Notes from the US: Oil and the law

Freedom Columnist Louis Further rounds up some lesser-known happenings on the other side of the Atlantic.

Court win shuts down pipelines

There was a judicial victory for environmentalists in the middle of last month. A district court judge in Minnesota ruled that he will allow oil pipeline protesters to present a “necessity defence” in response to accusations made a year ago against climate activists. The #ShutItDown action temporarily disabled pipelines across five states and stopped the flow of tar sands oil from Canada into the US. Judge Robert Tiffany ruled that four of those involved will be allowed to call on scientists and other expert witnesses to explain the immediate threat of climate change to justify their action. This is only the third time that such an explanation of the damage caused by petrochemicals has been deemed admissible in court. Bill McKibben of 350.org – also a potential witness – said, “The whole planet will be inside a single courtroom the day this trial begins … It’s a rare chance to explain precisely why we need to act, and act now.”

Although the main and real reasons for saving the planet are… to have one to live on (!), some people only understand money, of course. Those who counter the ignorance of climate deniers might want to make use of an analysis which was published last month by Oil Change International (OCI). It found that, over the past decade, financial damage from extreme weather as intensified by climate change and the impacts on health of using gas, oil, and coal have cost the US economy an annual average of US$240 (£183) billion – or almost $US20 (£15) million an hour. That figure is estimated to grow by 50% in the next ten years.

A recent report by the the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that taxpayers in the US have paid out more than US$350 billion (or £27 billion) a year over the last decade for flood and crop insurance along with disaster assistance programs.

Kathleen Hartnett White is a serious climate change denier. She has argued that carbon dioxide is harmless and should not be regulated. She has described solar and wind power as ‘unreliable and parasitic’. She has called climate change ‘a dogma that has little to do with science’. In a 2014 blog post entitled ‘Energy and Freedom’ White wrote that coal ‘…dissolved the economic justification for slavery…’. Her latest job? Well, in mid-October Trump named her as… his senior adviser on environmental policy.

Dodgy drug deals in Congress

In 2016 deaths in the US from drug overdoses (chiefly opioid abuse) rose to almost 60,000; that is widely perceived as a major epidemic and has become the main cause of death for the under-50s. In October a TV exposé found that Republican Congressperson Tom Marino was behind an effort led by the pharmaceutical industry to weaken federal government’s ability to crack act on the epidemic.

The Drug Enforcement Administration became largely ineffective wherever large, suspicious drug consignments really intended for underground distribution get sent to chemists’ shops – thanks to legislation introduced by Marino. The drug companies contributed US$1.5 (£1) million to its 23 congressional co-sponsors. Amongst those congresspeople was Marino, who received US$100,000 (£758,000). Trump, meanwhile, nominated Marino as his leading figure on drugs.

Reaction in action

In mid October the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) had to file a lawsuit in a federal court against the Trump administration for preventing a pregnant teenage guest worker from getting an abortion. The undocumented 17-year-old girl was living unaccompanied in a refugee resettlement shelter. She has actually been granted permission from a judge to terminate her pregnancy. But officials from local and government agencies refused to transport her to the appropriate women’s health clinic for an abortion. Eventually the abortion was provided.

Despite the obvious wish to remove Trump, it’s long been known that vice president Mike Pence could be even worse: in mid-October an article in The New Yorker reported that in an interview with a legal specialist, Trump apparently said of his ‘colleague’ on LGBT rights, “Don’t ask that guy – he wants to hang them all!” Pence also showed how dangerous he is when he cast the tie-breaking vote late last month to prevent a law from passing which would have made it easier for banks to be sued – for malpractice and exploitation, for example. Pence also recently said, “…there’s no greater force for peace in the world, than the United States nuclear arsenal.” Nor was one of his predecessors much better: at the same time, former President George H.W. Bush apologised for repeatedly groping women, after being accused of sexual assault by two actresses.

Also at around the same time, Attorney General Jeff Sessions gave an extraordinary testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee – part of the ongoing investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence or fix the 2016 presidential election. When asked whether he would imprison journalists involved, Sessions refused to say that he would not, replying: “…we have matters that involve the most serious national security issues, that put our country at risk, and we will utilize the authorities that we have, legally and constitutionally, if we have to.” Along parallel lines at the start of November, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders refused to answer a question as to whether President Trump thinks slavery was wrong.

In late October the Department of Education revoked over 70 policy documents which detailed the rights of disabled students; they outlined ways in which schools should comply with two civil rights laws: the Rehabilitation Act and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. For example, one of the documents no longer in force offered guidance to schools on how to use federal funds for pupils with special needs.

A little-reported poll published last month in the newspaper Military Times showed that 30% of US service-members actually consider white nationalists to be a more serious threat to the US than the conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria.

Trump’s racist attempts to limit the bounty of the United States to white people continues: in early November his administration announced that by January 5 2019 the temporary protected status of thousands of immigrants – some of the living in the US for decades – from Nicaragua will expire; waiting for a similar ruling are nearly 60,000 Hondurans who have formerly enjoyed similar protection.