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Jessica Lass at 310/434-2300 (main), 202/468-6718 (cell),
Saturday, the California State Senate passed Senate Bill 375, a bill
designed to reduce global warming pollution through improved land use
and transportation planning. The bill passed the state assembly on
Monday August 25, by a 49-22 bipartisan vote. By sending this bill to
Governor Schwarzenegger, the legislature is sending a strong message
that it is determined to maintain California's momentum to curb global
warming pollution 30 percent by 2020. State Senator Darrell Steinberg,
incoming president pro tem, introduced the bill, cosponsored by the
California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV) and the Natural
Resources Defense Council (NRDC), last year to provide local
governments across the state with incentives to align smart growth and
transportation planning. Steinberg's leadership brought diverse
constituencies together including builders, local governments,
affordable housing advocates and the environmental community.
Following is a statement by Ann Notthoff, NRDC California Advocacy Director:
"We need to get Californians beyond being stuck in our cars, sitting in
traffic. S.B. 375 will help get us moving again and cut global warming
pollution at the same time. We look forward to working with the broad
coalition that came together to support this bill to make sure it is
implemented effectively and will urge Governor Schwarzenegger to sign
S.B 375 into law."
Following is a statement by Tom Adams, CLCV Board President:
"S.B. 375 is not just another example of California's national
environmental leadership. That the cradle of car culture is the first
to tackle the global warming problem of long commutes is a watershed
NRDC works to safeguard the earth--its people, its plants and animals, and the natural systems on which all life depends. We combine the power of more than three million members and online activists with the expertise of some 700 scientists, lawyers, and policy advocates across the globe to ensure the rights of all people to the air, the water, and the wild.(212) 727-2700
"It's time for insurance companies to prioritize the safety and wellbeing of communities over profits and take a stand against these dangerous facilities," said one campaigner.
Climate justice, consumer rights, and conservation groups were among more than 140 organizations that wrote to insurance agencies on Thursday to demand they stop underwriting LNG export terminals like nearly two dozen that have been proposed on the United States' Gulf Coast, with frontline communities joining the call on the one-year anniversary of an explosion at a terminal on Quintana Island, Texas.
A year after the blast at a terminal owned by Freeport LNG which sent toxic pollution into local communities and injured several people at a nearby beach, national groups including Public Citizen and Oil Change International joined local campaigners in signing the letter, warning that continued support for liquefied natural gas facilities poses "reputational risks" to insurers while contributing to the climate emergency.
"This is a call for insurers to stop providing coverage to explosive methane gas export terminals," the letter reads. "We urge insurers to meet with communities impacted by the liquefied natural gas industry as soon as possible... If there is no response, we will move forward with a public campaign. We will address these concerns with the international media, the supporters of nonprofits, and policymakers, and we will organize protests at your offices."
Melanie Oldham of Better Brazoria: Clean Air and Clean Water, a grassroots group in coastal Brazoria County, Texas, said Thursday that she and her neighbors "live in fear of further explosions, air pollution, and the impacts of these facilities on our health."
"Many insurers underwrite projects that ignore [the right to free, prior, and informed consent], greenlighting toxic projects without the consent of impacted communities—an issue a number of shareholders have raised this year."
"I live in Texas, three miles away from a major gas export, Freeport LNG. There was an explosion and fire at Freeport LNG a year ago today—the resulting fire was an explosion that was 450 feet high. This explosion rocked our homes, spewed toxic chemicals, and sounded like thunder," said Oldham. "Insurers, drop methane gas—these projects are not worth the risks."
The letter notes that the U.S. is the largest producer of methane gas in the world and that the scale of the country's LNG expansion "is immense," with dozens of LNG pipelines, storage facilities, and import/export terminals being built across the country—particularly along the Gulf Coast.
That expansion is taking place even as the climate impacts of the extraction of fossil fuels including LNG—fracked gas which is cooled and liquefied—become increasingly apparent. Parts of the Northeast this week have been cloaked in wildfire smoke that's drifted south from Canada, where experts say planetary heating created conditions that have made recent forest fires more severe.
The letter points to other climate impacts driven by the continued expansion of LNG and other fossil fuels, including storm surges, flooding, and sea level rise, which has already affected the site of one proposed LNG terminal in Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana.
"After Hurricane Ida [in 2021], Plaquemines Parish was underwater for three weeks," the groups wrote. "Plaquemines Parish is the site of the proposed methane gas export terminal, Venture Global Plaquemines LNG. Plaquemines Parish is one of many localities in the coastal U.S. south facing major sea level rise and land loss related to rising global temperatures."
By underwriting and investing in LNG projects, insurers are also contributing to "extensive property loss, erosion of beaches, damage to coastal habitats, and [the undermining of] public infrastructure such as roads, railroads, bridges, buildings, and pipelines," they added. "Floodwaters can also spread hazardous wastes and toxic chemicals released from fossil fuel and chemical plants. Storm surges dislodge storage tanks, cause equipment malfunctions leading to spills, and cause chemical fires."
The groups noted that numerous fracked gas pipelines and LNG facilities are close to sacred Indigenous sites and could violate the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. Texas LNG, for example, "has already violated [the Carrizo Comecrudo tribe's] human rights by beginning construction" on an LNG project proposed at the archeological site Garcia Pasture without consulting the tribe.
"Many insurers underwrite projects that ignore [the right to free, prior, and informed consent], greenlighting toxic projects without the consent of impacted communities—an issue a number of shareholders have raised this year," said the groups.
The letter also notes that insurance companies are already making business decisions related to the effects that fossil fuel projects have on communities—but working people are suffering the consequences instead of LNG producers.
"Insurance companies are already withdrawing from communities and increasing the price of insurance coverage because of climate change," wrote the groups, referring to State Farm's recent announcement that it will no longer write new property insurance policies in California due to homeowners' risk of being affected by wildfires.
"From California's wildfires to hurricane risk in the Gulf, insurers create some of the most comprehensive risk modeling about climate change," reads the letter. "Insurers are choosing to withdraw from communities and cancel homeowners' policies, while profiting from deals that expand oil and gas infrastructure. These withdrawals result in price hikes that communities cannot afford."
Justin Guay, director of global climate strategy at The Sunrise Project, tweeted that campaigners aim "to make fossil fuels, not homes, uninsurable."
\u201cInsurers are leaving people's homes uninsurable as wildfires and climate impacts mount\n\nBut they have no problem insuring new LNG export terminals that pour fuel on those fires\n\nAll eyes on a new campaign to make fossil fuels, not homes, uninsurable \n\nhttps://t.co/gjmgnO3WBc\u201d— Justin Guay (@Justin Guay) 1686088202
"It's time for insurance companies to stop insuring LNG terminals, which are not only a major contributor to climate change, but also pose a significant risk to surrounding communities," said Roishetta Ozane, fossil fuel finance campaigner with Texas Campaign for the Environment. "It's time for insurance companies to prioritize the safety and wellbeing of communities over profits and take a stand against these dangerous facilities."
"The U.S. has a government that is largely devoted to war and militarism," finds a new analysis from Brown University's Costs of War Project.
Two separate reports published Thursday reach similar conclusions about the United States' sprawling and ever-growing military budget: It is not making the country or the world any safer, it is far too amenable to corporate lobbying, and it is drawing funding away from healthcare, clean energy, education, and other critical public goods.
The new reports from the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft and Brown University's Costs of War Project come after President Joe Biden and House Republican leaders agreed to a military budget topline of $886 billion for fiscal year 2024—a level that war hawks in both parties are already working to increase.
William Hartung, a senior research fellow at the Quincy Institute, notes in his analysis that $886 billion for the military is "a sum far higher in real terms than the peaks of the Korean or Vietnam wars or the height of the Cold War."
"These enormous sums are being marshaled in support of a flawed National Defense Strategy that attempts to go everywhere and do everything, from winning a war with Russia or China, to intervening in Iran or North Korea, to continuing to fight a global war on terror that involves military activities in at least 85 countries," Hartung writes. "Sticking to the current strategy is not only economically wasteful, but will also make America and the world less safe."
The Costs of War report echoes that assessment, noting that the continuous growth of the nation's military budget—which now makes up more than half of the federal government's total discretionary spending—"has the effect of squeezing out the resources and power of other sectors, and weakening the United States' ability to perform core functions such as healthcare, infrastructure, education, and emergency preparedness."
"Because the majority of taxpayer dollars and federal resources are devoted to the military and military industries, and most government jobs are in the defense sector, the political power of this sector has become more deeply entrenched and other alternatives have become harder to pursue," reads the Brown analysis, authored by Heidi Peltier. "Instead of having a federal government that addresses various national priorities—including the health and education of its population and the sustainability of its infrastructure and environment—the U.S. has a government that is largely devoted to war and militarism."
The budget deal reached by the Biden White House and congressional Republicans perpetuates that trend.
If approved in the appropriations process later this year, the Biden-GOP Pentagon budget deal would add $28 billion to U.S. military spending next fiscal year compared to current levels.
And some lawmakers are exploring ways to circumvent the $886 billion topline to hand even more money to the Pentagon as new caps on non-military spending threaten funding for food aid, rental assistance, and other programs.
Hartung warned Thursday that "Congress could pass an emergency military aid package for Ukraine that includes not only funds needed for that nation to defend itself, but tens of billions of dollars for Pentagon or congressional pet projects that have nothing to do with defending Ukraine."
"This is precisely what happened during the 10-year period covered by the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA)," he noted. "The Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) account—nominally meant to fund the Iraq and Afghan wars—was used to pay for hundreds of billions of dollars worth of items unrelated to the wars, as a way to evade the caps on the Pentagon's regular budget contained in the BCA."
"We are overspending on the Pentagon instead of providing adequate funding to address other urgent security needs, and too often favoring special interests over the national interest."
Such unchecked spending is likely to have massive benefits for the arms makers and other private contractors that aggressively lobby the federal government.
The Costs of War report points out that the five military-related companies that led their sector in lobbying spending in fiscal year 2021 also received the most contract dollars from the federal government.
"Firms such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, General Dynamics, and Boeing spend millions of dollars in lobbying each year and use their political capital to secure monopoly-like contracts with the Department of Defense," the report notes.
Hartung similarly highlights the "undue influence exerted by the arms industry and its allies in Congress, backed up by over $83 million in campaign contributions in the past two election cycles and the employment of 820 lobbyists, far more than one for every member of Congress."
"The industry also leverages the jobs its programs create to bring lawmakers on board to fund ever-higher budgets, despite the fact that the economic role of the arms sector has declined dramatically over the past three decades, from 3.2 million direct jobs to just one million now—six-tenths of one percent of a national labor force of over 160 million people," Hartung writes. "Last year alone, Congress added $45 billion to the Pentagon budget beyond what the department requested, much of it for systems built in the states or districts of key members, a process that puts special interests above the national interest."
Both new reports make the case for cutting U.S. military spending—which is larger than that of more than 144 nations combined—and directing the savings toward neglected public services.
"Reducing the military budget and funding other priorities such as healthcare, education, clean energy, and infrastructure," the Brown analysis argues, "will help increase other forms of security—the kinds of meaningful human security rooted in good health, good living conditions, and a productive and well-educated society—while also increasing employment nationwide."
And Hartung contends that, contrary to war hawks' claims that Pentagon cuts would compromise national security, the U.S. "could mount a robust defense for far less money if it pursued a more restrained strategy that takes a more realistic view of the military challenges posed by Russia and China, relies more heavily on allies to provide for the defense of their own regions, shifts to a deterrence–only nuclear strategy, and emphasizes diplomacy over force or threats of force to curb nuclear proliferation."
"This approach could save at least $1.3 trillion over the next decade, funds that could be invested in other areas of urgent national need," Hartung writes. "But making a shift of this magnitude will require political and budgetary reforms to reduce the immense power of the arms lobby."
To that end, Hartung suggests restrictions on the "revolving door" between the Pentagon and major military contractors. An April report assembled by Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) "identified 672 cases in 2022 in which the top 20 defense contractors had former government officials, military officers, members of Congress, and senior legislative staff working for them as lobbyists, board members, or senior executives."
Hartung also calls for a ban on "major weapons contractors funding the campaigns of members of the armed services committees and defense appropriations subcommittees of each house of Congress."
"We are overspending on the Pentagon instead of providing adequate funding to address other urgent security needs, and too often favoring special interests over the national interest," Hartung said in a statement Thursday. "Rethinking America's approach to defense can make us safer at a far lower cost."
"This is ugly. And it is only going to get worse," warned one advocate.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau warned Wednesday that millions of federal student loan borrowers in the U.S. could struggle to make payments once forbearance ends in late August—a timeline codified by the debt ceiling measure that President Joe Biden signed into law over the weekend.
The consumer agency, also known as the CFPB, has been tracking the finances of student loan borrowers throughout the coronavirus pandemic, during which repayments and interest have been frozen—collectively saving borrowers hundreds of billions of dollars.
But in an update on Wednesday, the CFPB estimated that more than one in 13 borrowers are behind on payments other than their student loans, financial pain that will intensify once the student loan payment pause lifts.
"These delinquencies are higher than they were before the pandemic, despite a small seasonal decrease in the most recent data," wrote CFPB economists Thomas Conkling and Christa Gibbs.
The pair also found that roughly one in five of the 32 million federal student loan borrowers in the CFPB's sample "have risk factors that suggest they could struggle when scheduled payments resume," such as "pre-pandemic payment assistance on student loans" and "delinquencies on other credit products since the start of the pandemic."
"As of March 2023, around 2.5 million student loan borrowers had a delinquency on a non-student loan, an increase of around 200,000 borrowers since September 2022," the CFPB economists wrote. "Borrowers with large balances relative to their income may find their scheduled monthly student loan payments especially difficult to manage if they are not enrolled in income-driven repayment (IDR) plans when the payment pause ends."
Conkling and Gibbs also point to other factors that could complicate the repayment process for many borrowers, including the large number of loan accounts that have been transferred to different servicers over the past several years.
"This change could complicate the transition to repayment for the 44% (or more than 14 million) of borrowers in our sample who will have to work with at least one new servicer after more than three years of suspended payments," they wrote. "So far, more than 17 million accounts for federal student loans have been transferred, and more transfers—either to different servicers or different servicing technology platforms—are expected in the coming months, ultimately reaching more than 30 million accounts."
"This is going to be a massive disaster that will crescendo right in time for the '24 election."
The CFPB's findings confirmed debt relief advocates' fears about restarting payments, particularly if the U.S. Supreme Court sides with right-wing challengers and strikes down the Biden administration's student debt cancellation plan. A decision from the high court is expected this month.
"This is ugly. And it is only going to get worse," Mike Pierce, executive director of the Student Borrower Protection Center (SBPC), wrote in response to the CFPB's findings. "It is going to be very, very bad."
Ben Kaufman, SBPC's director of research and investigations, agreed, warning of profound financial consequences for borrowers and major political implications.
"This is going to be a massive disaster that will crescendo right in time for the '24 election," Kaufman tweeted Wednesday.
The Biden administration was already planning to end the student loan payment pause 60 days after a Supreme Court decision on debt relief or 60 days after June 30—whichever comes first.
But the debt ceiling agreement negotiated by Biden and House Republican leaders cements that timeline into law and potentially hinders the administration's ability to implement another pause in the future, sticking the average federal student loan borrower with hundreds of dollars a month in additional financial burden.
The American Prospect's David Dayen called the looming restart of student loan payments an "oncoming train wreck," noting Wednesday that "the Office of Federal Student Aid (FSA), which is tasked with managing this impending chaos, has no additional funding to do it, and its budget was already inadequate."
Because of the huge number of loan account transfers that have occurred over the past three years, "millions of borrowers will get a notice from a private company they've never interacted with, telling them to resume payments on a loan that's been dormant for years," Dayen wrote. "If every borrower used StudentAid.gov to keep up with their account, and these companies were perfectly diligent, this might go smoothly."
"But student loan servicers have a terrible track record; Navient was described by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in 2017 as having 'systematically and illegally failed borrowers at every stage of repayment,'" he added. "If you want to see an example of how this might spiral out of control, look no further than the Medicaid purge now happening across the country."