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Obama calls out climate deniers, asks young people to force climate change issue

obama
UCI UC Irvine

In giving the commencement address at the University of California-Irvine on Saturday, President Obama called on young people to push the climate change issue past its current partisan divide. The speech was particularly notable for Obama’s forthright confrontation of climate change deniers.

He took oblique shots at the silly pseudo-scientific proclamations of Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.). (Inhofe claimed last year that “We're in a cycle now that all the scientists agree is going into a cooling period," while Rohrabacher previously raised the possibility of dinosaur flatulence causing warming in the Mesozoic Era to argue that the causes of climate change are unknowable.) Obama also implicitly went after Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who recently ducked a question on climate change by saying he’s not a scientist. As Obama points out, one doesn’t need to be a scientist to act on scientific issues while in public office. One simply needs to believe the overwhelming majority of scientists.

From Obama's speech:

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Why liberals like walkability more than conservatives

walkable city street
Urban Grammar
All of the people in this picture are Democrats.

The wonkosphere is going wild over the Pew Research Center’s new report on increasing partisan polarization. It shows that liberal and conservative Americans are more segregated than ever: liberals are now all Democrats, conservatives are all Republicans, and both groups -- although conservatives much more than liberals -- increasingly tend to socialize and get their news only from one another. Conservatives are also found to be totally hostile to political compromise.

To anyone following political news, these findings mostly just reinforce what we already knew. One of the starkest divisions stands out, though, because it is on a topic that is seldom measured or discussed: ideological divisions over walkable urbanism versus suburban sprawl.

Pew asked whether respondents would rather live in an area where “the houses are larger and farther apart, but schools, stores and restaurants are several miles away,” versus one where “the houses are smaller and closer to each other, but schools, stores and restaurants are within walking distance.” The country is evenly split, with 49 percent choosing the former and 48 percent the latter. But the political divide is dramatic: 75 percent of “consistently conservative” respondents prefer the suburban sprawl model, and only 22 percent prefer the walkable urban design. Among “consistently liberal” Americans, the numbers are reversed.

Read more: Cities, Politics

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Will EPA’s power plant regulations be stopped in the courts?

scales of justice
Shutterstock

The famous adage that nothing is certain in this world but death and taxes should probably be amended. At least insofar as politics and policy are concerned, there is a third inevitability: lawsuits.

Before they even know the details of a major environmental regulation, affected industries start looking for ways to get it thrown out in court. That's definitely the case for President Obama’s newly proposed regulation on CO2 emissions from existing power plants. Republican-controlled states will be joining the legal assault too because the power-plant rule, like Obamacare, would impose mandates on state governments.

Generally, you cannot sue to block a rule until it has been finalized, which in this case is scheduled to happen by June 30, 2015. Lawyers on both sides say they don’t expect any suits to be filed before then. But they're already prepping for them.

Litigants will say the EPA has overstepped its authority under the Clean Air Act. One of this proposed rule’s great virtues is that it is an innovative use of EPA’s rulemaking authority. Traditionally, the agency simply dictates that a source of pollution such as a factory or power plant must adopt the best available technology to reduce its emissions. By contrast, the newly proposed Clean Power Plan offers states the freedom to figure out how to most efficiently clean up their whole power generation system, not just coal plants themselves. That shuts down one common avenue for legal challenges -- that states were not given adequate consultation or flexibility. But when EPA shuts a door, it opens a window. By choosing an approach that is unprecedented, the agency is inviting complaints that it is unauthorized.

Here are five potential legal vulnerabilities in the EPA's proposed rule. Note that this is only the minimum of hurdles the rule will have to jump over -- opponents could still come up with as-yet unimagined arguments against it.

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Why Cantor’s defeat is terrible for the climate — and the country

Eric Cantor
Gage Skidmore

On Tuesday night, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) was ousted with a decisive loss, 56 percent to 44 percent, in his party’s primary. The victor, college professor David Brat, challenged Cantor from the right, attacking him for raising the debt ceiling, agreeing to a budget that didn’t defund Obamacare, and pushing for bipartisan immigration reform.

But this is no ordinary Tea Party insurgency. Brat was a low-profile and disorganized candidate, who failed to rally support from national right-wing advocacy organizations and fundraising networks. According to the latest campaign filings, Brat's whole campaign spent $123,000 -- less than the $168,000 Cantor's campaign spent just at steakhouses. Nor was Cantor a tired old incumbent like Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), who was forced into a runoff by a Tea Party challenger in last week’s primary. Cantor, 51, raised over $5 million and blasted Brat with a heavy ad campaign.

Most importantly, Cantor was no moderate. He positioned himself as the hard-right leader of the rabble-rousing freshman caucus elected in 2010. That’s why Democrats and establishment Republicans like House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) are chuckling that Cantor got what he deserved: He encouraged the Republican base’s unreasonable demands for bigger spending cuts and tax cuts than President Obama would ever agree to, and now he himself has fallen victim to their rejection of political reality. “What makes tonight’s upset defeat delightfully ironic is that Cantor, who has spent the last three and a half years whipping up right-wing dissatisfaction against Boehner’s alleged moderation, is himself the victim of accusations of collaboration,” writes Jonathan Lawrence, former chief of staff to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). “Tonight, I imagine, the atmosphere in the Speaker’s Office is unadulterated glee.”

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Will Obama’s power-plant rules lead to an international climate agreement?

U.S. and Australia flags and globe
Shutterstock

President Obama is trying to lay the groundwork for a new international climate change agreement. Meanwhile, his counterpart Down Under, Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, is trying to pull the rug out from under him.

One widely cited but little-understood aspect of the EPA’s proposed regulations on carbon emissions from existing power plants is their presumed effect on the potential for a global climate deal.

Supporters of the EPA proposal argue it is a great triumph, despite its modest CO2-emission-reduction goals, because it would enable the U.S. to meet the pledge Obama made at 2009 U.N. climate talks in Copenhagen to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 17 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. (The proposal would not get us there by itself, but we could hit the target by combining it with possible future actions like reducing methane leakage from natural gas systems.) That, in turn, would give Obama the credibility he needs to take the lead in negotiating a more ambitious global agreement to reduce greenhouse gases at the next round of talks in Paris next year. Sure enough, China, the world’s biggest greenhouse gas emitter, announced that it's considering a cap on carbon emissions just a day after EPA released its plan.

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Four reasons to love Obama’s power plant rules, and three reasons not to

love and hate
scott sasaki

It can be hard to know what to think of EPA’s proposal for regulating CO2 emissions from existing power plants, unveiled last week. Environmental groups all praised it, but they actually want stronger rules. Conservatives hate it, but they hate all environmental regulation, so that doesn’t prove it is strong enough. Some scientists think it will do more harm than good, because it may boost natural-gas burning. But public health advocates are predicting it will save lives.

So what should you make of all this? There is no one easy answer, but I’ve boiled the brouhaha into four ways the proposal is great and three ways it's flawed.

The good parts

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Here’s how enviros plan to push for stronger EPA climate rules

activist with sign: "Dirty power kills communities"
Rainforest Action Network

It’s not often that environmentalists are in the position of defending the government. Usually they’re trying to stop something bad -- a pipeline, a terminal for exporting coal or liquefied natural gas -- rather than cheering on something good. The defensive playbook is well-established. Offense is a little more tricky, especially when the plan you’re promoting isn’t even as strong as you want it to be.

But that’s the position green groups are in with the Obama administration’s proposal for regulating carbon emissions from existing power plants under the Clean Air Act. The EPA's emission-reduction targets fall a little bit short of what environmentalists hoped for, and well short of what is technologically feasible and what will ultimately be needed to actually avert climate catastrophe. But Republican politicians, conservative activists, the coal lobby, and some coal-state Democrats are already attacking the proposal. So environmentalists are speaking up in support of the rules (and will call for them to be strengthened), lest the EPA only hear criticism during the 120-day public-comment period and the rest of the year before the rules are finalized.

Environmentalists have an advantage over their conservative opponents: The public agrees with them. Several recent polls have found public support running roughly 2-to-1 in favor of regulating CO2 from power plants, even if it means higher electricity prices.

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Conservatives and coal industry are rallying troops against Obama’s climate rules

sign: "Read my lips: The revolt starts now"

Conservatives and business interests were attacking the EPA’s Clean Energy Plan to reduce power-plant CO2 emissions before it had even been released.

Last year, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a corporate-backed conservative policy organization, drafted a model state legislative resolution opposing EPA regulation of carbon emissions. Last week, the Chamber of Commerce released a study predicting dire economic consequences -- a GDP loss of $50 billion per year.

Now that the actual proposal is out, the right is ready to go after it from every possible angle. They will sue to stop it, but courts generally won’t hear challenges to regulations until after they've been finalized, which won't happen until June 2015. So for the next year, the battle will be fought in the court of public opinion, with everything from grassroots lobbying to cable TV sound bites to onslaughts of political ads. Conservatives will organize around two main messages: that forcing power plants away from reliably low-cost coal will drive up the price of energy and jeopardize our energy supply, and that higher-cost energy will hamper economic growth.

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The nine things you need to know about Obama’s new climate rules

"9" sign
Shutterstock

The rules are finally out. In what some pundits are calling the most important act of President Obama’s second term, on Monday morning the EPA released its “Clean Power Plan.” These are the proposed rules that will require reductions in greenhouse gas emissions from existing electric power plants. Electric generation accounts for about 40 percent of current U.S. CO2 emissions.

The text of the regulations runs to 645 pages, and it isn’t exactly a page-turner. We suspect you’ve got more fun things to do with your time on this lovely spring day than to read it. So here we answer the nine most important questions about the proposal for you:

1.  What will the rules do? The EPA intends to create a “rate-based” limit on greenhouse gas emissions from power plants for each state depending on its current emissions. Rate-based means it sets a standard for how much CO2 is emitted per megawatt hour of electricity produced, not a limit on total carbon tonnage. The plan is designed, as was expected, to give states maximum flexibility to meet these goals in whichever way works best for them and to avoid constricting economic growth. States can, however, choose to convert their rate-based goal into a total tonnage goal if they prefer.

2.  How much will the plan cut emissions?

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Close, but ...

Obama’s proposed power plant rules fall slightly short of environmentalists’ hopes

power plant
Shutterstock

Sunday afternoon is not the best time to break news. Monday morning is when the EPA’s proposed rules for greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants will be officially unveiled by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. But federal agencies leak like a sieve, and so we learned Sunday what the outlines of the rules will be: CO2 emissions from existing power plants will have to be cut by 30 percent from 2005 levels by 2030.

Environmental activists are not overwhelmed with joy at the news, although they remain hopeful that the final rules will be significant. The target is a little weaker than they want, and they say the battle to strengthen the rules during the coming public comment period will be immense.

“It's a good first step, and only the proposed rule,” says Tyson Slocum, director of Public Citizen's energy program. “We'll submit comments pushing for a stronger standard.”

The Natural Resources Defense Council agrees. “The key will be how they solicit comments on more ambitious targets,” says David Hawkins, NRDC’s director of climate programs. “We need an open mind on their part to consider evidence we can do better.”