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.

Chavez will sell oil to U.S. poor

Hugo Chavez, president of Venezuela, has harshly criticized George W. Bush for his indifference to poverty in the U.S. Now it looks like Chavez planning to rub his face in it:Venezuela will soon begin selling heating oil at discount prices to poor communities in Boston and New York, following up on a promise by President Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's state oil company announced.Suffice to say, this is unlikely to warm their already-frosty relations.

New fuel-economy tests at EPA

The U.S. EPA will replace its much-criticized tests for fuel-economy by the end of the year. The current tests are said to dramatically overstate fuel efficiency. The new ones will take into account "faster driving, more idling in traffic, and more abrupt acceleration and braking."

Abramoff, Federici, and Republican environmentalism

I mentioned a few days ago that the scandals surrounding uber-lobbyist Jack Abramoff were reaching deep into the Interior Department. Those scandals are complex and varied, and I know most people are tuning out. But a great (and darkly amusing) story in Salon today breaks it down for you. In 2000, Interior Secretary Gale Norton established a group called the Council of Republicans for Environmental Advocacy (CREA) to advance the Bush administration's (anti-)environmental agenda. It was headed by Italia Federici, a minor Republican functionary. In private, Federici established a close relationship with Abramoff. He funneled her large contributions, in effect stolen from the Native American tribes he represented. In return, she ... well, she did all sorts of things for him:

Stuck with a gas guzzler? Just burn it.

Here's an amusing little story, though I don't know how much of it is local-news hype: Apparently, insurance fraud by SUV owners in California is on the rise. Gas prices are so high some folks are desperate to shed their gas guzzlers. So they torch 'em and report 'em stolen. It's auto-eco-terrorism! (Hat tip: reader B.T.)

Republican meltdown

So you know that massive Republican budget-cutting bill that was pulled from the floor last week for lack of votes? The one that may or may not include drilling the the Arctic Refuge and a massive giveaway of public lands? Its prospects are not looking good. The legendary Republican discipline and unity were already looking shaky last week. But earlier today, a massive Labor-HHS spending bill (with its attendant huge cuts in education and home-heating assistance) was voted down on the floor of the House. Not pulled off the floor for lack of votes, mind you, but voted down. The vote was even held open for a half hour (an odious and increasingly common tactic for R leadership) and they still couldn't wrangle the votes. The is the first floor vote the R's have flat out lost in a long, long time. It's a big deal. It demonstrates the ongoing breakdown of the Republican coalition. And it makes the prospects for an extremely contentious budget-cutting bill (later this week!) quite dim. Good news for those concerned for environmental protection. There's more on the Republican meltdown on The New Republic's new(ish) blog The Plank here and here. Update [2005-11-18 8:24:48 by David Roberts]: Well, that will teach me to prognosticate. The House passed the bill this morning. Sounds like it was a barrel of fun, too.The budget debate was marked by acrimony and personal attacks. Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) mocked the deficit-minded "Blue Dog" Democrats, calling them "lap dogs." Rep. Marion Berry (D-Ark.) called the youthful, redheaded Rep. Adam Putnam (R-Fla.) a "Howdy Doody-looking nimrod."Now we'll have to see how things play out in the House-Senate committee.

Senate debates which empty symbolic gesture to take against oil companies

We watch and cringe

Right now a massive $70 billion tax-cut bill is working its way through the Senate. (You will recall that Congressional Republicans split the budget bill in two, so the first bill would be pure spending cuts -- thus getting them coverage in the press for "courageously" cutting spending to rein in the deficit -- and the second pure tax cuts, to please all their normal constituencies. The latter being much larger than the former, the net result is a massive expansion of the deficit.) Energy prices being what they are, Congresscritters feel pressured to Do Something. Rather than any substantive changes in energy policy -- kind of blew that chance with the grotesque energy bill -- they're settling for symbolic smacks to the wrist of Big Oil. I won't get too far into the weeds of various proposals, since none of them will survive House-Senate conference committee and none would make a very big difference if it did. I'll just do the bloggy thing and extract a few absurdities from the press coverage. Here's one from The Wall Street Journal:

Manson retires

Assistant secretary of the interior for fish and wildlife and parks Craig Manson, whose memorable interview with Grist put our readers in full frosh, has resigned. Lord only knows how they'll be able to replace him.

Global warming: A way for rich people to kill poor people

According to a study by the World Health Organization appearing in this month's Nature, global warming is responsible for 150,000 deaths and 5 million illnesses a year, primarily in poor countries that contribute very little to it.

Josh Connole and 'eco-terrorism'

Nailing Connole because of his politics was the whole point

So how about this stuff with Josh Connole? For those who haven't been following: In 2003, about 125 SUVs at SoCal car dealerships were burned and vandalized. Slogans like "Fat Lazy Americans" and "ELF" were left behind. Of course, as we all know this is not mere property destruction, not mere crime, but "eco-terrorism." So the FBI was brought in and they starting looking for likely suspects. They found a vegan, commune-living, Iraq-war protesting, electric-car driving, fossil-fuel hating activist, and arrested him. Except, oops: "So they immediately started following him around and then when they arrested him they said, 'You've got some red paint on your pants and we think it matches (the paint used in the attacks)," [Connole attorney John] Burton said. "So they took his pants and flew them back to FBI headquarters for analysis, where it turned out to be catsup." In the meantime, Burton said, Connole spent four days in jail, often chained to the floor and repeatedly urged by FBI agents to confess. Meanwhile, the guy who really did it wrote a letter to the L.A. Times, mocking the feds for getting the wrong guy. Now, from the tone of the coverage, I think the idea is that we're all supposed to be upset that the feds are surveilling people based on their political activity -- and in fact, that Connole was arrested based purely on his politics. But that slightly misses the point.

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