A Cleaner Ride
With gas prices averaging $3.00 per gallon and greenhouse emissions passing the most extreme predictions, the United States needs a drastic shift in energy policies in order to aid families, combat global warming, and reduce reliance on oil. The New York Times writes today on a National Petroleum Council report that “energy consumption globally is expected to rise by more than 50 percent over the next 25 years. But finding supplies to match that growth is going to be increasingly tough.” Congress is engaged in debate to tackle these issues, working toward increasing fuel economy and the use of alternative energy. “When it comes to energy, we must think big and lead the future. We must be bold; we must declare independence from yesterday’s thinking and invest in energy solutions of tomorrow,” stated House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). In light of the debate in Congress, today, the Center for American Progress Action Fund is launching Clean My Ride, a campaign featuring webisodes of actors and activists urging the adoption of provisions “increasing gas mileage requirements and mandating the availability of e85 for flexible-fuel cars that can use either gasoline or ethanol.” Watch the first webisode HERE.
EFFICIENCY AT THE PUMP: In June, the Senate passed an energy bill that would raise the minimum mileage of average cars and light trucks to 35 miles per gallon by 2020, the first increase in over two decades. Subsequently, Pelosi said “she supported the fuel economy boost contained in the Senate legislation” and may bring such legislation to a vote in the House as early as next week. At least 150 lawmakers have signed onto legislation proposed by Reps. Ed Markey (D-MA) and Todd Platts (R-PA), which would require a combined average of 35 mpg by 2018. While automakers have vigorously opposed these efforts, better fuel standards may be a boon for both them and drivers. “Increasing the average fuel economy of America’s new autos to 35 miles per gallon (mpg) by 2018 would save consumers $61 billion at the gas pump and increase U.S. employment by 241,000 jobs in the year 2020, including 23,900 in the auto industry,” according to a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists, as stricter fuel economy would force large automakers to invest in new, cleaner technologies and machinery. Already, the debate in Congress is helping the environment, as Chrysler announced it would “scrap plans for a luxury sedan that would have represented a bigger, heavier and less-fuel-efficient version of its Chrysler 300C,” partly in response to the threat of tougher fuel economy standards.
POLLUTING PROPOSALS: Some lawmakers have signed onto automaker-backed legislation proposed by Reps. Baron Hill (D-IN) and Lee Terry (R-NE) that calls for a “softer increase” than what Pelosi has called for, requiring “companies to increase fuel economy to at least 32 miles per gallon by 2022 for cars and trucks combined.” With the goal of buying automakers more time to comply with fuel standards, the Hill-Terry legislation would only achieve a saving of 1.1 millions of barrels of oil per day by 2030, in contrast to the Markey and Senate legislation, which would save between 2.5 and 4.3 millions of barrels of oil per day — amounting to a reduction in the rate of carbon emissions by 18 percent by 2030. The Hill-Terry proposal would also effectively overturn the Supreme Court decision Massachusetts v. EPA, which gives the EPA the authority to reduce auto emissions of carbon dioxide.
A RENEWABLE FUTURE: The increased use of “flex-fuel vehicles” designed to run on cleaner fuels, would greatly relieve U.S. dependence on foreign oil and decreasing harmful emissions. But E85 pumps, which run on a combination of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, are scarce across the country. “The only concern I’ve had is we don’t have enough outlets for [flex-fuel vehicles],” said Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA). “And if we don’t have outlets for it, people don’t want to buy flex vehicle-automobiles.” The Wall Street Journal reported that oil companies establish road blocks for E85 pumps, with some prohibiting E85 pumps alongside traditional pumps and listing E85 prices with other prices. The National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition reports that…only one out of every 170 stations sells E85 fuel. For instance, California drivers have 257,318 flex-fuel vehicles but the state has only two public stations with E85. New Jersey has none. Subsequently, “more than 99 percent of the flex-fuel cars run on regular gasoline because E85 is rarely available to the everyday driving public.” As Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Daniel J. Weiss notes, the solution for this problem is “immediate and forceful measures to increase the availability of the fuel.” Sen. Tom Harkin (D-IA) has proposed legislation “requiring carmakers to make nearly all vehicles capable of using E85 within 10 years.”
IRAQ — KYL, McCAIN OBSTRUCT DEFENSE BILL, THEN DISHONESTLY BLAME REID FOR NOT FUNDING THE TROOPS: Yesterday, after a marathon night of conservative obstructionism, the Senate, by a 52-47 vote, failed to garner the necessary 60 votes needed to end debate and proceed with the Levin-Reed amendment to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq. Following the vote, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) pulled the entire Defense Authorization bill from consideration on the Senate floor, arguing that the legislation should not be considered until the Senate is prepared to offer a future course for Iraq. Afterward, Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Jon Kyl (R-AZ) raced to the television cameras to offer hyperbolic attacks against Reid, claiming that he had “placed the care of our wounded veterans in a lower priority than a debate over Iraq.” “It’s a very wreckless and irresponsible action because the troops depend upon the Defense Authorization bill passing,” said Kyl. “The priorities of those who brought down this bill…clearly cannot be the welfare and benefit and arming and training of both of our active duty military and the medical care of our veterans,” fumed McCain. Kyl and McCain’s argument that Reid’s maneuver will deny pay raises, equipment and medical care to American troops is false on its face, as the troops have all the funding they need at the moment. The bill being debated is for fiscal year 2008, which begins on Oct. 1. Funding for troops — including emergency appropriations — has already been earmarked through Sept. 30, 2007. While McCain claims that Reid “brought down this bill,” in fact, Reid only resorted to pulling the bill after McCain and other pro-war senators blustered and stalled, refusing to allow an up-down vote on the Levin-Reed amendment. In fact, in his floor speech yesterday, Reid specifically named McCain as one of “a handful of dedicated obstructionists” using procedural moves to block the vote.
MILITARY — MILITARY MEMBERS AND FAMILIES SUPPORT IRAQ REDEPLOYMENT: The readers of Military.com, which, with 8 million members, is “the largest military and veteran membership organization” in the country, are joining the growing ranks of Americans ready to withdraw troops from Iraq. In a new online poll conducted by military.com, nearly 60 percent of the poll participants “said the United States should withdraw its troops from Iraq now or by the end of 2008,” and “more than 40 percent of the respondents agreed the pullout should begin immediately because ‘we’re wasting lives and resources there.'” Ward Carroll, the editor of military.com, wrote that “the results were a surprise to us here in Military.com’s offices. The great majority of our readers have consistently demonstrated support for the war. As recently as late June, 57 percent of poll respondents voted ‘yes’ to the question ‘Should Congress Give More Time for the Surge to Work?'” The change in attitude is significant. According to Ward, “Military.com regulars are pro-military, to put it mildly. The military experience isn’t some vague concept to them. They served or are serving, along with their families.” Like the “pro-military” readers of military.com, the majority of the U.S. Senate believes it is time to redeploy from Iraq. Yet Senate obstructionists have blocked a plan to withdraw U.S. troops by April 2008. Unfortunately, the Bush administration also continues be out of sync with the majority of Americans. President Bush said in a recent press conference that leaving Iraq would “mean surrendering the future of Iraq to al Qaeda…the best way to begin bringing [the troops] home is to make sure our new strategy succeeds.” This new poll shows that supporters of the military would disagree.
EDUCATION — SHILLING FOR LOAN INDUSTRY, CONSERVATIVES BLOCK AID TO COLLEGE STUDENTS: Last week, the House passed the College Cost Reduction Act of 2007, which “would boost college financial aid by about $18 billion over the next five years and cut federal subsidies to lenders.” Furthermore, the bill would “cut interest rates on need-based student loans to 3.4% from 6.8%.” The Senate today will debate its own version of the bill. Unfortunately, Sens. Ben Nelson (D-NE) and Richard Burr (R-NC) are attempting to weaken the aid package by giving “at least $3 billion in corporate welfare to the banks, instead of giving it to students.” This $3 billion “could fund 588,000 Pell Grants at the maximum level of $5100.” The Nelson-Burr amendment would redirect the money toward private lenders, who in recent months have been documented spending federal subsidies on inappropriate perks and sky-high salaries, while others have gamed the student loan system to reap even bigger windfalls. Even worse, however, is President Bush’s plan to kill the entire aid package with a presidential veto. Bush described the plan’s “loan-forgiveness provisions as creating new entitlement programs.” Such entitlement programs would benefit “police, firefighters, prosecutors and other public servants.” Contact your senator and urge him or her to vote against the Nelson-Burr amendment and for the Higher Education Access Act of 2007 (S. 1762) HERE.
Rupert Murdoch’s potential takeover of Dow Jones, parent company of the Wall Street Journal, is worrying many employees. “There’s a real culture of passion for the truth, for shining lights in dark places,” said a reporter. “The overwhelming view here is that under Murdoch, that gets compromised from Day One, and that idea is devastating, heartbreaking, to people.”
“While Senate Republicans on Wednesday blocked a Democratic bid to force a vote on U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq,” a new CBS/New York Times poll finds that 61 percent of Americans say “the war should be funded only if there’s a timetable for withdrawal.”
International wildfire crews could be called to help fight blazes in the bone-dry West as U.S. officials boosted the nation’s wildfire alert to its highest level” after dry lightning “blasted and sparked dozens of new blazes in Idaho, Nevada, Oregon and Utah, where firefighters have been stretched thin by nearly 70 fires bigger than 100 acres burning in 12 states.”
“As part of a new White House offensive to enlist support on Iraq, all senators and select House members (100 to 150) have been invited to the Pentagon today for a pair of videoconference briefings by Army Gen. David Petraeus, the U.S. commander in Iraq, and Ryan Crocker, the U.S ambassador to Iraq.”
Brig. Gen. Kevin Bergner said yesterday that a feared Iraqi insurgent Omar al-Baghdadi “never existed.” “General Bergner told reporters that a senior Iraqi insurgent captured this month said that the elusive Mr. Baghdadi was actually a fictional character whose declarations on audiotape were read by a man named Abu Abdullah al-Naima.”
“U.S. military officials have announced the deaths of four more American soldiers — killed, along with their Iraqi interpreter, by a roadside bomb aimed at their patrol in east Baghdad.”
“Contractors hired to clean up after Hurricane Katrina are fuming over delays in getting paid by Federal Emergency Management Agency,” with some owed as much as $150 million. “In hard-hit St. Bernard Parish, local officials expressed concern that the slow payments will discourage contractors from bidding” on upcoming major reconstruction projects.
“A federal judge in Washington on Wednesday upheld the right of a Yemeni man held as an enemy combatant at a U.S. military prison in Afghanistan to seek his freedom. The ruling is the first issued in a case filed on behalf of a foreign detainee held by the U.S. outside the country or the Guantanamo Bay Naval Station.”
While the Iraq Study Group and the Bush administration believe that training the Iraqi forces should be a top priority, Center for American Progress Senior Fellow Lawrence Korb and Lt. Gen. William Odom argue that “training or equipping these forces is not a solution.” “In effect we are arming different sides in a civil war. It is no accident that as the number of trained Iraqi security forces has grown, so have attacks on coalition forces, Iraqi civilians and the Iraqi security forces themselves.”
And finally: Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) is a “Harry Potter parent.” He has “read all six books about the boy wizard’s adventures with his older daughter.” “The challenge will be scheduling Harry Potter reading time in between Iowa and New Hampshire and fundraising, but I guarantee you they will figure out a way to do it,” his wife, Michelle Obama, said. “Harry Potter is huge in our house.”
The House Education and Labor Committee yesterday “approved comprehensive mental health care benefits parity legislation,” which would “require group health care plans to provide the same cost-sharing requirements for mental health care services as they do for other medical conditions.”
MICHIGAN: State supreme court upholds discriminatory voter ID law.
TEXAS: Texas public school students may have to use decade-old history books.
HOMELAND SECURITY: “Federal dollars for state and local anti-terror programs have decreased precipitously since their inception.”
THINK PROGRESS: The Bush administration’s agencies of mass politicization.
TALKING POINTS MEMO: Curious timing: The announced capture of a top leader of al Qaeda in Iraq yesterday actually took place two weeks earlier.
VALLEYWAG: Google’s spokesman, Australian Rob Shilkin, penned several pieces four years ago praising the Iraq war.
MATTHEW YGLESIAS: Chart of daily attacks by insurgents and militias in Iraq shows how dramatically the violence has increased.
“Al Qaeda’s resources are focused in Iraq because that’s where we are capturing and killing them every single day, so it drains their resources there. … [T]hey are very much tied down because we are keeping them tied down fighting them in Iraq.”
— White House Homeland Security Advisor Frances Fragos Townsend, 7/18/07
“A new threat assessment from U.S. counterterrorism analysts says that al-Qaida has used its safe haven along the Afghan-Pakistan border to restore its operating capabilities to a level unseen since the months before Sept. 11, 2001.”
— AP, 7/12/07