The Climate in Emergency

A weekly blog on science, news, and ideas related to climate change


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6 Steps to Save the World from President Trump

This post includes a lot of material that actually showed up in the last two posts, but as my list has evolved and gotten more useful, I thought I’d share the updated version. It’s less a discussion and more of a simple to-do list. These items are listed in rough order of priority, since some have deadlines coming up soon. Please pass this around. Thank you.

1. Maybe Keep Mr. Trump Out of Office

No, getting Trump impeached is a bad idea. For one thing, that would give us President Pence, and that would be worse. But there are other options–all long shots, but still viable.

  1. Demand a recount. Jill Stein is organizing recounts in several key states. The Clinton campaign has joined the effort. Neither Dr. Stein nor Ms. Clinton expect to change the outcome of the election this way (and Dr. Stein does not care whether Mr. Trump or Ms. Clinton is president), the objective is only to stand up for fair play. But there is a chance. Check Dr. Stein’s website to see if she needs money or other assistance.
  2. Ask Republican electors to vote for Hillary Clinton instead. So-called “faithless electors” must pay a fine or other penalty in some states, but their votes are still valid, and this flexibility is exactly why the Electoral College exists. There is no official process for contacting the electors, but many are public figures and do have offices. Since the electors don’t have a responsibility to listen to “constituents” anyway, I don’t think it matters whether you live in their state or not. Just call as many as you can. Be polite and friendly, and focus on talking points likely to appeal to Republican party leaders, since that’s what most electors pledged to Mr. Trump are. Remember, a lot of Republican leaders don’t like Mr. Trump, anyway. It’s a long shot, but if we can get just 40 of them to switch, Mr. Clinton will be president. Here is a partial list of current Electoral College members.

2. Block the More Extreme of  Mr. Trump’s Appointees

I discussed how and why to block political appointees last week.  The short version is to sign whatever petitions you want to, but the real power lies in calling your senators and also those senators on the relevant committee. Start with Myron Ebell, the climate denier Mr. Trump wants to head the EPA. If your focus is on human rights, remember that it is always the disenfranchised who bear the brunt of pollution and climate change, and that of all the mistakes our government could make, allowing environmental disaster would be far the hardest to un-do.

Here’s the process, in brief:

  1. Look up Mr. Trump’s appointees. Here is a list that looks like it’s being regularly updated. Focus on those appointments that require Senate confirmation.
  2. Identify appointees you want to protest.
  3. Look up which Senate committee (or committees) has jurisdiction over that person’s prospective job. Use this link.
  4. Do an internet search for that committee’s web page. It will list the committee’s current membership with links to each member’s page—which will list the phone numbers for his or her office. Remember to CALL, not email. Remember that each Senate committee has its counterpart in the House. Don’t get the House committee by mistake. The US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources has jurisdiction over the EPA. Here is a link to its page.
  5. Make a call list with all the members of the committee and your two Senators on it. Remember to remove any Senators who are leaving office in January and remember to call their successors when they come in. Fortunately, none of the members of the Energy and Natural Resources committee are leaving, so you can call all of them now.
  6. Make your phone calls.

3. Call the House Oversight Committee and Ask for a Bipartisan Review of Mr. Trump’s Financials and Conflicts of Interest

Honestly, I’m not sure if this will do anything useful, but since we are fairly sure Trump is slimy, knowing the exact depth of his slime probably can’t hurt. The number is (202) 225-5074

4. Attend Protest Marches, Especially Large Ones

There is a big demonstration planned on women’s rights in DC for just after inauguration. So far, the organizers seem to be communicating largely through Facebook, and the details are not set yet. Stay tuned. The objective here is to demonstrate that women and their allies DO matter politically and DO have power—both to put Trump and his cronies on notice and to let women who are afraid right now know they aren’t alone. Men and genderqueer folk are apparently welcome. I’m going.

I do hope to see a similar large demonstration on environmental issues soon, especially since Trump has signaled he’s open to having his mind changed on that one.

5. Donate Money

Mr. Trump has more or less promised to use his power to try to do horrible things to the environment, to Latinx and Muslim immigrants, and to anyone who needs affordable healthcare. Women, LGBT folk, and people of color are justifiably worried as well. And, since the election, bigots of all stripes seem to have felt emboldened, making everything many of us do that much harder already. Fortunately, there are groups already established that know how to fight this sort of thing and they are gearing up to respond. They need cash.

If you want suggestions and handy links, here are a few:

  1. The Environmental Defense Fund is currently matching donations two-to-one AND is focusing particularly on protecting President Obama’s climate legacy against Mr. Trump.
  2. The Sierra Club Foundation  funnels donations into a variety of conservation and environmental education-related projects and has an excellent rating from various charity-watchdog groups.
  3. The Natural Resources Defense Council  supports various conservation projects with a particular focus on pursuing polluters through legal challenges.
  4. Earthjustice works through the courts to push for environmental progress.
  5. The League of Conservation Voters supports the election of pro-environment candidates at every level.
  6. The Union of Concerned Scientists supports independent conservation science and stands up for climate scientists currently facing harassment.
  7. The ACLU defends the civil rights of individuals in court.
  8. Planned Parenthood is famous for its contraceptive services and controversial for its abortion services, but it provides much more, from basic gynecological care to cancer screenings and anonymous HIV testing to periodic men’s sexual health clinics, whether or not the patient can pay. The tragedy about attempts by Congress to de-fund Planned Parenthood for its abortion services is that the law already bars Federal money from going to abortion; “de-fundin Planned Parenthood” has no impact on abortion, but will deny low-income people life-saving healthcare.
  9. The Southern Poverty Law Center fights hate and extremism in court, supporting LGBT and immigrant rights, among many others, and works for criminal justice reform.
  10. The Delaware Alliance for Community Action. Yes, this organization is pretty local, but local organizations do important work. If you don’t live in Delaware and want to find something closer to home, go ahead.
  11. The Newspaper. Seriously, high-quality journalism is under threat right now, largely for economic reasons. Buy a subscription to a high-quality paper that still does true investigative journalism. A free press is not free and needs our collective support.

6. Be Kind and Be Brave

This is a BIGGIE. As I said there are a lot of newly emboldened deplorables out there now who think it’s ok to treat other people badly. We have to show them otherwise. If you see someone being treated badly, say something. If you are treated badly, fight back. If you see someone who is hurting or afraid, ask how you can help. Find the people in your community you don’t normally talk to and ask them what’s going on. There’s a lot of information online about how to do this. Seriously.

 

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What to Do Next, Part II

It’s easy enough to say, as I did last week, that we should ask the Senate to block President-Elect Donald Trump’s EPA pick, on the grounds that Myron Ebell is a raging climate denier. But how, exactly, does one actually do it?

If you’re like me, you may have a vague idea of how these things work, but still have an overwhelming number of questions that sap your confidence when you try to get on the phone with elected officials. In the interests of giving us both courage, I’ve done some research that should clear up a few points.

There has been a lot in the news lately about Mr. Trump picking, or considering picking, a lot of people recently, and some of those picks are being contested. Some of these–cabinet positions and others–require Senate confirmation (these are called “presidential appointees with Senate confirmation,” or PAS), but others don’t. The transition team members do not require approval, nor do staffer positions like senior adviser, the position to which Steve Bannon has been appointed.

Now, Steve Bannon is a well-known racist and anti-Semite and his appointment has raised vociferous objections both within Congress and elsewhere, but there is little anyone can do because this is just Mr. Trump’s call to make. There are ways to apply political pressure to get Mr. Trump to change his mind. Besides petitions addressed to the President-elect himself, the Senate can hold one or more of Mr. Trump’s cabinet appointments hostage until Mr. Bannon is fired and replaced by someone better. You have the option of asking your senators to do just that, although personally I think that may be a waste of political capital. Your call.

But the head of the EPA is a PAS, as are several other key spots, and your senators are responsible to you for whom they approve and how and why. The electorate has a lot of leverage, here.

You can sign petitions, like this one, and this one, against Myron Ebell, but don’t rely on petitions alone. For one thing, petitions aren’t always delivered. There was a petition on the White House site against Mr. Ebell that had collected a lot of signatures but which the White House has simply taken down–that site is designed as a way to communicate with the current President, not the next one, and the current President cannot appear to resist the peaceful transfer of power in any way. Besides, petitions do not have half the impact of phone calls. You just need to know whom to call about what.

(There are actually well over a thousand PAS positions, most of which doubtless either get rubber stamped or left unfilled. Our energy needs to focus on the most important).

The Process in the Senate

The Senate confirmation process begins for each PAS with an investigation and vetting process within the executive branch. After that process chooses a nominee, the president sends written notification to the Senate, where the nomination is read on the Senate floor, assigned a number, and passed into a committee for discussion.

Which committee handles the nomination depends on the position. For example, anything within the US Department of Defense goes through the Senate Armed Services Committee. Some positions must go through more than one committee. You can find a list of which committees have jurisdiction over what, here.

Committees may conduct their own investigation of the nominee if they need additional information and, following discussion, can report to the Senate on the nominee favorably, unfavorably, or without recommendation. The committee also has the option to take no action at all. Committees do not have the authority to actually halt the nomination process, but the full Senate rarely acts against the recommendation of the committee.

The nomination for head of the EPA is handled by the US Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources. I am unclear on whether the US Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works might have jurisdiction also–it looks like it might.

After the nomination passes out of committee, the Senate must unanimously agree to the date and time for the confirmation hearing. A single senator can stall the process by refusing to agree–I don’t know whether that is ever actually done deliberately. Once the hearing begins, debate can continue until the Senate votes to stop. That vote requires a super majority (two-thirds), but the actual confirmation vote is by simple majority (half plus one). The Senate may confirm, reject, or take no action on the nomination. Confirmations are sent to the President for signature. Any nominations left pending when the Senate goes on a recess of over 30 days automatically expire. The President may resubmit the nomination later.

So, to block a nomination, there are a couple of options: the relevant committee can report unfavorably on the nominee; the Senate as a whole can reject the nomination; or the entire process can be delayed until the next long recess by means of various obstructionist methods (filibuster, excessive investigation, arguing over scheduling, and possibly others).

The Senators

All senators have a voice in the process, so call your senators and voice your opinion. However, it’s worth also calling the senators on the relevant committee–they might not listen to you if you’re not a constituent, but a large number of calls should still mean something. The membership of each committee is easy to look up online.

Now, the confirmation process won’t start until after the inauguration, but you can start calling senators now–except remember some current senate members will lose their seats come January. Strike them from your call list and call their successors once they take office. Remember, also that committee appointments do not automatically get passed down with the senate seat, so the person who beat a committee member in the election will not necessarily take that spot on the committee. You’ll just have to look it up when the time comes.

If all this sounds like a lot to look up, don’t worry–I’ve done some of the grunt-work for you. Notice that the names of both the committees I mentioned earlier are hyperlinks. Those links go to the websites of those committees, which list current committee membership–and each name on that site is in turn linked to that Senator’s website, which includes contact information. “Contact me” links on the site likely lead to email forms. You want phone numbers, so look up the senator’s office locations instead. If you are a constituent, call the office closest to where you are registered to vote–your call will have a bigger impact that way.

And I can tell you that nobody on the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources is leaving office this time. You can call all of them now. On the Committee on the Environment and Public Works (which may or may not have jurisdiction, remember), two are retiring, Republican David Vitter, and Democrat, Barbara Boxer. You can call everybody else now.

The Nominees

Since the nomination process hasn’t officially started yet, technically, there are no nominees. Myron Ebell is simply the likely nominee.  Other names being discussed for the position are Robert E. Grady and Jeffrey Holmstead. I have not yet looked either of them up, but since Mr. Trump has been rather vocal about wanting to gut the EPA, it’s a safe bet that whomever he wants for the job should not have it.

There are other nominations also worth taking a look at, for both environmental reasons and otherwise. The Secretaries of the Interior (whose responsibilities include the National Park Service), of Agriculture, and of Commerce (whose responsibilities include the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, which carries out a lot of climate research), plus the US Trade Representative and the UN Ambassador all bear special attention and should not go to climate deniers.

You can find a list of appointees and potential nominees here. It is current as of this writing, though I don’t know how frequently it will be updated. Note that the list includes both PAS and non-PAS positions.

A Few Closing Words

First, if you hate using the telephone, you have my sympathy, but we really need to just do it this time. If the idea of calling a senator specifically worries you (and it does me!), take heart. You won’t talk to the senator personally–a staffer will write down what you are calling about and whether you are for or against, and if you got tongue-tied or awkward, that friendly staffer will never mention it to anyone. Seriously, staffers are, as a rule, helpful, friendly people who will do whatever they can to help you get your message through as long as you are friendly with them. And that’s true even when you’re calling to disagree with the senator in question. Seriously, staffers are cool people.

Second, since the push to block Myron Ebell and others is most likely going to be led by Democrats, some people may cry foul, saying that the Democrats didn’t like it when Republicans blocked President Obama’s nominations. I want to be very clear that I am not advocating that sort of blockage. The Republican leadership has repeatedly attempted to block Mr. Obama’s actions simply because they were Mr. Obama’s. This included promising to block certain appointments before even finding out who the nominee was. We shouldn’t do that.

I am not advocating blocking Mr. Ebell because Mr. Trump may nominate him but because Mr. Ebell is a climate denier and thus unfit for the job. Barring action from the Electoral College, Mr. Trump will be President, and thus will have to appoint someone to head the EPA. The EPA needs a head. We gain nothing whatever from preventing the president–any president–from doing his or her job. But it is our job to make sure the president’s duties are executed in a sane, legal way, and that includes retaining a functional EPA capable of doing something about climate change.