Hillary Clinton is talking up a storm as she promotes her new book on TV shows and at readings across the country, but there's one subject she doesn't feel like chatting about: the Keystone XL pipeline.
As secretary of state, Clinton oversaw some of the protracted decision making over whether to approve the pipeline to carry Canadian tar-sands oil to refineries on the Gulf Coast. So she understands the environmental issues involved. And she also appears to be highly sensitive to the political issues involved.
The Central California wildfire that Monday destroyed three homes and forced hundreds of evacuations is just the latest blaze to strain the nation's overburdened federal firefighting system. By Monday evening, the Shirley Fire had consumed 2,600 acres near Sequoia National Forest and cost over $4 million, as more than 1,000 firefighters scrambled to contain it (it's now 75 percent contained). Meanwhile, families on an Arizona Navajo reservation are being evacuated today in the face of an 11,000-acre blaze that as of Tuesday morning was 0 percent contained.
This year, in the midst of severe drought across the West, top wildfire managers in Washington knew they were going to break the bank, even before the fire season had really begun. In early May, officials at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (which oversees the Forest Service) and the Department of Interior announced that wildfire-fighting costs this summer are projected to run roughly $400 million over budget. Since then, wildfires on federal land have burned at least half a million acres, and the Forest Service has made plans to beef up its force of over 100 aircraft and 10,000 firefighters in preparation for what it said in a statement "is shaping up to be a catastrophic fire season."
But the real catastrophe has been years in the making: Federal fire records and budget data show that the U.S. wildfire response system is chronically and severely underfunded, even as fires -- especially the biggest "mega-fires" -- grow larger and more expensive. In other words, the federal government is not keeping pace with America's rapidly evolving wildfire landscape. This year's projected budget shortfall is actually par for the course; in fact, since 2002, the U.S. has overspent its wildfire fighting budget every year except one -- in three of those years by nearly a billion dollars.
The Koch brothers have seen Tom Steyer's $100 million bet and they're raising it by almost $200 million more.
Steyer, billionaire hedge-fund manager turned climate activist, set a goal earlier this year of spending $100 million in the 2014 midterm elections to support candidates who care about climate change. So far fundraising for his super PAC has been weak, but the Kochs aren't taking any chances.
The Daily Beast reports that "the billionaire Koch brothers and scores of wealthy allies have set an initial 2014 fundraising target of $290 million which should boost GOP candidates and support dozens of conservative groups -- including a new energy initiative with what looks like a deregulatory, pro-consumer spin." Here's more:
This weekend, HBO aired something fairly astounding.
“I know!” you’re thinking. “A dwarf murdered his father on the toilet with a crossbow! Siblings had sex with each other! A paraplegic used psychic powers to fight off inexplicably enraged skeleton snow zombies!” (Spoiler alerts, whatever.)
To which I say: SNOOZEFEST! Unlike everyone else writing on the Internet today, I’m actually not talking about Game of Thrones. EPA administrator Gina McCarthy went ahead and all but declared the Obama administration’s war on coal on Real Time with Bill Maher. Admittedly, that declaration came with some prompting, and with a fuzzy pronoun reference that makes it possible for her to say she did nothing of the sort. See for yourself:
Maher: Last week Obama announced the Clean Power [Plan]. Some people called it "The War on Coal." I hope it is a war on coal -- is it?
McCarthy: Actually, EPA is all about fighting against pollution and fighting for public health. That's exactly what this is. Exactly.
In giving the commencement address at the University of California-Irvine on Saturday, President Obama called on young people to push the climate change issue past its current partisan divide. The speech was particularly notable for Obama’s forthright confrontation of climate change deniers.
He took oblique shots at the silly pseudo-scientific proclamations of Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.). (Inhofe claimed last year that “We're in a cycle now that all the scientists agree is going into a cooling period," while Rohrabacher previously raised the possibility of dinosaur flatulence causing warming in the Mesozoic Era to argue that the causes of climate change are unknowable.) Obama also implicitly went after Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who recently ducked a question on climate change by saying he’s not a scientist. As Obama points out, one doesn’t need to be a scientist to act on scientific issues while in public office. One simply needs to believe the overwhelming majority of scientists.
Well, we've got some surprising news for you from India's intelligence agency: Environmental activists like you must shoulder some of the blame. Your peeps in India have been accused of reducing the nation's GDP by 2 to 3 percent every year. Reuters reports:
Forced pooling isn't some kind of college pool party that jocks compel nerds to attend, resulting in wacky hijinks. It's a grim legal tool, dating back nearly a century in some states, that allows drillers to tap the fossil fuels beneath a reluctant landowner's property -- if enough of their neighbors sell their drilling rights. The philosophy of such laws is that subterranean pools of oil and natural gas pay no heed to property lines.
As hydraulic fracturing takes grip across the nation, frackers are taking advantage of state laws that were drafted to allow forced pooling for conventional gas and oil drilling.
Newsweek took a trip to Marcellus Shale country and interviewed Suzanne Matteo and Bob Svetlak, two of the residents who've been stymieing drilling plans by refusing to sign agreements that would allow Hilcorp to frack their land in Pulaski Township, Penn., in exchange for per-acre payments and royalties:
The wonkosphere is going wild over the Pew Research Center’s new report on increasing partisan polarization. It shows that liberal and conservative Americans are more segregated than ever: liberals are now all Democrats, conservatives are all Republicans, and both groups -- although conservatives much more than liberals -- increasingly tend to socialize and get their news only from one another. Conservatives are also found to be totally hostile to political compromise.
To anyone following political news, these findings mostly just reinforce what we already knew. One of the starkest divisions stands out, though, because it is on a topic that is seldom measured or discussed: ideological divisions over walkable urbanism versus suburban sprawl.
Pew asked whether respondents would rather live in an area where “the houses are larger and farther apart, but schools, stores and restaurants are several miles away,” versus one where “the houses are smaller and closer to each other, but schools, stores and restaurants are within walking distance.” The country is evenly split, with 49 percent choosing the former and 48 percent the latter. But the political divide is dramatic: 75 percent of “consistently conservative” respondents prefer the suburban sprawl model, and only 22 percent prefer the walkable urban design. Among “consistently liberal” Americans, the numbers are reversed.
The famous adage that nothing is certain in this world but death and taxes should probably be amended. At least insofar as politics and policy are concerned, there is a third inevitability: lawsuits.
Before they even know the details of a major environmental regulation, affected industries start looking for ways to get it thrown out in court. That's definitely the case for President Obama’s newly proposed regulation on CO2 emissions from existing power plants. Republican-controlled states will be joining the legal assault too because the power-plant rule, like Obamacare, would impose mandates on state governments.
Generally, you cannot sue to block a rule until it has been finalized, which in this case is scheduled to happen by June 30, 2015. Lawyers on both sides say they don’t expect any suits to be filed before then. But they're already prepping for them.
Litigants will say the EPA has overstepped its authority under the Clean Air Act. One of this proposed rule’s great virtues is that it is an innovative use of EPA’s rulemaking authority. Traditionally, the agency simply dictates that a source of pollution such as a factory or power plant must adopt the best available technology to reduce its emissions. By contrast, the newly proposed Clean Power Plan offers states the freedom to figure out how to most efficiently clean up their whole power generation system, not just coal plants themselves. That shuts down one common avenue for legal challenges -- that states were not given adequate consultation or flexibility. But when EPA shuts a door, it opens a window. By choosing an approach that is unprecedented, the agency is inviting complaints that it is unauthorized.
Here are five potential legal vulnerabilities in the EPA's proposed rule. Note that this is only the minimum of hurdles the rule will have to jump over -- opponents could still come up with as-yet unimagined arguments against it.
A Vermont law that will require manufacturers to label foods containing genetically modified ingredients won't take effect for another two years, but industry groups are already attacking it in court.
Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) signed the bill on May 8, and a lawsuit against it landed on Thursday of this week, just 35 days later.
The suit was filed by the Grocery Manufacturers Association, Snack Food Association, International Dairy Foods Association, and National Association of Manufacturers. It argues that the labeling law exceeds Vermont's authority under the U.S. Constitution, and that it would be "difficult, if not impossible," for the groups' members to comply with the requirements by the mid-2016 deadline.