|January 22, 2007|
||State of the Energy and the Environment|
||Go Beyond The Headlines|
||Coffee and Donuts Not Included|
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Today’s report is the last in our four-part series examining the state of our nation. In advance of President Bush’s State of the Union address tomorrow, The Progress Report has reviewed the state of our nation’s national security, health care, economy, and energy/environment
In 2006, fundamental debates over energy and the environment were largely put to rest, as President Bush finally acknowledged that America is addicted to oil, and Al Gore exposed the human-induced global climate crisis that threatens our national security, our economy, and our environment. The “do-nothing” moniker earned by the 109th Congress was particularly apt regarding its approach to energy policy. Yet Congress’ inaction played a significant role in the results of the midterm elections, which swept several champions of renewable fuels and energy independence into power. A senior administration official has said that during tomorrow’s State of the Union President Bush will announce policies that “will knock your socks off in terms of our commitment to energy independence.” But the president has pledged to reduce our energy dependence every year since he took office while consistently making the problem worse. In 2006, the real leaders on energy issues were found in the states, in the global community, and among ordinary Americans; President Bush and Congress weren’t even following. (American Progress has charted the way forward to a clean, renewable energy future, including specific proposals to end America’s addiction to oil, improve global energy security, grow renewable energy solutions on American farms, and protect climate refugees.)
A YEAR OF ALARMING SCIENCE: Last year was the hottest ever recorded in the United States. Greenhouse gases in the atmosphere “reached a record high in 2005,” the United Nations reported in November, warning that “global average concentrations of carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide” will be even higher in 2006. In 2000, carbon dioxide emissions were rising less than 1 percent annually. Today they are rising more than 2.5 percent annually, with 7.9 billion metric tons of carbon added globally in 2005 alone (up from 6.8 billion in 2000). The Energy Department’s latest report projects America’s carbon dioxide emissions will increase by one third from 2005 to 2030. Meanwhile, U.S. dependence on OPEC nations for oil imports “has risen to its highest level in 15 years.” In September 2006, 70 percent of oil consumed in the United States came from foreign sources, up from 58 percent in 2000. The impact of these historic environmental changes is already being felt, and will grow more severe in the years to come. Arctic sea ice coverage in March 2006 “was the lowest in winter since measurements by satellite began in the early 1970s,” and a team of NASA-funded scientists found that ice is melting so fast in the Arctic “that the North Pole will be in the open sea in 30 years.” Research published this year found increasing evidence that “global warming is causing stronger hurricanes,” that rainfall could drop by 20 percent by the end of the century, threatening the world’s deserts “as never before“; that climate change has spurred the recent “sudden and dramatic” increase in the number of wildfires and the length of the wildfire season, and will directly “increase the risk of forest fires, droughts and flooding over the next two centuries”; one study found climate change will have a devastating effect on America’s bread basket, shifting crop production northward into Canada.
A YEAR OF DANGEROUS INACTION: Despite promises at last year’s State of the Union, President Bush’s 2007 budget actually proposed to spend less on energy efficiency, conservation, and renewable energy resources in inflation-adjusted dollars than was appropriated in fiscal year 2001 — $1.176 billion in nominal dollars in both 2001 and 2007. Even as he stalled meaningful action on climate change, President Bush lifted the drilling ban for Alaska’s Bristol Bay, “clearing the way for the Interior Department to open the fish-rich waters to oil and natural gas development.” Likewise, the final legislation of the 109th Congress included a measure “that would open a large swath of the Gulf of Mexico to energy exploration.” The United State climate policies ranked 53rd among the 56 countries that contribute at least 1 percent of the world’s greenhouse gases, the environmental group Germanwatch found. “Only China, Malaysia and Saudi Arabia” rank lower. Energy and climate science also continued to suffer. The Bush administration went so far as to break the law to hide global warming data, ignoring a congressional requirement that the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) produce a report on climate change. “They’re simply not complying with the law,” Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) said. “It’s incredible.” At the same time, NASA’s earth science budget has fallen 30 percent since 2000, placing our “ability to understand and predict hurricanes, drought and climate changes of all kinds…in danger.” The House Government Reform Committee released a series of emails from the Department of Commerce that suggest that Bush officials “tried to suppress a federal scientist from discussing the link between global warming and hurricanes.”
AMERICA LEARNS OF THE CLIMATE CRISIS: Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” was a critical and popular success, and its message is increasingly reflected in mainstream American culture. Some 59 percent of Americans say climate change warrants “some action” or “immediate” steps, up from 51 percent in 1999, according to a WSJ/NBC poll. More than half of America’s hunters and fishermen “have seen first-hand the impact of global warming,” a National Wildlife Federation poll found. Fully 71 percent “said they were concerned about diminishing fish and wildlife populations and many had seen direct impacts of climate change in the field,” and a majority “also rejected the Bush Administration’s fossil-fuel-based energy policy and want more conservation and clean fuels.” Notorious climate skeptics like ExxonMobil felt enough pressure to “soften” their public image on global warming, though as one financial analyst noted, “Although the tone has changed, the substance remains the same.” The Union of Concerned Scientists documented how ExxonMobil has borrowed tactics from the tobacco industry to “manufacture uncertainty” about climate change, spending $16 million on groups that question global warming.
PROGRESS AROUND THE COUNTRY, AROUND THE WORLD: Perhaps the most significant international agreement on global warming last year came when British Prime Minister Tony Blair “sidestepped the Bush administration’s refusal to act on climate change by signing what was hailed as a ground-breaking agreement with California, the world’s 12th largest carbon emitter, to fight global warming.” This pact followed Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s (R-CA) signing of the California Global Warming Solutions Act, the “first enforceable state-wide program in the U.S. to cap all [greenhouse gas] emissions from major industries that includes penalties for non-compliance.” These moves symbolize several recent trends in the energy policy landscape, including the progress being made on the state and international levels, and the growing bipartisan nature of efforts to reduce greenhouse gases. The European Union declared this year that its member states should commit themselves to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent compared with 1990 levels, as well as meet 20 percent of all energy demands from renewable sources, by 2020. Also, the Supreme Court took up arguments in “perhaps the most significant environmental case ever to reach its marbled halls,” a suit by 12 states against the Bush administration arguing that the Clean Air Act requires the government to regulate carbon dioxide emissions from vehicles. The outcome of the case will “likely determine whether the [Environmental Protection Agency] can regulate [greenhouse gas emissions] from power plants and other industries” as well. In Congress, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) introduced the Safe Climate Act, the first bill ever to target global warming pollution.
MIDDLE EAST — COMPREHENSIVE APPROACH NEEDED TO SOLVE REGIONAL ISSUES: Last week, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited the Middle East and took a necessary — but not sufficient — step towards long-overdue efforts to broach an Arab-Israeli settlement by attempting to reinvigorate the Palestinian-Israeli track. While her trip was a welcome development, the administration’s approach still fails to appreciate that resolving the U.S. involvement in Iraq requires a comprehensive approach to U.S. security interests in the Middle East, as advocated by the Iraq Study Group (ISG). Robert Satloff, executive director of the Washington Institute, has naively argued that Iraq can be addressed in isolation because linkages between issues in the region “simply don’t exist.” ISG co-chair and vice chair of the 9-11 Commission Lee Hamilton recently rebuffed that theory, explaining, “You cannot get anything done in the Middle East without addressing the Arab-Israeli issue. We want these other countries, especially Sunni Arab countries, to help us. When we go to talk to them about Iraq, they will want to talk to us about the Arab-Israeli conflict.” The ISG report stated, “To put it simply, all key issues in the Middle East — the Arab-Israeli conflict, Iraq, Iran, the need for political and economic reforms, and extremism and terrorism — are inextricably linked.” Hamilton and the ISG report have also argued that the U.S. must talk to Iran and Syria because they have influence in Iraq, and “we cannot wish that influence away. … Undoubtedly, they are part of the problem… [but] we must try to make them part of the solution.” Given the pressing need for a comprehensive approach to the region, it is fitting that the Campaign for American Leadership in the Middle East — a group that includes among its thousands of signatories an impressive selection of bipartisan dignitaries — has chosen today to submit its letter to President Bush, calling for him to revive efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This effort must be a “central and sustained objective of American foreign policy,” the letter argues. As the ISG report details, and the somewhat tepid reaction Secretary Rice received on her recent trip underscores, the United States’ approach to the region must be comprehensive — with a much heavier dose of sustained diplomatic energy, resources, and creativity than the administration thus far committed in order to protect and defend U.S. interests and regional security and stability.
IRAN — CONGRESS PUSHES BACK AGAINST ADMINISTRATION’S HEIGHTENED IRAN RHETORIC: Five years after President Bush named Iran as part of the “axis of evil,” the administration’s rhetoric is again heating up. Bush’s address to the nation earlier this month included “some of his sharpest words of warning to Iran.” He accused the Iranian government of “providing material support for attacks on American troops” and vowed to “seek out and destroy the networks providing advanced weaponry and training to our enemies.” “I recently ordered the deployment of an additional carrier strike group to the region,” Bush said. “Odds are,” reports the Wall Street Journal, Bush will use his State of the Union speech “to prompt the Congress — and the country — to start thinking beyond Iraq to what he clearly sees as the next big problem. And that lies next door in Iran.” Congress is pushing back hard. “I’d like to be clear,” Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) said last week. “The president does not have the authority to launch military action in Iran without first seeking congressional authorization.” Senate Intelligence Committee chair John Rockefeller (D-WV) called the administration’s combative rhetoric “bizarre” and said he was “concerned that it’s Iraq again.”
“President Bush’s record of getting his State of the Union proposals enacted, after successes in his early years in office, has dropped off substantially.” Of the 12 initiatives that he proposed or called on Congress to pass in 2006, the White House can claim complete success on just three.
25: Number of U.S. service members killed on Saturday, marking “the third-deadliest day for American troops since the March 2003 invasion of Iraq.”
Seven-time Tour de France winner and cancer survivor Lance Armstrong said he’s concerned that President Bush has proposed cutting funding to the National Cancer Institute for the second year in a row. “The people who want to be president in 2008 should talk about something that kills 600,000 Americans a year,” he said.
Sens. John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who have strongly backed sending more U.S. troops to Iraq, indicated they may not support a promotion for Gen. George Casey, the current military commander there, because of past U.S. mistakes.
33 percent: President Bush’s approval rating according to a Washington Post-ABC poll. “Only two presidents” — Richard Nixon and Harry Truman — “have had lower approval ratings on the eve of a State of the Union speech.” Seventy-one percent of Americans think the country is heading in the wrong direction.
Today marks the 34th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision. President Bush will call in his support to the annual anti-abortion March for Life rally. Pro-choice activists will hold a vigil at the Supreme Court and present political leaders with a pro-choice petition signed by thousands of women.
In an interview with the USA Today, Bush said he “can’t guarantee that all U.S. troops will be out of Iraq by the end of his presidency because ‘we don’t set timetables.'”
“Stretched thin from fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military has sharply reduced its role in the war on drugs, leaving significant gaps in the nation’s narcotics interdiction efforts.”
The Taliban plans to open its own schools in areas of southern Afghanistan under its control, following “a violent campaign by the fundamentalist Islamic group against state schools in the five years since its ouster by U.S.-led forces.” Mohammad Hanif Atmar, Afghanistan’s education minister, said the Taliban’s announcement “is like putting salt into the wound.”
And finally: Rich Little previews a “joke” he hopefully will not tell at the White House Correspondents Association dinner. In the President’s voice: “George W. Bush here. I tell you, I’m between I-raq and a hard place.” “That’s funny,” Little claimed. “But, believe me, you won’t hear the word ‘Iraq’ out of my mouth the whole evening. They know I’m a safe bet over there at the White House.”