Monday, January 31, 2011

GOP Leaders Act Like Pro Wrestling Referees On Energy

"There must be this whole school where they teach you to just kind of run around and not notice anything. They sit you down, show you a film of the rubout scene from The St. Valentine's Day Massacre, and if you don't see anything illegal going on, you're hired."
- Jerry Seinfeld on pro wrestling referees

The Energy Star program helps make sure your appliances use less electricity to do the same job, saving millions of Americans money. The U.S. House Republican Study Committee budget plan cries foul, targeting the program for a $52 million budget cut.

But the $36.5 billion dollars in subsidies the federal budget doles out over the next decade to oil & gas companies, which are already making massive profits off rising gas prices? The GOP doesn't see anything wrong with that - Big Oil's pork is protected by that House GOP budget blueprint.

It's a similar story here in Virginia. While Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli jokes about global warming, he sees nothing wrong with blowing billions on job-burning coal plants. And it's no surprise that Cuccinelli's top donor, the Republican State Leadership Committee, is fueled by oil, with Devon Energy & Exxon Mobil among its leading contributors.

And let's not forget George Allen, whose willingness to look the other way for Big Oil's benefit makes George W. Bush look as fair-minded as Judge Mills Lane by comparison. Allen refuses to even admit America has a problem with imported oil, saying Bush was wrong to call out our addiction. Of course, it's not the glare off his designer boots that's blinding him - George Allen has been on Big Oil's payroll for years.

But now President Obama has laid out an energy policy that sounds like it was designed by rank & file Republicans - calling for development of not just clean energy but natural gas, nuclear & even coal, if it can clean up its act. Can GOP leadership keep running around pretending to not notice gas creeping back to $4 a gallon?

Sunday, January 30, 2011

When Treehuggers Dream

Friday night, I stopped by Four Courts in Arlington for a drink. Someone told me they didn't recycle, asking if that made them a bad person (I'd rather someone call their senator & ask for clean energy reform than recycle, though doing both would be ideal). After Four Courts, I got dinner at Ray's Hell Burger.

Then last night, I had a dream that I went to Burger King, which was advertising a new offering made with "recycled beef." I was about to ask what that meant, when I saw a sign under the burger's listing on the menu reading, and I swear I am not making this up, "Note from manager: Neither I nor my staff will eat this unless we've had a minimum of 5 alcoholic drinks first."

In the dream I thought to myself, maybe I'll just pass.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Thinking About Going Car-Free?

Arlington County is looking for some new skeptics:

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Seattle From 520 Feet

Normally if you find yourself running down the street in a strange city, it's not good.

But in this case, the skies over Seattle had cleared for one of the only times all week & I wanted to get to the top of the Space Needle before the sun set. So a quick run from downtown seemed reasonable. Plus, I got to pretend I was Jason Statham in a bad action movie. I must find the antidote!

It was well worth it:

Mount Rainier & Downtown Seattle

Olympic Mountains & Puget Sound

Sunset Over Puget Sound

Monday, January 24, 2011

Seattle In 18 Words

From the light rail ride from the airport to the in-room recycling at my hotel to restaurants competing with each other to see who can carry the most local food & drink, Seattle is the greenest city I've ever visited. And yes, there really is a Starbucks on every block downtown (I heard a rumor that there are 78 in the city).

However, my overall assessment of Seattle in 18 words:
  1. Seattle's an awesome city
  2. Daily cold rain is soul-crushing
  3. Grunge music makes a lot more sense now

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Green Milestone: In-Room Hotel Recycling

The Green Miles has spent years keeping an eye on green hotels as I've traveled, mostly chronicling disappointment. But for once, I'm happy to report progress!

The first in-room recycling bin I've seen, courtesy of Seattle's Hotel Max:

My only suggestion would be to make the recycling side of the bin blue to differentiate it from the trash side, would let guests know this isn't an ordinary waste bin.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Nick Naylor's New Message: Plastic Bags Aren't So Bad!

Project GreenBag - San Francisco BagWhat does it say about the plastic bag industry that they're now turning to the guy who inspired the oblivious-to-his-own-evil Nick Naylor in Thank You For Smoking?

Yes, that's who's left to defend plastic bags these days - the lobbying firm of Rick Berman, who's made millions off trying to convince you that cigarettes, chemicals, fast food & more are maybe not so bad for you.

The Arlington Sun Gazette ran a letter to the editor last week from one of Berman's minions basically claiming if you touch a reusable bag, you'll be dead before you even hit the ground. Real subtle, those corporate lobbyists are. (The Sun Gazette doesn't mention the letter writer is a paid shill for corporate interests, merely listing the misleadingly-innocuous title of the lobbying firm, because the Sun Gazette's stated editorial mission is making advertisers happy, not giving you the straight story.)

Of course, what they don't tell you is that plastic bags are made from oil, require additional toxic chemicals to produce, kill hundreds of thousands of marine animals every year & never biodegrade (check out all the gory details).

The simple truth is that breaking our bad habit of plastic bag use is good for everyone except the plastic bag industry. And really, if plastic bags are so great & indispensable, why did a measly 5 cent fee slash DC plastic bag use 80%?

Tell your Virginia General Assembly member you want a trash-free Virginia.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

How Much Time & Money Does DC's Metro Save?

Metro BlurHere in the DC area, we spend plenty of time talking about how much our Metro system costs. But how much does it save in time, money & imported oil?

A new report from the Texas Transportation Institute puts some numbers on transit savings:
Washington ranks 6th in the nation for "operational treatment savings" -- services like management of road incidents, street signal coordination and access to HOV lanes that help mitigate traffic. These save D.C. commuters 14,315 hours of delay, the report says.

Even better, D.C. is 3rd overall for preventing delays through public transportation alternatives. Local residents save more than 34 million hours of delay at a cost of $766.6 million, and 24 million gallons of gas, according to the report.
Those numbers are actually higher than Metro itself has estimated. Its FY2012 budget (PDF) estimates annual savings of $520 million & 26 million hours of travel time.

When you add the cost of the gas (about $75 million) to the $766 million savings figure ... and think about how much money & land it would cost to accommodate the 500,000 cars Metro takes off the road ... and events like inaugurations that would be impossible without Metro's ability to move people quickly ... and all the pollution Metro keeps out of our air & water ... suddenly Metro's $1.5 billion annual budget seems like a bargain.

Update 1/22: Great analysis on how the TTI's road traffic model is flawed from's David Alpert.

What Generation Y's Preferences Mean For Arlington's Future

One more thought on the research discussed here yesterday about Generation Y's living preferences. This is what I find so weird about attempts to kill the Westover Market Beer Garden or opposition to the East Falls Church redevelopment plan.

Current neighbors view them as shattering their quiet community. But according to this research, that's the equivalent of when those same neighbors' parents told them to knock off that darn rock & roll music.

Generation Y doesn't want single-family homes and a neighborhood that (even if it's lively during the day) demands they drive elsewhere for entertainment - any more than their parents wanted to listen to Bing Crosby. They want smart density, townhouses, a pub they can walk home from, and who knows, maybe 30 years from now some sort of transit option we haven't even considered yet - a streetcar down Washington Blvd. all the way to the Pentagon?

The Westover Market Beer Garden isn't an aberration - it's Rubber Soul, an evolutionary leap that signals a generational shift. Let's say neighbors block music at the Beer Garden - won't someone just see that untapped niche for live music & act accordingly? Maybe Samuel Beckett's would look there for a 2nd location?

This isn't about whether change is coming - it's about what will change look like. Neighborhoods like East Falls Church & Westover will never be Clarendon, but they'd be wise to learn from its history. You may not be able to stop change, but you can make sure it's doesn't look like Home Depot.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Generation Y Hates Loudoun County

drive-by sprawlAt last week's National Association of Home Builders conference, panelists presented research showing the Millenials despise McMansions:
A key finding: They want to walk everywhere. Surveys show that 13% carpool to work, while 7% walk, said Melina Duggal, a principal with Orlando-based real estate adviser RCLCO. A whopping 88% want to be in an urban setting, but since cities themselves can be so expensive, places with shopping, dining and transit such as Bethesda and Arlington in the Washington suburbs will do just fine.

“One-third are willing to pay for the ability to walk,” Ms. Duggal said. “They don’t want to be in a cookie-cutter type of development. …The suburbs will need to evolve to be attractive to Gen Y.”

Outdoor space is important—but please, just a place to put the grill and have some friends over. Lawn-mowing not desired.
Makes you wonder. Who's going to live in all those McMansions when the baby boomers no longer need or want them? Will those areas redevelop sustainably, or will they just slowly revert to forest, The World Without Us-style?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A "Dear Joe" Letter to Sen. Manchin on Coal

Appalachia Rising: More than 100 Arrested at White House Demanding End to Mountaintop RemovalJW Randolph of Appalachian Voices has a message for Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) - "Arch Coal has a plan, and it is not you":
Well, I’m not sure how it happened. But it seems like southern West Virginia has survived its first post-apocalyptic, economy-annihilating, way-of-life-ending weekend after EPA heroically vetoed Arch Coal’s Spruce Mine permit last Thursday. As bad as Joe Manchin and Nick Rahall said life was going to be after the veto, myself and most folks in West Virginia ended up having a pretty decent weekend, all things considered. Heck, we even learned that despite the snow many if not most nearby residents are celebrating EPA’s veto of Spruce #1 mine.

Which leads me to wonder…has anyone ever been so loud and proud about shoving their head in the sand and ignoring the cries of their constituents and colleagues, the consensus of scientists, and the pleading of health professionals as loudly as Joe Manchin and Nick Rahall? Senator Manchin certainly hasn’t had a very positive first few weeks in the United States Senate. In fact, despite not taking too many big votes, he has found that his actions have already left him with a lot to apologize for. He set another high bar last week when EPA announced its decision on Spruce. Not only was his rhetoric irresponsible, but his information is just plain incorrect – particularly in asserting that EPA was “retroactively” vetoing this permit.
The whole post is long but definitely worth reading.

Monday, January 17, 2011

2010: Not Just Warmest Year, Also the Wettest

The warmer the air, the more moisture it can hold. It's no wonder then that 2010, tied for the hottest year on record, was also the wettest:

Now that it's not just the temperature record showing a climate in crisis, but also the precipitation record, what should we expect next from the unlimited pollution crowd? Will Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli drag meteorologists into court, accusing them of falsifying their rain gauge records & demanding their emails?

Learn more about how the climate crisis is bringing more freak floods at

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Deep Thoughts on Blueberry Muffins

16 minutes seems like FOREVER when my blue heaven is waiting to come out of the oven.

While I'm waiting for my Saturday morning breakfast of Betty Crocker muffins to be ready, I thought I'd mock the tin the "wild" blueberries come imprisoned in. There's no indication of where the blueberries come from, and they're of course joined in the tin by high fructose corn syrup.

As part of the mix, the blueberries are almost an afterthought, looking tiny even on the box artwork. I mean, it's not the flour, sugar & milk I'm excited about. Nor is it the eggs, or even the vegetable oil. It's the blueberries. (I'm fully aware this package only cost me about $3 & I should temper my expectations accordingly.)

Fortunately, back in high school I spent many days in the kitchen of Rebecca's Cafe in Boston with people how actually know how to cook, like my cousin Paul Whalen & the immortal Jim Sterling. To get the muffins even close to the consistency they did, I have to add, and I am not making this up, an additional half pint of blueberries.

Finally, I can't make blueberry muffins without thinking about this scene from Casino. EQUAL AMOUNT:

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Hop on Pop: National Zoo's Lion Cubs Play With Dad (Video)

Via @TitianBlonde

Monday: Conservation Lobby Day in Richmond

From the Virginia Conservation Network:
MLK Day is your day to tell legislators what you expect from them this General Assembly session. Join Virginia Conservation Network, the Garden Club of Virginia, and countless volunteers as we take our conservation priorities to the Capitol on January 17, 2011 at 8:30 a.m.

Whether you discuss energy efficiency, green building, natural resource protection, or other important conservation issues your legislators need to hear from you. Every year General Assembly members learn important information about how to do the right thing for the environment from citizens like you. Not to mention that by taking the time to discuss your position on specific legislation you hold them accountable for their vote.
Register here.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Climate Science Deniers Get Desperate

Remember the New Yorker's devastating expose on Koch Industries funding climate science denial? Apparently polluters & their allies have given up on trying to refute the article's premise. They're now desperately searching for ways to personally attack its author.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Spotlighting Giffords' Push for Solar Power

Sometimes you only become aware of people who dedicate their lives to progress because of tragedy. (Would I know the name Harvey Milk if he hadn't been gunned down?)

I had no idea what a champion of clean energy Rep. Gabrielle Giffords was until this weekend. Here's one tribute from Anne Fischer, managing editor of Solar Novus Today:
While Giffords is a US Representative, her underlying belief in solar energy addresses global concerns: Economy and jobs; Security; the Environment. In terms of boosting the economy, the need for energy is growing and the worldwide market is currently over $6 trillion a year. Security comes from the fact that solar is local power and generating energy close to where it's being used decreases dependence on imported oil. The environmental aspect of solar is clear: Generating electricity from the sun does not emit carbon, does not dirty the air, does not create oil spills. Giffords brought these points to the people and to politicians because she knows that understanding these three key benefits is imperative to the advancement of renewable energy. We applaud the work that she has done, hope for a speedy and full recovery, and look forward to the day when all share her vision of a renewable energy future.
Learn more about Rep. Giffords' push for solar power at her website.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Why Is Protecting The Clean Air Act So Critical?

If someone asks you why it's so important to fight Republican efforts to roll back the Clean Air Act, repeat this quote from Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI):‎
"There is a case to be made that, in the contest between corporate profits and children's lungs, someone should be standing up for children's lungs."
In a related story in today's Washington Post, Steven Pearlstein details how Republicans are combining nonsensical job-killing rhetoric with people-killing policies.

Photo via Flickr's iDanSimpson

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Who're You Gonna Believe, The American Petroleum Institute Or The Green Miles?

Oil 20 Miles Southeast of PensacolaFrom today's story on the presidential oil disaster commission's final report in E&E News (subscription required):
[American Petroleum Institute] president and CEO, Jack Gerard said earlier this week at an event in Washington that "the general public today believes [the Gulf oil disaster] was an isolated incident."

"When you look at the experience of the industry, we've been in the Gulf for over 65 years and have drilled over 42,000 wells. This clearly was a rare incident," Gerard said.

Environmentalists offered a different take.

"Reality shows us that oil disasters are tragically common," Miles Grant, a spokesman for the National Wildlife Federation, wrote in an e-mail to reporters this morning. "The Deepwater Horizon wasn't even the only oil rig explosion in the Gulf last year -- another blast in September injured a worker and sent a plume of thick black smoke into the sky."
Read much more on the commission's report (free!) from Brad Johnson of the Center for American Progress.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Climate Science Denial Spins Storms Counter-Factwise

Sam Seder guest-hosted MSNBC's Countdown last week, just days after a nor'easter that dumped up to three feet of snow along the New Jersey to Massachusetts corridor. Seder said that while climate science denial is dumb any time of year, the storm drove America's climate discussion to feel several degrees stupider than it already is:

To learn more about how the climate crisis is fueling oddball winter weather, go to

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Tea Party Activists Used As Polluter Props

She isn't a global warming denier. She understands that clean energy & energy efficiency can make America more energy independent.

But as the Washington Post reports, a Tea Party activist was used as a prop at recent climate treaty negotiations by a front group funded by big polluters:
The caravan stopped along a dusty shoulder, opposite a large convention center housing exhibits related to the conference. Bell and her fellow activists got out, stood along the side of the road and posed for pictures. They had all been given Americans for Prosperity T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan "Bureaucrats Gone Wild." They held a giant novelty check made out for $100 billion, mocking a proposal to give that much money to developing nations to combat climate change.

In front of them stood Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, waiting for his cue to begin speaking into a video camera.

"Secretary of State Hillary Clinton wants to give $100 billion of American taxpayer money to developing nations through the United Nations," he began. "We think that with a $1.3 trillion deficit, we don't need to be doing something like that, especially for a bogus ideology that Al Gore is pushing."

And cut. Everyone back into the vans.
It's no surprise that Koch Industries continues to fund front groups that fight regulations designed to protect our public health & natural resources. But why do Tea Party activists who should know better keep going along for the ride, in this case literally?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Tops in 2010 & Sneak Peek at 2011 asked me to list the top energy & environment stories of 2010 & look ahead to what to watch for in 2011. Take a look.