It's no secret that in America's obesity epidemic, low-income neighborhoods are the hardest hit. Scientists call them "obesogenic" zones—areas with lots of fast-food restaurants, few grocery stores to sell fresh produce, and higher crime rates that keep people indoors. Gyms are often sparse, overcrowded, and expensive. "In middle-income communities, there's somehow an expectation that you're going to have access to gyms," Bill Walczak, a Boston-area activist, tells NPR. "When you're in a low-income community, that stuff doesn't exist."

Solutions abound. There's been talk of making food deserts bloom, of ramping up public schools' phys ed programs, and of removing unhealthy foods from school snack machines. Each takes on a piece of the obesity puzzle. But public radio station WBUR's Sacha Pfeiffer profiled Walczak's Massachusetts non-profit, which is implementing a novel new solution—one that could have public health experts smacking their foreheads at the simplicity and practicality: Make gyms cheap.

Like, $30-a-month cheap, with a sliding scale for lower income or homeless women and children, who may pay as little as $10 each month. Members at the women-and-children-only Codman Square Health Center, located in a poorer Boston neighborhood, get all the amenities of more costly gyms—treadmills and weight machines, spinning and yoga and group dance classes—plus healthy food and nutrition programs. The costs of running the Codman facility are supplemented by donations and a small percentage of membership dues from other gyms in the Healthworks Fitness Center network.

More obese women may even receive "prescriptions" to work out for free. So, Pfeiffer reports, most of they women you'll see at the Codman Square gym aren't always skinny little things. Tamaica Toney was 252 pounds before joining Healthworks. She lost 80 pounds in a year just by going to the gym Monday through Friday. She and other women at the gym said they felt less embarrassed working out at a women-only facility—and safer indoors than jogging or walking through their neighborhood.

"I can't wait to get this next 20 pounds off of me, get cut up, get them abs coming through," Toney told Pfeiffer. "Then I'm going to shop until I can't drop!"

In honor of his vote last week to bar the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating planet-warming gases, activists from the environmental group 1Sky delivered Scott Brown (R-Mass.) an "Oily Bird Award" yesterday—a fake, oil-coated pelican. Actually, it was a flamingo covered in brown stuff, but you get the idea.

Brown probably deserved two oily bird awards this week, since on Wednesday he basically thumbed his nose at the idea of a price on carbon after getting called in for a special meeting at the White House. It's not every senator who gets a one-on-one session with the president, but Brown has been one of the few Republicans to vote with Democrats on key issues of late.

Emerging from the meeting, Brown told reporters, "I basically told him I'm not in favor of, nor could I support, a national energy tax or cap-and-trade proposal … But I am very excited about working with him in a bipartisan manner to come up with a comprehensive energy plan to address a whole host of issues."

Here's 1Sky presenting the Oily Bird Award to a Brown staffer:

(Photo courtsey of 1Sky.)

Handling Healthcare: Healthcare costs are projected to skyrocket, boosing national debt.

So Sorry: Rep. Joe Barton apologizes to BP. Then he takes it back. But he's still kinda sorry.

Brain Waves: We love wine. But our brains love it more when they think it's expensive.

Mad as Hell: Robert Gibbs is mad at Joe Barton for apologizing. Barton is sorry about that too.

Unique Solution: One lawmaker suggests people collect BP's crude and sell it themselves.

At Sea: Speaking of Joe Barton, his fundraiser is on a boat... sailing the Gulf. Seriously.

How Much: Questions raised over how much responsability Obama has for the spill.

Speaking Softly: Here's what Kevin Drum thought of Obama's oil spill speech.

Wack-a-Mole: Dick Cheney pops out of retirement to criticize Obama's oil spill response.

Half-Assed: New campaign ad targets Lindsay Graham for backing "half-assed energy bill."

Gang Green: Advocacy group runs ads attacking GOP for voting against EPA's regulatory authority.

Not Enough: Five more important questions Congress should ask BP.

Not Us: Oil company execs paint BP as an outlier, not the standard of industry safety.

Cost v. Safety: New documents show goverment investigators BP's real priority: profits.

Big Ticket: Dems want BP to pony up $20 billion to cover damages.

Mole Tales: A BP clean-up worker talks about lack of respirators, delayed pay, and hookers.

Birds of a Feather: Oiled pelicans huddle together, waiting to be cleaned.




Democrats huddled to talk about different climate and energy strategies on Thursday afternoon, but emerged from the meeting not much closer to an agreement on how to move forward. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) wouldn’t offer much in the way of details. "We are not going today to tell you what we're going to have in this legislation," Reid told reporters. "It’s a work in progress."

Reid and other Democrats said they plan to debate an energy package after the July 4 recess. But whether that package will include a price on carbon is unclear. First there was talk of including it in a package, but now it seems like the cap on carbon might get shoved aside again. Senators heard presentations from Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) on his energy bill, John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) talked up their package, Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) talked about the bill she wrote with Susan Collins (R-Maine), and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) talked more broadly about the issue, participants said.

Senators said there was no time left for discussion, however, because the explanations of the policies went on for too long. Discussion will come in a future caucus meeting, probably next week. Reid said there were "a number of discussions today as to how we provide what's best for America," in response to a question about whether their package next month will include any of these climate plans. "Of course pricing carbon is part of that discussion," he continued.

Kerry remained confident about getting their measure included in the package following the meeting. "We're going to work with Harry Reid to put together what the final bill is," Kerry told reporters. "It's working pretty well so far. We're getting to the point where we're going to pull that together."

The talk around the Hill today was that Senate Democrats plan to pass an energy-only measure in July and then drag out the conference committee (that's where they would work out the differences between their measure and what the House passed last June) for a few months so they can get past the November elections. Using this "lame-duck climate strategy" would mean that they put the reconciled package with a price on carbon to a vote in both chambers after the election.

Are they going to go through with that? And, more importantly, would that work? I have my doubts. Today's big Senate Democratic huddle did little to clear up the picture on that front.

In other climate-related news, Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said that Reid has agreed to give him floor time for his bid to thwart EPA regulation of carbon dioxide, now that the measure from Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) was voted down last week (no thanks to Rockefeller on that front, either). Rockefeller didn't have an anticipated date for a vote on his measure, which would delay EPA regulations for two years.

If we were to hold a contest for most tone-deaf oil spill comments by members of Congress, it'd be tough to top Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), who actually apologized to BP yesterday, for what he called a "shake down" on the part of the Obama administration to get the company to compensate affected Gulf coast residents, then tried to backpedal (sort of). Oof. But he's far from the only one: I sure hope our Congresspeople are buying offsets, since there have been an awful lot of gaseous emissions coming from them in the wake of the largest offshore oil spill in US history. Luckily, MoJo reporter Kate Sheppard has been there to document it, tweeting the absurdity live from Washington, D.C. Here, culled from Kate's tweets, are the top 10 most ludicrous, out-of-touch, and generally embarrassing things our Congresspeople have said in the months since the spill began. Begin

10. John Culberson (R-Texas), 6/15, at a press conference: Argues that the BP oil spill "is an anomaly–like an airplane falling from the clear blue sky."

9. Joe Barton (R-Texas), 6/15, at an Energy and Commerce hearing: "Chinese oil companies are drilling off the coast of Cuba, which means they are drilling off the coast of Florida."

8. Michael Burgess (R-Texas), 6/15, at an Energy and Commerce hearing: "If this hearing is not about stopping the leak, then why are we here?"

7. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.), 5/4, told reporters:"I mean, accidents happen. You learn from them and you try to make sure they don't happen again."

6. Pete Olson (R-Texas) on moratorium, 6/15 press conference: "This is a kneejerk reaction by the administration to address a problem that doesn't exist."

5. Ralph Hall (R-Texas) 6/15, at a press conference: "It’s a shame we can't drill ANWR. It’s a shame we don't get that energy off the coast of Florida."

4. Parker Griffith (R-Ala.), 6/15, at an Energy and Commerce hearing: argued that the treatment of oil executives has been "disrespectful."

3. Ralph Hall (R-Texas), 6/15, at a press conference: "I resent the fact that [Obama's] trying to blame some of this on Bush. On 9/11 I don't remember Bush trying to blame this on Clinton."

2. Bob Bennett (R-Utah), 6/9, at a press conference: "The bridge to that promised land of renewable energy is built out of fossil fuels."

1. Joe Barton (R-Texas), 6/17, apologizing to BP CEO Tony Hayward at an Energy and Commerce hearing: "I am ashamed ... that a private corporation can be subject to what I would characterize as a shake down."

Don't miss a second of Congress' oil spill hijinks! Follow Kate Sheppard on Twitter. See MoJo's complete oil spill coverage here.

In today's National Park Service incident reports, an ominous mention of oil-tar balls and mats washing up on Padre Island National Seashore in Texas. No confirmation yet if this is BP Deepwater Horizon oil or not. If it is, that's badobviouslysince it would mark the first landfall far to the west of the well site.

More alarming in the report however was the perplexing mention of the release of 116 critically endangered Kemp's Ridleys sea turtle hatchlings from that same beach where oil was washing ashore on that same day.

Even if the oil-tar on Padre Island doesn't bear the Oilpocalypse signtaure, I can't help but ask: Why are they releasing turtle hatchlings anywhere into the Gulf of Mexico at this point? Exactly what future do they imagine lies ahead for these rarest of all sea turtles, 116 of whom may hold the key to survival of the species?

Here's the incident report in its entirety:

Padre Island NS – Tar balls and tar mats were observed on South Beach yesterday. At mile markers 14.4 and 21.2, tar mats up to six feet long were discovered, while employees observed smaller tar balls floating in the surf.  These items were collected by the park’s hazardous materials team and transferred to the U.S. Coast Guard, where it will be determined if the collected tar balls and tar mats are a result of the oil spill. Visitor interest in Padre Island National Seashore remains steady; a high level of visitor calls, indicating that their travel plans to visit the seashore remain unchanged, have been received. This may be due, in part, to this year’s first Kemp's Ridley turtle release on the Texas coast.  Yesterday, 116 hatchlings were released under guarded conditions, with over 450 visitors and representatives from three media outlets welcoming the hatchlings and attending the special event.  Researchers from Texas Tech University and the U.S. Geological Survey are in the park devising protocols to collect samples from unhatched Kemp's Ridley sea turtle eggs to use in conjunction with the natural resource damage assessment process. Padre Island has an extensive program to monitor and protect Kemp's Ridley sea turtle nests, one of the most critically endangered sea turtle species worldwide.  In previous years, the NPS has attached satellite transmitters to adult females after they nest and then monitored movements.  Many of the turtles tracked entered waters offshore from Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, or the west coast of Florida after they finished nesting. 


BP CEO Tony Hayward, the guy who's become known mostly for inserting his foot in his mouth for the past two months since the oil spill, will testify to the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations of the House Energy and Commerce Committee this morning. This will be his first appearance in Washington since the Gulf gusher began on April 20, so you can expect a lively dressing-down from House members. I'll be live-Tweeting from the hearing, which you can follow here:

Sharon Astyk at ScienceBlogs points the way to a seriously scary comment thread at The Oil Drum, a sounding board for, among others, many petroleum geologists and oil professionals. The comment in question is from a seemingly very knowledgable "dougr." Some of it follows verbatim below. I've highlighted the parts that frightened me the most and left me wondering: Is this why Obama's praying?

You can read the comment in its entirety here, complete with useful links, as well as all the comments (some of which dissent from dougr's claims) made in response.  Sharon notes, to the inevitable question of why pass along an anonymous comment: "This one passes my smell test, which is usually pretty good - that doesn't mean I claim commenter Doug R is right - it means I think his information is interesting enough to be worth exposing to a wider audience for clarification or correction." As the Oil Drum staff explains to its own readers regarding this post: "Were the US government and BP more forthcoming with information and details, the situation would not be giving rise to so much speculation about what is actually going on in the Gulf. This should be run more like Mission Control at NASA than an exclusive country club function--it is a public matter--transparency, now!" Amen. Meanwhile, judge for yourself:

"All the actions and few tid bits of information all lead to one inescapable conclusion. The well pipes below the sea floor are broken and leaking. Now you have some real data of how BP's actions are evidence of that, as well as some murky statement from "BP officials" confirming the same.

"To those of us outside the real inside loop, yet still fairly knowledgeable, [the failure of Top Kill] was a major confirmation of what many feared. That the system below the sea floor has serious failures of varying magnitude in the complicated chain, and it is breaking down and it will continue to.

"What does this mean?

"It means they will never cap the gusher after the wellhead. They cannot...the more they try and restrict the oil gushing out the bop?...the more it will transfer to the leaks below. Just like a leaky garden hose with a nozzle on it. When you open up the nozzle? doesn't leak so bad, you close the nozzle? leaks real bad, same dynamics. It is why they sawed the riser off...or tried to anyway...but they clipped it off, to relieve pressure on the leaks "down hole". I'm sure there was a bit of panic time after they crimp/pinched off the large riser pipe and the Diamond wire saw got stuck and failed...because that crimp diverted pressure and flow to the rupture down below.

"Contrary to what most of us would think as logical to stop the oil mess, actually opening up the gushing well and making it gush more became direction BP took after confirming that there was a leak. In fact if you note their actions, that should become clear. They have shifted from stopping or restricting the gusher to opening it up and catching it. This only makes sense if they want to relieve pressure at the leak hidden down below the seabed.....and that sort of leak is one of the most dangerous and potentially damaging kind of leak there could be. It is also inaccessible which compounds our problems. There is no way to stop that leak from above, all they can do is relieve the pressure on it and the only way to do that right now is to open up the nozzle above and gush more oil into the gulf and hopefully catch it, which they have done, they just neglected to tell us why, gee thanks.

"A down hole leak is dangerous and damaging for several reasons. There will be erosion throughout the entire beat up, beat on and beat down remainder of the "system" including that inaccessible leak. The same erosion I spoke about in the first post is still present and has never stopped, cannot be stopped, is impossible to stop and will always be present in and acting on anything that is left which has crude oil "Product" rushing through it. There are abrasives still present, swirling flow will create hot spots of wear and this erosion is relentless and will always be present until eventually it wears away enough material to break it's way out. It will slowly eat the bop away especially at the now pinched off riser head and it will flow more and more. Perhaps BP can outrun or keep up with that out flow with various suckage methods for a period of time, but eventually the well will win that race, just how long that race will be? one really knows....However now?...there are other problems that a down hole leak will and must produce that will compound this already bad situation.

"This down hole leak will undermine the foundation of the seabed in and around the well area. It also weakens the only thing holding up the massive Blow Out Preventer's immense bulk of 450 tons. In fact?...we are beginning to the results of the well's total integrity beginning to fail due to the undermining being caused by the leaking well bore.

"The first layer of the sea floor in the gulf is mostly lose material of sand and silt. It doesn't hold up anything and isn't meant to, what holds the entire subsea system of the Bop in place is the well itself... The well's piping in comparison is actually very much smaller than the Blow Out Preventer and strong as it may be, it relies on some support from the seabed to function and not literally fall over...and it is now showing signs of doing just that....falling over...

"What is likely to happen now?

"Well...none of what is likely to happen is good, in's about as bad as it gets. I am convinced the erosion and compromising of the entire system is accelerating and attacking more key structural areas of the well, the blow out preventer and surrounding strata holding it all up and together. This is evidenced by the tilt of the blow out preventer and the erosion which has exposed the well head connection. What eventually will happen is that the blow out preventer will literally tip over if they do not run supports to it as the currents push on it. I suspect they will run those supports as cables tied to anchors very soon, if they don't, they are inviting disaster that much sooner.

"Eventually even that will be futile as the well casings cannot support the weight of the massive system above with out the cement bond to the earth and that bond is being eroded away. When enough is eroded away the casings will buckle and the BOP will collapse the well. If and when you begin to see oil and gas coming up around the well area from under the BOP? or the area around the well head connection and casing sinking more and more rapidly? won't be too long after that the entire system fails. BP must be aware of this, they are mapping the sea floor sonically and that is not a mere exercise. Our Gov't must be well aware too, they just are not telling us.

"All of these things lead to only one place, a fully wide open well bore directly to the oil deposit...after that, it goes into the realm of "the worst things you can think of" The well may come completely apart as the inner liners fail. There is still a very long drill string in the well, that could literally come flying I said...all the worst things you can think of are a possibility, but the very least damaging outcome as bad as it is, is that we are stuck with a wide open gusher blowing out 150,000 barrels a day of raw oil or more. There isn't any "cap dome" or any other suck fixer device on earth that exists or could be built that will stop it from gushing out and doing more and more damage to the gulf. While at the same time also doing more damage to the well, making the chance of halting it with a kill from the bottom up less and less likely to work, which as it stands now? the only real chance we have left to stop it all.

"It's a race now...a race to drill the relief wells and take our last chance at killing this monster before the whole weakened, wore out, blown out, leaking and failing system gives up it's last gasp in a horrific crescendo.

"We are not even 2 months into it, barely half way by even optimistic estimates. The damage done by the leaked oil now is virtually immeasurable already and it will not get better, it can only get worse. No matter how much they can collect, there will still be thousands and thousands of gallons leaking out every minute, every hour of every day. We have 2 months left before the relief wells are even near in position and set up to take a kill shot and that is being optimistic as I said.

"Over the next 2 months the mechanical situation also cannot improve, it can only get worse, getting better is an impossibility. While they may make some gains on collecting the leaked oil, the structural situation cannot heal itself. It will continue to erode and flow out more oil and eventually the inevitable collapse which cannot be stopped will happen. It is only a simple matter of who can "get there first" or the well."


It's not every day that Congress discusses walruses and the phone numbers of dead guys at length. But then again, it's not every day that the top executives from the nation's biggest oil companies are put on the hot seat to defend their pitiful emergency response plans in case of a catastrophe like the one we've seen unfold in the Gulf of Mexico over the past eight weeks.

Since the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon rig, we've seen just how sad BP's planning for the event of a disaster has been. But we also got a glimpse of how ridiculous it was on paper. BP's 583-page Gulf plan, last updated in June 2009, included references to how to protect walruses and sea lions, which, as Energy and Environment subcommittee chair Ed Markey (D-Mass.) noted, "have not called the Gulf home for 3 million years." The plan also included the phone number of a sea turtle expert who has been dead for five years.

And it gets even worse: The other four oil giants are using almost the exact same plans.

In yesterday's hearing, representatives brought out the emergency response plans of Shell, ConocoPhillips, Chevron, ExxonMobil, and BP that had been drafted in case of an oil spill in the region. The cover photos of rigs and tankers are identical, just in different colors, and four of the five plans include the references to walruses, sea lions, seals, and sea turtle expert Dr. Peter Lutz. They list him as a staff member of the University of Miami, though he hadn't worked there since 1991, when he left for Florida Atlantic University. Oh, and he passed away in February 2005, so he probably wouldn't be able to offer much help now anyway.

"ExxonMobil, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, and Shell are as unprepared as BP," said Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), who called the responses "cookie cutter" plans. "When you look at the details, it becomes evident these [response] plans are just paper exercises."

Markey summed up the companies' response strategies pretty well in Tuesday's hearing: "The only technology you seem to be relying on is the Xerox machine."

ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson defended the inclusion of Lutz. Just because he passed away, said Tillerson, "does not mean the importance of his work died with him." (He did grant that, "It's unfortunate that walruses were included.") Tillerson also defended the overlap between the companies' plans: "Cookie cutter should not come as a surprise. The industry relies on sharing resources."

While Obama decides whether or not to use BP's oil spill as a rallying cry for climate legislation, Congress is grappling over how to hold the company accountable for economic and environmental damages. Under the Oil Pollution Act of 1990—passed after the 1989 Exxon-Valdez spill—offshore drilling companies are liable for up to $75 million of damages caused by an accident. BP expects the cost of the cleanup alone, which the company is obligated to pay in full, to hover between $3 and $6 billion, and damage claims could soar well above that.Both Democrats and Republicans in Congress are eager to ensure that BP pays for all damages, but they are split on the best way to do so. Senators Robert Menendez and David Vitter are spearheading the two main dueling efforts:

1. Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, wants to eliminate the liability cap for all companies in the event of all future offshore spills, in addition to retroactively eliminating it for BP. He originally proposed upping the cap to $10 billion but eventually revised his bill to do away with the cap completely. The White House has weighed in favoring total cap elimination, but Senate Republicans, led by Lisa Murkowski and James Inhofe, have already denied unanimous consent on the bill three times, blocking an up-or-down vote.

In the House, Rep. Rush Holt has introduced a companion bill. That bill has not yet been revised to eliminate the cap entirely, but Holt communications director Zach Goldberg explains that the congressman is open to unlimited liability, should the Senate pass Menendez's bill. With over 70 cosponsors, Goldberg says, Holt's bill is bipartisan: "We have one Republican, at least" (Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida).  

2. Vitter, a Louisiana Republican, wants to eliminate the liability cap only for BP in the specific instance of the Deepwater Horizon explosion. His bill, which he introduced with Murkowski, would codify statements BP executives made to Congress while under oath in which they specified their intent to pay all "legitimate claims" that emerge from the spill, regardless of the $75 million cap. According to an email from Joel DiGrado, Vitter's spokesman,

All Sen. Vitter is doing is accepting BP's offer to pay (this is a contract issue, not a constitutional issue). Unless BP wants to testify in a court of law that they perjured themselves before Congress when they said they were going to pay, this is likely the best immediate thing we can do to hold BP's feet to the fire.

Menendez has similarly blocked a vote on Vitter's bill.

Vitter also has a second bill that he co-authored with Sen. Jeff Sessions, which would alter the formation of the cap. That bill would hold companies liable for either their last four quarters' profit or $150 million, whichever figure is greater. DiGrado says this strategy is an attempt to avoid the kind of "one-size-fits-all cap" that Menendez initially proposed. In the House, Rep. Roy Blunt is sponsoring a companion to this latter Vitter bill.

Menendez's and Vitter's offices have each accused the other's bill of inviting legal challenges. Vitter—backed by fellow Republicans Murkowski and Inhofe—believes Menendez's bill will place an outsized burden on smaller and midsized drilling companies, potentially putting them out of business. Menendez, meanwhile, has said that Vitter's BP-only bill has "loopholes big enough to navigate an oil tanker through."

At this point, it is unclear how Congress will deal with liability in the end.

Due to a vague comment about how the federal government should take responsibility in the Gulf, House Minority Leader John Boehner had earlier battled Democratic claims that he supported a "BP bailout," though he had previously said BP should bear the entirety of the financial burden. Boehner went on the record this weekend with his desire to eliminate the liability cap on BP, however, which makes him a potential supporter of Vitter's approach. With Boehner's support, Vitter could likely attract a strong group of Gulf State Republicans, many of whom have been guarded in discussions about altering the liability cap.

In his first Oval Office speech tonight, Obama will address what's being done to ensure that BP pays for the Deepwater Horizon spill in full as well as how he hopes to prevent similar disasters in the future. He has already proposed a BP "escrow fund" of $20 billion that could eliminate the need to retroactively hit the company with changes to its liability cap. On Wednesday, Obama will discuss this escrow fund with BP executives. If they agree to it, the pressure would be off Congress to retroactively lift BP's liability cap. If they don't, Obama will be able to threaten them with a retroactive bill in an attempt to change their minds.

Presuming the escrow fund moves forward, changes to the offshore liability cap could be worked into a larger energy bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has called on committee chairmen to recommend oil-industry reform legislation to incorporate into a larger energy package. Since there is consensus within the Senate on the need to raise the $75 million cap for offshore drilling companies, Reid may try to work variations of Menendez's and/or Vitter's ideas into that much-anticipated reform bill.

This story was produced by the Atlantic as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. Mother Jones' Kate Sheppard had previously written about the liability cap here and here.