Wednesday, March 30, 2011

White House Getting Ready to Sell Out on Clean Air & Water?

Is the White House getting ready to trade away protections for clean air, the Chesapeake Bay, and Appalachian Mountains & their streams in an attempt to appease Congressional Republicans and their polluter friends? (UPDATE: A friend points out I'm wrong here - "'Trading away' would assume some sort of savvy quid-pro-quo where we actually GET something.")

The Associated Press updates budget negotiations:
The White House said Vice President Joe Biden and budget director Jacob Lew planned to meet Wednesday evening at the Capitol with Senate Democratic leaders.

A Democratic lawmaker familiar with a meeting Wednesday between Obama and members of the Congressional Black Caucus said the administration made it clear that some House GOP proposals restricting the Environmental Protection Agency's regulatory powers would have to make it into the final bill. In order to characterize the White House's position, the lawmaker insisted on anonymity because the meeting was private.

It's not clear which proposals the White House might accept, but those backed by Republicans would block the government from carrying out regulations on greenhouse gases, putting in place a plan to clean up the Chesapeake Bay and from shutting down mountaintop mines it believes will cause too much water pollution.
Sadly, I don't think progressives will find this news all that surprising. These days, from tax cuts for the wealthy to oil drilling, it seems like there's no issue on which the White House will stand up for what it believes in.

UPDATE 3/31 8:10am: In this morning's Environment & Energy Daily (sub. req.), Rep. Jim Moran asks the White House to take a stand:
The chief House Democratic appropriator for EPA and the Interior Department echoed environmentalists' wary response to the speech. It was up to Obama "and his speechwriters" to decide if EPA merited a mention yesterday, Rep. Jim Moran of Virginia quipped before adding that calling the CR riders "totally unacceptable" should be a top priority.

"I hope he understands that promoting more energy -- even more sustainable forms of energy -- is not the same as protecting the environment in all cases," Moran said of Obama. "I just don't see any room for compromise on those riders, and I would hope that he would take a definitive position in that regard."
Sign the Sierra Club's petition asking the White House not to compromise away our clean air & water.

UPDATE 3/31 11:45am: According to Politico Pro (sub. req.), "A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment." Bye bye, environmental protections.

Photos of the 2011 DC Cherry Blossoms

It's cherry blossom time at the Tidal Basin. The Green Miles is skipping it this year because it's been freezing. And added bonus today: Rain mixed with sleet! Which as we all know makes me feel like this.

Fortunately for the cold-and-rain-phobic among us, my friend Sarah visited the blossoms and took some wicked awesome photos:

Obama Compromising With Himself on Energy, Again

obama mirrorIn March 2010, President Obama came out for increased oil drilling. Result? He won over exactly no one to his clean energy & climate plan, and had to publicly reverse himself after the Gulf oil disaster.

Obama also promised massive subsidies for nuclear power plants. Result? The senators he was trying to win over, Lindsey Graham and John McCain, walked away from the clean energy & climate bill anyway, and now Obama is faced with the prospect of yet another public reversal after the Japanese nuclear disaster.

Now it looks like President Obama is once again giving up ground on energy with no guarantee of anything in return:
Many facets of his program will be familiar. The president will propose wider use of natural gas, including incentives to use it to fuel fleet vehicles such as city buses. He will back greater production of biofuels and will vow to establish at least four commercial-scale refineries producing cellulosic ethanol or advanced biofuels within the next two years. He also will pledge to establish higher fuel-efficiency standards for heavy trucks, just as he did for passenger vehicles early in his administration.

Obama will also urge oil companies to make greater use of the federal leases both onshore and offshore to prop up domestic oil output. The oil industry and GOP lawmakers have been loudly complaining about delays in the permitting of offshore drilling in recent months. But an irked administration, which had pledged tougher scrutiny of drilling applications after last year’s massive Gulf of Mexico oil spill, fired back Tuesday with an Interior Department report that revived earlier debates about whether oil companies were exploiting the leases they already have.
There are some good ideas, like increased fuel efficiency for trucks. But they're more than outweighed by the bad ones:
  • We've already been drilling for more oil recently under the failed Bush/Cheney energy policies. And how are gas prices doing?
  • Natural gas may be less polluting than oil at the tailpipe, but comes with major concerns about the safety of a drilling procedure called fracking.
  • And politicians have been touting next-generation biofuels for ... well, for a generation. Now it's 2011 and they're still not ready. Why throw more money down that hole when wind, solar and electric cars are ready now?
For all these giveaways, what exactly does the White House expect to get? Does anyone expect Congress to get off its butt and act on energy when GOP leaders seem happy to cash polluter checks and blame others for our national energy inaction?

In the face of Congressional inaction, President Obama should be defining the choice for voters. They're for buying more polluting oil from countries that hate us - I'm for making America more self-sufficient with home-made clean energy. If voters want the latter, they need to not only give Obama another term, but give him a Congress that will pass real reform.

Instead, we get more White House attempts to negotiate with people who want them to fail, and more "me too" energy policy, always a disaster for Democrats.

Have national Democratic leaders learned nothing from the 2009 & 2010 elections? Seems like they think the lesson is they haven't compromised enough, adopted GOP-lite stances enough, or depressed the progressive base enough. Sounds like a perfect prescription for more of the same on energy, and more of the same in the 2011 & 2012 elections.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Insignificant Nuclear Risk: Terrifying! Guaranteed Widespread Coal Deaths: Yawn.

Power PlantEven though "multiple monitoring systems across the Commonwealth continue to show no levels of public health concern," the Virginia Department of Health is warning residents to avoid drinking rainwater collected in cisterns.

You have to wonder: If insignificant health risks posed by a distant nuclear disaster are worth a health update, why isn't VDOH giving constant updates on the known devastating effects of coal?
Mercury contamination is so widespread that one out of every six pregnant women have mercury levels in their blood high enough for levels in the fetus to reach or surpass the EPA's safety threshold for mercury.

According to the latest government data, this means that 630,000 children are born each year with a strong chance of developing serious mercury-related health effects.

According to the American Lung Association, 24,000 people a year die prematurely because of pollution from coal-fired power plants. And every year 38,000 heart attacks, 12,000 hospital admissions and an additional 550,000 asthma attacks result from power plant pollution.
Now that's truly terrifying. Dozens, hundreds, even thousands of people may be killed in rare nuclear disasters (to say nothing of the risks posed by uranium mining). But coal kills tens of thousands of people every year by design.

Unfortunately, the risks we've known & lived with for years aren't nearly as good at scaring up ratings as the new & unknown ones. Isn't that right, Nancy Grace?

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Crappy Car > Christmas Cookies?

You know what sucks? Christmas cookies! And pets! You know what's awesome? A car that gets a terrible 18 miles to the gallon city and that says is a lousy choice!

Call me crazy, but considering their target audience thinks driving sucks, you'd think it would make more sense to gear their message around "our car will help you do the things you like and let you do them more often by saving you money on gas" rather than "our car will make life worth living."

Saturday, March 26, 2011

If The Clean Air Act Didn't Block Pollution, Where Would It Go?

The "American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity," a coal industry front group responsible for sending forged letters to Rep. Tom Perriello, is on the air in the DC area with ads shamefully attacking the Clean Air Act.

But as this video points out, if the Clean Air Act wasn't keeping pollution out of our atmosphere, it'd be going someplace else:

Please take a moment right now to contact Sen. Jim Webb and ask him to stand up for full enforcement of the Clean Air Act. You can also "like" the Clean Air Act on Facebook.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Claw on Pa: More National Zoo Lion Cub Cuteness

After the National Zoo's entertaining Hop on Pop lion video, there's a new slideshow I think we should refer to as Claw on Pa:

National Zoo's Lions Celebrate Spring's Arrival

Japan Disaster Proves Wind Power's Sustainability

28 windmills along Hokkaido road No.106In the wake of the Japanese earthquake and tsunami, Japan's food supply is being poisoned by nuclear radiation. That's after oil refineries and natural gas storage tanks exploded and burned. But wind power - whose reliability is constantly questioned by advocates of our energy status quo - survived the disaster without a scratch:
While Japan's water-dependent nuclear power plants suck and wheeze and spew radioactive steam, "there has been no wind facility damage reported by any [Japan Wind Energy Association] members, from either the earthquake or the tsunami," says association head Yoshinori Ueda.

Even the country's totally badass Kamisu offshore wind farm, with its giant 2 MW turbines with blades big as the wings on a jumbo jet, and only 186 miles from the epicenter of the largest quake ever recorded in Japan, survived without a hiccup thanks to its "battle proof design." As a result, the nation's electric companies have asked all of its wind farms to increase power production to maximum, in order to make up for the shortfalls brought about by the failure of certain other aging, non-resilient 20th-century technologies.
Wind's clutch performance is especially notable in light of how much Japanese power companies have resisted it.

Here in the United States, when we're making our energy choices we ignore things like how well they'll survive a disaster, or how vulnerable they'll leave us to global price shocks, or how many cases of asthma they'll cause. Instead, we pick our energy sources almost solely on how cheaply they can produce a unit of electricity. We get low prices in the short term, but like Japan's shaky nuclear construction, what long-term bills may come due?

Friday, March 18, 2011

This Squirrel Is Either Blind Or Has Brass Balls

Sharp-Shinned Hawk

I came around the corner the other day to find this scene, a squirrel nosing around for stray bird-feeder seeds on my patio as a sharp-shinned hawk watched from the patio fence. The squirrel is bigger prey than could be handled by a sharpy, America's smallest hawk. But ... a chance worth taking? I say no.

A few moments later, the hawk turned around and plunged into the holly bush on the other side of the fence, sending sparrows scattering. It came up empty, but returned a few minutes later to make another dive. The more you pay attention to wildlife, the more it ruins your preconceived notions - I'd assumed hawks were only maneuverable in open air, but turns out they're adept at chasing down birds in dense brush.

This is now the third time I've seen a sharpy in my backyard. Looks like I've got great sharpy habitat:
The population of USA and Canada has rebounded since and might even exceed historical numbers today. This is probably due to the combination of the ban on DDT and the proliferation of backyard birdfeeders in North America which create unnaturally reliable and easy prey for all Accipiters.
Think I can train the hawk to catch only invasive sparrows & starlings while leaving the cardinals, wrens and other natives alone?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Green Miles & Tom Coburn: BFF?

I couldn't disagree more with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) on a wide range of issues, like woman's right to choose, or climate science, or Sen. John Ensign (R-NV) being a slimeball.

But suddenly this year, I've found myself agreeing with Tom Coburn. I agree with him on cutting excessive mortgage subsidies. And I agree with him on cutting corn ethanol subsidies.

What's next? Will Coburn get behind repealing oil subsidies? Could we be seeing a new partnership between conservationists & fiscal conservatives on environmental issues that make economic sense?

I'm not holding my breath - but I won't turn my nose up at progress either, no matter what strange bedfellows are uniting behind it.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Video: Why Congestion Pricing Works

Why not do congestion pricing in DC & give the money to Metro?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Senate to Launch Surprise Late Night Attack on Clean Air?

As NRDC's Pete Altman reports, the U.S. Senate could be planning a late-night vote with limited or no debate on a bill that would gut Clean Air Act protections:
A common strategy for passing unpopular legislation is to launch a swift sneak attack that doesn't allow for much discourse or debate ahead of time and enables lawmakers to get through the process with as little scrutiny as possible.

That's what is happening right now in the US Senate, where Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) is trying to amend a small business bill with the unrelated language from Energy and Commerce Chairman Fred Upton's Asthma Aggravation Act of 2011 (more formally known as HR 910) in order to sneak through a law that would block the Environmental Protection Agency from making badly-needed updates to clean air safeguards to protect public health from carbon pollution.
As Pete reports, a full 64% of Americans think Congress should let the Environmental Protection Agency do its job - and that even includes 57% of Republicans. It's clear that any senator voting for this bill would be ignoring what Americans want to do the bidding of the billionaire polluter Koch brothers.

Please call Sen. Mark Warner at 202-224-2023 and Sen. Jim Webb at 202-224-4024 and ask them to oppose the Inhofe-Upton bill.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Rainbow Six: Bird Feeder Edition

One of the biggest myths of wildlife-watching is that you have to be at a zoo, a state or national park, or a wildlife refuge to see anything.

But here in East Falls Church, my simple bird-feeder stocked black oil sunflower seed continues to attract a wide range of birds. In fact, a bird showed up last week that I don't think I've ever seen before. When I first saw it, my brain thought "blue jay lite" - blue back, white chest, crested head - but it was way too small and not nearly as shrill. My National Wildlife Federation Field Guide to Birds told me it was a tufted titmouse. (Yes, I keep a bird guide under the window. If the interns at work are going to call me a dorky old man, why not own it?)

Tufted titmouse in Falls ChurchThe titmouse crept up on the feeder in a precision assault, picking off one seed at a time, always in the same fashion - from a tree across the parking lot, to my fence post, to the feeder, to the balcony upstairs to eat - pausing for only a moment at each stop to reassess the situation.

Another first-time visitor showed up the same day: A Carolina chickadee. The bird guide indicated that likely wasn't a coincidence, as the titmouse is known to hang out with other birds, maybe for protection in numbers.

So far, the species I've spotted in just the few months since I started putting out birdseed:
And of course, plenty of squirrels. The National Wildlife Federation can teach you more about making your own yard (or even a porch, patio or balcony) a friendlier place for wildlife. I wouldn't be disappointed if all you get is sparrows the first few weeks, especially if you're right in the city. But spotting even one cardinal or blue jay in the morning can make the commute to work seem a little less dreary.

UPDATE 3/15/2011: The original post referred to the second bird as a black-capped chickadee. However, I told the story to my NWF colleague Doug Inkley, who says it was much more likely a Carolina chickadee. Doug says the two birds look nearly identical, but in this region the black-capped hangs out at higher elevations (like the Appalachian Mountains) while the Carolina is at lower elevations (like Falls Church).

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Look At Flooded Potomac River At Great Falls

With the Potomac River swollen by last week's heavy rain & having crested just above floodstage on Saturday, I went to Great Falls Park on Sunday for a look:

While the Potomac provided an amazing sight - the most powerful rapids I've ever seen that close up - the river remained far from the record. That takes a lot more than a few inches of rain. For example, the near-record flood of 1996 followed not just two feet of snow, but 60 degree temperatures accompanied by an inch of rain. All that combined to cause the Potomac at Great Falls to rise a mind-boggling 85 feet in just two days. Capital Weather Gang has the story & some incredible photos.

Today's river level couldn't touch that, but it was plenty to provide some interesting images:

Potomac River Near Flood Stage at Great Falls

Saturday, March 12, 2011

High Gas Prices Not Cramping Style of Virginia Democratic Party Staffers

Don Mark, political director of the Democratic Party of Virginia (DPVA), tweeted the picture at right with this note:
About to hit he road with @davemillsVA to Wytheville in our sweet Grand Cherokee.
Dave Mills is DPVA executive director. Depending on the model, a Jeep Grand Cherokee gets 14-16 miles per gallon city & 20-23 mpg highway. With Virginia gas prices ranging from $3.19 in Troutville to $3.79 in Alexandria, should DPVA employees be blowing members' money on a gas guzzler?

I tweeted:
@donmark82 @davemillsVA Maybe a little tone-deaf to be bragging about driving SUV at time of $3.50+ gas, no?
Dave's response:
actually guys, we're riding horses to Wytheville. Don's horse is named Grand Cherokee.
Ha ha?

Setting a better example was Del. David Englin, who tweeted, "heading to NYC on Bolt Bus for weekend getaway w/family & friends." A ticket on Bolt is not only cheaper than a single day's worth of parking in NYC (never mind gas & tolls), you can get work done with their free WiFi instead of grinding your teeth in traffic on I-95. And oh yeah, your energy use & carbon pollution will be rock bottom.

I'm aware the Bolt Bus doesn't stop in Wytheville. But a Ford Focus would be just as capable of handling that gritty, tough off-road drive on ... um, I-64 right to I-81. And it wouldn't send the message that energy, environment & fiscal responsibility take a back seat at DPVA.

Japan's Nuclear Crisis Reveals Difference in Communication Styles

Shortly after the earthquake & tsunami in Japan, statements by Japanese nuclear officials prompted both TPM's Josh Marshall and Matt Yglesias to express hope that the plants in question were out of danger. But if you go back and read the statements, Japanese officials weren't saying there would never be any danger; they were specifically saying "no release of radiation had been detected" so far.

I wonder if there's a cultural difference there - while we're used to hearing nightmarish warnings from U.S. officials, Japanese officials have simply related the current facts without inference, speculation or prediction.

Why the difference? Some U.S. officials say nothing short of the worst-case scenario will get Americans to heed any threat. And even then, they may ignore emergency instructions - among the Galveston, TX residents who heard the dire warning they faced "certain death" if they didn't evacuate ahead of Hurricane Ike, 50% stayed put anyway.

So when Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary says "there is no immediate danger" after this morning's blast at the Fukushima Daiichi plant, who can be sure what to expect next?

Text REDCROSS to 90999 to make a $10 donation to help those affected by the earthquake in Japan and tsunami throughout the Pacific.

Friday, March 11, 2011

The GOP's Disastrous Budget Cuts

We already knew that in the face of the building climate crisis, Republicans want to block climate pollution rules & gut clean air laws. And that Republicans think monitoring deadly volcanoes is a waste of money.

Now as a tsunami devastates Japan, with Hawaii & the West Coast dodging a bullet, we learn the House GOP budget would slash funding for federal government tsunami tracking, warnings & response.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Sen. Webb Takes Stand Against Corn Ethanol Giveaways

While I disagree with his disinterest in climate action, I strongly support the effort by Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA) to end the $6 billion a year subsidy for corn ethanol fuel. And maybe next we can eliminating the $4 billion in subsidies we shovel to Big Oil every year while oil companies turn record profits?

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Do Environmentalists Have a Fear of Heights?

Must-read article from The Atlantic on why, in most cases, conservationists shouldn't support height restrictions on new construction.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Genuine or Greenwashing: Fortune's Green Stars

My friend Every Day Father asked for my quick take on Fortune magazine's 8 green stars at Most Admired companies.

My problem with articles like this is that there's no yardstick for measuring results. Is it nice that McDonald's has turned three of its locations into LEED-certified green buildings? Sure, but what about the other 13,000 U.S. locations? Is Coke switching its bottles from a petroleum base towards a sugar base a net positive? Probably, but sugar has its own problems and the article makes no effort to quantify the difference. (To be clear, I'm questioning the quality of the reporting, not the quality of Coke's efforts.)

I'm more impressed with Fortune's write-up of the efforts at FedEx and Amazon, using new technology to do the same work using fewer resources and at lower costs - an obvious win-win. In Amazon's case, smaller packaging might actually improve their customer service ratings - the article mentions that The Green Miles isn't alone in his concern about Amazon's excessive packages.

Diners in Danger of Becoming Breakfast

A birdfeeder doesn't just bring birds - as I learned a few years ago in Arlington, it brings the birds that feed on the birds.

As I was getting ready for work the other morning, I noticed a hawk sitting on my patio fence and was able to take a quick Flipcam clip before it flew off. Nice to work at the National Wildlife Federation where I can ask a certified wildlife biologist for help identifying it. Here's what Doug Inkley had to say:
This is definitely either a sharp-shinned or Cooper’s hawk. They look very similar and hard to tell apart. The Cooper’s hawk is larger and much less common.

Banded tail, gray back, reddish eye and probably looking for songbirds around a bird feeder. My money is on a sharpy.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Bye Bye, AAA Credit Card

The Green Miles had a AAA-affiliated Visa card since shortly after I graduated college. A friend had gotten me a AAA membership as a college graduation gift and AAA called offering a card with something like a 5% rebate on gas. Seemed like a good idea at the time.

But as the years went on and I learned more about AAA's anti-smart growth, pro-oil lobbying, I let my AAA membership lapse and eventually stopped using the card.

Thanks to David Alpert's reminder at this week that anyone who cares about building a better community shouldn't give their money to AAA, I finally got around to canceling the card today. When the customer service agent handling my call asked why I was canceling and I told him it was because of AAA's political policies, he didn't miss a beat. Made me wonder if he heard that from customers fairly often.

Friday, March 4, 2011

WTOP Believes in the Plastic Bag Fairy

WTOP apparently thinks plastic bags are created for free by magic fairies and delivered fresh each morning to the steps of your local grocery store.

"It'll soon cost you more to go to the grocery store." That's how an anchor began a story this week on a proposal to put a fee on plastic bags in Maryland's Montgomery County.

Plastic bags cost retailers $4 billion a year, a cost they pass along to us in the form of higher prices. As DC's experience shows, a small plastic bag fee can dramatically increase reusable bag usage. That cuts overhead for the store, prices for consumers, and taxes for all of us as communities spend less money picking up plastic bag litter.

Learn more at and