Archive - Oct 2010


October 29th

Weekly roundup 10/29/10: Pre-election edition


Election Day is only 4 days away, and it shows: We're inundated with polls, predictions, and pre-election ads that move further away from civility and credibility the closer we get to November 2nd. What's an exhausted and exasperated climate activist to do?

The answer: Do NOT tune out. This election is critical to the future of climate solutions in this country and, indeed, the world. Our Campaign Director Liz Butler recorded another LizCast today discussing why all of us who care about climate need to vote on Nov. 2:

Liz also published a great blog on Huffington Post today about the unprecedented amount of money that corporations are pouring into this election, and why climate advocates need to show up at the polls to fight back:

Corporations -- led by Big Oil and Dirty Coal -- are trying to buy this election in plain sight. Their front groups are on target to spend more than $300 million to buy the election -- and this is after big polluters have already spent a fortune lobbying Congress, mounting a PR offensive after the BP oil spill, and trying to kill California's Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) with Propositions 23 and 26.

. . . . .

But anger and despair can’t lead to inaction or apathy. Voting still matters for the climate movement.

. . . . .

More importantly, voting is a right that gives voice to your concern about climate change. People in the climate movement -- or anyone who believes in what we’re doing to avert a climate crisis and bring about an energy revolution -- can push back on Big Oil and Dirty Coal by exercising their right to vote.

The climate blogosphere is following this election very closely, looking to answer two questions: how will climate affect the election, and how will the election affect climate? Brad Johnson at the Wonkroom is following House and Senate races where climate champs are locked in tough fights for reelection. In terms of the House:

The Republicans in these races not only stand against comprehensive climate policy, like nearly all the rest of their party, they proudly proclaim that the overwhelming evidence of the threat of greenhouse gas pollution is a “hoax,” a “religion,” and “crap.” The sitting representatives, many in conservative districts, are climate activists who were the swing votes in favor of the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act in 2009, recognizing that our economy and environment are mutually threatened by our dependence on fossil fuels.

As for the Senate:

A Wonk Room analysis finds that there are six key Senate races for climate action, in which a strong vote for climate runs a serious risk of being replaced by a global warming denier. Of the 37 U.S. Senate races this fall, 36 involve Republican candidates who are global warming deniers or oppose climate action (Vermont’s Len Britton is a possible exception). Hard-right Tea Party challenger Christine O’Donnell knocked out climate activist Mike Castle (R-DE) last night, leaving a GOP slate of conspiracy theorists and know-nothings angling for the United States’ highest legislative body.

In addition to these races, there's a push in California to defeat two propositions on the ballot that would severely hurt California's booming clean energy tech industry and deal a blow to our efforts to cut climate pollution across America. You can read more about Prop 23 and Prop 26 on our blog, but if you live in California the most important thing you can do is vote against both of them on November 2. Even the Governator says so:

What would help is if we are now successful in beating back the Texan oil companies, the same players that have been there for decades ruining everything. You know, trying to get rid of our light rail in 45 cities. And so now the important thing is we push back, wipe out Proposition 23. And in doing that, it will be one of the first times in a long time where oil companies — rich people that have polluted the world, who have enriched themselves in doing that — have been pushed back. And it will be that momentum.

Speaking of the Governator, here's an anti-Prop 23 ad featuring Oscar-winning director James "I'm king of the world!" Cameron and his most famous "actor":

Even before the election, climate commentators are already having conversations about where climate goes after a less than fruitful year. Dave Roberts at Grist has been looking for a term for people who care about climate change and clean energy that will bridge the partisan, cultural and other divides that keep them from pulling in the same direction. The winner? Climate Hawks:

First and foremost, it doesn't carry any implications about The Truth. It doesn't say, "I'm right, you're wrong. I'm smarter and more enlightened than you." Instead it evokes a judgment: that the risks of climate change are sufficient to warrant a robust response. By definition, everyone must make such judgments on their own. Rather than being a Manichean choice -- you get it or you're stupid -- it becomes about values, about how hard to fight and how much to sacrifice to defend America and her future. That's the right conversation to be having.

Yes, I'm well aware that "hawk" has militaristic overtones. Trust me, when it comes to matters military I'm a DFH of the old school. But lefties shouldn't be precious. The health of Mother Earth just doesn't move that many people. For better or worse, more Americans respond to evocations of toughness in the face of a threat.

In foreign policy a hawk is someone who, as Donald Rumsfeld used to put it, "leans forward," someone who's not afraid to flex America's considerable muscle, someone who takes a proactive attitude toward gathering dangers. Whatever you think about foreign policy, is that not the appropriate attitude to take toward the climate threat? Does it not evoke a visceral sense of both peril and resolve, the crucial missing elements in America's climate response?

The term is already taking off on The Twitter so it might stick after all. Thoughts?

In other news, looks like the hard work and sacrifice of anti-mountaintop removal (MTR) activists is paying off in a big way:

The rising tide of scientific evidence — and public protest — against mountaintop mining looks set to claim its first major victory. By the end of this year, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is expected to revoke a permit allowing mining company Arch Coal to extract coal from the Appalachian Mountains in West Virginia. This would be the first time a permit for the controversial mining practice, long suspected of causing environmental damage, has been vetoed by the agency.

We still have a long way to go to eradicate this barbaric mining practice, but it's good to see that all this on-the-ground activism is bearing fruit!

Finally, a gratuitous shot at BP because, well, they deserve it, courtesy of South Park (probably NSFW, especially if you work for an oil company or at API).

PS: A couple of snarky guys with TV shows are having a rally this weekend ...might be pretty sane to check it out.

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What's a Florida TV station hiding when it comes to climate? (VIDEOS)

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We need five minutes from our friends in Florida to write a letter to their local newspapers and to the senatorial candidates offices about strange doings at a Orlando television station over some tough questions on climate and our clean energy future (see below).

It's been a fantastic week of action here in Florida, here's the full story:

Last Tuesday: 1Sky held rally outside Ft. Lauderdale debate at Nova Southeastern University on Oct. 19th. (video by 1Sky supporter Juan Carlos Gallo).

Andrea Cuccaro is the 1Sky Florida organizer with Southern Alliance for Clean Energy.
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October 28th

The bad grandfather: Lessons from the Clean Air Act


The Clean Air Act (CAA) was signed into law in 1963 and has since been amended several times. This law requires that all new power plants use the best available technology to reduce pollutants that are a threat to human health. The power industry argued that there was no need to regulate old power plants, since they would be replaced over time with new plants that meet the CAA requirements. The fact that this didn’t happen is both a lesson for how we need to regulate greenhouse gas emissions in the future and an opportunity to quickly begin reducing our emissions in the present.

Soon after passage of the CAA, it was clear that these old plants weren’t going away. To the contrary: Old plants were being “upgraded”, without meeting the requirements of the CAA. That’s why New Source Review was added to the CAA in 1977. If an existing plant was modified such that there were significant increases in emission, then the plant would need to be brought up to the CAA standards and the best available technology for controlling emissions would need to be installed. Routine maintenance is allowed under new source review. During the Clinton administration, a battle royal was waged about the definition of “significant” and “routine”. For the most part power plants have only performed “routine maintenance” since 1977. Still, power from these old plants has increased by operating them more hours each year.

In the 1980s, acid rain was killing lakes and streams in the Northwest; Congress amended the CAA again in 1990 to address this problem. This time their approach included the old plants, forcing them to either clean up their emissions or buy permits. The number of permits would drop over time, driving their cost up until the demand dropped, which happens when a power plant installs sulfur dioxide (SO2) scrubbers or is shut down.

This is a market-based approach, sometimes called cap-and-trade, that the Republicans brought forward and has been very successful in reducing SO2 emissions at a much lower cost than was predicted (which is almost always the case for environmental and safety regulations). The pro-market folks are now deriding the same basic concept for carbon dioxide (CO2).

Andy Silber is a astrophysicist, engineer, project manager, husband, father, and energy activist living in Seattle. Visit Andy's blog on Sustainable West Seattle. The author's opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the 1Sky campaign.
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Why voting matters for the climate movement


Who owns our democracy: Big Business or We the People?

Corporations -- led by Big Oil and Dirty Coal -- are trying to buy this election in plain sight. Their front groups are on target to spend more than $300 million to buy the election -- and this is after big polluters have already spent a fortune lobbying Congress, mounting a PR offensive after the BP oil spill, and trying to kill California's Global Warming Solutions Act (AB 32) with Propositions 23 and 26.

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, there's been an unprecedented amount of outside spending during the 2010 mid-term elections, with a far greater increase in funds from conservative-leaning outside groups. Right-wing groups have spent $169.2 million so far -- up from $19.6 million in the last midterm (increased by a factor of 8.5). Analysis from Center for American Progress notes that more than $68 million of outside political spending is coming from dirty energy industries like Big Oil and coal-heavy electric utilities.

It’s impossible to look past the corporate influence in this election cycle -- brought on by the Supreme Court’s Citizens United ruling -- from big polluters and climate science deniers. It's glaring even at the state level: Out of eight Northeast states with contested governor's races, only Vermont has a race where both candidates affirm climate science. Anti-climate candidates in these key states could roll back the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) or state renewable energy standards.

There’s no sugarcoating the chances for future comprehensive climate policy in the next two years. In fact, we anticipate an all-out attack on the EPA and the Clean Air Act by several House and Senate members.

But anger and despair can’t lead to inaction or apathy. Voting still matters for the climate movement. Why?

  • Recent polling consistently shows an 11-point spread against California Proposition 23. Getting the vote out in California is crucial to defeating both Prop 23 and Prop 26 at the polls and widening a margin that only a month ago favored Big Oil.
  • Climate champions like Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA), Chairman Ed Markey (D-MA), and Senator John Kerry (D-MA) are all committed to pushing for climate-related legislation next year. Waxman told Politico: "I think the issue is becoming more and more serious and people are realizing it, which I hope will increase the pressure on the Congress to take the actions we need to.”
  • Brad Johnson at the Wonk Room outlines 15 House races and six Senate races where climate heroes are running against climate deniers. These are races in which candidates need to hear that climate is still an issue.

More importantly, voting is a right that gives voice to your concern about climate change. People in the climate movement -- or anyone who believes in what we’re doing to avert a climate crisis and bring about an energy revolution -- can push back on Big Oil and Dirty Coal by exercising their right to vote. See you at the polls on Tuesday!

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October 27th

Prop 26: "Stealth Initiative" to Undermine CA's AB32


California’s ballot initiative Proposition 23 has received a tremendous amount of public attention and financial support from both sides over the past few months. Prop 23 would suspend implementation of the state’s AB32 climate change law that seeks to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 1990 levels by 2020 until unemployment falls below 5.5% for four consecutive quarters. Thanks to the large coalition of investors, politicians, and influential figures that have sided with the ‘No on Prop 23' campaign, it appears as though the measure to prevent climate progress in California has little chance of passing.With the majority of Prop 23 funding coming from two Texas-based oil companies, namely Tesoro and Valero, gaining support to reject this blatant effort by out of state big oil to stop carbon regulation has been relatively easy to do.

While the public has been focused on efforts to stop Prop 23, an alternative “stealth initiative”  filed as Proposition 26 has gone practically undetected by comparison. Prop 26 would effectively derail AB32's carbon reduction mechanisms such as the renewable energy standard and cap and trade program by amending “the state constitution to require a two-thirds majority -- rather than the current simple majority -- to enact any regulatory fees by declaring them taxes,” reports The proposition officially named “the Stop the Hidden Taxes Initiative” but commonly referred to as the ”Polluter Protection Act” is being spearheaded by Big Oil, along with tobacco and alcohol companies, to essentially strip away the funding needed to effectively run AB32. Most notably, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) would find it almost impossible to raise the necessary fees needed to implement auctioning, monitoring and reporting systems needed to run an effective cap and trade program if a supermajority vote from the Senate was required.

By Christopher Porto, cross-posted from Carbon Capitalist.
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October 26th

Policy update 10/26/10: One more week

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Next Tuesday's midterm election has major implications for federal climate and energy policy. Many key races will be decide by narrow margins. Polling suggests that the Republicans will pick up seats in both houses, but that only the House of Representatives is likely to change hands. Election Day is next Tuesday, November 2nd.

Climate in the Elections

A number of tightly contested races involve incumbents who support climate legislation and challengers who are emphatically opposed to climate action, or publicly cast doubt on climate science:

  • Climate champion Rep. Tom Perriello (D-VA) is defending his clean energy record in a district that historically favors conservative candidates. Perriello urges voters to look past short-term payoffs to the big picture of economic growth;
  • Arizona long-shot House candidate Jon Hulburd (D) is leading with a clean energy jobs message and catching up in the polls in the conservative 3rd district just north of Phoenix;
  • Democratic Senate candidate Alexi Giannoulias has been criticizing Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL) for flip-flopping on his climate vote. Kirk supported the climate bill in the House, but then signed a pledge promising to oppose future climate legislation in order to win over an endorsement from Sarah Palin;
  • Senator Michael Bennett (D-CO) is using Ken Buck's (R) statements about the uncertainty of climate science to illustrate how far from the mainstream his opposition is.

In every Senate race but one, Republican challengers are self-identified climate science deniers (all except Rep. Kirk in IL). Brad Johnson at the Wonk Room has compiled a list of key climate House and Senate races to watch.

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October 22nd

America flunks Climate 101


It should come as no surprise to the readers of this blog that education is a cornerstone of building a movement and, ultimately, getting strong action taken on an issue like climate change. Educating decision makers is extremely important, but with so much disinformation flying around, we also need to ensure that voters understand the problem more than adequately as well so they can hold their decision-makers accountable.

It seems that we lack that understanding though. A full 52 percent of Americans would flunk a (admittedly difficult) test on climate change. The full study from Yale also reveals that only 1 percent of Americans would receive an A. And climate change won't curve the test, I promise you. The full study, with an excellent executive summary, is worth looking over.

Some of the more interesting nuggets for me, as someone whose day job is climate change education (and who wants to see Congress address the issue immediately, or better yet, yesterday), involve our concept of what causes global warming. While 66% of Americans understand the greenhouse effect in concept, only 45% seem to understand that carbon dioxide traps heat. To  me, that's a major problem that a full majority of the United States doesn't understand the mechanism by which the Earth is warming. In fact, majorities of Americans believe that almost every other atmospheric problem we have, from the hole in the ozone layer to acid rain and aerosols (and, interestingly, the space program), causes global warming.

Nick Santos is a former 1Sky policy fellow and now works with The Environmental Consumer in California. The author's opinions do not necessarily reflect those of the 1Sky campaign.
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October 20th

Prop 23: An slick bid to kill green jobs


The title of Proposition 23 on California's November 2nd ballot reads: "Suspends Implementation of Air Pollution Control Law (AB 32) Requiring Major Sources of Emissions to Report and Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions that Cause Global Warming Until Unemployment Drops to 5.5 Percent or Less for Full Year."

Wow ... that makes it pretty clear what Proposition 23 does without reading the entire text. The proposition would essentially kill AB 32, California's Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 because there is little chance that the unemployment rate will drop below 5.5% for a full year any time soon. With the urgent imperative to begin reducing greenhouse gas emissions to avert climate catastrophe, killing -- or even delaying -- the implementation of AB 32 emission reduction targets is the last thing we want.

The proponents of Proposition 23 claim that jobs will be lost as a result of implementing AB 32. In fact, California has proven exactly the opposite to be true: the number of clean energy businesses and clean energy jobs has increased in California 45% and 36%, respectively, in the period between 1995-2008. This rate of growth is 10 times more than the state's average job growth rate.

Proposition 23 threatens California's more than 12,000 clean energy businesses and 500,000 people who are employed in clean energy occupations. With over $9 billion in venture capital funds, California's clean energy firms have received 60% of venture capital funds in North America. With these facts, one wonders why such a proposition is even on the ballot.

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October 19th

Policy update 10/19/10: Midterms 15 days away


In 14 days, the entire House and one-third of the Senate are up for reelection. As a result of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision, dirty money from big polluters is having a major effect on this year's elections. While big polluters attack climate champions with ads, new polling from NRDC suggests that voters are more likely to support candidates who voted in favor of the climate bill than those who did not. Last week The Obama Administration caved to pressure from Big Oil by lifting the deepwater drilling moratorium, but also took a step forward by cracking down on a massive new mountaintop removal coal mining project.

Dirty Money in the Election:

With large donors able to contribute unlimited amounts of money anonymously in this year's election, large PACs (Political Action Committees) have formed recently to campaign on behalf of specific candidates. Candidate contribution limits do not apply to these new 'super PACs' so long as they don't "coordinate" with candidates for elected office.

One example of a new super PAC is Alaskans Standing Together, which has spent $600,000 on ads this week on behalf of Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), over twice what her campaign has spent. According to a former adviser to presidential candidate Senator John McCain (R-AZ), "these new 'Super PACs' have opened the door to the clearest, easiest way to spend unlimited funds on an election . . .This is pretty much the holy grail that people have been looking for."

Video from fall 2009 shows oil billionaire David Koch (pronounced 'coke') presiding over an Americans for Prosperity (AFP) strategy meeting, where paid organizers, funded by Koch himself, list how many tea party rallies they were responsible for organizing. In the past Koch and his spokespeople have denied his involvement with the tea party, but this footage shows his intimate connection with the organizational structure of the "astroturf" portion of the tea party movement.

How will the House Climate Vote affect Candidates?

The unprecedented influx of money into the November election is taking its toll on many candidates who voted in support of climate action in the House last year. Conventional wisdom in an election would suggest that taking votes in support of President Obama's legislative agenda is what is hurting vulnerable Democrats, but new polling data from NRDC suggests otherwise on the climate bill specifically.

Voters prefer candidates who voted in favor of a climate bill by an average spread of almost 20% in 21 of nation's most competitive congressional districts: Jerry McNerney (CA); Betsy Markey (CO); Alan Boyd (FL); Suzanne Kosmas (FL); Alan Grayson (FL); Leonard Boswell (IA); Debbie Halvorsen (IL); Phil Hare (IL); Frank Kratovil (MD); Mark Schauer (MI); Carol Shea-Porter (NH); Dina Titus (NV); John Hall (NY); Steve Driehaus (OH); Mary Jo Kilroy (OH); John Boccieri (OH); Paul Kanjorski (OH); Patrick Murphy (PA); John Spratt (SC); Tom Perriello (VA) and Steve Kagan (WI).

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EPA Authority Tackles Big Coal and MTR


Just two weeks ago, many groups like 1Sky joined the Appalachia Rising! rally in Washington, D.C. to call for an end to mountaintop removal mining. Last week, a big announcement related to mountaintop removal mining in coal country showed again why we need EPA authority to protect our air, land, and water in the absence of real clean energy legislation from Congress.

The EPA announced that the agency recommended a withdrawal of the Clean Water Act permit for the Spruce Fork No. 1 mine in Logan County, West Virginia. The agency's press release stated,

The Spruce mine is one of the largest mountaintop removal mines ever proposed in Central Appalachia, and would result in the destruction of 2,278 acres of temperate rainforest and the burying of 7.5 miles of streams in the Spruce Fork sub-watershed."

The EPA also says of the mine on its website:

The EPA has reason to believe that the Spruce No. 1 Mine, as currently authorized, could result in unacceptable adverse effects to fish and wildlife resources."

Mountaintop removal opponents like the ILoveMountains coalition praised last week's recommendation, but also called on their supporters to ask their senators to sponsor the Appalachia Restoration Act (S. 696), an important bill to sharply reduce mountaintop removal coal mining and protect clean drinking water:

While this news is great for the communities adjacent to the mine, there are hundreds of similar communities being polluted and poisoned every day by other mountaintop removal mining operations.

It's just one step, but a welcome one. We're amazed to see so much coming out of the EPA this year, but it's happened in the absence of new, comprehensive legislation to tackle these issues. Without these kinds of EPA rulings and recommendations under the authority of laws like the Clean Air Act or Clean Water Act, there are few laws we have in place to stop Dirty Coal and protect our families and resources.

But coal has a lot of resources to fight back. The recent attacks on the Clean Air Act in the Senate and House make it too obvious that coal is out to end any regulation that stops their dirty energy practices and it shows how much money they funnel towards Congress to keep them up. Last week's announcement was another step in the right direction from the EPA, one we're hoping Congress will follow.

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