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Politics

Well That Was a Very Distressing Presidential Debate

On Biden’s fumble, SCOTUS, and EV sales

Well That Was a Very Distressing Presidential Debate
Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

Current conditions: Forecasters are keeping an eye on a weather system moving toward the Caribbean that could strengthen into a tropical storm • Heavy rains have rejuvenated dried-up lakes and lagoons in Chile • Severe storms could bring strong wind, excessive rain, and hail to parts of Europe over the next few days.

THE TOP FIVE

1. Biden squanders his climate moment at presidential debate

Well, last night’s first 2024 debate between President Biden and Donald Trump was “altogether distressing,” writes Heatmap’s Katie Brigham. And while climate was far from the main focus, the two candidates did have one notable exchange. Trump initially dodged a question about whether he would take action to slow the climate crisis, then briefly noted “I want absolutely immaculate clean water and I want absolutely clean air. And we had it. We had H2O.” Biden responded by criticizing Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris Agreement. “I immediately [re]joined, because if we reach 1.5 degrees Celsius, at any one point, there’s no way back,” Biden said. “The only existential threat to humanity is climate change. And he didn’t do a damn thing about it.”

Making Paris the focus of the debate’s one exchange around climate was an odd choice, Brigham says. According to a poll conducted last November by Heatmap, only 35% of Americans say they are at least “somewhat familiar” with the Paris Agreement. The Inflation Reduction Act, Biden’s signature piece of climate legislation, didn’t come up once. (Not that they’re that familiar with the IRA, either.) “Solar, wind, carbon emissions — all terms that resonate with Americans, none of which were mentioned,” Brigham adds.

HEATED’s Emily Atkin summed up reaction from climate-conscious viewers nicely, too:

X/emorwee

2. SCOTUS blocks EPA’s ‘good neighbor’ pollution rule

The Supreme Court yesterday agreed to pause an EPA environmental rule while it is challenged in a lower court. The so-called good neighor plan would impose strict emissions limits on power plants and other industrial sources in 23 states, and was intended to prevent dangerous pollution that can cause breathing problems from drifting across state lines. The rule has been challenged by a number of Republican states, as well as companies. Justice Neil Gorsuch wrote that those challenges were “likely to succeed on a claim that the Good Neighbor Plan is ‘arbitrary” or “capricious.’” The ruling blocks the EPA from ramping up pollution limits while the challenges are being heard. According to the EPA, the plan would prevent 1,300 premature deaths and cut down on ER visits.

3. U.S. EV sales tick up

U.S. sales of electric vehicles were up 12% in April (the most recent month for which data is available) compared to the same month in 2023, “countering the widespread notion that American consumers have lost interest in the technology,” according toE&E News. The data, from S&P Global, also finds this increase was led by “traditional” automakers – Ford, Toyota, etc. – not Tesla. Those manufacturers have been encroaching on Tesla’s position as the dominant U.S. EV seller for a while, and may soon close the gap entirely. We’ll know more next week, when manufacturers are expected to report their second-quarter sales.

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  • 4. Biden administration blocks road proposed for mining in Alaska

    The Biden administration today finalized a decision to block construction of a 211-mile mining road on federal land in north central Alaska. The move protects areas of pristine wilderness that are important to the traditions and livelihoods of Native communities from being carved up for copper and zinc mining. The venture behind the project, Ambler Metals, insists the materials it wants access to are essential for clean energy technologies like wind turbines and transmission lines, and says it will explore legal challenges. Below is a map of the proposed road:

    DOI/BLM

    In a separate decision, the Interior Department also said it would protect 28 million acres of land in Alaska that former President Donald Trump had tried to make available for drilling and mining. President Biden has a goal of conserving 30% of U.S. lands and waters.

    5. Vatican to build solar farm in Rome to power operations

    Pope Francis has chosen a site for its solar farm, which will power Vatican City. Francis picked Santa Maria di Galeria, a patch of land on the outskirts of Rome that has long been used as the base for Vatican Radio transmitters. It’s not clear how big the solar farm will be or when construction will be completed. In a letter outlining the plan, Francis called for “a transition to a sustainable development model that reduces greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, setting the goal of climate neutrality.”

    THE KICKER

    Global offshore wind capacity increased 24% last year, which makes 2023 “the second-highest year in offshore wind history,” according to the Global Wind Energy Council.

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    Jessica  Hullinger profile image

    Jessica Hullinger

    Jessica Hullinger is a freelance writer and editor who likes to think deeply about climate science and sustainability. She previously served as Global Deputy Editor for The Week, and her writing has been featured in publications including Fast Company, Popular Science, and Fortune. Jessica is originally from Indiana but lives in London.

    Technology

    Florida’s Climate Tech Hub Has a Florida Problem

    One of the most vulnerable states in the U.S. wants nothing to do with “climate change.”

    A Florida postcard.
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    The Biden administration loves a hub. There are the hydrogen hubs, the direct air capture hubs, and now there are the tech hubs. Established as a part of the CHIPS and Science Act of 2022, the $10 billion program has so far seeded 12 such hubs across the country. Four of these are focused on clean energy and sustainability, and one is located in the great state of Florida, which recently passed legislation essentially deleting the words “climate change” from state law.

    The South Florida ClimateReady Tech Hub did not, in the end, eliminate climate from its name. But while Governor Ron DeSantis might not approve, the federal government didn’t seem to mind, as the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration awarded the hub $19.5 million to “advance its global leadership in sustainable and resilient infrastructure.”

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    Climate

    America Wasn’t Built for This

    Why extreme heat messes with infrastructure.

    Teton Pass.
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    America is melting. Roads are buckling everywhere from Houston to Aurora, Colorado, and in June caused traffic jams in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Last week, a New York City bridge that had opened to let a ship pass got stuck after expanding in the heat, forcing thousands of commuters to detour. The mid-June heat wave led to thousands of flight delays; more recently, even Toronto’s Pearson International Airport warned travelers to brace for heat-related complications. Commuters along Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor have been harried by heat-induced delays for weeks.

    The train delays have affected an especially large population. The Northeast Corridor is the most trafficked commuter rail system in the country, with over 750,000 daily commuters. In late June, Amtrak notified customers that trains in the corridor could face delays of up to an hour in the coming weeks as heat interfered with tracks and overhead power lines. Since it issued that warning, tens of thousands of people have experienced heat-related delays.

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    Climate

    AM Briefing: Turbine Troubles

    On broken blades, COP29, and the falling price of used electric vehicles

    Vineyard Wind Is Having Turbine Troubles
    Heatmap Illustration/Getty Images

    Current conditions: Torrential rain brought flash flooding to Toronto • A wildfire on the Hawaiian island of Kauai has been contained • Parts of southern Spain could hit 111 degrees Fahrenheit this week.

    THE TOP FIVE

    1. Intense heat waves and thunderstorms torment millions of Americans

    The extreme heat wave over the East Coast may very well break a record in Washington, D.C., today that was set during the 1930s Dust Bowl: the longest stretch of days with temperatures above 100 degrees Fahrenheit. The mercury yesterday hit 104 degrees, after similarly scorching numbers on Monday and Sunday, tying the existing record of three days. The National Weather Service forecasts a high of 98 degrees for Wednesday but The Washington Post said there’s “an outside chance that it hits 100 (or higher).” Either way, with humidity at 55%, it will feel torturously hot, with a potential heat index of 110 degrees. An “Extended Heat Emergency” is in effect in the city through today. Nearly 75 major cities across the Northeast, South, and Southwest are currently facing dangerous heat levels, according to The New York Times.

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