By Fred Palmer, President & CEO, NewEra Carbon; and Senior Fellow, CO2 Policy, Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change
May 13, 2021 - The concept of the Human Environment is a key environmental and human development principle established in the National Environmental Policy Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Nixon in 1970. NEPA, as the law is commonly called, has been used in litigation by the environmental community from the very beginning. The first NEPA lawsuit in 1972 involved the Cross Florida Barge Canal, a World War II conceived project. The canal was never built and the very first lawsuit and accompanying injunction under NEPA gave cover for President Nixon to “impound” the funding among other expenditures he didn’t like, causing a mini constitutional crisis.
Because of its robust history, it is very safe to say that NEPA is our Environmental Magna Carta. Unfortunately, most media focus on the law has been the huge number of lawsuits brought by the environmental community under it, always because of claimed deficient environmental impact statements. Because project opposition has been the media focus on NEPA, there has been very little effort made to truly understand what is meant by the concept of the Human Environment set forth in NEPA.
In addressing climate change, there is an ongoing need to embrace consideration of the Human Environment as found in NEPA and rethink all climate efforts that eliminate coal as well as natural gas electricity generation. Both will suffer if President Biden’s goal to reduce CO2 emissions over 50% by 2030, under 9 years from now become reality. In connection with the goal and these impacts, there has been no indication that the Administration considered the concept of the Human Environment. The clear threat of the President’s statement if implemented to the people values of affordable, reliable electricity supply, which is essential to human health and welfare has been expressed by many but not visibly considered by the Administration.
Since the concept of the Human Environment first appeared in NEPA, it has been embraced and defined by the nations of the world at a Stockholm, UN Conference in 1972, the US included. All nations present combined to produce the resulting Stockholm Declaration defining the Human Environment which:
· Identifies that the human environment includes the circumstances of people where they live and the natural environment.
· Identifies that protecting the human environment requires the human world to develop and that daily needs of people everywhere need to be met to protect “the physical mental and social health of man in the man-made environment particularly in the living and working environment”.
· Recognizes that most environmental problems are caused by “under development” where millions of people live below minimum levels in poverty destroying the natural environment by living off the land.
· Recognizes the “fundamental human right to freedom, equality and adequate conditions of life in an environment of a quality that permit a life of dignity and well-being.”
· Recognizes that economic and social development is essential for ensuring a favorable living and working environment for man and for creating conditions on earth that are necessary for the improvement of the quality of life.
The President Biden executive order, his first day in office, summarily stopping the Keystone oil pipeline the next day caused immediate unemployment of 12,000 people without any regard to the Human Environment as used in NEPA and defined in the Stockholm Declaration. The Keystone situation is a tragic precedent and development for all of us and particularly for the thousands of people and their families summarily removed from a lifestyle of quality and abundance by the stroke of an executive order. With respect to the action by the President, it is manifestly inconsistent with concepts agreed to by the United States in Stockholm and should be viewed as a potential precursor to what comes next from the Green Left in their own words and also implicit in their doctrine.
Of course, EPA will be heard from again on CO2 and electricity generation. In the now dated 2009 CO2 Endangerment Finding eleven years ago, much has changed in the natural world to firmly establish that climate change is not an existential threat as more people live longer and better today with more CO2 in the atmosphere than did then. Too, the satellite readings that went up in 1979 to measure climate change show very modest warming and they are 100% confirmed by weather balloons.
It is, however, understood that there is widespread social concern at home and in Europe over CO2 and climate change. But this time around for EPA, unlike 2009, EPA needs to pay attention to the pro-people values embedded in NEPA, the Stockholm Declaration and the Human Environment. This time around there needs to be recognition that remaining coal and natural gas plants are needed for people to be warm in the winter, cool in the summer with coal communities stable, the economy strong and manufacturing healthy. All of these values define the Human Environment and cannot be ignored.
One final note on coal technology:
In the eight years of the Obama/Biden Administration the National Coal Council produced several studies on what 21st Century Coal can and should be. The most compete of the several submitted is a March 2011 study styled:
Expedited CCS Development: Challenges and Opportunities
The technology approaches in these studies have advanced since then and the Keystone pipeline result must not be the end game for coal. Educating policy makers at all levels and of both political parties of the promise for coal and the realities of the need to protect people values in the Human Environment as defined in Stockholm is a must. Starting with the President, when the policy makers and the American people understand the gains that have been made and that can be made through advanced technologies, protecting the Human Environment through the greater use of coal, oil and natural gas will be a reality.