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Political Notebook

Lawmakers urge carbon reduction mandate for Department of Defense

US Senator Ed Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, spoke about climate change outside the US Capitol in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 20, 2021.MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images

Over two dozen federal lawmakers sent a letter to President Biden on Friday urging him to impose a carbon reduction mandate on the Department of Defense.

The letter, led by Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey and New York Representative Mondaire Jones, focuses on an order that Biden signed last month directing the government to achieve 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050, while eliminating greenhouse gas emissions from federal buildings and vehicles. The order includes exemptions for activity deemed “in the interest of national security,” as well as anything associated with intelligence, combat, and military training.

“The loophole in the President’s Executive Order that largely exempts the Department of Defense from having to meet the scientifically necessary target of net-zero economy-wide emissions by 2050 is a gap big enough to drive a tank through,” Markey wrote in an e-mail to the Globe.

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In November, Markey and Jones also coauthored an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act requiring the Pentagon to commit to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in line with science-based targets. Biden signed the amendment into law last month.

The Department of Defense accounts for a massive share of US government emissions — 56 percent, according to federal data published in December. It is also the largest institutional global carbon polluter and, according to a landmark 2019 study cited in the letter, the world’s top institutional consumer of petroleum.

“The Biden administration has taken important steps across agencies to address the worsening climate crisis, promote justice, and reduce harmful emissions,” said Markey. “But it cannot and should not ignore the largest federal emitter of them all: the Pentagon.”

Neta C. Crawford, a political science professor at Boston University who authored the 2019 study, said removing the exemption from the December order and thereby forcing the Pentagon to slash its carbon emissions at the same rate as the rest of the federal government would be “significant.”

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“DoD’s emissions [footprint] is large,” she said. “It’s the size of entire countries’ annual emissions.”

Crawford noted that the Pentagon has a long history of being exempted from climate plans. Back in 1997, the US successfully lobbied for a reporting loophole for militaries. Newly declassified federal documents show that the Department of Defense itself pushed for this clause.

Yet as the Pentagon itself notes, unchecked emissions have also threatened military operations. Soldiers have been called upon to help fight climate-change-fueled wildfires, floods, and droughts that put bases at risk, and environmental disasters can provoke instability and conflict.

“These are the ironies,” said Crawford.

On the campaign trail, Biden pledged to take a “whole-of-government” approach to climate change. Jones said that to keep that promise, he must include defense operations in his decarbonization plans.

“With so much at stake, half measures are simply unacceptable,” Jones wrote in an e-mail. “If President Biden is serious about combating this crisis, he must lift this exemption and ensure that our military does its part to save our planet before it’s too late.”

Globe Staff

Pa. mail-in voting law loses in court

A Pennsylvania court struck down the state’s expansive mail-in voting law as unconstitutional, delivering a temporary win to state Republicans who challenged the law after former president Donald Trump falsely claimed mail-in voting resulted in election fraud.

While the two-year-old law was struck down by a majority on the five-judge panel of the Commonwealth Court, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat and the state’s Democratic Attorney General, Josh Shapiro, promised a swift appeal, criticizing the court’s opinion as being “based on twisted logic and faulty reasoning.”

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The state’s Republican-controlled Legislature passed the law establishing no-excuse mail-in voting for all voters in 2019 with bipartisan support. Previously, Pennsylvania voters could cast absentee ballots if they met a certain criteria.

Amid the pandemic, more than 2.6 million Pennsylvania voters cast mail-in or absentee ballots out of 6.9 million.

The court said Friday that any changes to the voting law would require a constitutional amendment.

“No-excuse mail-in voting makes the exercise of the franchise more convenient and has been used four times in the history of Pennsylvania. Approximately 1.38 million voters have expressed their interest in voting by mail permanently,” Judge Mary Hannah Leavitt wrote. “If presented to the people, a constitutional amendment to end the Article VII, Section 1 requirement of in-person voting is likely to be adopted. But a constitutional amendment must be presented to the people and adopted into our fundamental law before legislation authorizing no-excuse mail-in voting can ‘be placed upon our statute books.’”

In bringing the legal challenge, some Republicans in the state echoed Trump’s baseless claims of widespread voter fraud and his criticism of mail-in voting, with several seeking to undo the law they once voted for.

Washington Post

Bidens welcome a cat to the White House

WASHINGTON — The cat has landed.

After keeping the nation on tenterhooks since even before Joe Biden took office, the Biden White House announced Friday that a gray cat named Willow had joined the first family, more than a year after the plucky farm feline from Pennsylvania caught the eye of Jill Biden while she was on the stump for her husband.

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“Willow made quite an impression on Dr. Biden in 2020 when she jumped up on the stage and interrupted her remarks during a campaign stop,” said Michael LaRosa, the first lady’s spokesperson. “Seeing their immediate bond, the owner of the farm knew that Willow belonged with Dr. Biden.”

Willow is named after the first lady’s hometown, Willow Grove, Pa.

The cat’s arrival was much anticipated after Jill Biden casually mentioned in a November 2020 interview that she’d love to have a cat in the White House, and later lightheartedly suggested that the animal was “waiting in the wings.”

On Wednesday, Willow, a shorthair tabby with jade-green eyes, formally moved into the White House, just over a month after the Bidens revealed that they had added Commander, a German shepherd puppy, to the mix. Jill Biden said in an interview with The New York Times this fall that the cat had been living with a foster parent who had grown attached.

“The cat is still being fostered with somebody who loves the cat,” she said. “I don’t even know whether I can get the cat back at this point.”

Another complication, the first lady said at the time, was concerns of hostility between the cat and Major, the family’s other German shepherd, who had been sent to training after a series of biting episodes in the East Wing. At the time, LaRosa described it as “some additional training to help him adjust to life in the White House.” But last month, Major was sent to live in a quieter environment with friends of the family, LaRosa said.

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The last feline to live in the White House was India, a black cat who belonged to President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura. Then there was Socks, the black-and-white resident feline of the Clinton White House. Socks, a bit of a media darling, was the protagonist of an unreleased Super Nintendo game, “Socks the Cat Rocks the Hill,” and was even photographed in the White House briefing room.

New York Times