US Environmental Deregulation, Brexit, Transparency, South Korea: 12 March 2017

In this week’s email:

  • US Environmental Deregulation
  • Short Notes: Brexit, Good News in Transparency, Humanitarian Crisis, South Korea

Many people feel simply overwhelmed by what’s going on around the world. It’s easy to understand why. But the Gospel in this week’s Revised Common Lectionary readings reminds us of the amazing truth that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” God’s plan involves the salvation of the kosmos – the whole of creation. We can take comfort from that – and ask for the grace to participate in God’s marvelous work.

Photo Credit: Riverkeeper, photographed by Patsy Wooters. Retrieved from Flickr and used under Creative Commons License. The Riverkeeper Movement helps to protect the United States’ waterways from pollution and environmental degradation – Riverkeeper supporters are also at the forefront of campaigning for environmental protection.
US Environmental Deregulation

During his presidential campaign, Donald Trump pledged to sweep away a slew of environmental regulations and policy, including ‘cancelling’ the Paris climate agreement – causing deep concern amongst climate scientists and environmentalists.

Since he took office more than 90 regulations – including environmental regulations – have been delayed, suspended or reversed by federal agencies and Congress in what the New York Times describes as “one of the most significant shifts in regulatory policy in recent decades”. Changes to regulations are normal when administrations change (especially if there is also a change in party), but the scale of the change is not. Curtis C Copeland, a specialist in regulatory policy, has said, “By any empirical measure, it is a level of activity that has never been seen. It is unprecedented.”

Some of the measures that have been revoked so far by congressional resolution and presidential signature included the Stream Protection Rule, which restricted coal companies from dumping mining waste into streams and waterways, and the Securities and Exchange Commission’s rule implementing a requirement that companies listed in the US publish what they pay to US and foreign governments for extracting oil, gas and minerals. The latter was designed to help people hold their governments accountable for revenues from extractive industries..

The Department of the Interior said on 22nd February that it would suspend enforcement of new standards on how fossil fuel companies pay royalties for oil, gas or coal extracted from federal lands – a measure that had been expected to yield up to $85 million annually. The reversal came just five days after a request from lawyers representing the National Mining Association, the American Petroleum Institute and other fossil fuel trade groups.

Scott Pruitt, the newly appointed director of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), acceded on 24 February to requests from the mining industry for a 120 day extension to the comment period on a proposed new rule that would mandate that companies set aside money for future possible cleanups of their mines. The EPA has also withdrawn its request that the oil and gas industry submit data, including data on methane emissions, that would have helped to develop controls on methane and other greenhouse gases.

President Trump has signed an executive order that will begin the lengthy process of replacing the previous administration’s Clean Water Rule (also known as the Waters of the US Rule) – an as-yet unimplemented rule meant to clarify which streams and wetlands fall under federal clean water protections, but which concerned people who felt it expanded the EPA’s powers and could leave farmers and ranchers, among others, open to prosecution. The President is also to issue an order next week ending a moratorium on leasing federal lands for coal production and directing the EPA to “revise or rescind”  President Obama’s Clean Power Plan (explainer), which aims to reduce carbon dioxide levels from existing power plants by 32% relative to 2005 levels, and which was one of the lynchpins of the US’ Paris commitments. In both these, he has the support of Scott Pruitt. Mr Pruitt, who this week caused a furore by stating that he “would not agree that [human activity] is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see … we don’t know that yet … we need to continue the debate..,” recently cited both the Clean Power Plan and the Waters of the United States rule as being ripe for dismantling.

What else is potentially on the horizon? Following widespread appeals from the automotive industry, announcements are thought to be imminent that the Trump administration will reopen a review of federal regulations on vehicle pollution, which President Obama’s administration had moved forward at speed after the presidential elections. The regulations would “lock in” standards agreed with the auto industry in 2011, which would require car manufacturers to increase the fuel efficiency of their fleet to an average of 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025 (from the current average of 36 miles per gallon) – effectively pushing manufacturers to develop electric vehicles in an effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Perhaps even more significantly, there are indications that the White House is preparing to attack the ‘California waiver’ which allows the state to set higher standards – which are then also widely used by other states.

In addition, budget cuts proposed by the Office of Management and Budget would, if adopted, affect the EPA, other government agencies’ environmental research, and US contributions to international climate finance. There are reports (here and here) that the White House has made initial proposals which reduce EPA funding by 24%. Heavy cuts to scientific research in other agencies are also evident: for example, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) would face reductions to its research arm totaling $126 million (26 per cent of its current budget), and NOAA’s satellite division, which helps inform weather forecasts and track climate change, would face a proposed $513 million drop, or a 22 per cent budget cut. Equally serious are the proposed cuts to development assistance. The initial proposals from the Office of Management and Budget would reportedly reduce economic and development assistance by 61% and, the Washington Post states, “eliminate all funding for the Green Climate Fund and bilateral climate change funding.”

In some cases what is proposed may not become reality, may be delayed, or may have less impact than would at first appear. Unravelling the Clean Water Rule will be a long and complex process, open to contest. Undoing the SEC’s rule for implementing the Cardin-Lugar provisions on transparency affects US-registered companies for the moment and sends a terrible message about the US government’s unwillingness to fight corruption, but it doesn’t invalidate the law behind the Rule – and the reality is, as this week’s decisions by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative showed, that so many countries are now taking action in this area that the US can’t, by itself, wholly undo progress. Other areas are liable to be fought: Several of the proposed budget cuts are already seeing opposition from the agencies themselves, who will feed back to the president before the White House’s final budget request is made, from retired military leaders, and from congressional leaders who will be responsible for actually shaping the budget resolutions and appropriations bills that determine final spending. Some concerned Republicans have already shown a willingness to vote for environmental regulation. And California has been clear that it would fight attempts to interfere with its vehicle emissions standards.

But some actions have an immediate environmental impact and many proposals, even if not wholly or quickly implemented, have the potential seriously to affect the US’s ability to meet its Paris commitments on emissions and climate finance. Changes that interfere with Paris commitments present problems at several levels, including the impact on the physical environment that comes from one of the world’s biggest per capita polluters not reducing its emissions and the impact on the global political climate of the US’s refusing to take action on its own or to help others. There is also reason for considerable concern for the impact on standards in other countries. The US’ new trade policy clearly states that it will seek to attack regulations by trading partners that it regards as “unjustifiable, or unreasonable or discriminatory, and [that] burdens or restricts United States commerce.” In a context where the US government seems to regard a great deal of environmental legislation as burdensome, it is to be anticipated that it will, in trade negotiations and in managing trade disputes, seek to represent other countries’ attempts to legislate as burdensome … and to undermine them.

 

How, then, can we pray? We can start by praying:

  • That all people may begin to understand the seriousness of damage caused to our common home
  • That this understanding may create a political atmosphere in which politicians can no longer expect to receive approval for activities that enable such damage to proceed
  • For agency staff as they work through the rollbacks and proposed budget cuts – that they would have wisdom as they scrutinise the proposals, and be guided to respond in ways that further the common good
  • For legislators as they work through resolutions – that they too would be given wisdom and courage in their scrutiny and in their responses.
  • For scientists, public interest groups and others as they analyse, publicise and seek to minimise the harm the proposals could cause – that they would have the resource, energy and communication skills they need.
  • For all who are fighting for the good of the planet within the administration  – that they would be empowered to speak and their voices heard, even in the face of powerful opposing interest groups.
  • For a change of heart for President Trump and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt – that they would truly understand the reality and dangers of climate change and would be convinced and convicted of the need to act.
  • That, whatever the US decides to do about its Paris commitments and participation in the Paris Agreement, other nations will hold firm in doing what they need to do for the common good
Action Point: Could you join with the group that is praying for care of creation each of the first 100 days of the new administration?


Short Notes: Brexit, Good News in Transparency, Humanitarian Crisis, South Korea

Brexit

UK media outlets are reporting that following the return of the Brexit bill from the House of Lords with two amendments, Prime Minister Theresa May will seek to have an unamended bill passed by both houses; Brexit Minister David Davis has written that he will “will ask MPs to send it [the bill] back[to Lords] in its original, straightforward form.” The media suggest that if the bill is passed by both houses on Monday, the Prime Minister could trigger Article 50 very shortly thereafter.

Please pray for all parliamentarians and civil servants involved in these processes, asking God to grant them wisdom to discern and courage to act for the common good.

Pray that whatever happens around Brexit in the next few days, we as a nation can proceed in a way that shows integrity: refusing to misrepresent facts or other people’s opinions, maintaining a concern for the good of all UK residents, and offering a commitment to good governance, justice and equity in our relations with all nations.
Transparency

Good news! Please give thanks for the recent decision by the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative’s (EITI) International Board to require extractive industry companies to publish their payments to governments via ‘project-level reporting’. The requirement will be implemented for reports for fiscal years ending on or after 31 December 2018.

As the transparency-focused organisation Global Witness noted, this “means that citizens in 51 countries, from Nigeria to Colombia to Myanmar, will have access to much more detailed information about vital oil and mining revenues.”

EITI had actually introduced a reporting requirement in 2013, with the aim of ensuring that communities in resource-rich areas would be able to hold officials to account for the money paid in return for access to their resources. Project level reporting is important, because without it, it’s hard for communities to trace what has been paid to whom with respect to particular assets. Oil companies that participate in EITI agreed to such reporting with the proviso that there be consistency between EITI’s reporting requirements and the requirements for project-level reporting under EU and US transparency rules. But the American Petroleum Institute (whose members include some of the same oil companies) then proceeded to sue the SEC to prevent implementation of the US rule – and oil companies argued that the EITI requirements couldn’t be implemented until the US rule went into effect.

The SEC eventually issued and implemented a rule in 2016, which was met with considerable approbation as a victory for transparency. But the rule was revoked by Congress a few weeks ago. At that point the question became, as transparency expert Daniel Kaufmann put it, whether the response of other parties involved in regulating the extractive industries would be one of “contagion or containment.” The EITI board decided on containment, refusing to be cowed by the revocation of the SEC rule and calling on “each country [to] devise and apply a definition of the term project that is consistent with relevant national laws and systems as well as international norms,” such as the rules adopted, for example, by the EU and Canada.

Give thanks for this victory for transparency. Pray that countries will implement it well, and that it will contribute to the fight against corruption and kleptocracy around the world.

 

Humanitarian Crisis

The UN Under Secretary-General for humanitarian affairs, Stephen O’Brien, reported to the Security Council on Friday. We reprint below the close of his speech:

“We stand at a critical point in history. Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the
largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the United Nations. Now, more than 20 million
people across four countries [Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, Northeastern Nigeria] face starvation and famine. Without collective and coordinated global efforts, people will simply starve to death. Many more will suffer and die from disease. Children stunted and out of school. Livelihoods, futures and hope will be lost. Communities’ resilience rapidly wilting away. Development gains reversed. Many will be displaced and will continue to move in search for survival, creating ever more instability across entire regions. The warning call and appeal for action by the Secretary-General can thus not be understated. It was right to take the risk and sound the alarm early, not wait for the pictures of emaciated dying children or the world’s TV screens to mobilise a reaction and the funds.

The UN and humanitarian partners are responding. We have strategic, coordinated and prioritised plans in every country. We have the right leadership and heroic, dedicated teams on
the ground. We are working hand-in-hand with development partners to marry the immediate
life-saving with longer term sustainable development. We are ready to scale up. This is frankly
not the time to ask for more detail or use that postponing phrase, what would you prioritize?
Every life on the edge of famine and death is equally worth saving.

Now we need the international community and this Council to act:

First and foremost, act quickly to tackle the precipitating factors of famine. Preserving and
restoring normal access to food and ensuring all parties’ compliance with international
humanitarian law are key.

Second, with sufficient and timely financial support, humanitarians can still help to prevent the worst-case scenario. To do this, humanitarians require safe, full and unimpeded access to people in need. Parties to the conflict must respect this fundamental tenet of IHL (international humanitarian law) and those with influence over the parties must exert that influence now.

Third, stop the fighting. To continue on the path of war and military conquest is –I think we all know –to guarantee failure, humiliation and moral turpitude, and will bear the responsibility  for the millions who face hunger and deprivation on an incalculable scale because of it.

Allow me to very briefly sum up. The situation for people in each country is dire and without a
major international response, the situation will get worse. All four countries have one thing in
common: conflict. This means we –you –have the possibility to prevent –and end –further
misery and suffering. The UN and its partners are ready to scale up. But we need the access and the funds to do more. It is all preventable. It is possible to avert this crisis, to avert these famines, to avert these looming human catastrophes.”

Please pray:

  • for all who are hungry and especially all who know the pain of not being able to feed those dependent on them
  • that those individuals and groups who are creating conflict in Yemen, South Sudan, Somalia and North-Eastern Nigeria will turn from war to peace. Pray for an end to Boko Haram and Al Shabaab’s activities not only in the countries most affected, but also in neighbouring countries in the Lake Chad basin and Kenya.
  • for wisdom, courage and strength for the people who are working against the odds to bring stability, justice, transparency and peace to their countries. Pray especially for the work of reconciliation being undertaken by the churches in South Sudan.
  • that the international community will meet the funding shortfalls for humanitarian assistance (thus far, according to Mr O’Brien, only 6% of funding needed for Yemen in 2017 has been received, and only roughly 1/3 of what is needed in the Lake Chad region has even been pledged)
  • for an end to Saudi use of cluster bombs in Yemen – and an end to their delaying shipments of humanitarian assistance. Pray too that the UK Government, whose Ministry of Defence has noted more than 250 allegations of international humanitarian law violations in the Saudi campaign and whose head of the Government’s Export Control Organisation recommended suspending sales, will review its decision to sell arms to Saudi Arabia.

Action Point: Could you donate to appeals (CAFOD, Christian Aid, Tearfund) to assist partners working on these humanitarian crises?

South Korea

Please pray for the people of South Korea as they deal with political uncertainty in their country.

The South Korean constitutional court last week upheld the impeachment of President Park Geun-hye, who has now left office and who faces potential trial for her role in alleged corruption.

The orderly working of the country’s political system is indicative of the democracy’s strength, but there remains considerable uncertainty about who will win elections (which must be held within 60 days) and how they will handle issues relating to the tense regional situation, including relationships with North Korea (which has been carrying out strategic missile tests), US installation of an anti-missile defense, and China’s concerns about the installation.

The President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea called on South Koreans to “build a stable country through harmony and through this … to overcome the confrontation and tension among Koreans.”

Please pray for wisdom and discernment for the South Korean electorate and politicians in the coming weeks.