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Weekly Mulch: Off-shore drilling, auto emissions, mountaintop mining from Obama administration

8:23 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

President Barack Obama announced this week that his administration would open areas from Delaware to Florida and in Alaska to offshore drilling for gas and oil. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Department of Transportation also released new guidelines for auto emissions to cut carbon emissions, and the EPA said new benchmarks for issuing mountaintop mining permits would prevent damage to waterways in Appalachia. The environmental community welcomed these last two announcements but both were overshadowed by the off-shore drilling decision, which green groups largely condemned.

Off-putting off-shore drilling decision

Although as a candidate President Obama began by opposing off-shore drilling, by the end of the campaign he said he would support an expansion of drilling areas. Mother JonesKate Sheppard explains the series of decisions that made this week’s announcement possible:

“In October 2008, amidst calls of "drill, baby, drill" from conservatives, Congress failed to renew the long-standing moratorium on offshore drilling. Months earlier, George W. Bush had lifted an 18-year-old executive ban on offshore drilling, which had originally been imposed by his father in 1990. Obama, of course, could have issued his own order, but didn’t.”

The administration had been considering the decision to go ahead with drilling for about a year but kept deliberations quiet. Key senators, however, knew the decision was coming, and it’s pushing Democrats like Sens. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and Mark Warner (D-VA) to warm towards energy legislation, TPMDC reports.

Cars’ carbon emission

The EPA’s announcement on auto emissions, on the other hand, comes as no surprise. It marks the first big step the Obama administration has taken to limit carbon emissions through regulation. Auto regulations are a relatively easy sell. A chunk of Congress wants to keep the EPA from taking these sorts of actions, but in this case, the auto industry supports the federal regulations. At the Washington Independent, Aaron Wiener notes that “the guidelines drew immediate praise from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, which has long advocated national emissions and efficiency regulations rather than patchwork state-by-state rules.”

Mountaintop removal mining

The coal industry will be less happy about the EPA’s announcement on mountaintop removal mining. The agency admitted that the practice causes significant damage to streams and said its new guidelines would lead to significantly less harm.

The new policies, Jeff Biggers writes at AlterNet, will "effectively bring an end to the process of valley fills (and the dumping of toxic coal mining waste into the valleys and waterways)." It could be, he says, "the beginning of the end of mountaintop removal."

One sign that mountaintop removal’s doomsday is nigh? Sen. Robert Byrd (D-WV), one of coal’s staunchest and most powerful advocates on the Hill, praised the EPA’s decision, reports Mike Lillis at the Washington Independent.

Green groups groan

Green groups are lauding the EPA’s two announcements. (The Sierra Club called the mining announcement “the most significant administrative action ever taken to address mountaintop removal coal mining," for instance.) But the push for off-shore drilling has environmental advocates squirming.

“As the president extends olive branches to his critics, he’s alienating allies in the environmental community, who say his policies are reminding them more and more of those of his predecessor, George W. Bush,” says Mother Jones’ Sheppard. “Some enviros are even likening Obama to Alaska’s oil-loving ex-governor, Sarah Palin.”

On Democracy Now!, Brendan Cummings of the Center for Biological Diversity, called the decision “horribly disappointing” and said, “Obama is essentially embracing wholeheartedly the policy of: we can drill our way to energy independence.”

The Obama administration’s energy and environmental policy is creeping ever further towards the center. Ken Salazar, Secretary for the Interior, said this week that “Cap-and-trade is not in the lexicon anymore,” TPMDC reports. It’s no wonder that progressive members of Congress are starting to feel uncomfortable with the direction their climate bill is taking, as Sheppard reports. The president may be using up his reserves of political support from his allies as he stretches to meet conservatives and centrist Democrats on some shaky middle ground.

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

Weekly Diaspora: No Sleep ‘Till March on Washington

10:03 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Erin Rosa, Media Consortium blogger

This Sunday, tens of thousands of people plan to march on the National Mall in Washington, DC in an effort to persuade Congress and the Obama administration to tackle immigration reform in 2010. More than 700 buses are bringing an estimated 100,000 supporters to the nation’s capital for the March for America. Participants are hoping to show strength in numbers on the ground, and flex muscle on Capitol Hill as well.

Advocacy groups are organizing countless phone banks and Congressional office visits to encourage lawmakers to support a pathway to citizenship for the estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants who live and work in the United States.

On top of that, immigrant rights supporters are eager to note that President Barack Obama promised to overhaul the immigration system during his campaign, and said that immigration reform would be a “top priority in my first year as President of the United States of America.” But now that year has passed, and with Congress still deadlocked on health care and economic issues, reform supporters just can’t wait any longer.

While an immigration reform bill has been proposed in the House of Representatives, the same can’t be said for the Senate. If the Senate fails to propose a reform bill this Spring, it won’t be on the agenda for 2010 either. With elections at the end of the year, there’s an aura of uncertainty over how possible it will be to pass reform after that, since the resulting congress could be more conservative.

Keeping a promise

For Obama and the Democratic lawmakers, keeping the promise of immigration reform could be essential to their political future. As Feministing noted this week, “the March is meant to send a message to Congress: immigration reform cannot wait. It’s also a message to President Obama to keep good on his word and push immigration reform.”

Obama’s promise to reform the immigration system helped earn him 67 percent of the Latino vote in 2008, exit polls show. Latinos—who make up approximately 15 percent of the U.S. population and are the fastest growing minority in the nation–also delivered Democratic victories in states like Colorado, Florida, and Ohio during that same year.

But with 81 percent of undocumented immigrants in the United States originating from Latin America, a failure to take action on immigration reform could prove disastrous for Democrats and the White House. Numerous polls show that Latino voters want immigration reform, in part because nearly 9 million people in the country live in “mixed-homes,” where some family members are documented and others are not, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

In a story about the upcoming march, TPMDC reports that “organizers of the rally have a simple retort for Democrats: pass reform now, or lose Latino support in November.” The news site quotes march organizer Gabe Gonzalez, who expresses frustration with the slow movement on immigration reform. "I cannot tell you how angry and outraged people are," she says. "I have conversations with my progressive friends and they’re always surprised at how visceral it is."

About-face

On the other side of the political spectrum, conservative politicians who do not have a reputation for embracing immigration reform are trying to change course. The population of Latino voters will only continue to grow as children of undocumented immigrants reach voting age. Both Republicans and Democrats are fighting to secure that demographic as a reliable voting bloc.

In 2003, 63 percent of the 4.3 million children born to undocumented parents in the U.S. were citizens. By 2008, there were 5.5 million children in the same situation and 73 percent of them were born in the country. This new generation signifies what could be a significant political shift as Latinos continue to gain prominence and influence in the U.S.

There is a rift on the right when it comes to immigration, as AlterNet explains. “One segment of the Republican Party completely understands that critical political fact. They understand that to compete successfully in the future — on a national scale — they must be able to contest for a sizeable segment of the Hispanic vote. … But there is another group of Republicans who want to use immigration as wedge issue to win short-term political advantage among anxious voters who think of Latinos as threats to their culture, their tax dollars, and their jobs.”

Cenk Uygur of The Young Turks notes that both sides of the immigration argument are very passionate. “You got a lot of people in the country saying ‘Aw, we need a border fence, and the damn immigrants are taking our jobs, etc.,’” he says. “On the other side you have people who are in favor of immigration, making it into some sort of sane system.”

Although reform supporters are hopeful that a bill will be proposed in the Senate this Spring, whether it will have a wide bipartisan backing remains to be seen. But with changing demographics and an organized movement for reform, passing immigration reform would empower a reliable–and organized–voting block that is growing more significant by each election. In the end, it could change the political climate of the United States for generations to come.

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

Weekly Pulse: Bayh-Partisanship=Giving Your Seat to a Republican

9:24 am in Uncategorized by TheMediaConsortium

By Lindsay Beyerstein, Media Consortium Blogger

You will be shocked, shocked to hear that a Blue Dog Democrat who made a career out of undermining his own party is sucker-punching them on his way out. Sen. Evan Bayh of Indiana abruptly announced this week that he would not seek reelection in November. Bayh’s departure is ratcheting up insecurity in the Democratic caucus at the very moment they need to take decisive action to pass health care reform.

Bayh could easily have won a third term, but it’s unclear whether any other Democrat can hold the seat. To add insult to injury, Bayh waited until 24 hours before the filing deadline for Democratic primary candidates, sending Indiana Dems scrambling to find a candidate to run in his place. Bayh’s tardiness was calculated. Since no Democrats were ready to file by the deadline, the Indiana Democratic establishment will get to handpick Bayh’s successor.

In a call with state Democratic officials, Bayh said his abrupt departure is for the best, as Evan McMorris-Santo reports for TPMDC. According to Bayh, he’s doing the party a favor by sparing them a contentious primary process. Thanks a lot.

What does this mean for health care reform?

What does Bayh’s departure portend for health care reform? Monica Potts of TAPPED argues that replacing a conservative Democrat like Bayh with a moderate Republican won’t make that much difference. Bayh was never a reliable Democratic vote.

But Tim Fernholtz of TAPPED dismisses this view as naive. Fernholtz predicts that, for all of Bayh’s faults, the senate will be much worse without him: "In essence, the difference between this insubstantial Hoosier and, say, [GOP hopeful] Dan Coats, is simple: You can buy off Bayh." Bayh voted for health care reform and the stimulus, no Republican, no matter how "moderate" is going to vote that way.

Anyone who expects a moderate Republican from Indiana to support any part of the Democratic agenda is deluded. On the other hand, the Senate Democrats already passed their bill, their only remaining task would be to pass a "fix" through budget reconciliation to make changes in the legislation that would be acceptable to the House. Of course, reconciliation will be a bitter political fight. One wonders whether the demoralized Senate Democrats will have the stomach for it.

About that health care summit…

Note that congressional Republicans have yet to commit to attending the "bipartisan" health care summit that they called for. Christina Bellatoni of TPMDC reports that yesterday White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs wondered why the Republicans were for the summit before they were against it:

"Right before the president issued the invitation, the—the thing that each of these individuals was hoping for most was an opportunity to sit down on television and discuss and engage on these issues. Now, not accepting an invitation to do what they’d asked the president to do, if they decide not to, I’ll let them leap the—leap the chasm there and try to explain why they’re now opposed to what they said they wanted most to do," Gibbs said.

Busting the filibuster

On the bright side, the Democrats still have a sizable majority in the Senate, with or without Bayh. Republicans would have to beat all 10 vulnerable Democratic incumbent senators in the next election in order to regain control of the Senate. The more immediate threat to health care reform and the Democrats’ ability to govern in general is the institutional filibuster. Structural reform is needed to break the impasse. Lawyer and author Tom Geoghegan talks with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! on strategies for busting the filibuster.

Public option resurfacing

Mike Lillis of the Washington Independent reports that four senate Democrats have thrown their lot in with progressives clamoring for a public option through reconciliation. Sens. Sherrod Brown (OH), Jeff Merkley (OR), Kirsten Gillibrand (NY) and Michael Bennet (CO) argue for the public option in an open letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid. The letter reads:

There are four fundamental reasons why we support this approach – its potential for billions of dollars in cost savings; the growing need to increase competition and lower costs for the consumer; the history of using reconciliation for significant pieces of health care legislation; and the continued public support for a public option….

Big pharma’s lobby

That’s nice, but let’s not forget who’s really in charge. In AlterNet, Paul Blumenthal recaps the sorry history of collusion between the White House, the pharmaceutical lobby group PhRMA, and the Senate. According to Blumenthal the White House steered pharmaceutical lobbyists directly to Sen. Max Baucus (D-MT), chair of the powerful Finance Committee, who was entrusted with crafting the White House’s favored version of health care reform.

Abortion and health care reform

As if we didn’t have enough to worry about, Nick Baumann of Mother Jones notes that the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) is making abortion is an obstacle to passing health care reform through reconciliation. The NRLC is insinuating that Bart Stupak (D-MI) and his coalition of anti-choice Democrats will vote against the Senate health care bill because it it’s slightly less restrictive of abortion than the bill the House passed. The good news is that it’s procedurally impossible to insert Stupak’s language into the Senate bill through reconciliation. The bad news is that Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) needs every vote she can get to pass the Senate bill and anti-choice hardliners could be an obstacle.

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