MoJo Blogs and Articles | Mother Jones http://www.motherjones.com/rss/blogs_and_articles/wp-login.phphttps%3A/motherjones.com/files/images/Adnkronos%20International http://www.motherjones.com/files/motherjonesLogo_google_206X40.png Mother Jones logo http://www.motherjones.com en Christmas Movies Are Now Just As Horrible As Everything Else Related to Christmas http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/christmas-movies-now-just-horrible-everything-else-related-christmas <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_theater_christmas.jpg" style="margin: 8px 0px 15px 30px;">Well, this answers a question for me. Dan Drezner describes the <a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2014/12/24/the-war-on-jewish-christmas-must-be-stopped/" target="_blank">standard Jewish ritual for Christmas day:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>Chinese food and a movie. Perfectly pleasant rituals, made special by the fact that <em>the Gentiles are all at home or at church</em>....</p> <p>No longer.</p> <p>I don&rsquo;t know when it became a thing for Christian families to also go see a movie on the day commemorating the birth of Jesus, <strong>but personal experience tells me this is a relatively recent phenomenon&nbsp;&mdash; i.e., the past 15 years or so.</strong> All I know is that what used to be a pleasant movie-going experience is now extremely crowded.</p> </blockquote> <p>Several years ago I naively decided that it might be nice to see a movie on Christmas. I figured the crowds would be really light and we could just slip right in. Needless to say, I was disabused of this notion quickly, and headed for home just as fast as my car would take me. At the time, I wondered what was going on. Had things changed? Was I just unaware that Christmas had always been a big movie day? Or what?</p> <p>I guess it's the former. There really was a golden era when Christmas movies were uncrowded, but it disappeared before I even knew it existed. Sic transit etc.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Wed, 24 Dec 2014 20:02:58 +0000 Kevin Drum 267281 at http://www.motherjones.com The Hotel Industry Is Apparently Hellbent on Screwing Its Guests http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/hotel-industry-apparently-hellbent-screwing-its-guests <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The sheer venality and barefaced contempt for its customers that's so often displayed by corporate America never ceases to amaze me. <a href="http://recode.net/2014/12/22/google-wireless-industry-not-down-with-marriotts-wi-fi-blocking-plan/" target="_blank">I had no idea this was going on:</a></p> <blockquote> <p><strong>Microsoft and Google don&rsquo;t agree on much, but they&rsquo;ve presented a united front against the hotel industry, which is trying to convince government regulators to give them the option of blocking guests from using personal Wi-Fi hotspots</strong>....In October, Marriott settled an FCC complaint about the practice for $600,000 but argued that it hadn&rsquo;t broken the law and was using technology to protect guests from &ldquo;rogue wireless hotspots that can cause degraded service, insidious cyber attacks and identity theft.&rdquo;</p> <p>....<strong>Opponents of the proposal basically argued in filings late Monday that the hotel industry is just trying to keep guests and exhibitors dependent on pricy hotel wireless networks.</strong> They suggested hotels have other options for protecting Wi-Fi networks than jamming personal hotspots.</p> </blockquote> <p>Years ago hotels lost the ability to charge outrageous prices for phone calls, so now they're engaged in a desperate rear-guard attempt to keep charging outrageous prices for Wi-Fi. Here's a suggestion instead: provide decent rooms at reasonable prices, and offer your guests additional services at reasonable prices too. Ho ho ho.</p> <p><strong>POSTSCRIPT:</strong> I wonder what the range of these jamming devices is? If Marriott or Hilton ends up jamming a Wi-Fi hotspot that someone is using on a public sidewalk outside one of their hotels, are they liable for damages?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Corporations Wed, 24 Dec 2014 19:50:32 +0000 Kevin Drum 267276 at http://www.motherjones.com You Can Watch "The Interview" Right Now. Here's How. http://www.motherjones.com/mixed-media/2014/12/watch-the-interview-or-dont-whatever-how-is-your-holiday-going <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><em>The Interview </em>is live on YouTube right now. You can rent it for $5.99 or buy it for $14.99.</p> <p><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="354" src="//www.youtube.com/embed/Ed2kSuKqfz0?rel=0" width="630"></iframe></p> <p>Or you can not watch it at all. Or you can watch it later. Or never. Whatever. No pressure. It doesn't make you a bad person. You do you. America is about choice.</p></body></html> Mixed Media Wed, 24 Dec 2014 18:21:39 +0000 Ben Dreyfuss 267271 at http://www.motherjones.com How Much Would You Pay For $4,905 In Pension Benefits? http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/how-much-would-you-pay-4905-pension-benefits <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Adam Ozimek points us to some recent research suggesting that people <a href="http://www.forbes.com/sites/modeledbehavior/2014/12/24/another-reason-to-dislike-public-sector-pensions/" target="_blank">don't actually value pensions very highly:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The study utilizes a change in policy in Illinois that allowed teachers to purchase more pension benefits in exchange for a one-time fee. This allowed the determination of how much teachers are willing to pay for marginal pension benefits. The authors found that on average, teachers valued each $1 in marginal pension benefits at $0.20.</p> <p>This is useful information for two reasons. <strong>First, it suggests states may be able to save money and make teachers better off by buying back pension obligations in exchange for current lump sum payments.</strong> Second, it suggests that for districts looking to cut costs, decreases in benefits do not need to be offset with equal dollar value increases in current pay in order to maintain labor supply.</p> </blockquote> <p>(Yes, that's 20 cents for one dollar of <em>present value</em>. Specifically, the study finds that on average, teachers are willing to pay only $1,000 for benefits that the pension fund has to pay $4,905 to purchase.)</p> <p>But does this mean that Illinois teachers would snap up a $1,000 lump sum today in return for a <em>decrease</em> of $4,905 in future pension benefits? Not so fast, pardner. A combination of status quo bias, loss aversion, and <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_loss_aversion_napkin_1.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">the endowment effect suggests that things wouldn't be so easy.</p> <p>Status quo bias is just what it sounds like: we all tend to succumb to a sort of emotional inertia that favors whatever benefits we happen to be getting at the moment. Loss aversion is the well known effect that people work harder to avoid the loss of $X than to secure the gain of $X. And the endowment effect causes people to ascribe greater value than normal to things they own, solely because they happen to own them. Put all these things together, and it's highly unlikely that Illinois teachers would be willing to sell off a dollar of benefits <em>they currently get</em> in return for 20 cents today. In fact, it's quite possible they'd only sell it off for more than a dollar.</p> <p>Of course, this applies only to workers who are already vested in a pension system. For brand new workers, given a choice of salary today vs. pension tomorrow, it's quite possible they'd undervalue the pension. In fact, I'd say it's almost inevitable, since most of us do exactly that. Nonetheless, I'm skeptical that this research tells us much about either the size of this effect or whether it would be good public policy to even offer the option. The circumstances are just too different.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Economy Wed, 24 Dec 2014 18:03:14 +0000 Kevin Drum 267266 at http://www.motherjones.com The Wonkosphere's Top Evergreen Stories, Explained http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/wonkospheres-top-evergreen-stories-explained <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>The news business has always had evergreen stories. When <em>Time</em> magazine asks "Why Did Jesus Have To Die?" on its cover, it's following in its own footsteps along with hundreds of others. If it's Easter, we have stories about Jesus.</p> <p>The wonky blog world has its own odd set of evergreens. These are stories that might have been interesting the first time I read them, but which I'm now heartily sick of. So even though I'm a day late for this to be part of the Festivus airing of grievances, here are a few examples:</p> <ul><li>Does Daylight Savings Time really reduce energy consumption?</li> <li>An economist explains why Christmas gift giving is inefficient.</li> <li>The Declaration of Independence wasn't really signed on July 4th.</li> <li>Christmas and those crazy Asians: KFC in Japan and Spam in South Korea explained.</li> <li>Scientists are adding a second to the year today. Here's why.</li> <li>The Dow is a lousy proxy for the actual state of the stock market.</li> <li>Etc.</li> </ul><p>Of course, if this year happens to be the first time you see any of these evergreens, they're fresh and new to you. It's only the fact that I've seen them so many times that makes them so tired to me. So feel free to ignore my griping on this subject. In fact, feel free to mock me for it if you like.</p> <p>Anyway, I was reminded of this by the inevitable spate of bloggish stories last week about why Christmas is inefficient, and then reminded again by not <a href="http://www.vox.com/2014/12/24/7442485/KFC-Japan-christmas" target="_blank">one,</a> not <a href="http://talkingpointsmemo.com/ts/kfc-christmas-in-japan-colonel-sanders-history-12-23-2014" target="_blank">two,</a> but <a href="http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/political-animal-a/2014_12/do_you_have_your_xmas_chicken053447.php" target="_blank">three</a> bloggy pieces about KFC in Japan that I happened to see within five minutes of each other this morning. (Bad luck, that!) And it got me thinking: ordinary old-school evergreens all seem pretty understandable. But these wonkish blog evergreens seem....a bit odd. So I'm curious: what is it that makes a subject a bloggy evergreen? What do these kinds of stories have in common?</p> <p>Once I figure it out, I plan to write a blog post about it every year. Sort of like the one <a href="http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/11/after-year-triumphant-return-my-annual-black-friday-post" target="_blank">I write every year about the origins of Black Friday.</a> Are you sick of that one yet?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Media Wed, 24 Dec 2014 16:01:06 +0000 Kevin Drum 267261 at http://www.motherjones.com Hollywood Backstabbing Over "The Interview" Now in Full Swing http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/hollywood-backstabbing-over-interview-now-full-swing <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>We all heard yesterday that Sony Pictures made a last-minute decision to release <em>The Interview</em> on Christmas after all, thanks to pleas from a couple hundred independent theaters that agreed at the last minute to defy Kim Jong-un and show it. So the honor of Western civilization is saved and everyone is happy. <a href="http://www.latimes.com/entertainment/envelope/cotown/la-et-ct-sony-releases-interview-theaters-20141224-story.html#page=1" target="_blank">Right?</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The film's limited release drives a further wedge between Sony and the nation's largest theater owners, who blame the studio for yanking away a potential hit. It was supposed to open on 3,000 screens before Sony and theater chains shelved the movie.</p> <p>Theater owners are also upset that Sony is negotiating to release the movie simultaneously on a video-on-demand platform....<strong>"They could have <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_the_interview.jpg" style="margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">a full theatrical release. Instead they have a token,"</strong> said one theater executive who asked not to be identified because it could harm his relationship with the studio.</p> </blockquote> <p>Wait. What? I thought this whole fiasco had been driven in the first place by the refusal of big theater chains to show the movie amid fears of terrorist retaliation. So what are they all griping about?</p> <blockquote> <p>The disagreement over a digital release played into larger tensions between Sony and theater owners after hackers last week threatened physical harm on moviegoers who saw "The Interview."....Worried about a potential threat, Sony said it canceled the movie after large chains backed away from the film.</p> <p><strong>But theater owners have been pointing the finger at the studio for originally giving them the OK to not run the film amid the threats. Then Sony blamed the nation's four big theater chains for forcing the studio to cancel the original release</strong>....Representatives of Regal, AMC, Cinemark and Carmike declined to comment on the matter.</p> </blockquote> <p>OK, I guess I'm officially confused. Did Sony cancel the Christmas release date of <em>The Interview</em> because malls and theater chains were desperate to back out of showing it? Or did malls and theater chains back out because Sony had implicitly urged them to do so when it gave the chains permission to break their contractual commitments to show the movie? Or are both sides now just furiously trying to shift blame after being called out for cowardice by everyone from George Clooney to President Obama?</p> <p>The latter, I suppose. In any case, now I know what I want for Christmas: A country that doesn't spin into a damn tizzy over every little thing. From Ebola to ISIS to the Sony hack, you'd think we were all at risk of losing our lives to outside forces every time we step off our front porches. In the immortal words of Aaron Rodgers, can we all please R-E-L-A-X?</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Film and TV International Wed, 24 Dec 2014 15:14:44 +0000 Kevin Drum 267256 at http://www.motherjones.com What Are the Odds Your City Will Have a White Christmas? http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/12/what-are-odds-your-city-will-have-white-christmas <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/SNOWWWWWW_0.jpg"><div class="caption"><strong>The lighter the shade of blue, the higher the chance of a White Christmas. </strong>NOAA/NCDC</div> </div> <p><em>This <a href="http://www.citylab.com/weather/2014/12/what-are-the-odds-your-city-will-have-a-white-christmas/383689/" target="_blank">story</a> originally appeared in </em><a href="http://citylab.com" target="_blank">CityLab</a><em> and is published here as part of the <a href="http://climatedesk.org" target="_blank">Climate Desk</a> collaboration.</em></p> <p>Those determined to have a <a href="http://www.citylab.com/weather/2014/11/a-climate-model-of-white-christmasesthrough-2100/383143/">White Christmas</a> should grab crampons and a bottle of scotch and prepare for a tough slog. Many places in the lower 48 with a lock on holiday snow are located in rugged, altitudinous climes&mdash;the bony ridge of the Sierra Nevada, for instance, and the wind-burned peaks of the Rockies.</p> <p>That much is clear in this <a href="http://www.climate.gov/news-features/featured-images/are-you-dreaming-white-christmas">delightful NOAA map</a> plotting probabilities across the US for a White Christmas, defined here as a December 25 with more than an inch of snow on the ground. Based on three decades of <a href="http://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/data-access/land-based-station-data/land-based-datasets/climate-normals/1981-2010-normals-data">climate normals</a> from the <span>National Climatic Data Center, the graphic shows a stark geographic divide when it comes to unwrapping presents in snow-globe conditions: A region of zero to 10 percent probability curves from Washington State through coastal California and then explodes in the deep South and Southeast. Parts of the Midwest also are likely to be snowless, with places like Kansas, Missouri, and lower Illinois having only an 11 to 25 percent chance of a White Christmas. </span></p> <p>New York, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., have piddling shots at this charming weather, though their brethren higher on the East Coast fare better: Boston and Providence each have a 41 to 50 percent chance. Chicago racks a (considering its frosty reputation) low-sounding 41 to 50 percent chance, and Buffalo, home to sudden crashing currents of <a href="http://www.citylab.com/weather/2014/11/towering-wall-of-snow-sweeps-through-buffalo/382907/">lake-effect snow</a>, takes it up to 51 to 60 percent.</p> <p>Aside from the West's mountain ranges, NOAA says the best-performing powder points for December 25 are Maine, upstate New York, Minnesota, the highlands of West Virginia and Pennsylvania, and almost "anywhere in Idaho." But even these crystal-crusted locales could shake off the holiday snow this year, the agency says: "While the map shows the climatological probability that a snow depth of at least one inch will be observed on December 25, the actual conditions this year may vary widely from these probabilities because the weather patterns present will determine the snow on the ground or snowfall on Christmas day."</p> <p>Here's another version of the map that's less smooth, but clearer at delineating regional probabilities:</p> <div class="inline inline-center" style="display: table; width: 1%"><img alt="" class="image" src="/files/snow2.jpg"><div class="caption">NOAA/NCDC</div> </div> <p>&nbsp;</p></body></html> Environment Climate Desk Top Stories Wed, 24 Dec 2014 11:15:05 +0000 John Metcalfe 267056 at http://www.motherjones.com Quote of the Day: "That Could Have Been Any One of Us" http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/quote-day-any-one-of-us <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/12/23/us-usa-police-nypd-race-insight-idUSKBN0K11EV20141223" target="_blank">From Michelle Conlin of Reuters,</a> who interviewed 25 active-duty and retired black NYPD police officers, nearly all of whom said they themselves had been treated harshly by fellow cops when they were out of uniform:</p> <blockquote> <p>At an ale house in Williamsburg, Brooklyn last week, a group of black police officers from across the city gathered for the beer and chicken wing special. They discussed how the officers involved in the Garner incident could have tried harder to talk down an upset Garner, or sprayed mace in his face, or forced him to the <img align="right" alt="" class="image image-_original" src="/files/blog_nypd_patch.jpg" style="border: 1px solid black; margin: 20px 0px 15px 30px;">ground without using a chokehold. They all agreed his death was avoidable.</p> <p>Said one officer from the 106th Precinct in Queens, <strong>&ldquo;That could have been any one of us.&rdquo;</strong></p> </blockquote> <p>It shouldn't be too hard to hold two thoughts in our minds at once. Thought #1: Police officers have an inherently tough and violent job. Split-second decisions about the use of force come with the territory. Ditto for decisions about who to stop and who to keep an eye on. This makes individual mistakes inevitable, but as a group, police officers deserve our support and respect regardless.</p> <p>Thought #2: That support shouldn't be blind. Conlin reports that in her group of 25 black police officers, 24 said they had received rough treatment from other cops. "The officers said this included being pulled over for no reason, having their heads slammed against their cars, getting guns brandished in their faces, being thrown into prison vans and experiencing stop and frisks while shopping. The majority of the officers said they had been pulled over multiple times while driving. Five had had guns pulled on them."</p> <p>Respect for the police is one of the foundation stones of a decent and orderly society. But police work as a profession is inherently coercive, and police officers have tremendous amounts of sometimes unaccountable power over the rest of us. Thus, it's equally a foundation stone of a decent and <em>free</em> society to maintain vigilant oversight of professions like this, and to deal vigorously with the kinds of systemic problems that the routine exercise of power and authority makes unavoidable. Belief in the latter does not exclude belief in the former.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum Civil Liberties Crime and Justice Wed, 24 Dec 2014 01:42:20 +0000 Kevin Drum 267251 at http://www.motherjones.com Smile! You're on Cop Cam! http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2014/12/smile-youre-cop-cam <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p>Seattle police have made the decision to adopt body cameras, but this means they need to find an automated way to blur out things like faces and license plate numbers before the footage becomes public. <a href="http://www.vox.com/2014/12/23/7440963/police-recording-privacy" target="_blank">Dara Lind comments:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>But as police departments move cop cams into the field, the an important question becomes whether there are things that shouldn't be recorded to protect civilians' privacy. And if so, who controls the footage?....As reported in <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/future_tense/2014/12/22/seattle_police_hackathon_worked_on_redacting_body_cam_video_streams.html?wpsrc=fol_tw" target="_blank"><em>Slate</em>,</a> the programmers that participated in the hackathon focused on ways to automatically redact police footage so that, for example, civilians' faces and license plate numbers were blurred.</p> <p>The fundamental appeal of automatic redaction for a city government is pretty clear. If you can write an automated program that takes care of any privacy concerns, <strong>you can release body-camera footage to the public en masse.</strong> Without an automated solution, the city would have to rely on the police department to edit the footage &mdash; which opens the door to manipulation.</p> </blockquote> <p>En masse? I wonder where this leads? If I get pulled over for speeding in Seattle, the encounter will be saved on video. Does that get released to anyone who wants to see it? Does every encounter with a police officer become public? How long will police departments be required to save video records? What kind of indexing requirements will be imposed? Will they all be accessible as public records via Freedom of Information requests?</p> <p>These are good questions to ponder. Body cameras for police forces are a good idea, but there are downsides as well as upsides.</p></body></html> Kevin Drum China Tue, 23 Dec 2014 19:51:19 +0000 Kevin Drum 267231 at http://www.motherjones.com Obama Just Blew A Chance to Crack Down on Coal http://www.motherjones.com/environment/2014/12/obama-blew-chance-crack-down-coal <!DOCTYPE html PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN" "http://www.w3.org/TR/REC-html40/loose.dtd"> <html><body><p><em>This <a href="http://grist.org/climate-energy/obama-blows-a-chance-to-crack-down-on-coal/" target="_blank">story</a> originally appeared on <a href="http://grist.org" target="_blank">Grist</a> and is published here as part of the <a href="http://climatedesk.org" target="_blank">Climate Desk</a> collaboration.</em></p> <p>On Friday, the Obama administration quietly passed up an opportunity to make the coal industry clean up its act.</p> <p>The EPA issued a <a href="http://www2.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-12/documents/ccr_finalrule_prepub.pdf">final rule</a> on the disposal of coal ash, a byproduct of coal burning that contains toxic heavy metals such as arsenic, lead, and selenium. Up until now, disposal of coal ash hasn't been regulated by the federal government at all. Now it will be regulated, but not very strongly.</p> <p>"Your banana peel that you throw away has stronger protections when it winds up in a dump than coal ash does," says Mary Anne Hitt, director of the Sierra Club's Beyond Coal campaign, who is highly critical of the new rule.</p> <p>More than 100 million tons of coal ash are produced annually in the US, and much of it is simply dumped into open pits. In recent years, there have been large coal-ash spills into rivers in <a href="http://grist.org/article/broken-promises-follow-tennessee-coal-ash-disaster/">Tennessee</a> and <a href="http://grist.org/news/duke-energys-coal-ash-spill-has-utterly-ruined-a-river/">North Carolina</a>.</p> <p>Groups like the Sierra Club and Natural Resources Defense Council wanted EPA to declare coal ash "hazardous waste" and thereby subject it to more stringent <a href="http://www.gpo.gov/fdsys/pkg/CFR-2012-title40-vol28/xml/CFR-2012-title40-vol28-part273.xml">federal regulation</a>. Pesticides, for example, are in that category and so they must be disposed of "in a way that prevents releases &hellip; to the environment." That means in a leakproof container meeting various requirements.</p> <p>Coal ash will instead be categorized as "solid waste," also known as garbage, and its disposal will be held to a lower standard. The rule does include requirements about where and how coal ash is stored that are intended to prevent leaching into groundwater. It has to be placed "above the uppermost aquifer," and protected with a geomembrane and a two-foot layer of compacted soil. But environmentalists say that's not strong enough. Also, old coal-ash dumps won't have to be cleaned up or improved unless problems are discovered. And the EPA's new rules won't even be enforced by the federal government; enforcement will be left to the states.</p> <p>Greens are disappointed. "We believe [coal ash] meets all the qualifications of being hazardous," says Hitt. "It's tied to cancer among other problems."</p> <p>NRDC legislative director Scott Slesinger issued a statement saying, "The EPA is bowing to coal-fired utilities' interests and putting the public at great risk by treating toxic coal ash as simple garbage instead of the hazardous waste that it is."<br> &nbsp;</p> <p><b>The climate angle</b></p> <p>While most of enviros' complaints focus on the risk to water, air, and surrounding communities, this decision also has bad implications for climate change.</p> <p>Coal-burning power plants are the biggest source of US greenhouse gas emissions, and the coal industry's ability to belch CO2 and conventional pollutants without paying for the damage they cause has made coal power cheaper than renewables.</p> <p>President Obama is said by his fans to be doing everything he can to address greenhouse gas emissions. With Republicans in Congress blocking legislative action, Obama has supposedly put coal in a vise with the EPA's <a href="http://grist.org/fossil-fuels/2011-12-21-the-mercury-rules-announced-today-are-a-bona-fide-big-deal/">new regulations</a> on mercury and <a href="http://grist.org/climate-energy/the-nine-things-you-need-to-know-about-obamas-new-climate-rules/">forthcoming regulations</a> on CO2 emissions from power plants. The centerpiece of Obama's Climate Action Plan is using his authority under existing laws to limit power-plant pollution or make coal uneconomical by requiring the industry to pay for cleaning up after itself.</p> <p>But here Obama has passed up a prime opportunity to raise the cost of using coal. Indeed, industry's complaints about earlier, stronger proposals from the EPA were that they would hobble the coal industry. Exactly &mdash; and that would have been a good thing.</p> <p>"One of the reasons that coal has been such a fixture in our electric sector is they have huge loopholes that they don't have to deal with pollution the way other sectors of the economy do," says Hitt. "This is another one of the egregious loopholes that the industry has secured for itself."</p> <p>And make no mistake, this weak rule comes from the White House, not apolitical bureaucrats at EPA. As a ProPublica investigation in July demonstrated, the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, which is part of the White House Office of Management and Budget, used its review of the proposed regulation to weaken it. <a href="http://www.propublica.org/article/lobbyists-bidding-block-government-regs-sights-set-secretive-white-house" target="_blank">From the story:</a></p> <blockquote> <p>The EPA sent OIRA its proposed new rules in January 2013. The agency submitted five options from which it would choose the final rule. In its draft, the EPA indicated it would likely pick one of two options, which it listed as "preferred." Both set relatively tough standards on power companies.</p> <p>In the weeks leading to OIRA's completed review of the coal ash limits, a number of utility industry lobbyists and lawyers <a href="http://www.whitehouse.gov/omb/oira_2040_meetings/">met</a> with the office. While OIRA makes public a list of attendees and documents given to the office's representatives at meetings, it does not disclose the substance of their discussions. &hellip;</p> <p>When the rule on coal ash effluent emerged from OIRA, three more options had been added, a diluting of the two options the EPA favored. OIRA's draft dropped the tougher of EPA's preferred rules and identified those new, less demanding options as favored.</p> <p>The office also recast the EPA's scientific findings. The agency initially stated that using ponds for storing the most toxic form of coal ash, the emissions captured in the smoke stack's final filter, did "not represent the best available technology for controlling pollutants in almost all circumstances." Revisions made during OIRA review recommended eliminating this conclusion, giving no explanation why.</p> </blockquote> <p>Why do the coal and utility industries have such influence in a Democratic administration? What was Obama afraid would happen if he cracked down on them? That he'd be accused of fighting a "war on coal"? That his approval ratings would tank in coal country? That Democrats would lose Senate races in Kentucky and West Virginia? What, exactly, did he have to lose?</p> <p>Obama has rewarded his enemies, screwed over his friends, and blown one of his precious few chances to help move us to a clean energy future.</p></body></html> Environment Climate Desk Energy Obama Top Stories Tue, 23 Dec 2014 19:23:54 +0000 Ben Adler 267216 at http://www.motherjones.com