Blue Marble - April 2010

EPA Blasts Mountaintop Removal

| Thu Apr. 1, 2010 1:47 PM PDT

After Wednesday's sucker-punch to enviros on offshore drilling, the Obama administration made an announcement today more to their liking: new guidelines to encourage tougher oversight of mountaintop removal (MTR) coal mining. Anti-coal activists are calling the directive the "most significant administrative action ever taken" on the controversial practice.

The Environmental Protection Agency has provided guidance to ensure that state and federal regulators enforce existing environmental standards more strictly. The EPA also made public several scientific reports on the impacts of surface mining, and announced the creation of a website where citizens can track the permitting process for new mining sites.

Mountaintop removal mining, which involves blowing off the tops of mountains to reach coal seams beneath the surface and dumping the waste in valleys and streams, has devastating effects on the environment and local communities. The EPA's announcement was perhaps most notable for formally recognizing those impacts:

The resulting waste that then fills valleys and streams can significantly compromise water quality, often causing permanent damage to ecosystems and rendering streams unfit for swimming, fishing and drinking. It is estimated that almost 2,000 miles of Appalachian headwater streams have been buried by mountaintop coal mining.
"The people of Appalachia shouldn't have to choose between a clean, healthy environment in which to raise their families and the jobs they need to support them. That’s why EPA is providing even greater clarity on the direction the agency is taking to confront pollution from mountain top removal,” said EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson. “We will continue to work with all stakeholders to find a way forward that follows the science and the law. Getting this right is important to Americans who rely on affordable coal to power homes and businesses, as well as coal communities that count on jobs and a livable environment, both during mining and after coal companies move to other sites.

The EPA has had a mixed record on MTR in the past year. Last fall they called for a time-out on MTR permits, but soon afterward approved a mine site in West Virginia, alarming many anti-MTR activists. Last week, however, the EPA vetoed the largest proposed MTR site in the country.

Enviromentalists cheered today's move. But as Rainforest Action's Amanda Starbuck points out, the administration stopped short of issuing an outright ban on MTR, which many groups have called for. "Moving forward, we urge the EPA to take holistic measures to end this devastating practice once and for all," says Starbuck. "We cannot end mountaintop removal coal mining pollution without ending mountaintop removal all together."

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George W. Bush, Wind Guru?

| Thu Apr. 1, 2010 12:05 PM PDT

President George W. Bush hasn't made many public appearances since departing Washington last year. He hit the motivational speaker circuit last fall, and spoke at the Safari Club International Annual Hunters' Convention in Reno, Nevada in January.

But next month, he is slated to address the 2010 national conference of the wind power industry in Dallas. And no, this isn't an April Fool's joke. The Texas native—reviled by enviros as president—will apparently be espousing the virtues of wind power at the meeting, sponsored by the American Wind Energy Association. From AWEA's blog:

The former president will talk about his experience as Texas's governor, and as President, in advancing the wind energy agenda. (Texas is the number one wind state in the United States and, though most people don't realize it, it was President Bush who first raised the prospect of getting 20% of U.S. electricity from wind.)

"Raised the prospect" is an interesting choice of words. Bush did sign into law a strong renewable energy standard in Texas 1999 as governor, which the state quickly surpassed. Texas now has more installed wind capacity than any other state. As president he did say in 2007 that the country could draw 20 percent of its power from wind by 2030, but he never actually took the steps needed to make that happen.

Bush reportedly charges $150,000 for his appearances, though he gives home-town events like this one at a discount—just $100,000. So wind advocates are probably paying a pretty penny to have his star power at this year’s event. The conference also features Jason Alexander—a.k.a George Costanza of Seinfeld fame. I can't decide which speaker is the more bizarre selection.

Inside Koch's Climate Denial Machine

| Thu Apr. 1, 2010 9:28 AM PDT

Who’s behind a multi-million dollar campaign to seed doubt about climate change? It’s not just Exxon and Chevron—it’s also Koch Industries, an oil and gas giant that most people have never heard of, according to a new report from Greenpeace. Koch's extensive funding of anti-climate work makes it the "financial kingpin of climate science denial and clean energy opposition," says Greenpeace.

The Kansas-based company and its affiliates and foundations spent almost $25 million on "organizations of the 'climate denial machine'" between 2005 and 2008, according to the report. Koch Industries and the Koch family also spent $37.9 million between 2006 and 2009. "Although Koch intentionally stays out of the public eye, it is now playing a quiet but dominant role in a high-profile national policy debate on global warming," the report concludes.

The company is led by brothers Charles G. Koch and David H. Koch, and is the second largest privately-held company in America. As I've reported previously, their estranged brother, William, is behind the efforts to block the Cape Wind offshore wind project in Massachusetts. Koch money comes through a lot of business interests – ranching, mining, oil refining, and producing paper products, fertilizer, and chemicals.

The report lists 35 organizations who have directly or indirectly received money from Koch Industries, affiliates, or Koch family foundations. They include the libertarian think-tank Cato Institute, which received a $1 million grant from the Kochs. Cato runs the climate-change-denial site GlobalWarming.org, and is suing the Environmental Protection Agency to block its finding that climate change threatens human health. The Koch family has also directed more than $5 million to Americans for Prosperity, which has campaigned against efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions. They have also supported Citizens for a Sound Economy (which later merged with another group to form FreedomWorks).

The Koch PAC has given more than $10,000 to 21 lawmakers since 2004—four Democrats and 17 Republicans—which is more than any other oil-and-gas sector PAC, the report states. Topping the House recipients: Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) at $30,500, Eric Cantor (R-Va.) at $28,000, and Joe Barton (R-Texas) at $26,500. On the Senate side, Jim DeMint (R-SC) and Lisa Murkowsi (R-Alaska) both received $20,000 in Koch Funds, and Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) received $18,000.

Between the foundation-funded groups, lobbying, political action contributions, Koch Industries and the Koch brothers are "among the most formidable obstacles to advancing clean energy and climate policy in the U.S.," Greenpeace states.

The report also looks at Koch's role in the so-called "ClimateGate" scandal, in which emails between scientists were hacked and made public. There’s been little doubt that this and other recent attacks on climate science were a coordinated attack by well-organized and well-funded groups hoping to sow doubt about the validity of climate change. Greenpeace notes that "Twenty organizations, roughly half of the Koch-funded groups profiled in this report, have contributed to the "ClimateGate" echo chamber." The groups have posted articles, hosted events, and landed their in-house skeptics on cable news. Cato, for example, recently boasted that its senior fellow, Pat Michaels, was "at the center of the 'ClimateGate' controversy" in their newsletter.

The Kochs have also supported efforts to undermine scientific findings that polar bears are threatened by climate change by funding a study by prominent climate deniers. One of the authors, Dr. Willie Soon, disclosed in the acknowledgments that his work "was partially supported by grants from the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, American Petroleum Institute, and Exxon-Mobil Corporation."

Koch downplayed its role in the climate denial industry, issuing a statement to Agence France-Presse claiming that the company works to "support open, science-based dialogue about climate change and the likely effects of proposed energy policies on the global economy." A later statement claimed that Greenpeace "mischaracterizes" its efforts, which are meant to "advance economic freedom and market-based policy solutions to challenges faced by society" and create "more opportunity and prosperity for all."

Check out the whole report, an excellent case study of the climate denial machine. (Also, I should note, you may see ads for the report on our website this week).

News From TreeHugger: DC Bag Tax Shows Impressive Results

| Thu Apr. 1, 2010 9:10 AM PDT

Editor's Note: A weekly roundup from our friends over at TreeHugger. Enjoy!

Wisconsin Bans Phosphorus in Lawn Fertilizer to Protect Drinking Water and Tourism Industry

Recognizing the need to protect Wisconsin's lakes and rivers, which support a large and economically important tourism industry, and which provide drinking water for a large portion of Wisconsin's residents, the State no longer allows sale of phosphorus-containing lawn products intended for maintenance (recurring) application. There are exemptions for starting up a new lawn, gardening, and so on, but the bottom line is that retailers and producers are going need to stock no-phosphorus lawn care products.

Plastic Bag Use in DC Drops From 22 Million to 3 Million a Month

Washington DC's 5 cent tax on plastic bags, instated just this past January, has already proven to have a phenomenal impact: the number of plastic bags handed out by supermarkets and other establishments dropped from the 2009 monthly average of 22.5 million to just 3 million in January. While significantly reducing plastic waste, the tax simultaneously generated $150,000 in revenue, which will be used to clean up the Anacostia River.

San Francisco is the First City in the US to Count Its Parking Spaces

t might come as a surprise to some, but pretty much all cities in the U.S. (and the world) have only a vaguest idea of how much parking spaces (public and private) they have. Almost all of them, but now there's a sizeable exception: San Francisco spent the past 18 months counting parking spaces. Total: 441,541 spaces. Over 280,000 on streets, 25,000 of which are metered. Now that this is know, decisions about removing or adding parkings can be informed, and be part of a bigger-picture plan.

Peruvian Farmers Happy to Offset West's Carbon

Peruvian farmers are about to get a windfall--and it's all thanks to the burgeoning carbon offsetting market. Recently, one particular section of Peru was selected to be the site of a massive reforesting operation to offset CO2 emissions of Nestle Waters France over 6 thousand miles away. But, in age where the appearance of environmental responsibility often supersedes actual responsibility, the bottled water company has enlisted the help of France's most well-known environmentalist to head the tree planting project to show that all is on the level--and he insists that Peruvians won't be the only ones to benefit from it.

The US May Finally Get a Bigger Gas Tax, But Would It Work?

The US has long had among the most minuscule taxes of transportation fuels in the developed world--blame it on our deeply ingrained car culture or the plethora of wide open spaces that make transit via automobile seem more like a need than a privilege. Either way, we may finally see a significant bump in the amount consumers pay at the pump—one of the anticipated provisions in the soon-to-be-released Kerry-Graham-Lieberman energy reform bill is a proposed spike in the national gas tax. But would such a tax accomplish its intended goal of curbing carbon emissions and deterring Americans from relying so heavily on automobiles?