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Posts tagged with 'grist'

Weekly Pulse: 911 Is a Joke (Because It’s Broke)

Posted Mar 9, 2011 @ 11:45 am by
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Creative Commons, Flickr, alecaniBy Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

As the Great Blizzard of 2010 blanketed New York City, most residents were blissfully unaware that their city’s 911 system was on the brink of collapse. The system fielded 50,000 calls in a single day, and at one point the backlog swelled to 1,300 calls. The mayor was called to account for the slow service and promised that it wouldn’t happen again.

But David Rosen and Bruce Kushnick report in AlterNet that New York’s close call is an example of a much broader and deeper problem. Cash-strapped state and local governments are raiding funds set aside for 911 service, and the system is hurting badly:

Hundreds of millions of dollars are collected annually by states and localities to support 911 services and much of it is diverted to plug state budget holes and meet a host of other demands. Most disturbing, 911 services are technologically bankrupt, held together by duct-tape and workarounds.

States siphoned nearly $400 million earmarked for 911 between 2001 and 2004. The law demands that the money, raised by a tax on every phone line, has to be set aside for 911-related services. Some states fudge the definition of “911-related” to fund things that had nothing to do with emergency services, like raises for courthouse staffers. Others just brazenly redirected the money into their general funds. New York collected $82.1 million in 911 taxes on phone lines in 2007, but only 19 cents out of the $1.20 monthly fee was spent on 911.

At least New York can account for its misdirected funds. South Dakota simply has no idea where its 911 money went, Rosen and Kushnick report.

Walker: Hurry up and die

Seemingly determined to cast himself as a Dickensian villain, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker presented a budget last week that would slash millions in funding for health care for the poor and the elderly. However, as I reported in Working in These Times, Walker recommended an increase in funding for a program that buries Wisconsinites who die destitute.

Medicaid roulette

Some governors are clamoring for more control over Medicaid, the joint state/federal health insurance program for the poor, Suzy Khimm reports for Mother Jones. Currently, Medicaid funding is allocated primarily by a matching system, with the federal government kicking in a certain number of dollars for every dollar the state spends. The states must abide by federal rules in order to qualify. Now, some Republican governors want to see Medicaid funding doled out in block grants. The states would get a fixed amount of money, which they could spend as they saw fit.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), the fourth highest-ranking Republican in the House, is a leading proponent of this new scheme. She claims it would increase “flexibility” for states. In this case, flexibility is a euphemism for “massive cuts.” Washington’s Democratic governor, Christine Gregoire, has already convinced the Obama administration to exempt her state from certain Medicaid rules. McMorris Rodgers applauds the move.

Crisis Propaganda Centers

New York City City passed a landmark “truth in advertising” bill last Wednesday that would force so-called crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs) to disclose that they are not health care facilities. CPCs are anti-choice ministries posing as reproductive health clinics. Among other things, the law will require city CPCs to inform potential clients that they do not refer for abortions or emergency contraception, Noelle Williams reports for the Ms. Magazine blog.

The logic of our sex laws

The cover story of this month’s Washington Monthly is a provocative analysis of Dan Savage, America’s most influential sex advice columnist, as an ethicist of contemporary sexual mores. The author, Benjamin J. Dueholm, is a Lutheran pastor and a longtime fan of Savage’s syndicated column “Savage Love.” Dueholm does a good job of summarizing some of the core principles of Savage’s ethos: disclosure, autonomy, mutual pleasure, and personal commitment to achieving sexual competence. His central critique is that Savage’s attitude is too consumerist and businesslike.

I would argue that there’s nothing inherently capitalist about Savage’s ethics. Yes, Savage’s ideal sexual world is based on consensual, mutually beneficial exchanges, like an idealized free market–but that doesn’t mean that realizing one’s sexual identity, or finding true love, is on par with picking a brand of laundry detergent. In consumerism, the customer is always right. Savage is constantly urging his readers to be active participants in a mutually satisfying sex life, not passive consumers who expect their partners to cater to them without giving anything in return.

USDA hearts Michael Pollan

Every five years, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issues guidelines for healthy eating. Parke Wilde of Grist explains why this year’s edition is, in many ways, a radical and surprising document:

The new edition has a fascinating chapter on eating patterns, focusing on real foods and not just nutrients. This chapter on eating patterns provides a nice counterpoint to the reductionism — what Michael Pollan calls “nutritionism” — of scientific discussion of diet and health. The guidelines’ healthy eating patterns may or may not include meat. For example, the USDA Food Patterns and the DASH diet each include moderate amounts of meat and plenty of low-fat dairy. At the same time, the guidelines explain clearly that meat is not essential, and near-vegetarian and vegetarian diets are adequate and even “have been associated with improved health outcomes.”

This is a big departure for an agency that has historically been criticized for acting as a propaganda outlet for the livestock and dairy industries. But Wilde notes that, despite its enlightened discussion of the perils of “nutritionism,” the USDA hasn’t broken the habit of referring to nutrients rather than foods. The guidelines still recommend that Americans eat less saturated fat, without dwelling at length on which foods actually contribute most of the saturated fat to the American diet.

As nutritionist Marion Nestle explains in her seminal book, Food Politics, this mealy-mouthed advice is measured to avoid offending any lobby group that might take offense at the suggestion that Americans eat less of their product. There is no saturated fat lobby, but there are plenty of lobby groups representing the interests of industries tied to the major sources of saturated fat in the American diet, which include cheese, pizza, bakery products, ice cream, chicken, and burgers.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Mulch: Activist Tim DeChristopher Convicted of Two Felonies

Posted Mar 4, 2011 @ 11:33 am by
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by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

SALT LAKE CITY, UT USA

Environmental activist Tim DeChristopher was convicted yesterday of two felony counts. DeChristopher was on trial for bidding on more than 22,000 acres of public land that he could not pay for: his two crimes are making false representations to the government and interfering with the land auction.

DeChristopher made the $1.79 million bid in order to “do something to try to resist the climate crisis,” he told Tina Gerhardt, in an interview published by AlterNet. But, as Kate Sheppard explains at Mother Jones, the judge threw out “the defense that his actions were necessary to prevent environmental damage on this land and, more broadly, the exacerbataion of climate change.”

“They’re hoping to make an example out of me.”

DeChristoper now faces the possibility of  a $75,000 fine and 10 years in prison. In an interview with YES! Magazine‘s Brooke Jarvis, before the trial started, DeChristopher said he had faced the possibility that he would be found guilty.

“There is still the possibility of acquittal, but I think the most likely scenario is probably that I will be convicted,” he told Jarvis. “The prosecution has been very clear that they’re hoping to make an example out of me, to convince other people not to fight the status quo.”

Wild lands

What is the status quo? Bureau of Land Management land, like the parcel DeChristopher bid on, is owned by the government, which often leases out the rights to develop the natural resources, like gas and oil, to private companies.

Up until 2003, the Department of the Interior had the option of setting aside some of its lands for preservation, pending final Congressional approval. But during the Bush administration, the DOI gave up that option and only considered uses like recreation or development for its holdings.

Back in December, the current Interior Secretary, Ken Salazar, reversed that policy, again putting on the table the option of using public lands for conservation purposes. But as I write at TAPPED, Republicans are throwing a hissy fit about the change.

Truth or consequence?

The Republicans’ argument goes something like: Using public lands for conservation will deprive Americans of jobs and hurt the bottom lines of states with large tracts of public lands. What they don’t discuss is the potential damage that drilling for, say, natural gas could cause. The Mulch has been writing about the dangers of hydrofracking for awhile now, but over the past week The New York Times began weighing in on the issue with a long series on the dangers of hydrofracking.

The Times‘ series brings even more evidence of hydrofracking’s dangers to light—in particular, about the radioactive waste materials being dumped into rivers where water quality is rarely monitored. As Christopher Mims reports at Grist, the series has already prompted calls for new testing from people like John Hanger, the former head of Pennsylvania’s environmental protection department, which has not been among the staunchest opponents of new drilling protects. According to Mims, Hanger has written that:

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection should order today all public water systems in Pennsylvania to test immediately for radium or radioactive pollutants and report as soon as good testing allows the results to the public. Only testing of the drinking water for these pollutants can resolve the issue raised by the NYT.

Or, as Mims puts it, “No one has any idea if the radioactive material in the wastewater from fracking is appearing downstream, in drinking water supplies, in quantities in excess of EPA recommendations.”

Tar and feather ‘em

Fracking is not the only environmentally destructive practice that the energy industry is increasingly relying on. Earth Island Journal has two pieces looking into the tar sands industry in Canada. Jason Mark’s piece is a great introduction to the history of the tar sands and takes a sharp look into the impact development has had on the community and the environment.

And Ron Johnson details the U.S.’s connection to the destruction: The federal government is considering approving a pipeline that would allow the oil from the tar sands to travel to Texas refineries. Johnson writes:

Green groups warn that the pipelines will keep North America and emerging economies hooked on oil from the Alberta tar sands for years to come. By greasing the crude’s path to market, the projects will encourage further reckless expansion of the tar sands. That would delay the transition to a renewable energy economy, while further degrading Canada’s boreal forests and spewing even more CO2 into the atmosphere.

A new regime

The decision to approve the pipeline lies with the executive branch. But all of Washington isn’t a particularly friendly place to green groups and their causes these days.

For example, as Care2′s Beth Buczynski reports, the newly empowered House Republicans have done away with one of the smallest green programs the Democrats put into place, an initiative to compost waste from House cafeterias. They’ve justified the cut by saying it was “too expensive,” but as Buczynski writes, “Spending must be dramatically reduced, yes, but also strategically. It’s interesting (and disheartening) to see which programs the new GOP House has targeted first.”

It’s a small thing, but it shows how committed Republicans are to the status quo: They’re not even willing to mulch their leftover salad.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Mulch: Why Natural Gas Companies Fear Josh Fox, Gasland, and the Oscars

Posted Feb 24, 2011 @ 5:10 pm by
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by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

The natural gas industry is afraid that Josh Fox, director of the muckraking film Gasland, might win an Oscar on Sunday. Earlier this month, an organization called Energy in Depth, backed by the oil and gas industry, sent the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences a letter in which it argued that Gasland, Fox’s exposé on the natural gas industry, should be removed from consideration for best documentary feature because it contained inaccurate information.

After dealing with the industry for the past couple of years, Fox is not surprised by this tactic. “What this points to is the culture of that industry, which is bullying, which is aggressive, which is outlandish in their tactics, which will stop at nothing,” he told AlterNet.

The film is still up for consideration, and the industry should be worried about the impact its nomination, let alone a victory, could have. Even if the film doesn’t win on Sunday, millions of viewers will see a clip of the film that documents the real threat of environmental devastation that comes along with natural gas drilling and, in particular, with hydrofracking.

Nothing natural about it

The Media Consortium’s Weekly Mulch has been tracking the fight over natural gas drilling. As noted back in September, Sandra Steingraber, in Orion Magazine, has called the rise of hydrofracking “the environmental issue of our time.” In a more recent dispatch for the magazine, Steingraber reports from an Environmental Protection Agency hearing on fracking, a technique for extracting otherwise hard-to-reach gas from the ground.

In upstate New York, where the hearing was held and where natural gas companies have been buying up drilling rights and properties for the past couple of years, residents are hugely concerned about this issue: four hundred people signed up to speak, for 120 seconds each, as Steingraber reports, over two days. One speaker in particular stuck out to her, though:

An older man rose to speak….And then he let ten seconds of silence fill the theater….After hours of ceaseless, rapid-fire speech, the sudden hush flowed through the overheated room like cool water. Someone giggled nervously. And then, finally, he spoke. That silence, he announced, represented the sounds of migratory birds. And tourists. And professors. And organic farmers. And thus with no words at all he reminded the audience of all the good members of our beloved community who would — if our land filled up with drill rigs, waste ponds, compressor stations, and diesel trucks — disappear, exit the cycle. As in, forever.

At Change.org, Austin Billings has another account of what natural gas drilling is putting at risk—the Bridger-Teton National Forest, miles of “spectacular hills and tall pine forests” that, Billings writes, “just kept going” as he drove through them. A company called Plains Exploration and Production Company is working to sink more than 130 natural gas wells in this area, Billings reports, a project that will strew the area with “pipelines, compressor stations, industrial water wells, truck staging areas, and other industrial features.”

Push Back

If Josh Fox wins an Oscar, however, natural gas projects like this one will face even more opposition. And that opposition matters. Just ask Costco, which caved in this week to a Greenpeace-led campaign against its sales of unsustainable seafood. For months, Greenpeace and its allies have been pushing the chain of wholesale grocery stores to sell only fish that can be captured or farmed in a sustainable way. The chain agreed to remove 12 “red list” species, at the highest risk for extinction, and to take other actions to promote sustainability and ocean conservation.

“It was a long and arduous process,” said Casson Trenor, Greenpeace’s seafood campaigner, said, according to Change.org’s Sarah Parsons. “I’m really happy with where we’ve gotten to, and I think it says a lot about our methods and how effective we can be.”

Guilty pleasures

Of course, fish is not the only food that’s damaging to the environment. So much of what’s available to eat is damaging to the environment. Grist reported last week that Girl Scout cookies are made with palm oil, the production of which is driving deforestation in Indonesia. Earth Island Journal’s Maureen Nandini Mitra follows up by pointing out that Thin Mints aren’t the only sweet that sucks up palm oil: her list includes M&Ms, Snickers, and Twix, as well as Clif energy bars.

Another point against those treats: They usually don’t come in recyclable packaging. On the other hand, it’s a little bit of a mystery what happens to the recyclable containers tossed into the recycling, especially those with a little food gunk left on them. For those worried about their fate, Mother Jones’ Kiera Butler has done a substantial public service by ferreting the best approaching to cleaning out recyclables. The takeaway: They can be a little bit dirty. ”It’s not a giant deal if containers have little food residue on them,” Butler reports, but “the cleaner your containers, the more they’re worth on the recyclables market.”

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of  The Media  Consortium.   It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of  articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network  of leading independent media outlets

 

Weekly Mulch: Chevron Must Pay; GOP Tries to Gut the EPA

Posted Feb 18, 2011 @ 11:53 am by
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By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Chevron's Toxic Legacy in Ecuador's Amazon

An Ecuadorian judge ordered Chevron this week to pay $8.6 billion in damages for polluting the Amazon rainforest from 1964 until 1990. The payout is the second largest ever in an environmental case, with only the damages BP agreed to pay in the wake of last summer’s Deepwater Horizon spill being higher.

Environmental lawyers and advocates hailed the case as a landmark victory, but as Rebecca Tarbotton reports at AlterNet, Chevron is still planning to fight the case.

“In fact, the oil giant has repeatedly refused to pay for a clean up even if ordered to by the court,” she writes. “In one chilling statement, Charles A. James, Chevron’s vice president and general counsel, told law students at UC Berkeley that Chevron would fight ‘until hell freezes over, and then skate on the ice.’”

The Cost of Doing Business

Chevron can continue to fight the case because it’s cheaper for them to fund their lawyers than to cough up billions. Like so many environmental issues, this one comes down to money, which environmentally destructive corporations always seem to have and activists, regulators, and victims simply don’t.

In Washington, the newly empowered Republican Party is doing its darndest to make sure that remains the case. It’s budget season, and the Environmental Protection Agency is one of the prime targets for cutting in Republicans’ budget proposals. Kate Sheppard reports at Mother Jones that House Republicans are not only trying to take away $3 billion from the agency, but also are pushing to bar the EPA from regulating carbon or other greenhouse gasses. Putting this in context, Sheppard writes:

The National Wildlife Federation says the cuts amount to a “sneak attack” on existing environmental laws like the Clean Air and Clean Water Acts, because they would make it basically impossible for the EPA to do its job. The huge cut—the biggest in 30 years—”would jeopardize the water we drink and air we breathe, endangering the health and well-being of all Americans,” Gene Karpinski, the president of the League of Conservation Voters, said Monday.

The need for green

But environmentalists have their backers, too. At Grist, Bill McKibben, the author and climate activist who co-founded the climate group 350.org, has an interesting look at how the Sierra Club’s National Coal Campaign, led by Bruce Nilles, banded together with other environmental activists to successfully shut down proposals for coal-fired power plants across the country. One of the keys, of course, was money:

A consortium of foundations led by the Rockefeller Family Fund helped provide not only resources for the fight but crucial coordination. By the summer of 2005, RFF’s Larry Shapiro, David Wooley from The Energy Foundation, Nilles, and others formed a loosely organized “coal cadre.”

The coordination was crucial not only for the advocacy groups involved, which each have different strengths and geographical bases, but for the money men as well:

“I first went to Florida in 2005 to meet with several groups fighting coal plants,” said Shapiro. “I thought I would figure out who we could give $50,000 to. After my trip, I realized it wasn’t a $50,000 project — it was a million-dollar project. Over time, the Energy Foundation and others got into the game, so we ended up with some real money.”

In the end, McKibben reports, RFF gathered together, from its own pockets and from other foundations, $2.8 million.

Windfall

On top of the type of advocacy work that McKibben details, there’s another reason why more communities and companies are moving away from coal-fired power plants: they have a choice. Plants fueled with natural gas are a popular alternative, but as Gina Marie Cheeseman writes at Care2, in some areas, onshore wind power can compete with coal on costs.

“In some areas of the U.S., Brazil, Mexico and Sweden, the cost of wind power ($68 per megawatt hour) generated electricity is competitive with coal-fired power ($67 a megawatt hour),” Cheeseman writes. Wind power is also, she notes, competitive with natural gas, according to the American Wind Energy Association.

Close to home

These sort of adjustments make it easier for consumers to make sustainable choices. And in the end, personal choices do impact the amount of carbon humanity is spewing into the atmosphere. As two recent European studies showed, men make choices that generally produce more carbon emissions than women, Julio Godoy reported for Inter Press Service.

One study focused on France, the other on Germany, Greece, Norway, and Sweden. The second study, conducted by researchers at the Swedish Defence Research Agency, found that men ate more meat, drank more processed beverages, and drove more frequently and for longer distances. Annika Carlsson-Kanyama, one of the study’s authors, has argued that their results apply more broadly, too.

“These differences are not specific to the four countries studied, but are generalised across the European Union and have little to do with the different professional activities of men and women,” she told Godoy.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Pulse: South Dakota’s Legislative Attack on Abortion Providers

Posted Feb 16, 2011 @ 12:38 pm by
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Creative Commons, Flickr, jimmywayneBy Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

The South Dakota House of Representatives will soon vote on a bill that would expand the definition of justifiable homicide to include killing to protect the life of a fetus. The plain language of the bill would appear to legalize the murder of abortion providers for performing legal abortions on women who request them.

Kate Sheppard explains in Mother Jones:

The bill, sponsored by state Rep. Phil Jensen, a committed foe of abortion rights, alters the state’s legal definition of justifiable homicide by adding language stating that a homicide is permissible if committed by a person “while resisting an attempt to harm” that person’s unborn child or the unborn child of that person’s spouse, partner, parent, or child. If the bill passes, it could in theory allow a woman’s father, mother, son, daughter, or husband to kill anyone who tried to provide that woman an abortion—even if she wanted one.

“The bill in South Dakota is an invitation to murder abortion providers,” Vicki Saporta, the president of the National Abortion Foundation told Mother Jones.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Phil Jensen, vehemently denies that his bill would legalize the murder of abortion doctors, Sheppard reports in a follow-up post. Jensen did not return Mother Jones‘s calls for comment before the original story ran, but he now claims that he simply wants to update the state’s fetal homicide legislation.

Jensen’s stated intent is irrelevant, however. The plain language of his bill expands the category of “justifiable homicide” to protect certain people who kill to save a fetus.

There is no question that many radical anti-choicers will interpret this legislation as a license to kill. If this bill becomes law, it is only a matter of time before one of these terrorists travels to South Dakota to test that interpretation.

As Jodi Jacobson of RH Reality Check notes, the bill codifies the same legal argument that anti-choice terrorist Scott Roeder deployed unsuccessfully at his trial for the assassination of the prominent late-term abortion provider and pro-choice activist Dr. George Tiller. Technically, the bill would only protect people who killed to “protect” a fetus being carried by their partner or family member, not strangers like Roeder who killed to “protect” fetuses in general, but the veiled threat to abortion providers is clear.

The bill cleared the legislature’s judiciary committee by a party-line vote of 9-3. The legislation is co-sponsored by 22 state legislators and 4 state senators. The full state house is scheduled to vote on the bill on Wednesday.

Steve Benen of the Washington Monthly sees the legislation as a sign of a “radical turn” in the culture war.

“Birth or Die Act” advances

Meanwhile, at the federal level, the anti-choice bill H.R. 358 passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Miriam Perez reports for Feministing. H.R. 358 is controversial on two fronts. First, it appears to create an opening for hospitals to refuse abortion care and abortion referrals, even when a woman’s life is at risk. Second, the bill would effectively end private insurance coverage for abortion as we know it.

Fruitwashing

You’ve heard of “greenwashing,” the marketing trend where companies repackage their old polluting inventory as planet-healthy products? The latest corporate marketing gambit is to convince consumers that sugar, starch, and red food dye are good for us, a process dubbed “fruitwashing,” by Brie Cadman of change.org.

Cadman takes food giant Kellogg’s to task for touting the “real fruit” in its frosted mini Pop Tarts, now available in 100-calorie packs. Of course, these rosy toaster pastries contain only a minuscule amount of fruit.

Kellogg’s is a repeat offender when it comes to fruitwashing. The box of the company’s Frosted Mini Wheats Blueberry Muffin cereal features photos of real blueberries, but the actual “blueberry crunchlets” in the box are made of sugar, soybean oil, red dye #40 and blue dye #2.

Play with your food

In an article called “Why Playing With Your Food is Serious Business,” Carol Deppe of Grist argues that processed fare is driving us to overeat by cheating us out of our instinctive drive to interact with our foods before we eat them:

I also tend to overeat the delicious bean soup on that day I effortlessly thawed a portion from the freezer, compared with the day that I made the soup from scratch myself. The act of preparing food seems to actually be one of my satiety mechanisms. That is, to avoid overeating, to feel satisfied with normal, healthful amounts of food, I have to play with my food.

A highly processed diet enables us to practically inhale our calories, leaving us unsatisfied.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about health care by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Pulse for a complete list of articles on health care reform, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Mulch, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Mulch: The Dirty Truth about Natural Gas and Energy Innovation

Posted Feb 4, 2011 @ 12:41 pm by
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by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

The argument against natural gas got a boost this week, when a congressional investigation turned up evidence that oil and gas companies were using diesel gas to extract gas from the ground.

Natural gas companies have insisted that their newly popular hydraulic fracturing (known as “fracking”) techniques are safe, but as Care2′s Kristina Chew reports, “environmentalists and regulators have become increasingly concerned that the fracking chemicals—including toluene, xylene and benzene, a carcinogen, which are all from diesel gas—are seeping out into underground sources of drinking water, in violation of the Safe Water Drinking Act.”

The mix-up

The Environmental Protection Agency is conducting an inquiry into the environmental impacts of fracking, and some states are considering more stringent regulations of the practice, including disclosure of the chemicals that go into fracking fluid. Gas companies have argued that the blend of chemicals is a trade secret and must be kept private, but the findings of the congressional investigation suggest otherwise. Eartha Jane Melzer reports at The Michigan Messenger, “In a letter to EPA administrator Lisa Jackson… Reps. Henry Waxman, Edward Markey and Diana DeGette reported that although the EPA requires permits for hydraulic fracturing that involves diesel none of the companies that admitted using diesel have sought or received permits.”

And, as Melzer reports, diesel is the only chemical used in fracking that’s currently regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. That companies have been sneaking it into the ground does not strengthen the industry’s case for independence.

Ensuring that natural gas companies do their work without threatening water supplies is becoming ever more crucial, as the fuel becomes one of the go-to replacements for coal. In Massachusetts, for instance, some legislators are pushing for a coal plant in Holyoke to start using natural gas or renewable energy, rather than being shut down, as Nikki Gloudeman reports at Change.org.

Supporting renewables

And although renewables are thrown in there as an option, right now the clearest way to replace the amount of energy generated by coal is natural gas. This year’s line on energy policy from Washington, however, is that the country should support innovations in clean energy.

Will Obama’s new direction on this issue go anywhere? Grist’s David Roberts has been arguing that any energy policy that leaves out climate change is missing the point.

However, Teryn Norris and Daniel Goldfarb (also at Grist), of Americans for Energy Leadership, a California-based non-profit, have a smart rebuttal. They argue that clean energy needs the boost in research and development that Obama is promising. Ultimately, they, write, “these investments will drive down the price of low-carbon energy and pave the way for stronger deployment efforts — perhaps even including a strong carbon price at some point — both here and in the developing world, where the vast majority of future emissions will originate.”

But, about climate change!

And to be fair, the federal government is trying to lead the way on investing in renewables. As Beth Buczynski reports at Care2, the Department of Energy is working on a $2.3 million solar energy project that would power its Germantown, Md., location.

Not every one is willing to wait for investments to take hold, however. On the National Radio Project’s show, “Making Contact”, Andrew Stelzer examines what climate activists are doing, post-Cancun, to push forward debates on climate change. Ananda Lee Tan, Global Alliance for Incinerator Alterantives argues, for instance, “Community-led climate justice in the U.S. has been winning. The largest amount of industrial carbon that has been prevented in this country has been prevented  by community-led groups, grassroots groups fighting coal, oil and incinerators.”

Cause and effect

Whether the solution comes from industry, government, or grassroots groups, the country’s energy policy will change over the next few decades. And what’s troubling is that it’s not clear what the impact will be. Take natural gas: Washington favors it right now because it’s thought to have lower carbon emission than coal. But any time humans introduce new factors into the environment, they can have unexpected consequences.

That’s not only true for the energy industry, too. In Texas, for instance, the government is trying to eradicate an invasive plant species, a type of giant cane called Arundo that is growing all over the Rio Grande Valley. As Saul Elbein reports for The Texas Observer, it’s been hard to eradicate:

There are three primary ways to control invasive plant species: Kill them with herbicides, clear them with bulldozers and machetes, or attempt to introduce a new predator. The least controversial approach, clearing the cane, is not going to work. There are thousands of square miles of the stuff, and Arundo cane is nearly impossible to cut out. Each stalk has a thick taproot that sends shoots in every direction. You can bulldoze or chop the cane down, and it will grow right back. Worse, any stress on the plant—say a machete blow—causes it to send out more root stalks. Every chopped-up joint of cane that floats downstream can sprout another stand.

But, Elbein reports, scientists have come up with a different solution: They’ve bred wasps that originate in the same region as the cane to come in and eat it. They’ve also taken precautions that the wasps won’t have their own adverse impact on the environment by ensuring that they can only survive on this particular type of plant. But even then, it’s a tricky business.

“The wasps have to survive,” John Adamczyk, an entomologist running the project, told Elbein.  “They have to not all get eaten. Then it becomes a question of whether they can keep the cane in check.”

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Mulch: Why is the U.S. Losing the Clean Energy Race to China? Blame the Climate Cranks

Posted Jan 21, 2011 @ 11:52 am by
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By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

President Obama and Chinese President Hu Jintao touched on energy issues in the bilateral summit between the two countries this week.

“I believe that as the two largest energy consumers and emitters of greenhouses gases, the United States and China have a responsibility to combat climate change by building on the progress at Copenhagen and Cancun, and showing the way to a clean energy future. And President Hu indicated that he agrees with me on this issue,” President Obama said during a Wednesday press conference.

But can the United States step up as a leader on clean energy? The proliferation of politicians whom The Nation‘s Mark Hertsgaard calls “climate cranks” suggests otherwise.

The biggest consumers

In international climate negotiations, the United State and China are the two key players, and if the world as a whole is to move forward on combating climate change, agreement between Presidents Obama and Hu would be a huge breakthrough. Mother Jones‘ Kate Sheppard notes that Hu also said the United States and China would work together on climate changes, but, she writes, “I can imagine, though, that the conversation on this subject wasn’t entirely as chummy as the remarks would imply, however. The US last month lodged a complaint with the World Trade Organization about China’s subsidies for clean energy, arguing that the country is unfairly stacking the deck in favor of their products.”

At AlterNet, Tina Gerhardt and Lucia Green-Weiskel explain the background to those tensions and to the U.S.’s protectionist bent on clean energy projects. They write, “Energy Secretary Chu recently framed the new relationship between the U.S. and China as a ‘Sputnik Moment.’ Referencing the first satellite launched by the Soviet Union in 1957, which demonstrated its technological advantage and led to the Cold War-era space race, Chu warned that the U.S. risks falling behind China in the clean technology race.”

Stumbling blocks

China’s motivations for growing its clean energy sector may not be leafy green; new energy sources feed the country’s rapidly growing economy. But at least the country is committed to green energy sources, unlike our climate change-denying Congress. As Mark Hertsgaard argues at The Nation, this brand of American has become so pernicious, it’s time to stop adhering to the protocol that dubs them “climate deniers” and start calling them “climate cranks.” He explains:

True skepticism is invaluable to the scientific method, but an honest skeptic can be persuaded by facts, if they are sound. The cranks are impervious to facts, at least facts that contradict their wacky worldview. When virtually every national science academy in the developed world, including our own, and every major scientific organization (e.g., the American Geophysical Union, the American Physics Society) has affirmed that climate change is real and extremely dangerous, only a crank continues to insist that it’s all a left-wing plot.

Climate cranks attack

Unfortunately, climate cranks continue to interfere with both climate scientists and forward-thinking energy policy. At Change.org, Nikki Gloudeman writes about the ongoing saga of climate scientist Michael Mann, one of the climatologists embroiled in the Climategate brouhaha, who is still being attacked by climate-denying groups for his work. Gloudeman reports that although Mann has been investigated and found innocent of any misdeeds several times over, a group with a bias against climate change, the American Tradition Institute, is trying to obtain access to his work.

And in New Mexico, the state’s new conservative governor, Susana Martinez, “has attempted to subvert her own state constitution in order to stop [a] plan to begin reducing her state’s carbon emissions,” reports Dahr Jamail for Truthout. The plan, executed through state rules, would have reduced the state’s greenhouse gas emissions by 3%, from 2010 levels, each year. The rules should have been made public, but Gov. Martinez kept them from being published, according to Truthout’s report. A local group, New Energy Economy, is fighting to implement them.

Bright spots

In some states, however, the clean energy economy is moving forward. As Care2′s Beth Buczynski reports, Clean Edge, a clean-tech advisory group, has identified the top ten states for clean energy leadership. They include California, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, and Illinois.

“Rankings were derived from over 80 metrics including total electricity produced by clean-energy sources, hybrid vehicles on the road, and clean-energy venture and patent activity,” Buczynski reports.

And, as David Roberts writes at Grist, there is important work to be done at the local and regional level to both prepare for and prevent climate change. His preferred term for this challenge is “ruggedizing”—strengthening a community’s ability to respond to challenges brought on by climate change, such as flooding, droughts, or food shortages. The solutions to these problem, Roberts writes, often have the welcome side effect of decreasing carbon emissions, as well:

For instance, the residents of Brisbane are discovering that when disaster strikes, it’s not very handy to have everyone spread out all over the place and utterly dependent on cars to get anywhere. It’s more resilient to have people closer together, more able to walk or take shared transportation. It just so happens that also reduces vehicle emissions.

The advantage of this type of work—building the clean energy economy, ruggedizing communities—is that leaders don’t necessarily have to agree on the reality of climate change to move forward. But these are only partial solutions, and to address climate change on an international scale, the cranks will need to be quieted.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Mulch: With D.C. in GOP Hands, Environmentalists Must ‘Fight Harder’

Posted Jan 7, 2011 @ 11:34 am by
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by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

For the environmental community, this coming year offers a chance to regroup, rethink and regrow. Two years ago, it seemed possible that politicians would make progress on climate change issues—that a Democratic Congress would pass a cap-and-trade bill, that a Democratic president would lead the international community toward agreement on emissions standards. And so for two years environmentalists cultivated plans that ultimately came to naught.

What comes next? What comes now? It’s clear that looking to Washington for environmental leadership is futile. But looking elsewhere might lead to more fertile ground.

Our new leaders

On Wednesday, the 112th Congress began, and Republicans took over the House. They are not going to tackle environmental legislation. This past election launched a host of climate deniers into office, and even members of Congress inclined to more reasonable environmental views, like Rep. Fred Upton, now chair of the House Energy and Commerce committee, have tacked towards the right. Whereas once Upton recognized the need for action on climate change and reducing carbon emissions, recently he has been pushing back against the Environmental Protection Agency’s impending carbon regulations and questioning whether carbon emissions are a problem at all.

“It’s worth remembering that Upton was once considered among the most moderate members of the GOP on the issue,” writes Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones. “No longer.”

Good riddance

The climate bill is really, truly, dead, and it’s not coming back. But as Dave Roberts and Thomas Pitilli illustrate in Grist’s graphic account of the bill’s demise recalls, by the time it reached the Senate, the bill was already riddled with compromises.

And so perhaps it’s not such bad news that there’s space now to rethink how progressives should approach environmental and energy issues.

“It’s refreshing to shake the Etch-a-Sketch. You get to draw a new picture. The energy debate needs a new picture,” policy analyst Jason Grumet said last month, as Grist reports.

Already, in The Washington Monthly, Jeffrey Leonard, the CEO of the Global Environmental Fund, is pitching an idea that played no part in the discussions of the past two years. He writes:

If President Obama wants to set us on a path to a sustainable energy future—and a green one, too—he should propose a very simple solution to the current mess: eliminate all energy subsidies. Yes, eliminate them all—for oil, coal, gas, nuclear, ethanol, even for wind and solar. … Because wind, solar, and other green energy sources get only the tiniest sliver of the overall subsidy pie, they’ll have a competitive advantage in the long term if all subsidies, including the huge ones for fossil fuels, are eliminated.

No impact? No sweat

Federal policies aren’t the only part of the picture that can be re-drawn. Even as Congress failed to act on climate change, an ever-increasing number of Americans decided to make changes to decrease their impact on the environment.

Colin Beavan committed more dramatically than most: his No Impact Man project required that he switch to a zero-waste life style. This year, he partnered with Yes! Magazine for No Impact Week, which asks participants to engage in an 8-day “carbon cleanse,” in which they try out low-impact living. Yes! is publishing the chronicles of participants’ ups and downs with the experiment: Deb Seymour found it empowering to give up her right to shop; Grace Porter missed her bus stop and had to walk two miles to school; Aran Seaman found a local site where he could compost food scraps.

The long view

Perhaps, for some of the participants, No Impact Week will continue on after eight days. After Seaman participated last year, he gave up his car in favor of biking and public transportation.

On the surface, giving up a convenience like that can seem like a sacrifice. But it needn’t be. Janisse Ray writes in Orion Magazine about her decision to give up plane travel for environmental reasons. Instead, she now travels long distances by train, and that comes with its own pleasures:

Through the long night the train rocks down the rails, stopping in Charleston, Rocky Mount, Richmond, and other marvelous southern places. People get on and off. Across the aisle a woman is traveling with two children I learn are her son, aged twelve, and her granddaughter, ten months. In South Carolina we pick up a woman come from burying her father. He had wanted to go home, she says. She drinks periodically from a small bottle of wine buried in the pocket of her black overcoat. The train is not crowded, and I have two seats to myself.

Our true leaders

Ultimately, though, sweeping environmental changes will require leadership and societal changes. American politicians may have abdicated that responsibility for now, but others are still fighting. In In These Times, Robert Hirschfield writes of Subhas Dutta, who’s building a green movement in India.

“The environmental issue is the issue of today. The political parties, all of them, have let us down,” Dutta says. “We want to be part of the decision-making process on the state and national levels. The struggle for the environment has to be fought politically.”

One person who understood that was Judy Bonds, the anti-mountaintop removal mining activist, who died this week of cancer. Grist, Change.org, and Mother Jones all have remembrances; at Change.org, Phil Aroneanu shared “a beautiful elegy to Judy from her friend and colleague Vernon Haltom:”

I can’t count the number of times someone told me they got involved because they heard Judy speak, either at their university, at a rally, or in a documentary.  Years ago she envisioned a “thousand hillbilly march” in Washington, DC.  In 2010, that dream became a reality as thousands marched on the White House for Appalachia Rising….While we grieve, let’s remember what she said, “Fight harder.”

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Pulse: On Health Care Repeal, House GOP Full of Sound and Fury

Posted Jan 5, 2011 @ 11:32 am by
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Creative Commons, Flickr, Thomas HawkBy Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium blogger

House Republicans will hold a symbolic vote to overturn health care reform on January 12. The bill, which would repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and set the nation’s health care laws back to the way they were last March, has no chance of becoming law. The GOP controls the House, but Democrats control the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid announced that the Senate Democrats will block the bill.

Suzy Khimm of Mother Jones reports that the 2-page House bill carries no price tag. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the ACA would save $143 billion dollars over the next decade. The GOP repeal bill contains no alternative plan. So, repealing the ACA would be tantamount to adding $143 billion to the deficit. So much for fiscal responsibility.

Why are the Republicans rushing to vote on a doomed bill without even bothering to hold hearings, or formulate a counter-proposal for the Congressional Budget Office to score? Kevin Drum of Mother Jones hazards a guess:

[Speaker John] Boehner [(R-OH)] knows two things: (a) he has to schedule a repeal vote because the tea partiers will go into open revolt if he doesn’t, and (b) it’s a dead letter with nothing more than symbolic value. So he’s scheduling a quick vote with no hearings and no CBO scoring just so he can say he’s done it, after which he can move on to other business he actually cares about. (more…)

Weekly Mulch: How to Avoid Fracking and Oil Spills in 2011

Posted Dec 30, 2010 @ 3:07 pm by
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Editor’s Note: We’re posting the Weekly Mulch on Thursday this week because of the holidays. It’ll return to its regular Friday morning posting next week. Until then, Happy New Year!

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

2010 was a disappointing year for environmentalists.

This was the year Congress was supposed to pass climate change legislation, but each and every time Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seemed on the verge of pushing the bill forward, the effort fell short. In April, off the coast of Louisiana, the Deepwater Horizon explosion led to one of the worst environmental disasters in the country’s history, and in the aftermath, neither President Barack Obama nor Congress has pushed for the sort of strong regulations that would rein in the oil industry and the risk it poses to coastal ecosystems.

Meanwhile, a newly invigorated natural gas industry has been plowing forward with a controversial drilling technique called hydrofracking. Although the Environmental Protection Agency has committed to studying the environmental impacts of the practice, it’s unclear at this point how much leeway the industry will be given to use techniques that have contaminated water and air across the country. Author and environmental activist Bill McKibben had trouble convincing the president to take the small symbolic act of reinstalling a solar panel on the White House roof. And in November, the country elected a group of lawmakers who are skeptical that climate change even exists. (more…)