Weekly Mulch: Why Energy Reform is on Shaky Ground

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Since national energy reform is on the rocks, ethanol subsidies for the Midwest and ballot propositions to roll back progressive energy legislation in California are the most important policy fights to watch right now.

Neither will revolutionize the way Americans get power, and in both cases, moving forward could actually mean moving away from a sensible energy future. In California, voters could turn back progress the state has made towards holding down carbon emissions. And Washington’s support for ethanol reveals the static thinking that’s smothering our ability to address climate change.

More important than legalizing pot

In 2006, California passed a law that would take effect in 2011 and put an ambitious plan in place to decrease the state’s carbon emissions by 2020. Even after the law passed, however, the debate over its merits continued. This being California, that debate made its way onto this November’s ballot.

The most commonly floated line of reasoning against the law focuses on negative impacts to job growth: Increasing the price on carbon increases the cost of doing business, limiting economic growth and the resources that businesses have to dedicate to expansion. Proposition 23, a ballot initiative that will come to a vote next Tuesday, would delay the carbon bill’s enactment until the state’s economy takes a turn for the better.

But Mother JonesKate Sheppard knocks down the economic argument against the 2006 law (AB32):

While enacting AB32 could cause job loss in some sectors, most independent experts actually forecast growth in jobs in the renewable energy, transportation, and efficiency sectors. In fact, green jobs are pretty much the only sector growing in the Golden State. The number of green jobs grew 36 percent in California between 1995 and 2008. The rate of growth for regular old jobs was only 13 percent.

Double trouble

Activists have focused on shutting down Prop 23 (check out, via The Washington Independent’s Andrew Restuccia, this clever campaign to flip “yes” voters), but as Amy Westervelt points out at Earth Island Journal, that initiative is not the only one that could free companies from their environmental responsibilities.

It turns out another California proposition, Prop 26, could raise the threshold legislators would have to meet in order to make companies pay for their pollution, including from oil spills. As Westervelt writes:

While some companies have steered clear of the Tea Party-backed Prop 23, which seems to be losing popularity every week, California companies interested in slowing down AB32 and maybe ridding themselves of responsibility for pollution altogether have been quietly funneling money to Prop 26.

California has long been a leader on energy issues. If either of these propositions goes the wrong way, it will be yet another troubling sign of the failure of progressive energy policy.

The other ethanol

Although environmentalists have fought hard since 2008 to pass cap-and-trade, the policy was always fundamentally conservative one. The Obama administration has always tried to map out a middle path on energy policy, and so far it has been ineffective. Ethanol is yet another case in point.

As Lynda Waddington reports at the Iowa Independent, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced last week that the administration was moving forward with a program that aids farmers producing crops (in addition to corn) that could be turned into ethanol. Switchgrass, the foundation of Brazil’s much-touted ethanol system is one example. Notably, the arguments Vilsack advanced for the program had more to do with the economy than with energy.

Pros and cons

This type of cellulosic ethanol, Brooks Lindsay explains at Change.org, would go mainly towards fueling cars. Lindsay weighs the pros and cons of producing this sort of ethanol in general, and comes down against it. His reasoning: “At best, cellulosic ethanol is just a stop-gap measure while electric cars slowly replace liquid-powered cars….But, a stop-gap fuel does not deserve massive investments and government attention.”

Indeed, progressives across the board have long argued that politicians’ support for ethanol derives from political calculation, not from practical policy. (Ethanol states are swing states.) Ethanol is energy-intensive to produce, and it has a slew of negative environmental consequences that outweigh the cuts in carbon emissions.

Rethinking the politics

Before they rush to back the Obama administration’s policies, however, policymakers should consider this news from Heather Rogers, author of Green Gone Wrong. Rogers reports for The Washington Monthly:

As I discovered on a recent reporting trip through Iowa, many farmers there would welcome a way to break free of the ethanol-industrial complex. The people I met said they’d rather cultivate crops using ecologically sound methods, if they could do so and still earn a decent living. It’s not as if midwestern farmers don’t know—better than the rest of us—that growing crops for biofuels damages their soil and keeps them at the mercy of predatory multinational corporations.

The article is worth reading in full, but fast-forward to the end to find Rogers’ sensible policy proposal. Instead of enlisting farmers in a complicated energy-production procedure that ultimately keeps Americans in their cars, why not aide the work they’re already doing to reduce carbon emissions on their farms? After all, farms are responsible for a huge portion of the country’s carbon burden — they just have lobbyists savvy enough to keep their business from being regulated. As Rogers puts it:

Paying farmers to sequester carbon is sound public policy, but it’s also, and just as importantly, good politics. By helping to preserve farmers economically while also allowing them to be the stewards of land most want to be, it peels farmers away from the agribusiness coalition that is pushing the Obama administration to bet the country on a failed biofuels energy strategy.

Now there’s a bit of thinking that could move energy policy forward.

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.



Valero - because Enron is SO ten years ago

Valero, the Texas-based oil giant, continues to prove one thing: oil is dirty. The latest evidence spewing from its smoke stacks? Behind closed doors, Valero's company practices are just as dirty and threatening as the smoggy skies and health concerns courtesy of its fossil fuel emissions. While the company has been cited as one of the nation's top polluters, its CEO William Klesse was recently named to CNBC Mad Money's 'Wall of Shame', making it all the more obvious that this apple doesn't fall far from the tree. But as if that wasn't bad enough, the company then rewarded Klesse with a "64 percent raise" making his pay check a heafty $10.9 million a year.

Valero also reported a "27 percent increase in retail profit for the first quarter of 2010". But don't expect the company to use that revenue to clean up its act. Instead, it will continue to dirty our environment, pumping the extra green into funding the initiative to suspend, (aka kill), AB 32, the state's clean energy law.

This out of state oil giant doesn't have California's best interest in mind, instead its goal has been to buy your signature in order to secure our dependence on fossil fuels. This week, it appears to have succeeded in getting this misguided proposition on the ballot. It has done so by duping Californians into thinking that killing AB32 will somehow contribute to the economic health of California.

The fact is, killing AB 32 will "kill hundreds of thousands of jobs and chill billions of dollars of new green investment in California" and benefit no one but these dirty energy companies and their slimy special interests. It reminds me a time, just under ten years ago, when another Texas-based energy company, swindled the people of California. Enron took the state for billions, and what Valero, Tesoro, and other Lone Star state interests are doing now, is a play from the same book.

Everything may be "bigger in Texas" but let's show Valero how it's done in California. With AB 32 our state can emerge as a national leader in both environmental protection and economic growth. We are the Golden State and let's make sure we don't let a little dirt cover up our chance for a healthy and shining future.

5 Earth Day Actions You Can Take In 10 Minutes Flat

It's Earth Day and in addition to all of the other lists advising you to turn off the lights, get green power, and pay attention to what you are buying (all of which are very important) there are five more concrete things you need to do today, that can have a huge impact on the health of the planet. Best of all, they will take you about 10 minutes.

Let's begin.

1. Call Senator Harry Reid at 202-224-3542.

Senator Reid gets it. He said that clean energy and climate legislation 'may be the most important policy we ever pass.' He is going to be facing a TON of pressure to compromise, and accept half-measures. He needs to know that you have his back on passing a comprehensive bill to bolster clean energy and address climate change.

2. Join the Campaign to Stop the Dirty Energy Proposition.

California passed a bill back in 2006 that would bring its greenhouse gas emissions back to 1990 levels by 2020. It is easily the most aggressive climate law in the country, and it could pave the way for other states and other nations to follow suit - BUT Valero, Tesoro, and other big oil interests are trying to pull an Enron and dupe the people of California into passing a proposition that would stop the whole thing.

Whether you are in California or not, sign up and lend a hand.

3. Join the Campaign to Stop the Dirty Energy Proposition on Facebook.

Yep, join them on Facebook too. I can't emphasize how critical this will be for the country. If California, the 8th largest economy in the world can get a handle on its emissions (not to mention reap the HUGE benefits that will come with the 2 million jobs and billion in investments that are already starting to show up there), it will show the rest of the world, that it can be done, and that doing it will make us all better-off.

4. Join the boycott of big oil companies who meddle in state politics.

Write Valero, an email, and let them know you will be boycotting them until they keep their dirty money out of state politics.

5. Share this blog on your Facebook and Twitter.

Lets face it, this stuff only works if we are aggressive about increasing the numbers of people who take actions like these. If you want to get credit yourself, I hereby give you permission to post this blog under your name.

Let's get serious about doing all we can for our planet now. Thanks for reading and thanks for getting in action!

Hey CA - Don't Get Fooled

The Dirty Energy Proposition (aka the California Jobs Initiative) blew by its self-imposed signature collection deadline last week. The campaign is working to gather the more than 400,000 signatures needed to get the proposal to kill California's landmark climate and clean energy law on the November ballot. Apparently their expectation that a good turnout at Tea Party rallies would result in tens of thousands of signatures to Suspend AB 32 was a bit optimistic. However, California's environment and economy aren't in the clear yet, as almost $1,000,000 in additional funding has been recently contributed to the proposal. So are throngs of Californians getting in action? Nope.

So which money trees did the new wads of green come from? In keeping with the campaign's MO, none other than top U.S. polluters and out-of-state interests. Of course looking at the newest contributor the Adam Smith Foundation, which donated a hefty $458,000, this isn't exactly obvious at first glance - but dig a little deeper and it becomes clear that the group fits in perfectly with its dirty oil counterparts.

Out-of-state? Check. The Adam Smith Foundation is a non-profit group based in Jefferson City, Mo., keeping in line with Texas based oil contributors Valero and Tesoro.

Suspicious motives? Check. While the group calls itself "an advocacy organization committed to promoting conservative principles and individual liberties in Missouri" and "created to defend judicial reform, government accountability, education reform, tax and spending reform and protecting private property", the reality is that it acts "as a corporate non-profit front group...with ties to stalwart Republican operatives with a history political thuggery and malfeasance". Hmm, kind of like how Valero claims "environmental stewardship is a core value" for the company, yet is ranked 12th on The Political Economy Research Institute's "100 worst air polluters" in the U.S. (Tesoro came in right behind at number 30).

Perhaps the suspension group's new plan of attack in using non-profits as a puppet to mask the original source of funds is an attempt to avoid any more boycotts like the one Californians have launched against Valero. But Californian's can't be played so easily, and this ploy does little to mask the real interests tugging at the puppet strings. Especially when the other major donors to the committee "include Occidental Petroleum ($300,000), Tesoro Companies ($200,000), World Oil Corp. ($100,000)" and Howard Jarvis Taxpayers Association ($100,000).

The underlining question here is how exactly did the fight to kill a piece of California legislation become a top priority for so many? Oil companies and out-of-state special interests fear that clean energy would decrease our dependence on their dirty fossil fuels, thus cutting into their profits and challenging the need for their industry. They know that the reports of further investment, job growth and increasing prosperity that AB 32 promises, chips away at the stranglehold they have us in.

That's one thing this manipulating campaign has right - that AB 32 will jump start a green economy that will threaten dirty energy interests. AB 32 has led businesses to put a new emphasis on environmental concerns, and in turn driven a strong job growth in the green sector. This is highlighted in The California Workforce Association Conference recent study "California's Green Economy", revealing the increased focus on green products and services and how manufacturing and construction industries are actually leading with the most green jobs. However, suspending AB 32 would halt this transition towards a cleaner and greener California.

As the final weeks of signature collecting get underway - spread the word about the Dirty Energy Proposition. After all, the last time out-of-state Energy interests claimed to have Californians' best interests at heart, we got rolling blackouts, courtesy of Enron. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice . . .

Fact: California Can Lead the Economic Recovery

AB 32, California's landmark climate legislation, will hold polluters accountable and require them to reduce the air pollution that continues to not only threaten our health but also contributes to global climate change. This law has been instrumental in launching our state as the superstar of the clean technology industry - igniting innovation and clean energy businesses that have created thousands of new jobs for Californians.

But an opposition force bought and paid for by Texas Big Oil, is attempting to stop all this by pushing a deceptive ballot proposition that will allow polluters to turn a blind eye to clean energy standards, destroy jobs from California's clean technology companies, and keep us addicted to fossil fuels.


The out of state, big oil opposition is spending millions in it's attempt to cover the facts behind it's layer of smog and deceit, but the reality is that suspending AB 32 is the real mistake threatening our health, our economy, and the future of our state. We need your help in revealing the truth so that California knows the danger that lies in the campaign to kill AB 32.

Who's behind it all?

Two Texas oil companies, Valero Energy Corporation and Tesoro, are the main funders of the ballot proposition.

These two companies are among the nation's biggest polluters, and their California oil refineries are among the top ten polluters in our state. The Valero Political Action Committee is a leading political contributor to dirty energy interests nationally.

While Valero and Tesoro claim their proposition will only 'suspend" AB 32 until California's economy gets better, the truth is that this suspension will kill new jobs and investment.

FACT: The proposition would create more air pollution in California, threaten public health and worsen the climate gap.

Air pollution is already a major threat to public health in California, contributing to 19,000 premature deaths, hundreds of thousands of asthma attacks and thousands of trips to the hospital for California families.

This initiative would let the Texas oil companies and other polluters off the hook - drastically increasing air pollution and public health risks.

FACT: The proposition will kill clean energy and technology jobs, end innovation and billions of dollars of investment in California - bringing our chances to become the nation's clean energy and technology leader to a screeching halt.

The Texas oil companies want California to continue to be addicted to oil and are eager to kill any competition from clean energy business that would reduce this dependence on fossil fuels.

But the clean energy sector is one of the few bright spots in our recovering economy, and rolling back our clean energy standards will cause California to lose hundreds of thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in investments.

Since 2005, California green jobs have grown 10 times faster than the statewide average for other sectors.

The number of California green businesses has increased by 45% and green jobs expanded by 36% from 1995 to 2008 while total jobs in California expanded only 13%.

California's clean technology sector received $2.1 billion in investment capital in 2009 - beating out the investment in Massachusetts, our biggest competitor, by a factor of five.


FACT: Projections of economic destruction resulting from AB 32 have been thoroughly invalidated and disproved by independent economists and the Legislative Analyst's Office (LAO).

The opposition clings to studies that the LAO has evaluated and determined as containing "a number of serious shortcomings that render its estimates of the annual economic costs of state regulations essentially useless."

Stanford University economist Jim Sweeney stated the following in his report on the Varshney/Tootelian study: "highly biased...based on poor logic and unsound economic analysis" and overstates the costs of AB 32 "by a factor of at least 10".

Beacon Economics' Christopher Thornberg and Jon Haveman deemed the study "one of the worst examples of schlock science we've ever seen."

FACT: The proposition will increase both our dependence on foreign oil and costs for California consumers.

Killing AB 32, and thus keeping us dependent on fossil fuels, will increase household electricity costs in California by 33%.

Suspending climate policies will also cause California's economy will shrink by $84 billion, over a half million jobs in 2020.

FACT: The proposition would mean that we would continue to destroy our environment.

If we don't do something to cut emissions, "average U.S. temperatures...are projected to rise another 7°F to 11°F by the end of this century". To be clear, this seemingly minor increase in temperature is expected to cause the following:

"Annual heat-related health costs could reach an estimated $14 billion by 2100, while rising ground-level ozone levels would boost medical bills by another $10 billion", states the Union of Concerned Scientists report.

A reduction of up to 90 percent of the Sierra snowpack - which would take away a crucial source of the state's water supply and annual losses to state agriculture, forestry and fisheries reaching $4.3 billion.

According to a report from the California Climate Change Center at the UC-Berkeley, "a 75 to 85 percent increase in the number of days conducive to ozone formation [smog] in Los Angeles and the San Joaquin Valley".

An increase in annual large wildfires by as much as 53 percent by 2100.

You get the picture. You got the facts. Now please get in action, and nip this weed of a campaign in the bud.




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