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Krieger, Transportation Policy Analyst
Office - (202) 546 – 9707x333
On Thursday, the House approved a $4 billion investment for high-speed passenger rail in the FY2010 transportation budget, with a vote of 256 to 168. The investment represents an increase of $3 billion over President Barack Obama's original request
"In an era of overburdened airports and highways, momentum is building both inside and out of Congress for a stronger, faster, more competitive rail system.
"The House's remarkable investment in high-speed passenger rail will help meet the enormous nationwide demand that was ignited by $8 billion of rail grants in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Forty states submitted 272 applications for these grants, totaling $105 billion.
"Clearly, this immediate broad-based desire for new high-speed rail projects is proof that the funding can and will be used by the states as soon as it can get out the door.
"High-speed passenger rail will provide clean, safe, reliable and efficient travel between America's population centers. Long-term federal investment in rail will also create tens of thousands of quality American jobs in states that have experienced losses in the technology, construction, and engineering sectors over the last decade.
"President Obama has called for a new vision for the way that we get around in this country, and Congress is heeding that call."
U.S. PIRG, the federation of state Public Interest Research Groups (PIRGs), stands up to powerful special interests on behalf of the American public, working to win concrete results for our health and our well-being. With a strong network of researchers, advocates, organizers and students in state capitols across the country, we take on the special interests on issues, such as product safety,political corruption, prescription drugs and voting rights,where these interests stand in the way of reform and progress.
"If we don't want to see the 1.5°C goal disappearing in our rearview mirror, the world must work much harder and urgently at bringing emissions down," one scientist behind the findings said.
Despite national promises, mounting protests, and ever more extreme weather events, greenhouse gas emissions have reached an "all-time high" of 54 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide per year over the last decade, a new study has found.
The research, published in the journal Earth System Science Data Thursday, concluded that the carbon budget—the amount of carbon dioxide that human societies can emit and still have a 50% chance of limiting global heating to 1.5°C above preindustrial levels—has shrunk by half since the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last calculated it three years ago.
"This is the critical decade for climate change," Piers Forster, lead author and director of the Priestley International Centre for Climate at the University of Leeds, said in a statement. "Decisions made now will have an impact on how much temperatures will rise and the degree and severity of impacts we will see as a result."
\u201cOur climate indicator paper is out, showing unprecedented rate of global warming -over 0.2\u00b0C per decade, with maximum land temps rising faster still. https://t.co/O3el0J00pI\u201d— Piers Forster (@Piers Forster) 1686204170
The new paper was released at U.N. climate talks ongoing in Bonn, Germany, from June 5 to 15, as the Financial Times reported. The talks are part of the lead-up to the COP28 U.N. climate conference in the UAE in December, which will feature the first global stocktake of progress towards meeting the 1.5°C goal by 2050.
In crafting climate plans, negotiators and policymakers rely on authoritative reports from the IPCC, but these are only released on average every six years, as AFP noted.
"The problem with the IPCC is that it comes once a decade & is outdated when it is published!" scientist and IPCC author Glen Peters observed on Twitter.
\u201cThough, you do have to stomach some bad news...\n\nThe Remaining Carbon Budget for 1.5\u00b0C has gone from 500 GtCO\u2082 to 250 GtCO\u2082 in three years: we emitted an extra 3*40=120 GtCO\u2082 & the science was updated... Oops...\u201d— Glen Peters (@Glen Peters) 1686213279
The last major IPCC report on the physical science of climate change was released in 2021 based on data from 2019, according to the Financial Times. This information then fed into the Sixth Synthesis Report published in March, the University of Leeds noted.
The new study is part of a larger attempt to provide world leaders with the latest science through the Indicators of Global Climate Change and website, which will update important climate indicators each year.
According to Thursday's updates, the burning of fossil fuels and destruction of forests caused an average 1.14°C of warming between 2013 and 2022, an increase from the average 1.07°C of warming between 2010 and 2019.
"Over the 2013–2022 period, human-induced warming has been increasing at an unprecedented rate of over 0.2 ∘C per decade," the study authors wrote.
"Even though we are not yet at 1.5°C warming, the carbon budget will likely be exhausted in only a few years as we have a triple whammy of heating from very high CO2 emissions, heating from increases in other GHG emissions, and heating from reductions in pollution."
Unfortunately, the progress that has been made in cutting down on coal use has helped boost warming in the short term by removing cooling aerosols from the atmosphere.
"This robust update shows intensifying heating of our climate driven by human activities," study co-author Dr. Valérie Masson-Delmotte, from the Université Paris Saclay, who also co-chaired Working Group 1 of the IPCC's Sixth Assessment report, said in a statement. "It is a timely wake up call for the 2023 global stocktake of the Paris Agreement—the pace and scale of climate action is not sufficient to limit the escalation of climate-related risks."
While there is some evidence that the yearly uptick in the pace of emissions is slowing down—the International Energy Agency found that energy emissions had risen less in 2022 than 2021—the increase needs to not only stall, but reverse, as The Guardianexplained:
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change calculated in 2018 that the world must nearly halve greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, compared with 2010 levels, in order to stay within the 1.5C threshold, and reach net zero emissions by 2050. But that calculation rested on an assumption that the world would reduce emissions by about 7% a year during the 2020s.
As emissions have continued to rise, the annual rate of decline for emissions will now have to be much steeper to stay within the 1.5C limit.
The IPCC put the global carbon budget at around 500 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2020; it is now at around 250.
"Even though we are not yet at 1.5°C warming, the carbon budget will likely be exhausted in only a few years as we have a triple whammy of heating from very high CO2 emissions, heating from increases in other GHG emissions, and heating from reductions in pollution," Forster said. "If we don't want to see the 1.5°C goal disappearing in our rearview mirror, the world must work much harder and urgently at bringing emissions down."
\u201cNEW: This week's climate graphic looks at new data from climate scientists @piersforster et al, which shows that the carbon budget remaining to limit global warming to 1.5C has halved in just 3 years.\n\nRead @CamillaHodgson's excellent report\nhttps://t.co/xTMGPZPzq5\n#dataviz\u201d— Steven Bernard (@Steven Bernard) 1686209361
The new study isn't the only alarming climate data released this week. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reported Monday that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels had reached a peak of 424 parts per million in May, levels not seen in millions of years. Scientists said Tuesday that the loss of summer Arctic sea ice is now inevitable. And the EU's Copernicus Climate Change Service announced Wednesday that air and sea-surface temperatures over non-ice-covered oceans were the highest for any May on record.
At the same time, wildfire smoke from unprecedented fires in Canada has smothered the eastern U.S. while record heat bakes the Caribbean.
\u201cLife-threatening heat today in Puerto Rico so hot that some meteorologists are astonished. And more of the same to come this week. Heat index numbers as high as 115-125 today!! So what is going on? There are many factors, so let's dig in... thread 1/\u201d— Jeff Berardelli (@Jeff Berardelli) 1686016817
Climate groups are launching a week of action in the U.S. Thursday calling on the Biden administration to declare a climate emergency and reverse the approval of major fossil fuel projects. In Bonn, demonstrators greeted the arrival of COP28 president and UAE state oil company head Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber with a banner drop.
\u201cToday as oil executive and #COP28 president Sultan Al Jaber of UAE arrives at the UN #BonnClimateConference, #ClimateJustice leaders drop a banner and demand countries put an end to fossil fuels. "Keep the coal in the hole, keep the oil in the soil, keep the gas in the ground!"\u201d— Adrien Salazar (@Adrien Salazar) 1686233871
"Keep the coal in the hole, keep the oil in the soil, keep the gas in the ground!" the activists demanded.
The ACLU of Alabama's legal director said the key takeaway is the "acknowledgment that the Alabama Legislature knowingly continued its legacy of drawing illegal voting districts that disenfranchise Black voters."
In a Thursday move that shocked voting rights advocates and legal experts, two right-wing members of the U.S. Supreme Court joined the three liberal justices for a ruling that sided with Black voters challenging Alabama's latest congressional map that was racially gerrymandered by Republican legislators.
With the majority opinion—written mainly by Chief Justice John Roberts and backed by Justices Ketanji Brown Jackson, Elena Kagan, Brett Kavanaugh, and Sonia Sotomayor—the Voting Rights Act (VRA) dodges a bullet, as a pair of Politico reporters put it.
Slate's Mark Joseph Stern tweeted that "this is a HUGE surprise and a major voting rights victory," also noting that the high court's decision in Allen v. Milligan is "a boon to Democrats' chances" of retaking the U.S. House of Representatives in 2024.
"This fight was won through generations of Black leaders who refused to be silent, and while much work is left, today we can move forward with these reaffirmed protections civil rights leaders fought and died for."
Davin Rosborough, senior staff attorney with the ACLU's Voting Rights Project, declared that "the Supreme Court rejected the Orwellian idea that it's inappropriate to consider race in determining whether racial discrimination led to the creation of illegal maps. This ruling is a huge victory for Black Alabamians."
The national ACLU, its Alabama arm, the Legal Defense Fund (LDF), Hogan Lovells LLP, and Wiggins Childs LLC sued Alabama in November 2021 on behalf of four individual voters—Evan Milligan, Shalela Dowdy, Letetia Jackson, and Khadidah Stone—along with Greater Birmingham Ministries and the NAACP of Alabama, arguing that the state's new congressional map is racially discriminatory under Section 2 of the VRA and the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
Although a three-judge panel granted a preliminary injunction in January 2022 and gave Alabama an opportunity to redraw the districts before last year's election, the state then obtained a stay from the Supreme Court and the contested map was used.
The high court's new ruling in the case—previously known as Merrill v. Milligan—was celebrated by the plaintiffs, who said in a joint statement:
In 2021, Alabama lawmakers targeted Black voters by packing and cracking us so we could not have a meaningful impact on the electoral process. They attempted to redefine Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act and shirk their responsibility to ensure communities of color are given an equal opportunity to elect their preferred candidates. Today, the Supreme Court reminded them of that responsibility by ordering a new map be drawn that complies with federal law—one that recognizes the diversity in our state rather than erasing it. This fight was won through generations of Black leaders who refused to be silent, and while much work is left, today we can move forward with these reaffirmed protections civil rights leaders fought and died for.
LDF senior counsel Deuel Ross, who argued the case before the court in October, explained that "Alabama attempted to rewrite federal law by saying race had no place in redistricting. But because of the state's sordid and well-documented history of racial discrimination, race must be used to remedy that past and ensure communities of color are not boxed out of the electoral process."
"While the Voting Rights Act and other key protections against discriminatory voting laws have been weakened in recent years and states continue to pass provisions to disenfranchise Black voters, today's decision is a recognition of Section 2's purpose to prevent voting discrimination and the very basic right to a fair shot," Ross continued.
\u201cBREAKING: The US Supreme Court just rejected Alabama's gerrymandered congressional map, ruling the map violates the Voting Rights Act by diluting the voting strength of Black voters. \n\nCongrats to @NAACP_LDF on this major win for voters!\u201d— Common Cause (@Common Cause) 1686236228
Tish Gotell Faulks, the ACLU of Alabama's legal director, said that "the key takeaway from today's decision is the court's acknowledgment that the Alabama Legislature knowingly continued its legacy of drawing illegal voting districts that disenfranchise Black voters."
"Though we were victorious today, history shows us that lawmakers will erect many more hurdles before every Alabamian, irrespective of their race, can vote for representatives that reflect their beliefs, values, and priorities," Jones warned. "Efforts remain underway from Montgomery to Jackson to Baton Rouge, and elsewhere across the country to minimize, marginalize, and eliminate the ability of Black and Brown people to have a voice in their communities. Our communities then—as now—understand that the fight to uphold our civil rights is a daily pursuit. We will persist."
The Campaign Legal Center (CLC), which has been involved in several lawsuits challenging rigged election maps and filed a friend-of-the-court brief for this case, also welcomed the Thursday decision while highlighting ongoing attacks on voting rights.
"When self-interested politicians draw maps that suit their own needs instead of the needs of their community, our democracy becomes less inclusive and accountable," said CLC senior vice president Paul Smith. "We are heartened that the Supreme Court upheld Section 2 of the VRA, one of the most important tools available to ensure every voter, particularly Black and Brown voters who have historically been denied the freedom to vote, has an equal voice in our democracy."
"While this ruling is a step in the right direction," Smith added, "we will continue to fight tirelessly alongside our local allies in Alabama and across the country to challenge racially discriminatory voting maps in court and develop innovative policy solutions that protect and expand the freedom to vote for every American."
Pointing to Shelby v. Holder, Kareem Crayton, senior director of the Brennan Center for Justice's Democracy Program, stressed that the new decision "still leaves us with a weakened tool of enforcement. Ten years ago, this court ended the most effective part of the legislation, preclearance, and in 2021, made it very hard to use Section 2 to challenge racially discriminatory voting rules."
"Congress can and should step in to protect fair access to voting and representation for all," according to Crayton. "Our legislators must pass the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act and the Freedom to Vote Act."
"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."