Climate Photo of the Week
U.S. Supreme Court stops Obama clean power plant rule -- then most conservative Justice dies, throwing ideological balance of court into doubt. Meanwhile, coal and oil are down, renewables are gaining.
In less than a week that sent the White House, energy producers, climate action advocates, and then the entire nation into shock, the Supreme Court took the unusual action on February 9 of blocking the President’s clean power plant rule before a lawsuit against it had even reached a lower Federal court — and just four days later conservative Justice Antonin Scalia, who had just voted with the 5-4 majority, died unexpectedly.
The EPA’s Clean Air Act clean power rule to limit carbon pollution from electricity generation, a centerpiece of Obama’s Executive Branch work to limit climate change as well as our national promise to the Paris Agreement to strongly cut our emissions, is being battled by two dozen States and coal producers. Their lawsuit is scheduled into Federal Appeals Court this summer with the inevitable appeal to the Supreme Court coming sometime in 2017. But now President Obama has a chance to nominate a Supreme Court justice who would almost certainly change the balance of the court in the moderate to liberal direction.
Clearly many controversial issues reaching the court besides energy, from health care to war powers, would be affected by a new balance of ideology among the Justices. Predictably, the GOP Senate leadership and all the Republican Presidential candidates say the nation should wait until after the next President takes office to confirm a new Justice. This delay also would be unusual if not unprecedented, and Obama immediately said he would proceed per the Constitution to nominate a new Justice. The President has more than 300 days left in his term. No previous Supreme Court nominee has taken more than 114 days to get through Senatorial approval or rejection (that was Robert Bork, a Reagan appointee ultimately rejected, but in the process the way his legal record was used against him spawned a new term for having one’s character assailed in public opinion fairly or unfairly: to be Borked).
Thus climate change is an issue in national election politics, Congressional action and inaction and the Supreme Court. Many of the other 194 nations who agreed to the Paris Agreement just two months ago did so after Secretary of State John Kerry and the President himself promised the U.S., the world’s greatest historic polluter and second to China now, would carry through its national climate reduction plan, even though a new president could be a Republican. All GOP candidates and the Republican Congressional leadership say they do not believe human caused climate change is a serious issue.
While coal companies and their political allied fight the clear need to reduce the heavy pollution from burning coal, world markets are reacting to climate change knowledge and the rise of natural gas. At least 27 coal companies have declared bankruptcy, their stocks are down 75 percent in five years, 10 percent less coal is being burned by utilities and more than 250 mines have closed and 230 coal fired power plants retired or scheduled to be closed. Coal leases on public land are finally being investigated and limited by the Administration after more than 30 years of urging by economic and environmental advocates.
Even China’s coal demand is shrinking — a good sign for global warming and the lungs of Chinese citizens. Two of the three huge coal companies we covered in our Powder River Wyoming story, giants Alpha and Arch, sought bankruptcy protection in recent months. The dreams of coal and oil companies and their transportation and refining partners of markets reached by long, dangerous energy trains running to the West Coast are being dashed by strong opposition in many communities to fossil fuel terminal and rail expansion.
Petroleum is in a downward spiral not seen since the 1990s, if not earlier, according to the NY Times. The price of a barrel of crude oil has sunk this year to its lowest level since 2003 — breaking below $30 in January — and oil executives were reported pessimistic about an early recovery. In this complicated, interlocking system, American fracking has flooded the market with oil and natural gas, fuel economy gains have helped lower the demand for oil, even as cheap gasoline is denting the drive toward high-efficiency and electric vehicles needed to help stem climate change.
The booming Bakken region of North Dakota now has less than a quarter of drilling rigs working now as were in 2013. The U.S. drilling boom and result that it has become the world’s leading natural gas producer, comes at a cost of groundwater pollution from fracking and local earthquakes from well injection, and increasing rogue emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas that is the major part of natural gas. Those methane leaks and flares will have to be cut by 40-45 percent by 2025 under an Interior Department rule issued January 22.
For more on fossil fuels, please see our previous Climate Photo of the Week.
Renewable energy powers on with record investment: The acceptance, financing and economic equality of wind, solar and other renewables continues to grow, even in the face of cheaper oil and the perennial false economy of coal. For more please see our previous story and clean energy possibilities roundup.
News, photos and analysis of the historic Paris Agreement by the UN climate convention may be found in our News & Photos archive.
15 years of World View of Global Warming, documenting climate change 1999-2015
This project would be impossible without scientists and observers around the world who have provided hundreds of scientific contacts and papers. See Background, Advisors, and Reference for documentation, funders and major advisors, without whom I could not complete the work.
World View of Global Warming is a project of the Blue Earth Alliance, Seattle Washington, a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization. The project is supported entirely by donations, grants, and license fees for the photographs. Please see information about how to contribute.
For other information about Gary Braasch's climate change projects and books, please see the books Earth Under Fire and How We Know What We Know About Our Changing Climate, and the exhibit "Climate Change in Our World" at the Books and Exhibits link on the top menu of this page.
Photography and text Copyright © 2005 - 2017 (and before) Gary Braasch All rights reserved. Use of photographs in any manner without permission is prohibited by US copyright law. Photography is available for license to publications and other uses. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. View more of Gary Braasch's photography here.