STERLING HEIGHTS, Mich. — Michael Taylor grew up Republican with parents who always have voted Republican and still do.In college, he took pleasure in drawing the wrath of liberal students while writing a conservative column for his campus newspaper. He later became a tea party darling in his Detroit suburb for fighting a local tax increase during the height of the Great Recession. And in 2016, he dutifully cast his ballot for Republican Donald Trump.But on Tuesday, Taylor will do something he said he’s never done before — vote for a Democrat.“I think Joe Biden is the candidate who can unify a...
Stories Chosen For You
The energy permitting proposal centrist Democrat U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin III made a condition of his support for a major Senate Democratic measure would impose timelines on federal agencies responsible for approving energy projects, according to text of the measure released late Wednesday.
Congressional Democrats are deeply divided over the Manchin permitting bill, with some on the left worried it would remove tools for communities to oppose projects with major environmental impacts. The chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, blasted the Manchin plan on Wednesday night and said, “My colleagues and I don’t want this.”
A provision in the legislation to approve the Mountain Valley Pipeline in Virginia and Manchin’s home state of West Virginia also alienated Virginia Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine, who said he was not consulted and raised strong objections.
Meanwhile, Oregon Democratic Sen. Jeff Merkley is leading a letter from Senate progressives urging separate votes on a must-pass stopgap spending measure and the permitting legislation, according to a Politico report.
Adding to problems, the top Senate Republican on the chamber’s spending committee told States Newsroom Wednesday afternoon that the inclusion of the permitting measure and other provisions may make the stopgap bill unworkable.
But Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer has continued to say the Manchin plan would be included in the stopgap spending bill to keep the government open when the fiscal year ends Sept. 30.
Details on Manchin plan
The Manchin bill would not remove any federal permitting requirements.
Instead, it would prescribe timelines for federal agencies to complete their reviews, including a two-year target for National Environmental Policy Act reviews on major projects. Such reviews can take up to 10 years, Manchin has said.
The bill includes a section requiring federal agencies to approve the Mountain Valley Pipeline that would send natural gas from southern Virginia to West Virginia, upsetting Kaine.
The bill would also set a five-month limit on court challenges and require federal agencies to act within six months when a court remands a decision to them.
Manchin’s proposal would also designate a lead federal agency to coordinate project reviews. The lead agency would monitor requirements and deadlines set at the state level.
Manchin and other supporters of the measure have said it would be needed to deliver energy from renewable sources like wind and solar.
“If you’re going to build a wind farm or a solar farm in the middle of the desert where there’s no people…you’ve got to have permitting reform to get it done,” Manchin said Tuesday. “You’re not going to be able to deliver the energy that people need.”
But members of Senate Democrats’ progressive wing have for weeks criticized the concept of permitting reforms, which they say would remove power from local communities seeking to challenge pipelines and other projects.
Merkley, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations panel on Interior and environmental agencies, and Sens. Cory Booker of New Jersey, Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats, all reportedly signed on to the letter calling for separate votes on the permitting bill and the stopgap bill—which would allow senators to stake out a clear position on the Manchin plan.
A spokeswoman for Merkley confirmed the Politico report but declined to comment further or provide a copy of the letter Wednesday.
“We are making clear we would like a separate vote—a separate debate and a separate vote—on the permitting process,” Warren told reporters Wednesday.
More than 70 House Democrats sent a similar letter to leaders of their caucus earlier this month.
Grijalva, who spearheaded House Democrats’ letter, issued a strong statement in opposition to the Manchin proposal.
The measure shortens public comment periods, provides fewer ways for communities to oppose projects and weakens enforcement of foundational environmental and public health laws, the Arizona Democrat said.
“These dangerous permitting shortcuts have been on industry wish lists for years,” he said. “And now they’ve added the Mountain Valley Pipeline approval as the rotten cherry on top of the pile.
“The very fact that this fossil fuel brainchild is being force-fed into must-pass government funding speaks to its unpopularity.”
Kaine, a potential supporter of permitting reform more broadly, raised a major issue with the provision approving the Mountain Valley Pipeline.
Kaine said he agreed “with the need to reform our broken process for permitting infrastructure,” but disagreed with the congressional approval of the pipeline—a provision he said he was not consulted on.
“Green-lighting the MVP is contrary to the spirit of permitting reform,” he said. “Such a deliberate action by Congress to put its thumb on the scale and simply approve this project while shutting down opportunities for full administrative or judicial review is at odds with the bipartisan desire to have a more transparent and workable permitting process.”
In a statement accompanying the bill announcement, Manchin repeated that Schumer, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the White House had all agreed to pass the legislation, which was part of a deal this summer to pass a huge package of climate, health and tax measures.
The Democrats opposed to the bill have not threatened to vote against the combined measure and risk a government shutdown.
Spending bill pitfalls
With annual government funding set to expire at the end of the month, Congress is expected to consider very soon a short-term bill to keep the government open for the coming months.
Alabama’s Sen. Richard Shelby, the top Republican on the Senate Appropriations Committee, said he and fellow GOP lawmakers may filibuster the short-term government funding bill—which would need Republican support to pass—if Democrats add too many additional provisions.
That means they would not supply the 10 Republican votes needed for any legislation to advance in the evenly divided Senate.
“What could be telling would be when Schumer puts the legislation on the floor and there’s a motion to proceed, subject to debate, subject to 60 votes —that vote will be indicative of maybe things to come if he’s loaded it up with extraneous things,” Shelby said. “It probably won’t carry that well.”
When asked about Manchin’s permitting reform bill, which at that point had not been made public, and Schumer’s commitment to add it to the must-pass government funding bill, Shelby said, “I think it’s going to be hard to carry that.”
“We haven’t seen the language of it,” he said. “But it’s a raw political deal.”
"One day before President Donald Trump took office in 2017, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a public warning that climate change had caused Puerto Rico's climate to warm by more than one degree Fahrenheit since the mid-20th century. The surrounding ocean waters had warmed by almost two degrees since 1901. As a result of these trends the EPA warned that "rising temperatures are likely to increase storm damages, significantly harm coral reefs, and increase the frequency of unpleasantly hot days."
By the time Summer 2017 had come and gone, Hurricane Maria had caused roughly 3,000 fatalities in the American commonwealth as well as an estimated $90 billion in damages. Then-President Trump aroused controversy for neglecting Puerto Rico and focusing more on victims in conservative states like Texas.
Five years later, history appears to be repeating itself as the tiny Caribbean island — which has yet to recover from the battering and neglect it received in 2017 — is being pummeled by Hurricane Fiona.
"Although climate change cannot be directly linked to increased hurricane intensity (yet), there are definitely more and more hurricanes, typhoons or cyclones storms in many parts of the world," Dr. Ali S. Akanda, an associate professor and graduate director of civil and environmental engineering at the University of Rhode Island, told Salon by email. "It is understood that the warming of the oceans and the atmosphere are probably contributing to these occurrences." In the case of Puerto Rico, this reality will make it increasingly difficult for the island's beleaguered inhabitants to pick up the pieces of their lives when natural disasters hit.Experts who spoke to Salon are once again saying there is ample scientific evidence that the massive natural disaster caused by this hurricane is exacerbated by the effects of man-made climate change.
"The island hasn't fully gotten back on its feet since Hurricane Maria came ashore roughly the same time in 2017," Akanda noted. "The intense rainfall and following floods will damage bridges, roadways, houses, utilities, and essential infrastructure. In addition, the longer-term economic impacts will close many businesses and make many people move out of San Juan and even from Puerto Rico itself."
Dr. Michael E. Mann, an American climatologist and geophysicist and currently director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, broke down the dynamics of exactly how climate change is worsening the hurricanes striking Puerto Rico.
"Climate change is super-charging these storms, making them stronger, and packing greater flooding potential," Mann wrote to Salon. "The intensification of Fiona to a strong Category 4 storm is part of larger trend toward more intense hurricanes, and warmer oceans mean more moisture in these storms, and more flooding when they make landfall (like we saw with Fiona in Puerto Rico)."
Since even the most proactive human technology will not be able to fully avert the short-term effects of climate change, those who live in vulnerable locations will continue to suffer disproportionately unless they find ways of preparing for the worst. Dr. William Sweet, a scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), wrote to Salon that "looking towards the future, coastal communities exposed to tropical cyclones will have to defend against both the rare event and the more chronic flooding brought on by rising seas."
Another NOAA official elaborated on how weather and sea level conditions are expected to worsen.
"In a general sense I would expect that for each 1 degree [Celsius] rise in tropical sea surface temperatures, we would see about a 7 percent increase in tropical cyclone rainfall rates," Tom Knutson, a physical scientist at NOAA's Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Lab in Princeton, NJ, told Salon by email. "This increase is higher in some simulations of hurricanes, but I'm just reporting an average value from various studies."
These calamities not only cause immediate devastation through the weather, but also more subtle and long-term public health problems. People will struggle to obtain clean water and provide for their sanitary needs, and diseases that flourish in fetid conditions will break out. At the time of this writing on Wednesday, only 41 percent of Puerto Ricans currently have access to their water service, only 27 percent have access to their electricity service and only 71 percent have functional telecommunications antennas.
"Authorities need to watch out for the deadly vector-borne disease Dengue in areas where flood water will stagnate, and waste and piled up damaged material will provide breeding ground for mosquitoes," Akanda warned. "Puerto Rico is a historically Dengue endemic region and has been severely affected by the disease in recent decades. Continuing water insecurity in hurricane damaged areas may force people to store household water in drums and open containers, which also contribute to growing mosquito populations."
Lawmakers on an advisory commission voted this week to reallocate $6 million in workforce training funds to an automation loan program for businesses in the state, with several members of the public in opposition.
Liane Taylor of the Department of Commerce said that training funds had not been utilized, with nearly $1.2 million awarded to businesses but only $128,000 dispersed. Taylor said businesses are struggling to find employees and people don’t want to work physically demanding manufacturing jobs.
However, Amanda Frickle, Montana’s union federation AFL-CIO Political Director, said that the application process for the training funds was “onerous,” with a grants cap that was “too restrictive” to onboard the necessary number of apprentices, as reasons why the department didn’t see more applications. She said the state is dealing with a workforce shortage issue that won’t be fixed with equipment upgrades.
“It is disappointing that we haven’t really dug into how we could have made that program work and instead are talking about diverting funds,” she said.
The automation program would use federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act to assist Montana businesses seeking to automate or modernize their existing operations, according to Taylor. Lawmakers on the ARPA Economic Transformation and Stabilization and Workforce Development Advisory Commission took up the topic Tuesday.
“The program is not designed to reduce the number of jobs but instead to retain jobs, and upskill existing manufacturing workforce by updating or replacing production equipment,” Taylor said.
Frickle said in her comments that she could see investments in both training programs as well as equipment upgrades.
Quinton Queer said he operates a training center for plumbers and pipefitters in Butte and that it was very difficult for existing programs to access funds. He said he consistently has a list of 20 to 30 applicants.
“There’s people out there ready to go to work,” Queer said. “They’re not willing to work in lower paid jobs.”
The Department of Labor and Industry certified over 700 apprenticeships in 2022, far surpassing totals in recent years.
House Minority Leader and commission member Rep. Kim Abbott, D-Helena, said that she would be opposing the reallocation of funds. She said she supported looking back at the barriers to accessing the training funds.
“Without safeguards to make sure that we’re not displacing workers and without looking at some of the barriers to the initial program, I’m going to be a no on it,” Abbott said.
Republicans on the advisory commission voted in favor of the proposal, which will need final approval from Gov. Greg Gianforte.
Daily Montanan is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Daily Montanan maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Darrell Ehrlick for questions: email@example.com. Follow Daily Montanan on Facebook and Twitter.