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Today, the Trump administration announced the beginning of a 14-day comment period on a proposal to allow destructive seismic exploration on 450,000 acres of the coastal plain of the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
One of the world's last intact ecosystems, the Arctic Refuge is one of the few places in the United States that has never been developed or industrialized. Seismic exploration in the coastal plain--considered the biological heart of the Arctic Refuge and sacred land to the Gwich'in people--would bring industrial vehicles and equipment to this sensitive and pristine area, threatening wildlife including denning mother and baby polar bears, and leaving permanent scars on the landscape.
A previous plan to allow seismic testing across the entire coastal plain was tabled last year in the face of significant public opposition.
In response, Sierra Club Senior Campaign Representative Mike Scott released the following statement:
"The vast majority of Americans do not want to see the Arctic Refuge scarred by drilling. Rather than listen to the people, the Trump administration is trying to sneak through its unpopular plans with limited opportunity for public input or review. These activities would do severe and permanent damage to this sensitive wilderness and the wildlife and communities that depend on it before a single drill rig has even been permitted. We will continue to explore all legal avenues to ensure that oil exploration never happens in this sacred place."
"We are glad to see the Biden administration doing its part to reject the false choice between a good job and a green job," said the United Auto Workers president.
In a move welcomed by progressives in Congress and a top union leader, U.S. President Joe Biden's administration on Friday announced a $15.5 billion package "primarily focused on retooling existing factories for the transition to electric vehicles" and stressed the importance of "supporting good jobs and a just transition to EVs."
The Biden administration is making available $2 billion in grants and up to $10 billion in loans for conversion projects that keep jobs in communities already home to automaker facilities, according to a statement about the package. The Department of Energy (DOE) is also planning for $3.5 billion in funding to expand domestic manufacturing of batteries and related materials for EVs and the U.S. electric grid.
"President Biden is investing in the workforce and factories that made our country a global manufacturing powerhouse," said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm. "Today's announcements show that President Biden understands that building the cars of the future also necessitates helping the communities challenged by the transition away from the internal combustion engine."
The package follows the United Auto Workers (UAW) revealing last week that 97% of participating members at "Big Three" vehicle manufacturers Ford, General Motors, and Stellantis—whose brands include Chrysler, Dodge, Fiat, Jeep, Maserati, and RAM—voted to authorize a strike if a contract deal with management isn't reached by mid-September.
It also comes after the UAW on Thursday filed unfair labor practice charges against General Motors and Stellantis, accusing them of illegally refusing to negotiate in good faith and dragging out talks "with the goal of forcing the union to swallow a milquetoast contract at the last minute," in the words of UAW president Shawn Fain.
Fain on Friday celebrated the DOE package, saying that "the UAW supports and is ready for the transition to a clean auto industry. But the EV transition must be a just transition that ensures auto workers have a place in the new economy. Today's announcement from the Department of Energy echoes the UAW's call for strong labor standards tied to all taxpayer funding that goes to auto and manufacturing companies."
The UAW leader—whose union has pressured the president to use his power to help ensure a just transition to EVs—continued:
We are glad to see the Biden administration doing its part to reject the false choice between a good job and a green job. This new policy makes clear to employers that the EV transition must include strong union partnerships with the high pay and safety standards that generations of UAW members have fought for and won.
The Big Three have closed or spun off 65 plants in the last 20 years. The automakers have not yet promised job security in our ongoing negotiations. I have traveled across the country, meeting displaced workers who've had to pick up and move their families when plants shut down recently in Belvidere, Illinois, Lordstown, Ohio, and Romeo, Michigan. These new grants and loans will give plants like these a chance for federal support to ensure those jobs and communities are protected.
Granholm noted Fain's remarks on social media, saying she "couldn't agree more" that the shift to EVs must be a just transition.
Members of Congress, including Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), similarly took to social media to highlight the UAW leader's comments.
Along with also pointing to Fain's statement, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said that "President Biden is right. When the federal government provides billions to the auto industry for the production of electric vehicles, the jobs that are created must be good-paying union jobs and the cars must be produced in the U.S. This new policy is an important step forward."
"We hope this move locks in real action on ending the era of fossil fuels in California, and spurs other regions, states, and countries to join forces in tackling the root cause of the climate crisis," said one activist.
Climate campaigners in California and beyond celebrated on Friday after the state Legislature affirmed its support for a resolution that urges the U.S. government to join a worldwide effort to develop "a fossil fuel nonproliferation treaty as an international mechanism to manage a global transition away from coal, oil, and gas."
Senate Joint Resolution 2 also endorses what advocates call a "just transition," stating that "California affirms the need for a plan to phase out existing fossil fuel production that prioritizes the most impacted workers and local government services with short- and long-term investments that include enforceable labor standards, such as prevailing wages, apprenticeship opportunities, and project labor agreements, to protect workers and communities."
California Senate Majority Whip Lena Gonzalez (D-33), who spearheaded SJR 2, declared Friday that "it is essential that we commit once and for all to ending our reliance on fossil fuels. People around the world, especially low-income people of color, are suffering the adverse health impacts of fossil fuel pollution, from asthma to cancer. The recent devastating fires and hurricanes emphasize the urgency of taking action, to prevent further extreme weather changes."
"The science has been clear for decades—fossil fuels are responsible for the climate crisis," she added. "We can prevent further harm to our communities, and that is why I am proud that California has now been added to the growing list of governments endorsing the fossil fuel nonproliferation treaty. It is time for our nation to be a part of the solution, to forge strong unity and commitment to phasing out the use of fossil fuels."
According to its text, SJR 2 will be sent to Democratic U.S. President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris—who are seeking reelection next year—as well as the top Democrats and Republicans in Congress, California's congressional delegation, Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom, every mayor in the state, the United Nations secretary-general, and the U.N. high commissioner for human rights.
The resolution was sponsored by the Stand.earth initiative Stand Against Fossil Fuel Expansion (SAFE) Cities and the Indigenous Environmental Network, whose executive director, Tom Goldtooth, said in a statement Friday that "this decision of the state of California is a commitment to take down the single biggest contributor to the climate crisis: the fossil fuel industry."
"California joins the millions of voices across Turtle Island and Mother Earth calling on Biden to follow in the footsteps of our Pacific Island brothers and sisters from the small island states and negotiate a mandate for a fossil fuel nonproliferation treaty," he noted. "As the state with the highest population of Indigenous peoples in the country, it is important to pass legislation that would put a halt to the devastation and destruction of the compounding effects of climate change caused by fossil fuels."
"This decision of the state of California is a commitment to take down the single biggest contributor to the climate crisis: the fossil fuel industry."
Along with other local, regional, and national governments, the demand for such a treaty is backed by the European Parliament, the World Health Organization, faith and civil society groups, and individuals across the globe, including Nobel laureates, scientists, and youth leaders.
If California were a country, it would be the fifth-largest economy in the world in terms of gross domestic product, after the full United States, China, Japan, and Germany. The U.S. state is the largest economy to embrace the treaty call so far, according to Alex Rafalowicz, executive director of the Fossil Fuel Nonproliferation Treaty Initiative.
Rafalowicz said in a statement Friday that by supporting the treaty proposal, "California sets a powerful example to the international community, underscoring the urgency of fast-tracking an equitable transition away from oil, gas, and coal. This move will catalyze a ripple effect that reaches far beyond state borders."
"By aligning its immense economic and cultural influence with the fossil fuel treaty proposal, California can accelerate its own energy transition, inspiring global cooperation to safeguard our planet and communities," the campaigner continued. "We hope this move locks in real action on ending the era of fossil fuels in California, and spurs other regions, states, and countries to join forces in tackling the root cause of the climate crisis: the production of coal, oil, and gas."
Last December, California regulators approved a blueprint to cut planet-heating emissions by 85% and get the state to carbon neutrality by 2045. Newsom said at the time that "California is leading the world's most significant economic transformation since the Industrial Revolution—we're cutting pollution, turning the page on fossil fuels, and creating millions of new jobs." However, activists have called on him and other state leaders to go further.
Nathan Taft, a California resident and senior digital campaigner for SAFE Cities, said Friday that "Los Angeles was one of the first cities in the world to endorse the fossil fuel treaty, and it's great to see California following its lead by becoming one of the first subnational governments joining this movement to address the climate crisis with the scale and urgency required."
"At the same time, California must follow this historic resolution with concrete policies that protect its residents and the climate from fossil fuels," Taft asserted. "At a bare minimum, California should stop issuing new fossil fuel permits, divest its massive pensions from fossil fuels, and implement all-electric building codes."
Central California Environmental Justice Network oil and gas director Cesar Aguirre similarly argued that the state's support for the treaty "only holds weight if we see meaningful protections come from it" and "no new neighborhood drilling should be the first priority."
The vote in California comes as much of the Northern Hemisphere has endured a summer of extreme heat connected to human-caused global warming and as parties to the 2015 Paris agreement prepare for COP28, a U.N. climate summit hosted by the United Arab Emirates in November.
As Common Dreamsreported last November, during COP27 in Egypt, Kausea Natano, prime minister of the Pacific nation Tuvalu, proposed a fossil fuel nonproliferation treaty, telling those gathered that "we all know that the leading cause of climate crisis is fossil fuels."
While celebrating the forthcoming review, campaigners also argued that "Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg should put a new rule in place that restores the ban on LNG by rail once and for all."
Green groups on Friday applauded as the Biden administration suspended a Trump-era rule allowing liquefied natural gas to be transported by train, delivering another blow to New Fortress Energy's proposal to ship climate-wrecking LNG by rail from Wyalusing, Pennsylvania to Gibbstown, New Jersey.
The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA)—in coordination with the Federal Railroad Administration, another U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) agency—announced in the Federal Register on Friday that it is amending the Hazardous Materials Regulations (HMR) to suspend authorization of LNG rail transportation.
PHMSA had previously finalized the rule in June 2020, complying with an April 2019 executive order from then-President Donald Trump, who went on a deregulatory spree during his four years in office and is now seeking a second term in 2024.
Rail transportation of LNG has not yet occurred "and there is considerable uncertainty regarding whether any would occur in the time it takes for PHMSA to consider potential modifications to existing, pertinent HMR requirements," the DOT agency noted. The suspension "guarantees no such transportation will occur before its companion rulemaking has concluded or June 30, 2025, whichever is earlier."
Food & Water Watch New Jersey state director Matt Smith said that "suspending the outrageously dangerous Trump bomb train rule is a welcome relief to the communities that would be turned into sacrifice zones for a billionaire hedge fund tycoon to bet big on dirty gas exports. The victory goes to the powerful grassroots movement fighting back against the dangerous New Fortress export scheme and the enormous climate threat associated with the expansion of fracking and LNG."
The suspension follows the DOT in April denying New Fortress' permit request for an export facility on the Delaware River in Gibbstown—a move that Smith had said at the time was "long overdue, and provides some measure of protection for the communities across South Jersey."
Smith stressed Friday that "this victory can, and must, go deeper. The Biden administration should take action to eliminate the threat of fracked gas bomb trains entirely, and it must do more to stop new fossil fuel projects across the country."
The administration of Democratic New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy "must do more to stop the dirty energy projects that are being proposed across the state," he added. "If our political leaders believe their own rhetoric about the climate crisis, then they must take appropriate action—and that begins by stopping new fossil fuel proposals immediately."
Natural Resources Defense Council senior attorney Kimberly Ong similarly celebrated the development—particularly for frontline communities of the New Fortress project—while also calling for additional action by the Biden administration.
"People of Pennsylvania and New Jersey living near key rail lines would have faced damage to their health, families, and homes in the event of a derailment," Ong said. "After pausing the rule, Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg should put a new rule in place that restores the ban on LNG by rail once and for all. That would finally put an end to the threat to communities around Gibbstown and other communities targeted by similar dangerous projects."
"New Fortress Energy's proposed LNG project endangers nearly 2 million people living near truck and rail transport routes," she pointed out. "LNG is a volatile substance that can lead to fires and even explosions. The rail disaster in East Palestine, Ohio earlier this year underscores how serious a train derailment involving hazardous substances can be."
The February derailment and resulting environmental and public health concerns in Ohio have generated nationwide calls for stricter rail safety policies and inspired the introduction of multiple bills in Congress.