Why didn't anyone tell me that Sen. Murkowski was a climate champion?

Tuesday's Republican primary in Alaska may still be undecided, (currently incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski trails her tea-party challenger Joe Miller by approximately 2,000 votes) but that hasn't stopped anti-environment pundits from speculating that if Murkowski loses, it will be because of her support for climate legislation. Now I follow the climate debate pretty closely, (even if it wasn't my job, as a political junkie I'd follow it nonetheless) and I just don't remember Murkowski being a climate champion. That isn't to say she's another James Inhofe in the Senate, but being open to negotiations on climate legislation does not make her the zealous supporter her opponent portrays her to be.

Fact is that Lisa Murkowski is far from an environmental champ. The League of Conservative Voters (LCV) gives her an 18% career rating, meaning that she votes the right way on less than one out of five environmental issues. And, more recently, she gave us environmentalists heartburn by leading an assault on the Clean Air Act - only one of the most successful environmental laws of all time.

Murkowski's effort to overturn the Environmental Protection Agency's scientific finding that global warming threatens our health and welfare was bad, but at least she was polite enough to claim her attack "has nothing to do with the science of global warming." That's a far cry from her opponent, Joe Miller, whose campaign website says that "The science supporting manmade climate change is inconclusive." The last thing that Alaska needs is a climate denier representing it in the Senate. Even the late Ted Stevens, never an environmental champ himself, recognized that "Alaska is harder hit by global climate change than any place in the world."

To say this primary suggests that climate change is a political non-starter in Alaska shows a selective memory. Just two short years ago, Alaska elected a real climate champ, Mark Begich, to the Senate. Climate change was a top issue during Begich's campaign, when he called for an 80% reduction in carbon pollution by 2050 and adaption strategies to help Alaska deal with the effect of climate change. Since coming to the Senate, he has continued to work to advance clean energy and climate solutions, earning an 82% rating from LCV in his first year. Last August, he introduced a package of seven bills aimed to help Alaska prepare for the changes and challenges created by a warming planet. And, in June, he voted against Murkowski's Clean Air Act attack.

This is just another case of anti-environment pundits not letting the facts get in the way of propagating their backward agenda. I'm interested to see how they'll change their tune if the absentee ballots put Murkowski in the lead. If she wins in the end, I wonder if they'll claim her victory was due to her steadfast support for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? Or maybe it'll be her support for offshore drilling?

The only thing I know is if she wins, they won't be crediting her position on climate.

Why didn't anyone tell me that Sen. Murkowski was a climate champion?

Tuesday's Republican primary in Alaska may still be undecided, (currently incumbent Senator Lisa Murkowski trails her tea-party challenger Joe Miller by approximately 2,000 votes) but that hasn't stopped anti-environment pundits from speculating that if Murkowski loses, it will be because of her support for climate legislation. Now I follow the climate debate pretty closely, (even if it wasn't my job, as a political junkie I'd follow it nonetheless) and I just don't remember Murkowski being a climate champion. That isn't to say she's another James Inhofe in the Senate, but being open to negotiations on climate legislation does not make her the zealous supporter her opponent portrays her to be.

Fact is that Lisa Murkowski is far from an environmental champ. The League of Conservative Voters (LCV) gives her an 18% career rating, meaning that she votes the right way on less than one out of five environmental issues. And, more recently, she gave us environmentalists heartburn by leading an assault on the Clean Air Act - only one of the most successful environmental laws of all time.

Murkowski's effort to overturn the Environmental Protection Agency's scientific finding that global warming threatens our health and welfare was bad, but at least she was polite enough to claim her attack "has nothing to do with the science of global warming." That's a far cry from her opponent, Joe Miller, whose campaign website says that "The science supporting manmade climate change is inconclusive." The last thing that Alaska needs is a climate denier representing it in the Senate. Even the late Ted Stevens, never an environmental champ himself, recognized that "Alaska is harder hit by global climate change than any place in the world."

To say this primary suggests that climate change is a political non-starter in Alaska shows a selective memory. Just two short years ago, Alaska elected a real climate champ, Mark Begich, to the Senate. Climate change was a top issue during Begich's campaign, when he called for an 80% reduction in carbon pollution by 2050 and adaption strategies to help Alaska deal with the effect of climate change. Since coming to the Senate, he has continued to work to advance clean energy and climate solutions, earning an 82% rating from LCV in his first year. Last August, he introduced a package of seven bills aimed to help Alaska prepare for the changes and challenges created by a warming planet. And, in June, he voted against Murkowski's Clean Air Act attack.

This is just another case of anti-environment pundits not letting the facts get in the way of propagating their backward agenda. I'm interested to see how they'll change their tune if the absentee ballots put Murkowski in the lead. If she wins in the end, I wonder if they'll claim her victory was due to her steadfast support for drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge? Or maybe it'll be her support for offshore drilling?

The only thing I know is if she wins, they won't be crediting her position on climate.

Weekly Mulch: How Reid’s Energy Bill Undermines Senate Climate Efforts

 

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Yesterday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) introduced a limited energy bill that responds to the oil spill and promotes energy efficiency. Reid’s action is a signal that the Senate will not pass climate legislation before November, although Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) said that a climate bill could come up in the lame-duck session following the election.

“The Senate’s climate bill is officially dead,” Kate Sheppard writes at Mother Jones. “And given that Democrats will almost certainly hold fewer seats in Congress next year, major action on the climate is unlikely to be revived anytime soon.”

Since 2009, expectations for a bill regulating carbon emissions have steadily declined. After this latest failure in the Senate, the best near-term hope for addressing climate change comes from the Environmental Protection Agency, which still has the power to regulate carbon emissions.

At the Washington Independent, Andrew Restuccia reports that Sen. Reid’s bill will likely hold oil companies more financially accountable for spills by lifting the cap on their liability for economic damages and will nudge homeowners towards energy efficiency.

But, Restuccia writes, a sources tells him that “significantly…the bill might not include a renewable energy standard.” Such a standard would require an increasing percentage of the country’s electricity to come from sources like wind and solar.

The energy bill could create jobs

Sen. Reid has often emphasized that an energy bill is also a jobs bill: Innovation in the clean energy sector creates employment opportunities at a time when they’re sorely needed. Dropping the renewable energy standard could also mean diminishing the potential for job creation.

Public News Service reports that in rural areas, a standard could create thousands of jobs.

“The Department of Energy says, if we get to 20 percent of the nation’s electricity from wind by the year 2030”—one of the less ambitious standards proposed—“it would mean 3,000 to 4,000 new jobs in most of our states,” Chuck Hassebrook, executive director of the Center for Rural Affairs, said. “There’s not a lot of things out there bringing that kind of new economic opportunity to rural America, so it could be a great thing for us.”

The Gulf Coast connection

The need for job opportunities extends beyond rural areas. In the Gulf Coast, for instance, even fishermen left idle by the oil spill are hoping the oil industry resumes drilling soon. Their communities need those jobs. As Jerome Ringo, who worked for two decades in the oil industry, writes at The Progressive, “With unemployment still in the double digits across the nation, and the people on the Gulf Coast struggling to survive, we need far more clean energy job growth than what we’re seeing right now.”

That’s not going to happen without a long-term commitment to clean energy from the government, Ringo argues. “Businesses need this signal to know how to invest, and, with this signal, they will move in a direction that creates many more jobs in areas like renewable energy and electric cars for people like me who once worked in oil and gas.”

Climate refugees

That transition won’t happen overnight, but it’s important to start in that direction as soon as possible. In the United States, the effects of climate change are affecting people—farmers dealing with strange weather, for instance—but the impact is not obvious in the every day lives of Americans.

Not everyone has that luxury, though. LinkTV’s Earth Focus reports on the plight of climate refuges in New Guinea. In a new film, Jennifer Redfearn documents the story of the country’s Carteret Islanders—the first group to organize a community-wide evacuation of their home in the face of climate change. As the sea level rises around their island, storm surges increase and fresh water becomes salty. Carteret Islanders are looking to move to Bougainville, a neighboring island recovering from civil war.

“I’ve heard about you Carterets. You are an easy-going people,” one leader tells them. “Here it is totally different.”

The longer Americans wait to start scaling back our energy use, the more people around the globe will be displaced.

Hydrofracking

When moving towards clean energy, however, it is important that leaders in Washington and on the state level watch emerging energy companies closely. For instance, The New York Times reports that Reid’s bill will promote natural gas production. But as natural gas grows more popular as a bridge fuel, communities and legislators are discovering more dangerous environmental impacts from the hydrofracture drilling process that companies use to extract the gas from shale deposits.

Josh Fox’s recent documentary, Gasland, showed that residents across the country in fracking areas have had their drinking water contaminated. The natural gas industry is pushing back hard against the claims his film makes. Truthout reports that “Energy In Depth (EID), an information service created and funded by the oil and gas industry, recently posted ‘Debunking Gasland,’ a point-by-point argument against the Fox’s startling discoveries. EID paints Fox as a ‘purveyor of the avant-garde’ who is guilty of ‘flat-out making stuff up.’”

Fox isn’t the only one to voice concerns about water quality, either. GritTV recently heard from residents in the Delaware River Basin about their concerns. “No water for gas” is their rallying cry.

Water, water, everywhere

Fox is fighting back, but the response to his film shows that the industry is ready to push back against any criticisms of its practices. It has also resisted effects by regulators to require disclose of the chemicals it uses in its extraction process.

But as the Washington Independent’s Restuccia reports, “Momentum is building in the House to pass new regulations on the controversial practice of hydraulic fracturing, in which water, sand and a mixture of potentially harmful chemicals are injected into the ground in order to gain access to natural gas.”

Unfortunately, if the fate of the climate bill is any indication, any environmental legislation, even with momentum, has little chance of moving through Congress right now.

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.

 

 

No, Senator Klobuchar, More Corn Ethanol is NOT the Answer!

According to The Hill newspaper, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) "is introducing legislation to expand use of renewable electricity and transportation fuels that she says is a way to increase political support for broad energy legislation among farm-state lawmakers." Reuters adds that Klobuchar's legislation would promote "a long-term extension of biofuel tax breaks."  Klobuchar says, "it is time to look at home-grown energy and that includes biofuels and they should be part of this."

At first glance, that all sounds innocuous enough, but there's a major problem: Sen. Klobuchar is (cleverly) baiting the hook with a strong Renewable Energy Standard, which most environmentalists support, but at the same time she's also including the worst of the worst biofuels proposals – corn ethanol.  For instance, as Nathanael Greene of NRDC points out, Klobuchar's proposal includes a 5-year extension of the corn ethanol tax credit, at a cost to taxpayers of more than $30 billion.  Klobuchar's legislation also appears to redefine old-growth forests as "biomass," potentially promoting deforestation.   And Klobuchar's legislation would harm the development of truly advanced biofuels, in favor of corn ethanol.   There's more, but that's sufficient to give you a good idea of how misguided and potentially harmful this bill happens to be.

More broadly, the problem is that promoting corn ethanol actually would set us backwards on our climate and clean energy goals.   NRDC has written a great deal about corn-based ethanol, most of which is not flattering.

*From an NRDC article published in March 2010, we learn that "the current corn ethanol tax credit is effectively costing tax payers $4.18 per gallon and is driving up grain prices."  The author, Nathanael Greene, concludes that "[w]e don't need an additional 1.4 billion gallons of corn ethanol, or the higher prices for grains and more deforestation that come with it...It's time to transition from corn ethanol's pollution and pork to a new generation of more sustainable biofuels that brings us closer to real energy independence."

*From this NRDC article published in January 2010, it turns out that "The old, dirty ethanol industry is dominated by big companies like Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) and Poet." The author, Roland Hwang, adds, "It’s baffling why an industry that benefits from $4 billion a year in government subsidies can’t find a way to compete on environmental merits."

*As Nathanael Greene points out here, "the nitrogen runoff from corn grown all along the Mississippi causes a huge dead zone in the Gulf every summer."  And, "[w]ith about a third of the corn crop going to make corn ethanol, it should be clear that more corn ethanol is not a real solution."

In addition to NRDC, Barack Obama also weighed in during the 2008 presidential campaign, declaring that "we're going to have a transition from corn-based ethanol to cellulosic ethanol, not using food crops as the source of energy."

Last but not least, Earth Policy Institute founder Lester Brown and Clean Air Task Force Jonathan Lewis, writing in April 2008, explained in devastating terms why corn ethanol is so problematic:

It is now abundantly clear that food-to-fuel mandates are leading to increased environmental damage. First, producing ethanol requires huge amounts of energy -- most of which comes from coal.

Second, the production process creates a number of hazardous byproducts, and some production facilities are reportedly dumping these in local water sources.

Third, food-to-fuel mandates are helping drive up the price of agricultural staples, leading to significant changes in land use with major environmental harm.

Most troubling, though, is that the higher food prices caused in large part by food-to-fuel mandates create incentives for global deforestation, including in the Amazon basin. As Time magazine reported this month, huge swaths of forest are being cleared for agricultural development. The result is devastating: We lose an ecological treasure and critical habitat for endangered species, as well as the world's largest "carbon sink..."

Meanwhile, the mandates are not reducing our dependence on foreign oil. Last year, the United States burned about a quarter of its national corn supply as fuel -- and this led to only a 1 percent reduction in the country's oil consumption.

In short, the problem is that while "biofuels" sounds as benign as apple pie, corn ethanol – the main biofuel available today – is actually bad for the environment both in the U.S. and abroad, bad for the poor, and bad for the American taxpayer.

Just to be clear, ethanol from cellulosic material is a completely different – and far superior – story from other, advanced biofuels (e.g., cellulosic), but advanced biofuels are not what Senator Klobuchar's talking about here.  To the contrary, Senator Klobuchar is using this once-in-a-generation chance for comprehensive, clean energy and climate legislation, to push through a big agribusiness, corn ethanol boondoggle that will harm the environment, do nothing to reduce U.S. dependence on oil or to help strengthen U.S. national security.

Yes, we want increased production of renewable energy like wind and solar. Yes, biofuels done the right way could be an important part of the U.S. energy mix.  But no, Sen. Klobuchar's approach – promoting dirty, old corn ethanol - is simply not the correct approach to the energy and environmental challenges we are facing.

Weekly Mulch: Climate Change On Obama’s Back Burner

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

In his first State of the Union address, President Barack Obama touched on climate issues only briefly. He called on the Senate to pass a climate bill, but did not give Congress a deadline or promise to veto weak legislation. Nor did he mention the Copenhagen climate conference, where international negotiators struggled to produce an agreement on limiting global carbon emissions.

The Obama administration’s attitude towards climate change still represents a remarkable shift from the Bush years, when global warming was treated as little more than a fairy tale. But in the past year, Congressional squabbling has stalled climate legislation, and international negotiators nearly gridlocked in talks over carbon admissions at the multinational Copenhagen conference. Without strong leadership from the president, work to prevent this looming environmental crisis will stall.

Obama did address global warming skeptics, saying that they should support investment in clean energy, “because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy.”

“And America must be that nation,” Obama said.

No push for climate bill

Despite his combative language,  the president did not challenge Congress to push for real solutions to ballooning carbon emissions and energy consumption. As Forrest Wilder of The Texas Observer notes, Obama “uttered the phrase ‘climate change’ precisely once.”

The Senate has already wait-listed the climate bill: Health care came first. With health care reform now in line behind work on jobs and bank regulation, climate legislation has little chance of passing the Senate in the coming months, let alone making it to the president’s desk.

If Congress lets this work wait until after the midterm elections, the United States will show up at international negotiations in December 2010 as a leader in carbon emissions yet again, but with little in hand to show a way forward.

Clean energy, not renewable energy

When the president did bring up climate issues, he focused on their connection between climate reform and potential job creation. Obama highlighted areas for growth, not in renewable energy fields like wind or solar power, but in nuclear power, natural gas, and clean coal.

Yes, these fuel sources could decrease the country’s carbon emissions. But they are not solutions that will revolutionize energy production. Grist’s David Roberts was floored that the speech omitted renewable energy entirely and kowtowed to a more conservative litany of energy projects. “I suppose it was done to flatter conservative Senators that will have to vote for the bill Kerry, Lieberman, and Graham are working on,” he writes. (The three Senators are working on a version of the climate bill designed to appeal to Republicans.)

“But the SOTU is not a policy negotiation,” Roberts says. “It’s a bully pulpit, a chance to shape rather than respond to existing narratives.”

Roberts argues that progressive supporters would benefit from a stronger message. If activists knew that the White House stands behind a real shift in America’s energy policy, they could use that prompt to drive action on climate change.

What was missing

While touting the virtues of off-shore drilling, Obama overlooked other policies that could broker real change. Although he admonished Congress to pass a climate bill, he did not pressure the legislature on what he’d like that bill to include. He did not mention cap-and-trade, the mechanism the House bill relies on to tamp down emissions and dirty energy use.

President Obama did touch on transportation reforms that could decrease the country’s use of fossil fuels.

“There’s no reason Europe or China should have the fastest trains,”  Obama said. He cited a high-speed rail project that broke ground on Tuesday in Tampa, FL, as evidence that America could best the rest of the world in creating new energy-efficient technology.

But one or two high-profile projects won’t be enough to challenge Europe’s network of high-speed trains or China’s investments in solar power. The White House could put the country at the forefront of sustainable technologies, but it’ll take more money than the president has committed. In AlterNet’s ideal state of the union, projects like the railway would merit sustained attention and funding. Funding for the high-speed train came from this year’s stimulus bill, and there’s no guarantee that similar projects will find federal funding in the future.

“Continued support is still needed” for green jobs and clean energy, Alternet’s editorial staff argues. “It’s unclear yet how Obama’s new proposal for a three-year spending freeze will apply to this sector, but a boost is what is needed, not cuts.”

Green jobs

Michelle Chen argues for In These Times that the president is right to subordinate climate issues to economic policy. “The jobs angle is more than sugar-coating,” she says. A recent Pew Research Center poll put climate change at the end of Americans’ long list of cares, and a Brookings Institution study found that they’re no longer willing to pay as much for greener products.

Jobless workers need green in their pockets most of all, and so far politicians’ promises haven’t made up for the slack economy.

“No matter how slick the marketing, confidence in green jobs may wilt even further absent real investments in the beleaguered blue-collar workforce,” Chen writes.

Copenhagen accord losing momentum

The small role that climate change played in the state of the union address only emphasized the downward momentum of the issue since the United Nations conference on global warming in Copenhagen. Grist’s Jonathan Hiskes talked to six leaders in climate change activism, and none of them offered a different strategy than they had last year.

That same stasis is showing up in Europe, as well. Spain, which currently leads the European Union, proposed that the European Union’s negotiating position should remain the same as its position before the Copenhagen conference, according to Inter Press Service.

Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), who’s working on climate change legislation in the Senate, offered advice to climate activists at a clean energy forum in Washington, DC on Wednesday. Mother JonesKate Sheppard reports that Sen. Kerry encouraged his audience to get angrier, louder, and more active, in the mode of the conservative Tea Partiers, who have earned plenty of attention. After his speech, he also recalled the tactics that pushed landmark legislation like the Clean Air Act through Congress.

If climate change is going to play a larger role in the next state of the union, the citizens and groups concerned about this issue need to do something to put it on the agenda. Otherwise, next year, the president may find it just as easy to skim over it again.

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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