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Feb. 26, 2021 by Daniel Farber

Three Ways of Dodging Responsibility

This post was originally published on Legal Planet. Reprinted with permission.

In the wake of the Texas blackouts, we're seeing a number of familiar moves to deflect blame by the usual suspects — politicians, regulators, and CEOs. These evasive tactics all begin with a core truth: Eliminating all risk is impossible and would be too expensive even if it weren't. But then they spin that truth in various ways. The result is to obscure responsibility for the disaster and the steps that should be taken going forward.

Here are some of the most common dodges — not counting such crass moves as blaming everything on the Green New Deal or the media.

Dodge #1: No one could have foreseen this event! This often sounds reasonable. How could anyone have foreseen that New Orleans' levees would simply collapse, or that a historic tsunami would hit the nuclear reactors at Fukushima? Yet it invariably seems to turn out that some reliable source did in fact foresee the risk. The Army Corps of Engineers' own lab had shown that levees on the region's soils could be undercut by high waters. Geologists had already found evidence of a similar past Japanese tsunami — admittedly, an extremely rare …

Feb. 25, 2021 by Allison Stevens
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Seven years ago, public officials in cash-strapped Flint, Michigan, cut city costs by tapping the Flint River as a source of public drinking water.

So began the most egregious example of environmental injustice in recent U.S. history, according to Paul Mohai, a founder of the movement for environmental justice and a professor at the University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability.

When they made the switch, city officials didn’t properly treat the new water, which allowed lead from corroded pipes, bacteria, and other contaminants to leach into the public drinking water supply. Flint residents, who are disproportionately low-income and Black, immediately raised alarms about the fetid, brown water flowing out of their faucets and cited health problems, such as hair loss and rashes.

But the city didn’t officially acknowledge the problem or begin to take decisive action until a year and a half …

Feb. 24, 2021 by Robert Verchick
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Since I began serving on Louisiana’s Climate Initiatives Task Force, charged with finding a way to zero out net greenhouse-gas emissions by 2050, there is one question I get from people more than any other: “C’mon, are you serious?”

It’s not that Louisianans don’t see the need. Sea-level rise could soon swallow our coast, and hurricanes souped up by climate change are now the new normal.

The problem is how we see ourselves. Louisiana, I’m reminded, is an oil-and-gas state. Whatever were we thinking?

My quick response is Louisiana is really an energy state, with more sun and offshore wind than most of our peers.

My longer answer is that I really don’t know how serious we are. But I’ve started following a trio of issues that could tip the scale …

Feb. 23, 2021 by Richard E. Levy, Robert Glicksman
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This op-ed was originally published in The Hill.

Since taking office, President Biden has pursued an active agenda to address many urgent matters that require his prompt attention. We hope one important initiative does not get lost in transition: restoring the norms of good governance.

During his term in office, President Trump sought to exert absolute control over the apparatus of government by undercutting normal operating practices and systematically dismantling protections for officials whose duty to the public might override their personal loyalty to him. It is no secret that Trump demanded personal loyalty from executive branch officials and fired those, like Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who prioritized complying with the law over following his orders. He has taken many actions to strip, override and undermine essential protections for our nation’s public servants.

Biden has already taken some steps to address these concerns. On Jan. 22 …

Feb. 22, 2021 by Alexandra Klass
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This post was originally published on Lawfare. Reprinted with permission.

It is now a week out from the start of the massive Texas grid failure that has resulted in numerous deaths; millions of people plunged into darkness; scores of communities without clean water or heat in record cold temperatures; and billions of dollars in catastrophic damage to homes, businesses and the physical infrastructure that supports them. Critical questions surround the causes of this massive disaster and how to plan for the future so that a tragedy of this scale does not happen again.

At this point, there are many facts that Americans already know. Contrary to the spurious claims by Gov. Greg Abbott as well as numerous right-wing politicians and pundits, freezing wind turbines and the state’s history of supporting renewable energy development did not cause the grid to fail. Indeed, wind turbines outperformed grid operator …

Feb. 22, 2021 by Dan Rohlf
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As the U.S. Senate considers President Joe Biden’s Cabinet nominees, one stands out as much for the position he was appointed to as for his impressive qualifications.

Two days before his inauguration, Biden announced that he planned to elevate the director of the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), often referred to as the president’s science advisor, to Cabinet rank. The move underlines Biden’s break with the previous administration’s de-emphasis and politicization of science, which downplayed climate change, sought to slash climate-related research spending, and crafted rules designed to limit the influence of science in agency decisionmaking.

Created by Congress in 1976 to help the president and White House staff steer the country in an increasingly complex world, OSTP leads cross-government efforts to incorporate scientific and technological developments into policy and budgetary decisions. During the Trump administration, OSTP staff dropped by …

Feb. 19, 2021 by Maggie Dewane
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Intersectional environmentalism is a relatively new phrase that refers to a more inclusive form of environmentalism, one that ties anti-racist principles into sectors that have long profited from overlooking or ignoring historically disenfranchised populations. 

According to youth activist Leah Thomas, “It brings injustices done to the most vulnerable communities, and the earth, to the forefront and does not minimize or silence social inequality. Intersectional environmentalism advocates for justice for people and the planet.”

Nearly 20 years ago, the Center for Progressive Reform (CPR) was founded on a vision that government could be reimagined and reformed so that it serves all people — regardless of income, background, race, or religion — and our planet. Intersectional environmentalism is that vision: thriving communities on a resilient planet. 

It is also the theme of CPR’s recent Climate, Energy, Justice video series and corresponding report. CPR takes issue with a business-as-usual approach to …

Feb. 18, 2021 by Minor Sinclair
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As many of you know, I started as the Center for Progressive Reform's new executive director this month. I am thrilled to join CPR in this historic moment, to commit the next stage of my life to fight for the integrity and strength of our democracy, and to establish, as FDR said 90 years ago, "the purpose of government to see that not only the legitimate interests of the few are protected but that the welfare and rights of the many are conserved."

CPR's mission speaks to me personally. My own winding story saw me raised in the American South, defending refugees and human rights in Central America in the '80s, living in Cuba in the '90s, and, for the past 15 years, working at Oxfam to defend workers' rights and socially vulnerable communities in the United States. The fault lines of race and entitlement that …

Feb. 18, 2021 by Amy Sinden
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In the midst of this long dark winter, it's heartening to see the Biden administration lay out a bold agenda for a more secure, fair, and sustainable future. Holding the Biden administration to its promise to reform the regulatory process to "ensure swift and effective federal action" to "improve the lives of the American people" is a crucial part of that effort. From her perch on a key congressional committee with oversight over agencies and the rulemaking process, the Delaware Valley's own Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon is well-positioned to do just that.

While not on most people's radar, the system of centralized regulatory review poses a potentially significant obstacle to President Joe Biden's ambitious agenda. Originally created by President Ronald Reagan, this process functions as the bureaucratic instantiation of the "job-killing regulations" myth that Reagan so successfully infused …

Feb. 16, 2021 by David Flores, Katlyn Schmitt
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When it comes to addressing climate-related flooding, Maryland has made progress.

In 2014, it created a "Coast Smart Council" at the state's Department of Natural Resources. Councilmembers, representing government, academia, business, advocacy, and other sectors, work together to develop science-backed resources and rules that govern development of state-funded projects in coastal and flood-prone areas.

Meanwhile, state agencies and local jurisdictions work under the council's auspices and with the benefit of resources. such as local government studies and plans to address climate-related flooding. They also have a new interactive mapping tool — the Climate Ready Action Boundary — to help local governments and the public explore flood-prone boundaries in Maryland. Those who use the tool can make informed decisions about development in areas vulnerable to flooding or sea level rise. Any state development built within the flood-prone boundary must be designed with flood-resilient features.

But these actions don't come close …

CPR HOMEPAGE
More on CPR's Work & Scholars.
Feb. 26, 2021

Three Ways of Dodging Responsibility

Feb. 25, 2021

Clean Water Is a Human Right. Let’s Start Treating It Like One.

Feb. 24, 2021

Baton Rouge Advocate Op-ed: Louisiana Should Get Serious About Its Climate Crisis

Feb. 23, 2021

The Hill Op-ed: Biden Has the Power to Restore Good Governance

Feb. 22, 2021

Lessons from the Texas Grid Disaster: Planning and Investing for a Different Future

Feb. 22, 2021

Biden Elevates Science Advisor to Cabinet-Level Job

Feb. 19, 2021

Building Thriving Communities on a Resilient Planet