Sunday, February 28, 2010

Front Group, Fake Members, Polluter Money Target Virginia's Air

Who's attacking the Clean Air Act in Virginia? Why are they hiding behind a front group that was just created two weeks ago? A little detective work turns up an unsurprising answer -- but one with some comically bad cover-up work.

Ads began running in Virginia & several other states today attacking the Environmental Protection Agency for trying to do its job & protect our air as mandated by the Clean Air Act -- passed by a Democratic Congress, signed by a Republican president, and approved by a conservative Supreme Court.

The announcer in the ad never says who paid for them. In tiny, semi-transparent type at the bottom of the ad are the words "Paid for by the Coalition for American Jobs." If that name sounds about as credible as the law firm of Dewey, Cheatem & Howe, you're on the right track.

The next major red flag: The "Coalition" won't say who's in the coalition. Its website just makes a vague reference to "businesses, industries and others." And its "resource" page is completely blank. I showed the link to my dad who laughed, "All out! Sorry, folks! We expect another shipment in on Thursday!" At this point, I'm imagining the offices of the "Coalition" are in the back of a pickup truck with the engine running.

Who's the website registered to? The "Coalition" doesn't want you to know, having hidden its registration information. And why not? The website is as flimsy & phony as the group itself. Here's a photo from the site:

A "Coalition" supporter? Not exactly. More like a stock photo:
You'd think front groups would have learned from Big Coal's embarrassing "FACES of Coal" stock photo scandal. Guess not. In fact, the entire Flickr account of the "Coalition" appears to be stock photos.

What about the group's phone number? It's a cell phone that goes straight to voicemail ... but a search shows up as having it registered to "Chemis American." Is that the American Chemistry Council, based in Arlington? Considering the "Coalition" ads are prominently featured on the Chemistry Council's front page, it looks like we have a winner!

Why wouldn't the American Chemistry Council want its name attached to the ads? Given that the ExxonMobil Chemical Company is a member, I can see where the Council would want to distance itself from, well, itself. And it turns out the website was created by a public relations firm called v-Fluence, whose clients include the American Petroleum Institute. (The firm didn't return my call asking who'd paid for the "Coalition" site.)

Frankly, it's insulting that the American Chemistry Council & other big polluters think Virginians can be fooled by phony front groups with fake members. I hope shenanigans like this help convince Senators Mark Warner & Jim Webb to stand against any polluter efforts to gut the Clean Air Act.

Even more bizarre is that certain conservative websites mindlessly posted the ad without ever asking who was behind them. Those same bloggers will put a big "Don't Tread on Me" banner on their website -- but have footprints all over their backs from polluter front groups.

Cross-posted from Blue Virginia

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Arlington Takes First Step Towards Sidewalk Snow Removal Policy

The County Board voted yesterday to begin moving forward on a new sidewalk snow removal ordinance:
In the end, board Vice Chairman Chris Zimmerman carried the day, winning support for a proposal that:

* Sets a March 13 hearing to potentially adopt a 60-day measure putting temporary snow-removal requirements in place.

* Sets a hearing, likely in April, to consider a broader and more permanent measure.

* And requires the county manager to take steps to make sure the county government itself is clearing snow from its property.
Great work by Chris Zimmerman leading the charge towards filling a major gap in Arlington's walkability! Thanks also go to the Arlington Civic Federation, Arlington Young Democrats & all the individuals who wrote in to ask for action.

Still, it's strange to hear that some board members don't see a need to enact a policy quickly. One asked, "What is the urgency?" 

The urgency is forecast to arrive late tonight. We could get up to 6" of it.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Like NoVA Has So Many State Parks To Begin With?

So much for campaign promises:
When Bob McDonnell wanted to tout his commitment to land conservation last year, the Republican gubernatorial candidate singled out Mason Neck as part of "the Virginia I will preserve and protect as governor."

Less than a year after his Earth Day statement, the new governor is proposing to close the southeastern Fairfax County park as a cost-cutting measure to close a $4 billion shortfall.
The McDonnell administration is trying to justify the closure in part by saying "potential closures are spread across the state." But there's one major problem with that argument: Virginia's State Parks aren't evenly spread across the state -- not even close

Northern Virginia is shortchanged on state parkland even with Mason Neck. Check out this map of Virginia state parks:

It's a similar story for Virginia Natural Area Preserves -- only one in the entire northern third of Virginia (Bull Run Mountains). As Rep. Gerry Connolly points out, Mason Neck "is the closest state park for approximately 2 million Northern Virginians." Buying parkland on the cheap in distant corners of the state looks great to Richmond bureaucrats -- but it creates a perverse system where the most parks are located the furthest from Virginia's biggest population center.

Keeping Mason Neck open would cost just $101,904 -- or less than 0.1% of the revenue that would be brought in by re-instating the estate tax on Virginia's biggest inheritances, estimated to bring in over $100 million a year. But as the Staunton News Leader editorialized over the weekend, last November voters chose tax cuts over progress -- "Welcome to the new Virginia. Looks a lot like the old West Virginia."

UPDATE: Join the Save Mason Neck State Park Facebook group

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Arlington County Board Hints at Action on Sidewalk Snow Removal Policy

It ain't easy bein' an Arlington County Board member. Arlington County did a great job of clearing the roads in the wake of February's Snowpocalypse's #2 & #3. So what did the County Board hear about at today's meeting? The sidewalks & trails have been a mess. You just can't win.

I've heard community listservs in neighborhoods like Lyon Park have been buzzing with complaints about icy sidewalks, blocked crosswalks, and pedestrian areas generally being used as storage for snow plowed from roads. In addition to The Green Miles' call for a sidewalk snow removal policy, Steve Offutt and Jess Dillman have pointed out major issues on commuter paths like the Custis Trail.

Clearly, voluntary efforts aren't cutting it. At today's Arlington County Board meeting, two speakers in the public comment session called for an ordinance or law requiring sidewalk snow removal. Longtime Arlington County Democratic Committee leader Carrie Johnson was followed by Arlington Young Democrats President Gordon Simonett:

Arlington County Board Chair Jay Fisette said the board is listening closely to the community's concerns & talking to county staff about a workable solution. The board plans to talk more about a potential policy at Tuesday's meeting. I hope the board will implement a policy that mandates sidewalk snow removal for residential, commercial & government property and includes penalties for noncompliance (with provisions for residents with health issues).

In the meantime, you can report problems with snow removal at, or you can reach the Department of Environmental Services Call Center at 703-228-6570.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Why Doesn't Arlington Have a Sidewalk Snow Removal Law?

At last night’s Arlington Young Democrats meeting, there was lots of grumbling about sidewalks that haven’t seen a shovel since Snowpocalypse #2 began two weeks ago. Here’s a typical scene:

We all pay higher rents, property taxes and mortgages to live in Arlington in large part because we love its walkability & enjoy not needing to drive in the snow. While it’s understandable roads need to take priority in snow emergencies to clear routes for ambulances & fire trucks, why are sidewalks near the bottom of the totem pole?

Incredibly, Arlington has no ordinance or law for clearing snow from sidewalks. Instead, the county hopes to guilt trip you into doing it: "It is the civic responsibility of residents and business owners to clear snow from sidewalks/entryways around their property." 

One big question: Then why isn't it Arlington County government's "civic responsibility" to clear around its property? I've heard from people reporting particularly bad sidewalks in front of the Wilson School and around North Quincy Park. (Three years ago, I wrote about how the county never cleared the sidewalk in front of Mosaic Park.) 

Arlington's lack of any policy stands in contrast to Alexandria, which has a law with a mild fine: "Snow and ice must be cleared from all paved sidewalks abutting your property within 24 hours of the end of the snowfall. Failure to clear sidewalks may result in the City having the work done and charging the cost to the property owner, or fining the property owner $50."

It's not like citizens don't want a law. In 2000 and again in 2007 (PDF) the Arlington Civic Federation asked for a sidewalk snow removal zoning ordinance (with an exemption for people who are either physically unable or out of town during the storm). I realize you can't make policy based on one record-breaking winter. But it seems like a good idea in general, especially in a community that prides itself on walkability

Anyone know why Arlington doesn't have a sidewalk snow removal requirement already?

UPDATE: Via Twitter's @JDillman, check out this epic fail on the Custis Trail (be sure to click picture #2).

Jeremy Symons: "If Corporate Polluters Succeed, We All Lose"

As I watch the winter wind rattle my screen door, it's hard to put today's weather here in the context of our global climate. But the data keeps coming in, and it's undeniable. 2000s: Hottest decade on record. 2009: 2nd-hottest year on record. And now this -- January 2010: Hottest January on record.

Once you start looking at the bigger picture, the consequences of one snowy winter in one metro area seem insignificant. "Hey grandkids, I know it's 3 degrees warmer in your world, but check out this snowman!"

Jeremy Symons, a Leeland Station, VA resident & senior vice president for the National Wildlife Federation, frames our choice in today's Fredericksburg Free Lance Star:
For our kids and grandkids, snowstorms may be the least of their concerns if we fail to act to reduce pollution and invest in clean energy alternatives. Warmer average temperatures could increase concentrations of ground-level ozone, which is known to aggravate respiratory problems such as asthma, especially in children and seniors. Virginia's incredible diversity of native wildlife--more than 700 species of birds, fish, and animals--will have to adapt to rapid changes in climate and habitat or perish.

Why do polluters work so hard to persuade us not to believe NASA and other scientists? Because they are worried we are going to shift to cleaner alternative energy sources like wind and solar and also pursue greater energy efficiency. If we take a bite out of our dependency on oil, we take a bite out of their enormous profits.

Congress is working now on clean energy legislation that would reduce our dependence on oil, create more than 45,000 clean energy jobs here in Virginia, and reduce pollution. Corporate lobbyists are hard at work pressuring Virginia Sens. Mark Warner and Jim Webb, and Congressman Rob Wittman, to let clean energy legislation die in Congress.

If corporate polluters succeed, we all lose. We will lose the clean energy race, and those jobs will go to Beijing instead of Virginia. Instead of being good stewards of the environment, we will leave our kids with a dangerous inheritance. Our senators need to stay focused on delivering jobs and clean air to Virginia by passing legislation that limits pollution and unleashes investments in clean energy alternatives.
As always, full disclosure: While I work for the National Wildlife Federation for my day job, I blog at The Green Miles on my personal time. (Really, I should just replace this disclaimer with a little picture of me in an old sweatshirt drinking coffee.)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Virginia Becoming a New National Leader in War on Science

While the Bush-Cheney Era has closed, we have a new leadership team for the war on science. Welcome to the McDonnell-Bolling-Cuccinelli Era:
Richmond- Today, Attorney General Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, on behalf of the Commonwealth of Virginia, petitioned the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to convene a proceeding for the reconsideration of the "Endangerment and Cause or Contribute Finding for Greenhouse Gases Under Section 202(a) of the Clean Air Act"(Endangerment Finding) published by the EPA on December 15th, 2009.

The petition asks that the EPA reconvene the regulatory proceeding, provide the public with the opportunity to comment on newly available information, and provide such information to the Science Advisory Board for its review and comment.

A petition for judicial review of the endangerment finding was also filed today in the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Virginia is the first state to file such petitions.
Of course, the Environmental Protection Agency has already held public hearings, taken public comment, and conducted thorough scientific reviews. The Clean Air Act itself was passed by a Democratic Congress, signed by a Republican president, and its carbon regulations were validated by the Supreme Court.

But this isn't about debate & discussion -- this is about denial & delay. Cuccinelli wants to open a new carbon loophole in the Clean Air Act so America's worst polluters can keep dumping carbon into our atmosphere and not have to pay the price. Disgusting.

Keep in mind Cuccinelli is using the office of Virginia's Attorney General, funded by your tax dollars and in a time of budget crisis, to fight for some of the world's most profitable companies, like Exxon Mobil. Those polluters are spending plenty on their own to try to keep America addicted to dirty fuels -- Exxon Mobil alone spent $27 million on lobbying last year.

Virginia faces major threats if we refuse to tackle our climate crisis. Investment in clean energy could create tens of thousands of jobs in Virginia (PDF). It's a win-win. But instead of working to move Virginia forward, Ken Cuccinelli is keeping his head buried in the sand.

What's next for the McDonnell-Bolling-Cuccinelli Era? A challenge to evolution? Fighting back against those dastardly doctors who say cigarettes kill?

Cross-posted from Blue Virginia

Sunday, February 14, 2010

How Do Politicians Find Polluter Love?

Are you a politician who's eager to sell out to polluters, but haven't been able to find the right match? This Valentine's Day, there's a new website to help --

Just listen to this testimonial from legendary polluter & front group funder Charles Koch:
When the PolluterHarmony compatibility test matched me up with a Democratic senator from Arkansas, I was sure the site was a scam. How could a Libertarian like me possibly relate to a Democrat? But then I read Blanche's profile, I realized maybe I was wrong. She wrote that she loves discovering new places, especially for oil drilling. More importantly, she considers herself someone who likes taking risks, like with public health and safety. Best of all, she had one of the worst environmental voting records of any Democrat on Capitol Hill.

When we first met, I knew I'd found my match. Within a few weeks, I was funneling thousands of dollars into her campaign fund while she quietly worked to stall climate and clean energy policy.
And check out this story from a polluter lobbyist matched up with Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK):

"It's like we finish each other's legislation." Hilarious! Great Valentine's Day parody from Greenpeace.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

The Daily Show Skewers Global Warming Deniers

If all this snow isn't enough to convince you to start listening to Rush Limbaugh, consider this -- New York City is in the middle of a six month long cooling trend:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Unusually Large Snowstorm
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorHealth Care Crisis

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Dear GOP: Please Stop "Bring 'Em On"ing Mother Nature

You just had to do it, didn't you, Republican Party of Virginia? Couldn't let last weekend's Snowmageddon go by without a taunting video that snow backed up your belief that global warming didn't exist? And national Republicans giddily joined in.

Never get in all up in Mother Nature's grill and sneer, "Bring 'em on."

Just five days later, the DC area is waking up to intense snowfall & 60 mile per hour wind gusts, creating whiteout conditions. Is this "normal," RPV? We here in DC would kill for some of those placid, bucolic scenes featured in your video. Instead, we're getting, simply put, a winter hurricane:

Which is exactly what climate scientists have been warning to expect as our climate continues to change unchecked. Just last week, the National Wildlife Federation issued a report on Global Warming & Oddball Winter Weather that warned, "Global warming is bringing a clear trend toward heavier precipitation events."

And there are signs that even the national media, which can't even be trusted to publicly state that trying to insure the uninsured is a good thing, is finally willing to call out Republican climate ignorance. Here's TIME:
Brace yourselves now — this may be a case of politicians twisting the facts. There is some evidence that climate change could in fact make such massive snowstorms more common, even as the world continues to warm. As the meteorologist Jeff Masters points out in his excellent blog at Weather Underground, the two major storms that hit Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., this winter — in December and during the first weekend of February — are already among the 10 heaviest snowfalls those cities have ever recorded. The chance of that happening in the same winter is incredibly unlikely.
And that's before today's Snowstorm #3.

The facts of global warming are more clear than ever:
But hey, if you're tired of the snow, global warming is here to help! Spring is now arriving 10-14 days sooner. We'll be back to record heat waves before you know it!

Cross-posted from Blue Virginia. Full Disclosure: While I work for the National Wildlife Federation for my day job, I blog at The Green Miles on my personal time.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

We'll Miss you, Butterstick

This was the closest I ever got to the now-departed Tai Shan, during last year's ZooLights:

Tai Shan

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Ballston: Now With Even More Frosting!

We may not have gotten a day off out of it, but the snow is at least nice to look at. Here's my view from Ballston:

Frosted Trees

Monday, February 1, 2010

Thursday: Arlington's Natural Heritage Resource Inventory

Here's an event coming up on Thursday night:
Please join us for a presentation on the natural treasures in our backyards!
Thursday, February 4, 7:00 pm
Introduction by County Board Chairman Jay Fisette
Arlington County Central Library Auditorium
1015 N. Quincy Street, 2 blocks from Virginia Square Metro
Come early and explore table displays from partner groups, 6:30 ‐7:00 pm

The county’s natural resources are more extensive and diverse than might be expected in an urban setting. Within Arlington's boundaries are globally-rare natural communities, old-age forest remnants, wetlands and springs, a number of state champion trees, and unique locations harboring many uncommon plants and wild flowers. Greg Zell, Natural Resource Specialist with Arlington County, Virginia, will discuss the County's efforts in documenting Arlington's natural resources at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 4, at Arlington’s Central Library Auditorium, 1015 North Quincy St.
Via the flyer, here's a photo of Greg Zell at base of some Arlington natural heritage -- the largest tree in Arlington, a tulip poplar at Fort C.F. Smith Park: