Weekly Mulch: Can Clean Energy Curb Climate Change? Probably Not.

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

During the State of the Union address earlier this week, President Barack Obama spoke at length about clean energy, with nary a mention of climate change. This is the new environment in which America’s energy policy is being made.

Just two years ago, Democrats were rallying to combat climate change, one of the most worrying challenges the country faces. But now, Obama has apparently given up his plan to openly fight climate change during his presidency. It’s hard to imagine how, even in a second term, he would choose to re-fight the lost battle to create a cap-and-trade system.

The Obama Administration has instead resorted to a sort of insurgent strategy. Instead of waging an all-out battle against energy interests, the U.S. government will try to chip away at the edges of the industry’s power and rally citizens’ allegiances to a new flag, that of “clean energy.”

Climate bill’s absence is smothering clean energy

Since Washington hasn’t succeeded at tackling climate change head on, Obama’s new strategy is to attack the problem obliquely by promoting innovation in clean energy and setting goals for the use of technologies like electric cars. But can clean energy efforts and innovations thrive in the absence of a wholesale climate policy? When a climate bill was still a possibility, clean energy entrepreneurs were promising substantial investments in the sector, if only Congress could give them a framework. And as Monica Potts explains at The American Prospect, in the absence of a climate bill, clean energy has flagged:

What’s been problematic about the president’s approach up to now is that, despite his efforts to pump funding into the clean-energy sector, as he did with about $90 billion of the stimulus, renewable energy hasn’t taken off. Obama had a line in his speech that summed up why this is so: “Now, clean-energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean-energy jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they’re selling.”

Short on influence

It’s possible that clean energy investors will take the President’s new promise as incentive enough to push forward. But, they will also have to consider the influence of the newly empowered Republicans. Mother JonesKate Sheppard isn’t convinced that the president’s new tactic will stick:

“There are plenty of people—and most of them happen to be Republicans—who don’t think that policies to support clean energy are worthwhile and who will oppose any attempt to move away from them,” she wrote. “Meanwhile, this latest iteration of the Obama climate and energy plan includes few of the driving forces that would actually make renewables cost-competitive in the near future and allow renewables to compete (the big one being, of course, a price on carbon pollution).”

When “clean” energy includes coal

Another weak point in the President’s new strategy is his reliance on the vague idea of clean energy, which becomes dirtier the more it is used. As Sheppard writes, “Environmental groups weren’t all that excited about the inclusion of “clean coal” and nuclear in that mix, but that’s pretty broadly expected as the price one must pay to draw broader support for a clean energy standard.”

Another key source of clean energy is natural gas. In Washington, it’s become a given that natural gas, which releases less carbon when burned than coal or oil, will help the country transition away from its high-carbon diet and be phased out as energy sources like solar and wind become more viable. (The natural gas industry, of course, doesn’t see its role as transitional. It’s playing for keeps.)

And while some places are rightly celebrating the freedom that natural gas gives them from coal—as Care2’s Beth Buczynski reports, Penn State is investing $35 million to convert its coal-fired power plant to natural gas over the next three years—other places are bearing the environmental toll of this new, clean fuel. In North Carolina, for instance, hydrofracking, the controversial technique that natural gas companies have been using to extract the gas from shale, is not even legal, but already environmental groups are having to fight efforts from energy companies to buy up potentially gas-rich properties, Public News Service reports.

A poverty of political capital

The president’s new strategy on clean energy will surely succeed at turning current energy economy slowly towards a new path. In the absence of any overarching strategy to fix the country’s energy problems, it’s going to have to be good enough. But ultimately, this sort of tactic, born out of a poverty of political capital, cannot move fast enough to keep energy companies from scouring the earth for more profits doing what they’ve been doing.

That means that there will be more scenes like the one in Kern County, California, where companies are dredging up the last resources of oils from the tar sands. In Orion Magazine, Jeremy Miller writes:

The land also reveals the Frankensteinian scars and machinery necessary to keep up that level of production. Gas flares glow on hillsides. Nodding donkeys lever over thousands of wells, some of which are spaced fewer than a hundred feet apart. Between the wells and imposing cogeneration power plants—which supply energy and steam to the senescent fields—run wild tangles of pipe. These are the conduits of an elaborate industrial life-support system, breathing in steam and carrying away oil.

Will the president’s new strategy prevent the creation of more landscapes like this one? It seems overly optimistic to hope so.

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.

 

 

What Would a Repub Congress Investigate?

The DCCC sent out a fundraising e-mail earlier this week in Speaker Pelosi’s name trying to use GOP subpoena power as a rallying cry for Democrats. With the subject line “Endless Investigations,” Pelosi said, “They will bring back the days of Ken Starr and the politics of personal destruction, including endless investigations against President Obama, while continuing to put corporate special interests first.”

I rolled my eyes when I saw this on Wednesday, remembering 2006 when we liked the idea of Congress investigating the White House. Granted, Obama is no Bush and Axelrod is no Rove, but it still struck me as hypocritical to call the very thing we campaigned on in 2006 the end of the world. Until just now when I saw this – Bill Randall, Repub candidate in NC-13, suggested that BP and the government teamed up to cause the oil spill on purpose, and that subpoenas should be issued: "Now, I’m not necessarily a conspiracy person, and I do not think enough investigation has been done on this… Personally I feel there's a possibility that there was some sort of collusion... I'm not saying there necessarily is, but I think that there are enough facts on the table for people that are really need to do so to do some investigative research and find out what went on with that and subpoenaing, getting a subpoena of records and everything else.”

Granted, this happened June 16, an eternity in blog time - my bad for missing it at the time (blame travel). But it's gained new life since then given than Randall won his June 22 runoff and is now the GOP's official nominee.

This is what the Repub Party stands for now? And I thought Rand Paul was crazy. CNN’s Carl Sanchez aptly compares this to the 9/11 “Truthers.” All the more reason to support progressive candidates and avoid a GOP takeover. Randall's oponent, btw, is Rep. Brad Miller. Charlie Cook rates this race as a "solid D", thank God, but Randall's kooky ilk do stand chances to win in places like KY-SEN and NV-SEN.

NC-Sen: Marshall wins runoff, will face Burr

North Carolina Secretary of State Elaine Marshall has won today's runoff Democratic primary for U.S. Senate. With most of the votes counted, Marshall leads Cal Cunningham by 60 percent to 40 percent. Marshall will face first-term incumbent Richard Burr, whose approval ratings have long been anemic.

I'll never understand why the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee intervened on behalf of Cunningham in this race. Since the campaign began, Marshall has polled better against Burr than Cunningham. In fact, Tom Jensen, director of North Carolina-based Public Policy Polling, noted today,

Marshall is looking considerably more competitive against Richard Burr at this point in the election cycle than Kay Hagan did against Elizabeth Dole two years ago. Our most recent poll found Marshall down 46-39 to Burr. In late June of 2008 Dole led Hagan 51-37 in our polling. Certainly the 2010 election cycle is not shaping up as positively for Democrats as the 2008 one did. But Burr's approval numbers are weaker than Dole's were, his lead in the race at this point is smaller than Dole's was, and the fact that he is easily the most endangered Republican incumbent in the country should ensure this race gets a lot of national money poured into it. Burr is favored to win but it will be close, and Democratic voters ensured that today with their votes for Marshall.

A win for Democrats in North Carolina would virtually eliminate any chance the GOP has of retaking the Senate this November. At the very least, the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee will now have to spend precious resources on defense here.

UPDATE: Ed Kilgore reports on the other North Carolina primary election results.

Doing the right thing can get you deported

From the Restore Fairness blog.

When Abel Moreno made a call to 911 to report a police officer assaulting his girlfriend, he had no idea of the consequences of his actions. He now faces deportation for reporting a crime he witnessed.

It all began with a traffic stop in Charlotte, North Carolina. Officer Marcus Jackson stopped Abel Moreno and his girlfriend and allegedly fondled the young woman. Moreno, 29, responded by calling 911 to report it, at which point the police officer ordered him to end the phone call and arrested Abel and his girlfriend for “resisting arrest.” This charge was soon dropped after investigators found it to be false. However, because the Mecklenburg County Sheriff’s Office which is in charge of the county jail where Abel Moreno was held is one of the 67 local law enforcement agencies in the country that participates in agreements with immigration to enforce immigration law, Abel now faces deportation by the end of the year. Following Abel’s charge of assault against Officer Jackson, five other women came forward saying that he had tried to assault them as well, leading to an investigation that resulted in Officer Jackson being fired from the police department and facing 11 counts of “sexual battery, extortion and interfering with emergency communication.”

Despite the police acknowledging that Abel should not have been arrested and that his call helped them uncover serious wrongdoings committed by of one of their officers, Abel faces deportation. A judge gave him six months deferment on his deportation only because he is a witness to a criminal investigation. By responding to Moreno’s courageous act by putting him in deportation proceedings, the system seems to be working against itself, setting an example that creates fear among the community, discouraging people from coming forward and doing the right thing.

Abel Moreno’s case is emblematic of the problem that lies at the core of the flawed 287(g) program. The program, managed by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE), allows for agreements with local law enforcement to enforce immigration law and detain suspected immigrants for deportation. Countless examples have showed that the program, while intended to focus on Level 1 offenders who are guilty of serious crimes, targets a large proportion of people stopped for minor offenses, or none at all, as in the case of Abel. This has resulted in a grave misdirection of resources as well as allowing for a situation where local police are unable to do justice to their primary job – that of ensuring the safety of the community – because the community does not trust their local law enforcement.

In spite of the Department of Homeland Security’s own critique of the 287(g) program, cities are continuing to sign on to it, and incidents such as Moreno’s continue to take place. Arizona’s new draconian anti-immigrant law which a number of state legislatures including North Carolina are planning to adopt is simply a step further in this mismanaged, flawed system of immigration enforcement that allows badly supervised and inefficient partnerships between federal immigration and local police that often result in blatant racial profiling. Unfortunately, in addition to expanding the 287(g) program, the Obama administration has also come up short in another aspect of immigration enforcement – raids.

Early on in his presidency, President Obama had expressed distaste for the Bush administration’s large-scale worksite raids which he critiqued for terrorizing communities and tearing families apart. While these militarized raids of the Bush era have ceased, enforcement continues to rise with no comprehensive immigration reform policy in sight. ICE’s actions over the past year indicate that even their “softer” enforcement policy that is meant to target employers rather than workers ends up hurting workers the hardest. In a recent case, federal immigration authorities went through the personnel records of workers at ABM, a large building service company, and pressurized the company into firing hundreds of its workers. Considering that these workers were unionized and being given adequate pay with benefits, it seems to go against ICE’s Worksite Enforcement Advisory that claims to go against “unscrupulous employers (who) are likely to pay illegal workers substandard wages or force them to endure intolerable working conditions.” An article about this case holds that-

Curing intolerable conditions by firing or deporting workers who endure them doesn’t help the workers or change the conditions, however. And despite Obama’s contention that sanctions enforcement will punish those employers who exploit immigrants, employers are rewarded for cooperating with ICE by being immunized from prosecution.

With President Obama’s decision to send troops to secure the border, concrete evidence about the rapid increase in deportations, more and more cases of people like Abel Moreno being persecuted for being contributing members of society, and electronic raids like the one above, there is no doubt about the fact that the current administration has pushed the throttle on immigration enforcement while doing little to ease the legislative stalemate on reform.

On a more positive note however, the three amendments brought to the Senate yesterday regarding increased enforcement, detention and border security were all shot down by Democrats who suggested that the additional resources pledged by President Obama were sufficient for the moment. It is heartening to know that the call to action to urge Senators against the amendment generated 25,000 phones and faxes, an effort that no doubt played a role in them being defeated through collective voices of dissent.

Photo courtesy of msnbc.com

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NC-Sen: Ken Lewis endorses Elaine Marshall

Elaine Marshall picked up a big endorsement yesterday in her campaign for the U.S. Senate from Ken Lewis:

Lewis said he was particularly impressed with the conviction and courage shown by Marshall, North Carolina's secretary of state, even as Democratic officials in Washington put their support behind the other remaining candidate, Cal Cunningham. He praised Marshall for her ability to organize grass roots support and to appeal to a broad range of voters.

"I believe that to win this fall, Democrats will have to do both," Lewis said, as Marshall and her supporters stood nearby. "And Secretary Marshall provides us with a demonstrably stronger opportunity to do just that." [...]

Lewis said during Wednesday's news conference that he has since [March] had more conversations with Marshall and believes she will be able to lead in Washington. He continued to pound on a message of insider politics by questioning the role the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee played in recruiting Cunningham instead of letting North Carolina voters choose a candidate, declaring that they had been "trying to exercise undue influence in our nominating process."

In the May 4 primary, Marshall won about 36 percent of the vote to 27 percent for Cunningham and 17 percent for Lewis. She was already favored going into the June 22 runoff election, and Lewis' support makes her the prohibitive favorite. The winner of the runoff will face first-term incumbent Senator Richard Burr, whose approval numbers are anemic. This isn't our best pickup opportunity in the Senate, but the race is winnable with a strong campaign and GOTV.

Of all the questionable moves made by the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee under Bob Menendez's leadership, meddling in the North Carolina primary looks like the worst. It's bad enough for the DSCC to blow money on Blanche Lincoln and Arlen Specter against challengers from the left, but you'd expect the committee to support incumbents. I see no reason for the DSCC to take sides in North Carolina. Cunningham doesn't poll better against Burr than Marshall does; in fact, Marshall does better in some polling. Most progressives in North Carolina favor Marshall over Cunningham (though Cunningham did get the Sierra Club's endorsement).

Without the DSCC's spending for Cunningham, Marshall might have won the primary outright on May 4. It's not as if we won't need the DSCC's money in at least 10 other Senate races this fall.

Any thoughts on this campaign or North Carolina politics generally are welcome in this thread.

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