Earth Watch July 18: Urgent update on wildfire relief efforts, the Civilian Climate Corps and the Line 3 Pipeline

News from the epicenter of the Climate Justice Movement

Branch Out joins wildfire relief efforts in Central Oregon; Seeking Donations & Assistance for Fire Relief & Climate Resilience

As record heat waves have swept the Pacific Northwest this Summer, Branch Out has been on the ground in Central Oregon involved in drought and wildfire resistance projects for both immediate relief and long-term resilience in the face of future disasters.

Following the guidance of our Indigenous Elders, we will be making biochar to convert flammable brush into organic soil amendments and batteries to feed, heal, and power carbon-negative ecovillages. We are implementing and accelerating designs to conserve, channel, and replenish water within an ecoregion struck by a once-in-a-millennium drought.

But we cannot succeed without your help. Branch Out is seeking workers and volunteers to join us on the ground and assist us in this effort, and donors to enable us to fund our projects with our partners.

Any donations of money or supplies such as tents, sleeping bags, blankets, pillows, solar panels, batteries, etc. will help us immediately expand our capacity to supercharge our ecosystemic defense against climate collapse in ways with both immediate and long-lasting local and planetary benefits.

Our goal is to implement and share techniques that can be replicated to help people and communities break free from fossil fuel-dependent infrastructure and achieve regenerative self-sufficiency in their own context.

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To read our new report from the field in Central Oregon:

A litter of newborn puppies that are being cared for by Branch Out and our partner group in Central Oregon following evacuation from unprecedented wildfires.

Senate Democrats propose $3.5 trillion infrastructure package to include funding the Civilian Climate Corps following months of public pressure

Prominent members of the Senate Democratic Caucus, including Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), progressive senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and key moderate Mark Warner (D-VA), came together this week to announce that they will attempt to pass a $3.5 trillion budget resolution that includes many top priorities for climate action such as funding for the Civilian Climate Corps, or CCC, as well as tax incentives for electric vehicles and a clean energy mandate aimed at getting the US to 80% renewable energy by 2030, among others.

This news comes after the climate initiatives were cut from the smaller bipartisan infrastructure bill in order to gain Republican support, but several groups, namely the youth-led Sunrise Movement, have staged effective protests across the country to put pressure on Democratic politicians to include climate initiatives in a second bill that can be passed with Democrat support alone through the process of budget reconciliation. Although this looks like a victory for climate justice, and it is at least a step in the right direction, there are some important caveats, and the fight is far from over. 

First, $3.5 trillion is the total budget allocation for the entire package. As of now, it is not clear how big a piece of that pie will be dedicated to the CCC and other climate initiatives. Second, the bill needs every single Democrat in the Senate to vote for it, and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) has already commented that he finds the potential elimination of fossil fuels “very, very disturbing.” Manchin, who according to, has received at least $200,000 dollars from the oil and gas industry in the past five years to support his re-election campaigns, also told reporters, “If you’re sticking your head in the sand and saying that fossil [fuel] has to be eliminated in America and they want to get rid of it thinking that’s going to clean up the global climate, it won’t do it at all. If anything, it would be worse.”

Lastly, there is the question of even if every climate initiative in the budget package ends up being included and passed into law, will that be enough to avoid the various tipping points at which the damage to the earth’s climate cannot be undone?  The short answer is no, at least not on its own. However, there is room for cautious optimism that if it is passed, this will be the most aggressive action the United States has ever taken to stop climate change, and that could bring more countries around the world to the table to meet the targets of the 2015 Paris Climate Accords, perhaps even earlier than originally agreed to. And if these programs prove successful over the next year or two, Congress could come back and boost them further. Either way, one thing is clear, the public pressure campaign is working, and it is much too soon to let up.

Biden’s top policy advisor cited with ethics violation over investments in Enbridge, the company behind the destructive Line 3 Pipeline in Minnesota

Susan Rice, Biden’s top domestic policy advisor has owned nearly $3 million of stock in Enbridge Energy. Biden’s Justice Department recently decided to continue pursuing the destructive project that will benefit Enbridge investors.

President Biden’s current Director of the Domestic Policy Council, Susan Rice, has been ordered by top government ethics investigators to divest about $2.7 million in shares of Enbridge Energy, the Canadian oil company currently attempting to build a massive tar sands oil pipeline through Anishinaabe tribal territory and across the Mississippi River headwaters in Northern Minnesota. In total, The US Office of Government Ethics has ordered Rice to divest about $32 million in stock from various companies that have significant dealings with the US Government, in order to avoid any conflicts of interest. At the end of June, the Biden administration moved to defend the Trump-issued permit for the Line 3 pipeline in federal court, so in this case, the damage from any conflict of interest from Rice’s position, acting as the White House’s chief domestic policy advisor, had already been done. 

In our previous reporting, Branch Out has covered the resistance to the Line 3 Pipeline, as well as the project’s impact on water quality and the climate crisis. Two weeks ago, we delivered the initial news that the Justice Department under Biden-appointee Merrick Garland would defend the original permit issued by the Trump administration against a lawsuit that alleges Indigenous Nations’ rights were violated and that the environmental impact statement did not adequately evaluate the project’s impact on water or climate change. Despite Biden’s public stance that climate change is an existential threat that his administration takes seriously, the White House has quietly gone forward with Line 3, even sending a Border Patrol helicopter to forcibly disperse protesters, so the fact that Biden’s top domestic policy advisor owns millions of stock in Enbridge actually comes as no surprise. 

So what will be the consequences for Susan Rice? It turns out, Rice will actually receive a tax break on her divestment. A tax loophole allows an individual to avoid paying capital gains tax on any investment that they are forced to sell by the Office of Government Ethics. The rationalization here is that it would be unfair to force an official to sell their stock and to collect taxes from the capital gains of forced divestment, but in reality, this loophole creates a perverse incentive structure in which extremely wealthy individuals who do have a conflict of interest are motivated to pursue government positions and be forced to divest in order to avoid taxation. 

Would Line 3 have been canceled if not for Susan Rice’s conflict of interest? We do not have any evidence that Rice specifically was involved in the decision, but it is alarming that Biden has canceled the Keystone XL pipeline and talks a big game on climate action generally, but he and his administration are utterly silent when it comes to Line 3. Regardless of any specific decision to come out of the White House, the fact that the President’s top domestic policy advisor has until very recently owned millions of dollars of fossil fuel stock should be a major concern.  

Also in the news…

Deadly floods in Europe, particularly Germany, last week have been scientifically linked to climate change