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On Thursday, mothers, children, doctors, community leaders, and public health advocates rallied at the Tennessee Historical Society in downtown Knoxville to call on the U.S. Department of Interior (DOI) to reform its federal coal leasing program, which is broken, outdated, and does not consider the threat of climate change in American communities.
A rally and press conference took place during a noon break from DOI's public listening session, one of six around the country, for its upcoming Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS), a formal plan announced by President Obama and Secretary Jewell to consider reforming the federal coal leasing program.
"We need to use this review as an opportunity to make smart choices about the future of U.S. energy policy," said Bonnie Swinford, an organizer with the Tennessee Chapter of the Sierra Club. "We've seen firsthand in Tennessee the damage that burning coal can do. We know that a flood of subsidized federal coal has harmed so many communities like ours, stunted clean energy growth, and hurt our environment.
"It's time for a planned transition that will keep federal coal in the ground."
In January, President Obama and Secretary Jewell announced a formal plan to consider reforming the federal coal leasing program, including an immediate stop to approving new and modified coal leasing, with some exceptions. These six public hearings serve as a key first step in hearing from Americans what the administration should consider in its analysis of the coal leasing program through the PEIS.
This is the first time the U.S. will examine the collective climate impacts from all coal mined from public lands. For decades, coal companies have ripped 400 million tons of coal from our public lands every year, burning it in power plants, slowing clean energy development, worsening climate disruption, and polluting our communities.
"Surface coal mining has a devastating impact on water quality in Tennessee," said Tennessee Clean Water Network Executive Director Renee Hoyos. "The federal government is correct in reviewing the state of coal mining in the USA as the free market is telling the nation that coal is no longer king. Tennessee communities have learned that the foreign-owned coal mining companies come into their counties and create only a few jobs, poison the water and air and then leave it to future generations to clean up the mess they leave behind."
Forty percent of all coal burned in the United States comes from our public lands. Dirty air and water caused by coal pollution can trigger asthma attacks, respiratory illnesses and cancer, even leading to irreversible lung damage or premature death.
"I'm working for a place where young people like my friends and myself can make a beautiful future, despite the obstacles that currently make it hard to stay, said Eric Dixon, a member of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth. "I'm working for an Appalachia where friends who have been forced to leave the mountains can come back and work making our homes more energy efficient, work reclaiming the mountains scarred from mining, work installing solar panels or wind turbines on reclaimed strip mines and mountaintop removal sites."
The Sierra Club is the most enduring and influential grassroots environmental organization in the United States. We amplify the power of our 3.8 million members and supporters to defend everyone's right to a healthy world.(415) 977-5500
"Here's the news media's takeaway on the debt ceiling deal: Yay! Bipartisanship works! Here's the reality: GOP radicals held the economy hostage, Democrats paid the ransom, and bipartisanship is badly broken."
President Joe Biden delivered his first televised address from the Oval Office on Friday night to applaud the final result of legislative negotiations between his administration and Republicans in Congress who took the U.S. economy hostage over the debt ceiling, but progressive critics found the victory lap hard to take given the details of the deal and the devastating impacts they will have.
"It was critical to reach an agreement and it's very good news for the American people," Biden said during his remarks from the White House. "No one got everything they wanted but the American people got what they needed. We averted an economic crisis and an economic collapse."
But what Biden called a "big win for our economy and the American people," progressives—who argue the entire debt ceiling law is unconstitutional because it violates the 14th amendment and warned since last year that Republicans would orchestrate a crisis to protect wealthy tax dodgers and corporations while imposing fresh cuts on key social programs—should be seen for what it is: a kick in the face to the planet, democracy, and the material needs of poor and working-class Americans.
"Wall Street and corporate interests may be enthusiastic about this bill, but I believe it moves us in exactly the wrong direction." —Sen. Bernie Sanders
Warren Gunnels, majority staff director for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee chaired by Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), said on social media Friday, the final legislation—which Biden is expected to sign into law Saturday—should be seen as "a big win for the donor class and a big loss for the 99%."
"It's nothing to brag about," Gunnels added.
\u201cNegotiating a debt deal that:\n\n-Doesn\u2019t include a penny in revenue from the top 1%\n\n-Increases spending for war profiteers\n\n-Fast tracks fossil fuel projects &\n\n-Increases poverty & hunger\n\nIs a big win for the donor class & a big loss for the 99%\n\nIt\u2019s nothing to brag about\u201d— Warren Gunnels (@Warren Gunnels) 1685753094
"Not everyone got what they wanted?" Nina Turner, former Ohio State Senator and congressional candidate, asked rhetorically. "The 1% and the military-industrial complex got exactly what they wanted."
As Common Dreamsreported, Lockheed Martin CEO James Taiclet this week said Biden signing the agreement into law would be "as good an outcome as our industry or our company could ask for at this point," noting that it calls for "3% growth for two years in defense where other areas of the budget are being reduced."
\u201cThe budget deal struck by the White House & House Republicans sets a damaging precedent shifting federal spending from domestic programs to the Pentagon.\n\nThe deal sets military at nearly 56% of discretionary spending\u2014$886 billion out of $1.59 trillion.\nhttps://t.co/SD91JQSCF3\u201d— National Priorities Project (@National Priorities Project) 1685637613
Journalist and author Mark Jacobs suggested that much of the coverage in the corporate press has been friendly to Biden's framing of the legislative result, but that this should be challenged.
"Here's the news media's takeaway on the debt ceiling deal: Yay! Bipartisanship works!" said Jacobs. "Here's the reality: GOP radicals held the economy hostage, Democrats paid the ransom, and bipartisanship is badly broken."
In addition to across-the-board spending caps for non-defense discretionary spending—which economists note is a real-world cut, given inflation, to key programs that serve tens of millions working class individuals and families—the deal greenlit permitting reforms for oil and gas projects desired by the fossil fuel industry and will force fast-track approval of the controversial Mountain Valley Pipeline that frontline communities in West Virginia, Virginia, and elsewhere have opposed for years.
\u201cThe debt deal protects tax cuts for the rich, gives defense contractors more cash, expedites a fossil gas pipeline during the climate crisis - and makes it harder for starving people to get food stamps.\n\nAnd Biden is now celebrating it as a "big win." https://t.co/UmtUETp3sO\u201d— The Lever (@The Lever) 1685751113
Katie Bergh and Dottie Rosebaum, policy analysts with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, detailed this week how changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) contained in the deal championed by Biden and Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy "would put almost 750,000 older adults aged 50-54 at risk of losing food assistance through an expansion of the existing, failed SNAP work-reporting requirement."
"The older adults who lose access to SNAP would lose about $8 per person per day in benefits," explained Bergh and Rosenbaum. "These individuals often have very low incomes, and the loss of SNAP will push most of those affected into or deeper into poverty."
At the same time, the deal championed as a "big win" included large cuts to the IRS budget that a CBO analysis this week showed will actually cost the federal government over $40 billion in lost revenue and increase the deficit—the opposite result of what the GOP claims regarding the budget but very much in line with helping wealthy tax dodgers and corporations pay less each year.
\u201cMcCarthy and the MAGA faction that controls the House GOP held the global economy hostage & were ready to plunge us into a job-killing, retirement plan-erasing, once-in-a-generation recession unless their demands were met.\n\nThat\u2019s not negotiating a deal. It\u2019s extracting a ransom.\u201d— Indivisible Guide (@Indivisible Guide) 1685303159
In a Friday op-ed explaining his opposition to the legislation, Sen. Sanders said the only thing good to say about the bill was that it was not worse—which it certainly could have been.
"At a time when this country is rapidly moving toward Oligarchy, with more wealth and income inequality than we've ever experienced, I could not in good conscience vote for a bill that cuts programs for the most vulnerable while refusing to ask billionaires to pay a penny more in taxes," Sanders wrote. "Wall Street and corporate interests may be enthusiastic about this bill, but I believe it moves us in exactly the wrong direction."
\u201cIt's a disgrace that Republicans brought us so close to the edge of catastrophe during this debt ceiling debacle.\n\nIt simply did not need to happen this way.\n\nWe must abolish the debt ceiling so no party can use it to threaten the livelihoods of Americans for political gain.\u201d— Robert Reich (@Robert Reich) 1685754060
"The fact of the matter is that this bill was totally unnecessary," Sanders concluded in his op-ed. "The President has the authority and the ability to eliminate the debt ceiling today by invoking the 14th Amendment. I look forward to the day when he exercises this authority and puts an end, once and for all, to the outrageous actions of the extreme right-wing to hold our entire economy hostage in order to protect their corporate sponsors."
"It is clear from this week's negotiations that oil-producing countries and the fossil fuel industry will do everything in their power to weaken the treaty and delay the process," said one Greenpeace USA campaigner.
As the second session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee wrapped up in Paris with an agreement to develop the first draft of a Global Plastics Treaty by November, climate, environmental, and other advocacy groups on Friday urged governments not to allow fossil fuel and other corporate interests to water down the landmark accord.
"Time is running out and it is clear from this week's negotiations that oil-producing countries and the fossil fuel industry will do everything in their power to weaken the treaty and delay the process," Graham Forbes, Greenpeace USA's global plastics campaign lead, said in a statement. "While some substantive discussions have taken place, there is still a huge amount of work ahead of us."
"Plastic pollution and the climate crisis are two sides of the same coin," Forbes added. "The Global Plastics Treaty must tackle plastic production head-on. This will align with the need to stay within 1.5℃ and move the world away from its plastic addiction. Anything else less than that, and the treaty will fail."
\u201cWhy do we need a Global Plastics Treaty?\n\nBig oil and big brands continue to make a profit while indigenous peoples, marginalised and affected communities bear the brunt of social injustice and the climate and plastic crisis.\n\n\ud83e\uddf5[1/2]\u201d— Greenpeace Africa (@Greenpeace Africa) 1685710817
Governments from around 170 nations, NGOs, and plastics industry lobbyists spent the week at the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) headquarters in the French capital hammering out the framework for the world's first treaty aimed at reducing plastic pollution.
Though the first half of the five-day negotiations was spent arguing over procedural issues, delegations split into two groups to discuss the range of control measures that can be taken to stop plastic pollution as well as whether countries should develop national plans or set global targets to tackle the problem.
By the session's close on Friday, countries agreed to prepare a "zero draft" text of what would become a legally binding plastics treaty and to work between negotiation sessions on key questions such as the scope and principles of the future treaty.
The "zero draft" text would reflect options from the wide-ranging positions of different countries by the start of the next round of talks to be held in Nairobi, Kenya, in November.
Ana Rocha, who directs the Global Plastics Program at GAIA, lamented that the conference "hosted at least 190 industry lobbyists, who used their access and infinite resources to promote tech-fixes like chemical 'recycling,' and plastic credits, while fenceline communities, waste pickers, Indigenous peoples, youth, and other members of civil society most impacted by plastic pollution had very limited opportunity to hold the mic."
"If we are to achieve a strong plastics treaty, member states must listen to and represent their people, not the very industry that is profiting from this crisis," Rocha added.
\u201cTAKE ACTION \u27a1\ufe0f Plastic pollution is a global problem that needs a global solution. International leaders are working toward a treaty to fully address the plastic problem. Add your voice: Urge the @StateDept to help make that happen.\nhttps://t.co/gduEUEa1O6\u201d— Center for Biological Diversity (@Center for Biological Diversity) 1685733905
Julie Teel Simmonds, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity, praised the United States for helping to "jumpstart substantive talks in Paris," however, she added that the U.S. "must come to the next session with a bold commitment to cut plastic production."
"The U.S. hasn't yet been willing to put the reduction of plastic production front and center in this treaty, and we can't curb pollution without drastically scaling back its creation," she asserted. "At the next negotiations, the United States should take direct aim at the pervasive plastic that's infiltrating every corner of our planet by hitting hard on production."
"You can't address poverty in a world of climate chaos," one advocacy group told Ajay Banga. "End fossil fuel finance now!"
Climate advocates on Friday held a demonstration outside the World Bank Group's headquarters in Washington, D.C., where they welcomed the bank's new president, Ajay Banga, and implored him to immediately begin pursuing a global just transition.
Campaigners from the Glasgow Actions Team, Global Citizen, Friends of the Earth, and Big Shift Global handed their "First 100 Days" demands to World Bank staffers as they entered the building, making the case on Banga's first day at the helm that he should prioritize four key goals over the next few months: end fossil fuel finance, ramp up clean energy funding, cancel debt for poor nations facing myriad crises, and align the bank's policies with the Paris agreement's goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C.
"It's not often we feel hope in the climate movement, but today, with a new World Bank president having publicly committed to taking climate change seriously, we're feeling hopeful," Glasgow Actions Team director Andrew Nazdin said in a statement. "But President Banga doesn't have a moment to lose; the time is now to announce plans to move away from fossil fuels and help the globe transition to clean energy in a just and equitable manner."
Activists hand their "First 100 Days" demands to World Bank staffers in Washington, D.C. on June 2, 2023.(Photo: Eric Kayne/AP Images for Glasgow Actions Team)
Climate advocates cheered in February when former World Bank President David Malpass, nominated to lead the bank by then-U.S. President Donald Trump in 2019, said that he would step down this spring, nearly a year ahead of schedule.
The early resignation announcement followed a sustained pressure campaign against Malpass, who was condemned as a "climate denier" after refusing to acknowledge that burning fossil fuels causes the planet-heating pollution underlying increasingly frequent and intense extreme weather disasters.
U.S. President Joe Biden's ensuing decision to tap Banga for the role angered progressives, who argued that the erstwhile private equity executive and former Mastercard CEO is likely to advance the powerful international financial institution's historically pro-corporate and pro-fossil fuel agenda. When the World Bank's board of governors ratified Banga's presidency in early May—appointing the Biden nominee to a five-year term with a June 2 start date—the bank's new leader suggested that a "climate change shift" was coming.
On the eve of Banga's first day in office, Big Shift Global acknowledged that his stated belief in climate science is an improvement over the status quo. But whether he leads the World Bank in "the right direction on climate" remains an open question, the international campaign noted, reiterating its demands for "a phaseout of fossil fuel finance and support for a just, clean energy transition."
Luisa Abbott Galvao, senior international policy campaigner at Friends of the Earth U.S., pointed out that "Ajay Banga has spent his career chasing profits for shareholders rather than working in the public interest."
"But he could still commit to a different legacy from his climate change-denying predecessor, David Malpass," said Galvao. "We call on Banga to pledge an end to World Bank financing for fossil fuels on his first day in office. When science says new fossil fuel developments are incompatible with the 1.5°C pathway, a failure to act is effectively climate denial."
\u201cWe gathered at @WorldBank with a message to the Bank's new president, Ajay Banga\ud83d\udce2\n\nIt's not too late to change your legacy from chasing profits to leading the Bank toward real climate action.\n\nDon't be like your climate-denying predecessor, David Malpass!\u201d— Friends of the Earth (Action) (@Friends of the Earth (Action)) 1685727500
For its part, the Glasgow Actions Team tweeted, "While Ajay Banga is inside addressing his staff, we're outside showing him how easy it is to truly shift the World Bank to act on climate change!"
"You can't address poverty in a world of climate chaos," the group added. "End fossil fuel finance now!"
Big Shift Global showed in a recent report that the World Bank has directly financed at least $14.8 billion in fossil fuel production since the signing of the Paris agreement in 2015—reneging on its 2017 pledge to stop supporting oil and gas projects within two years.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and the International Energy Agency have made clear that fossil fuel expansion will cause the climate emergency's consequences to grow even deadlier, especially for humanity's poorest members who have done the least to cause the crisis.
Global Citizen noted Friday that impoverished countries on the frontlines of mounting socio-ecological catastrophes "can't tackle climate change when they're drowning in debt" and urged Banga to implement a debt jubilee in addition to subsidizing a green overhaul of the global economy.
The group also took out a full-page ad in The Wall Street Journal, calling on Banga to begin transforming the World Bank into an instrument for genuinely sustainable development on his first day.
\u201c@GlblCtzn placed this in today\u2019s @WSJ to coincide with Ajay Banga\u2019s first day as the new head of the @WorldBank\u2b55\ufe0f\u201d— Global Citizen Impact (@Global Citizen Impact) 1685721724
"As the new president, what will your legacy be?" the ad asks. "In the face of the triple climate, poverty, and hunger crises, the world's biggest development bank stands at a critical juncture."
"Under your guidance, the World Bank could serve as an invaluable partner for low-income countries and those vulnerable to climate change," it continues. "The solutions are on the table."
"Make your first steps bold," says the ad. "Working alongside other multilateral development banks, help mobilize $1 trillion more in financing to help the world's poorest and most vulnerable countries quicken their transition to clean energy, withstand disasters, and power our planet."