Sunday, July 25, 2010

Climate Legislation: Where Do We Go Now?

On Thursday, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid essentially sounded the death knell for climate legislation this year when he announced that nothing substantive would be addressed until the autumn (and in my estimation, even addressing it at that point is nothing but a big question mark). Instead, the Senate in the coming week will take up a bill that is directed primarily at a response to the catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico as well as addressing natural gas technology.

If you look at where the Senate is now as compared to where the House of Representatives was last year, the first question that comes to mind is, "What happened?" Last year, there seemed to be a big push to get a major climate change bill passed by Congress and signed by the President, ideally in time for the beginning of the Copenhagen climate conference. The House passed a bill on a razor-thin vote of 219-212, one which - while well-intentioned - could have been a disaster for business, industry, and consumers.

Despite my misgivings over passing any legislation which leads to higher taxes or increased energy costs for Americans, I still feel that the environment needs protection - and that it will take a mixture of the citizenry, business, and a small bit of government (but not so much as to put the entire onus of leadership on Washington) in order to accomplish that. Taking all of that into account, who do we blame for the current situation? If you are a Democrat, you blame Republicans; if you are a Republican, you blame Democrats; if you are an industry, you blame the environmentalists; if you are an environmentalist, you blame industry and trade groups.

But shouldn't the fault be shared by everyone? In his column in today's New York Times, columnist Tom Friedman addressed that very thing: "I could blame Republicans for the fact that not one G.O.P. senator indicated a willingness to vote for a bill that would put the slightest price on carbon. I could blame the Democratic senators who were also waffling. I could blame President Obama for his disappearing act on energy and spending more time reading the polls than changing the polls. I could blame the Chamber of Commerce and the fossil-fuel lobby for spending bags of money to subvert this bill. But the truth is, the public, confused and stressed by the last two years, never got mobilized to press for this legislation. We will regret it."

Let's get the finger-pointing out of our system - it should suffice that nothing got done, and two years have been wasted on arguments and blame. We should now ask ourselves where we go from here. This session of Congress is obviously a wash, but what about the next? Depending on the results of the November elections and the make-up of Congress beginning in January, will the GOP and Democrats view any changes as any indication that they need to try harder to work together on this issue? Or will they - as most would seem to feel - make the situation in Washington even more divisive and toxic and continue to bog down on all fronts?

As the members of the House and Senate spend their August recess back in their states and districts, I hope they think long and hard on this issue -all of us are waiting to see what they do next...

Friday, June 4, 2010

BP Oil Spill Counter

Mobile, Alabama television station WKRG (the local CBS affiliate) has posted a "gallons of oil spilled" counter on its website. I have pasted it here - it's incredible (and highly discouraging) to watch just how quickly the spill totals roll by...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Protecting the Environment: It's Not Just for Adults

An article poasted today on the website for Planet Green discussed a series of presentations made to Denver-area high school students by a staff members from the Alliance for Climate Education. According to the article, the staff discussed "the basics of climate change: the role of greenhouse gases, what human behaviors play the greatest role in increasing them—including meat consumption—the sensitivity of the earth to a difference in temperature of just one or two degrees, and how Americans in particular are used to 'living large,' using more resources per capita than any other country in the world."

Based on the results of these presentations, 150 students had submitted cards indicating their interest in doing more - and at a current "rate of return" of 25 percent, ACE is looking for an increase to 50 percent. Student movements have always been a big part of the history of this country, and it appears that dealing with climate change will be no different.

In our house, we have 100 percent interest in doing more - our two preschoolers are already getting involved (yes, we cannot get them to clean up their room, but they're gung-ho about cleaning up the planet), and I'm pleased to see it. I'd like to think that watching my wife and me putting out the recycling each week and turning off lights in rooms that aren't occupied (among other things) has inspired them in some way. I think, though, that much of it comes from the education they are receiving in their own schools (not to mention DVDs like "Wubbzy Goes Green" - why listen to mom and dad when they can listen to cartoon characters??).

A case in point is the conversation I had with my oldest in the car yesterday. She hadn't really been saying much, but then out of the blue she started telling me how using a lot of gas in our cars makes the Earth sick, and how we really need to be sure to clean up all of our trash and make sure the planet is taken care of. Through it all, she got very animated and demonstrated a very strong interest in everything she was telling me.

I'm anxious to see how much more interested the kids get in actually putting what they're learning into action. They can certainly do small things to make a difference, such as the lights and recycling that I had mentioned earlier. But perhaps they'll move into something bigger - and it would help if I could figure out a way that I could convince them that cleaning their room is good for the Earth!!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Kerry-Graham-Lieberman Documents Leaked!

Steve Milloy, creater of the Green Hell Blog, has scored a major scoop by obtaining leaked copies of a four-page summary and 21-page, section-by-section analysis of the Kerry-(Graham)-Lieberman legislation scheduled to be released tomorrow at 1:30. You can read the four-page summary here and the 21-page analysis here.

Could it be an intentional leak? Of course! Does it matter? Of course not!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Climate Change Bill - It's Just Like Driver's Ed

You know, when it comes to the climate change bill and the prospects for action this year, I'm getting a headache. The constant mid-stream switches in the "is you is or is you ain't" plan for the release of the bill are almost dizzying. First Waxman-Markey passes the House of Representatives, and the Senate looks like it's ready to launch out the gate.

Then, there's a delay.

Senators Graham, Kerry, and Lieberman, sensing that they're losing momentum at a time that probably represents the last, best hope for level-headed folks to get together and pass a bill, start a tri-partisan effort at crafting a bill that will get 60 votes. They held hundreds of meetings, consulted with dozens of businesses and associations, and were well on the way to introducing on April 26 something they thought would pass.

Then, there was another delay; Graham backed out because of his outrage that immigration reform was being moved to the front of the line for Senate action.

Kerry and Lieberman pressed onward, and when Senate Majority Leader announced immigration reform may not move this year and that the focus was back on climate change legislation it looked like they would get their release date. Things were set for this week (May 12).

Now, will there be another delay - and will it be Harry Reid's fault?

In a story carried earlier today on the website for Bloomberg Businessweek, Senator Reid was quoted as saying in an interview on Univision's "El Punto" television show that the Senate may take up a "smaller energy bill" in lieu of the larger cap-and-trade bill. In short, he says the votes aren't there on the Republican side.

Are you kidding me? Another mid-stream course correction? Of course there are not enough Republican votes; no one wants to commit to a bill that they haven't seen yet (health care reform and other bills notwithstanding). And what does it say about message coordination when Kerry and Lieberman are saying the votes are there, and Reid says that they aren't.

You have to give it to Reid: he certainly keeps things interesting (substitute words could also include "confusing" or "mystifying"). But with his constant back-and-forth on this, and the stop-and-go technique of the bill's three lead sponsors, it's like watching a teenager in driver's education class who isn't quite sure when to hit the brakes and when to punch the accelerator.

Right now, the Senate is just doing donuts on the Capitol lawn...

Sunday, May 9, 2010

BP Makes Landfall in Alabama

A story in today's Los Angeles Times confirms the beginning of what I discussed earlier this week: oil has arrived on the shores of Alabama. According to the story, a dozen oil balls had been found on the beaches of Dauphin Island and were being analyzed by the Coast Guard - but that they were confident they were part of the Deepwater Horizon spill.

This is one of the three areas that will ultimately be impacted by this spill: the political area, tourism, and the seafood industry. We have friends with property on Dauphin Island, and while they enjoy hosting friends and neighbors for afternoons on the water and evenings on the dock I don't think they planned on inviting BP.

No, like a rude party guest, BP invited themselves...

Friday, May 7, 2010

Big Brother is Watching ... Your Recycling

My family and I are big proponents of recycling, and we have tried very hard to instill that sense of responsibility in our two children. Taking our aluminum, paper, glass and plastic and putting it on the curb every Thursday evening is second nature to us, and hopefully the kids will continue to do this as they get older.

Part of what makes it rewarding is that we do it voluntarily - the county provided the bins, and we have put them to use. What if the circumstances were different, however? What if we were forced to recycle?

Think this is implausible? Well, think again.

In today's edition of the Washington Examiner, reporter Markham Heid discussed a new plan by the city of Alexandria, Virginia, to begin including built-in monitoring prices in new, larger recycling bins. Every resident will have a mandatory $9 increase on their annual trash pickup fee to pay for the new containers, ranging from 25 to 65 gallons (although folks have the option of keeping their current bins). The devices will enable city officials to track who is participating in the recycling program and who is not, and according to environmental director Rich Baier to will enable them to target those who are lagging with direct mail and outreach campaigns.

To me this, smacks of a little bit of Big Brother. Again, we gladly recycle - but having a city (and we don't live in Alexandria) government charge taxpayers more in order to have the funding to put tracking devices out on the streets is a bit disconcerting. Mr. Baier claims the program is to find the folks who aren't participating and bring the city closer to its target of 35 percent participation (from its current 25 percent), but how do we know the information obtained through these means won't be used for something else? The short-term objective may be legitimate, but programs like this can always be "modified" for other things...