We’ve got tornadoes and climate change and the baffling behavior of politicians, which is another way of saying it’s a Monday here at the Evening Wrap.
The Big Takeaway
Just before 8 p.m. on Friday, a massive tornado touched down in west-central Mississippi, killing 26 people as it tore through homes and businesses along a 59-mile track. It was the deadliest of more than two dozen tornadoes reported in Southern states over the weekend, all stemming from a storm system that forecasters expected to linger across the Southeast for most of Monday.
President Joe Biden on Sunday approved federal disaster relief for Mississippi, and state lawmakers said they also planned to allocate funding for recovery efforts. The total could amount to as much as $8 million, though officials cautioned that estimates were likely to fluctuate as recovery efforts continued, Mississippi Today reported.
Legislative leaders, expected to return to the State Capitol Monday to finalize budget negotiations, said relief funding could be folded into the appropriations bill for the state Emergency Management Agency. The proposal was unlikely to face opposition in the legislature, according to House Speaker Philip Gunn.
“[Lawmakers] stand ready to provide whatever monetary resources we can to help them,” Gunn said Sunday after visiting Rolling Fork, a small town decimated by the tornado. “I don’t think money will be the issue. I think the issue is how we help them get their lives back.”
Researchers have postulated that the storm system that led to the tornadoes — along with the intensity of the funnels — are likely byproducts of climate change. Rising temperatures are already impacting the conditions in which tornadoes form, and outbreaks have been on the rise in the past few decades. (Last March, for example, there were 236 recorded tornadoes — the most in that month since 1950.) That trend will probably continue, according to John T. Allen, a meteorology professor at Central Michigan University.
"Climate projections for the late 21st century have suggested that the conditions favorable to the development of the severe storms that produce tornadoes will increase over North America,” he wrote in a column for USA Today. “The impact could be greatest in the winter and fall.”
This feels like a good time to see what state lawmakers are doing to address climate change, no? The answer: Not much! Recent actions include “trying to make it absurdly expensive to own an electric car” (Georgia) and “protecting coal-fired power plants” (Kentucky), both of which pale in comparison to a proposal in Ohio that would require educators at state-funded colleges and universities to teach “both sides” of climate change — one of a dozen topics deemed “controversial,” per the Ohio Capital Journal.
As written, the so-called Higher Education Enhancement Act would require instructors to “encourage and allow students to reach their own conclusions” on “controversial beliefs or policies.” Per the bill, that would include basically anything “that is the subject of political controversy,” though most of the included list of examples — climate change, immigration, marriage, abortion, and diversity, equity and inclusion programs — are controversial mostly only to Republicans.
The bill’s sponsor said as much, admitting that he “didn’t actually consult with climate people” on the legislation, because it doesn’t aim “to impact energy policy.”
“What I think is controversial is different views that exist out there about the extent of the climate change and the solutions to try to alter climate change,” said state Sen. Jerry Cirino, a Republican from Kirtland.
Time for a mini-rant! First, climate change isn’t a “both sides” issue: The climate is warming, period. Teaching that to students, then, isn’t controversial — it’s what teachers are supposed to do, particularly at colleges and universities, where classrooms are filled with future policymakers who pay tuition for an education in part to prepare themselves for their careers. The bill attacks that very principle by marginalizing important discussions about climate change and the many factors that contribute to it, experts said, including systemic racial and environmental injustice.
“The bill reinforces the privilege and inequities and disparities that we see in our energy policy system,” said Dion Mensah, energy justice fellow at the Ohio Environmental Council. The “ripple effects impact us all, especially on energy policy.”
Republicans in Georgia are coalescing behind a less lofty environmental goal: Preventing local governments from banning gas-powered leaf blowers. No cities or counties have ever actually enacted such a ban, Republicans conceded — but some of them have discussed it, which makes the proposal preemptive rather than premature, the Georgia Recorder reported.
“A gas blower will be able to do the job in a fraction of the time of an electric blower,” said state Sen. Shawn Still, a Republican from Johns Creek. “This is simply a preemptive bill to ensure that we’re allowing time for technology to catch up, and that we can try to eventually try to phase out two-cycle engines until science and manufacturing gets us there.”
Under the bill, homeowners, neighborhood associations and businesses could use the leaf-blower of their choosing to clear yards and driveways. Likewise, local governments could still place restrictions on leaf-blowing — banning their use during certain hours, for example — but those policies would have to apply equally to both gas and electric-powered equipment.
The Senate had initially approved a sunset clause allowing local officials to phase out two-cycle gas-powered leaf blowers in 2031, but the amendment was later removed by a House committee. Still said he was fine with the change, in part because the amendment had been proposed by a Democrat who then voted against the bill.
“I believe that my chamber would be very happy with that,” he said. “I would say that also because the senator that suggested and co-signed the amendment with me on our floor then voted against it anyway, so it didn’t really move any hearts or minds with the amendment on the sunset.”
Environmental policy relies on hearts and minds: Boise National Forest plans wildfire prevention with prescribed burns throughout spring … Energy, clean water and pollution top list of environmental priorities for Michigan House Dems … (Mississippi) Belzoni to Rolling Fork to Greenville: One mom’s mission to get her son medical help after the tornadoes … (Missouri) EPA plan to transfer Seresto and other pet pesticides to FDA draws concern from advocates … (Montana) Wildlife advocates concerned about public relations tactics related to hunting, trapping amendment … (Nevada) Reno-based geothermal developer set to sue Biden administration over toad’s endangered listing … (North Carolina) DOT allegedly failed to set targets to reduce driving, required as part of settlement over Wake County toll road … El Paso charter fight tests whether a Texas city will move away from fossil fuels … (Virginia) William & Mary announces closure of Virginia Coastal Policy Center
State of Our Democracy
When the chair of the Michigan Republican Party compared gun control to the Holocaust, lawmakers and experts were disgusted — but not surprised. Antisemitism and bigotry is nothing new for the party’s chair, and it’s the new norm for Republicans across the country, officials told the Michigan Advance.
“[It’s] not a new phenomenon” among Republicans, said Lonnie Scott, executive director of Progress Michigan. But it’s “being broadcast in a more disgusting and vile way. Antisemitism is on the rise in this country; people’s lives are put at risk when this stuff goes unchecked. It’s disgusting the party lets it happen.”
The drama started last week, when the Michigan GOP posted on Facebook and Twitter a photo from the U.S. National Archives depicting a bin of wedding rings removed by Germans from Holocaust victims. Overlaid on the photo was text reading: “Before they collected all these wedding rings … They collected all the guns.” The backlash was swift, but rather than apologize, GOP Chairwoman Kristina Karamo repeatedly defended the post, saying that the “2nd Amendment was put in place to protect us from aspiring tyrants.”
“MIGOP stands by our statement,” she added.
The defiance was the latest chapter in Karamo’s long history of antisemitic and far-right comments, all of it unfolding against a national backdrop of rising far-right extremism and antisemitism. And there’s seemingly little political incentive for her to back down, experts said. As right-wing politics moves farther right, local and state officials like Karamo have found success in vitriol and divisiveness; a tactic that prominent Republicans have generally been slow to criticize. (Case in point: Republican lawmakers in Michigan have yet to issue an official response to the ongoing controversy, and the state GOP did not respond to requests for comment.)
“What we’re seeing from Karamo and these freaks — it’s not a political party anymore,” said Jeff Timmer, a former executive director of the Michigan Republican Party who is now with the anti-Trump Lincoln Project. “It’s an anti-American, authoritarian movement that’s wearing the masquerade of a political party. We need to stop treating this as politics and recognize it for the domestic terrorist threat that it is.”
Politics and/or threats: Arizona Republicans hope to expand religious exemption protections … Kansas attorney general urges state Supreme Court to reverse 2019 abortion-rights decision … Beshear vetoes bill that would end new dental, hearing, vision care for 900,000 Kentuckians … Diversity initiatives within Missouri agencies run into GOP attack on ‘woke’ government … (South Dakota) Interest groups spend thousands on social events for lawmakers, with no disclosure … U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee is running for Houston mayor … Houston GOP activist knew for years of child sex abuse claims against Southern Baptist leader, law partner
A 28-year-old Nashville resident armed with an assault rifle killed three children and three staff members at a private Christian elementary school in Nashville Monday, the Tennessee Lookout reported. The shooter was killed by responding police officers, officials said.
The victims are Evelyn Dieckhaus, Hallie Scruggs, and William Kinney, all 9, and Cynthia Peak, 61, Katherine Koonce, 60, and Mike Hill, 61.
Democrats responded to the mass shooting the same way they respond to all mass shootings: By not having power to pass substantive gun legislation but still claiming that, “Enough is enough.” President Joe Biden punctuated those remarks by calling on Congress to pass a ban on assault weapons (they won’t). Republicans either offered social-media prayers or pretended to be confused and surprised by the “senseless” violence, even though said violence occurs more than once per day in this stupid country.
U.S. Rep. Andy Ogles did both, saying that he and his family were “utterly heartbroken” and “devastated by the tragedy” and “sending thoughts and prayers.” It’s a strikingly different tone than the one he took two years ago, when he posted a family photo depicting himself, his wife and two of his three children holding firearms in front of a Christmas tree.
From The Newsrooms
One Last Thing
A 13-foot, 1,500-pound great white shark is hanging out off the coast of North Carolina, which researchers said is likely a detour on his yearly migration from Florida to Canada.
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