David Roberts

David Roberts

Energy, politics, and more

David Roberts is a staff writer for Grist. You can subscribe to his RSS feed or follow him on Twitter or email him at droberts at grist dot org, if you're into that sort of thing.

Gas prices

It's an open question how much gasoline prices affect gasoline consumption. But apparently gas prices are pretty tightly correlated with something else. Click to find out what. (Via Tapped)

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Ever wondered why there's so little effort at the federal level to pressure automakers to improve auto efficiency? Ever suspected that the auto industry might be calling the shots? Well just to set your mind at ease, check out this story of a freshman House member whose "Dear Colleagues" letter to fellow legislators contains talking points from an auto-industry memo -- verbatim, in the same font. One wonders whether we even need the middle men. Just get an industry rep up in there! (via The Plank)

Chemicals and cancer

There's a piece in the NYT about the connection -- or lack of connection -- between trace chemicals in the environment and cancer. The conclusion, broadly speaking, is that science doesn't yet know enough to make a firm link, but conventional wisdom has nonetheless settled on a rather unwarranted degree of paranoia. One Brit doctor claims cancer rates -- if tobacco-related cancers are screened out -- have actually been falling for 50 years, and goes so far as to say firmly: "Pollution is not a major determinant of U.S. cancer rates." A couple of folks have blogged about this. For my part, I'm a little leery to take it at face value, given the reporter's history. (See this old Nation piece on Gina Kolata's excessive deference to the big corporations she covers.) Still, nothing is quite so screwed up and off-base as Americans' sense of the risks they face (car crashes, people. car crashes.), so anything that can take the edge off the latest overblown fear is a good thing in my book.

Great minds, etc.

Yesterday I wrote about America's shame in Montreal. Today, the New York Times, which clearly knows a good idea when it sees one, is running an editorial called "America's Shame in Montreal."

Two things at Daily Kos

A spoof and a serious energy plan

First: Engineer-Poet is right -- somebody has way too much time on their hands. Second: via Oil Drum, check out the collective efforts by Kossacks to develop "A Blueprint for U.S. Energy Security." They're on their fourth draft, and it's really shaping up into an impressive piece of work. I would quibble with a few details, and with the excessive focus on command-and-control regulation, but my one broad criticism is that they've ended up with a kind of melting pot of every single progressive energy idea on the planet. As an exercise in visualization and planning, it's great, but if this is going to be picked up as an actual proposal, it's in dire need of some editing. Some tough choices need to be made. There's no way, in today's political climate -- or any I can foresee -- that this country is going to be able to process 20 major pieces of legislation all at once. Especially since for each one there's going to be a major lobbying push against it by entrenched powers. But regardless: Very nice work, and a rather inspiring example of grassroots collaboration. I'll be following the progress.

Milbank on the refuge

Bush administration officials sense that their best chance in years to get drills into the Arctic Refuge is slipping away, so they're putting on a PR offensive. This isn't particularly newsworthy. Still, it's nice to see Dana Milbank, the Washington Post's excellent political reporter, writing a column with just the right degree of mocking skepticism, calling Interior Secretary Gale Norton "the administration's Ahab" on the subject and busting Labor Secretary Elaine Chao for passing on talking points straight from a rightwing think tank (drilling will create a million jobs -- by all accounts, she said it with a straight face). Anyway, it's a bracing exception to the normal stenography of mainstream Washington reporting. Give it a read.

Stevens rumor

Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) is not Jon Stewart's favorite person. Last week on The Daily Show's he did a memorable segment called "Who the F**k is Ted Stevens?" (Video here.) Why is that? Well, consider the following. He and his fellow drilling monomaniacs in Congress have inflated the (already-inflated [PDF]) projected revenue from Arctic Refuge drilling to $5 billion, though the Congressional Budget Office has not yet changed its official scoring. Last week Stevens was openly discussing scaring up support for refuge drilling among Gulf-state Democrats by tying it to hurricane relief. Holding devastated families hostage. Classy. But the latest rumor -- and right now it's only a rumor, mentioned in CongressDaily -- takes the cake. Apparently Stevens is considering holding up the Defense Appropriations Bill until he gets refuge drilling in the budget reconciliation bill, which is in conference committee. Holding the military's budget hostage. Quite a mensch! Anyway, if anyone can verify (or disconfirm) this rumor, let me know.

Cali’s ‘million solar roofs’ back from dead tomorrow

As this San Francisco Chronicle op-ed notes, the California Public Utilities Commission is expected to revive some portions of California's SB1 (the "million solar roofs" legislation) tomorrow. (Grist readers will recall that SB1 died earlier this year, a casualty of squabbling between organized labor and state Republicans.) Though there are some parts of SB1 the CPUC cannot replicate with regulation, the steps they're taking are considerable. This is from an email correspondence with David Hochschild of the Vote Solar Initiative: Tomorrow, we expect the California Public Utilities Commission to issue their proposed decision implement a 10 year, $3 billion solar program. This will be the largest solar energy incentive program in nation and the 2nd largest in the world after Germany. It will be followed by a 30 day public comment period and then it is expected to be approved by the Commissioners in January. More heartening still is the fact that the CPUC seems to be responding to a genuine groundswell of public support: The public pressure to implement this program has been nothing less than inspiring. Over the last two months, 43,000 people wrote to the Public Utilities Commissioners to ask them to pass the Million Solar Roofs program (we worked with Moveon and about 10 other groups to do this). This is more public comment than the PUC has gotten on any issue they have ever considered, including the energy crisis. It shows public support for solar and renewables has reached a new threshold. If this goes through, and doesn't get screwed up by the legislature again, it could establish what solar technology has long desperately needed: A long-term, predictable incentive.

Mining provision update

Remember that horrendous new mining provision that was slipped into the House budget reconciliation bill? The one that could lead to millions of acres of public land being sold off? Yeah you do. Well, a little birdie tells us that Rep. Jim Gibbons (R-Nev.), one of the fathers of the provision, will announce a "compromise" version any minute now. It will strip out Section 6104, which allows mining claimants to buy land contiguous to mining claims for non-mining "sustainable economic development." That's good, but the resulting provision will still suck, and will still allow the sale of millions of acres of public land. This is standard issue Republican strategy. Start with a provision so odious no one with a conscience could possibly support it. If you get called out, make a show of "compromising." Then you get a provision that's still odious, but everybody gets to call it a win for their side. Fie on them, I say. A pox on their houses. A fie and a pox, both.