Environment Correspondent
Deborah's Feed
Oct 5, 2009
via Tales from the Trail

The First Draft: Could Obama’s Olympic sprint be a preview of a Copenhagen climate trip?

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OK, so President Barack Obama’s lightning jaunt to Copenhagen last week was less than successful. Even with Oprah along, the Cheerleader-in-Chief couldn’t clinch the deal for Chicago to host the 2016 Olympics. It happens.But now that he knows the way to Denmark, might the American president consider arguing the U.S. case at international climate meetings in Copenhagen in December? The White House said he might, if other heads of state showed up.”Right now you’ve got a meeting that’s set up for a level not at the head of state level,” presidential spokesman Robert Gibbs told reporters on Air Force One last week. “If it got switched, we would certainly look at coming.”Those climate talks might need a bit of a boost from the United States. White House climate czarina Carol Browner has said it’s unlikely Obama will be able to sign any U.S. legislation to curb climate change before the December meeting. And that sets up a familiar Catch-22: if there’s no U.S. law in place before Copenhagen climate talks, can the United States commit to anything? And if there IS a U.S. law in place, does the United States have the flexibility to maneuver in these international negotiations?Climate negotiators already know the answer to the first part of that conundrum; they agreed to the Kyoto Protocol without backing from the U.S. Congress and came home to find no support for this 1997 carbon-capping deal. The United States is still the only industrialized nation not to ratify it.After the Olympic disappointment — Chicago was the first city of the final four to be cut from the running; Rio won — is Obama’s presence something that U.S. climate negotiators actually want? The global environmental community cheered his election last year after eight years of the George W. Bush administration, but he may not be the rock star on climate that he was then.And let’s just face it: arriving at climate change talks aboard a fuel hog like Air Force One could send a mixed message — unless the White House commits to offsetting the big plane’s emissions by investing in windmills or tree-planting in a friendly developing country.So today’s question: would an Obama visit to the Copenhagen climate talks help or hurt the chances for a global deal? Let us know what you think.Photo credits: REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom (demonstration against Barack Obama and other world leaders outside UN climate change talks in Bangkok, Oct 5, 2009)REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton (Obama shakes U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon after addressing a U.N. summit on climate change, Sept 22, 2009)

Oct 1, 2009

New technologies may grab carbon right out of air

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As the world wrestles with how to cut greenhouse gas emissions, new technologies are gearing up to grab climate-warming carbon right out of the air.

This is different from trapping carbon dioxide as it comes out of pollution sources like factories and power plants. This so-called air capture technology could be set up anywhere and suck carbon directly from the atmosphere.

Sep 30, 2009

Rift at U.S. Chamber of Commerce over climate change

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The fight over climate change has spread to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, where prominent members of the American big-business lobby — including Nike, Johnson & Johnson and Exelon — are publicly disputing the group’s stance on global warming legislation.

The most recent critic, Exelon Corp, announced on Monday it would not renew its membership in the chamber. The decision by the largest nuclear operator in the United States followed moves by California utility PG&E Corp and New Mexico-based PNM Resources Inc in the last week.

Sep 30, 2009

SNAP ANALYSIS: U.S. climate bill seen as opening shot

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Draft U.S. climate legislation unveiled on Wednesday is only the opening salvo in what could be a long and difficult process to get a bill through the U.S. Senate.

* Many details are missing, including how to distribute the free permits for polluters. Haggling lies ahead. The Obama administration will be hard-pressed to show progress battling climate change at global talks in Copenhagen in December.

Sep 4, 2009
via Tales from the Trail

The First Draft: Backlash against Obama’s classroom message

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What could be more mainstream than the president of the United States addressing the country’s school kids on their first day in class after the Labor Day weekend? That must have been what White House officials were thinking when they set up a speech by Barack Obama for next Tuesday.The theme, according to the presidential Web site, couldn’t be blander: work hard, be responsible and stay in school. Even the White House recognized the possibly low excitement level of the subject and in addition to a video promo by the president, there’s also one featuring NASCAR drivers, urging students and their parents to tune in.That’s not how some parents — and political conservatives — saw it, especially in Texas.Houston radio station KTRH made it the question of the day: “How do you feel about President Obama’s plan to speak directly to school children in an address next week?” Some parents worried the speech would be laced with politics and others were concerned that it hadn’t been reviewed by the state board of education, according to a front-page New York Times story. CNN’s morning news headline on the subject read, “Obama talk to my kids? No thanks!”UPDATE: White House spokesman Robert Gibbs responding to the controversy says: “I think we’ve reached a little bit of the silly season when the president of the United States can’t tell kids in school to study hard and stay in school.”At issue for some was a line in government materials made available to teachers that suggested students write themselves a letter asking what they could do to help the president. That was later deleted. Material from the Department of Education now suggests asking older students:”Why does President Obama want to speak with us today?    How will he inspire us?   How will he challenge us?  What might he say?”Presidents talking to students is nothing new. In fact, the classroom photo op is a staple of American political life. So why has this speech hit such a nerve? Is it the times? It it the economic climate? Is it a new turn in U.S. attitudes toward Barack Obama? Or something else altogether?Let us know what you think.Photo credits: REUTERS/Larry Downing (President Barack Obama and first lady Michelle at Capital City Public Charter School, Washington, February 3, 2009)REUTERS/Win McNamee (President George W. Bush reads at Nalle Elementary School, Washington, February 9, 2001)REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque (President Bill Clinton reads to children at the White House, December 19, 2000)

Aug 14, 2009
via Tales from the Trail

The First Draft: Washington haiku

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Sometimes prose doesn’t quite capture the goings-on in Washington. These haikus might not either, but at least they’re short, which is an appropriate length for many of the capital events these days and easily Twitterable. Poetry is supposed to reduce things to their essence. Just in case these go too far in that direction, there are highlighted links to take you to a fuller explanation, if not a deeper meaning.POTUS hits the roadTo parry health care criticsIn Bozeman. Yeehaw!Hitting a plateau?Feds say economy isLeveling. Really?African sojournEnds for Hillary ClintonA tough trip, completeGrand Canyon freebie,For Obamas and others,aims to lure touristsFor Mrs. Shriver,They gather in Hyannis.Eunice, rest in peaceAnyone can do this. You probably know the rules: three lines, with five syllables in the first line, seven in the second, five in the third. Show us what you’ve got!Photo credit: REUTERS/Rickey Rogers (Grand Canyon, January 2, 2008)

Aug 10, 2009
via Tales from the Trail

The First Draft: health care heat wave

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The temperature’s heading toward 100 in Washington, and things are getting hotter in the debate over health care too, even with Congress out of town for the traditional August recess and President Barack Obama in Mexico for the so-called Three Amigos summit.Taking aim at the orchestrated — or not — attacks on congressional supporters of the Obama health care plan, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer struck back in an opinion piece in USAToday: “Drowning out opposing views is simply un-American. Drowning out the facts is how we failed at this task for decades.”The two top House Democrats aren’t commenting in a vacuum. Obama’s Saturday radio and Web address focused on the “outlandish” tactics of some opponents of health care reform.That followed a note by Sarah Palin — ex-governor, ex-vice-presidential candidate but still somehow claiming attention in Washington — on Facebook last week, alleging that Obama’s health care plan would have what she called a “death panel” that would let bureaucrats decide who would be “worthy of health care.” Palin, who has slammed the media for focusing on her children, said her “baby with Down Syndrome” would have to come before such a bureaucratic panel.ABC News asked, reasonably, what Palin was talking about when she mentioned a “death panel,” and was referred to HR3200 p. 425, “Advance Care Planning Consultation” about end-of-life care. No specific mention of any death panel.The non-partisan Factcheck.org site says its e-mail inbox has been “exploding” recently with queries asking whether this provision encourages suicide at the end of life. The answer, Factcheck.org said, is no. “Page 425 does deal with counseling sessions for seniors, but it is far from recommending a “Logan’s Run” approach to Medicare spending. In fact, it requires Medicare to cover counseling sessions for seniors who want to consider their end-of-life choices –- including whether they want to refuse or, conversely, require certain types of care. The claim that the bill would ‘push suicide’ is a falsehood.”Will this be the end of the discussion? Our considered opinion: not a chance!For more Reuters political news, click here.Photo credits: REUTERS/Yuri Gripas (House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, July 22, 2009, Washington DC)REUTERS/Nathaniel Wilder (Sarah Palin, July 26, 2009. Fairbanks, Alaska)

Aug 6, 2009
via Environment Forum

Calling Dr. Strangelove!

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Perhaps you’ve heard about the Russian submarines patrolling international waters off the U.S. East Coast (if you haven’t, take a look at a Reuters story about it) in what feels like an echo of the old Cold War. The Pentagon’s not worried about this particular venture, but there are concerns from the U.S. energy industry about another Russian foray — this one in concert with Cuba. In rhetoric that may ring a bell with anyone who saw the 1964 satirical nuclear-fear movie “Dr. Strangelove,” the Washington-based Institute for Energy Research is sounding the alarm about a Russian-Cuban deal to drill for offshore oil near Florida.”Russia, Communist Cuba Advance Offshore Energy Production Miles Off Florida’s Coast,” is the title on the institute’s news release. Below that is the prescription for action: “Efforts Should Send Strong Message to Interior Dept. to Open OCS in Five-Year Plan.” OCS stands for outer continental shelf, an area that was closed to oil drilling until the Bush administration opened it last year in a largely symbolic move aimed at driving down the sky-high gasoline prices of the Summer of 2008.Environmentalists hate the idea. So does Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat who has made opposition to offshore drilling one of his signature issues. But as it turns out, it’s unlikely that anybody — from Russia, Cuba, the United States or anywhere else — is going to get petroleum out of the OCS in the immediate future.For a start, it takes time to set up a deep-water offshore drilling rig. And any Cuban effort would be further hampered by the need to use equipment with less than 10 percent American technology, to comply with the long standing U.S. embargo against Cuba. As my Reuters colleague Russell Blinch reported in June, there may be scope for possible U.S.-Cuban cooperation here but no Cuban drilling platform is likely to be in the area this year.Reports of a Russian-Cuban deal to explore for oil in the Gulf of Mexico prompted a quick response from the Institute for Energy Research, self-described as a free-market energy think-tank.”This agreement between Russia and Cuba should serve as a wake-up call to Congress and this administration, especially (Interior) Secretary (Ken) Salazar, who is slow-walking a new offshore energy blueprint for the nation,” the institute’s president, Thomas Pyle, said in a statement. “If we are to remain competitive in the global market, our government must take its foot off the brake, and expand domestic energy production of all forms, onshore and off.”What’s your take? Should the United States drill baby drill off Florida’s coast, reasoning that if U.S. companies don’t, Russia and Cuba will? Keep a congressional ban in place? Or wait and see?Photo credit: Reuters staff photographer (Pensacola Beach, Florida, June 25, 2008); Reuters stringer/Russia (Russian nuclear submarine off Vladivostok, July 24, 2009)

Jul 22, 2009
via Environment Forum

Between Bangkok, Barcelona and a big bang (with one eye on Capitol Hill)

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For those keeping track, there are five months left before the December meeting in Copenhagen where the world is supposed to agree on how to tackle climate change after crucial aspects of the carbon-capping Kyoto Protocol expire. Before they can agree on anything, they have to have a document to work from, and that’s where people like Michael Zammit Cutajar come in.He and other diplomats at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change will get together next month in Bonn to whittle down a 200-page text to something more manageable. On a visit to Washington, he said he didn’t expect any big breakthroughs at that meeting because “people don’t like to work much in August.” So far, he himself hasn’t read through the whole draft and admits it’s likely to be a tough thing to read: “You pick it up, you look at it, you see three pages, you say ‘interesting,’ you put it down again. It’s not meant to be read top to bottom.”Zammit Cutajar figures the “crunch issues” are more likely to emerge at a meeting in Bangkok over 10 days in September and October, and at another gathering in Barcelona in November, before the main event in Copenhagen.But the world negotiations aren’t the only games to watch on climate change. The U.S. Senate is expected to take up a bill to curb greenhouse emissions in September; the House has already narrowly approved one. That doesn’t mean there will be a U.S. law in place by December, and that may not even be necessary, Zammit Cutajar says.”It would be great if there were a Senate outcome that was strong … a signal from both chambers (of Congress) that they’re on the same track,” he said, recognizing that the House and Senate versions of the legislation would have to be reconciled before any law could go to President Barack Obama’s desk.Zammit Cutajar uses a cosmic metaphor to describe how a world deal on climate change could develop. “The process of negotiation is sort of creation in reverse, with the big bang coming at the end.”Stay tuned.Click here for more Reuters political coverage.Photo credits: REUTERS/Sukree Sukplang (Grandma Nak Shrine in Bangkok, June 30, 2009)REUTERS/Albert Gea (Athlete Veronica Campbell-Brown of Jamaica in front of Sagrada Familia church, Barcelona July 22, 2009)

    • About Deborah

      "I started with Reuters in 1986 in New York City, moving to Washington DC two years later. I've covered the Winter Olympics in Calgary and Salt Lake City, a couple wars, the State Department, White House, Pentagon, several long trials and a presidential sex scandal. Since 2006, I've been reporting on the environment and climate change."
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