Wednesday, March 28, 2012


The end of an era? The EPA decides to regulate the carbon emissions of coal-burning power plants.
The proposal does not cover existing plants, although utility companies have announced that they plan to shut down more than 300 boilers, representing more than 42 gigawatts of electricity generation — nearly 13 percent of the nation’s coal-fired electricity — rather than upgrade them with pollution-control technology.

Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, said the new rule “captures the end of an era” during which coal provided most of the nation’s electricity. It currently generates about 40 percent of U.S. electricity.

The power sector accounts for 40 percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions, and Brune said it is “the only place where we’re making significant progress” in curbing greenhouse gas emissions linked to climate change, adding that “at the same time, it’s not sufficient.”

Cheap natural gas is also contributing to the closure of aging coal-fired plants, as many utilities switch over to gas plants, which produce about half the carbon emissions.

“Gas is contributing to the closure of these plants,” Dominion Resources chief executive Thomas F. Farrell II said in an interview last week. Farrell, who also chairs the Edison Electric Institute, the utility trade association, added: “It’s not all EPA. It’s a combination of low gas prices and EPA working at the same time.”
Then again, this doesn't really change much:
Still, the agency emphasized that the proposed rules would apply only to future construction, not to existing plants or others for which permits have already been granted. The declining price of natural gas has made it the fuel of choice for companies planning new plants, and the latest gas-fired generation on the drawing boards is expected to easily meet the new standards without adding new controls.
Time's Bryan Walsh explains in greater detail why natural gas is really the big winner:
Indeed, while we can all gird ourselves for a political war over these regulations, the reality is that they may not make much of a difference. Existing Clean Air Act rules and the shale gas revolution—yes, fracking—already made new coal plants uneconomical. The greenhouse gas rules only solidify those facts. A braver EPA would have tackled the enormous problem of existing coal plants now, but understandably the Obama Administration has little stomach for that fight—especially in an election year. “Today’s rule only applies to new plants,” said Jackson. “We don’t have plans to address existing plants,” she added, saying that any additional regulations would have to go through open public debate.

It’s true that under the Clean Air Act the EPA eventually has a responsibility to tackle carbon emissions from existing power plant, and the EPA is working with environmentalists, industry and states on just how those rules will work. But don’t expect anything to happen before the November elections—and if a Republican takes the White House, expect the momentum to halt all together. Politically, the EPA has no virtually no other choice. But don’t think that these regulations will make much of a dent in climate change which—as scientists meeting this week in London declared—appears to be moving towards a disastrous tipping point. (And while coal consumption may be down in the U.S., it is up, up, up in rapidly growing China.) Today’s rules are much better news for natural gas than for the climate.
And so while EDF's Fred Krupp may be excited, this move is nothing but a very small first step in tackling climate change. And if we've learned anything about the Obama administration when it comes to environmental regulations, they're generally content with taking nothing more than small steps.

San Francisco attempts to deal with coastal erosion:
“We are in some ways the tip of the spear for this issue,” said Benjamin Grant, a city planner who is leading a study of the problem for the nonprofit San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association, or SPUR.

Mr. Grant describes the beach’s south end as “an erosion hot spot.” But, he said, all coastal communities will have to grapple with rising seas.

A disruptive rate of sea-level rise is one of the most daunting potential consequences of climate change. Recently, researchers warned in two new studies that severe coastal flooding could occur regularly in the United States by the middle of the century and that California would be among the states most affected. Previous studies have suggested that the rise in sea levels is poised to accelerate globally, although the evidence that this is happening is not yet definitive.

“Communities will be forced to respond in one way or another to the increased erosion and coastal storm damage,” economists at San Francisco State University concluded in a recent study. Communities can either plan for the long term or improvise, storm by storm, until ad hoc solutions are inadequate, they warned. 

Elizabeth Kolbert takes a look at the GOP's lies regarding gas prices; sadly, the collective denial extends to the current administration:
Like almost anything that the Republican candidates can manage to agree on, the Obama Administration gas-price-hike conspiracy theory is nearly a hundred-per-cent hokum. The fakery begins with the theory’s premise: that the President could, if he wanted to, reduce the price of oil. Oil, as it is well known, is a global commodity traded on a global market. Gasoline prices have risen—they are up roughly fifteen per cent since the start of the year—mostly because demand is climbing in countries like China and because instability in the Middle East has prompted worries about supply. (Since sabre rattling on Iran tends to increase those worries, candidates like Santorum, who calls the Administration’s policies toward Iran “appeasement,” are almost certainly aggravating the very situation they decry.)

But an idea doesn’t have to be true, or even especially convincing, to be politically effective, and nowadays it’s the most rational policy options that seem to have the hardest time getting heard. When it comes to gas prices, it’s been clear for, well, let’s just say forever that the cost of gasoline in America is actually too low. Cheap gas generates sprawl and traffic. It discourages the use of mass transit and the development of alternative fuels. It contributes to regional smog and to global climate change. The easiest and most obvious solution has long been to raise the federal gasoline tax, which now stands at only 18.4 cents a gallon. Among economists, there’s widespread support for this idea, including from Greg Mankiw, a Harvard professor who happens to be a top adviser to Romney. Writing in the Times earlier this year, Mankiw observed, “Economists who have added up all the externalities associated with driving conclude that a tax exceeding $2 a gallon makes sense.” He went on, “By taxing bad things more, we could tax good things less.”


What the country needs—and has always needed—is an energy policy that, instead of pandering to Americans’ sense of entitlement, would compel us finally to change our ways. In addition to a phased-in increase in the gas tax, it would include a comprehensive, economy-wide tax on carbon, or, alternatively, a cap-and-trade system. As it turns out, Mankiw isn’t the only senior person in a Republican campaign to see the importance of a new policy. When Romney was governor of Massachusetts, he presided over the introduction of one of the country’s first cap-and-trade programs, for the six largest power plants in the state. And in his book “No Apology” he wrote that “higher energy prices would encourage energy efficiency.” Perhaps, once he secures the nomination, he can Etch A Sketch his way back to reality, and challenge Obama to do the same.

Trayvon, race and class prejudice, and the war on drugs:
It still surprises people to learn that in the U.S., African Americans and whites take drugs at about the same rate, but black youth are twice as likely to be arrested for it and more than five times more likely to be prosecuted as an adult for drug crimes. In New York City, 87% of residents arrested under the police department’s “stop and frisk” policy are black or Hispanic. As Michelle Alexander writes in her bestselling book, The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness:
In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. So we don’t. Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color “criminals” and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind.
The drug war and the stigma it imparts on users are key weapons here. America’s cultural images of drug-related danger continue to be racially charged and the resulting stereotypes appear to be becoming increasingly deadly.


If we want to avoid tragedies like the Martin case, we must confront the racism and class prejudice that infect our ideas about drug users and warp our view of how drugs work. We need to admit that drug use itself doesn’t make people evil. Perhaps if we weren’t so quick to let these biases demonize drug users, Trayvon Martin might still be with us.

If Martin’s school had not suspended the boy under its “zero tolerance” policy for drug use — one that punishes students for possession of an empty plastic baggie with trace amounts of marijuana as severely as for possession of heroin or a gun — he probably would never even have crossed paths with the man who shot him. Martin was serving his suspension on Feb. 26, when he was killed.

Such school policies have not been shown to reduce drug problems, but they, too, have been found to be applied more often to black youth. A recent analysis showed that black children are 3.5 times more likely than whites to be suspended from school for drugs and that 70% of all youth referred by school authorities to police for prosecution are black, even though they make up only 18% of the school population in the U.S.
Trayvon, race, and clothing:
Whether through the Zoot Suit, Afrocentrist hair and clothing styles, or the emergence of b-boy and gangsta aesthetics, the twentieth and twenty-first centuries witnessed the continuation of a tradition that judged the acceptability of black bodies by the way clothing either supported or subverted societal norms. In Riviera Beach, Florida, nearly 70 percent of voters in 2008 passed an ordinance banning “sagging pants” in public, a style commonly associated with African-American male youths. Similar laws have been adopted in such disparate communities as Albany, Georgia and Lynwood, Illinois. African-American hairstyles are just as heavily policed, with bans passed in certain districts on unnatural hair colors for black students and dreadlocks (because the principal considered the style threatening)—and we all remember Don Imus’s comments about the Rutgers women’s basketball team. (Meanwhile, white youths around the country continue to mock African Americans by attending school, sporting events, and parties wearing blackface and dressing in stereotypically black attire.) When looked at through history’s lens, Martin’s hoodie is just the most recent example of America’s long-standing belief that race can be read through attire.

George Zimmerman’s suspicions about Martin were not formed in a vacuum, nor can they be written off as an anomaly in our otherwise post-racial society. Though by itself a hoodie is nothing more than fabric and dye, it stands at the intersection between racial stereotypes and cultural currency. Clothing, like race, gains meaning through the masses’ socio-political and cultural whims. This fluidity helps explains why Zimmerman was able to rely on Trayvon Martin’s sartorial choices to justify his suspicions that night, and why activists are able to organize their protest movement around the same hoodie. While most major networks focused on the apparent legality of shooting an unarmed black teenager, Geraldo Rivera, perhaps unwittingly, stumbled upon an important and heretofore overlooked component of Trayvon Martin’s death: in America, clothing is still one of the ways society fashions race and racism onto the black body.
The impacts of Florida's Stand Your Ground law:
In Florida, prosecutors and police associations opposed Stand Your Ground, to no effect. Since the law was passed, the number of “justifiable homicides” has tripled. Last year, according to the Tampa Bay Times, “twice a week, on average, someone’s killing was considered warranted.” This week, the state attorney in Tallahassee, Willie Meggs, told the Times, “The consequences of the law have been devastating around the state. It’s almost insane what we are having to deal with.” Gang members, drug dealers, and road-rage killers are, according to Meggs, all successfully invoking Stand Your Ground. “The person who is alive always says, ‘I was in fear that he was going to hurt me.’ … And the other person would say, ‘I wasn’t going to hurt anyone.’ But he is dead. That is the problem they are wrestling with in Sanford.”

Cancer, aspirin, and uncertainty.

Let us hope this means that it will be impossible to patent genes.

However, a recent SCOTUS decision on the liability of generic drug makers is hurting consumers.

Will Steffen thinks we're getting close to passing irreversible tipping points in the Earth system.

The cascading impacts of noise pollution on forests.

Climate change, loaded dice, and the increased probability of heat waves.

Could a judge's ruling force factory farms to do what the FDA refuses to tell them to do regarding antibiotics?

They may make billions in profits, but ExxonMobil pays even less in taxes than Mitt Romney.

Emily Bazelon on why we should be skeptical of leaked information from the police in the Trayvon Martin case.

Good thing Krugman isn't at a public university; otherwise, supporters of ALEC would probably be suing the government to release all his email correspondence (like they did with Bill Cronon) just because of this column exposing ALEC's disingenuous lies.

The depressing reality is that Dick Cheney was completely correct when he predicted the Obama administration would embrace unchecked executive power and government secrecy.

In short, drones provide the technological impetus and the military capacity to turn the entire world into one giant, permanent theater of war and a subject of total surveillance.”

An interview with Noam Chomsky.

Looks like the GOP's voter suppression efforts in Florida are working.

Wegman's: the anti-WalMart?

Bittman on the "right" to sell kids junk food.

Cuts to WIC's fresh produce program.

More on fake chicken.

The loss of a pet can rival the hurt of losing a relative.

Ben Zimmer on baseball and jazz.

Listen to the new album from former Books member Nick Zammuto.

And a new song from Sigur Ros.

Lastly, some self-promotion. Four more days to buy Poop Strong shirts on sale. Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month Special: 15% Off All T-shirts; enter code: STRONGPOOP.

No comments:

Post a Comment