Blue Marble - April 2010

Kerry: Gas Tax? What Gas Tax?

| Wed Apr. 21, 2010 8:19 AM PDT

Here's a fabulous sneak peek into the climate bill negotiations. Yesterday Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) attempted to squash the idea he and his colleagues have ever contemplated including a gas tax in the climate bill. "There is no gas tax, never was a gas tax, will not be a gas tax, I don’t know where that came from, but it is just wrong. Period,” he told reporters. "There is not even a linked fee, there is not a tax, there is nothing similar."

Pretty sure the idea came from … the bill's coauthors. Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) discussed the prospect of a carbon fee on transportation fuels with reporters shortly before the April recess. "It's on the table," Lieberman said following a March 25 meeting with industry groups. And Graham explained that the oil industry favored a fuel fee if that would mean the industry wouldn't be included under a hard cap on carbon.

It's not entirely clear if what's going on here is a rhetorical shift (nobody likes the word "tax" of course), or an actual policy change. This could be much like the whole "cap and trade is dead" dance the senators are performing, in which they declare the policy deceased while, in reality, some form of it will likely be included in their bill.

The senators are supposed to release a draft on Monday, but from everything I'm hearing on the Hill, there are still lots of loose ends to be tied up. Of course, the constant shifting has raised concerns about whether Kerry and his colleagues can deliver. As one industry source put it to Climate Wire last week:

"He's literally trying to promise everything to everybody," said one industry source close to the negotiations. "While his enthusiasm is appreciated, there's grave doubts he can hold the promises he makes."

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Addicted to Tanning?

| Tue Apr. 20, 2010 3:11 PM PDT

Not only can tanning beds up your cancer risk, they might also be addictive, a new study published in the Archives of Dermatology finds. Researchers polled college students about their tanning habits and found that about a third of respondents who had used tanning beds met the criteria for addiction.

Some key findings:

  • 17 percent of non-tanners said they had used two or more addictive substances in the previous month, compared with 42 percent of those those who met the criteria for addictive tanning.

Among addictive tanners:

  • 78 percent said they had tried to cut down on the time spent tanning but couldn't.
  • 78 percent said they felt guilty about using tanning beds or booths too much.
  • 26 percent said that when they wake up in the morning they want to use a tanning bed.

I'll get my vitamin D elsewhere, thanks.

Via LA Times.

Live Chat: Tweeting the Planet Forward

Tue Apr. 20, 2010 2:34 PM PDT

Click below to play a live-streaming interview with EPA head Lisa Jackson, followed by a climate policy panel featuring Kate Sheppard, Andrew Revkin, Jim Connaughton, Dr. Dan Lashof, and Ana Unruh-Cohen.

 

API: Still Astroturfing

| Tue Apr. 20, 2010 10:50 AM PDT

The Senate authors of pending climate and energy legislation have been heavily courting industry groups like the American Petroleum Institute to support their bill. API was one of the most visible opponents of the House cap-and-trade bill last year, organizing astroturf "Energy Citizen" rallies around the country. But has API declared a cease-fire on the as-yet-non-existent Senate legislation while senators and the Obama administration bend over backwards to please them? Far from it.

Nary a night goes by here in Washington that I'm not confronted with multiple ads from API claiming that "Congress is considering $80 billion in new energy taxes." Last night, I saw three just during "The Daily Show."

"Now is no time to raise energy costs," say the lo-fi ads. (Examples here and here.) They feature average-looking Americans complaining about how hard they'll be hit by this non-specific "energy tax." "Families are having a tough time right now as it is," says one. This "would take money away from local businesses and stores," says another. One ad last night featured a young woman bemoaning that the "tax" might prevent her from taking college classes or driving home to see her family.

Of course, this isn't the first or only example of API using fake Americans to scaremonger about non-existent energy taxes. They've also been using them in ads lambasting a proposal from the Obama administration to cut their lavish subsidies. In a hilarious example last December, the group digitally manipulated images to add minorities into ads (to make the opposition to energy taxes seem more diverse). They've also got a website, EnergyTomorrow.org, extolling the "benefits of oil and natural gas."

Here's one ad:

What's Next for Climate Policy?

| Tue Apr. 20, 2010 10:02 AM PDT

Wondering what's going on with the climate bill? Come back here at 7 p.m. EST tonight for a live video feed from a panel on that subject hosted by Planet Forward at The George Washington University. The event will feature Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa P. Jackson as the headliner.

I will also be participating in a panel discussion of the subject, along with Andy Revkin of the New York Times, Jim Connaughton of Constellation Energy Group and the former head of the Council on Environmental Quality under George W. Bush, Dr. Dan Lashof of the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Ana Unruh-Cohen of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. Frank Sesno, a former CNN anchor and director of the School of Media and Public Affairs at The George Washington University, will moderate.

If you live in Washington, D.C. you should come by. If not, you can come back here to watch the event live at 7. We'll also be live-Tweeting the event here.

When Pollen Attacks

| Tue Apr. 20, 2010 8:09 AM PDT

I woke up to find my bike coated in thick mustard-yellow pollen this morning. That was gross, but not nearly as annoying at the sniffling, sneezing, itchy eyes, wheezing, and coughing that regularly accompanies the dawn of spring for me and approximately 25 million other Americans. And it's only getting worse, thanks to the warming planet.

From a new report by the scientists over at National Wildlife Federation:

Ragweed—the primary allergen trigger of fall hay fever—grows faster, produces more pollen per plant, and has higher allergenic content under increased carbon dioxide levels. Longer growing seasons under a warmer climate allow for bigger ragweed plants that produce more pollen later into the fall. Springtime allergies to tree pollens also could get worse. Warmer temperatures could allow significant expansion of the habitat suitable for oaks and hickories, which are two highly allergenic tree species. Changing climate conditions may even affect the amount of fungal allergens in the air.

It's hard to predict exactly how much worse it can get, but spring is already arriving 10 to 14 days earlier than it did 20 years ago, meaning the pollen starts flying earlier. And don’t expect things to get better at the other end of the year. Ragweed, a fall pollen that affects about 75 percent of people who suffer from hay fever, is projected to increase by 60 to 100 percent by around 2085 if fossil fuel emissions continue at current rates.

In addition to making my life more miserable, allergies and allergy-induced asthma are a major economic burden for the US: $32 billion every year in direct health care costs and lost productivity. I'll have more on this in piece for our new collaboration, The Climate Desk, soon.

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Cancun or Bust?

| Mon Apr. 19, 2010 3:34 PM PDT

The United States hosted a meeting with negotiators from the world's biggest emitters in Washington today, the first since the conclusion of the Copenhagen climate talks last December. While climate envoy Todd Stern said the meeting was "candidate and constructive," he downplayed expectations for this year's big climate summit in Cancun, Mexico.

"There is still considerable support for the notion of a legal agreement," Stern told reporters following the meeting. "I think people would be delighted if that happened this year, but are also cognizant of the notion that might or might not happen."

The Major Economies Forum, a series of meetings launched by George W. Bush and revived under the Obama administration, brings together big historical emitters like the US and emerging emitters like China, Indonesia, and Brazil. This was the sixth such meeting in the past 14 months; Stern said they may have another one before the next United Nations meeting in November. Stern indicated that the group remains committed to working together and figuring out a path to a new global treaty. "At the least we are going to want to build on the progress made in Copenhagen," he said.

It's not entirely clear where world negotiations even stand at this point. At the conclusion of Copenhagen summit, there was no formal UN sign-on to the accord that Barack Obama and several other members of the MEF hammered out because the document was not adopted unanimously. Instead, the UNFCCC only "noted" its existence, and countries were asked to associate themselves with the accord in the weeks after the summit and list their own commitments. So far, 123 countries have associated with the accord, accounting for about 84 percent of the world's emissions. At least five countries have said they will not engage with the accord (Cuba, the Cook Islands, Ecuador, Kuwait, and Nauru).

At the first United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change talks of the year, held in Bonn, Germany last week, much of the time was spent trying to figure how to move forward. Stern reaffirmed his desire that the lot the Copenhagen accord "ought to be brought into negotiations" this year. But what exactly that means is not yet clear.

Green Groups Fight for Clean Air Act in Climate Bill

| Mon Apr. 19, 2010 12:54 PM PDT

Senators are expected to roll out their long-awaited climate and energy package next Monday, and environmental groups are making a last-minute push to make sure the bill maintains one of the landmark laws they fought for more than 40 years ago: the Clean Air Act.

Groups like 1Sky have been holding office "storms" around the country, turning out herds of climate activists in the district offices of senators and House members to push for preservation of the Environmental Protection Agency's ability to regulate carbon dioxide under a climate bill.

The Clean Air Act is one of the seminal pieces of environmental legislation in the United States, signed into law in 1963 and amended a number of times since then to further reduce pollution from American smokestacks. It's the law that the Supreme Court said the Environmental Protection Agency could use in regulating greenhouse gas emissions, if those emissions were determined to threaten human health (and the EPA concluded last year that they do).

But Clean Air Act authority is one of the biggest sticking points in the climate debate. A number of senators oppose using it to deal with global warming pollution altogether, arguing that Congress is better suited to legislate than a law that wasn't originally designed to handle this issue. The House bill traded Clean Air Act authority for the new global warming law, but a number of activists warned that this would mean that while new coal-fired power plants might be built cleaner, it would leave a number of old, dirty plants unregulated. There was hope that the Senate bill would restore at least part of the authority, as the bill that John Kerry and Barbara Boxer introduced last fall did, but the conversation of late has indicated that it is on the chopping block in the never-ending deal-making that Kerry, Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) are engaged in. But 1Sky and other environmental groups want to make it clear that the Clean Air Act is non-negotiable.

"We've made it clear that endorsing a Dirty Air Act is not a safe, happy place for triangulation," said Alex Posorske of 1Sky. "Blocking the Clean Air Act is an extreme maneuver and we're showing that people know that and will remember that as we move forward with this debate."

Vintage Chamber of Commerce on Earth Day

| Mon Apr. 19, 2010 7:45 AM PDT

Check out this vintage clip of a 1970 CBS Evening News special on Earth Day, hosted by Walter Cronkite. There are several slices of awesome here. First, there's the song about sulfur dioxide. But more interesting is the debate among environmental activists about whether to ally themselves with the Chamber of Commerce in publicizing Earth Day.

"Would we be co-opted by business?" asked Edward Furia, Philadelphia's Earth Week director. "Would we not be diluting our effort completely?" The group held three days of meetings to decide whether to even meet with the Chamber of Commerce; in the end they accepted financial support from the Chamber for their activities, and agreed to call off direct actions against industries. In return, the Chamber called off counter attacks and encouraged members to acknowledge their pollution and discuss clean up efforts.

Here's the clip:

The video is even more amusing in light of this week's 40th anniversary of Earth Day. Senators are expected to unveil a climate bill shortly afterwards, and the authors and the White House been heavily courting the national Chamber of Commerce to support the measure, after the group waged high-profile opposition against the House bill last summer. Top Obama administration officials are meeting with Tom Donohue, the president and CEO of the US Chamber of Commerce, tomorrow. From Energy & Environment News:

Senior adviser Valerie Jarrett and Carol Browner, Obama's top staffer on energy and climate issues, invited Donohue to the White House as part of its ongoing courtship of the nation's largest industry voice. In February, Obama and Donohue exchanged public letters suggesting they could work together on expanding nuclear power and increased drilling for offshore oil.

Some things never change, do they?

Cloudy with a Chance of Liability

| Mon Apr. 19, 2010 12:00 AM PDT

May/June 2010 Issue

UPDATE: After the original version of this story went to press, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners voted to roll back some of the new disclosure policies. Now, most states will allow insurers to keep their disclosures private, and will allow the survey to be a voluntary exercise rather than a mandatory new rule. The regulators also added language noting that the guidance should not be construed as expressing an opinion about the "existence or absence of climate change." Joel Ario, the Pennsylvania insurance commissioner and chair of the NAIC's climate task force, tells Mother Jones that a number states, however, are still planning to move forward with the new disclosure policies as planned.

Original post begins below:

A few years ago, insurance regulators from across the country were scheduled to meet in New Orleans for a summit on climate change risks. Al Gore was expected to be among the speakers. Then, Katrina struck.

This month, the National Association of Insurance Commissioners is set to begin requiring companies to file disclosures showing the risks to their business from a warming planet. And for the most part, insurers are welcoming the new regulations. "Insurers are probably the only people I know who are more worried about climate change than the environmentalists," says Joel Ario, the Pennsylvania insurance commissioner and chair of the NAIC's climate task force. "There's all this political noise back and forth about 'Is there really climate change?' and so forth. The companies know that the weather patterns are changing. And they know that there's real risk out there."

Not all insurers were thrilled, of course, and one major trade group, the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, still maintains that "there is simply too much uncertainty about the nature of climate change...to justify mandatory 'disclosure' of this purported risk." Nevertheless, the rules,which will be phased in over the next two years, have already set a precedent for other industries. The Securities and Exchange Commission in January issued new guidance for companies to disclose the impact that climate change may have on their businesses. "This really lays the groundwork for whatever may occur for all publicly traded companies," says Sean Dilweg, Wisconsin's insurance commissioner and a former head of the NAIC climate task force.

Dilweg also hopes the rules send a strong message to Congress, which is locked in a stalemate over climate legislation. This is, after all, an industry that spent $164 million last year to influence lawmakers. "Instead of sitting and waiting for legislation, we're starting the process," he says.

This piece was produced by the Climate Desk collaboration.