Coronavirus could alter climate litigation. Here’s how

E&E News | Jennifer Hijazi April 8, 2020 Coronavirus could alter climate litigation. Here’s how An anticipated flood of lawsuits related to the novel coronavirus could carry big lessons for attorneys duking it out over the impacts of global warming, but legal experts say the jury is still out as to what degree of influence pandemic-related litigation could have for climate law. Some scholars, like University of Connecticut law professor Sara Bronin, see crucial connections between legal battles over COVID-19 and climate issues. […] The way judges treat lawsuits stemming from the pandemic, she said, “will tell us how courts might be shifting in their thinking about government action in the face of significant threats.” […] In her recent paper, “What the Pandemic Can Teach Climate Attorneys,” Bronin examined how lawyers looking to address global warming in the courts may find inspiration in lawsuits “just waiting to happen” as a result of the pandemic. On “a practical level,” she wrote, “COVID-19 and climate are intertwined.” Climate lawyers battling it out over property takings, corporate misinformation and failures by governments and industry to protect the public should pay attention to any litigation that results from the coronavirus pandemic, Bronin said. Legal action from the American Civil Liberties Union alleging that prisoners’ rights are violated when they are incarcerated under conditions that foster the spread of the virus echo complaints by young people in Juliana v. United States that the government has placed them in imminent danger as a result of failure to act on climate

Decades of science denial related to climate change has led to denial of the coronavirus pandemic

InsideClimate News | Neela Banerjee and David Hasemyer American science denialism, deployed for years against climate change and, most recently, the coronavirus, can be traced back to the early 1950s during the fight over smog in Los Angeles. When a Cal-Tech biochemist fingered nitrogen oxide emissions and uncombusted hydrocarbons from automobiles and refineries as the cause of the thick smog that often blanketed the city, the American Petroleum Institute counter-attacked by highlighting the alleged uncertainty of his science. The tactic was a test run for the fossil fuel industry’s assault 40 years later on climate science. Decades of climate denial now appear to have paved the way for denial of Covid-19 by many on the right, according to experts on climate politics. After the fossil fuel industry spent hundreds of millions of dollars attacking climate scientists and accentuating the supposed uncertainty of climate science, it isn’t hard to understand how that happened. President Trump, who denies climate change, has brushed off Covid-19’s seriousness until recently by relying on many of the same arguments he uses to dismiss global warming, such as ignoring government scientists or blaming China. Climate deniers have long attacked climate scientists, and Covid-19 deniers recently launched a smear campaign against Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, in part because he corrected the President’s inaccurate statements about the pandemic.

change. Experts have also observed similar legal ramifications from government-mandated business closures in response to COVID-19 and efforts to halt development in areas threatened by sea-level rise. Bronin’s paper acknowledges that lawsuits brought by shuttered businesses may not hold up in court, due to the virus’ far-reaching and rapid spread, but she said the cases could serve as precursors to claims brought in an era of more severe climate damage. “You want to make sure that government isn’t moving too fast,” she said, “because there’s no way for government to be able to compensate for the widespread loss and economic upheaval that will result from climate change inevitably.”

Coronavirus and electricity: 3 issues to watch

E&E News | Edward Clump and Kristi E. Swartz

The novel coronavirus’ shutdown of American life is disrupting the electricity sector as state regulators, power companies and customers scramble to cope with millions of jobless claims and an inability to gather in large groups. […] Utilities are keeping an eye on revenues and possible drops in demand. The outlook for pending generation and transmission projects should come into better focus over the next several weeks as utility companies report first-quarter earnings. But some effects of COVID-19 are beginning to emerge. […] Here’s what to watch as utilities, customers and state power regulators deal with the pandemic: (1) Utility squeeze: The pandemic comes at a time when U.S. electricity demand has been flat or falling in many areas for years, and most of the nation’s utilities aren’t seeking to develop new coal or nuclear generation. Natural gas-fired units are still being pursued, as are a plethora of wind and solar projects by players throughout the sector. Electric cooperatives talked last week about the lost revenue they face as restaurants and other commercial and industrial businesses are closed to maintain social distancing. […] (2) Consumer relief: Across the country, people are having difficulty paying electricity bills because of layoffs, delayed work or other coronavirus-related financial troubles. At the same time, U.S. utilities are facing growing calls to ban electricity and water shut-offs, and to provide waivers of late payment charges and reinstatement of services to customers who might have been cut off. […] (3) Tech troubles: Social distancing and stay-at-home orders have forced state utility regulators to get acquainted quickly with technology such as Zoom videoconferencing in order to keep up with routine meetings and hearings, some of which may be required by law. “From our perspective, the only public meetings that need to be happening are absolutely essential ones” and ones that are procedural, said Logan Atkinson Burke, executive director of the New Orleans-based Alliance for Affordable Energy.

Coronavirus prompting historic drop in air travel and jet fuel demand

Axios | Amy Harder

Air travel — and the jet fuel powering it — are plummeting alongside most other parts of our modern economy as vast swaths of the world shut down to fight the coronavirus. The big picture: Data that has newly become available shows the dramatic impact of global shutdowns, which will reverberate across the livelihoods of people working in these sectors. By the numbers: Global oil demand for jet fuel has evaporated to 35% of normal levels in April and May, consultancy Rystad

Wildlife destruction ‘not a slippery slope but a series of cliff edges’

The Guardian | Fiona Harvey

Wildlife species will die out and natural ecosystems collapse in the near future if the climate crisis goes unchecked, scientists have warned, as new research shows that the natural world is at far greater risk from climate breakdown than previously thought. Catastrophe could strike this decade for some species, as key temperature thresholds are crossed. Instead of the anticipated gradual decline of species, there are likely to be a series of sudden collapses. Ocean ecosystems will be first hit, as the seas have already warmed to an unprecedented extent, and problems such as lack of oxygen and an increase in acid worsen. By the 2040s, a similarly abrupt collapse is likely to spread to the land, causing devastation among key species in Indonesia, the Amazon, India, northern Australia and sub-Saharan Africa and the Congo rainforest. “It’s not a slippery slope, but a series of cliff edges, hitting different places at different times,” said Alex Pigot of University College London, lead author of the study, published today in the journal Nature. What appears to happen, according to the study’s authors, is that most species can cope with warming temperatures for a while. But when a certain temperature threshold is crossed, suddenly a large proportion of species face conditions they have not experienced before, and the ecosystem can abruptly collapse.

Energy projected Wednesday. The U.S. Transportation Security Administration screened a record low 97,130 people at airport checkpoints on Tuesday, compared to more than 2 million this time last year, a TSA spokeswoman said on Twitter. What we’re watching: Rystad predicts that jet fuel demand will gradually pick back up, but by December will still be far lower than pre-coronavirus levels.

EVolve Houston Executive Director & President Christopher George, and Operations Director Jan Maceczek.

In just under four months, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) has left the global economy wrecked, upending countless lives in its wake.

The economic effects of the virus are staggering and expected to get worse. U.S. stock indexes have dropped by more than 20%, erasing all the gains made over the past four years, and unemployment filings are at a historic high as jobless claims see a 3,000% jump since early March.

The government had put the U.S. in a precarious position when entering this battle: over a trillion dollars in deficits, and an interest rate of nearly zero. With immediate actions triggered to little effect, Congress recently passed a $2 trillion stimulus package (phase three of the government’s relief funding) and is already prepping for phase four.

Proposals have been looking to go beyond payments for small businesses and individuals to also reshape infrastructure spending and Social Security benefits. Infrastructure investment is often cited as a necessary component of any fiscal stimulus plan. Critically, infrastructure spending can directly address some of the root causes of a pandemic. Additionally, research is clear that an increase in public capital directly leads to an increase in economic output. Upgraded public infrastructure also can facilitate consumer and produce goods more efficiently. 

Several initiatives, including the improvement of public transportation, or federal investment in public-private partnerships (P3s), achieve both goals. Electrifying the transportation industry is one of these initiatives. The increase in electric vehicle (EV) adoption across the automotive industry has become a central piece of the clean transportation discussion.

While electrification has made huge headwinds in the last few years, many challenges remain, notably the lack of scale of charging infrastructure for individuals as well as fleets. Rapidly advancing the adoption of EVs should be one of the major components of the next stimulus package (seeing as the sector was neglected in package three). The investment supports economic activity while also improving the health and well-being of Americans and the cities we call home. 

The public health benefits of transitioning to EVs, specifically a reduction in tailpipe emissions and particulate matter, are well documented. They range from reduced asthma hospitalizations to improved sleep habits to a reduction in respiratory illnesses, the importance of which we see now as attacks respiratory systems. The importance of air quality is perhaps now clearer than ever, as coronavirus symptoms worsen in cases with compromised respiratory symptoms, amongst other conditions. We already know how to speed up the adoption of EVs. The solutions are both numerous and complex, requiring strategic investment in opportunities that will provide the most impact. Here are three objectives the next federal stimulus bill can achieve, if it allocates appropriate resources to truly creating healthier and better economies.