Blue Marble - April 2010

McCain's 'Straight Talk Express' Gets a Green Makeover

| Fri Apr. 23, 2010 7:46 PM EDT

Since finishing in second place for president in 2008, John McCain has gone to great lengths to distance himself from, well, himself. He's ditched his past compassion for immigration reform, and even gone so far as to disavow the nickname "maverick"his epithet of choice for much of his political career. So it's only fitting, I guess, that McCain's fabled Straight Talk Express campaign bus (shown here, getting the full Cribs treatment) has gone through something of a makeover as well. As Lloyd Grove at the Daily Beast reports, McCain's 2008 wheels are experiencing a second life in an environmental advocacy campaign spearheaded by Alexandra Cousteau, the granddaughter of underwater explorer Jacques:

With the defunct McCain logo now painted over in drab purple, the 45-foot biodiesel tour bus is outfitted with Internet access, state-of-the-art editing suites and other multimedia equipment that will accommodate Cousteau’s international production crew of 15... Cousteau’s journey, starting from the nation’s capital, will take in water spots in the United States and Canada, including the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway, the headwaters of the Colorado River, the Florida Keys, and the Kingston, Tennessee, coal ash sludge spill that, when a dam broke on a containment pool at a coal-fired electricity plant, dumped more than a billion gallons of toxic waste into the surrounding area.

I've always wondered (probably too much) what happens to campaign buses after their candidates crash and burn. I guess now we have our answer. Now if only someone can figure out what happened to the Ron Paul blimp.

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Deep Thoughts from Biz Markie

| Fri Apr. 23, 2010 4:15 PM EDT

It's Friday, and we've had a long week of climate bill highs ("They're introducing a bill on Monday! At last!") and lows ("It's probably sorta weak!"). So instead of more news, I will leave you with Biz Markie's special Earth Day rendition of "Just a Friend."

I would venture that "All we need is a clean energy law/But all they're just hearing is 'blah blah blah'" is not his greatest lyrical accomplishment. But, go on, Biz:

I interviewed Biz a few months ago about his involvement with the Repower America campaign. Asked about why he got involved in the movement, he said, "Without the environment, there would be no hip-hop."

Deep, Biz. Deep.

Will Immigration Crowd Out Climate?

| Fri Apr. 23, 2010 4:10 PM EDT

 When senators unveil a climate and energy bill on Monday, they say it will have the support of industry groups that have long opposed addressing global warming. But now they may face a new challenge: keeping the climate bill on the agenda.

Climate was originally going to be the number two issue on Democrats' to-do list after health care reform. Earlier this year, it was bumped down to third place, after financial reform. Now the Democratic leadership is indicating that immigration reform may jump the queue ahead of climate, too.

The move—likely due at least in part to Majority Leader Harry Reid's tough reelection battle in Nevada this year—won't please the lone Republican at the center of both issues: Lindsey Graham. Graham has been working for months with Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) on the energy and climate effort. He's also working with Chuck Schumer (D-NY) on an immigration reform bill. But he's not happy to hear talk of immigration cutting in line.

Moving on immigration now would be "the ultimate CYA politics" (as in, "cover your ass"), Graham said (via The Hill), explaining that he believed Democrats would be prioritizing it only because they saw it as politically beneficial to them, not because the necessary work had been done. He also warned that moving immigration now "destroys the ability to do something like energy and climate."

Graham got even more fired up in the Wall Street Journal on this subject:

"What bill are we going to take up?" he asked in an interview. "What are we going to do? I mean, you’ve done nothing to lay the groundwork for this, we’ve spent all of our time on health care. What bill are we going to take up? Do you expect me to write a bill? Am I going to write every bill in this Congress?"

And this:

Asked about immigration, it’s fair to say that Graham went into something of a rant. "I thought we had a game plan here," he said. "I thought we were going to take up energy and climate if we could put together a package. You throw immigration into the mix, this is a CYA effort, this is just not a rational way to do comprehensive immigration reform."

Whether climate and energy moves first will depend a lot on what happens on Monday. If Kerry, Graham and Lieberman roll out a bill that has the kind of backing that Kerry is promising, it could be next in line after financial reform. But if the senators can't deliver that support in the coming days, climate and energy might have to take a back seat. Again.

Eco-News Roundup: Friday April 23

| Fri Apr. 23, 2010 1:52 PM EDT

The big news: we won a National Magazine Award! Our September/October 2009 issue, which centered around a feature on Fiji Water's greenwashing, was one of three that won an award for "general excellence." And now, the week's environment and health stories from our other blogs:

Earth Day: Meet the Climate Desk, a new collaborative journalism project on climate change.

Bill Boost: Sen. Kerry & Co. say they have support they need for climate bill.

Cancer Coverage: Women diagnosed with breast cancer got their insurance yanked.

Checkup: A month later, more people are in favor of healthcare reform.

Batter Up: Study alleges putting cartoon character on broccoli makes kids like it.

State's Rights: States only have to put up 20% cost of Medicaid expansion.

New Salt: Salt with differently shaped crystals could reduce sodium intake.

Oil Flip Flop: Oil companies say they will back Kerry's climate bill.

Bringing Up Baby: How could parents forget a baby in a car? Easily, unfortunately.

Publicly Pregnant: MTV's "16 and Pregnant" takes an unrealistic view of the subject.

Bug Off: Malaria continues to be a health problem for people around the world.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kerry: Three Big Oil Companies Likely to Back Climate Bill

| Thu Apr. 22, 2010 7:43 PM EDT

When Sens. John Kerry, Lindsey Graham and Joe Lieberman release their climate bill on Monday, they expect to have the backing of three of the five major oil companies, Mother Jones has learned. In a conference call with a coalition of progressive business leaders on Thursday evening, Kerry said he believes those companies will "actively participate in supporting this bill." He hopes the other big oil companies will at least hold their fire on the bill, and added that he believes the American Petroleum Institute (API), the oil industry's major trade group, will call off its ad campaign attacking the legislation.

Kerry also said that the Edison Electric Institute—the main trade group representing utilities—will support their measure. "We are bringing to the table a significant group of players who were never there for the Waxman-Markey bill," Kerry said. (While Edison supported Waxman-Markey, it was opposed by several big oil companies and API).

In the teleconference, organized by the We Can Lead coalition, Kerry outlined specific details from the bill that have not previously been publicly available. Here's a rundown:

  • The bill would remove the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate carbon dioxide under the Clean Air Act, and the states' authority to set tougher emissions standards than the federal government.
  • There will be no fee—or "gas tax"—on transportation fuels. Instead, oil companies would also be required to obtain pollution permits but will not trade them on the market like other polluters. How this would work is not yet clear.
  • Agriculture would be entirely exempt from the cap on carbon emissions.
  • Manufacturers would not be included under a cap on greenhouse gases until 2016.
  • The bill would provide government-backed loan guarantees for the construction of 12 new nuclear power plants.
  • It will contain at least $10 billion to develop technologies to capture and store emissions from coal-fired power plants.
  • There will be new financial incentives for natural gas.
  • The bill would place an upper and lower limit on the price of pollution permits, known as a hard price collar. Businesses like this idea because it ensures a stable price on carbon. Environmental advocates don't like the idea because if the ceiling is set too low, industry will have no financial incentive to move to cleaner forms of energy.
  • The energy bill passed by the Energy and Natural Resources Committee last year will be adopted in full. This measure has sparked concerns among environmentalists for its handouts to nuclear and fossil fuel interests.

Some elements of the legislation remain in flux, Kerry said. The senators still haven't figured out how to deal with the contentious question of offshore drilling. He added that they are still trying to secure the support of the Chamber of Commerce, another prime foe of the House measure, but remain hopeful that the powerful business lobby might endorse the bill.

UPDATE: Post Carbon reports that the three oil companies expected to endorse the bill are Shell, BP and ConocoPhillips.

Is Your iPad Making Toilet Paper Scratchier?

| Thu Apr. 22, 2010 4:55 PM EDT

Last year, the New York Times reported on the staggering environmental impact of making super-soft toilet paper from virgin forests. But now, according to this week's cover story in Chemical & Engineering News, it's getting harder to make soft TP out of recycled paper: As consumers ditch magazines, newspapers, and paper bills in favor of the electronic versions, companies that produce recycled paper products are facing a shortage of raw materials.

One major problem is offices are using less white paper—which is coveted by producers of recycled toilet paper because its long fibers make for a softer product. That means manufacturers are now using lower-quality recycled paper, so the fibers are shorter and produce a rougher product—and the more times paper gets recycled, the shorter those fibers become. The challenge, then, is for companies to figure out how to do more with less:

Chemical companies that supply papermakers with bleaching and processing aids are introducing new products to make those fibers go further. The best of them also reduce costs by helping paper mills recycle water and save energy.

The pulp and paper industry is one of the largest consumers of chemicals in North America, according to the market research firm Frost & Sullivan. Every ton of paper and paperboard produced requires 600 lb of basic and specialty chemicals. Most paper chemicals firms offer a wide range of products, from commodities such as hydrogen peroxide to process chemicals including enzymes, biocides, and defoamers to functional aids such as sizing chemicals, coatings, and binders.

So either you destroy virgin forests to make a really soft non-recycled TP, or you pump a ton of chemicals into recycled paper to make the short-fibered stuff easier on our backsides. All of which has me wondering: Could we learn to live with a little scratchiness?

Via fellow MoJo staffer and sometimes Blue Marble contributor Stephanie Volkoff Green.

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Senate Climate Bill: Five Hot Spots

| Thu Apr. 22, 2010 2:35 PM EDT

After months of closed-door huddles with lawmakers and lobbyists, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-SC), and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) are expected to finally unveil their long-awaited climate and energy bill on April 26.

The bill is expected to stick to the broad goals of the Waxman-Markey cap-and-trade bill passed by the House last June: a 17 percent emissions cut by 2020 and a reduction of roughly 80 percent by 2050. But while the bill will likely contain a cap-and-trade component, it will probably mix and match a variety of methods to reduce planet-warming gases. For instance, it's expected to introduce a cap on carbon emissions produced by utilities in 2012, and later include emissions from other major sources like steel, glass, and cement manufacturers in 2016. The system for trading pollution permits will likely be more limited than previous iterations of the plan. The bill is also expected to include financial incentives for, among other things, nuclear power, offshore oil and gas drilling, and technologies to capture and store emissions from coal-fired power plants.

But there's a lot more we don't know about the bill, and plenty of points of contention. Here are the five biggest sticking points:

Drill, maybe, drill?: President Barack Obama's big announcement last month that he would open vast new areas of the outer continental shelf to offshore oil and gas drilling made oil-state Democrats and many Republicans happy. Sen.Mary Landrieu (D-La) cheered the announcement, as did Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)—both of whom are seen as possible "yes" votes for a climate bill. On the other hand, ten coastal state progressives are threatening to oppose any bill that expands offshore drilling.

There are two contentious issues here: the drilling itself, and how the revenues from the sale of leases for drilling sites would be distributed. Some senators favor distributing part of the revenues to the states that consent to drilling, arguing that they should be compensated for their resources. But enviros oppose this proposal, arguing that it creates a perverse incentive for states to expand drilling. And some senators—like Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.)—say revenue sharing would take away hundreds of billions of dollars in much-needed income for the federal government. Murkowski summed up the dilemma nicely for the Wall Street Journal: "Drilling is just one piece of controversy in a bill that is obviously very difficult to build. Some would suggest that as you try to bring certain members on to an initiative, for every one you get on, you have two that leap out of the wheelbarrow."

What happens to existing environmental regs?: One big question hanging over the climate bill is what happens to certain existing environmental laws, both federal legislation like the Clean Air Act and state-level efforts to cut carbon emissions. The House bill, for instance, explicitly states that its cap-and-trade system will replace regulations that the Environmental Protection Agency is crafting under the authority of the Clean Air Act. But a number of climate activists warned that this would mean that while new coal-fired power plants would be cleaner, a number of old, dirty coal plants would remain unregulated. The EPA's Clean Air Act authority was restored in the bill that Kerry and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) introduced last fall, but likely didn't survive the chopping block in the new bill. This is sure to rile up 13 Democratic senators who wrote to Majority Leader Harry Reid last month asking that a final bill protect the EPA's authority. And it's also a key issue for environmental advocates. "If the Clean Air Act is weakened, we're going to go to the mat for that," Sierra Club executive director Michael Brune told Mother Jones.

A number of moderate Democrats and Republicans want to eliminate not just the EPA authority, but also the rights of states to set climate targets that are tougher than federal rules. On Wednesday, George Voinovich (R-Ohio), another one possible Republican vote, said the bill would have to preempt both the EPA and state regulations to win his vote. And 10 industrial state Dems included this in a list of demands sent to the bill's authors last week. But progressive states like California have pledged to fight any attempts to undermine their ability to set more ambitious goals.

Step on the gas (tax): A few weeks ago, it looked like the bill would leave the oil industry out of a cap-and-trade system and instead establish a separate fee on transportation fuels (ie. gasoline and diesel), to be paid at the pump by consumers. Oil companies like this idea (mostly because they came up with it). But now Kerry is pretending the concept was never under consideration, and Graham says that they've dropped the fee idea. How will the bill deal with oil? Who the heck knows.

What's in the trade winds?: At least 10 Dems from industrial states are worried about what the bill does (or doesn't do) to protect industries—like, say, steel—that are big users of energy and very vulnerable to offshore competition. Those senators want to delay regulations on manufacturers until 2016, limit the price on emissions, and create a "regionally equitable distribution of allowances." (This is senator-speak for financial handouts to industries that will be hit hard by limits on greenhouse gases.) The senators have also called for a border adjustment, which is a fee on imports from countries that don't have a cap on pollution. Last year, President Obama dismissed this idea as overly "protectionist." But his energy and climate adviser Carol Browner said this week that the administration has warmed to the notion. "I think it's fair to say a final bill will be very mindful of the needs of these particular sectors of the economy," Browner said Tuesday.

Show me the money: In the House debate last year, one of the biggest foodfights was over the distribution of tens of billions of dollars worth of carbon pollution permits. (The permits are the currency of the cap-and-trade system: companies that exceed the "cap" on their emissions must buy more permits to cover the extra carbon.) The House members devised a system that handed out the majority of permits to polluters, auctioned off others, and distributed revenues to a variety of industries and interests. That included $60 billion to develop "clean coal" technologies, free permits for heavy emitters like manufacturers, oil refiners, and merchant coal generators, and a rebate program for low-income energy consumers. Now Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman get to do this all over again. Kerry has promised that the bill will include "huge assistance" to the coal industry, as well as rebates to consumers. If you think the deal-cutting that went on in health care was bad, you ain't seen nothing yet.

Obligatory Earth Day Post

| Thu Apr. 22, 2010 2:21 PM EDT

Perhaps I should mention that today is Earth Day. It's the 40th anniversary of the holiday in fact. Now, whether this day matters any more is a subject of much debate (see green bloggers, including me, weigh in over at Treehugger). I think Earth Day is a good reminder of just how much environmental advocates and allies achieved in the early years: the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, and the Occupational Safety and Health Act, just to name a few. But this year, it should serve as a reminder that much, much more needs to be done on today's biggest environmental problem: climate change.

Where are we on that? Well, the lead Republican working on climate and energy legislation last week rejected the plan to roll out the bill on Earth Day, downplaying the idea that the legislation has anything to do with the environment. Meanwhile, it's not even clear what exactly that bill looks like, as the authors struggle to build some manner of franken-climate-bill that can attract 60 votes. And from recent reports it looks likely that the bill will move further down the list of legislative priorities this year, behind financial reform and then immigration.

John Kerry, the lead Democrat working on legislation, tried to strike a hopeful, if somewhat plaintive, call to action on Thursday. This year, he said in a statement, is "our last and best shot" to get a bill passed. Thus, Earth Day, "must be a reflection point that helps make this the year the Senate passes comprehensive climate and energy legislation." (He said pretty much the same thing in an op-ed in Politico today too.)

With all the not-very-hope-inspiring-news of late, I'm really hoping that this is neither the "last" nor "best" shot at getting the policy right. But Kerry is certainly right that Earth Day should be treated as the impetus for action.

Greens Back Halter in Arkansas Senate Race

| Wed Apr. 21, 2010 4:23 PM EDT

The League of Conservation Voters officially came out in support of Arkansas Democratic Senate candidate Bill Halter on Wednesday, a primary endorsement in what is expected to be one of the most contentious Democratic races in 2010. The group had already anti-endorsed incumbent Blanche Lincoln, adding her to their annual "Dirty Dozen" list of top candidates for electoral defeat.

Here's Tony Massaro, the League's senior vice president for political affairs, on why the group is endorsing Halter:

He understands that Washington has not been working for Arkansas families and he is willing to step up and fix it. Bill Halter believes a Senator should serve the people, not special interests, and the League of Conservation Voters could not agree more. That’s why, as we celebrate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, we are proudly endorsing Bill Halter for the U.S. Senate.
Without a doubt, Halter is the best candidate for Arkansas when it comes to fixing the failed energy policies of our past. He understands that we need to take control of our energy future in order to curb harmful carbon pollution, enhance our national security, and create a new foundation of economic prosperity. That’s exactly the kind of leadership that Arkansas needs in the U.S. Senate.

The group is also fundraising for Halter through its website.

GRITtv: How're We Doing on Climate?

| Wed Apr. 21, 2010 1:55 PM EDT

The 40th anniversary of Earth Day fast approaches—and what better time to take stock of how we're doing on climate change? This GRITtv segment serves as a great summary of the current climate scene: Watch Mother Jones contributor Mark Hertsgaard and the NRDC's Katherine Kennedy discuss whether cap and trade can work, how to kick our coal habit, and the current climate bill. (And if you're curious about what environmentalists are up against, I strongly reccomend you check out the Sen. James Inhofe clip at 09:03. Wow.)