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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Palin's Comments on Mining Measure Pushed the Limits of Executive Power

| Tue Sep. 9, 2008 1:55 PM EDT

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In Alaska, it's against the law for a governor to advocate for or against a ballot measure. But that didn't matter much to Sarah Palin. At an August 20th press conference a reporter asked Palin her opinion of Measure 4, known as the Clean Water Initiative, which would have imposed new restrictions on mining companies. Fishermen worried that a proposal to build one of the world's largest open-pit gold mines at the headwaters of one of the Alaska's most productive salmon streams could wreck the famed Bristol Bay (which is also the namesake of Palin's pregnant daughter). With the measure to restrict the mine coming down to a squeaker at the polls, this is what Palin said: "Let me take my governor's hat off just for a minute here and tell you, personally, Prop 4 -- I vote no on that."

Her nod-and-wink endorsement was immediately seized by mining companies to create this ad, which ran in papers around the state as part of an $8 million media campaign--one of the most expensive ballot measure ad blitzes in Alaska history. Six days later, the Clean Water Initiative was voted down.

Clearly, Palin's comments violated the spirit of Alaska's law. And this wasn't the only way she pushed legal boundaries to support her friends in the mining industry. Palin's Department of Natural Resources had published a primer on Measure 4 on its website that environmentalists complained was entirely negative and improperly echoed the mining industry's concerns. On August 24th, just three days before voters weighed in on the initiative, the state's Public Offices Commission finally ruled that the enviros were right and ordered the website to undergo changes.

There are weird echoes of the Bush/Cheney war over executive power here.

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Palin's First Year as Mayor: Off With Their Heads!

| Sun Sep. 7, 2008 12:31 AM EDT

The Seattle Times has unearthed three boxes of archived documents on Palin's first year as the mayor of Wasilla. The year is 1996, and Palin can't seem to decide whether she wants to be Karl Rove or the Queen of Hearts. Elections in this town of 5,000 are officially nonpartisan, but Palin and her supporters turn the race into a senseless proxy war for national issues: they tar her opponent as "pro-abortion" and question his marital status, trumpet her endorsement by the NRA, and roll out the slogan, "Conservative, More Efficient Government." Her backers include an only-in-Alaska coalition of the religious right and bar owners who want to make sure they can keep serving until 5 a.m.

After she's elected, she gets drunk on power and goes on a firing binge. We already knew she pink slipped the anti-book-banning librarian, but here we learn more: she fires the police chief, who'd recently been named Wasilla's employee of the year, and, in a sort of Lord of the Flies scenario, asks the three employees of the town museum to decide among themselves who will get the ax (all three decide to quit). The same year, she's stopped by the city attorney after she tries to stack the city council. The local paper, the Frontiersman, condemns her in blistering editorials and citizens talk of a recall.

Despite all of this, of course, she's reelected in 1999. She's a smoother politician by then. But given the way she later wields the axe as governor (see Troopergate), maybe the editors of the Frontiersman were onto something when they wrote that Palin's philosophy was "that either we are with her or against her." Sounds a lot like king what's-his-name


Carbon Offsets: Laughing off Climate Change?

| Thu Jul. 24, 2008 1:41 PM EDT

From the Wall Street Journal, here's the Kyoto Treaty's latest carbon offset scandal:

Rhodia SA manufactures hundreds of tons a day of adipic acid, an ingredient in nylon, at its factory [in Korea]. But the real money is in what it doesn't make. The payday, which could amount to more than $1 billion over seven years, comes from destroying nitrous oxide, or laughing gas, an unwanted byproduct and potent greenhouse gas. It's Rhodia's single most profitable business world-wide. Last year, destroying nitrous oxide here and at a similar plant in Brazil generated €189 million ($300.5 million) in sales of pollution "credits." . . .The [French-owned] Rhodia factory is slated to bring in more money, under the U.N.-administered program, than all the clean-air projects currently registered on the continent of Africa.

This story should lay to rest any doubts that carbon offsets must be treated with the utmost skepticism by lawmakers. It reprises a similar debacle I reported here, involving refrigerant manufactures who were "paid" under Kyoto to create more greenhouse gases so that they could destroy them and call it a carbon offset. The Rhodia case is all the more troubling because the culprit is a French company that should be running green anyway and because Kyoto's regulators were supposed to have learned how to prevent this by now. In short, buyer beware as the United States shops for its own legislative solution to climate change.
So why are these glaring cases of profiteering being glossed over in Washington? As I note in our July/August issue, the biggest carbon offset companies have partnered with some of the world's biggest polluters in an attempt to sculpt the details of a U.S. climate bill. (Lieberman-Warner would have allowed companies to meet up to 30 percent of their emission reductions with offsets). Hardly anybody is talking about this. The offset lobby still enjoys the kind of positive PR that its industrial partners can only dream of. It's a joke, but they're the ones who'll laugh to the bank.
 

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