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Fighting dirty money with clean

Enviro groups team up on new campaign funding alliance

money
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Since 2008, two major shifts have occurred in American politics: The amount of money being spent to influence elections has boomed, and Republicans have stopped believing in climate change. While we can't blame the former entirely for the latter -- after all, Republicans oppose anything President Obama supports -- it would be naive to think these two developments are purely coincidental. Fossil fuel industry magnates donate heavily to Republicans and to political action committees spending on their behalf. More of that money means more incentive for Republicans to ignore the scientific consensus on climate change.

Between 2008 and 2012, independent expenditures -- meaning money spent on campaigns by outside groups, which can get unlimited donations -- for House and Senate races increased tenfold, from $46 million to $445 million. For that you can thank the Supreme Court’s 2010 ruling in Citizens United v. FEC, which removed limits on corporate expenditures to influence elections.

Big donors who have strong opinions about climate and energy issues tend to want less regulation and less environmental protection. Think oil, gas, and coal companies and their executives. The Koch brothers alone directed some $400 million to affect the 2012 election. (This figure includes presidential, congressional, state, and local races, plus money spent by Koch-sponsored groups, not just the Kochs’ personal and corporate contributions.) The oil and gas industries keep pouring more and more money into elections. In 2012, they gave $73.1 million, including $16.5 million in outside expenditures, up from $39 million in 2008.

This spending dwarfs that of clean energy advocates and climate hawks. In September of 2012, The New York Times estimated that “spending on television ads promoting coal and more oil and gas drilling or criticizing clean energy has exceeded $153 million this year ... nearly four times the $41 million spent by clean-energy advocates, the Obama campaign and Democratic groups to defend the president’s energy record or raise concerns about global warming and air pollution.”

Now environmental groups are beginning to push back. The Washington Post reports on their latest effort:

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Let's get ready to not rumble!

Ohio blames frackers for earthquakes

seismometer
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Ohio officials have linked fracking in the state to an unprecedented swarm of earthquakes that struck last month. Following its investigation, the state is imposing new rules to help reduce frackquake hazards.

It's well-known that frackers can cause earthquakes when they shoot their polluted wastewater into so-called injection wells. But a swarm of earthquakes that hit Mahoning County, Ohio, last month was different -- it occurred not near an injection well, but near a site where fracking had recently begun. State officials investigated the temblors and concluded that there was a "probable connection" between them and hydraulic fracturing near "a previously unknown microfault."

On Friday, following the discovery, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources announced that frackers will need to comply with new permit regulations. Under the tougher rules, frackers operating within three miles of a known fault or seismically active area will need to deploy sensitive seismic monitors. And if those monitors detect an earthquake, even if the magnitude is as small as 1.0 on the Richter scale, fracking will be suspended while the state investigates.

Meanwhile, the fracking operation linked to the recent quakes will remain suspended until a plan is developed that could see drilling resumed safely, an official told Reuters.

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More GIFs, please

U.S. urges IPCC to be less boring, try this whole “online” thing

IPCC makes you yawn
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Thousands of scientists volunteer to review research published by thousands of other scientists -- part of an effort to pack all of the latest and best climate science into assessment reports from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. But anybody who takes the time to read these reports is in danger of being bored to tears -- even before they break down in tears over the scale of the damage that we're inflicting on humanity and our planet.

After publishing five mammoth reports during its quarter-century of existence, the IPCC is facing an existential crisis. How can it reinvent its aging self -- and its dry scientific reports -- to better serve the warming world?

The U.S. is clear on what the IPCC needs to do: It needs to get with the times.

Despite the exhaustive amount of work that goes into producing each of the IPCC's assessment reports, relatively little effort goes into making the information in those reports easily accessible to the public. The IPCC's main website is ugly and static, mirroring the dry assessment reports to which it links. The IPCC's online presence seems designed to meet day-to-day demands for climate information by bureaucrats -- and nobody else.

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GMO labeling would be outlawed by new bill in Congress

GMO labeling march
mikescottnz

State-led efforts to mandate GMO labels are blossoming like a field of organic tulips, but members of Congress are trying to mow them down with legislative herbicide.

Maine and Connecticut recently passed laws that will require foods containing GMO ingredients to be clearly marked as such -- after enough other states follow suit. And lawmakers in other states are considering doing the same thing. The trend makes large food producers nervous -- nervous enough to spend millions defeating ballot initiatives in California and Washington that also would have mandated such labels. They worry that the labels might scare people off, eating into companies' sales and profits.

So a band of corporate-friendly members of Congress has come riding in to try to save the day for their donors. A bipartisan group led by Reps. Mike Pompeo (R-Kan.) and G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.) has signed onto legislation introduced Wednesday that would run roughshod over states' rules on GMO labels. Reuters reports:

The bill, dubbed the "Safe and Accurate Food Labeling Act," was drafted by U.S. Rep. Mike Pompeo from Kansas, and is aimed at overriding bills in roughly two dozen states that would require foods made with genetically engineered crops to be labeled as such.

The bill specifically prohibits any mandatory labeling of foods developed using bioengineering.

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California’s drought plan will screw the environment

The Delta in California
Mike Vondran
California rivers like this one will be allowed to run drier this year than ever before.

California has a radical plan for managing its rivers and reservoirs as drought grips the Golden State for the third consecutive year. It could help the state cling to water that would normally flush through rivers and into the Pacific Ocean -- at the expense of wildlife and fishing folk who rely on the health of those rivers.

The seven-and-a-half-month plan, developed in consultation with federal officials, doesn't increase the amount of water that will be delivered to customers, but it makes major changes to how precious drops remaining in snowpacks, reservoirs, and rivers will be managed. The Sacramento Bee hits on the plan's highlights:

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Climate change just reshaped America’s wildfire strategy

Wildfire
EricF2000

Like a tree in a greenhouse, America's forest fire problem is growing ominously. Rising temperatures and declining rain and snowfall are parching fire-prone areas and juicing conflagrations. On Thursday, following years of meetings and scientific reviews, the Obama administration published a 101-page strategy that aims to help meet the country's shifting fire threats.

The National Cohesive Wildland Fire Management Strategy divides the nation according to fire risks, and profiles the communities that face those risks. "No one-size-fits-all approach exists to address the challenges facing the Nation," the strategy states.

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Oil companies would rather let trains explode than cooperate with feds

DOT-111
PHMSA

As federal officials work frantically to reverse an uptick in explosions and oil spills from crude-hauling trains, the companies that are fracking the crude and transporting it by rail are responding with an unhelpful collective shrug.

Lawmakers and regulators want information from the oil companies about their rail shipments. The oil companies initially made helpful-sounding noises and pledged to cooperate. Now, however, it seems they're more worried about keeping corporate secrets than protecting Americans from their explosive loads. From The Hill:

“Just last month before the Commerce Committee, the crude oil industry assured us they were focused on safety and willing to work on this issue," [Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.)] said in a statement. "Since then, I’ve seen nothing to convince me this was more than just lip service."...

Rockefeller said he and other legislators had received assurances from the American Petroleum Institute (API) that the crude industry was on board with the push to increase the safety of oil trains.

But the West Virginia senator said on Monday that Congress was still waiting to see the promised assistance.

Rockefeller's frustrations mirror those of top rail regulators. As Reuters reported last week:

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That blows

Brits may ban new onshore wind power

wind power in England
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Britain's conservative government is preparing to make an unusual pledge -- a crackdown on clean energy.

Prime Minster David Cameron, leader of the bluntly named Conservative Party (aka the Tories), is overseeing the drafting of a "manifesto" ahead of next year's national election. That manifesto might come dressed up in a stifling windbreaker. The Guardian explains:

The Guardian understands that Cameron has brokered a compromise between warring Tories by agreeing to include measures in the manifesto for next year's general election that will in effect rule out the building of onshore windfarms from 2020. ...

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Only 28 percent of Fox News climate segments are accurate

fox-news-protest.jpg
Rena Schild / Shutterstock

According to a Pew study released last year, 38 percent of U.S. adults watch cable news. So if you want to know why so many Americans deny or doubt the established science of climate change, the content they're receiving on cable news may well point the way.

According to a new study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, misinformation about climate science on cable news channels is pretty common. The study found that last year, 30 percent of CNN's climate-related segments were misleading, compared with 72 percent for Fox News and just 8 percent for MSNBC. The study methodology was quite strict: Segments that contained "any inaccurate or misleading representations of climate science" were classified as misleading.

In 2013, 14 Fox News segments referencing climate science were entirely accurate whil 36 continated misleading statements. In 2013, 121 MSNBC segments referencing climate sciene were entirely accurate while 11 contianed misleading statements.
In 2013, 14 Fox News segments referencing climate science were entirely accurate while 36 contained misleading statements. Meanwhile, 121 MSNBC segments referencing climate science were entirely accurate while 11 contained misleading statements.

By far the worst performer was Fox (this is hardly the first study to associate this channel with sowing reams of doubt about climate change). Notably, the UCS report found that "more than half" of the channel's misleading content was due to The Five, a program where the hosts regularly argue against climate science. For instance, Greg Gutfeld, one of the show's regular co-hosts, charged on Sept. 30 that "experts pondered hiding the news that the Earth hadn't ... warmed in 15 years, despite an increase in emissions. They concluded that the missing heat was trapped in the ocean. It's like blaming gas on the dog if the ocean was your dog." (To understand what is actually going on with the alleged global warming "pause," and why the deep oceans may well explain part of the story, click here.)

You can watch Gutfeld's comments here:

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Ohio cracks down on methane pollution from fracking

Criminalize fracking
Bill Baker
This guy probably understands that Ohio's new rules don't go far enough.

Drillers in the heavily fracked Buckeye State will now have to do more to find and fix leaks in their systems, part of the latest initiative to crack down on climate-changing methane pollution. The Akron Beacon Journal reports:

Ohio on Friday tightened its rules on air emissions from natural gas-oil drilling at horizontal wells. ...

Drilling companies now are required to perform regular inspections to pinpoint any equipment leaks and seal them quickly.

Such leaks can contribute to air pollution with unhealthy ozone, add to global warming and represent lost or wasted energy. Fugitive emissions can account for 1 to 8 percent of methane from an individual well, according to some studies. ...