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TransCanada is getting everyone it knows to hustle Obama on Keystone

TransCanada and its allies have reached the "begging" stage of their lobbying for the Keystone XL pipeline. (The preceding stage was "obfuscation"; the final stage is "giving up and moving to space.")

This morning, the CEO of the company met with a key State Department official. From The Hill:

CEO Russ Girling is scheduled to meet in the afternoon with Kerri-Ann Jones, who is the department's assistant secretary for oceans and international environmental and scientific affairs. …

Secretary of State John Kerry, at his recent Senate confirmation hearing, kept his cards close to the vest when asked about his views on the pipeline.

Girling told Bloomberg Wednesday that he expects the project will be approved “very soon” and that he suspects "we’re looking at anything from a few weeks to a couple of months.”

The mention of Kerry there is important. It's a reminder that Jones isn't the decision-maker. And that Kerry's not either. Ultimately, approval comes down to the president, who I suspect won't spend a lot of time reviewing Jones' notes from this meeting. And what's Girling going to say in this confab anyway? "Hey, come on. Pleeeeeease? Pleeeeeeeeeeeeease?" It's not a great argument, but at this point it's probably the best he's got.

The president talks pipes.
qodio
The president talks pipes.

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The USDA is gearing up to steal candy from babies

school_lunch11-hpThe USDA seems a little conflicted about what it wants you to eat, kids. A year ago, it put out new rules intended to make school lunches healthier. Then in December, it backed away from restrictions on servings of meat and grains. Now the agency says it wants to crack down on greasy 'n' sweet snacks sold both in vending machines and in school lunches. From the Associated Press:

Under the new rules the Agriculture Department proposed Friday, foods like fatty chips, snack cakes, nachos and mozzarella sticks would be taken out of lunch lines and vending machines. In their place would be foods like baked chips, trail mix, diet sodas, lower-calorie sports drinks and low-fat hamburgers. ...

Under the proposal, the Agriculture Department would set fat, calorie, sugar and sodium limits on almost all foods sold in schools. Current standards already regulate the nutritional content of school breakfasts and lunches that are subsidized by the federal government, but most lunchrooms also have "a la carte" lines that sell other foods. Food sold through vending machines and in other ways outside the lunchroom has never before been federally regulated.

Read more: Food, Politics

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USDA report predicts all manner of end-times for crops and forests

cow_fire_Darla_Hueske
Darla Hueske

Climate change will absolutely devastate American agriculture and forests. Don't believe me? Ask the feds.

The Department of Agriculture released a new analysis of cropland and climate, showing that bets are off after the next 25ish years. From USA Today:

"We're going to end up in a situation where we have a multitude of things happening that are going to negatively impact crop production," said Jerry Hatfield, a laboratory director and plant physiologist with USDA's Agricultural Research Service and lead author of the study. "In fact, we saw this in 2012 with the drought." ...

Farmers will be able to minimize the impact of global warming on their crops by changing the timing of farming practices and utilizing specialized crop varieties more resilient to drought, disease and heat, among other practices, the report found. ...

By the middle of the century and beyond, adaptation becomes more difficult and costly as plants and animals that have adapted to warming climate conditions will have to do so even more -- making the productivity of crops and livestock increasingly more unpredictable. Temperature increases and more extreme swings in precipitation could lead to a drop in yield for major U.S. crops and reduce the profitability of many agriculture operations.

Warmer weather, the USDA predicts, will also help weeds grow, potentially stunting grains and soybeans.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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New-old disaster aid may be coming for troubled farmers

Drought eradicates the greenLast year, American farmers saw the worst drought in more than half a century. At the same time, some disaster aid programs went unfunded. Why? Blame the expired Farm Bill, of course.

Crop insurance and emergency disaster loans are still available to farmers and ranchers, but other relief programs designed to help during times of drought and other disasters saw their funding end more than a year ago.

But now Congress is considering a bill to reinstate that aid “until” a new farm bill happens. (Hahaha [weep].) From the Governing blog:

Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) is sponsoring legislation that would retroactively restore those disaster relief programs for 2012 fiscal year as well as the rest of the 2013 fiscal year while Congress works on creating another long-term farm bill.

"These livestock disaster programs expired in September 2011, leaving our livestock producers with no safety net," Baucus said in introducing his bill. "For over a year and a half, through one of the worst droughts in recent memory, our producers have been left to fend for themselves."

Read more: Food, Politics

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Anti-Agenda 21 bill is back in Arizona, wants to eat your brains

Agenda 21: It came to take your freedom!
Charles A. Nesci

Which state is valiant and insane enough to lead the fight against the United Nations' blueprint for a more sustainable world, i.e. those vile and dangerous plans for global social control community gardens and bike paths known as Agenda 21? Yes, it's wild, libertarian, sprawly, water-importing Arizona!

Last May, less insane heads managed to prevail in the Grand Canyon State, shooting down a bill that would have prohibited state and local governments from adopting anything even a little bit related to sustainability and Agenda 21. But the idea has crawled out of the grave in the form of SB 1403 [PDF], a new bill that would prohibit any local government in Arizona from implementing any "creed, doctrine, principles or any tenet" of Agenda 21.

"Any way you want to describe it, Agenda 21 is a direct attack on the middle class and the working poor," the bill's sponsor Sen. Judy Burges said during a hearing on it in 2012. "The primary goal of Agenda 21 is to create social engineering of our citizens and it will impact every aspect of our daily lives."

Or not at all. In fact, Agenda 21 calls for helping poor people and the environment both. Too bad it's been sitting around gathering dust for 20ish years!

But speaking of social engineering, Arizona is also looking at a bill that would allow teachers to tell kids that climate change is but a fairy tale! Suddenly I'm not so worried about their bike lanes.

Read more: Politics

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International plan for a spill in the Arctic: If anything happens, pick up the phone

One of the primary concerns about expanded oil drilling in the Arctic is that the Arctic is far away from everything. Until very, very recently, no one lived anywhere near the Arctic; even today, it's pretty sparsely populated. As we've noted before, an oil spill a few hundred miles from New Orleans in 2010 took months to stop. How long will it take to cap a broken well in icy water thousands of miles from any resources?

To that end, governments interested in exploring resource extraction in the Arctic came together to develop a plan for just such a contingency. And as Greenpeace notes, the plan sucks. From the BBC:

In 2011 The Arctic Council members [Ed. - Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, U.S.] signed the Nuuk Declaration that committed them to develop an international agreement on how to respond to oil pollution in the northern seas. …

The plan says that "each party shall maintain a national system for responding promptly and effectively to oil pollution incidents" without requiring any clear details on the number of ships or personnel that would be needed to cope with a spillage.

fuel_tanker_arctic
Shutterstock

Seriously. Greenpeace has a copy of the full draft document [PDF]. It can be summed up in three bullet points:

  1. Here are the countries making this agreement and here is what "oil" means.
  2. If anything happens, we agree to deal with it.
  3. Here is everyone's emergency contact information.

Think I'm oversimplifying? Go look. This took them two years.

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Alaska ignores climate change, so Iditarod dogs will just need to evolve thinner coats

I'll start with the weirdest part of this story: Alaska has a global warming task force that was started by none other than Sarah Palin. You probably remember Sarah Palin; her environmental streak is probably not what you remember best.

It doesn't matter anyway, because the task force doesn't meet anymore. From the Guardian:

The taskforce was established by Sarah Palin during her time as governor, in an effort to protect a state that is acutely vulnerable to climate change.

Alaska, like other Arctic regions, is warming at a much faster rate than the global average. Last summer saw record loss of Arctic sea ice.

However, the rapid-response team has not met since March 2011 and its supervisory body, the Sub-Cabinet on Climate Change, has gone even longer without meeting. …

The state government, in a letter from 1 February, said the sub-cabinet had produced three strategy documents since that February 2010 meeting, but declined to release them.

This requires snow.
This requires snow.

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New York hires seismologist with fracking industry ties to do fracking research

fracking-new-york-hp
citizenactionny

New York state's tortuous, interminable process of deciding whether or not to approve fracking continues; it slowly lifts one foot out of molasses, considers it for an hour or two, and then places it down again with a squelch one centimeter in front of the other foot. The last microstep we reported on was actually a step backward, as Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) moved to restart the state's analysis of fracking's health effects.

But now a real step: New York has hired a geologist to conduct a study of the seismological repercussions of fracking. As you may recall, drilling into shale and breaking it apart with high-pressure water has been linked to earthquakes. So the state is looking into that, since the very last thing New York wants is to be any more like California. The man hired for the job, to ensure that New York doesn't crumble into the sea if it allows fracking? A guy who used to work for fracking companies.

From Bloomberg:

Robert Jacobi was picked by the Department of Environmental Conservation for a seismology study as part of its environmental review of the drilling process known as fracking, Lisa King, an agency spokeswoman, said in an e-mail. Jacobi is a University at Buffalo professor and has advised drillers for two decades. …

Jacobi, who has taught at the state university for more than 30 years, has advised various gas drillers since 1994, according to a resume released by the university. He has been a senior geology adviser for Pittsburgh-based EQT Corp., a natural gas drilling company, since last year.

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Former Interior Secretary Babbitt calls for one acre of conservation for every acre of oil exploration

Bruce Babbitt looks like this.
Bruce Babbitt looks like this.

Since all anyone is talking about today is the secretary of the interior, let's check in on Bruce Babbitt, who served in that position under President Clinton. What does he think about the state of the world, etc.? Any thoughts on the use of public land for oil exploration versus conserving it for the future, and perhaps any suggestions on how those uses should be balanced, ratio-wise?

From online internet website Politico.com:

Former Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt pressed President Barack Obama on Tuesday to set aside an acre of public land for conservation for every acre that is leased for oil and gas development. …

Over the past four years, he said, industry has leased more than 6 million acres compared with the 2.6 million acres that have been permanently protected. “In the Obama era, land conservation is again falling behind,” he said. “This lopsided public-land administration in favor of the oil and gas industry shouldn’t continue.”

Alright. Sounds like a plan. A brand new plan, for Obama to look at.

Babbitt made a similar plea to Obama when he spoke at the press club in June 2011 on the 105th anniversary of the [Antiquities Act]. During that speech, he mocked “munchkins” at the White House for backing down from what he dubbed an assault from Republicans over the issue.

Oh. Not new. But at least he dropped the weird Wizard of Oz analogy this time.

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Don’t worry about BP; it’s going to be fine

BP's logo is of an offshore rig exploding with money.
BP's logo is of an offshore rig exploding with money.

"BP" used to stand for "British Petroleum," presumably until Britain got embarrassed. Well, not really -- although British people weren't very happy about people calling the company British Petroleum after its Gulf rig exploded and leaked and killed mammals of various types.

Anyway, here's News About BP and Money and the Government, our new feature about BP and money and the government, part one in a series of one.

BP made a lot of money last year.

Big surprise. Annual profits for the company were $11.6 billion, only six or seven times what the average U.S. household makes (over the course of 33,000 years).

And of course we'll bring back our favorite tool to make this figure hit home:


But not as much as states think it should pay for the Gulf spill.

BP doesn't want to be rude or disrespectful, of course, but it thinks that the amount of money sought by state and local governments over the Deepwater Horizon disaster is a tad steep. From Reuters: