This week, we gauge reactions to President Obama's comments about climate action in 2011, we look back at a very ineffectual Congress (good and bad), learn why Californians need to defeat Prop 23 this fall, and give a shout-out to this weekend’s One Nation Working Together rally in Washington, D.C.
President Obama gave a Rolling Stone interview on the cusp of midterms elections and raised some hope when he discussed his stance on climate legislation. He told the magazine he will dedicate himself to the issue in 2011, but that it would need to be handled in “chunks”, not as one bill. New York Times Dot Earth blogger Andy Revkin reacted with “”deep skepticism.” Andrew Schenkel at Mother Nature News said stand-alone bills like RES and a cap on smokestacks could be signs of this “chunkiness” already happening. We asked our followers on Twitter and Facebook what they thought -- and got some very mixed reactions. What’s yours?
Congress recessed early this week, leaving a lot of work hanging in the wind until they return from elections. Congress leaving things in the balance certainly isn’t anything new and there is some good and bad to what they did leave in balance.
The good? Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) says Congress won’t act this year to block the Obama administration from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. Senate Republicans invoked Rockefeller’s “Dirty Air Act” on Monday, only to be shot down on the floor (whew!). Politico’s Darren Samuelsohn says this act is likely over for the year:
“A spokesman for Majority Leader Harry Reid declined comment Wednesday when asked if he will follow through with the floor vote commitment, most likely during the lame duck session. Majority Whip Dick Durbin told reporters there was limited time on the calendar after the midterm election.” [another whew!]
The bad? Well, any talk of a renewable Energy Standard (RES) bill is gone as well. Grist’s Randy Rieland says Sen. Lindsey Graham’s (R-SC) introduction of his own RES bill puts a kibosh on Sen. Jeff Bingaman’s (D-NM) own RES bill. Greenwire’s Katie Howell says Bingaman is holding out for 60 votes. But with Sen. Durbin’s announcement of a tight lame-duck schedule, who knows. While 1Sky hasn't taken a stand on any RES bill yet, signs of bipartisan bills on climate is a step in the right direction. We hope.
On Monday, the voices of Appalachian communities devastated by mountaintop removal coal mining (MTR) reverberated through the streets of Washington, D.C. with incredible power. Marking the culmination of the Appalachia Rising mobilization, hundreds of people converged on Freedom Plaza near the White House for a rally and march calling for an end to the horrible practice of MTR. At the march’s end over 100 people were arrested outside the White House in an act of non-violent civil disobedience, showing the commitment of the movement for justice in Appalachia to hold elected officials and the coal industry accountable. Check out the Rainforest Action Network's pictures from the event:
The day’s proceedings were a truly inspiring display of solidarity as students, faith leaders, scientists and concerned citizens from all over the country stood side by side with residents of impacted communities in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky and Tennessee.
Continuing the theme of solidarity, Appalachia Rising also gave a platform to other communities fighting the fossil fuel industry -- from the Little Village Environmental Justice Organization in Chicago working to shut down two toxic coal-fired power plants in Latino communities to Peaceful Uprising in Salt Lake City, working to halt the first proposed tar sands mine in the U.S. Speakers from these organizations and others brilliantly articulated the injustice of the fossil fuel lifecycle, making the connections between the destruction of MTR in Appalachia, the poisoning of local communities when MTR coal is burned, and the global climate crisis. The climate movement must continue to make these connections as we work to hold the fossil fuel industry accountable for its pollution and destruction. Although Appalachia Rising is now over as a mobilization, our work to keep building the movement must continue, guided by the power of solidarity that the people of Appalachia and their allies brought to Washington, DC.
This Saturday, October 2nd, Washington, D.C. will be swarmed by tens of thousands of activists from across the country who are advocating for progressive change in America. The coalition that is putting on One Nation Working Together (ONWT) consists of groups across the progressive spectrum, from labor unions to LBGTQ advocacy groups to immigration organizations and environmental groups.
1Sky is proud to be part of this effort to unite progressive organizations behind pushing for tangible change in politics. Read more about the coalition’s mission here.
Whatever way you’re able to contribute is greatly appreciated. ONWT is an inspiring example of various progressive movements coming together behind a shared vision for change. We need more collaboration like this in the coming months.
With the EPA and Clean Air Act becoming synonymous with action on climate, the agency and the historic law have been adopted as political footballs -- often even punching bags -- for those who oppose climate legislation and other carbon-cutting measures. Lisa Jackson has been more vocal lately, making sure new Clean Air Act regulations are seen as part of the broader tradition of effective clean air programs overseen by the EPA for 40 years. Congress is in town for another week or two with substantive measures unlikely to be considered. Primary election fallout, and midterm speculation continue to dominate the political news cycle as the November elections draw near.
10/8: Target adjournment for the House and Senate
11/2: Election Day
11/15: Beginning of Senate lame duck session (tentative)
EPA Admin Lisa Jackson Goes to Bat for the Clean Air Act
Part of the EPA's proactive Clean Air Act message involves highlighting the historic popularity and economic effectiveness of the Act. Jackson lets the numbers speak for themselves in a recent Huffington Post piece showcasing the cost-effectiveness of the Clean Air Act over time:
The total benefits of the Clean Air Act amount to more than 40 times the costs of regulation. For every one dollar we have spent, we have received more than $40 of benefits in return, making the Clean Air Act one of the most cost-effective things the American people have done for themselves in the last half century.
Amidst the talking point battles raging in the media, more than 400 people from seven states turned out in Chicago last week to support new EPA rules creating common sense public health safeguards to govern toxic coal ash.
RES in the Senate Gives Hope to Clean Energy Advocates
After the elections there is hope that the lame duck Senate can pass a relatively weak stand-alone Renewable Electricity Standard (RES). As of last week the bill has four Republican co-sponsors: Sens. Sam Brownback (R-KS), John Ensign (R-NV), Susan Collins (R-ME), and Chuck Grassley (R-IA). Leadership is trying to keep the bill focused only on the RES to ensure swift passage and avoid political complications. Ideas to amend the RES bill include ethanol tax credits, oil spill liability caps, and even Senator Jay Rockefeller's (D-WV) "Dirty Air Act."
Eyes on the Midterms:
Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert are the subject of much scrutiny lately, given their plans to hold dueling D.C. rallies three days before the election. Some fear that this kind of activity will draw top volunteers away from canvassing operations in key districts, and therefore hurt the Democrats. Others argue that the effect of this kind of stunt will be to mobilize a younger, more apathetic crowd than may otherwise not turn out on Election Day.
The chances of passing energy legislation in the lame duck session of Congress will depend on how three key Senate races turn out. In Illinois, West Virginia, and Delaware, a Republican victory could result in an immediate flip of these Democratically-controlled seats because these are all special elections for seats held by political appointees. Any flips will impact the chances of passing an RES or oil spill bill.
California's Prop 23 presents a key opportunity for climate advocates to beat back industry spin about state climate regulations. Prop 23 needs to be defeated to allow California's landmark AB32 climate law to keep working.
Also, climate advocates the world over are gearing up for a big day of action on 10/10/10. Across the globe people will be hosting work parties as an example for our elected officials, who aren't working as hard as the latest science suggests they should. Here are some great lead-up photos from around the world posted by our friends at 350.org. To find or host a 10/10 event, click here.
Prepared by Policy Coordinator Jason Kowalski. Please direct questions or comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Let's start this week's roundup with the latest on climate science. As Joe Romm tells us, two new independent studies confirm the "hockey sticks" theory of global warming:
The rate of human-driven warming in the last century has exceeded the rate of the underlying natural trend by more than a factor of 10, possibly much more. And warming this century on our current path of unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions is projected to cause a rate of warming that is another factor of 5 or more greater than that of the last century. We are punching the climate beast — and she ain’t happy about it!
The worsening trends of climate science makes it more important than ever that we protect the tools we have at hand to fight climate change. The Clean Air Act is one such took, and EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson took to the Huffington Post recently to celebrate the successes of the Clean Air Act...
Forty years after the passage of the Clean Air Act, it is extraordinary to look at the numbers.
Numbers like 200,000 -- which is the count of premature deaths the Clean Air Act prevented in its first 20 years. Over the same period, the Act prevented 672,000 cases of chronic bronchitis and 21,000 cases of heart disease. It avoided 843,000 asthma attacks and 18 million child respiratory illnesses.
1.7 million is the number of tons of toxic emissions removed from our air every year since 1990. In the last two decades, emissions of six common pollutants dropped 41 percent. Lead in our air is down by 92 percent since 1980.
...and defend it against those who would gut it today:
None of the doomsday predictions have come true -- and there is no reason to believe they will come true as we write the next chapter in the history of the Clean Air Act. It is our time to promote innovation, grow a clean economy, and address the new challenges and the unfinished business of the Act. Those include long-term health threats in the air we breathe, as well as first steps -- like the clean cars program -- in our fight against climate change.
People who know me can tell you I'm a strong-willed activist who thinks and acts decisively and pragmatically. But after an hour of circling these stripped-out circles of land among the trees and hills that make up this beautifully hilly country, seeing truck after truck moving mountains of earth away from these scars, I felt like I could hear the ground screaming in pain. I had seen pictures, but nothing had prepared me for this. As I was driving off in my car, I really wasn't sure if I would be able to stop crying. I felt like I had just witnessed a murder I wasn't able to prevent.
During trip through Appalachia I also met many of the people directly affected by the devastation from MTR. These men and women took me to their homes -- their Kentucky "hollers" -- and talked about the death threats they received from coal companies for speaking out against MTR. These weren't "activists": They were people who came from Appalachian families going back several generations, many of whom worked in the coal mines and were part of the mining community. For them, community and tradition were replaced by health problems caused by contaminated drinking water from coal slurry and homes that had to be abandoned because of cracked foundations due to the blasting. The health threats and pain of a changing landscape were all too real, every day. I think about them often and what they have faced. It makes me realize that we have to stop these companies from destroying the land and these communities.
Since my trip to the Appalachians, my respect for the leaders and groups working to end mountaintop removal has soared. Make no mistake: no one is fighting coal companies on the front lines harder than the fearless anti-mountaintop removal activists in Appalachia. The climate movement can learn a lot from how these anti-MTR activists and groups work together to take a hard stand against Dirty Coal.
This weekend, those alliances come together in Washington, D.C. for Appalachia Rising!, billed as "a national response to the unmitigated destruction of Appalachia's mountains, air and water through mountaintop removal coal mining." The two-day conference this weekend will bring together scores of groups and speakers to discuss mountaintop removal and share stories, followed by a day of action that includes a rally and march in downtown D.C. on Monday, September 27, and a day of lobbying Congress on Tuesday.
This video, cut to a song by Mary Anne Hit of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, features Appalachian natives who are tired of seeing their homes abused and want something better for future generations in Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and the rest of the mountain states. We look forward to Monday's Appalachia Rising! action against MTR with determined resolution. Let's send a message to our leaders that this tearing of the earth must stop.
By 1Sky blogger Nick Santos. See his bio at the end of this post.-- Luis
As a Californian, I thought the broad debate on whether to act on climate change solutions was over in 2006 when the state legislature passed AB 32, California's Global Warming Solutions Act. In 2008, the legislature even passed follow-up legislation that directed specific emissions cuts to come from changes in how we use urban land.
Yet, now I see the most negative portions of the national climate debate back in California. Using our state's powerful and damaging initiative process, opponents of climate change solutions have placed an initiative on the ballet, Prop 23, to repeal AB 32 until unemployment drops below 5.5% for consecutive quarters. California is a state whose monthly unemployment rate in good times, let alone a down economy, tends to ride around 5.5%, so this initiative amounts to nothing more than an effort to kill the bill entirely.
Three things about this initiative get me worked up and angry. First, I see a mirror of the Dirty Air Act efforts in the Senate this last year. Progress has been made on climate change in California and through Clean Air Act requirements nationally, but there are also have major attempts to destroy that progress and the opportunities it presents.
The second, and probably most important thing in my mind, is that this proposition is the pet project of a few wealthy out-of-state donors who don't live in California -- they just stand to make oil money off of it. We're talking here about Valero (upwards of $3.5 million), Tesoro (upwards of $.5 million), a small, Missouri-based foundation ($498,000), Flint Hills Resources (an oil refiner) of Wichita, KS ($1 million), and the recently infamous Koch brothers ($1 million). These companies have given millions of dollars to advance Prop 23 in order to keep their profits flowing at the expense of Californians. On a deep level, that's disgusting to me.
My final major problem with this proposition is that, just like in the debate surrounding EPA's authority under the Clean Air Act, it reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of what carbon reduction does for us and the jobs it can create. As the New York Times writes "The Kochs and their allies are disastrously wrong about the science, which shows that man-made emissions are largely responsible for global warming, and wrong about the economics" (emphasis mine). Maybe that's why California businesses support keeping AB 32 intact. The clean energy jobs sector in California grew 10 times faster than the statewide average since 2005, with the clean technology sector receiving $2.1 billion in investment capital last year.
As a Californian, I want this law. Our state needs it. We have a 12.5% unemployment rate and can't afford to kill one of our most successful sectors through misleading ballot initiatives funded by out of state oil companies. I stand with a broad coalition of groups representing health professionals, economists, environmentalists, and in-state businesses. AB 32 is good for us and Proposition 23 is absolutely toxic. Please support the No on 23 campaign's efforts!
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.
The Clean Air Act continues to come under fire from all angles. Last week, the Senate Appropriations process was nearly hijacked by amendments to de-fund the EPA's Clean Air Act enforcement. Luckily, the markup in question was delayed. Primary drama continues to dominate the political news cycle as the November elections draw closer.
9/13: Congress returns from recess
10/8: Target adjournment for the House and Senate
11/2: Election Day
11/15: Beginning of Senate lame duck session (tentative)
Clean Air Act Dodges a Major Blow in the Appropriations Committee
Last week the Senate Appropriators Committee nearly took a close vote on an amendment to strip the EPA of its Clean Air Act funding. Committee staff said the potential vote was delayed to make room for an amendment from the Obama Administration to increase the budget for offshore drilling regulation by $100 million. In the meantime, representatives from the oil and coal industries led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce worked to drum up support for the "Rockefeller-like" appropriations amendment, which will likely resurface, despite the shifted schedule.
Rockefeller's Dirty Air Act Remains a Threat
The potential partisan amendment in the Appropriations Committee led some Democratic Dirty Air Act co-sponsors to renew their call for a cleaner gutting of the Clean Air Act. Senators Byron Dorgan (D-ND) and Tim Johnson (D-SD) both came out in opposition to the Appropriations amendment, but unfortunately remain set on blocking Clean Air Act rules more directly with legislation before the end of the year.
Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) reported that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) reiterated his promise to hold a vote on the measure this year. "I spoke with Harry again today and he again said, 'You're going to get your vote,'" Rockefeller said. Rockefeller claims he has 53 votes, and that 7 more are "highly gettable." Forty-seven senators supported Senator Lisa Murkowski's (R-AK) attempt to gut the Clean Air Act, which lost in a vote in July. Of the 53 who voted against Murkowski, 5 have co-sponsored Rockefeller's Dirty Air Act, making 52 Senators (47+5) who would likely support Rockefeller's bill.
Midterm Election Update
In the Delaware Republican Senate primary, climate denier and Tea Party candidate Christine O'Donnell came out of obscurity to beat the establishment candidate Rep. Mike Castle. This new development makes it much more likely that the seat will be picked up by a Democrat who supports climate legislation, but it does not bode well for the future of bipartisanship on climate. Castle was the only GOP Senate candidate to support climate legislation. Other Senate candidates like Rep. Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) have backed down from previously strong climate stances in favor of toeing the party line.
Dirty Air Act author Sen. Lisa Murkowski has decided to run as a write-in candidate, after losing to a Palin-endorsed challenger in a recent Senate primary. Challenging the winner of the Republican primary has forced her to step down from her position within the Republican leadership, a move that could be good news for climate advocates. Nate Silver at the New York Times says that she can pick up a solid chunk of the independent vote and win.
By Greg Kimber, a Climate Precinct Captain in Maine. -- Luis
On September 1st, a group of eight friends and I staged a visibility action at the offices of our senators, demanding that they act on the climate crisis and work to protect the Clean Air Act. We delivered letters and stood vigil with signs and banners. In addition to delivering the message directly in the form of 28 hand-delivered letters, we were also able to send a message via the local newspapers. We had contacted the media beforehand, sending out press advisories and following them up with phone calls.
The result: The Morning Sentinelran a front page story, using our action as a starting point for a more in-depth view on the senators’ positions on the issue. Also, our local small town paper ran a front page article using a press release that we had sent in on the evening of the action.
I had never organized something like this before, so it was an interesting learning experience. And, hey, it was even kind of fun! My advice to anyone out there who hasn’t organized much before but is thinking about it would definitely be “go for it!” I’m kind of a shy person, but after the tragedy in the Gulf and a year of Senate inaction, I felt like I had to do something beyond the usual emails and phone calls. It was gratifying to connect with others in my community who shared my concern and to be able to do something together to send a message. And now: On to 10/10/10!
The EPA held one of several hearings on the regulation of coal ash on September 14 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The hearing was being held at a Holiday Inn which is overflowing with folks here to comment on the two proposals EPA has put forth. The EPA is hearing comments on two proposals: one regulating coal ash merely as solid waste under Subtitle D of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA), enforceable only through citizen suits and requiring no state regulation; and the other, more stringent regulation as “special waste” under Subtitle C of RCRA which would allow EPA to regulate and enforce rules.
The room was so packed that this blog entry was being typed from the overflow room set up to allow people who can’t fit in the room to listen to the audio. The crowd appeared to be heavily in favor of strong regulation of coal ash, as evidenced by the number of folks walking around displaying their yellow stickers reading “Protect Families: Clean Up Toxic Coal Ash.”
The day started out with three strong speakers in favor of the Subtitle C option. A resident of Roan County, TN, the location of the TVA coal ash disaster, started the day off arguing the cost of not regulating coal ash, which far outweighs the costs that those opposing the regulations claim will hamper their business. This speaker was followed by the State Director of the North Carolina Chapter of the Sierra Club, a biologist, the Sierra Club’s national coal ash expert, and a private citizen all arguing for Subtitle C. Several speakers from the concrete and other industries argued that regulating it under Subtitle C and would cause a stigma and severely hurt the industry, or that beneficial use, not covered by either of the proposals, should be regulated differently from coal ash disposal.
It was a long day for everyone, but by the makeup of the crowd it was especially long for those arguing for the Subtitle D regulation.