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August 11 2012

17:59

Romney’s New Campaign Strategy: Attack Green Jobs During Massive Unemployment

Since President Obama took office, industry-funded think tanks and faux grassroots organizations, along with oil-friendly politicians have been collectively demanding to know “where are the jobs?” And with last month’s jobs report showing an increase in the U.S. unemployment rate (even though there was a net job gain for the month, making 28 consecutive months of private sector job growth) it would be unwise for any politician seeking national office to attack programs to put Americans back to work. But Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is doing exactly that.

On the campaign trail recently, Romney took a few jabs at Obama, claiming that the president has an “unhealthy obsession with green jobs,” a claim that numerous media outlets are warning will not resonate well with the American public.

The Associated Press points out, as we mentioned last week, that Romney’s energy plan (which is being guided by industry insiders) would cut tax breaks for renewable energy sources like wind energy, while expanding tax breaks for oil companies. AP also noted that the American public, by a two-to-one margin, favor renewable energy over fossil fuels, showing that Romney’s positions go against the majority of Americans.

While most media outlets have only given cursory attention to Romney’s comments about Obama’s alleged “obsession” with green jobs, it's not a remark that should be taken lightly. In fact, it tells us a lot about what we can expect from Romney should he win the presidency.


The green economy is one that has never really been given a chance to survive in our "free market system." While stimulus money has flowed to many renewable energy companies, the lack of a green infrastructure has caused these projects to remain stagnant.

Investment in green jobs shouldn’t be a partisan issue. We could create millions of American jobs – jobs that can’t be outsourced; We could reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, and reduce our oil imports from hostile nations; And we would help reduce the country’s carbon footprint. None of those are partisan issues, as both major parties have talked about the need to do all of the above.

That’s not hyperbole, either. Studies abound about the benefits of investing in a green economy. But they also all say the same thing – More has to be done to create a delivery system for renewable energy. At the moment, there is no major infrastructure for delivering renewable energy to the masses, leaving the vast majority of the country reliant on fossil fuels to power their lives.

There are very few, if any, drawbacks to investing in clean energy, green jobs, and renewable technology. The benefits listed above should be enough to get any American on board, as long as that American isn’t a fossil fuel CEO.

Following the money on the issue helps us understand why we’re still so far behind in the green economy sector. USA Today has the numbers:
  

Last year alone ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil, Chevron and the American Petroleum Institute, the trade group that represents these energy giants, used $66.2 million for lobbying efforts, nearly 44% of the $150 million total spent by the oil and gas industry, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Collectively, nearly 800 lobbyists worked on behalf of oil and gas interests in 2011.

The total towers over the $53 million spent by what the center classifies as the "miscellaneous energy" industry — which counts the Renewable Fuels Association, Growth Energy and the American Wind Energy Association as its members. The grouping includes 751 lobbyists.
 

The Obama administration has also met fierce opposition on their renewable energy and green jobs investments by industry-funded think tanks and astroturf organizations like Americans for Prosperity and ALEC. These groups are able to outspend their green counterparts, and in Washington, D.C., that gives them access to a much larger microphone.

And that brings us back to Romney. He’s already shown us that he’s willing to employ dirty energy industry insiders to craft his energy policy, and his claims about Obama’s “obsession” with green jobs is an extension of his pandering to the oil and gas industries. After all, they have the finances that he needs to keep his campaign alive through November.

Reports from earlier this year tell us that at least 3 million American workers are employed in the “green economy” sector, most of which are with private sector firms. Romney’s attack on Obama is an attack on the 3 million workers in this industry.

July 26 2012

15:34

A Climate and Energy Stalemate

Is climate change a real and present danger? Why does the United States lag behind many other industrialized nations in addressing it?

July 24 2012

21:23

Breaking Up With Keystone XL and Dirty Energy - It's Not Us, It's You [Video]

This is a guest post by Heather Libby.

A new video from the Post Carbon Institute pokes fun at the Keystone XL pipeline’s tendency to reappear no matter how very little we want it around - much like an ex-boyfriend who won’t get the hint.

Like many in the environmental movement, I was thrilled when President Obama denied the permit for the Keystone XL pipeline. I really thought it was the end of the Keystone XL. Silly me.

Within weeks, Republicans were looking for new ways to resubmit the Keystone XL plan. Mitt Romney has said he’ll make approving the Keystone XL a priority for his first day in office if he wins.

Seeing all of this, I was frustrated and felt disenfranchised. So I did what I always do in that situation: write comedy. 

All I could think of was how much pipeline companies like Transcanada, Enbridge, Shell and Kinder Morgan reminded me of guys who simply won’t take no for an answer. They're going to keep coming back no matter what we tell them, unless we cut them off for good - and remove their subsidies.

Fortunately there are many organizations - including 350.org and Oil Change International who are working hard to convince governments that eliminating subsidies is the right thing to do for our energy future. 

Don’t you think it’s time we end this dirty relationship?
  

We Quit You, Keystone XL

April 02 2012

16:33

Enviro News Wrap: Solyndra, Big Oil Subsidies, and Politics, and more…


The Latest Environmental News HeadlinesGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up and comments on the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week: 

 

 

April 01 2012

23:22

February 27 2012

23:48

Enviro News Wrap: Trumps Bullies Scottish Government; GOP’s Delusions on Energy Policy; China Pushes for Making More Solar Panels, and more…


The Latest Environmental News HeadlinesGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

February 03 2012

21:00

Warren Buffett Exposed: The Oracle of Omaha and the Tar Sands

On January 23, Bloomberg News reported Warren Buffett's Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway (BNSF), owned by his lucrative holding company Berkshire Hathaway, stands to benefit greatly from President Barack Obama’s recent cancellation of the Keystone XL pipeline

If built, TransCanada's Keystone XL (KXL) pipeline would carry tar sands crude, or bitumen (“dilbit”) from Alberta, B.C. down to Port Arthur, Texas, where it would be sold on the global export market

If not built, as revealed recently by DeSmogBlog, the grass is not necessarily greener on the other side, and could include increased levels of ecologically hazardous gas flaring in the Bakken Shale, or else many other pipeline routes moving the prized dilbit to crucial global markets.

Rail is among the most important infrastructure options for ensuring tar sands crude still moves to key global markets, and the industry is pursuing rail actively. But transporting tar sands crude via rail is in many ways a dirtier alternative to the KXL pipeline. “Railroads too present environmental issues. Moving crude on trains produces more global warming gases than a pipeline,” explained Bloomberg.

A key mover and shaker behind the push for more rail shipments is Warren Buffett, known by some as the “Oracle of Omaha” — of "Buffett Tax" fame — and the third richest man in the world, with a net worth of $39 billion. With or without Keystone XL, Warren Buffett stands to profit enormously from multiple aspects of the Alberta Tar Sands project. He also, importantly, maintains close ties with President Barack Obama.

read more

January 25 2012

18:34

President Obama Reaffirms his Commitment to Clean Energy in his State of the Union Address


Obama pushes an agenda of clean energy at his State of the Union AddressPresident Obama showed courageous leadership by supporting clean energy in his state of the union address.  Prior to the President’s state of the union address, a Think Progress Green article encouraged the President to stir ”this country to action on the existential threat of climate change.”  Mr. Obama may have only mentioned climate change once, but his unqualified support for clean energy was consistent with the kind of mobilization required to protect “our homeland from a poisoned climate.”

The President’s desire to expand exploitation of offshore oil reserves and natural gas from shale may be disappointing but it is entirely understandable in the current political climate.

While it is easy to blame Obama for not being strong enough on efforts to combat climate change, the blame actually lies with Republicans. The fossil fuel powered Republican denial machine has done a great job of misinforming the American electorate, making it impossible to address the topic, let alone fight for legislation. The President acknowledged the impossibility of passing climate legislation when he said,

“The differences in this chamber may be too deep right now to pass a comprehensive plan to fight climate change. But there’s no reason why Congress shouldn’t at least set a clean energy standard that creates a market for innovation.”

Riley E. Dunlap, a sociology professor at Oklahoma State, and Aaron M. McCright of Michigan State have written a chapter for the new Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society, called, “Organized Climate Change Denial.”  In their chapter of the book, they say:

“It is reasonable to conclude that climate change denial campaigns in the U.S. have played a crucial role in blocking domestic legislation and contributing to the U.S. becoming an impediment to international policy-making…We have argued that because of the perceived threat posed by climate change to their interests, actors in the denial machine have strived to undermine scientific evidence documenting its reality and seriousness.  Over the past two decades they have engaged in an escalating assault on climate science and scientists, and in recent years on core scientific practices, institutions and knowledge.  Their success in these efforts not only threatens our capacity to understand and monitor human-induced ecological disruptions from the local to global levels (Hanson 2010), but it also weakens an essential component of societal reflexivity when the need for the latter is greater than ever.”

The scientific basis for climate change has been around for decades and yet as economist-ethicist Clive Hamilton explains, “The desire to disbelieve deepens as the scale of the threat grows.”

It would appear climate denial is a defining feature of the GOP. This is a point made convincingly in an Oct 10, 2010 Climate Progress article by Joe Romm.  “Indeed, it is difficult to identify another major political party in any democracy as thoroughly dismissive of climate science as is the GOP here.”

Even denialists, like Fred Hiatt, the Washington Post‘s Editorial Page Editor, have published op-ed pieces accusing the GOP of being “lost in never-never land,” on climate change.

In light of Republican denialist propaganda, President Obama’s speech is truly remarkable. He repeatedly stated his support for clean energy technology. One of his most powerful arguments concerned the effectiveness of public-private collaborations.

“In three years, our partnership with the private sector has already positioned America to be the world’s leading manufacturer of high-tech batteries. Because of federal investments, renewable energy use has nearly doubled. And thousands of Americans have jobs because of it”.

He also unapologetically addressed his critics when he talked about government support for clean technologies and America’s international competitiveness. It was as though he was referring directly to the failed solar company Solyndra, when the President said,

“Some technologies don’t pan out; some companies fail. But I will not walk away from the promise of clean energy. I will not cede the wind or solar or battery industry to China or Germany because we refuse to make the same commitment here.”

He went on to tackle the complex issue of subsidies, asking Congress to remove oil subsidies and replace them with subsidies for clean energy.

“We have subsidized oil companies for a century. That’s long enough. It’s time to end the taxpayer giveaways to an industry that’s rarely been more profitable, and double-down on a clean energy industry that’s never been more promising. Pass clean energy tax credits and create these jobs. We can also spur energy innovation with new incentives.”

Dealing squarely with Republican obstructionism the President said,

“So far, you haven’t acted. Well tonight, I will. I’m directing my Administration to allow the development of clean energy on enough public land to power three million homes. And I’m proud to announce that the Department of Defense, the world’s largest consumer of energy, will make one of the largest commitments to clean energy in history – with the Navy purchasing enough capacity to power a quarter of a million homes a year.”

The President also dealt with the issue of energy efficiency, talking specifically about an energy grid that “wastes too much energy,” and encouraging greener building for businesses.

“Of course, the easiest way to save money is to waste less energy. So here’s another proposal: Help manufacturers eliminate energy waste in their factories and give businesses incentives to upgrade their buildings. Their energy bills will be $100 billion lower over the next decade, and America will have less pollution, more manufacturing, and more jobs for construction workers who need them. Send me a bill that creates these jobs.”

The President concluded by indicating that he is committed to reducing mercury pollution and making sure that “our food is safe and water is clean.” He also stated that he wants to hold the oil companies accountable.

“I will not back down from making sure an oil company can contain the kind of oil spill we saw in the Gulf two years ago.”

What makes the 2012 speech so noteworthy is the fact that the President mentioned “clean energy” eight times.  Over the course of the last few years the tone of the state of the union address has changed dramatically. In 2009, the President spoke forcefully about the need to address climate change, then he softened his approach in 2010 and in 2011, he fell silent on the issue.

Despite opposition from the GOP, President Obama appears to be determined to fight for clean energy in the forthcoming federal election.

——————–

Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

January 19 2012

22:42

Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline Blocked – For Now


The Obama administration blocks the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline - for nowResponding to a mandate laid down by conservatives in Congress last month for a decision within 60 days, the Obama administration denied the permit for  construction of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline.

The proposed route for the 1700-mile pipeline would stretch from Canada to Texas, crossing through sensitive areas including Nebraska’s ecologically sensitive Sandhills region and the vast Ogallala Aquifer that supplies fresh water to millions of Americans.

The Obama administration had originally said it would postpone a decision on the project to 2013, after the presidential election later this year, but Republicans in Congress attempted to force Obama’s hand by moving the deadline to within 60 days, and that the president responded well ahead of that deadline.

While environmentalists applaud the decision to block the pipeline, which would transport Canadian tar sands oil, the production of which produces more carbon emissions and environmental destruction than “conventional” oil, many are concerned that the Obama administration will eventually approve the project in some form.

“This announcement is not a judgment on the merits of the pipeline,” Obama said in a statement, “but pertains more to the arbitrary nature of a deadline that prevented the State Department from gathering the information necessary to approve the project and protect the American people.”

Republicans in Congress vow that the fight for the tar sands pipeline is “far from over” and Keystone’s TransCanada has said it will immediately apply for a new permit to build the pipeline.

Job claims inflated

The official State Department report to Congress released yesterday also characterized claims that the pipeline would create 100,000 jobs as “inflated,” saying instead that the project would have no “significant impact on long-term employment in the United States.”

The report says that instead that the project would only create between 5,000 to 6,000 temporary jobs lasting only two years.

Undermining U.S. energy security

A report released by the Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) says that heated debate over the project has obscured the true intent of the pipeline: to export Canadian oil to the world market via the U.S. Gulf Coast.

“Canada isn’t even producing enough oil to fill its existing pipelines,” says the NRDC, “which are running half-empty.”

The real reason for the big push to build the pipeline across America’s heartland is not to enhance U.S. energy security, but to grow oil company profits by exporting oil to international markets through Gulf Coast refineries in tax-free Foreign Trade Zones.

Obama’s commitment 

One thing conservatives in Congress and environmentalists do agree on is that the Keystone pipeline story is far from over. Today’s rejection of TransCanada’s permit by the State Department is just as much a rejection of acting on the GOP’s attempt to mandate a timeline than of the idea itself.

“I’m disappointed that Republicans in Congress forced this decision, but it does not change my Administration’s commitment to American-made energy that creates jobs and reduces our dependence on oil,” Obama said in his statement.

So while today those that voiced their concerns and made clear their opposition can celebrate a “victory”, bringing to heel what many considered a “done deal,” the fight for America’s sustainable energy future is far from over. The Keystone XL pipeline is but one small battle, and only temporarily won.

Image credit: National Geographic

January 10 2012

21:24

Obama Drops by the E.P.A.

"I do not buy the notion that we have to make a choice between having clean air and clean water and growing this economy in a robust way," the president tells agency employees.

December 09 2011

18:24

Fracking Ohio's Utica Shale to "Boost Local Economy"? A "Total" Sham

It is a well-known fact that the unconventional gas industry is involved in an inherently toxic business, particularly through hydraulic fracturing ("fracking"), which the EPA just confirmed has contaminated groundwater in Wyoming. The documentary film "Gasland," DeSmogBlog's report "Fracking the Future: How Unconventional Gas Threatens our Water, Health, and Climate," and numerous other investigations, reports, and scientific studies have echoed the myriad problems with unconventional oil and gas around the globe.

What is less well-known, but arguably equally as important, is who exactly stands to benefit economically from the destruction of our land, air, and water in the gas industry's rush to profit from the fracking bonanza. The U.S oil and gas industry would have us believe that they are principally focused on ushering in American energy independence. But their claims are increasingly suspect as the real motivation of this industry becomes clearer by the day.

A hint: it's not the small "mom and pop," independent gas companies, but multinational oil and gas corporations. Another hint: it's often not even American multinational oil and gas corporations, but rather, foreign-based multinational oil and gas corporations who stand to gain the most.

France's Total S.A. Enters Ohio's Utica Shale, as well as Uganda, South Sudan and Kenya

On December 7, Bloomberg's Businessweek reported that Total S.A. is positioning itself to acquire 25 percent of Chesapeake Energy’s stake in Ohio's Utica Shale, valued at $2.14 Billion

Total S.A., the largest oil and gas producer in France, is a multinational corporation perhaps most notorious for its involvement in Iraq's "Oil-For-Food" scandal. In 2010, Total S.A. was accused of bribing former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's officials to secure oil supplies. 


Total SA also brokered another big deal on December 7, this one in Uganda, a place I recently wrote about on AlterNet in a piece titled, "Did Obama Just Kick Off Another Oil War — This Time in Africa?" It appears the question raised and answered in my article is being confirmed more and more with each passing day.

Explaining the terms of the deal, Reuters wrote, "French oil major Total said it could build a pipeline from South Sudan to Uganda that would continue to Kenya’s coast, potentially solving the fledgling state’s headache about how to export its oil."

These announcements comes on the heels of a December 1 announcement by another foreign corporation, Norway's Statoil, stating that it "would like to add to its acreage position in the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas as it looks to grow its unconventional oil and gas position in North America."

Speaking of corruption, by the way, Ohio is a natural landing spot for Total S.A.

Ohio: Home to Big Gas Money

Common Cause of Ohio, in a recent report titled "Deep Drilling, Deep Pockets," revealed that from 2001 through June 2011, Republican Governor John Kasich received $213,519 in campaign contributions from the gas industry. The Republican Senatorial and House Campaign Committees took another $210,250 from the gas industry during that same time period.

Not to be outdone, on the other side of the aisle, former Democratic Governor of Ohio, Ted Strickland, received $87,450 during that time frame. 

Top donors included the following:

  • Ohio Oil & Gas Producers Fund - $820,285
  • British Petroleum PAC & Employees - $215,438
  • Marathon Oil PAC & Employees - $207,054

Summing things up, Common Cause wrote,

Companies engaged in fracking contributed $2.8 million to state candidates, political committees, and parties in Ohio from 2001 through June 2011, helping the natural gas industry preserve what are some of the nation’s most lenient fracking regulations. Ohio does not require full disclosure of chemicals used in the fracking process, has stripped from local governments the power to regulate fracking, and allows fracking as close as 100 feet to a residence.

All in all, this is a bad deal for the people of Ohio, but a great deal for global multinational oil corporations, a pattern all too familiar in the American political fray.

Any way one slices it, the claim that the gas industry first and foremost is a "good neighbor" who will "benefit the local economies," is a total sham. 

 

November 10 2011

17:48

U.S. Plans to Delay Keystone Decision, Officials Say

Officials and lobbyists say that the Obama administration is also considering an alternate route for the controversial pipeline project.

September 15 2011

16:53

Pennies to Clean Energy, Billions to Big Oil -- Mainstream Media Missing the Real Story on Solyndra

The U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing yesterday on the ongoing and growing scandal in the wake of the bankruptcy of Solyndra Corporation.

Solyndra, a solar panel manufacturer that recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy after laying off over 1,000 workers, is facing a barrage of attacks by both politicians and the media. The GOP and its right wing media echo chamber in particular have sought to condemn the entire U.S. clean energy sector as a result of an FBI raid of Solyndra's offices.

Things have spun so far out of control inside the Beltway that Rep. David Vitter (R-La.) is disseminating a bill that would, "require an inspector general investigation into any company that receives federal money for renewable energy development and then goes bankrupt."

But Vitter's so-called Federal Accountability of Renewable Energy (FARE) Act is hardly a fair assessment of accountability across the entire energy subsidies spectrum.

Besides serving as an opportunistic moment to dance on the grave of a solar company, in the wake of Solyndra's economic downfall, we're witnessing a true disdain among Republicans for a clean energy technology that was invented here at home, and possesses the potential to help wean the U.S. from deep reliance on foreign energy. In the currently toxic political environment, the GOP seems more interested in ceding that job-rich opportunity to China.

Explaining the bill further, The Hill's Andrew Restuccia wrote,

Co-sponsored by Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), the bill would require that federal agencies conduct a full audit of any renewable energy projects that have received taxpayer money from fiscal years 2009 to 2011.

The audit must determine how successful the project is, including how many jobs it has created and what its profits are. In addition, agencies would be required to identify which venture capital firms helped finance the project.

Any companies that declare bankruptcy or fail to meet the objectives required by the federal government would be subject to an inspector general investigation under the legislation. 

In other words, the clean energy sector would be held to a completely different standard than is the all-powerful fossil fuel sector. Why don't we hear even more outrage from these same supposedly budget-conscious politicians about the hundreds of billions of dollars dumped by American taxpayers into fully-mature polluting energy sources that we know are harming our health, our climate and our security? How could anyone consider solar power the enemy?

A Lack of Perspective From the Media on Clout of Fossil Fuel Industry

​Solyndra has received a vast amount of media attention since the beginning of September, but very few outlets have conveyed the real story - that the fossil fuel industry receives billions of dollars in government subsidies on an annual basis, and leaves solar and other renewables manufacturers far and away in the dust.

According to a March 2011 story by the Christian Science Monitor, gas and oil interests receive a steep $41 billion per year in subsidies.  Also, according to a July 2010 article in the New York Times​, the fossil fuel industry at-large benefits from tens of billions of dollars in government subsidies on an annual basis.

Honing in on the oil industry specifically, the Times​ discovered that Big Oil receives over $4 billion in tax breaks each year, as shown by an October 2005 Congressional Budget Office report.

In addition, the fossil fuel industry maintains a powerful armada of lobbyists on Capitol Hill. The Los Angeles Times covered the depths of the industry's influence in a May 2010 article,

All told, the oil and gas industry spent $174.7 million and registered 788 lobbyists to influence lawmakers and regulators last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research organization. Since 1998, the industry has spent $966.8 million on lobbying, making it the sixth-biggest-spending interest group in Washington, the center found.

Furthermore, in a well-researched article today, the Center for American Progress' Brad Johnson revealed that the members who hosted this morning's hearing were the recipients of a lump sum of over $11 million in campaign contributions from the gas and oil industry. Johnson closed his article by pointing out the core flawed premise of this phony scandal. 

The solar industry is truly dependent on subsidies,” subcommittee chairman Cliff Stearns (R-FL) said at the conclusion of the hearing. Stearns did not express similar outrage about the hundreds of billions of dollars that have gone into subsidizing the oil, gas, coal and nuclear industries. None of the Republican members of the panel worried about the $11 million in subsidies they have received from the fossil fuel and nuclear industries in campaign contributions.

Rather than examine the dirty energy subsidy implications of this story, opportunistic politicians and media have focused on the *tiny by comparison* $535 million loan guarantee to Solyndra initiated by former President George W. Bush and approved by current President Barack Obama. The bulk of the media have instead flocked to the "alternative energy must not be viable" narrative.  

Solyndra Loan was Pennies By Comparison — Were they Set Up to Fail?

It is no wonder then, that handed a loan that was pennies by comparison to what the fossil fuel industry receives in subsidies and tax breaks on an annual basis from the government, Solyndra was bound to fail. The Chinese government, for one, recently handed $20 billion to solar panel corporations.  

Given no tax cuts, no extra subsidies after the initial loans, and handed an astronomical handicap in an energy industry dominated by oil and coal, journalists have yet to ask government officials the crucial question:

With members of both parties finger-pointing and laying the blame on Solyndra, was Solydra, all along, set up to fail by the federal government? Is that what's really going on here?

Dave Roberts of Grist may have hit the nail on the head

For a mix of financial and ideological reasons, U.S. conservative movement activists, operators, and politicos hate clean energy. They don't believe in climate change, they love fossil fuels and fossil-fuel campaign donations, and they think, or want the U.S. public to think, that clean energy is weak, unreliable, marginal, and dependent on government subsidies. They have been trying to make that case for a long while.

What Solyndra gives them is a symbol, something to use as a stand-in to discredit not just the DOE loan program, but all government support for clean energy and indeed clean energy itself. 

One can only hope the terms of the debate change, and quickly. 

September 07 2011

18:49

Obama Can Regulate the Environment and Create Green Jobs


President Obama should focus on creating green jobs and supporting environmental regulation. Jobs and a healthy environment are not mutually exclusiveAs U.S. President Barack Obama prepares to unveil his jobs and economic plan, his popularity is at an all-time low. Support from the President’s base has been eroded by the two week long protest against the Keystone XL pipeline and profound disappointment about the abandonment of stricter ozone regulations.

From the end of August to the beginning of September, a total of 1,252 protesters were arrested in front of the White House for opposing the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. Those arrested included 350.org’s Bill McKibben and NASA climate scientist James Hansen. The tar sands pipeline could galvanize U.S. action on climate because many believe we should be working to reduce the demand for oil rather than increase the supply.

The Obama administration decision to abandon stricter ozone pollution standards pleased Republicans and business groups who say environmental regulations kill jobs. However, the research shows that regulations are not killing small business.

Previous regulations, like amendments to the Clean Air Act, have resulted in far lower costs and job losses than indicated by industry and the GOP. When the EPA first proposed amendments to the Clean Air Act aimed at reducing acid rain caused by power plant emissions, the electric utility industry warned that it would cost $7.5 billion and tens of thousands of jobs. But as reported in the New York Times, Dallas Burtraw, an economist at Resources for the Future, indicated that the cost has been closer to $1 billion. The EPA cited studies showing that the law had been a modest net creator of jobs through industry spending on compliance technology.The costs of regulation should be factored alongside reduced mortality and morbidity. The New York Times reports that clean air regulations have reduced infant mortality and increased housing prices according to research by Greenstone.

The Sierra Club indicates that half of U.S. families live in communities where the air is unsafe to breathe. According to the Sierra Club, the new standard for smog would have prevented up to 12,000 premature deaths, 5,300 heart attacks and tens of thousands of asthma attacks and other serious respiratory illnesses each year. These protections from smog would have saved billions of dollars in health costs.

Countries around the world are investing in cleaner air and a healthier environment. According to ENN, the 2011 Global Green Economy Index (GGEI) show that expert practitioners in the green economy rank Germany as the top overall national green performer while a new index places New Zealand on top. The UK has also announced its national sustainability agenda.

Many other countries are getting very serious about their focus on sustainability. Bolivia forwarded a piece of legislation called la Ley de Derechos de la Madre Tierra (the Law of Mother Earth), which encourages a radical shift in conservation, enforces new control measures on industry, and reduces environmental destruction.

Bolivia’s law redefines natural resources as blessings and confers the same rights to nature as to human beings, including: the right to life and to exist; the right to continue vital cycles and processes free from human alteration; the right to pure water and clean air; the right to balance; the right not to be polluted; and the right to not have cellular structure modified or genetically altered. Perhaps the most controversial point is the right “to not be affected by mega-infrastructure and development projects that affect the balance of ecosystems and the local inhabitant communities”.

Ecuador has enshrined similar aims in its Constitution, other nations have also shown interest in this approach including Nicaragua, Venezuela, Antigua, Barbuda, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.

In the summer of 2011, politicians in Turkey sought a constitution that would afford rights to the Earth. Even the African nation of Nigeria is working hard to protect their environment. To help with this task, Nigeria created the National Environmental Standards and Regulations Enforcement Agency (NESREA) which was created to help enforce environmental laws, standards and regulations in the country.

In the U.S., the preoccupation with jobs overshadows any interest in the environment. When President Obama addressed a crowd of more than 10,000 people in Detroit on Labor Day, they were heard chanting “More good jobs.” During the speech, the President intimated what he’ll be saying in his major jobs address to the joint session of Congress.

“We’ve got roads and bridges across this country that need rebuilding,” Obama said. “I still believe both parties can work together to solve our problems. We’re going to see if congressional Republicans will put country before party.”

A move toward stricter governmental regulation would help green industries to grow and provide jobs. Despite the prevailing public mood, job creation is intimately connected with environmental protection. But it is hard to imagine that Republicans will work with the President to pass any legislation, particularly environmental legislation. According to the Presidential Climate Action Project, there is a great deal the President can do without congressional input. In 2010 they provided a report (pdf) that lists a large number of actions that can be implemented with executive orders.

“What we’re saying is Congress has decided not to act, but [Obama] can do so,” former Sen. Gary Hart, a Colorado Democrat and a co-chairman of the group, said.

It’s not as if Obama has failed to make progress on climate issues. In October 2009, President Obama signed Executive Order 13514, Federal Leadership in Environmental, Energy, and Economic Performance. This EO calls on Federal agencies to set and meet specific sustainability related targets throughout their operations. As part of this undertaking, GSA is leveraging its purchasing power to promote sustainable procurement. More recently, the Obama administration developed landmark fuel efficiency standards for vehicles by regulating cars and light trucks as well as trucks and buses.

Despite the lack of legislative progress on the environment, the Obama administration has done more to promote renewable energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions than any previous government. However, Obama’s efforts have been impeded by the unrelenting multi-front manipulation of powerful interests associated with the old energy economy, including the oil industry. Further, the Republican controlled House is working hard to dismantle the EPA.

It comes down to the choice between temporary jobs of the past which are ruining the environment or permanent jobs of the future that protect the planet.

Republicans and ill-informed members of the business community are indicating that now is not the time for environmental regulations or investment in sustainability. In 2008, some feared that a recession would undermine the growth of sustainability, but current events appear to indicate otherwise. Difficult economic times auger greater efficiency, and a weak economy is also the reason why economists argue that massive green infrastructure investments may be the best way to strengthen the economy and create jobs.

A President’s popularity is a function of jobs and the best way to create jobs is to enact regulations and invest in the green economy.
——————–
Richard Matthews is a consultant, eco-entrepreneur, green investor and author of numerous articles on sustainable positioning, eco-economics and enviro-politics. He is the owner of THE GREEN MARKET, a leading sustainable business blog and one of the Web’s most comprehensive resources on the business of the environment. Find The Green Market on Facebook and follow The Green Market’s twitter feed.

Image credit: Austin Post and Take Part

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August 30 2011

03:17

New Infographic Shows how Keystone Pipelines are ‘Built to Spill’

TransCanada claims their pipelines are the safest in the continent. And the State Department seems inclined to agree having released their Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) on the Keystone XL pipeline last week. They find that the pipeline poses “no significant impacts” to the environment, and advise the project move forward.

So what about the 12 spills along the Keystone I line in its first year of operation? Since commencing operation in June of 2010, the Keystone I pipeline has suffered more spills than any other 1st year pipeline in U.S. history.

In addition to a nasty spill record, the proposed Keystone XL will cross one of the largest aquifers in the world – the Ogallala – which supplies drinking water to millions and provides 30% of the nation’s groundwater used for irrigation. Pipeline construction will also disrupt 20,782 acres, including 11,485 acres of native and modified grassland, rangeland and pastureland, and pipeline construction will threaten sensitive wildlife and aquatic species habitats.

According to the EPAcarbon emissions from tar sands crude are approximately 82% higher than the average crude refined in the U.S. Given the extremely toxic nature of tar sands bitumen and the fact that Keystone is TransCanada’s first wholly owned pipeline in the U.S., it seems reasonable to look to TransCanada’s performance with Keystone I for clues on how it would manage Keystone XL.

And the clues are telling.

For one, Keystone I is the youngest pipeline to have been considered an immediate threat to life, property and the environment by pipeline safety regulators.

This Keystone pipeline infographic below shows the spills documented in TransCanada’s publicly released safety records alongside the proposed route for Keystone XL, and indicates key risk areas near waterways and major metropolitan areas.

Check out the infographic below, and head over to the Huffington Post to read more. 

Update: The graphic has been corrected to fix errors in #5 and #6. Thanks to the commenters who caught them.

Built to Spill infographic

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August 29 2011

18:11

Enviro News Wrap: Rick Perry – an American Idiot? Keystone Pipeline Gets State Dept. Thumbs-up; The Economics of Declining Oil, and more…


The Latest Environmental News HeadlinesGlobalWarmingisReal contributor Anders Hellum-Alexander wraps-up the climate and environmental news headlines for the past week:

June 24 2011

00:25

Scientists and Activists Issue A Call To Action To Stop Keystone XL Tar Sands Pipeline

A group of eleven veteran U.S. and Canadian scientists and environmentalists today jointly issued a call to action for non-violent civil disobedience in front of the White House later this summer to stop the proposed Keystone XL pipeline.  This proposed Transcanada pipeline, which must be approved by President Obama in order to proceed, would carry filthy tar sands oil from Alberta to U.S. Gulf Coast refineries, and further solidify North America's commitment to mutual fossil fuel addiction for generations to come. 

"This is one issue where the president has total control--he has to grant or deny the necessary permits. Congress can't get in the way. It's where Obama can get his environmental mojo back. But we need him to lead," said Bill McKibben, author, DeSmogBlog contributor and signatory on the letter.

The letter ask citizens to come to Washington for a peaceful and dignified protest against the Keystone XL pipeline, which the authors describe as a "1500-mile fuse to the continent's biggest carbon bomb."

Climate scientist James Hansen, another signatory, notes that there's enough carbon in the tar sands, were it all burned, to increase the atmospheric concentration of CO2 by nearly 50%. If the tar sands get fully developed, said Hansen, "it is essentially game over" for the climate.
 
Bill McKibben states that the protest isn't designed to rail against Obama, but rather to do what the President asked of citizens when he was elected - pressure him to get it right on climate.

"The last thing we want to do is harass the president--instead we're asking people to dig those Obama buttons out of their closet and wear them when they protest. The president asked supporters to keep pressuring him once he was in office, and we're going to try and make it clear there is real support for action on climate," McKibben said.
 
Signatories of the letter include Maude Barlow, Wendell Berry, Tom Goldtooth, Danny Glover, James Hansen, Wes Jackson, Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben, George Poitras, David Suzuki, Gus Speth.

The full text of the letter is below:

Dear Friends

This will be a slightly longer letter than common for the internet age—it’s serious stuff.

The short version is we want you to consider doing something hard: coming to Washington in the hottest and stickiest weeks of the summer and engaging in civil disobedience that will quite possibly get you arrested.

The full version goes like this:

As you know, the planet is steadily warming: 2010 was the warmest year on record, and we’ve seen the resulting chaos in almost every corner of the earth.

And as you also know, our democracy is increasingly controlled by special interests interested only in their short-term profit.

These two trends collide this summer in Washington, where the State Department and the White House have to decide whether to grant a  certificate of ‘national interest’ to some of the biggest fossil fuel players on earth. These corporations want to build the so-called ‘Keystone XL Pipeline’ from Canada’s tar sands to Texas refineries.

To call this project a horror is serious understatement. The tar sands have wrecked huge parts of Alberta, disrupting ways of life in indigenous communities—First Nations communities in Canada, and tribes along the pipeline route in the U.S. have demanded the destruction cease. The pipeline crosses crucial areas like the Oglalla Aquifer where a spill would be disastrous—and though the pipeline companies insist they are using ‘state of the art’ technologies that should leak only once every 7 years, the precursor pipeline and its pumping stations have leaked a dozen times in the past year. These  local impacts alone would be cause enough to block such a plan. But the Keystone Pipeline would also be a fifteen hundred mile fuse to the biggest carbon bomb on the continent, a way to make it easier and faster to trigger the final overheating of our planet, the one place to which we are all indigenous.

How much carbon lies in the recoverable tar sands of Alberta? A recent calculation from some of our foremost scientists puts the figure at about 200 parts per million.  Even with the new pipeline they won’t be able to burn that much overnight—but each development like this makes it easier to get more oil out.  As the climatologist Jim Hansen (one of the signatories to this letter) explained, if we have any chance of getting back to a stable climate “the principal requirement is that coal emissions must be phased out by 2030 and unconventional fossil fuels, such as tar sands, must be left in the ground.” In other words, he added, “if the tar sands are thrown into the mix it is essentially game over.” The Keystone pipeline is an essential part of the game. “Unless we get increased market access, like with Keystone XL, we’re going to be stuck,” said Ralph Glass, an economist and vice-president at AJM Petroleum Consultants in Calgary, told a Canadian newspaper last week.

Given all that, you’d suspect that there’s no way the Obama administration would ever permit this pipeline. But in the last few months the administration has signed pieces of paper opening much of Alaska to oil drilling, and permitting coal-mining on federal land in Wyoming that will produce as much CO2 as 300 powerplants operating at full bore.

And Secretary of State Clinton has already said she’s ‘inclined’ to recommend the pipeline go forward. Partly it’s because of the political commotion over high gas prices, though more tar sands oil would do nothing to change that picture. But it’s also because of intense pressure from industry. The US Chamber of Commerce—a bigger funder of political campaigns than the RNC and DNC combined—has demanded that the administration “move quickly to approve the Keystone XL pipeline,” which is not so surprising—they’ve also told the U.S. EPA that if the planet warms that will be okay because humans can ‘adapt their physiology’ to cope. The Koch Brothers, needless to say, are also backing the plan, and may reap huge profits from it.

So we’re pretty sure that without serious pressure the Keystone Pipeline will get its permit from Washington.  A wonderful coalition of environmental groups has built a strong campaign across the continent—from Cree and Dene indigenous leaders to Nebraska farmers, they’ve spoken out strongly against the destruction of their land. We need to join them, and to say even if our own homes won’t be crossed by this pipeline, our joint home—the earth—will be wrecked by the carbon that pours down it.

And we need to say something else, too: it’s time to stop letting corporate power make the most important decisions our planet faces. We don’t have the money to compete with those corporations, but we do have our bodies, and beginning in mid August many of us will use them. We will, each day, march on the White House, risking arrest with our trespass. We will do it in dignified fashion, demonstrating that in this case we are the conservatives, and that our foes—who would change the composition of the atmosphere are dangerous radicals. Come dressed as if for a business meeting—this is, in fact, serious business.

And another sartorial tip—if you wore an Obama button during the 2008 campaign, why not wear it again? We very much still want to believe in the promise of that young Senator who told us that with his election the ‘rise of the oceans would begin to slow and the planet start to heal.’ We don’t understand what combination of bureaucratic obstinacy and insider dealing has derailed those efforts, but we remember his request that his supporters continue on after the election to pressure his government for change. We’ll do what we can.

And one more thing: we don’t just want college kids to be the participants in this fight. They’ve led the way so far on climate change—10,000 came to DC for the Powershift gathering earlier this spring. They’ve marched this month in West Virginia to protest mountaintop removal; a young man named Tim DeChristopher faces sentencing this summer in Utah for his creative protest.

Now it’s time for people who’ve spent their lives pouring carbon into the atmosphere to step up too, just as many of us did in earlier battles for civil rights or for peace. Most of us signing this letter are veterans of this work, and we think it’s past time for elders to behave like elders. One thing we don’t want is a smash up: if you can’t control your passions, this action is not for you.

This won’t be a one-shot day of action. We plan for it to continue for several weeks, till the administration understands we won’t go away. Not all of us can actually get arrested—half the signatories to this letter live in Canada, and might well find our entry into the U.S. barred. But we will be making plans for sympathy demonstrations outside Canadian consulates in the U.S., and U.S. consulates in Canada—the decision-makers need to know they’re being watched.

Twenty years of patiently explaining the climate crisis to our leaders hasn’t worked. Maybe moral witness will help. You have to start somewhere, and we choose here and now.

If you think you might want to be a part of this action, we need you to sign up here.

As plans solidify in the next few weeks we’ll be in touch with you to arrange nonviolence training; our colleagues at a variety of environmental and democracy campaigns will be coordinating the actual arrangements.

We know we’re asking a lot. You should think long and hard on it, and pray if you’re the praying type. But to us, it’s as much privilege as burden to get to join this fight in the most serious possible way. We hope you’ll join us.

Maude Barlow – Chair, Council of Canadians
Wendell Berry – Author and Farmer
Tom Goldtooth – Director, Indigenous Environmental Network
Danny Glover – Actor
James Hansen – Climate Scientist
Wes Jackson – Agronomist, President of the Land Insitute
Naomi Klein – Author and Journalist
Bill McKibben – Writer and Environmentalist
George Poitras – Mikisew Cree Indigenous First Nation
Gus Speth – Environmental Lawyer and Activist
David Suzuki – Scientist, Environmentalist and Broadcaster

P.S. Please pass this letter on to anyone else you think might be interested. We realize that what we’re asking isn’t easy, and we’re very grateful that you’re willing even to consider it. See you in Washington!

June 22 2011

23:21

Al Gore Roasts Obama Over Climate Position

In a scorching, 7000-word article in the coming issue of Rolling Stone, Al Gore savages mainstream media for its incompetent reporting of climate change and roasts President Barack Obama for failing to advance policies against global warming any more quickly than his woeful predecessor.

Gore is clear, quotable and uncompromising in stating his own case:

"Here is the truth: The Earth is round; Saddam Hussein did not attack us on 9/11; Elvis is dead; Obama was born in the United States; and the climate crisis is real. It is time to act."

But after making the case for reality in climate reporting - and crediting Obama for some early efforts -  Gore says this:

"But in spite of these and other achievements, President Obama has thus far failed to use the bully pulpit to make the case for bold action on climate change. After successfully passing his green stimulus package, he did nothing to defend it when Congress decimated its funding. After the House passed cap and trade, he did little to make passage in the Senate a priority. Senate advocates — including one Republican — felt abandoned when the president made concessions to oil and coal companies without asking for anything in return. He has also called for a massive expansion of oil drilling in the United States, apparently in an effort to defuse criticism from those who argue speciously that "drill, baby, drill" is the answer to our growing dependence on foreign oil."

The implications for U.S. credibility in the global conversation is obvious, Gore argues:

"During the final years of the Bush-Cheney administration, the rest of the world was waiting for a new president who would aggressively tackle the climate crisis — and when it became clear that there would be no real change from the Bush era, the agenda at Copenhagen changed from "How do we complete this historic breakthrough?" to "How can we paper over this embarrassing disappointment?"

Not to say, "we told you so," but it's worth recalling that Obama's position on climate change has long been unconvincing. In 2007, the DeSmogBlog served the then-presidential candidate with a SmogMaker Award for his failure to take a stronger position in favour of good climate policy and, especially, against coal. We said, "Barack Obama may not be the worst offender among the spinmeisters, but he’s the biggest disappointment."

And we were flayed for saying it across the internet. Friends and allies responded in outrage that we were holding Obama to an unrealistic standard and, counterproductively, attacking the candidate whose climate position was most progressive.

So we apologized.

That now looks like a mistake. The environmental and scientific communities' tendency to be polite, supportive and tame when dealing with their "allies" in the White House and Congress have left those allies with the impression that there is no political cost to doing nothing - even as the Republican "mainstream" takes ever more stupidly radical positions in response to the Tea Party ravers and campaign-funding lobbyists. If the climate conversation is inane - perhaps insane - some of the blame surely falls on those of us who have held our tongues in the face of disappointment. If the people of America and the world have been left standing on a busy intersection with their backs to the traffic, it's because we have failed to shout the warning. We certainly have failed to offer fierce and constructive criticism to those of our political "friends" on whom we rely to make matters better.

As Gore points out, President Obama has let dust gather on the Bully Pulpit. It's not clear whether that's because Obama doesn't want to be mistaken for a bully or because he truly thinks there will be no political cost for ignoring his timid base.

Gore, much to his credit, has taken the second option off the table. He says:

"Here is the core of it: we are destroying the climate balance that is essential to the survival of our civilization. This is not a distant or abstract threat; it is happening now. The United States is the only nation that can rally a global effort to save our future. And the president is the only person who can rally the United States."

April 27 2011

11:49

Drive less

Obama urges oil producers to increase output | Reuters.

The politics of energy pricing:

President Barack Obama on Tuesday urged world oil producers to lift crude output, as he sought to deflect public anger over high gasoline prices that has hurt his popularity among voters.

The rising prices at the pump are fueling voter discontent with Obama’s leadership, opinion polls show, and could harm his re-election chances in 2012.

Obama, until now, had focused on trying to reduce oil demand, but he made clear in his comments on Tuesday that increasing output was also part of the solution.

When re-election beckons, everything goes. And this shows our reality for what it is: physical limits and economic reflections of those limits are – and will always be – dependent on politics. Of course increasing production to reduce prices (and will it?) is not sustainable, but it is on the nature of politics to be governed by voting cycles, not by physical constraints.

That does not mean that politicians are to blame; it is in the nature of democracy that politicians are indeed dependent of the will of the people; Mr Obama is simply calling out for what people want. Perhaps concerned Americans can blame the media and the corporatist interests that keep on selling the idea that energy supplies are not constrained and that increased consumption is possible and desirable; or maybe they can point out their uninterested, consumerist fellow Americans. But, for now, they can always do one thing.

Drive less.


March 31 2011

21:50

America’s Energy Security – Obama’s Full Speech


Yesterday we summarized president Obama’s energy speech at Georgetown University calling for, among other things, a one-third reduction in imports of foreign oil by 2025. Following is the full speech:

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