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The Political Climate Gets Legal December 17, 2013

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Climate Change, Law.
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This blog has been quiet for a while, but that does not mean the writing has stopped.  Here’s a link to my first print publication with the Columbia Journal of Environmental Law, entitled, The “Lone Grid” State: Texas as the Ideal Location for State-Level Climate Regulation (pdf).  In short, I argue that the interaction between the interstate electrical grid and the Constitution’s limitation on state regulation of interstate commerce may actually make Texas better able to enact a strong climate program than even California.  Enjoy!

Obama Negotiates with Himself on Oil. Again. May 16, 2011

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Media, Offshore Drilling, Politics.
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President Obama’s position on oil has been one of the most disappointing and incoherent facets of his administration to date.   On Saturday, this trend continued as the President announced a series of shifts to increase domestic oil production.

Pundits say he had to respond to high gas prices (which presidents do not control).  This maneuver is political capitulation in the face of a mismanaged narrative in the public discourse.  For years, this “debate” about gas prices has been dominated by flat out lies and misinformation in one of the more disgraceful displays of unaccountability in contemporary American politics. 

I have attempted to clear the air (pun intended) on this topic a number of times.  For a fuller explanation, please see this previous post.

Here’s the short version: conservatives claim that high gasoline prices are caused by liberal overregulation stifling domestic oil production.  That just isn’t the slightest bit true.  Oil is a global commodity, so its price is determined on the global market.  We, the United States, represent 25% of world oil demand and about 3% of world supply.  The point here is that we simply don’t have enough oil to affect global supply and thus prices.  And the kicker is that even if we could, OPEC is a cartel; they could/would effortlessly decrease their production to offset any impact we could have. 

Here’s another inconvenient truth: domestic oil production is already up 11% under Obama and was down 15% under Bush.  That reality doesn’t match this GOP argument.  Increased domestic drilling cannot lower gas prices.  Period.  Don’t take my word for it, read for yourself – even the mainstream media have finally caught on recently. 

Domestic oil production does not drive gas prices.

So back to Obama.  After failing to enact a single piece of oil-spill legislation, the President was finally starting to sound like a progressive on energy again.  In an earlier address he even pointed out the supply/demand reality I described above, although he inexplicably refused to take it to its logical conclusion that drilling cannot be a solution.  To now increase drilling as a response to gas prices validates the baldly fabricated GOP narrative.  Much like the current deficit focus, we’re conceding not only the point but adopting their frame as well.  No good can come of that.  It just doesn’t make any sense.

Recall that last year, right before the Congressional energy debate, the administration unveiled a plan to dramatically increase offshore drilling.  For which it asked nothing in return.  Rational negotiators might reward unilateral compromise.  A GOP party that miraculously resurrected itself by vociferously opposing any- and everything Obama does would of course do no such thing.  So we gave away a bargaining chip for free [that most progressives would have rather kept] and no energy bill was passed.  Also, this episode occurred just one month before the BP oil spill, which prevented the administration from using that catastrophe as a catalyst for needed change.

In both cases, the only rationale I can see is political maneuvering.  We know the Obama campaign prizes the supposedly undecided independents and what moderate Republicans still exist “in the middle.”  They think that carving out GOP territory for Obama will undercut Republican attacks.  But even if they pick up some independents, if they sell out progressives to do it that is not a net gain.  Additionally, the GOP won’t care that oil production is up – more than they want these policy objectives, they want to keep their base angry.  Have Obama’s oil moves blunted their attacks on this president as anti-oil or trickled into the Fox Newsiverse?  No. 

Obama’s tactics seem to operate from a flawed premise on bipartisanship about which I have previously written, and I am concerned about this plan.

Drill, baby, drill is political welfare for Big Oil, plain and simple.  It does not help America, it helps oil executives.  If we’re going to cave on offshore drilling, leverage it for a coherent energy policy.  If we’re going to increase domestic oil production, call it the compromise that it is and justify it as job creation (with a side of pollution and risk); don’t validate their lies.  I can stomach a certain amount of political compromise, but I can’t start defending the Fox News reality as truth.  

GOP vs. the Vatican? May 9, 2011

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Climate Change, Politics.
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Three years ago, the Roman Catholic Church commissioned a report to investigate the environmental changes occurring on our planet.  The Vatican’s non-denominational scientific arm, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, reached out to international experts and asked them to compile the report that will soon be delivered to Pope Benedict XVI.

Brace yourself, because this document issues some shocking warnings: at our current trajectory, we risk “serious and potentially irreversible impacts of global warming caused by the anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases, and by changes in forests, wetlands, grasslands, and other land uses.”  Even more unsettling, it urges deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, offering at least tacit papal approval for socialism (by which I mean cap and trade or a comparable system, of course).  It should be fun to watch Newt Gingrich denounce the pope as a tree-hugging communist any minute now.  Ah, what luck!  A segue… 

One of the most disturbing trends in America is the politicization of science.  Applying politics to science ensures that what threats we encounter will remain unaddressed – how can we ever agree on a solution when half of the political establishment refuses to even acknowledge that a problem exists?  While I am not unbiased, it is objectively fair to say that in this story, Republicans are the bad guys.  Most politicians selectively choose facts that advance their cause, but the GOP attacks any concrete numbers as “fuzzy” and gleefully persecutes scientists just because the reality they study does not conform to dogmatic conservative ideology.  Watching the way Republican congressmen interact with scientists at Congressional hearings will literally dispel any sense of hope you have for our future while they wield any sort of control over our government.

Polling consistently shows that most of our nation’s god-fearing Republicans take it as an article of faith that climate change is a hoax or occurring naturally.  Both of those viewpoints are based entirely on political talking points and polluter-funded propaganda campaigns; scientists do not support these views.  Baseless beliefs of this type are difficult to dislodge, especially with the GOP on a disgustingly successful warpath to discredit everyone with an advanced degree as lying conspirators and/or partisan hacks. 

Enter the Pope.  Granted, His Holiness wasn’t out there measuring glaciers for this report and those dastardly scientists actually wrote the thing, but surely this is different from purely academic work.  It will be interesting to see how, if at all, conservatives respond to the Vatican.  Not that I expect anything at all to change, it will just be interesting to watch. 

Campaign Curiosities May 3, 2011

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Politics.
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For the last few months, I’ve been working for a campaign consultant group.  Others might find collecting and formatting electoral data boring, but I actually enjoy it.  Every so often you come across a real gem or bizarre anecdote, and I finally have the time to share a few of these with you.  Please forgive me for the following schizophrenic list:

The 2012 Republican candidate for Kentucky Attorney General is named Todd P’Pool [sic].  Evidently his family could not find a satisfactory Earth language to pick a name from.

Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ), a dentist, took in about $631,000 of individual contributions to his 2010 campaign.  More than half of those contributions were from other dentists.  He also took the usual committee contributions, but fully 1/5 of his campaign was funded by dentists.

There are two different potential 2012 GOP senate candidates named Salmon – one in Vermont, another in Arizona. 

Of the 100 current U.S. Senators, 9 of them were Eagle Scouts (3 D’s, 6 R’s).  2% of boy scouts become Eagles Scouts.  Tangential side-note: the current president of the Boy Scouts of America is ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson.  Ick. 

While gathering historical election results from Massachusetts, I encountered numerous 3rd party candidates who did not earn a single vote; they didn’t even vote for themselves.  Neither did their mothers, spouses, friends, or children…

Having scanned hundreds of FEC reports, it seems like every company has a political action committee (PAC) these days.  The usual suspects you’d expect are all there, like defense contractors and oil companies and unions.  But you’d be surprised by some.  For example, Cracker Barrel has an active PAC that uses your breakfast money to support conservative politicians.  I don’t find that particularly funny.  I do, however, enjoy the Land O’Lakes Political Action Committee because it is abbreviated on some FEC filings to “LOL PAC”.  There is also an ICE PAC, but it isn’t fun or even interesting in its longer form.  Further, the Frat and Sorority PAC supports the ~160 current US senators and representatives who were Greek, ostensibly in hopes of earning their support for Greek life legislation should it ever arise?  I don’t get it.  But in case you were wondering, so far in this cycle, the brothers of the Kappa Alpha Order are contributing more than the rest of PanHel combined. 

Finally, my favorite new piece of trivia: The state of Hawaii has five counties.  Four of them are normal.  The fifth, Kalawao County, is truly bizarre.  It is located on the tiny Kalaupapa Peninsula on the northern coast of the island of Moloka’i.  It is surrounded by high cliffs and the only land access to the entire county is a mule trail.  But that’s not a big deal because the county is home to 90 residents.  Why?  Because it was a leper colony from the 1860s until 1969, when the disease was deemed treatable.  Yet even once the quarantine was lifted, many of the patients chose to stay and they have been granted permission to live out their lives there (the 2000 census counted 147 residents).  State law prohibits new people from moving there and children under 16 are forbidden to visit.  The county is administered by the Hawaii Department of Health and has no county government except a sheriff who is appointed from among the residents.  Kalawao is understandably the poorest county in the country (by median income).  It is not, however, the least populous – that distinction belongs to Loving County Texas, with 82 residents.  As I understand it they’re not lepers, they just live in the middle of absolutely nowhere. 

So there you have it.  Hopefully you found those mildly interesting.

For the last few months, I have not posted an original post here. When I have posted, it has linked a post at Change.org that I was not allowed to repost in its entirety.  Lately I stopped even doing that.  Today, I am happy to report that I am winding down my various commitments in advance of law school and, at least for the remainder of the summer, will be back to using this blog more frequently.  

Drill Baby Drill Crowd Eyes Alaska Refuge…Again February 3, 2011

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Climate Change.
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New post at the new and improved Change.org:

It’s one of those immutable laws of American politics: When oil prices go up, lawmakers inevitably try to get their hands on the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR). Ans as oil prices rise inexorably back near $100 per barrel, Big Oil’s favorite senator, Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska), is at it again.

Year after year, we have to defend this unparalleled wilderness sanctuary and vital calving ground for the Porcupine caribou from Big Oil’s hired guns in Congress.  It’s time to protect this iconic treasure once and for all.

The Alaska Wilderness League is leading the charge to have the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge designated as a National Monument. Sign their petition here and join more than 32,000 other Change.org activists to tell President Obama to finally secure this natural legacy from special interest exploitation—right now, the petition is just shy of the 35,000 signature benchmark.

Read the full post here.

The Keystone XL Pipeline Messes with Texas January 29, 2011

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Tar Sands.
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New post at Change.org:

Concerned neighbors who might otherwise be Tea Party activists are becoming eco-activists, organizing their neighbors, distributing flyers, and holding meetings with environmental groups such as the Sierra Club.  Environmental organizers have been surprised by their reception in East Texas, where local support has blossomed from unexpected meeting attendance to letter-writing campaigns and community resistance councils.

Rural Texas does not normally ally itself with the Sierra Club, so what sets this pipeline apart from those that already snake across the Lone Star State? It is the heavy-handed tactics TransCanada is employing to blaze its oily trail through America. And especially in Texas, such strong-arming from a Canadian company—with major Chinese investors—feels a lot like foreign aggression.

Read the full post and sign a petition to stop the project here.

The Great Coal Faceoff Comes to Airports in the DC Area January 21, 2011

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Coal.
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New post at Change.org:

“FACES of Coal” (Federation for American Coal, Energy and Security) is an astroturf coal front group created to try to humanize the coal lobby. …But there is something strange about these FACES ads: There are no faces.

When FACES first appeared in the summer of 2009, they put up ads ostensibly showing people working in jobs created by coal mining. Yet some inspired detective work revealed that these people were not “faces of coal;” they were the faces of stock photography. All the photos in their ads were available on iStockPhoto.com (ridiculous side-by-side comparisons here).  The woman working at the flower shop wasn’t a coal supporter, she was literally just “Woman working in a flower shop.”  Ditto for “Group of happy business people standing together against white background” and “Group of adult students standing in campus corridor” etc.  As Rachel Maddow so eloquently put it in her expose, “The faces of coal are clip art.”  (Note: no other major media outlets covered the story and the PR firm responsible for the website immediately tried to cover its tracks.)

Read the full post here.

Port Activists Want to Stop U.S. Coal Export Terminal January 16, 2011

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Climate Change, Coal.
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New post at Change.org:

The export facility proposed by Millennium Bulk Logistics will create 71 permanent jobs in Longview, Washington.  The site’s current tenant, Chinook Ventures, already employs about 50 people.  So let’s put 21 new jobs in the “pro” category (plus 120 temporary construction jobs).  That’s about it on the plus side.

Now let’s examine the negatives.

Transporting upwards of five million tons of coal annually has impacts on a local community that range from the inconveniences of increased traffic to more serious hazards such as air pollution. Coal dust is a well-known health risk (and also explosive suspended in the air, but that’s not a likely event).  This operation would also threaten fish and wildlife in and around the nearby Columbia River.

Read the full post and sign a petition to help stop this project here.

Texas Town Fights Fracking Near Dallas Cowboys Stadium December 6, 2010

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Natural Gas.
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Kim Feil, a concerned resident who lives in this threatened neighborhood, told Change.org about her work fighting drilling around her home. “This has been my full time, volunteer job since this summer. I have never worked so hard to just maintain our quality of life and property values,” she says. She spends her time going door-to-door informing renters in the nearby multi-family housing complexes and in a low-income trailer park. Most hadn’t even aware of the proposed project, since notification was only sent to the property owners and signs about the public meeting were placed on a street with restricted commercial access.

Ms. Feil explains that locals were assured that the drilling site would not be near them and would inconvenience them for just one month.  That just isn’t the case. Even without accidents or groundwater contamination, fracking is disruptive to the local community.

Read the full post and sign a petition to help this neighborhood at Change.org.

BP’s Oil Spill Fines Might Not Help the Gulf December 3, 2010

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Congress, Media, Offshore Drilling.
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In addition to BP’s compensatory fund, the company must pay a per-barrel fine for its gratuitously spilled oil.  Under current law, that money is paid into the federal treasury instead of funding restoration efforts.

The Obama administration tapped former Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus to compile a report on how best to enact a long-term Gulf restoration plan.  One of the major recommendations in the Mabus Report was to pass a law directing funds from BP’s fines straight to Gulf restoration efforts.  Seems simple enough, but even obvious baby steps require prodding in this obstructionist legislative environment.

Read the full post at Change.org.

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