Weekly Mulch: Cost-Cutting at the Environment's Peril

 

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

In Washington, the environment is under attack. The cost-cutting deal that the House passed yesterday stripped the Environmental Protection Agency of $1.6 billion, which made up 16% of the agency’s budget. Funds for clean energy were cut. Republicans put in a provision that would keep the Department of the Interior from putting aside public lands for conservation and one thatkilled the nascent climate center at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

These choices represent a deeper antipathy toward nature and environmental health than the run-of-the-mill climate denialism that’s become au courant among congressional Republicans. They show that plenty of leaders in Congress do not care about basic protections that ensure clean air and clean water or that keep even small stretches of the planet safe from mining, drilling and other human interventions.

Greenlining

One idea driving these decisions is that, economically, the country can’t afford to protect the environment right now. But as Monica Potts argues at The American Prospect, in a review of two new books that cover the economy and the environment, green policies are good for business. In reviewing Climate Capitalism by L. Hunter Lovins and Boyd Cohen, Potts notes that “$2.8 billion a year is wasted because employees don’t turn off their computers when they leave work; comprehensive clean-energy and climate legislation could create 1.9 million jobs; improving indoor air quality could save businesses $200 billion annually in energy costs.”

Almost 2 million jobs! The country could use that boost right now. But those jobs depend, of course, on government action. As Potts points out, businesses won’t necessarily adopt these solutions on their own. The other book she reviews, Seth Fletcher’s Bottled Lightning, explains why electric cars weren’t developed sooner.

In short, “oil has stayed so remarkably cheap,” Potts writes. And, as she says, “The market doesn’t capture all of the costs that fossil fuels and other industrial-era processes impose on society.” Environmentally friendly policies might be good for business, but sometimes business doesn’t know it. The private sector won’t learn that lesson, either, if Washington is willing to sacrifice its administrative infrastructure for handling environmental issues.

New energy, new decisions

The country’s going to want its government to have some environmental experts left around for another reason, too. As oil and gas get more expensive, alternative energy sources are going to look more appealing. But while they might have lower carbon emissions, they raise new issues about clean air and water and about their impact on ecosystems. The EPA, for example, is currently studying the water and air impacts of natural gas, which has been widely touted as a fuel source that emits less carbon than coal.

But that may not be accurate, either. In a study obtained this week by The Hill, Robert Howarth, a Cornell University scientist, found that the total amount of greenhouse gas emissions related to natural gas production may actually far outstrip the amount coal produces. Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard explains:

While burning natural gas may emit less carbon dioxide, its extraction releases quite a bit of methane, a more potent greenhouse gas. Gas from shale—a fine-grained layer of rock below the earth’s surface—is also responsible for 30 percent more greenhouse gas emissions than conventional natural gas. The study found that up to 7.9 percent of the methane escapes directly from the wells, leaks from pipelines, or is released in venting and flaring. While the leaks may be relatively small, methane is such a potent greenhouse gas that those leaks have a major impact, Howarth tells Mother Jones.

Fighting back against fracking

If Howarth’s study is correct, that means even worse news for communities in the gas fields that have been fighting against new natural gas drilling, only to be told that it’s for the greater good. For instance, in New York this week, Public News Service’s Mike Clifford reports that “Dozens of environmental and health groups are asking [Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers] to put the longer-term issues of air and water quality ahead of any short-term gas profits.”

The Sierra Club’s Roger Downs tells Clifford, “We’ve seen in places like Wyoming, where the oil and gas industry has been booming, children on certain days cannot go out and play; they get nosebleeds from the air quality. It’s serious stuff, and we don’t want that in New York.”

Just over in Pennsylvania, natural gas drilling has been going ahead, and Nina Berman reports for AlterNet on its impact on families:

The Spencers’ house, once valued at $150,000, is now worth $29,000. They have a methane monitor in their basement, a methane water filtration system in a backyard shed. They leave the door open when they take showers because with no bathroom windows they are afraid the house could blow up. Their neighbors were forced to evacuate once already because of high methane levels. In the middle of their yard, a shaft resembling a shrunken flagpole vents gas from their wellhead.

Right now, the EPA is studying the effects that natural gas drilling have on public health. Their findings could, at the very least, strengthen the case for putting restrictions on drilling companies to prevent pollution. But if anti-environmentalists in Washington keep cutting into the bottom line of environmental programs, families like the Spencers will have an even harder time fighting against the conditions they’re facing now.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment bymembers of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The AuditThe Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

S02E10: Stopping CFPB

Much of the authority of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) is schedule to go into effect in July, which means that between now and then, attempts by House Republicans to limit that authority are going to intensify. This week's episode of 90 Second Summaries examines some of those attempts.

Though these bills are unlikely to see real action on their own, look for a measure of this sort to be included as a rider on some must-pass piece of legislation.

There's more...

Common Corporate Sense

Half a world away, a tiny band of workers is trying to save their country from a nuclear meltdown. Closer to home, 11 people died and tens of thousands more lost their livelihoods when an oil rig caught fire in the Gulf of Mexico. Even closer, my local news carries daily accounts of how a gas line explosion that left 8 dead, 50 injured, and 40 families homeless could have been prevented.

All of these events have two things in common – they’re accidents. No one got out of bed one morning and said, “Gee, I think I’ll go out and kill someone today.”

The other is that with some common sense and honesty, all of them could have been prevented or at least their risk mitigated by prudent action – even when a tsunami rolls ashore.

Cutting Corners to Keep the Dividends
For years, all the companies involved told their governments and the public things were just peachy. “Safety is our top priority. We’re responsible citizens” as if by top priority you mean cutting corners so the dividends keep on rolling in. Their inability to follow the rules is ample proof.

It’s de rigueur these days to lament the crushing weight of regulations on business, a not wholly inaccurate charge. The popular refrain is that unnecessary regulations kill jobs and stymie innovation, progress, and plenty. However, fewer point out that a job isn’t much good if you, your family, or your neighbors end up in the morgue waiting to be identified by their dental work or the ash pile that is their DNA.

All of these events, like thousands before them, will generate new regulations. The throngs don’t take kindly to being blown up while watching American Idol and they’ll push their government to do something and do something now.

Score 1 for K St.
The gears of government will turn. There will be a cacophony over just how far the regulations should go. In the end, lobbyists will win out and the resulting regulations will, more often than not, benefit the companies and not control their stupidity. Score 1 for K St.

That doesn’t matter much anyway. Government won’t enforce the laws and will cut back on the agencies that are responsible for that because someone needs a tax cut. The companies will continue to have accidents and all will be right with the world until the next tiny band of workers is irradiated or killed for simply going to work at ones of those nifty jobs that were generated by the cutting of corners and ignoring of regulations – the same regulations that tried to legislate common sense into people who have none of their own.

In the end, these events aren’t about small government or big government. They aren’t about deregulation or over-regulation. They aren’t about the gulf between the haves and have nots. They are about the ultimate failure of holding companies responsible for what they do.

Just as CEO’s don’t get out of bed in the morning plotting on who to kill today, regulations don’t come about needlessly. They come about as the result of someone not doing something that should have.

Unfortunately, you can’t legislate common sense into a thick corporate skull. And, we’re all the worse off for it.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

 

 

Weekly Diaspora: Arizona Pushing Undocumented to Surrounding States

By Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Stricter immigration enforcement and reduced economic opportunities in Arizona has pushed many undocumented immigrants out of the state to look for work.

While restrictionist lawmakers, whose stated objective over the last year has been to drive attrition through enforcement, are satisfied, it’s not exactly the outcome they’ve been waiting for. Rather than return to their home countries, most immigrants are instead relocating to surrounding states — a trend that’s prompting legislators in other states to approach immigration reform in radically different ways.

Oklahoma Absorbs Arizona Emigrants

Oklahama is experiencing a considerable influx of undocumented immigrants fleeing Arizona,according to Kari Lydersen at Working In These Times. The rising immigrant population has created friction among residents, some of whom believe that undocumented migrants are taking jobs away from Oklahomans. In response, state lawmakers have introduced a bill known as “Arizona Plus,” which incorporates many of Arizona’s more controversial laws, in an effort to expel immigrants in much the same way that Arizona’s existing immigrations laws attempt to do. Lydersen explains:

State Senator Ralph Shortey (R) and Shannon Clark, a Tulsa police officer in charge of enforcing the city’s 287(g) immigration program, said workers including masons and tile workers have been greatly affected by the influx of immigrant workers from Arizona. Employers and civil rights leaders have decried the proposed Arizona Plus measure and other recently introduced anti-immigrant laws, saying that immigrants provide a crucial part of the state’s workforce, especially in areas with otherwise aging and declining populations.

There remains disagreement about the actual economic impacts of unauthorized immigration. As state Senator Andrew Rice (D) told Lydersen, many of Oklahoma’s incoming immigrants are assuming low-wage jobs that citizens are not even bothering to apply for.

Immigrants are an economic boon

Of course, numerous studies demonstrate that immigration actually bolsters economies rather than depressing them, effectively driving wages up and creating opportunities for American workers to move into more highly skilled fields, as Mikhail Zinshteyn of Campus Progress explains:

A study co-authored by George Borjas…shows without new waves of immigration, legal or otherwise, there would be far fewer businesses operating today because of an inadequate labor market. His partner on the paper, Lawrence F. Katz, co-authoredanother study that showed income inequality in the bottom half of the economic ladder has not increased since the 1980s—meaning the huge spike in undocumented immigrants since 1990 has had no statistical effect on the economic fortunes of the Americans they allegedly affect.

Facts notwithstanding, pitting undocumented laborers against low-income American workers is a time-tested tactic of anti-immigrant politicos. It’s effective too, even though — as Zinshteyn notes — many of its proponents also support myriad other policies that directly hurt low-income American laborers.

Utah proposes guest worker program for undocumented migrants

Meanwhile Utah’s legislature is proposing to handle unauthorized immigration rather differently. New America Media reports that state lawmakers passed a bill last week that seeks to legalize and integrate undocumented laborers into the state’s workforce. The measure would create two-year work visas for undocumented Mexican immigrants without a criminal record and their families, for fees ranging from $1,000-$2,500. Lawmakers hope to demonstrate that Utah, which is home to 110,000 undocumented immigrants, is a safer place for migrants than Arizona.

Immigrant rights advocates are not as enthusiastic, however. Colorlines.com’s Julianne Hing notesthat the Utah legislature also passed enforcement and employer sanctions measures last week, which — while less draconian than Arizona’s — nevertheless do their part to marginalize and oppress undocumented immigrants. Hing adds:

[Activists] argue that the benefits of the guest worker program will not be enough to mitigate the harm of harsh enforcement measures that will almost certainly lead to more exploitation and deportation.

Regardless, many others are lauding Utah’s efforts to implement some kind of reform that legalizes undocumented immigrants living in the United States — particularly as Congress has yet to move forward with any attempt at comprehensive immigration reform.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration bymembers of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The AuditThe Mulch, and The Pulse<. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

Weekly Diaspora: Arizona Pushing Undocumented to Surrounding States

By Catherine A. Traywick, Media Consortium blogger

Stricter immigration enforcement and reduced economic opportunities in Arizona has pushed many undocumented immigrants out of the state to look for work.

While restrictionist lawmakers, whose stated objective over the last year has been to drive attrition through enforcement, are satisfied, it’s not exactly the outcome they’ve been waiting for. Rather than return to their home countries, most immigrants are instead relocating to surrounding states — a trend that’s prompting legislators in other states to approach immigration reform in radically different ways.

Oklahoma Absorbs Arizona Emigrants

Oklahama is experiencing a considerable influx of undocumented immigrants fleeing Arizona,according to Kari Lydersen at Working In These Times. The rising immigrant population has created friction among residents, some of whom believe that undocumented migrants are taking jobs away from Oklahomans. In response, state lawmakers have introduced a bill known as “Arizona Plus,” which incorporates many of Arizona’s more controversial laws, in an effort to expel immigrants in much the same way that Arizona’s existing immigrations laws attempt to do. Lydersen explains:

State Senator Ralph Shortey (R) and Shannon Clark, a Tulsa police officer in charge of enforcing the city’s 287(g) immigration program, said workers including masons and tile workers have been greatly affected by the influx of immigrant workers from Arizona. Employers and civil rights leaders have decried the proposed Arizona Plus measure and other recently introduced anti-immigrant laws, saying that immigrants provide a crucial part of the state’s workforce, especially in areas with otherwise aging and declining populations.

There remains disagreement about the actual economic impacts of unauthorized immigration. As state Senator Andrew Rice (D) told Lydersen, many of Oklahoma’s incoming immigrants are assuming low-wage jobs that citizens are not even bothering to apply for.

Immigrants are an economic boon

Of course, numerous studies demonstrate that immigration actually bolsters economies rather than depressing them, effectively driving wages up and creating opportunities for American workers to move into more highly skilled fields, as Mikhail Zinshteyn of Campus Progress explains:

A study co-authored by George Borjas…shows without new waves of immigration, legal or otherwise, there would be far fewer businesses operating today because of an inadequate labor market. His partner on the paper, Lawrence F. Katz, co-authoredanother study that showed income inequality in the bottom half of the economic ladder has not increased since the 1980s—meaning the huge spike in undocumented immigrants since 1990 has had no statistical effect on the economic fortunes of the Americans they allegedly affect.

Facts notwithstanding, pitting undocumented laborers against low-income American workers is a time-tested tactic of anti-immigrant politicos. It’s effective too, even though — as Zinshteyn notes — many of its proponents also support myriad other policies that directly hurt low-income American laborers.

Utah proposes guest worker program for undocumented migrants

Meanwhile Utah’s legislature is proposing to handle unauthorized immigration rather differently. New America Media reports that state lawmakers passed a bill last week that seeks to legalize and integrate undocumented laborers into the state’s workforce. The measure would create two-year work visas for undocumented Mexican immigrants without a criminal record and their families, for fees ranging from $1,000-$2,500. Lawmakers hope to demonstrate that Utah, which is home to 110,000 undocumented immigrants, is a safer place for migrants than Arizona.

Immigrant rights advocates are not as enthusiastic, however. Colorlines.com’s Julianne Hing notesthat the Utah legislature also passed enforcement and employer sanctions measures last week, which — while less draconian than Arizona’s — nevertheless do their part to marginalize and oppress undocumented immigrants. Hing adds:

[Activists] argue that the benefits of the guest worker program will not be enough to mitigate the harm of harsh enforcement measures that will almost certainly lead to more exploitation and deportation.

Regardless, many others are lauding Utah’s efforts to implement some kind of reform that legalizes undocumented immigrants living in the United States — particularly as Congress has yet to move forward with any attempt at comprehensive immigration reform.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about immigration bymembers of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Diaspora for a complete list of articles on immigration issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, environment, and health care issues, check out The AuditThe Mulch, and The Pulse<. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

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