Blue Marble - May 2010

Climate Bill Cheat Sheet

| Wed May 12, 2010 2:50 PM EDT

After six months of grueling negotiations, John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) on Wednesday unveiled a 987-page draft of climate and energy legislation that they believe can win the support of 60 senators. "We are closer than we've ever been to a breakthrough," said Kerry at the bill's release. Notably absent, however, was their onetime Republican co-author, Lindsey Graham (SC), who walked away from the effort amid partisan wrangling over the legislative calendar. So, after all the delays and setbacks and suspense, what's in the bill?

The draft is a complex attempt to balance competing demands. In a nod to environmentalists, it imposes some new restrictions on offshore drilling. And it retains the same key targets included in the House bill that passed last June: a 17 percent reduction of carbon emissions by 2020 and an 83 percent reduction by 2050. But in a move to please polluters, it establishes a slower phase-in of carbon regulations for many of the country's biggest emitters. Utilities will be subject to carbon restrictions beginning in 2013, followed by manufacturers and other heavy emitters starting in 2016. The legislation also lavishes major financial incentives on coal, natural gas, and nuclear power.

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Why Is Population Control Such a Radioactive Topic?

Wed May 12, 2010 9:42 AM EDT

We put that question to several experts from diverse perspectives, including a feminist, a science writer, an obstetrician, a racial justice advocate, and the author of The Population Bomb.

They checked in on this Mother Jones forum May 12-14 to discuss their controversial answers with readers—and each other. Want to hear more from Paul Ehrlich, Fred Pearce, Julia Whitty, and the rest of our panel about their take on population control? Now's your chance. Read below for their responses to reader questions.

Julia Whitty is an environmental correspondent for Mother Jones and author of "The Last Taboo": Scientists from a variety of fields privately tell me the issue of overpopulation is simply too controversial—too inflamed with passions to get funded, too strong a magnet for ideologues. Those who've tackled it tell me of harassment, even physical threats, from a frightening fringe...Voiced or not, addressed or not, the problem of overpopulation has not gone away. [READ "The Last Taboo."]

Paul R. Ehrlich wrote the controversial 1968 book The Population Bomb and co-founded the group Zero Population Growth: Overpopulation, combined with overconsumption, is the elephant in the room. We don't talk about overpopulation because of real fears from the past—of racism, eugenics, colonialism, forced sterilization, forced family planning, plus the fears from some of contraception, abortion, and sex. We don't really talk about overconsumption because of ignorance about the economics of overpopulation and the true ecological limits of Earth.

Courtney E. Martin is a senior correspondent at The American Prospect and editor of Feministing.com, the most widely read feminist publication in the world: Population control is a topic at the explosive intersection of so many of our most intractable public problems and precious personal decisions—global poverty, reproductive justice, consumption, racism, motherhood, even love. As such, it's no wonder that it gets folks—public health advocates, globalization experts, and activists alike—all worked up. As we feminists have known all along, when the personal and the political mix, passions result. Add to this the fact that curbing population control involves—in one way or another—limitations and/or personal responsibility, and you've got a real doozy of a dilemma. Wherever you point the finger, there's an inherent need to scale back—on babies, on stuff, on greed, on freedom. It's just not something most people, especially most Americans, are open to. We have a bad habit of lamenting our global demise while refusing to take any personal responsibility.

Fred Pearce is a London-based science writer and author of The Coming Population Crash: You can't get much more personal than telling couples how many babies they can have. Nor are there many greater intrusions on human rights. Yet back in the mid-20th century, many demographers considered the population problem so serious that, as I discovered when writing my book The Coming Population Crash, they thought people should need a license to have children. The conflict between human rights and ecological responsibility remains highly contentious. The controversy reached a peak in the 1970s, when the Chinese government introduced its one-child policy and the Indian government for a while imposed what amounted to enforced sterilization. The policies were so controversial they discredited population planners. Meanwhile, in the US, the debate about contraception became confused with debates about abortion. Today, population policies are discussed less in terms of top-down population control, and more in terms of increased rights for women to control their fertility. Paradoxically for some, this change has coincided with a dramatic fall in fertility across most of the world. Women are having half as many children as half a century ago; that has taken some of the heat out of the issue. It seems human rights and falling fertility can go together.

Martha Campbell is a political scientist with interests in economics, population, and scale: The sensitivity around the subject of population growth is widespread, and exists for a variety of reasons. Many people fear that if we talk about the population factor in development or the environment, we are implicitly condoning coercive family planning, or at least telling people to have fewer children. What isn't widely understood is that the silence on this subject has been purposeful, and imposed by making the terms "population" and "family planning" politically incorrect for the past 17 years. The activist women's groups who organized the silence in 1992-94 were seeking to move USAID family planning funds into other aspects of health, development, and economic strength that women genuinely need—without realizing that this move would severely reduce the budgets for family planning, so necessary for empowerment. The silence was achieved by focusing on the very real instances of coercive family planning, without ever mentioning the coercion of women being forced to have or keep pregnancies they did not want. Slowing population growth requires listening to women, giving them options—not telling them what to do.

Rinku Sen is a leading racial justice advocate, the publisher of ColorLines magazine, and president of the Applied Research Center: The reason people get so upset about population control is because historically reproduction has been controlled without the consent of the controlled person or community—usually with a deep racial or class dimension. Citing the urgency of saving countries, environments, or money, governments and others have conducted forced sterilization, adopted dehumanizing immigration policies, and generally let themselves off the hook for waste and overconsumption. Meanwhile, the tools people need to take control of their own family fate aren't part of the conversation.

Malcolm Potts is an obstetrician and biologist, and creator of the Bixby Center for Population, Health, and Sustainability at UC Berkeley: Julia Whitty's "The Last Taboo" is accurate, brilliantly written, and frightening. It is not quite so clear about the policies we need to pursue to avert a mega-disaster in northern India or much of sub-Saharan Africa. Microloans are an excellent idea. Education is an unfettered good but, fortunately, wealth and education are not prerequisites for smaller families. I say "fortunately" because if they were, then some countries would face insoluble problems. Pakistan, because of its rapid population growth, needs to accommodate 10,000 additional schoolchildren every day—it is not able to do that. Niger, which is projected to grow from 15 million today to over 50 million in 2050, is not able to dig itself out of abject poverty. Even illiterate women living on a dollar a day, as in Bangladesh, will use family planning when they are given correct information and easy access. Where family planning is realistically available, as in Thailand, illiterate women use contraception almost as well as college-educated women. As Julia Whitty points out, there are 200 million women in the world today who either want no more children or wish to delay the next pregnancy. The Obama administration, the Gates Foundation, the United Nations Population Fund, every ministry of health and every non-governmental organization concerned with women's rights, child welfare, food security, civil conflict and the future of our tiny, fragile planet needs a single, unambiguous focus: Meet the existing unmet need for family planning immediately.

William N. Ryerson is president of the Population Media Center and Population Institute: When it comes to controversial issues, population is in a class by itself. Advocates and activists working to reduce global population growth and size are attacked by the left for supposedly ignoring human rights issues and favoring coercion as used by China, glossing over Western overconsumption, or even seeking to reduce the number of people of color. They are attacked by the right for supposedly favoring widespread abortion, promoting promiscuity via sex education, or working to harm economic growth. Many corporate-owned news media and many environmental groups avoid addressing the issue altogether, and our leaders don't discuss it because politicians fear losing votes. One thing is certain: The issue of population is too important to avoid just because it is controversial. The planet and its resources are finite, and the Earth cannot support an infinite population of humans or any other species.

Halliburton: Oil Spill Fall Guy?

| Wed May 12, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

During Tuesday's Senate hearings on the catastrophic oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, BP, the operator of the Deepwater Horizon rig, came in for plenty of tough questions. But the focus is increasingly shifting to the role of Halliburton, which poured the cement for the rig, as well as for another operation that spilled oil off the coast of Australia last August.

In testimony to two separate Senate panels, BP America president Lamar McKay blamed the explosion on the failure of a "blowout preventer"—a piece of equipment designed to seal off the head of the well in the event of an accident. But Steven Newman, the CEO of rig owner Transocean, testified under oath that the blowout preventers "were clearly not the root cause of the explosion." Instead, his testimony pointed at the oil field-services giant Halliburton: "The one thing we know with certainty is that on the evening of April 20, there was a sudden, catastrophic failure of the cement, the casing, or both." Newman's remarks suggested that the blowout preventer may have been damaged by debris from casing or cement.

Will Modified Drilling Provisions Please Senators?

| Tue May 11, 2010 7:32 PM EDT

Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) will attempt to walk a difficult line tomorrow when they unveil a draft of their much anticipated climate and energy bill. While a copy of the draft leaked Tuesday indicates that the senators have attempted to scale back some of the offshore drilling components to please opponents, the staunchest anti-drilling senators may remain nonplussed.

"Word is climate bill might let rigs in Florida's no-drill zone," Tweeted an angry Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) Thursday afternoon. "If Sens. Kerry, Lieberman are following me on Twitter: that's a non starter."

Nelson has threatened to filibuster a climate bill that includes any expansion of offshore drilling. But senators like Mary Landrieu (D-La.) have maintained that drilling is necessary to get their vote. From the early indications, Kerry and Lieberman tried to strike a balance—but whether they succeeded isn't clear.

The draft grants states the ability to prohibit drilling within 75 miles of its coast. And it also directs the Department of Interior to conduct environmental and economic studies on whether an oil spill off the coast of one state would impact nearby states. If it is determined that a spill would hurt other states, "directly impacted states may prevent leasing from proceeding." So, for example, if a spill off the coast of Virginia could impact the New Jersey shore, New Jersey would be given the right to veto Virginia's drilling. (The example is particularly pertinent, as the two New Jersey senators are adamant opponents of offshore drilling, while Virginia was included in the expansion of drilling proposed in March).

But the draft text also says that 37.5 percent of revenues from the sale of offshore leases would be directed to the states. This is another contentious issue. Senators like Landrieu have said that revenue sharing is a must-have for their vote. (Landrieu even went so far as to suggest at Tuesday's hearing on the spill that revenue sharing would help a state like hers cope with a spill like the one underway in the Gulf.) Another 12.5 percent of the revenue from lease sales would go to state and federal land and water conservation programs under the draft.

Needless to say, the drilling debate will continue tomorrow after the senators officially roll out their bill at a 1:30 p.m. press conference. As has been expected for some time now, their Republican co-author, Lindsey Graham, won't be joining them.

Salazar Calls for Split of Scandal-Ridden MMS

| Tue May 11, 2010 4:08 PM EDT

While executives from the companies responsible for the Deepwater Horizon rig spill were being grilled by the Senate, Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar laid out a plan to overhaul the beleaguered agency whose failures might have been at the root of the disaster.

Salazar called on Congress to split the Minerals Management Service (MMS), the division of the Department of Interior that oversees oil and gas drilling, into two agencies. One agency would handle collection of royalties from oil and gas production, while the other would be charged with safety and environmental regulation. The plan also calls for expanding the current 30-day environmental and safety review period for exploration plans to 90 days.

The long-standing criticism of the agency has only intensified in recent days as evidence emerged that MMS was still waiving environmental review of offshore development.

Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) accused MMS and the oil industry of having "too cozy a relationship" at Tuesday's hearing on the Gulf spill. Bill Nelson, the Florida Democrat leading the attack on the agency, accused it of "a sorry record, a record of incestuous relationships, of sex parties, pot parties." "MMS needs to clearly be cleaned up," Nelson added.

More on the proposed MMS split at Post Carbon.

Kate Sheppard Live-Tweets the #BPhearing

Tue May 11, 2010 10:47 AM EDT

Executives from three of the companies in charge of operations at the Deepwater Horizon oil rig are on the hot seat in the Senate today. The rig exploded on April 20 and continues to leak hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

BP America president and chairman Lamar McKay, Transocean CEO Steven Newman, and Halliburton chief health, safety and environmental officer Tim Probert will testify before both the Energy and Natural Resources and Environment and Public Works committees on Tuesday. Mother Jones environmental reporter Kate Sheppard is live-Tweeting the hearings:

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Oil Spill Hearings Kick Off the Blame Game

| Tue May 11, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

Executives from BP, Transocean, and Halliburton are testifying before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee this morning, and blaming each other seems to be the name of the game. In their respective prepared statements, each company points to another as the likely responsible party in the explosion and subsequent spill.

Here's an excerpt from BP America president and chairman Lamar McKay's testimony (which operated the Deepwater Horizon rig), which blames Transocean (owner of the rig) for having faulty a blowout preventer, the technology that should have shut the well:

We are looking at why the blowout preventer did not work because that was to be the fail-safe in case of an accident. The blowout preventer is a 450-ton piece of equipment that sits on top of the wellhead during drilling operations. It contains valves that can be closed remotely if pressure causes fluids such as oil or natural gas to enter the well and threaten the drilling rig. By closing this valve, the drilling crew can regain control of the well.
Blowout preventers are used on every oil and gas well drilled in the world today. They are carefully and deliberately designed with multiple levels of redundancy and are regularly tested. If they don’t pass the test, they are not used.
The systems are intended to fail-closed and be fail-safe; sadly and for reasons we do not yet understand, in this case, they were not. Transocean's blowout preventer failed to operate.

In his prepared remarks, Transocean CEO Steven Newman says blaming the blowout preventer "simply makes no sense." "We have no reason to believe that they were now operational," he said, as Transocean and BP had tested the blowout preventers on April 10 and 17. Instead, Newman blames Halliburton, which was contracted to pour the cement for the well:

What is most unusual about the explosion in this case is that it occurred after the well construction process was essentially finished. Drilling had been completed on April 17, and the well had been sealed with cement (to be reopened by the Operator at a later date if the Operator chose to put the well into production). At this point, drilling mud was no longer being used as a means of reservoir pressure containment; the cement and the casing were the barriers controlling pressure from the reservoir. Indeed, at the time of the explosion, the rig crew, at the direction of the Operator, was in the process of displacing drilling mud and replacing it with sea water.
For that reason, the one thing we know with certainty is that on the evening of April 20, there was a sudden, catastrophic failure of the cement, the casing, or both. Therein lies the root cause of this occurrence; without a disastrous failure of one of those elements, the explosion could not have occurred. It is also clear that the drill crew had very little (if any) time to react. The explosions were almost instantaneous.
What caused that catastrophic, sudden and violent failure? Was the well properly designed? Was the well properly cemented? Were there problems with the well casing? Were all appropriate tests run on the cement and casings? These are some of the critical questions that need to be answered in the coming weeks and months.

Halliburton chief health, safety and environmental officer Tim Probert, in turn, pointed back at Transocean, which was responsible for the Deepwater Horizon's construction plan:

Halliburton is confident that the cementing work on the Mississippi Canyon 252 well was completed in accordance with the requirements of the well owner’s well construction plan.

I'm tracking both of today's hearings on Twitter, which you can follow here.

Sell Green, Buy Coal

| Mon May 10, 2010 5:49 PM EDT

May/June 2010 Issue

JPMorgan Chase, the powerful denizen of Wall Street, recently announced yet another lucrative quarter for the bank. $28.2 billion in revenue. $3.3 billion in profit, a 55 percent increase from a year ago. The results laid to rest any lingering doubts about JPMorgan's health and rebound from the financial crisis, and when considered alongside the resurgent profitability at, say, Goldman Sachs, showed that the Street has in many cases come full circle since the Crash of 2008.

All but forgotten in the banks' fight to scramble back into the black was an agreement forged earlier in 2008, a pact among big banks to shine a light on their financial deals involving dirty investments and to potentially move that money into greener, sustainable projects. The agreement was called the "Carbon Principles," and it has essentially fallen by the wayside in the past two years. Whether these banks renew their pledges to shift financing to renewable projects remains to be seen, but in the interim, as I report below, lucrative financing for dirty energy projects throughout the world continues unabated.

ABN AMRO
(Equator Principles)
MOUTH: "Among the achievements of the Equator Principles is the demonstration that competitors are willing, able, and happy to collaborate for the health of the planet." Huibert Boumeester, managing board member (2006).
MONEY: After signing Equator Principles, became lead arranger for a $2 billion loan to Russian energy giant Gazprom's vast Sakhalin II oil and gas project; later, helped finance a $1 billion loan for a new coal plant in Chile, built by American power company AES.

Bank of America
(Carbon and Equator Principles)
MOUTH: "Helping our nation reduce greenhouse gas emissions is not only the right thing for our planet, but it is also smart business—and Bank of America is proud to be at the forefront." Kenneth Lewis, chairman and CEO (2008).
MONEY: A leading lender for Australia's giant Hazelwood coal plant, which the World Wildlife Fund called "one of the dirtiest power stations in the world," and key financier to coal giant Massey Energy.

Citigroup
(Carbon and Equator Principles)
MOUTH: "Our success will be measured not only by our financial results, but also by the impact we have on the communities we serve." Charles Prince, chairman and CEO (2006).
MONEY: In 2006, the same year it helped produce an update of the Equator Principles, Citigroup financed more coal projects than anyone else in the world. After signing the Carbon Principles, opened a $62 million line of credit for Arch Coal, the nation's second-largest coal producer and a major funder of the lobbying battle against climate legislation.

JPMorgan Chase
(Carbon and Equator Principles)
MOUTH: "What is earthshakingly different between now and two years ago is the focus on CO2." Eric Fornell, vice chairman, natural resources banking division (2008).
MONEY: Has continued to fund 5 of the top 10 mountaintop-removal companies in Appalachia; in 2009 underwrote more than $1 billion in financing for Massey Energy, which mined more than 21 million tons of coal in 2008 via mountaintop removal.

Morgan Stanley
(Carbon Principles)
MOUTH: "I don't think [the Carbon Principles] will inhibit the financing of new coal-fired projects." David Albert, managing director, project and structured finance (2008).
MONEY: Indeed. Morgan Stanley joined with Citigroup last year to underwrite $700 million in debt for NRG Energy, which owns all or part of nine coal plants. Also part of a consortium financing $4.5 billion in loans for TXU, a Texas power company that tried to build 11 new coal-fired power plants (eight were ultimately scrapped due to public pressure).

This piece was produced by Mother Jones as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Senate Drilling Warfare Starts Tomorrow

| Mon May 10, 2010 5:02 PM EDT

Tomorrow, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold the first of several hearings this week on the BP oil spill. And you can expect fireworks on the subject in the committee, which includes both staunch offshore drilling opponent Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.), who has remained a stalwart defender of the oil industry even as the Gulf spill encroaches upon her state.

The offshore drilling debate only portends to get more intense on Wednesday, as senators roll out a climate and energy bill. What (if anything) that bill may say about offshore drilling is likely to be among the most contentious issues for Democrats. And lest you start to think the Gulf spill has put a damper on Landrieu's support for oil drilling, here's the latest from her on that front via The Hill:

"I'm not inflexible, but facts are inflexible ... And the facts are that we've drilled 1,000 wells in the Gulf, and all of them have been drilled with safety and with no disruption," she said.
"I don’t believe we should shut down an industry because we had one accident, even as bad as this one is. It would be like asking if an airliner falls out of the sky, do we stop flying all planes?"

I'll be live-tweeting from the hearing tomorrow, which you can follow here.

Really, JetBlue?

| Mon May 10, 2010 3:50 PM EDT

My roommate just gchatted me asking if I wanted to go with her to Austin tomorrow night and come back Wednesday morning. Um, excuse me? But wait, she told me, it gets better: The grand total cost for this jaunt: $20 round trip on JetBlue. My answer? Of course I want to go! I've always wanted to visit Austin, and the price is unbelievably right.

Well, I can't go because of a bunch of other commitments, but believe me, I am tempted. I wondered if I could take a rain check, so I decided to do some googling on this amazing deal. I found out that the promotion, part of JetBlue's anniversary sale, applies to certain flights this Tuesday and Wednesday only. Just for kicks, I looked up the emissions of a round trip flight from Oakland to Austin (2,987 miles) on TerraPass' emissions calculator. The damage: 1,108 pounds of CO2. For the same carbon price, you could eat 175 cheeseburgers. Or go see 73 really dazzling stadium rock shows. Or...you get my drift.

Far be it from me to complain about cheap airfares—I fly a lot, and I've grumbled about paying more for last minute flights than I want to. But I've also been deterred by high fares, and considering the high carbon cost of flying, that's probably a good thing. JetBlue professes to care about the environment. So why are they making it so easy (and tempting) to fly halfway across the country for dinner and a few drinks?