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The fight over oil and gas drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska has been going on since 1980, when part of the refuge, 1.5 million acres along the Arctic coast, was marked for potential development. It’s now the Forty Years’ War.
Like other long wars, there have been moments of intense conflict — between Republicans (largely) who support drilling and Democrats (largely) who support protecting the refuge — and much longer periods of slow, simmering tension.
I’ve been covering the issue for the last few years, and in that time I’ve seen the Trump administration get so close to opening the refuge you can practically smell the crude oil coming from northeast Alaska. It has been, quite simply, stunning.
But even the administration’s efforts have unfolded slowly. It’s been three years since the Republican-led Congress passed the Tax Act of 2017, which gave the administration the authority to sell oil and gas leases in the refuge. So it was even more stunning this week, now that President Trump’s time in office is ending, to see what amounted to a mad scramble to get those sales done.
Emphasis, perhaps, on “mad.” As I wrote on Monday, the administration is moving swiftly, as it faces a drop-dead date of Jan. 20 (noon Eastern, even more precisely) when Joseph R. Biden Jr. will be sworn in as the 46th president.
If all goes smoothly for the White House, a lease auction might be held on Jan. 18. You don’t have to be an expert on the machinery of government to realize that that’s cutting it awfully close.
And it may all be moot, as my colleague John Schwartz and I wrote on Tuesday. Given the late auction date, there will be ample opportunity for the incoming administration to reject the leases. And if that doesn’t work, there are lawsuits, most by environmental groups, working their way through the courts that stand a good chance of upending the leasing effort. (It’s possible that the Trump administration would really cut corners and approve the leases immediately after the sale, but that would lead to even more legal troubles.)
It all makes one wonder what the administration is doing, what the endgame is. In reporting for the two articles I didn’t talk to anyone who had much of a clue. And while the administration is moving fast, it isn’t talking.
Your city has water problems? She’s got solutions
One of the hallmarks of climate change is extreme weather, and that means millions of people around the world can face water shortages one month and devastating floods the next. But what if communities could mitigate this weather whiplash by managing those floodwaters and making some use of them?
That’s exactly what Priscila Alves, a civil engineer and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Exeter in England, wants to do in her Brazilian hometown. And she wants that town, Campina Grande, to be a model for developing cities around the world.
“If I’m in a drought and I know I’m getting a strong rainfall, I can take this water and save it for when the city is facing the opposite hazard,” Ms. Alves said.
Some cities — like Beijing, Vancouver, Bristol and Barcelona — are already using solutions like green roofs, rain gardens and permeable pavements to make storm surge overflows more manageable. The challenge for Ms. Alves: Adapting those solutions, collectively known as sustainable urban drainage systems, for fast-growing cites in the developing world, like Campina Grande.
“These countries are so different from Brazil or Colombia or Peru or South Africa,” she said. “You can’t expect the same legislation from the U.K. to be applied in Brazil in the same way.”
Ms. Alves, 28, has been studying Campina Grande’s water system since 2013. As an undergraduate engineering student, she first worked on water systems on an exchange program with the University of New Mexico. There, she realized cities around the world were tackling the same water issues that Campina Grande was facing.
So, for her master’s thesis, Ms. Alves designed a sustainable drainage system that took into account her city’s zoning laws, bylaws and climate. Her model showed that a combination of gardens and permeable pavements could reduce the amount of city blocks facing severe flood risks by 85 percent. A separate study in 2015 by the Federal University of Campina Grande showed that fitting homes in the city with storage tanks to collect storm water could reduce pressure on the local water system by more than 10 percent.
Iana Rufino, an associate professor at the Campina Grande Federal University who studies water systems, said Ms. Alves’s model showed how the city could reduce its environmental impact while increasing quality of life in the long term.
The biggest challenge proposals like hers face, according to Dr. Rufino, is persuading city officials that sustainable drainage systems are worth the investment, that they aren’t a novelty “green idea” but a solution that can help cities for generations.
Most Brazilian cities, she noted, weren’t designed with water resources in mind and municipal officials tend to focus on less-expensive patchwork fixes to existing systems to deal with water hazards.
Persuading the politicians is a big part of Ms. Alves’s focus now. She divides her time between Ph.D. studies at Exeter and working with Campina Grande city officials. She’s trying to have her research included in the city’s next development plan, to be issued next year.
Implementing a sustainable drainage plan would require a large investment and the construction projects would disrupt daily life for many citizens, Ms. Alves acknowledged, but she likes to point out that it wouldn’t just be people in the flood zones who’d benefit.
“Droughts don’t just affect a few parts of the city, the water shortage is everywhere,” she said. And, she noted, drought resilience wouldn’t be the only benefit of a sustainable drainage system.
“We don’t have a lot of green areas in Campina Grande,” Ms. Alves said. “With these sustainable measures, we’d have green areas around the city that everyone could enjoy.”
Digging into influence campaigns for big oil
The news cycle moves fast these days and a lot has happened since last week’s newsletter. But we wanted to bring your attention to one of the most important: Our Climate Team colleague Hiroko Tabuchi published an investigation into how the global consulting firm FTI helps to drive influence campaigns across the United States on behalf of the fossil fuel industry.
Hiroko’s investigation — based on interviews with a dozen former FTI employees, a review of hundreds of internal company documents and an examination of online domain-name registrations — provides an anatomy of the oil industry’s efforts to influence public opinion in the face of increasing political pressure over climate change.
She found that FTI has been involved in the operations of at least 15 current and past campaigns promoting fossil-fuel interests. Some of the groups at the center of those campaigns can appear to be grass roots organizations.
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