Tales from the Trail

from Environment Forum:

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.

OIL-RIG/LEAKThe Chukchi Sea is home to polar bears, which are already under pressure due to melting summer sea ice in the Arctic. The big white bears are listed as a U.S. threatened species due to the expected continued effects of climate change in the area.

Shell plans to move into the area around July 1, and get to the places where it wants to drill exploratory wells by July 4 if ice permits. They plan to leave for the year by October 31.

Maybe we should just call it “Katrina-slick-gate”

USA-RIG/LEAK

Is “Katrina” the “gate” of the 2000s?

The 1972 Watergate break-in spawned an army of “gates,” as the expression “whatever-gate” became shorthand for any political scandal. The subsequent decades saw “Travelgate,”  “Irangate,” “Nannygate, ”Whitewatergate” and a host of other major and minor political improprieties.

Almost 40 years later, “Katrina” has become popular political shorthand representing the slow response to a disaster, a nod toward the aftermath of  the devastating 2005 hurricane in New Orleans by then-President George W. Bush. The perception that the Republican president cared too little about the people of New Orleans to respond quickly to a hurricane that killed some 1,800 Americans was devastating to his public image, and hurt his party in the 2008 election that brought Democratic President Barack Obama to power.

Pundits have been waiting for ”Obama’s Katrina” almost since he took office in 2009.

U.S. reveals nuclear target: oceans

ARMS MISSILE

The new U.S.  nuclear weapons doctrine released on Tuesday had stern warnings for Iran and North Korea, with Secretary of Defense Robert Gates explaining that it left “all options on the table” for dealing with atomic renegades despite its broader goal of restricting the U.S. use of its nuclear stockpile.

But Gates also let slip a bit of information that may give pause to environmentalists: most U.S. nuclear missiles are now targeted at the world’s oceans.

“Our ICBMs are all targeted right now on the oceans, so that if, God forbid and for the first time in 60 years, there were an accidental launch or a problem …it would put a missile right into the middle of the ocean, rather than targeted on any country,” Gates told a news briefing.

Drill, Obama, Drill – new mantra gushes from president’s oil decision

President Barack Obama buried the news.

OBAMA/It took him seven minutes of a 15-minute speech to get to the nub, after layers and layers of words about the environment. He was, after all, a Democrat pushing for expanding offshore oil drilling … helllooooo, that’s right, a Democrat expanding offshore oil drilling.

“So today we’re announcing the expansion of offshore oil and gas exploration, but in ways that balance the need to harness domestic energy resources and the need to protect America’s natural resources,” Obama said at Andrews Air Force Base standing in front of the “Green Hornet” fighter jet that uses a mix of biofuel.

Well not all the environment friendly organizations saw it quite that way.

“Is this President Obama’s clean energy plan or Palin’s drill baby drill campaign?”  Greenpeace Executive Director Phil Radford said, referring to the memorable slogan from Sarah Palin when she was running for vice president.

The First Draft: Team Obama’s Full-Court Press on Climate

OBAMAAs a drippy day dawns in Washington, Team Obama is suiting up for a full-court press on climate change. Three cabinet secretaries — from Energy, Transportation and Interior departments — the head of the EPA and the chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Five — are headed for the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on the first of three full days of hearings.

As those hearings go forward, President Barack Obama is announcing a $3.4 billion program to build a “smart” electric grid, which would among other things carry solar and wind power, which are free of carbon emissions.

It’s all meant to convince international climate negotiators that Washington is serious about tackling climate change. A global gathering set for Copenhagen in December aims to set up a system to curb climate-warming carbon emissions after the Kyoto Protocol expires in 2012. For months, environmental activists have looked to the Copenhagen meeting as a deadline for action. But now, the deadline is looking a bit blurry.

from Summit Notebook:

Washington divided, more trouble ahead for Obama?

Washington insiders say that not since the 1890's have the people that represent the U.S. been so divided. From Gay rights to Afghanistan lawmakers are at polar opposites on issues that are on the Obama administration's agenda. What's next? And, what's likely to get the green light or the stop sign?

from Environment Forum:

Endangered yellow taxi? US climate bill could turn them green

The sweeping legislation unveiled in the U.S. Senate today aims to curb climate change, arguably one of the biggest tasks ever undertaken on this planet. But it's a bill that runs to more than 800 pages, and hidden in its folds is a provision that could turn a noted symbol of New York City -- the yellow taxicab -- green.

And it wouldn't just be in New York. Boston, San Francisco, Seattle and other major U.S. cities would be able to create taxi fleets made up entirely of hybrid vehicles under the proposed Green Taxis Act of 2009.

Offered by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who now fills Hillary Clinton's former seat in the Senate, the measure aims to cut greenhouse gas emissions by more than 296,000 tons in New York City alone, which its sponsors say would be like taking some 35,000 cars off the road and save drivers $4,500 annually in gas costs.

Obama’s man on “green jobs” in a bit of a pickle

It’s never a good sign when you’re an adviser to the president and have to put out a statement of apology for yourself.

It’s even worse when your not-exactly household name starts bubbling up in the blogosphere and it has nothing to do with getting out White House talking points. KASHMIR

That’s the pickle that Obama’s “green jobs” adviser, Van Jones, has landed in. The White House promoter of clean energy finds his past not-so-clean language calling Republicans “a–holes” unearthed. (in all fairness he also calls himself by that word, and he made the remark a month before being appointed to the White House Council.)

Team Obama’s Environmental Irony Tour

OBAMA/Okay, so it’s August in Washington. It’s hot. Congress has gone home. Even the summer interns are packing up and getting out of town. So it’s not surprising that top members of the Obama administration might be ready for a road trip.

That’s basically what the White House announced in a statement headlined: “Obama Administration Officials Travel America, Talk Clean Energy Economy.” President Obama went to Indiana to announce $2.4 billion in funding for advanced battery and electric drive projects; Energy Secretary Steven Chu headed for Minnesota to look at renewable energy projects and North Carolina to announce a big grant to a lithium battery firm, finishing up the week in Massachusetts to talk about clean energy jobs at Harvard; Interior Secretary Ken Salazar went to a solar panel company in Colorado; EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was in Florida and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke traveled to Missouri.

ENVIRONMENT-USA/WINDProbably only a crank would wonder just how much greenhouse gas all this official travel spewed into the atmosphere. There’s no hybrid Air Force One, after all. But it does seem like an exquisite irony that, with the best of environmental intentions, the Obama team may have stomped all over the United States with a heavy-duty carbon footprint.

The First Draft: The environment’s in the air today….

The environment is front and center – at the White House and on Capitol Hill today.

USA/President Barack Obama will propose an aggressive new plan to directly regulate fuel emissions for the first time. Under his proposal average fuel standards for all new passenger vehicles — including the large, gas-guzzling SUVs filling American streets — would rise by 10 miles a gallon to 35.5 miles per gallon between 2012 and 2016.

White House officials say the new fuel emission standards will produce a 30 percent drop in climate-warming carbon emissions over the life of the program.