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Want to attract a new generation to the national parks? Find a few new rangers.

National Park Service

Come 2016, the National Park Service will turn 100 years old. In anticipation of the centennial milestone, the agency announced this week a new public engagement campaign to “reintroduce the national parks … to a new generation of Americans.”

This is the federal agency responsible for not just Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon, but also the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and Governor’s Island in New York City, which holds the Statue of Liberty. Still, it is having a hell of a time attracting young people to the parks, particularly people of color.

Shelton Johnson, an African American ranger at Yosemite National Park in California, talked about the challenge of getting black youth into the great outdoors in Ken Burns’ 2009 PBS documentary, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. “How do I get them here?” Johnson asked. “How do I let them know about the buffalo soldier history, to let them know that we, too, have a place here? How do I make that bridge, and make it shorter and stronger? Every time I go to work and put the uniform on, I think about them."

Part of the problem is that, despite the mosaic of nationalities of people who’ve frequented the parks, there’s not a lot of people like Johnson putting that uniform on. The staffing at the Park Service has remained perpetually and overbearingly white throughout its century-long history.


Best tax ever!

Here’s why B.C.’s carbon tax is super popular — and effective

vancouver gas tax
Steven Godfrey

Suppose that you live in Vancouver and you drive a car to work. Naturally, you have to get gas regularly. When you stop at the pump, you may see a notice like the one above, explaining that part of the price you're paying is, in effect, due to the cost of carbon. That's because in 2008, the government of British Columbia decided to impose a tax on greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels, enacting what has been called "the most significant carbon tax in the Western Hemisphere by far."

A carbon tax is just what it sounds like: The B.C. government levies a fee, currently 30 Canadian dollars, for every metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions resulting from the burning of various fuels, including gasoline, diesel, natural gas, and, of course, coal. That amount is then included in the price you pay at the pump -- for gasoline, it's 6.67 cents per liter (about 25 cents per gallon) -- or on your home heating bill, or wherever else the tax applies. (Most monetary amounts in this piece will be in Canadian dollars, which are currently worth about 89 American cents.)

If the goal was to reduce global warming pollution, then the B.C. carbon tax totally works. Since its passage, gasoline use in British Columbia has plummeted, declining seven times as much as might be expected from an equivalent rise in the market price of gas, according to a recent study by two researchers at the University of Ottawa. That's apparently because the tax hasn't just had an economic effect: It has also helped change the culture of energy use in B.C. "I think it really increased the awareness about climate change and the need for carbon reduction, just because it was a daily, weekly thing that you saw," says Merran Smith, the head of Clean Energy Canada. "It made climate action real to people."


Toto, our wind turbines are safe for another year!

Peter M2009

As we all know from that fine documentary film, The Wizard of Oz, Kansas has a lot of wind. Even when it isn’t sweeping away sullen little farmgirls into concussion-induced Technicolor allegory, it’s got enough windpower to put it smack dab in the area known as “The Saudi Arabia of Wind” -- that lavender trough of higher wind speed that runs through the middle of the U.S. Department of Energy’s utility-scale wind resource maps.

For this reason, Kansas has become one of the test kitchens experimenting with shifting away from digging stuff out of the ground and burning it, and towards making that wind do something useful for once. In 2007, after a tornado wiped out the farm town of Greensburg, the city was rebuilt, with solar panels and wind turbines within the city proper and a wind farm five miles out of town. The whole setup produces enough power for the entire city and a few neighboring municipalities as well. In 2009, Kansas passed a renewable energy portfolio standard (RPS), which mandates that local utilities get 10 percent of their power generation capacity from renewables from 2011 to 2015, 15 percent from 2016 to 2019, and 20 percent by 2020.

The RPS was passed with bipartisan support as part of a compromise bill -- approved by its opponents in exchange for the expansion of coal-fired power plant in Holcomb, Kan. But even with bipartisan support, the standard caught the attention of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) -- a conservative think tank with close ties to the oil and gas industry that is opposed to just about everything to do with alternative energy.


Christie’s new woe: Court rules he illegally dumped climate protections

Chris Christie
Gage Skidmore

As if New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie didn't have enough problems!

A three-judge panel ruled Tuesday that Christie's administration broke state law in 2011 when it withdrew New Jersey from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

That's because it didn't bother going through any formal rulemaking procedures before pulling out of the carbon-cutting program. Instead, administration officials stated on a government website that the state wouldn't participate in the program -- and then argued in court that the online statement was sufficient public outreach under state law.

"The Christie administration sidestepped the public process required by law," said Doug O’Malley of Environment New Jersey, one of two nonprofits that sued the government over its hasty withdrawal from RGGI, following Tuesday's Superior Court ruling. "New Jerseyans support action to reduce the impacts of global warming. We hope that today’s ruling will help their voices be heard."


Sen. Landrieu doesn’t need your love. Big Oil’s got her back.

Sen. Landrieu in 2011, championing the RESTORE Act, which will direct 80 percent of BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill fines to Gulf Coast states and restoration projects

You might expect the Democratic chair of the Senate Energy and Commerce Committee to be an ally of the environmental movement. After all, her committee has jurisdiction over federal policies on energy and nuclear waste, among other things. Facing a tough reelection fight, her friends in the nation’s leading environmental organizations would rush to her defense, right?

Well, not if that chair is Mary Landrieu of Louisiana. As I explained in December -- when it became apparent that Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) would be moving from Energy to chair the Finance Committee, with Landrieu replacing him -- Landrieu is no tree-hugger. She’s more into drilling rigs and gas pipelines:

In 2011, she voted in favor of an amendment sponsored by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to reverse the EPA’s decision to label CO2 a pollutant under the Clean Air Act... She voted against the Close Big Oil Tax Loopholes Act, introduced by Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)... She voted for an amendment to the 2012 transportation bill that would have opened up vast areas of coastline to offshore drilling, potentially damaging coastal industries and interfering with military activity.

When 31 senators took the floor for an all-night talk-a-thon about climate change earlier this month, Landrieu was notably absent. (Republicans criticized her anyway for not being sufficiently subservient to the oil and gas industries.) Landrieu also led the successful recent effort to undo flood insurance reform. Now, your tax dollars will once again be used to subsidize beachfront homes being constantly rebuilt in harm’s way.

The senator's love for fossil fuels makes sense, in a way: Oil and gas drilling is a big part of Louisiana’s economy.

But now, environmentalists are trying to punish Landrieu, who is up for reelection this November. National Journal reported on Sunday that Landrieu has only gotten $2,500 from the environmental community, from one local group, the Baton Rouge-based Center for Coastal Conservation. The national green groups are shunning her.

But don’t worry about Landrieu. Her friends in the fossil fuel industry are eagerly rewarding her years of loyal service. This from NJ:


25 years after Exxon Valdez, oil spills ain’t what they used to be

Exxon Valdez Oil Spill
Jim Brickett

As I'm sure you've noticed, if you are the sort of person who likes to relax on the weekend by reading about past environmental catastrophes, this Monday is the 25th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez oil spill.

Happy anniversary, Exxon Valdez oil spill! If we were married, we would give you silver. But we're not married, except in that way we all are inextricably bound together in a global web of shared ecology. In which case you probably wouldn't want silver anyway, because of the downstream effects, so let's just keep it at congratulations.

So: 25 years after Capt. Joseph J. Hazelwood downed several vodkas and left the Valdez poised to strike Prince William Sound's Bligh Reef at four minutes after midnight, what is the spill's environmental legacy?


ExxonMobil agrees to report on its climate vulnerabilities. Here’s why that’s a good thing.

Exxon website

Here’s a bit of confusing news: Environmentalists have successfully pressured ExxonMobil to publicly report on how much climate regulations might hurt its business. The New York Times reports:

Energy companies have been under increasing pressure from shareholder activists in recent years to warn investors of the risks that stricter limits on carbon emissions would place on their business.

On Thursday, a shareholder group said that it had won its biggest prize yet, when Exxon Mobil became the first oil and gas producer to agree to publish that information by the end of the month.

In return, the shareholders, led by the wealth management firm Arjuna Capital, which focuses on sustainability, and the advocacy group As You Sow, said they had agreed to withdraw a resolution on the issue at Exxon Mobil’s annual meeting.

It is easy to understand why shareholders would want to know how ExxonMobil is planning for a future in which demand for oil is stunted by global climate treaties and a hodgepodge of national and regional carbon caps and carbon taxes. But Arjuna and As You Sow are committed to sustainability, not just the financial interests of shareholders. So why is this good for the environment? You might imagine that if Exxon reports that it will suffer greatly from carbon pricing, that would hurt, not help, the campaign to pass climate legislation. After all, politicians cower in fear of harming their generous allies in the fossil fuel industry, especially politicians from dirty-energy-producing states.


The clean energy industry is turning Nevada green


Few things could be less sustainable than an entertainment mecca in the middle of a desert. But there's more to Nevada than the Vegas Strip, and investors in the Silver State are finding better ways of wagering their money than in slot machines.

On Thursday, leaders from both major parties joined forces to tout Nevada's clean technology sector. U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval (R) held a press conference to laud the $5.5 billion that has been invested in the industry in the state since 2010.

The figure was calculated by the Clean Energy Project, a Las Vegas-based advocacy group for the renewables sector. The group credits state tax breaks for growing clean energy investment. From its new report:

Due to Nevada’s vast solar, wind, geothermal, and biomass resources, the state has excelled at meeting demand in and out of its borders leading to significant clean energy capital investments. As of 2014, Nevada has 480 MW of clean energy developed or being developed to meet its energy demand and 985 MW of clean energy exported to other states.

The cumulative capital investments for both in-state and out-of-state clean energy projects, including transmission lines to move the clean electrons, total $5.5 billion since 2010. Nevada’s Investment of $500 million in tax abatements has attracted $5.5 billion of capital investment in clean energy projects to the state.

Read more: Food, Politics


These frackers have the nerve to call L.A. leaders “appallingly irresponsible”


Nobody wants to be called "appallingly irresponsible," but it's especially galling when the insult comes from the fracking industry.

Members of Los Angeles City Council, which may soon impose a moratorium on fracking, this week proposed that the city work with the U.S. Geological Survey and other scientists to determine whether a 4.4-magnitude quake on Monday was linked to nearby hydraulic fracturing. Fracking practices have been linked to earthquakes in other parts of the country.

"It is crucial to the health and safety of the City's residents to understand the seismic impacts of oil and gas extraction activities in the City," three lawmakers wrote in a motion that they introduced on Tuesday.

Earthquakes happen all the time in California. Monday's temblor was deeper than most fracking industry–induced earthquakes, though it was attention-grabbing because it occurred in an area not normally known for quakes. And it struck mere days after a trio of nonprofits warned in a report that the fracking sector could trigger earthquakes in California.

So it seems reasonable that L.A. lawmakers would want scientists to look into the issue. But frackers are not known to be reasonable people. The Western States Petroleum Association reacted vehemently to the insinuations and to the proposed scientific research. Its president, Catherine Reheis-Boyd, denied any industry links to Monday's earthquake, and decried the council members as "appallingly irresponsible."


The Brothers Koch quietly become largest tar-sands lease holders in Alberta (UPDATED)


UPDATE: It looks like Steve Mufson and Juliet Eilperin, the authors of the Washington Post article upon which this post was based, are backing down on their claims — sort of. The Koch brothers have leases on a confirmed 1.1 million acres of Alberta tar sands, and the article's authors cite unnamed "industry sources we consider highly authoritative" who estimate that amount of land to be closer to two million acres. Mufson and Eilperin claim that if the latter figure is accurate, the Koch brothers are indeed the largest lease-holders in the region. However, Jonathan Adler, a columnist for the Washington …