Amanda Griscom Little

Will Global Warming Threaten National Security?

This article is reprinted by permission from Grist. For more environmental news and humor sign up for Grist's free email service.

How might U.S. national security be threatened by mega-droughts, coastal flooding, killer hurricanes, food scarcity, and the other ecological calamities scientists widely predict will occur if global warming continues apace?

No one knows, but Sens. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) think it's time to find out. Last week, the bipartisan duo introduced a bill that would require federal intelligence agencies to collaborate on a National Intelligence Estimate to evaluate the security challenges presented by climate change.

The bill's debut is well-timed. First, it came just before the official release of a big report on the expected impacts of global warming from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Unveiled on Friday, the report painted a sobering picture of the increased famine, drought, heat waves, fires, storms, and infectious-disease outbreaks that we can expect to riddle the globe, particularly in the world's poorest nations, if current warming trends aren't reversed. Second, it comes just as Britain has scheduled an April 17 meeting of the U.N. Security Council to discuss potential security threats posed by climate change -- the first time the body will consider the issue.

National Intelligence Estimates -- NIEs in intelligence lingo -- "are about as authoritative as it gets when it comes to written judgments concerning national security issues," explains Joe Shoemaker, Durbin's press secretary.

"They are developed to address the most serious of threats." It was an NIE on Iraq's program to build weapons of mass destruction, for instance, that the Bush administration used as key evidence (albeit deeply flawed) in making its case for invading Iraq. Other subjects of NIEs in recent years have included nuclear-weapons development in Iran and the likelihood of a Sunni-Shiite civil war breaking out in Iraq.

NIEs involve 16 intelligence agencies -- including the Central Intelligence Agency, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and various military intelligence arms -- working together typically over three to six months, pooling data and sharing perspectives to assemble a comprehensive picture of threats to U.S. security. "It would be a significant investment of time and resources," says Shoemaker.

Durbin, assistant Senate majority leader, has long supported a federal cap on greenhouse gases, and is now broadening his case for action against climate change. "For years, too many of us have viewed global warming as simply an environmental or economic issue," he said in introducing the bill at a Senate hearing last week. "We now need to consider it as a security concern." Durbin characterized climate-change consequences as "a clear and present danger to the United States" and "a potential threat multiplier for instability around the world."

Hagel, a possible contender for the GOP presidential nomination, led the effort to block U.S. participation in the Kyoto treaty and continues to staunchly oppose mandatory restrictions on greenhouse gases, but he has been a leader among moderate Republicans in moving to address climate change in other, non-regulatory ways.

"Sen. Durbin and I differ on policy initiatives designed to reduce the impact of climate change," Hagel said at the hearing. "We do agree, however, on the need to assess potential impacts of the changing climate on U.S. national security interests."

Perhaps Hagel considers this bill a good way to position himself for a presidential run -- combining national security, a key GOP issue, with climate change, the big topic du jour.

Enviros applaud the bipartisan measure. "It's welcome to see Hagel pairing with Durbin on this," David Doniger of the Natural Resource Defense Council told Muckraker. "But it would be even more welcome to see him embrace the need for deep, mandatory cuts in global-warming pollution." To recognize the severity of the threat but not support a meaningful solution, said Doniger, is "a bit of an internal contradiction."

Hagel's support for this bill nevertheless represents an important turnabout for Republicans. There was an effort during the Clinton administration to broaden the definition of national security to include environmental and humanitarian threats like climate change and famine, but, said Doniger, "Republicans pooh-poohed it as namby-pamby stuff, as though the real men only dealt with bombs. Look where that approach got us."

Times have indeed changed since the Clinton era. Not only has the scientific community come to virtual consensus on the reality of climate change, but conflicts over resource scarcity have intensified. "Some say that what we're seeing in Darfur, for instance, is at its core a climate-change war," said Doniger. "It's driven by drought that causes the farmers to fight for limited access to arable land and pasture."

These are precisely the kinds of conditions that the NIE would evaluate. Said Durbin at the Senate hearing, "Many of the most severe effects of global warming are expected in regions where fragile governments are least capable of responding to them."

He described Africa's susceptibility to famine, and the flood vulnerability of low-lying coastal areas in the Asia-Pacific region, home to 58 percent of the world's population. Disasters in such areas could displace hundreds of millions of people, overburden national militaries, and require an international response. "This intelligence assessment will guide policymakers in protecting our national security and averting potential international crises," Durbin said.

Dave Hamilton, director of the Sierra Club's Global Warming and Energy Program, hopes the bill will help broaden the American public's understanding of energy security. "Usually people equate that simply with reducing oil imports, but an equally if not more potent aspect of this challenge is using energy in a way that lessens the progression of global warming," he said.

No date has yet been set for a vote on the bill, but Durbin's staffers expect it to take place in the next two to six months. Shoemaker believes the bill has a good chance of passing into law, but predicts some initial pushback.

"There will be those who balk and say that by requesting the NIE we're now effectively equating global warming with military conflict," he said, since NIEs have traditionally been used to assess military threats. "Our short answer would be, 'Yes.' In the long run, the threat level is, at the very least, comparable."

Gore Takes on Capitol Hill

This article is reprinted by permission from Grist. For more environmental news and humor sign up for Grist's free email service.

Exhibiting a curious mixture of nostalgia and irreverence, Al Gore returned to the halls of Congress yesterday to make the case for sweeping federal action to fight global warming.

Buoyed by his recent Academy Award triumph, Gore testified at hearings in both the House and the Senate. Audiences of hundreds lined the oak-paneled walls of the hearing rooms, crowded the aisles, and craned their necks for a glimpse of Capitol Hill's comeback kid. It was the kind of blockbuster turnout that Gore now draws at nearly every public appearance, yet in this case it felt particularly profound given that his last visit to congressional turf in January 2001 -- when he presided over the Senate in his final days as veep, after a foiled presidential bid -- marked the loneliest hour of his political career.

"It's an emotional occasion for me," Gore confessed at the outset of his House testimony. Throughout the course of the hearings, which together lasted more than four hours, he exchanged affectionate greetings and memories with many of the dozens of participants from both sides of the aisle -- former colleagues on the House Energy and Commerce Committee and the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, both of which he served on during his 16-year congressional career.

But amid the niceties, Gore got down to business. While much of the media coverage has portrayed his visit as a largely symbolic attempt to raise the political profile of the climate issue, too little attention has been paid to the ambitious set of 10 legislative recommendations that were the centerpiece of his testimony. The recommendations were so ambitious -- so politically implausible, some might say -- that they could arguably disqualify Gore from any hope of again becoming a viable political candidate. Either that, or these high-flying goals could make him all the more unstoppable.

"First, we need to immediately freeze CO2 levels in the U.S.," Gore enjoined the crowd. He then proposed a cap-and-trade program that would slash greenhouse-gas emissions 90 percent by 2050. (This goal outstrips the most ambitious yet proposed in Congress, which calls for reductions of 80 percent by the same date, and is widely considered unattainable.)

Gore went on to recommend a program that would significantly cut income taxes and make up the lost federal revenue with pollution taxes, principally on carbon dioxide. "I fully understand this is considered politically impossible," he said, "but part of our challenge is trying to expand the limits of what is possible." When Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.) questioned the need for both a carbon cap and a carbon tax, given that the debate is typically over one or the other, Gore argued for both.

Other items on Gore's legislative list included a new global post-Kyoto treaty that Congress should "sprint to ratify" by 2010; a moratorium on the construction of new coal plants that would not be compatible with carbon-capture and sequestration technology; stricter fuel-economy standards; a ban on incandescent light bulbs; and a carbon-neutral mortgage association (CNMA or, as Gore pronounced it, "Connie Mae") that would help homeowners finance energy-saving technologies and renewable-energy installations.

Capping off his list was a proposal for a so-called "electranet" -- a distributed network that would enable small-business owners and homeowners to become individual electricity producers, feeding their excess renewable energy back into the grid.

Gore had floated most of these proposals casually in past public presentations, but never in such a comprehensive package or in such a visible context. If his list of recommendations was surprisingly gutsy, more surprising still was the fact that few of his Democratic colleagues even blinked at their scope. In fact, most scarcely commented on the specifics, instead offering him good tidings and praise for his climate work.

"Welcome back, welcome home old friend," smiled Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, who had invited Gore to the hearing. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) called Gore "a prophet" on climate change who has long "had [his] finger on the pulse of the 21st century."

"You really are a role model for us all," said Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who presided over the Senate hearing. "It's not every day that this committee has an Academy Award winner testifying!" kvelled Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.). "This has been absolutely wonderful!" beamed Hillary Clinton at the conclusion of the hearing.

The effusive praise clearly overwhelmed Gore, and he groped for some alternative to the litany of thank-yous he'd been expressing. "You don't give out any kind of statue or anything, do you?" he deadpanned, in a spoof of his recent Oscar success. Boxer did have a trophy of sorts, in fact -- a bound transcript of a recent Senate hearing on climate change. When she presented it to him, the congressional paparazzi went wild.

In between the two hearings, Gore met with top Dems -- he lunched with Boxer, and took meetings with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

But perhaps a better indication of Gore's political potency was the half a million protest messages he brought with him from citizens who had called for congressional action on climate change via AlGore.com. A sampling of the letters were on display in two huge crates that sat next to Gore during his testimony.

Further reaffirming Gore's sway were the discomfort and dismay he seemed to effortlessly inflict on a handful of skeptical Republicans. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), ranking member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, was beside himself at the House hearing, complaining that Gore hadn't handed in a copy of his testimony 24 hours in advance, thereby leaving committee members at a disadvantage. "How are we supposed to prepare questions?" he griped. Groaned Texas Rep. Ralph Hall (R), "Today we are witnessing an all-out assault on all forms of fossil fuels and energy!" Later in the day, James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the Senate's most die-hard climate-change denier, fumed when he felt Gore was taking too long to answer his questions. "You had 30 [minutes to speak]," he squawked. "I had 15! You've got to let me have my 15!" Gore came out of it all looking like an elder statesman while his detractors looked like fearful, squabbling teenagers.

Not surprisingly, Gore was barraged in the hallways with questions about whether he would mount another presidential campaign in 2008, to which he flatly replied, "I don't have plans to run for president again."

Indeed, his gutsy, devil-may-care attitude would seem to indicate that he doesn't intend to jump back into the political arena. But then it's this very lack of concern for political pragmatism, this willingness to take big risks, that would enable a true leader to weather and rise above the current political climate.

Will King Coal Be Deposed?

This article is reprinted by permission from Grist. For more environmental news and humor sign up for Grist's free email service.

Climate scientists, key members of Congress, enviros, and the progressive wing of the business world are plotting a coup d'état. Regime change isn't likely to come soon, but this resistance movement could significantly alter the way the pollution-spewing sovereign wields its power.

The ringleader of this uprising is James Hansen, director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies and one of the world's top climate scientists. Last week he threw down the gauntlet: "There should be a moratorium on building any more coal-fired power plants," Hansen told the National Press Club.

Coal currently supplies nearly half the electricity in the U.S., and is responsible for more greenhouse-gas emissions than any other electricity source. The Department of Energy reported last month that 159 new coal-fired power plants are scheduled to be built in the U.S. in the coming decade, intended to generate enough juice for nearly 100 million homes.

"If you build a new coal plant, you're making a 60-year commitment -- that's how long these plants are generally in use," explains David Doniger, policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council's climate center. "So we really need to avoid building a whole new generation of coal plants that use the old technology."

Industry boosters tout the prospect of so-called "clean coal," but right now there is simply no such thing. Zero-carbon coal plants -- ones that will gasify coal, filter carbon dioxide from the vapor, then stow the CO2 underground -- are a long way off from commercial application. A handful of coal-gasification plants are in development, and could eventually be retrofitted with carbon-capture and -sequestration capabilities, but for now this pollution-storage technology is years away from even a working pilot phase.

"Until we have that clean coal power plant, we should not be building them," Hansen told his D.C. audience. "It is as clear as a bell."

Then the esteemed scientist raised even more eyebrows by declaring that, come mid-century, any old dinosaur coal plants that still aren't sequestering CO2 ought to be "bulldozed."

Industry reps are scoffing. "Some of Hansen's suggestions are absolutely ludicrous," energy lobbyist Frank Maisano told Muckraker. "There are fast-growing, rural areas of the country where coal is the only affordable option. Hansen's recommendations would put these areas at risk -- they're a recipe for disaster." Maisano added that the NASA top dog "may be a great scientist, but when it comes to energy policy, apparently he has a lot to learn."

Now You Policy It

And yet a growing number of policymakers are thinking along the same lines as Hansen.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) is drafting a bill that would "prevent any plant from going forward that uses old [coal-fired] technology," said the senator's spokesperson Vincent Morris. Kerry, who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Innovation, expects to introduce the bill in the coming weeks, after ironing out the details on performance standards for advanced-technology coal plants.

"Industry leaders know they are operating in a climate of uncertainty, and that is a very uncomfortable climate for them," Morris said. "They need a clear path charted in terms of the expectations for advanced coal technology, and that's what Sen. Kerry is working on."

The most aggressive climate-change bill in the Senate -- the Global Warming Pollution Reduction Act, sponsored by Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) -- also includes a provision that would require all coal power plants built after 2012 to emit no more greenhouse gases than a combined-cycle gas turbine electric plant, a type of highly efficient natural-gas plant, by 2016. (A similar clean-as-a-CCGT-plant standard is already in effect in California.) By 2030, the Sanders-Boxer bill would require all power plants to be this clean no matter when they came online.

"What that means, effectively, is that you'd have to start phasing in the carbon-sequestration technology as of 2012," Sanders said. "It would offer a big push to get this new technology ready for prime time."

Sanders shares Hansen's emphatic aversion to present-day coal technology: "These plants are destroying the planet! And on top of that they are spewing all kinds of crap that is causing asthma among our children."

It's hard to imagine a moratorium on conventional coal technology being signed into law any time soon, and yet these proposals still send an important signal. "They make investment in the more advanced coal technology look better to companies and investors because there's less of a regulatory risk," says Doniger.

Double, Double, Coal and Trouble

Even without congressional action, coal's been having a rough go of it of late.

For months, concerned citizens and enviros had been protesting plans by giant Texas utility TXU to build 11 old-style coal-fired power plants in the state. Then, in late February, a handful of private investors proposed buying out TXU for a record-breaking $45 billion, and struck a truce that headed off a lawsuit by Environmental Defense and other green groups by agreeing to cut the number of new coal plants down to three. More surprising, these private entities, which include Kohlberg Kravis Roberts & Co. and Texas Pacific Group, vowed to support a mandatory national cap on greenhouse-gas emissions, as well as to have TXU invest $400 million in conservation and energy-efficiency programs over the next five years.

Last week, the North Carolina Public Utilities Commission rejected one of two major coal generators proposed by Duke Energy -- which, strangely enough, has been on the frontlines of the call for federal climate caps. In exchange for permission to build the one plant, the commission said Duke would have to retire four aging coal units and plow 1 percent of its annual retail revenue -- about $50 million -- into energy-efficiency programs. Duke is now reassessing its plans.

Some environmentalists are bristling over both the TXU and Duke deals, saying that even one new coal plant is too many, and, in the case of the TXU arrangement, that Environmental Defense and NRDC, which also took part in the negotiations, gave up too much for too little. Still, these concessions show that the utility industry is significantly rethinking its relationship to an increasingly embattled energy source -- and taking ever more seriously the counsel of environmentalists.

Last week, CNNMoney.com characterized the negotiations between enviros and TXU's prospective buyers as "the latest sign of how the green lobby is increasingly shaping the agenda on Wall Street."

Said Sanders, "For a long time, industry argued that if we take aggressive action on climate change, it could have negative economic impact. But now the reality is that if we do not take aggressive action, the economic impacts of global warming will far surpass those [industry] feared would come as a result of regulations."

Moreover, argues Sanders, innovations like coal gasification and sequestration technology have the potential to "reestablish the United States' leadership position in the global economy." India and China are adding roughly one major coal-fired power plant every week, so, he says, "It would be a huge boon for us, ethically and economically, to be able to meet that kind of demand with coal plants that are clean."

The fight to set tougher fuel-economy standards for cars and trucks has gotten the lion's share of attention in D.C. discussions of climate policy, but the quest to establish ambitious coal-plant performance standards deserves as much visibility and vigor -- for the sake of the U.S. economy as well as the global climate.

Love Is In the Air for Big Business and Mainstream Enviros

Amanda Griscom Little writes the Muckraker column for Grist Magazine. Her column is reprinted by permission from Grist. For more environmental news and humor sign up for Grist's free email service.

The on-again-off-again flirtation between big business and the mainstream environmental movement seems to be progressing into a full-on steamy love affair -- and perhaps even a committed, long-term relationship.

On February 13, a handful of Fortune 500 execs joined Jonathan Lash, president of the environmental think tank World Resources Institute, to testify before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee in favor of a mandatory federal cap on greenhouse-gas emissions. "Voluntary efforts alone will not solve the [climate-change] problem," DuPont CEO Chad Holliday told the assembled senators. He added, "We see a whole suite of technologies to solve these problems, and we think the uncertainty of what regulations will do are holding companies back."

Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) had invited the corporate and environmental leaders to explain why they're increasingly concerned about global warming. Their unified testimony made an impact on at least one prominent Republican, Virginia Sen. John Warner, who could be a swing vote on climate legislation in the committee. "A group like this, you've got my attention," Warner said.

Holliday and Lash are both participants in the recently hatched U.S. Climate Action Partnership, as are two other witnesses who spoke at the hearing, Peter Darbee of Pacific Gas and Electric Co. and Steve Elbert of BP America. U.S. CAP, a coalition of 10 corporations and four green groups, is pushing for greenhouse-gas limits strong enough to slash emissions 60 to 80 percent by mid-century.

Directly after the hearings, Holliday and Lash hightailed it to New York City to join other corporate leaders and toast to their budding romance at a glitzy dinner party celebrating WRI's 25th anniversary.

The gala, held at the chic Cipriani on 42nd St., was big on many levels -- big turnout (nearly 700 well-heeled folks, nary a soul in Birkenstocks), big political and corporate star power (Al Gore, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, and General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt took turns at the mic), big bucks (WRI raised over $2 million), and big, bold rhetoric affirming that the corporate-green alliance is now hot and heavy.

In a cathedral-like room with soaring ceilings, walls of burgundy marble, and chandeliers the size of jet engines, WRI doled out "Courage to Lead" awards to corporate titans and deep-pocketed donors deemed notable for "their vision and their actions to the cause of sustainable development." The recipients included Immelt, whose company has been greening its business strategy via an "ecomagination" campaign; the late Samuel Johnson, founder of SC Johnson and a former member of WRI's board of directors; and Jonathan Fanton, director of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, who announced during his acceptance speech his organization's new plans to commit $5 million over the next three years to climate research.

The crowd was dotted with representatives from companies belonging to the CAP alliance -- GE, Alcoa, BP, Caterpillar, DuPont, Lehman Brothers, PG&E -- as well as environmental groups involved -- Environmental Defense and the Natural Resources Defense Council. Other attendees represented a veritable who's who of powerful corporations: Bank of America, Coca-Cola, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Shell, Wal-Mart, and Weyerhaeuser. Citigroup Global Wealth Management underwrote the dinner.

A smattering of political notables were on hand too, including Rep. Mark Udall (D-Colo.); former Colorado Sen. Timothy Wirth, now president of the U.N. Foundation; and former deputy secretary of state Robert Zoellick, who left the Bush administration last summer to join Goldman Sachs as international vice chair.

Surveying the double-starched crowd as the festivities wound down, Lash told Muckraker, "I started out my career doing war against these companies, and here we are all having dinner together and planning the future. It's amazing!"

The emcee for the evening, Thomas Friedman, echoed his euphoria. "Look around the room," he said. "If there's gonna be a solution on climate, this is what it's gonna look like. You never would have seen this [collection of people] five years ago." What changed? "The reason the climate issue is taking off right now is above all because business leaders are embracing the profit potential of developing green technologies, and the only way these solutions will scale [to mainstream use] is if you have what we see here -- NGOs, government, and business working together."

Friedman stressed to the crowd that the theme of the night was optimism -- a marked departure from the doom and gloom oft associated with the environmental community. "Somebody once said that in the history of the world, pessimists are usually right, optimists are usually wrong," he said. "But all the great change in history was made by optimists. If there's a common denominator between WRI and all the people honored here this evening, it is that optimism."

No night of big-name green revelry would be complete without Al Gore, and indeed he stole the show, inspiring the less wizened in the crowd to jump up and cheer. He presented the "Courage to Lead" award to Immelt, noting that global warming is posing "a challenge to the moral imagination" of America, and that GE is in the vanguard of companies rising to meet the challenge.

Friedman wrapped up the evening with a nod to the possibility of another Gore presidential run. "We are in a political season and the rules governing columnists at The New York Times is that we are not allowed to endorse presidential candidates," he said from the podium. "But I'm going to break that rule tonight if you promise not to tell anybody: I'd like to nominate Al Gore and Jeff Immelt as the geo-green candidates for 2008!"

Such a pairing of leaders would certainly consummate the marriage of business and environmental goals.

But not everyone is sure it's a match made in heaven.

Gus Speth, one of the founders of both WRI and NRDC and now dean of the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, told Muckraker that to him the evening demonstrated "that WRI has reached some new plateau of engagement with the business community, and that means a good thing and a bad thing, because it means you have the potential to really develop a huge constituency with a very influential group of people, but it also means that you have the potential to get yourself really boxed in on things." In other words, enviros shouldn't get to the point where they only advocate solutions that serve the bottom line, because, of course, not all necessary environmental solutions do.

"In a way, if you cast so much of your energy with the business side, you're making a bet, and you can win big or you can lose big," Speth said. "So I would say [to the green community]: hedge your bets."

Old Big Brother Had a Farm

If only Orwell could get a load of this.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture is promoting a system that would have farm animal owners and livestock handlers attach microchips or other ID tags to their furry and feathered charges so they could be monitored throughout their lifetimes by a centralized computer network. The National Animal Identification System, as it's known, has been in development by the department since 2002, with help from an agribusiness industry group that represents bigwigs like Cargill and Monsanto.

Sounds like Animal Farm meets Big Brother. Yet, while some small-scale farmers are outspoken in their criticism of the scheme, many in the agriculture community say it's high time the U.S. more carefully tracked livestock. The question is how best to do it -- and the devil, as always, is in the details.

The vision, says Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, is to create a comprehensive high-tech tracking system that would eventually know the whereabouts of every cow, llama, hog, catfish, ostrich, and other farm critter in the nation so that animal-borne diseases such as avian flu, mad cow, and foot-and-mouth disease could be easily and systematically kept in check. If an animal were discovered to be a carrier of a disease, this system could supposedly track every location it had been in through the course of its life and the other animals it may have come in contact with; those exposed could then be killed before the disease spread out of control.

Some independent farmers are concerned that the costs of NAIS would be particularly burdensome for small-scale operators, who are already struggling to stay afloat. "It's horribly insidious," says Lynn Miller, editor of Small Farmer's Journal. "The USDA is poised to push us off our farms."

Dore Mobley, spokesperson for the USDA, counters that such claims are greatly exaggerated. "It's simply not true," she says, explaining that the department has no intention of putting any farmer, no matter how small, out of business. And though she acknowledges that farms of every size will have to share the costs of the program, she reasons that it is "an investment in the future of animal agriculture from which all will benefit."

Martha Noble of the Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, which advocates on behalf of midsize and small-scale farming, acknowledges that some form of tracking system may be necessary for public-health reasons. "We are not opposed to a tracking program, per se," she says. "We understand the need for effective monitoring of animals and disease, but there's a lot of disagreement about how is it going to be implemented, who is in control, and how is it going to be paid for."

Some small-scale farmers also suspect that the program was designed by big industry, for big industry -- and, indeed, there's no denying that industry had a heavy hand in it. According to Glenn Slack, president of the National Institute for Animal Agriculture, a trade group, "The program is largely based on a plan developed in 2002 through an industry-government collaborative effort facilitated by NIAA." NIAA represents, among others, the biggest meat producers in the U.S., including Cargill Meat Solutions and the National Pork Producers Council, and the makers of high-tech animal-ID equipment, such as Micro Beef Technologies and Digital Angel. The latter group, needless to say, could benefit directly from a nationwide animal-ID program.

Paul Shapiro of the Humane Society of the United States has taken no position on the program, but argues it could actually be better for the animals than current tagging methods: "If anything, microchips may be less invasive to animals than branding or ear-clipping, which has been going on for eons," he says. And according to Mobley, the ID program would enable officials to be more prudent in choosing which animals are killed in the event of a disease outbreak, rather than wiping out herds and flocks on a large scale, as has generally been the approach heretofore. (Granted, most of the animals are destined for the slaughterhouse anyway, but that's another story.)

I'm going to have to see your ID

The program -- which is thus far voluntary, but could eventually become mandatory -- is designed to unfold in three stages. First, farmers and producers would register the barns, factories, slaughterhouses, and even homes where their animals -- be they 10,000 cows, a dozen chickens, or a single potbellied pig -- reside and are processed.

Second, animals born or living on those premises would be assigned a 15-digit federal ID number and a tag -- in some cases, an implanted radio-frequency identification (RFID) device. But producers of certain species such as chickens and swine that are bought, moved, and slaughtered in big groups could be allowed to identify an entire lot with a single ID number -- a less time-intensive and expensive process. Critics argue that since factory farms are in the business of mass production of animals, this would present them with a cost advantage. Miller says this is a loophole that effectively "renders the whole program moot."

Third, data on each animal's whereabouts would be compiled and regularly updated in a centralized computer network, which the USDA expects to be up and running on a national scale by 2009 at the earliest. The department has suggested that animals' RFID tags could eventually be tracked real-time by a Global Positioning System, but there is no clear time frame for this scenario.

Many producers have voiced concern that if the government controls this kind of proprietary information about the purchase and sale of their products, the IRS or a competitor could get ahold of it through a Freedom of Information Act request. That's presumably much of the reason why, though the first two stages of NAIS are intended to be carried out by federal and state agencies, the USDA has decided that the third stage of the program should be overseen by private entities. Exactly which entities remains to be seen. (Johanns, who happens to be the former governor of a big beef-producing state, Nebraska, had at one point supported a proposal that would have a spin-off of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association take a leadership role in overseeing the database for much of the program. That didn't go over so well.)

Already some 200,000 large-scale facilities are voluntarily participating in stage one, having registered themselves on the state level, perhaps believing that a tracking program will eventually help demonstrate the safety of their meat products to overseas customers. Says NIAA's Slack, "In addition to providing a much-needed national emergency-response capability in the event of disease outbreak, NAIS will help enlarge the international market for U.S. livestock products."

A draft plan released by the USDA last April proposed making the program mandatory as soon as 2008, and indicated that there would be no significant federal funding assistance for the tagging process. The proposal ignited a firestorm of opposition within the farming community, and Johanns has since backed off the mandatory aspect.

The USDA hopes to release a revised plan by the end of this year, and it will likely leave to state officials decisions about whether to make the program voluntary or mandatory. The agency's NAIS coordinator, Neil Hammerschmidt, said in a speech last month to the cattle-industry group R-Calf USA that USDA isn't sure whether it has the authority to impose a federally mandated program that requires producers to report to a private entity.

In the meantime, states are moving on their own to put the animal-tracking system in place. Minnesota and Wisconsin have approved measures that make stage one of the NAIS program mandatory, according to Mobley, and Maine, North Carolina, Texas, Vermont, and Washington are considering similar legislation. The USDA has allocated more than $60 million to help states implement the animal-ID program, Mobley says.

Not safe, just sorry

What irks Mary Zanoni, executive director of Farm for Life, which works to protect the rights of small farmers, is that she believes the current USDA proposal would not make the U.S. meat supply appreciably safer. "Basically, the NAIS system would be of no use at all in dealing with the most common types of meat contamination in the U.S., the occurrence of pathogens such as listeria or E. coli in processed meat," she says. That's because when contaminants occur in industrial-scale quantities of meat -- as is often the case -- and are not discovered until the meat has been distributed through the supply chain, it is all but impossible to find the source. "There is no way to identify individual cows from one million pounds of hamburger," she says.

But would the NAIS help control the spread of mad cow or avian flu? "We have reams of scientific data that tell us without exception that by far the highest incidence of any transmittable contagion happens in industrial farm applications," says Lynn Miller. "That's where animals are in cramped, unhealthy conditions, and vulnerable to widespread disease outbreak." If the USDA wants to control disease, he says, it should develop standards for healthier animal conditions and then put in place a monitoring and tracking system solely for factory farms.

Zanoni sums up the views of many independent farmers: "Real food security comes from raising food yourself or buying from a local farmer you actually know. The USDA plan will only stifle local sources of production through over-regulation and unmanageable costs."

Pumping Up Ethanol

It was as befuddling to see the "Live Green, Go Yellow" slogan splashed across the General Motors ads running throughout the Olympics as it was to hear the term "switchgrass" uttered by President Bush in his State of the Union speech last month. Here we have GM and Dubyah, two of the world's most entrenched and heavy-hitting advocates of fossil-fuel consumption, suddenly trumpeting homegrown biofuels as the up-and-coming alternative to oil.

Greenwashing, you wonder?

On some level, of course. But there's more to it. GM's new high-budget campaign, which promotes the use of ethanol (hence the "yellow"), is tethered to a decision to manufacture 400,000 flexible-fuel vehicles (FFVs) in 2006 that are capable of burning either gasoline or an ethanol/gasoline blend. That's nearly 50 percent more than the company produced last year.

GM wants to do for FFVs what Toyota has done for hybrids. It's working with politicians and other companies including Chevron to expand the distribution of E85, a blend of 85 percent ethanol and 15 percent gasoline, to gas stations across the nation. "Our goal is to eventually remove the automobile from the energy and environment debate, to neutralize its impact on the planet," GM spokesperson Dave Barthmuss told Muckraker. "That's why we're so bullish about alternative fuels."

Nicholas Eisenberger of the environmental consulting firm GreenOrder, which has been working with GM on its FFV campaign, says, "It's hardly just a PR gambit -- it's a big bet. You can't put that many vehicles on the road -- before a nationwide infrastructure exists, mind you -- and put all this energy into helping fuel providers and retailers make the switch to ethanol if you don't believe in it."

Bush, for his part, pledged last month to promote the development of "cellulosic" ethanol, which can be efficiently produced from agricultural waste products like wood chips or from, yes, switchgrass, and which is far more environmentally beneficial than the corn-derived variety. "Our goal is to make this new kind of ethanol practical and competitive within six years," he said in the State of the Union -- a far more definitive show of support for oil alternatives than we've heard from him in the past.

There's plenty of reason to doubt the president's sincerity -- for one thing, he has not yet committed nearly the level of funding necessary to pull off such a feat. But some enviros are hopeful nevertheless. "We were amazed to hear him voice this commitment," said Nathanael Greene, a renewable-energy analyst at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "He framed it exactly as we would have."

And rather than temper his ethanol boosterism in the weeks since the State of the Union, Bush has been pumping it up. "All of a sudden, you may be in the energy business," Bush joked to a crowd of supporters in Nashville, Tenn., earlier this month. "You know, by being able to grow grass on the ranch and have it harvested and converted into energy. And that's what's close to happening."

Last week, Bush sent six cabinet secretaries to over a dozen states to tout renewable energy; he alone hit three states in two days to promote the cause. On Feb. 21, the president planted his biofuels bully pulpit in Golden, Colo., at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (which, in preparation for the visit, scrambled to rehire nearly three dozen researchers who'd been given the boot because of budget cuts approved by Bush's own pen).

"There is a fantastic technology brewing -- I say brewing, it's kind of a catch on words here -- called ethanol," he said to an audience well aware of this development. "I mean, it's -- there's a lot of folks in the Midwest driving -- using what's called E85 gasoline ... This is exciting news for those of us worried about addiction to oil."

The unexpected commitments coming from both the White House and Detroit are occurring against a backdrop of other public- and private-sector efforts to promote biofuels. Ford has increased its FFV production by about 15 percent this year. Bipartisan coalitions in Congress, state-level officials, venture capital firms, and environmental groups have also been ramping up their efforts to promote both FFVs and E85.

Against the Grain

Though we're witnessing a sudden onslaught of interest in ethanol, there's nothing new about the technology. Ethanol is essentially grain alcohol, and was used in early versions of Ford's Model T. FFV technology has been around for decades and spread through parts of Europe and the developing world. About half of the vehicles sold in Brazil last year were FFVs. In fact, there are already some 5 million FFVs on the road in the U.S. -- the vast majority just rarely if ever run on E85 because it has such limited availability. Only about 600 of the approximately 168,000 fueling stations in the U.S. sell the ethanol blend.

And though ethanol is often touted as a boon for the environment, the scientific and green communities have long been divided over its eco-benefits. Most ethanol is made from corn, and industrial corn production utilizes significant inputs of fossil-fuel-based products, from fertilizers to the gasoline used to run farm equipment. A number of scientists -- most prominent among them David Pimentel, a professor of agricultural sciences and insect ecology at Cornell University -- have argued that the fossil-fuel inputs required to grow corn actually exceed the amount of energy yielded by the resulting ethanol, a discrepancy known as a "negative energy balance."

Which is why it came as a surprise -- and a relief -- to many to see a peer-reviewed paper commissioned by NRDC published two weeks ago in Environmental Science and Technology arguing that ethanol yields significant fossil-fuel savings.

"There is no longer any question that biofuels can deliver major net savings in energy and emissions," said NRDC's Greene. "The corn-based ethanol in wide use in many parts of the country is delivering clearly positive results already."

Positive, but far from impressive. The report found that the "energy balance" of fossil fuels to corn-based ethanol is only about 1:1.3 -- meaning you have to invest 1 unit of fossil-fuel energy to get a return of 1.3 units of corn-ethanol energy. By comparison, it found that the energy balance of cellulosic ethanol, which can be derived from wood chips, switchgrass, corncobs, and other materials that require negligible fossil-fuel inputs, can be as high as 1:6. Either way, Greene's NRDC colleague Ashok Gupta argues that ethanol detractors like Pimentel "are about as credible as the scientists who say climate change isn't a manmade problem."

Yet the NRDC-commissioned study does not address the concern that corn-based ethanol is no great help in cutting greenhouse-gas emissions. A study by UC-Berkeley researchers published last month in the journal Science found that burning corn-based ethanol instead of gasoline yields a 13 percent reduction in planet-warming gases, while a 2002 USDA study [PDF] found a reduction of about 28 percent. These numbers are nothing to sneeze at, but they simply don't compare to the kind of emissions savings you get from substantial improvements in fuel economy.

That's a big concern for Dan Becker, director of Sierra Club's Global Warming Program, who says ethanol could distract from the much more immediate concern of raising the gas mileage of American cars. He condemns GM's "Live Green, Go Yellow" campaign as "unmitigated, total fraud."

The only reason GM and Ford are churning out FFVs, says Becker, is the hefty CAFE (Corporate Average Fuel Economy) boost they get in return. The feds credit FFVs with getting markedly better gas mileage than they actually do, so the vehicles artificially inflate the overall fuel economy of an automaker's fleet by as much as 1.2 miles per gallon, according to Becker. That means, in essence, car companies that manufacture enough FFV passenger vehicles only have to meet a CAFE standard of 26.3 mpg, compared to the already paltry national standard of 27.5 mpg for passenger cars.

"It boils down to this: They get to make two more gas-guzzlers for every FFV they put out," said Becker. And since producing FFVs costs automakers about $100 extra per vehicle (it simply involves a different coating in the fuel-delivery system and a sensor that detects the ratio of ethanol to gasoline), the trade-off is a no-brainer. "There's no way Detroit would be producing these cars if they weren't allowed to weaken miles-per-gallon standards in return," Becker contends.

GM admits that the CAFE benefit has been an important driver of its FFV production in the past, but insists that today the company would be willing to do without it. "We really would continue to aggressively invest in FFVs even without the credit," Barthmuss said.

Price, of course, is another key concern about ethanol. On a per-gallon basis, E85 is between 5 and 25 percent cheaper than gasoline, but it contains about 30 percent fewer units of energy than a gallon of gasoline, meaning it's more expensive than gasoline on a per-mile-driven basis.

And E85 would be far more expensive were it not for huge corn and ethanol subsidies from the federal government -- and the huge sway of the Iowa caucus in determining presidential nominees. "Clearly politicians are better off when they are handing sack-loads of loot to farmers," Jerry Taylor of the libertarian CATO Institute told Reuters this week. "If you're interested in the 2008 elections, ethanol is surely going to interest you."

But, counters NRDC's Greene, "ethanol subsidies are dwarfed by those offered to oil producers." Indeed, the energy bill signed into law last summer earmarked roughly $8 billion in subsidies for ethanol interests over the next five years, while oil and gas interests got nearly twice as much, roughly $15 billion, according to Keith Ashdown, vice president for policy at Taxpayers for Common Sense.

Leaving the question of subsidies aside, Phil Lampert, executive director of the nonprofit National Ethanol Vehicle Coalition, insists that E85 will be cost-competitive with gasoline within a few years. And he says the number of fueling stations that offer it is expected to more than quadruple to 2,600 this year, owing largely to the energy bill signed into law last summer, which offered a 30 percent federal tax credit to fueling stations that add E85 or similar fuels to their offerings. (It costs stations anywhere from $5,000 to $100,000 to make the leap.)

Chicken-or-Egg Challenge

Members of Congress are angling to give ethanol a further lift. The bipartisan Fuel Security and Consumer Choice Act, sponsored by Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), and Barack Obama (D-Ill.), calls for all vehicles sold in the U.S. to be FFVs within 10 years, and would phase out the existing FFV CAFE credit. Another measure sponsored by Obama would further increase tax credits for fueling stations that add pumps for ethanol and other alternative fuels, as would the Vehicle and Fuel Choices for American Security Act, sponsored by Sens. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) and Sam Brownback (R-Kan.).

State and local officials across the country are also unveiling ethanol-promoting initiatives this year, including such high-profile figures as California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R), New York Gov. George Pataki (R), and Chicago Mayor Richard Daley (D).

These proposals could go a long way toward advancing marketplace acceptance of E85 and FFV technology, according to GM's Barthmuss. "It's a chicken-or-the-egg challenge at this point: Fueling stations won't want to invest in E85 if the cars aren't on the market to demand it," he said. "Moreover, consumers won't buy the cars if they don't understand the advantages." That's why GM is dropping such a pretty penny -- "hundreds of millions" of dollars, according to a GM insider who spoke on condition of anonymity because the figure is proprietary -- on its "Live Green, Go Yellow" campaign.

"There's no question that the environmental benefits [of ethanol] are negligible given the inaccessibility of E85 to most consumers, and the emphasis on corn-based ethanol. But let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater," said Gupta of NRDC. "We see it as just the beginning of a transition to widely available cellulosic."

That transition won't be simple -- the U.S. will need to dramatically expand its ethanol infrastructure, close off the CAFE loophole, and make a wide-scale switch from corn to higher-cellulose (and lower-impact) sources of ethanol.

But perhaps enviros can take heart knowing that when it comes to switchgrass, they're on the same side as Dubyah.

Cape Fear

A long-simmering disagreement within the environmental community over a plan to build a massive wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod, Mass., is now boiling over into a highly public quarrel.

The four-year-old battle started heating up last summer when Greenpeace USA staged a demonstration against well-known eco-activist Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who's been an outspoken opponent of the proposal for a 130-turbine wind-power project in Horseshoe Shoal, a shallow portion of Nantucket Sound south of Cape Cod.

Kennedy -- a senior attorney at Natural Resources Defense Council and a pioneer in the waterway-protection movement -- was on a sailboat for an event with the Alliance to Protect Nantucket Sound, which opposes the wind project. A Greenpeace vessel cruised up alongside with a banner that read, "Bobby, you're on the wrong boat" -- a stunt that was part of a larger Greenpeace campaign pressuring Kennedy to change his mind on the development.

In mid-December, Kennedy, wanting to explain his position to critics and the public at large, published an impassioned op-ed in The New York Times in which he argued that the wind farm would mar a precious seascape, privatize a publicly owned commons, and damage the local economy.

That, in turn, prompted about 150 environmental advocates -- including global-warming authors and activists Bill McKibben and Ross Gelbspan, Bluewater Network founder Russell Long, and youth leader Billy Parish -- to circulate a letter asking Kennedy to reconsider his position. "We are, simply put, in a state of ecological emergency," it read. "Constructing windmills six miles from Cape Cod, where they will be visible as half-inch dots on the horizon, is the least that we can do."

Signers of the letter also included "Death of Environmentalism" authors Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, who made the quarrel far more personal -- and nasty -- in an op-ed in the San Francisco Chronicle last month. They called on Kennedy to step down from his position at NRDC, and took a swipe at his famous family by criticizing "the privileged patricians of a generation for whom building mansions by the sea was indistinguishable from advocating for the preservation of national parks or big game hunting in the wilds of Africa."

Kennedy shot back this week with his own opinion piece in the San Francisco Chronicle, calling Shellenberger and Nordhaus's attacks "dishonest vitriol."

Choosing Sides

The venture at the center of all the fuss -- the Cape Wind Project, being developed by Cape Wind Associates -- would be the first major offshore wind installation in the U.S., and one of the largest wind farms in the world. It would produce enough electricity to meet nearly 75 percent of demand on Cape Cod and nearby islands Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, with peak output of 420 megawatts.

The permitting process for the project, which began in 2001, is nearing completion, and Cape Wind is widely expected to get the green light from the Department of Interior's Minerals Management Service within a year. If state permits for the sea-bottom transmission lines are obtained, as expected, construction on the wind farm could begin mid-2007 and be completed in roughly two years.

The Humane Society of the United States, the International Fund for Animal Welfare, the Massachusetts Audubon Society, and a handful of local and state conservation groups have raised concerns about Cape Wind. On the other hand, a number of major national environmental groups have been supportive, including Greenpeace, the Union of Concerned Scientists, World Wildlife Fund, and NRDC. Some, though, are waiting to officially endorse the project until the final environmental impact statement comes out later this year and clears up uncertainties about avian impacts and other issues.

"Most of the data so far on possible environmental impacts has been very encouraging, but there are still questions we want answered," said Nathanael Greene, NRDC's renewable-energy expert.

"Our position currently is cautious enthusiasm. It's a historic proposal with incontrovertible benefits." The group's comments on Cape Wind's environmental impact statement characterized the project as "the largest single source of supply-side reductions in CO2 currently proposed in the United States, and perhaps in the world." NRDC reiterated its position on the wind farm in a statement released the day Kennedy's New York Times op-ed was published.

Stealing the Stars

In his op-ed, Kennedy contended that "[h]undreds of flashing lights to warn airplanes away from the turbines will steal the stars and nighttime views. The noise of the turbines will be audible onshore ... [and] the project will damage the views from 16 historic sites and lighthouses on the cape and nearby islands."

He framed the debate as a clash between industry and wilderness: "[S]ome places should be off limits to any sort of industrial development. I wouldn't build a wind farm in Yosemite National Park. Nor would I build one on Nantucket Sound ... All of us need periodically to experience wilderness to renew our spirits and reconnect ourselves to the common history of our nation, humanity, and to God."

Kennedy agreed last Friday to meet with representatives from the group of letter writers to discuss their request, but indicated in an interview this week that he doesn't intend to change his position -- rather, he hopes to convince his critics to change theirs. "It's dangerous for environmentalists to have the knee-jerk reaction that all wind power must be good," he said.

Kennedy said in the interview that his primary concern is not the project's impact on wild sea life and ocean views, but the economic impact it would have on the local fishing community. "It will evict more than 100 of Cape Cod's treasured commercial fishermen who run sustainable operations from their traditional fishing grounds, and destroy their livelihood," he said, explaining that their nets would get tangled in the electric cables on the seabed. According to Kennedy, the project could have an over $1 billion impact on the local fishing industry and the tourist economy, given the blighted views and obstacles it would pose to the thousands of recreational sailors who visit Nantucket Sound annually.

"I think it's a big mistake for environmentalists to alienate our natural allies like commercial fishermen and boaters, who have long been strong supporters," he said. He argued that the hard feelings and publicity surrounding Cape Wind could tarnish the reputation of wind energy nationally. "This is a very badly sited project that will end up hurting the battle against global warming, not advancing it," he said.

If the turbines were built five miles farther beyond the coastline (they are now currently planned for about six miles offshore), where they wouldn't interfere with fishing interests, Kennedy said he could back the project. He also said he supported offshore wind projects in other regions that would pose less of an economic and environmental threat, including two that have been proposed for offshore areas near Long Island and New Jersey.

"I never intended to be a champion on this issue," he said, alluding to pressure from Greenpeace that forced him to defend his position. "There are plenty of places to put windmills, and plenty of projects I will support. But there's only one Horseshoe Shoal. You can't move your fishing ground somewhere else."

Cape Wind Avengers

Cape Wind CEO Jim Gordon said that environmental reviews of the project refute many of Kennedy's claims about the potential environmental hazards and noise pollution. Cape Wind and its backers also argue that the development would pose minimal harm to the fishing community, noting that the cables carrying the electricity back to shore would be embedded six feet under the seabed.

Some proponents of the project argue that it could actually attract tourists who would want to see the nation's most ambitious symbol of a clean-energy future. (It's not as nutty as it sounds -- offshore wind installations in Ireland and Denmark have proved a boon to tourism, not a setback.)

The developers say there is no viable location for the project other than the shallow waters of Nantucket Sound. "Any farther out would be cost-prohibitive," said Gordon. "The challenge for this project is to demonstrate that wind power is not only environmentally safe, but commercially viable."

Even if there were an alternative site, advocates say, redesigning and re-permitting would delay the project several more years.

"We simply don't have that kind of time," said McKibben, "given widespread predictions that the climate crisis could be irreversible in 10 years without substantial reductions in carbon output."

Gelbspan argued that even if the turbines were to deprive 100 or more fishers of their jobs, "The calculus is not hard: that is a more-than-reasonable trade-off. This landmark project would offset approximately 880,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year, the equivalent of keeping over 150,000 vehicles off the road. What's more, it would create between 600 and 1,000 new jobs, and be a crucial springboard for fast-tracking renewable-energy development in America." He added that state officials, as well as the project developers, should be obligated to help any fishers who lose their livelihoods through buyouts, retraining, or assistance in finding new fishing grounds.

To John Passacantando, executive director of Greenpeace USA, the debate comes down to weighing local NIMBY concerns against global climate concerns. "I respect people who wage NIMBY battles -- the environmental movement was founded on people protecting their local, sacred areas," he said. "But today, solving the climate crisis has become so urgent that it trumps NIMBYism. It's as simple as that."

A Long and Windy Road

Several Cape Wind advocates praised Kennedy as one of the most charismatic and influential leaders in the environmental community. Yet they raised concerns that his leadership on this issue would be hobbled if he appeared unwilling to make certain sacrifices.

Said Gelbspan, "Kennedy's decision to counterpose such extraordinarily unequal consequences -- the wind farm's negative impact on coastal views and local fishermen versus its critical role in forging climate-change solutions -- bespeaks a lack of understanding of the consequences of escalating climate change."

Kennedy vehemently rejected the notion that he doesn't take the climate crisis seriously. "There is nobody in this country who is more concerned about global warming than me, nobody," he said.

Indeed, Kennedy has helped bring mainstream visibility to the climate issue through lectures, fund-raisers, and rallies. He even played a role in convincing FOX News to air a surprisingly scientific special on climate change in November, in which he appeared as a correspondent (much to the consternation of right-wing pundits).

Kennedy also said he was emphatically opposed to an amendment unveiled by Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) last month that would prohibit all major offshore wind installations from being sited within one and a half miles of a commercial shipping route, even though it would block the Cape Wind project. Young attached the amendment to the Coast Guard budget bill, which is expected to be voted on in February.

Yet even if Young's amendment doesn't pass, other congressional efforts to thwart Cape Wind are likely to follow in this final year of the project's permitting process.

The fight over Cape Wind is far from finished.

Making Global Warming a Laughing Matter

This Sunday night, you may find yourself crying over global warming.

Crying because you're laughing so hard, that is, thanks to Larry David -- co-creator of "Seinfeld" and creator and star of "Curb Your Enthusiasm" -- and his eco-activist wife, Laurie David.

At 8 p.m. (7 p.m. Central) on Nov. 20, TBS will air "Earth to America!," a two-hour comedy extravaganza produced by Laurie and starring Larry that is designed to get America laughing -- and, more to the point, learning -- about global warming. They promise it will be an upbeat, non-preachy, gut-splitting TV special about one of the least funny issues on the planet.

This climate yuk-fest has an all-star roster that includes Will Ferrell, Jack Black, Tom Hanks, Steve Martin, and Ben Stiller, among many others. Writers from "The Daily Show," "The Simpsons," "King of the Hill," and "Everybody Loves Raymond" conspired to help with the event, which will be staged live in Las Vegas at Caesars Palace.

Earlier this week, America's favorite curmudgeon, Larry David, consented to a rare interview and gave us some inside dish on the show.


What's your 20-second pitch for "Earth to America!"?

A 20-second pitch?

Yeah, why should America watch this?

Well ... [Disgruntled laughter.] I'm not used to being a salesman. This is why I don't do media. I don't even sell my own show. I wouldn't be doing this in a zillion years if it weren't for my wife.

Ten seconds?

You should watch it because if you don't really know much about this subject, this is a very easy, painless, and entertaining way to get some information about global warming -- and also to see great comedy. There's a lot of different comedy in the show: some of it is stand-up, some of it is sketches, some of it is taped pieces. All the contributors have found ways into this issue that are entertaining and provocative and stimulating.

Wha--

Did I answer that question? I'm trying to turn up the bullshit machine here.

"Provocative, entertaining, stimulating." I'm already sold.

Really, though, there's a lotta great stuff in the show. Even if they didn't introduce it as a show about global warming, it would be funny enough on its own, just as a comedy special.

"Seinfeld" and "Curb" are famously shows "about nothing" -- or about minutiae, the tiny indignities of modern life. But global warming is so huge that people can't get their minds around it. How are you going to make it funny?

Well, global warming is a -- it is the -- big indignity of modern life. People have used humor since the beginning of time to cope with tragedy. There are always angles in every subject to find the comedy in it, and in "Earth to America!" all the contributors succeeded at that.

How do you walk the fine line between using comedy to make this scary issue feel manageable and accessible on the one hand, versus mocking or trivializing it on the other?

Walking the fine line is what good comedy is all about. You want the subject to be provocative enough that the finer the line, the funnier it will be -- without actually going over it. You walk up to the ledge. That's where you should take an audience: right to the ledge.

Could you give examples of a skit that goes to the global-warming ledge?

No, you gotta watch it.

Just one teaser?

OK, here's one that didn't fly: Initially, I was going to open the show with me sitting around a campfire talking to a bunch of little kids. It would be at night, they would be roasting marshmallows, and I'd be telling the proverbial ghost story. But mine would be about global warming: "The earth is going to get so hot you'll have to wear 12-inch rubber soles on your sneakers so it doesn't burn a hole through them." And I would scare the pants off every single one of them. And they'd all start screaming and crying and the parents would come and yell at me, and that's how the show was going to open.

[Laughter.] What happened?

For one thing, it actually came true with Katrina. 'Cause part of that story was gonna be hurricanes, you know, the kids having to live in underwater homes. So I couldn't do it. In that case, I would have been over the line.

I remember a scene in "Seinfeld" where Russell Dalrimple, an obnoxious TV exec, becomes so infatuated with Elaine that he joins Greenpeace in a ridiculous effort to win her heart. He goes aboard a dinghy that's chasing a whaling ship and then gets struck by a stray harpoon and dies. It's a tragicomic portrait of the eco-warrior, where Dalrimple is not only disingenuous but his acts are ultimately pretty futile. What percentage of the environmental movement, would you say, is made up of Russell Dalrimples?

I think that anyone who devotes their time to this issue has got to be sincere. I mean, I can't imagine spending my life doing something that wasn't even paying me any money without being passionate about it. [Laughter.] That just seems insane! So I can't very well say that there are people in this movement who aren't sincere.

Yeah, I suppose environmental advocates have a reputation for taking themselves too seriously, actually -- they're wracked with save-the-world complexes and riddled with paranoia about the consequences of their every action. I guess that makes them rich fodder for satire.

Yeah, of course they're rich fodder for satire! That's just the price they have to pay for being out there. But we need them.

If only you could start some kind of Funny Camp for activists, so they would annoy everyone less.

On the other hand, if they weren't annoying people, the public wouldn't really know about the problem. I don't mind them being, you know, annoying -- which is your term -- but the fact is we need those people. I'm the first to admit I'm not the one who's out there at the rallies and in the courtrooms forcing change.

I love your "Why I Am Marching" post on the StopGlobalWarming.org website, where Laurie is organizing a virtual march on Washington to protest climate change.

What it says is: "The virtual march is a perfect opportunity for the lazy man to do something good without having to expend any effort. This thing was made for me."

It seems you've been dragged kicking and screaming -- or at least protesting -- into the role of environmental advocate by your wife. Is it safe to say that you wouldn't be discussing this issue if it weren't for her?

I started out doing this to support my wife, but you'd be surprised -- the more you're around a subject, the more it starts sinking in. You can't help it, it's just by osmosis. It's discussed in my house 24 hours a day. So I'm becoming educated about this issue just by living in this house, as are my kids. And it's become impossible now that I'm educated about it to completely turn my back on it, the way I do about most things.

What are some of your environmental concerns -- or neuroses?

Well, my toilet paper's been changed. That's been a hell of a struggle. Laurie switched brands on me so it doesn't use the virgin trees.

You prefer the fully quilted variety?

Yeah. I'm finding it a little rough.

Tell us how your "Curb Global Warming" campaign came to be. I've seen the commercials where MTV is hauling away your Prius, and you find out Laurie gave it away without telling you. True story?

True story. I came into my office one day and my assistant asked what I was going to do for a new car. And I said, "What are you talking about?" She said, "Your wife gave away your car." MTV is working with Laurie to promote the "Stop Global Warming" campaign, so my car is the prize in a sweepstakes for MTV viewers who sign people up for the march.

Sounds like a scene plucked from an episode of "Curb." I'm assuming this sort of trick isn't out of character for your wife.

Let's just say I was surprised, but not shocked.

When your wife starts getting attacked by right-wing radio hosts, is it going to piss you off, or give you great material?

Well, anything I hear on right-wing radio pisses me off, but I guess that would piss me off just a little bit more.

But you know what? Conservatives really like my show. Tony Blankley and Ann Coulter and others have said some nice things -- I guess because the humor is not politically correct. They can't believe I'm liberal because of the show. They don't think liberals have a sense of humor.

Laurie has been known to flip off Hummer drivers on the highway and take people directly to task for their bad eco-habits, with the idea that this kind of peer pressure is a critical part of the solution. What do you think is the best way to get America to wake up and demand change?

Well, if you're talking about changing policy, I guess the examples of the '60s -- sit-ins and protests and taking over buildings -- certainly got people's attention and helped change the government's policy on the war.

But people have to recognize that there's a problem in the first place. You need to make people aware that a problem exists, but without talking down to them. Without being preachy. I refuse to be a part of being preached to. That's what "Earth to America!" is all about.

Twilight of the Oil Age

Matthew Simmons has been stirring up a lot of angst in energy circles this year. This well-connected industry insider has concluded that some of the world's largest oil beds may be on the verge of production collapse -- and he's willing to bet his much-vaunted career on it.

Author of the recently published Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy, Simmons is founder of Simmons & Company International, an investment bank that handles mergers and acquisitions among energy companies, and counts among its clients Halliburton, General Electric, and the World Bank. A graduate of the Harvard Business School, he served as an energy-policy adviser to the 2000 Bush-Cheney campaign.

Conservative credentials aside, Simmons has been boggling the minds of people across the political spectrum with his recent prediction that the price of a barrel of oil could hit the high triple digits within a few years. To postpone economic meltdown, he says we should be drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and other hotly contested spots. At the same time, he's calling for a massive shift in energy policy, including radical improvements in efficiency, as well as a return to local farming and manufacturing. With his unconventional opinions, he's single-handedly reinventing the image of the post-oil energy crusader. He talked to us from his cell phone while dashing between energy lectures.

Let's start with a brief overview of the premise and implications of Twilight.

I believe we are either at or very close to peak oil. If I'm right, then we have to assume that five or 10 years from now we'll be producing less oil than we are today. And yet we have a society that is expecting, under the most conservative assumptions, that oil usage will grow by at least 30 to 50 percent over the next 25 years. In other words, we would end up with only 70 percent of the oil we have today when we would need to have 150 percent. It's a problem of staggering economic proportions -- far greater than the temporary setback of a terrorist attack on energy infrastructure -- that could end up leading to more geopolitical fistfights than you can ever imagine. The fistfights turn into weapon fights and give way to a very ugly society.

How did this thesis evolve?

The odyssey began in the early 1980s when I realized that my firm was threatened by a production collapse in the energy and oil-service business. I thought, "How on earth could this have happened without us even knowing?" I started doing some careful investigation into energy data. The more I studied, the more I started to realize that so many people who call themselves experts in the energy market, including government analysts, are in fact experts in their opinions and don't actually base a lot of it in actual data.

Why? Because the relevant data are confidential?

Yes, what's publicly available is extremely vague. No major oil-producing companies or nations allow audits of the data on their reserves and production, which leaves the experts effectively playing a guessing game.

If the data are concealed, on what evidence did you base your own conclusions?

I've spent years poring over hundreds of papers from the Society of Petroleum Engineers that have revealed fascinating clues. First I took an inventory of the top oil fields in the world, field by field. I was aghast to find that nobody had ever listed even the top 20 oil fields by name. I found that there are only about 120 oil fields in the world that produce half of the world's oil supply. The top 14 fields, which make up 20 percent of global supply, are, on average, over 53 years old. In Saudi Arabia, which harbors a quarter of the entire global supply, there are only five key fields producing 90 percent of their oil. They're all old.

Naturally I was very curious to find details on the condition and productivity of these fields. Two years ago I took a trip to Saudi Arabia on a government tour for business executives. They plied us with various data points that just didn't add up, even vaguely. I've since found evidence in the engineering papers indicating that the major Saudi fields are seriously at risk of reaching their peak, at which point they will begin to see their output decline.

In this case, would Saudi Arabia's leadership collapse?

I want to steer away from discussing specifics of geopolitics in the Middle East because I really don't want to shift the focus away from the economics. It doesn't ultimately matter who rules Saudi Arabia. They can't change the maturity of their oil fields.

You made a $5,000 bet with conservative New York Times columnist John Tierney that per-barrel oil prices will be at $200 in 2010. How did you arrive at this number?

Well, first of all, the $5,000 bet was essentially an effort to be provocative and wake people up to how cheap oil still is. I started a year ago saying that we need to prepare ourselves for triple-digit oil prices -- and I don't mean $100 per barrel, I mean high triple digits. Will it be by 2010? We don't have any idea. It could be by the winter of 2006.

Oil price will ultimately be set by demand and supply. Current oil prices are ridiculously cheap. People find that hard to believe, particularly now, but consider this: $65 a barrel translates to 10 cents a cup. Ten times cheaper than bottled water. People who think that this is a really high price need to have their heads screwed back on.

You have an enormous amount, professionally, riding on the prediction that peak oil is nigh.

I'm basically betting my entire career.

What evidence did you find of looming production limits?

Let's start with the plummeting rate of discovery of critical oil fields. The French Petroleum Institute did a major study a couple of decades ago about the distribution of oil fields by basin, which lends itself to a chessboard analogy. What happens with phenomenal regularity worldwide is that within about five years of moving into a new area of potential oil reserves, prospectors tend to find the queen first, which is the second-largest; within a handful of years they find the king; and then over the next decade you find the next eight to 10 lords. And once you've found the royal family, the rest of the hydrocarbon deposits you'll ever find are basically peons in size. Research overwhelmingly shows that all the royal families have been discovered.

Can you describe your findings that most of the king- and queen-sized deposits are so old that they have to be injected with increasing amounts of water to produce the crude?

For decades, Saudi Arabia has been injecting water in each key oil field to keep reservoir pressure artificially high. The data show that Saudis are now injecting somewhere between 15 million and 18 million barrels a day of water to recover 8 million barrels a day of oil. This is not sustainable. Geologically speaking, the faster you produce a highly pressurized reservoir, the faster the reservoir pressure collapses. Conversely, the more gently you produce the field, the longer you can produce it at a steady rate, and the higher amount of oil you get out of the field.

I suppose it's safe to assume we're not poised to go gently into the twilight of global reserves.

To put it mildly. What they are doing is rapidly depleting the high-quality, high flow-rate oil, so they'll be left with vast amounts of oil that just won't come out of the ground without massive water input or thousands and thousands of wells being drilled.

What kind of response have you gotten to this book? I saw in a New York Times Magazine article by Peter Maass that Sadad al-Husseini, a former executive of state-owned Saudi Aramco, essentially corroborated your thesis.

Yes, he's a first-rate person. We've actually become quite good friends. I don't know to what extent I might have actually liberated him to speak more openly about the limits to Middle East oil. I think I've given quite a few Saudi insiders cover for being able to finally speak up and say, yes, that's actually what I thought, too.

In the U.S., the response within industry and among politicians has been overwhelmingly positive. About 10 people total have attacked the book, and my guess is that most of them have one commonality: a consulting client called Saudi Aramco.

It boggles my mind that data on oil reserves can be concealed. Knowing when we're going to run out would seem as critical to global security as knowing who has weapons of mass destruction. Why isn't disclosing oil data a responsibility on par with disclosing WMDs?

It should be. The foreign minister of Saudi Arabia spoke at Rice University about five weeks ago and he said, "We're as transparent as anybody." And he's right. Until we force that same standard of disclosure on Exxon and Shell and BP, then I don't think there's any reason to expect Saudi Arabia to behave better. What I'm suggesting is the whole world needs to go to a new standard. The problem, of course, is this: In political and corporate worlds there are currently significant disincentives to be forthright about these risks. That's why we're going to have to have some sort of enforced mandate. It won't happen voluntarily.

What would you advise the Bush administration to do?

Clamor for energy-data reform. That's the only thing the governments of the world can do this year. But they can't do it alone. I think the global mandate of how we have to attack this problem needs to be a very coordinated, central plan. We need to have international energy cooperation so we don't go into an accidental energy war.

Have you discussed these ideas with President Bush?

I have met with the president quite a few times on energy, but not since coming to these latest conclusions. But I have spoken very openly with senior politicians from both parties, and key people are paying attention.

I understand you are a strong proponent of allowing drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the outer continental shelf.

Yes, ASAP. There's nothing we can do to solve our problems, but everything we do that helps is a bridge to buy us time. Ultimately, we have to actually create some new forms of energy that don't exist today. Solar and wind are, of course, electricity, so not helpful near-term on the transportation front, which is the most intractable part of the problem. Biofuels need to be intensely examined, but corn-based ethanol is a scam because it requires such intensive oil inputs.

What about the shift to hybrid engines and, ultimately, hydrogen?

There are some 220 million cars currently on the road in the U.S. alone. The problem with that concept, which so many people think is the way you end the energy war, is it will take 30 years to turn over the entire vehicle fleet. We don't have 15 or 20 years, much less 30.

We need to think on a grander scale. We have to find, for instance, far more energy-efficient methods of transporting products by rail and ship rather than trucks. We have to liberate the workforce from office-based jobs and let them work in their village, through the modern technology of emails and faxes and video conferencing. We have to address the distribution of food: Much of the food in supermarkets today comes from at least a continent or two away. We need to return to local farms. And we have to attack globalization: As energy prices soar, manufacturing things close to home will begin to make sense again.

What do you do personally to reduce your energy footprint?

Very little, actually. I do have a new Mercedes diesel car that on the open road gets up to 50 miles per gallon. But in fact I'm one of the problems right now. I'm flying around the country giving too many energy talks. If I really wanted to say I'm going to be a personal crusader, I'd actually shut up and stay home.

Raiders of the Lost Arctic

"The threat to the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge has never been greater than it is today," according to Brian Moore, legislative director for the Alaska Wilderness League.

And, though the battle over the refuge has a Groundhog Day quality to it -- haven't we heard this same alarm sounding before? -- this time advocates on both sides of the issue agree: Congress is closer than ever before to green-lighting oil and gas drilling in one of the largest remaining undeveloped wild areas in the United States.

Wednesday, the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee voted 13-9 to include in a hulking budget package a provision that would not only allow drilling on the coastal plain at the northern edge of the Arctic Refuge, but also require that the land be leased to energy developers as a means of generating revenue for the federal treasury.

If this congressional maneuver sounds familiar, that's because it's part of the second phase of a budget-bill deliberation process that began early this year. The initial "resolution" phase outlines possible budget cuts and increases within congressional committees -- suggestions that aren't legally enforceable; the second, called the "reconciliation" phase, hones these instructions and locks them in, carrying the force of law.

In March, a resolution package that contained similar language paving the way for drilling in the Arctic Refuge passed the Senate by a narrow margin, instructing committees to trim their budgets by specific amounts. The Energy Committee's goal for cuts or offsets was set at $2.4 billion over five years. That's almost exactly the amount that the Congressional Budget Office predicts the feds would receive over the next five years from sales of energy leases on the refuge's coastal plain.

Drilling advocates are piggybacking the Arctic Refuge provision onto the budget initiative because reconciliation bills are immune to filibuster, thus requiring only a simple majority vote to clear the Senate. That vote is scheduled to occur within the next few weeks, and though Democrats are expected to unanimously oppose the bill, the 55-44 GOP majority in the Senate gives drilling advocates a comfortable margin for victory, even if there are a few moderate-Republican defectors.

Critics argue that the refuge drilling provision is entirely out of place in a budget bill. "The whole point of the resolution process is to hammer out the budget -- it's not to reverse existing legislation or enact new legislation of any kind," says Eleanor Huffines, Alaska regional director for The Wilderness Society. This is the logic that Senate opponents of the bill, such as Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), will invoke if they proceed with plans to challenge the provision under the Byrd Rule, which requires a budget bill to have 60 affirmative votes if it includes extraneous provisions.

Advocates of the drilling language counter that the Byrd Rule is effectively moot in this case, given that a precedent already exists for this very maneuver: The GOP-controlled Congress of 1995 managed to successfully pass a refuge-drilling provision in a budget reconciliation bill, which was then promptly vetoed by President Clinton. This time, of course, there's no chance of a veto from the Oval Office.

Arctic Refuge defenders are quick to assert that there's still hope, but it likely hinges on strong opposition to other parts of the bill, not the drilling provision itself. The budget resolution was unanimously opposed by Democrats in both the House and Senate in March for fear it would spur draconian cuts to a broad swath of social programs, including Medicare, food stamps, and college loans. All Dems in Congress are expected to vote against the budget initiative on this go-round too, and they're getting support not just from environmental groups but from a wide range of organizations including the People for the American Way, the National Women's Law Center, the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights, and the AFL-CIO, all united under the umbrella group Emergency Campaign for America's Priorities.

"Many of the entitlement cuts hit the most needy segments of the population," says Melinda Pierce, legislative director for the Sierra Club. "But post-Katrina, efforts to short-shrift the disadvantaged are under much more scrutiny, so there's a groundswell of resistance to many components of this bill beyond drilling in the refuge."

Where There's a Drill, There's a Way

The refuge-drilling provision, in an attempt to fast-track the sale of drilling leases, would weaken the process of reviewing proposed extraction projects for their potential environmental impacts. It would also curtail the authority of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to place constraints on methods of road-building and extraction in the interest of protecting land and wildlife. The environmental exemptions "are completely at odds with a precautionary approach to oil development in a sensitive area," says Huffines.

And while advocates of the drilling language claim that only 2,000 surface acres within the refuge would be disturbed by the building of infrastructure such as airstrips and gravel berms necessary to extraction, critics counter that this number doesn't account for the impact of building roads and other support facilities. They claim that the affected area would be far larger.

The provision requires that at least two major lease sales happen by 2010, but environmentalists argue that in order to come anywhere near generating the expected revenue, the entire 1.5 million acres of the refuge's coastal plain would have to be leased. Even then, drilling opponents don't see how the leases could bring in the amount the Congressional Budget Office predicts -- an estimated $5 billion, half of which would go to the feds and half to the state of Alaska. The average going rate for a drilling lease on a productive oil field in the U.S. is about $55 per acre. The feds would have to lease all 1.5 million acres of the coastal plain at $3,333 per acre -- more than 60 times the going rate -- to generate the expected revenue. The CBO's figures are "grossly exaggerated, if not fraudulent," says Huffines.

Surprisingly, while chances of victory for drilling advocates in the Senate are quite high, they're weaker in the House, say observers. The House has voted to allow drilling in the Arctic Refuge a handful of times in the last four years, but that was usually with support from moderate Democrats. The current highly controversial budget reconciliation package is expected to get a "no" vote from all House Democrats, and there are 24 House Republicans who've publicly voiced their opposition to the Arctic Refuge provision being included in the budget bill via a letter [PDF] to Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), chair of the House Resources Committee. "If those 24 GOP representatives stand by their convictions, the House could very well stop the ANWR provision in its tracks," said Moore of the Alaska Wilderness League.

But even if the Arctic Refuge provision is stripped out of the House version, the bill still has to go to conference committee, where compromises between the two chambers of Congress are struck. If drilling advocates are victorious in the Senate, they could negotiate during these deliberations to slip the provision back in.

Environmentalists, most Democrats, and the handful of moderate Republicans who've been fighting for decades to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge are now waiting on pins and needles to see how the budget brouhaha will shake out.

Endangered Species Act Gets Toxic Tune-Up

There's been much wailing and gnashing of teeth in the environmental community since Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) pushed his overhaul of the Endangered Species Act through the House of Representatives last week. All eyes are now on the Senate to see whether Pombo's bill -- described as "so toxic it's radioactive" by Jamie Rappaport Clark, who oversaw implementation of the ESA during the Clinton administration -- will make it through that august body and onto the desk of President Bush, who's indicated his support.

Despite assumptions that the Senate -- the more deliberative, and generally more eco-friendly, chamber of Congress -- would block an initiative so controversial, enviros worry that Pombo is harrowingly close to getting his way. "I can't remember a time when any major environmental statute was under greater threat," said John Kostyack, senior counsel at the National Wildlife Federation.

Pombo, a former rancher who once famously (and fraudulently) claimed that his family farm was hobbled financially because it was designated as critical habitat for the endangered kit fox, has been trying to dismantle the ESA for more than 12 years. His bill is designed to wipe out the critical-habitat protections esteemed by many conservationists, thereby making it impossible for the government to prohibit harmful projects on lands deemed necessary to the recovery of imperiled species.

In a big coup for property-rights activists, the legislation would also require the feds to pay landowners for lost profits if the presence of an endangered species limits their development options. Because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service lacks funding to make such payments, this could effectively eliminate regulatory restrictions on commercial developers, according to critics.

"It gives developers the right to say to the government, 'You have two options: either grant me a permit to destroy sensitive habitat, or pay me market value not to,'" said Patrick Parenteau, director of the Environmental Law Clinic at Vermont Law School.

The measure could actually encourage more development plans for sensitive habitat, according to Erich Zimmermann, senior policy analyst at the nonpartisan group Taxpayers for Common Sense. "Pombo's bill creates a perverse incentive for landowners to come up with a plan to develop on the most biologically sensitive areas of their property, simply so that they can cash in on a government rebate." The bill is so rife with loopholes, said Zimmermann, that "there's nothing in it that would stop landowners from collecting multiple times on proposals for species-threatening projects on the same piece of property."

Also of grave concern to critics is a provision that would remove restrictions on the use of pesticides in biologically sensitive areas for five years, including chemicals that have been linked to the declines of Pacific salmon, sea turtles, and other aquatic species. The bill would also invest political appointees with greater power to make decisions about species protections. And it would limit the time period for government evaluation of land-use proposals to 180 days (a blink of an eye in the world of federal bureaucracy), with landowners getting de facto permission to proceed with development plans if they don't receive a response within that time frame.

"We've seen a lot of attacks on environmental laws in the past five years, but most have been piecemeal -- a waiver here, an exemption there," said Kostyack. "What we've not seen since we enacted this cornerstone body of laws three decades ago is an attempt at a full-frontal dismantling of a statute -- and one with unnervingly strong chances of victory, at that."

Depends What You Mean by "Fix"

Pombo touts his bill as an effort to enhance species recovery, not weaken it. His office did not respond to Muckraker's request for comment, but last week on the House floor he summed up his philosophy by saying, "We protect private property owners. That is what leads to recovery." He says his bill is needed because both sides are unhappy with the status quo: "[E]verybody [is] saying that there is problems with the law and we have to fix it."

Many in the environmental community concur that the 32-year-old ESA is in need of a tune-up. "It's way overdue -- everybody agrees that it needs to be fixed," said Clark, who now serves as executive vice president of Defenders of Wildlife.

Although the act has aided some species such as the grizzly bear, gray wolf, and bald eagle, conservationists are anxious to improve the pace of recovery. Many argue that the habitat designation and recovery-plan processes need to be fine-tuned, and that dwindling species need to be listed earlier, before their numbers have depleted to the point that they take decades or centuries to recover.

There is also widespread agreement that cooperative, incentive-based programs could improve land-management practices, restore habitat, and head off the listing of further endangered species -- programs that would, for instance, provide technical assistance and funds to help landowners control invasive species. "There's plenty of evidence that a voluntary, incentive-based program can be successful," said Parenteau. "But as a supplement -- not an alternative -- to the regulatory framework at the statute's core."

Pombo's bill includes some such incentive programs, but critics say they would be funded inadequately under his legislation, as money would be siphoned away to property-compensation payments. And they don't care for his approach to their other concerns either.

More to enviros' liking is a rival bill offered up by Reps. George Miller (D-Calif.) and Sherwood Boehlert (R-N.Y.) that proposes ramping up cooperative, incentive-based programs, but omits some of the more controversial provisions in Pombo's version, maintains key components of the critical-habitat provision, and keeps the pesticide restrictions intact. It lost narrowly in a vote of 206 to 216, compared with Pombo's victory vote of 229 to 193.

The Boehlert-Miller bill did better than expected, though, and contains some proposals that Sen. Lincoln Chafee (R-R.I.), chair of the Senate Fisheries, Wildlife, and Water Subcommittee, is considering incorporating into an ESA-update bill, according to Christy Plumer, a staffer for the subcommittee. Chafee, who has a strong environmental record, is under pressure from GOP leaders to come out with such a bill. Plumer said the senator "has several concerns about the [Pombo] bill -- anything he puts together would look decidedly different." She said Chafee is now holding hearings and listening to stakeholders, and does not expect to begin drafting a bill in earnest until early next year.

But Chafee's good intentions don't assuage the fears of environmentalists. "Even if the Senate passed the best bill imaginable, it's essentially dead on arrival in conference," said Clark. She believes that negotiations between the House and the Senate to reach a compromise on the bill could result in something far closer to Pombo's vision than Chafee's, particularly because the lead negotiator on the Senate side would be Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chair of the Senate Environment Committee and no friend to enviros.

Whether or not Chafee offers up a bill, Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho, a Republican member of the Agriculture Committee, plans to unveil his own, possibly before the end of the year, he said yesterday on E&E TV. "I think the House bill is a very good bill," he said. "My objective here is to make sure that we get a bill that has as much of those reforms that the House has and maybe even some more that we can get consensus on through the Senate."

According to Parenteau, the best enviros can hope for is that the pressing issues of Katrina response, the war in Iraq, and consideration of a new Supreme Court nominee will make ESA reform a low priority in the Senate, and neither Chafee nor Crapo will find time to hold hearings and introduce bills in the coming year. "It's a sad state of affairs that our best-case scenario is essentially that this thing will be pushed to the back burner," he said.

Fighting For the Organic Label

What do xanthan gum, an artificial thickener, ammonium bicarbonate, a synthetic leavening agent, and ethylene, a chemical that accelerates the ripening of fruit, have in common? These and other synthetic additives commonly lurk behind that "USDA Organic" stamp of approval you see on the organic products increasingly crowding the shelves of big-box stores and boutique food shops alike.

Controversy over the use of these artificial substances in certified-organic products has been simmering within the organics community for at least three years, since the feds put national organic standards into effect in 2002, and now it's finally coming to a boil.

Last week, the Organic Trade Association, which represents mainstream producers of organic products, including Dole, Kraft, and Horizon, as well as hundreds of smaller-scale farmers and producers, provoked protest among community activists when it lobbied the Senate to attach an amendment to the 2006 agriculture appropriations bill that would make it legal for certain synthetic substances to continue to be used in the preparation, processing, and packaging of organic products that get the USDA seal. The OTA's proposed amendment would effectively cancel out a recent federal court ruling that determined synthetics shouldn't be permitted in the processing of certified-organic products -- a ruling that industry reps argue could deal a huge blow to their bottom lines.

If adopted, the OTA amendment would officially green-light the use of 38 synthetic substances (including the above-mentioned) that are already being used in the production of organic products, and in some cases would enable the U.S. Department of Agriculture to continue adding others to the list without getting feedback from the public or the National Organic Standards Board, the independent advisory group that crafted the first federal organic standards.

The Organic Consumers Association, a network of 600,000 consumers of organic products, is up in arms over the proposed amendment. Ronnie Cummins, the group's national director, is particularly concerned that it would weaken the NOSB, which he calls "the primary thing that stands between us and the corporate agribusiness takeover of the organics industry." In the past two weeks, says the nonprofit group, its members and grassroots allies have deluged congressional offices with tens of thousands of emails and telephone calls opposing the amendment.

OTA's initial lobbying push fell short, resulting in a compromise amendment to the Senate version of the appropriations bill that calls for study of the issue. This week, as the Senate and House dicker over a final bill in conference committee, OTA is continuing its efforts, hoping to get its amendment added at the 11th hour.

Katherine DiMatteo, executive director of OTA, says that while study "is a good step," it would only prolong ambiguity in the marketplace and harm organic producers. "Companies have to make decisions soon about purchasing the organic ingredients they put in [next year's] products," she says. "They will refrain from doing so if it's unclear whether they can depend on the same standards that we worked so hard to establish years ago."

William Friedman -- an attorney with the D.C.-based law firm Covington & Burling who is representing OTA, and a former vice chair of the NOSB -- argues that OK'ing continued use of the synthetic substances that have been allowed up to this point is "the only way for industry to continue offering consumers the same certified-organic products that they are purchasing today, and have been purchasing for the past three years bearing the USDA seal."

Indeed, many organic producers have grown accustomed to using these artificial additives in their processed products. Under the USDA's current rules, the organic label can be applied to a product if at least 95 percent of its ingredients are organic, and the remaining five percent can contain certain synthetic substances.

But the court ruling on "Harvey v. Veneman" earlier this year determined that the USDA rule governing which synthetic substances are permissible contradicted the original intent of the 1990 law that called for creating national organic standards. Arthur Harvey, an organic blueberry farmer in Maine, stunned industry when he won on appeal against the USDA, challenging the agency for allowing synthetics into processed foods certified as organic.

Were the Harvey court decision to stand, products containing the synthetic substances that have been allowed for the past three years would no longer be eligible for the full-fledged "USDA Organic" label. Instead, they could bear the claim "Made With Organic Ingredients," which can be applied to products containing a minimum of 70 percent organic ingredients. Some organic producers worry that such a downgrade for their products would mean serious financial losses, because consumers are willing to pay a premium for products with a stamp that certifies them as organic, but would be less inclined to fork over so much dough for those that merely contain organic ingredients.

Says Friedman, "Up to 90 percent of the multi-ingredient products that today bear the USDA organic seal would have to be relabeled." Most crackers, breakfast cereals, bread, milk, cheese, yogurt, tofu, bananas, lettuce, and any products containing sugar would not be able to bear the organic label, he says, because ingredients now used to make them would be prohibited by the Harvey ruling. As a result, "entire product lines would have to be eliminated," Friedman claims.

Urvashi Rangan, director of the Eco-labels.org project of Consumers Union, the nonprofit research group that publishes Consumer Reports, doesn't believe the blow would be so severe. "There has been lots of pressure to weaken standards so companies can capitalize on the synthetics market," she says. But many of the synthetic ingredients at issue, such as leavening agents, ripening agents, and thickeners, could have natural -- albeit somewhat more expensive -- counterparts, as does the carbon dioxide that is used to preserve bananas and lettuce. "We should be pushing the market to develop, cultivate, and adopt these natural processing agents and ingredients, not their cheaper artificial counterparts," she argues.

Many organic consumers would seem to agree. Says Rangan, "According to our research, 46 percent of all consumers buy organic-labeled food products, and 85 percent of all respondents say they do not expect food labeled as organic to contain artificial ingredients. In other words, allowing synthetics leads to fraudulent labeling, plain and simple, and erodes the credibility of the term organic."

Organic farmer Cissy Bowman -- CEO of Indiana Certified Organic, a USDA-accredited certifying organization -- says she feels excluded from the lobbying efforts of OTA, of which she has been a longtime member: "I don't feel that they have been open and transparent with their members about their efforts to push this amendment through Congress, and I don't believe it represents my interests or the interests of my clients." Bowman says her clients are working on finding natural alternatives to synthetic substances. She suggests that the USDA could clear up consumer confusion and help resolve the situation by creating a separate official seal for products made with at least 70 percent organic ingredients.

Cummins characterizes the OTA's lobbying as an attack on the definition of organic, and likens it to the USDA's past efforts to dilute organic standards: "In 1997 and 1998, the department proposed that genetic engineering, food irradiation, and use of toxic sludge be permissible on organic farms," he says. And last year, the USDA made moves to allow hitherto prohibited pesticides, tainted feeds, and antibiotics in the production of organic goods.

In these cases, the organics community -- including both industry groups and consumer-advocacy groups -- rose up in a unified force against the USDA to beat back these rollbacks. What makes the current situation different is that organic adherents themselves are warring.

"We're seeing the community split in two," said Cummins. Jim Riddle, chair of the NOSB, echoed that sentiment: "I am very concerned about the fractured state of the organic community."

Saving the Earth by Way of the Moon

The mission of the 2-year-old, Washington, D.C.-based Apollo Alliance has come to represent a bold vision of progressivism. Named for President Kennedy's moon shot, the alliance's goal is to mobilize a sweeping federal commitment to energy independence, with the triple-whammy promise of creating good jobs with new technology, bolstering national security with energy independence, and saving the planet from carbon emissions.

Apollo calls for grand-scale federal and state investment -- $300 billion over 10 years -- to underwrite a suite of policy measures designed to stimulate the development of clean-energy industries. The alliance claims the measures would create more than 3 million jobs, eliminate American dependence on Middle East oil imports, lead to 15 percent of U.S. electricity coming from renewable sources, and reduce national energy consumption by 16 percent.

But even though energy independence is almost universally applauded in principle, Apollo faces heavy opposition. Powerful extractive industries fear their own demise in a post-fossil-fuel era. Their close allies in the Bush administration and the Republican-dominated Congress are likewise beholden to the energy status quo and share an aversion to public planning.

A budget crisis created by tax cuts makes it seemingly unthinkable to spend the kind of money necessary to make serious headway on renewable energy. But if Apollo is unlikely to achieve progress at a federal level anytime soon, its backers hope it can help transform energy politics at a local and state level.

Apollo's vision has been endorsed by many major unions and many environmental groups, as well as nine Democratic governors, including Jennifer Granholm of Michigan and Bill Richardson of New Mexico. The funding community is similarly enthusiastic. "Apollo has been an absolutely integral force, if not the key force, in helping shift the framework of the energy debate from environmental space into economic ... and national-security space," says Peter Teague, director of the environment program at the Nathan Cummings Foundation, a lead funder of the Apollo project. "At almost every meeting of progressives I go to, people point to Apollo as the prime example of how we should be doing our politics differently. It fundamentally reorients our message away from doom and gloom and toward inspiration and solving multiple problems simultaneously."

Apollo was publicly unveiled in June 2003, at a time when a host of other organizations were proclaiming similar goals. Many of these like-minded groups were spearheaded by conservative hawks concerned about national security. Frank Gaffney Jr., a former policy adviser to Ronald Reagan and George Bush Senior and founder of the Center for Security Policy; C. Boyden Gray, former White House counsel, and Robert McFarlane, former national-security adviser to Reagan, are active in The Energy Future Coalition and an organization called Set America Free. These groups champion efficiency and alternative-energy agendas in the name of national and economic security, and have intermittently collaborated with Apollo. "All these organizations evolved in parallel on the heels of September 11," said Apollo Alliance founding director Bracken Hendricks, who has been a key adviser to the Energy Future Coalition and is a member of Set America Free.

According to Reid Detchon, executive director of the Energy Future Coalition, "Apollo was the first out of the box in articulating the idea that this is a job-creation and economic-development engine as well as good for energy and the environment. Those of us coming from the security angle have definitely embraced that message." Likewise, New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman has written, "Look at the opportunities our country is missing -- and the risks we are assuming -- by having a president and vice president who refuse to ... marry geopolitics, energy policy, and environmentalism."

Bill Clinton is also a believer. "We've got to make [energy] a national-security argument, and we've got to make it a jobs argument, and we've got to make the price of oil irrelevant," Clinton said in July at an Aspen Institute gathering.

Even Karl Rove seems to be adopting the rhetoric, in principle if not in substance. In May, President Bush made an appearance at a biodiesel manufacturing facility in Virginia to talk up alternative-fuel subsidies in the energy bill. And in June, during a speech at the 16th annual Energy Efficiency Forum in Washington, he proclaimed, "Here in America, we have become too dependent -- too dependent -- on the increasingly limited supply of foreign oil for our own energy needs."

But in practice, of course, President Bush has mainly pushed for more drilling and more tax breaks for extractive industries -- even as fossil-fuel developers are enjoying record-high oil and gas prices. Indeed, the same goes for many others who pay lip service to energy independence. In other words, the presumed bipartisan consensus on the goal of energy independence falls apart as soon as specific policies get debated.

Senator Maria Cantwell, who sits on Apollo's advisory board, proposed an amendment to the energy bill last June, calling for a 40-percent reduction in U.S. oil imports over 20 years. The measure was summarily defeated. Similarly, Representative Jay Inslee failed to even get a vote on his plan to replace the energy bill with a New Apollo Energy Project. That measure, which has since been introduced as stand-alone legislation, includes ambitious measures from a mandatory carbon cap to $49 billion in loan guarantees for the construction of clean-energy facilities. (The Apollo Alliance was not involved in developing the Cantwell initiative, despite her allegiance to the group, and though the alliance worked with Inslee as he crafted his bill, it did not endorse the final product because it included fuel-economy proposals that were objectionable to one of Apollo's member unions.)

Not surprisingly, the energy bill that Bush eagerly signed in early August was quite limited in its assistance for clean-energy technologies. Of the $14.5 billion in subsidies it earmarks for the energy industry over the next decade, only 20 percent will go to renewables and energy efficiency. Far more prominent in the bill, and in the Bush energy strategy as a whole, are big subsidies for the nuclear-power industry and a big push to drill for oil and gas on public lands and in offshore waters. Critics of all political stripes argue that the bill's grand giveaways to oil and coal producers will, if anything, increase America's dependence on fossil fuels, not lessen it. In essence, what we've now got at the federal level is lots of talk about promoting a clean-energy economy -- and lots of action that's leading to anything but.

Dissent in the Ranks

Apollo's leaders have had their own differences over how to parlay their widely admired vision into concrete policy making. Hendricks resigned from the executive-director position this spring, though he remains on the steering committee. "Apollo has not only recontextualized the climate-change and energy-independence debate [but] created an opening to pursue solutions," he says. "The question is: How do you capitalize on that opening? It may be through Apollo, or a different set of strategies."

Hendricks now divides his time between his new fellowship at the Center for American Progress, founded by Democratic strategist John Podesta, and his role as a strategic consultant at the Breakthrough Institute, the think tank founded by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus, authors of the controversial "Death of Environmentalism" [PDF] paper that assailed the green movement's political irrelevance.

Leaders of the Apollo program, who spent great effort trying to build practical coalitions among environmental and labor groups, were embarrassed when the "Death" authors singled out Apollo for lavish praise while savaging the rest of the environmental movement. "Our phone started ringing from friends wondering why we were working with people who attacked our coalition partners," says a leader of the original Apollo plan. "We didn't know the paper was coming. We were completely blindsided."

Within six months of the release of the paper, Shellenberger and "Death of" ally Adam Werbach, both of whom were among Apollo's founding members, distanced themselves from the alliance. "Given our differing visions for how to advance Apollo, and lingering upset over 'Death of,' we all agreed it would be better for Adam and me to leave the Apollo Alliance and seek other ways to advance the vision, values, and ideas at both the national and state levels," Shellenberger said. "I felt like we needed to articulate concrete political proposals and get them out there in the world." He argues that the alliance's focus on moving small state and local initiatives yields only "incremental" policy change, and it has not designed or endorsed new federal-level legislative initiatives. "We're more interested in finding ways to introduce big, bold, and inspiring legislative proposals that may not pass anytime soon, but serve to frame the debate and create political momentum," he said.

Apollo leaders might argue that their call for $300 billion to advance clean-energy innovation is just such a bold vision -- one that has little chance of becoming a legislative reality anytime soon, but nevertheless challenges the energy status quo and acts as an organizing and educational tool. In reality, though, Apollo has outlined only vague legislative strategies to substantiate this $300 billion goal. In 2003 it issued a 40-page white paper that explored broad categories of investment for these funds, but since then has not grounded this vision in legislative detail, or developed other, more detailed federal-level objectives.

Jeff Rickert, the acting executive director of Apollo, acknowledges that because his top priority is holding together a coalition of diverse organizations, there are limits to how specific and controversial Apollo can get in terms of its legislative proposals. Recall that the alliance could not throw its weight behind Representative Inslee's New Apollo Energy Project -- the only federal-level initiative yet proposed that embodies the alliance's mission -- because one of its members objected to a fuel-economy provision. "We have to steer clear of anything that looks like [corporate average fuel economy standards]," Rickert admits, in order to keep allies in the labor movement on board. Gasoline taxes and caps on carbon-dioxide pollution are also anathema to some of Apollo's labor partners.

Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers of America, is on the Apollo advisory board and was instrumental in rallying support for the alliance among labor unions. He says, "My interest is in advancing the principles, advancing the fight, not dissolving into arguments about divisive regulatory strategies."

Apollo has endorsed some policy prescriptions that have already attracted broad bipartisan support in the Senate, including a federal renewable-portfolio standard that would require 15 percent of America's electricity to come from clean-energy sources by 2015, a renewable-fuel standard that would require 10 percent of fuels to be derived from biomatter by 2010, and strong efficiency codes for building development. But even these are opposed by the Bush administration, and are at best partial steps toward a new clean-energy revolution.

While Apollo focuses on maintaining consensus, the Breakthrough Institute aims to compete on the terrain of concrete and controversial legislative proposals. To wit, it has been collaborating with the office of Senator Barack Obama on a bill it hopes he will propose later this year known as the Automotive Competitiveness and Accountability Act. It would relieve the pressure on U.S. automakers to bankroll the rising costs of legacy health insurance -- an expense that doesn't burden their foreign competitors -- and, in exchange, obligate them to invest heavily in energy-efficiency technologies and comply with substantially more aggressive fuel-economy standards. It represents a new way of thinking about environmental policies, says Hendricks, "offering a bailout to the [auto industry] from these hugely debilitating health costs they're grappling with but linking it to an accountability for achieving public purposes."

Shellenberger says visionary proposals are precisely what progressives need right now, "devices that will prompt battles that may be lost legislatively but won at a cultural and political level" because they would force conservatives to take a position at odds with the pursuit of energy independence. The greater goal, in other words, is not so much to create frictionless coalitions but constructive controversy. "We want to catapult the fuel-economy issue into contested political space," as Nordhaus puts it, which would compel opponents of fuel efficiency to justify their positions.

The hope is that Obama and other progressive leaders could characterize anyone who votes against the Automotive Competitiveness and Accountability Act as an opponent of national security, job creation, and public health -- just the way conservatives used the issue of gay marriage in the 2004 election to characterize liberals as opponents of traditional family values.

In theory, it's a promising tactic, but the Breakthrough Institute gadflies might be forced to change their operating strategy once they get their hands dirty in the political arena -- one that requires patience and subtle diplomacy. To succeed, they may need to restrain the criticism and vitriol they have unleashed not just on conservatives but on their own allies as well.

Moreover, the useful strategy of smoking out and embarrassing opponents doesn't negate the importance of building and protecting the common ground between once-competitive interests, according to Hendricks. "The challenge of jumping into the fight and pushing wedge issues is going to move the debate further and faster," he says. "But holding together the blue-green coalition has real value. Keeping allies together and focused on what they can agree on is critical. We have to define and protect a safe, positive space for accord between people that have only recently begun to see their common cause."

Winning Big, State by State

If success at the federal level seems out of reach, though, the Apollo Alliance has made impressive strides in the states, in many cases simply by bringing environmentalists and labor together. In Pennsylvania, Apollo was instrumental in orchestrating discussions between Governor Ed Rendell and a coalition of organizations, including steelworkers, that wanted him to bring the wind industry into the state. Rendell devised an Alternative Energy Portfolio Standards Act with subsidies to lure wind-energy producers. As a result, the Spanish company Gamesa invested in a new turbine installation in Pennsylvania that will create up to 1,000 new jobs over five years.

In California, Apollo has worked to get two huge pension funds, calPERS and calSTRS, to adopt a so-called Green Wave Initiative, an environmental investment plan under which those funds would support more than $450 million in eco-friendly technologies (e.g., clean- and renewable-energy sources). And in New York City, the organization has been working with the city council to develop high-performance "green building" measures.

Rickert says that Apollo plans over the next three years to maintain only a low-level involvement in federal initiatives while expanding its local and regional efforts, with an emphasis on 10 states, including California, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio, Washington, and Wisconsin. "We believe the best way to pave the way for sound energy initiatives is demonstrating their success at a state level," he said.

Apollo has certainly demonstrated its ability to attract and maintain broad backing for a compelling vision, as well as to promote incremental policy measures at the state and local level. Though some of its original leaders and admirers have moved on, they share a common desire with Apollo's current leaders to break the political stalemate -- whether through consensus from the bottom up or controversy from the top down.

The Revolution Will Be Localized

City leaders from around the U.S. were treated to a rare bird's-eye view of the environment earlier this week at the Sundance Summit, a three-day mayors' retreat on climate change hosted by Robert Redford in Salt Lake City and at his 6,000-acre resort nestled beneath Utah's Mount Timpanogos, near Park City. In between briefings on "The State of the Science" and "Why You Should Care," and tutorials on emissions-trading programs and retrofitting public transport, a bipartisan troupe of 46 mayors representing nearly 10 million U.S. citizens slathered on sunscreen, grabbed bag lunches, and glided up the Sundance chairlift over miles of tumbling creeks, quivering aspens, and ponderosa pines.

"Oh, I'm just lovin' mayor camp!" said Melvin "Kip" Holden (D), mayor of Baton Rouge, La., as he dismounted the lift and headed back to the conference center. "I feel like I'm back in college -- it's just that excitement of learning, that bigger-than-you feeling of wanting to make change."

That's precisely what Redford and his co-hosts -- Salt Lake City Mayor Rocky Anderson (D) and the nonprofit ICLEI/Local Governments for Sustainability -- had in mind when they organized the all-expenses-paid gathering, funded in part by Pew Charitable Trusts and the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. "The whole idea was to bring leaders together in a magical place where the monumental implications of climate change and a passion for solutions could really take hold," Anderson said.

New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson (D), who served as energy secretary under President Clinton, kicked off the retreat with a feisty call to arms: "Let's face it, if we wait around for the federal government to act, we aren't going to see anything happen," he said. Though Richardson has been a pioneer in promoting renewable energy at the state level, he argued that "even the states are not as accelerated as the cities" when it comes to implementing climate initiatives. "I know where the power is, and I know it's with you guys."

Redford echoed that theme in his opening speech: "You here are closest to the people," he said. "The best and most significant change comes from the grassroots." He later added, "We can't let America play Nero while the planet burns."

The summit was just the latest in a string of recent efforts to galvanize local action on climate change. This year, at the urging of Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, more than 170 mayors nationwide have pledged to adopt Kyoto targets for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. The New Cities project, launched by Madison, Wis., Mayor Dave Cieslewicz (D), has a network of mayors working to implement on the local level the energy-independence proposals of the Apollo Alliance, a coalition of labor, environmental, and other groups that aims to spur eco-friendly economic growth. The Institute for Policy Studies in June launched a Cities for Progress campaign that's pushing for energy security, among other goals.

The Nation recently chronicled these and other progressive city-level campaigns in its cover story "Urban Archipelago," arguing that cities are the spots to watch for innovative, positive change. And earlier this month, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof praised Portland, Ore., for having slashed its greenhouse-gas emissions below 1990 levels, even as it's been booming economically, proving wrong President Bush's recent claim that "Kyoto would have wrecked our economy."

Do the Bright Thing

This kind of economic optimism was a recurring theme during the Sundance Summit. Executives from the British-based consultancy The Climate Group impressed many in the audience when describing how 17 major U.S. cities had already reduced their emissions below 1990 levels and saved a total of $600 million through efficiency measures. "You must understand that tackling climate is financially a competitive advantage, not a liability," stressed Steve Howard, CEO of The Climate Group.

Patrick McCrory (R), mayor of Charlotte, N.C., and head of the Republican mayors' association, noted that municipal leaders have the power to move markets: "We are the ones building roads, designing mass transit, buying the police cars and dump trucks and earthmovers. We're the ones lighting up the earth when you look at those maps from space," he said. "Together we have huge purchasing power, and if we invest wisely, that can have huge implications for the environment."

But not all of the attendees, at first, drank in the cheer.

Mark Begich (D), mayor of Anchorage, Alaska, said that among his predominantly conservative constituency, climate-change initiatives are a hard sell: "There are members on my city council who think the term 'global warming' is more objectionable than the term 'liberal.' Some consider it a wacko radical concept."

Mike McKinnon, mayor of Lynnwood, Wash., said he wasn't even sure what his constituents thought on the matter. "I don't believe we've had any discussions in our community on climate change. I have one staff member who is half-time on recycling -- that's the full extent of my resources on the environment." When asked why he attended the conference if the issue was so low on his radar screen, he said, "When I read on the invitation, 'Salt Lake City ... Sundance ... Robert Redford ... all expenses paid,' that said yes to me!"

Des Moines, Iowa, Mayor T. M. Franklin Cownie (D) said he wasn't willing to sign any climate-related agreements without first getting the support of his city council. "I want to sell 'em first rather than go dump it on 'em. I need to make sure they understand gas-house [sic] emissions and all that before I make any big pledges," he said.

Graham Richard (D) of Fort Wayne, Ind., put it this way: "My job is to be pragmatic. If I approach this issue with my constituents as some kind of Kyoto thing, I guarantee that'll raise a stink. Now if I sell it as a cost-saving measure, that's another story."

After hearing a litany of suggestions for investing in energy-efficient lighting, clean energy for municipal buildings, and hybrid-engine police cars, Roberta Cooper of Hayward, Calif., said, "I am a small-town mayor with small-town resources. I don't have the budget or the political leverage" to buy into such programs.

But these are precisely the doubts and barriers that the Sundance organizers hoped to address. "We didn't want to bring the choir here," said Mayor Anderson. ICLEI Executive Director Michelle Wyman explained that a lot of research went into selecting cities and towns that "historically tended to be more conservative on enviro issues and were also hotspots for CO2 emissions. We wanted to cut through the partisan barriers and recruit grassroots climate leaders in new regions." And they had reason to be proud of their outreach -- of the 58 invitations sent out, 48 were accepted.

Sunny Daze, Sweeping the Clouds Away

Indeed, as the sessions went on, skepticism began to fade and the message got through to even some of the most dubious participants.

The most persuasive cris de coeur came from Chicago Mayor Richard Daley (D), whose photograph was snapped admiringly by more than a few of his smaller-town counterparts. He has implemented measures on everything from tree planting and bike paths to renewable-energy standards and requirements that "all of our major big-box [stores] have to do green roofs," he said. He later said that cities, more than states or federal agencies, "are terrific laboratories for testing environmental policies and initiatives. We can demonstrate what works [to reduce emissions] and send a signal to the federal level that they are economically safe to implement."

Soon, the ideas were flowing. Hayward's Cooper suggested that all small-town mayors unite in a coalition to increase their purchasing power for clean energy and green products: "If I join forces with mayors in neighboring cities, I have more leverage. By joining each other we can be more effective and adventurous than by standing alone." Fort Wayne's Richard then expanded on the idea, proposing a large nationwide network of mayors that could buy green products collectively in an online auction to accelerate economies of scale.

Aspen Mayor Helen Klanderud suggested that cities participate in a "Canary Alliance" in which they would document the local impacts of climate change -- "how warming is threatening the skiing industry in Aspen, how drought is affecting crops in Idaho, and so on. That's the way to get people to understand that it is a local problem."

ICLEI's Wyman was thrilled with the results of the conference, saying, "What happened over the course of the past three days will change the way U.S. cities consume resources and do business." She pledged that her organization would help implement the ideas that emerged, chronicle successes and failures, and organize annual follow-up summits.

Redford, too, was positively buoyant: "What gives me hope is that in politics, baby steps can lead to sea change," he said. "The whole political system can be terribly sluggish, stalemated, constipated -- the barriers can seem insurmountable. But then all these distributed little pockets of inspiration slowly begin opening up, joining together, building a collective force, and can suddenly give way to tremendous momentum and change. That, I hope, is what's under way."

McKinnon of Lynnwood may end up bringing inspiration back to his pocket of the world; he's now vowed to strike up a dialogue in his community on climate change. "I've decided to make my half-time employee full-time," he beamed, "with a focus not just on recycling, but climate too. I just can't wait to get back home and start implementing."

Hollywood Enviros Strike Back

All signs on Capitol Hill point to a royally depressing Earth Day 2005 (that would be next Friday): inertia on global warming, revival of the industry-friendly energy bill, a widely reviled plan to address mercury pollution, the looming prospect of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. And though it's the 35th anniversary of the first Earth Day, D.C.-based environmental groups don't seem to have plans for splashy protests or pep rallies to mark the occasion.

Could it be that an infusion of star power from Hollywood is the best hope for pumping new life into the environmental movement? A coterie of A-listers, including actress Cameron Diaz , actor Matt Damon and TV producer Laurie David, are spearheading planet-positive media projects just in time for the big green holiday.

On April 11 and 18, Damon is hosting Journey to Planet Earth, a PBS documentary series about the defining environmental problems of the 21st century -- population explosion, resource scarcity, global warming, and the like -- complete with a Bourne Identity-esque soundtrack and Hollywood special effects. On April 20 and 27, Ed Norton will narrate Strange Days on Planet Earth, a four-hour National Geographic special also airing on PBS that will examine modern environmental blights ranging from invasive insects that devour buildings to globe-trotting dust storms to the perplexing phenomenon of hermaphroditic frogs.

The filmmakers behind the projects see Damon and Norton not just as hotties who can attract younger viewers to PBS, but as representatives of a more energized and persuasive generation of activists. "It's time for a new environmental movement," said Marilyn Weiner, producer of "Journey to Planet Earth." "Lawmakers are falling down on the job, there's a major inspiration deficit in the public. [The movement] needs new people, new spokespersons, new methods of educating, fresh ad campaigns. We need urgency and celebration. We need drama that resonates with people and reminds them why they care."

Then again, Damon and Norton are both Ivy League-educated and approach their subject matter with a sober, semi-academic tone that may still appeal largely to the white, bookish, bourgeois constituency of environmental groups. For hipsters, hip-hop aficionados, and, well, the vast majority of young Americans, thank god there's Cameron Diaz. Her new eco-themed MTV series Trippin' is breezy and irreverent -- some might say a touch clueless -- and that may give it a leg up with a generation that is to cluelessness as a fish is to water. "
Airing on Monday nights (the third of 10 episodes ran this week), "Trippin'" is equal parts Animal Planet, "The Real World" and "Dude, Where's My Car?" It's based on a simple premise: Diaz takes a gaggle of show-biz pals to biologically rich hotspots around the globe where environmental experts guide them as they ogle Mother Nature and the exotic (read: poor) villagers who live therein, whilst attempting extreme adventures in the elements, such as surfing in Costa Rica, riding elephants in Nepal, sand-boarding in Chile, and trying to find two-way pager reception in the remote wilds of Yellowstone.

The show bucks the stereotypes associated with devotees of the natural world -- serious, self-righteous white folks. A glance at the roster of Diaz's adventuresome guests -- hip-hop artists DMX and Redman, country rocker Kid Rock, Latina actress Eva Mendes, surf king Kelly Slater and skater bad boy Eric Koston, to name a few -- confirms that the show is attempting a radical makeover of the pasty eco-nerd identity. For that, Diaz deserves props from every greenie in the nation.

"We were well aware that doing a show about the environment would have narrow appeal to MTV viewers, so we had to approach it with a cast as diverse as possible, one that would have the broadest appeal," "Trippin'" co-producer Elizabeth Rogers said. "The hip-hop community has a loud and powerful voice in that audience, so Cameron made a big effort to make those artists a part of the adventure." Rogers and Diaz contemplated several outlets for the show, including ESPN, but decided that the MTV audience "is the most diverse and dynamic and has the most potential power to effect change," said Rogers.

Though Diaz and the show's producers are serious enough in their environmental commitment to have gone "climate neutral" -- they've purchased carbon credits to offset pollution from the energy used in creating the show -- Diaz was adamant that "Trippin'" not come off as preachy. "We didn't want to turn people off with a we-know-best attitude," said Rogers. "We knew that what we could bring to this show wasn't expertise. Our expertise was just our enthusiasm, really, and love for the wilderness. That's why Cameron makes it clear that she's seeking out experts, and learning along the way, just like everybody else."

Rogers makes no apologies that "Trippin'" is entertaining first, educational second. "Our intention was to make it fun enough that by the end you don't realize that you got something out of it," she said. "Like it or not, that's what kids want these days. I don't think most people working on environmental messaging get that."

Shocking as this revelation may be to devotees of Greenwire and Roll Call, it ain't news to television producer Laurie David, who is currently working on two TV specials on the environment and global warming, to air on HBO and TBS in the next year. The latter will include comedy bits from Diaz, Ben Stiller, Tom Hanks, Steve Martin, Will Farrell and Jack Black.

David is also trying to marry entertainment with politics by orchestrating a year-long "virtual march on Washington" via the website StopGlobalWarming.org, which will launch on Earth Day, April 22 (the site's not live yet). The aim is to attract at least a million marchers by Earth Day 2006 and thereby demonstrate to the powers in D.C. that the tides have turned and Americans want their leaders to take the threat of climate change seriously.

The central visual on the site will be a map of the United States that animates with Flash sequences as marchers virtually journey to dozens of spots around the country that are exhibiting symptoms of global warming. They'll "visit" disappearing glaciers in Montana, damaged coral reefs in Florida, and towns in Alaska forced to relocate due to their melting surroundings. Sprinkled in amongst the gloomy destinations will be some inspirational stops -- to zero-energy buildings, hybrid-car factories, fuel-cell laboratories, and the Indy 500 in Indiana, where all the race cars are being converted to run on biofuels. High-tech graphics will help marchers connect the ambiguous concept of global warming to real people and places.

"We want to create an ongoing narrative that captures emotion and real life," said Jonah Peretti, director of R&D at Eyebeam, a firm working to develop the site.

"Climate change is the ultimate civil-rights issue, and we need [to evoke] as much emotional resonance as the civil-rights movement to tackle it," said David. "I want this to bring together Republicans, Democrats, soccer moms, college kids, jocks, religious people, northerners, southerners. Everybody." To that end, the project will highlight the ties between global warming and other defining issues of our times: national security, public health and economic development.

Democratic firebrand Robert F. Kennedy Jr. will play the role of "the first marcher" and send out a clarion call via email exhorting others to join. David is meeting with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) this week in an effort to persuade him to be among the pioneering Republican marchers.

Leaders in the Green Group -- a coalition of 20-plus top U.S. environmental organizations -- have agreed to join the march and promote it among their constituencies. Indeed, the ultimate achievement of the project might be to help fuse the disparate efforts of national environmental groups related to climate change; as it is, they've each been taking separate stabs at addressing the problem rather than acting as a collective force.

Hollywood's attempts at straightforward politicking in 2004 were less than fruitful, but now its Earth Day efforts are returning it to a milieu where it has no equal: entertainment. Whether hordes of Americans hit the virtual streets or tune in to "Trippin'" or "Strange Days on Planet Earth" remains to be seen, but assuming the laws of American pop culture hold true, here's a prediction: If you Diaz it, they will come.

Losing the Refuge

In a crushing blow to those who have fought for some 25 years to preserve the unspoiled Alaskan wildland, the Senate voted today to clear the way for oil and gas drilling within the Arctic Refuge. By a 51-49 vote, they rejected an amendment by Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) that would have stripped from a budget bill a provision that assumes the government will raise revenue from drilling in the refuge's coastal plain.

Opening the Arctic Refuge is not a done deal yet – the controversial budget bill has to survive heated Republican wrangling, and some formalities must be addressed to authorize drilling – but oil exploration in the refuge is more likely now than ever before.

For years, Senate Democrats and a handful of moderate Republicans beat back repeated efforts to get at the refuge's oil deposits. But this year, thanks to soaring oil prices and a five-vote GOP margin in the Senate, the Republican leadership saw its best chance in a decade – since 1995 when Congress passed a budget bill with an ANWR provision that President Clinton vetoed.

Last week, Senate Budget Committee Chair Judd Gregg (R-N.H.), considered one of the more pro-environment Republicans on Capitol Hill, succumbed to pressure from the White House and Alaska's senators to attach a similar Arctic Refuge provision to the 2006 budget resolution.

Pinning the Arctic Refuge to the bill is an aggressive and controversial move because, unlike most legislative initiatives, the budget bill is exempt from filibusters and therefore needs only 51 votes to pass, not 60.

"It's a desperate attempt, an abuse of the legislative system to try and push a major national policy through this backdoor strategy and avoid an open debate," said Charla Neuman, a staffer for Cantwell, a leading opponent of drilling in the refuge. "It goes to show how worried they are about getting it through in any kind of reasonable way."

Desperate or not, the attempt worked remarkably well. Marnie Funk, Republican spokesperson for the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, acknowledged that passage of the budget bill is not yet guaranteed, but said, "This is our best shot ever at getting ANWR."

When GOP senators tried to open up the Arctic Refuge using the same budget-bill maneuver in 2003, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) proposed an amendment to strip out the drilling provision and triumphed by a 52-48 margin. On Tuesday, Cantwell introduced a similar amendment. Today, she found out how much times have changed.

Enviros, not surprisingly, are reeling. "Today's vote sends a terrible message about America's energy future," said Deb Callahan, head of the League of Conservation Voters. "If this is allowed to stand, we could not begin to calculate the loss to future generations." Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, said, "We deeply regret that 51 senators voted to pursue special interests instead of energy solutions." Still, he insisted, "This razor-thin vote is by no means a mandate to drill in the Arctic Refuge."

Karen Wayland, legislative director of the Natural Resources Defense Council, warned that the move could pave the way for drilling in other spots around the country. "The Arctic is a symbol for a much bigger effort to get into environmentally sensitive regions," she said. "The Rocky Mountain [region], off the coast of Florida – they want to drill everywhere. If they can get into the Arctic, then no place is off-limits."

Still, a saving grace for the refuge could come in the form of a congressional stalemate: Controversy over the budget bill could erupt between the House and Senate during the conference process and prevent the legislation from moving forward, given the backlash among fiscal conservatives over the monstrous deficit.

"Our best hope is not environmental lobbying at this point, but that Republicans will defeat the budget bill themselves because of irreconcilable differences over how to cope with the budget crisis," said Chris Miller, a minority staffer for the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

It's a sobering state of affairs: After zealously fighting for more than two decades to protect the Arctic Refuge, the environmental community must now accept a negligible role in the battle and hope that Republican infighting saves the day.

Let Us Now Praise Innocuous Men

The next chief of the Bush EPA wasn't expected to have more than a dewdrop's chance in hell of widespread acceptance in the disgruntled environmental community. So it came as a surprise on Friday when the president tapped respected scientist and 24-year EPA veteran Stephen Johnson to captain the agency, and an array of green leaders issued favorable – even rapturous – reviews.

"A spectacularly good appointment," said Ken Cook of the Environmental Working Group. "We welcome the nomination," said Deb Callahan of the League of Conservation Voters. "[A] good sign," said Phil Clapp of National Environmental Trust. "[T]he best we could expect," said Carl Pope of the Sierra Club.

The typically combative leaders of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee also set aside their differences to voice collective support of the nomination. Committee Chair James Inhofe (R-Okla.) applauded Johnson for "his hard work in public service," while the committee's minority leader, Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.), an outspoken critic of the White House on environmental issues, expressed "hope that this appointment will help repair and restore the credibility of the Bush administration's environmental record." Industry representatives were complimentary as well.

Johnson, who has held a number of leadership positions in EPA's Office of Prevention, Pesticides, and Toxic Substances, has spent much of his career implementing the nation's pesticide and toxics laws. He looks like a veritable David Brower next to others who were rumored to be on the short list for EPA chief, including energy-industry booster Thomas Kuhn, head of the Edison Electric Institute, and Jim Connaughton, chair of the White House Council on Environmental Quality and an architect of the administration's so-called new environmentalism. Not only is Johnson largely free of industry ties, he's the first career employee and scientist ever to be nominated as EPA administrator.

He ascended the agency ladder swiftly under the watch of Carol Browner, who headed the EPA during the Clinton administration. "I promoted him several times, into very important positions in the pesticides and toxics office," Browner said. "I don't know if Johnson is a Democrat or Republican, but he's a very green guy, a truly committed environmentalist, from my experience." He didn't shy away from enforcing tough standards, safeguarding public health, and taking action against chemical companies when needed, said Browner.

"One is almost left to wonder," she added, "if the Bush administration knew just how deep his commitment is to these issues when they decided that he was their man."

President Bush , for his part, doesn't seem worried. "I've come to know Steve as an innovative problem-solver with good judgment and complete integrity," Bush said as he nominated Johnson on Friday. In 2001, the Bush administration honored Johnson with the Presidential Rank Award for his exemplary service at the EPA, and in January of this year named him as acting administrator of the agency, after Mike Leavitt was tapped to head up the Department of Health and Human Services.

And Johnson seems comfortable with the Bush agenda. As acting administrator, he has defended some of the administration's most controversial environmental proposals, including the Clear Skies bill and major cuts to the EPA's budget. Last month, he trekked to Illinois to stump for Clear Skies, thereby putting pressure on the state's new senator, Barack Obama (D), to switch his stance on the bill.

Joan Mulhern, senior attorney at Earthjustice, considers the environmental community's optimism about Johnson's nomination unfounded. "It's hard to imagine that Johnson wasn't vetted for loyalty to the Bush agenda, or that the administration has any intention of bringing on board an independent voice," she said. "We've seen no indication that he is inclined to go against the grain."

Mulhern says that Clear Skies will be a real test of Johnson's loyalties. Many public-health and environmental advocates have lambasted the bill for what they say is its weak approach to cutting mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants. Johnson was working at the office of pesticides and toxics when the Clinton administration classified mercury as a hazardous air pollutant and issued an emissions-reductions proposal far more aggressive than that currently proposed by the Bush administration. "The Clear Skies initiative effectively de-lists mercury as a toxin," said Mulhern. "How can a man who has devoted his career to addressing the public-health problems posed by toxic substances advocate something like that?"

A former EPA colleague of Johnson's who spoke on condition of anonymity expressed concern that Johnson's support of Clear Skies could sully his hard-earned reputation. "The Steve Johnson I know would absolutely say that mercury is a toxin. But next week if he goes into the Senate confirmation hearings and says that mercury's not a toxin – whew! I don't envy that position. He may not understand the kind of scrutiny he is walking into."

Eric Schaeffer, former head of the enforcement division at EPA, added that the pesticide and toxics division is known for working collaboratively, rather than tussling, with industry: "They're not often involved in aggressive enforcement, which means Johnson has faced less controversy than, say, those in the air division." Schaeffer speculates that Johnson appeals to the administration in part because he doesn't have "political oomph" like William K. Reilly, who headed the agency under Bush Sr., or Christie Whitman, Bush Jr.'s first EPA administrator. "[Johnson] has credibility, but not much political leverage," said Schaeffer, which should make him that much easier to roll over.

Another former EPA colleague, who also spoke on condition of anonymity, added, "I have absolute respect for him, but I don't know if he's bullheaded enough to pose opposition to the Bush folks. He has a go-with-the-flow quality."

The Senate vote on Johnson's appointment is expected to happen in the next month. But Johnson, as acting administrator, will be thrown into the fire before then, with Clear Skies expected to come up for a Senate committee vote any day now (after having been postponed three times), and the administration's contentious mercury rules due out on March 15. Beltway scuttlebutt has it that if Johnson signs the mercury rules, at least one senator will hold up his confirmation in protest. Still, in the end, his appointment is all but guaranteed.

Class Action Dismissed

The Erin Brockoviches of America could have a much tougher time going after polluters if the Class Action Fairness Act – which the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to approve last week – is signed into law.

The bill, which will be put to a full Senate vote today, would move most major class-action lawsuits from state courts to federal courts, purportedly in an attempt to bring order and fairness to a system in which, currently, plaintiffs' attorneys seek out local courts with agreeable track records on rulings and negotiate settlement awards for victims that are inconsistent from state to state. A long-standing priority of the Bush administration and its corporate contributors, the legislation is overwhelmingly backed by Republicans on the Hill and several Democrats in the Senate, and is considered a sure bet for passage.

Howls of protest are being heard from environmental activists, labor and civil-rights groups, including the AFL-CIO and the NAACP, and a number of Democrats on the Judiciary Committee, including Sen. Richard Durbin (Ill.), who said during a hearing on the bill last week, "This isn't the Class Action Fairness Act – this is the Class Action Moratorium Act."

These critics claim the bill would make it too difficult for wronged citizens to have their day in court and see justice meted out. On Monday, attorneys general of 15 states sent a letter to the Senate leadership arguing that the bill as it stands would "result in far greater harm than good." That same day, leaders of 16 large green organizations signed a separate letter to the Senate warning of serious environmental harm that would come from the bill and requesting that environmental lawsuits be exempted.

Under current law, class-action suits that involve plaintiffs from multiple states (as most major class-action suits do) can be heard in any state in which the harm has taken place. Beth Levine, an aide to Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), who sponsored the bill, argues that this allows plaintiffs' attorneys to do what's called "venue shopping": "They look for certain state courts that have been known to rule in their favor. The president often cites the courts in Madison County, [Ill.,] that continually rule in favor of the trial attorneys and dole out huge settlements." (Well, technically, said courts tend to rule in favor of plaintiffs, sometimes known as "victims," but we get her drift.) Levine argues that the settlements frequently yield huge payoffs for the attorneys, but paltry coupons for the plaintiffs themselves. Large class-action cases should be heard before judges who have a more national outlook, she says, and can help ensure fairer and more consistent awards.

Critics of the bill argue that in moving lawsuits from the state to the federal level, local concerns would be taken out of the hands of communities. "There is a reason that defendants want to be tried outside of the state," said John Walke, an attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "They're fearful that their wrongdoing will be punished more within the community because the people have more at stake. [Proponents of the bill] term it 'local prejudice,' but it's really 'local care.'"

Worse still, say the bill's opponents, federal courts often refuse to hear class-action cases submitted by petitioners from multiple states. "No one wants to file a class-action suit at a federal level because they often get dismissed if they include plaintiffs from a patchwork of different states, all of which have different laws," explained Jude McCartin, an aide to Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), who has been a vocal critic of certain sections of the bill. "There isn't one state law that is applicable and there is no guidance for federal judges as to where they can apply just one state's laws."

Bingaman tried to address this concern by proposing an amendment that would give federal judges the authority to select one state's law and apply it to a case with plaintiffs from multiple states, but he couldn't rally enough votes for it. "We tried to say [in this amendment] that if class-action suits are going to be forced into federal courts, let's give consumers reasonable expectation that their case will be heard," McCartin told Muckraker. "But the support just wasn't there for it."

And even if the cases do get heard, the Class Action Fairness Act could result in substantial cost increases and time delays for plaintiffs. Federal courts are already backlogged, critics say, and new cases bumped up to the federal level would have to go to the end of a long waiting list.

"Going through the federal system is far less expedient," said Joan Mulhern, a senior attorney at Earthjustice. "If you're a community that's suffering from groundwater contamination or an oil spill or a tank explosion or air contamination from nearby factory farms, you may have to wait for years to even get your case heard, much less be given a fair chance from an unbiased judge to have your injuries redressed."

Mulhern argues that the Bush administration is rigging the judicial system so it's harder for citizens to hold corporate culprits accountable on the full gamut of civil concerns – not just environment and public health, but also consumer protection, civil rights, and labor issues. "It's that sweeping," she said.

Enviros are particularly concerned about how the bill would affect lawsuits over water pollution from MTBE, a gasoline additive that has contaminated the groundwater in at least 35 states. Hundreds of communities across the country are grappling with the effects of MTBE pollution, and many of them have been banding together to organize major class-action suits – suits that would be passed off to federal courts if the bill is signed into law.

The bill also worries environmentalists and other public advocates because it would hand more power to an increasingly conservative federal judiciary. President Bush has made it a high priority to appoint conservative judges to federal courts, as did Ronald Reagan, and they have left a lasting legacy: Of the 836 total active federal judges, 204 have been appointed by Bush, and 253 were appointed by former Republican presidents going back to Richard Nixon. In total, 55 percent are Republican appointees, according to the Alliance for Justice. And Bush has signaled his intent to aggressively push through more right-wing appointees to the federal bench.

At a time when the White House is weakening environmental defenses across the board, the Class Action Fairness Act would remove yet another avenue for citizens to keep corporate polluters in check, according to Ed Hopkins, director of environmental quality for the Sierra Club. "You've got the executive branch and Congress clearly aligned against strong environmental protections. So what branch of government can citizens turn to? That's the courts. The courts are really the final frontier. And now even they are being taken away from the American people."

Greenpeace Gives Peace a Chance

At a time when environmental groups are facing questions about their own mortality and rethinking strategies for surviving Bush's second term, Greenpeace USA – the environmental group best known for in-your-face, laws-be-damned direct action – is getting in touch with its inner Gandhi.

In the last few years, the group has trained activists for such harrowing and gymnastic acts as scaling the 700-foot smokestack of a dirty Pennsylvania coal plant, ambushing a cargo boat carrying mahogany from Brazil, and battling logging operations in Oregon and the Tongass National Forest in Alaska.

This year's biggest planned action? A kayaking and trekking expedition through the Arctic. And the goal is not to face off with Exxon folks on oil rigs or shield baby seals from club-brandishing hunters, but to document the magnificent yet melting ecosystem and beam images of it to the Greenpeace web site and hopefully beyond.

Some say this represents a softening of tactics. Greenpeace USA executive director John Passacantando begs to differ.

He maintains that a peaceful presentation of compelling images from the threatened Arctic will be a powerful tool. "It's time to rebuild the base. First you have to help people see that which they love – pristine nature, children – then you can show them the destruction and they can get angry," he said. "But they need to love it first. The public needs to be inspired to understand why saving green earth and public health matters. We have to speak to their hearts with stories that are dramatic and stunning and beautiful."

In other words: Time to back off from battlefield tactics and try to win over the hearts and minds of those who've lost touch with the values of the movement.

This thinking is right in line with arguments coming out of the Death of Environmentalism debate – that environmental activists have fine-tuned the art of scaring the public (and, with prattle about parts per million, boring the public), but still have no grasp of how to inspire the public. It also reflects a growing realization among progressives that a litany of detailed policy prescriptions doesn't win as many votes as a simple, values-based storyline.

And then there's the fact that battlefield tactics have brought Greenpeace more trouble during the Bush administration than in previous years. In 2004, more Greenpeace activists faced felony charges than ever in the group's history, according to Passacantando. In fact, criminal charges were brought against the organization as a whole by John Ashcroft's Justice Department in response to a 2002 protest against mahogany shipments from Brazil – an unprecedented government move to quash environmental direct action.

Passacantando doesn't believe that all the old Beltway strategies of environmental organizations should be thrown out, but, he says, "The current political moment calls for a shift in tactics. We appreciate that there are those in the D.C. trenches fighting the rollbacks, but we believe that ever since Bush has come into office there's less to be gained there than in efforts to rally the base. ... [W]hen you get into an era when the forces of government are aligned against you, then your efforts are best spent elsewhere."

Even as he steers Greenpeace in a new direction, Passacantando isn't ruling out the possibility of old-school, down-and-dirty pranks: "If people think we're going soft, all the better. It's always good to have that added element of surprise."

Nell on Earth

We have Thanksgiving to thank for the beloved Fig Newman. It was Nell Newman, daughter of actor Paul Newman, who actually created the eponymous product, but she had the opportunity only after convincing her father to take his food company, Newman's Own, in an organic direction with a triumphant organic meal she whipped up for her family on Thanksgiving 1992.

The following year, Nell started an organic division of Newman's Own more than a decade after the parent company was established, and has since become one of the most recognized names and faces in the health food industry. That's her on the Fig Newmans wrapper, standing next to "Pa" wearing calico and braids and wielding a pitchfork – bearing as much likeness to her movie star mom, Joanne Woodward, as to her blue-eyed dad.

In person, however, Nell is nothing like the country bumpkin she appears to be on the packaging. Now 45, she's a tough-talkin', race-car-drivin' surfer babe, and proud of it. Oh, and she's a tree-hugger alright – she grows her own produce, catches her own fish, and lives in a solar-powered cabin. But she doesn't carry any purer-than-thou pretenses.

From her home in Santa Cruz, Calif., Nell talked about the philosophy of her company, the troubles with big-business health food, and her life as a "flexitarian."

Keep reading... Show less

Energy Cronies Clamor For Reward

A day after winning the presidential election last week, George W. Bush made this now-legendary – and, to some, menacing – statement: "I earned capital in the campaign, political capital, and now I intend to spend it."

Without dwelling on the notion that conservatives are supposed to protect and grow capital, not fritter it away, environmentalists are wondering just where and how President Bush is going to spend his political booty in the natural resource realm.

In much the same way he spent his more limited allowance in the last go-round, according to U.S. EPA chief Mike Leavitt. As reported in Greenwire last Friday, Leavitt told the press that the Bushies will proudly stay the course on their environmental agenda – one widely condemned by environmentalists, but newly bolstered by the election. "We now have a clear agenda, one that's been validated and empowered by the people of this country," he said.

If past is indeed prologue in the Bush administration, say enviros, it's fair to assume that a key beneficiary of the president's newfound capital will be the energy industry. During Bush's first term, efforts to weaken clean air regulations and expedite oil and gas drilling were regarded as paybacks for campaign contributions. This time around, the energy and natural-resources sector made record donations to Bush's campaign – a total of $4.4 million for the 2004 cycle, according to the latest data from the Center for Responsive Politics, compared with $2.8 million in the 2000 campaign.

"Right now Karl Rove is saying, 'First things first, George. These are the folks that floated our campaign, we need to give them our thanks,'" said Dan Becker, director of the Sierra Club's Global Warming and Energy Program.

Now that the Republicans have gained four seats in the Senate, giving them a 55-45 advantage, there's a good chance that the 109th Congress will enable President Bush to hand his corporate contributors one of the most sought-after prizes of all: Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Bush is also better positioned to get Senate approval for his stalled-out energy bill, which has been widely criticized on both sides of the aisle as pork at its worst, with its billions of dollars in subsidies for fossil-fuel producers and other special interests.

There have been rumblings on Capitol Hill that the energy bill could come up for consideration during the lame-duck session that will begin on Nov. 16, even before the 108th Congress adjourns at the end of this year. Lame-duck sessions are typically more rushed and insulated from media scrutiny than other sessions, which could be advantageous when pushing forward a highly contentious and complex piece of legislation.

But most observers think the energy bill won't get off the ground until 2005. "No one expects the Republicans to go to great lengths to move it now when they can just rewrite it next year, and they'll have the advantage of a bigger margin," said Karen Wayland, legislative director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Indeed, energy-bill advocates insist that the new Republicans who'll be taking office in January will put them in good stead: "We have more than enough votes for an energy bill," Sen. George Allen (R-Va.), chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, declared at a press conference last Wednesday.

Scott Segal, a lobbyist for the industry group Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, shares Allen's optimism. "Things are definitely looking up for an omnibus energy bill," he said. "Not only is there a larger operating majority for Republicans, you've got to consider the cost of energy: We've had sustained oil prices above $50 [a barrel], which is a real red-flag zone, and natural gas at three times the historical average. This could very well stimulate the passage, particularly among moderate Democrats and more liberal Republicans."

A big sticking point for the energy bill, though, is its MTBE provision, which would indemnify producers of the gasoline additive MTBE against water-pollution lawsuits. "The energy bill got jammed on the MTBE provision and never got unstuck," said Bill Wicker, spokesperson for Democrats on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. "Even though there are nine new senators coming to town [seven Republicans, two Democrats], nearly all of them will vote the same way on this issue as their predecessors."

It's true that extra support for the bill in the Senate will come from Richard Burr of North Carolina (replacing Democrat John Edwards), Mel Martinez of Florida (replacing Democrat Bob Graham), and Jim DeMint of South Carolina (replacing Democrat Fritz Hollings).

But Republican John Thune, who will take the place of Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D) from South Dakota, won't amount to a gained vote because Daschle was a strong supporter of the energy bill. Two more GOP gains are canceled out by Democrat Barack Obama of Illinois (replacing Republican Sen. Peter Fitzgerald ) and Democrat Ken Salazar of Colorado (replacing Republican Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell). Salazar is from a strong oil and gas state, so his pro-environment vote on this bill is not guaranteed, but Becker, whose organization endorsed Salazar's campaign, says it's very likely.

Moreover, peer pressure from re-energized GOP colleagues won't easily sway some New England Republicans: "John Sununu and Judd Gregg are Republican senators from New Hampshire who voted against the bill because of the MTBE provision," said Becker, "but New Hampshire is currently suing MTBE manufacturers because of water contamination in the state, so switching their vote would undermine their state's legal position."

Also, the Republican senator from Nevada, John Ensign, is unlikely to change his no vote because the bill is loaded with subsidies for the nuclear-power industry and could therefore lead to the generation of more nuclear waste. As the Bush administration already wants to dump existing nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada, to the ire of Ensign's constituency, a nuke-friendly energy bill isn't likely to go over well in the Silver State.

According to Wicker, many folks on both sides of the aisle now think the energy bill should be broken down into smaller digestible bites, and the MTBE provision dropped. "That's far more realistic than trying to force everyone to swallow one gargantuan bill whole," even with the new Republican votes, he said.

The piecemeal strategy could prove successful on many fronts, including on the Arctic Refuge. "The vote numbers effectively haven't moved on MTBE [given the new makeup of the Senate], but the numbers have moved on ANWR," said Wicker.

Here's why: While Daschle voted for the energy bill, he was a steadfast opponent of drilling in the Refuge; his successor will support both. And while Obama will almost certainly vote against drilling, his predecessor Peter Fitzgerald was one of the few Republicans who also opposed it, meaning that Obama adds no new votes to the ANWR opposition. Also, Republicans are much more vulnerable to peer pressure on this issue given that there are no regional reasons (such as MTBE contamination or Yucca Mountain) for them to oppose it.

According to Wicker, the congressional leadership is expected to make opening the Refuge a part of the budget reconciliation process early next year by tacking the ANWR provision onto a budget bill that cannot be filibustered, so it would need only 50 votes to pass rather than the 60 necessary to avert a filibuster. "They tried to do this in 2003 and failed, but the reality is that with four new Republican votes, open-ANWR proponents have the wind at their back," he said.

Becker of the Sierra Club said this may be just what environmentalists need. "The public opposition to drilling in the Arctic Refuge is huge. People have come to associate it with greed rather than need."

And historically the perception of greed has galvanized public opposition to initiatives that are overly friendly to industry and unfriendly to the environment and public health. Lawmakers and business lobbies overreach, and then get slapped by public opinion. This is precisely what happened with the MTBE liability exemption, for instance. It's what happened during Bush's first term when the EPA tried to weaken standards for arsenic in drinking water and exempt millions of acres of wetlands from protections – initiatives that stirred up so much controversy they simply couldn't survive.

"Right now," said Becker, "greed is the best friend that the environment has."

Senate and Sensibility

In the midst of one of the most pivotal presidential campaigns in decades, it's easy to forget that we are on the brink of what could be a momentous election in the Senate as well: 34 senatorial seats are up for grabs this year, 19 of them currently held by Democrats, 15 by Republicans. Several of those seats could change parties on Nov. 2, and in a Senate where the GOP holds a narrow majority (51 to 49) over the Dems and one allied independent, merely a few such changeovers could tip the balance of power.

Many observers believe that Republicans are likely to maintain, or even increase, their majority in the Senate, as they're expected to do in the House, where the Democrats' chances are far slimmer. But predicting the outcome of close elections is a perilous game; many of these Senate races are as ambiguous as the Bush-Kerry battle.

"It's plausible without a doubt that the Democrats could regain the majority in the Senate," said Mark Longabaugh, senior vice president for political affairs at the League of Conservation Voters.

And yet there's not much effort coming from the environmental community to make this plausible scenario a reality: The presidential election has absorbed the vast majority of the attention and resources in the current campaign season, and has pushed voter outreach for congressional campaigns to the back burner. The League of Conservation Voters, for instance, typically spends the majority of its campaign funds on congressional races, but this year only about one-sixth of its estimated budget of $6 million or more has been allocated to help elect eco-friendly candidates to the House and Senate; the lion's share is being spent to help defeat George W. Bush.

But though all eyes are on the battle for the White House, congressional races are deserving of enviros' attention. Many of Bush's most controversial moves – environmental or otherwise – could never have been made without the cooperation of the GOP-dominated Congress. Six Senate races in particular – in Alaska, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania – have been featuring green issues prominently, and could in turn have powerful impacts on environmental lawmaking in the next Congress. If pro-environment candidates win in even half of these races, it could help usher through the Senate a number of key environmental bills, including the McCain-Lieberman Climate Stewardship Act.

Here's a chance to beef up on the good, the bad, and the ugly records of candidates in the Senate races that could matter most for the planet.

Colorado: Pete Coors (R) vs. Ken Salazar (D)

Colorado's Senate race is expected to be one of the closest in the country, and "perhaps here more than anywhere else, environmental concerns will play a defining role in the outcome of the election," said LCV's Longabaugh. Thirty-seven percent of polled voters in the Centennial State consider themselves or someone in their household to be a strong environmentalist, according to a recent News 4/Rocky Mountain News poll.

Ken Salazar, Colorado attorney general and former head of the state's Department of Natural Resources, is facing off against beer magnate Pete Coors, chair of a company that has been fined millions of dollars for air and water pollution violations, and one of the righter-leaning Republicans running for the Senate.

Coors likes to play up his stint as former national president of the conservation group Ducks Unlimited, which advocates wetlands protections. He also hypes his appointment by Interior Secretary Gale Norton (a former Colorado attorney general herself) to the National Wildlife Refuge System Centennial Commission.

Salazar portrays himself as a grassroots environmentalist, having grown up on his family ranch in the San Luis Valley, which he said at a recent debate taught him to "develop a special relationship and a special sense of place through the ditches and the rivers and trees and the rocks and the soil." And he can back up the fuzzy-wuzzy language: Salazar has endorsements from both LCV and the Sierra Club, and he's got many successful battles against polluters under his belt. He created his state's first environmental crimes unit as attorney general, and managed to slap one California businessman with a 17-year prison sentence for illegally dumping dry-cleaning effluent in Colorado.

Salazar is a strong opponent of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, while Coors supports it. Salazar backs an amendment on the ballot that would require Colorado's biggest utilities to produce 10 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2015; Coors doesn't want to mandate renewables development, but rather proposes tax credits to incentivize it. Salazar is cautious about pursuing more oil and gas development on the state's Western Slope, not ruling it out, but arguing that more research needs to be done on the possible environmental impacts. Coors, meanwhile, has good reason to support more drilling; he serves on the board of directors of Energy Corporation of America, a Denver-based oil and gas exploration company.

The candidates also have opposing views on water use, one of this drought-stricken state's hottest issues. While Coors sided with developers last year in favor of a statewide referendum that critics said could have diverted water resources away from rural Colorado and toward urban development, Salazar worked with a bipartisan coalition to bring the measure to a resounding defeat.

Salazar has a fighting chance in the Senate contest, but Coors is thought to have an edge given that 180,000 more voters are registered Republican than Democrat in Colorado.

Florida: Betty Castor (D) vs. Mel Martinez (R)

With Sen. Bob Graham (D) retiring, his seat will go either to Betty Castor, who has been endorsed by LCV and Wild PAC, or to Mel Martinez, a Cuban-born fiscal conservative who served in Bush's cabinet as secretary of housing and urban development from 2001 to 2003 and helped lead the administration's efforts on faith-based initiatives (until he resigned at the request of Karl Rove to run for Graham's seat).

Castor served for years in the Florida Senate and for two terms as the state's education commissioner. While a state senator, she fought utility lobbyists and helped limit solid waste and crack down on air and water pollution. She also founded Save Our Bay to protect Tampa Bay and in 1993 was named Conservationist of the Year by the Florida Audubon Society.

According to Castor's spokesperson Matt Burgess, environmental issues are of particular concern in a state that counts tourism as its biggest industry: "Keeping our beaches and air clean is a huge part of our economy, and an important issue for the campaign," he said.

It's no surprise, therefore, that offshore drilling is a sensitive issue in the Sunshine State, and both Castor and Martinez are opposed to it. Martinez, however, strongly supports other domestic drilling projects, including exploration in ANWR, and he backed Bush's energy plan.

Castor, meanwhile, stresses the importance of energy efficiency and renewable energy on the path to energy independence. She has pledged to get serious about fighting global warming, and says she'll work to cut emissions of carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and mercury pollution. She has also promised to help strengthen the Clean Water Act and rehabilitate the Superfund program.

Martinez, for his part, has clearly stated that he would green-light the Bush agenda across the board. "I cannot think offhand of a single issue in which I was not in line with the president on the major issues," he told the Lakeland Ledger in August.

North Carolina: Erskine Bowles (D) vs. Rep. Richard Burr (R)

Erskine Bowles, who served as chief of staff during the Clinton administration, is facing off against Rep. Richard Burr for North Carolina's open Senate seat. Bowles is a longtime advocate of environmental protections who's been endorsed by LCV and the Sierra Club, while Burr's 10-year record in the House of Representatives has earned him a 7 percent lifetime voting score from LCV. "Burr is without a doubt in the running for Biggest Environmental Bad Boy among candidates up for election in the United States Senate this year," said Longabaugh.

In a radio ad running in the state, LCV bashes Burr for a vote he cast in favor of Bush's energy bill, which included a provision exempting manufacturers of the gasoline additive MTBE from lawsuits seeking compensation for groundwater contamination. LCV argues that Burr was protecting campaign donors from the oil and gas industries, who have contributed $219,336 to his campaign since 1994, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Enviros say that other blemishes on Burr's green record include the six times he voted against the Outer Banks Protection Act, which would prevent drilling along the North Carolina coast. He has also supported the Bush administration's rollbacks of Clean Air Act provisions and mercury rules and opposed endeavors to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions. His efforts have earned him a spot on LCV's "Dirty Dozen" list of anti-environmental candidates.

Bowles, meanwhile, has publicly denounced the Bush administration's rollbacks related to the Clean Air Act and Clean Water Act, and pledged to keep America's cornerstone environmental laws intact if elected to the Senate. He has also promised to prohibit oil drilling off the North Carolina coast and clean up the air quality in the Smoky Mountains.

Bowles is not making much of an effort to tout his pro-environment record, however – presumably because he doesn't want to scare off voters in this traditionally conservative state. "Erskine Bowles has been a businessman for more than 30 years," said his spokesperson Carlos Monje. "The emphasis of his environmental message is that economic development and environmental protections go hand in hand. Protecting the environment is part of his jobs plan, his energy plan, and smart farming."

Monje added that while LCV has been airing ads condemning Burr's environmental record, Bowles has no such plan: "We don't think it serves the interests of our campaign to attack him in this area."

Alaska: Tony Knowles (D) vs. Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R)

The Alaska race doesn't present a clear-cut environmental hero – both candidates have peeved environmentalists with their strong support for drilling in the Arctic Refuge. But state greenies argue that former Alaska Gov. Tony Knowles clearly presents a lesser threat. He is facing off against incumbent Lisa Murkowski, who was appointed by her father to fill the Senate seat he vacated in 2002 when he became Alaska's governor.

Among Knowles' claims to infamy in the environmental community, he sued the Clinton administration to regain state control of federal lands (presumably so they could be used for development), took the U.S. EPA to court on behalf of the mining industry, and has harshly criticized John Kerry for his opposition to drilling in the Refuge. (Some enviros fear that if elected, Knowles might convince other moderate Democrats in the Senate to support ANWR exploration.)

But this is par for the political course in Alaska, where residents receive annual dividend checks of roughly $1,000 from earnings on the state's oil revenues and are notoriously hostile to land protections.

Tom Atkinson, executive director of Alaska Conservation Voters, said that "environmental pragmatists" in Alaska overwhelmingly support Knowles over Murkowski, while the strict conservationists support neither. He explained that while many organizations are declining to endorse Knowles, there are plenty of individual environmentalists who are personally getting involved in fundraising for the Democratic candidate.

"He's good on national forest issues, pretty good on Tongass [National Forest] issues, good on oceans, good on transportation issues, good on issues related to the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska. He would protect bird-molting areas from drilling, and he's open to listening to us," said Atkinson. "But it's hard to get past his vigorous and aggressive stance on drilling in the Arctic Refuge."

Murkowski, on the other hand, "would give us nothing, nothing," said Atkinson. Boasting an 11 percent LCV voting record, Murkowski has been an equally vigorous advocate of drilling in ANWR, as well as a big backer of the Alaska pipeline project, the Bush-Cheney energy plan, and subsidies for coal development in her state. She has also repeatedly attacked Knowles for his support of a Pew Oceans Commission effort to protect the nation's sorely depleted fisheries; Murkowski and Alaskan business groups insist that the commission's recommended protections would hamper industry growth.

Pennsylvania: Rep. Joseph Hoeffel (D) vs. Sen. Arlen Specter (R)

Democratic Rep. Joseph Hoeffel is trailing Sen. Arlen Specter by nearly 15 points, according to a recent Philadelphia Inquirer poll, but Hoeffel's environmental record deserves a vote of confidence. His 2003 LCV rating of 95 percent dwarfs Specter's 32 percent.

Hoeffel has consistently opposed Bush administration efforts to roll back Clean Air Act protections, while Specter has supported them. Hoeffel has voted for mandatory carbon-dioxide limits on industries, as well as tighter fuel-efficiency standards for cars and taxes on polluting companies that would pay for Superfund cleanups, while Specter has voted against these efforts. Hoeffel opposes drilling in ANWR and the Bush-Cheney energy bill, while Specter is an advocate of both.

"Hoeffel is one of the strongest environmental allies we could hope for in the Senate," said Dave McGuire, vice chair of the Pennsylvania Sierra Club political committee. "He's fought the Bush administration every step of the way when they pandered to industry. He's the kind of environmental hero we need right now."

But, if the polls are any indication, he's not the kind of environmental hero Pennsylvanians are likely to get.

Illinois: Alan Keyes (R) vs. Barack Obama (D)

Drilling in the Arctic Refuge also has the support of one Alan Keyes, the former U.N. ambassador who's facing off against Democratic golden boy Barack Obama, who wants to see the Refuge protected.

Obama's got an impressive environmental record. In brief, he advocates increasing the average fuel efficiency of cars to 40 miles per gallon, imposing stricter regulations on emissions of mercury and other air pollutants, and requiring that America derive 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources by 2020. Keyes, meanwhile, advocates more nuclear-plant development and pooh-poohs tighter air regulations, arguing that current pollution standards are "too rigid," according to a recent article in suburban Chicago's Daily Herald.

This one's no nail-biter. Obama is leading the race by such a vast margin – a whopping 45 points – that he is taking his show on the road, stumping for Democrats in other states.

In the Eye of the Swing-State Storm

With its 27 electoral votes – more than any of the other swing states – Florida could once again prove to be the big campaign prize. In early October, some pundits were predicting that Bush had the state sewn up – he was leading Kerry among Floridians by 7 percentage points according to the Quinnipiac poll and 4 points according to the Mason-Dixon poll. But now the two are just about neck and neck according to those same polls, while others, such as the new Reuters/Zogby poll, are showing Kerry holding a small lead.

With the race so close and the stakes so high, both the Kerry and Bush camps have been revving up their political horsepower with big expenditures and celebrity appearances in the Sunshine State.

Take the press event at a wildlife refuge near Boynton Beach on Oct. 14, when Gov. Jeb Bush announced a $1.5 billion "Acceler8" plan intended to jumpstart the long-stalled restoration of the Florida Everglades. The project will be funded with borrowed money from his brother George W. – who, God knows, doesn't have a cent to spare. Nevertheless, officials from Dubya's administration were front and center at the media event, doling out the big bucks and lapping up the photo ops.

"This man [Jeb Bush] has had six years to do something on the Everglades. His brother has had four. They have done nothing. And all the sudden he's deciding to announce it two weeks before the election in one of the most decisive swing states?" Carol Browner, head of the U.S. EPA under Clinton, balked in a chat. "I mean, come on. It was clearly an election-season gimmick."

Furthermore, said Browner, they've kept the public out of the planning process entirely, and have fast-tracked the project to such an extent that it could bypass certain environmental reviews. "I definitely have my doubts about how this project is going to play out," she said.

Browner, meanwhile, was down in Tampa Bay last week stumping for Kerry with celebrity greenie Leonardo DiCaprio, who was roasting Bush's environmental record and winning Dems the teenybopper vote. "I believe, without a doubt, this is the most important election of all of our lifetimes," he told a largely female crowd at the University of Central Florida. "Over the past four years, George Bush has made the wrong choices, disastrous choices, when it comes to the environment."

Browner insists the throngs weren't there just to stargaze. "When we'd ask the rooms of 400 to 500 kids how many people are registered, all the hands go up," she said. "These are kids who are registering for the first time to vote and they're very, very responsive to the environmental message."

Days earlier, Ted Danson had been campaigning in crowds of perhaps more mature Floridian women, along with actress Melissa Fitzgerald of The West Wing (who, it seems, likes to work on Democratic messaging even when she isn't playing the assistant to White House Press Secretary C.J. Cregg). Danson warned that 15,000 Florida newborns a year are exposed to dangerous mercury levels in their mothers' blood and breast milk, and he condemned Bush for failing to curb mercury emissions from coal-burning power plants. The Florida Department of Health in September put out a new mercury advisory, with expanded warnings about consumption of fish from the state's waterways.

Lois Gibbs, the mom who took on Love Canal and helped instigate the creation of the Superfund in 1980, also stumped with Danson, saying that Bush has let the Superfund trust fund go bankrupt, and that 51 Superfund sites in Florida have inadequate funds for cleanup.

Environment2004 is the group corralling these big names, with the aim of mobilizing voters for Kerry. Aimee Christensen, the organization's executive director, said that Environment2004 polled 500 undecided Floridian voters to determine how persuasive environmental messages would be.

"We found that not only were messages about the health consequences of Bush's environmental rollbacks effective, 71 percent said weakening water protections raised 'serious' or 'very serious' doubts about President Bush, while 77 percent said the toxic-waste cleanup issue raised 'serious' or 'very serious' doubts. That's as effective as messages related to prescription drugs and outsourcing."

Susan Glickman, Florida state director for Environment2004, added, "Tourism is the biggest industry in Florida, agriculture is the second biggest, so these voters are primed for an environmental message – particularly since hurricanes have hurt both industries recently. The message is: We literally can't afford four more years of George Bush."

To wit, Environment2004 is holding a press conference this week in Tallahassee to address global warming's impacts on Florida, focusing on coral reefs and intensified hurricane activity, with speakers Alexandra Cousteau (granddaughter of Jacques) and climate expert Michael Oppenheimer of Princeton University.

There's also more star power waiting in the wings: Meg Ryan and Robert F. Kennedy Jr. will hit Tampa on Tuesday for a big-ticket event focused on what Kennedy calls Bush's "crimes against nature."

But the green lobby's fiercest firepower is coming in the form of a $3 million TV ad campaign that the League of Conservation Voters has just launched in Florida, which makes LCV the largest spender in state in the final two weeks of the presidential race outside the Bush and Kerry campaigns themselves, according to Mark Longabaugh, the group's senior vice president of political affairs. The LCV ad calls Bush and Cheney "Big Oil's best friends" and criticizes the administration's connections to Halliburton and corporate polluters, issues that could sway voters in a state where offshore oil drilling is decidedly unpopular.

"We obviously wouldn't have committed $3 million if we thought Florida was sewn up for Bush," said Longabaugh.

Tipping the Scales

President Bush's remarks about Supreme Court appointees during the last presidential debate left many Americans scratching their heads, what with his perplexing reference to the 1857 Dred Scott slavery case (a coded wink to pro-life factions, as it turns out) and some classic Dubya-style language mangling: "[T]he Dred Scott case ... is where judges years ago said that the Constitution allowed slavery because of personal property rights. ... The Constitution of the United States says we're all – you know, it doesn't say that. It doesn't speak to the equality of America."

In a more coherent moment, Bush said that were he to appoint a new justice to the Supreme Court, he would "pick somebody who would not allow their personal opinion to get in the way of the law."

Yet that very day, a report released by the nonprofit Environmental Law Institute suggested otherwise: It appears that quite a number of Bush's judicial appointees may allow their personal opinions to get in the way of the law – or at least that's how it looks to many environmental advocates.

Federal judges appointed by Democratic presidents are at least three times more likely than those appointed by Bush to rule in favor of plaintiffs who sue the federal government for violating certain environmental regulations, the report found. The study focused on cases filed under the National Environmental Policy Act, a cornerstone law signed by Richard Nixon in 1970 that requires federal agencies to evaluate the environmental impact of their policies and programs with written statements and a transparent process open to public input.

NEPA is one of the most frequently invoked tools of environmental litigators: "It's a Swiss Army knife of environmental law," said Jay Austin of ELI, one of the authors of the report. "It's one of the most basic lines of legal inquiry [on the environment]. Any time the federal government is taking action that might have significant environmental implications, NEPA is invoked."

ELI chose to focus on this statute because of the sheer number of NEPA cases that have been brought against federal agencies during the past four years. "We had a critical mass of cases to examine," said Austin, explaining that the larger the number of cases there are to consider, the more statistically significant the findings will be. The report examined 325 judicial rulings handed down between January 2001 – the month Bush assumed office – and June 2004.

"By no means did we expect to see the degree of polarization that party affiliation appears to have on judicial rulings," added Austin. "We were more than a little surprised."

ELI's findings may not come as a surprise, however, to those who have been closely following Bush's hotly contested judicial nominations. "George W. Bush has tried to appoint some of the most conservative judicial nominees in history," said Adam Shah of the Alliance for Justice , a D.C.-based public-interest organization that monitors and investigates judicial nominations. "Ten of the most extreme have been filibustered, but there are plenty of controversial judges that have made their way onto the federal bench."

The president's judicial nominations aren't the only issue in play here, though. The report reveals a pattern of discrepancy between Republican and Democratic rulings that goes beyond Bush's appointees, who constitute 23 percent of active federal judges.

Of the 849 total active federal judges, 201 have been appointed by the current president, and 262 were appointed by former Republican presidents going back to Nixon. In total, 55 percent are Republican appointees. The remaining 45 percent were appointed by Democratic presidents stretching back to Lyndon Johnson. The report shows that federal district judges appointed by a Democratic president ruled in support of pro-environment NEPA cases 60 percent of the time, while GOP-appointed judges ruled in support 28 percent of the time. (The Bush appointees, by comparison, only ruled in favor 17 percent of the time.)

"We've always known there are ideological differences between Democratic- and Republican-appointed judges, and that the Democrats are more likely to protect the environment," said Shah. "But what's particularly striking about these results is that the president's judges have been even more extreme than those appointed by Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush."

The study showed that this pattern held true at the appellate level as well: Three-judge circuit court panels with two or more Democratic appointees ruled in favor of environmental plaintiffs 58 percent of the time, whereas only 10 percent of cases were decided in favor of environmental plaintiffs when the panels were Republican-dominated.

Austin added a note of caution about the implications of the study: "Keep in mind that this report is focusing on NEPA alone, and this statute has a lot of broad-strokes language that leaves a little more room for interpretation than other environmental statutes. You can't necessarily extrapolate that rulings made on NEPA grounds represent the larger picture of judicial rulings on the environment." With this in mind, the ELI team is planning to conduct a similar study of rulings on statutes with more rigorous language, such as the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act.

Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, a conservative D.C.-based ethics-watchdog group, dismissed the notion that the ELI report reveals bias.

"It ought not to be surprising that conservatives would take a less expansive view on the regulatory powers of the government ... and be more suspicious of the inordinate emphasis on making sure that every environmental rule and regulation is followed," Fitton said, arguing that conservative judges would likely take a particularly narrow view on a law like NEPA, which requires extensive written reviews and so-called bureaucratic red tape.

Fitton said the report's findings "say to me that Republican appointees may be applying stricter standards to the way they interpret NEPA – they would be sticklers for following the letter of the law when it comes to enforcing the statute." Democratic appointees may be applying a looser standard, "interpreting it more expansively," he said. "It doesn't imply a bias – they're different philosophies."

Such assertions gall Patti Goldman, managing attorney at Earthjustice, who argues that congressional statutes such as NEPA are supposed to be applied by judges, not modified according to markedly different judicial philosophies.

"This report shows a pronounced and striking difference in the interpretation of the law, not just a subtle difference in philosophies that guide its application," she said. "Once statutes are interpreted to this extent, it indicates that neutral judges are taking an activist stance with the law. And once you can predict the outcome of cases before they're even brought to court based on whether it's a Republican or Democratic judge, it indicates a deep flaw in the fabric of our democracy. It makes you realize that it really, really matters who appoints the judges."

A particularly poignant point now, considering that three to four Supreme Court justices are expected to retire by the end of the decade, and it will be up to our next president to begin replacing them.

Bush and Kerry Channel Their Eco-Character

At a time when the man commonly derided by greens as the worst environmental president in U.S. history is up for re-election, it's perplexing that the most publicly discussed environmental issue of the campaign right now is Yucca Mountain – a molehill in the grand scheme of America's environmental problems.

Of course, dumping nuclear waste in this Nevadan outpost is a genuine concern – particularly for, say, Nevadans. But nationally speaking, even many enviros are ambivalent on the issue; as a whole, the green community has put forward no clear alternative plan of action. Enviros have far stronger and more unified objections to, say, Bush's failure to address global warming, or his sweeping rollbacks of protections for air quality, drinking water, forests, and wetlands – yet rarely are these issues discussed in the campaign context.

Yucca seems to have hogged more airtime and headline space in the last four months than in the last four years. In the last few weeks alone, The Washington Post, The New York Times, ABC, MSNBC, and various other national news outlets have run stories fueling the Yucca controversy. The Kerry and Bush campaigns have issued a number of press releases and statements bashing each other's positions on the issue; John Kerry staunchly opposes the dumping, while President Bush supports it. As of this week, both candidates will have made four visits each to Nevada – which Bush took by 4 percentage points in the 2000 election – to rally voters.

On Monday, Associated Press reporter John Heilprin went so far as to argue that Yucca is the only green issue with enough emotional immediacy to convince a critical mass of red voters to cast a blue ballot: "Nevada, where Bush wants to entomb a half-century's waste from atomic power plants, is the only state where an environmental issue can realistically swing the outcome [of the election], according to environmental leaders and political analysts."

Really? We tried to hunt down those "environmental leaders," but couldn't find one who agreed with that contention.

"By no means is Yucca the final, or only, environmental frontier in this election," said Mark Longabaugh, senior vice president of political affairs at the League of Conservation Voters, which is investing up to $7 million in the election to help draw out environmental voters to defeat George Bush. "It's misleading to conclude that any particular issue will be more dominant or decisive than others. Issues are merely a way of getting voters to understand the larger themes of this race: George Bush sides with special interests at the expense of average citizens and the public interest."

Aimee Christensen, executive director of Environment2004, which is putting up to $5 million toward rallying the green vote with very targeted messages in swing states, agreed that specific issues are primarily a device for illustrating a larger message: "We're addressing local issues, but really what we're trying to get voters to understand is that George Bush is neither compassionate nor conservative. Conservation is deeply ingrained in the Republican ethos, and Bush is betraying his Republican roots."

Republican pollster Frank Luntz (the same Luntz who penned the 2002 memo leaked to The New York Times in which he argued that the environment "is probably the single issue on which Republicans in general – and President Bush in particular – are most vulnerable") also said that swing-state victories will not be decided on Yucca Mountain or any other issue: "This is not an issue-based election," he said. "It's going to be decided on presidential image, on personal attributes. Kerry's weakness is not based on his position on the issues at all – it's based on perceptions of his leadership skills, on concerns that he's weak-minded, indecisive, on three sides of every issue."

Democratic pollster Celinda Lake added that "one of the things that Republicans have been better at doing than the Dems is using issues as character frames. That's clearly a very, very important component of what we need to get in the election in the next 50 days." Lake added that voters see the environment, in particular, as a character-defining issue: "It's a positive for Kerry because people think that candidates who are good on the environment also have integrity and courage – you have to stand up to special interests and protect the little guy, you have to be a truth teller. That's why the Dems need to go on the offensive with this – to frame [Kerry's] character in this context."

Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, also said that environmental issues are a potent tool for illustrating values: "It's about issues to the extent that we have to tell a good story at the door in Wisconsin. If you go there and say, 'Kerry has a 96 percent LCV rating,' they'll say, 'Big whoop.' If you say, 'George Bush is the worst environmental president since William McKinley,' big whoop. But they listen if you say, 'Did you know that George Bush has delayed cleaning up that mercury-infested fish in your backyard for 10 years and got huge campaign contributions from the power companies that didn't want to clean up?'"

Whether it's mercury contamination in the waterways in Wisconsin and Florida, pumping water out of the Great Lakes in Michigan, or road-building in the forests of Arizona and Oregon, environmentalists "need to make it a window onto the character issue," Pope said. The Sierra Club is putting an estimated $5 million toward its get-out-the-green-vote effort, the bulk of which will be spent in the month leading up to Nov. 2.

Though Luntz now insists that the environment will play a negligible role in this election, he pinpointed what could be another Bush weakness: "Most Americans today consider themselves anti-big business," Luntz said. "Americans are simply anti-big. Anti-big government. Anti-big media. Anti-big corporations. We like small business, small government, independent television. We're for the underdog, the little guy."

Leave it to Luntz to lay out the strategy for the next six weeks of the Kerry campaign. Catering to big business could be to Bush what flip-flopping is to Kerry – his most serious perceived character flaw. Virtually every environmental issue, from Arizona's forests to Yucca's nuclear waste, lends itself to this message – which, unlike the flip-flopping charge, is not just spin.

Keep Off the Grass

The Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore, NASA headquarters, and the Washington Monument are among the many federal properties that may be off-limits to presidential and congressional candidates for campaign photo ops this election season, thanks to a guidance recently released by the Bush administration's U.S. Office of Special Counsel.

The OSC is an independent federal agency that investigates and prosecutes issues ranging from whistleblower complaints to concerns that federal employees are participating in campaign activities prohibited by the Hatch Act, which defines election-related political no-no's for people on the government payroll.

Kerry advisers and some environmentalists are royally peeved about the advisory, calling it at best deliberately ambiguous and misleading, at worst a deliberate maneuver to gain advantage over John Kerry 's presidential campaign.

The guidance is "an extraordinary reinterpretation of the Hatch Act," said David Hayes, who oversaw national parks as deputy secretary of the interior under Clinton, and who now serves as a senior adviser to the Kerry campaign. "It is a patently ridiculous and extreme measure that the Bush administration is taking to cover up its appalling record on funding and protecting national parks after promising in the 2000 campaign to make it a priority."

But OSC spokesperson Cathy Deeds responded that her agency is merely "restating the Hatch Act" in response to repeated queries over the last several months from federal employees at various agencies about which campaign activities they can participate in and what federal property is fair game. On Aug. 9, the office issued a government-wide guidance in an effort "to clear up the confusion."

That just happened to be the very day that John Kerry made a campaign stop at the Grand Canyon and delivered a speech criticizing the shortfall of funding for national parks under the Bush administration.

Critics scoff at the notion that the OSC simply intended to clarify existing law. "If they were trying to clear things up, they failed miserably," said Jeff Ruch, executive director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility. "We're getting repeated calls from confused employees who have no idea what to make of these restrictions. The Hatch Act restrictions have been restated in a way that's at once sweeping and obscurely detailed with Dr. Seuss-style contingencies – in a box, on a rock, with a clock. They wanted to sow confusion and they are making it so convoluted that nobody knows what to do."

The act does not prohibit the actions of candidates directly; rather, it is directed to the federal employees who would authorize the use of federal property. "The burden is on the federal agency or federal employees knowing what they can or cannot allow," Deeds said.

Last week, when the agency made the guidance public, Special Counsel Scott Bloch cautioned, "During this busy campaign season, we want federal employees to be scrupulous about the restrictions concerning the use of their official position or federal property for campaign-related events or activities, under the Hatch Act."

While the guidance gets very specific about the types of campaign activities that cannot be authorized by federal employees to take place on federal property – "town hall meetings, rallies, parades, speeches, fundraisers, press conferences, 'photo ops,' or meet-and-greets" – it is perplexingly vague about exactly what kind of "federal facilities" are off-limits. Given that the federal government owns roughly half a million buildings nationwide and approximately one-third of all the land in America, ranging from national parks to military bases, there's plenty of room for confusion.

"You can't take three steps in downtown D.C. without walking on federal land or onto the steps of a federal building," said Hayes. "The National Mall is federal property, never mind the Grand Canyon. Does this mean we can't have political speeches on the Mall?"

According to Ruch, PEER has gotten calls from employees at the Grand Canyon, New York Harbor and elsewhere who can't make sense of what's off-limits. Last weekend, for instance, an employee at New York Harbor asked what he should do when Arnold Schwarzenegger arrived to give a speech at Ellis Island – federally owned property – in the lead-up to the Republican National Convention. Should he tell the Governator to keep mum about anything related to the presidential campaign?

In the case of Kerry's Grand Canyon visit, OSC received complaints that some employees had taken time to guide the candidate around the park during a campaign event, the implication being that those efforts aided the Kerry campaign, according to Ruch. The OSC is also investigating Kerry's campaign visit in July to a NASA facility in Cape Canaveral, Fla.

OSC spokesperson Deeds says critics' concerns are overblown. "We made no specific mention of national parks in our guidance. We are not interpreting this so broadly as to include parks. The focus is on covered property – federal buildings."

But when Deeds was pressed to clarify the specifics – does that mean federal employees can allow a candidate to go to the Grand Canyon but not enter the ranger hut or the gift shop? Can they allow a candidate to stand in front of the Statue of Liberty but not walk up the stairs? What about activities on military bases? – she couldn't give a clear answer.

"I don't have those specifics ... Everything is a fact-specific case," she said. "I don't know about the Statue of Liberty ... I'm not sure about the military issue." (She later called to clarify that military bases are outside of OSC jurisdiction, but according to Ruch this too is misleading: Civilian employees on military bases are required to observe the Hatch Act, even if military employees are not.)

Deeds did sound confident on one point: "There is a difference between an official visit and a campaign visit under the Hatch Act," she said. "If the campaign contacts the agency to set up an event, then that's a campaign visit, and that's not allowed." And yet "official" visits by officeholders to federal facilities are permissible.

Kerry strategists think the Bush camp is using this distinction to unfairly disadvantage the Democratic candidate. After all, Bush administration officials can easily contrive excuses to conduct "official business" on federal property – business which incidentally includes the recitation of campaign talking points. "We constantly see Gale Norton and Steven Griles tripping around to national parks, puffing up the Bush record and advocating Bush policies – which in an election year is clearly a campaign advantage," said Hayes. "And yet OSC is hardly blinking at this. It's hypocritical in the extreme."

Enviros Quiet In New York

New York City expects protests at next week's Republican National Convention to be the most widespread and strident to hit any political convention since Chicago in 1968, when the Democrats nominated Hubert H. Humphrey over Eugene McCarthy at the height of Vietnam furor, and chaos stole the political spotlight.

Already GOP spinners have begun framing the anticipated demonstrations as authorized by the Kerry campaign and evidence of the Democratic Party's "radical" underpinnings. Already, too, the GOP and the media are naming environmentalists as one faction likely to be among the most vociferous protesters.

On Sunday, Adam Nagourney of The New York Times wrote, "Even though Democrats are not involved in organizing the protests, some of the participants are almost certain to be aligned with traditionally Democratic groups, like labor and environmentalists, and Republicans made clear they would seek to link Mr. Kerry and the Democratic Party to any disorder."

Nagourney went on to quote a warning from Ed Gillespie, chair of the Republican National Committee and a senior Bush campaign adviser: "The line between the official Democratic Party and labor protesters, environmental protesters, and antiwar protesters is fairly blurry, and I'm not sure they want to have Democrats engaging in violence in New York against our convention. It would seem disrespectful and antidemocratic."

It's true that dozens of activist groups ranging from Billionaires for Bush to Hip-Hop Summit Action Network have announced plans to flood the streets of New York next week, and that anarchist groups such as RNC Not Welcome and A31 Coalition have vowed to use guerrilla tactics and civil disobedience to disturb the event.

A few ragtag enviro groups have also made noise about participating, including Time's Up!, a New York City-based bicycling and environmental action group whose members plan to march against Bush's environmental policies astride their two-wheel steeds, and the Rainbow Family, whose members are still singing the flower-power gospel (and quite possibly still having flashbacks to '68).

But Gillespie might be surprised to learn that most well-known enviro groups intend to steer completely clear of the convention. In fact, of every major environmental organization this reporter contacted – Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth, Defenders of Wildlife, League of Conservation Voters, Environment2004, Natural Resources Defense Council, Union of Concerned Scientists and the Sierra Club, most of which were actively involved in rallies during the Democratic convention in early August – only one, the Sierra Club, has any plans to hit New York City next week.

"We don't see it in our interest to be in New York. There's no value added," said Aimee Christensen, executive director of Environment2004. "If you go to the convention, it's a scattershot approach, it's sending a national message, and we want to apply our efforts in a more focused way. We want to speak to Republicans, but we want to speak to them in swing states – Florida, New Hampshire, Minnesota, Wisconsin. That's where we'll be pounding the pavement, not New York."

Christensen added that while she saw good opportunities for media exposure at the Democratic convention, which justified her group's efforts there, she didn't see any in New York.

Likewise, John Passacantando, executive director of Greenpeace USA, said his organization is not getting involved "because it's too partisan. We like to put pressure on all politicians, so for us to be in the streets of New York would align us with the Democrats, not the environment."

Defenders of Wildlife is also taking a pass, according to spokesperson Brad DeVries. "We have no plans to get involved," he said. "I really can't think of any green groups who are organizing around this. Maybe try League of Conservation Voters, I heard they're doing something."

But no, not even LCV – one of Kerry's most outspoken backers, which plans to spend upwards of $6 million to get out the green vote in swing states, and whose president Deb Callahan spoke at the Democratic convention – has any designs to make mischief on the streets of New York next week.

Are they scared of GOP threats to blame the protests on Kerry? Are they concerned that such activities might backfire? Hardly, insists Chuck Porcari, the group's spokesperson. "We're not intimidated by any means," he said. "We're all for talking to Republicans. In fact, we've just helped two Republicans win congressional primaries. But this election is not going to be won or lost in New York City, it will be won in the five swing states where we're knocking on 1.5 million doors to recruit voters."

Carl Pope, president of the Sierra Club, is the sole environmental leader who expressed a different view. "The reason the Sierra Club is going to be present in New York City is because this is not just the coronation of George W. Bush, it is a defining moment for the Republican Party – a party that has a long tradition of conservation going back to Theodore Roosevelt," he said. "I meet disgruntled Republicans at every state I travel to who feel totally alienated on this issue. We want to be there to say, 'It's time to take back the party.'"

Still, Sierra Club activists will not be blocking intersections or chanting beneath cumbrous papier-mache puppets. Rather, they'll be staging a vigil from dawn 'til dusk every day for a week, beginning today, downtown near Ground Zero to protest the Bush administration's distortions of air-quality information after the Sept. 11 attacks.

"It's critical for there to be a moderate, peaceful, substantive voice at the demonstrations," said Suzanne Mattei, director of the Sierra Club's New York chapter. "I have no concerns at all that a peaceful vigil could be framed as a radical or disrespectful act."

Greenpeace's Passacantando hopes other protesters will be as mindful of keeping the peace. He cowrote an editorial in the current issue of The Nation cautioning activists against engaging in any activities that could be spun by the GOP or the media as inappropriate. He says his concern was not the activities of mainstream groups, but rather anarchist groups – or even Bush campaign strategists, who might plant agents provocateurs in the streets to stir up turmoil and create a photo op to shame the Dems.

"After the 1968 riots in Chicago, they found evidence that the Nixon campaign had actually planted violent protesters in the crowd to spur on the uprisings," Passacantando said. "Clearly such tactics are not above Karl Rove. In fact, I'd be shocked if he didn't stoop to this kind of tactic."

We tried to track down a spokesperson for the Earth Liberation Front to tell us what sort of mischief this notoriously anarchic group might be up to in New York next week, but to no avail. On the other end of the notoriety spectrum, Bush campaign spokespeople also failed to respond to queries about the possibility of Bush supporters going undercover to foment trouble outside the convention hall.

Even if the streets erupt in mutiny, the media would do well to remember the establishment-sanctioned high-jinks going on indoors. Consider the unofficial parties to be thrown for GOP bigwigs by industry groups, like the Texas Honky-Tonk Salute on Tuesday, hosted by the American Gas Association, Edison Electric Institute, National Mining Association, and Nuclear Energy Institute, and featuring Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas), chair of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce. Or the Wildcatters Ball at Rockefeller Plaza, put on by many of the same characters and featuring Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.

While these events will be quieter, with fewer banners and black ski masks, many enviros think these bashes are likely to be the site of the real trouble.

Full Court Press Releases

Over the past few weeks of Presidential WrestleMania MMIV, the Bush campaign has fired off more than a dozen press releases about John Kerry's policies on energy, nuclear-waste storage, forest and water protections, and other environmental issues – a hodgepodge of smears, exaggerations, and obfuscations intended to besmirch Kerry's pro-environment reputation.

Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club, says the Bush campaign is responding to polls indicating that voters are taking the environment seriously in key battleground states.

"The polling in Nevada is showing that people are voting on the Yucca Mountain issue. The polling out of Arizona says voters are very concerned about forests and water; Wisconsin polls have shown that the mercury issue could hurt [the GOP]," he said.

Hence the Bush campaign's efforts to neutralize the environment as an election issue: "They know they can't persuade voters that Bush is good on the environment, so they're trying to create enough confusion about Kerry's record that people decide it can't be the issue that decides their vote," said Pope.

Kerry strategists agree. "The Bush campaign has got Kerry written all over it," said Roger Ballentine, a senior environmental strategist for the Kerry campaign. "From Day 1, the goal of the Bush campaign has not been to get voters to like their candidate and respect his record, but to get people to dislike John Kerry even though on this issue Kerry is widely thought to be the greenest candidate America has ever seen. They want people to go into the voter booth, hold their nose, and pick the lesser of two evils."

Bush campaign spokespeople failed to return repeated calls, but a quick glance at the George W. Bush campaign website confirms that Bush's strategy is Kerry-centric. The homepage is a montage of derisive cartoons and photographs of the opponent. Here's Kerry playing the "Flip-Flop Olympics," there's a "Kerry Gas Tax Calculator," which claims to compute how much a 50-cent-per-gallon gas tax would cost individuals (a tax, mind you, that Kerry has repeatedly said he has no intention of imposing). Not a single image of the president himself graces the page.

The Kerry website looks remarkably similar – photos of Kerry abound, only the depictions are more flattering. It has only a low-placed and somewhat defensive nod to Bush, saying, "The Bush-Cheney campaign is running one of the most negative and misleading campaigns ever."

Mud-Slinging Releases

A comparison of the two campaigns' press releases is even more telling. Thus far in the month of August, the Bush campaign has churned out 18 releases dealing with energy and the environment, nearly all of them roasting Kerry, with titles along the lines of "THE RAW DEAL: John Kerry: 'Brought to You by Special Interests.'"

The Kerry campaign, meanwhile, has put out a total of six releases on energy and the environment. While they all slam Bush's rollbacks, at least half of each is devoted to the Democratic candidate and his campaign promises. One representative headline: "Kerry Pledges to Make Decisions Based on Sound Science and Put Public Health and Safety First."

Most of the Bush team's environment-related releases rely on one of two tired claims – that Kerry is a flip-flopper, or that creating jobs and protecting the environment are incompatible goals. An Aug. 6 release charged that Kerry's plan to raise corporate average fuel-economy (CAFE) standards "will eliminate 104,000 jobs." It derided Kerry for supporting the McCain-Lieberman bill on global warming, asserting, "Climate Stewardship Act Is a Job Killer." And it accused the Democratic candidate of having "killed American jobs" because he didn't vote for the Bush energy plan.

These charges have, to put it delicately, little basis in fact. The 104,000 figure, for instance, was plucked from a brief and informal analysis commissioned by General Motors and drafted single-handedly and without peer review by a professor from Pennsylvania State University. Team Bush ignores the fact that higher CAFE standards have won support even from many members of the United Auto Workers union, who agree with more authoritative studies showing that tightening fuel-economy standards would in fact create jobs.

Last week, a release criticized Kerry for past votes that favored designation of Yucca Mountain in Nevada as a repository for high-level nuclear waste. While Kerry has voted in favor of a few bills that included procedural measures on Yucca, his opposition to the project has been consistent, and he has repeatedly pledged that there would be no dumping at Yucca during his presidency. "Kerry Voted for 'Screw Nevada' Bill," the release proclaimed – rather bizarrely, as Bush staunchly supports the Yucca Mountain dump, which most Nevadans oppose.

Another baffling release mocked Kerry's position on forest protections (which enviros insist has been strong and consistent): "Where does John Kerry stand on forest policy? No one really knows, because he's taken every side of every important forest issue," read the statement by Bush campaign spokesperson Danny Diaz. It hinges on a comment Kerry made to The Wall Street Journal that he "like[d] a lot of parts" of Bush's Healthy Forests bill, though he didn't in the end support it (as if any astute politician should OK a bill chockful of objectionable provisions simply because a few parts are agreeable).

The few Bush campaign press releases that do tout the president's environmental initiatives, such as this one on his national park policy, use angry and defensive language even as they try to make a positive point: "John Kerry and his extremist allies have issued a torrent of false charges and distortions about the president's record on parks."

Double Negative

The Kerry campaign insists that it has no interest in joining in the mud-slinging. "To our minds, these preposterous screeds work to our advantage," Ballentine said. "Quite obviously, the Bush campaign is shooting itself in the foot with this nonsense. Their anti-environment record is too long, too strong, and too wrong at this point for greenwashing."

Mark Longabaugh, senior vice president for political affairs at the League of Conservation Voters, concurred: "It's so desperate, so rhetorically over the top, that if any voter actually ever read one of these things, they'd think, 'These folks need a sedative.'"

But there's a good reason the Bush campaign has resorted to negativity. In mid-July, when it tried to tout Bush's environmental record in a "fact sheet" of "Key Bush Environmental Accomplishments," the press ignored the list and a number of major environmental organizations issued scathing, point-by-point rebuttals.

Strategically speaking, the negative screeds really aren't about the environment anyway, according to Kevin Curtis , a vice president at National Environmental Trust: "They are not attacking Kerry on the environment, they are attacking him on this predetermined theme of 'flip-flop.' They know voters' eyes will just glaze over the details and take one message from the attacks: Kerry waffles," Curtis said. "It's ruthless, but it's effective. These guys have message discipline like nobody's business."

Only time will tell whether voters are tiring of such tactics or whether the Bush campaign will, in the end, succeed in muddying the waters around what environmentalists say is a clear choice between a friend of the environment and a foe. After all, enviros argue, Bush never flip-flops on the environment: His support for industry at the expense of natural resources and public health has been numbingly consistent.

The Greenest Convention Ever

All of the electricity powering the festivities at the Democratic National Convention has come from renewable sources or an onsite fuel-cell generator. Local Massachusetts farms are supplying food for a handful of the convention events, and leftovers are being donated or composted. Greenhouse-gas credits will offset the carbon-dioxide emissions generated by convention delegates as they travel to and from Boston, and hybrid gas-electric buses are shuttling people between events.

This is the handiwork of the Coalition for Environmentally Responsible Conventions, a new organization that has collaborated with the city of Boston and the Democratic National Convention Committee to pull off what CERC executive director Daniel Ruben boasts is "certifiably the greenest presidential convention that's been organized in modern history!"

More notable, though, is the unprecedented level of convention-related activity by environmental groups, including the League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club, Environment2004, Apollo Alliance, Defenders of Wildlife and Friends of the Earth. They've all joined forces to stage environmental events near the convention site this week, featuring big-name speakers such as actor and director Rob Reiner, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.), and Barack Obama, the new Democratic It Boy who looks likely to win Illinois' open Senate seat.

It was quite a surprise, therefore, to read William Safire's jab in Monday's New York Times that "the only Democratic group left out in the cold [at the convention] ... is the tree-hugging set."

Huh? The tree-huggers beg to differ.

Safire's main – no, only – justification for this claim is the omission of two words from the party platform. "Can you imagine a Democratic platform document without a single mention of global warming? I'm told that there was quite a struggle over that litmus-test phrase, but the smokestack set won out," he dishes.

Maybe nobody told Safire that global warming and climate change are the same damn thing. The Democratic platform cites climate change repeatedly, calling it a "major international challenge" and promising to address it "with the seriousness of purpose this great challenge demands."

Or maybe Safire is poking at the Dems for choosing the phrase that's less emotionally charged.

But even if his point is merely rhetorical, he's still full of it, said Beth Viola, a senior environmental advisor to John Kerry who contributed to the platform-drafting process: "There was no argument over using the phrase 'global warming' versus 'climate change,'" she said. "[T]he idea that we were debating with the 'smokestack set' over that phrase is patently ridiculous."

And convention organizers have put the environment on stage as well as in the platform. LCV President Deb Callahan took to the main podium on Tuesday, reiterating what she has said many times before – that Kerry is the greenest presidential candidate America has ever seen.

The Democratic heavy hitters have also made the tree huggers feel right at home. In Al Gore's speech on Monday, he blasted Bush's environmental record with his now-characteristic effrontery. Bill Clinton mentioned environmental issues no less than eight times in his much-lauded speech Monday night (and even used the phrase "global warming"). And Teresa Heinz Kerry kicked off her Tuesday night remarks by noting that she and her husband first connected over environmental issues.

Still, some critics charge that the environmental section of the Democratic platform consists of one vague platitude after another: "[W]e will make our air cleaner and our water purer. We will ensure our children can safely play in our neighborhoods, our families can enjoy our national parks, and our sportsmen can hunt and fish in our lakes and forests."

That's about as specific as it gets – no big promises to curb the threat of global warming with mandatory cap-and-trade programs, renewable-energy initiatives, or tougher gas-mileage standards.

To this, Viola responds: "A platform, by definition, is supposed to be broad and accessible [in its language]. It's supposed to appeal to the common voter – not policy wonks inside the Beltway. Kerry has spent 20 years building one of the strongest environmental records in Senate history. The platform is not the place to lay this out."

Be that as it may, there's some grousing over one omission in particular, a plank that was present in the 2000 platform yet absent this year. As Debra Saunders noted in her San Francisco Chronicle column on July 15, "the Democratic Party has dropped support for Kyoto ... from the initial draft of the national platform for 2004. John Kerry, you see, is no Al Gore, who negotiated the treaty for Bill Clinton in 1997."

It's true that Kerry doesn't support the Kyoto Protocol in its present form. Instead, he has said that he wants to renegotiate the agreement so it will hold developing nations, as well as industrialized nations, accountable for their carbon dioxide emissions.

But Kerry's no casual Kyoto detractor – he has attended a number of Kyoto conferences over the years and tried to push negotiations forward, and he has a long record of consistently voting in favor of policy measures to curb global warming, from stricter CAFE standards to mandatory greenhouse-gas regulations.

In part for this reason, a number of national environmental groups are pouring more resources into this presidential race than any previous contest in history. The LCV, for one, is planning to put at least $6 million toward the Kerry-Edwards cause. And Environment2004 has set a fundraising goal of $3 million, which they plan to use to convince swing voters to cast blue ballots in favor of the environment.

"Environmentalists agree that this is the most important election for [the movement] in American history and we are all very committed to doing our part," Sierra Club National Political Director Greg Haegele said. He said that in the last presidential election, members of environmental groups had only a marginally better voter-turnout rate than the meager 55 percent national average.

"We know that there are enough environmentalists who didn't vote in 2000 that if they had voted, the likely outcome of the election would have been different," he said. This year, environmental groups have shifted their focus from ads to door knocking to make sure their members turn out at the polls.

Kerry himself is expected to put historic emphasis on issues related to energy and the environment in his campaign. A senior Kerry strategist said, on condition of anonymity, that during his nomination acceptance speech at the convention Thursday night, "Kerry will lay out the four major issues that he is running on – and one of them is energy."

This is a noteworthy development, given that environmental concerns have in the past ranked down there with art endowments and space travel on the list of election-year priorities.

According to the rumor mill, Kerry will be kicking off his big post-nomination campaign push with a series of rallies and speaking engagements on energy independence over the next two weeks. It could be a smart strategic move: After all, big-picture energy issues provide a means for addressing national-security and job-creation concerns even while warming the cockles of tree-huggers' hearts.

The Great EPA Crackdown Fantasy

What's this on the wires? The U.S. EPA is gearing up to prosecute a new batch of new-source review (NSR) cases against polluting power plants? Could it be that the Bushies have suddenly taken a keen interest in enforcing a Clean Air Act rule that they have gone to great lengths to weaken?

Not really.

The story goes like this: Greenwire reporter Darren Samuelsohn recently got ahold of an EPA document containing a list of 22 electric utilities that in the last five years have allegedly run afoul of NSR by making upgrades to their facilities without installing the required pollution controls. Greenwire published a story saying the utilities could face enforcement actions, and other news outlets followed suit.

According to Eric Schaeffer, a former top enforcement official at the EPA who left in protest over air-enforcement lapses under Bush, the publicity was not welcome news to EPA Administrator Mike Leavitt: "The word inside the agency is that Leavitt is apparently furious that this news is out. It's not likely that this indicates that the agency is doing some kind of election-year crackdown on utilities. In fact, it's a political embarrassment – it just shows how the administration is holding up prosecutions recommended by its own staff."

Between 1999 and 2001, the Clinton EPA filed cases over alleged NSR violations at 51 power plants owned by nine utilities. Though several of these cases have been settled, most are still hanging in limbo, having stalled out under the Bush administration.

Bush's assistant administrator of air and radiation at EPA, Jeffrey Holmstead, made it his top priority to scrap the NSR rule at the behest of the electricity industry (which just happened to contribute $4.8 million to Bush, the Republican National Committee, and Bush's inaugural committee during the 2000 campaign, according to Public Citizen). So far Holmstead has been successful in his efforts to significantly loosen the way smokestack industries measure their baseline emissions under the rule.

But his higher-priority initiative to exempt power plants from a provision requiring them to install state-of-the-art pollution controls in all expanded and upgraded facilities – which the administration issued as a rule change in August 2003 – was blocked by a D.C. circuit court in December after a group of state attorneys general asked for a stay.

Despite this kink in his plans, Holmstead has not only allowed enforcement of the Clinton-era cases to lapse, he has filed only one new NSR case, against a utility in Kentucky – one whose violations were so severe that it would have been culpable even under the relaxed rules that the administration is pushing for.

The new list of 22 potential culprits includes some of the largest power producers in America, including Reliant (now Centerpoint Energy), Allegheny, and subsidiaries of Southern Company. So it's no surprise that the utility industry has already got its propaganda machine in high gear to gird against the possibility of new lawsuits. Frank Maisano, a spokesperson for the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a utility group, said the news of potential new enforcement cases has created "widespread industry uncertainty that could cause utilities to put off needed facility upgrades ... [and] perhaps hurt the stock performance of those companies down the line."

Leavitt in the past has publicly promised that the EPA would move forward with any NSR cases that would bring about substantial pollution savings. But after news spread about the document last week, Leavitt's spokesperson, Cynthia Bergman, refused to address the matter with the press. "I won't comment on ongoing enforcement investigations," she said.

Leavitt's proactive message doesn't gel with insider accounts from EPA enforcement employees. "We've known about these cases for a while," Schaeffer said. "A lot of them have been sitting for years because there's been a mandate from the White House to keep them from happening. Basically, Bush appointees have been trying to decide what kind of political consequences would occur if the cases were prosecuted."

According to Chris Miller, a minority staffer at the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, insufficient political will isn't the only thing keeping these cases from happening – financial and human resources are also in short supply. No new lawsuits will go forward unless the Department of Justice decides to take them on, and currently the agency simply doesn't have the funds or people to handle new cases.

"We've talked to Justice at length about this and they've said that they simply don't have the funds to do more than 15 environment-related cases a year," Miller said. "Already they are in the process of suing eight large companies over NSR issues alone, and overall there's a backlog of environmental lawsuits for them to work on. The continuing shortfall of funds for environmental enforcement at the Department of Justice is very unfortunate."

DOJ has requested a 39 percent increase in its fiscal year 2005 budget for the Environment and Natural Resources Division, which is responsible for enforcing and defending environmental laws. Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-Vt.), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment, is planning to file a request to the Senate Judiciary Committee to press for these funds.

For now, however, the Bush administration is surely aware that as long as the DOJ lacks the resources to press forward on NSR cases, all the talk of crackdowns and enforcement is just that – election-year talk. It may fool voters, but Bush's big campaign contributors won't lose any sleep.

How Green Is Edwards?

When John Edwards was tapped to be John Kerry's veep, everyone interested in ousting Bush erupted into convulsions of praise – and the enviros were no exception.

"An excellent choice that sends a clear message about the need for change and renewed optimism in our nation's leadership for conservation, public health, and other issues important to the American people," said the League of Conservation Voters.

"Yet another strong environmental leader [on] the Democratic presidential ticket," said Environment2004.

"Sen. Edwards consistently stands up to preserve and strengthen the laws that keep Americans' air, water, and public land clean and safe," said Debbie Sease, the Sierra Club's legislative director.

So it may come as a surprise that Edwards' lifetime voting record on the environment, determined by LCV's scorecard, is 63 percent (that would be a D-) – quite a bit lower than Kerry's 92 percent, one of the highest records in Senate history.

But Betsy Loyless, LCV political director, insists that one shouldn't jump to the wrong conclusion about what appears to be a near-flunking grade: "Anything above 60 percent is considered a very solid rating. Keep in mind that the average score among senators in 2003 was 41; and if you look at records of senators from his region, the Southeast, Edwards is definitely one of the highest scorers."

Also, if you look at Edwards' voting record year by year, the picture is rosier – he scored 78 in 1999, 100 in 2000, and 88 in 2001, before dropping to 59 in 2002 and then all the way down to 37 in 2003 – a measly score largely attributable to the fact that he spent so much time on the presidential campaign trail that he missed half of the environment-related votes LCV tallied. (LCV counts missed votes as negatives, which also explains why Kerry's score has dropped from 96 to 92 in the last several months.)

A quick overview of Edwards' stances on major issues should look pretty appealing to enviros: On energy matters, he has voted against drilling in the Arctic five times, supported a standard that would require 10 percent of America's electricity to come from renewable sources by 2020, and consistently voted to increase CAFE standards. On global warming, he has rebuked the Bush administration for pulling out of the Kyoto treaty and he supports the McCain-Lieberman bill that would establish a cap-and-trade system to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions. He also supported the "roadless rule," and he opposed Bush's Healthy Forests plan, cuts to the Superfund program, and efforts to weaken the Clean Water Act and arsenic standards for drinking water.

Edwards' most aggressive efforts have been on clean air: Last year, he led the fight against Clean Air Act rollbacks in the Senate, pushing to delay Bush's proposed changes to the act's new-source review (NSR) provisions until more research had been done on the public-health consequences.

"Edwards has clearly emerged as one of the most dogged new-source review champions – a wonky issue that does not exactly score you a whole lot of glamour points on Capitol Hill," said Chris Miller, a staffer at the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. "Meaning he did it because he believes in it."

Carol Browner, EPA chief under Clinton, said that Edwards' 20 years as a trial lawyer defending average citizens against corporate and medical malpractice gave him a good foundation for environmental advocacy: "Edwards is great at understanding issues as they relate to people in their lives and their communities. He held an NSR hearing that examined what the [rule changes] would mean to local communities [out of concern] that the consequences would be particularly acute in North Carolina. It's in part from his experience of representing people who had suffered tragedies and been wronged."

Admittedly, Edwards committed a number of environmental voting gaffes early on in his Senate career, which have caused some in the environmental community to say that only very recently has he become a true believer.

During his first year in office, 1999, he voted in favor of an amendment to allow mountaintop-removal mining practices. Later, he voted to exempt pickup trucks from fuel-efficiency standards and supported the storage of nuclear waste at Yucca Mountain in Nevada (though he has since agreed to support Kerry's position that Yucca shouldn't become a dumping ground). Edwards also voted against an amendment that would have prevented farm subsidies from helping to expand industrial farms, and voted against stricter prohibitions on the use of pesticides in parks.

"His voting record for the most part is very favorable, but it's fair to say that environmental issues were not a priority for Edwards during his first several years in office," said a leading analyst at a prominent national environmental group who asked to remain unnamed. "For a while he was not even close to where we wanted him to be in terms of leading on certain issues, but we got him to come around."

LCV, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and other groups worked doggedly over the past few years to get to Edwards' major campaign contributors and convince them that the environment was an important issue for him to lead on. The contributors in turn took their case to Edwards, and, to his credit, he came around.

"We're a big fan of Edwards because of his turnaround," said the analyst. "The fact that he was so willing to listen to us, so adaptable and open to our concerns, spoke volumes about his ability to be a dynamic leader."

Furthermore, Edwards' main campaign message – that the Bush administration shouldn't be allowed to keep putting special interests ahead of the public interest – is very much in keeping with environmentalists' message.

"When LCV was deciding which candidate to endorse, Edwards was very appealing because of the way he kept stressing his central message that his campaign is about standing up for the people – the interests of the citizen – in the face of escalating corporate power," said Mark Longabaugh , LCV senior vice president for political affairs. (LCV ultimately endorsed Kerry.)

Ed Turlington, an old friend of Edwards' and the former chair of his presidential campaign, says the candidate is very serious about "ensuring that his decision making is as independent as possible from the influence of special interests. From the beginning of his Senate career, he has refused contributions from political action committees (PACs) or from federally registered lobbyists."

It makes sense, then, that Edwards voted against the nomination of officials with obvious conflicts of interest, including Gale Norton as Secretary of the Interior and John D. Graham as administrator of the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs. Edwards also called for the resignation of EPA Air Director Jeffrey Holmstead.

Turlington adds that environmental matters do strike an emotional chord for Edwards because of the way the mountains of North Carolina have been devastated by acid rain. Edwards has also fought as a senator to keep the Bush administration from drilling off the shores of his state.

One might wonder whether Edwards sees any conflict between his No. 1 priority of job creation and his newfound commitment to the environment. According to Turlington, there's no concern: "Edwards doesn't buy that misconception that the two are at odds. In fact, much of his argument for environmental protections in North Carolina is economic: He's seen clean air and water are good for the economy. Not only do you have healthier workers but you make the state a better place to live – more employers come to your state. The acid-rain crisis in North Carolina has been terrible for the state's economy, the tourism industry in particular."

All this is music to the ears of enviros battered by the past three and a half years of eco-assault. But while there are plenty of reasons to believe that a Kerry-Edwards ticket is the most pro-environment America has ever seen, keep in mind that it's easier to advance an environmental vision in the Senate than in the White House.

On Pennsylvania Ave., Edwards and Kerry would have to fight far more aggressive industry forces than they have before, not to mention juggle the environment with other priorities like shoring up the economy, extricating the U.S. from Iraq, and tackling the health-care crisis.

Many faulted Al Gore (perhaps unfairly) for putting his lifelong environmental leadership on the back burner during his tenure as veep. Those same skeptics may wonder whether Edwards will abandon his green advocacy as quickly as he adopted it.

But faced with a choice between the villains they know and the heroes they hope for, few enviros will hesitate in the voting booth on November 2.

BRAND NEW STORIES