The Skywriter

Weekly roundup 5/7/10: BP's greenwashing, Home Star almost home, and more

7
May

Weekly roundup 5/7/10: BP's greenwashing, Home Star almost home, and more

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By far the biggest environmental and climate story this week has been the unfolding tragedy along the Gulf Coast caused by the explosion of a BP offshore oil rig. Despite ongoing efforts, the oil keeps leaking into the Gulf at a rate of between 210,000 - 1 million gallons a day, depending on whose estimates you believe. As you would expect, the oil spill is affecting the politics of passing (or not) a climate and energy bill this year -- and predictions are all over the place. But even during this grim week, the House of Representatives delivered some good news on energy efficiency.

The ongoing flow of oil into the Gulf has kept BP in the news all week, and virtually all of it has been negative. The week began with Kate Sheppard's thorough exposé of BP's greenwashing campaign in Foreign Policy. It's a useful reminder that 'BP' doens't actually stand for 'Beyond Petroleum' but for 'British Petroleum,' and that the company isn't 'beyond' petroleum at all:

Despite all BP has spent on rebranding, the company hasn't done nearly as much to move "beyond petroleum" as its campaign implies. In fact, BP has been turning away from investments in nonfossil energy, last year cutting investment in alternative sources from $1.4 billion to $1 billion. Weeks before the spill, BP announced that it was shuttering its solar manufacturing plant in Maryland. The company brought in $73 billion in revenue in the first quarter of 2010, but only about $700 million of its business was alternative energy sources like wind and solar.

That's 9%, by the way. Nine percent of BP's revenue in that quarter came from wind, solar, and the like. Not surprising when you consider that BP joined forces with the right-wing Astroturf group that gave us "death panels" during the health care debate to push for more offshore drilling. From Think Progress via Joe Romm:

In a 2007 PowerPoint presentation obtained by ThinkProgress, BP appears to have been interested in fighting to open up protected waters to new offshore drilling. The presentation, organized by the BP-funded front group “Consumer Energy Alliance,” was delivered at the American Gas Association’s marketing meeting in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. The presentation calls for a five-year plan to build grassroots support to open wide swaths of both the East and West coasts to new drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf:

. . . . .

– Slide 14 lists the groups involved in doing grassroots outreach. Under “affiliated groups,” FreedomWorks — a right-wing “grassroots” group that helped plan the tea parties and continues to lobby aggressively against clean energy reform — is listed along with the 60 Plus Association, the American Conservative Union, and others. U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute are some of the trade associations involved. Slide 14 also shows that BP is one of the member companies supporting the campaign.

Apparently BP isn't 'beyond' screwing Gulf residents out of their right to sue the company for the damage it has done to their environment and livelihoods, either:

Alabama Attorney General Troy King said tonight that he has told representatives of BP Plc. that they should stop circulating settlement agreements among coastal Alabamians. The agreements, King said, essentially require that people give up the right to sue in exchange for payment of up to $5,000.

For some amazing in-depth coverage of the Gulf oil spill, I highly recommend the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy's blog and the Gulf Restoration Network's blog. Also worth checking out is this widget from the PBS Newshour that calculates how much oil has been spilled into Gulf waters so far:

So far we've seen some positive moves by Congress and the Administration in response to the oil spill. The President is working with Congress to significantly raise the amount of money that oil companies like BP would have to pay in economic damages in the event of a spill. The liability cap for these disasters is currently a ridiculously low $75 million. Also, the U.S. Department of the Interior has suspended indefinitely the plans for an oil and gas lease sale off the Virginia coastline. But these are all really band-aids that won't cure the root of the problem that led to this BP oil disaster: our addiction to dirty fossil fuels like oil and coal.

As for the climate bill, these two headlines tell you pretty much all you need to know about how the oil spill is affecting the politics of comprehensive climate legislation:

Gulf Coast spill could help Senate pass energy bill -- Reid (05/04/2010)

Climate bill could be harmed by Gulf spill (5/3/2010)

Hopefully that cleared things up.

The truth is we can't predict what the Senate can do. All we can do is state what we know we must do -- pass a bold climate and clean energy bill that will truly move us away from dirty energy and towards a clean energy economy -- and keep fighting for it.

Climate scientists came under attack again this week, this time from Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, who is rapidly developing a reputation as one of the nuttier ones currently in office:

As we reported yesterday, the conservative Virginia attorney general last month demanded that the University of Virginia hand over a slew of documents relating to the grant-funded research of Michael Mann, a climate scientist who worked at UVA from 1999 to 2005. Among the materials requested by May 27 were email correspondence with a long list of other climate scientists, including several who, like Mann, were prominent figures in Climate-Gate.

Cuccinelli has been busy since he took office. Besides going after gay rights, health care reform, and censoring 18th century state symbols, Cuccinelli has sued to block the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases. Dahlia Lithwick at Slate has an excellent article on the danger behind Cuccinelli's move:

But it's not just Mann on the hook here. "With a weapon like this in Cuccinelli's hands, any faculty member at a public university in Virginia has got to be thinking twice about doing politically controversial research or communicating with other scholars about it," says Rachel Levinson, senior counsel with the American Association of University Professors. UVA environmental science professor Howard Epstein, a former colleague of Mann's, puts it this way: "Who is going to want to be on our faculty when they realize Virginia is the state where the A.G. investigates climate scientists?" If researchers are really afraid to do cutting-edge research in Virginia, the state's flagship university is in enormous trouble.

Meanwhile, scientists have decided that they've had enough of being the targets of political attacks -- and they're fighting back. A Siegel at Daily Kos blogs about a letter issued by 225 members of the National Academy of Science (.pdf) and published in Science this month:

Climate Change and the Integrity of Science

We are deeply disturbed by the recent escalation of political assaults on scientists in general and on climate scientists in particular. All citizens should understand some basic scientific facts. There is always some uncertainty associated with scientific conclusions; science never absolutely proves anything. When someone says that society should wait until scientists are absolutely certain before taking any action, it is the same as saying society should never take action. For a problem as potentially catastrophic as climate change, taking no action poses a dangerous risk for our planet.

Finally, some good news. The House approved on Wednesday the Home Star bill by a bipartisan vote of 246-161. Dave Roberts at Grist has all the details, and he focuses on the unprecedented, strange bedfellows-type coalition that backed the bill:

There's a lot to say about the substance of the program (which has been covered on Grist before), but one of the more remarkable aspects of this story is the business and political coalition that came together behind it. The House vote was bipartisan; there are two Republican cosponsors in the Senate (Scott Brown of Massachusetts and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina); there's a huge list of businesses big and small supporting it. Most remarkable, though, is a fact that Bracken Hendricks of the Center for American Progress clued me into yesterday. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers -- two of the most conservative business groups in the country and ardent foes of climate legislation -- not only came out in support of the bill, they made it part of their scorecards.

Says NAM: "The NAM’s Key Vote Advisory Committee has indicated that all votes related to H.R. 5019, including procedural motions, may be considered for designation as Key Manufacturing Votes in the 111th Congress." Says the CoC: "The Chamber urges the House to approve this legislation, and may consider including votes on, or in relation to, this legislation in our annual How They Voted scorecard."

You have to know a little inside-D.C. baseball to appreciate how huge of a deal this is. These groups loathe environmentalists and environmental regulations of every kind. They are some of the fiercest and most effective foes of the environmental lobby. And yet they have joined with the League of Conservation Voters in deeming this a crucial Yes vote! I bet there aren't more than two or three bills in history that could say the same.

So hope springs eternal, even for climate and energy legislation.

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