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Chris Christie is still trying to force a pipeline through the New Jersey Pinelands

Chris Christie
Gage Skidmore

In January, on the heels of the embarrassing revelation that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) staffers created a traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge to punish an obscure political rival, Christie and his allies were handed a defeat. The New Jersey Pinelands Commission rejected a proposed 22-mile natural-gas pipeline that would go through a national reserve of forests and wetlands. Though Christie went so far as to bully a commissioner who was skeptical of the pipeline into recusing himself from the decision, that wasn't enough to secure approval.

But now the pipeline is back. The state’s leading power brokers want the commission to reconsider and are pressuring commissioners to change their votes, working both behind the scenes and through public statements and symbolic votes in county and town legislative bodies. The Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported, “A growing number of elected officials from Gov. Christie to lawmakers including Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) have joined county freeholders and township officials in support of the project. They are considering ways of returning the issue to the Pinelands Commission, possibly as a ‘compelling public need’ for energy security and scores of jobs.”

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Mary, Mary, quite contrary

Why it matters that Democrat Mary Landrieu is bashing Obama over energy

Mary Landrieu
John Orrell

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) is running against President Obama instead of her likely Republican opponent, Rep. Bill Cassidy. Her first reelection ad of the year compiles clips of her standing up for her state’s oil and gas interests, attacking Obama for policies like the brief moratorium on offshore oil drilling imposed in 2010 after the disastrous BP oil rig explosion. "It's 300,000 people that go to work every day in this industry," Landrieu intones. "You can't just beat up on them." Implicitly working-class men -- they have beards and engineer hats, but they're too old to be hipsters -- look on in solemn assent.

Landrieu also recently brought together 10 other Democrats from red or swing states to push Obama to approve the Keystone XL pipeline by the end of May. "It has already taken much longer than anyone can reasonably justify," they argue in a letter sent to the president last week.

This is surely a good strategy in Louisiana, a state where Obama lost to Mitt Romney by more than 17 points -- and where the oil industry directly employs around 62,000 workers and pays $1.4 billion a year in state taxes.

And Obama knows it's in his interest to have Democrats hold onto the Senate. That’s why Paul Waldman of The American Prospect argues that there’s no harm done by Landrieu’s pro-fossil-fuel pandering in her new ad:

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Fighting dirty money with clean

Enviro groups team up on new campaign funding alliance

money
Shutterstock

Since 2008, two major shifts have occurred in American politics: The amount of money being spent to influence elections has boomed, and Republicans have stopped believing in climate change. While we can't blame the former entirely for the latter -- after all, Republicans oppose anything President Obama supports -- it would be naive to think these two developments are purely coincidental. Fossil fuel industry magnates donate heavily to Republicans and to political action committees spending on their behalf. More of that money means more incentive for Republicans to ignore the scientific consensus on climate change.

Between 2008 and 2012, independent expenditures -- meaning money spent on campaigns by outside groups, which can get unlimited donations -- for House and Senate races increased tenfold, from $46 million to $445 million. For that you can thank the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, which removed limits on corporate expenditures to influence elections.

Big donors who have strong opinions about climate and energy issues tend to want less regulation and less environmental protection. Think oil, gas, and coal companies and their executives. The Koch brothers alone directed some $400 million to affect the 2012 election. (This figure includes presidential, congressional, state, and local races, plus money spent by Koch-sponsored groups, not just the Kochs’ personal and corporate contributions.) The oil and gas industries keep pouring more and more money into elections. In 2012, they gave $73.1 million, including $16.5 million in outside expenditures, up from $39 million in 2008.

This spending dwarfs that of clean energy advocates and climate hawks. In September of 2012, The New York Times estimated that “spending on television ads promoting coal and more oil and gas drilling or criticizing clean energy has exceeded $153 million this year ... nearly four times the $41 million spent by clean-energy advocates, the Obama campaign and Democratic groups to defend the president’s energy record or raise concerns about global warming and air pollution.”

Now environmental groups are beginning to push back. The Washington Post reports on their latest effort:

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Not so fast

States try to block cities’ transit plans

bus rapid transit sketch
Will Tennessee's Republican-controlled state legislature kill this proposed bus rapid transit line in Nashville?

As more cities come to terms with Americans’ shifting desires to get out of cars and onto mass transit, we are beginning to see bus and rail projects in some unexpected places. Mass transit isn’t just for your Europhile socialist coastal enclaves anymore. Cities in the Midwest and the Sun Belt are trying to develop well-planned transit systems such as light rail and bus rapid transit.

But there is a hitch: States tend to control both how transportation funds are raised and how they are spent. Even federal transportation dollars are mostly disbursed to states rather than localities. Many states, even liberal California and transit-rich New York, prohibit cities from levying most kinds of taxes without state permission, making it hard for metropolitan areas to raise funds for their own projects.

And, you’ll be shocked to discover, Republican state legislatures aren’t so keen on mass transit. In Indiana, for example, the counties in the Indianapolis region need state approval just to hold a referendum on whether to fund mass transit projects. And the state legislature would not give them that permission unless they dropped a light rail system from the proposal, and also dropped a corporate tax to pay for it.

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5 ways Paul Ryan’s budget screws the climate and environment

Rep. Paul Ryan
Gage Skidmore

Remember Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), the Very Serious Person? Before he was his party’s nominee for vice president, and his extreme ideology became more widely understood, Ryan was the Washington media establishment’s favorite Republican. In 2011, Time magazine named him a runner-up for Person of the Year, crediting his “hard work ... and possibly suicidal guts” with making him “the most influential American politician.” Ryan had built up this mythology by releasing his “Roadmap” to a balanced budget, which won accolades for wrestling with projected deficits. In truth, his plan consisted mostly of lazy hand-waving gestures about spending cuts. You can say future Congresses must cut discretionary domestic spending by some huge amount, but you’re not really showing courage unless you’re actually in office when the cuts take place, turning down cries for help from your constituents. Meanwhile, Ryan proposed big regressive tax cuts, and his most concrete proposals to limit spending would do so by ending the healthcare guarantees of Medicare and Medicaid.

Well, Ryan is still chair of the House Budget Committee, and he is trying to rebuild his brand. Whatever his goal -- replace retiring Ways and Means Chair David Camp (R-Mich.), become speaker of the House, or run for president in 2016 -- Ryan wants to be considered politically brave and fiscally responsible. Recently he’s even been talking about poverty. But his new “Path to Prosperity” budget blueprint for fiscal year 2015, released on Tuesday, is mostly a rehash of his old ideas. And like every Ryan budget, it's full of right-wing hobbyhorses that would do untold damage to the environment.

Here are the five main ways Ryan's plan would increase pollution, accelerate global warming, despoil public lands, and stymie Americans’ efforts to get out of their cars.

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Supreme Court’s campaign finance ruling: Bad for greens, good for Kochs

Supreme Court building
Shutterstock

You’ve got to feel bad for the Koch brothers. All of their billions of dollars, all of their schemes for world domination, and they’ve been limited to only donating $48,600 to all federal candidates and $74,600 to party committees every two years. They might as well be mere millionaires. Well, you’ll be pleased to know that the Republican-appointed majority on the Supreme Court has freed the super-wealthy to fully participate in the political process. Score one for democracy!

On Wednesday, in McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission, the court ruled that those spending limits will no longer apply. The current $2,600 limit per candidate is still in place. But the court held that the de facto limitation on the number of candidates you could give to violates the First Amendment. Billionaires who have made their money extracting fossil fuels, cutting down trees, and cooking up dangerous chemicals -- the Koch brothers, for example -- will now be able to give the maximum to every congressional candidate in the country. (Or, to be more precise, every Republican candidate, plus maybe a few Democrats they carry around in their pockets, like Mary Landrieu.) If someone gave the maximum to one candidate in each House and Senate race every two years, it would cost $1,216,800 -- a small price to pay for control over the most powerful country in the world.

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ExxonMobil: Carbon caps? Fat chance. We’ll just keep on drilling.

protester with "boo Exxon" sign
Shaw Girl

If you thought ExxonMobil might take climate risks seriously, think again.

Last week I explained why sustainability-focused investor advocacy organizations pressured Exxon to release a report on how government regulation of greenhouse gases would affect its bottom line. The hope was that Exxon would admit that if governments get serious about climate change, the company's vast reserves of oil and gas would become unprofitable to exploit. That, in turn, would make it see the light on renewable energy and shift business strategies.

No such luck. Exxon released a report to shareholders on Monday and -- much to the activists’ dismay -- denied that it has a problem. Rather than discussing what would happen to it if governments force the necessary 80 percent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from a 1990 baseline, Exxon argues that it won’t happen. So the company will be just fine, thanks.

“Our analysis and those of independent agencies confirms our long-standing view that all viable energy sources will be essential to meet increasing demand growth that accompanies expanding economies and rising living standards,” said William Colton, ExxonMobil’s vice president of corporate strategic planning, upon releasing the report. “All of ExxonMobil’s current hydrocarbon reserves will be needed, along with substantial future industry investments, to address global energy needs.”

That’s corporate code for: “Governments will allow us to keep extracting and burning fossil fuels because the economy.”

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Obama endorses Senate climate hawk Brian Schatz in Hawaii race

Brian Schatz and Barack Obama
White House / Pete Souza
Brian Schatz gets a nod from POTUS.

There is no surplus of environmental leaders in Congress right now, especially with the impending retirements of Reps. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Rush Holt (D-N.J.). So it may alarm enviros to learn that the greenest new senator, Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), is facing a primary challenge. And in an especially strange twist of fate, the amiable young liberal -- in a solidly Democratic state -- is being primaried from his right. Craziest of all is the fact that he could lose.

Luckily for Schatz, though, he just got a boost from Hawaii’s most famous son, President Barack Obama.

Here’s the backstory: Schatz’s seat was held for over four decades by Daniel Inouye (D). When Inouye passed away in December 2012, Gov. Neil Abercrombie (D) got to appoint a replacement. Inouye requested that he be succeeded by Rep. Colleen Hanabusa (D). Abercrombie -- a longtime rival of Inouye’s -- instead appointed Schatz, his lieutenant governor. Now Hanabusa is running against Schatz for the Democratic nomination in this year's election, and a February poll showed them in a dead heat.

In just over a year in the Senate, Schatz has quickly emerged as a leader on climate change and sustainability. Earlier this month, he organized the Senate’s all-night talkathon about climate change. He told Grist it was just the beginning of the work that he and his colleagues will do to raise awareness about the issue. He's also working on a bill that would require major polluters like oil companies to pay a fee for each ton of carbon they emit. And he has sponsored a raft of small-bore bills to incentivize energy efficiency and green technology.

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In a Vancouver down by the river

How did Vancouver get so green?

English Bay, Vancouver, BC
Wikimedia Commons

Vancouver is supremely green, in both senses of the word. Set between ocean and mountains and lined with verdant trees, Vancouver also has the lowest greenhouse gas emissions of any major city in North America. In 2007, the most recent year for which comparisons are available, Vancouver had annual emissions of 4.9 tons of CO2 equivalent per capita. By 2012, according to Vancouver’s city government, it had dropped to 4.4 tons per person.

“Vancouver has done really well at decreasing greenhouse gas emissions and showing leadership on climate change,” says Ian Bruce, science and policy manager at the David Suzuki Foundation, a Canadian environmental research organization. “Vancouver is bucking the trend of a lot of North American cities when it comes to how quickly the city is growing in population -- it’s increasing quite dramatically, its economy and jobs have increased -- while greenhouse gas emissions have decreased by 9 percent in the last decade.”

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy

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Sen. Landrieu doesn’t need your love. Big Oil’s got her back.

Sen. Landrieu in 2011, championing the RESTORE Act, which will direct 80 percent of BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill fines to Gulf Coast states and restoration projects
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You might expect the Democratic chair of the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee to be an ally of the environmental movement. After all, her committee has jurisdiction over federal policies on energy and nuclear waste, among other things. Facing a tough reelection fight, her friends in the nation’s leading environmental organizations would rush to her defense, right?

Well, not if that chair is Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. As I explained in December -- when it became apparent that Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) would be moving from Energy to chair the Finance Committee, with Landrieu replacing him -- Landrieu is no tree-hugger. She’s more into drilling rigs and gas pipelines:

In 2011, she voted in favor of an amendment sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to reverse the EPA’s decision to label CO2 a pollutant under the Clean Air Act... She voted against the Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act, introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)... She voted for an amendment to the 2012 transportation bill that would have opened up vast areas of coastline to offshore drilling, potentially damaging coastal industries and interfering with military activity.

When 31 senators took the floor for an all-night talk-a-thon about climate change earlier this month, Landrieu was notably absent. (Republicans criticized her anyway for not being sufficiently subservient to the oil and gas industries.) Landrieu also led the successful recent effort to undo flood insurance reform. Now, your tax dollars will once again be used to subsidize beachfront homes being constantly rebuilt in harm’s way.

The senator's love for fossil fuels makes sense, in a way: Oil and gas drilling is a big part of Louisiana’s economy.

But now, environmentalists are trying to punish Landrieu, who is up for reelection this November. National Journal reported on Sunday that Landrieu has only gotten $2,500 from the environmental community, from one local group, the Baton Rouge-based Center for Coastal Conservation. The national green groups are shunning her.

But don’t worry about Landrieu. Her friends in the fossil fuel industry are eagerly rewarding her years of loyal service. This from NJ: