Thursday, September 27, 2012

Koch Collective Warns Virginia Republicans to Stop Thinking for Themselves

LokutusRemember how Virginia House Republicans took a pass on signing that Tea Party anti-wind energy letter to House Speaker John Boehner this week? Well, the Koch-founded Americans for Prosperity has taken notice. The group's Virginia office is telling Virginia House Republicans to pick a side: Are you with Virginia's emerging wind energy industry, or are you with the Koch collective?
It’s time for government to stop meddling in America’s energy markets. New energy technologies should show their value in the marketplace by competing for consumers’ dollars on a level playing field—not by petitioning Washington for favors. Over 72,000 Americans for Prosperity activists call the Virginia home, and they will be watching to see how you vote on this issue. I urge you and your colleagues to oppose extending the wind production tax credit.

Sincerely, Audrey Jackson, Virginia State Director, Americans for Prosperity
Note that AFP's "level playing field" rhetoric doesn't stop it from opposing efforts to end huge taxpayer subsidies for massively-profitable oil companies. AFP, much like the Tea Party movement its Koch dollars have ginned up, is a fiscal fraud.

So which will it be, Reps. Cantor, Forbes, Goodlatte, Griffith, Hurt, Rigell, Wittman, and Wolf? Will they take a stand for Virginia clean energy jobs? Or get in line behind their Koch overlords?

My guess is they collapse by the end of the week. After all, resistance is futile.

New Walking Safety Project Blamed for 40 Years of Car-Centric Decline

To get to the other sideFrom wasting prime real estate by paving it over for parking to funding expensive road-widening projects, some communities are realizing that taking a step back from the car culture is good for business. But much like parts of Appalachia won't give up on their abusive relationships with Big Coal, businesses that have suffered from their car dependency are often surprisingly reluctant to try a different approach.

Take Wareham, MA. A project called Streetscape is progressing on Main Street, hoping to make the business district easier and safer for people to get around on foot:
Finance Committee member Dominic Cammarano said something had to be done to resuscitate downtown, "which was dying even before Wareham Crossing Mall was built." He said Streetscape provides "a badly needed makeover."
Most businesses seem generally happy at the upgrades and some are understandably concerned about construction-related delays and inconveniences. But this business owner takes a special prize for blaming the treatment for the original illness:
She squarely blames the road project. While the end result is beautiful, she said, "people got out of the habit of coming here and driving down Main Street. Many customers were so bummed that they stopped coming because they could never find a parking place."

Maybe shoppers aren't returning in droves quite yet, but other people are. Irving, who has been downtown 24 years, said, "Ever since the '70s and late '80s the number of businesses has declined, as has the clientele."
Clearly, the safety improvements that started in April are to blame for the declines in business that started four decades ago. Maybe folks should give this whole "making people feel like it's not life-threateningly dangerous to window shop" thing a chance.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Most House Republicans Skip Tea Party Attack on Clean Energy

Wind FarmingThis week, 47 House Republicans sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner asking him to let key federal incentives for wind energy expire. The list of sign-ons range from swing seat Republicans desperate to fire up the Tea Party base (Maryland's Andy Harris) to genuine wackos (Texas' Louie Gohmert).

But what's most notable is how many Republicans refused to sign the letter - 194 House Republicans refused to sign on:
Although GOP districts hold 81 percent of the nation’s wind power capacity, Republicans are deeply split on investing in wind (Mitt Romney, for example, drew criticism from fellow Republicans for opposing the PTC). Boehner’s home state supports up to 6,000 wind jobs.

The GOP remains less divided on issues favoring Big Oil.

Of the 47 Republicans asking Boehner to end the wind investments, 46 voted in March 2011 against closing tax loopholes that let Big Oil collect $4 billion in annual subsidies. The one outlier, GOP Rep. Richard Hanna, was a no-vote that day. According to OpenSecrets, these representatives have received a total $2.2 million from the oil and gas industry, in an election cycle where Republicans have collected 89 percent of the oil industry’s contributions. Republicans have maintained these tax breaks are “essential” to an industry posting record-breaking profits.
According to the Tea Party, $5 billion a year to back hundreds of thousands of jobs harvesting clean, domestically-produced wind energy? Unaffordable! The billions we shovel to already-massively-profitable oil companies even though the top 5 oil companies alone banked $137 billion in profit just last year? Indispensable!

It's just more proof the Tea Party is a fraud. They don't care about fiscal responsibility or keeping the boot of big government off the little guy's neck - they care about whatever their billionaire corporate funders tell them to care about.

Monday, September 24, 2012

New Poll: Americans Feel Trapped in Their Cars

Lonely Americans would like to have more public transit options and don't know just how skewed our transportation spending is towards new roads, according to a new Natural Resources Defense Council poll:
  • 55 percent prefer to drive less, but 74 percent say they have no choice 
  • 63 percent (more than three in five Americans) would rather address traffic by improving public transportation (42 percent) or developing communities where people do not have to drive as much (21 percent) – as opposed to building new roads, an approach preferred by only one in five Americans (20 percent) 
  • Americans over-estimate what their state spends on public transportation, estimating that it is an average of 16 percent of their state’s transportation budget – and still they would like that amount nearly doubled, calling for their state to spend an average of 28 percent on public transportation (note: The average percentage of transportation money – state plus federal – spent on transit over the past three years was 6.55 percent per state) 
Opponents of smart growth like to claim America is sprawling and car-dependent because people have sat down, carefully considered the options, and decided to move to a place far from work & friends so they can waste tons of money and countless hours stuck in traffic. But there are two realities here: People don't have all day to crunch the numbers on this stuff; and the amount of transit and by extension the amount of housing near transit is limited (and in some cases it's deliberately limited). So people often just figure out where they'd LIKE to live, then keep looking further and further away from that spot until they can find someplace that's affordable.

This poll suggests many Americans would like to live somewhere that's affordable AND has transit options, and they don't realize just how much of their tax money is going instead to subsidize The Next Phenomenally Expensive Paving Project That Will Surely Solve All Our Transportation Problems.

Friday, September 21, 2012

5 Ways Scott Brown's Climate and Energy Debate Answer Was Wrong

A viewer question focused on climate change in last night's U.S. Senate debate between Sen. Scott Brown (R-MA) and Democratic challenger Elizabeth Warren. Watch it starting at 22:25:
The question: Do you believe climate change is real, and if so what should the federal government be doing about it?
BROWN: Yes, I do. I absolutely believe climate change is real, and I believe there's a combination between manmade and natural. That being said one of the biggest things we can do is get an energy policy and we don't have one. Wind, solar, nuclear, hydro, geothermal, coal, siting, permitting, conservation, a true all of the above approach as I have. Professor Warren has a none of the above approach. She's in favor of wind and solar. She's against the Keystone pipeline which will help create union, all you union guys listening out there, she's denying union jobs and non-union jobs. Making sure we can get more energy on the world market to stabilize those costs that you're paying at the pump. When's the last time we permitted a nuclear facility to make sure we can have that clean energy? I could go on and on but right now the role is actually a balancing role. To find that balance, Jon, because you can't just have one or this or that. she's in favor of putting wind turbines in the middle of our, uh, greatest treasure, on the Nantucket Sound. I, like, President, uh, Senator Kennedy before me believe that's not right because those ratepayers are going to pay a tremendous amount more in their daily costs, and that's not right.
Sen. Brown's response is completely wrong here in at least five different ways:
  • He's wrong about climate science. "The human impact on climate during this era greatly exceeds that due to known changes in natural processes," reports the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. And if climate action and protecting our clean air and water are so important to Sen. Brown, why are they nowhere to be found on his website?
  • He's wrong about our electricity sources. Sen. Brown forgot to mention hydrocarbon gas, which provides more than half of Massachusetts' electricity generation right now. The extremely low cost of "natural" gas is what's putting coal out of business right now, not clean air regulations. And while the nuclear power industry likes to portray itself as the victim of those big, bad anti-radiation activists, we don't build nuclear power plants anymore because they're wicked expensive.
  • He's wrong on what will stop climate change. More coal and the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline? Our dependence on dirty coal is what's fueled our climate crisis in the first place. And building a new pipeline for tar sands - one of the dirtiest fuels on the planet - could be game over for stopping climate catastrophe.
  • He's wrong about energy jobs. The Keystone XL pipeline would create only a fraction of the clean energy jobs that already exist in Massachusetts. TransCanada's original application estimated just 3,500-4,200 short-term construction jobs. Massachusetts' clean tech economy already employs 71,000 people.
  • He's wrong about oil prices. Saying the U.S. can control the global oil market is like saying a junkie can control the cost of a hit. We have just 2% of the world's oil reserves but consume 20% of the world's oil supply. Even under the most optimistic scenarios, drilling in all of our wilderness areas desired by Big Oil combined would only mean a 4-5 cent reduction in the price of a gallon of gasoline by 2025. The only way we can reduce what we pay at the pump is by using less of it - exactly what the Obama administration is doing.
  • Does even Scott Brown know what Scott Brown believes on clean energy? Says he supports wind energy, bashes Cape Wind - classic Both Ways Brown.
Here's Elizabeth Warren's response:
WARREN: Sen. Brown says that he's about a balanced approach. He's not - he's about a rigged playing field. Our clean energy industry - an industry that works here in Massachusetts - has to fight uphill against the oil subsidies. That's what tilts the playing field, and Sen. Brown has helped tilt it for the oil companies. That works against clean energy. The Keystone pipeline? Look, that's not going to produce nearly as many jobs as if we invested that same money in clean energy - that's where you produce real jobs, and that's where Massachusetts has a real advantage. But you know, I just want to stop on this one for a minute, because I think this one is really important. Sen. Brown has been going around the country talking to people saying you've gotta contribute to his campaign because it may be for the control of the Senate. And he's right. This race may really be for the control of the Senate. But what that would mean is, if the Republicans take over the Senate, Jim Inhofe would become the person who would be in charge of the committee that oversees the Environmental Protection Agency. He's a man who's called global warming a hoax. In fact, that's the title of his book. A man like that should not be in charge of the Environmental Protection Agency overseeing their work. I just don't understand how we could talk about going in that direction.
And she backs up the talk with a real plan. Check out Elizabeth Warren's comprehensive climate & energy plan.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Apple's Rotten Move: Maps App Leaves Transit Users in Dark

For a company that prides itself on doing everything with the user in mind, early reports indicate Apple has cut corners with its new maps app:
[T]he new Apple Maps app does not have transit directions included in the app. The only directions it gives are driving and walking directions. If you click on the transit option for directions, Apple clicks you off to options for other downloading other apps to find transit directions. For people who use public transit as their daily way to get around town, this doesn’t help at all. Since maps are one of the most used apps on the smart phone, this is a major loss. Of course you can go and download another transit app. But that’s not the point. Apple is downgrading transit as a method of transportation.

So what Apple is saying is that if you’re an iPhone user, you better be a driver or a walker. As for public transit, not that important. Maybe Apple employees all drive to Cupertino for work? Or they catch a free company shuttle from San Francisco? Well, maybe it will be in the next update. Not very environmentally friendly for a company that prides itself on the clean-tech aspects of its manufacturing process.
As is usually the case, a product that ignores sustainability is probably a lousy product, and sure enough, early users think Apple Maps is an inferior product to Google Maps. For users, it's no big deal - just as Windows users once began downloading Firefox, Chrome and other browsers to replace the inferior Explorer, Apple mobile users will need to download a superior maps app. Hopefully, just as Explorer faced competition and improved, Apple Maps will do the same.

But looking big picture, this seems like a really dumb move for a company with $100 billion in cash, most of it stashed overseas to avoid taxes. Couldn't it have used a tiny fraction of that cash to build a kick-ass maps app that made getting around without owning a car easier than ever? What about including locations & availability for Zipcar and other car sharing services?

Unfortunately, Apple founder Steve Jobs never seemed interested in doing any good that didn't also make the company piles of cash. It looks like that trend continues here.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Climate Scientists Just Want to Steal David Koch's PRECIOUSSS

Quick reaction to Mitt Romney's now-infamous remarks that the 47 percent of Americans too old, sick or poor to pay income taxes are lazy mooches who want the government to steal more money from rich people so they can get more free goodies.

The war on climate scientists funded by billionaires like the Koch brothers, Richard Mellon Scaife and Philip Anschutz makes much more sense when you look at it through this prism. If you already look out the window and see literally half of your fellow Americans as thieves trying to steal from you, well OF COURSE climate scientists are greedy cheaters manipulating the data to back their phony lying hoax so they can get their grubby little stealing hands on more research grants.

It's a cynical, destructive way to view the world (and life), but I understand it. What I don't understand is why anyone would take them and the organizations they fund seriously as a source for climate science, as the PBS NewsHour apparently did last night.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Toles: GOP Mascot Should Go Back to the Future

With Republican Party leadership rejecting the realities of modern science, Washington Post editorial cartoonist Tom Toles suggests it's time to update the GOP mascot:

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Nuclear Power Operator Complains Wind Energy is Too Inexpensive

Somerset Wind FarmThe American Wind Energy Association made a bold move late last week, dropping the electric utility Exelon over its opposition to extending key federal incentives for wind energy. Within The Hill reporter Zack Colman's article is this odd complaint:
[Exelon Senior Vice President David] Brown said the PTC is helping wind cut into its nuclear power business. Though the utility has 900 megawatts of installed wind electricity generation capacity, he said wind is “distorting competitive markets that we operate in" by lowering the wholesale price of electricity.
Wait, what? Wind energy is lowering electricity costs ... and that's a PROBLEM to big electric utilities like Exelon?

Federal incentives for wind energy are a drop in the bucket compared to the billions in long-term taxpayer support on which the nuclear power industry has depended. When President Obama and members of Congress talk about expanding nuclear power, they're really talking about shoveling more tax dollars at nuclear and raising your electricity rates.

I understand the reasons why the nuclear industry is afraid of extending wind energy incentives, but they're the exact same reasons average Americans should be asking their members of Congress to extend them.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Dominion Puts Brayton Point Up For Sale: The Long, Slow Death Of Coal, Ctd.

_MG_8460 - Brayton Point Generating Station.  Somerset, MassIn a surprise move, Dominion has put its controversial & ginormous Brayton Point coal-fired power plant in Somerset, Massachusetts up for sale. No immediate word on any potential buyer or what it means for the plant's future.

The most comical part of the Fall River Herald News article on the sale is Dominion CEO Tom Farrell dropping every Craigslist cliche to try to fluff up the plant. Low mileage! Barely used!

But the most telling part for America's energy future comes later:
Despite Dominion spending more than $1 billion in new equipment to comply with federal environmental guidelines, Brayton Point was declared the worst emitter of greenhouse gases in New England and New York by the Environmental Protection Agency last January.
Even a billion dollars can't buy you "clean coal", a lesson many communities are learning the hard way.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Will GOP Leadership Let Petty Politics Kill Clean Energy Jobs?

View from the topThe New Bedford Standard Times today calls on Congress to extend incentives for wind energy:
The tax credit works by giving wind farm owners 2.2 cents for every kilowatt-hour of power they produce. It is expected to cost the federal government about $1.3 billion this fiscal year, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, a fraction of the credits that will be taken advantage of by the oil industry this year.

President Barack Obama wants the tax credit extended; GOP nominee Mitt Romney wants it to expire. Romney argues the tax credit for wind gives an unfair advantage, and that the industry should have to compete on a "level playing field" with other energy industries. This, of course, is nonsense.

Even the two Bush presidents, with their longstanding support of oil industries, were solidly behind promotion of credits for emerging energy technologies. The playing field has belonged to the industries that trade in carbon-based energy for so long that the impact of infrastructure on production costs and bottom lines is of a vastly different order than that for emerging technologies. Maybe when the lobbyists for the renewable sources have the access to legislators and influence currently enjoyed by the carbon-focused industries it will be an indication that the playing field is starting to level out.
The cost of these incentives is a drop in the bucket compared to the public health benefits, increased energy security, and cuts in carbon pollution. Massachusetts' SouthCoast region gets - in the last three months alone (a slow time for wind energy) Fairhaven banked $45,000 from its two wind turbines and is now moving forward on solar power.

From Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley to Massachusetts Sen. Scott Brown, many Republican members of Congress representing states with booming clean energy sectors want wind incentives extended. The Senate Finance Committee passed an extension of the credit on a bipartisan vote, but Senate Republican leadership is likely to mount a filibuster and House Republican leadership may not allow a vote at all.

Will bipartisan support for clean energy be able to overcome Congressional Republican leadership's opposition to giving President Obama victories on any of his priorities? Tell your members of Congress that we can't let petty politics kill American clean energy jobs.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Impact Of Polluter Spending On Energy Policy Can't Be Ignored

Deepwater Horizon on fire April 22, 2010It's always interesting when reporters try to make sense of politicians' energy positions while ignoring the influence of money in politics.

At the Washington Post's WonkBlog today, Brad Plumer says the Democratic platform is getting more oil- & coal-friendly because ... maybe locking in $4 a gallon gasoline with expensive "unconventional oil" isn't so bad? And jobs or something?

But energy policy isn't created in a vacuum - it's caught in the current of a river of oil money. Oil barons continue pouring ungodly amounts of money into bullying politicians:
The Koch brothers-backed nonprofit Americans for Prosperity and pro-Mitt Romney super PAC Restore Our Future combined to spend about $23.4 million against President Barack Obama during the second half of August.

That’s nearly 10 times the $2.44 million that Priorities USA Action, the main super PAC supporting Obama, spent against Romney, federal records show.
Now, one might think such spending would make Democrats fight for clean energy that much harder. But many Democrats still think appeasement works, and in some ways, that's reflected in the party platform. (Note that climate change is mentioned 18 times in the Democratic platform, so Democrats aren't exactly running away from tackling the climate crisis.)

Since 1990, energy & natural resources industries (mostly Big Oil, electric utilities & mining companies) have combined to give $640 million directly to candidates, a greater majority going to Republicans with each passing year. And in the last 15 years, electric utilities and oil & gas companies have combined to pour $3 billion dollars into lobbying.

All that money doesn't just influence politicians. How many polluter-funded commercials - from Koch-sponsored political ads to BP's image-scrubbing spots - does the average American see in a given week? Dozens?

CATTLE RUSTLERS & the Warren-Brown Senate Race

States like Virginia are rightly viewed as a collection of diverse interests. Why isn't Massachusetts?

Having lived inside the Beltway for 10 years, I can tell you the view of Massachusetts from down there looks like this:

This is partly why you see so many stories out of DC about Elizabeth Warren "struggling" in the U.S. Senate race. She's Harvard faculty, isn't that like 25% of the Massachusetts electorate?

But much of the state has managed to escape the clutches of Boston & its sprawl. Even the headlines of the Standard Times of New Bedford (population 100,000) can be dominated by cattle being rustled and rescued. Cows can still wander onto interstate highways and disrupt the morning commute.

From Gloucester to Sheffield, it's not hard to find towns whose economies still depend heavily on fishing and farming. Voters there want to actually listen to what the candidates have to say, not just vote blue because that's their predetermined political destiny. 

(It's also why Scott Brown is desperately trying to be all things to all people in every corner of the state. "He's for us" is the most generic political slogan since Clint Webb's "Hey ... me?")

Mitt Romney's Climate Science Denial Flops with Convention Viewers

Mitt Romney's Republican presidential nomination acceptance speech that mocked global warming-fueled sea level rise got the lowest voter approval since Gallup start tracking reactions in 1996.