Weekend Reading 2/24/17


My son is two-and-a-half years old and very inquisitive. Lately, he’s been talking about and asking about death. It started with the knowledge that his dad’s cat had died and me having to explain to him what “died” meant. He said it so matter-of-factly one time right in front of his dad, it was jarring for him to hear. We, as a culture, do not teach children about or prepare them for death. Like sex, it’s a taboo subject that people prefer to avoid or use unhelpful euphemisms for. I don’t use pet names for private parts—like many do—and as such, I was happy that my colleague Meaghan shared this article with me. Both sex ed and death ed should be part of what we teach our kids, IMHO.

Like many post-election, I have been calling and writing my representatives, spending too much time on Facebook, and continuing to turn over in my mind the fact that we transitioned from Barack Obama to Donald Trump. I’ve moved on from the shell-shocked phase to the action-oriented phase, but my brain is still struggling to reconcile all of the things that needed to be true about our country and political system and values to get us here. I’m heartened by all of the “real” conversations about race that have been born out of the election results, but as bell hooks writes, “The sexism is so deeply, deeply embedded. If you think about public discourses on race in this past year, where are the big public discourses on feminism? They don’t exist.” There has been hardly a peep about sexism, feminism, or patriarchy. I think there needs to be. 2020 or bust.

YAY LEGO! One more reason to love this time-honored, amazing toy. They are finally going to move away from plastic and design a more sustainable version of itself. I have loved these toys since I was little and have enjoyed introducing my own kid to the hand-me-down duplos (younger kiddo version of Legos) but I was pleased to read that they are in for a redesign.


At The Guardian, Pankaj Mishra takes a long look at the “age of anger” indicated by Brexit and Trump. He argues that our dominant intellectual model—rationalist, economically liberal, democracy-focused—is failing to grasp what’s happening around the world politically because it incorrectly insists on viewing people as motivated primarily by material self-interest.

At Science, Warren Cornwall explains why the demise of the federal stream protection rule won’t revitalize the coal industry.


Seven years after I started the first chapter, I finally went back and read the entirety of Michelle Alexander’s The New Jim Crow, which argues that mass incarceration functions as a system of racial control comparable in salient respects to the old Jim Crow. I found it about 75 percent convincing. My few skepticisms lined up well with this friendly critique by James Forman, Jr.

So far, ten candidates have signed up for Seattle’s Democracy Voucher program; two have already qualified to participate by gathering hundreds of signatures and $10 contributions from Seattle residents; and more than 4,000 vouchers have been turned in so far by more than 1,000 Seattle residents. An encouraging start toward the program’s goals—to allow candidates to run campaigns with little or no dialing for dollars from the donor class and to allow a wider diversity of candidates to run competitive campaigns. (Unfortunately, I got all this information from a briefing, so I can’t provide a link for further reading.)

Asymmetries in the composition of Congressional districts and the US Senate mean that the obstructionist strategy that conservatives used against the previous administration will not work for progressives against the current one, this article argues.

This long blog post describes a phenomenon that fascinates me: many things—health care, education, housing, transit infrastructure, for example—cost many times more than they used to, and it’s hard to figure out why. Sometimes the sustainability agenda, as opposed to the left or right agenda, is about how to dramatically reduce costs.

And this essay on Americans’ attitude toward housing is well worth reading: “The point of this thought experiment is… to open our eyes to the negatives of the national obsession of owning a home, expecting its value to rise, and using the levers of local government to keep neighborhoods as they are.”

Event: Contemplating “The Future of Ice”

What does climate change look like in Cascadia? And what can we do about it? Six experts will discuss these questions and more at next weekend’s “Future of Ice Series: Conversations about a Positive Future.” This free and open-to-the-public panel discussion will provide a grounding in the local impacts and opportunities present in the global challenge of climate change.

Sightline policy director Eric de Place will detail the story of the Thin Green Line as part of Saturday’s conversation. Event moderators will be Eric Steig, Professor of Atmospheric Science at the University of Washington, and Gwyn Howat, Executive Vice President of the Mt. Baker Ski Area.

The Future of Ice Series: Conversations about a Positive Future

  • When: Saturday, March 4 – Sunday, March 5, at 2:00 PM both days
  • Where: Mt. Baker Ski Area, Deming, WA (map), Raven Hut (area map)
  • Who: Saturday
    • Cecilia Bitz, Ph.D., Professor of Atmospheric Science, University of Washington
    • Eric de Place, Policy Director, Sightline Institute
    • Claudia Frere-Anderson, Director of Sustainability, University of Washington
  • Who: Sunday
    • Sharon Shewmake, Assistance Professor, College of Business & Economics, Western Washington University
    • Derek Long, Director, Sustainable Connections
    • Rachel Vasak, Executive Director, Nooksack Salmon Enhancement Association
  • Tickets: This event is free and open to the public.

More information about the event and panelists can be found here.

Why To Say “Protections,” Not “Regulations”

Original Sightline Institute graphic, available under our free use policy.

Quite a while back I wrote about how the Environmental Protection Agency should be renamed the Environmental Protection Army, with the idea that the name might prompt people to take its role in protecting American people more seriously—on a par with the way they see (and fund, staff, and empower) the military.

Call it what we will, it’s time now again to revisit the reasons majorities of Americans of all political stripes believe in a strong EPA. In a recent Reuters poll, just 19 percent of US voters said they would like to see the agency “weakened or eliminated,” while a robust 60 percent favor keeping it as is or strengthening it under incoming President Donald Trump.

I’m not holding my breath for “Agency” to be replaced with “Army.” But the words we use to talk about the EPA and what it does matter. As George Lakoff reminds us, for example, we should always say protections not regulations. As the cognitive linguist and political strategy guru explains:

The term “regulation” is framed from the viewpoint of corporations and other businesses. From their viewpoint, “regulations” are limitations on their freedom to do whatever they want no matter who it harms. But from the public’s viewpoint, a regulation is a protection against harm done by unscrupulous corporations seeking to maximize profit at the cost of harm to the public.

Imagine our minority President saying out loud that he intends to get rid of 75% of public protections. Imagine the press reporting that. Imagine the New York Times, or even USA Today headline: Trump to Eliminate 75% of Public Protections. Imagine the media listing, day after day, the protections to be eliminated and the harms to be faced by the public.

The Environmental Protection Agency is about just that—protections that keep people safe from harm. It’s not just about wildlife and habitats—though protecting the people we love and our way of life involves safeguarding the places we live, all the natural places we share, and our water and air, the atmosphere, and planet.

Top takeaways:

  • Always say “protections” instead of “regulations.”
  • Remember: Protections emphasizes the viewpoint of people—the public—instead of the corporate viewpoint.
  • Remember: Regulations is abstracted policy-speak. Protections is plain language, accurate, and simple.
  • Give real, concrete examples that people can relate to—and that we rely on: keeping lead out of our drinking water; making sure our rivers and streams are safe to fish and swim in; preventing oil spills; keeping our food free of harmful pesticides.

Who said it best? “The EPA is here because the American people demanded it. We stand between pollution and our people.” Find out here.


Weekend Reading 2/17/17


Don’t stand between a baby and its mama. This mantra goes for wild animals, of course—polar bears come to mind; don’t mess with them—but humans too as it turns out. Here’s an excellent snapshot of the many powerful ways moms—and women in general—are motivated and activated around climate protections.

Speaking of mamas and their babies, David Hochschild, the environmental commissioner on the California Energy Commission and an architect of Proposition B, San Francisco’s successful $100 million solar initiative, makes the case for moving the needle on climate concern and solutions in the way that campaigns mainstreamed marriage equality. “I think there’s actually some lessons for the climate movement in what happened with marriage equality, because they framed the movement in terms of love: Government has no place to get between two people who love each other,” he said. “I actually think climate change is the same thing. It’s about loving the next generation, and I think that is a good way to think about it.” You can watch his talk here.

And Haley Littleton has a beautiful essay on love as a framework for environmental involvement.

(And PS, I wouldn’t have read that one if I weren’t a follower of @Sightline on Twitter. Just sayin’.)

And please take a moment to watch this short clip of the many people who came to a livestream event in Ithaca, NY, on Inauguration Day as part of ACLU Nationwide‘s initiative to encourage citizens to stand and be counted, declaring their personal commitment to the Constitution. It’s powerful. (Full disclosure: This film features one of my favorite relations, my dad’s cousin, and is made by his brilliant wife and her outfit PhotoSynthesis Productions.) #peoplesoath


It’s not too early to start making your summer vacation plans. I, for one, will be in the Central Oregon desert at 10 am on August 21 when the first total solar eclipse in the United States in 26 years will race across the Northwest. Before you go, however, you are required to read Annie Dillard’s magnificent essay, “Total Eclipse,” about the 1979 episode near Yakima, Washington. It feels sacrilegious to excerpt her, but I’ll do it anyway:

I had seen a partial eclipse in 1970. A partial eclipse is very interesting. It bears almost no relation to a total eclipse. Seeing a partial eclipse bears the same relation to seeing a total eclipse as kissing a man does to marrying him, or as flying in an airplane does to falling out of an airplane. Although the one experience precedes the other, it in no way prepares you for it…

“Look at Mount Adams,” I said, and that was the last sane moment I remember.

I turned back to the sun. It was going. The sun was going, and the world was wrong. The grasses were wrong; they were platinum. Their every detail of stem, head, and blade shone lightless and artificially distinct as an art photographer’s platinum print. This color has never been seen on earth…

From all the hills came screams. A piece of sky beside the crescent sun was detaching. It was a loosened circle of evening sky, suddenly lighted from the back. It was an abrupt black body out of nowhere; it was a flat disk; it was almost over the sun. That is when there were screams. At once this disk of sky slid over the sun like a lid. The sky snapped over the sun like a lens cover. The hatch in the brain slammed.

The full piece is contained in her book of essays Teaching a Stone to Talk.

It’s almost a year old now, but I highly recommend this piece at Breitbart—yes, that Breitbart—by Allum Bokhari and Milo Yiannopoulos about what the alt-right is and is not. Among my 2017 resolutions is to read more widely, especially un-redacted original pieces by people I strongly disagree with. Curiously, I found that I didn’t object to every point they make (just the vast majority of them).

I can’t stop laughing about this brilliant PSA-style ad campaign for YIMBYs: “it’s time to talk about zoning.”

Sightline alum Samir Junejo just published an intriguing equity analysis of toxic sites in Washington and how the state regulates (and taxes) them. It’s important research from climate justice group Front and Centered.

The fact that he is, to me, always “Omar from The Wire” goes to the heart of the question that the actor Michael K. Williams wrestles with in this brilliant short video at the Atlantic.

Kristin E.

The secret of Nordic democratic socialism: a deep commitment to equality and democracy. Because you can’t really have one without the other. Combining the best of capitalism and socialism, Scandinavian countries make capitalism cooperative and “redistribute equitably the wealth it helps to produce.” Sigh.

Mr. Money Mustache, one of my favorite bloggers, just read a book about urban planning. He retired at 30 through “badass” frugality, and he has some advice for American cities: spending almost half our tax dollars paving over our living spaces or dealing with the consequences of the isolated sedentary lifestyle resulting from paving over our living spaces is not a good use of money.


There’s so much in the news these days that’s depressing, so I’ve made a habit of seeking out some positive news to try and counterbalance the despair a little. This week I learned that Rhinoceroses, although they are still doing poorly in Africa and Indonesia, are actually making a comeback in Nepal. The country just announced its fourth consecutive zero-poaching year, and the program is being explored as a model for other extremely endangered species, like tigers and elephants. Besides preventing poaching, the program gives money to local communities to promote economic development as well as conservation. I hope governments and NGOs alike are taking notes.

In more local news, independent bookstores are joining the resistance.

Kristin G.

I’ve always been a bit curious about substitute teachers, even as a youngster. Who are they? Where do they come from? These questions were always followed by the hope that we would skip the math lesson and watch Voyage of the Mimi instead.

What I didn’t realize is that there are many complications that can occur when a teacher needs to find a sub. Is a lesson plan ready? Are there even any subs available? One startup may be in a unique position to help schools have broader access to a new type of substitute teacher. Parachute Teachers helps connect schools to community members interested in bringing their talents into the classrooms. Will it work? Perhaps one day we’ll find out.

The No DAPL Movement: New Shapes, New Fronts

Editor’s note: The following is a guest article by Mark Trahant, originally published at TrahantReports.com. Mark is the Charles R. Johnson Endowed Professor of Journalism at the University of North Dakota, a former Sightline board member, an independent journalist, and a member of The Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. He has been closely following events around the Dakota Access Pipeline for months. Find him on Twitter at @TrahantReports.

The Trump administration has been in office for less than a month, and already construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline is again proceeding. Company officials say oil will be flowing by June.

Yes, there is a flurry of activity around the Dakota Access Pipeline, a project that has cost more than $3.8 billion and that aims to transfer oil from North Dakota to markets in Illinois and beyond.

But every action to build the pipeline is met with many more reactions to stop it. The fight about this pipeline—and the broader issues it represents—is far from over.

The fight about this pipeline—and the broader issues it represents—is far from over.
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Of course, some days it does not seem that way. The US Army Corps of Engineers approved the final easement for the pipeline to cross under the Missouri River and complete the project. The Corps also withdrew its ongoing environmental review, citing President Trump’s executive memorandum. But that begs a huge question for the courts: Can a president do that? Is an order from the president (along with previous environmental findings from the Corps) enough to satisfy the law? That question will be sorted out by the courts.

And there are many other challenges to the pipeline. A press release from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe said if the construction is successful, “the tribe will seek to shut the pipeline operations down.” The tribe has also called for a march next month in the nation’s capital.

“Our fight is no longer at the North Dakota site itself,” said tribal chairman Dave Archambault II. “Our fight is with Congress and the Trump administration. Meet us in Washington on March 10.”

In addition, there remain water protectors near the construction site itself, as well as a massive cleanup of where people were camping in flood-prone areas.

What’s clear about the “what’s next?” question is that the battle against the Dakota Access Pipeline is taking a very different form. It’s also getting a new start because there will be many more actions as the administration and oil-related corporations move to restart the Keystone XL pipeline, or in Canada, the Kinder Morgan pipeline.

President Trump lives in a world where none of this is a big deal. “I don’t even think it was controversial,” he said. “I haven’t had one call.” Of course, the White House wasn’t actually taking calls on the issue. So the Center for Investigative Reporting and Reveal News created a new phone number to solicit voice mails from the public about what they would tell the president (it’s 510-545-2640).

Another challenge is financial. Many individuals, tribes, cities, and companies are pulling their money from the banks that finance the Dakota Access Pipeline. But that’s really just the beginning of the actions ahead. Rebecca Adamson, founder of First Peoples Worldwide, points out to investors how much capital is lost by companies that operate without consent from the community  involved, a cost she has pegged at somewhere between $20 million to $30 million per week when there are operational disruptions. “The time it takes to bring oil and gas projects on-line has doubled over the course of the past decade due to community opposition, creating significant financial loss,” Adamson writes. More investors are learning about that financial risk, and even more still need to understand what’s at stake.

“The movement to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is wreaking financial havoc on the companies and banks involved,” Adamson writes. She continues:

In August 2016, Energy Transfer Partners (ETP) reported ‘it could lose $1.4 billion in a year if delays continue…. Even a temporary delay would mean losses of over $430 million.’ ETP is attempting to raise new debt. This could mean that the banks are ramping up pressure on the company to repay its loans out of concern DAPL will never be finished. In November 2016, Energy Transfer Partners announced a merger with sister company Sunoco Logistics in order to raise much needed cash to finish construction. ETP’s own shareholders are filing a lawsuit to block the merger, alleging conflicts of interest.

Like I said: The financial challenges are just beginning.

I also have a big idea I want to toss out, one that could have significant financial implications. So we know the project will take some 30 days to complete and fewer than four weeks to actually transfer oil from North Dakota to the end of the pipeline.

What if on that day, the day the oil reaches markets, there is a Day Without Oil. One day. It takes a massive organizational effort. But why not? What if every ally of Standing Rock, every community that has its own Standing Rock, every one who is concerned about water, takes a day off from oil? Either walk everywhere that day or just stay home. Do what it takes to remind the companies—and the government itself—who’s really in charge of the economy.


Listen In: How to Resist America’s Dirty Energy Agenda

Sightline’s policy director Eric de Place joined KBOO Community Radio‘s Barbara Bernstein this week to discuss how American communities are staying energized and fighting fossil fuels at the local level. Eric detailed how state and local power will play an increasingly important role in protecting regions like Cascadia from coal, oil, and gas projects. He also emphasized how this fossil-fuel resistance isn’t just occurring in the Pacific Northwest; local governments across the United States are overcoming challenges to protect themselves from volatile oil trains, widespread fracking, and offshore oil drilling.

“We have a tremendous opportunity if we can maintain the line of defense,” Eric stated. “We have all the power we need to chart a clean energy future in the Northwest and on the West Coast.”

Listen to the full interview from KBOO’s Locus Focus program below. And find out more information about the program here.


Weekend Reading 2/10/17


Sage advice for left-leaning policy folks: when it comes to benefits and entitlements, keep it simple and take credit. Jack Meserve argues that, “either Democrats complicate their initiatives enough to be inscrutable to anyone who doesn’t love reading hours of explainers on public policy, or else they don’t take credit for the few simple policies they do enact.” He unpacks a suite of recent policies to offer some striking comparisons—between Obama’s tax cut and Bush’s; and between Roosevelt’s WPA and the stimulus package—to demonstrate that some worthwhile ends of progressive policy have become hopelessly mired in the means of technocratic wonkery. For example:

This “benefit through tax cut” idea is far from unusual, unfortunately. Here’s a partial list of  programs based on federal tax credits, many started by Democrats:

Got those? Ok, now don’t forget tax-preferenced savings accounts—for retirement, there are IRAs, Roth IRAs, 401ks, and 4013bs. For your kid’s college, start a 529. And if you’re eligible, don’t forget to create a health savings account.

Instead of making retirement benefits more generous, or college cheaper, or health care universal, we’ve created accounts upon accounts, each of which you have to have enough money to contribute to, remember to pay into, and jump through all sorts of other hoops to maintain.

Implementing these kinds of policies are also no road to electoral success.

Exactly. File his argument under “reasons to support a national basic income.”


This article about the top five reasons plurality voting fails has great, easy-to-understand illustrations of each point.

Project Syndicate had an interesting interview with Jeffrey Sachs, head of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network, about current national and international trends. He talked about the rise in right-wing populism around the world, different countries reactions to refugees and immigration, and said this about the wall between the US and Mexico:

The left doesn’t have a language that acknowledges the need for borders and the need to police them. I’m not in favor of a wall, per se, but I am in favor of regulated borders, not an open door to unregulated migration. All high-income countries need borders. Borders do not mean closed doors or bans, least of all religiously based bans, which are deeply offensive and self-defeating. But borders do mean enforcement of limits to migration.

He also made also this interesting point:

Africa’s demographic trajectory is deeply worrisome because it is built on an extremely high fertility rate that will hinder its own sustainable development. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the average fertility rate remains more than five children per woman, and the resulting population trajectory is roughly a quadrupling of the continent’s population by the end of this century…. Africa’s own economic, social, and environmental health depend on achieving a rapid and voluntary reduction of fertility rates, mainly by enabling Africa’s girls and boys to remain in school.

OpenWork is a new nonprofit encouraging employees and employers to step outside the box of a 9-5 office. They link to great resources showing flexible workplaces boast greater productivity, happier employees, and employer cost savings. They have a lot of short case studies, including one for Buffer (whose product I use). Buffer has a 100% remote workforce, so they have a thorough hiring and on-boarding process to make sure new employees integrate into the culture, make liberal use of Google Hangouts, and use their precious in-person time to hang out and bond with each other, not just work near each other.

The threat to American democracy is not autocracy, but partyocracy.


My favorite “truth to power” news show, Democracy Now!, has continued to cover immigration matters and the situation with the Dakota Access Pipeline, and ran segments on both topics on its show this Wednesday.

On a more positive note, Yes! Magazine’s Winter 2017 issue covered 50 of its “favorite inspiring solutions” around the country. It is also introducing their new executive director, Christine Hanna, who years ago was managing director and director of strategic initiatives at Sightline. Congratulations, Christine!

The New Yorker also has a profile of Oregon’s feminist governor, recently elected in her own right. Among other topics, she gives her advice to progressives for this new era.

On a related topic, The Stranger maintains a running list of Resistance and Solidarity Events. Speaking for myself, I already marched this year to save healthcare and Medicare, then in support of women. So I can empathize with folks who might be worried about “outrage fatigue.” My own strategy is to pick and choose events as my schedule allows. After all, I am a senior citizen, and my doctors have recommended more exercise; marching for democracy seems to fit the bill. Besides, some of the events on The Stranger’s calendar are benefits and fundraisers, so folks can relax and have some fun at the same time.


Check out this On The Media podcast. First up: Wisdom from language and cognitive linguistics guru George Lakoff on keeping control of winning frames in the face of fake news and presidential tweet storms. He offers a “Tweet Taxonomy” with ideas for how to deal with each type. There’s:

  • the Preemptive Framing Tweet—a way of getting ahead of and controlling how things are interpreted;
  • the Tweet of Diversion—head fakes and outrageous statements that bend everybody’s focus from the real story at hand; and
  • the Trial Balloon Tweet—putting something radical or new out there to see how people will react.

Overall, Lakoff suggests we (and particularly media) talk about what kind of tweet we’re dealing with, call it what it is, and name the strategy. And, that we stick to substance and the truth. Don’t just repeat the tweet! Give context and focus on what’s really going on.

Next up, in the same show, an incisive take on fake news from Craig Silverman, media editor for Buzzfeed. He authored a study on fake media stories during election season, finding that people (that’s you, that’s me) overestimate our ability to detect a hoax. Silverman says, “We think ‘I’m not going to get fooled,’ but we are all susceptible.” The combination of social media algorithms and our human biases can be deadly. We are drawn to stories that feed our emotions and worldview, just like eating junk food. I’ve been trying to live by his words of advice in the past few weeks. He says, “when I read something that makes me feel good, I try to question why that is.” A reminder to retain a little emotional skepticism resulted in a new Facebook policy: I only “share” stories that I’ve read. It’s slowed me down a little—and I’m better for it.

Another important language tip from George Lakoff: we should consistently refer to regulations as protections. People respond differently to the two concepts. And the words—a.k.a. frames—define the viewpoint prioritized in the conversation, either the corporate one or the people/community/public one:

The term “regulation” is framed from the viewpoint of corporations and other businesses. From their viewpoint, “regulations” are limitations on their freedom to do whatever they want no matter who it harms. But from the public’s viewpoint, a regulation is a protection against harm done by unscrupulous corporations seeking to maximize profit at the cost of harm to the public.


John Abbotts is a former Sightline research consultant who occasionally submits material for Weekend Reading and other posts

Listen In: Sightline on the Next 4 Years of US Energy Policy

“You say ‘America First’ and your first move helps Canada.” – Clark Williams-Derry
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On Monday, Sightline’s director of energy finance, Clark Williams-Derry, joined KBOO Community Radio‘s Barbara Bernstein to discuss what the next four years of US energy policy may look like. The two discussed the future of the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), legally, politically, and financially, given various divestment efforts around the US.

Clark also detailed the inconsistencies in President Donald Trump’s competing promises to different segments of the US energy sector, as well as the domestic and international market forces that are actually shaping what is feasible for America’s energy future. “You say ‘America First’ and your first move helps Canada,” he said of Trump’s support for DAPL.

Finally, Clark also emphasized the need for transparency in Trump’s overall energy strategy, which would be aided by Trump releasing his tax returns so the public could understand his business interests’ financial stake in our energy policy decisions.

Listen to the full interview from KBOO’s Locus Focus program below. And find out more information about the program here.




Trump Voters’ Views on Climate Change

Donald Trump has repeatedly cast doubt on global warming science. He has threatened to pull out of the Paris Climate Accord. His views on clean, renewable energy sources like wind and solar have mostly been negative. His cabinet picks for top environment and energy posts signal erosion of environmental protections and backing for oil and coal companies over climate change measures and clean energy innovation—and more science denial.

Is all this what Trump’s 61 million American voters bargained for?

Recent public opinion research shows that Trump may be out of sync with his voters on climate change. Yale University’s Program on Climate Change Communication looked at data from its recent Climate Change in the American Mind survey to assess Trump voters’ views about global warming and clean energy. While Trump voters’ attitudes are less favorable to climate protections and clean energy progress than overall national opinion, Yale finds that about half to a majority of Trump voters understand global warming is happening and support a variety of climate and clean energy policies.

The polling comes from a survey of 1,226 Americans, 401 of whom voted for Trump, conducted shortly after the November 2016 election. Here are top findings along with comparisons to national attitudes overall:

  • About half of Trump voters (49 percent) acknowledge global warming is happening, while fewer than one in three (30 percent) think global warming is not happening. For comparison, overall, seven in ten Americans (70 percent) understand global warming is happening, and about one in eight (13 percent) say global warming is not happening. In other words, Americans who understand global warming is happening outnumber those who think it is not by more than 5 to 1.
  • Almost half of Trump voters (47 percent) also say the US should participate in the Paris COP21 international agreement to limit climate change. By contrast, only 28 percent say the US should not participate. Overall, seven in ten registered voters (69 percent) say the US should participate, compared with only 13 percent who say the US should not.
  • More than six in ten Trump voters (62 percent) support taxing and/or regulating the pollution that causes global warming, with a plurality—nearly one in three (31 percent)—supporting both approaches. In contrast, only about one in five (21 percent) support doing neither. Taking US voters altogether, Yale found that nearly eight out of ten Americans (78 percent) support taxing global warming pollution, regulating it, or using both approaches, while only one in ten opposes these approaches.
  • More than three in four Trump voters (77 percent) support generating renewable energy (solar and wind) on public land in the US, and 72 percent support more drilling and mining of fossil fuels on public land in the US. For Americans more broadly, Yale finds high levels of support for producing solar and wind on public land: 83 percent of all registered voters, 87 percent of Democrats, 76 percent of Independents, and 79 percent of Republicans. Comparatively fewer support drilling or mining fossil fuels on public land (47 percent of all registered voters, 27 percent of Democrats, 46 percent of Independents, and 69 percent of Republicans).
  • Seven in ten Trump voters (71 percent) support funding more research into clean energy and providing tax rebates to people who purchase energy-efficient vehicles and solar panels (69 percent). By comparison, looking at US voters overall, there is strong bipartisan support for funding more research into renewable energy sources such as solar and wind power (82 percent of all registered voters, 90 percent of Democrats, 76 percent of Independents, and 74 percent of Republicans).
  • Over half of Trump voters (52 percent) support eliminating all federal subsidies for the fossil fuel industry, nearly half (48 percent) support requiring fossil fuel companies to pay a carbon tax and using the money to reduce other taxes by an equal amount, and almost half or Trump voters (48 percent) support setting strict carbon dioxide emissions limits on existing coal-fired power plants to reduce global warming and improve public health, even if the cost of electricity to consumers and companies would likely increase. By comparison, seven in ten registered voters overall (70 percent) support setting strict carbon dioxide emission limits, even if the costs would likely increase, including Democrats (85 percent), Independents (62 percent), and Republicans (52 percent).
  • Half of Trump voters say transitioning from fossil fuels toward clean energy will either improve economic growth (29 percent) or have no impact (21 percent). That’s compared to 72 percent of voters overall. Yale found that half of registered voters (51 percent) think government policies intended to transition away from fossil fuels and toward clean energy will improve economic growth and provide new jobs. An additional one in five (21 percent) think it will have no impact on the economy or jobs. Only about one in four (27 percent) think it will reduce economic growth and cost jobs.
  • Nearly three in four Trump voters (73 percent) say that, in the future, the US should use more renewable energy (solar, wind, and geothermal). One in three (33 percent) say that the US should use fossil fuels less in the future. In general, most registered voters think the US should use more renewable energy (81 percent) and less fossil fuels (55 percent). Support for using more renewable energy cuts across party lines (it is supported by 85 percent of Democrats, 78 percent of Independents, and 76 percent of Republicans).

Climate change is likely not a top concern for those who voted for Donald Trump. It’s frankly not top of list for many US voters of any stripe. But what’s clear from these findings is that even for those who cast their ballot for him, and far more significantly for majorities of American voters overall, Trump’s views on climate and his moves to roll back environmental standards enacted under Barack Obama, including the Clean Power Plan and higher fuel economy standards for vehicles, are far from mainstream.

Fighting Fossil Fuels at the Local Level

Local communities have many of the tools they need to protect the health and safety of their residents.
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As the Trump Administration looks to new federal energy policy, state and local authority, especially the power of regulating land use, will likely play an increasingly important role in protecting regions like the Northwest from the risks of coal, oil, and gas. Indeed, threatened by a tsunami of energy export projects, a number of cities and counties in the Northwest are defending themselves from new energy export projects by reforming their land use and development codes. It’s a strategy that has paid dividends for the Thin Green Line, Cascadia’s resistance to ill-conceived fossil fuel export schemes, which is likely to be increasingly important in the next few years.

Of course, the Northwest is not the only region where cities, counties, and states have tried to constrain the reckless advances of the fossil fuel industry. Local governments across the US are experimenting with a variety of opposition strategies to protect themselves from volatile oil trains, widespread fracking, and offshore oil drilling—strategies that we explore in this second installment. Although many of these localities have been confronted with legal challenges, it’s increasingly clear that local communities have many of the tools they need to protect the health and safety of their residents. They just may not know it yet.

Oil shipment regulations

In February 2016, the city of Benicia, California, denied the oil company Valero a key permit to build an oil train unloading facility. The company challenged Benicia’s decision on the grounds that the City based its permit denial in part on the anticipated environmental impacts of increased rail traffic to serve the site, a move that the company argued was in effect a regulation of Union Pacific’s railroad and was therefore preempted by federal law. Railroads are by law largely exempt from local and state oversight and are instead almost exclusively regulated under the authority of the federal government.

Several oil companies supported Valero’s petition to the US Surface Transportation Board (STB), the federal agency that resolves railroad service disputes. The companies asked the Board to conclude that the City had engaged in “impermissible indirect rail regulation.” The STB sided with Benicia, finding that federal law does not deny local governments land use permitting discretion over oil companies’ proposed oil train projects. Specifically, the STB provided guidance that because Valero is neither a “rail carrier” nor an agent of the rail carrier Union Pacific, Benicia’s ruling was not preempted by federal law and did not interfere unduly with the railroad’s common carrier operations.

Earlier, in September 2014, the STB had decided a related case in Grafton, Massachusetts, this one pertaining to a liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) rail-to-road transfer facility proposed in the city. In that case, the STB ruled against Grafton, stating that local requirements were preempted by federal law because the trans-loading operation at the site was explicitly a rail business. In the Benicia decision, however, the STB clarified that “localities retain their reserved police powers to protect the public health and safety so long as their actions do not discriminate against rail carriers or unreasonably burden interstate commerce.”

Many observers are keenly awaiting the outcome of a lawsuit over crude oil facilities in Portland, Maine. On July 21, 2014, the Portland City Council passed an ordinance amending the zoning code to prohibit the bulk loading of crude oil onto marine tanker vessels within city limits. The ordinance drafting committee noted in its recommendation that bulk oil loading operations are a type of land use that “has never been a traditional land use within the City” and that significantly impact “future development of the City’s waterfront, air quality, scenic ocean views, and land-use planning vision.” The measure passed 6 to 1.

In February 2015, Portland Pipe Line Corporation filed a lawsuit arguing that the ban was unconstitutional. The suit claimed the ordinance interferes with interstate trade, discriminates against Canadian interests, devalues the company’s pipeline, and is preempted by federal government authority. In February 2016, in a blow to the city, a judge declined to dismiss the corporation’s suit. The City has so far spent more than $748,000 defending the ordinance and expects that costs could reach $1 million before the matter is settled. A judge may resolve the case by summary judgement in early 2017, but if all the legal issues are not fully resolved on the summary judgement motions, it will likely proceed to trial.

Fracking bans

Hundreds of localities, mostly along the East Coast and in California, have acted to limit fracking through land-use provisions to varying degrees of success. Several state governments have even waded into the fray. Maryland has a temporary ban on fracking in place. So does New Jersey, where the legislature passed a permanent ban that was vetoed by Governor Chris Christie, who then issued an executive order establishing a one-year moratorium on fracking while state and federal agencies reviewed the issue. Most prominent is New York, where lawmakers passed a fracking ban in 2015, seven years after the state first put a moratorium on the practice. Meanwhile, North Carolina lifted its ban on fracking in 2014, though a federal judge put a hold on issuing permits for fracking while a legal challenge proceeds.  

It’s at the local level, though, where efforts to ban fracking are most prolific and also most uncertain.

It’s at the local level, though, where efforts to ban fracking are most prolific and also most uncertain. For example,  in November 2016, voters in Monterey County, California, passed Measure Z, a ballot initiative that prohibits new fracking operations and other high-intensity extraction techniques. It is the seventh county fracking ban in California, but the first in a county that’s a major oil producer. The measure’s reach is limited, though. It does not apply to offshore oil and gas operations, nor does it prohibit operations at existing oil and gas wells in the county, which number over 1,500. Moreover, an analysis by the Monterey County Council found the measure may actually allow replacement wells.

The County Council expressed uncertainty about whether the measure may be preempted by California state law, a concern based on the state’s exclusive right to regulate underground drilling operations (local governments can regulate only surface land uses in California) and argued that litigation would be likely. Indeed, just weeks after the measure passed, Aera Energy filed a lawsuit claiming that Measure Z is preempted by state law. Aera also claims that implementation of the measure would amount to a “taking” of property without just compensation, in violation of state and federal law, because it would result in the loss of its ability to produce oil in Monterey County. The legal action blocks the County from implementing part of Measure Z, but Monterey will proceed with implementing other components of the measure, and it plans to vigorously defend the initiative.

Also on the local level, in May 2016, Commissioners in Boulder County, Colorado, replaced a four-year-old moratorium on applications for oil and gas development in unincorporated areas of the county with a new, more durable ban on oil and gas operations. The new ban took note of a finding by Colorado’s Supreme Court that similar bans in nearby Fort Collins and Longmont were preempted by state law. One of the primary problems with the Fort Collins and Longmont resolutions was the duration of their moratoriums, and Boulder County was in a similar situation with its original temporary moratorium. First imposed in 2012, the county had extended and amended it several times, so that it was not set to expire until 2018. But the new Boulder County moratorium is part of a resolution that establishes a temporary ban while county staffers formulate amendments to county land use and zoning regulations that govern oil and gas development. The new resolution recommends that the commission continue the ban until safety concerns are better understood, although it notes that the County is preempted from a multi-year moratorium.

Overall, some state supreme courts have affirmed local zoning rights to prohibit fracking, while others have found that some or all local actions are preempted by state law. For example, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court in 2013 affirmed the right of municipalities to regulate fracking through local zoning laws. And in June 2014, the New York Court of Appeals, the highest state court, also decided that towns may ban or limit oil and gas production through zoning ordinances. On the other hand, in February 2015, the Supreme Court of Ohio, in a narrow and contentious 4-3 decision, ruled that cities and towns cannot enact fracking bans through their zoning laws, determining that under the state constitution, the sole and exclusive authority over oil and gas production resides with the state.

Other examples are murkier. In June 2016, the Louisiana Supreme Court declined to hear a case appealed from a lower court, which had ruled that the state must consider, but not abide by, local ordinances to ban fracking projects. In Colorado, oil and gas interests have gone on the offensive in what appears to be an effort to head off future local oil and gas prohibitions or limitations. Unsatisfied with the Colorado Supreme Court’s ruling to restrict standard regulation to the state, the industry successfully backed Amendment 71 in the November 2016 election, a law that makes it very difficult to change the state constitution.

Off-shore oil drilling bans

By the late 1980s, thirteen local governments in central and southern California, including Carlsbad (see B95) and San Diego (see SEC. 51.5), had an eclectic assortment of regulations on the books intended to block offshore drilling. San Diego passed an ordinance at the ballot that prohibited city employees from directly or indirectly authorizing the offshore oil and gas industry in any way. Carlsbad’s ordinance locks out oil industry facilities from city land by placing limits on land use for oil- and gas-processing plants, refineries, storage facilities, transfer stations, pipelines, warehouses, offices, tanker terminals, and helicopter pads, even though no such facilities existed in the city when the measure was passed.

In 1987, the Western Oil and Gas Association sued San Diego County and other local governments on the basis of federal preemption and the value of energy security. The judge in the case ruled against the oil industry, finding no basis to its claim that the local ordinances violated federal supremacy. The laws may cause additional expense and inconvenience, the court argued, but were not true obstacles.

Another tool in communities’ toolboxes

State and local land use authority may be a redoubt for communities against what appears to be a reckless advancement of coal, oil, and gas development by the new Trump Administration and the GOP-controlled Congress. Although there are some legal uncertainties, as well as a risk that some approaches are preempted by federal law, there is good reason to believe that zoning and related authorities will allow local governments—and the public they represent—to chart their own course toward a cleaner and safer future.