A recent report ($ub. req'd) by Greenwire's Ben Geman revealed a massive loophole in the 2007 energy bill that renders meaningless most of the climate safeguards for corn ethanol that Democrats have touted. The loophole exempts any ethanol refineries that have already been built or were under construction at the time the bill passed from meeting the global warming requirements. Those facilities have a combined production capacity of 13.7 billion gallons, just shy of the 15 billion gallons of production mandated in the bill -- meaning that the Democrat-vaunted greenhouse-gas safeguards will apply to only 11 percent of corn ethanol production. With recent studies in the journal Science and elsewhere revealing that corn ethanol takes 167 years to produce enough greenhouse-gas savings to make it as green as regular old oil, and with billions of people struggling with skyrocketing food prices, and millions more acres of forest and savanna being destroyed, that means disaster for the climate and the world's poor.
I got home yesterday from canvassing for Barack Obama in the outskirts of Harrisburg, Penn. and found last week's edition of The Patriot-News (whose politics reporter, Brett Lieberman, describes the state as "Pennsyltucky" for its unique mix of urban, industrial, and backwoods), including a "Find Your Match" voter guide with a chart that's supposed to help people figure out which candidate is closer to them on key policies. Here's what the chart said about Obama, Clinton, and McCain on global warming: Clinton: $150 billion, 10-year energy package for new fuel sources; backed stringent caps on greenhouse-gas emissions. Obama: $150 billion, 10-year program for "climate friendly" energy supplies, favors stringent caps on greenhouse-gas emissions. McCain: Led Senate effort to cap greenhouse-gas emissions; favors tougher fuel efficiency.
Last week, The New York Times' David Streitfeld told the story of one J.R. Paterakis, a Baltimore "baker" who opposes the Conservation Reserve Program, which provides incentives to farmers to set aside their land for wildlife, clean water, and (incidentally) massive carbon sequestration. Seemed like an opportunity to deploy my rye wit. The program has been a huge success -- protecting 35 million acres of land and partially restoring the "duck factory" of the upper Midwest that fills the skies of North America with quacks and hunting opportunities -- so why has Mr. Paterakis put this great environmental success story in his sights?
Ocelot. Photo: Andrew Nicholson Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff announced yesterday that he will use authority Congress gave him to waive all environmental laws that will impede construction of 670 miles of border wall between the United States and Mexico. The wall threatens the rare wildlife of the Southwest like ocelots, jaguars, jaguarundis, and others with extinction because it will prevent animals from reaching breeding populations in Mexico. Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife, released a statement saying, Thanks to this action by the Bush administration, the border is in a sense more lawless now than when Americans first started moving west. Laws ensuring clean water and clean air for us and our children -- dismissed. Laws protecting wildlife, land, rivers, streams, and places of cultural significance -- just a bother to the Bush administration. Laws giving American citizens a voice in the process -- gone. Clearly this is out of control. It is this kind of absolute disregard for the well-being and concerns of border communities and the welfare of our wildlife and untamed borderlands that has forced Defenders of Wildlife and the Sierra Club to take a stand and say "No more!" The Bush administration is aiming to complete the wall before it leaves office, likely because all three presidential candidates have expressed some degree of opposition to it. The only hopes for stopping the wall at this point are a Supreme Court case by the Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife challenging the Bush administration's authority to waive environmental laws, a so-far anemic effort sponsored by Congressman Raul Grijalva to get Congress to change the law, or civil disobedience in the border region aimed at stopping or slowing the wall.
An explosion in our ability to detect planets in other solar systems has made astronomers increasingly confident that it's only a matter of time until we discover life on other planets. Astronomers just discovered methane on a planet 63 light-years from Earth -- a sign that life just might exist. Here's what Carl B. Pilcher, director of the NASA Astrobiology Institute, said following the discovery in this fascinating Washington Post article by Marc Kaufman. There are a hundred billion stars in our galaxy and probably a hundred billion other galaxies with as many stars as ours, so it seems highly unlikely that there are not Earth-like planets orbiting some of them out there, waiting to be discovered. I find the idea of life on other planets enormously uplifting: life is a miracle. But the idea of our civilization finding life on other planets fills me with apprehension. After all, civilization "discovering" new worlds teeming with life is nothing new to us: we've been doing it since agricultural civilization started expanding from Mesopotamia millennia ago. But for as long as we've been discovering these new worlds, we've been destroying them, whether it was the Clovis people slaughtering the woolly mammoths, mastodons, and giant beavers that used to make North America home, the Sumerians turning wetlands and forests into wheat fields, or our own civilization slaughtering everything from the dodo to the bison to (just last year) the Baiji dolphin formerly of China's Yangtze River. And now we're turning our attention to the world's remaining tropical forests.
Sierra Club and Defenders of Wildlife have filed an appeal with the U.S. Supreme Court challenging elements of the REAL ID act, which gives Secretary of Homeland Security the power to waive any environmental laws that would get in the way of the 700-mile-long double-layered concrete wall Congress authorized for the U.S.-Mexico border. From the press release announcing the lawsuit: By granting one government official the absolute power to pick and choose which laws apply to border wall construction, the REAL ID Act proves itself to be both inherently dangerous and profoundly un-American. The issue here is not security vs. wildlife, but whether wildlife, sensitive environmental values, and communities along the border will be given fair consideration in the decisions the government makes," said Rodger Schlickeisen, president of Defenders of Wildlife. "We are hopeful that the Supreme Court will take up this case in order to protect the fundamental separation of powers principles enshrined in the United States Constitution." The lawsuit seems to have some legs; a government official familiar with it said it had some chance of success.
Yesterday's Washington Post had a fascinating article by Lyndsey Layton about how the U.S. Postal Service is teaming up with the junk mail lobby to stamp out (heh heh) efforts to create state or national "Do Not Mail" lists that would allow people to opt out of receiving commercial solicitations. That's no surprise: junk mail is big business, and the postal service, the paper companies, and the junk mailers don't want anything that would interfere with their cash flow, no matter how many forests are destroyed to make the paper. But inside the article was the bizarre revelation that some environmental groups "are cool to the idea of a registry that prohibits marketers from sending mail to those enrolled and that fines violators. One reason may be that most environmental groups are themselves junk mailers." Indeed, Laura Hickey of the National Wildlife Federation -- a member of the Direct Marketing Association -- claimed that the national registry "would affect anybody who mails ... I don't think it would be any different whether you were for-profit or non-profit." Actually, no: all of the proposals for a Do Not Mail registry would include free-speech protections for non-profit and political groups. And, according to Todd Paglia, executive director of ForestEthics, the organization behind the Do Not Mail campaign, Hickey herself was told that on three occasions.
Bush won't slash subsidies for raise taxes on oil companies, but he's happy to raise taxes on hikers and campers. But I'm sure Grover Norquist will hold him accountable for this apostasy. Reeling from the high cost of fighting wildfires, federal land agencies have been imposing new fees and increasing existing ones at recreation sites across the West in an effort to raise tens of millions of dollars. Additionally, hundreds of marginally profitable campsites and other public facilities on federal lands have been closed, and thousands more like overlooks and picnic tables are being considered for removal. "As fire costs increase, I've got less and less money for other programs," said Dave Bull, superintendent of the Bitterroot National Forest here in Hamilton. The charge for access to Lake Como, a popular boating destination in the national forest, will be increased this year, to $5 from $2. Since they're explaining this as fire-related, I'm sure Bush will charge the logging companies responsible for the fires for the damage they're doing to our forests and grasslands.
A camera array in California's Sierra Nevada mountains captured confirmed evidence of a wolverine for the first time in more than 30 years, a Forest Service official told colleagues yesterday. The photo was taken in a relatively pristine part of Tahoe National Forest that Senator Barbara Boxer and Representative Hilda Solis have proposed to protect as a Wilderness Study Area under their California Wild Heritage Act.