Skip to content Skip to site navigation

Politics

Comments

Vermont will label genetically engineered food

vermont-label

Vermont is the first U.S. state to require the mandatory labeling of food produced using genetic engineering. Maybe I shouldn't get ahead of myself -- it's not official yet, but the state House and Senate passed the bill with overwhelming majorities (114-30 in the House, 28-2 in the Senate), and the governor has said he looks forward to signing it.

The law requires retail products to have a label by July 2016 if they contain genetically engineered ingredients. Enforcement of the law will go through the state attorney general's office, said Falko Schilling, consumer protection advocate for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, which backed the bill. The bill also prohibits the use of a "natural" label on foods that contain genetically engineered elements. The rule will primarily affect processed foods -- such as cereal and bread -- where it can be difficult to impossible for the producer to know whether the ingredients, like corn starch and sugar, are GE or not.

This makes things interesting. Several New England states have been tiptoeing around the issue, passing or considering labeling laws that only kick into effect when enough other states join them, so they might collectively defend against food-industry lawsuits. At the same time, the food industry is working on a federal law that would lay out the ground rules for voluntary labeling of GMOs, while also nullifying state labeling rules. Each side has been eyeing the other, and quietly fortifying its position. Now it may get very noisy.

Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin elliptically alluded to the fact that the state could be sued over this law. On his Facebook page he wrote: "There is no doubt that there are those who will work to derail this common sense legislation." Which makes it sound like he's prepared to defend the law in court.

It also ups the ante on the push for a federal voluntary labeling law. When there were no mandatory labeling laws on the books, it may have been a little easier to talk about the federal effort as a simple measure to insure that we had one standard across the entire U.S.. But now the fact that the legislation would also preempt and invalidate Vermont's law will have to become part of the conversation.

There's a whole swarm of issues surrounding genetically engineered food. If you think it's just about your right to know, or your right to inexpensive food, you might want to read my attempt to cut through the debate. I think there are some good reasons to label GMOs. But if I were in charge, there are plenty of other, more important measures of agricultural and nutritional quality that I'd choose to label first.

Read more: Food, Politics

Comments

Pony up, frackers: Texas family wins $3 million in contamination lawsuit

corporatedudeholdingmoney
Shutterstock

What should you do when a fracking company sets up a drilling site right in your backyard? After you stock up on extra-strength Tylenol and Kleenex for the forthcoming chronic headaches and copious nosebleeds, you might want to call a good lawyer. Yesterday, a jury in a Texas county court issued a landmark ruling against Aruba Petroleum for contaminating a family’s property and making them sick. The company has been ordered to pay $2.925 million in damages to Lisa and Bob Parr of Wise County, Texas. In March 2011, the Parrs filed a lawsuit against Aruba Petroleum, alleging that air …

Comments

Wyoming doesn’t want its kids to learn about climate change

kids at school
Shutterstock
"Wait -- so is coal good for the environment?"

Let’s briefly review the science on anthropogenic climate change: 97 percent of articles on the subject published in peer-reviewed scientific journals over two decades have agreed with the consensus that humans are causing global warming. Now, granted, climate change is a theory, in the same way that gravity is a theory: It is the framework that explains indisputable phenomena, in this case the Earth’s warming temperatures since the dawn of the Industrial Age. So it follows that, just as school textbooks teach students about gravity, they should teach them about climate change, right?

Not if you live in Wyoming. Last month Dick Cheney’s home state passed a budget with a footnote that prohibits the use of public funds to adopt the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The standards were recently developed by the National Research Council, the National Science Teachers Association, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in concert with 26 states. They're intended to replace a hodgepodge of state standards of varying quality, providing a national framework for teaching the most up-to-date science. Naturally, this includes climate change (though the climate sections were watered down).

But Republican State Rep. Matt Teeters, who holds an aptly abbreviated B.S. in political science from the University of Wyoming, knows more than all those experts. Teeters, who sponsored the budget footnote, complained that the standards "handle global warming as settled science.” And why should scientists tell everyone else what constitutes “settled science”? (Teeters did not respond to a call from Grist, which was hoping to ask whether he intends to also remove gravity from the state science curriculum.)

Comments

Minnesota can’t say no to coal power, judge rules

coal power plant
Shutterstock

Minnesota did something really cool in 2007. As part of its Next Generation Energy Act, which aimed to reduce per capita fossil fuel use 15 percent by 2015, it effectively barred utilities from buying electricity from any fossil fuelburning power plants built after July 2009 -- unless the carbon emissions of those purchases were entirely offset.

In response, North Dakota, which gets a staggering 79 percent of its power from dirty coal, did something decidedly uncool. It sued its neighbor in 2011, claiming the air-cleansing and climate-protecting rule violated federal law because it limited interstate commerce.

And on Friday, a federal judge ruled in favor of North Dakota. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports:

Comments

Ukraine belatedly seeks renewable energy as weapon against Russia

Ukraine flag
Shutterstock

It took a military invasion to get Ukrainian leaders to look seriously at renewable energy.

Ukraine is buying up as much natural gas as it can from Russia before its military tormentors cut off the spigot. Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that his Eastern European neighbor had a month to pay its back bills or be forced to start paying in advance for its gas. Bloomberg analyzed energy data and reported Monday that Ukrainians nearly trebled their daily gas imports following Putin's statement.

But the crisis hasn't just triggered a fossil fuel buying spree. It has prompted Ukrainian officials to reimagine their embattled nation's very energy future. From a separate Bloomberg article:

Comments

Never mind the bollocks

Climate change got you down this Earth Day? Time for a badger mask

dark mountain
Dark Mountain Project

It’s not often that any magazine profiles an environmentalist. So when the New York Times Magazine did just that this week, I got excited. Just in time for Earth Day!

Setting aside, of course, the uneasiness that I feel about Earth Day. When you are the only habitable planet in the solar system, as well as the large spheroid mass whose rotation around the sun actually makes days happen, arguably all of the days are yours. But Earth Day itself has very sweet and thoughtful origins as an idea, proposed by a Wisconsin senator in 1970, to host teach-ins on ecological issues around the country. The teach-ins became so huge that the momentum from that day of meetings is credited with the creation of the EPA, the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Endangered Species Act -- along with the persistence of Earth Day itself, which very few people seem to get excited about any more, but which hovers in our vision anyway like the afterimage of a camera flash.

Part of that persistence is a consequence of the news cycle, which requires holidays in order to write about things -- civil rights, women, the fact that the only planet we live on seems to be having some tropospheric issues -- that we all should be writing about anyway. And so, for its Earth Day story, the Times chose, in something of a punk move, to profile another generator of an unexpectedly viral idea -- Paul Kingsnorth.

Comments

Wanna know what’s happened to the Gulf Coast since the BP spill? Read this blog, now

an oil-spattered Gulf Coast
Danny E Hooks
The oil-spattered Gulf Coast in 2010. How's it faring now?

On the fourth anniversary of the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster, the big question is whether the oil spill recovery is finally over. According to BP, yes it is. Or at least BP is wrapping up “active cleanup” and headed home to get its life back, only further available if the Coast Guard calls it.

But to many of the people living along the Gulf Coast, who still have to endure the aftereffects of BP’s blunder, hell naw it ain’t over. Given the tarballs and the oil that’s still drawing a ring of eyeliner along the coast, not to mention all the devastated dolphins and oysters, it’s an insult to even suggest it.

“Today should not have to be about reminding the nation that thousands of Gulf Coast residents continue to be impacted by the environmental and economic damage created by the BP oil disaster,” said Colette Pichon Battle, executive director of the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy. “The request by coastal residents four years later is the same as in 2010. Clean up the oil. Pay for the damage. And ensure that this never happens again.”

There are hundreds of unresolved issues on the Gulf Coast, many of them predating the oil spill. With stories spilling in from all over the place, it’s going to be tough sussing out the true grit from the bullshit. Fortunately the good folks over at the Bridge the Gulf blog got you covered.

Comments

It's not all bad

Three Gulf Coast victories scored since the BP spill

"Save our Gulf" rally
Infrogmation of New Orleans

You will hear a lot of gloomy reports about the state of the Gulf Coast as we approach the fourth-year commemoration of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster on April 20. And that’s fair. BP deserves little cheer in the face of widespread health problems across the Gulf, for both humans and marine animals, and the disappearance of entire fishing communities. Despite what BP is telling us, it ain’t all good. But it ain’t all bad, either.

Gulf Coast communities from the Florida Panhandle to Texas’s right shoulder had been through a few disaster rodeos before the BP spill. They’ve survived hurricanes named for just about every letter of the alphabet. And they’ve endured careless and reckless decisions from every level of government, way more than one time too many. Given those past experiences, residents and activists along the Gulf corralled together after the BP disaster to make sure their most immediate concerns would be heard this time around. Region-wide networks like the Gulf Future Coalition and the Gulf Coast Fund for Community Renewal and Ecological Health were formed immediately after the spill to harness the expertise of Gulf citizens who often historically were excluded from recovery processes. Through guiding documents like the Unified Action Plan for a Healthy Gulf and media projects like Bridge the Gulf, community members were able to voice their concerns and demands, free of bureaucratic or political filters.

These projects gave Gulf residents the opportunity not only to frame the Gulf recovery narrative, but also to influence government-led recovery plans. The result has been three demonstrable victories:

Comments

Obama delays Keystone decision — again

pipeline delayed
Public Citizen

Stop me if you think that you've heard this one before: The Obama administration is delaying a decision on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline.

But this is different from all those past delays. This is a brand new delay -- and it might push the final determination past the midterm elections. As Politico notes, "A delay past November would spare Obama a politically difficult choice on whether to approve the pipeline, angering his green base and environmentally minded campaign donors — or reject it, endangering pro-pipeline Democrats such as [Sen. Mary] Landrieu, who represents oil-rich Louisiana."

The Washington Post explains the reasoning behind this latest delay:

Comments

Making the road safe for biking’s nervous Nellies

little-boy-bicyclist.jpg
Shutterstock

I used to bike like everyone was trying to kill me. I was fresh out of college and had moved to San Francisco to seek my fortune, only to discover that the city’s public transit system was more of a simulacrum of a system than something that actually got me reliably on time to my job -- or, let's be honest, jobs. Living in the city required a lot of jobs, and sometimes the bus came and sometimes it didn’t. So I started biking.

Even if drivers didn’t bear any malice towards me -- and almost none of them did -- I learned to regard them with caution. They were bored. They were tired. They were steering 3,000+ pounds of metal powered by a combustion engine, but they spent so much time there that they behaved like it was their living room. (I looked over, once, and saw a woman in huge Audrey Hepburn sunglasses, eating corn on the cob and driving with her elbows.)

It is because of this experience that I view the recent news that California’s Department of Transportation has signed on to the National Association of City Transportation Officials guidelines for street design with unmitigated delight. NACTO is the kind of agency that rarely makes the news -- probably because it’s dead boring. But to those interested in the future of our cities, NACTO is also an illustration of how local governments can have much more power than they initially seem to.

Read more: Cities, Living, Politics