Blue Marble - May 2010

A Climate Bill, With or Without Graham?

| Fri May 7, 2010 8:14 AM EDT

John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) may unveil their delayed climate and energy package next week. At least one senator is saying next week; Kerry would only tell reporters, "Soon, I hope soon," when asked this week.

But will Lindsey Graham, their lone Republican ally, stand with them? That still seems unlikely, after partisan bickering over the legislative calendar prompted him to pull formal support for the package he'd been working on for nearly six months. Kerry told reporters that Graham "is standing by the work product and he is standing by the bill, no matter what." But that's not necessarily the same thing as cosponsoring it. But as Greenwire reports, Graham is still sending signals that he wants to be involved:

Standing in the Senate's historic Kennedy Caucus Room, the site of hearings on the sinking of the Titanic and Watergate, the South Carolina Republican told a room full of environmentalists and Obama administration officials Tuesday night that he is still in the fight to enact legislation that caps greenhouse gases and expands domestic energy production.
"I'm not playing the game to win 43 [votes]," he said, referring to the high-water mark of past Senate climate bill roll calls. "I'm not in this to make a statement. I'm in this to win."

Aides to Lieberman and Kerry are discussing the bill with representatives of the Chamber of Commerce today. The authors have been lobbying hard for the powerful business group's endorsement, as the Chamber spent big last year trying to defeat the House climate and energy package. Getting the Chamber on board might speed its release. So, might we see a bill next week, at last?

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Eco-News Roundup: Friday May 7

| Fri May 7, 2010 6:26 AM EDT

The week's news on health and the environment from our other blogs.

Oil and Sympathy: Sympathy for BP increases the closer you get to the Gulf of Mexico.

Unexpected Drop: Carbon emissions for 2009 dropped 7%, ahead of schedule.

Lithium Lies: Conservative site says Obama will stop drilling for oil, go to lithium instead.

Abortion Draw Down: Oklahoma's tough abortion laws are being blocked by state AG.

Wishy Washy: BP's greenwashing campaign has been in full bloom for a while.

Round the World: International complaints on corporal punishment at US school.

Run Reid Run: Harry Reid is running healthcare ads for Nevada election.

Risky Business: Red states refuse to create insurance pools for high-risk patients.

Whitewashing: Mississippi congress man paints a different picture of the BP spill.

 

 

Fiore Cartoon: Little Green Man

Fri May 7, 2010 5:00 AM EDT

According to Mark Fiore, it may take a visitor from a parallel universe light-years away to convince us of the absurdity of our oil dependence.

This cartoon requires Macromedia's Flash Player. If you don't see the cartoon above, download the player here.

Mark Fiore is an editorial cartoonist and animator whose work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Examiner, and dozens of other publications. He is an active member of the American Association of Editorial Cartoonists, and has a web site featuring his work.

How's That Drilly Stuff Working Out?

| Thu May 6, 2010 8:52 AM EDT

Friends of the Earth will unveil a new television ad today connecting the Gulf of Mexico oil spill with the absurdity of the "Drill, baby, drill" mantra. The ads are airing in Florida and Virginia, two hot spots in the drilling debate. Check it out:

Oil Spill Questions? Ask PBS' Need to Know

| Thu May 6, 2010 6:00 AM EDT

PBS' new weekly TV news magazine and website Need To Know is taking your oil spill questions, which reporters will answer during the show's premiere this Friday, May 7. We here at Mother Jones are especially excited about the premiere, since Need To Know is a co-collaborator over at The Climate Desk. In addition to environmental coverage, the show and site will focus on the economy, health, security, and culture. The tone? Not quite The Daily Show, but considerably more irreverent than the Bill Moyers news programs it's replacing: The New York Times reports that co-hosts Alison Stewart and Jon Meacham may occasionally indulge in some banter, and comedian Andy Borowitz will close each program with a segment called "Next Week's News." Promises Borowitz:

Now, before you start comparing me to Andy Rooney, I should say that I will not be behind a desk, nor will I spend the entire segment talking about my stapler.

Amen.

Submit your oil spill questions here, and look up local air times this Friday here. Then check out the rest of Need To Know's site, which currently features stories on the history of the birth control pill, Bollywood's first gay kiss, and El Paso teens dealing with drug violence, among other topics.

Tennessee to Sea Turtles: Enough Already

| Thu May 6, 2010 2:11 AM EDT

Tennessee has a problem, and it's not the massive May Day flood damage. It's the people: They're so damn nice to each other in a crisis that they think FEMA and the rest of the country might pitch in without being asked. (There's a reason it's called the Volunteer State.)

So far my hometown's optimistic view of Yankee nature isn't working out too well. Unhelpfully, the nation's TV cameras are still turned towards the Gulf oil spill and Times Square bomb scare. Until a point tips, Nashvillians on Facebook half-jokingly discuss "waiting for Sean Penn or George Clooney to decide that they should care about this so everyone else will start."

Seriously, do you know how badly damaged Tennessee is from Saturday's flood? Nashville alone got three full months of rain in 48 hours. Twenty people died (and counting). Days after one of the worst deluges in Nashville's recorded history, thousands of people are out of power and whole neighborhoods are still underwater or homeless. Plus, one of the city's two drinking water treatment plants have been compromised by flood damage, so people are being told to "delay showering or washing dishes" to avoid a potable water shortage. In any other news cycle, Anderson Cooper would already be down there interviewing country music icons, right?

Here's how you can help the flood victims if you're interested.

And here are two videos if you want a quick Red State primer on the flood, how Tennesseans think about the flood, the Nashville Weather Penis, and the imminent "Obama Hates White People" meme:

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More Failures at MMS

| Wed May 5, 2010 4:32 PM EDT

I have a piece up today about the litany of failures at the Department of Interior's Minerals Management Services over the years that may have contributed to the current situation in the Gulf of Mexico. And it doesn't end there.

Washington Post has another piece of damning evidence on MMS today, reporting that the division "exempted BP's calamitous Gulf of Mexico drilling operation from a detailed environmental impact analysis last year."

An MMS evaluation of the Deepwater Horizon lease application vastly underestimated the amount of oil that could be spilled from the rig, and said it would not likely reach the coast. The evaluations prompted MMS to give the operation a "categorical exclusion" from the National Environmental Policy Act in April 2009.

The Post also has more on BP's underestimation of potential spills:

BP's exploration plan for Lease 206, which calls the prospect of an oil spill "unlikely," stated that "no mitigation measures other than those required by regulation and BP policy will be employed to avoid, diminish or eliminate potential impacts on environmental resources."
While the plan included a 13-page environmental impact analysis, it minimized the prospect of any serious damage associated with a spill, saying there would be only "sub-lethal" effects on fish and marine mammals, and "birds could become oiled. However it is unlikely that an accidental oil spill would occur from the proposed activities."

Looks like MMS might still have a long way to go in cleaning up its act.

"Drill, Baby, Drill?" Blame Michael Steele

| Wed May 5, 2010 2:34 PM EDT

With environmental disaster unfolding in the Gulf, one would think there might be some reconsideration underway about that whole "Drill, baby, drill" thing. But while many credit former-half-term Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin for the line, let's make sure to give credit where it's due. It was actually Michael Steele who birthed that humdinger into the world at the Republican National Convention on Sept. 3, 2008.

His speech inspired both Rudy Giuliani and Palin later that night.

Can You Eat Oil-Slick Oysters?

| Wed May 5, 2010 12:00 PM EDT

Good news for oyster eaters—sort of. Oil from the BP/Deepwater Horizon spill hasn't hit Lousiana's oyster reefs yet, but according to the National Ocean Service and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, it could within days. Yesterday I talked with Thomas Soniat, a professor and researcher at the University of New Orleans' Department of Biological Sciences, and he told me that, yes, oysters will take up oil as the slick comes through, so  you wouldn't want to eat oysters harvested around that time—they'd even taste like oil.

But: "Oysters are very good at cleansing themselves. They're very resilient." The process, if you want to impress your friends with the fancy name, is called depuration, and self-cleansing oyster tissue means that they're safeand deliciousto eat again just two weeks after their exposure to oil ends. (They also filter the water around them; one design firm has suggested cultivating oyster villages in Brooklyn's Gowanus Canal to help clean up the Superfund site.) The only thing they can't cleanse is the bad post-spill PR. "The public-perception problem persists much longer than the true problem," Soniat says, "and expands over a much broader geographical area."

Of course, depending on the slick's ultimate size and the weather patterns, oil could settle over the reefs and cover them for an extended period of time, which could kill some of them and would lengthen the depuration process. Even so, Soniat is optimistic. "Oysters are very fecund"—fecund enough to weather an oil leak during spawning season, which this happens to be. "It's not gonna destroy the oyster industry in Breton Sound on a permanent basis. The industry will survive. The oysters will survive. The reefs could be safe to open again within weeks." That is, if the oil stops leaking so cleanup can really get under way. "It's just hard right now because the extent of the hardship is unknown."

Kerry Touts Oil Industry Support Despite Growing Tension Over Spill

| Wed May 5, 2010 11:33 AM EDT

With the remains of the Deepwater Horizon rig still spewing hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico unfettered, a growing group of legislators has disdain for the oil industry and apprehension about plans to expand offshore drilling. But not John Kerry, who on Wednesday praised the oil industry for working with him on climate and energy legislation, even as tensions in over what his bill may say about drilling threatens to divide Senate Democrats.

While he acknowledged that "we can't drill and burn our way out of danger," Kerry also spoke highly of the oil companies backing the draft legislation, which was supposed to be released last week. BP, operator of the rig currently spewing hundreds of thousands of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico, was expected to be among the supporters. But that bill remains on indefinite hold amid political wrangling over the legislative calendar.

"Ironically we've been working very closely with some of these oil companies in the last months," Kerry told a conference of labor and environmental groups on Wednesday. "I took them in good faith. They have worked hard with us to find a solution that meets all of our needs. I believe when we roll out a bill, ad we will will roll it out very soon, that we are going to have a unique coalition."

Kerry also touted the process he and Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) have used to craft the bill. The trio has held extensive meetings with industry and trade groups, but most senators have yet to see a completed draft.

"A lot of colleagues of mine in the Senate were really frightened about voting for this because they were scared about what the impact might be on you and the politics of it," he told the crowd. "Instead of going to them and trying to persuade every one of them, which we wouldn't have been able to do ... we decided to change the playing field by going to the various companies themselves and getting them to be comfortable."

He also downplayed the possibility that a trio of coastal state Democrats may abandon the bill if it includes expanded drilling provisions. "We will not lose them," Kerry told reporters.