Polar Vortex Brings Severe Cold to Northeast
On Saturday, Feb. 13, A polar vortex sent temperatures plummeting to seasonal lows across the Midwest and Northeast. Some regions received below negative 35 degrees with wind chill.
The storm—composed of a cold air system that sits around the North Pole year-round—came south late last week, and combined with a cold front to form heavy wind currents, ice and snow over the weekend. “An eddy of the polar vortex over Quebec, along with a reinforcing cold front, is expected to bring the coldest weather of this winter season from the Great Lakes to New England,” the National Weather Service stated in a Saturday update. “Wind chill warnings and lake-effect snow warnings are in effect for these areas, with wind chill readings dropping below negative 30 degrees by Saturday night” (National Weather Service, “Winter Storm Warning,” 02.13.16).
The coldest air mass of the winter brought the thermometer down to minus six degrees in Minneapolis and minus 15 degrees in Philadelphia, where a multi-vehicle pileup resulted dozens of injuries. Several vehicles, including at least one medical helicopter, were forced to turn back due to the weather (USA Today, “Polar Vortex drives bitter cold into central, eastern U.S.,” 02.13.16).
Severe conditions also forced many event organizers to cancel plans over the weekend. The Central Park Ice Festival, which was set to feature ice-carving artists and music in Central Park, was cancelled, as well West Virginia’s Charles Town Races and a horse racing event at New York’s Aqueduct Racetrack and (ABC, “As Teeth-Chattering Temps Move In, Officials Urge Caution,” 02.13.16).
Elsewhere, several outdoor events went on as scheduled despite the bone-chilling temperatures. The annual “Polar Bear Plunge” in Sea Isle City, N.J., and the “Cupid’s Undie Run” in Pittsburgh and Washington D.C. still drew crowds of over 100 individuals at each location (NBC, “Polar Vortex Triggers Subzero Temperatures, ‘Life-Threatening’ Wind Chill,” 02.13.16).
Officials asserted that these activities were dangerous, and urged residents to take precautions. “These temperatures can be life threatening—especially for seniors, infants and people with medical conditions,” said NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio. “Stay indoors and take care of each other” (ABC).
— Ethan Baratz, Guest Reporter
Supreme Court Halts Obama Plan to Regulate Carbon Emissions
In a 5-4 decision on Feb. 9, the Supreme Court issued a motion blocking the Obama Administration’s efforts to expand federal regulations to limit carbon emissions produced by coal-fired electric power plants, the largest source of U.S. greenhouse gases.
The proposal, a centerpiece of the administration’s larger Clean Power Plan, brokered at the UN Climate Change Conference in Paris last December, is seen by its proponents as crucial to cutting electric power plant emissions by a third below 2005 base levels by 2030 in order to achieve the reduction target pledged at the conference, as well as facilitating the overall shift from fossil fuels to forms of alternative energy production.
Representatives from 27 states and dozens of utilities businesses and coal industry groups fiercely contested the regulatory plan mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) last summer, arguing that it would devastate the economies of coal and oil-producing states and enable the EPA to overstep its legal authority if approved. Ultimately, the dissenters won the court’s favor following the granting of their request for a stay as the legality of the regulations will continue to be debated in the lower courts.
“Had the stay not been granted, co-ops would have been forced to take costly and irreversible steps to comply with the rule,” said Chief Executive of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association Jeffrey Connor (Washington Post, “Supreme Court Deals Blow to Obama’s Efforts to Regulate Coal Emissions,” 02.09.16).
The decision has been polarizing, lamented by environmentalists who view the action as a major setback to the institution of comprehensive climate reform, and celebrated by opposing state and energy lobby representatives like West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey. In a press conference, Morrisey said, “We are thrilled that the Supreme Court realized the rule’s immediate impact and froze its implementation, protecting workers and saving countless dollars as our fight against its legality continues,” stated Morrisey, who also led the effort to request the stay (New York Times, “Supreme Court Deals Blow to Obama’s Efforts to Regulate Coal Emissions,” 02.09.16).
The White House expressed disappointment with the court’s decision and vowed that it would continue to challenge any attempts to forestall the enactment of the regulatory plan.
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest asserted, “Even while the litigation proceeds, EPA has indicated it will work with states that choose to continue plan development and will prepare the tools those states will need. At the same time, the Administration will continue to take aggressive steps to make forward progress to reduce carbon emissions,” (Washington Post).
The court’s decision to grant a stay indicates the court’s skepticism towards the plan and strongly implies that it would be struck down in its final ruling, imperiling a central component of the Clean Power Plan. The glaring question is how President Obama’s successor will choose to address this groundbreaking environmental policy in response to the court.
“Whether or not the court ultimately upholds this particular rule, the need to cut carbon emissions will remain, and states need to figure out the most cost-effective ways to do that,” said Former Acting Administrator for the EPA Bob Perciasepe. “It’s in everyone’s interest that states keep at it, because whether it’s the Clean Power Plan or some other policy, they’ll need smart strategies to get the job done” (Reuters).
Justice Department Sues Ferguson to Force Police Reform
The Department of Justice filed a civil rights suit against Ferguson, Miss. last Wednesday, Feb. 10, in order to force the city to implement the comprehensive criminal justice reform plan both parties reached after months of negotiations.
The plan was crafted in response to the findings of federal investigations into Ferguson’s policing and municipal court practices, which, according to a report released last March by the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, determined that routine patterns of constitutional rights violations were inflicted on the city’s black residents by its overwhelmingly white police force.
The decision to sue immediately followed the Ferguson city council’s rejection of the supposedly agreed-upon deal, which stipulated a series of long-term training programs designed to improve relations between the police and the local community and foster more ethical forms of policing that would prioritize de-escalation tactics without the use of force.
The six-member city council voted unanimously to request that the deal be amended, outlining several conditions that, if fulfilled, would guarantee their complete acceptance. These objections included the need for different deadlines and fees from those originally set down, the removal of a key line requiring higher pay for officers, which the council deemed unfordable, and the removal of a provision stating that the entire deal would be voided if the city ever chose to contract the services of any outside law enforcement agencies (Huffington Post, “Feds Sue Ferguson For Widespread Constitutional Violations And Racial Discrimination,” 02.10.16)
Acting Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Rights Division Vanita Gupta said, “The Ferguson City Council has attempted to unilaterally amend the negotiated agreement,” in a statement early Wednesday.
She continued, “Their vote to do so creates an unnecessary delay in the essential work to bring constitutional policing to the city, and marks an unfortunate outcome for concerned community members and Ferguson police officers” (Washington Post, “Justice Dept. sues the city of Ferguson to force policing reform,” 02.11.16).
“We do believe these conditions maintain the spirit and integrity of the consent decree and allow the city to move forward,” Councilman Wesley Ball, a lead negotiators of the original deal, said of the controversial amendments he himself proposed at a press conference in Ferguson on Wednesday. “To be clear, in no uncertain terms are these conditions considered ‘take it or leave it…The city of Ferguson is and will be open to continued negotiations with the Department of Justice” (Huffington Post, Washington Post, respectively).
“To allow the city to simply evade the terms of an agreement carefully negotiated and presumably agreed to by simply transferring control of the police department to another state entity was simply unconscionable to us,” said Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who asserted that the Ferguson city council’s decision gave the DOJ no other option but to sue.