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.

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.

Monday morning link dump, part two

Boy, I'm really cleaning out the closets today! Here are a few stray things I forgot to include in this morning's link frenzy. Early this month, New West ran a stellar two part series taking a look deep inside the National Park Service. Grim but highly educational. (Check out New West if you haven't -- good stuff.) A good post on Canadian tar-sands oil on Treehugger. Also on Treehugger, a post about singer-songwriter Sarah Harmer, who unlike most singer-songwriters that come up in discussions of environmental issues is fantastic. Her album You Were Here is one of my all-time faves. At Worldchanging, Jamais Cascio has a post with everything you ever wanted to know about carbon emissions, only with way, way more numbers. Also at WC, Sarah Rich writes about some fascinating citizen-initiated urban-renewal efforts in Los Angeles. Carl Pope writes about the 9-11 Commission's judgment that the administration deserves a "D" on protecting us from terror attacks -- specifically about the chemical industry's efforts to block even the most modest safety regulations at chemical plants. Joel Makower writes about the insurance industry's growing role in pushing forward international discussion of climate change. And finally, on Peak Energy, Big Gav makes a great point. I wrote a while back that enviros tend to look at peak oil and somewhat naively imagine a greener clean-energy future. Big Gav broadens the point and says that pretty much everybody sees what they want to see in peak oil:

Montreal errata

I'm sure y'all are Montreal'd out by now, but here are two more links. I forgot to include Carl Pope's astute summary of the international situation in the post below. And John Whitehead notes some grim humor. And that's it! No more Montreal! Probably! Update [2005-12-12 11:24:3 by David Roberts]: Oh, and this: Remember that Exxon-funded plan to try to quash European support for Kyoto-style emissions caps? The guy who ran it was sent to Montreal -- as a journalist! Apparently his sole job was to lob Jeff-Gannon-style softballs in press conferences. You just can't keep up with these guys. They always out-venal your worst expectations.

The U.S. in Montreal

Bad behavior at the U.N. climate talks further marred America’s rep

What to say about the behavior of the Bush administration in Montreal these last two weeks? As the consensus and will to act among the world's governments grows stronger and stronger, the administration's posturing starts looking less sinister and more ... just embarrassing. The main goal of the COP MOP talks this time around was to come to some agreement about what happens after Kyoto. U.S. chief negotiator Harlan Watson (Exxon's favorite) arrived in Montreal saying "the United States is opposed to any such discussions," making it crystal clear -- if John Bolton's recess appointment as U.N. ambassador didn't -- that the U.S. doesn't give a flying frick what the international community thinks. But wait, how about we add a little pissiness to our intransigence? The really embarrassing stuff went down late Thursday, when the AP ran a story revealing that Bill Clinton would be coming to speak. Let's go to tape: Bush-administration officials privately threatened organizers of the U.N. Climate Change Conference, telling them that any chance there might've been for the United States to sign on to the Kyoto global-warming protocol would be scuttled if they allowed Bill Clinton to speak at the gathering today in Montreal ... ... "It's just astounding," the source told New York Magazine. "It came through loud and clear from the Bush people -- they wouldn't sign the deal if Clinton were allowed to speak." To their immense credit, the organizers called the bluff and told Clinton to come anyway. In his speech, Clinton said Bush is "flat wrong" in his contention that curbing emissions would hurt the economy. (Of course that's irrelevant, since what Bush really thinks is that curbing emissions will hurt his political contributors, which is true.) The Bushies backed down -- even trotted out a spokesflack to say that speeches like Clinton's were "useful opportunities to hear a wide range of views on global climate change" -- and agreed to attend informal talks the following day. Oh, but then they walked out of those talks.

Monday morning link dump

A series of circumstances and distractions -- known colloquially known as "life" -- has prevented me from blogging as vigorously as I might have liked the past week or so. So pardon me while I dump links all over you. I really need to close a few of the 50 or so tabs I have open in Firefox. (What, you're still using IE?!) Hm ... what kind of random interesting stuff have I missed ... Well, how about a wee little update on New Orleans? As you may recall, the rebuilding is not going well. Via ThinkProgress, here's Washington Post reporter Mike Allen on Meet the Press this weekend: The last time the president was in the hurricane region was October 11, two months ago. ... A presidential advisor told me that issue has fallen so far off the radar screen, you can't find it. And of course everybody -- really, everybody -- should read the New York Times editorial from Sunday: "Death of an American City." Mooney chose the right quote: If the rest of the nation has decided it is too expensive to give the people of New Orleans a chance at renewal, we have to tell them so. We must tell them we spent our rainy-day fund on a costly stalemate in Iraq, that we gave it away in tax cuts for wealthy families and shareholders. We must tell them America is too broke and too weak to rebuild one of its great cities. Our nation would then look like a feeble giant indeed. But whether we admit it or not, this is our choice to make. We decide whether New Orleans lives or dies. On to other stuff.

Wal-Mart: The High Cost of … KA-DUUUM!

So Friday night, I finally got around to seeing Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Prices, with a group of folks at my wife's church. Perhaps I went in with distorted expectations. The movie's been showered with hype, promotion, and gushing reviews since before it came out, so I anticipated something a little more ... polished. But it struck me as rather amateurish. I mean, if you want to make a point, is throwing spinning text at the screen with a big loud KA-DUUUM! really the way to do it? I could forgive the scrappy, seat-of-the-pants technical quality. What I couldn't get past is the constant sense that I was being manipulated -- pretty crassly. I mean, I'm on the film's side. I hate Wal-Mart's labor and environmental practices as much as the next guy. But still I felt like I was being played for a dupe, that my intelligence was being underestimated. What few actual facts and statistics showed up in the film (there was way, way too much "chatting with average red-state folks" for me, but maybe I'm not the target audience) seemed, with a few exceptions, vague and cherry-picked. In the end, the documentary is designed purely for rabble-rousing. It's openly partisan -- a big haymaker rather than some kind of nuanced look at a company, its effects, and the economic system that produced it. A wonk like me would have preferred the latter. (I should also say that the activist campaign built up around the film is more admirable in many ways than the film itself.) Update [2005-12-13 11:59:37 by David Roberts]: Julian Sanchez's review of the film in Reason is quite astute.

Greens are supposed to like high oil prices, but …

... as oil prices rise, so too does pressure to drill in the Arctic Refuge.

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