NY Times (watch their accompanying video report):
Henry David Thoreau was jailed here 164 years ago for refusing to pay taxes while living at Walden Pond. Now the town has Jean Hill to contend with.Mrs. Hill, an octogenarian previously best known for her blueberry jam, proposed banning the sale of bottled water here at a town meeting this spring. Voters approved, with the intent of making Concord the first town in the nation to strip Aquafina, Poland Spring and the like from its stores.
In orchestrating an outright ban, Mrs. Hill, 82, has achieved something that powerful environmental groups have not even tried. The bottled water industry is not pleased; it has threatened to sue if the ban takes effect as planned on Jan. 1. Officials here have hinted that they might not strictly enforce it, but Mrs. Hill, who described herself as obsessed, said that would only deepen her resolve.
“I’m going to work until I drop on this,” she said. “If you believe in something, you have to persist and you have to have a thick skin.”
Tom Lauria, a spokesman for the International Bottled Water Association, questioned why Mrs. Hill would single out bottled water when there are so many other things packaged in plastic. “Some people in the industry kind of respect her because of her age and her vision,” he said, “but we believe that vision is distorted. There are far worse products to pick on than water.”
Mrs. Hill’s crusade began a few years ago when her grandson, then 10, told her about the so-called Pacific garbage patch, a vortex of plastic and other debris floating between California and Hawaii, thought to be twice the size of Texas.
She researched and homed in on bottled water, finding that millions of plastic bottles were disposed of daily and that most were not recycled. While most opponents of bottled water have sought piecemeal change, like getting government agencies to stop buying it, Mrs. Hill wanted her affluent, erudite town to take a bolder step.
“The bottled water companies are draining our aquifers and selling it back to us,” she said, repeating her pitch from the town meeting in April. “We’re trashing our planet, all because of greed.”
Mrs. Hill’s presentation compelled some 300 voters to support the ban. But days later, town officials said the ban appeared unenforceable. They have asked the state attorney general’s office for guidance.
“It’s our responsibility to carry out the wishes of town meeting, but we’re struggling a little with how to do that,” said Christopher Whelan, the town manager. “It’s still up in the air what will happen on Jan. 1.”
Mr. Lauria said the bottled water association would consider suing if the attorney general’s office signs off on the ban. “It’s a completely legal commodity, and to ban it runs afoul of interstate commerce considerations,” he said.
As for Mrs. Hill, Mr. Whelan said she belonged to a long tradition of town residents channeling Thoreau and other big-thinking forbears.
There is very little upside for the Obama administration in the ecological and economic disaster unfolding in the Gulf of Mexico. The government has come under sharp criticism for underestimating the size of the discharge and for coddling the oil industry for too long.
Until now, perhaps distracted by the critics or because it did not appear that his overall energy agenda was moving forward, President Obama has not made use of the disaster in an overtly political way.
But on Friday — a full month after the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon — he made clear that he also was not going to let the moment go to waste, announcing plans to impose stricter fuel-efficiency and emissions standards on cars and, for the first time, on medium- and heavy-duty trucks.
He said the oil gushing from the crippled BP well in the gulf highlighted the need to move away from dirty and dangerous fossil fuels toward a cleaner energy future. And he signaled that he intended to use the accident to continue to push his broader policy priorities, including legislation that would put a price on climate-altering emissions and increased federal aid for American industries in the global race to dominate the clean energy technology sector.
“We know that our dependence on foreign oil endangers our security and our economy,” Mr. Obama said in a Rose Garden announcement. “And the disaster in the gulf only underscores that even as we pursue domestic production to reduce our reliance on imported oil, our long-term security depends on the development of alternative sources of fuel and new transportation technologies.”
Put more starkly: the road Mr. Obama is sending us on to his dreamed-of carbon-free future will be slick with oil for many years to come.
As New Englanders await a decision in Massachusetts on a bitterly contested proposal to build the nation’s first offshore wind farm, the State of Rhode Island is forging ahead with its own project in the hope of outpacing — and upstaging — its neighbor.
Crucial to its strategy is dispelling worries that economics will trump the environment, or the broader public good.
Instead of having a private developer dominate the research on potential sites, as Massachusetts has, Rhode Island embarked on a three-year scientific study, to be completed in August, of all waters within 30 miles of its coast. It has spent more than $8 million on research into bird migration patterns, wildlife habitats, fish distribution, fishermen’s needs and areas that might be of cultural importance to Indian tribes.
Its goal has been to head off the hurdles that have been in the way of the Massachusetts project, which has pitted coastal Indian tribes, business interest and homeowners against the developer, Cape Wind, and proponents of alternative energy. Frustrated by the failure of the two sides to broker an agreement, the Obama administration’s interior secretary, Ken Salazar, has promised to determine the fate of the project on his own this month. (On Friday a federal historic panel sent Mr. Salazar its recommendation that the government reject the Cape Wind Project.)
“We took the opposite approach of what Cape Wind did,” said Grover Fugate, the chief administrator of the Rhode Island project and the director of the state’s Coastal Resources Management Council.
Still, independent of the scientific study, Rhode Island has proposed two potential offshore sites — a $200 million eight-turbine project off Block Island, and a far bigger $1.5 billion farm in the eastern Rhode Island Sound — and has selected a preferred developer, Deepwater Wind.
In February, Gov. Donald L. Carcieri went so far as to suggest that the Block Island site was “on target to become the nation’s first offshore wind farm.”
Massachusetts counters that it is much further ahead. “We’ve been through all the state permits and we’re awaiting the final permits,” Ian Bowles, the state’s secretary of energy and environment, said in a recent interview.
Rhode Island has not secured permits, but it has trumpeted what Cape Wind so far lacks: a “power purchase” agreement with a utility company to buy what a farm generates. Yet on Wednesday, the state’s utility commission rejected that pact, which involved the proposed farm off Block Island, as too costly.
So for now, Cape Wind is poised to be first, said Matt Kaplan, a wind analyst at Emerging Energy Research, a firm that tracks emerging energy markets.
“If Cape Wind makes it through the permitting process, that is a major feat that no other offshore wind project has achieved in the U.S.,” he said. “However, power purchase agreements have been hard to secure.”
Officials consider a viable project as a source of energy and jobs, but the wind wars are also driven by state pride. “There is a rivalry to be the first state to have an offshore wind project in the nation,” Mr. Kaplan said. “And there is some embarrassment on the part of Massachusetts, having taken so long with Cape Wind.”
From the Wash Post, "President Obama's decision to approve new oil and gas drilling off America's coasts for the first time in decades reflects a high-stakes calculation by the White House: Splitting the difference on the most contentious energy issues could help secure a bipartisan climate deal this year."
President Obama's decision, announced Wednesday, to approve new oil and gas drilling off U.S. coasts for the first time in decades reflects a high-stakes calculation by the White House: Splitting the difference on the most contentious energy issues could help secure a bipartisan climate deal this year.
In what could represent the biggest expansion of offshore energy exploration in half a century, Obama announced that he will open the door to drilling off Virginia's coast, in other parts of the mid- and south Atlantic, in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, and in waters off Alaska. At the same time, he declared off-limits the waters off the West Coast and in Alaska's Bristol Bay, canceled four scheduled lease sales in Alaska and called for more study before allowing new lease sales in the Chukchi and Beaufort seas.
What Interior Secretary Ken Salazar called "a new direction" in energy policy amounted to an offshore political gerrymander in which the administration barred drilling near states where it remains unpopular -- California and New Jersey -- and allowed it in places where it has significant support, such as Virginia and parts of Alaska and the Southeast.
Some conservative critics questioned whether the policy will have any real impact on energy production, while liberals decried the risks to the environment. But the White House's key audience -- undecided senators who will determine whether a climate bill succeeds on Capitol Hill this year -- suggested that the move had helped revive the legislation's prospects.
A string of senators, including Alaska's Mark Begich (D) and Lisa Murkowski (R), Louisiana's Mary Landrieu (D), New Hampshire's Judd Gregg (R), and Virginia Democrats Mark Warner and James Webb, praised the strategy. They have urged the administration to use a climate bill to help boost domestic energy production, through expansion of oil and gas drilling and nuclear power, and Begich and Gregg said Wednesday's announcement made them more optimistic about a deal on the bill than they have been in months.
Noting that Obama has also offered recent support for more nuclear production, Gregg said such moves show that the administration is "genuinely trying to approach the energy production issue in a multifaceted way and a realistic way, rather than listening to people on their left."
Landrieu concurred, saying that Obama is "sending as clear a signal as possible that he is willing to compromise in a way that will bring forth a great energy and climate bill, and he wants Republicans to be a part of it."
But coastal lawmakers such as Democratic Sens. Benjamin L. Cardin and Barbara A. Mikulski of Maryland joined environmentalists in blasting the change as unnecessary, and said it could jeopardize fisheries and tourist attractions.
The Obama administration is proposing to open vast expanses of water along the Atlantic coastline, the eastern Gulf of Mexico and the north coast of Alaska to oil and natural gas drilling, much of it for the first time, officials said Tuesday.
The proposal — a compromise that will please oil companies and domestic drilling advocates but anger some residents of affected states and many environmental organizations — would end a longstanding moratorium on oil exploration along the East Coast from the northern tip of Delaware to the central coast of Florida, covering 167 million acres of ocean.
The environmentally sensitive Bristol Bay in southwestern Alaska would be protected and no drilling would be allowed under the plan, officials said. But large tracts in the Chukchi Sea and Beaufort Sea in the Arctic Ocean north of Alaska — nearly 130 million acres — would be eligible for exploration and drilling after extensive studies.
The proposal is to be announced by President Obama and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on Wednesday, but administration officials agreed to preview the details on the condition that they not be identified.
The proposal is intended to reduce dependence on oil imports, generate revenue from the sale of offshore leases and help win political support for comprehensive energy and climate legislation.
But while Mr. Obama has staked out middle ground on other environmental matters — supporting nuclear power, for example — the sheer breadth of the offshore drilling decision will take some of his supporters aback. And it is no sure thing that it will win support for a climate bill from undecided senators close to the oil industry, like Lisa Murkowski, Republican of Alaska, or Mary L. Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana.
The Senate is expected to take up a climate bill in the next few weeks — the last chance to enact such legislation before midterm election concerns take over. Mr. Obama and his allies in the Senate have already made significant concessions on coal and nuclear power to try to win votes from Republicans and moderate Democrats. The new plan now grants one of the biggest items on the oil industry’s wish list — access to vast areas of the Outer Continental Shelf for drilling.
Environmental groups and their foes in industry joined hands to embrace the approach, a market-driven system that sets a ceiling on global warming pollution while allowing companies to trade permits to meet it. President Obama praised it by name in his first budget, and the authors of the House climate and energy bill passed last June largely built their measure around it.
Mr. Obama dropped all mention of cap and trade from his current budget. And the sponsors of a Senate climate bill likely to be introduced in April, now that Congress is moving past health care, dare not speak its name.
Mr. Kerry’s partner in promoting global warming legislation, Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, pronounced economywide cap and trade dead last month and has since been working with Mr. Kerry to try to patch together a bill that satisfies the diverse economic, regional and ideological interests of the Senate.
That plan, still being written, will include a cap on greenhouse gas emissions only for utilities, at least at first, with other industries phased in perhaps years later. It is also said to include a modest tax on gasoline, diesel fuel and aviation fuel, accompanied by new incentives for oil and gas drilling, nuclear power plant construction, carbon capture and storage, and renewable energy sources like wind and solar.
Why did cap and trade die? The short answer is that it was done in by the weak economy, the Wall Street meltdown, determined industry opposition and its own complexity ...
Two senators, Maria Cantwell, Democrat of Washington, and Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, have proposed an alternative that they call cap and dividend, under which licenses to pollute would be auctioned to producers and wholesalers of fossil fuels, with three-quarters of the revenue returned to consumers in monthly checks to cover their higher energy costs.
Ms. Cantwell said that cap and trade had been discredited by the Wall Street crisis, the Enron scandal and the rocky start to a carbon credits trading system in Europe that has been subject to dizzying price fluctuations and widespread fraud.
She said her bill would require every pollution permit to be auctioned rather than given away and was 39 pages long, compared with Waxman-Markey, which weighs in at some 1,400 pages.
The Cantwell-Collins plan is almost exactly what Mr. Obama proposed in the campaign and after first taking office — a 100 percent auction of permits and a large tax rebate to the public.
“He called our bill ‘very elegant,’ ” Ms. Cantwell said. “Simplicity and having something people can understand is important.”
NY Times (For more, see A Blue View's Denialism category and/or buy the book that named the phenomenon: Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives):
Critics of the teaching of evolution in the nation’s classrooms are gaining ground in some states by linking the issue to global warming, arguing that dissenting views on both scientific subjects should be taught in public schools.
In Kentucky, a bill recently introduced in the Legislature would encourage teachers to discuss “the advantages and disadvantages of scientific theories,” including “evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning.”
The bill, which has yet to be voted on, is patterned on even more aggressive efforts in other states to fuse such issues. In Louisiana, a law passed in 2008 says the state board of education may assist teachers in promoting “critical thinking” on all of those subjects.
Last year, the Texas Board of Education adopted language requiring that teachers present all sides of the evidence on evolution and global warming.
Oklahoma introduced a bill with similar goals in 2009, although it was not enacted.
The linkage of evolution and global warming is partly a legal strategy: courts have found that singling out evolution for criticism in public schools is a violation of the separation of church and state. By insisting that global warming also be debated, deniers of evolution can argue that they are simply championing academic freedom in general.
Yet they are also capitalizing on rising public resistance in some quarters to accepting the science of global warming, particularly among political conservatives who oppose efforts to rein in emissions of greenhouse gases.
In South Dakota, a resolution calling for the “balanced teaching of global warming in public schools” passed the Legislature this week.
“Carbon dioxide is not a pollutant,” the resolution said, “but rather a highly beneficial ingredient for all plant life.”
The measure made no mention of evolution, but opponents of efforts to dilute the teaching of evolution noted that the language was similar to that of bills in other states that had included both. The vote split almost entirely along partisan lines in both houses, with Republican voting for it and Democrats voting against.
For mainstream scientists, there is no credible challenge to evolutionary theory. They oppose the teaching of alternative views like intelligent design, the proposition that life is so complex that it must be the design of an intelligent being. And there is wide agreement among scientists that global warming is occurring and that human activities are probably driving it. Yet many conservative evangelical Christians assert that both are examples of scientists’ overstepping their bounds.
John G. West, a senior fellow with the Discovery Institute in Seattle, a group that advocates intelligent design and has led the campaign for teaching critiques of evolution in the schools, said that the institute was not specifically promoting opposition to accepted science on climate change. Still, Mr. West said, he is sympathetic to that cause.
“There is a lot of similar dogmatism on this issue,” he said, “with scientists being persecuted for findings that are not in keeping with the orthodoxy. We think analyzing and evaluating scientific evidence is a good thing, whether that is about global warming or evolution.”
Lawrence M. Krauss, a physicist who directs the Origins Initiative at Arizona State University and has spoken against efforts to water down the teaching of evolution to school boards in Texas and Ohio, described the move toward climate-change skepticism as a predictable offshoot of creationism.
“Wherever there is a battle over evolution now,” he said, “there is a secondary battle to diminish other hot-button issues like Big Bang and, increasingly, climate change. It is all about casting doubt on the veracity of science — to say it is just one view of the world, just another story, no better or more valid than fundamentalism.”
Not all evangelical Christians reject the notion of climate change, of course. There is a budding green evangelical movement in the country driven partly by a belief that because God created the earth, humans are obligated to care for it.
Yet there is little doubt that the skepticism about global warming resonates more strongly among conservatives, and Christian conservatives in particular. A survey published in October by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that white evangelical Protestants were among those least likely to believe that there was “solid evidence” that the Earth was warming because of human activity.
Only 23 percent of those surveyed accepted that idea, compared with 36 percent of the American population as a whole. [For more see New Poll Shows Fewer Americans "Believe" Global Warming]
Three key senators are engaged in a radical behind-the-scenes overhaul of climate legislation, preparing to jettison the broad "cap-and-trade" approach that has defined the legislative debate for close to a decade.
The sharp change of direction demonstrates the extent to which the cap-and-trade strategy -- allowing facilities to buy and sell pollution credits in order to meet a national limit on greenhouse gas emissions -- has become political poison. In a private meeting with several environmental leaders on Wednesday, according to participants, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), declared, "Cap-and-trade is dead."
Graham and Sens. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) have worked for months to develop an alternative to cap-and-trade, which the House approved eight months ago. They plan to introduce legislation next month that would apply different carbon controls to individual sectors of the economy instead of setting a national target.
According to several sources familiar with the process, the lawmakers are looking at cutting the nation's greenhouse gas output by targeting, in separate ways, three major sources of emissions: electric utilities, transportation and industry.
Power plants would face an overall cap on emissions that would become more stringent over time; motor fuel may be subject to a carbon tax whose proceeds could help electrify the U.S. transportation sector; and industrial facilities would be exempted from a cap on emissions for several years before it is phased in. The legislation would also expand domestic oil and gas drilling offshore and would provide federal assistance for constructing nuclear power plants and carbon sequestration and storage projects at coal-fired utilities.
"This is a different bill," Lieberman said in an interview. "We haven't abandoned the market-based idea, but we're willing to negotiate with colleagues who have different ideas."
Many lawmakers and lobbyists say even a radically different climate bill would face big hurdles to passage, given conflicting corporate and consumer interests, regional divides and a crowded Senate calendar. Energy industry lobbyists have turned much of their attention to proposing numerous variations of more narrow energy legislation.
But President Obama has continued to push for broad legislation that he says would make the U.S. economy more efficient, slow climate change and fulfill U.S. pledges in international climate talks in December to cut the country's emissions by 17 percent by 2020. A U.S. failure to fulfill that commitment could undercut the determination of other nations to live up to their pledges ...
Environmental advocates, eager to pass comprehensive climate and energy legislation before the November midterm elections, said the shift in strategy represents the best shot at getting something done this year ...
The change in policy, which might even include giving money raised through carbon pollution allowances directly back to consumers, a scheme known as "cap-and-dividend," could appeal to some wavering senators. Senior Obama administration officials have also been studying the cap-and-dividend approach. But it remains unclear whether that would be enough to produce the 60 votes proponents need, especially when the Senate has yet to finish work on health-care legislation and a jobs package.
It seems that Obama's Brilliant Strategy To Get His Transformative Policies Enacted has run into politics as usual: rather than the EPA being a lever to force Congress to do something revolutionary, Congress is forcing the EPA to s-l-o-w down and delay. The NY Times:
Facing wide criticism over their recent finding that greenhouse gases endanger the public welfare, top Environmental Protection Agency officials said Monday that any regulation of such gases would be phased in gradually and would not impose expensive new rules on most American businesses.
The E.P.A.’s administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, wrote in a letter to eight coal-state Democrats who have sought a moratorium on regulation that only the biggest sources of greenhouse gases would be subjected to limits before 2013. Smaller ones would not be regulated before 2016, she said.
“I share your goals of ensuring economic recovery at this critical time and of addressing greenhouse gas emissions in sensible ways that are consistent with the call for comprehensive energy and climate legislation,” Ms. Jackson wrote.
The eight Democratic senators, led by John D. Rockefeller IV of West Virginia, said hugely significant decisions about energy, the economy and the environment should be made by elected representatives, not by federal bureaucrats.
The senators, who earlier questioned broad cap-and-trade legislation pushed by the Obama administration, join a number of Republican lawmakers, industry groups and officials from Texas, Alabama and Virginia in challenging the proposed E.P.A. regulations of industrial sources. Senate Republicans are going a step further, seeking to prevent the agency from taking any action to limit greenhouse gases, which are tied to global warming.
Ms. Jackson warned that if the Republicans thwarted the agency’s efforts to address climate change, it would kill the deal negotiated last year to limit carbon pollution from cars and light trucks and would have a chilling effect on the government’s scientific studies of global warming.
I don't understand the position the environmentalists quoted in this NY Times article about Obama losing their support take on nuclear power. No energy source that can produce meaningful amounts of energy is fault free: solar would require redesigning and controlling huge swaths of often pristine land, windmills (off Nantucket) "ruin" views and "desecrate" Indian rites, hydroelectric requires drowning every living thing in gragantuan valleys, etc. And given that most of them have horrible returns on investment when a decentralized approach is considered (for instance, the cost of a solar installation for an individual home in New England has a 15 - 20 year payback--a nonstarter for all but the most committed green) only centralized approaches that require tremendous capital and expertise have any chance of reducing CO2 in the near to medium term.
I don't like it either, but (1) if you're truly, deeply concerned about climate change and think it's the most important environmental problem we face and (2) you want a viable, zero CO2 energy solution for America today (not a leftie, utopian version of America that's not coming any time soon) nuclear power is the best and maybe only option.
Further, it's not like Obama's support for nuclear is a position he adopted in reaction to the changed, post-Scott Brown political landscape. He was in favor of it, and said so, during the first year of his presidency, during the presidential campaign and even going so far back as when he was in the Illinois legislature. So environmentalists knew this at the time they initially chose to support him. (The same can be said, btw, for his stance on "clean coal".) So what's changed?
With much of his legislative agenda stalled in Congress, President Obama and his team are preparing an array of actions using his executive power to advance energy, environmental, fiscal and other domestic policy priorities.
Mr. Obama has not given up hope of progress on Capitol Hill, aides said, and has scheduled a session with Republican leaders on health care later this month. But in the aftermath of a special election in Massachusetts that cost Democrats unilateral control of the Senate, the White House is getting ready to act on its own in the face of partisan gridlock heading into the midterm campaign.
“We are reviewing a list of presidential executive orders and directives to get the job done across a front of issues,” said Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff.
Any president has vast authority to influence policy even without legislation, through executive orders, agency rule-making and administrative fiat. And Mr. Obama’s success this week in pressuring the Senate to confirm 27 nominations by threatening to use his recess appointment power demonstrated that executive authority can also be leveraged to force action by Congress.
Mr. Obama has already decided to create a bipartisan budget commission under his own authority after Congress refused to do so. His administration has signaled that it plans to use its discretion to soften enforcement of the ban on openly gay men and lesbians serving in the military, even as Congress considers repealing the law. And the Environmental Protection Agency is moving forward with possible regulations on heat-trapping gases blamed for climate change, while a bill to cap such emissions languishes in the Senate.
In an effort to demonstrate forward momentum, the White House is also drawing more attention to the sorts of actions taken regularly by cabinet departments without much fanfare. The White House heavily promoted an export initiative announced by Commerce Secretary Gary Locke last week and nearly $1 billion in health care technology grants announced on Friday by Kathleen Sebelius, the health and human services secretary, and Hilda L. Solis, the labor secretary.
White House officials said the increased focus on executive authority reflected a natural evolution from the first year to the second year of any presidency.
“The challenges we had to address in 2009 ensured that the center of action would be in Congress,” said Dan Pfeiffer, the White House communications director. “In 2010, executive actions will also play a key role in advancing the agenda.”
The use of executive authority during times of legislative inertia is hardly new; former Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush turned to such powers at various moments in their presidencies, and Mr. Emanuel was in the thick of carrying out the strategy during his days as a top official in the Clinton White House.
But Mr. Obama has to be careful how he proceeds because he has been critical of both Mr. Clinton’s penchant for expending presidential capital on small-bore initiatives, like school uniforms, and Mr. Bush’s expansive assertions of executive authority, like the secret program of wiretapping without warrants ...
Another drawback of the executive power strategy is that actions taken unilaterally by the executive branch may not be as enduring as decisions made through acts of Congress signed into law by a president. For instance, while the E.P.A. has been determined to have the authority to regulate carbon emissions, the administration would rather have a market-based system of pollution permits, called cap and trade, that requires legislation ...
The use of executive power came to a head this week when Mr. Obama confronted Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader, about nominations held up in the Senate. In a meeting with Congressional leaders at the White House on Tuesday, Mr. Obama turned to Mr. McConnell and vowed to use his power to appoint officials during Senate recesses if his nominations were not cleared.By Thursday, the Senate had voted to confirm 27 of 63 nominations that had been held up, and the White House declared victory.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar journeyed out into Nantucket Sound on a Coast Guard vessel last week to signal the Obama administration's readiness to put some muscle behind wind energy. To do that, Salazar has to resolve a battle over building a wind farm on 25 square miles of open water that has driven a rift between environmentalists, infuriated local Native Americans and threatened one of the administration's cherished priorities.
The nearly decade-long fight over whether to construct a 130-turbine offshore wind farm near Martha's Vineyard has spurred numerous state and federal regulatory reviews. It has cost millions in lobbying fees and has prompted an intense political debate on Cape Cod and in Washington, setting those who back renewable energy against those who want to preserve the natural beauty of Nantucket Sound.
"The worst thing we can do for the country is to be in a state of indecision, and this application has been in a state of indecision for a very long time," said Salazar, who came to see the proposed site of the Cape Wind project and to meet with tribes that oppose it.
With many other obstacles resolved, including the wind farm's potential hindrance to navigation and fishing and harm to birds, the tribes represent the project's latest challenge: They practice a sunrise ritual every morning on the sound and say they may have artifacts buried beneath the seabed. They have managed to qualify the sound for listing on the National Register of Historic Places, which could restrict its commercial use.
He said that although his department is trying to broker a deal between the tribes and Energy Management, the company seeking to build the farm, "I'm not holding my breath for a consensus." And if the two sides cannot resolve their differences, he said, he will do it himself by April.
The venture stands as a critical test of whether the Obama administration, which views investing in renewable energy as key to reviving the economy and combating climate change, can launch the clean-energy revolution it has promised voters.
Ian Bowles, the Massachusetts energy and environmental affairs secretary, called the Cape Wind project "symbolic of America's struggle with clean energy. Its symbolism has risen above the number of megawatts."
Both sides agree that this offshore wind project, which would be the first in the United States and would furnish about 75 percent of Cape Cod's energy, shows just how hard it will be to construct wind farms off America's coasts.
A day after delivering his State of the Union address, Mr. Obama came to Florida to announce the investment of $8 billion in high-speed rail projects in 13 major corridors, which he said would provide a down payment for the most significant advance in transportation since the Interstate highway system was built more than a half-century ago ...
The administration announced the $8 billion awards to coincide with the president and vice president’s trip here on Thursday. For months, states have been competing for the financing.
Most of the money, officials decided, will go toward improving existing rail service. More than a billion dollars, for instance, will go to speed train travel between Chicago and St. Louis to up to 110 miles per hour — faster than it is now, but a far cry from the kind of bullet trains that zip along at speeds of more than 150 m.p.h. in Japan and Europe. Two of the largest shares of money are being distributed for investments in bullet-train projects.
The administration said that a $2.25 billion award would help California make a small down payment on its ambitious $45 billion plan to build trains that can go 220 miles an hour. The stimulus money will go to buy right-of-way, build track, and do engineering and environmental work.
Another $1.25 billion will go to build 84 miles of track from Tampa to Orlando, which would allow trains to travel at up to 168 m.p.h., the first leg of a corridor that is eventually expected to go to Miami. If the state and federal financing hold, the first phase of the railway is scheduled to be completed by 2015.
“It’s the biggest thing since Walt Disney World for the I-4 Corridor,” said Representative Kendrick B. Meek, Democrat of Florida, who is running for Senate this year.
The president’s trip to Tampa on Thursday marked his third visit to the state since taking office. The high-speed rail project represented a considerable investment into the state, which the Obama-Biden ticket carried in 2008.
Before any suggestions could be made about any potential political benefits of the awards, Mr. Biden told the audience here that both Florida and California have something in common: Republican governors.
“We didn’t pick this based on politics. I mean this sincerely,” Mr. Biden said. “We’re picking the places that make the most sense, have the highest density, are ready to go.”
The nation’s top scientists and spies are collaborating on an effort to use the federal government’s intelligence assets — including spy satellites and other classified sensors — to assess the hidden complexities of environmental change. They seek insights from natural phenomena like clouds and glaciers, deserts and tropical forests.
The collaboration restarts an effort the Bush administration shut down and has the strong backing of the director of the Central Intelligence Agency. In the last year, as part of the effort, the collaborators have scrutinized images of Arctic sea ice from reconnaissance satellites in an effort to distinguish things like summer melts from climate trends, and they have had images of the ice pack declassified to speed the scientific analysis.
The trove of images is “really useful,” said Norbert Untersteiner, a professor at the University of Washington who specializes in polar ice and is a member of the team of spies and scientists behind the effort.
Scientists, Dr. Untersteiner said, “have no way to send out 500 people” across the top of the world to match the intelligence gains, adding that the new understandings might one day result in ice forecasts ...
The monitoring program has little or no impact on regular intelligence gathering, federal officials said, but instead releases secret information already collected or takes advantage of opportunities to record environmental data when classified sensors are otherwise idle or passing over wilderness.
Secrecy cloaks the monitoring effort, as well as the nation’s intelligence work, because the United States wants to keep foes and potential enemies in the dark about the abilities of its spy satellites and other sensors. The images that the scientific group has had declassified, for instance, have had their sharpness reduced to hide the abilities of the reconnaissance satellites.
Controversy has often dogged the use of federal intelligence gear for environmental monitoring. In October, days after the C.I.A. opened a small unit to assess the security implications of climate change, Senator John Barrasso, Republican of Wyoming, said the agency should be fighting terrorists, “not spying on sea lions.”
Amtrak has been working hard to lure more business travelers to its trains, with advertisements highlighting its advantages over air travel — roomier seats, power outlets on its Acela trains and fewer annoyances.
And its efforts have borne some fruit: the number of riders on its Northeast corridor trains has been rising.
But faster trains are critical to its future. So while Amtrak got some desperately needed financing from the federal government this year, its forecasts suggest that speedier rail travel in the United States remains a daunting challenge.
For the Northeast corridor alone, Amtrak estimates that it will need almost $700 million annually for the next 15 years to maintain the system and to tackle a backlog of maintenance projects and upgrades. Reducing travel times between New York and Washington to two-and-a-half hours and times between New York and Boston to three hours — goals that were established in the 1970s — will require straighter track, improvements to bridges and tunnels, increased capacity through Manhattan and newer trains, among other investments.
Almost all of Amtrak’s lines fail to make money, with a total loss of $1.1 billion in 2008. Even technology enhancements seem to move at a slow pace: developing a new electronic reservation system is expected to take until 2015.
Still, Amtrak officials are more optimistic now than they have been in a long time. “We’re probably in the best position to move forward to get the things done we want to get done and that the government wants us to get done,” said David Lim, Amtrak’s chief marketing officer. “We have an administration that is supportive of rail.”
One of the biggest changes for Amtrak is that after years of bare-bones annual financing that limited the railroad’s ability to make significant upgrades, Congress approved a five-year authorization in 2008 that allocates the system nearly $2 billion a year.
Although the money still needs to be appropriated every year, Mr. Lim said, “the fact that there’s a five-year plan makes a tremendous difference. Asking the government for your annual subsidy obviously makes it difficult to plan and execute capital projects.”
In addition, the economic stimulus package approved by Congress early this year provided $1.3 billion to supplement Amtrak’s capital budget and $8 billion in grants for intercity service and high-speed passenger rail. While those amounts will not go far in developing the bullet trains that operate in Europe and Asia and will probably be distributed among projects throughout the country, Amtrak officials say they view the investment as an important policy shift.
There are also signs that passengers are increasingly embracing trains. The number of Amtrak riders has increased steadily since 2001, surpassing 28 million in 2008, though a dip is expected this year because of the recession.
Amtrak estimates it carried 63 percent of travelers flying or taking the train between New York and Washington in 2008 — an increase from 37 percent before the Acela service began in 2000. Amtrak’s market share between New York and Boston was 49 percent last year, compared with 20 percent before Acela.
Amtrak hopes to push those numbers even higher, Mr. Lim said. The railroad plans to introduce free Wi-Fi service on all Acela trains in the second quarter of 2010, then add Northeast regional trains later in the year.
Conservatives have lined up in near-unanimous opposition to any progressive legislation introduced during President Obama’s first year in office. Whether they’ve been railing against health care reform, a climate bill, or financial regulation, their ire has stemmed less from legislative specifics than from a generalized prophecy of doom: Obama’s proposals will move the country toward socialism, bankrupt entire industries and small businesses, and deny Americans their basic freedoms.
These arguments, however, aren’t new. Conservatives—not just Republicans, but various politicians and groups who’ve resisted major social changes—recycled them throughout the twentieth century. They used them to oppose numerous progressive measures that Americans now take for granted, from women’s suffrage to child-labor laws to Medicare. [See "The Republican Party ... [has not and] cannot come to grips with the very nature of the problems of modern American politics"]. Here we’ve collected a few choice predictions about disaster that never came. Conservatives today might prefer they be forgotten.
“It may be impracticable that our distinctively American experiment of individual freedom should go on.”
—Senator David Hill (D-NY), in 1894, bemoaning the creation of a federal income tax
“Woman suffrage would give to the wives and daughters of the poor a new opportunity to gratify their envy and mistrust of the rich. Meantime these new voters would become either the purchased or cajoled victims of plausible political manipulators, or the intimidated and helpless voting vassals of imperious employers.”“[T]he child will become a very dominant factor in the household and might refuse perhaps to do chores before six a.m. or after seven p.m. or to perform any labor.”
—Former President Grover Cleveland, in 1905, on why women shouldn’t be able to vote“I fear it may end the progress of a great country and bring its people to the level of the average European. It will furnish delicious food and add great strength to the political demagogue. It will assist in driving worthy and courageous men from public life. It will discourage and defeat the American trait of thrift. It will go a long way toward destroying American initiative and courage.”
—Senator Weldon Heyburn (R-ID), in 1908, on why child labor should remain unregulated“[I]t would make it practically impossible for any publisher in the United States to accept any food, drug, or cosmetic advertising without facing squarely into the doors of a jail.”
—Senator Daniel O. Hastings (R-DE), in 1935, listing the evils of Social Security“[The Act represents] a step in the direction of Communism, bolshevism, fascism, and Nazism.”
—Federal Trade Commission Chair Ewin L. Davis, in 1935, on the dangers of empowering the Food and Drug Administration to regulate the food, drug, and cosmetic industries ...“It is destroying the amicable relations between the white and Negro races that have been created through 90 years of patient effort by the good people of both races. It has planted hatred and suspicion where there has been heretofore friendship and understanding.”
—The National Association of Manufacturers, in 1938, condemning a national minimum wage and guaranteed overtime pay“It is socialism. It moves the country in a direction which is not good for anyone, whether they be young or old. It charts a course from which there will be no turning back.”
—Senator Strom Thurmond (D-SC), Senator Richard Russell (D-GA), and other Southern legislators, in 1956, describing the perils of integrating public schools“[T]his bill could prevent continued production of automobiles . . . [and] is a threat to the entire American economy and to every person in America.”
—Senator Carl Curtis (R-NE), in 1965, opposing Medicare“The effects include serious long-term losses in domestic output and employment, heavy cost burdens on manufacturing industries, and a resultant gradual contraction of the entire industrial base. The irony of this bleak scenario is that these economic hardships are borne with no real assurance they would be balanced by a cleaner, healthier environment.”
—Lee Iacocca, executive vice president of Ford Motor Company, in 1970, on why the government shouldn’t regulate airborne contaminants that are hazardous to human health“The doctor begins to lose freedoms; it’s like telling a lie, and one leads to another. First you decide that the doctor can have so many patients. They are equally divided among the various doctors by the government. But then the doctors aren’t equally divided geographically, so a doctor decides he wants to practice in one town and the government has to say to him you can’t live in that town, they already have enough doctors. You have to go someplace else. And from here it is only a short step to dictating where he will go.”
—The National Association of Manufacturers, in 1987, on the perils of an emissions reduction program to combat acid rain
—Ronald Reagan, in 1961, arguing against the creation of Medicare
President Obama outlined Tuesday a first-year legislative record that he said rescued the economy and placed it on a path of long-term growth, even as he acknowledged that some unfinished items would probably be more difficult to achieve heading into a midterm election year.
In an Oval Office interview with The Washington Post, Obama rejected criticism that he has compromised too much to secure health-care reform or turned over too much authority to congressional leaders in pursuing his broad legislative agenda.
But some of Obama's signature initiatives, including cap-and-trade legislation and financial regulatory reform, remain unfulfilled heading into an election year likely to be shaped by what he achieved in Congress this year. Obama personally made the case for his legislative record at a time when his approval ratings are among the lowest of his presidency and as even some of his most ardent supporters are questioning the results of his congressional strategy.
"Overall, if you had a checklist of promises made, a lot of those promises have been kept," Obama said. "When those things are complete, and I think they will be, we will have achieved a fundamental shift in health care, energy, education and our financial regulatory system that will put this economy on a firmer footing to grow over the long term."
As the Senate prepares to pass its version of health-care reform legislation, Obama's advisers have portrayed a highly successful year pushing important bills through Congress, comparing his record to those of Franklin D. Roosevelt and Lyndon B. Johnson. Presidential scholars offer a more cautious appraisal, even as they note that Obama is operating in a more partisan time in Washington than those Democratic predecessors had.
Obama's legislative record includes the $787 billion stimulus bill passed in February, a mix of tax cuts, infrastructure spending and aid to state and local governments that was the largest of its kind. It also includes a variety of bills addressing issues of particular interest to his political base that had been languishing for years.
Although Obama noted in the interview that "the most important thing we did this year was to ensure that the financial system did not collapse," health-care reform dominated his agenda and will stand as at least one pillar of the legacy he leaves behind. He has come under sharp criticism for the size and shape of the legislation, including from former Democratic Party chairman Howard Dean ...
In the interview, Obama vigorously defended the legislation, saying he is "not just grudgingly supporting the bill. I am very enthusiastic about what we have achieved."
"Nowhere has there been a bigger gap between the perceptions of compromise and the realities of compromise than in the health-care bill," Obama said. "Every single criteria for reform I put forward is in this bill."
In listing those priorities, he cited the 30 million uninsured Americans projected to receive coverage, estimated savings of more than $1 trillion over the next two decades, a "patients' bill of rights on steroids," and tax breaks to help small businesses pay for employee coverage.
The fact that Republicans and Democrats differ on whether health-care reform should include a public option is no surprise. That they differ on setting a date for exiting Afghanistan, sure. On Sarah Palin, of course. But on physics? And biology? That the growing list of issues where there is a partisan divide now includes the accuracy of scientific findings may be lamentable for a democracy (if we can't agree on facts, how can we agree on policy?), but it's a gold mine for research on how personality and other psychological factors influence political ideology.
The red-blue split on mammograms is particularly striking. In a recent poll, the Pew Research Center asked 1,002 American adults about a preventive-health task force's conclusion that most women can safely begin mammograms at age 50, not 40, and have one every two years, not annually. (Large studies have found that earlier mammograms save almost no lives; since the radiation can cause cancer, it therefore makes sense to minimize them.) Among Republicans, 15 percent agreed with that. Among Democrats? Twice as many.
One reason, of course, is that the mammogram wars have become entangled in health-care reform, with accusations that the advice is part of a dastardly plot to ration care. Some of the partisan split therefore reflects red-blue views of what John Jost of New York University, who studies the psychological basis of political ideology, calls "a softer version of the 'death panel' claim." But something else is going on, something that speaks to how traits of personality affect political leanings. Since people do not pore over oncology studies and reach their own conclusion on the credibility of the science, they have to trust experts—or not. And thus the partisan divide: Republicans tend to distrust "elites," especially now that the GOP is more Palin than George H.W. Bush or other scion of the white-shoe establishment. In the mammogram debate, that distrust encompasses pointy-headed scientists and makes those who disdain "the reality-based community," as an aide to George W. Bush called scientists, go with the "common sense" view that mammograms save lives.
There is a long list of personality differences between liberals or Democrats and conservatives or Republicans. The former are generally more open to new experiences and ideas, Jost and colleagues found in a 2003 study. The latter tend to be more conscientious, more energetic, and more emotionally stable, Jost later found, as did a 2007 study of 5,623 voters led by Chris Fraley of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. The differences are significant: the personality traits predict voting decisions more strongly than age or gender, Fraley found.
The partisan divide on another empirical question—whether Earth is warming, and if so whether that is due to human activities—may reflect something similar.
President Obama’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel, likes to say that the only thing that is not negotiable is success. The last 48 hours offered a case study in how the president applies that maxim to governing.
After weeks of frustrating delays and falling poll numbers, Mr. Obama decided to take what he could get, declare victory and claim momentum on some of the administration’s biggest priorities, even if the details did not always match the lofty vision that underlined them.
From Copenhagen to Capitol Hill, the president determined the outer limits of what he could accomplish on climate change and health care and decided that was enough, at least for now. He brokered a nonbinding agreement with other world powers to fight global warming, averting the collapse of an international summit meeting. And he blessed a compromise on health care to guarantee the votes needed to pass the Senate.
Neither deal represented a final victory, and in fact some on the left in his own party argued that both of them amounted to sellouts on principle in favor of expediency. But both agreements served the purpose of keeping the process moving forward, inching ever closer toward Mr. Obama’s goals and providing a jolt of adrenaline for a White House eager to validate its first year in office.
Mr. Obama seemed encouraged by the progress ... After landing in a Washington-area snowstorm and retiring for a few hours of rest, Mr. Obama appeared in the Diplomatic Reception Room of the White House on a snowy Saturday. He called the health care deal “a major step forward” and the climate change agreement an “important breakthrough.”
Still, he acknowledged that neither was exactly what he had set out to achieve. On climate change, he said that the Copenhagen pact “is not enough” and that “we have a long way to go.” On health care, he noted that “as with any legislation, compromise is part of the process.”
In an interview, Mr. Emanuel said the developments showed that Mr. Obama “sets out the North Stars for us” in terms of broad and ambitious goals, but is willing to let his staff and allies haggle over the specifics. “He doesn’t negotiate the ends,” Mr. Emanuel said. “He’s very open to discussing alternative routes.”
Critics cautioned against making too much of the agreements. “They are pyrrhic victories,” said John Feehery, a Republican strategist and former Capitol Hill aide. “Neither deal will necessarily improve his poll ratings with swing voters, nor will they energize his base. And neither take the necessary steps to put the American economy back on track, which should be the only thing he is thinking about right now.”
The climate deal in particular may seem more than it is. With the Copenhagen conference unable to agree on binding limits on greenhouse gases linked to climate change, Mr. Obama settled for a three-page agreement with no short or midterm goals but a long-term commitment to prevent world temperatures from rising by more than two degrees by midcentury.
The health care legislation is much further along, and while it compromised on abortion and abandoned a government-run health plan, it still includes many changes long favored by Democrats. If it passes the Senate this week as now appears probable, it stands a much better chance of actually becoming law, culminating decades of largely failed efforts to revamp the nation’s health care system.
Mr. Obama has put a high value on process and keeping things moving, recognizing that history generally does not remember the to and fro, only the big sweep of presidential accomplishments. He may not get the health care plan he envisioned but, if the legislation passes, he will insure 30 million more people, stop insurers from denying coverage for pre-existing conditions and at least try to rein in costs. He will not end climate change in his presidency, and may not get the market-based emission caps he wants, but he may move the country, and the world, toward meaningful action.
Of course, to many on both sides of the aisle, there is a less sympathetic narrative.
People always say Rupert Murdoch really only cares about getting audiences and making money: the same movie that he's counting on to break box office records is one that will give his "News" division apoplexy:
The railroad tracks from Boston to Washington - the busiest rail artery in the nation, and one that also carries America’s only high-speed train, the Acela - have been virtually shut out of $8 billion worth of federal stimulus money set aside for high-speed rail projects because of a strict environmental review required by the Obama administration.
Because such a review would take years, states along the Northeast rail corridor are not able to pursue stimulus money for a variety of crucial upgrades.
The projects, aimed at increasing speeds, range from bridge replacements in Connecticut to new overhead wires in New Jersey. They would cut the Acela’s travel time from Boston to New York by almost 30 minutes, and from Boston to Washington by a full hour.
When the first grants are announced in January, most of the money - and accompanying jobs - is expected to go to railroad projects in California and the Midwest, which currently have no high-speed trains but are trying to establish service for the first time.
“It’s frustrating,’’ said Yoav Hagler, a planner at the Regional Plan Association in New York, a nonprofit regional planning group in New York. “We have a thriving intercity passenger market between our major cities and we need major investment in the corridor, so it’s a little strange to put that need in the same category as these new programs that are just applying and trying to build a market now,’’ he said.
Northeastern states are seeking some stimulus money for separate rail projects within their borders, such as the Massachusetts proposal to add commuter rail from Fall River and New Bedford to Boston. But travelers on the Acela will miss out on the promise of a faster train and will have to continue waiting for the day when the Northeast route matches the performance of European and Japanese lines.
The obstacle was a decision this year by the Federal Railroad Administration that, before any major upgrades could proceed, a comprehensive environmental review would have to be conducted on the entire 457-mile railroad ...
The FRA itself would be in charge of conducting the review. Although there is no timetable for completing it, similar studies in the past have taken years ...
Amtrak has identified $11.8 billion in upgrades to reduce travel times on the corridor. In addition to better overhead electric supplies and stronger bridges, it includes straightening sections of curvy track and upgrading signaling systems. Without the review mandated by FRA, those plans will sit on the shelf for now, although states were able to apply for a few smaller grants under a separate part of the high-speed program.
The Obama administration, which has embraced high-speed rail as a flagship effort in the stimulus and boasts of Vice President Joe Biden’s long history as an Amtrak commuter, has framed the $8 billion as only the first step in the creation of a nationwide network.
Congress voted recently to provide another $2.5 billion for high-speed rail next year, meaning states that miss out in January will have at least one more chance to apply. But it may be difficult to complete a full environmental review of the Northeast railroad corridor in time for that money, either. A spokesman for Amtrak, Cliff Black, said the last such review for the Corridor took about three years in the mid-1990s, and covered only the stretch between New Haven and Boston ...
The bad news for the Northeast is expected to translate to a windfall for other parts of the country. In the past, critics of rail spending have argued that the Northeast corridor soaked up too much federal transportation funding; the Government Accountability Office estimated in March that since 1990, the corridor had received $3.1 billion - about 75 percent of all federal funds for high-speed rail related projects in that period.
Rob McCulloch, a transportation advocate for Environment America, said that ending that imbalance might have the effect of broadening the political constituency for rail, which would ultimately benefit the region.
It's weird how similar this sounds to what's happened with the health reform. From the London Times:
The UN climate conference in Copenhagen today approved a deal to tackle global warming proposed by world leaders, after an accord Barack Obama brokered with China, India, Brazil and South Africa.
But the UN Secretary General today admitted the non-binding agreement at the conclusion of the conference was not "everything everyone had hoped for", as he confirmed a deal had finally been done.
Delegates have agreed to "take note" of the American-led Copenhagen Accord, despite criticism that there are no long-term targets to cut emissions and it is not a legally-binding treaty.
Obama had brokered the agreement with China, India, Brazil and South Africa to tackle global warming, which included a reference to keeping the global temperature rise to just 2C - but the plan does not specify greenhouse gas cuts needed to achieve the 2C goal.
Prime minister Gordon Brown said the Accord was a "necessary first step" but those in opposition to it described it as "weak" and "meaningless" .
The document setting out the deal will specify a list of countries which agreed with it, as some of the 192 nations which have taken part in the talks are understood not to have accepted it.
In stormy overnight talks Sudan, Nicaragua, Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia all denounced the plan after about 120 world leaders left following a summit yesterday. Sudan’s delegate, Lumumba Di-Aping, said the accord would condemn Africa to many deaths from global warming and compared it with the Holocaust.
But this morning UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon said: "We have a deal" and described the agreement as an "important beginning" in the fight against climate change. It will allow a provision for $30 billion of climate aid for poorer countries over the next three years to become operational. There will also be a further $100 billion a year from 2020.
Mr Ban said: "The Copenhagen Accord may not be everything everyone had hoped for, but this decision...is an important beginning.”
Under the accord, countries will be able to set out their pledges for the action they plan to take to tackle climate change, in an appendix to the document, and will provide information to other nations on their progress.
UK Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband, who spent the night in talks after Gordon Brown had left the conference, said the failure to secure a stronger agreement showed the difficulty world leaders faced in tackling climate change ...
“I wanted a stronger agreement. Today’s events show the difficulty we face. We are dealing with incredibly complex issues and trying to get 192 countries signed up is not an easy task.”
Further talks are expected at conferences in Germany and Mexico next year and Mr Obama admitted there was "much further to go" ...
Jose Manuel Barroso, President of the European Commission, echoed Mr Brown's comments adding: “This accord is better than no accord. This is a positive step but it’s clearly below our ambitions.
The agreement, which follows two weeks of high-level debate, has been roundly criticised by environment campaigners and charities.
Read this NY Times article about the Copenhagen climate change conference, what Obama said and what China is doing and tell me it doesn't remind you of the health care debate in Congress, what Obama has said and what the GOP has done.
Here's Obama's speech:
The White House is proposing to expand by $5 billion a clean energy tax credit, as part of a push to spur job growth.
The proposal, unveiled Wednesday by the office of Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., is the latest Obama administration effort to tackle the high level of joblessness, while also encouraging investment in wind, geothermal and solar projects in the United States.
Senior administration officials said that they expected to move the proposal through Congress quickly. The $5 billion would raise the cap of the present program, enacted last February, to $7.3 billion from $2.3 billion.
Administration officials and their Democratic allies on Capitol Hill said that the expansion was necessary because the initial program was successful. The administration received more than 1,000 applications. Of these, 600 were deemed acceptable, but a smaller number were approved because of the cap on the amount of money available.
The companies receiving the initial $2.3 billion in tax credits will be announced in January, one administration official said.
The credit, which administration officials say could create tens of thousands of manufacturing jobs, would provide tax breaks to manufacturers who invest in clean energy technology. The money for the tax credit would come from $200 billion in savings from the bank bailout fund, which the administration has extended until next year.
“That frees up lots of space both to address the deficit problem and to invest in accelerating job growth,” one administration official said.
Senator Sherrod Brown, Democrat of Ohio and a backer of the program, said that the expansion of the credit would ensure that clean energy jobs were created in the United States.
“While the public and private sectors are creating a demand for new industries like wind, solar, high-speed rail and medical I.T., we need to do more to ensure that we make these products in America,” he said in a statement.
A Research 2000 poll confirms what we assumed to be true: Democrats are not happy with Joe Lieberman.
In fact, 81 percent of Democrats want Lieberman stripped of his Senate Homeland Security Committee chairmanship if he joins with Republicans to block health care reform, compared to only 10 percent who think he should retain it. See the full results here.
Independents agree, 43 percent to 30 percent; all voters also agree, 47 percent to 32 percent. 802 voters were polled by Research 2000 for the Progressive Campaign Change Committee, which has commissioned polling on moderate Democratic senators averse to ambitious health care reform since the debate heated up over the summer.
Lieberman came close to having his chairman's gavel stripped after the election, and it was assumed that he retained it because of 1) the conciliatory signals sent by then-President-elect Obama, and 2) the fact that Democrats needed his vote on critical pieces of President Obama's agenda--like, for instance health care reform ...
If Lieberman is a solid "no" on health care, the only thing preventing the caucus from removing him as chairman is his vote on climate change legislation. He's working on cap-and-trade legislation with Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC); the three released a general framework for legislation last week, but The Washington Post noted that it showed they hadn't agreed to much yet. Lieberman's stance on cap-and-trade appears aggressive: in releasing that framework, Lieberman stressed that the bill will be intended to "punish" polluters, and he took the lead on cap-and-trade legislation in the last Congress.Whether that's enough to keep him in Democrats' good graces--or whether he'd stop working on cap-and-trade if his removed as chairman--is anyone's guess.
When tiny Fisker Automotive Inc. hit a financing glitch last year, threatening its plan to build a fancy gasoline-electric hybrid car in Finland, it turned to the U.S. Department of Energy.
The DOE had a bolder idea. Why not also step up the company's plans to develop a less-expensive model, and assemble it in a closed U.S. auto plant?
Within months, Vice President Joe Biden, the former senator from Delaware, was helping lure the embryonic car company to a shuttered General Motors Co. factory four miles from his house in Wilmington, right across the tracks from Biden Park. Soon, Fisker Automotive, a two-year-old business that has yet to sell a car, won loans from the federal government totaling $528 million.Fisker had joined a flock of other businesses seeking cash from the biggest venture capitalist of all, the U.S. government.
The DOE hopes to lend or give out more than $40 billion to businesses working on "clean technology," everything from electric cars and novel batteries to wind turbines and solar panels. In the first nine months of 2009, the DOE doled out $13 billion in loans and grants to such firms. By contrast, venture-capital firms -- which have long been the chief funders of fledgling tech firms, taking equity stakes in the start-ups that will pay off if they go public -- poured just $2.68 billion into the sector in that time, according to data tracker Cleantech Group.
Thus, while much attention has been focused on the federal government's involvement in banking, Washington also is gaining sway in another swath of the economy. By financing clean-tech ventures on a large scale, the government has become a kingmaker in one of technology's hottest sectors.
Some young companies are tailoring their business plans to win DOE cash. Private investors, meanwhile, are often pulling back, waiting to see which projects the government blesses. Success in winning federal funds can attract a flood of private capital, companies say, while conversely, bad luck in Washington can sour their chances with private investors. The result is an intertwining of public and private-sector interests in an arena where politics is never far from the surface ...
At the DOE, Matthew Rogers, who helps oversee the department's loans, said proposals are vetted by "deal teams" insulated as much as possible from outside pressure. "Lots of people can call the [energy] secretary, but that doesn't mean that any of that necessarily flows down to the deal-team level," he said.
The European Commission Tuesday applauded a decision by the United States Environmental Protection Agency to pave the way for federal limits on emissions of carbon dioxide, saying it should give further impetus to negotiations underway here aimed at crafting a new global agreement to curb greenhouse gases.
The so-called endangerment finding by the E.P.A. was “an important signal by the Obama administration that they are serious about tackling climate change and are demonstrating leadership,” a spokesman from the European Commission said. The finding “gives new momentum following their announcement of cuts,” he said.
Political leaders in Copenhagen welcomed the ruling, but they were quick to press the Obama administration to do more now to sweeten its offer.
Andreas Carlgren, the environment minister of Sweden, the country that currently holds the rotating presidency of the E.U., said in an e-mail message on Tuesday morning that the ruling “shows that the United States can do more than they have put on the table.”
Connie Hedegaard, the Danish politician who was elected on Monday as president of the conference, said in an e-mail message on Tuesday morning that the ruling in the United States “is a helpful step, as it could provide a larger degree of flexibility in the negotiations.” So far President Barack Obama has signaled a cut emissions by about 17 percent by 2020 compared to 2005 levels. The White House also has indicated that the United States would contribute to a fund to tackle climate change.
The announcement by the E.P.A. came after more than 190 nations began a crucial climate meeting here on Monday. The gathering opened with appeals for urgent action from the United Nations and from officials of countries endangered by warmer temperatures, rising sea levels and other damage such as melting glaciers ...
A major reason that hopes have risen in recent weeks is the expectation that President Obama — who plans to attend closing days of the conference next week — will formally commit the United States to making cuts in greenhouse gases. The United States declined to ratify the Kyoto Protocol, a previous agreement on curbing greenhouse gases, because of strong opposition in the Senate and from the Bush administration.
The refusal to ratify the Kyoto protocol has left a lingering mistrust of the United States in other parts of the world. The finding by the E.P.A. is expected to allow President Obama to tell delegates in Copenhagen that the United States is moving aggressively to address the problem even while Congress remains stalled on broader legislation to curb global warming legislation.
Senator Barbara Boxer of California, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, said that in light of the ruling, “the president’s appearance in Copenhagen will carry even more weight, because it shows that America is taking this issue very seriously and is moving forward.”
As posted about last Spring (see, for instance, April's Obama's Brilliant Strategy To Get His Transformative Policies Enacted), the EPA has made it official. Here's the NY Times:
The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday issued a final ruling that greenhouse gases posed a danger to human health and the environment, paving the way for regulation of carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles, power plants, factories, refineries and other major sources.
The announcement was timed to coincide with the opening of the United Nations conference on climate change in Copenhagen, strengthening President Obama’s hand as more than 190 nations struggle to reach a global accord.
The E.P.A.’s administrator, Lisa P. Jackson, said that a 2007 decision by the Supreme Court required the agency to weigh whether carbon dioxide and five other climate-altering gases threatened human health and welfare and, if so, to take steps to regulate them.
She said Monday that the finding was driven by the weight of scientific evidence that the planet was warming and that human activity was largely responsible.
“There have and continue to be debates about how and how quickly climate change will happen if we fail to act,” Ms. Jackson said at a news conference at the E.P.A.’s headquarters. “But the overwhelming amounts of scientific study show that the threat is real.”
Industry groups quickly criticized the decision, saying that the regulation of carbon dioxide, a near-ubiquitous substance, would be legally and technically complex and would impose huge costs across the economy.
In her prepared remarks and in response to questions, Ms. Jackson waded into the current dispute over leaked e-mail messages from a British climate research group that have stirred doubts among a number of people about the integrity of some climate science.
Several Republicans in Congress had asked the E.P.A. to delay the so-called endangerment finding because of questions about the underlying science. Ms. Jackson rejected their plea.
“We know that skeptics have and will continue to try to sow doubts about the science,” she said. “It’s no wonder that many people are confused. But raising doubts — even in the face of overwhelming evidence — is a tactic that has been used by defenders of the status quo for years.”
She said that the agency had reviewed the arguments of some of those skeptics during months of public comment but that none of them had raised significant new issues.
But as representatives of about 200 nations began talks Monday in Copenhagen on a new international climate accord, they were doing so against a background of renewed attacks on the basic science of climate change.
The debate, set off by the circulation of several thousand files and e-mail messages stolen from one of the world’s foremost climate research institutes, has led some who oppose limits on greenhouse gas emissions, and at least one influential country, Saudi Arabia, to question the scientific basis for the Copenhagen talks.
The uproar has threatened to complicate a multiyear diplomatic effort already ensnared in difficult political, technical and financial disputes that have caused leaders to abandon hopes of hammering out a binding international climate treaty this year.
In recent days, an array of scientists and policy makers have said that nothing so far disclosed — the correspondence and documents include references by prominent climate scientists to deleting potentially embarrassing e-mail messages, keeping papers by competing scientists from publication and making adjustments in research data — undercuts decades of peer-reviewed science.
Yet the intensity of the response highlights that skepticism about global warming persists, even as many scientists thought the battle over the reality of human-driven climate change was finally behind them.
On dozens of Web sites and blogs, skeptics and foes of greenhouse gas restrictions take daily aim at the scientific arguments for human-driven climate change. The stolen material was quickly seized upon for the questions it raised about the accessibility of raw data to outsiders and whether some data had been manipulated ...
Yet the case for human-driven warming, many scientists say, is far clearer now than a decade ago, when the skeptics included many people who now are convinced that climate change is a real and serious threat.
Even some who remain skeptical about the extent or pace of global warming say that the premise underlying the Copenhagen talks is solid: that warming is to some extent driven by greenhouse gases spewing into the atmosphere from human activities like the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.