Environment Forum

from Tales from the Trail:

Steven Chu: Energy Secretary, Nobel Laureate, Zombie

67613_449706237290_79707582290_5525360_4352855_aYou sort of have to like a U.S. cabinet secretary and Nobel Prize winner who knows how to have a little fun while getting out a message.

That would be Steven Chu, who posted a picture of himself as a green-faced, blood-dripping zombie on his Facebook page. Just in time for Washington's scrupulously-observed Halloween weekend, Chu used his own zombification as a platform to point out power-sucking appliances -- energy vampires, he called them.

"Garlic doesn't work against these vampires," Chu wrote. "But by taking some simple steps – like using power strips or setting your computer to go into sleep mode – you can protect yourself, and your wallet." Then he linked to the Energy Department's "energy star" page .

Perhaps it's a profile-raising approach?

Chu's got nearly 15,000 Facebook followers but he's near the bottom of a recent accounting in Politico about which cabinet secretaries can claim the highest media profile. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton tops the list, based on how often her name showed up in major newspapers, network evening television news shows, the White House blog and its Flickr feed in the last year. Only Gary Locke, Hilda Solis, Shaun Donovan and Eric Shinseki ranked lower than Chu (you can see which departments they lead by clicking on the link in this paragraph).

But how did Chu come up with the zombie angle? Turns out that my alert colleague Tom Doggett, who reports on energy issues, saw the zombified version of Chu online last week and passed it along to Energy Department spokeswoman Stephanie Mueller. To soften the blow, Tom urged her to tell Chu not to take it personally: "I hear (Interior Secretary Ken) Salazar looks much worse." She wrote back: "Your email inspired a Facebook posting ... The Secretary loved the zombie website. Be sure to check out his Facebook page."

Gulf of Mexico oil spill prompts worries about Arctic drilling

RUSSIAWith the spotlight shining on the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and on the executives sizzling in the hot seat on Capitol Hill, environmental advocates are looking north.

They’re worried that Shell Oil will start drilling in the Chukchi Sea off Alaska before the U.S. government reports on BP’s Deepwater Horizon drill rig disaster. And the environmental groups are not comforted by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar’s reassurances that no new drilling will take place until the government report is completed by May 28.

“The May 28 report deadline still leaves ample time should the Department of the Interior choose to allow this ill-advised drilling to move forward in extreme Arctic conditions, where spill response faces additional challenges of sea ice, seas of up to 20 feet, darkness and a virtual lack of infrastructure from which to stage a response,” the environmental groups — Alaska Wilderness League, Center for Biological Diversity, Defenders of Wildlife, Earthjustice, Sierra Club and The Wilderness Society — said in a statement.

Calling Dr. Strangelove!

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.

Seeking sentiment on drilling, Salazar gets an earful

There is no doubt that Californians made themselves clear on Thursday when they gathered to tell U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar that they had had enough of offshore oil drilling and were ready to turn their attention to solar, wind and other renewables.

“I think the verdict today is very clear, that drilling is inappropriate,” said Leah Zimmerman, who attended the meeting dressed in a polar bear suit.

“California is well-known for being an innovative state. Why not take advantage of that rather than trying to dampen it?” asked Craig Cadwallader of the Surfrider Foundation, a group dedicated to protecting oceans and beaches.

Feinstein wants her desert and solar, too

California Senator Dianne Feinstein is fuming over a federal plan to use some Mojave desert lands to develop solar power plants and wind farms.

In a letter to Dept. of the InteriorSecretary Ken Salazar, Feinstein said she planned to introduce legislation that would protect the former railroad lands, thereby preventing the federal government from leasing them to renewable energy project developers. The 600,000 acres in question were acquired by and donated to the government’s Bureau of Land Management between 1999 and 2004 for the purpose of conservation.

“I have been informed that the BLM now considers these areas open for all types of use except mining.  This is unacceptable!” Feinstein wrote in a March 3 letter made public last week.

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