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.

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.

Oil execs and lying to Congress

Well goodness, there's lots of news afoot today. Unfortunately, this blogger is a) only working half-time, and b) deathly ill, recalling fondly when breathing through the nose was an option. So I doubt I'll get to all of it. But let's start with the oil-exec/energy-task-force mini-scandal. The revelation here is not that Cheney's task force included oil execs -- did anyone ever doubt that? -- or that Bush administration energy policy is grossly skewed in favor of fossil fuels. The proof is in the pudding on that score. The notable things here are three: 1. As Adam wisely notes: Why would they lie? It wasn't illegal to meet with Cheney's task force, or even improper -- they were invited, after all. Cheney has battled for the executive branch's right not to reveal who was there, but there's no reason the participants themselves can't reveal they were there. Why lie about it? Unless, of course, you feel guilty. Unless you feel like you rigged national energy policy in your favor, and don't want the nation to find out about it. 2. As both Sam and Matt wonder, why is lying to Congress such a casual thing these days? It used to be kind of a big deal. Now oil execs apparently think nothing of it. It's unlikely this will even rise above the current din of scandal. 3. Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) made a point of not swearing in the executives (although it's still a crime to lie to Congress, under 18 USC 1001). Did he know beforehand they were planning on lying about this? His stated rationale -- not embarrassing them -- is pretty flimsy. Apparently Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) -- into whose face the execs lied -- aren't going to let this die quietly: U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Senator Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) will lead Senate Democrats TODAY in demanding that oil company executives return to Congress and testify under oath in light of ongoing concerns of gas price-gouging by oil companies at the expense of hard-working American families. They will also call on the Justice Department to investigate into the alleged false statements made at a joint Senate Energy and Commerce Committee Hearing last week. Stay tuned. (See also this post from Carl Pope, about his surreal Potemkin visit to the White House in 2001.)

Bush was right!

Okay, this has nothing at all to do with the environment, but it would just be cruel to deny our readers the pleasure: Head over to Think Progress and listen to a clip from the new song "Bush Was Right" by The Right Brothers, soon to be in regular rotation on MTV -- unless dastardly liberal bias prevents it! (Seriously, listen to the sound clip. It will make your day. Possibly your year. Perhaps your life.)

Oil execs lied to Congress

A juicy bit of breaking news from the Washington Post: A White House document shows that executives from big oil companies met with Vice President Cheney's energy task force in 2001 -- something long suspected by environmentalists but denied as recently as last week by industry officials testifying before Congress. ... The executives were not under oath when they testified, so they are not vulnerable to charges of perjury; committee Democrats had protested the decision by Commerce Chairman Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) not to swear in the executives. But a person can be fined or imprisoned for up to five years for making "any materially false, fictitious or fraudulent statement or representation" to Congress. Not that there ever was much, but can there be any doubt left about the provenance of Bush administration energy policy?

Scandal reaches Interior

I keep meaning to look more closely into the Abramoff scandals, particularly since they're now creeping into the Department of the Interior, where they look set to burn once-lobbyist, then-Deputy Secretary of Interior, then-lobbyist-again Steven Griles, who never received quite the full-throated demonization from green groups that he deserved. If all the ins-and-outs confuse you, Carl Pope has provided a cogent summary. It ends thusly: You read it here first -- despite the still unfolding news about Senate Majority leader Bill Frist's blind trust and Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski's denial of a conflict of interest in building a "bridge to nowhere" near land her family owns -- the maze of money exchanges and influence buying at the Interior department may turn out to be the biggest financial scandals of the Bush administration. I'm guessing they lie somewhere within the as yet barely probed innards of the Department. And if my hunch proves correct, I'll bet it won't just be Indian gaming that's involved -- Alaska's oil wealth will be somewhere in the picture. Another Teapot Dome scandal appears to be brewing.

E-waste and web 2.0

Sun and Google go green by accident

Joel Makower brings word of Sun Microsystems' splashy introduction of a new energy-efficient processor that it will debut in servers by the end of the year, helping reduce the enormous power load it takes to run ginormous server farms like, say, Amazon.com's. This is very cool stuff, and long overdue -- most people aren't aware of just how energy-intensive computer technology is. I hope Sun gets some good PR points. But more interesting to me on a personal level is Sun's "thin-client" strategy.