It doesn't pay to be a fossil fuel Democrat on election day

WillinoisThis was a difficult election for Democrats and it was even worse for Democrats still pushing fossil fuels. The Democratic co-chair of the Congressional Coal Caucus lost his seat along with a slew of others who tried to prove they’re as pro-coal, pro-oil, and pro-fracking as any Republican.

There are plenty of examples like Grimes in Kentucky. Or Tennant and Nick Rahall in West Virginia who mimicked conservative talking points on coal in their losing races. Mary Landrieau is expected to lose in a Louisiana run-off. If you can’t run on clean energy and climate change in a state that saw hurricane Katrina and the Gulf oil disaster then you’re an incompetent politician.

No state made the point more clearly than Illinois, where Democrats serious about climate won re-election while fossil fuel Democrats lost. Governor Pat Quinn once bragged about passing a bill to launch fracking along with lead Senate sponsor Mike Frerichs. Quinn lost re-election after spending months avoiding the issue (and anti-fracking protesters).

Mike Frerichs, who has been viewed as an environmental leader in the past, is still second place in a close count for state Treasurer. He raised climate change and clean energy early in the race but dropped the issue after realizing most of the environmental movement is unhappy with his lead role in launching fracking. Most environmental voters aren’t nearly as happy with the fracking law as the four statehouse green groups who supported it.

An upset few predicted six months ago is the loss of incumbent Congressman Bill Enyart to confessed dog-killer Mike Bost. The Democratic district hasn’t elected a Republican in 70 years but has a long coal mining history. Enyart became Democratic co-chair of the Congressional Coal Caucus with John Shimkus, who’s best known outside Illinois as the Republican who conducted a failed investigation and helped cover up the Foley Congressional page sex scandal.

What did pandering to the coal industry accomplish for Enyart? He lost by a wide margin, getting just 39%. The Green Party candidate increased her vote share to over 6%. Voter turnout was roughly half what it was in 2012. Southern Illinois Democrats had little motivation to vote with the top of the ticket, Governor Pat Quinn, angering them by cutting public employee pensions, closing important regional facilities, and launching fracking.

The coal industry didn’t give Enyart a money advantage either. His fundraising was lower than most incumbents in competitive races. His opponent received larger donations from many fossil fuel interests, including Knight Hawk Coal and Koch Industries. No matter how pro-coal a Democrat tries to be, the industry can always find a Republican who will promise more.

It didn’t work for central Illinois candidate Ann Callis running in one of the nation’s most closely divided Congressional districts. After getting a Sierra Club endorsement in the primary, over two opponents with better environmental platforms, she expressed her support  for more spending on clean coal and promised to not support President Obama on new clean air rules because they wouldn’t create enough coal jobs. By trying to find a safe middle ground she managed to make both sides of the debate unhappy. Continue reading It doesn’t pay to be a fossil fuel Democrat on election day

Stormy Monday, 6/2/14

StormyMondaySgt. Bowe Bergdahl begins the week at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany after nearly five years as a prisoner of the Taliban. He was released Saturday after the conclusion of negotiations which included the release of five Afghani detainees from Guantanamo. Sgt. Bergdahl’s next stop is expected to be San Antonio Military Medical Center. And if his newfound freedom isn’t heartwarming enough, there’s this: Republicans are pissed off about it. So, apparently, is Hamid Karzai.

Thursday, the incomparable Bernie Sanders will chair a Senate Veterans’ Affairs Committee hearing on his proposed Restoring Veterans’ Trust Act, which, among other important and overdue measures to enhance veterans’ benefits, would go a very long way toward straightening out the unconscionable VA healthcare mess that cost Eric Shinseki his job last week.

The President heads to Europe today for a five-day junket that will include stops in Poland (to honor the 25th anniversary of democratic elections there), France (to honor the 70th anniversary of D-Day), and Belgium (to honor whatever it is that gets honored at G7 meetings).

Today, the EPA proposed a 30-percent reduction in power plant carbon emissions over the next 15 years. The plan gives states considerable flexibility in achieving targeted reductions. Even Republicans have found something to like about the proposal: an opportunity to score cheap political points. Tomorrow, the National Republican Senatorial Committee begins a series of predictably dishonest robocalls in four states, portraying incumbent Democratic senators as radical tree-huggers determined to bankrupt their constituents with out-of-control electric bills. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 6/2/14

Republicans Revive EPA Tractor Dust Conspiracy Theory to Gut Environmental Protections

WillinoisThe EPA wants to regulate tractor dust. Can you believe that? It’s getting to the point where a man can’t even drive his tractor down a dirt road without big government getting in the way!

That’s what Congressman Rodney Davis wants you to believe anyway. It’s a good soundbite and the fact that it’s complete nonsense hasn’t stopped some politicians from peddling this conspiracy theory no matter how many times it’s debunked.

Davis sponsored an amendment to let the Department of Agriculture comment on EPA regulation. In speeches and press statements, he argued that EPA is out of touch with rural America by reviving the old yarn that they want to regulate tractor dust on dirt roads.

Congressman John Shimkus was telling this dusty story back when Rodney Davis was still on his staff. Since then, the EPA administrator has said several times that there’s no plan to consider regulating tractor dust, and multiple news organizations have debunked the talking point. At this point it should be absolutely clear to everyone that it simply isn’t true.

Undeterred by reality, there’s even a bill called the “Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act.” What it actually does is prevent EPA from enacting regulations of soot and particulate matter that are only applied to major sources of industrial pollution, not farms. These are pollutants, often from coal power plants, that cause lung disease, heart attacks, asthma attacks, and other deadly health problems.

In other words, this has nothing to do with protecting rural America. Politicians who talk about tractor dust regulation want rural Americans to fight for the coal industry’s right to kill them a little faster. Continue reading Republicans Revive EPA Tractor Dust Conspiracy Theory to Gut Environmental Protections

Stormy Monday, 5/13/13

Benghazi memo underwent multiple revisions by Jay-Z and William Ayers! IRS scrutiny was merely groundwork for tossing Teabaggers into secret FEMA concentration camps! They’re gonna confiscate and melt down all privately owned guns for a statue of Obama taller than the Washington Monument! The Tsarnaev brothers smoked crack on the Truman Balcony and slept in the Lincoln Bedroom! For Congressional Republicans, the Obama Administration is just one scandal after another, and – by God and the Founding Fathers! – they’re going to get to the bottom of every last fictional one of them.

Turning to more rational events, the Senate Environment Committee will vote Thursday on Gina McCarthy, the President’s nominee for EPA head. The nomination has been held up for a month by Senate Republicans, whose rationale for opposing McCarthy apparently boils down to the fact that she was nominated by Barack Obama.

In any even bigger surprise, the full Senate may vote as early as Tuesday on another stalled nominee, Ernest Moniz, who has been put forward for Secretary of Energy.

It’s National Women’s Health Week, which was part of the rationale for a White House event last Friday underscoring Obamacare’s measures to improve women’s health. The President noted on Friday:

… there are times when I just want people to step back and say, are you really prepared to say that 30 million Americans out there shouldn’t have health insurance?  Are you really prepared to say that’s not a worthy goal?  Because of politics?

Strangely enough, this Thursday a majority of the House of Representatives will essentially say (for approximately the 7,148th time) that 30 million Americans out there shouldn’t have health insurance, that it’s not a worthy goal. And they’ll say that because of politics. Continue reading Stormy Monday, 5/13/13

Help me, EPA, you're my only hope!

I was disappointed during the election when many environmental writers downplayed the role of Environmental Protection Agency regulation on coal. It was a timid response to the “war on coal” hype.

Sure, there’s not exactly a war on coal. There’s a war to save modern civilization as we know it from climate change disasters. The coal industry just happens to be on the pro-ending-modern-civilization side.

The argument downplaying EPA action bothered me. First, because I think it was somewhat disingenuous. You can’t honestly go from bragging one week about how many proposed coal plants activists have stopped, often by using EPA regulation as a tool, and the next week pretending the movement doesn’t exist. It’s the kind of defensive, weak-kneed messaging that gives tree-huggers and liberals a bad reputation. The low price of natural gas may be the bigger factor in determining the future of coal, but compliance with regulation is an important part of the cost/benefit analysis companies do when making decisions about building or retiring coal plants.

That rhetorical retreat was troubling because EPA may be our last best hope of dealing with carbon pollution during the next 2-4 years. The climate change movement will be forced to rediscover their conviction to cheer EPA action as a positive.

It’s not hard to see why. The House is still controlled by a Republican majority in the pockets of oil and coal. Even though most of them campaigned on being bipartisan, they made similar promises in 2008. We saw how that turned out.

The Senate has a small Democratic majority, but the Democratic caucus still includes fossil fuel Senators like Mary Landrieu and Joe Manchin. Plus, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seems uninterested in exposing oil and coal Democrats to controversial votes. He refused to bring cap-and-trade to the floor two years ago because it didn’t have 60 votes to pass, but then allowed three failed votes on stripping EPA authority to limit carbon emissions.

So, a big legislative solution like cap-and-trade is about as realistic as “clean coal.” I’ve seen suggestions about a carbon tax. As much as Congressional Republicans hate the idea of any tax increase, I can only imagine the category 5 hissy fit they would throw over a tax increase to deal with a problem they won’t even admit exists. I’d be happy to see someone try, but I won’t hold my breath.

What I’ll hold out small hope for in Congress is another jobs bill focused on energy efficiency, improving the grid, and promoting renewables. That was the best part of the stimulus bill, and we need another big round of green jobs spending in term II. Preferably, they should target spending in coal regions to offset job losses.

Help Me EPAThat leaves us with the authority a previous, more functional Congress already granted EPA to limit air pollutants. Obama moved forward with expanded EPA protections after Congress failed to act during his first two years in office. Some regulations have been stalled, like CSAPR. That needs to be completed along with better rules on mountaintop removal, coal ash, and air emissions like carbon.

My number one hope for Obama’s second term is that he moves forward much more aggressively with EPA limits on deadly coal pollution. Continue reading Help me, EPA, you’re my only hope!

Prairie State Coal Plant Investors Hit with Sticker Shock. Will They Stop Making Bad Bets on Coal?

Peabody sold investors on the Prairie State Energy Campus with the lure of coal as a cheap energy source. Reality hit . . . → Read More: Prairie State Coal Plant Investors Hit with Sticker Shock. Will They Stop Making Bad Bets on Coal?

Secret Video of Republican Planning Session against EPA

As you have probably noticed, House Republicans are on a crusade against public health protections administered by the Environmental Protection Agency.

It might have something to do with the half dozen or . . . → Read More: Secret Video of Republican Planning Session against EPA

Shazam! Sierra Club and Bloomberg showed us the future of the climate change movement

Mayor Michael Bloomberg just gave $50 million to the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign. It was already the biggest, baddest thing happening in the grassroots movement to confront climate change. Now it’s going to explode. This is what Biden would call a BFD.

The coal industry may soon wish it had supported the failed cap-and-trade bill which was loaded with coal subsidies. The alternative will be something they like even less.

Here’s how I see Americans dealing with the largest source of man-made global warming emissions as long as Congress fails to act:

1) A series of EPA regulations being introduced now will increase the cost of running the oldest, dirtiest coal plants. The industry will be forced to either internalize the true cost of their pollution, or shut their oldest plants down. They will no longer be allowed to act like a bad neighbor who throws their polluting trash in your yard instead of paying for their own garbage pickup.

2) The stimulus bill made huge investments in renewable energy. There needs to be another round of investment, such as Obama’s proposal to divert oil industry tax breaks into clean energy.

3) Utility companies will face a grassroots movement pushing them to speed up the transition to modern, clean sources of power.

The fossil fuel Senate’s failure to vote on a cap-and-trade bill during Obama’s first two years in office was deeply disappointing. But, plan B may prove to be even more effective and it won’t involve big giveaways to coal operators. Continue reading Shazam! Sierra Club and Bloomberg show us the future of the climate change movement

Illinois Congressmen, Farm Bureau, Spread EPA Conspiracy Theories

I enjoyed Kate Sheppard’s article at Mother Jones, “The Right’s Top 5 EPA Conspiracy Theories.” It was less enjoyable to remember that I’ve heard several of these conspiracy theories spread by . . . → Read More: Illinois Congressmen, Farm Bureau, Spread EPA Conspiracy Theories

John Shimkus impostor wages war on science!

I’m concerned that there’s an impostor posing as Congressman John Shimkus in Washington. I don’t know how else to explain the dramatic contradiction between what he tells newspapers back in the district and what he actually does when Congress is in session.

Two articles will illustrate my concern. In January, a paper back in his district interviewed Shimkus about his new role as chairman of the subcommittee on Environment and Economy. He expresses a concern for defending real science.

“I’ll mostly deal with the EPA, making sure that what they claim is real science actually is real science, and that their restrictions are focused on the health and welfare of the public, not just a political agenda,” Shimkus said.

That sounds good! We need environmental policy based on science and public health and not written by those with just a political agenda.

But then something odd happened when Shimkus’ committee held hearings in Washington about the Clean Air Act. Continue reading John Shimkus impostor wages war on science!