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How a town in Maine is blocking an Exxon tar-sands pipeline

tar sands protestors in Maine
350.org

Citizens trying to stop the piping of tar-sands oil through their community wore blue “Clear Skies” shirts at a city council meeting in South Portland, Maine, this week. But they might as well have been wearing boxing gloves. The small city struck a mighty blow against Canadian tar-sands extraction.

“It’s been a long fight,” said resident Andy Jones after a 6-1 city council vote on Monday to approve the Clear Skies Ordinance, which will block the loading of heavy tar-sands bitumen onto tankers at the city’s port.

The measure is intended to stop ExxonMobil and partner companies from bringing Albertan tar-sands oil east through an aging pipeline network to the city’s waterfront. Currently, the pipeline transports conventional oil west from Portland to Canada; the companies want to reverse its flow.

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Detroit will stop shutting off people’s water — for now

water-protest
Light Brigading

Monday morning, the Detroit Water and Sewerage District (DWSD) announced that it would stop shutting off people's water, at least for now. What was it, in this infrastructural showdown I wrote about last week, that caused the change of heart? Was it the condemnation from the U.N.? The protestors blocking utility shut-off trucks? The giant march on Friday, featuring Mark Ruffalo and a megaphone? The children holding signs that read "We need water to brush our teeth”?

The DWSD isn't saying. Here's what it is saying: "We are pausing for 15 days to refocus our efforts on trying to identify people who we have missed in the process who may qualify for the Detroit Residential Water Assistance Program." That's according to DWSD spokesperson Bill Johnson in a phone interview this morning.

The Water Assistance Program is a long-defunct but recently revived program that allows Detroit residents who are below the federal poverty line to keep their water running as long as they agree to pay a fraction of the overall bill each month. The program was suspended in 2012 when all of the people who managed it at the Detroit Department of Human Services were laid off. The program continued to accumulate money, Johnson says, but there was no one around to help pass it out. This June, DWSD signed a contract with THAW -- a nonprofit that helps Michigan residents with their heating bills -- to restart the Water Assistance Program.

Read more: Cities, Politics

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It’s time for Obama to stop selling off our land and water to fossil fuel companies

protest sign: "Obama: This is your crude awakening"
350.org

In its ongoing effort to make life difficult for environment reporters, the Obama administration once again announced major environmental news on a Friday. This time, however, it was not a measure to protect the environment, but to destroy it. The Department of Interior decided to allow seismic testing off the southern Atlantic coast from Delaware to Florida. This is a precursor to possible oil and gas drilling, to determine what fossil fuel resources are there.

It is an illustration of one of Obama’s biggest failures on climate change. And it points to the direction that environmentalists need to go next: call for a moratorium on all federal leasing for fossil fuel development.

Green groups and green leaders in Congress attacked Interior's move. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), a top climate hawk, issued a statement saying, “it just doesn’t seem worth putting our oceans and coasts at risk.” The NRDC called the decision “a major assault on our ocean.”

There are four big reasons to oppose this seismic testing:

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Fracking fight headed for the ballot in Colorado

fist fight
Shutterstock

Colorado voters will likely get a chance to weigh in on fracking in November -- and that puts Democrats on the ballot in a tight spot.

The fracking boom has bolstered Colorado's economy, and twisted its politics. Even many Democrats advocate for oil and gas interests, including Gov. John Hickenlooper and Sen. Mark Udall, both of whom are up for reelection this year. But many people living near the wells complain of contaminated air and water, noise, health problems, and other adverse effects.

As Colorado cities have begun trying to ban fracking, the state government has sued them, arguing that only the state has that authority. Rep. Jared Polis (D), whose congressional district includes many of those communities north of Denver, is spending his own money to promote a ballot initiative to outlaw fracking less than 2,000 feet from a residence, up from the currently allowed 500 feet. The gas industry says that would amount to a fracking ban in many areas. Polis is also supporting an initiative that would make more stringent local environmental regulations override conflicting weaker state rules, which could allow communities to outlaw fracking.

Hickenlooper and other state lawmakers were trying to broker a legislative compromise that would keep the initiatives off the ballot. The governor's proposal would have placed some additional restrictions on fracking but made it clear that localities couldn’t ban it altogether. But last week, the negotiations fell apart and Hickenlooper announced that there would be no special summer legislative session to pass a fracking bill. Polis then declared that he will move forward with collecting the signatures needed to place his proposals on the ballot.

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Listen up, EPA!

Feds move to restrict neonic pesticides — well, one fed at least

Kealia Pond National Wildlife Refuge
Byron Chin

So far the EPA has refused to ban use of neonicotinoid insecticides -- despite mounting evidence that they kill bees and other wildlife, despite a ban in the European Union, despite a lawsuit filed by activists and beekeepers.

But if the EPA is somehow still unclear on the dangers posed by neonics, it need only talk to the official who oversees federal wildlife refuges in the Pacific Northwest and Pacific Ocean.

Kevin Foerster, a regional boss with the National Wildlife Refuge System, directed his staff this month to investigate where neonics are being used in the refuges they manage -- and to put an end to their use. Foerster’s office is worried that farming contractors that grow grasses and other forage crops for wildlife and corn and other grains for human consumption on refuge lands are using neonic pesticides and neonic-treated seeds. There are also fears that agency staff are inadvertently using plants treated with the poisons in restoration projects.

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Washington state just lopped up to $2,500 off the cost of solar panels. Here’s how.

solar panel rainbow
Steve Jurvetson

All new technology, no matter how innovative, arrives in a world of pre-existing laws and regulations. But not all technology catches the same breaks. A company like Lyft or Uber can do its thing right out there in the open for a surprisingly long time, despite being -- essentially -- appified versions of such already-illegal innovations as dollar vans and jitneys.

By comparison, solar energy, despite having made leaps and bounds both technologically and finance-wise, can't show up at the block party without bringing down a lawsuit, a law, or some kind of extra fee.

Yet those impediments, intentional and unintentional, are beginning to remove themselves. A decision this week by the Building Code Council in Washington state is a prime example.

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school of hot

Florida Gov. Rick Scott is about to sweat through some climate education

rick-scott
MrX

During the 2010 gubernatorial campaign, when Rick Scott was asked if he believed in climate change, his response was, “I have not been convinced.” Since then, he has evolved from denier to evader, and his current position stands at, “I am not a scientist.”

Luckily for Scott, Florida is full of scientists, and they are happy to pitch in and explain the big words. Ten of them, led by Professor Jeff Chanton, an oceanographer with Florida State University, delivered a letter to the governor’s office this week. “We are scientists," they wrote. "And we would like the opportunity to explain what is at stake for our state.”

Turns out the evidence for climate change is so clear and straightforward anyone, even a Republican governor, can understand it. “It’s not rocket science,” Chanton told Mary Ellen Klas at the Tampa Bay Times, “I can explain it. Give me half an hour.”

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This crusty activist gave up on playing by the rules. What are they gonna do, arrest him?

Alec Johnson
Tar Sands Blockade

It’s been over a year since Alec Johnson was arrested for locking himself to an excavator sitting on a pipeline easement in Atoka, Oklahoma. He’s still waiting to go to trial. Rural Oklahoma communities only hold jury trials once or twice a year, and every time a new court date comes up, Johnson gets bumped – priority goes to anyone charged with a felony or presently cooling their heels in jail, which Johnson is not.

A lot has changed in that year. The protest around U.S. energy policy and climate change has shifted fronts – coal terminals, oil-by-rail, divestment, solar, and a massive climate rally planned for this September. Keystone XL South (now renamed the Gulf Coast pipeline) is up and running and being monitored by an ad hoc group of volunteers. Keystone XL is on hold until after the November U.S. elections -- possibly for good, though Johnson has his doubts. “In my experience, the ruling class pretty much gets what they want when they want,” he says.

Johnson has been arrested seven times, though there’s a gap of several decades in the sequence. The majority of his arrests happened in the mid-'70s, outside of the Seabrook Station Nuclear Power Plant in Seabrook, New Hampshire. Johnson was a member of a direct-action group called the Clamshell Alliance, and getting arrested was a whole different business then. “I got the shit kicked out of me,” he said. “They had their badge numbers taped over. A lot of white people that doesn’t happen to, but it happened to me.”

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crikey

Australia repeals carbon tax, scientists freak out

Australian outback
Shutterstock

The cartoonish stereotype of Australia of yesteryear featured a rough-headed bloke in an Akubra hat wrangling crocodiles. That image has finally been scrubbed from our collective memories -- only to be replaced with something worse. Today, when we read news dispatches from Australia, we're seeing a dunderheaded prime minister cartoonishly wrangling commonsense, becoming the first leader in the warming world to repeal a price on carbon.

It's like George W. Bush, Crocodile Dundee-style.

Conservative prime minister, climate change denier, and accused misogynist Tony Abbott was elected in September. He started working as the nation's leader almost immediately, but he had to wait until this month for newly elected senators to take their seats. Abbott's (conservative) Liberal party still doesn't control the Senate, but it has found Senate allies in a powerful party that was founded just last year by kooky mining magnate Clive Palmer. Palmer held a press conference with Al Gore last month to announce that he opposed some of Abbott's climate-wrecking policies, and that he wanted a carbon-trading program to replace the carbon tax. That now seems to have been smokestacks and mirrors. When it came to repealing Australia's $US23.50 per metric ton carbon tax, the immodestly named Palmer United Party fell into line on Thursday, helping the repeal pass the Senate by a vote of 39 to 32, without demanding the establishment of any alternative.

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Four things you should know about Detroit’s water crisis

detroit-water-red-pipe
iStockphoto

This May, the Detroit Water and Sewerage District (DWSD) sent out 46,000 shutoff notices to customers who were behind in their water bills. It was the latest calamity to befall a city that had seen its water rates rise 119 percent in the last decade.

As a city that has lost nearly two-thirds of its population in the last 60 years, Detroit has a lot of water infrastructure to maintain, and not much money to maintain it.

Since the shutoffs began (about 17,000 households and small businesses have lost service to date), residents have fought back hard. They've blocked trucks that are being sent out to shut off water accounts. They've called out DWSD for focusing on shutting off water to private homes that don't even owe that much, while ignoring golf courses that owe amounts in the hundreds of thousands. (DWSD responded that it had focused on residential customers because shutting off water to a large-scale user was more technically complicated than most of its employees can handle.) They've accused DWSD of dropping low-income customers as a way of making the system more appealing to potential buyers. (Whether or not that's true, Detroit emergency manager Kevin Orr has spoken openly about selling DWSD to a private company.) They've organized brigades of volunteers to bring water in to people who've had their accounts shut off. They even got the United Nations to condemn the way that DWSD is handing the situation.

But what's happening in Detroit isn't just Detroit's problem. It has larger implications for the rest of us. Here's what you need to know.