Nearly 400 anti-Keystone protestors were arrested on Sunday after zip-tying themselves to a fence in front of the White House. Activist group 350.org characterized the action as the "largest youth civil disobedience at the White House in a generation."
Those arrested were part of a larger student-led protest coordinated by XL Dissent. Organizers estimated that 1,200 people total participated in the march and rally that called on President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to reject plans to build the Keystone XL pipeline.
In an atmosphere of gridlock and partisan polarization, politicians in both parties produce legislative proposals while fully aware that they are wasting their time. Such was the case with the House of Representatives' latest flurry of activity this week.
To celebrate what they called "Stop Government Abuse Week," the Republican majority in the House passed a series of bills Thursday to muck up the regulatory process. Collectively, these bills would have an enormous negative impact on the EPA. Among all the other environmental regulations they would inhibit, they would prevent the forthcoming CO2 rules for power plants from being anywhere near as strong as they otherwise could and should be. Republicans don’t want to go on record voting to repeal the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, as that would be unpopular, so instead they would render the laws meaningless. Environmental groups such as Earthjustice and the Natural Resources Defense Council are horrified. Before the bills even passed, they signed a letter of protest in coalition with labor unions such as the AFL-CIO and consumer advocate groups like Public Citizen.
Here is a brief summary of what each of the bills would do to impede agencies from enforcing laws Congress has already passed:
It's easy to get depressed about the lack of global progress in fighting climate change. But most large nations are at least taking some action.
GLOBE International, a London-based legislators' group, surveyed climate- and energy-related laws and policies in 66 big countries, which together produce 88 percent of the world's greenhouse gases. It found that that 62 of the countries have a flagship climate law or regulation, 61 have laws promoting clean energy, and 54 have energy-efficiency laws. In all, there are 487 climate change–related laws or policies in the 66 countries -- a sharp increase from decades past:
Good news for you snow lovers out there: The ski industry finally seems to be serious about fighting climate change. In the past, I've written that the biz has been slow to respond to the threat, which could decimate U.S. ski resorts by the end of the century. Industry leaders have been busy dealing with more immediate threats, like the decline in ticket sales that are so important for covering the ever-rising costs of snowmaking, grooming, and high-speed lifts. And besides, ski resorts haven't traditionally been pumped to stump for global warming -- the more warm weather makes headlines, the less inclined people are to visit increasingly slushy slopes.
But when I referred to the industry as global warming's "reluctant poster child" in a recent phone conversation with Geraldine Link, public policy director for the National Ski Areas Association, she replied, "I strenuously disagree."
Link pointed out that her group, which represents 325 ski resorts and almost 500 ski equipment suppliers, adopted an official climate change policy in 2002. The policy called on resorts to reduce their own greenhouse gas emissions, educate skiers and boarders about the issue, and advocate for climate action. "It was cutting edge for the time," Link said. The policy, plus the association’s Sustainable Slopes program and recently launched Climate Challenge, have led many resorts to reduce their energy use, buy renewable energy “offsets,” and install a handful of flashy slopeside wind turbines and solar panels.
In the context of global climate change, these local efforts are a bit like throwing snowballs at an oncoming train. (“That doesn't stop climate change -- it just stops environmentalists from criticizing you,” says longtime industry critic Auden Schendler, Aspen Ski Co.’s sustainability chief.) To have a real impact, the biz will need to throw its full financial weight around in Washington, D.C., where more substantive change can be had.
The Obama administration tentatively gave its environmental blessing to oil industry plans to look for new deposits in the Atlantic Ocean off the East Coast. Recommendations outlined Thursday in a long-awaited environmental report by the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management came as music to the ears of drilling companies.
But the air guns that the industry plans to use in its hunt for underwater oil fields won't sound so sweet to the staggering numbers of dolphins and whales that could end up being maimed.
The oil industry wants to drill along the East Coast, but the last surveys of oil deposits in coastal Atlantic areas were conducted in the 1970s and 1980s using technology that's now obsolete. So now industry wants to survey with more modern techniques, which McClatchy news service describes this way: "The seismic tests involve vessels towing an array of air guns that blast compressed air underwater, sending intense sound waves to the bottom of the ocean. The booms are repeated every 10 seconds or so for days or weeks."
Thirty-four marine mammal species, which use sound to navigate, could be harmed by the seismic testing, and some of the animals could be killed. "By failing to consider relevant science, the Obama administration’s decision could be a death sentence for many marine mammals, needlessly turning the Atlantic Ocean into a blast zone," said Jacqueline Savitz with the nonprofit Oceana. "In its rush to finalize this proposal, the Obama administration is failing to consider the cumulative impacts that these repeated dynamite-like blasts will have on vital behaviors like mating, feeding, breathing, communicating and navigating."
Earlier this month, a pair of senators introduced the Safe Streets Act. The bill would bring "complete streets" principles to federal road funding. Complete streets accommodate all users, regardless of whether they're in cars, regardless of age or disability -- pedestrians, bicyclists, wheelchair users, stroller pushers. In practice, this often means streets with sidewalks and bike lanes -- two features that are often missing from roads built in the last half-century.
For too long, traffic engineers simply asked how to move cars as quickly as possible, rather than how to make streets safe to walk along or cross on foot. But now complete-streets policies have been adopted in more than 610 jurisdictions across the U.S., requiring local transportation departments to take the interests of non-drivers into account. The Senate complete-streets bill would require all federally funded road construction or repair to do the same.
So where are these two senators from? Presumably bastions of liberal, coastal urbanism like California or Massachusetts? Try Alaska and Hawaii. The sponsors are Sens. Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii). Complete streets, it turns out, are appealing in lower-density areas too.
“This is not just an urban priority,” Schatz tells Grist. “It’s important for people to be able to move within their community safely.”
The problems all started with Newt Gingrich. For decades, federal transportation funding had been a bastion of bipartisanship: The gasoline tax served as a user fee for our roads, 20 percent of the revenue went to mass transit and the rest to highways, and everyone kept the system running so their districts could get what they needed. Then, in 1994, Gingrich led the right-wing Republican insurgency that took over the House of Representatives. They did not want to raise the gas tax, even to keep pace with inflation. They actually tried to repeal the previous gas-tax increase, from 1993. Hatred of the gas tax, like hatred of all taxes, soon calcified into Republican orthodoxy. Rather than increase the gas tax, President George W. Bush presided over a growing gap between our transportation needs and the revenue the tax generated.
And the problem has not been fixed under Obama. With Republicans currently controlling the House, Congress cannot pass a reauthorization of the surface transportation law that would address our nation’s growing transportation investment needs. Instead, they have retained the status quo through a series of short-term extensions and then, in 2012, a two-year authorization (normally the law is extended for six years) that maintained current funding levels by using general revenues to patch a shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund, which is supposed to be fully supported by the gas tax. That authorization expires this year, so some kind of transportation deal will have to be worked out in the coming months.
On Wednesday, Obama went ahead and laid out a progressive vision for a four-year transportation bill, despite the fact that Republicans will never go for it. It would boost transportation spending to a total of $302 billion over four years and reorient that spending in smart ways.
Citing an "imminent hazard" of explosion and fire posed by trains hauling crude, the U.S. Department of Transportation issued an emergency order requiring more thorough testing of oil before it's shipped. The department is especially concerned about oil from the Bakken shale formation in North Dakota and Montana, as it's been found to be particularlyexplosive. The order also bars shipping oil in weak railcars designed for less hazardous materials.
The move could slow train shipments of oil from the Bakken shale and from Canada's tar sands. Bloomberg reports:
Environmental Resources Management, the consulting firm hired by the State Department to review the potential environmental effects of the Keystone XL pipeline, did all sorts of dodgy and deceptive stuff, but none of it amounted to serious rule breaking -- at least according to the State Department's inspector general.
The Office of Inspector General today published a report that found ERM did not violate the State Department's conflict-of-interest rules as it bid for the Keystone contract and wrote its study. Climate activists and environmentalists had requested the investigation by the inspector general, and now they're none too pleased with the results.
Last month, the State Department released the environmental impact study written by ERM. It found that Keystone would not have significant climate impacts, even though sections of the study actually contradict that top-level finding. Grist's Ben Adler recently highlighted the top three flaws with the study.
• to disclose a possible conflict of interest to the State Department until two months after it won the contract, as reported by ... Jim Snyder at Bloomberg News;
• to reconcile why ERM listed TransCanada as a client in its marketing materials the year before it began the Keystone contract, even though ERM and TransCanada had both told State that they had not worked together for at least five years;
The U.S. government estimates that honeybees provide $15 billion worth of pollination services to America's farms every year. So it's throwing $3 million at them in the Midwest, announcing a new effort to help farmers and ranchers grow plants that furnish bees with healthier diets.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture says it will use the funds "to promote conservation practices that will provide honey bees with nutritious pollen and nectar while providing benefits to the environment." The pollen and nectar will come from such sources as cover crops and high-quality pastures.
It's another little step by the government to boost hives' chances of survival. Forcing bees to subsist on the pollen and nectar of crops alone can leave them sickly.
"It's a win for the livestock guys, and it's a win for the managed honeybee population," USDA official Jason Weller told Al Jazeera. "And it's a win then for orchardists and other specialty crop producers across the nation because then you're going to have a healthier, more robust bee population that then goes out and helps pollinate important crops."