Tuesday, June 25, 2019

USDA mum about studies on effect of climate change; agencies no longer have to estimate projects' effect on it

Two recent actions by the Trump administration reflect its reluctance to deal with climate change.

The Agriculture Department has broken with longstanding practice by refusing to publicize dozens of peer-reviewed studies from its Agricultural Research Service that carry warnings about the effects of climate change.

"The studies range from a groundbreaking discovery that rice loses vitamins in a carbon-rich environment — a potentially serious health concern for the 600 million people world-wide whose diet consists mostly of rice — to a finding that climate change could exacerbate allergy seasons, to a warning to farmers about the reduction in quality of grasses important for raising cattle," Helena Evich reports for Politico.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has allegedly retaliated against USDA researchers whose findings conflicted with the administration's environmental policies. His planned move of two major scientific and research agencies to Kansas City is seen by some as an attempt to force researchers to quit rather than relocate, so they can be replaced with employees of Perdue's choosing.

Last week the White House Council on Environmental Quality proposed that federal agencies no longer need consider a project's long-term climate impact when assessing how it will affect the environment. The proposal "would change the way the U.S. government evaluates activities ranging from coal mining to gas pipelines and oil drilling by limiting the extent to which agencies can calculate their greenhouse gas emissions," Juliet Eilperin reports for The Washington Post.

In April 2016 under President Obama, the council mandated that agencies quantify how much a project would contribute to climate change. Under the proposed directive, "Agencies conducting reviews under the National Environmental Policy Act only have to calculate an action’s greenhouse gas emissions when 'a sufficiently close causal relationship exists' between a project and greater carbon emissions," Eilperin reports. "It also tells agencies they can opt not to assess a project’s climate impact if they decide it 'would be overly speculative,' and they can put any projected emissions in the context of the local, regional or national carbon output."

Legal experts say the move could hurt the administration in court cases, since some judges have suggested that officials need to better consider how their decisions will affect the climate. According to the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, the Trump administration has lost a dozen court cases over agencies' failure to consider climate issues in NEPA reviews, Eilperin reports.

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