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Gristmill: Fresh, whole-brain news.


Big 50-year plan could make Detroit greener and healthier

Detroit's city leaders, backed by deep-pocketed foundations, have laid out a new plan for remaking Motor City into a thriving and sustainable metropolis. From Detroit Free Press columnist Brian Dickerson:

[P]rops to Mayor Dave Bing and the Detroit Works project he has championed for telling Detroiters the truth about their limited options for redeeming Michigan's largest city -- and reminding them how quickly those options will narrow if Detroit's elected leaders fail to seize the moment.

The Detroit Future City report unveiled Wednesday is best understood as a municipal triage plan. Squarely confronting the chasm between residents' expectations and the city's capacity to meet them, the report's authors have done their best to apportion the city's dwindling resources across a sprawling landscape of deprivation. ...

Nobody will be forced to move ... But if implemented, the Future City plan would codify the tale-of-two-cities scenario that already exists, formalizing the boundary between neighborhoods that retain critical mass and the more sparsely populated hinterlands where the amenities associated with urban living are generally unavailable.

The new Detroit Works Project 50-year plan for the city is sprawling and ambitious, but unlike a lot of huge strategic plans, it actually doesn’t seem completely insane. Put together after hundreds of meetings, thousands of surveys, and tens of thousands of snippets of community input, the 350-page “Detroit Future City” report is full of big, green ideas.

Read more: Cities


Oil company foils government inspectors with high-tech gadgets (coffee filters)

For those of you who sleep well at night knowing that the government is competently and robustly working to protect the health of our environment, you may want to stop reading now. Here's a story that flew under the radar last week from WWLTV in New Orleans:

An oil company admitted Thursday that coffee filters were used to doctor water samples and cover up the fact that it was dumping oil and grease into the Gulf of Mexico on its platform 175 miles south of New Orleans. …

[W&T Offshore] contractors used coffee filters to clean the water samples before submitting them to regulators.

Also, the company admitted that when they spilled some oil in November 2009, they not only failed to report it to the Coast Guard, but sprayed the oil into the Gulf and then hired a company that worked for three days to clean the platform to make it look like there never was a spill.

The company was fined $700,000 and will pay "$300,000 in community service," whatever that means.

The criminal mastermind's tool for evading government oversight
The criminal mastermind's tool for evading government oversight


Lisa Jackson blasts D.C. on her way out, while Chamber of Commerce shrugs and lobbies

Image (6) congress-washington-dc-flickr-valerie.jpg for post 40321

Presented for your consideration, two views of how the United States should develop and evolve its energy policy.

In an interview with USA Today (yesterday), outgoing EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson railed against obstructive Republican members of the House, and trumpeted the agency's work on fighting climate change during her tenure.

Climate change is "a simple scientific statement," said Jackson, who was in San Francisco on Tuesday to tour the city's new energy-saving Public Utilities Commission building. She said the EPA's so-called "endangerment finding" that greenhouse gases pose a public threat, upheld despite court challenges, has enabled the agency to use the Clean Air Act to start reducing their emissions and "help businesses to look forward to a different future." ...

There's still a way to go, she acknowledged. She said the nation has to get to the point of accepting scientific evidence. She cited the EPA's recent rules that set stricter standards for fine particle or soot pollution, which were based on EPA research -- done at the request of the National Academy of Sciences -- showing that soot is a cause of premature death. "And yet you have people argue about whether soot standards are beneficial," she said.

Another challenge, she said, is Congress. Jackson repeatedly tussled with congressional Republicans and the fossil-fuel industry over anti-pollution regulations. "One of the questions everyone is asking themselves is whether the U.S. House of Representatives is actually going to reflect the will of the people on a lot of these issues, and the will of the people is awfully clear." But people in Washington continue to argue about them "and that's not good for our country," she said.


The ongoing drought may reverse the flow of the Chicago River

The state of Michigan has an advertising campaign, "Pure Michigan," that highlights the state's many natural attractions. The skiing! The parks! The beautiful Great Lakes!

The beautiful, non-potable Chicago River
The beautiful, non-potable Chicago River

I'm curious how they'll rebrand the effort once those Great Lakes become home to raw sewage from Chicago. From ABC 7 Chicago (and via Stephen Lacey):

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


Shell probably spilled fuel in an important Arctic bird habitat, of course

We'll start with the good news: Shell's Kulluk rig hasn't spontaneously exploded. It has not escaped the shackles of servitude to roam the Pacific for eternity, earning its keep aboard fishing vessels. Shell has not inadvertently poked a hole in the ocean floor, releasing oil and magma and the souls of the doomed into our atmosphere.

Bearing in mind that none of those horrible things has happened, one quick little update from the highly competent Shell team.

Four survival boats and one rescue boat were dislodged from the Kulluk, either while it was towed or when it grounded on Sitkalidak Island. Each of the survival boats included a 68-gallon capacity diesel tank. Unified Command has been informed that one tank is intact, two tanks have been damaged and one is inaccessible to be able to determine its condition. As such, approximately up to 272 gallons of diesel fuel may have been released from the tanks.

No bigs! Just maybe a few hundred gallons of fuel spilled in the water there. Who's that going to harm? No one is swimming around out there. It's not like there are daycares or playgrounds in the middle of the ocean! Any thoughts, Audubon Society?

The Kulluk grounding occurred within a globally significant Important Bird Area where roughly 180,000 seabirds nest and more than 100,000 Black Scoters, White-winged Scoters, Harlequin Ducks, King Eiders, and Red-necked Grebes overwinter. Kiliuda Bay, where the Kulluk is being towed, is still within the same Important Bird Area.


Green and lefty groups band together, pledge millions to fight right-wing evildoing

Andy Kroll at Mother Jones writes about "the massive new liberal plan to remake American politics":

A month after President Barack Obama won reelection, top brass from three dozen of the most powerful groups in liberal politics met at the headquarters of the National Education Association (NEA), a few blocks north of the White House. Brought together by the Sierra Club, Greenpeace, Communication Workers of America (CWA), and the NAACP, the meeting was invite-only and off-the-record. Despite all the Democratic wins in November, a sense of outrage filled the room as labor officials, environmentalists, civil rights activists, immigration reformers, and a panoply of other progressive leaders discussed the challenges facing the left and what to do to beat back the deep-pocketed conservative movement.

At the end of the day, many of the attendees closed with a pledge of money and staff resources to build a national, coordinated campaign around three goals: getting big money out of politics, expanding the voting rolls while fighting voter ID laws, and rewriting Senate rules to curb the use of the filibuster to block legislation. The groups in attendance pledged a total of millions of dollars and dozens of organizers to form a united front on these issues—potentially, a coalition of a kind rarely seen in liberal politics, where squabbling is common and a stay-in-your-lane attitude often prevails. ...

The liberal activists have dubbed this effort the Democracy Initiative. The campaign, Brune says, has since been attracting other members—and also interest from foundations looking to give money—because many groups on the left believe they can't accomplish their own goals without winning reforms on the Initiative's three issues.

As Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune puts it, "We're not going to have a clean-energy economy if the same companies that are polluting our rivers and oceans are also polluting our elections."


N.Y. Gov. Cuomo lays out a plan to fight climate change, increase clean energy

This is the clarion call -- issued via, um, Twitter image -- that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) put forth this afternoon in his State of the State address. (The state of the state, in Cuomo's one-word summary? "Rising." So there's that.)

Remaining the progressive capital of the nation is a bold goal for a politician to elucidate, particularly one who is almost certainly going to run for president in four years. Making New York the progressive capital of the nation will likely not be seen as an asset by voters in Mississippi. Not that it matters.

To this goal, Cuomo has decided to go bold(er) on green energy. Cuomo's plan has four components:

  • $1 billion matching fund to "spur the green economy." Details on this to come, presumably, though initial comments suggest it will be used in part to encourage adoption of green energy use.
  • Extend the state's NY-Sun solar jobs program. Cuomo aims to add $150 million a year to a program that encourages solar panel installations to spur job growth.
  • Build an electric-car charging network.
  • Create a new state cabinet-level position on energy. Cuomo has already tapped a top aide to Energy Secretary Steven Chu, Richard Kaufmann.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in listening mode
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in listening mode


In one Australia town, it’s too hot even to pump gasoline

How hot is it in Australia? (Besides that "so hot that heat maps had to add a color" thing.) From

It was so hot in the South Australian outback town of Oodnadatta yesterday that the local servo stopped selling petrol.

The Outback town has been sweltering through one of its great heatwaves with the temperature soaring above 40 degrees every day this year, reaching a peak of 48.2 degrees yesterday. …

[Pink Roadhouse owner Lynnie] Plate said the Roadhouse couldn't serve unleaded fuel after midday because it was vapourising and wouldn't pump in the extreme heat.

48.2 degrees Celsius is about 119 Fahrenheit, by the way. Warm.

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


Va. governor: Tax alternative fuel vehicles, not gasoline

Americans have a weird fetish about gasoline prices. We tend to see the prices posted on the corners near our houses as some indicator of the nation's economic health as opposed to a reflection of the amount international traders are willing to pay for a barrel of oil. As a result, politicians love to make promises about the extent to which they would reduce the price of gasoline; Newt Gingrich rode a lower gas prices pledge all the way to … winning one state in the 2012 primaries.

But pandering politicians have met their match in Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell. From The Hill:

McDonnell, who was considered a potential vice presidential nominee for Republicans in 2012, said his state would be better off without the 17.5 cents per gallon tax on gasoline.

To replace it, McDonnell is calling for a 0.8 percent increase in Virginia's state sales tax to generate revenue that would be dedicated to transportation.

There are, by my quick count, nine ways in which this is stupid. But before articulating them, here's McDonnell's rationale.

"We simply cannot continue to do what we have always done and expect this problem to go away," McDonnell continued. "The gas tax is a stagnant revenue source, and no changes to it will provide a reliable growth mechanism for transportation in the state."

Yes, right. Since the gas tax doesn't raise enough revenue for the state's needs, the obvious solution is to eliminate it entirely. Just as the best solution for America's budget deficit is to eradicate the income tax, since it doesn't cover the bills.

McDonnell speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference
McDonnell speaks at the Conservative Political Action Conference.


Virginia politician’s job isn’t to worry about Virginia’s future environment

Ha ha, listen to this jerk.

An appropriately flattering photo of Sen. Saslaw.
An appropriately flattering photo of Sen. Saslaw.

From WAMU:

State Sen. Dick Saslaw does not mince words about his support for uranium mining. A Northern Virginia Democrat who is also the Senate minority leader, Saslaw says burying the radioactive byproduct known as tailings underground should be a solution to environmental concerns. And he says he can't be concerned about what might happen [years] from now.

"What about 10,000 years from now? I'm not going to be here," Saslaw says. "I can't ban something because of something that might happen 500 or 1,000 years from now."

So here's a question for you, State Sen. Saslaw. How many years into the future are you responsible for protecting? If you knew that this radioactive byproduct would leach into water supplies by 2300, is that your responsibility? By 2200? Does your decision-making only extend until you retire from the senate? Or does it cover your kids, too? Their kids?