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tv   PBS News Hour Weekend  PBS  January 24, 2021 5:30pm-6:01pm PST

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captioning sponsored by wnet >> sreenivasan: on this edition for sunday, january 24: week two of president biden's administration is expected to produce a myriad of executive actions; how climate change will play out in his agenda; and a closer look at the attempts to curb methane emissions. next on “pbs newshour weekend.” >> pbs newshour weekend is made possible by: sue and edgar wachenheim iii. the anderson family fund. bernard and denise schwartz. the cheryl and philip milstein family. barbara hope zuckerberg. the leonard and norma klorfine foundation. we try to live in the moment,
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to not miss what's right in front of us. at mutual of america, we believe taking care of tomorrow can help you make the most of today. mutual of america financial group, retirement services and investments. >> for 25 years, consumer cellular has been offering no-contract wireless plans, designed to help people do more of what they like. our u.s.-based customer service team can help find a plan that fits you. to lea more, visit additional support has been provided by: and by the corporation for public broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the american people. and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. >> sreenivasan: good evening and thank you for joining us. from impeachment, to covid relief, to cabinet nominations, it will be a busy week in washington, d.c., as president joe biden gets started on his agenda. senate majority leader chuck schumer outlined a three-week schedule that starts with the house of representatives sending
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the article of impeachment of former president donald trump to the senate tomorrow, with the trial set to begin on february 8. >> everyone wants to put this awful chapter of american history behind us, but sweeping it under the rug will not bring healing. the only way to bring healing is to actually have real accountability, which this trial >> sreenivasan: earlier in the day, utah senator mitt romney indicated that he believes former president trump's role in the january 6 capitol attack warrants conviction by the senate. >> i believe that what is being alleged d what we saw which is incitement to insurrection is an impeachable offense. if not, what is? >> sreenivasan: preparations for the trial will be happening as president biden works to pass a $1.9-trillion covid-relief package. the legislation is widely supported within the democratically controlled house and senate, but it faces resistance from members of the republican party-- resistance senator bernie sanders said may be overcome using senate rules.
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>> what we can not do is wait weeks and weeks and months and months to go forward. we're going to use reconciliation, that is 50 votes in the senate plus the vice president, to pass legislation desperately needed by working families in this country right now. >> sreenivasan: during his first full week as president, biden will sign more executive orders and the senate will continue to vote on his nominations for his cabinet. the united states passed the grim milestone of more than 25 million cases of the coronavirus yesterday, just three months after reaching 10 million cases. that's according to "the new york times" database, which notes more than 400,000 deaths from the virus. as pressure mounts for speedier vaccinations in the u.s., president biden's chief of staff, ron klain, said on "meet the press" this morning the plan for vaccinations beyond nursing homes and hospitals, “did not really exist.” more than 17 million people in the u.s. have now received at least one dose of a covid-19 according to the c.d.c. globally, the virus and new
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variants are still spreading, with almost 100 million cases recorded according to johns hopkins university. israel-- the nation with the highest rate of vaccine distribution-- expanded i vaccination programs to 16-18 year olds starting today. israel also announced it will ban passenger flights in and out of the country for a week starting tomorrow as it seeks to stop the spread of new coronavirus variants. portugese voters headed to the polls to vote for president today as the coronavirus pandemic there worsens. seven candidates are vying for what is often referred to as a ceremonial position. polls indicate the incumbent president, marcelo rebelo de sousa of the center-right social democratic party, is leading, but he will need more than 50% of the vote to avoid a run-off election in february. portugal currently has the world's highest seven-day rolling average of new covid-19 cases and deaths per capita. in what is believed to be a show of force to the new biden administration, china sent
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warplanes into the taiwan strait this weekend. while such flights are often part of routine military drills, this weekend's flights beyond the midline that divides chinese and tawianese waters may indicate an escalation of efforts by the people'republic of china to re-exert control over taiwan. in a statement released yesterday the state department urged beijing to “cease its military, diplomatic, and economic pressure against taiwan and instead engage in meaningful dialogue with taiwan's democratically elected representatives.” this weekend's flights occurred as an american aircraft carrier, "the theodore roosevelt," entered the south china sea as part of what the navy described as routine operations. >> sreenivasan: in his first hours in office this week, president biden signed executive orders aimed at tackling the climate crisis and rolling back trump-era policies, which, by
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and large, denied the science of human-caused climate change. we're taking a look at some of biden's new climate commitments today, beginning with newshour weekend's ivette feliciano, who spoke with may boeve, executive director of climate justice organization >> reporter: so, may, in broad strokes, looking back at the last four years, what is the trump administration's legacy in regards to climate? and what were some of the major changes in policy over the last four years that impacted the focus of yourork at >> we're really running out of words to describe just how damaging donald trump's legacy is when it comes to so many things. so, since we're running out of words, i'll give you a number: 100. that's the number of climate related rollbacks his administration oversaw. that included stopping good things that were already happeng, like the auto efficiency standards.
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it also included actively making the clate problem worse. so, opening up more federal lands to drilling. so, these 100 rollbacks are incredibly significant, but the good news is, even on day one, president biden started to undo the damage and already exercised his executive authority in crucial ways to start to make up for lost time. the truth is, we don't have time when it comes to solving the climate crisis, and precious time was lost under the trump administration, but there are good signs that we can go big enough as a country by working together to undo some of that damage. >> reporter: and president biden announced the u.s. will be rejoining the paris climate agreent. is that accord more symbolic and about diplomacy or does it have real world ocomes for the climate crisis? >> it certainly has real world outcomes because there's no way to address a problem as big as climate change without working internationally.
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and so, the u.s. rejoining its diplomatic alliances is fundamental to getting the job done at scale. and we know the paris agreement is a step in the right direction. it needs to be strengthened. and the way that that happens is every single country following through on what they said they would do and going way beyond. so, it's an important first step. it signals the kind of leadership we need to see and the kind of re-engagement with our allies. but it's up to every country who's part of that agreement, crucially the united states, to actually put their money where their mouth is. >> reporter: president biden, you mentioned, has already announced some major policy reversals in regards to climate, including stopping constction of the keystone xl pipeline. can you give us some background on why the key xl pipeline was at the top of biden's agenda in his first days in office? >> certainly. stopping keystone xl is very
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much a people-powered victory. and it was started by indigenous peoples along the route of the pipeline in the u.s. and canada. it represents the same amount of climate saving potential as stopping 50 coal plants. so, people can imagine the damage that it would have done. it has real world implications. this was a fight that the climate movement was involved in for the past 10 years. so, just like we're seeing the actions taken on day one, if joe biden's messages on the campaign trail about linking ending climate change to ending inequality, linking economic recovery to green jobs, fighting the fossil fuel industry and taking them on, tackling climate change in a way that tackles racial injustice, if he follows through on those promises, it truly has the potential to be a transformative presidency. >> reporter: and we've reported on how many indigenous groups in farming communities along the key xl construction route were fighting to stop its
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construction. what are you hearing from folks on the ground? >> everyone knows it's important to celebrate milestones, and that is indeed happening, but folks on the ground are enmeshed in other pipeline fights as we speak-- crucially, the fight over the line three pipeline, and we need to see a climate test put in place now that keystone has been rejected, that will not let any of these damaging fossil fuel projects go forward. that includes line three, that includes the dakota access pipeline, that includes a lot of fossil fuel projects that are not as well known, but equally damaging to people and planet. >> reporter: may boeve, executive director of, thank you so much for joining us. >> thank you. >> sreenivasan: there's another climate-related issue that is likely to cross president biden's desk: controlling emissions of methane. the united nations estimates that about 25% of climate
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warming comes from the human- caused release of methane, mainly through livestock and oil and gas industries. now there's a growing effort to figure out just how much methane we're putting into the atmosphere and what to do about it. this report is part of our ongoing series on climate change, "peril & promise." the united states is the world's largest oil and natural gas producer burning fossil fuels emits carbon dioxide, of course, co2, but drilling also releases another potent greenhouse gas: methane. both co2 and methane warm the planet, but at different rates. carbon dioxide is a major problem because it can last for so long in the atmosphere. >> sreenivasan: ilissa ocko is a climate scientist with the nonprofit environmental defense fund, e.d.f. >> the carbon dioxide that we emit into the atmosphere today, around 40% of it could still be there in 100 years from now. and so, that's why carbon dioxide is such a big problem,
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because it builds up over time and commits our planet to warming for centuries and for generations to come. methane is much more powerful at trapping heat than carbon dioxide, but it only lasts in the atmosphere for around a decade. so, if you were to emit equal amounts of emissions of co2 and methane today, you're going to have a lot more warming from methane over the next few years than you will from co2. >> sreenivasan: that means reducing methane emissions can have a relatively rapid effect on climate change, which brings us to the permian basin. spanning more than 85,000 square miles, it includes a vast stretch of west texas and southeastern new mexico. oil companies pull more than four million barrels a day from it. >> the permian basin is the largest oil and gas basin in the united states, it's one of the largest in the world. but we didn't have an idea-- a good idea of how much methane was being emitted by the operations there. >> sreenivasan: colin leyden is e.d.f.'s director of regulatory
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and legislative affairs. >> so, we put together a comprehensive science measurement program to, you know, locate these methane emissions, as well as get an idea of how much of this is escaping into the atmosphere. >> sreenivasan: for more than a year, using everything fr mobile labs and cell phone towers to aircraft and satellites, e.d.f. has been working with colleagues from the university of wyoming, penn state university, scientific aviation, and others to document methane release in the permian sin. how do you actually see it, so to speak? i mean, natural gas doesn't-- it's like iocane powder from "the princess bride," odorless, colorless, whatever. and so how do you-- how dyou actually see the emissions that are escaping? >> fortunately, there are infrared cameras that can pick up and detect the emissions so that you can see them. >> sreenivasan: this tower is called a flare stack. and it looks to the naked eye like nothing's coming out of it, but here's what the infrared camera sees: methane is going straight into the atmosphere. it's a practice called“ venting.”
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e.d.f. has documented scenes like this across the permian basin. sometimes venting happens legally, with a permit. other times it's illegal, even accidental, when a flare stack is simply operating improperly. when a stack is working like it is supposed to, it burns the methane in a process known as flaring, which can also be done with a permit. sometimes the camera catches venting and flaring side by side. >> that's burning off excess gas, that could be happening for various reasons. there could be a true health and safety reason, maybe an over- pressurized system, you know, where they need to flare. but oftentimes what we've been seeing in the permian basin over the years has been just simply flaring for convenience. >> sreenivasan: e.d.f. publishes its results at a site called "permian map." they say their surveys have found 5% of the basin's flare stacks going completely unlit, and venting gas, and an additional 6% malfunctioning to some extent.
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the e.d.f. group estimates that methane is leaking from permian oil and gas facilities at three times what the environmental protection agency estimates. that comes to about 2.7 million tons of gas a year. it's not surprising then, that a call has gone out for serious reductions in methane emissions. and it's not just from environmentalists and scientists. private and institutional investors managing some $2-trillion in assets, even the world bank, have called for an end to routine flaring of methane. >> i mean, there are things that the investment community can do. >> sreenivasan: erin blanton is a senior research scholar at the center on global energy policy at columbia university's school of international and public affairs. >> something very simple would be just a commitment to stop routine flaring by, for example, 2025. that's a fair amount of time. it's a practice that is wasteful. it wastes money. it-- there's no revenues that come from flaring the gas.
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and the investment community could say we won't invest in companies that practice routine flaring. you know, we will not lend to them. >> sreenivasan: if that sounds pie-in-the-sky, consider this: recently a french investment concern cancelled a $7-billion deal to buy liquid natural gas, l.n.g., coming from the permian. "politico" reported there was pressure from the french government to not source their gas from a place that does not have methane pollution under control. but if there seems to be a growing consensus favoring tougher regulation, there are obstacles as well. last summer, president trump rolled back obama-era regulations and made it easier for oil producers to keep flaring and venting methane. then there's the texas railroad commission. it has the oil and gas industry under its authority. its charge, it says, is to protect citizens, the environment and the economy. but in texas, it has long been a friend to the fossil fuel industry, and gone easy on gas
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flaring. in november, the three-member commission did release new rules strengthening requiremes to obtain methane flaring permits, but fell far short of what its critics say is necessary. that same month, a new commissioner was elected, republican jim wright. on a podcast during the campaign he appeared unaware of the science around methane emissions. >> can you tell me of any exact research that really says that flaring is actually harming our atmosphere any worse than emissions from a car or anything else that they're claiming is making changes to our climate that we see today? >> sreenivasan: the biden administration is taking the opposite tack. the president has plans to,“ take actions including requiring aggressive methane pollution limits for new and existing oil and gas operations.” and it sounds like he might have what once would have been some unlikely allies. when president trump rolled back those methane regulations last year, even some energy giants
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pushed back, including b.p. and shell. gretchen watkins, the president of shell oil, has taken a firm stance on methane emissions. i recently spoke with her about regulation and her ideas for the new biden administration. our interview took place before thursday's news that the american petroleum institute, the chief lobbying arm of the oil and gas industry, had reversed its longstanding opposition to obama-era methane regulations. you've said in the past that the trump administration has rolled back for methane emissions regulation was frustrating and disappointing. tell me why you decided to take a position like that, because usually people in your industry don't. >> we have absolutely committed to natural gas as being a very important transition fuel as we move from fossil fuels to renewable fuels, but it's only going to be a good transition fuel if there are low to no
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emissions. and so, it's absolutely critical that we as a company get this right and, frankly, we as an industry get this right. because the natural gas loses its effectiveness as a good transition fuel if we have these emissions. and so, we have done a lot of work at shell to really reduce, and eliminate in many cases, our emissions. some examples i can give you from west texas. drill hundreds of wells in west texas. it used to be industry standard that every well would have its own flare stack. now we have about 30 wells that go into one central facility and there's only one flare stack for about 30 wells. and that's only used if we have an emergency upset of sorts. so, we've done a lot of engineering, a lot of investment to really reduce our emissions, and we feel it's absolutely critical for our industry to be part of that reduction going forward. >> sreenivasan: in texas, in the permian basin, there is the texas railroad commission.
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recently there was an individual that was elected to it who is still questioning climate science in an incredibly influential role. how, if you're an energy company that actually believes that climate change is real, climate sciee is real, how do you convince localities that this matters? >> part of my job at shell is being very vocal externally about what we believe we need as a company, but also as an industry, to be socially responsible, but also, you know thrive as a business. and so, sometimes i go to capitol hillr go to the state capitols with partne that we work with, such as the environmental defense fund. and oftentimes, when i come there with a partner like that, it really can change the conversation.
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>> sreenivasan: what's interesting is, is on the one hand you have partnerships like the e.d.f., the environmental defense fund, which people would be shocked by, and then, on the other hand, you've written somewhere between a $12-15 million check to the american petroleum institute, which lobbied for some time against the, kind of, regulations over methane, cheered for it when the trump administration rolled things back. how do you square which partner gets your attention with such different views? >> we're actually very happy to be working with the environmentadefense fund and happy to be working with the, the american petroleum institute. the p.i. provides us, most critically i think, the industry, with a suite of safety standards that we feel are actually very important in terms of how we operate, how we build things, how we design things and have been for decades. now, in places where we deviate, we are very clear that we
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deviate, and we've been, and will continue to be, willing to be vocal about that, methane being one of those. >> sreenivasan: what are you >> sreenivasan: if you had any suggestions to give to joe biden or his team that might be influencing policy where you work, what are the things that you think could be achieved right off the bat that wouldn't be controversial, would be perhaps bipartisan? >> one thing that i think would be incredibly beneficial is instituting some sort of a, a carbon market, a carbon market that provides a level playing field for all, for all industries, for all different types and sizes of players, but also really, i think, attracts capital to some very crucial technical developments that we need in this country, and frankly the world needs, in order to reach our emissions targets and things that that really includes, in particular carbon capture and sequestration.
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>> sreenivasan: for the full interview with shell president gretchen watkins and the latest national and internatial news visit >> sreenivasan: the animated storycorps series “what matter”" begins this month with the sho“" alone together.” it's the story of dr. roberto vargas who isolated himself in the basement to protect his family during the covid-19 pandemic. test test test it-- a big thing, and with you gone it was way harder. i just miss you. >> i remember he what drop groceries off on the front porch and that is when we started talking through the window next to our front door. >> you would talk on your cell phone and the kids and i would sit behind the window. and i remember one of the hardest night, i think were you jis exhausted. you had your head on the window and were crying. but eventually you started sleeping in the basement. and i uld not let the kids go past the top the basement
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stairs. >> we had to stay far away. but i just felt better that you you, would be like a part of us. >> i remember when you came into the basement, the best night i had yet, you know, your coworker had made all these different dishes for us. it was the first time we had been able to connect in so long. >> without you i wouldn't have been able to do what i have been able to do the a work. we had to be absolutely everything to our four beautiful kids. i have never loved you more. and i know i it hasn't been easy. >> you can guys tush off its caying, it is too sigh. >> these are tears of happiness. >> roberto, i admire you so much. always admired you. but you have done things these past couple of months that seem impossible. >> well, what you are doing is a lot harder than what i am doing. a lot harder. >> dad, i just want to say, thank you for helping get rid of this virus. >> that is the thing that-- what
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carries me through is this family. >> sreenivasan: that's all for this edition of “pbs newshour weekend.” for the latest news updates visit i'm hari sreenivasan. thanks for watching. stay healthy and have a good night. captioning sponsored by wnet captioned by media access group at wgbh >> pbs newshour weekend is made possible by: sue and edgar wachenheim iii. the anderson family fund. bernard and denise schwartz. the cheryl and philip milstein family.
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barbara hope zuckerberg. the leonard and norma klorfine foundation. we try to live in the moment, to not miss what's right in front of us. at mutual of america, we believe taking care of tomorrow can help you make the most of today. mutual of america financial group, retirement services and investments. additional support has been provided by: consumer cellular. and by: and by the corporation for public broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the american people. and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. you're watching pbs.
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♪♪ ♪♪ -california is one of the world's top tourist destinations, known for its bright lights, big cities, and stunning national parks, but with a population of nearly 40 million people, finding any wide-open spaces has to be impossible. this part of california -- and i'm a native here -- i've never been here. as you're about to find out, it's all about knowing where to look. yeah. i was just drawn to this little ridge on these eroded slopes. really easy walking and very unique. this is central california, home of the san joaquin valley, where most of america's food is grown, and on either side of these fertile fields rise mountain ranges with lower foothill zones that are usually overlooked as places to explore. this is miles and miles and miles of just open,


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