Ignorance Rages at CPAC

The annual Conservative Political Action Conference is taking place this week. Billed as the largest gathering of conservatives in the nation, it is known for giving participants a chance to kick the tires of potential presidential candidates.

This year is no exception. The list of confirmed speakers reads like a primary ballot for 2012 or 2016, including Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, John Thune, Tim Pawlenty, Ron Johnson, John Barasso, and Rick Santorum.

When I read through these names, I realized that every single likely candidate in the early GOP field is claiming to believe that climate change does not exist or opposes doing anything about it. Climate denying has become a litmus test to the far right wing of the Republican Party – what a sad commentary when there is a tacit requirement for someone to REJECT SCIENCE in order to even be in the running to win the nomination.

Take Senator John Thune of South Dakota.  When asked his view on climate science, he said, “I guess the answer to the question is I’m not sure. I think there’s a real mix of data on that.” Representative Ron Johnson of Wisconsin goes farther. He claims that record spikes in temperature are the result of “sunspot activity” – an idea that scientists have checked and explicitly rejected.

And that’s just two CPAC speakers. The entire conference seems dedicated to walking America backwards.
Most of the conference speakers decried the comprehensive clean energy and climate bill that Congress abandoned last year.  It would have unleashed technological innovation and generated nearly 2 million jobs. Representative Michelle Bachman urged the people of Minnesota to be “armed and dangerous over this issue.” And most of them have spoken out against the EPA’s efforts to make our air safer by reducing carbon pollution. Newt Gingrich wants to abolish the agency altogether, while his fellow CPAC speaker Senator Barasso introduced a bill that would, in effect, prevent states and every federal agency from doing anything at all based on concern about climate change. That goes even further than Senator Jim Inhofe’s bill that would block EPA from limiting carbon dioxide emissions.  Inhofe – who infamously called climate change a “hoax” – has been joined in his effort by Representative Fred Upton of Michigan, the former moderate who chairs the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee.
This position may generate applause lines at CPAC, but it is out of step with what Americans want. According to a new poll  done by Opinion Research Corporation for NRDC, almost two-thirds of Americans (63 percent) say “the EPA needs to do more to hold polluters accountable and protect the air and water.”

The folks at CPAC fail to see how cleaner air and climate solutions will take America into the future. Instead of embracing sustainable energy resources, they prefer burning black rocks like we’ve done since the 19th century. Instead of putting American companies at the forefront of the 21st century global marketplace, they prefer to keep us addicted to ever diminishing supplies of oil.
This U-turn into the past will put America in a dangerous position. Over the past 12 months, we have witnessed devastating floods in Pakistan that further destabilized an already precarious nation, we have watched Russia endure a punishing drought that economist Paul Krugman linked to both climate change and rising food prices, and we have seen Australians battle a flood that submerged an area the size of Germany and France combined. We can’t tie any single weather occurrence to climate change, but scientists have repeatedly stated that more severe weather events are a hallmark of what human beings are doing to the climate.

CPAC speakers like to pretend climate change doesn’t exist, but what the facts on the ground reveal are impossible to ignore. And the GOP can continue to build its house of cards on a bunch of deniers, but most Americans want to build a safer, more sustainable future.

This blog was originally posted in NRDC’s Action Fund blog, The Mark Up.



We Must Put Out Newt Gingrich’s Wildfire Before It Starts

Newt Gingrich is at it again.  In an attempt to “one up” his fellow Tea-Party political climbers, “Contract on America” (COA) Newt has declared that Congress should abolish the EPA.  Actually, maybe I am not being fair.  He wants to disband the agency, ripping out the “protection” part of the EPA’s mission, and replace it with a shiny new teeny-tiny organization that is going to work closely with corporate polluters.  COA Newt wants the new entity to focus on science (that he doesn’t seem to believe in) and technology (that he wants to cut spending for).  What hypocrisy!  He goes on to point out his belief that “the EPA is basically opposing things.”  You mean, things like dirty air, COA Newt?  I am pretty happy that their goal is still protection.  I just wish we had an agency that could protect us from these kinds of ridiculous ideas.

The Environmental PROTECTION Agency PROTECTS my family.  The fundamental laws it enforces keep our water drinkable, swimmable, and fishable.  EPA has reduced the number of asthma visits to emergency rooms by our kids (and still has a ways to go).  EPA provides small communities low-interest loans to update their sewers and water infrastructure.  EPA cleans up toxic waste dumps when the corporate polluters (you know, the ones COA New wants to partner with) abandon them – leaving communities  — often the poorest — in crisis.  COA Newt might want to paint EPA scientists as a bunch of bureaucratic tree huggers but make no mistake – this agency is all about the health of your family.

In the past, I would have just ignored this blather as another wild idea from New, like when he proposed essentially eliminating the State Department. But, the truth is we can’t ignore this because these ridiculous ideas have been treated seriously lately as they are repeated to the Tea-Party radio listeners and echoed on Fox Network as somehow valid.

We need to talk about how radical, dangerous and out-of-the-mainstream this idea is at every opportunity.  We must tell the other parents at daycare pickup.  We must mock this idea on Facebook, Twitter, under our email signatures.  You get the idea.  One can no longer assume that outlandish suggestions by disgraced politicians will just die of their own weight.  We need to explain why they’re counter to the public interest – to your families.  Making our case is easy to do, but we have to do it.

We need to put out this wildfire before it starts.

The blog was first posted in NRDC’s Action Fund blog, The Mark.

Weekly Mulch: How the Status Quo Benefits Natural Gas Companies

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

There won’t be any national or international movement on climate policy for the rest of this year, at the very least. And while Washington waits to act on climate change, at least one group is benefiting. The natural gas industry is flourishing, despite reports that its practices lead to flammable tap water, poisoned aquifers, and multiple health problems.

Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), who is emerging as a new leader in Congress on these issues, said this week that a comprehensive climate bill had little chance of passing through the Senate in the next two years. Furthermore, the expectations for the next round of international climate negotiations, to be held this winter in Cancun, are abysmally low, as Inter Press Service reports.

Say no to the status quo

In the past, the volatility of gas prices limited the industry’s share of the energy market, but now, hydrofracking techniques guarantee a more steady supply, meaning steadier prices. It helps that green leaders have talked up natural gas as a clean energy source.

Natural gas does emit less carbon than coal, but the process of extracting it through hydrofracking—pushing chemical-laden water into the ground to create cracks and allow gas to bubble up to the surface—has serious environmental impacts.

Sandra Steingraber, in Orion Magazine, calls the rise of hydrofracking “the environmental issue of our time.” Environmentalists based support for natural gas production on the premise that natural gas would serve as a “bridge fuel” while renewable energy infrastructure grew enough to provide much of the country’s fuel needs. But without stronger support from Washington for renewables, that bridge may never reach the other side.

The high cost of hydrofracking

The alliance between the environmental movement and the natural gas industry has always been uneasy. Both sides regard each other suspiciously. As evidence mounts that hydrofracking pollutes air and water, posing health risks, the worries of local environmentalists are beginning to outweigh the advantages of gas.

“Fracking is linked to every part of the environmental crisis—from radiation exposure to habitat loss—and contravenes every principle of environmental thinking,” Steingraber writes in Orion. “It’s the tornado on the horizon that is poised to wreck ongoing efforts to create green economies, local agriculture, investments in renewable energy, and the ability to ride your bike along country roads.”

On the ground, fracking is frightening, as Kate Sinding, an attorney with the National Resources Defense Council told Change.org’s Jess Leber.

“Drinking water wells are being contaminated, livestock are being poisoned, explosions are occurring when methane has gotten backed up inside a drinking water well after the underground water supply became contaminated,” Sinding said.

Facing down gas companies

Steingraber argues that these effects—the true impact of natural gas extraction—should be factored into the cost of gas and that the public health implications deserve the benefit of the doubt. Even weighed against a lower level of carbon emissions, these considerations make gas look much more like a bridge to nowhere.

In New York, the state government is trying to reign in the industry, Sinding says. “Culturally and politically, I think New Yorkers may be more skeptical about a new heavy industry coming in,” she told Leber. While the promise of jobs is as tempting in New York as it is in places like Pennsylvania and Wyoming that had rushed ahead with fracking, New Yorkers are seeing, Sinding says, that “now residents still face the same problems as they did before, but now, in addition, also can’t drink their water.”

Outside of New York, there are other initiatives that could slow the momentum behind fracking.  The Nation’s Peter Rothberg suggests supporting United for Action, a group that’s fighting the practice, or pushing congressional reps to support the FRAC Act, which would increase regulation of the fracking process. (FRAC stands for Fracturing Responsibility and Awareness of Chemicals.)

Fracking and flammable tap water

Fracking can pollute water supplies, as the flammable tap water in fracking areas demonstrates. But the process also demands huge volumes of water as a matter of course. Fracking companies mix chemicals into the water and use it to keep the cracks in the earth open in order to access gas.

But fracking isn’t the only water-guzzling energy process. Keith Schneider, speaking for a network of journalists and scientists called Circle of Blue, told Inter Press Service that “the competition for water at every stage of the mining, processing, production, shipping and use of energy is growing more fierce, more complex and much more difficult to resolve.”

More than 200 billion gallons of water go to cooling power plants each day. Harvesting solar energy also demands huge quantities of water.

As water resources grow scarcer, this demand could drive huge conflicts, both internationally, and in the United States. As Making Contact reports, in Michigan, lawmakers are weighing the idea of putting water resources into a public trust, but already the ecological arguments for that idea and the economic arguments against it are clashing. Imagine how much harder it will be to divvy up water if energy companies got involved.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment bymembers 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 AuditThe Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.



Coal Barons Meeting Today in Hopes of Ending All Climate Debate for a Generation

-Bumped from the diaries. -Nathan

Today, a bunch of coal executives are congregating for the West Virginia Coal Association annual meeting at the luxurious Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, WV. One of the primary things they will discuss is the formation of a 527 to take outcandidates who may support a climate change bill. As Roger Nicholson of the International Coal Groupalluded, the coal barons are psyched that they will FINALLY get their voices heard thanks to the Supreme Court's Citizen's United ruling that basically allows them to buy Congressional seats

This kind of news just makes me sick - especially since these are the guys who have scarred WV's landand abused her people. We don't need to wonder what is driving some Senators to oppose popular legislation that would, in one fell swoop, create millions of jobs, strengthen U.S. national security, defund unsavory regimes and protect our environment from earth-scorching carbon pollution. Follow the money.

Clean energy and climate legislation didn't make it through the U.S. Senate this summer, despite the overwhelming scientific and economic evidence, and despite the fact that there almost certainly were more than 50 (aka, a "majority" of) Senators willing to vote for such legislation. First and foremost among those reasons, of course, was the near-unanimous opposition by Republicans to move ahead in this area. In addition, there were several Democrats, mostly from states with coal interests, who were probable "no" votes - and the money helps paint the picture about why.

As the Natural Resources Defense Council's Pete Altman points out, "Next time someone asks why climate legislation is so difficult to move forward, point them this way. Peabody Energy and Arch Coal are prime examples of how narrow special interests can operate in stealth mode to deny climate science and to put the brakes on climate legislation." How do Peabody and Arch buy influence in Washington, DC? Very simple - money. Lots and lots of money funneled into influencing policy and policymakers. For instance:

-- "In 2008 and 2009, Arch Coal ($3.04 million) and Peabody Coal ($14.2 million) spent a combined $17.9 million in direct federal lobbying on energy, environmental and other matters."

-- "The two companies contributed $5 million each to the budget of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity ("ACCCE") in 2008, and presumably have continued to keep their memberships current with contributions in 2009 and 2010."

According to Open Secrets, in 2010 alone Arch Coal has donated $39,500 to Democratic members of Congress and $88,000 to Republican members of Congress. For its part, Peabody Coal has contributed $53,400 to Democrats and $45,400 to Republicans.

I could go on all day about the money flowing to Congress from corporations and PACs with an interest in killing clean energy and climate legislation, but I'm sure you get the picture by now. Despite the overwhelming benefits this legislation would bring to the vast majority of Americans, as well as to the U.S. economy and our national security, a few wealthy companies, driven by nothing more than greed, have spent lavishly to make sure none of this happens. And so far, they've succeeded. The question is: will we let them continue to do so? Personally, my answer is no way!

Disturbing Oil Spill Pictures, Disturbing Oil Spill Quotes

The Natural Resources Defence Council (NRDC) put together this short video juxtaposing images from the oil spill with quotes from BP CEO Tony Hayward. It tells the stories of wildlife devestation and BP's lies about as well as anything else you'll see.


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