The Onion: always funny. (via Kit Stolz)
Liquefied natural gas (LNG) is, at least in the minds of many large monied interests, the fuel of the future. But LNG terminals face NIMBY opposition as fierce as the kind that's stymied new nuke plants. What to do? How about ... a fake island! A $1 billion plan for a liquefied natural gas terminal on a 53-acre man-made island in the Atlantic Ocean between Long Island and New Jersey was unveiled Thursday by a new company. Creative.
The "Findings" column on WaPo has this cryptic tidbit: Ethanol -- alcohol produced from corn or other plants -- is more energy-efficient than some experts had realized, and it is time to start developing it as an alternative to fossil fuels, researchers said yesterday. Although some critics have said the push for ethanol is based on faulty science and mostly benefits the farm lobby, several reviews and commentaries published today in Science argue otherwise. "We find that ethanol can, if it is made correctly, contribute significantly to both energy and environmental goals. However, the current way of producing ethanol with corn probably only meets energy goals," said Alexander Farrell of the University of California at Berkeley. [my emphasis] That sent me to Science, but of course I can't read it without a subscription. It does have this short description of the week's contents:
Via Inhabitat and BLDGBLOG comes word of the Ben Franklin Coffeehouse Challenge. It's sponsored by Starbucks, and goes like this: You get together with some folks at your neighborhood, um, Starbucks, and talk about what changes you'd like to see in your community -- more parks and bike paths, less graffiti, whatevs. You keep meeting while you shape it up into a real plan, and then you submit it to the Benjamin Franklin Tercentenary. The plans are reviewed, a winner is chosen, and Starbucks funds the winning plan to the tune of $3000. Right now it's only for the "Delaware Valley/Central PA" area, and let's face it, $3000 is pretty dinky, but maybe if it's a big success it will spread around and Starbucks will up the ante. A pretty neat idea, all around.
Nikki Tinsley, the tenacious inspector general at the EPA, stepped down today. She's been something of a thorn in the side of the Bush administration, publicly lambasting its weak clean-air enforcement and calling its mercury-emissions rules a sop to industry -- all while maintaining a reputation for integrity and professionalism. I'm sure they're not sorry to see her go. In her resignation letter she raised concerns over anemic funding for the National Defense Authorization Act, worrying that it would become "increasingly difficult to convince career employees to accept IG appointments in the future." I'm sure that's a totally unintended effect -- nobody loves independent oversight more than the Bush administration. Update [2006-1-26 16:6:55 by David Roberts]: Oh, hey, look at that: Judith Lewis already blogged about this, and has some good links -- including a link to Tinsley's whole resignation letter (PDF).
Al Gore had "a most excellent time" at Sundance, and if press coverage is any indication, he is well on his way to shaking his image as a stiff automaton. Check this out: He is wearing earth tones again. He seems jolly. He brought Tipper and the kids. He is attending parties and posing for pictures with his fans and enjoying macaroni and cheese at the Discovery Channel soiree. He's palling around with Larry David of "Curb Your Enthusiasm," who says, "Al is a funny guy." But he is also a very serious guy who believes humans may have only 10 years left to save the planet from turning into a total frying pan. If I were Al Gore's 2008 presidential campaign manager -- not that he's running! -- reading stuff like that would put a big fat grin on my face.
Well well. Seems Sen. Barack Obama (D-Ill.) agrees with ThinkProgress that Big Oil doesn't want you to know about biofuels. Hot off the press-release presses: U.S. Senators Barack Obama (D-IL) and Charles Grassley (R-IA) today asked the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to investigate whether big oil corporations are knowingly restricting consumer access to alternative fuels like ethanol and biodiesel as a result of company policies. "I believe that it is crucial for our national security and economic security that the United States lessen its dependence on foreign oil," said Senator Obama. "And if big oil companies are standing in the way of consumers who want to fill their vehicles with cleaner alternative fuels made here in the United States, then I believe the American people deserve to know why." According to an internal memorandum from a major petroleum company obtained by Senator Obama's office, gas station franchise owners are prohibited from selling non brand name renewable fuels like E85 and B20 from fuel islands or underneath canopies bearing the oil company's name or logo. The memo also said that any alternative location of fuel pumps dispensing alternative fuels must be approved. This could get interesting.
Is every conservative pundit on the take? Today Paul D. Thacker reports in The New Republic that Fox News columnist and junkscience.com proprietor Steven Milloy -- stalwart defender of tobacco and fossil fuels -- has been receiving hefty payments for years from, uh, tobacco and fossil-fuel companies. However, unlike other news outlets that have dumped pundits after finding out they're receiving money from the subjects of their columns, Fox has been looking the other way (to put it charitably). Thacker concludes: Perhaps the real reason the news organization tolerates Milloy is that his pro-industry, anti-environmentalist views dovetail nicely with those of its political commentators. Still, this misses an important distinction. Objective viewers long ago realized that Fox News has a political agenda. But, when a pundit promotes this agenda while on the take from corporations that benefit from it, then Fox News has gone one disturbing step further.
All due respect to the intrepid folks at ThinkProgress, but I think this defense of biofuels falls a bit short. There's this: First, developing a biofuel economy can actually help reduce hunger and poverty by diversifying agricultural and forestry activities, attracting new farmers, and investing in small and medium enterprises. Increased investment in agricultural production has the potential to boost incomes of the world's poorest people. In what world does "investment in agricultural production" benefit "the world's poorest people"? The trend for the last half-century has been for agricultural investment -- read, subsidies -- to go to mega-agribusiness. If biofuel really catches on, if a robust global market develops, is there any reason at all to think that the same huge corporations won't dominate it? I was browsing through this month's Atlantic Monthly; in the first 20 or so pages, I saw two advertisements touting the magic of ethanol. Guess who paid for the ads? Siemens and Archer Daniels Midland. Not exactly "small and medium enterprises." And this: