Here’s a riddle: When is the oil industry on the right side of a public policy fight? I know what you’re thinking: “Never.” But actually there is a potential exception: when their adversary is an equally selfish industrial complex.
On Friday, the EPA proposed to reduce the amount of biofuel required to be blended into gasoline to 15.2 billion gallons in 2014. That’s down from 16.55 billion gallons this year, and it is 14 percent lower than the goal Congress laid out in its 2007 expansion of the Renewable Fuel Standard program.
Powerful Midwestern agribusiness interests are not happy. But the oil industry is pleased -- and so are environmentalists.
Thirty states have renewable electricity standards requiring utilities to generate a percentage of their power from clean sources. But the U.S. as a whole does not.
Instead, the federal government has tried to boost domestic renewable energy production through inducements such as tax credits and business loan guarantees. But as any advocate of cap-and-trade can tell you, the most efficient way to shift the behavior of an industry is to simply require your desired outcome and let the magic of the market sort out the rest.
And so Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), who knows a thing or two about cap-and-trade, has proposed to do just that. Markey, a longtime friend of the environment who was elected to the U.S. Senate this summer after 37 years in the House of Representatives, has introduced the American Renewable Energy and Efficiency Act. It would require electric utilities to get at least 25 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2025, starting at 6 percent in 2015 and rising gradually. It also includes an energy-efficiency savings requirement beginning at 1 percent of sales for electric utilities in 2015 and increasing to 15 percent in 2025, and for natural gas utilities going from 0.5 percent up to 10 percent over the same period.
Yet a new Wisconsin bill scheduled for a hearing next week would make it easier for people living within 1.5 miles of a wind turbine to sue the energy developer for "physical and emotional harm suffered by the plaintiff, including for medical expenses, pain, and suffering." And to sue for relocation expenses if they want to move away from turbines. And to sue over drops in property values. Never mind that researchers have also ruled out any impacts of wind farms on the value of nearby properties.
SB 167 wouldn't just affect new turbines. It could be applied retroactively to sue existing wind farms out of existence.
Some California polluters don't think they should have to pay for the right to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, so they sued the state to try to block its year-old carbon-trading system.
But a state judge this week rejected those lawsuits. One of the suits was filed by the California Chamber of Commerce. The other was filed by the Pacific Legal Foundation, a nonprofit that aims to "protect businesses against unfair burdens," part of its master plan for "rescuing liberty from coast to coast." The chamber and the liberty rescuers both pledged to appeal the ruling.
This episode of Inquiring Minds, a podcast hosted by best-selling author Chris Mooney and neuroscientist and musician Indre Viskontas, also features a discussion of the myth that left-brained people are logical and right brained people are creative, and the legacy of Carl Sagan and its lessons for today's science wars.
For climate researcher Michael Mann, the last few weeks have hardly been average ones in the life of a scientist and university professor.
On Oct. 30, Mann introduced Bill Clinton at a campaign rally for Terry McAuliffe in Charlottesville, Va. A few days later, he listened as President Obama, also campaigning for McAuliffe in Virginia, brought up Mann's high-profile struggles with McAuliffe's gubernatorial opponent, Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli.
Not exactly average — but then, as MSNBC's Chris Hayes put it when interviewing Mann back in August, "You didn't come to politics, politics came to you." The story of how Mann, a self-described math and computer nerd working in an esoteric field known as paleoclimatology, wound up front and center in a nationally watched political campaign is told on the latest episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast:
For the last week, people have been forwarding me this New York Times op-ed by Daniel Duane, which has the attention-grabbing title of “Is it O.K. to Kill Cyclists?” (In short: no. Or: maybe. We’ll get back to that.)
Duane describes himself as a convert to cycling because he likes the shorts, and the wind in his hair, and because it’s what the cool kids are doing these days. But as of press time he is having a hard time biking anywhere but on remote country roads and on the stationary bicycle in his basement, because fear of death. Specifically, fear of the kind of death where no one gets punished for killing you, because in the cities closest to Duane, especially San Francisco, there have been a series of well-publicized stories recently about accidents between cars and cyclists where the cyclist winds up dead, and the driver, even when clearly at fault, winds up with only a ticket.
“There is something undeniably screwy,” Duane writes, “about a justice system that makes it de facto legal to kill people, even when it is clearly your fault, as long you’re driving a car and the victim is on a bike and you’re not obviously drunk and don’t flee the scene.”
Commentators on this strange state of affairs, he adds, fall into two camps: “cyclists outraged at inattentive drivers and wondering why cops don’t care; drivers furious at cyclists for clogging roads and flouting traffic laws.” Duane attempts to find middle ground between these two groups and arrives at this conclusion: “Everybody’s a little right.” He goes on:
So here’s my proposal: Every time you get on a bike, from this moment forward, obey the letter of the law in every traffic exchange everywhere to help drivers (and police officers) view cyclists as predictable users of the road who deserve respect. And every time you get behind the wheel, remember that even the slightest inattention can maim or kill a human being enjoying a legitimate form of transportation. That alone will make the streets a little safer.
As someone who spent over a decade riding the mean streets of San Francisco that Duane is too scared to venture out of his basement and pedal through, I would say: Sir, we can do a hell of a lot better than that.
It turns out that it was a clean sweep for opponents of fracking during last week's elections in Colorado.
Voters in the city of Broomfield narrowly approved a five-year moratorium on hydraulic fracturing. The initial vote tally indicated that the ballot measure had failed by 13 votes, but by the end of an exhaustive recount on Thursday it was revealed it had actually succeeded by 17 votes. The result is expected to be legally certified today, but because the vote was so close there may still be one more recount.
If the latest vote count holds up, it means that measures to ban or suspend fracking succeeded in all four Colorado cities where they were on the ballot. That despite the oil and gas industry pouring more than $870,000 into efforts to defeat the measures, which were promoted by cash-poor but determined grassroots efforts. Boulder and Fort Collins voters extended existing moratoriums on fracking, while Lafayette straight-up outlawed the practice.
Remember the war over czars? No, that’s not an obscure episode in Russian history. It was the outrage manufactured by conservative media figures in 2009 over the proliferation of policy “czars” in the Obama administration. Never mind, of course, that President George W. Bush had 35 czars compared to Obama’s 32.
One of the new czarships Obama actually did create was the “climate czar,” a post to which he appointed former EPA Administrator Carol Browner. (Her formal title was director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy.) Glenn Beck, chief propagandist for the czar meme, was especially concerned by the creation of a “socialist” climate czar post.
Browner’s deputy, Heather Zichal, took over her responsibilities after Browner stepped down in 2011. But, as part of the April 2011 deal to avert a government shutdown, funding for the climate czar position was eliminated, so Zichal got no titular promotion. After almost five years in the White House, Zichal announced in October that she was leaving the administration. She's been replaced by her White House colleague Dan Utech.
The Obama administration has often delighted, and often disappointed, environmentalists. So how did Zichal herself perform?
Looks like Fox News and Congress are becoming ever more intellectually isolated from the American people, perched together on a sinking island of climate denialism.
Stanford University Professor Jon Krosnick led analysis of more than a decade's worth of poll results for 46 states. The results show that the majority of residents of all of those states, whether they be red or blue, are united in their worries about the climate -- and in their desire for the government to take climate action.
“To me, the most striking finding that is new today was that we could not find a single state in the country where climate scepticism was in the majority,” Krosnick told The Guardian.
The housing crisis was, of course, primarily about housing: housing that people couldn't afford, housing that banks helped them finance anyway, housing that too many treated as a sure-fire investment.
But in a less noticed way, the housing crisis was also very much about transportation. The money we spend getting around is largely dictated by the choices we make in where to live. Buy a house 20 miles down the highway from your job, and your costs of getting around on $4-a-gallon gas are much steeper than they would be if you lived a short walk from the office (or the bus stop).
Those costs -- half a tank of gas here, a bus ticket there -- are much harder to track than a single monthly housing payment. They're practically invisible. That $2,000 a month mortgage on a spacious suburban colonial? It may also cost you $100 a week in gas money. Which is just the kind of unanticipated financial burden that can break a family budget.