The Bright Coast

Progressive Thoughts from San Diego Alums on Law, Politics, and Culture

Archive for the ‘Environment’ Category

San Diego Coastkeeper’s Blog

Posted by brightcoast on August 24, 2011

I recently stumbled upon the San Diego Coastkeeper’s blog, and I am quite impressed. However, I am not surprised that such a high quality, efficiently running, and passionate environmental water quality non-profit would have an equally strong web presence. It covers environmental issues, water quality specific topics, but also local San Diego issues, especially as related to the Areas of Special Biological Significance, just one of the many features that makes San Diego such a unique ecosystem, and place to live. Can you tell I miss it?

Also, their new executive director is a USD Law alum!

Check it out.


Posted in Environment, San Diego, USD Law | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Irrelevant (?) Con Law thought of the day:

Posted by brightcoast on May 3, 2011

Police and governmental officials can legally search your trash once you put it out onto the curb, yet environmental laws prevent you from burying your trash in the backyard or setting it on fire to destroy the evidence. There’s got to be a violation of some constitutional right in there, not to bear witness against yourself by having no alternative choice to putting your trash on the curb? Do the federal environmental laws preempt the state’s right to have access to your garbage? I’m wondering whether any criminal defense attorney has ever challenged the trash laws via this avenue…

Posted in Environment, The Law, U.S. Statutes | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

The Right’s War on Peas and Carrots

Posted by demkid on February 23, 2011

On the most recent Real Time with Bill Maher, Bill and his panel spent a significant amount of time discussing the current fight over the budget for FY 2011 (or what’s left of it).  As we saw last week, the House Republicans (with zero Democratic votes) passed a budget resolution filled with drastic cuts to numerous government agencies and programs, and thereby fulfilled their arbitrary campaign promise to cut $100 billion from the President’s proposed spending levels.  Bill, as a way to crudely illustrate the Republican strategy, pulled out a dinner platter which represented U.S. spending as a whole: heaping piles of fried chicken, mashed potatoes, and macaroni and cheese represented social security, medicare/medicaid, and defense spending.  Instead of attempting to tackle these huge chunks of our budget, however, Congressional Republicans decided that they would instead go after the tiny corner of mixed vegetables which represents non-security discretionary spending.  In the House Resolution, peas and carrots like home heating assistance for low-income families, medical research at the National Institutes of Health, Pell Grants, assistance for homeless veterans, and Planned Parenthood funding, were all cut in a frenzy.  At the same time, Republicans easily avoided cost-effective cuts like reductions in the billions of dollars in annual subsidies to oil companies.  It was truly a triumph for partisan ideology.  While these types of domestic programs may represent the peas and carrots of our budget when it comes to a percentage of the overall “meal”, when one considers the fact that they save lives and provide essential services to the American public, their importance seems more analogous to the meat and potatoes of Bill’s not-so-well-balanced dinner.

Perhaps the clearest example of the all-out ideological attack on a tiny part of the budget which provides a huge return on its investment is the attempt to slash the Environmental Protection Agency:

H.R. 1 cuts the Environmental Protection Agency’s budget by almost a third and hamstrings the EPA’s ability to protect the environment and Americans’ health. For example, the measure prevents the EPA from protecting communities from mercury, lead, arsenic and other toxic air pollution from cement plants, leaving thousands of children exposed and at risk of asthma, slowed brain development and other neurological disorders. The EPA safeguard that the measure blocks would have reduced mercury pollution by more than 90 percent and saved 2,500 lives each year.

Some of the other numerous provisions in the House Resolution targeting the environment and public safety would: interfere with the EPA’s ability to limit toxic pollution from coal-fired power plants, exempt oil companies from Clean Air Act review for drilling in the Arctic, prohibit the EPA from setting new health standards limiting coarse particulate matter in the air we breathe, stop the EPA from implementing certain portions of the Clean Water Act, thereby threatening drinking water and potentially leaving wetlands unprotected from pollution, and Eliminate EPA funding that would enable the agency to use the Clean Air Act to curb greenhouse gas emissions, including carbon dioxide, methane, and hydrofluorocarbons.

The EPA’s budget represents about 0.1% of total spending, yet House Republicans have been eager to attack policies and programs at every turn, and are quick to claim that EPA regulations threaten jobs.  The GOP needs to realize that their radical attacks on environmental protection just aren’t in line with either the American public or the facts:

The many people who were frustrated with government in the 2010 elections and voted for Tea Party members probably did not realize they were voting to “gut” environmental protections that Americans have enjoyed for the past several decades. A recent poll about proposals to weaken Clean Air Act rules indicates that members of Congress pushing to weaken environmental protection are distancing themselves from the electorate. Meanwhile the proposed budget cuts bear a striking resemblance to the Santa wish-list of K Street coal, chemical, oil and gas lobbyists. These lobbyists came late to the Tea Party, but made up for their tardiness with dollars.

The environmental and economic benefits provided by EPA’s work are visible in communities across America, ranging from reduced smog to cleaner waters and the all but end of indiscriminate hazardous waste dumping. These improvements have led to billions of dollars in health benefits that even the George W. Bush Administration catalogued. The dollars these safeguards have saved come primarily from reducing the number of Americans who become ill because of pollution.

The cost of the programs responsible for these improvements is a relatively small portion of the federal budget, and thus a very small percentage of the average American family’s tax expenditures. Yet, the benefits derived from these programs are extraordinary: clean air for our children to breathe, clean water for our families to drink, healthy public lands for people to recreate on, and clean oceans to support healthy fisheries and the livelihoods tied to this precious resource.

I highly recommend this article, which discusses the benefits of EPA regulation for workers:

A study just released by Ceres and the Political Economy Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts examines the jobs effects of some of the new regulations, specifically ones that have been harshly attacked by EPA critics. This well-documented study finds that far from being “job killers,” the new regulations will create nearly 300,000 new jobs, especially skilled, high-pay jobs for engineers, project managers, electricians, boilermakers, pipe-fitters, millwrights, and iron workers.

The new study joins a large number of previous studies showing that EPA regulation, in addition to protecting the environment and the public’s health, also serves as a job-growing economic stimulus and development program for the American economy. These studies directly contradict the endlessly repeated mantra that environmental regulations are “job killers.”

The cost of compliance with EPA regulation is generally less than two percent of total business costs. The idea that companies will shut down or go abroad to avoid such costs is ludicrous. However, companies often try to blame shutdowns and runaways on environmental compliance costs as a way to displace responsibility from other causes, such as new technologies, increased productivity, fluctuating energy prices — and their own corporate strategic decisions.

It will be an interesting next couple of weeks on the Hill.  Fortunately, the House Resolution with its partisan cuts is dead on arrival in the Senate.  The current Continuing Resolution (CR) runs out on March 4th, and as Congress is off this week, that leaves just a few working days to pass something before then to avoid a government shutdown.  As it stands now, it looks like Democrats in the Senate want to pass a “clean CR” which would keep spending levels the same for another month, and allow proper time for debate and compromise with Republicans.  The GOP, on the other hand, seems only willing to accept a temporary extension if it includes some level of cuts.  Something’s got to give.  One thing’s for certain, however.  While Americans generally favor spending cuts to reduce the deficit, when it comes to specific programs, we’re actually closeted big government spenders.  In a recent Pew Survey, while fewer Americans want spending to grow in specific areas, most cuts to programs are unpopular.  Double-digit percentages of the public actually favor increased spending levels over cuts in education, veterans’ benefits, health care, medicare, combating crime, energy, scientific research, and yes, environmental protection.  In another recent survey, most Americans oppose restrictions on the EPA.

While Republicans think they have a mandate to slash the peas and carrots of our budget, perhaps they should think again and recognize that while Americans generally support spending cuts, there’s little support for ultra-partisan political posturing.  Maybe it’s about time to take a hard look at reducing that huge, gooey heap of macaroni and cheese.

Posted in Environment, Federal Deficit, Politics | Tagged: , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Earth Day Turns 40

Posted by demkid on April 22, 2010

A year ago, I briefly wrote about the origins of Earth Day and the current state of the environmental movement.  I talked about how Earth Day has lost much of its meaning, primarily because the environment isn’t high on the list of issues that concern the public, and thus, politicians are slow to respond.  Even though this year we celebrate the 40th anniversary, little, if anything, has changed in the level of environmental consciousness.  I still fear that it will take a large disaster to force people to think about the environment as they did back in 1970.

The Washington Post has a good article today that goes into more detail about the origins of Earth Day.  Also discussed are the huge environmental successes that came out of the early movement, and the current “midlife crisis” that it’s facing:

But today, American environmentalism is struggling in a new kind of fight.

The problems are more slippery: pollutants like greenhouse-gas emissions, which don’t stink or sting the eyes. And current activists, by their own admission, rarely muster the kind of collar-grabbing immediacy that the first Earth Day gave to environmental causes.

“I don’t think we’ve come up with a good way in the conservation movement of making it real for people,” said Arturo Sandoval, who was 22 when he organized activities across the West on the first Earth Day.

In 1970, “you could say, ‘Have you been down to the river lately?’ And people would say, ‘Oh my God, I don’t even let my kids go there,’ “said Sandoval, now 62 and still working on environmental causes in Albuquerque. “Global warming, to most people, is an abstract issue.”

Sadly, I don’t see a significant percentage of Americans caring about the conservation movement in the near future.

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Statisticians Reject Global Cooling

Posted by demkid on November 3, 2009

I’ve been meaning to post this story for a little while.  The public seems to be so fickle on the global warming issue and environmental topics in general, so it’s nice to see somewhat lengthy articles like this one that tend to dismiss the nonsense coming from a select few.

Global warming skeptics base their claims on an unusually hot year in 1998. Since then, they say, temperatures have dropped — thus, a cooling trend. But it’s not that simple.

Since 1998, temperatures have dipped, soared, fallen again and are now rising once more. Records kept by the British meteorological office and satellite data used by climate skeptics still show 1998 as the hottest year. However, data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA show 2005 has topped 1998. Published peer-reviewed scientific research generally cites temperatures measured by ground sensors, which are from NOAA, NASA and the British, more than the satellite data.

The recent Internet chatter about cooling led NOAA’s climate data center to re-examine its temperature data. It found no cooling trend.

“The last 10 years are the warmest 10-year period of the modern record,” said NOAA climate monitoring chief Deke Arndt. “Even if you analyze the trend during that 10 years, the trend is actually positive, which means warming.”

“To talk about global cooling at the end of the hottest decade the planet has experienced in many thousands of years is ridiculous,” said Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist at the Carnegie Institution at Stanford.

Yet, as long as there’s nonsense floating around out there, a certain section of the public will always believe it.

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Earth Day: Can It Have Meaning, Again?

Posted by demkid on April 22, 2009

On January 28, 1969, a blowout on a Unocal rig 6 miles off the coast of Santa Barbara spilled 3 million gallons of oil into the Pacific Ocean.  Countless seabirds and other marine life died, and thick tar marred 35 miles of coastline in Santa Barbara County.  It took oil workers 11 days just to stop the rupture.  According to the Community Environmental Council, the founder of Earth Day, Senator Gaylord Nelson, took a trip to Santa Barbara right after this spill and was “so outraged by what he saw that he went back to Washington and passed a bill designating April 22 as a national day to celebrate the earth.”  The first Earth Day in 1970 was observed by over 20 million people, and today more than 500 million people and national governments in 175 countries participate, making it (by some accounts) the largest secular holiday in the world.  The catastrophe in Santa Barbara and the modern day environmental movement that it sparked led to the passage of important legislation like NEPA and the Clean Air Act, and resulted in the creation of the U.S. EPA. 

Although tons of people will take part in celebrations today, the tragedy that happened 40 years ago seems lost in the fog of the past.  While the spill galvanized a public and a government to achieve great things in environmental protection, this same level of urgency can hardly be seen these days.  People are now affording the environment a much lower priority, and while this may be understandable in a time of economic decline, this doesn’t make problems like climate change any less serious.  In this week’s New Yorker, Elizabeth Kolbert explains how “Earth Day has lost its edge and, with that, the sense that a different world is possible.”  While planting trees and hosting fairs are reasonable activities, Kolbert argues that large, self-organized outpourings, like the ones seen on the first Earth Day in 1970, are necessary to spark the environmental agenda yet again.  Simply put, if the public is blasé on serious issues like global warming, politicians will be slow to respond.  Kolbert discusses how the “[Obama] Administration has been strangely passive about trying to shape climate legislation . . . .”  It’s a scary thing if this President is, in fact, shying away from putting environmental protection high on his agenda. 

I sincerely hope that one Earth Day in the not-too-distant future will closely resemble the very first celebration and will demonstrate that the environmental movement should be taken seriously once again.  Unfortunately, unless another tragic event occurs that shocks the public consciousness, I fear that April 22nd will continue to be marked by stories of elementary school children participating in beach cleanups, the First Family planting trees at the White House, and websites “greening” their themes for a day.  Hey, at least we’re doing our part!!

Posted in Environment | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »