David Roberts

David Roberts

Energy, politics, and more

David Roberts was a staff writer for Grist. You can follow him on Twitter, if you're into that sort of thing.

Schweitzer and coal-to-fuel conversion

I confess I'm not quite sure what to make of Montana governor Brian Schweitzer's grand scheme to make the U.S. energy independent with coal-to-fuel conversion. The NYT makes only passing reference to the pollution generated -- "what is new is the technology that removes and stores the pollutants during and after the making of synthetic fuel" -- and Schweitzer seems slightly too pat about the consequences of mining the coal: Mr. Schweitzer said the mining could be done in a way that restored the land afterward. "I call it deep farming," he said. "You take away the top eight inches of soil, remove the seam of coal, and then put the topsoil back in." Yes, because farming has been so kind to the Western prairie ... Naturally, my environmental spidey-sense tingles at this sort of stuff. Will the mining really be done carefully? Will restoration really be a priority? Are the pollutants really "removed and stored" safely? I know very little about the process, technically speaking, and would love to be enlightened by an educated reader. But methinks when it comes to energy extraction in the West, an enormous dose of skepticism is warranted. Still.

Learn to swim

California is in trouble

I know you've all checked out our nifty map showing where the next likely "Unnatural Disaster" will take place. In the same vein, check out this L.A. Times editorial on a possible Cali earthquake and its consequences for the levees that hold the state's elaborate water infrastructure together. Grim. Should a magnitude 6.5 earthquake strike the San Francisco Bay Area -- almost a certainty by mid-century, though it could happen today -- about 30 major failures can be expected in the earthen levees. About 3,000 homes and 85,000 acres of cropland would be submerged. Saltwater from San Francisco Bay would invade the system, forcing engineers to shut down the pumps that ship water to Central and Southern California while the levees were being repaired. This would cut off water to the State Water Project and the federal Central Valley Project. The [Metropolitan Water District] has a water reserve of six months set aside for such a crisis, and it also accesses water from the Colorado River. Multiple smaller water agencies south of the delta, however, have no such reserves or alternate sources of supply. Think of it: 3,000 homes under water; 16 delta islands and 85,000 acres of cropland lost to flood; drought conditions in Central California, followed by drought conditions in Southern California as thirsty people drink up MWD reserves in the first six months of a 12- to 18-month reconstruction period. Nor would the MWD be able to tap into an increased supply of Colorado River water, these resources having long since been allocated to Nevada and Arizona. (Hat tip to Ezra for editorial and to Tool for the headline.)

FOX in thrall to Kennedy and Clinton?

Good grief, FOX's decision to run a special on global warming that accurately reflects the scientific consensus is really driving righties around the bend. In the course of ranting about FOX's inexplicable capitulation to science radical lefties, Cliff Kincaid floats this theory: Some observers think FNC turned its airtime over to [Robert] Kennedy [Jr.] because he may be in a position to help or hurt them. It has been reported that Kennedy wants to run for high office in New York, where FNC parent News Corporation is based. FNC is said to be cozying up to New York Senator Hillary Clinton for the same reason.  Who, I wonder, are these "some observers," and why are they not named? And why must Hillary Clinton play a role in every single right-wing conspiracy theory, no matter what the subject? Ah well. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to contemplate the full ramifications of this wingnuttery.

One-stop shopping

Lots of good stuff stuff in Mike Millikin's week in sustainable transportation.

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.