Weekly Audit: Will Obama Save Homeowners From Wall Street’s Latest Fraud Scheme?

by Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

A massive foreclosure fraud scandal is rocking the U.S. mortgage market. Wall Street banks and their lawyers are fabricating documents, forging signatures and lying to judges—all to exploit troubled borrowers with enormous, illegal fees, and in some cases, improperly foreclose on borrowers who haven’t missed any payments.

The fraud is so widespread that it could put some big banks out of business and even spark another financial collapse. Fortunately, things haven’t fallen apart just yet. With strong leadership from President Barack Obama and Congress, the government can help keep troubled borrowers in their homes and prevent another meltdown.

One fraud begets another

As Danny Schecter emphasizes in an interview with GRITtv’s Laura Flanders, this mess is just one element of a broader, criminal fraud at the heart of the foreclosure fiasco and resulting financial crisis. Banks pushed fraudulent loans onto borrowers during the housing bubble because the loans could be packaged into mortgage-backed securitizations and pawned off on hedge funds and other banks. Banks made a lot of money from this process, until the mortgages went bad and the fraud-packed securities plummeted in value.

Document drama

At the heart of any mortgage is a document called “The Note”, which lays out the terms of the mortgage and the kinds of fees that banks can levy against borrowers if they fall behind on their payments. Owning the note also gives banks the right to foreclose when a borrower stops paying.

The trouble is, in an effort to cut costs and boost bonuses, banks haven’t kept actually kept track of the note—in fact, they’ve actively destroyed the document so they don’t have to deal with filing it. Now that mortgages are going bad, banks are taking advantage of the documentation vacuum they created to levy massive, illegal fees on borrowers both before and during the foreclosure process. They do this by manufacturing fake documents, forging signatures, and getting bogus signatures from notaries to approve sham documents.

This is all terribly unfair to borrowers. In some cases, illegal fees push borrowers over the edge into foreclosure, while in others, borrowers get saddled with tens of thousands of dollars in illegal fees after getting kicked out of their home. The situation is a national disgrace.

Failure to produce

But the situation also creates legal liabilities that can push banks into failure. If banks can’t pony up the note, they don’t have the right to foreclose—not without some serious, expensive legal maneuvering. And what’s more, if the banks who created these shoddy securities can’t supply notes, investors who bought the securities can force losses back on the banks that created them. Given that there are $2.6 trillion in mortgage-backed securities out there, banks are very worried that losses and lawsuits stemming from shoddy documentation could spark another round of major financial turmoil.

The sheer lack of documentation makes it very difficult for investors to decipher which banks are exposed to loads of red ink, and which banks are not. That’s a recipe for financial panic.

Silencing employees

The banks know they’re in serious trouble. That’s why, as Andy Kroll notes for Mother Jones, mortgage servicers like GMAC are trying to silence employees who can testify about the extent of these frauds. GMAC employee Jeffrey Stephan confessed to robo-signing 10,000 foreclosure documents every month without actually examining them. His acknowledgment sparked the current public scrutiny of foreclosure fraud, which has expanded to banks including JPMorgan Chase and Bank of America.

Kroll was one of the first to report on these fraudulent foreclosure mills and their illegal fees, and his coverage of the issue is essential reading for anybody following the unfolding crisis. Kroll also highlights the wave of new investigations and inquiries being launched by attorneys general in eight states, a phenomenon that is likely to expand as the crisis widens.

As Annie Lowrey details for The Washington Independent, one of those states is Ohio, where Attorney General Richard Cordray is suing GMAC, seeking $25,000 in damages for every fraudulent document the company has filed. In Ohio alone, there have been 190,000 foreclosures over the past two years.  Cordray hasn’t won his suit, and not every foreclosure will include fraud, but that’s a potential loss of over $7 billion to GMAC from foreclosures in Ohio alone over the past two years. And that doesn’t include what would be much higher losses to banks who packaged the mortgage securities, who are forced to repurchase them by burned investors.

Banks are doing their best to minimize the appearance of scandal, but the scope of potential losses from outright fraud is quite clearly a threat to the viability of the financial system. It’s easy to imagine a disaster scenario in which the government has no choice but to take major action to prevent the economy from imploding (yes, it can actually get worse).

Obama needs to pick up the slack

So far, President Obama is sending mixed signals about his intentions. As Steve Benen notes for The Washington Monthly, Obama vetoed a bill that would have made it harder for borrowers to show that banks were engaging in fraud during the foreclosure process. That was on Friday—but by Sunday, top Obama adviser David Axelrod was telling the press that the administration was not ready to support a foreclosure moratorium, dismissing the fraud crisis as a set of “mistakes” with lender “paperwork.”

As I note for AlterNet, Axelrod’s comments are a complete mischaracterization of what’s going on in the foreclosure process, and of what can be done. The housing market is a mess because banks have been systematically committing fraud. We cannot rely on such fraudsters to fix the mess– some kind of government action is going to be necessary. Whatever the solution, the administration cannot stand with big Wall Street banks against the borrowers and investors that are being defrauded. Any solution must take the interest of troubled borrowers as paramount. We’ve already tried saving the banks without saving homeowners, and as the unfolding foreclosure fraud crisis illustrates, it didn’t work.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Audit: Save Affordable Housing, Help Revive America’s Middle Class

by Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

Over the past decade, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac transformed themselves into some of the worst-run companies in recent history. But contrary to current talking points, the firms’ failings had almost nothing to do with their programs for low-income borrowers. As policymakers debate what should be done with the mortgage giants, a battle is now beginning in which the very availability of affordable housing for the middle class may be at stake.

A history of affordable housing

As Tim Fernholz emphasizes for The American Prospect, before the U.S. government created Fannie Mae in 1938, mortgages were very pricey 5-year loans, so expensive that only very wealthy Americans could ever hope to own a home. Fannie Mae changed all that by rolling out the 30-year mortgage, which lowered monthly payments for borrowers by providing a government guarantee against losses for banks. It worked.

But as Fernholz notes, without some kind of government involvement in the housing market, home ownership will revert to its pre-Depression status a privilege reserved for elites. Policymakers will have to implement significant changes in the mortgage finance system to ensure stability in the U.S. housing market, but whatever changes may come, a robust role for the government in housing will be essential.

Fannie and Freddie have been justifiably but inaccurately maligned in the aftermath of the mortgage crisis. In recent years, their executives ran the firms like out-of-control hedge funds, lobbied Congress like arrogant Wall Street banks and did nothing beyond the bare minimum required by law to help low-income borrowers. But Fannie and Freddie did not go headlong into subprime mortgages—the primary source of their losses came from loans to relatively high-quality borrowers.

The terrible mortgages that crashed the economy were issued by banking conglomerates and Wall Street megabanks—Fannie and Freddie were almost entirely divorced from that line of business. The problem with Fannie and Freddie was largely structural– investors and managers saw the potential for big profits from taking on loads of risk, but believed (accurately) that the government would eat losses if those risks backfired. So Fannie and Freddie ramped up risk, taking on as many mortgages as they could while keeping as little money as possible on hand to cushion against losses. Eventually the strategy destroyed them.

Fixing the mortgage system

Exactly how the government stays involved in the mortgage market is still open to debate, as Annie Lowrey emphasizes for The Washington Independent. Nearly every member of the private sector who testified at a recent housing forum sponsored by the Treasury Department endorsed some kind of government backing for the housing market. This was a meeting of private-sector bigwigs—no community groups or affordable housing advocates were invited to speak at the meeting. Proposals ranged from scaling back government support for some types of mortgages, to the full nationalization of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (Fannie was a nationalized entity for the first 30 years of its existence).

In other words, the government is going to have to keep subsidizing housing, but it will have to find new ways to do it. The old Fannie and Freddie model didn’t work, but the private sector will be unable to get the job done by itself. Private-sector banks and mortgage brokers, after all, were the source of all the predatory loans issued during the subprime crisis, and the source of all of the most offensive loans that drove the economy off a cliff.

Inefficient and often predatory players on Wall Street are still causing problems today. As Ellen Brown highlights for Yes! Magazine, the mortgage system is so bizarre that banks are finding themselves unable to document their right to foreclose on properties—and courts are (fortunately) refusing to let them do it.

It’s a rare situation in which borrowers may actually hold the higher legal ground against powerful corporations. About 62 mortgages are registered through an electronic documentation system called the Mortgage Electronic Registration System (MERS), which helps banks with the foreclosure process. But MERS has repeatedly been unable to show proper documentation assigning a mortgage to a specific bank, and courts are now challenging its right to foreclose on behalf of big banks.

That’s good news, Brown notes, because MERS’ shoddy documentation has made it very difficult for borrowers to figure out who actually owns their loan. If you don’t know who owns your mortgage, it’s impossible to modify it if you find yourself unable to pay it off.

As Shamus Cooke argues for Truthout, even successful innovations like the 30-year mortgage are beginning to look a little outdated in an era of heavy, chronic unemployment. Many people can no longer expect to be gainfully employed for three decades on end. If the government refuses to repair our damaged jobs infrastructure, even simply maintaining the status quo in housing could become impossible.

Deficit reduction is not a cure-all

That brings us to another favorite conservative bogeyman, the federal budget deficit. The deficit and jobs generally stand in direct opposition. Creating jobs costs money, and spending that money expands the deficit. Cutting the deficit, by contrast, means cutting support for jobs.

As Steve Benen emphasizes for The Washington Monthly, conservative lawmakers are still harping on deficit reduction as a cure for everything that ills the nation, when the real solution to our problems is a serious jobs bill.

Even if the deficit were a huge problem, trying to cut important social services in the middle of a deep recession is not a good way to go about solving it. Drastic cuts to government spending in a recession result in lower tax returns for the government, which can often be self-defeating, especially in the face of expanding joblessness. The resulting push for deficit reduction—known in economic circles as an “austerity policy,” is better understood as the active pursuit of economic decline. As economist Robert Johnson notes in a New Deal 2.0 piece carried by AlterNet:

Deterioration of government services is bad enough, but imposing austerity due to lack of trust in a time of high unemployment and slack resources is tragic. It is a means to accelerate the decline of living standards of those who have taken a beating since 2007. Double dip or stagnation is too subtle a distinction. We are amidst an unfolding collective choice to pursue a downward spiral.

The government has taken several dramatic steps to repair the nation’s financial system, but it has done almost nothing to help troubled borrowers and not nearly enough to create jobs. Some of this is due to misguided policies enacted by President Barack Obama, and much of it is due to cynical obstructionism. But we cannot repair the economy without fixing jobs and housing. Both are still in a full-blown crisis, and policymakers should feel an urgent need to deal with them.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Audit: Silencing Conservative Deficit Hawks

by Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

The same conservatives who spent the past year senselessly screaming about the U.S. budget deficit are now demanding an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the rich. The extension simply doesn’t make sense, and the policies implied are a recipe for massive job loss in the middle of the worst employment crisis in 75 years.

Deflation nation

As William Greider explains for The Nation, the major problem facing the U.S. economy is not the budget deficit, but the prospect of deflation. Deflation was one of the driving forces behind the Great Depression. Under deflation, the value of money increases, which drives prices down. When millions of Americans are deep in debt, deflation makes those debts much larger. It also creates total economic paralysis, as Greider explains:

Deflation essentially tells everyone to hunker down and wait. Instead of buying big-ticket items, consumers wait for prices to fall further. Instead of investing in new production, companies wait for cheaper opportunities, cheaper labor.

In other words, nothing happens. And when nothing happens, the economy falls apart. Instead of spending money now while it’s still valuable, everybody just waits for it to accumulate value. Businesses lay off workers and workers don’t spend money, creating a vicious cycle in which prices fall further because nobody has any money to buy anything with.

Deflation over deficit

There are time-tested ways to fend off deflation. The Fed can cut interest rates, and the federal government can spend money—lots of money—putting people to work. But instead, conservative politicians are emphasizing the budget deficit, claiming that without immediate action to cut the deficit, the U.S. economy will collapse.

As I note for AlterNet, the deficit is only a problem if it creates very high interest rates (our current rates are at record lows) or if it leads to severe inflation, as governments print loads of money to pay off their debts. But we aren’t seeing inflation—instead, we’re getting dangerously close to deflation.

Spending cuts kill jobs

As David Moberg observes for In These Times, massive spending cuts in the middle of a recession don’t reduce the deficit. Those cuts create layoffs and reduce economic growth, which results in lower tax returns for the federal government. They make the deficit worse. We’ve just watched several nations attempt to counter their budget deficit woes with “austerity”—cutting back on jobs and social services—and the result has been disastrous. Here’s Moberg:

Government austerity and cuts in workers’ wages will simply reduce demand, slowing recovery from the Great Recession or even creating a second downturn. And weak recovery will bring lower tax revenues, continued pressure for austerity and difficulty repaying debts. In short, the medicine the financial markets and their political allies prescribe will make the global economy sicker.

Spending money to make jobs

In a pair of posts for The Washington Monthly, Steve Benen notes that conservative politicians can’t even make sense when they talk about the deficit. They’re demanding action on the deficit, while also demanding an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the rich. Tax cuts make the deficit bigger, something Rep. Eric Cantor (R-VA) acknowledged in a recent interview. Cantor’s justification? We need jobs right now, and it’s okay to inflate the deficit in the pursuit of jobs.

That justification is right—but Cantor’s policies are wrong. Tax cuts for the rich don’t create jobs, because rich people just hold onto the money. The fact is, government spending is a much more effective way of creating jobs than cutting taxes. If jobs are the priority in a deep recession, Benen argues, then, we should be spending to create jobs, not funneling economically useless money to the wealthy.

The corporate agenda after Citizens United

Much of the deficit and tax-cut hysteria is being pushed by corporate executives that are looking to score tax breaks for themselves and their shareholders. So it’s profoundly disconcerting to see corporations begin pouring money into elections in the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s infamous Citizens United ruling.

As Suzy Khimm emphasizes for Mother Jones, corporations have started spending like crazy on advertising in support of conservative causes. Prior to Citizens United, corporations were banned from conducting such direct electoral advocacy, but as Khimm notes, now major retailers like Target and Best Buy are jumping into the fray.

Spending big bucks to derail the economy for profit is not okay. The best way for policymakers to fight this corporate assault is to make a strong push to actually repair the economy. Self-interested executives and corrupted politicians will make all kinds of convoluted economic arguments to enrich themselves and their backers. They’ll use the recession as an excuse. But if lawmakers actually fight the recession successfully, they can’t listen to deep-pocketed corporate miscreants.

President Barack Obama and Congress should ignore the phony deficit hysteria and push for a strong jobs agenda, filled with lots and lots of government spending to put people back to work. Creating jobs is not just an economic priority, it’s a key tool to defanging disingenuous political attacks.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Audit: Why Are Unemployment Benefits A Major Political Fight?

by Zach Carter, Media Consortium blogger

Congress finally authorized an extension of unemployment benefits on Wednesday, providing a critical lifeline to families across the country and an absolutely essential boost to the economy.

But with the jobless rate hovering near 10 percent, minimum measures like unemployment benefits shouldn’t be a source of controversy. Lawmakers should be debating big-picture jobs packages to get people back to work, not drips and drabs that keep a worst-case-scenario from getting unbearable.

As Annie Lowrey notes for the Iowa Independent, Senate Republicans blocked the unemployment benefits bill for two months, causing benefits to lapse for 2.6 million Americans. That’s a humanitarian outrage. When people don’t have access to this minimal support, they can’t pay bills or feed their kids. There is no excuse for anyone in a position of power to cut off access to such basic social necessities. So what’s the hold up?

It’s a mix of talking points and public misconception. Conservatives have been demonizing the unemployed and using erroneous claims about the federal budget deficit as an excuse to block unemployment benefits, and that narrative has been reinforced by President Barack Obama’s handling of the public debate over the economic stimulus package approved in February 2009.

Unemployment Benefits = Economic Stimulus

In addition to the humanitarian imperative, there’s a broader economic case for extending unemployment benefits. When people are out of work, they can’t spend money. If people don’t spend money, businesses can’t sell anything. And if businesses can’t sell anything, they have to lay off more workers. Putting money in the pockets of the unemployed isn’t just a humanitarian necessity—it also prevents layoffs and creates jobs.

But you wouldn’t know it from the economically illiterate nonsense that conservatives have been spewing during the unemployment benefits debate. Writing for The Nation, Robert Scheer quotes prominent conservative intellectual Niall Ferguson. Here’s Ferguson’s vile diatribe blaming lazy, unemployed people for the recession:

“If you pay people to do nothing, they’ll find themselves doing nothing for very long periods of time. Long-term unemployment is at an all-time high in the United States, and it is a direct consequence of a misconceived public policy.”

$293 a week

Ferguson actually said that. He really believes that a major reason why unemployment is so high is because the United States pays out unemployment benefits, and that jobs would just miraculously be created if we stopped supporting the people hit hardest by the recession. And as Seth Freed Wessler emphasizes for ColorLines, Republican politicians repeatedly parroted this nonsense argument again as they attempted to block the unemployment benefits legislation.

Wessler notes that the average unemployment benefits package comes to just $293 per week. People like to feel like they have contributed meaningfully to society and be rewarded with an honest day’s pay. They do not choose to live in squalor out of laziness, as much as Ferguson might wish that were the case.

Preventing more public-sector layoffs

The economy has shed 8 million jobs since the Wall Street crash. Our job woes are a direct result of recklessness in the upper echelons of the financial sector—lazy workers did not create the recession, and they are not prolonging it.

Given the enormity of lost jobs, you’d think politicians would be considering robust programs to put people back to work—hundreds of billions of dollars in jobs programs, rather than a $30 billion extension of unemployment checks.

As Danny Schechter details for GRITtv, the economy is facing a host of major hurdles that hit families hardest. In addition to epic joblessness, we’re also facing record foreclosure numbers and state budgets that are stretched beyond the breaking point. The state situation is dire. Without federal aid, states will be forced to lay off 900,000 public employees in the coming months

That’s what makes the jobs debate so crazy. There are easy ways to prevent layoffs and create jobs right now. A quick injection of cash into state governments would have an immediate stabilizing effect. The government can’t bring the unemployment rate down to 5 percent overnight, but it can keep things from getting worse and start bringing the rate down.

Don’t blame the deficit

But, as Lowrey notes, some conservatives are not blaming the unemployed, but harping on the deficit, claiming that they’re all for benefits, they just want them to be paid for. This is a disingenuous excuse for inaction.

The conservative deficit-talk is totally misleading, and it’s the wrong way to deal with deficits. Since Republicans have been universally opposed to all tax increases, demanding that unemployment benefits be paid for means pulling spending out of other programs, which means cutting jobs in other areas (slashing the defense budget probably wouldn’t hurt the jobs picture, but good luck getting a Republican to vote for it).

The U.S. doesn’t have a deficit problem. If it did, investors would be demanding a very high interest rate on U.S. Treasury bonds. But in fact, the interest rate on those bonds is at record lows. If the U.S. did have a deficit problem, however, sabotaging jobs and growth would be a lousy way to fix it. Consider Ireland. The country had a vastly larger deficit than that faced by the U.S., and implemented draconian austerity programs. Those spending cuts hit economic growth so hard that the nation’s deficit problem actually got worse, so much worse that the rating agency Moody’s just downgraded Ireland’s debt.

If the U.S. wants to deal with deficit issues, it should address big long-term structural issues, like the enormous defense budget, extremely generous tax rates for the wealthy and the rising cost of health care. It makes zero economic sense to be attacking jobs in the name of the deficit, when doing so only makes the deficit larger.

What about that economic stimulus package?

So why can’t we get a decent jobs package? As Steve Benen notes for The Washington Monthly, much of the public uneasiness stems from misunderstandings about how the economic stimulus package passed in February 2009 worked.

The stimulus was very much a success—it kept the unemployment rate from reaching 12 percent or higher. But it was also much too small, in part because the Obama administration underestimated the severity of the recession, but mostly because Republicans created ludicrous political hurdles for the package, forcing it to shrink. Unfortunately, with unemployment still out of control, many in the public believe the stimulus didn’t actually stimulate. That’s the wrong lesson to learn. As Benen puts it:

“Imagine there’s a massive, dangerous fire. Those responsible for the blaze insist that some lighter fluid should take care of the problem, while the fire department recommends water. Forced to compromise, the fire department uses less water than is needed, and the blaze is only partially contained.”

It’s about time Congress got around to extending unemployment benefits. But in the face of the longest and most severe jobs crisis since the Great Depression, much stronger action on jobs is needed, and soon.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the economy by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Audit for a complete list of articles on economic issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, health care and immigration issues, check out The Mulch, The Pulse and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Mulch: Massey Energy coal costs the environment

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

Coal consumption has costs — this week’s explosion at a West Virginia mine, which killed 25, made that clear. Those costs aren’t limited to human lives, either. Massey Energy Co., the owner of the West Virginia mine, has not just racked up safety violations but also consistently disregarded the environmental effects of its work.

Black marks on Massey’s record

This week’s explosion is far from the first debacle associated with a Massey project, and past incidents have had disastrous impacts on the environment. In 2000, a break in a Massey-owned reservoir, filled with coal waste, caused more damage than the Exxon Valdez spill, Steve Benen writes at The Washington Monthly. Clara Bingham described the flood of sludge for the magazine in 2005:

“The gooey mixture of black water and coal tailings traveled downstream through Coldwater and Wolf creeks, and later through the river’s main stem, Tug Fork. Ten days later, an inky plume appeared in the Ohio River. On its 75-mile path of destruction, the sludge obliterated wildlife, killed 1.6 million fish, ransacked property, washed away roads and bridges, and contaminated the water systems of 27,623 people.”

A year later, another 30,000 gallons of sludge poured into a river in Madison, WV, “with nary a peep from Massey,” Kevin Connor points out at AlterNet.

The company routinely scorns environmental regulations, too, as Andy Kroll reports for Mother Jones:

“Between 2000 and 2006, Massey violated the Clean Water Act more than 4,500 times by dumping sediment and leftover mining waste into rivers in Kentucky and West Virginia, the EPA said in 2008. (Environmental groups say the EPA’s tally is a lowball figure; they estimate that the true number of violations is more than 12,000.) As a result of these breaches of the law, the company agreed to pay the EPA a $20 million settlement.”

It appears that prior spills have not chastened Massey, either. Brooke Jarvis at Yes! Magazine notes that the company stores 8.2 billion gallons of coal sludge in the same West Virginia county suffering from this week’s explosion, and that two months ago, “West Virginia’s Department of Environmental Protection issued a notice of violation because the dam failed to meet safety requirements.”

Don Blankenship, denier!

Massey’s owner, Don Blankenship, has as dark a record as his company on environmental issues. Blankenship believes in the “survival of the most productive,” Mike Lillis writes at The Washington Independent, which means that safety and environmental concerns come second. He “loves to slam ‘greeniacs’ for believing in things like climate change,” says Nick Baumann at Mother Jones. The Colorado Independent’s David O. Williams calls Blankenship “a notorious right-wing climate change denier and outspoken critic of the policies of ‘Obama bin Laden,’” and notes that Blankenship is on the board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has tried its hardest to squelch any climate legislation eking through Congress.

Methane and mountaintop removal

Although Massey and Blankenship stand out for their scorn of the environment, all coal production extracts a cost. Accidents and violations like Massey’s can devastate forests and streams, but coal’s biggest environmental impact comes when it is burned and pours tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. As Yes! Magazine’s Jarvis puts it, “Coal may be cheap now, but that’s simply because we’re not counting—and don’t even know how to count—the long-term costs.”

The Obama administration has taken some steps towards limiting coal production. Last week the EPA announced restrictions that would limit mountaintop removal mining. But those regulations won’t ban the practice altogether. The Senate could, in theory, take up that task: Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN)  introduced a bill a year ago that would make mountaintop removal mining so expensive it would be economically infeasible, effectively banning the practice, Mike Lillis reports for The Washington Independent. Although the bill accrued a few more sponsors during 2009, mostly liberal Democrats like Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), it hasn’t attracted much attention and is still sitting in the Environment and Public Works Committee.

In the Mountain West, the Bureau of Land Management is opening up federal lands for coal mining and claiming it can’t require companies to flare off or capture methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more potent than carbon dioxide, David O. Williams reports for The Colorado Independent. Without methane capture, the new mines would pour carbon pollution into the atmosphere. This BLM stance, Williams writes, has green advocates in Colorado “longingly reminiscing about the bygone days of the Bush administration,” which said it would require companies to manage methane.

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.

 

 

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