Democratic Senators will discuss the prospects for climate and energy legislation at today's caucus lunch, a topic that was also on the agenda during last week's meeting, which ended before lawmakers could actually debate policy. Today's sessions is expected to provide guidance for what a package of energy and oil-spill related measures might look like. Majority Leader Harry Reid has said he expects to begin debate on the legislation after the July 4 recess.

Ahead of the meeting, 64 state and national environmental groups issued a joint statement to senators calling for the bill to include a cap on carbon dioxide, which remains one of the biggest questions on the package:

Thursday's caucus meeting will be a milestone in the effort to transition America to clean energy and finally address the dangers of carbon pollution. We expect our environmental allies – and all Senators who want to cut America's addiction to imported oil, create jobs, and reduce pollution – to speak out strongly for a truly comprehensive clean energy and climate bill.
With millions of gallons spilled in the Gulf of Mexico and a billion dollars a day going overseas for imported oil, we can no longer afford to delay our transition to clean energy. As President Obama told the nation last Tuesday night, "For decades we have failed to act with the sense of urgency that this challenge requires" and we must not "settle for the paltry limits of conventional wisdom." The time has come to act.

The League of Conservation Voters, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), Sierra Club, and Action Fund also announced an $11 million campaign on Thursday to push for comprehensive climate and energy action. The ads will start running next week, targeting key senators from both parties, the groups said.

The caucus meeting is supposed to end around 2 p.m.; I'll have more after that.

Today Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) released a new campaign ad bashing his conservative, Tea Party-endorsed opponent, former Nevada assemblywoman Sharron Angle. In it, Reid's campaign rips Angle for saying that Social Security is "welfare," and for claiming to want to eliminate both Social Security and Medicare. (Angle told Fox News' Sean Hannity earlier this month that she "want[s] to save Medicare and Social Security." She added that lawmakers need to "personalize" the two programs so "the government can't go in and raid it any more.") The ad concludes with a black-and-white screen that reads, "Sharron Angle: Just too extreme." Here's the ad:

This ad, of course, is just the beginning of what's sure to be a barrage of messaging from Reid's camp and his Democratic backers. They're certainly not lacking for dubious statements of Angle's to harp on; after all, this is the woman who recently claimed that unemployed people receiving government support are "spoiled." You can bet there's an ad in the works making light of that gaffe.

For Angle's part, she has yet to wade into the ad wars, so far releasing only one online commercial and mostly avoiding the press as she builds up her campaign operations. But you can bet she'll come out swinging soon enough.

Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is at war with the federal government over his plans to build protective barrier islands, or sand berms, to shield the state's coast from BP's oil spill. He called a news conference yesterday to blast the government for standing in the way of his plan. "We don't have time for red tape and bureaucracy," Jindal told reporters. "We're literally in a war to save our coast."

But Jindal's attack, critics say, is pure political grandstanding from an politican who's been floated as a potential Republican presidential candidate. They say he's putting his desire for the limelight ahead of the state's long-term environmental interests and possibly making the coast more vulnerable to storms.

The roots of the current showdown strech back to last month, when Jindal raised a fuss in order to get an expedited permit from the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to construct sand berms off the coast of his state. The berms, he said, would protect the nation's second oldest wildlife refuge, Breton National, and Chandeleur Islands from the oil coating the Gulf. The FWS granted the permit on the condition that the state pipe in sand from a point further up the island chain, rather than harvesting it from the the shoreline of the Chandeleur Islands, a critical nesting area for birds like the brown pelican and an essential barrier to protect the refuge from storms.

The state agreed to those conditions, which are clearly outlined in the permit. But when construction began on June 13, the state said the piping wasn't ready. The federal government, in turn, agreed to allow the state remove sand from the prohibited area for about a week until the piping arrived. That grace period has expired, but Louisiana says the pipes still aren't ready. It wants to keep removing sand from the off-limits area, but this time the federal government put its foot down.

"You don't want to destroy the village to save the village," Tom Strickland, the U.S. Interior Department's assistant secretary for fish, wildlife and parks, told reporters Wednesday. "It's a question of whether we're going to impair that island chain in a way that it may not ever be able to be restored."

Today in BP oil disaster news:

BP is now reinstalling the containment cap after a robotic vehicle hit it yesterday and forced crews to remove the cap.

Speaking of BP, if you've seen their work in the Gulf, wait until you hear what the company has planned for the Arctic.

The country's third largest pension fund, the $132.6 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund, is suing BP for losses incurred following the Gulf disaster. "BP misled investors about its safety procedures and its ability to respond to events like the ongoing oil spill, and we're going to hold it accountable," said New York State comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli.

Among the many tough decisions ahead for oil spill fund czar Kenneth Feinberg? Whether a strip club that caters to oil-rig workers should get a piece of the $20 billion fund oil spill victims.

The House passed a bill to grant the power of subpoena to the presidential oil spill commission on Wednesday evening.

Emergency workers in Pensacola Beach, Fla. found an oil-covered dolphin stranded on the beach yesterday.

In climate news:

Yesterday's White House meeting on climate and energy policy was delayed due to the unscheduled spanking of Gen. Stanley McChrystal. No update yet on a new date and time for the meeting.

Environmental groups are circulating a memo of the highlights of Sen. Lindsey Graham's flip-flopping on climate change, as Climatewire reports. It seems like just yesterday the South Carolina Republican was our best hope for bipartisanship on an energy package, doesn't it?

A measure to suspend California's landmark climate law will be on the ballot in November. Now, state environmental groups are fighting to protect AB32.

Ninety seven percent of climate researchers agree with the conclusions of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change: the planet is warming, and humans are causing it. The new study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The IPCC also released the names of the 813 scientists who have been selected to contribute to its fifth assessment report on climate change, which is due out in 2014.

Rep. Paul Broun (R-Ga.) worries that if Congress takes action to curb global warming pollution, old people in the south are going to die. Yes, that's if we take action, because he worries about whether they can afford air conditioning, not about warming up the planet. He knows this because he's a doctor, of course. "They’re gonna get dehydration and people are gonna have a lot of problems and it’s gonna have a greater impact on our health care system and people are gonna die because of that," says Broun. "And it’s gonna kill jobs too."

And in other environmental news:

Democrats in the House are trying to broker a deal with natural gas companies to get them to disclose the chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing, a process to extract natural gas from the ground. Some companies are using toxic substances, but they are currently exempted from disclosing them under the Clean Water Act.

The New York Times Magazine contemplates the end of tuna.

After three years of discussion about how to reduce whaling, the meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Agadir, Morocco, fell apart yesterday. "Fundamental positions remained very much apart," according to the IWC chairman Anthony Liverpool.


Members of the Provincial Reconstruction Team from Forward Operating Base Finley Shield walk through a construction site to ensure building is on schedule near Jalalabad city in Nangarhar, Afghanistan, on June 10. Photo via the US Army photo by Spc. David Jackson.

While all eyes were trained on the McChrystal/Obama/Petraeus drama in Washington Tuesday, Army officials quietly exonerated three soldiers who'd been accused of incompetence for their role in the deadliest attack on US soldiers in the Afghanistan war.

The service approved a recommendation by a soon-to-retire investigator, Gen. Charles Campbell, that "withdrew, cancelled and annulled" (PDF) the official reprimands of those three unnamed officers. The now-forgotten punishments stemmed from their roles in a July 13, 2008, ambush by foreign fighters on a US outpost in Wanat province. That grisly firefight left nine paratroopers dead and 27 more injured; it also fueled a fiery cry by the families of many fallen Afghanistan soldiers, who say incompetent tactics and leadership have been killing soldiers without anyone being held accountable.

It's a sad reality I wrote about in The Last Taboo: To avoid getting sick from waterborne diseases—chronic diarrhea, hookworm, dysentery, typhoid, cholera—in their monsoon ponds, the people of West Bengal, India, and of Bangladesh have been turning to tube wells. But a different death awaits from well water—cancers of the skin, bladder, and lung, among others. Thankfully, there are solutions.

According to a new study in the medical journal The Lancet, between 33 and 77 million people in Bangladesh have been exposed to arsenic in the drinking water. The World Health Organization calls it the largest mass poisoning in history.

The findings:

  • One in five deaths in Bangladesh (population: 125 million) is associated with exposure to water from wells with arsenic concentrations greater than 10 micrograms per liter.
  • Arsenic exposure is with increased mortality due to heart disease and other chronic diseases in addition to the more familiar medical consequences of arsenic exposure: skin lesions, cancers of the skin, bladder and lung.
  • An increase of nearly 70 percent in all-cause mortality was found among those exposed to the highest concentration of arsenic in water (150 to 864 micrograms/liter).
  • Researchers also found a dose-related effect that included increased mortaility even at relatively low levels of exposure, including the Bangladesh safety standard (50 micrograms/liter) and the WHO recommended standard (10 micrograms/liter).

The poisoning is the result of well-intentioned efforts on the part of aid and development agencies in the 1970s when 10 million tube wells were built to combat waterborne diseases. While the new wells reduced exposure to some diseases, they also yielded water contamined with arsenic, which occurs naturally in the region.

The arsenic can be avoided by digging deeper wells—an approach already yielding safer drinking water for roughly 100,000 people in Bangladesh—and by deploying filtering systems.

I wrote about the benefits of a a deeper tube for well Supta Halder, her extended family, even her cows, in The Last Taboo.

According to a senior House member investigating the Gulf oil disaster, BP still won't admit that oil is gathering in large plumes in the Gulf of Mexico, despite a new report from the federal government that shows the plumes do indeed exist. BP has been denying their existence for some time, and continues to and hide information that indicates otherwise, said Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) on Wednesday.

Last month, shortly after BP CEO Tony Hayward argued that there was "no evidence" that these plumes exist, Markey sent the company a letter asking them to validate those claims, which BP then provided. But Markey says that BP's response to his inquiry "omits information publicly available on EPA's website that used BP's own data," as well as independent analysis that have been conducted on areas beyond the well site. (The documents BP provided are all posted on the Select Committee website.) Markey accused the company of "making questionable assertions using flawed and incomplete analysis" in a statement Wednesday.

When Hayward testified to House members last week, he was similiarly dismissive of the plumes. Hayward argued that there was only "oil in very low concentrations ... distributed throughout the column," when asked at the June 17 hearing. On Friday, Markey sent another letter to the company asking for more data to support their claims that these underwater plume don't exist. The company has not yet responded to that request.

But the latest government report, issued Wednesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, "confirms the existence of a previously discovered cloud of diffuse oil at depths of 3,300 to 4,600 feet near the wellhead."

"NOAA and the EPA have confirmed these plumes exist. Independent scientists have confirmed these plumes exist," said Markey. "Will it take a submarine ride to show these BP executives that these plumes exist?"

Back in the 1950s, the World Health Organization initiated the Global Malaria Eradication Program, which successfully eradicated malaria in 25 countries. Interestingly enough, almost all of the countries that succeeded were islands or adjacent to countries that also eliminated malaria (the two exceptions were Israel and Chile). The lesson was a simple but important one: When it comes to disease control, it matters who your neighbors are.

Researchers at the University of Florida took this idea to heart in a study published this week in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences aimed at improving malaria elimination strategies. The underlying hypothesis of the study is that many national campaigns fail to eradicate malaria because they try to do so only within their national boundaries—borders drawn by colonialism, war, natural resources, and treaties. The borders of malaria, on the other hand, are determined by factors like climate, mosquitoes, and human migration. So the researchers analyzed migration patterns, malaria transmission maps, and global population data in order to determine the natural boundaries for malaria endemics in different regions of the world.

The Petraeus Effect

I asked earlier today whether the McChrystal controversy might ignite a serious debate or even reappraisal of the merits of Obama's Afghanistan strategy. With McChrystal now gone and Petraeus stepping into the breach, some have suggested that the public will be even less likely to question and scrutinize the war than before, given the near-mythical aura surrounding Petraeus and his purported accomplishments. After all, McChrystal may eat only one meal a day and sleep four hours a night, but Petraeus--well, he's the "King David" who did 50 push-ups only days after getting shot in the chest.

Here's Adam Serwer's take:

The appointment of General Petraeus is likely to squelch any such discussion before it gets started. The near superhero status Petraeus enjoys isn't simply due to his intelligence or capability as a leader -- its also the result of media mythmaking about the Iraq War. Despite the ease with which the country has come to adopt the narrative that the 2007 troop escalation and the shift to a counterinsurgency strategy singlehandedly turned the Iraq War around, it remains untrue. As Michael Cohen helpfully continues to remind us, there were a number of factors involved, including ethnic cleansing in Baghdad, the Sunni tribes turning on al-Qaeda's affiliate in Iraq and the Sadr ceasefire.

My colleague David Corn has a similar write-up, offering multiple takedowns of the "surge hype."

One additional note: The Petraeus pick re-affirms and arguably intensifies Obama's commitment to pursuing the counterinsurgency strategy in Afghanistan. But there's at least one new message that Obama seems to be sending, regarding the deadline he's set for US troop withdrawal. Spencer explains:

Today Obama clarified what July 2011 means — somewhat. It means what Gen. Petraeus, his new commander, told the Senate he supports: not a “race for the exits,” but a “conditions-based,” open-ended transition. If that still sounds unclear, it’s because the policy itself is unclear. But by placing Petraeus at the helm, it means that 2012 will probably look more like right now, in terms of troop levels and U.S. troops fighting, than anything Biden prefers.