Energy & the Environment

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...

One Small Step for Climate Scientists

Researcher gains legal standing to sue for privacy against global-warming skeptics.

In a small victory for global-warming advocates, the case against climate scientist Michael Mann has hit some rough ground. Mann, a climate scientist who has been fighting a battle against the American Traditions Institute (ATI) since January, received his first piece of good news in the case on November 1 when a Virginia judge ruled that Mann did, in fact, have standing to join the case over the release of his e-mails from his time at the University of Virginia (UVA). The judge also decided to reopen the consent decree between UVA and ATI concerning exempted e-mails. Facing a Freedom of Information Act request, UVA maintained that there was material in Mann’s e-mails that should be safe from release under an academic-material exemption. Mann and UVA were concerned that the initial consent order allowed the contested material to be reviewed by ATI’S lawyers, Chris Horner and David Schnare—an arrangement that struck many as inappropriate. As I wrote about in October , Mann’s struggle...

Climate Control

As their ranks diminish, global warming skeptics target scientists

AP Photo/John Giles
Last week Richard Muller and his team released the findings of their exhaustive study on global warming with definitive simplicity, saying flatly “global warming is real.” The statement is an especially damning one to climate change deniers, as Muller, himself once a global warming skeptic, conducted the study partly with funds from the Koch brothers. As even skeptics like Muller begin to accept the overwhelming science behind global warming, opponents are taking up a new tactic that goes after the scientists themselves. One of these scientists is Michael Mann, a climatologist who, since January, has been targeted by climate-deniers.Following the example of the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries, which have a tradition of attacking the credibility of scientists who oppose their products, skeptics are beginning question the credentials and research of individual scientists. Since 2007, when a Supreme Court ruling found that, under the Clean Air Act, the EPA has the right to regulate...

Everything Is Culture

The environmental story of the day concerns a project started by a climate skeptic named Richard Muller, a physicist who was so convinced that actual climate scientists were distorting or misreading the data that he started his own project, called the Berkeley Earth Science Temperature project, to double-check them. Climate deniers were excited -- at last, some actual scientists would prove that global warming is a hoax! The Charles G. Koch foundation even gave money to the project. One prominent climate denier blogger, Anthony Watts, wrote, "I’m prepared to accept whatever result they produce, even if it proves my premise wrong." You may be able to guess where this is going. Brad Plumer explains : So what are the end results? Muller’s team appears to have confirmed the basic tenets of climate science. Back in March, Muller told the House Science and Technology Committee that, contrary to what he expected, the existing temperature data was “excellent.” He went on: “We see a global...

Reality Bites

The science-based community once was split between Democrats and Republicans -- but not anymore.

Scientist Kerry Emanuel (Photo courtesy of MIT)
In March, it was Kerry Emanuel's turn to do what so many of his colleagues have done before: defend their knowledge and expertise against congressional Republicans. Emanuel is a meteorologist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an expert not only on climate change but hurricanes. In the 1990s, he coined the term "hypercane" to describe a theoretical storm that, according to his equations, could have occurred in the wake of the asteroid impact that killed off the dinosaurs. But as the sole Democrat-invited witness before the House Committee on Science--the GOP majority had five, one a marketing professor who testified that "global-warming alarm is an anti-scientific political movement"--Emanuel's task was more like climate science 101. He merely had to stand up for what MIT teaches its students. As Emanuel explained in his written testimony, today's MIT atmospheric-sciences students can do "hand calculations or use simple models" to show why global warming is a serious...

A Way to Win the Climate Fight?

There's a tense scene in Eric Pooley's The Climate War when Jim Rogers, CEO of coal utility Duke Energy and leader of a shaky coalition of power companies, faces a moment of truth. Ten Fortune 500 companies and four major environmental groups are at the table. They've got a statement of legislative principles they can agree on and are ready to throw their collective weight behind a long-overdue comprehensive climate-change bill in the United States. They just need his sign-off. For Rogers, under intense pressure from his industry's biggest polluters, it amounts to a career-risking leap into the dark. "OK," he says. "If you write it right, I'm in." It's a moment of genuine drama, one of many in a book that might seem unlikely to have any dramatic tension given that its subject is a decades-long stretch of conferences, meetings, and PowerPoint presentations. From this florescent-lit raw material, Pooley weaves the kind of propulsive potboiler political junkies love to read. It does for...

Pages