The benefit is basically a tiny tax shelter for the dollars you're spending on public transportation, available if your employer participates in a federal program. On Dec. 31, 2011, that shelter was shrunk from $230 a month to $125, while the benefit for people who drive to work and pay for parking was increased from $230 to $240 -- meaning the government was incentivizing people to drive instead of take public transit. Now, thanks to the fiscal-cliff deal, tax benefits for transit takers and car parkers will be equalized -- both will get a benefit of up to $240 a month.
The Wall Street Journal is tremendously incensed about gas prices. For the record, it tells us in the headline of an article, gasoline was the most expensive ever in 2012.
The national average price of [gasoline] for the year was $3.60 a gallon, a significant jump from the previous record of $3.51 set in 2011. While 2008 is famous for a huge summer spike that drove the average above $4 a gallon, price[s] weren’t as consistently high as this year, leaving 2008 in third place overall at $3.25. ...
AAA said the national average has broken a daily record high for a total [of] 248 days in 2012, including 134 consecutive days of records. April 5 and 6 marked the highest daily national average of the year at $3.94 a gallon ... while the price dropped to its low point of $3.22 on Dec. 20.
The paper’s heavily conservative readership might be puzzled by this news. After all, this is what domestic oil production is doing:
And as we know from Republicans, increased drilling means gasoline prices should be going down. But they aren't (as we've noted before). They're bouncing all over the place.
It's been a rough few years for California's state parks. Since 2008, the state has threatened nearly all the parks with closure, only to save many of them at the last minute thanks in large part to private donations. One such donor, ex-Marine General Anthony Jackson, is now taking over the department after the scandalous resignation of the former head, who had helped to hide $54 million in park funds while the system was in dire straits.
Appointed in November, Jackson is now tasked with restoring faith in the department. So far, so good: Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California, told the Los Angeles Times: "It's kind of shocking how much I like him." She said Jackson "may be exactly the right man at the right time" for the job. Not that the job will be a super-fun one.
Restoring the sheen to the state's park system won't be easy.
The discovery of about $54 million that parks officials had hidden will not solve the funding problems. More than $1 billion in maintenance work has been put off over the years. The accounting scandal, including fresh irregularities unearthed last month by Brown's Department of Finance and the state controller, may even make things harder.
"It's going to be difficult to get people in the state of California to rally around parks," said Dan Jacobson, legislative director at Environment California, an advocacy group. "The image of the money found in someone's couch is going to keep popping up."
It's not yet official, but 2012 was the hottest year in American history. Recorded history, that is; we'll allow climate change deniers the possibility that the United States was hotter when it was a still-forming Pangeal mass of semi-solid lava. Beyond that, though: hottest ever.
"By combining with Zipcar, we will significantly increase our growth potential, both in the United States and internationally, and will position our company to better serve a greater variety of consumer and commercial transportation needs," Avis Chair and CEO Ronald Nelson said in a statement.
An activist group has filed a lawsuit against Emerald Coal Resources, citing extensive pollution in southwestern Pennsylvania. From the Associated Press:
The Center for Coalfield Justice, based in Washington, Pa., filed the federal lawsuit Friday in Pittsburgh against Emerald Coal Resources LP, which operates the Emerald Mine in Waynesburg, Greene County. The citizens' group is being backed by the Earthrise Law Center in Norwell, Mass.
The lawsuit contends Emerald Coal has violated pollution levels for iron, manganese, aluminum and other pollutants more than 120 times in the past 12 months and more than 400 times in the past five years. The group is basing those claims on violations the company has been self-reporting to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection under Emerald's National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System Permit as part of the federal Clean Water Act.
In 1997, most of the world's nations signed on to the Kyoto Protocol, a treaty intended to fight climate change. The goal was to gradually cut greenhouse gas emissions through the end of 2012, the first commitment period. How'd we do? From the CBC:
The controversial and ineffective Kyoto Protocol's first stage comes to an end today, leaving the world with 58 per cent more greenhouse gases than in 1990, as opposed to the five per cent reduction its signatories sought.
Ah, well. Worth a shot!
If there is anything good that came out of the Kyoto experience, it is that the issue it tried and failed to tackle is now top of mind, says [Steven Guilbeault of Equiterre, a Montreal-based environmental group].
"That's probably one of the biggest accomplishments of the Kyoto Protocol, is making climate change something that's part of our everyday life."
You know what else is making climate change something that's part of our everyday life? Climate change.
Shell ended 2012 the way it carried itself the entire year: with utter incompetence. From The New York Times:
One of Shell Oil’s two Arctic drilling rigs is beached on an island in the Gulf of Alaska, threatening environmental damage from a fuel spill and calling into question Shell’s plans to resume drilling in the treacherous waters north of Alaska in the summer.
The rig, the Kulluk, broke free from a tow ship in stormy seas and ran aground Monday night. The Coast Guard was leading an effort to keep its more than 150,000 gallons of diesel fuel and lubricants from spilling onto the rocky shoreline.
Happily, the vessel isn't leaking any of its fuel. And, happily, Shell's complete inability to do things right over the last 12 months means that it wasn't actively drilling anything anyway.
Late last night (at least, late by Congress' standards), the House voted to approve the ugly, flawed compromise Vice President Biden worked out with Senate Republicans. The vote happened only after a series of representatives took to the podium to laud the body's fine work and to celebrate a piece of legislation noteworthy in part for simply extending a number of tax benefits that were due to expire. But perhaps the ugliest moment of the year came after that vote, as members representing areas struck by the storm tried to get the House to hold a promised vote on a relief package. It didn't. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) pointed at majority leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.); a "leadership aide" put the blame back on Boehner.
“This is an absolute disgrace and the speaker should hang his head in shame,” said Rep. Eliot Engel, D-N.Y.
“I'm here tonight saying to myself for the first time that I'm not proud of the decision my team has made,” said Rep. Michael Grimm, R-N.Y. “It is the wrong decision, and I' m going to be respectful and ask that the speaker reconsider his decision. Because it's not about politics, it's about human lives.”
“I truly feel betrayed this evening,” said Rep. Nita Lowey, D-N.Y.
Rep. Markey (D-Mass.) announced last week that he intends to run in the special election next spring or summer to fill Kerry's spot. He's not the only Democrat who's talking about a run, but he's the most senior and high-profile, so the establishment swiftly got behind him, hoping to avert a primary fight.
Kerry didn't outright endorse Markey, but he praised him effusively, calling him "the House’s leading, ardent, and thoughtful protector of the environment." Kerry continued: “He’s passionate about the issues that Ted Kennedy and I worked on as a team for decades, whether it’s health care or the environment and energy or education."