Today as we stop to celebrate Earth Day, I encourage everyone to take a moment to marvel in the beauty and bounty of the earth, particularly the diversity of the Commonwealth's natural gems - from the Blue Ridge Mountains to the Eastern Shore.
My passion for restoring and preserving the Chesapeake Bay was one of the driving forces that motivated me to get involved in politics and public policy.
The Chesapeake Bay is a shining example of how the commitment of citizens paired with effective public policy can truly make an impact. Responsibly caring for the Commonwealth's natural resources remains one of my greatest passions.
As a Senator, I carried the legislation to remove phosphorus from home fertilizers; brought the legislation to create the Coastal Flooding Working group to study the effects of climate change on Virginia's coastal communities; and worked to ban the winter dredging of blue crabs.
But as we celebrate the splendor of the earth today, we also are reminded to the great responsibility we shoulder to preserve and protect it for future generations. The effects of climate change are real and threaten the natural habitats of many animals, but also human lives around the globe. Combating the effects of climate change go hand in hand with celebrating Earth Day, and we must continue to address these issues through informed public policy decisions at all levels.
The news broke on April Fools' Day, making Virginians feel we were the victims of a bad joke: Dominion Power announced it had bought six California solar projects, for a total capacity of 139 megawatts (MW). "This investment is another important step forward for Dominion as we expand our renewable energy portfolio," said Dominion Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer Thomas F. Farrell II. "These projects fit well within our portfolio of regulated and long-term contracted assets," which also include 41 MW of solar in Georgia, Connecticut and Indiana.
Don't get excited, Virginia: this solar investor is not Dominion Virginia Power but Dominion Resources, the parent company. You can be sure executives will take every opportunity to brag about the company's stake in the national solar market, but none of this power will reach us here in the Commonwealth.
Here, Dominion owns a grand total of one solar array at a university, all of 132 kilowatts, and a 500-kilowatt array on an industrial building. That brings the grand total to about 70 houses' worth, if the owners don't leave the lights on too much. Dominion is supposed to be developing a total of 30 MW of solar under a law passed in 2012, but the glacial pace of deployment is discouraging. Oh, and neither of its first two projects employed Virginia solar companies, further minimizing their impact in the state.
Why isn't Dominion investing in Virginia? "The cost of large solar projects such as this are still too high for a regulated market in Virginia," Dominion spokesman Dan Genest told the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
I have been thinking lately that we live in a highly unusual time. But because we have no direct experience of any other time in history than our own lifetimes, it is natural to look around us and assume that what we see is normal. And if it's normal, then it must be okay.
But what is happening around us on our planet these days is far from normal. And it's far from okay.
For example, amphibians, mammals, birds, and other animals are disappearing rapidly, at a rate far higher than normal. Scientists tell us that a major cause of these current extinctions is the changing climate. Habitat loss and habitat degradation are also playing a role.
Despite these alarming losses of fauna, I find that many people do not grasp the enormity of it. When I talk with others about the great number of species that have gone-or are going-extinct as a result of climate disruption, I am often met with a shrug, and "well, there have always been extinctions."
Even knowing that today's extinctions are abnormally numerous, I was shocked recently to learn that the current rate of extinctions is SO high that scientists are calling our time "the Sixth Extinction." In other words, current extinction rates are comparable to the five major waves of extinctions the planet has experienced in its entire 4.5 billion year history!
The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, by science writer Elizabeth Kolbert, introduced me to the term 'background extinction rate.' This is the term biologists use to describe the rate of extinctions that would occur naturally, if human impact were not a factor.
The background extinction rate for amphibians, reports Kolbert, would be about one species lost every 1,000 years. Yet I know of at least three frog species that have gone extinct in just the last few years.
More great work by Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring. It's even greater when you compare it to the horrendous record of former AG Ken Cuccinelli, climate science denier and all around anti-environment extremist.
~ Brief defends Virginia's Bay restoration plan and ability to work cooperatively with other Bay states and federal partners ~
RICHMOND--Attorney General Mark R. Herring today announced that he has filed an amicus brief to protect Virginia's efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay and to defend the right of Virginia and other Bay states to work together to protect and restore the Bay. The brief in American Farm Bureau v. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which was decided in favor of the Bay states at the district level and is currently on appeal before the Third Circuit, lays out the economic, environmental and historic reasons Virginia is compelled to weigh in on the case and the reasons that the long history of cooperation between Bay states should be honored. Virginia is the first Bay state to defend the Bay restoration plan in the case.
The brief also refutes the arguments in the recently filed amicus brief from 21 attorneys general, all but one of whom are from outside the Bay watershed, that opposed the ability of Bay states and the EPA to work cooperatively to address the health of the Bay, which is North America's largest estuary and a major economic force for the region, annually contributing an estimated $2 billion and 41,000 jobs from commercial fishing, $1.6 billion and 13,000 jobs in saltwater angling, $70 million in crabs, and $680 million in tourism.
"The Chesapeake Bay is unequaled in its economic impact, environmental significance, and its ability to bring together the states whose rivers and streams flow to its waters," said Attorney General Herring."When the most promising plan to protect and restore the Bay comes under attack, I am going to stand up for the health of Virginia's families, for Virginia's economic interests, for Virginia's efforts to restore the Chesapeake Bay. This case is simply about whether Virginia and the other Bay states have the authority to work cooperatively to manage and restore the Bay, as they have done for decades. Each Bay state, including Virginia, voluntarily entered into the current Bay restoration plan because of the economic, recreational, environmental, and intrinsic value of a healthy Chesapeake Bay. I hope the courts and my colleagues, none of whom serve a state which touches the Bay, recognize that fact and allow Virginia and its partners to continue their work."
The fossil fuel industry can (and does) spend millions of dollars trying to persuade people that their product's great, that renewable energy isn't, and that climate change isn't real. Unfortunately for the fossil fuel folks, it looks like the American people are a lot smarter than ExxonMobil, the Koch brothers, etc. think they are.
"57% of Americans say the U.S. should emphasize conservation in its approach to solve the nation's energy problems, up from 51% in 2013 and 48% in 2011."
In contrast, only "one-third in the U.S. now favor greater emphasis on energy production as the solution."
"64% of Americans prefer an emphasis on the development of alternative energy production, such as wind and solar power, to an emphasis on production of traditional fossil fuels. That is up from 59% in 2013."
Among younger people (ages 18-34), the preference for clean over dirty energy is overwhelming, with 80% preferring clean energy vs. 20% opting for the dirty stuff. That's the future, and it's not looking good for the fossil fuel folks.
By a nearly 2:1 margin, Americans support "setting higher emissions and pollution standards for business and industry" and "more strongly enforcing federal environmental regulation."
By a 63%-35% margin, Americans favor "imposing mandatory controls on carbon dioxide emissions/other greenhouse gases."
By a 58%-37% margin, Americans favor "setting stricter standards on the use of techniques to extract natural gas from the earth, including 'fracking'."
In sum, it appears that the fossil fuel industry is losing its battle for American public opinion. That's the good news. The bad news, at least so far, is that the strong preference of the American people for clean energy over dirty energy has not resulted in corresponding policy action by Congress. Perhaps the fact that the fossil fuel industry spends huge amounts of money to keep Congress from acting has something to do with that?
I received this from Earthworks and thought it was well worth passing along. For my reports on the public meeting held in Arlington in late January, see here and here.
Fracking Risks to Drinking Water for Fairfax County & DC Metro Area
Join me Monday March 31 or Thursday April 3 at 7pm
Join me to learn about the potential for fracking in the George Washington National Forest, the source of drinking water for Fairfax and much of the D.C. metropolitan area.
The U.S. Forest Service could decide soon whether to allow fracking and horizontal drilling for natural gas in the George Washington National Forest. Major D.C. area water providers, local governments, and conservation organizations have warned that fracking could threaten a range of resources--including the headwaters of the Potomac River, the D.C. area's major drinking source.
Burke, VA Monday, March 31 at 7pm with refreshments Burke Library 5935 Freds Oak Road
Oakton, VA Thursday, April 3 at 7pm with pizza Oakton Library 10304 Lynnhaven Place
At the Thursday event we will discuss strategy and write short letters to our elected officials. The letters will be easy to write--all you have to do is fill in the blanks.
These events are hosted by the Sierra Club/Great Falls Group.
Mountaintop removal coal mining - blowing the smithereens out of mountains, basically, to get at the coal seams lying within/underneath - is a debacle in pretty much every way, except for the profits of the coal companies of course. As Jim Moran explains:
An environmental impact statement found that between 1985 and 2002, nearly 2,000 miles of streams were buried or destroyed by mountaintop removal. Not surprisingly, peer-reviewed scientific studies continued to confirm the devastation on the surrounding environment and wildlife habitats of the numerous toxic chemicals, like arsenic and mercury, that enter into streams as mountaintops are blasted and bulldozed away. We found in a 2011 study that cancer rates were twice as high in communities exposed to the effects of mountaintop mining. In the journal Science, we found likewise chronic pulmonary disorders in coal country...counties near mountaintop mining areas had substantially higher rates of multiple types of birth defects. Congress should welcome regulations save and enhance American lives, not put them in jeopardy...
I'd also point to research that shows "mountaintop removal mining's economic cost to Appalachian communities totaled roughly $42 billion per year in lost health and lives," and that "Appalachian counties with the heaviest concentration of coal mining have the worst unemployment and the worst economic conditions in the region."
So, other than the fact that coal companies are profitable and have powerful lobbies in Congress, is there any GOOD reason why we allow this crap to continue?!?
Cross posted from Scaling Green. Is there any good reason why we can't do this in Virginia?
The conventional wisdom to date has generally been that a carbon tax would help the environment but would hurt the economy. For instance, the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) - not exactly an unbiased source, to put it mildly - found a parade of horrors from a carbon tax. For instance, NAM claimed that "any revenue raised by the carbon tax would be far outweighed by the negative impact to the overall economy" and that "increased costs of coal, natural gas and petroleum products due to a carbon tax would ripple through the economy and result in higher production costs and less spending on non-energy goods." The question is, should we take anything NAM says on this subject seriously? A few facts to consider in making that judgment include:
In sum, NAM is dominated by fossil fuel companies and fossil-fuel-intensive manufacturers, making it about the last group around you'd want to take advice from - or trust - when it comes to energy policy. Fortunately, it turns out that the conclusions of NAM's carbon tax "study" have been completely contradicted by economic modeling firm REMI. The study, entitled "Environmental Tax Reform in California: Economic and Climate Impact of a Carbon Tax Swap," is available at this link. Here are the key points.
Courtesy of Greentech Media, notice which state is NOT in this "March Madness" bracket? That's right, Virginia. And notice which states ARE in this bracket? That's right, our neighbors North Carolina, Tennessee, and Maryland, as well as more northern states like Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Massachusetts, and New York. Why is Virginia most definitively NOT the "Energy Capital of the East Coast" when it comes to solar power? Very simple: our state's policies are godawful: no serious or mandatory Renewable Portfolio Standard; no effective net metering; no serious tax incentives for homeowners and businesses to install (or lease) solar PV on their roofs; and basically a bought-and-paid-for General Assembly that does whatever Dominion Power tells them to do. The result? Virginia's losing out to other states within our country, not to mention other countries, in the race to take advantage what is fast becoming of one of the leading energy sources of the 21st century. #FAIL
P.S. Minnesota shows how its done: coming up with a "formula for calculating the value of customer-generated solar power," putting place "a PV and thermal incentive program," possibly adopting a "third party financing law." Where's Virginia on any of this stuff? AWOL. :(
The NASA-funded HANDY model offers a highly credible wake-up call to governments, corporations and business - and consumers - to recognise that 'business as usual' cannot be sustained, and that policy and structural changes are required immediately.
Although the study is largely theoretical, a number of other more empirically-focused studies - by KPMG and the UK Government Office of Science for instance - have warned that the convergence of food, water and energy crises could create a 'perfect storm' within about fifteen years. But these 'business as usual' forecasts could be very conservative.
Jared Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed details how past empires kept driving towards the cliff, even when the edge was in sight. It happens in part because the people at the top & in charge are wealthy enough to insulate themselves from the crisis until collapse is almost complete.
A bit earlier today, I watched Don Beyer speak at beautiful Belle Haven, on the Potomac River in Alexandria, about - appropriately - his stances on environmental issues. Here's some video, and also see the Beyer campaign press release on the "flip." A short analysis of what he had to say follows.
1. I strongly concur with Don Beyer that the "most effective way of reducing carbon emissions is to put a tax on carbon pollution." As I've written for years, although other options like "cap and trade" or "cap and dividend" get at the same problem, they're overly complicated, too easy for industry to "game" (as we saw with Waxman-Markey), and WAY too easy for Republicans to demonize (e.g., with Frank Luntz-style attack language like "cap and TAX", even though "cap and trade" was initially a conservative, Republican idea). Also, I'm a big believer in harnessing the power of capitalism to positive ends, such as reducing pollution. Finally, as an economist, my bias is strongly in the direction of taxing "bads" (e.g., pollution) and rewarding "goods" (e.g., productive and societally beneficial investment of all kinds). That's exactly what a carbon tax - assuming it's high enough and covers enough of the economy to make a difference - would do. Put a significant price on carbon, and carbon-intensive fuels like tar sands and coal fade away, while clean energy sources - solar, wind, energy efficiency, etc. - skyrocket. Since a rapid phaseout of carbon-based fuels is the only way, realistically speaking, that humanity is going to save itself from climate disaster, a carbon tax makes enormous sense. It's also much simpler than overly convoluted, Ruby Goldberg-esque cap-and-trade schemes, and can be easily tweaked so that (as Beyer points out) the regressivity of the tax can be mitigated.
2. I also strongly agree with Don Beyer in his opposition to fracking the George Washington National Forest. Several weeks ago, I covered a presentation by Dusty Horwitt of EarthWorks (as well as by Nicole Condon of DC Water and Sister Mary Fiedler of Interfaith Voices and the Sisters of Loretto )on that subject. This one's an absolute no-brainer, and I hope to hear from EVERY one of the 8th CD candidates (note that Patrick Hope's been a leader on this issue) - as well as the Arlington and Fairfax County Boards - in strong opposition to fracking the GW National Forest.
3. Continuing the restoration of Dyke Marsh is also a no-brainer. As Rep. Jim Moran said last October: "Dyke Marsh is the largest freshwater tidal wetlands in this area - its 485 acres offer us a truly unique window to an earlier time...Decimated by years of commercial dredging and naturally occurring storm surges, this federal investment will return the marsh to its former beauty and provide some resiliency to an area prone to flooding." Excellent!
4. Finally, with regard to Beyer's opposition to expanding the Lorton landfill, I'm going to mostly withhold judgment, as I haven't been following this issue. I DID read this morning's Washington Post story on the subject. I was intrigued that Enviro Solutions is offering "to build a solar-panel farm, install wind turbines and lay down geothermal piping that could provide energy to surrounding buildings, including the Workhouse Arts Center, a struggling artists' colony that was created on the grounds of the old prison." In addition, "EnviroSolutions...offered $18.2 million to the county for recreation and other services in place of the park it had agreed to build on the site once the landfill closed." That all sounds great, but I'm sure there must be significant downsides as well, so I'm not sure where, on balance, I come out on this one.
5. Finally, one issue I was surprised Don Beyer did NOT mention in his talk today was the Keystone XL pipeline. I was surprised for a few reasons. First, it's been in the news BIG TIME recently. Second, Sen. Tim Kaine has been very vocal against the pipeline, particularly in recent days. And finally, if you care about the future of our planet's environment, fully exploiting the Canadian tar sands would pretty much put the final nail in the coffin - "game over" for the climate, as former NASA climate scientist Jim Hansen has stated (Hansen adds that "coal emissions must be phased out by 2030 and unconventional fossil fuels, such as tar sands, must be left in the ground"). Given all that, I'd hope to hear an unequivocal from Don Beyer - and every other 8th CD candidate - against the Keystone XL pipeline. Clearly, NOW is the time to speak out, as President Obama considers whether to approve or deny a permit for this pipeline. Waiting until Obama makes his decision would be too late; so speak out now, or forever hold your peace on this one!
Overall, what I'm looking for in the 8th CD's next U.S. Representative is someone as strong on protecting the environment as Rep. Moran has been. I also want someone who will make this their top priority, and also be a strong, proactive leader. The fact is, without a livable climate, all the other important issues we face - from the economy to health care to education to equal rights for all Americans - become essentially irrelevant. That's not to diminish those issues, it's simply to state the obvious; the first, necessary condition to dealing with any other issue is to safeguard our home for ourselves, for future generations, and for the entire web of life. Fail in that regard, and we fail in everything. Succeed in that regard, and we have a CHANCE to succeed in all the rest.
Sen. Kaine comes right after one of the craziest, most extreme, most idiotic members of the Senate, Wisconsin Teahadist and climate science denier Ron Johnson. How someone like Ron Johnson can be elected to anything in this country, let alone the U.S. Senate, simply boggles the mind.
From last night's all-night U.S. Senate session on the urgent need for action for our country to combat climate change. See the press release from Sen. Kaine's office below, and the transcript of Sen. Kaine's speech on the "flip." And make sure if you run into Tim Kaine to thank him for his efforts on this subject, which as I've said a million times, is THE MOST important threat facing humanity. Yes, there are many other important issues, but guess what; none of them will matter if we don't have a habitable planet to live on. This really isn't a difficult concept, except for those with a vested, economic interest in making it "difficult" (e.g., through sowing doubt about climate science).
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Last night, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine joined more than 25 members of the Senate Climate Action Task Force for a rare all-night session to call attention to the effects of climate change. In his remarks, Kaine discussed the urgent need for Congress to act on curbing emissions and investing in innovative and clean energy solutions.
"The solution to climate change is American innovation," Kaine said. "We have to get beyond the idea that we need to choose between a clean environment and a strong economy. We all want cleaner air and water. We all want jobs. They don't have to contradict each other."
Kaine also expressed concern about the economic impact that climate change will have on communities throughout the Commonwealth, particularly in Hampton Roads, home to the largest naval station in the world, Naval Station Norfolk.
Thank you to Tim Kaine and all the other Senators for doing this. Now, we need to get the other 75 to join in as well. It's only the most important, urgent issue facing humanity...
ADVISORY: KAINE TO JOIN SENATORS SPEAKING ALL NIGHT TO URGE ACTION ON CLIMATE CHANGE
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Tonight, U.S. Senator Tim Kaine will join more than 25 members of the Senate Climate Action Task Force for an all-night series of speeches on the Senate floor to urge action on climate change. The #Up4Climate all-nighter will start immediately after votes this evening (approximately 6:00 PM ET) and continue through approximately 9:00 AM ET tomorrow.
Senator Kaine is expected to speak at approximately 9:30 PM ET.
Recent polling has indicated strong support by the American public for approving construction of the Keystone XL Canadian tar sands export pipeline. Yet this support is based on a series of falsehoods, spread by the very people who stand to benefit from the pipeline’s approval (go figure!). Here are five of those falsehoods, and our explanation as to why they’re false.
1. A Bloomberg poll in December 2013 found that 56% of Americans described Keystone XL as “an opportunity to improve U.S. energy security.” In other words, Americans correctly believe that being addicted to foreign oil is not a good thing. The problem is that the fossil fuel industry has relentlessly propagandized people to believe there’s no credible alternative to their product. Of course, as we know, there most certainly is an alternative to large-scale oil imports: making our transportation fleet far more energy efficient than it is today; switching to electric vehicles powered by renewable energy; promoting high-speed rail, transit-oriented development, etc. Combined, those measures could slash U.S. oil consumption so that we don’t need to import any oil at all, let alone from unfriendly countries. Yet the oil industry would have us believe that we’ll be forever addicted to their product. How convenient…for them, that is.
2. A recent Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that although a plurality (47%) of Americans believe (correctly) that Keystone XL would pose a “significant risk to the environment,” a large majority (85%-10%) also believe that the pipeline will create a “significant number of jobs.” In reality, Keystone XL would create almost no jobs at all: just 35 (or possibly 50) permanent ones, as the pipeline would be mostly automated. That, in a country of 300 million people, would be utterly inconsequential. Yet the drumbeat of lies from the oil industry and its allies about the supposed bonanza of Keystone XL-related jobs has continued unabated. For instance, as Media Matters noted last March
Media are touting the claim from Rep. Paul Ryan’s new budget plan that constructing the Keystone XL pipeline would create nearly 140,000 jobs, but that figure comes from exaggerating a heavily criticized, industry-funded analysis. Reuters uncritically repeated the Ryan budget’s assertion that constructing Keystone XL would create “20,000 direct jobs and 118,000 indirect jobs.” Fox News host Sean Hannity later claimed the pipeline would create “nearly 140,000 jobs,”
This is yet another example of why Fox News President Roger Ailes has been effective at polarizing the news media viewing audience, with the Fox News demographic buying into the alternative universe created by incessantly repeated Fox falsehoods.
3. A June 2013 Harris poll (paid for by the American Petroleum Institute, so take this one with a large grain of salt) found that “82% of registered voters believe building the Keystone pipeline system is in the national interest.” There’s just one problem with that belief, and it’s a huge one: the Canadian tar sands oil slated to flow through the pipeline is not destined for the United States, but for export markets. Don’t take our word for it, though. Here’s what an independent study by Cornell University researchershad to say on this subject.
This paper is primarily concerned about jobs, but the findings below also shine light on another claim made by the industry—that KXL will get the US further on the road to energy independence. The idea of energy independence clearly resonates with the American public, and the paid advertisements depicting Canadian Tar Sands as the source of “ethical oil” (and therefore a better option than oil from dictatorships like Saudi Arabia) plays to that sentiment. But KXL is a global project driven by global oil interests. Tar Sands development has attracted investment capital from oil multinationals—with Chinese corporations’ stake getting bigger all the time. If approved, KXL will be almost certainly be constructed by temporary labor working with steel made in Canada and India. Much of the Tar Sands oil will be refined in Port refinery is half-owned by Saudi Aramco, the state-owned oil company of Saudi Arabia. And a good portion of the oil that will gush down the KXL will, according to some studies, probably end up being finally consumed beyond the territorial United States. Indeed, the oil industry is also trying to build another pipeline, Enbridge’s proposed Northern Gateway, to carry Tar Sands oil across British Columbia for export to Asian markets, although this pipeline also faces serious public opposition. Clearly, Tar Sands oil and energy independence really do not belong in the same sentence.
Let’s repeat: “Tar Sands oil and energy independence really do not belong in the same sentence.” Case closed.
KXL will divert Tar Sands oil now supplying Midwest refineries, so it can be sold at higher prices to the Gulf Coast and export markets. As a result,consumers in the Midwest could be paying 10 to 20 cents more per gallon for gasoline and diesel fuel. These additional costs (estimated to total $2–4 billion) will suppress other spending and will therefore cost jobs.
The argument made by people like Tom Steyer is the right one – this is an foreign oil export pipeline, not an American job creator. Would Midwesterners show such strong support for Keystone XL if they were as familiar with these facts as they are with the reams of paid, false oil industry ads deluging their TV screens and computer monitors? We strongly doubt it.
5. Similarly, the Washington Post/ABC News poll finds that Midwesterners and Southerners are among the least concerned that Keystone XL would pose a threat to the environment. Yet the route of Keystone XL takes it through the Midwest and South, where an oil spill could devastate communities in its path, just as this spill did.And this one. Not to mention this disaster. Of course, you’ll never hear about any of that in the Pollyana-ish propaganda paid for by our petroleum pals.
The bottom line is that the fossil fuel industry should have no credibility whatsoever on this subject, yet it’s got money to burn on a constant stream of pro-industry (and anti-clean-energy) propaganda. Calling out their outrageous dishonesty (not to mention chutzpah!) needs to be a central ingredient in any clean energy or environmental pushback. Of course, it would be great if one could just cite the facts of the matter and count on everyone to reach the correct conclusion. But, as we know, public debates are not a meritocracy. And the fact is that, to date, not nearly enough has been done to accurately explain to the American people who the proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline are, and why they feel the need to spend millions of dollars convincing them to believe an alternative set of “facts.” Hence, the unfortunate poll results we just finished deconstructing.
One of the nation's largest coal producers [Alpha Natural Resources] will pay a $27.5 million fine and is set to spend $200 million to reduce illegal toxic discharges into waterways across five Appalachian states.
The government says the company and its subsidiaries violated water pollution limits in state-issued permits more than 6,000 times between 2006 and 2013.
The government says they discharged heavy metals harmful to fish and other wildlife directly into rivers and streams.
OK, so I think it's obvious that Alpha Natural Resources - headquartered in Abingdon, Virginia - is a horrible company. It's also a highly lucrative one, with plenty of money to throw at Virginia politicians in order to buy our legislature. How much money are we talking about? According to VPAP, Alpha has given a whopping $2,522,084 to Virginia politicians since 2003, of which 74% went to Republicans and 20% to Democrats. Among Alpha's favorite Virginia politicians are some of the "worst of the worst" when it comes to the environment and clean energy -- Ken Cuccinelli ($102,500), Jerry and Terry Kilgore (nearly $280,000 combined), Bill Howell ($55,000), etc. On the Democratic side, top recipients of Alpha's dirty money include Phil Puckett ($87,500), Dick Saslaw ($53,500), and the Terry McAuliffe Inaugural Committee ($25,000). I urge everyone to donate Alpha's money to Southern Appalachian Mountain Stewards or similar groups fighting to protect the environment from corrupt polluters like Alpha.
This morning, Vice Chair of the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club Ivy Main wrote scathingly about a just-passed bill "that will cost Dominion Power's customers more than half a billion dollars as a down payment on a nuclear plant that hasn't been approved and isn't likely to be built."
As Main notes in her article, "environmental groups and good-government advocates have long decried the influence of corporate money in Virginia politics," including a "rising tide of utility and coal company contributions to Virginia politicians, coinciding with a series of votes enriching these special interests." Dominion Virginia Power is, by almost any standard, at the head of this tawdry list, having spent over $6 million since 2004 to essentially purchase Virginia's political system for the benefit of...well, not you and me, that's for sure.
The result, as Main points out, "has been spectacularly successful for Dominion, which rarely fails to get its way" on anything it wants. That includes this latest monstrosity of a bill, which "lets the company charge ratepayers for expenses it isn't entitled to pass along under current law," with ratepayers (that's you and me) getting "the satisfaction of assuming the sunk costs of a new nuclear reactor that will probably never be built, plus whatever more money the utility spends on it going forward." Great deal, huh?
Making matters even worse, if that's possible, is that this corporate welfare is going towards a really bad company (dirty energy Dominion) and a power source - nuclear - which is extremely expensive, thus can't compete economically and must rely on enormous government subsidies. Which is why there hasn't been ground broken on a new nuclear power plant in the U.S. since 1974. That's right, 40 years ago, when disco was all the rage, Gerald Ford was taking over from Tricky Dicky, the Soviet Union was still going strong, and the Vietnam War was winding down. This power source is just outrageously expensive, not even close to competitive at this point with other alternatives - including solar, wind, energy efficiency, you name it pretty much.
I've written about this subject extensively over the years (and worked for 17+ years at the U.S. Energy Information Administration as an energy economist), but it bears repeating: nuclear power is at the bottom of the energy heap in terms of cost-effective energy solutions (it trails energy efficiency, wind, solar, geothermal, natural gas...pretty much everything.
So, why on earth did a bunch of Democrats - including strong progressives and environmentalists - vote for this corporate welfare bill to help subsidize Dominion's costly nuclear boondoggle? I asked around, and got a few responses.
(For an explanation regarding why subsidizing nuclear power is such a dumb idea, see here. For an explanation of why we should be focusing on energy efficiency instead, see here. - promoted by lowkell)
The Virginia General Assembly has punted on ethics reform, preparing to pass watered-down legislation that does very nearly nothing. At the same time, legislators are about to passjust passed a law that will cost Dominion Power's customers more than half a billion dollars as a down payment on a nuclear plant that hasn't been approved and isn't likely to be built.
These are not separate issues.
Virginia has had an ethics problem since long before Bob McDonnell met Jonnie Williams. As many people have noted, the real scandal is how hard it is to break our ethics laws. So long as you fill out a form disclosing the gift, it's legal for politicians to accept anything of value from anyone, to use for any purpose. By this standard, McDonnell's biggest failure was one of imagination.
The legislation that appears likely come out of the General Assembly merely puts a $250 cap on the price tag of any one gift, with no limit on the number of lesser gifts and no limit on the value of so-called "intangible" gifts like all-expense-paid vacations. The mocking of this bill has already begun.
Conveniently, the bill deals with a tiny side stream of tainted cash compared to the river of money flowing from corporations and ladled out by lobbyists. Corporations don't usually give out Rolexes and golf clubs. Instead, they give campaign contributions. Here again, Virginia law places no limits on the amount of money a politician can take from any donor. Five thousand or seventy-five thousand, as long as your campaign reports the gift, you can put it in your wallet.
And here's the interesting part: you don't have to spend the money on your campaign. If gerrymandering has delivered you a safe district, you can use your war chest to help out another member of your party-or you can buy groceries with it. The distinction between campaign money and personal money is merely rhetorical. A spokeswoman for the State Board of Elections was quoted in the Washington Post saying, "If they wanted to use the money to send their kids to college, they could probably do that."
President Obama talks a lot about standing up to the industrial carbon polluters disrupting our climate. So why does he act like the decision on Keystone XL tar sands pipeline - a carbon bomb & one he doesn't have to beg Congress to defuse - is so hard? Why are he and Secretary of State John Kerry standing by in silence as his State Department hires oil contractors to write the environmental review?
The administration's approach to the pipeline is a throwback to the time when endangered species were defenseless in the face of corporate moneymaking. It is a reminder that even though our environmental laws use science, not profits, as the basis of our environmental decisions, any company with bottomless pockets used to be able to game the system and get away with it.
That's why Keystone is about more than one pipeline. It is about establishing once and for all whether we have moved on from the disastrous Bush-Cheney view of environmental policy. [...]
Depending on the outcome, I worry that the American public won't just lose faith in Keystone. It will lose faith in the government's ability to fund, carry out, understand and implement scientifically based environmental policy. President Obama doesn't want that to be his legacy. Neither do I. And I am hardly alone.
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