Mojo - September 2009

Surfing the New Stimulus 2.0 Website

| Mon Sep. 28, 2009 11:06 AM PDT

Big news for all you stimulus fans—Recovery.gov, the federal recovery website, just relaunched this morning. For months, the frustratingly sketchy website was the last place you'd go to keep track of where the $787 billion in economic stimulus was being doled out. While the adminsitration scrambled to live up to the president's promise to account for "every dime," ProPublica and Recovery.com put up relatively easy-to-use recovery trackers. (Congressional Republicans also set up a less-than-user friendly site at Sunshine.gop.gov.) So how does the revamped Recovery.gov 2.0 stack up against the competition?

A quick tour of the site reveals it to be a major improvement—especially when you consider it was pulled together in just 10 weeks. Its centerpiece is an interactive map where you can track grants, loans, and contracts by location, agency, or amount. You can zoom in on funding recipients by exact location, which you can't do on the ProPublica or Recovery.com maps, making it easy to see where the checks are going locally. It also offers text lists of recipients by state and agency. ProPublica and Recovery.com offer lists by county and city, respectively—so will someone please offer a choice of recipient lists by zip code, city, county, and state? Perhaps Recovery.gov can be of assistance: For the super wonky, it offers downloadable data for making "mashups and gadgets." Amid an otherwise so-so review of the site, OMB Watch says "this is actually a really nice feature."

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Largest Electric Utility in US Drops Out of the Chamber of Commerce

| Mon Sep. 28, 2009 10:13 AM PDT

Yet another blow for the Chamber of Commerce today: The largest electric utility company in the US vowed this morning that it would not renew its membership in the chamber because of its opposition to global warming action.

Exelon Corp. CEO John Rowe dropped the news in a speech before the annual meeting of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). "Exelon is so committed to climate legislation that Rowe announced during today’s speech that Exelon will not be renewing its membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce due to the organization’s opposition to climate legislation," the group said in a press release this morning.

This marks the third major departure from the Chamber over climate policy in just over a week, following the exit of California utility PG&E and New Mexico utility PNM. Exelon is a member of the US Climate Action Partnership, a coalition of environmental and business leaders advocating for a climate bill in Congress.

Rowe appeared in ads in support of a climate bill earlier this year. "I’m a utility CEO—not who you’d expect to be for a cap on carbon pollution," Rowe said. "But a smart cap will overhaul our economy by shifting us toward clean, American-made energy. And a smart cap will control costs and protect your family’s budget."

Rowe is also a big conservative funder, and has donated $10,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee for each of the past two years.

I wonder if William Kovacs, the chamber’s senior vice president for environment, technology and regulatory affairs, is regretting that "Scopes monkey trial" comment yet.

Trade Likely to be Flash Point in Senate Climate Bill

| Mon Sep. 28, 2009 9:38 AM PDT

Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) are expected to unveil the draft of their climate bill on Wednesday, but other legislators are already lining up to talk about what they'd like to see changed in the bill. It's already looking like there will need to be substantial revisions on the manufacturing and trade side if they're hoping to break the deadlock in the Senate.

E&E reports that the bill is not expected to include the language in the House bill that focuses on how to protect trade-exposed and energy-intensive industries like cement, steel, refining, paper, and glass. These provisions are seen as key to getting the votes of many Midwestern, industrial-state Democrats.

"It's going to need a lot of work," Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), told E&E. "My understanding is they did not include the House language on manufacturing ... But I've been talking to them about it. They are very open to it. They are in no way dismissive."

Brown is seen as a leader in the Senate on these issues, and perhaps a bellwether for how a vote on a climate bill might turn out. He's a progressive Democrat from a manufacturing and coal-dependent state, who in June 2008 voted against the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Act. After that vote, he vowed his support for climate action—but only if a proposal insulated states like Ohio.

 

Is Copenhagen Dead? Podesta Replies

| Sat Sep. 26, 2009 4:47 PM PDT

John Podesta posted a response to my article on a statement he co-wrote that I characterized as a signal the Obama administration has concluded that producing a comprehensive global warming treaty at the upcoming Copenhagen summit will not be possible and that alternative measures must be pursued. Here is Podesta's reply in full:

While Mother Jones’ David Corn is an excellent reporter, he is a lousy tealeaf reader. Mr. Corn misread a recent article by Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, the chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change and Nobel Peace Prize winner, and myself in advance of the G20 summit, incorrectly concluding our purpose was to downplay expectations on behalf of the Administration. Mr. Corn’s interpretation of our piece is inaccurate. Dr. Pachauri, one of the world’s foremost advocates for strong global action on climate change, and I both recognize that significant challenges remain in advance of the U.N. summit in December. But we are confident that the international community is poised to make substantial progress on climate change in Copenhagen, and that the U.S. is now in a position to exercise renewed leadership in pursuit of a best-case climate scenario.

The purpose of our September 23 piece was to emphasize the importance of climate change in advance of the G20 meetings and encourage the world’s top emitters to seize an important opportunity to take concrete steps to move forward in advance of December’s summit. It is not news that the divide between the unwieldy groups of developed and developing countries have stalled climate talks in the past and that they are drifting again. It is, however, noteworthy that major emitters have recently utilized new channels — the Administration’s Major Economies Forum, for example, as well as the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue — to lay the groundwork for a new climate agreement in Copenhagen. We think this is an important development and should be pursued whenever opportunities, like this week’s summit, arise. Our piece urged leaders at the G20 to pursue concrete actions prior to Copenhagen on issues such as financing arrangements, technology cooperation, and deforestation prevention to increase the chances of success in December.

Even in the midst of global economic crisis, climate change has remained at the top of the agenda both in the United States and in key countries around the world. There is broad consensus that the effects of climate change are not only real, but will be devastating to developed and developing countries alike if the international community fails to agree on a global emissions reduction strategy soon. The road ahead is not without obstacles, which our piece pointed out. But the fate of Copenhagen is far from sealed — and it is my strong belief that the Obama Administration is committed to doing all it can to lead the world into a low-carbon, clean energy future.

It still seems to me that by declaring that the pre-Copenhagen talks are at an "impasse" and that the prospects of reaching a treaty is "grim"—possibly realistic assessments—Podesta and Pachauri, two champions of countering climate change, are assuming that the climate summit will fall short of what's been the perceived public goal (a comprehensive global accord that leads to a serious reduction in emissions) and are now pushing for alternative mulitlateral actions and decisions that would mark real progress in redressing climate change (though perhaps not as much progress as a full-fledged and tough treaty). This might be a reasonable approach—maybe the only option—given the well-known conflicts in the pre-Copenahgen negotiations and the US Senate's inability to produce climate change legislation prior to the gathering. But if the Obama administration—which Podesta helped set up—has reached a similar conclusion, that would indeed be noteworthy and represent something of a shift (even if a necessary one) in its efforts to address global warming.

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G20 Disappoints on Climate

| Fri Sep. 25, 2009 5:58 PM PDT

Hopes for a significant breakthrough on climate change at the G20 were dashed Friday with the issuance of a final communique that was even more underwhelming than the drafts that leaked earlier in the week.

The final statement from the leaders called for greater focus on climate change, but included no new specific commitments. "We underscore anew our resolve to take strong action to address the threat of dangerous climate change," said the statement.

On financing for developing countries for climate change adaptation, mitigation, and technology development, they emerged with essentially the same agreement that they made in Italy in July, calling on their finance ministers to come to the next meeting with "a range of possible options for climate change financing to be provided as a resource to be considered in the UNFCCC negotiations at Copenhagen."

The most notable agreement was perhaps an expression of shared interest in ending fossil fuel subsidies, though there were no specifics offered to that end either. Instead, the leaders merely  pledged to "rationalize and phase out over the medium term inefficient fossil fuel subsidies that encourage wasteful consumption," keeping in mind the need to transfer some of those subsidies to programs that support those most economically vulnerable to fuel price increases.

A Lost Decade for America's Housing Market?

| Fri Sep. 25, 2009 2:36 PM PDT

While the broader economy might be showing signs of improvement, the US housing market remains a disaster. And if a recent Moody's analysis holds true, real estate could remain that way for the next decade or more, and even longer in states devastated by the housing meltdown, like California and Florida. "For many reasons, the rebound will be disproportionately small compared to the decline," Moody's analysts said this week. "It will take more than a decade to completely recover from the 40 percent peak-to-trough decline in national home prices." The hardest-hit states, meanwhile, "will only re-gain their pre-bust peak in the early 2030s."

Ouch. This kind of analysis suggests that America's economic recovery will be a protracted one, looking more like a W than a V. Granted, the Moody's projection looks at us returning to housing-bubble peaks, when in fact the housing market needn't—indeed, shouldn't—return to the overinflated prices that preceded the collapse. Its analysis, nonetheless, goes to show that normalcy in the housing market is a long way off—bad news, given that real estate plays such an integral role in our economic health (if this crisis taught us anything, it taught us that).