Uttered in exaggerated Down East accents, the jokes have withstood the test of time, including the one about the tourist who befuddled a Mainer by asking for directions. The native concludes with a famous punchline: “Come to think of it, you can’t get there from here.”
Bryan, who died Wednesday in Sherbrooke, was a native of Long Island, New York, who picked up the local vernacular during summers spent on a lake near Ellsworth, Maine.
The stories, often involving a fancy-pants tourist and a laconic Mainer who gets the last word, set the stage for regional humorists who followed.
“They didn’t write from scratch all of these stories. They adapted them. A lot of them were off color, from lumber camps or fishing wharfs. They’d rewrite them. They took them to the next level,” said Dean Lunt from Islandport Press, which sells the “Bert and I” albums.
Humorist and storyteller Garrison Keillor recalled playing cuts of the “Bert and I” albums during his early stints as a morning disc jockey. And the original “Bert and I” album made comedian-magician Penn Jillette’s list of the top 12 comedy albums of all time.
The pair set off in different directions after selling hundreds and thousands of albums.
Dodge toured the country as a comedian before his death in 1982 in Hawaii, where he was struck by a hit-and-run driver while bicycling.
Bryan, a divinity student who went on to be ordained as an Episcopal priest, used some of his “Bert and I” earnings to buy a float plane. As a bush pilot, he flew his plane to the rugged fishing villages in northern Quebec to minister to local residents.
He created the Quebec-Labrador Foundation with a goal of supporting rural communities and the environment of eastern Canada and New England.
Bryan leaves behind a wife, three daughters, a bunch of grandchildren — and a heap of stories that have withstood the test of time, said Cherie Hoyt, a friend of Bryan’s who produced the “Bert and I … Rebooted” recording with Bryan and Maine humorist Tim Sample.
“You can listen to a good story many times without getting sick of it,” Hoyt said. “I know them by heart, but I still find them funny. I still smile. I still chuckle.”
Law You Can Use: Consumer Information Column
Ohio Law Permits Adult Adoptions
By Thomas Taneff Principal, Thomas Taneff Co., LPA
There are several reasons why adult adoptions may be undertaken. The most common reason is to formally and legally recognize an existing parent/child relationship. Among the benefits of a formal adoption is the ability of the adopted person to inherit from the adoptive parent. An adult adoption also may be used to provide protection for a person of diminished capacity or abilities. Once adopted as a legal family member, such an individual may then be assured lifetime care under family insurance, or through inheritance. Finally, a stepparent/stepchild relationship can be formalized through an adult adoption.
Ohio law allows adults who are totally and permanently disabled or intellectually disabled to be adopted. In addition, Ohio law permits adult adoption for any adult who has established a relationship with adoptive parents through a child/foster caregiver or child/stepparent relationship as a minor, assuming the adult child consents to the adoption. A law that took effect in 2011 also allows an adult child to be adopted by the spouse of his or her parent, as long as the adoptee consents. Ohio law previously did not allow an adult child to be adopted unless he/she had established a parent/child relationship while still a minor. This law applies in situations where someone remarries and the new spouse has an adult child who wishes to become bound to the new family.
In order to adopt an adult, the prospective adoptive parent must prepare, sign and file a petition with the probate court. The court will then set a date for a final hearing where it will make a determination about whether the adoption serves the best interests of the adoptee. Assuming the court approves the adoption, the court will order a new birth certificate for the adoptee.
Unlike the procedure used for the adoption of a minor child, the court generally will not require a home study in the case of an adult adoption and no waiting period is required before an adult adoption can be finalized.
Before granting an adult adoption in Ohio, the court must determine whether a child/foster parent relationship existed while the person to be adopted was still a minor, unless the adult child is to be adopted by a stepparent. To make such a determination, the court will look at the type of nurturing that was provided to the child, including the provision of emotional and financial support, food, shelter, discipline, guidance, education, religious training, medical care and love and affection.
When a minor child is adopted, the changes that result are permanent. The same can be said for an adult adoption. As in any adoption, the existing relationship with the biological parents is severed. An adult adoption creates a new parent/child relationship. A new birth certificate is issued for the adopted person, showing the adoptive parents as the legal birth parents. The last name of the adopted person also may be changed to that of the adoptive parents. The original birth record involved in an adult adoption will be sealed according to the state’s laws, even though the parties involved are adults and are aware of the family details. An experienced family law attorney can help streamline the adoption process and answer any questions the family may have.
Thomas Taneff is the principal of Thomas Taneff Co., LPA in Columbus and he has been practicing law for more than 30 years. Taneff was a member of former Ohio Governor George Voinivich’s Adoption Task Force and Commission which rewrote Ohio adoption code, and he has been recognized for his commitment and dedication to improving the lives of children through adoption. He focuses his practice on probate, estate planning, guardianships, adoption and reproductive law. Taneff received his undergraduate education from The Ohio State University and his law degree from Capital University Law School.
This “Law You Can Use” consumer legal information column was provided by the Ohio State Bar Association. Articles appearing in this column are intended to provide broad, general information about the law. This article is not intended to be legal advice. Before applying this information to a specific legal problem, readers are urged to seek advice from a licensed attorney.