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Toxic Smog Choking Beijing Is So Bad, It’s Grounded Flights

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Residents in Beijing and dozens of other cities across northern China endured another day of smog that was so strong, flights were canceled, factories shut down and traffic stopped. 

A red alert, the highest level in the country’s pollution warning system, was issued in at least 23 cities late last week, as smog swept in and blanketed the area. The alert is expected to last through Wednesday, with the worst of the polluted air hitting Monday evening and lingering throughout Tuesday. Dozens of cities shut schools and hospitals prepared for a surge in patients experiencing respiratory issues.

“The red alert has become the most serious air pollution episode of the year, affecting a population equivalent to that of the U.S., Canada and Mexico combined,” Greenpeace East Asia said in a press release. About 460 million people are being affected, with 200 million citizens experiencing what the Air Quality Index refers to as “hazardous” levels of smog.  

The South China Morning Post reported that flight tickets to resorts in the less-polluted south of the country were nearly sold out, as Beijing’s “smog refugees” prepared to flee the city. But China Central Television tweeted that 181 flights in and out of the capital city were canceled due to the smog. 

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In the nearby port city of Tianjin, where local hospitals saw an increase in patients reporting asthma and other respiratory problems, airports in the city said they had to cancel 227 flights due to the smog, SCMP reported

The Particulate Matter 2.5 index that measures the number of fine, toxic, inhalable particles in the air has skyrocketed. 

“On Tuesday morning, the PM2.5 reading in Beijing climbed above 300,” reported The Associated Press. “In many northern Chinese cities, the reading has exceeded 500 micrograms per cubic meter.”

More than 700 companies ceased production in Beijing, with officials in Hebei calling on coal and other industrial plants to temporarily close. The country’s pollution problem is usually blamed on China’s dependence on coal. 

The World Health Organization ranks the most polluted cities in the world based on PM 2.5 levels. WHO said in its most recent report that India has 10 of the world’s most polluted cities, but the most polluted city is Zabol, Iran.

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This Proposed Pipeline Would Cut Right Through The Appalachian Trail

Environmental groups are voicing opposition to a proposed natural gas pipeline that would cut across the Appalachian Trail in Virginia and require clearing a previously protected corridor of forest.

The Mountain Valley Pipeline would transport natural gas from northwest West Virginia to southern Virginia, according to The Wilderness Society, which published an editorial this week saying the pipeline would set a “dangerous precedent.” That’s because construction would involve clearing a 125-foot-wide section that would cross 3.4 miles of forest protected under the Forest Service’s “roadless rule ― litigation meant to protect lands from road construction and logging.

“Some of the most iconic viewpoints, like Angels Rest, along the Appalachian Trail in Virginia will look out upon an ugly swath of destruction that dissects habitat and threatens waterways,” the Wilderness Society writes.

Specifically, the pipeline would cross Jefferson National Forest in West Virginia and Virginia, pass through the Appalachian National Scenic Trail Corridor and cross the Appalachian Trail near Virginia’s Peters Mountain Wilderness Area, according to the conservation group Wild Virginia.

Multiple environmental groups said this month that they refused to even comment on the government’s Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project because the draft has so many errors.

Other concerns include the public safety of residents, businesses and community organizations that would find themselves in the “blast zone” – a radius of about 1,115 feet around the pipeline where an explosion could have a “significant impact on people or property.” In Newport, Virginia, that zone includes historically significant buildings as well as residents’ homes, according to The Roanoke Times. Other Virginians have expressed fear about threats to groundwater, given the porous nature of the karst landscape of the state’s Giles County where some of the pipeline is slated to go.

Pipeline supporters include Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and local business leaders, who say the project would create jobs, lower energy costs and potentially attract new business.

A public comment period on the project will run through Dec. 22. Anyone can have file a comment on the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission website, or call or write to FERC Secretary Kimberly Bose. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has also put together a comprehensive guide on how to contact members of the Virginia and West Virginia legislature and representatives of the U.S. Forest Service.

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The Fight for U.S. Climate Action Is Just Getting Started

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U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry delivers remarks at Cop22 (State Department)

As world leaders gathered earlier this week in Marrakech to figure out how to avoid the end of the world as we know it, a surprising plot twist upped the suspense. After this election, can we still save the planet? Or more precisely, will the U.S. choose to act in time?

On Wednesday, the Obama Administration released a blueprint for decarbonizing the U.S., which, for now, is still the world’s largest economy. While the timing of the release is bittersweet, the Mid-Century Strategy for Deep Decarbonization is a 111-page affirmation that we can achieve essential carbon reductions, specifically 80% reductions below 2005 levels by 2050.

How? By not rushing to gas as our new fuel of choice, by not cutting down forests and reforesting, and instead doubling investment in clean energy infrastructure, and investing in research and development of new technologies that have the potential to remove carbon from the atmosphere.

Decarbonizing is a long-term project, but it has to start now if we want to preserve a livable planet. So, understandably, the mood at the climate talks in Marrakech, while resolute, was anxious. There is nothing hopeful about the President-elect’s statements during the campaign or in his selection of climate skeptic Myron Ebell to head the transition at the Environmental Protection Agency. But even if Donald Trump genuinely believes that climate change is a “hoax,” the rest of the world knows that climate change is real. And even if he follows through on his campaign promise to pull out of the Paris Accord or its underlying treaty framework, the agreement will stand, perhaps with even greater support from key players including China and the E.U.

Repeatedly over the last week, Chinese officials have affirmed that China is not abandoning its commitments in Paris, and European officials are suggesting that the E.U. may have to ratchet up its commitments to make up for a U.S. failure to deliver. This makes sense. Meeting and exceeding the Paris goals is a matter of profound self-interest for every nation given the inconceivably high costs of temperature rise on the one hand and on the other, the extraordinary opportunity to create new wealth with a transition to clean energy.

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Earthjustice was privileged to participate in COP 22 as a legal advisor to the Republic of Palau, one of the Small Island Developing States whose vision and tenacity helped to secure the Paris agreement. Secretary of State John Kerry speaking with President of Palau Tommy Remengesau, Jr. (State Department)

That economic opportunity is not lost on the business community. Yesterday, more than 360 businesses and investors, including many Fortune 500 companies including General Mills, DuPont, Intel, and Hilton issued a joint statement warning that “Failure to build a low-carbon economy puts American prosperity at risk.” Major players like Walmart and Microsoft are already making enormous investments in renewable energy to run their operations. Even Exxon has issued a statement supporting the Paris agreement as “an important step forward by world governments in addressing the serious risks of climate change.”

Addressing a standing-room only crowd in Marrakech, John Kerry offered assurances for the future “regardless of what policy might be chosen, because of the marketplace.” It’s absolutely correct that clean energy resources have arrived and they can and should outcompete fossil fuels. But it’s also essential to recognize that the market alone will not accomplish the imperative shift to clean energy in the U.S. It will be a fight to deploy clean energy on the scale and timeline that is required. Right now, low gas prices and a suite of overdue environmental standards are driving coal out of the power sector. With or without the Clean Power Plan, which Trump has promised to kill, that trend can continue. But forward progress will entail hard-fought battles in the courts and in Congress to preserve our strong environmental laws. Fortunately, public support for clean air and clean water is strong, and we have powerful legal tools to prevent the weakening of health and environmental protections.

It will also be a fight to fend off a rush to gas and ramp up clean energy instead. Even now, clean energy is under constant attack by fossil fuel interests and utilities that are resisting change. The good news is that these fights are playing out in the states, and there is limited federal influence on their outcomes. It has become possible to make the case that clean energy — not coal or gas — is the best economic choice for electricity customers, and clean energy advocates are winning that case even in red states and swing states.

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More than 100,000 people march through NYC as part of the People’s Climate March (John Minchillo/AP Images for AVAAZ)

The federal system in the U.S. has proven to be essential at other moments in our history. If the new administration is as hostile to the environment as the Trump campaign would suggest, states can become the foil to the federal government. And cities can too, because climate solutions begin at the scale of the city. With or without the support of the President, the majority of people in the U.S. who care about climate change can force progress. It will be a fight, but it’s winnable. As John Kerry implored climate leaders from around the world in a passionate invocation of Winston Churchill, this is the moment for us all not just to do our best but to do what is necessary.

This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post, in conjunction with the U.N.’s 22nd Conference of the Parties(COP22) in Morocco (Nov. 7-18), aka the climate-change conference. The series will put a spotlight on climate-change issues and the conference itself. To view the entire series, visit here.

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Donald Trump + EPA = A Potential Natural Disaster For The Environment

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A general who doesn’t believe in North Korea’s threat. A Federal Reserve chairman who doesn’t believe in recessions. A surgeon general who doesn’t believe in germs. Those are almost as bad as an Environmental Protection Agency transition head who doesn’t believe in science.

Meet Myron Ebell.

In the midst of a tumultuous start to Donald Trump’s presidential administration, you may have missed the stories about him. Let me recap. Ebell is a renowned climate denier, lobbyist, long-time D.C. talking head and, sadly, a supporter of many polluting energy companies.

He’s also heading up Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency transition team.

That’s right. President-elect Trump chose a science skeptic and ally to companies with long histories of pollution to start his EPA.

The Environmental Protection Agency plays a vital role in protecting the air we breathe, the water we drink and the climate on which we rely. Ebell, however, denies the science of climate change. He opposes policies to protect clean air and water. He has a history of supporting policies that protect polluter profits over public health. In fact, he directs the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, which received donations from polluters like Exxon and Murray Energy.

Now more than ever, we need a strong EPA. As 97 percent of scientists agree, climate change is real. It’s here and it’s doing damage. It’s expected that 2016 will be the hottest year on record. Sea levels continue to rise as coastal towns flood on sunny days. Extreme weather events like Hurricane Sandy and the Ellicot City floods happen not once-in-a-thousand years but seemingly every other. Asthma rates climb, especially in communities of color, as climate change degrades air quality. Mosquito borne illnesses grow as warmer weather lingers longer into fall.

Even the water in our homes and our schools isn’t safe. Just ask the people of Flint. Incredibly resilient people who I have had to chance to meet on many occasions.

The American people need a strong EPA. We especially need strong climate champions. Myron Ebell is the exact opposite.

But Ebell is only the head of the transition team, right, and not the actual EPA administrator who sets policies? First, he could still be administrator. He’s on President-elect Trump’s short list. But for now, yes, he’s hiring the staff — Myron supporters everywhere. He’s setting the early priorities too — and those won’t include cutting carbon pollution for the 68 percent of African-Americans who live within 30 miles of a polluting coal-fired power plant.

Finally, and most importantly, I think of the old line: actions speak louder than words. President-elect Trump picked a climate denier and science skeptic to set up his EPA. He is favoring a system that could hurt the American people and make lots of money for the polluters. So while with his words, Donald Trump promises to be a president for all, his actions make clear he’ll only be a president for the powerful and the polluters.

That’s what’s concerning. That’s not what Americans want.

Donald Trump won the presidency (although not the popular vote) on his personality and his promises to change Washington. The American people didn’t send him to the White House to roll back pollution limits or public health protections. Actually, a vast majority of Americans support action to address climate change. A majority of Republicans do too.

So if Donald Trump truly wants to be a president for the people, he should empower the EPA, not eviscerate it. President Trump should maintain the EPA’s Clean Power Plan: established in 2015 to combat climate change, cut carbon pollution by nearly a third and boost clean energy. He should examine government subsidies to the meat industry, an industry which is inhumane and which also contributes more to climate change than most people understand. And importantly, he should end Myron Ebell’s tenure atop EPA during the transition, not extend it into his administration.

In an open letter earlier in November, I urged President-elect Trump to break from the traditional molds of party politics and do right by the American people. He did the opposite. Donald Trump must not allow the special interests he promised to combat during his presidency instead control his administration. Appointing a polluter-friendly, D.C. insider is not what the American people want. Protecting polluter profits over public health isn’t either.

It’s only November, but for polluters, Christmas came early. For the good of the American people, however, let’s hope Myron Ebell isn’t at the EPA past New Years.

Sign the petition to tell President-Elect Trump that Ebell needs to go.

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Police In North Dakota Clash With Oil Pipeline Protesters

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(Reuters) – Hundreds of protesters opposed to a North Dakota oil pipeline project they say threatens water resources and sacred tribal lands clashed with police who fired tear gas at the scene of a similar confrontation last month, officials said.

An estimated 400 protesters mounted the Backwater Bridge and attempted to force their way past police in what the Morton County Sheriff’s Department initially described as an “ongoing riot,” the latest in a series of demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline.

A statement from the agency said one arrest had been made by 8:30 p.m. local time (0230 GMT Monday), about 2 1/2 hours after the incident began 45 miles (30 miles) south of Bismarck, the North Dakota capital. About 100 to 200 protesters remained after midnight.

The Backwater Bridge has been closed since late October, when activists clashed with police in riot gear and set two trucks on fire, prompting authorities to forcibly shut down a protesters encampment nearby.

The Morton County Sheriff’s Department said officers on the scene of the latest confrontation were “describing protesters’ actions as very aggressive.”

Demonstrators tried to start about a dozen fires as they attempted to outflank and “attack” law enforcement barricades, the sheriff’s statement said.

Police said they responded by firing volleys of tear gas at protesters in a bid to prevent them from crossing the bridge.

Activists at the scene reported on Twitter that police were also spraying protesters with water in sub-freezing temperatures and firing rubber bullets, injuring some in the crowd.

Police did not confirm those reports, but later said protesters had hurled rocks, striking one officer, and fired burning logs from slingshots.

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The clashes began after protesters removed a truck that had been on the bridge since Oct. 27, police said. The North Dakota Department of Transportation closed the Backwater Bridge due to damage from that incident.

The $3.7 billion Dakota Access project has been drawing steady opposition from Native American and environmental activists since the summer.

Completion of the pipeline, set to run 1,172 miles (1,185 km) from North Dakota to Illinois, was delayed in September so federal authorities could re-examine permits required by the Army Corps of Engineers.

Plans called for the pipeline to pass under Lake Oahe, a federally owned water source, and to skirt the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation by about half a mile. Most of the construction has otherwise been finished.

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The Standing Rock tribe and environmental activists say the project would threaten water supplies and sacred Native American sites and ultimately contribute to climate change.

Supporters of the pipeline, owned by Energy Transfer Partners, said the project offers the fast and most direct route for bringing Bakken shale oil from North Dakota to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries and would be safer than transporting the oil by road or rail.

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How To Fight For The Climate During A Trump Administration

Late last week, Trump’s transition team put up a website that lists its top priorities for their administration. For those of us concerned with maintaining a somewhat livable planet, looking at the energy section is like reading a vivid description of your worst nightmare.

Mine all the coal. Drill all the oil. Defund the EPA. Cancel the Paris Agreement. Kill all environmental regulations.

Bringing back drill, baby, drill isn’t enough for the Trump team: they’re looking to bring back Sarah Palin herself as Secretary of Interior.

Let’s face it: the door to national climate action as we know it has been slammed shut. Trump is the only world leader who denies climate change. He has no interest in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He’s shown little support for clean energy. There’s zero chance he’d approve a carbon tax.

But when you’re trapped in a burning building and the door has been barred, you don’t just sit on the floor and watch the flames: you put out what you can and start looking for the windows.

Our planet is that burning building and it’s time to double down on our role as firefighters.

First, before Trump can set the world ablaze, we need to push the Obama administration to fireproof everything they can. That means employing whatever legal and regulatory measures possible to defend the progress that has been made. It also means saying no to the Dakota Access Pipeline and new fossil fuel projects, not because Trump won’t try and approve them, but because it’s the right thing to do, and because it will open up the possibility of fighting these projects in the courts and buy us some time.

Obama also needs to stop pushing the Trans Pacific Partnership. That toxic trade deal, that both Trump and Clinton opposed, has inside of it a provision that would allow corporations to sue nations and local governments for keeping fossil fuels in the ground. Since we’re going to be relying on states and municipalities to block a lot of projects going forward (more on that later), we can’t allow companies a backdoor to approving them with the support of President Trump.

Second, once Trump takes office, we need to be ready to put out every fire he starts. Over the last eight years, the climate movement has grown immensely. Take 350.org: we didn’t even exist when Obama first took office. Now we work with people in every state and have hundreds of thousands of supporters nationwide (not to mention many more around the world). This movement has a diverse set of skill sets and strategies to bring to bear, from civil disobedience, to lawsuits, to mass marches. We’ll protest every pipeline, march against every mine, and fight every fracking well. We were able to turn out hundreds of thousands of people when Obama was in office, imagine how many more will be willing to protest when Trump gets going.

The American people still love the environment. They overwhelmingly support clean energy. Democrats and Republicans alike want action on climate change. People want clean air to breath and clean water to drink. This election had nothing to do with dismantling our environmental laws (climate change wasn’t even mentioned in the debates) and Trump has zero mandate for a radical assault on the planet. He’s going to face a massive backlash the minute he starts implementing his agenda.

We’ll also fight the fires that Trump lights up in other areas of our democracy. That means standing against his attack on civil liberties. Fighting for women’s rights. Standing against his attacks on people of color, immigrants, and Muslims. Let’s face it: under Trump, some people are closer than others to the flames. If you think it’s a coincidence that the most racist President we’ve seen in the last 20 years is also the worst on the environment, you’re fooling yourself. To paraphrase Van Jones, someone who thinks there are throwaway people is bound to think there are throwaway species, as well. Someone who cares only about himself isn’t going to care about the planet. We’re stronger when we fight together, which means the climate movement will need to challenge racism and white supremacy just as we challenge pollution and the fossil fuel industry.

Third, we need to start looking for the windows. The climate crisis is already underway and we can’t waste four years playing defense. We need to drive action at the state level, pushing California, New York, and others to build out clean energy, shift the markets, and tie up the fossil fuel industry. We need to look to the courts, not only to defend regulations, but to start holding fossil fuel companies and the federal government accountable. The Children’s Trust case and the investigation into ExxonMobil become even more important. We need to challenge private institutions to take action, ramping up the divestment campaign, pushing carbon neutrality, and urging colleges, museums and foundations to become leaders in their own communities. We need to go after the banks, getting them to move billions out of fossil fuels and into clean energy. We need to push companies to green their supply chains and commit to 100% renewable energy. We need to think globally, looking for ways to support fights around the world with our funding, solidarity, and online campaigns.

And we need to keep making our case to the public. Now is not the time to back down, shrug our shoulders, and say, “I guess people just don’t agree with us.” Hell no. There are millions upon millions of people who are part of this movement and millions more who are looking for change. There are still more workers in the solar industry than there are in coal, oil or gas. More so than ever, we need to make the case that the best way to revitalize our economy and create more good jobs is to invest in clean energy. Trump has promised to create jobs, lots of jobs, great jobs, beautiful jobs. At the White House on Thursday he said “infrastructure” was his number on priority. Well, there’s his chance.

Mass mobilization and bold action will be even more important in the years ahead. Our goal won’t just be to “convince” Trump that he needs to care about the climate or, as some suggest, figure out ways to partner with him. Our goal will be to build such massive political opposition to his agenda that he simply can’t move it forward without a vast majority of the country turning against him and the Republican party (and any weak-kneed Democrats who decide to go along with it).

The fight to prevent climate catastrophe has always been a long shot. We know that Hillary Clinton’s plans weren’t going to save the day and now Trump makes our work much, much harder. But he doesn’t make it impossible. As Bill McKibben has often said, I don’t know if we’re going to win, but we’re going to fight like hell.

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Dakota Pipeline Protesters Block Work Crews

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Protesters against the Dakota Access oil pipeline briefly blocked two entrances to a pipeline work yard in a rural North Dakota town early on Saturday morning, causing workers to leave the area, police said.

Morton County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Rob Keller said law enforcement received a call at around 9 a.m. (CST) telling them a caravan of between 130 and 150 cars, each carrying three to four people, left the protest camps and headed north to the city of Mandan where equipment is located.

“They went west for a few miles (from there), they turned on that road that leads to the Mandan landfill and that’s where the North Dakota pipeline have equipment,” Keller said. “It’s their work yard.”

The latest demonstration took place just a day after nearly 40 people were arrested on Friday at the construction site for the pipeline, which has drawn opposition from Native American and environmental activists since the summer.

Shortly after 10 a.m. (CST) on Saturday, pipeline workers evacuated the work yard while the protesters blocked its two entrances, Keller said. Law enforcement officers arrived on the scene and monitored what they said was a peaceful protest until about 12:15 p.m. (CST), when the protestor left the area.

Keller said no arrests were made and that there was no information on any injuries, despite a report saying one protester was hurt.

“We cannot verify that there was a woman who was injured,” Keller said. “Once she found out the ambulance was on the way she said she didn’t want to go to the hospital, so they stopped the ambulance.”

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Bernard Orr)

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