Article

ENERGY: A Green Opportunity

"Our addiction to oil has grown into a three-pronged crisis: threatening our economy, our national security and our environment," said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) at a speech this week at the Center for American Progress Action Fund.

June 13, 2007 by Faiz Shakir, Nico Pitney, Amanda Terkel, Satyam Khanna, and Matt Corley
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ENERGY

A Green Opportunity

“Our addiction to oil has grown into a three-pronged crisis: threatening our economy, our national security and our environment,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) at a speech this week at the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Indeed, with gas prices averaging over $3.00 per gallon and global carbon emissions exceeding even the most extreme predictions, America — as the world’s leader in oil consumption and pollution — needs a drastic shift in energy policies. This week, Congress is beginning debate on sweeping energy legislation that has “kicked off an epic lobbying war by huge industries” as well as by environmentalists. “This is going to be the mother of all bills. By that I mean, any one portion of it is important enough to affect completion of the whole bill,” said a former senator involved in the energy legislation. It took the 109th Congress four years to produce the 2005 energy bill, which granted large loopholes to big polluters, “and even that measure almost died because of fights over a peripheral issue involving a fuel additive.” In the upcoming weeks, Congress should resist the intense lobbying and media blitz sponsored by big industry and produce legislation that will reduce global greenhouse emissions while also securing clean energy for Americans well into the future.

PAIN IN THE GAS: Corporate Average Fuel Economy standards (CAFE), which govern fuel economy standards for automobiles, have not been updated since 1983. With families being forced to adjust to volatile gas prices by buying less of other items or by dipping into their savings, the typical two-car American family will spend over $3,600 on gas this year if high prices persist. With the current fuel economy standard at roughly 25 mpg, gasoline demand is “the biggest share of the 21 million barrels of oil the United States consumes each day.” The Senate took up an energy bill yesterday that would require automakers to boost fuel economy to an average of 35 mpg by 2020, allowing consumers to reduce the amount of gasoline they need each day, saving approximately three million barrels of oil per day by 2026. Considered the most contentious issue in the bill by Reid, big automakers are arming lobbyists to neuter the new mandates. Detroit automakers urged congressional leaders last week to reconsider the energy bill’s CAFE standards, claiming they would “destroy the domestic auto industry.” Industry allies such as Michigan Sens. Carl Levin (D) and Debbie Stabenow (D) are subsequently offering an amendment to this week that would “set lower standards than the bill calls for.” The U.S. Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers has launched factually false, fearmongering-based advertisements in at least ten states, claiming, for instance, that Congress wants to “take your pickup away.” Ironically, “pickup owners overwhelmingly support requiring the auto industry to increase fuel efficiency standards.”

THE COAL HOAX: While greenhouse gas emissions continue to rise, “a powerful roster of Democrats and Republicans is pushing to subsidize coal as the king of alternative fuels.” Pushed by heavy lobbying from the coal industry, which is running ad campaigns urging people to “imagine a world where our country runs on energy from Middle America instead of the Middle East,” lawmakers from coal producing states are proposing legislation to subsidize coal-to-liquids fuel. But coal-to-liquid fuels “produce almost twice the volume of greenhouse gases as ordinary diesel” and “create almost a ton of carbon dioxide for every barrel of liquid fuel.” A stronger proposal is carbon capture and storage, as proposed by the Center for American Progress, which would literally “capture” carbon emissions from coal plants before they are dangerously emitted into the atmosphere and use the energy in coal to generate electricity instead of producing liquid fuel. Electrifying cars would also allow renewable energy like solar and wind to further mitigate carbon emissions. This alternative safeguards the environment, as burning liquid coal in automobiles produces more carbon pollution than gasoline.

PIPE CLEANING: In the wake of the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling that “the federal government does have the authority to regulate greenhouse gases,” the ability to regulate air pollution has created a dichotomy between states and the federal government. For example, California has asked the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) “more than 40 times over the past 30 years” to “waive the agency’s emissions rules to allow the state’s more stringent regulations to take effect.” If California receives the authority to establish its own tailpipe emissions standards, several other states have signaled they will adopt the California program. But a “regressive bill” drafted by Rep. John Dingell (D-MI) and Rick Boucher (D-VA) would override the Court’s decision and block states from reducing “greenhouse gases from vehicles at a time when the states are far ahead of the federal government in dealing with climate change.” Eight governors have voiced strong opposition to such a proposal. The White House is colluding, potentially illegally, to help big industry battle this progressive standard. Yesterday, House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) wrote to Department of Transportation (DOT) Secretary Mary Peters requesting information about a voicemail left by a DOT employee that urged members of Congress to oppose California’s request. “Such an effort by the Department appears to be highly inappropriate and would be considered by some to be illegal,” Waxman wrote. In the past week, lobbyists from big chemical and electric companies have twice met with White House allies concerning the EPA, including Vice President Dick Cheney. As the Washington Post said, “What California is seeking permission to do wouldn’t be necessary if the federal government had been serious about air pollution (initially) and global warming (now).”

UNDER THE RADAR

ETHICS — NEW JUSTICE DEPT. E-MAILS REVEAL TOP ROVE AIDES’ INVOLVEMENT IN ATTORNEY SCANDAL: A new set of documents released last night in the ongoing U.S. attorney scandal shines new light on how closely the White House and the Department of Justice coordinated in their efforts to respond to the uproar over the firing of nine U.S. attorneys last year. “Then-White House counsel Harriet E. Miers and aides to presidential adviser Karl Rove were deeply enmeshed in debates over how to respond to the controversy as early as mid-January, when Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) questioned the spate of prosecutor departures in a Senate floor speech, according to e-mails that the Justice Department turned over to the House and Senate judiciary committees.” The emails, from February 2007, all relate to the case of Rove-protege Tim Griffin, who was installed as U.S. attorney in Arkansas without Senate confirmation. Griffin’s predecessor, Bud Cummins, was fired to make way for Griffin. In one e-mail, former White House political director Sara Taylor, who resigned last month, writes to Kyle Sampson, Alberto Gonzales’ former chief of staff, and suggests retribution against Cummins for speaking out about the reason for his firing. “I normally don’t like attacking our friends, but since Bud Cummins is talking to everyone,” wrote Taylor. “Why don’t we tell the deal on him?” In another e-mail, Taylor wrote to Sampson complaining about Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty’s public acknowledgment that Cummins had been pushed out to make room for Griffin rather than for performance reasons. “Tim was put in a horrible position; hung out to dry w/ no heads up,” lamented Taylor. “This is not good for his long-term career.” Griffin has since resigned his position. In a statement, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said that “these documents, which should have been released by the Department long ago, provide further evidence that White House officials like former Political Director Sara Taylor were deeply involved in the mass firings of well-performing prosecutors.”

CONGRESS — REP. HUNTER DEFENDS FAILED PET PROJECT:
Yesterday, members of the House Committee on Science and Technology watched videos “of what they got for $63 million spent on an experimental aircraft the military did not want: repeated crashes and significant failures.” According to testimony from the Office of Naval Research, the DP-2, a plane “designed to take off like a helicopter and then fly at high speed, failed to remain in the air for more than a few seconds in 49 separate tests last year.” Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who had “aggressively supported the program over decades even though the Pentagon repeatedly questioned the jet’s feasibility and lambasted the contractor’s work,” defended his role in leading the effort to secure funding “on behalf of a hometown company, DuPont Aerospace.” “The idea around here that if the Pentagon doesn’t come up with something, that if the services don’t like it, you’re not going to build it is ridiculous,” said Hunter, who received $36,000 in campaign contributions from DuPoint Aerospace. But experts who testified before the committee claimed that “the aircraft was nowhere near delivering on the promises cited by DuPont and its congressional supporters. ‘It’s a pipe dream,’ said John Eney, an aerospace engineer who led a Navy team that evaluated the project in 1999.” As the San Diego Union Tribune notes, “Hunter’s support of the DP-2 has thrust him into the center of the debate about earmarks, which congressmen sponsor to fund everything from new roads and museums in their districts to defense contracts that sometimes provide hundreds of jobs for constituents.”

CIVIL LIBERTIES — FBI’S TERROR WATCH LIST ‘OUT OF CONTROL’: The Blotter reports today that “a terrorist watch list compiled by the FBI has apparently swelled to include more than half a million names.” The tally, which an FBI spokesman insisted is classified, was revealed in a “portion of the FBI’s unclassified 2008 budget request posted to the Department of Justice Web site” which referenced the “entire watch list of 509,000 names.” According to the Blotter, the FBI’s list along with a list compiled by the National Counterterrorism Center forms the basis for “the watch list used by federal security screening personnel on the lookout for terrorists.” Such a vast list the ACLU argues, however, is “virtually useless” and is growing “seemingly without control or limitation.” “If we have 509,000 names on that list… [y]ou’ll be capturing innocent individuals with no connection to crime or terror,” said ACLU senior legislative counsel Tim Sparapani. The Blotter notes, “U.S. lawmakers and their spouses have been detained because their names were on the watch list” and “[r]eporters who have reviewed versions of the list found it included the names of former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, at the time he was alive but in custody in Iraq … and 14 of the 19 Sept. 11, 2001 hijackers, all of whom perished in the attacks.” Despite such deficiencies, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration recently urged the IRS to use the FBI’s list over Treasury Department’s own smaller, more targeted watch list to screen “nonprofit tax filings for possible matches to suspected terrorists.” Sparapani notes, “There’s a reason the FBI has a ’10 Most Wanted’ list, right? We need to focus the government’s efforts on the greatest threats.

THINK FAST

“Suspected al-Qaida insurgents on Wednesday destroyed the two minarets of the Askariya Shiite shrine in Samarra, authorities reported, in a repeat of a 2006 bombing that shattered its famous Golden Dome and unleashed a wave of retaliatory sectarian violence that still bloodies Iraq.”

A senior U.S. military commander said yesterday that Iraq’s army “must expand its rolls by at least 20,000 more soldiers than Washington had anticipated,” and that even then, “Iraq will remain incapable of taking full responsibility for its security for many years — five years in the case of protecting its airspace — and will require a long-term military relationship with the United States.”

Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA) yesterday “defended his role in helping steer tens of millions of dollars” to a San Diego-based aerospace firm to “develop a military jet the Pentagon did not want.” Hunter “aggressively supported the program over decades” while receiving large contributions from the firm “even though the Pentagon repeatedly questioned the jet’s feasibility and lambasted the contractor’s work.”

“As motorists face near-record gasoline prices, the Senate took up an energy bill Tuesday that would raise vehicle fuel-economy standards for the first time in nearly 20 years and make oil-industry price gouging a federal crime.”

The Pentagon-run system voting system for American soldiers and citizens living abroad “remains slow, confusing and plagued with security and privacy problems. And that has left many of the five million Americans overseas uncertain that their vote will be counted.” 

Undocumented immigrants who are taken into custody by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement often do not receive proper medical care, “leading to disfigurement and even death.”

“The U.S. military is probing how guards failed to prevent the death of a Guantanamo Bay detainee last month, an apparent suicide in one of the most closely monitored detention camps for suspected al-Qaida and Taliban members.”

“The Bush administration proposes cutting 1.5 million acres from Northwest forests considered critical to the survival of the northern spotted owl,” a continuation of Bush efforts that were “stymied by court rulings, including several that tossed out plans to log in critical owl habitat.”

And finally: Yesterday was a “big day” for Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL), whose appropriations bill was being marked up by the full committee. To “lighten the mood,” ranking member Zach Wamp (R-TN) “delivered a whole load of Little Debbie snack cakes to the room as she took the gavel.” Wamp said they were in honor of “Big Debbie.” “Victory on passage of the Legislative Branch Appropriations bill was made even sweeter when the loyal opposition served up dessert,” said Wasserman-Schultz after the hearing.

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