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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The Climate Bill's Biofuel Boondoggle

| Thu Jun. 25, 2009 8:41 PM EDT

In what may be this week's worst amendment to the Waxman-Markey climate bill, a midwestern Congressman has introduced a provision that would ban the EPA from accounting for the full carbon footprint of biofuels.

Collin Peterson (D-Minn.), the powerful chair of the House Committee on Agriculture, is expected to attach the amendment before releasing the bill to the House floor, where a vote is expected as early as tomorrow. The change would prevent the EPA from accounting for the way that growing biofuel crops in the U.S. drives food production abroad, causing deforestation that contributes to climate change. Ignoring this "indirect land-use change"--the technical term for a phenemon that can account for up to 40 percent of corn-based ethanol's carbon emissions--would allow the fuel to qualify under the 2007 Renewable Fuel Standard, making it eligible for government subsidies.

In effect, the ethanol industry is hiding behind the difficulty of calculating its own environmental footprint. Though the EPA  has already devised a method to account for the land-use impacts of biofuels, the amendment prohibits the agency from implementing it for six years, at which point the National Academy of Sciences will have completed a study that is supposed to resolve lingering uncertanties with the method. 

 

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Hillary Clinton Could Make or Break U.S. Dependence on the Tar Sands

| Tue Jun. 23, 2009 5:56 PM EDT

An obscure executive order issued by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1968 has given Secretary of State Hillary Clinton the power to approve or deny a massive oil pipeline between Canada's controversial tar sands and U.S. oil refineries.

In the coming weeks, the State Department will decide whether to grant a permit for the  1,000-mile Alberta Clipper pipeline, which would be capable of carrying up to 800,000 barels per day of crude oil--or about 8 percent of net U.S. oil imports--from the tar sands in eastern Alberta to refineries on Lake Superior in Wisconsin.

Under current law--rarely invoked, given that oil imports typically arrive in the U.S. by tanker--the Secretary of State must receive all applications for the construction of "pipelines, conveyor belts, and similar facilities for the exportation and importation of petroleum." If the Secretary finds that granting a permit "would not serve the national interest," she can deny it.

Study: 98 Percent of "Eco-Friendly" Products Make Misleading Claims

| Mon Jun. 22, 2009 2:32 PM EDT

A study of 4,000 "eco-friendly" consumer products found on supermarket shelves found that 98 percent of them make false or misleading claims. The study, presented to Congress earlier this month by the environmental consulting firm TerraChoice, found rampant greenwashing in every product category. Twenty-two percent of the products it evaluated featured an environmental badge, or "green label," that was actually meaningless.

Congress is now debating better ways clamp down on greenwashing. The Federal Trade Comission, which is supposed to prevent the practice, has taken almost no enforcement action against greenwashers over the past decade. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) is contemplating introducing a bill that would boost federal oversight of eco-marketing, including product lablels.  While one third of conumers rely on labels to decide if a product is environmentally friendly, there is a confusing jumble of 300 competing environmental certification programs that bombards them with competing and misleading claims.

UPDATE: Check out the interview I did on the subject with Green Patriot Radio.

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