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

L.A.
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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."

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

tarsands_alberta
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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 …

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Coal ash is a dangerous mess. Why isn’t it better regulated?

Dan River Steam Station
Duke Energy

I got the same civics education that most American kids got -- a chalkboard outline of how a bill becomes a law.  No mention of, say, how a bill sometimes becomes a law with insufficient regulatory funding, or how a bill becomes a law that makes it difficult for the EPA to take regulatory action. I had to learn all of that on my own.

For that reason, I've been enjoying Rachel Cernasky's piece for Matter this week, which makes the tangled web of hopes, dreams, and backstabbery around coal-ash regulation about as thrilling as one could hope for. The specific coal-ash accident that she's writing about -- when the 60-foot retaining wall of a coal-ash holding pond upstream of Kingston, Tenn., broke in 2008 -- is not a new one, but she tells it well:

[T]he sludge made its way 200 feet down to the banks of the Emory. It was so strong and dense that when it hit the water, it forced the river to change its path, pushing it eastward. The water, glistening just hours before, became a thick, gray soup rich in carcinogens and heavy metals.

For about an hour, while the town of Kingston slept, the slime spilled further and further from its retaining pond. The earth shook. The spill became a conveyer belt that slowly moved through the surrounding forest, ripping trees from their roots and driving them along its path.

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White House to crack down on methane pollution

natural gas pipelines
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In his big climate plan released last June, President Obama promised new rules to reduce methane leakage during the production and transport of natural gas. Since then, we've learned that the problem of methane leaks is much larger than the government had estimated. 

Now the administration is poised to finally announce those regulations and help prevent the country’s natural gas industry from turning the world into a Dutch oven.

When burned, natural gas produces half as much carbon dioxide as coal. But methane, the main component of natural gas, is a much more potent greenhouse gas when released directly into the atmosphere, 86 times stronger than CO2 over a 20-year time frame.

Obama adviser John Podesta told reporters this week that the White House is "in the throes of finalizing" a government-wide strategy aimed at reducing accidental leaks of methane. The Washington Post reports that the new rules could be announced as soon as this month. They don't require the approval of Congress.

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From veteran organizer Marshall Ganz, how-tos for activists

Marshall Ganz
flyoverthis

Every spring, Marshall Ganz teaches a class at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government on how to organize a political movement. This year feels especially strange, he tells the assembled room of earnest young students who have packed the classroom to overflowing so that they cover the floor and the window ledges. It’s 2014 -- the 50th anniversary of Freedom Summer, which was the beginning both of Ganz’ education and of a theory of political organizing that would, ultimately, be used to help elect the first African American president of the United States.

In 1964, Ganz was 21, and on the verge of becoming a college dropout. He has a way of making not staying in school sound pretty exciting. “It was a movement of young people,” he tells the room. “Do you know how old Martin Luther King was when he led the bus boycott?” He doesn’t wait for an answer. “Twenty-five.”

“I got hooked,” he continues. “Going back to Harvard seemed like the most boring thing in the world. I wrote a pretentious letter: 'How can I go back and study history when I’ve been making it?'"

Ganz’s father was a rabbi, and Ganz remembers spending his fifth birthday in a displaced persons camp in Germany, giving presents to other children. “My mom,” he tells the students, “had an idea that I should give presents instead of getting them.” To him, the Holocaust was not about anti-Semitism, but racism. “It’s not a complex ideology,” Ganz says. “Racism kills. As a rabbi’s kid I loved the Passover seder. They were like the story of the Exodus, but with food. They point at children and say, ‘You were slaves in Egypt.’ Not you literally -- but you have to figure out who you are in this story. You need to figure out if you’re holding people back or helping people through."

Ganz is disheveled, folksy, and charming. Everything about the talk feels loose, improvisational, off-the-cuff. It’s not. It’s a well-crafted work of persuasion -- an attempt to make the craft of shifting the standards of a society into something accessible to anyone.

The talk we’re hearing now is nearly identical to one he gave three years ago, to Occupy Boston. Most of this course is online, as is nearly everything Ganz has written or talked about.

What Freedom Summer taught him, Ganz continues, is how to fight back against a group of people who have rigged the system. “Whites didn’t have power because blacks had granted it. They couldn’t vote! There was no mechanism of political accountability. If you want to understand inequality, look at the power. And then -- what do you do? Do you go to Washington, D.C., and say 'Can I have some of your power?’ They’ll just say, 'Testify before our committee! Give us some more evidence!'"

The civil rights movement had no such illusions, says Ganz. It was packed with seasoned activists, and was always grooming more. Rosa Parks was a secretary of NAACP, but she also trained at the Highlander Center. Martin Luther King learned from his father, who was a Baptist minister. “You have to be a good organizer to be a good minister,” laughs Ganz. “Otherwise you don’t have a congregation."

To Ganz, who has spent decades seeing causes rise and fall, the strongest social movements are made of a network, rather than a hierarchy. He illustrates this point with a cartoonishly large Hoberman sphere that he likes to snap open at the end of lectures.

Recently, he sat down with me to talk about how organizing works, where the environmental movement fits in, and how the Sierra Club's plans evolved into the 2008 Obama campaign.

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Whoa there! State lawmakers try to make oil trains safer

"beware of trains" sign
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The wheels of railway safety reform may be in motion in Minnesota, but they've ground to a halt in Washington state.

Each day, an average of six trains bearing particularly incendiary fracked crude travel through Minnesota's Twin Cities, rattling the nerves of residents and lawmakers. The main worries are about potential derailments and explosions, but oil spills are also a concern, as evidenced by the recent leak of 12,000 gallons from a moving train in the state’s southeast.

On Monday, Minnesota state Rep. Frank Hornstein introduced legislation that aims to protect the state from oil-by-rail accidents. The Star Tribune reports:

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Keystone foes turn their fire to natural gas exports

Cove Point protest
chesapeakeclimate

Republicans in Congress, and some Democrats too, are pushing hard to get the U.S. exporting more natural gas, using the crisis in Ukraine as an excuse. The House is considering a bill that would require the Department of Energy to immediately approve more than 20 pending applications for natural gas export facilities.

Some of the nation’s leading environmentalists, including Bill McKibben of 350.org and Michael Brune of the Sierra Club, are now launching a counter-campaign, fighting natural gas exports in general and one proposed export terminal in particular.

On Tuesday, a coalition of 16 environmental organizations sent a sternly worded letter to the White House. "President Obama, exporting LNG [liquefied natural gas] is simply a bad idea in almost every way," they write. They express irritation with Obama's enthusiasm for natural gas exploration and argue that gas exports would harm American consumers and the environment.

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White House gets geeky on climate problem

Obama with an iPad
Pete Souza / White House
"According to this, Florida is fucked."

To see how the world is changing around you, sometimes it helps to lose yourself online.

The White House is plunging into a new geeky approach to climate adaptation. It has consolidated online climate tools into a new hub, climate.data.gov, intended to help Americans understand how weather and sea levels will continue to change in their states and even their neighborhoods.

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Blacking out America would be a cinch, because there’s not enough distributed solar

power lines
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Crippling America's old-fashioned electrical grid for a long period of time would be disturbingly easy. Saboteurs need only wait for a heat wave, and then knock out a factory plus a small number of the 55,000 electric-transmission substations that are scattered throughout the country.

That's according to the findings of a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission analysis. "Destroy nine interconnection substations and a transformer manufacturer and the entire United States grid would be down for at least 18 months, probably longer," wrote FERC officials in a memo for a former chair of the agency.

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What was the point of the Senate’s climate talkathon? Changing the terms of the political debate

Sen. Brian Schatz
Sen. Brian Schatz, a climate hawk who pushes climate talk.

On Monday night, 31 senators pulled an all-nighter on the chamber’s floor. This rager wasn’t for fun, though, and it wasn’t because they were rushing to meet a legislative deadline. It was a climate talkathon, lasting nearly 15 hours.

To those watching the proceedings on C-SPAN, it was a little unclear what the intended purpose was. There was no bill to address climate change on the docket, and if there were it would have no chance of passing the Republican-controlled House. The only Republican who showed up, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), mocked the event. The speakers mostly rehashed well-established science and talked about the effects of extreme weather in their states  -- sometimes very small-bore effects. Even Al Franken (D-Minn.) earnestly lamenting that “turkey growers are finding it difficult to heat their barns” didn’t make it funny.

So what was the point? “One of the major objectives was to engage the American public, and we did that,” Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), an organizer of the event, told Grist in a phone interview Thursday. “We need more passionate enthusiasm and engagement from the public."

With this strategy, Democrats are mimicking the activism-oriented approach of their conservative Republican colleagues. When the House Republicans vote for the thousandth time to repeal Obamacare, they aren’t accomplishing anything tangible, but they are generating press coverage and exciting their base.