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As America welcomes a new Congress this week, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), joined by the Blue Green Alliance Action Fund, ushered in the next generation of green leaders: freshmen representatives from around the nation who are committed to repowering America with clean energy and green jobs.
As the 111th Congress takes up the economic recovery package, NRDC is calling for the inclusion of policies that will move the nation towards a strong, clean energy economy. Among NRDC's top recommendations are greater investment in renewable energy sources, increased energy efficiency, improvements in public transit, and restoration of America's transportation and water infrastructure. Together, these improvements will create millions of new green jobs and help jump-start the economy.
"America is facing unprecedented economic challenges, but we have a new generation of green leaders in Congress that can meet these challenges and move us to a more sustainable economic future," said Frances Beinecke, president of NRDC. "The new Congress will need to act quickly to get the economy moving, and we look forward to working with them to create a clean energy workforce, reduce our dependence on oil, and protect the environment."
Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), a senior member of the U.S. House of Representatives and a recognized environmental leader, introduced four new members of Congress who are committed to forging a green economic recovery: Representatives Debbie Halvorson (IL), Steve Driehaus (OH), Tom Perriello (VA), and Mark Schauer (MI).
"With this new generation of leaders in Congress, building the green economy begins now," said David Foster, executive director of the Blue Green Alliance Action Fund, a partnership between labor unions and environmental organizations dedicated to expanding the green economy. "Making 'green' part of our economic recovery now will chart the course for strengthening this new green economy in the future -- putting people back to work, making America energy independent, and taking immediate action against global warming."
"I'm excited to work with Congress's new green leaders, who recognize that we can stimulate the economy by investing in clean energy and the environment," said Congressman Blumenauer. "They understand that jobs installing wind turbines and repairing our nation's bridges can't be shipped overseas. They know that green infrastructure investments will not only stimulate the economy in the short-term, but will be a down-payment in the fight against global warming and for energy independence."
"Throughout my campaign, I stressed the importance of investing in a clean energy economy, fixing our nation's infrastructure, and creating good paying jobs," said Congresswoman Halvorson. "As a member of the 111th Congress, I am ready to repower America and do all I can to stabilize our economy, empower our workforce, and secure our nation's energy future."
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
"The only way to solve the long-term shortage on the Colorado River is to take a lot less water out of the system," said one agricultural economics professor. "Which necessarily means permanent reductions in crops grown."
California, Arizona, and Nevada on Monday struck a deal with the Biden administration in which the states agreed to take less water from the dangerously overdrawn Colorado River—an agreement cautiously welcomed by conservationists, who warned that the cuts are insufficient to stabilize a system upon which tens of millions of people rely.
Monday's breakthrough agreement follows nearly a year of negotiations and missed deadlines and involves the Biden administration, the three states, Indigenous tribes, water management districts, and agribusinesses. Under the plan, the federal government will distribute around $1.2 billion worth of Inflation Reduction Act funds to cities, tribes, and water districts if they cut back on water use. The three states agreed to use 3 million acre-feet less water between them by the end of 2026. This would amount to 13% of their total Colorado River allocation.
"There are 40 million people, seven states, and 30 tribal nations who rely on the Colorado River Basin for basic services such as drinking water and electricity," U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said in a statement. "Today's announcement is a testament to the Biden-Harris administration's commitment to working with states, tribes, and communities throughout the West to find consensus solutions in the face of climate change and sustained drought."
"The agreed-to cuts are significantly less than what federal scientists and officials had said were necessary to stabilize the river system on which tens of millions in the Southwest rely."
Last August, amid extreme drought driven by the climate emergency and warnings of a possible "catastrophic collapse" of the Colorado River, the U.S. Interior Department announced the first-ever tier 2 shortage for the waterway, triggering water-use cuts in Arizona, Nevada, and the country of Mexico for 2023.
U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Commissioner Camille Calimlim Touton called the agreement "an important step forward towards our shared goal of forging a sustainable path for the basin that millions of people call home."
Arizona Gov. Katie Hobbs, a Democrat, hailed the "partnership with our fellow Basin states and historic investment in drought funding," while asserting that "we now have a path forward to build our reservoirs up in the near-term."
\u201c\ud83d\udca7\ud83d\udca7\ud83d\udca7.... and that's how you get it done: @GovernorHobbs just announced a bold plan with California & Nevada to conserve 3 million acre-feet of water over the next 3 years. \n\nOur Colorado River is precious, and we must all do our part to protect our finite water supplies. \ud83c\udf0a\u201d— Andr\u00e9s Cano (@Andr\u00e9s Cano) 1684768812
"From here, our work must continue to take action and address the long-term issues of climate change and overallocation to ensure we have a sustainable Colorado River for all who rely upon it," Hobbs added.
Luke Runyon, president of the Society of Environmental Journalists, noted on Twitter that "the agreed-to cuts are significantly less than what federal scientists and officials had said were necessary to stabilize the river system on which tens of millions in the Southwest rely."
John Entsminger, general manager of the Southern Nevada Water Authority, toldE&E News that "the plan set forth by the Lower Basin states is not a panacea for the river, but rather a consensus solution that will help manage near-term water demands while serving as a bridge to negotiate the post-2026 operating criteria."
"The Colorado River Basin has a warmer and drier future ahead and reducing water use, increasing water efficiency, and maximizing water recycling and reuse is paramount to a sustainable future for the 40 million people that depend upon this critical water supply," he added.
\u201cThis is only 1/3 of the cuts needed, according to the federal gov last summer\n\nThe basin has had a wet winter, but enough to make \nup for 2/3 of the shortfall? I think we need to see some serious updated projections from Interior before getting too excited about this agreement\u201d— Nick Hagerty (@Nick Hagerty) 1684777740
As Common Dreamsreported last month, advocacy groups including Food & Water Watch also criticized proposed deals between the administration and states for failing to address the overexploitation of water resources by corporate agriculture and fossil fuel companies.
While unusually heavy snowfall and subsequent spring meltwater have helped temporarily avert what experts warned last year could be a "doomsday scenario" for the Colorado River Basin in 2023, the vital waterway remains in danger of running too low to provide enough water for all who rely upon it.
The Colorado River historically ran about 1,450 miles from its headwaters high in the Rocky Mountains of northern Colorado into Utah, through the Grand Canyon in Arizona, and then along Nevada and California's southeastern borders before flowing into the northernmost tip of the Gulf of California in Mexico.
The river—which is an oasis in the unforgiving desert that surrounds it for much of its course—long sustained Indigenous peoples both before and after the genocidal colonization of the Southwest, and since the U.S. conquered the region from Mexico it has been a lifeline for American settlers and cities as well as Native tribes.
Western states began dividing the river's water between them around a century ago, and throughout the 20th century, massive dams and channels diverted water hundreds of miles away to sprawling, thirsty farms on previously desert lands and to rapidly expanding cities like Los Angeles, Phoenix, San Diego, and Las Vegas.
Under the Colorado River Compact, states sidestepped Indigenous tribes and agreed to annual water allocations that they must use in full or face usage-based cuts the following year. This "use it or lose it" system has created what critics call "perverse" incentives for farmers to grow water-intensive crops in the desert.
\u201cWhat's using all that water? Cows. Pretty simple. \n\nAs #western states reach historic water use deal we should be having a conversation if feeding cattle is really how we want to use our limited and shrinking resources. #coloradoriver \n\nhttps://t.co/zUS8AP4uQ6\u201d— Andrew deCoriolis (@Andrew deCoriolis) 1684773208
Today, around three-quarters of the river's flow is siphoned off to irrigate more than five million acres of farmland, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. Hydroelectric plants along the Colorado also generate more than 12 billion kilowatt hours of electricity annually.
The river has been running especially low in recent decades as worsening droughts driven by the climate emergency have gripped the Southwest and as the population of the nation's driest region explodes. The Colorado no longer empties into the sea, and models predict that by the year 2100 its flow could be further reduced by more than half.
"The only way to solve the long-term shortage on the Colorado River is to take a lot less water out of the system," environmental and resource economist Nick Hagerty stressed in reaction to Monday's announcement. "Which necessarily means permanent reductions in crops grown. That's where the focus needs to be."
"Garland has no reason to defend the nonsense which is the debt ceiling, besides a vague sense of formality and tradition driven by elite political etiquette," said Jeff Hauser of the Revolving Door Project.
A government watchdog on Monday urged the U.S. Justice Department not to defend the debt ceiling statute against a lawsuit recently filed by a union of federal employees and to support the group's effort to expedite its case as the crucial June 1 deadline nears.
"Attorney General Merrick Garland must refuse to defend the unconstitutional legal incoherence that is the debt ceiling," Jeff Hauser, executive director of the Revolving Door Project, said in a statement. "The Justice Department should file papers supporting the National Association of Government Employees' request."
Hauser's demand came days after the National Association of Government Employees (NAGE) filed for an emergency injunction in their case, which was initially brought on May 8.
The union's new filing declares the debt limit, first established in 1917, a "violation of the separation of powers and the Presentment Clause as set forth in Articles I and II of the United States Constitution" and seeks to bar Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen from "limiting the borrowing of the United States pursuant to the debt limit statute."
The request for an emergency injunction was submitted as debt ceiling talks between the White House and congressional Republicans faltered, with the House GOP pushing for spending cuts that would devastate key social programs and undermine the government's ability to respond to an economic downturn.
Hauser said Monday that NAGE's argument against the constitutionality of the debt limit is "sound" and noted that Biden himself has effectively endorsed it.
Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Biden said he believes "we have the authority" under the 14th Amendment to unilaterally avert a default and a possible global recession.
However, Biden went on to express doubt about whether the 14th Amendment could be "invoked in time," pointing to legal challenges that would follow the move.
But as The American Prospect's David Dayen noted Monday, the president wouldn't technically "invoke" the 14th Amendment in court if he opts to use his constitutional authority to prevent a U.S. default.
"If you're the president and you want to keep borrowing money after the debt ceiling is hit because you think you are legally bound to do so by the Constitution," Dayen wrote, "you just keep borrowing money until somebody stops you."
Pointing to the NAGE lawsuit, Dayen added that the "notion of litigation is no longer theoretical."
"The Justice Department's obligation is to the Constitution, which is unequivocal: the president cannot pick and choose what congressionally appropriated obligations to meet, and the debt of the United States shall not be questioned."
Yellen and Biden, the defendants in the NAGE lawsuit, have both been served with a summons and must respond by June 6 at the latest—five days after Yellen says that, in the absence of congressional action, U.S. will run out of money to pay its obligations.
Hauser said Monday that Garland should intervene in the case "as soon as possible," arguing the Biden administration has "no justification" to "dither."
"Garland has no reason to defend the nonsense which is the debt ceiling, besides a vague sense of formality and tradition driven by elite political etiquette," said Hauser. "The cost of prioritizing tradition for tradition's sake would be irreparable harm to the U.S. and global economies, caused by a first-ever U.S. default as soon as June 1—or else complete capitulation to the ultra-MAGA faction of the House Republican caucus that marionettes Kevin McCarthy."
Biden and McCarthy are expected to meet again on Monday evening as the House speaker faces pressure from the far-right House Freedom Caucus to accept nothing less than the extreme legislation Republicans passed last month.
But Hauser said that while Biden "may be willing to keep channels open until the very last minute with nihilistic, bad-faith Republican lawmakers, the Justice Department's obligation is to the Constitution, which is unequivocal: the president cannot pick and choose what congressionally appropriated obligations to meet, and the debt of the United States shall not be questioned."
"Garland may be constitutionally reluctant to seek the spotlight, but this crisis threatens the stability of the nation, and indeed, the global economy," Hauser added. "He should not prioritize his own sense of formality over the language of the Constitution he swore to uphold."
The findings from a World Meteorological Organization report released Monday are another example of how those who did the least to cause the climate crisis are most vulnerable to its impacts.
More than 90% of the people killed in extreme weather events during the last half-century lived in the Global South, a new World Meteorological Organization report has found.
The figure came from an update Monday to the World Meteorological Organization's (WMO) Atlas of Mortality and Economic Losses from Weather, Climate, and Water-related Hazards to cover the years 1970 to 2021. The U.N. agency counted a total of 11,778 extreme weather, climate, or water-related disasters during that time period, which claimed more than two million deaths and cost $4.3 trillion in economic losses.
"The most vulnerable communities unfortunately bear the brunt of weather, climate and water-related hazards," WMO Secretary-General Prof. Petteri Taalas said in a statement.
\u201cExtreme weather, climate and water-related events caused 11 778 reported disasters between 1970 and 2021, with just over 2 million deaths and US$ 4.3 trillion in economic losses, according to new figures presented to #MeteoWorld.\nhttps://t.co/nghvQG67OY\u201d— World Meteorological Organization (@World Meteorological Organization) 1684741218
While more than 60% of the economic losses caused by these storms occurred in developed nations—with 39% occurring in the U.S. alone—developing nations were disproportionately harmed financially relative to the size of their economies. None of the events in the Global North cost a country more than 3.5% of its gross domestic product (GDP), and over four-fifths of these disasters cost less than 0.1% of GDP. In Least Developed Countries, however, 7% of the disasters took out a more than 5% chunk of their GDPs, and some cost them as much as 30%. Small Island Developing States were hit especially hard, with 20% of disasters having an impact worth more than 5% of their GDPs and some costing more than 100% of local GDP.
Taalas offered the example of Cyclone Mocha, which bore down on the world's largest refugee camp in the Bangladeshi city of Cox's Bazar on May 14. The Category 5 storm killed at least 145 people in Myanmar and destroyed thousands of shelters in the Cox's Bazar refugee camp, BBC Newsreported.
"It caused widespread devastation in Myanmar and Bangladesh, impacting the poorest of the poor," Taalas said.
In general, Asia accounted for 47% of all reported deaths from extreme weather events, and tropical cyclones were the leading cause. Of Asia's 984,263 deaths, Bangladesh accounted for more than half of them at 520,758—the highest death toll for any nation in the region and a higher number than the total death toll for the regions of Europe; North America, Central America, and the Caribbean; South America; and the South-West Pacific.
"Both vulnerability to current climate extremes and historical contribution to climate change are highly heterogeneous with many of those who have least contributed to climate change to date being most vulnerable to its impacts."
The findings are a clear example of climate injustice—as those who did the least to contribute to the crisis disproportionately suffer its impacts. All of the disasters considered in the study—droughts, extreme temperatures, flooding, glacial lake outbursts, landslides, storms, and wildfires—are becoming more extreme, more frequent, or both because of climate change due primarily to the burning of fossil fuels, and their impacts are not evenly distributed.
"Both vulnerability to current climate extremes and historical contribution to climate change are highly heterogeneous with many of those who have least contributed to climate change to date being most vulnerable to its impacts," the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change wrote in its most recent Synthesis Report.
In 2009, developed nations pledged $100 billion a year through 2020 to help developing nations both adapt to the climate crisis and reduce their emissions, as Eurodad explained in a 2022 analysis. The 2020 deadline was later extended to 2025. However, as of 2020, nearly 50% of the promised amount had not been paid.
The most recent U.N. Adaptation Gap Report moreover found that the money the Global North is sending to the Global South to help it adapt is five to 10 times below what it actually needs.
At 2022's COP27, wealthier nations agreed to a second Loss and Damage fund to help poorer nations pay for the inevitable harms already caused by the climate crisis. However, in a peer-reviewed paper published in One Earth on Friday, Marco Grasso and Richard Heede argued that the lengthy process involved in organizing and financing such an agreement—as well as the delay in other climate finance—meant that major fossil fuel companies should step in to help foot the bill.
"The recent progress in climate attribution science makes it evident that these companies have played a major role in the accumulation and escalation of such costs by providing gigatonnes of carbon fuels to the global economy while willfully ignoring foreseeable climate harm," Grasso and Heede wrote. "All the while they successfully shaped the public narrative on climate change through disinformation, misleading 'advertorials,' lobbying, and political donations to delay action directly or through trade associations and other surrogates. Fossil fuel companies have a moral responsibility to affected parties for climate harm and have a duty to rectify such harm."
\u201c#BigOil knew about climate change, but failed to act. How much do the biggest fossil fuel companies owe the world in reparations? Important new Commentary from @MGGrasso and @rickheede. Read (Open Access!) here: https://t.co/iEbrTCZBzz\u201d— One Earth (@One Earth) 1684510048
The two authors calculated that the top 21 fossil fuel companies owed a total of $5.4 trillion in reparations from 2025 to 2050, with Saudi Aramco, Russia's Gazprom, ExxonMobil, Shell, and BP owing the most.
"The analysis offers a starting point for much needed action to hold fossil fuel companies accountable for their financial responsibilities," Greenpeace International general counsel Kristin Casper said in response to the findings. "Now, communities on the frontline of environmental breakdown can decide how to wield the study's powerful findings in their own struggles for justice."
There was some good news in the WMO report. While the yearly cost of extreme weather disasters has increased over the last 51 years, the death toll has decreased due to early warning systems. For example, Cyclone Nargis in 2008 killed 138,366 people in Myanmar and Bangladesh, a toll much higher than Mocha's.
"Thanks to early warnings and disaster management these catastrophic mortality rates are now thankfully history," Taalas said. "Early warnings save lives."
The WMO published its findings to coincide with the World Meteorological Congress, which launched Monday with a talk on extending early warning systems to every country on Earth by 2027, a goal spearheaded by U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres. Currently, these systems only cover around half of all countries, and Small Island Developing States, Least Developed Countries, and Africa nations are especially left out.
"Delivering #EarlyWarningsForAll can be the game changer to address the massive injustice of loss that communities face from the climate crisis," Jagan Chapagain, secretary general and CEO of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, said at the conference.