Josh Harkinson

Josh Harkinson

Reporter

Born in Texas and based in San Francisco, Josh covers tech, labor, drug policy, and the environment. PGP public key.

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US Subsidizes Coal Plants Through World Bank's "Clean Technology Fund"

| Wed Sep. 16, 2009 12:01 PM EDT

The World Bank is spending billions of dollars to help construct coal-fired power plants in the developing world, using a fund that is supposed to help wean the world from carbon-spewing fossil fuels, the Times of London reported today.

The United States donated $2 billion over three years to a fund that would "begin the important work of reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the developing world," US Treasury official David McCormick said in a press release last September. "The United States is firmly committed to the Clean Technology Fund and its mission to help developing countries make transformational investments in clean technology that will be necessary to move them onto cleaner development paths."

It turns out those "transformational" investments include coal plants in South Africa, Botswana, and other developing countries. One loan of $850 million will help erect a coal plant in Gujarat, India that will emit 26.7 million tons of CO2 each year for the next 50 years, making it one of the biggest new sources of greenhouse gasses on Earth.

"There are a lot of poor countries which have coal reserves and for them it's the only option," Marianne Fay, the bank's chief economist for sustainable development, told the Times. "The [bank's] policy is to continue funding coal to the extent there is no alternative."

But is there really no alternative to building a coal plant in Gujarat, one of the most industrialized states in India? A search of carbon offset projects funded through the Kyoto Protocol's Clean Development Mechanism turns up 12 alternative energy projects in Gujarat, including numerous wind projects and a 219 MW LNG natural gas plant. And don't forget the high-profile pact India signed with the US to construct of 18 to 20 nuclear plants. Moreover, South Africa has two nuclear plants and recently opened a natural gas pipeline from Mozambique.

The Times piece gave few details on how "clean" the coal plants will be compared to others in the developing world. But clearly the bank has a lot of explaining to do given its longstanding reputation for funding environmental disasters.

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Greens Target Oil Sands Before Obama-Harper Meeting

| Tue Sep. 15, 2009 3:51 PM EDT

Breaking out their familiar u-locks and mountain gear today, climate activists engaged in several acts of daring-do to spotlight Canada's oil sands in advance of Wednesday's meeting between President Barack Obama and prime minister Stephen Harper. Members of the Rainforest Action Network rappelled off the observation tower above Niagara falls to hang a 70-foot banner, and Greenpeace's monkey-wrenchers blocked a giant oil sands dumptruck, locked themselves to it, and webcast the affair.

The first Washington meeting between the two leaders is expected to cover a range of issues, including climate change and energy. Massive strip mining of Alberta's oil sands deposits--also known as tar sands--have made Canada  the US' top supplier of foreign oil but also caused it to miss its emissions targets under the Kyto Protocol. Obama and Harper are expected to look for ways to keep the sands pumping. They'll likely discuss cooperation on carbon capture and storage technologies (also a potential boon to coal country). And enviros also fear they'll seek ways to exempt the sands from the federal low-carbon fuel standard; producing oil from the sands emits up to three times the greenhouse gases as pumping and refining oil from the Middle East.

As the world's largest oil reserve outside of Saudi Arabia, the tar sands presents the Obama administration with a vexing political problem. Relying on the sands is exacerbating global warming, creating an environmental wasteland the size of Florida, and sickening and displacing a vocal native community--outcomes at odds with Obama's environmental and climate agenda. But the sands also insulate the US from the volatile Middle East.  So far, there's little doubt which is a bigger government priority: On his first official visit to Canada, in February, Obama was mum on the sands' environmental footprint. And last month, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton approved a trans-border pipeline that will send us a whopping 800,000 barrels of tar sands oil a day--equivalent to 8 percent of net US oil imports. Environmentalists are challenging the approval in court.

The activist website Dirty Oil Sands has more on how green groups are targeting Harper leading up to the meeting.

 

Beck's Next Scalp: NEA's Yosi Sergant

| Thu Sep. 10, 2009 1:12 PM EDT

Glenn Beck has another scalp. Yosi Sergant, communications director for the National Endowment for the Arts, stepped down today after Beck and the conservative Washington Times accused him of improperly encouraging artists to support the political goals of the Obama administration.

Yosi SergantYosi SergantOn August 10th, Sargent joined a conference call with the White House Office of Public Engagement and roughly 75 artists, musicians, writers, filmmakers, and other creatives, according to Patrick Courrielche, an Los-Angeles based art consultant who blogged about the call late last month before appearing on Beck's show. He described the call as "an attempt to recapture the excitement and enthusiasm of the campaign," and use artists as "tools of the state" to support the administration's positions. 

Sergant is uniquely vulnerable to those claims. Before joining the endowment, he led the media effort for Shepard Fairey, the street artist who created the "Hope" portrait that helped turn the president into a pop icon.

The call's official purpose was to discuss United We Serve, the White House's (heretofore) uncontroversial push to promote volunteerism and civic engagement.  Discussing how the artists could help support the effort, Sargent said, "I would encourage you to pick something, whether it's healthcare, education, the environment." Courrielche, a self-described "a skeptic of BIG government," saw in that statement an effort to create artistic support for Obama's policy goals. But those are also areas of volunteerism that are promoted by the government's Corporation for National and Community Service, which participated in the call.

Still, Courrielche claims that the context of the conversation was highly political. On his blog, he says that the "Hope" poster and musician Will.i.am's "Yes We Can" song were presented during the call "as shining examples of our group's clear role in the election." Yet the recordings he has produced so far don't back up that claim (A side note: recording calls in California without the knowlege of those being taped is technically illegal).

Even so, the recordings portray Sargent speaking in a way that is clearly ill-advised for the director of the NEA, an organization that has been a Republican punching bag for decades. Sargent's main problem seems to be an overabundance of enthusiasm:

This is just the beginning. This is the first telephone call of a brand new conversation. We are just now learning how to really bring this community together to speak with the government, what that looks like legally. We're still trying to figure out the laws of putting government websites on Facebook. And the use of Twitter. This is all being sorted out. We are participating in history as it's being made. So bear with us as we learn the language so that we can speak with each other safely. And we can really work together to move the needle to get stuff done.

He added:

Get the word out. Like I said, this is a community that knows how to make a stink.

And, according to Beck, an unnamed person on the call says:

Through this group we can create stronger community amonst ourselves to get involved in things that we are passionate about, as we did in the campaign. . .We can continue to get involved to do things we care about, but also to push the President and push his administration.

Clearly, Sargent may have crossed the line, especially if the last quote is from him. And yet there are many unanswered questions: Does "making a stink" mean whacking the conservative beehive? Do the "legal issues" Sargent mentions have anything to do with promoting Obama's policies? Possibly, but it would be nice to have more context.  Not that the ambiguity made any difference to Beck, who claims the NEA is engaging in Nazi-like propaganda.

The NEA declined to comment to Mother Jones beyond a prepared statement. "This call was not a means to promote any legislative agenda," acting communications director Victoria Hutter wrote in an email, "and any suggestions to that end are simply false."

 Though it may be frustrating to many of Sargent's friends and supporters, his demotion (he's still with the NEA, Hutter added) is not surprising. Few other government programs have been as closely watched and viciously attacked by conservative Republicans in the past 30 years. In Mike Huckabee's race against Arkansas Senator Dale Bumpers, he famously called the veteran Senator a pornographer because he was an NEA backer. And who could forget Jesse Helms' campaign against the Piss Christ? Sargent was foolish not to realize that the artistic-Democrat conspiracy is a powerful meme in the GOP toolbox. It's sad, but someone in his position has to be almost pathologically careful not to fuel it. And that's got to be especially hard for someone so attached to political art. Yesterday night Sargent simply Tweeted, "it's go time."

What's Really Behind the Van Jones Attack

| Wed Sep. 9, 2009 12:13 PM EDT

The political smear campaign against Van Jones didn't begin in the paranoid brain of Glenn Beck. The wildly distorted attacks that ultimately brought down President Obama's green jobs czar on Saturday were fed to Beck by Phil Kerpen, the little-known policy director for the polluter front group Americans for Prosperity. Taking credit for the effort in jubilant, surprisingly frank blogs and tweets, Kerpen describes Jones' resignation as the first blow in a new fight to derail the climate bill.

This post continues at Mojo Blog.

What's Really Behind the Van Jones Attack

| Tue Sep. 8, 2009 4:29 PM EDT

UPDATE: On Wednesday, Kerpen continued his effort to associate green jobs with progressive radicalism and cronyism, in this New York Post op-ed alleging a link between the Apollo Alliance and the Weathermen.

The political smear campaign against Van Jones didn't begin in the paranoid brain of Glenn Beck. The wildly distorted attacks that ultimately brought down President Obama's green jobs czar on Saturday were fed to Beck by Phil Kerpen, the little-known policy director for the polluter front group Americans for Prosperity. Taking credit for the effort in jubilant, surprisingly frank blogs and tweets, Kerpen describes Jones' resignation as the first blow in a new fight to derail the climate bill.

"The Van Jones affair could be an important turning point in the Obama administration," Kerpen gushed on the Fox website this Sunday. "It's also one of the most significant things I've had the honor of being involved in."

Kerpen goes on to recount sending Fox an article on Jones from the East Bay Express, an Oakland alt-weekly that covers Jones' hometown. "Please share with Glenn this article about green jobs czar Van Jones, a self-described communist who was radicalized in jail," Kerpen wrote in a note to Beck's producer, adding: "Confirms 'watermelon' hypothesis." (Kerpen claims this wasn't a reference to Jones' black skin, but rather a hypothesis that the climate bill is "Green on the outside but communist red to the core.")

"The rest is history," Kerpen boasts. He spent two weeks "researching everything I could find about Jones" before appearing on Beck's program several times last month to dish.

Beck clearly didn't care that Kerpen wasn't a journalist, that his allegations against Jones were wildly exaggerated, or that he had a clear conflict of interest: Americans for Prosperity was launched and funded by foundations and family members tied to Koch Holdings LLC, which has extensive oil and chemical holdings. In February, Americans for Prosperity began airing ads that described backers of the climate bill as "wealthy eco-hypocrites." (Nevermind that AFP founder Fred Koch has a net worth of roughly $17 billion).  And it's behind this summer's Hot Air Tour, a traveling air show that is "exposing the ballooning costs of global warming hysteria." In his Fox blog post, Kerpen is completely frank about his motivation for appearing on Beck's show. ". . .I was glad to do it," he writes, "because exposing the green jobs scam is critical to fight cap-and-trade, my top legislative priority for the year."

In other words, it's no accident that Kerpen targeted Jones. Opponents of the climate bill hate the idea of "green jobs" because it undermines their central argument: that fixing the climate will wreck the economy. That's why Obama's speeches have glossed over climate science in favor of talking up energy independence and the coming clean tech boom. But if Kerpen and his ilk can reframe green jobs as "government" jobs, linking them to fears of pork, cronyism, and central planning, then they start winning again. So it helps immensely to call Jones a "self-described communist," or put forth, as Beck has, that "almost everyone who does believe in global warming is a socialist."

Kerpen makes no effort to conceal this agenda. He's even created a flow chart of progressive political groups in an effort to leverage his Jones narrative into one in which green jobs are primarily left-wing political patronage jobs. "[The] push for "green jobs" has everything to do with funding the far-left political activities that Van Jones so adamantly believed in," he writes.

Green jobs are not economic jobs but political jobs, designed to funnel vast sums of taxpayer money to left-wing labor unions, environmental groups, and social justice community organizers.

Now that Jones has resigned, we need to follow through with two critical policy victories.  First, stop cap-and-trade, which could send these green groups trillions, and second repeal the unspent portion of the stimulus bill, which stands to give them billions.  The Van Jones affair is, as President Obama likes to say, a "teachable moment," and we need to put not just him but the whole corrupt "green jobs" concept outside the bounds of the political mainstream.

As ridiculous as this idea sounds, it's clearly working for the time being, and it's not about to go away. Kerpen notes that many of his "findings" have yet to be published, including a forthcoming paper from the Capital Research Center, a group with past ties to tobacco money that "monitors" environmental and labor groups. Expect more of the same from a fossil fuel industry that's growing increasingly desperate to reframe the debate.  Last week, Kerpen sent his 4,800 Twitter followers this call to arms: "All the Van Jones outrage in the world won't matter if we don't stop stimulus abuse and cap-and-trade." 

Alternet's Addie Stan also reported on Americans for Prosperity in a story that we have crossposted here.

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