Saturday, January 10, 2015

Note To POTUS 44 — Veto, Baby, Veto!

Eags provides a classic bit of environmental analysis today. If there ever was a bill to kill, 'tis the Keystone XL Pipeline enabling legislation. If there ever was a public works project to support, 'tis the idea of bullet trains to replace the Interstate Highway System. If this is is (fair & balanced) environmental wisdom, so be it.

[x NY Fishwrap]
A Pipeline And A Pie In The Sky
By Timothy Egan

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The Koch brothers Congress, purchased with the help of about $100 million from the political network of the billionaire energy producers, got down to its first order of business this week: trying to hold off the future.

Meanwhile, here on the other coast, one of the most popular politicians in America, Governor Jerry Brown [D-CA], bounced into his fourth and final term by trying to hasten that future. The contrasts — East and West, old and new, backward-looking and forward-marching, the beholden and behold! — could not have been more stark.

The 114th Congress is trying to rush through the Keystone XL pipeline to carry oil from the dirty tar sands of Canada to the Gulf Coast. The State Department has estimated that the total number of permanent new jobs created by the pipeline would be 35 — about the same as the handful of new taco trucks in my neighborhood in Seattle. This, at a time when the world is awash in cheap oil.

Governor Brown, having balanced a runaway California budget and delivered near-record job growth in a state Republicans had written off as ungovernable, laid out an agenda to free the world’s eighth-largest economy — his state — from being tied to old energy, old transportation and old infrastructure. He doubled down on plans to build a bullet-train network and replumb the state’s water system, while setting new goals to reduce dependence on energy that raises the global temperature.

“The challenge is to build for the future, not steal from it,” said Governor Brown, who is the embodiment of the line about how living well is the best revenge — political division. He is 76, but said he’s been pumping iron and eating his vegetables of late so he can live to see the completion of the high-speed rail system, about 2030, when Governor Brown would be a frisky 92.

Russia, which is ranked below California in overall economic output, is teetering as world commodity prices provide a cold lesson in what can happen to a country tied to the fate of oil’s wild swings. The Republicans should take note. The Keystone pipeline, though largely symbolic in the global scheme of things, does nothing for the American economy except set up the United States as a pass-through colony for foreign industrialists. Well, not all foreign: The Koch brothers are one of the largest outside leaseholders of acres in Canadian oil sands, according to a Washington Post report. I’m sure that has nothing to do with the fierce urgency of rushing Keystone XL through Congress now.

At the same time, the Republican hold-back-the-clock majority announced plans to roll back environmental regulations. Fighting hard for dirty air, dirty water and old-century energy producers, the new Senate leaders are trying to keep some of the nation’s oldest and most gasping coal plants in operation, and to ensure that unhealthy air can pass freely from one state to the other. One strategy is to block money to enforce new rules against the biggest polluters.

For intellectual guidance, Republicans can count on 80-year-old Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the incoming chairman of the environment committee. Inhofe calls the consensus scientific view on human-caused warming “the greatest hoax.” He plans to use his gavel to hold back regulations aimed at reducing carbon emissions, fighting the obvious at every turn.

The headache, for the rest of us, will come when the nations of the world meet in Paris at year’s end to discuss how to address the problem that knows no nationality. We’ll talk about China and its climate-warming coal plants. Critics will point to the United States, its knuckle-dragging Congress and the industries it is shielding from responsibility.

The Republican agenda is frozen in time. It’s all frack-your-way-to-prosperity, and Sarah Palin shouting, “Drill, baby, drill.” The problem, of course, is that the world doesn’t need any more oil, not now; the price is down by 50 percent over the last year with no bottom in sight. Cheap petro is killing not just Russia but Iraq, Venezuela, Saudi monarchs and, soon, assorted other dependencies — like Alaska and Texas. At some point, the only way the Keystone XL can be profitably built and operated is with a huge subsidy from taxpayers.

Nature, also, is weighing in. Earthquakes in Texas and Oklahoma are raising alarms about the relationship between the hydraulic byproducts of fracking and the temblors rolling through a huge swatch of land that’s been perforated for oil and gas drillers.

Governor Brown and another West Coast governor, Jay Inslee of Washington, view the cheap oil era as a golden opportunity for an energy pivot. Inslee wants to tax the biggest carbon emitters to pay for new infrastructure. The motto is tax what you burn, not what you earn.

Governor Brown is quick to note the big forces at play between the West Coast and the pollution panderers along the Potomac. “California is basically presenting a challenge to Washington,” he told reporters earlier this week.

A big piece of that challenge is the $68 billion high-speed rail project, which would zip passengers between San Francisco and Los Angeles in just under three hours. It’s bogged down in legal and financial muck, and critics call it pie in the sky.

But Governor Brown is undaunted. What he has going for him is an old strain in the American character, dormant for much of the Great Recession — the tomorrow gene. There’s no legacy, no long-term payoff, in defending things that are well past their pull point. And, seriously, which would you rather have: a futuristic, clean-energy train, or a pipeline that carries a product produced in a way that makes the world a worse place to live? Ω

[Timothy Egan writes "Outposts," a column at the NY Fishwrap online. Egan — winner of both a Pulitzer Prize in 2001 as a member of a team of reporters who wrote the series "How Race Is Lived in America" and a National Book Award (The Worst Hard Time in 2006) — graduated from the University of Washington with a degree in journalism, and was awarded an honorary doctorate of humane letters by Whitman College in 2000 for his environmental writings. Egan's most recent book is The Big Burn: Teddy Roosevelt and the Fire that Saved America (2009).]

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