Energy & the Environment

Digging for China

A fight against planned coal-export terminals in the Pacific Northwest is becoming the next big climate battle.

(Flickr/Jeff Arsenault)
(Flickr/Josh Parrish) Bellingham Bay shortly after sunset Few U.S. communities can match the eco credentials of the quaint college town of Bellingham, Washington. Nestled between the glacier-tipped peak of Mount Baker and the rugged coastline of the Puget Sound—the “Salish Sea,” as locals prefer to call it—the area is a magnet for hikers, climbers, and kayakers. The town boasts a vibrant local-food scene, with two summer farmers markets and a pair of organic grocery stores. The City of Bellingham and the surrounding Whatcom County government get 100 percent of their electricity from renewable sources, a practice that earned both recognition from the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Green Power Leadership program. The Natural Resources Defense Council has dubbed Bellingham one of its “Smarter Cities” for the town’s commitment to reducing its ecological footprint. So it’s no surprise that many Bellingham residents are against plans to make the area home to one of the country’s...

Giving Local Food the Raspberry

The Locavore's Dilemma takes aim at the sustainability movement, ignoring the broader problems plaguing our food system.

(Flickr / Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources)
(Flickr / Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources) The sustainable-food movement has finally been around long enough to face its first cold front. Pickled okra, critics want the world to know, is not as desirable as sales at the Prospect Park farmers market might indicate. The most recent round of attacks has focused on local food and locavorism: In April, Tyler Cowen took a few glancing blows at local food in An Economist Gets Lunch , and last month, Pierre Desrochers and Hiroko Shimizu—two Canadians trained as economic-policy analysts—released The Locavore’s Dilemma , an all-out assault on local food in which they seek to “slaughter as many sacred cows in the food activists’ intellectual herd as [they] could.” But by focusing on local food, they end up arguing against problems that barely exist or that never will, while ignoring the real environmental costs of our food systems. Desrochers and Shimizu mention that they received support for their work from Mercatus Center at George...

Judges Take On Climate Skeptics

(Flickr / freefotouk)
Three of the D.C. Court of Appeals’ judges delivered climate-regulation opponents what can only be termed a righteous smackdown last week. Their opinion on the Environmental Protection Agency’s work to regulate greenhouse gases is, as much as any legal opinion can be, a delight to read. From the barely tempered exasperation in the court’s opening salvo—“We begin with a brief primer on greenhouse gases”—to the impatience with the lines of reasoning called upon by industry and its allies in state government—“This argument is little more than a semantic trick”—this legal document is a salve for anyone sick of the protestations against taking any action, ever, to tackle the looming disaster that is climate change. The case at hand combined a mountain of complaints about almost every action the EPA has taken to regulate carbon. The agency began the process in 2007 in response to the Supreme Court’s requirement that it consider whether the Clean Air Act covered greenhouse-gas emissions. In...

Yes, America, Global Warming Does Exist

The D.C. Circuit Court says so, despite convoluted industry arguments to the contrary.

AP Images
“Freedom is the freedom to say that two plus two make zero,” Winston Smith, the hero of George Orwell’s Nineteen Eight-Four, writes in his secret journal. “If that is granted, all else follows.” Or to paraphrase for the modern era, “EPA is not required to re-prove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question.” The second line is from the per curiam opinion of the Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit announced Tuesday in Coalition for Responsible Regulation v. Environmental Protection Agency . This decision is a massive win for science generally, and climate science in particular, against powerful forces that have spent a decade insisting that two plus two equals four. To understand the background of the case, you must recall that in the 2007 case of Massachusetts v. EPA , the Supreme Court rejected the Bush administration’s argument that the EPA had no jurisdiction over greenhouse gases. Carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases, the administration...

Too Big to Imagine

Steve Coll's Private Empire tells you every last thing about ExxonMobil—except what to do about it.

(Flikr and AP Images)
E ven granting that testifying to congressional committees is not on the list of an oil CEO’s favorite things to do, when ExxonMobil CEO Lee Raymond, known to his employees as “Iron Ass,” arrived at the Dirksen Senate Office building one morning in November 2005, he was in an especially reticent mood. Among other things, the Senate Energy Committee wanted to know about the corporation’s role in formulating policy with Vice President Dick Cheney’s energy task force. Raymond—who was chummy with Cheney and seven weeks away from his retirement, after 12 spectacularly profitable years at the helm first of Exxon and then Exxon-Mobil—did not think the committee needed to know. Thus when New Jersey Senator Frank Lautenberg asked Raymond whether he or any ExxonMobil executives participated in a 2001 meeting with Cheney, Raymond responded with a single syllable: “No.” The truth of that statement was something only a lawyer or a comedian could love, but it was consistent with how the company...

Will Obama Get Blamed for High Gas Prices?

The good old days. (Flickr/photomatt28)
Everyone involved in politics knows that there is almost nothing the president can do to affect the price of gasoline. Democrats know this. Republicans know this. People in the oil industry certainly know this. But they all, at various times, play a game in which they try to deceive the American public into believing something they know to be false. So right now, an oil industry group is running ads saying the high price of gas is Barack Obama's fault (you'll be shocked to hear that the ubiquitous Koch brothers are involved ). Republican leaders are saying the increasing price at the pump is Obama's fault. And what about the public? Are they buying it? The polls we've seen so far actually show that the answer is, not really. A CNN poll asked how much blame people assigned to various factors, and the oil companies came in first, with 55 percent saying they deserved a great deal of blame. "The policies of the Obama administration" got a great deal of blame from 24 percent, just about...

Wolves to the Slaughter

The reintroduction of the gray wolf to the Northern Rockies was an ecological success story—until big money, old superstitions, and politics got in the way.

(Flickr/sometimesong)
I n April 2001, a U.S. government wildlife trapper named Carter Niemeyer choppered into the mountains of central Idaho to slaughter a pack of wolves whose alpha female was famed for her whiteness. He hung from the open door of the craft with a semiautomatic shotgun, the helicopter racing over the treetops. Then, in a clearing, Niemeyer caught a glimpse of her platinum fur. Among wolf lovers in Idaho, she was called Alabaster, and she was considered a marvel—most wolves are brown or black or gray. People all over the world had praised Alabaster, had written about her, had longed to see her in the flesh. Livestock ranchers in central Idaho, whose sheep and cows graze in wolf country, felt otherwise. They claimed Alabaster and her pack—known as the Whitehawks—threatened the survival of their herds, which in turn threatened the rural economy of the high country. She had to be exterminated. When Alabaster appeared in Niemeyer’s sights, a hundred feet below the helicopter, her ears recoiled...

Faux Federalism

(Flickr/tarsandsaction)
The central fact of American federalism, as I’ve written before , is hypocrisy. Witness H.R. 1433 , the Private Property Rights Protection Act of 2012, passed on February 28 by the House of Representatives. The Act targets Kelo v. City of New London , the 2005 decision in which the Court announced that the Fifth Amendment does not forbid state governments from using their power of eminent domain to acquire—at fair market prices—private property for use in economic development projects. Eminent domain is a power limited by the Constitution to taking property “for public use” and with “just compensation.” But some states interpreted “public use” to mean incorporation in public-private developments like the mixed use development at stake in Kelo —a corporate research facility, shops and restaurants, a hotel, and a park. The right hates Kelo a lot worse than it hates the federal government. Not long ago, in fact, Justice Antonin Scalia compared the case to Dred Scott v. Sandford , the...

Exxon Ain't Cryin' Yet

The victory against Keystone XL is an essential—but insufficient—step to building a powerful climate movement. 

This afternoon, the Obama administration rejected an application from transmission company TransCanada to build the Keystone XL pipeline, which would transport carbon-rich oil from Canada’s tar sands, through America’s heartland, to refineries in Texas. That doesn’t mean the pipeline won’t be built. It just won’t be built on the timeline set by Republicans. Far from embracing the coalition opposing the pipeline, President Barack Obama has indicated that the permit is primarily a State Department affair and that he is most concerned about the potential threats to “the health and safety of the American people,” as he said in his November statement. His most forceful statements about Keystone came in response to Republicans’ legislative efforts to bully his administration into a decision. He has had little to say about the climate-change implications of the pipeline project. Republicans in Congress forced this decision with a deadline-setting rider to the payroll tax extension, and the...

Resistance Is Not Futile

Slide Show: The grassroots movement that effectively rallied against the Keystone XL pipeline project

AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite
Slideshow Resistance Is Not Futile The grassroots movement against the TransCanada Keystone XL tar sands oil pipeline. Protesters across the country mobilized against plans to build the Keystone Pipeline from Alberta, Canada, to Texas. Critics of the project argued that the dirty tar sands oil transported in the pipeline would devastate the ecosystems and water supplies of the communities along the route. Meanwhile, proponents, including congressional Republicans, said the project would create jobs. In December 2011, the Republican Congress approved a two-month extension of the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance with a provision that President Obama make a decision on the Keystone XL pipeline within two months. Obama was expected to make an announcement rejecting the project January 18.

Forever After

Is Israeli rule of the West Bank really a temporary occupation? As if.

Courtesy Dror Etkes.
Courtesy Dror Etkes The Natuf Shafir quarry. I'd really like to be angry at Dorit Beinisch, the chief justice of the Israeli Supreme Court. On the eve of her retirement, Beinisch abandoned her role of pushing the Israeli government to honor legal restraints in the occupied territories. Instead, in what could be her last major ruling on Israeli actions in the West Bank, she has given a stamp of approval to colonial economic exploitation. But let's put petulance aside. One message of Beinisch's judgment is that judicial resistance can stretch only so far. Even the highest tribunal in the land cannot reverse a national policy as basic as continuing to rule the West Bank. Another message—whether or not Beinisch intended it—is that treating a situation that has lasted 44 years as "temporary" is absurd. The occupation is not an acute disease; it is a chronic one. Beinisch's ruling came in a suit filed three years ago by the Israeli human-rights group Yesh Din, based on the work of land-use...

More Holiday Lights!

HuffPo has a fabulous slide show of the tackiest holiday lights ever. Numbers 11, 13, and 15 alone are responsible for the demand for the Keystone Pipeline . Living next to some of the others would "make me grunch my teeth," as our young'un puts it. I send condolences to their neighbors. Enjoy!

Crash Diet

Obama still has time to redeem his food-production policy.

AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais
I n October 2008, Michael Pollan, a food writer and critic of American agriculture policy, wrote a letter in The New York Times Magazine addressed to the president-elect, whom everyone then assumed would be Barack Obama, on how to make our food more healthful. Obama wouldn’t win the election for another month, but the lithe, urbane candidate had earned a reputation for eating well on the campaign trail; he eschewed hot dogs for salmon, arugula, and Honest Tea. Food policy had not been at the forefront of the campaign, Pollan argued, but was key to a number of policy goals Obama had raised: “Unless you [reform the food system], you will not be able to make significant progress on the health care crisis, energy independence or climate change. Unlike food, these are issues you did campaign on—but as you try to address them you will quickly discover that the way we currently grow, process and eat food in America goes to the heart of all three problems and will have to change if we hope to...

Made in America — Again

Leaders discuss returning manufacturing to the U.S. in a Prospect roundtable.

AP Photo/Madalyn Ruggiero
Andy Grove was, successively, the director of engineering, president, CEO, and Chairman of Intel Corporation. In an article last year, Grove proposed levying tariffs on goods produced offshore and dedicating the funds to help companies scale up production in the United States. Andy Grove was, successively, the director of engineering, president, CEO, and Chairman of Intel Corporation. There are three distinct causes for the jobs we’ve lost. First, the declining demand for products. So everybody focused on the stimulus—they assumed that the demand cycle and the employment cycle are related like they used to be. But they’re not. I don’t understand pure Keynesianism at a time of global flows like we have now. If we turn on a spigot to increase demand for consumer products, we need to have some factor that measures the portion that goes to a domestically made product. That portion in the last ten years must have changed in a very major way. You want a measure? How about asking for the...

Bring Back the Space Race

To remain competitive, the U.S. needs to rebalance its portfolio of talent.

After the Soviets launched Sputnik, the U.S. created NASA and funneled millions of resources into technological and scientific research to shore up U.S. competitiveness. In China today, the government has had the foresight the U.S. once did and has put in place a talent program to support its students in the pursuit of higher education and innovation. Returning to the investment in science education of the Sputnik days and fostering technical talent like the Chinese may at once help reduce U.S. employment and make the country more competitive technologically. As Reuters recently reported, the U.S. has an insufficient supply of qualified skilled workers to fill job vacancies that require technical knowledge—especially in manufacturing, where technicians are in high demand. A manpower survey also reported that 52 percent of U.S. companies had trouble filling essential positions; that study supports statistics from the U.S. Labor Department showing that more three million tech jobs...

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