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On this week's LeBron James-free weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World tries to figure out why the current moment is so alarming; Jen Sorenson brings politics into real life; The K Chronicles honors a literary great in a classic comic; Red Meat forms an alliance with the Almighty; and Apoca Clips quizzes Trumpy about Scott Pruitt.

Published in Comics

The punch-counterpunch sparring between the Trump administration and the state of California over rollbacks of federal environmental regulations is often described as a war of words, with neither the president nor Gov. Jerry Brown giving an inch.

Some of the disputes are largely symbolic—foot-stamping gestures from Washington, D.C., designed to resonate with the president’s core supporters rather than to hold up in court.

But the latest skirmish is serious: The federal Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to unravel fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks not only threatens California’s autonomy in setting its own emissions limits; it also could derail the state’s ability to reach its future greenhouse-gas-reduction goals.

“This is a politically motivated effort to weaken clean-vehicle standards with no documentation, evidence or law to back up that decision,” said Mary Nichols, chairwoman of the state Air Resources Board, in a statement. “This is not a technical assessment; it is a move to demolish the nation’s clean-car program. The EPA’s action, if implemented, will worsen people’s health with degraded air quality and undermine regulatory certainty for automakers.”

The gauntlet was thrown down by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, a darling of the Trump administration for his zeal in dismantling Obama-era environmental regulations. Even though Pruitt is the target of multiple investigations for alleged ethical transgressions and has found his job security in question, the effect of his current decisions may resonate far beyond his or his boss’ terms in office.

“There have been some troubling developments,” said Deborah Sivas, director of the Environmental Law Clinic at Stanford Law School. “But I think a lot of this is ultimately not going to happen.”


Putting the Brakes on Fuel Efficiency

Sivas said an attack on the fuel-efficiency standard is one of the critical fights for California, which must drastically reduce emissions from the state’s enormous transportation sector to stay on track in cutting carbon.

At issue are miles-per-gallon standards set near the end of the Obama administration. They require an average 45.4 miles per gallon by 2022 and more than 50 miles per gallon by 2025. Standards differ by vehicle type and are stricter for cars than for SUVs and light trucks.

Chet France, the former EPA senior executive who directed the office that crafted the regulations, says the fuel-standard rule is solid. France, who retired in 2012, said the benchmarks were the product of rigorous technical research and vetting with federal agencies, the California air board and car manufacturers.

The rule was reviewed again during the last days of the Obama administration and determined to be reasonable.

“The mid-term review was thorough and found that advances in auto-industry technology meant that meeting the standards was easier and cheaper than the EPA had predicted,” France said. “It concluded that the standards were attainable, and, if anything, they could have gone further.”

Pruitt called the current regulations inappropriate, saying they “set the standards too high.” He said his agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration would revisit them, but he has not yet announced any proposed changes.

In explaining its rationale, the EPA is expected to dust off a decades-old analysis that suggests lighter, more fuel-efficient cars are not substantial enough to withstand crashes and thus pose a danger to drivers. Federal and state crash tests disprove that, but Sivas said she anticipates similar arguments.

The state is pushing back hard. Brown, during a recent visit to Washington, told reporters that the rollback is “not going to happen, and the attempts to do this are going to be bogged down in litigation long after we have a new president.”

On Tuesday, May 1, California filed its 32nd lawsuit against the Trump administration, asserting that in preparing to change the emission standards, the EPA is violating the Clean Air Act and failing to follow its own regulations. In announcing the suit, which 17 other states have joined, Brown conjured images of floods and wildfires ravaging the state as greenhouse gases warm the planet.

“This is real stuff,” he said. “I intend to fight this as hard as I can.”

In addition to rolling back mileage requirements, Pruitt has signaled that he may revoke California’s legal authority to establish its own emissions standards, independent of federal benchmarks. A dozen other states have adopted California’s standards; together, that coalition represents more than a third of the national auto market.

“California is not the arbiter of these issues,” Pruitt said in television interview in March. While the state may set its own limits on greenhouse-gas emissions, he said, it “shouldn’t and can’t dictate to the rest of the country.”

California’s right to request a waiver from federal clean-air laws is well established and, legal experts say, the burden would be high for the administration to convince a court that there is a compelling reason to change the longstanding policy.

Pruitt told lawmakers in Washington, D.C., last week that his agency was engaged in talks with California officials regarding proposed changes.

California Air Resources Board spokesman Stanley Young said the state has had three meetings with the EPA since December, adding: “Nothing substantive was discussed, so I wouldn’t characterize them as negotiations.”

He said the board had not seen a final proposal, and no future meetings were scheduled.

On Friday, Nichols tweeted to Pruitt: “Call me.”


Opening the Coast to Drilling

Perhaps the most consequential of the administration’s many moves to expand domestic-energy production is the Interior Department’s five-year plan to offer lease sales in federal waters off the outer continental shelf, including parcels where drilling has been banned for decades. That includes the California coast.

The plan, announced by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, envisions drilling in the Arctic, off the Hawaiian coast and in the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, as well as expanding existing exploration into the eastern Gulf of Mexico. The leasing is scheduled to begin in 2019 off the north coast of Alaska, and then move to the lower 48 states, the agency said.

Zinke said the leasing plans would expand the country’s energy independence. “This is the beginning of an opening up,” he said, promising that the months-long public-comment period before enactment would include all stakeholders. “The states will have a voice.”

Whose voice will be heeded may be another matter. Florida’s governor has already negotiated directly with President Donald Trump to exempt his state from leasing. Even though Brown had a conversation with administration officials relaying California’s wish to be included in a similar exemption, no announcement has been made that would prevent drilling in federal waters off the coast.

But this is one issue where the state may get its way, thanks to current market forces and a stubborn regulatory blockade.

The oil and gas industries have shown little interest in exploring off the California coast, and the State Lands Commission has resolved to make it much more difficult and expensive for companies to get crude oil to land and into pipelines.

The commission’s policy to prevent construction of onshore infrastructure does nothing to stop drilling but could limit the volume of oil shipped at a time when the low price per barrel is already discouraging new exploration.

Given those financial and logistical headaches, companies may take a pass.

“A state like California is going to put its full force and resources on the line,” said Timothy O’Connor, a California-based attorney for the Environmental Defense Fund. “There’s still an element of local and state control, and we are going to defend our values to their very core. That’s certainly one of them.”


Rolling Back Air Rules

California has notched two victories over the Trump administration’s efforts to undo a methane regulation instituted during Obama’s term.

The Waste Prevention Rule was to have gone into effect in January 2017, regulating emissions of natural gas leaking from more than 100,000 oil and gas wells on public lands across the country.

The federal Interior Department delayed enactment of the rule and was sued by California and New Mexico. The states prevailed. The agency then suspended part of the new rule and the two states sued again, winning in court once more.

The victory has significant impact in California, home to vast, aging oil fields and energy infrastructure. Methane’s potent heat-trapping capacity makes it many times more damaging to the atmosphere than carbon dioxide. The state Air Resources Board recently limited methane coming from both new and existing oil and gas sources.

Another win came in a suit the state joined after the EPA postponed implementation of yet another Obama-era rule aimed at combating smog. The “Ozone Rule” reduced allowable concentrations of ozone, a main component of smog.

Pruitt ordered the EPA to extend the deadline to comply with the new standards by at least a year. Two days after California and 15 other states filed suit, Pruitt reversed his decision.

The state also won a suit calling for federal transportation officials to monitor greenhouse-gas emissions along national highways, but the government is considering repealing the regulations.

In another pending case, California and other states are suing the EPA to identify areas of the country with the most polluted air. In April, Trump weighed in, directing the EPA to relax restrictions on state governments and businesses that have been key to cutting smog.

In a memo, the president instructed Pruitt to expedite a review of state smog-reduction plans and streamline the process for businesses to get air-quality-related permits. In addition, Trump ordered a review of other air-quality regulations related to public health to determine whether they “should be revised or rescinded.”

The agency said the directive was aimed at trimming costs and maximizing efficiency.


Dropping Protection for Water

In an effort to more precisely define which bodies of water are covered under federal law, the Obama administration adopted a rule in 2015 that effectively expanded the number of protected waterways, including springs and floodplains that appear for only part of the year.

The idea was to safeguard both water quality and water quantity, and to put an end to the time-consuming practice of determining status on a case-by-case basis. The U.S. Supreme Court had already weighed in, but the high court’s definitions of the “waters of the United States” failed to provide adequate clarification.

The Obama administration’s definition-stretching rules were strenuously opposed by developers, who said they swept up much of the undeveloped land in California, including wetlands.

Soon after Trump came into office, the EPA launched a review of the rule, and then got rid of it.

In February, California sued the EPA and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which signs off on development permits in protected wetlands.

The legal case is still pending, but Sivas said the Trump administration is doing an end-run by requiring the Army Corps to run all permit requests through Washington, rather than making those determinations in regional offices.

By centralizing the decision-making, Sivas said, political appointees can circumvent scientific and legal analysis performed by field offices and determine the outcome based on other factors.

“My guess is they are going to say (to developers), ‘You don’t need a permit,’” she said.

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Environment

A young lawyer for the Environmental Protection Agency had a heavy feeling as he headed to work one recent morning.

Like many EPA staffers, he’s been distraught over the steady stream of negative news about the Trump administration’s plans for his agency, and what it all means for his future. That morning the White House had released its budget proposal, calling on Congress to cut 31 percent of the EPA’s budget, more than 50 programs and 3,200 of the agency’s 15,000 employees.

The lawyer’s subway stop, the Federal Triangle Metro Station, dumps people out under a grand archway between two entrances to the EPA’s ornate limestone DC headquarters. As he went up the escalator, he encountered a small group of people standing in the cold wind, passing out fliers and holding signs that read: “Fight climate change; work for California.”

A man with a bushy gray mustache exclaimed: “I’m recruiting for California jobs!” and introduced himself to the EPA lawyer as Michael Picker, the president of California’s Public Utilities Commission, which regulates electric companies and other utilities.

Picker explained that he has 250 job openings—and more on the way. California’s Air Resources Board and Energy Commission also have opportunities for federal employees frustrated with the direction in which the Trump administration is headed.

“All the jobs will have impacts on climate change in some ways,” he said.

Picker’s recruitment drive is more than a publicity stunt: His agency is short-staffed already, and he’s steadily losing employees to retirement. He needs reinforcements to meet an enormous challenge in front of him. He needs to ensure that electric utilities make the investments necessary to generate enough clean energy to meet California’s ambitious climate change goals. (California is committed to getting 50 percent of its power from renewable energy by 2030.)

The EPA lawyer said his encounter with Picker last week lifted his spirits giving him a sense of “relief” and “hope.” He’d already considered seeking a job in California, where the state government has a strong commitment to environmental protection.

“There’s a pull and a push, especially with the budget coming out,” added the lawyer, who like other EPA staffers, didn’t want his name used for fear it would put his job in jeopardy.

This was just the kind of encounter that Picker hoped for when he decided to turn an already-planned trip to Washington, D.C., into a mini recruiting mission. His goal was to try to lure talented federal employees to California state government by promising them a chance to work someplace still committed to fighting climate change. He also spent a morning passing out fliers at the Energy Department. But he was especially happy with how things went outside EPA’s headquarters.

One EPA staffer ran inside and returned with a resume. An EPA engineer asked for extra fliers for his colleagues. Picker passed out business cards, offering to help the D.C. refugees navigate the cumbersome hiring process at California state agencies. “Thank you for offering to rescue us!” one EPA staffer bellowed as he walked past.

Picker’s challenge is bigger than getting companies to generate cleaner electricity. He also has to ensure they make investments to transform the electric grid to meet the challenges of all the additional renewable power that’s coming online.

The grid was designed as a centralized system where electricity was generated by relatively few large power plants. The grid now needs to get a lot smarter to manage many thousands of new sources of power, from large-scale solar and wind farms to solar panels on top of people’s homes. Cleaner electricity isn’t enough: California also wants to shift its vehicles to clean electricity: “That’s why we need people—to help build the infrastructure California needs to get greenhouse gases out of our economy. These tasks aren’t going to solve themselves.”

Despite all the rhetoric from the White House and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt about major plans to transform the agency and downplay climate change, there hasn’t yet been a big exodus. EPA employees are passionate about the mission of the agency, and so far, many staffers say they’re still doing their usual work.

“Because nothing drastic has changed yet at EPA, people don’t have immediate pressure to leave,” said another EPA staffer who spoke with Picker. “You saw people taking those fliers. So it’s not that people aren’t thinking about it.”

She said she thinks California is smart to try to lure away the EPA’s talented employees at a time when their current employer is making it clear their work isn’t valued. She will definitely consider moving to California for a job, she said.

Fundamental changes are on the way, given that Pruitt and President Donald Trump have vowed to undo the biggest efforts undertaken by the EPA during the Obama administration—regulations to slash greenhouse gas emissions from cars and power plants and protect wetlands and waterways. Trump took a big step today with an executive order undoing many Obama-era regulations. EPA staffers will now be charged with justifying the elimination of regulations that they or their colleagues spent years crafting.

None of the EPA staffers I spoke with were willing to have their names published.

“We’re all afraid now of retribution if we talk. It’s already started to happen,” said one staffer.

John O’Grady, president of a national council of EPA employee unions, said EPA employees are right to be cautious. “We all pretty much are aware we cannot speak out in the press; that would not be a very smart move on the part of an employee.”

As Picker was wrapping up for the morning, a bundled-up bike commuter rode up to ask about an application he’d already sent in. Picker promised to help and then took a photo with some volunteers who had showed up to help him pass out fliers. One was a corporate lawyer, another a former Energy Department official, and third a solar executive from Oregon who was in town for business.

“I’m disillusioned by Trump’s budget proposal,” said Tom Starrs, a vice president of SunPower Corporation. ”On the other hand, I’m inspired by California continuing to address climate change and by the support at every level of government in California. It’s a unified front on climate change. It’s wonderful to see.”

Correspondent Elizabeth Shogren writes for High Country News, where this story first appeared.

Published in Environment

It is snowing in Washington, D.C.—strange in early March after an insanely warm winter, but nothing compared to the cold many of the activists and tribal members gathered here endured in North Dakota while fighting against the construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Kristen Tuske, a 39-year-old woman from the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, stands with several other women in front of the White House, her back to it, fist raised in the air. She has pink hair, sculpted arches for eyebrows and tattoos on the side of her face. She lived at the camp where thousands of “water protectors” gathered to fight the pipeline for seven months.

“The last couple weeks at the camp were sad, and everyone was a little angry,” she said. “A lot of feelings are hurt. ... That was our home, and we got kicked out.”

The last protesters left the camp on Feb. 23.

The struggle started last summer when the Standing Rock Sioux and Cheyenne River Sioux tribes sued the Army Corps of Engineers to stop the construction of the oil pipeline, claiming it could contaminate their water supply and destroy significant archeological sites. That kicked off months of protests, often pitting camps of indigenous people—and the environmentalists and veterans that had come to fight with them—against an increasingly militarized police presence. President Obama twice ordered construction stopped, but, after taking office, Trump gave the go-ahead to the pipeline, insisting publicly that it must be constructed of American steel (a stance he quietly reversed this month).

The evacuation of the camp may be a defeat for Standing Rock, but, in the eyes of those gathered in front of the White House, it may also signal the beginning of something greater—the possibility of a real environmental movement in America.

“The reason I am here is to represent our future generations and be their voice, part of the resistance in decolonizing our minds,” said JoRee LaFrance, a member of the Crow tribe from Montana. “Protecting our waters should be our No. 1 priority, and that’s why we’re all here is to unite and protect tribal sovereignty and to protect indigenous people and their waters. People need to realize indigenous people are doing this for all people, not just indigenous people. We’re here to protect the water for all people.”

As I talk to people at the rally, I hear that sentiment again and again. It is not just about the water at Standing Rock. It is a symbolic battle, a turning point. Indigenous people are stepping forward to save the planet—and to save us from ourselves.

Little Thunder, an elder from South Dakota’s Rosebud Indian Reservation, is standing apart from the crowd in full ceremonial regalia: a feathered headdress, a circular feather shield, and some mirrored sunglasses. He came all the way to Washington to “let people know and let Trump know that this is not just a Standing Rock or a Washington, D.C., or a politics issue. This is for the whole Earth. We’re trying to save the water, because water is life.”

Little Thunder says he is a single father of six children, four of them living at Standing Rock. His voice is high and pinched; he’s almost singing as he speaks.

“Once he let (Standing Rock) go through, they think they can destroy the water, which is life every place else on this Earth, not just Standing Rock,” he says.

David Kenny, a member of the Seneca Nation, is standing with a sign that reads “Water Is Life.”

“It’s not just about Native Americans anymore. It’s about everyone,” he says. “Because if you keep poisoning the water, you’re going to start paying for it, and they’re going to shoot that price up. You’re going to be paying $20 for a bottle of it. It’s not just about the tribes anymore.”

He turns his attention toward the White House and the white man inside it. “Can you stop this pipeline, please?” he asks, his voice soft. “It’s not about business anymore. It’s not just us that’s going to fall—it’s you, too. Everybody is going to die if this continues. The Earth is dying.”

There is no indication that Trump or anyone else in the White House hears this, despite the fact that native nations have spent the last four days with teepees set up on the mall, raising awareness of indigenous and environmental issues. On March 9, the day before the gathering across from the White House, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt said he would not agree that climate change caused by human activity is “a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.”

But as the Native Nations Rise rally went down, thousands more people were calling the EPA to complain about Pruitt’s disavowal of accepted science.

On the very same day as the rally, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released a study reporting that carbon dioxide levels rose at a “record pace for second straight year.”

“The two-year, 6-ppm surge in the greenhouse gas between 2015 and 2017 is unprecedented in the observatory’s 59-year record,” the report read.

Trump’s budget proposal, released a week after the rally, slashed the EPA by more than 30 percent. NOAA is not included in the final proposal, but a leaked draft showed a 17 percent decrease in funding.

Back at the rally, the snow falls on the demonstrators, as well as the dancers and the speakers on the stage. Taboo from the Black Eyed Peas takes the stage. He is part Shoshone and organized the release of a song recorded by a collection of mostly native artists to bring attention to Native American issues.

It is a strange moment, watching the snow fall as this pop star in a floppy hat sings over a recording of his band’s song “I Gotta Feeling,” and people sway and dance and sing along, making it feel, for a moment, more like spring break than a deadly serious fight for the fate of the world.

Looking over at the White House, I have a feeling that tonight’s probably not gonna be a good night. But if we listen to the water protectors, we may still have some good nights left.

Democracy in Crisis is a joint project of alternative newspapers around the country, including the Coachella Valley Independent. Baynard Woods is editor at large at the Baltimore City Paper. His work has also appeared in The Guardian, The New York Times, the Washington Post, Vox, Salon, McSweeney’s, Virginia Quarterly Review and many other publications. Send tips to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Twitter @demoincrisis. Podcast every Thursday at www.democracyincrisis.com.

Published in Environment

(Reuters)—U.S. President Donald Trump's administration will begin rolling back Obama-era environmental regulations in an "aggressive way" as soon as next week, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency said on Saturdayadding he understood why some Americans want to see his agency eliminated completely.

"I think there are some regulations that in the near-term need to be rolled back in a very aggressive way. And I think maybe next week you may be hearing about some of those," EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told the Conservative Political Action summit in Washington, D.C.

Pruitt added the EPA's focus on combating climate change under former President Barack Obama had cost jobs and prevented economic growth, leading many Americans to want to see the EPA eliminated completely.

"I think its justified," he said. "I think people across this country look at the EPA much like they look at the IRS. I hope to be able to change that."    

Pruitt was confirmed as EPA head last week. His appointment triggered an uproar among Democratic lawmakers and environmental advocates worried that he will gut the agency and re-open the doors to heavy industrial pollution. He sued the EPA more than a dozen times as his states' top attorney and has repeatedly cast doubt on the science of climate change. 

But his rise to the head of the EPA has also cheered many Republicans and business interests that expect him to cut back red tape they believe has hampered the economy.

Trump campaigned on a promise to slash regulation to revive the oil and gas drilling and coal mining industries.


PUDDLES AND DRY CREEK BEDS

Pruitt mentioned three rules ushered in by Obama that could meet the chopping block early on: the Waters of the U.S. rule outlining waterways that have federal protections; the Clean Power Plan requiring states to cut carbon emissions; and the U.S. Methane rule limiting emissions from oil and gas installations on federal land.

A Trump official told Reuters late Friday that the president was expected to sign a measure as early as Tuesday aimed at rescinding the Waters of the U.S. rule.

Pruitt said in his comments to the CPAC summit that rule had "made puddles and dry creek beds across this country subject to the jurisdiction of Washington, D.C. That's going to change."

He also suggested longer-term structural changes were in store at the EPA. 

"Long-term, asking the question on how that agency partners with the states and how that affects the budget and how it effects the structure is something to work on very diligently," Pruitt said.

Like Trump, he said cutting regulation could be done in a way that does not harm water or air quality.

(Reporting by Richard Valdmanis in Boston; Editing by Marguerita Choy)

Published in Environment

If you conduct an online search of news stories with the keywords “Trump” and “climate change,” the results might give you reason to bury your head in the (tar) sand during the next four years:

“How the Trump Administration Could Gut NASA’s Climate Change Research,” read one Newsweek headline.

“What Does Trump Think About Climate Change? He Doesn’t Know Either,” announced The Atlantic.

And: “Without action on climate change, say goodbye to polar bears” — a Washington Post tearjerker.

According to reports like these, Trump is preparing for everything from a witch hunt against our government’s foremost climate scientists to de-funding the Environmental Protection Agency. But in the world of academia—where facts don’t bow to the short attention spans that dominate in the media—do California’s most level-headed researchers and earth-science experts respond to Trump’s ascension with similarly grabby quips? Are they as terrified by the nominations of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry (for Department of Energy) and Scott Pruitt (for Environmental Protection Agency head, even though the former Oklahoma attorney general is suing the agency)?

We asked David M. Romps, an associate professor of earth and planetary sciences at UC Berkeley and director of the school’s Atmospheric Sciences Center, if he thought there was grounds for this bevy of doomsday news flashes.

“In a sense, yes,” he replied. “I’m certainly frightened. There’s one data point for you.”

That data point? “There’s just not that much time to bend down that curb of emissions,” he explained, referring to the level of CO2 humans are spewing into the atmosphere.

Trump, of course, hasn’t implemented a lick of policy yet, and every expert interviewed for this story reiterated that they don’t want to guess how his administration will approach climate change. In the words of Hal Harvey, the CEO of San Francisco-based Energy Innovation, an energy and environmental policy firm, “one shouldn’t either be sanguine or suicidal” just yet.

That said, the cast of anti-climate change actors on the Trump transition team doesn’t inspire much confidence.

For instance, there’s Myron Ebell, tapped to lead Trump’s EPA changeover. Ebell runs an Astroturf outfit called the Center for Energy and Environment, and he masquerades as a sort of science-friendly, social-justice warrior, writing things like “abundant energy makes the world safer and the environment more livable,” and “affordable energy should be accessible to those who need it most, particularly the most vulnerable among us” on his group’s website. But his organization is mostly underwritten by the oil industry, and his modus operandi has always been to countervail legitimate climate research with smarmy deception.

Other Trump advisers hail from various outposts of the fossil fuel industry and its policy shops, including Thomas Pyle, a former Koch Industries lobbyist and policy analyst for erstwhile majority whip Tom DeLay; Doug Domenech, a George W. Bush administration staffer turned pro-fossil-fuel advocate; and Bob Walker, who has gone on the record as wanting to eliminate all climate-science research at NASA. 

This is, of course, not to mention the more well-known anti-climate-science cronies, such as proposed Trump secretary of state and former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson, or Perry (who memorably said he wanted to disband the department he’s now poised to lead), or Pruitt (one of the foremost players in the resistance against the Obama administration’s energy policy).

“All of these people share a common thread,” explained professor Romps. Namely, they are employed by, work for, or operate a front organization at the behest of major oil and energy corporations.

“And, of course, the fossil-fuel industry has a strong agenda; that’s no longer a secret,” he added. Read: They’re about profits, not mitigation. Their game plan is to demolish Obama’s climate-change policy and profit off what remaining dead dinosaurs lay beneath the Earth’s surface.

So goes the collision course: Two opposing forces—one for saving the planet, the other for digging up and burning every last drop of oil and coal—with a scheduled face-off in a little more than a week at the White House. And the clock is, as they say, very much alive and ticking.

“Time is of the essence,” emphasized Harvey, who said he’s not one for fear-mongering, but he didn’t want to underestimate how costly it would be to stall out, or go in reverse, when it comes to climate and energy policy, during the next four years.

The positive news for environmentalists is that climate policy is complicated, often dictated by market forces beyond the Trump administration’s influence, and in many ways insulated by state’s rights and world movements.

For instance, if Trump pushes to cut off federal research-and-development money, there will be pushback. California’s wordsmithing governor Jerry Brown told a San Francisco audience last month that, “If Trump turns off the satellites, California will launch its own damn satellite.” There you have it.

On the flip side, there are climate-action strategies and pacts scarily within the realm of Trump’s authority, such as the Paris Agreement, which was settled upon by nearly 200 nations. It went into effect just days before Trump’s election last November. The goals of the accord include limiting the rise of the average global temperature to less than 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels (right now, the world is nearing 1 degree), and focusing development on green industries and practices.

The Paris Agreement isn’t binding—it’s a name-and-shame type deal, sources explain—and Trump has hinted at abandoning the pact. This would mean that, while the rest of the world is adopting smarter climate policies, we’ll be discredited as an outlier nation.

Trump also carries influence over the EPA’s Clean Power Initiative, which is stuck in the courts, and fuel-efficiency efforts, an area where the nation has seen significant progress. He can revive and approve contentious pipeline infrastructure, such as the Keystone XL project, and de-regulate oil drilling and transport industries.

All of this will invariably grow carbon-dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere, even while the rest of the world implements policy to keep CO2 levels at below 400-parts-per-million.

There’s also the concern that the Trump administration might slash already meager climate-science research dollars. For instance, the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory falls under the purview of the Department of Energy—but if Gov. Perry nixes research-and-development funding for California …

“We spend more on potato chips in America than we do on energy R&D,” Harvey explained of science’s currently limited coffers.

Regardless of how well, or poorly, it’s funded, Paul Alivisatos, the vice chancellor of research at UC Berkeley, said that “historically, science has been strongly supported by both parties.”

He said he hopes to have “very productive discussions” with the new leadership in Washington, D.C., and he pointed out that this is a unique moment in time when “the science community is generating dramatic advances that do have an advantage of benefitting society at large,” such as electric cars, energy storage and affordable solar cells.

Romps agreed. “California potentially could step up to a new role here, and now it could really be the bastion of hope,” he said.

California indeed has a lot at stake. Both Assembly Bill 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act passed under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006, and Senate Bill 32, which Brown inked last year, mandate greenhouse-gas-emissions reductions unequaled in the rest of the country (specifically, 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030). Trump could, in theory, run interference against these ambitions, but his plate in D.C. will surely be brimming with controversy. He may not have time to throw a wrench into California’s climate innovation gears.

“The state can make decisions for how to incentivize” industry to meet these reduction goals, independent of the federal government, Romps said. “I think there’s a lot the state can continue to do locally.”

All the California experts agreed, however, that an uphill battle is education—something Trump can very easily stump, often with just 140 characters.

“The scientific understanding about what’s happening with climate and environment, and human activity, arises from a very deep level of understanding of climate, physics, earth science,” Alivisatos explained. “But clearly we have a lot of work to do, because so many citizens really don’t understand that science.”

Romps, who will teach the first-ever undergraduate introductory course on climate change at UC Berkeley next fall, said that he’s “fascinated” by the question as to why so few Americans relate to and comprehend the threat of climate change.

“But I would not pin this on a failure of the American people,” he added. “The American people are not dumb. They’re smart. But they get swayed by very intentional and deliberate campaigns to confuse people, and the scientists are naturally more reserved than that.”

Meanwhile, the frightening headlines keep appearing in our news feeds, and that climate-change clock keeps ticking. “It will scare the beejesus out of you,” Harvey said of the possibility of not progressing during the next four years. He argued that, to have a chance at achieving any meaningful emission-reduction mitigation, “you have to do pretty much everything pretty much right away.”

Right now, we’re just waiting for Jan. 20.

This piece originally appeared in the East Bay Express.

Published in Environment