February 17 News: House Passes “Worst Transportation Bill Ever” to Force Keystone XL, Open Oil Shale

Other stories below: Recent extreme weather impacted 80% of Americans; Global warming threatens tropical birds

Image: League of Conservation Voters

Bill forces decision on pipeline, expands drilling to pay for transportation projects

The Republican-controlled House endorsed a plan Thursday to vastly expand oil and gas drilling off the nation’s coasts to help pay for a $260 billion transportation bill.

The legislation has no chance of passing the Senate and faces a White House veto. But for Republicans, the 237-187 vote showed they’re willing to go further to boost U.S. energy production than President Barack Obama. Obama lately has embraced increased oil and gas production on the campaign trail, and has touted how the U.S. in recent years has produced record amounts of oil and natural gas.

“The bill we are considering … is an action plan that clearly contrasts President Obama’s anti-energy policies with the pro-energy, pro-American jobs policies of Republicans,” said Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.

Charles Koch, employees reveal e-mailed threats from past year

Charles Koch, his brother and employees have in recent months been getting death threats, hundreds of obscenity-laced hate messages, and harassment from some far left-wing groups, Koch said on Thursday.

“We are under attack from various directions, both with threats of violence against us personally, and with threats of attacks on our businesses,” Charles Koch said Thursday, in a phone interview from his office in Wichita.

Koch, the billionaire head of Koch Industries, rarely gives interviews, especially about the various political causes that he and his brother David support. The privately held company rarely releases information about its activities.

Recent extreme weather affected 80% of Americans

Violent and deadly weather events have affected more than 240 million Americans — about 80% of the nation’s population — over the past six years, says a report out today from an environmental advocacy group.

Last year was particularly awful for weather in the USA, with at least 14 weather and climate disasters across the nation that each inflicted more than $1 billion in damage. They included a series of devastating tornado outbreaks in the central and southern USA, the ongoing drought in the southern Plains, massive river flooding along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, and batterings from Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee.

Environment America’s report looks broadly at county-level weather-related disaster declarations from FEMA for 2006 through 2011 to find out how many Americans live in counties hit by recent weather disasters. The report focused on weather and climate events, and did not include geological events such as earthquakes or volcanic eruptions.

Bay Area Climate Change Plans Lack Regional Cooperation

New York City has a plan to keep the subways from flooding. Queensland, Australia, has a plan to keep agricultural lands from drying up. Chicago has a plan to cope with higher temperatures.

In the Bay Area, where climate change is expected to cause flooding, shoreline erosion, heat waves, water shortages and a spread of exotic infectious diseases, it seems as if people are drowning in plans — but with little regional coordination.

One of the biggest fears for Laura Tam, a policy director at the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association who spends her workdays thinking disastrous thoughts about climate change, is that the lack of planning coordination could leave residents increasingly vulnerable.

Climate Action: Stopping Global Warming Through the Back Door

Real talk: when it comes to dealing with climate change—and reducing carbon emissions, the top man-made cause of warming—the international community is doing a crap job. The U.N. process is bogged down, with ambitions that seem to shrink each year even as the summits themselves grow longer and longer. Europe’s emissions trading scheme (ETS)—the biggest carbon market in the world—is apparently a total mess. And the U.S. is…well, the U.S. really has no comprehensive climate program to speak of, and given the Republican party’s denialist take on climate change, the country is one potentially one Presidential election away from going in reverse on global warming. It’s not that zero progress is being made—renewable energy keeps growing, new air pollution rules are cutting into coal and energy efficiency is impacting oil demand. But this isn’t where we thought we’d be almost five years ago at the Bali summit.

Global warming threatens tropical birds

Global warming is likely to drive hundreds of bird species to extinction in coming decades, as more intense and frequent extreme weather events destroy habitat and make foraging impossible.

“Birds are perfect canaries in the coal mine – it’s hard to avoid that metaphor – for showing the effects of global change on the world’s ecosystems and the people who depend on those ecosystems,” said Çağan Şekercioğlu , an assistant professor of biology at the University of Utah.

Şekercioğlu recently reviewed 200 scientific studies on climate change impacts to birds, concluding that 600 to 900 species are likely to go extinct by 2100. For context, there area about 10,000 bird species worldwide. The research suggests that each degree of warming could lead to the extinction of an additional 100 to 500 species.

China, the United States and two dozen other countries are looking at coordinated retaliation — including measures to squeeze European airlines and other industries — if Europe tries to enforce a new law requiring airlines to pay for their greenhouse gas emissions.
The system, the European Union’s boldest initiative on climate protection to date, has provoked a worldwide outcry and raised the unwelcome prospect of a full-scale trade war. European officials have stood firm while challenging opponents to suggest an equally effective alternative.The European system requires an airline landing or taking off in Europe to acquire permits corresponding to the amount of greenhouse gases emitted during the entire flight — regardless of where it originated or ended or the nationality of the airline. The system went into effect this year, although the first payments will not be due until 2013.

Snow decline in Lahaul sparks global warming fears

Contrary to the heavy snowfall in Himachal Pradesh, the snow desert of the state — Lahaul-Spiti — has received negligible snow this year, triggering global warming fears in the Himalayan regions. Minimum 15 feet of snowfall is normal in the district every year but it did not snow beyond 5 feet this time.

According to residents, they had been noticing a drop in density of snowfall since late 70s. “Our ancestors had started celebrating Fagli festival in February wherein all family and relatives met and made sure they could cope with the harsh winters. But now things have changed,” said a resident of Pattan valley, Balbir Kirpu. It is surprising that other areas of Himachal, south of the Rohtang Pass, have received thick snowfall, some after 50-60 years.

Tashi Angrup of the valley said, “The transportation was never affected and all internal routes in Lahaul are clear of snow. This is very strange.”

12 Responses to February 17 News: House Passes “Worst Transportation Bill Ever” to Force Keystone XL, Open Oil Shale

  1. Pennsylvania Bob says:


    Here’s a suggestion that will help us stay on top of how our reps in Congress vote: Whenever you do a post on this or that bill/amendment/resolution would it be possible to also include the name and number of the bill, along with a direct link to a website where we can quickly find out how our own rep voted. That way those of us who want to act (letters to the editor, phone calls, etc) can get right on it. This would be especially helpful since many of our local papers no longer provide any meaningful coverage of how our reps vote.
    Just a thought. Many thanks for all you do.

  2. Colorado Bob says:

    As the world warms extreme precep. events will increase, latest example :
    Last year’s storm damage prompts Volkswagen to purchase $5 million protective net

    According to VW, hail nets already have been installed at the Nissan assembly plant in Smyrna, Tenn., and the Honda factory in Lincoln, Ala.

  3. Sasparilla says:

    Although not truly news I witnessed something rather disconcerting today. I live at the Illinois Wisconsin border (about an hour north of Chicago) and saw my first pair of Robins return today (spring birds), in the middle of February!

    Normally I see them arrive in the middle of March or so, with them coming earlier than normal last year at the very beginning of March. They apparently have been affected by this very warm winter. I noticed lots of ducks flying north as well (much earlier than usual too).

    Normally the ground is covered with snow at this point and there isn’t a chance of these birds until well into next month. This year we haven’t had more than a week or so of temps cold enough for snow during the day and the geese never left the area this winter (they’re normally driven south by the temps and snow cover).

    It would definitely be interesting to talk to folks who track bird migration patterns and dates to see what has happened over the last 20 years….its hard to explain stuff to people, but they get it when you say I look out the window and the birds keep coming back earlier and earlier…each spring.

  4. Sasparilla says:

    Fox News attacks the Chevy Volt again (almost a daily occurrence – one or several of their interests really, really do not like that car):

    While Fox has attacked the Nissan Leaf in the past as well they do so with the Volt constantly – definitely pushing me towards one when the time comes to get another vehicle (and I can afford it).

    It would be very interesting to know exactly what is motivating this consistent and costly attention from Fox.

  5. Belgrave says:

    Just want to say that I think that death threats, etc. against the Koch brothers (or anybody) are both morally wrong and counter-productive. It will only generate sympathy for them. In any case I’m sure they themselves have excellent personal security; it’s low level employees who are much more likely to get hurt.

  6. Dennis Tomlinson says:

    Sasparilla. I live about 50 miles southwest of you. I have chrysanthemums and crocuses green and growing on the south side of the house. When I walk the dogs around the neighborhood, I see many examples of early springtime foliage coming to life, and goose poop everywhere. I saw my first robins a couple weeks back, and I’m not sure the cardinals and finches ever left. The frost line here is 44″, but I doubt the frost ever went more than 2″ to 3″ into the ground. There remains a large proportion of blades of grass mixed in with the brown. They aren’t recent, as they never turned. In my 65 years, I don’t remember such a mild winter as this one, but remember last winter about this time. Remember the infamous picture of mile after mile of cars stranded in the deep snow on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago. It seems similar to the winter the folks in Europe are having this year. It’s just weird, and getting weirder (to borrow a phrase from Tom Freidman).

    The lack of winter snowfall will have a negative affect on sub-soil moisture. Without significant spring rains, this could negatively impact local corn and soy bean crops. And with the severe droughts of last year projected to continue into this summer in the southwest… And with food prices and starvation hitting the 3rd world countries now…

    All of which leads me to ask, how can I discuss climate change with my Republican friends and relatives?

  7. fj says:

    Oh, the poor dears!

    Perhaps Koch Industries would be so kind to respond to a most cordial invite from Congress to describe at length, why they feel they’re being denied their first amendment rights with “Please speak as long as you like,” why they feel they’ve been denied their first amendment rights; and perhaps answer a few questions . . .

    re: Charles Koch, employees reveal e-mailed threats from past

  8. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Sasparilla, the hard Right viscerally hates anything that smacks of environmental concern. In the UK they are bragging that environmentalism is ‘finished’. In Australia new hard Right state governments have been furiously attacking any environmental advances made in the last fifty years, even those created by their own party.
    The motivation is complex, I’d say. The Right hates environmentalism because it is quintessentially ‘Left’ putting people and life-systems before profit. It hates environmentalism because it gets in the way of business prerogatives to maximise profits, and stirs up the peasants, who the Right prefer quiet and obedient or so brainwashed that they love the billionaires more than their own children. And last, I think it is pretty plain that the Right, in the face of the failure of their economic religion, the eclipse of the Holy West by Oriental barbarians and the steadily rising evidence of ecological catastrophe have simply begun to go quite stark, raving, bonkers, not being able to contemplate changing the mental habits of a lifetime and learn from experience. Their next move, surely, will be an intensification of the ‘environmentalism is a form of economic terrorism’ discourse.

  9. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    That’s if they are genuine, and not just black propaganda.

  10. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Is it just me, or does that cloud of pollution behind the Capitol look sinisterly Rorschachian? Then again, I can see two friendly looking dinosaurs with long eye-lashes towards the bottom edge. Much better than unfriendly, political, dinosaurs.

  11. Chris Winter says:

    Sure it’s news, or at least a data point which goes to make up significant news. I’m sure you know that most wild bird counts are done by amateurs.

    By the way there’s a good new book that covers this topic: Driven to Extinction: Global Warming and its Effect on Biodiversity by Richard Preston. Published 2011.