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John Dingell was better for the environment than you think

Rep. John Dingell
Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, University of Michigan

To climate activists of the Millennial generation, John Dingell is an irritant, in the same way that Joe Lieberman was to anti-war activists. Rep. Dingell (D-Mich.), who represents a Detroit-area district that's home to the headquarters of the Big Three U.S. automakers, earned a reputation in recent years as a Democratic bad guy because he threatened to stand in the way of strong legislation to cap CO2 emissions. Fears that Dingell might use his chairmanship of the Energy and Commerce Committee to slow-roll or water down cap-and-trade prompted Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) to take the unusual step of challenging Dingell for the chairman’s gavel. Waxman won, and it was widely viewed as a pivotal moment for environmental policy, Congress, and the Democratic Party.

The 87-year-old Dingell -- perhaps the last of the famous “old bulls,” or powerful, long-serving committee chairs -- announced on Monday that he will not seek reelection. He will go out as the longest-serving member of Congress ever, having held his seat since replacing his father in a special election in 1955. He had been the Energy Committee’s top-ranking Democrat for almost three decades, serving as chairman for most of that time.

Young climate hawks might be thinking "good riddance." They'll be surprised to learn that Dingell's retirement brought forth accolades from leading environmental organizations. “He’s played an integral role in enacting countless cornerstone environmental laws, from the Endangered Species Act, to the Clean Water Act, to the National Environmental Policy Act,” said the League of Conservation Voters, from which Dingell received a lifetime rating of 75 percent, and a 93 percent rating in 2013. “He’s been an important voice on environmental priorities for decades.”


Big polluters tell Supreme Court they’re worried for Chinese restaurateurs

Thomas Hawk

The country's worst climate polluters don't want to have their carbon dioxide emissions reined in by the federal government. They've already tried and failed to convince the Supreme Court that the Clean Air Act doesn't apply to CO2. So in court on Monday, they claimed to be worried that the EPA could, theoretically, crack down on CO2 produced by everything from Dunkin' Donuts stores and Chinese restaurants to high school football games. And that would be crazy, so the EPA's authority to regulate CO2 should be curbed.

The attorney representing conservative states, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, and major polluters argued before the Supreme Court that the Obama administration erred when it set up a regulatory framework under the Clean Air Act for stationary sources of carbon dioxide, deciding to regulate emissions from major polluters like power plants and factories but not from tens of millions of small operations. The conservative coalition contends that a correct interpretation of the law should see smalltime polluters subjected to the same rules as big polluters -- which everyone agrees would be absurd. So the polluters' attorney told the Supreme Court that Congress should be called on to set new CO2-pollution rules -- that it shouldn't be up to the EPA to decide who is and who isn't subject to such rules.


Blast from the past: Audio project reminds us that times, and temps, are changing

Library of Congress

One afternoon a few weeks back, sunny, crisp, below freezing, I was on the edge of Prospect Park in Brooklyn, about a mile from home. It felt like the first time I'd been out in the sun in days, after it snowed, and snowed, and snowed again. The frozen piles on the city sidewalks were grey with dirt and yellow with dog pee, but the path leading into the park was clear and lined with white.

I put in my earbuds and pressed play.

“It's cold, so let's go outside,” I heard Josie Holtzman say. “Find somewhere you can walk uninterrupted for about seven minutes -- anywhere that you can just walk and think. So bundle up and I'll wait for you outside.”

I was bundled: warm socks, winter boots, poofy Patagonia vest under wool coat, hat, mittens, and a scarf (or, really, almost a blanket) that's made from llama wool and is so, so warm. Minus the vest, which was an extra concession to the cold, this has been my get-up almost every day this winter. It's been a cold one here.

“Outside?” Holtzman asked. “Good.”

This was “The Walk,” one of the “soundwalks” of Winters Past, an audio project that can make you hear and remember that winter is changing. That this season has been cold -- but not so cold that in years past it would have been anything remarkable. That we're already forgetting what winter was.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


Lunch money: Can schoolkids really eat local without breaking the bank?

DC Central Kitchen

This is part of a series in which we're asking what pragmatic steps we can take to make regional food systems more sustainable. We previously spoke with organic farmer Tom Willey, the people at Veritable Vegetable, and a Slow Money guy.

When I started asking about the prospect of serving local food as school lunches, I got two conflicting messages.

The first message was exuberantly optimistic: By going straight to the farmer, schools could get regional, delicious, and healthy food at the same prices they were getting the normal mystery meat and “barfaroni.” This is good for the students, and it’s even better for the farmers. When Oakland Unified School District served California chorizo with local kale, “They used literally tons of organic kale, just from one lunch,” Zenobia Barlow, executive director of the Center for Ecoliteracy, told me.

The second message was very different: We just spend too little on school lunches to make them environmentally and physically healthy. Alexandra Emmott, farm to school supervisor at the Oakland Unified School District, has just 60 cents to create an entrée -- and that, or less, is the norm around the country. “Food service is the only part of school that needs to run like a business and break even,” Emmott said. “We don’t expect the math classes to make a profit, that’s just something our society has decided is worth supporting. Why not make that same investment in feeding our children?”

Read more: Food, Living, Politics


Oil is spilling from trains, pipelines … and now barges

New Orleans
The Mississippi River in New Orleans.

The oil industry is a champion of innovation. When it comes to finding new ways of sullying the environment, its resourcefulness knows no bounds.

An oil-hauling barge collided with a vessel pushing grain in the Mississippi River on Saturday, causing an estimated 31,500 gallons of crude to leak through a tear in its hull. The accident closed 65 miles of the already disgustingly polluted waterway upstream from the Port of New Orleans for two days while workers tried to contain and suck up the spilled oil.

The accident highlighted a little-noted side effect of the continent's oil boom. Not only is crude being ferried from drilling operations to refineries in leaky pipelines and explosion-prone trains -- it's also being moved over water bodies with growing frequency. Bloomberg reports:


This new whistleblowing site wants to be the WikiLeaks of poaching


Poaching is incredibly frustrating. But other than ponying up $350,000 to save an endangered rhino, your options for doing something can seem somewhat limited.

Thankfully, now there’s WildLeaks, a new website that calls itself “the first secure, online whistleblower platform dedicated to wildlife and forest crime.” You can safely and anonymously submit tips about poaching, illegal logging, wildlife trafficking, and more -- as well as photo and video documentation. It might not be as sexy as NSA spying, but wildlife crime is a huge deal, WildLeaks reports:

According to Global Financial Integrity, a Washington watchdog group, wildlife crime is the 4th largest transnational crime in the world, worth an estimate US$ 17 billion annually, after narcotics, counterfeiting, and human trafficking ...

Read more: Living


Ocean bottomliner: Why Mike Bloomberg is investing in fish

fishing trawlers

Last month, Michael Bloomberg did a lot of things. He stopped being mayor of New York and started being U.N. envoy for cities and climate change. He promoted immigration reform before Congress. He freaked out over the True Detective pilot like the rest of us (we assume). But the thing that really got our attention was when decided to throw several million dollars into the sea.

Over the next five years, Bloomberg Philanthropies will dish out $53 million to three nonprofits -- Oceana, Rare, and EKO -- each of which will lead one charge of a three-pronged attack plan that, appropriately, reminds us of a trident. It's called the Vibrant Oceans Initiative.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food


This nifty box can (illegally) turbo-charge your bikeshare cycle

ku-xlarge (1)
Share Roller

Jeff Guida's soon-to-be-Kickstarted ShareRoller is a hack for your local bikeshare -- a briefcase-looking block that takes just a minute to attach to a bikeshare bike and that gives you an electric assist, up to 18 mph.


To interface with the bike, the ShareRoller uses a retractable powered wheel that relies on friction to drive the front tire. Acceleration is adjusted using a simple throttle control, temporarily mounted to the bike's handlebars, that propels the bike at varying speeds when pushed, but automatically turns it off when released. And braking is, of course, handled by what the bike already has in place.

Two hours of charge will get you 12 miles of riding.

All of this is rad! There are just three problems.


Florida judge rules it’s illegal to unhook from the city’s water system

Justin Mechell

Near the end of 2013, a Florida official decided Robin Speronis was doing something too strange to tolerate: She was trying to live off the grid.

Off the Grid News reports:

Speronis has been fighting the city of Cape Coral since November when a code enforcement officer tried to evict her from her home for living without utilities. The city contends that Speronis violated the International Property Maintenance Code by relying on rain water instead of the city water system and solar panels instead of the electric grid.

And now, a judge has ruled that living independently of the city's water supply is illegal. "She must hook up to the water system, although officials acknowledge she does not have to use it," says Off the Grid News.

Read more: Living


Watch the Arctic’s oldest ice melt away

The Arctic's "old ice" -- ice that had been around for at least four years -- used to make up about a quarter of all the ice in the Arctic sea. But it's disappearing, and in the NOAA video above, you can watch it happen. It’s kind of unnerving -- the ice cover looks almost like it's in pain, and if the Arctic could feel pain, this probably would hurt.

But, really, we're the ones who are hurting here. The Guardian explains:

Replacing this thicker, harder old ice with young ice, which is generally thinner and melts more easily, is also contributing to the steep decline in summer sea ice extent and could trigger a feedback loop.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living