Developments relating to the Solyndra debacle continue to surface as newly-surfaced internal government emails reveal that an Obama administration appointee at the Department of Energy (DOE) — and major Obama fundraiser — pushed to expedite a $535-million loan guarantee to the now-defunct solar firm. The emails expose "a disturbingly close relationship" among the White House, top campaign donors, and prominent Solyndra investors, according to a senior congressional Republican.
Steve Spinner, an adviser to the Department of Energy, actively endorsed the loan after agreeing to avoid any "active participation" in the application process, because his wife, Allison, was working for Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, a law firm which represented Solyndra. Due to his wife’s association with the company, the DOE had ensured that Spinner would refrain from engaging in "any discussions" relating to the loan details because of a "conflict of interest." In a September 23, 2009 email to a DOE ethics officer, Steve Spinner described active participation as "solicitation, due diligence, [and] negotiations."
Energy Department spokesman Damien LaVera affirmed that Spinner was "authorized [only] to oversee and monitor the progress of applications, ensure that the program met its deadlines and milestones, and coordinate possible public announcements," because of his wife’s relations with Solyndra.
Europeans are more concerned about climate change than they are about their financial affairs, according to a new Eurobarometer poll conducted on behalf of the Climate Change Programme of the European Commission (EC). More than two-thirds of the public believe climate change is a serious problem, and nearly 80 percent say that tackling it will boost the economy and create jobs.
Pollsters tallied responses from almost 27,000 residents of the 27 European Union countries. They found that most Europeans view climate change as second only to poverty, hunger, and lack of drinking water (counted as a single concern) in terms of serious problems facing today's world. The global economic recession placed third on the list. In addition, 68 percent of respondents support the idea of taxing people based on energy use.
EU policy makers are jubilant, especially because these numbers are all up from a similar survey in 2009. "The fact that more than 3 out of 4 Europeans see improving energy efficiency as a way to create new jobs is a strong signal to Europe's decision makers," said Connie Hedegaard, European Commissioner for Climate Action. "I see this poll very much as an encouragement also for us in the Commission to continue fighting for ambitious and concrete climate action in Europe."
As federal prosecutors confirmed in a court filing Wednesday that a criminal investigation involving the recent raid on Gibson Guitar Corporation is now in motion, other American guitar makers are expressing concern for their own business operations. Gibson facilities in Memphis and Nashville were raided by federal agents on August 24, leaving the company with an estimated loss of $2 to $3 million.
Gibson’s alleged crime was a violation of the Lacey Act, a conservation law that aims to protect plants and wildlife from endangerment by enacting civil and criminal penalties for a throng of violations. Gibson is being charged for allegedly importing wood from a foreign country in violation of a 2008 amendment to the law that makes it unlawful "to import certain plants and plant products without an import declaration."
U.S. Attorney Jerry Martin declined to provide specific details on the investigation, but the prosecutor’s documents identify that the federal government can "seek criminal fines and imprisonment for knowing violations of the Lacey Act." The imported wood seized by federal agents came from India, and authorities are deeming the wood illegal ebony and rosewood.
Time Magazine is accusing climate change deniers of a vast right-wing conspiracy of deceit that threatens to subvert efforts protecting the Earth from eco-catastrophe. In "Who's Bankrolling the Climate-Change Deniers?" Bryan Walsh bemoans the fact that only a few years ago Republicans such as John McCain and Mitt Romney supported government cap-and-trade programs to restrict industrial emissions of so-called greenhouse gases (GHG) but are now backpedaling. He cites polls showing a growing number of conservatives in the deniers' camp. "That's deeply troubling," Walsh laments, "... despite an overwhelming scientific consensus" confirming imminent calamity.
He highlights two sociologists who blame "climate denialism" on long-term efforts of "conservative groups and corporations to distort global-warming science." Walsh quotes their article in The Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society, in which the sociologists claim, "Contrarian scientists, fossil-fuel corporations, conservative think tanks and various front groups have assaulted mainstream climate science and scientists for over two decades. The blows have been struck by a well-funded, highly complex and relatively coordinated denial machine."
Missing from Walsh's diatribe is any actual proof of a well-heeled denial machine or the "settled scientific truth" of climate change.
The science journal Nature is making headlines this week with news of the largest hole in the ozone layer over the North Pole in history, rivaling the size of its well known Antarctic cousin. Researchers credit this "unprecedented Arctic ozone loss" to "unusually long-lasting cold conditions" in the stratosphere at a time when their colleagues are in turmoil over melting Arctic sea ice a few miles below, supposedly caused by man-made global warming. Of course, humans are also responsible for the chilly stratosphere, they say. With sky-is-falling overtones the article's authors warn, "We cannot at present predict when such severe Arctic ozone depletion may be matched or exceeded."
Nor do they know when such levels have been matched or exceeded in the past. The NASA satellite record goes back only to 1979, according to meteorologist and weather technology expert Anthony Watts. That amounts to little more than 30 years of data, which can hardly be considered a baseline for making doomsday predictions and framing public policy.
A report released last week by the Environmental Protection Agency’s Inspector General questions the procedural policy of the EPA’s 2009 decision that greenhouse gas emissions pose a threat to public health and welfare. The report, entitled "Procedural Review of EPA’s Greenhouse Gases Endangerment Finding Data Quality Processes," does not decry the science of greenhouse gas emissions, but observes that the procedures conducted by the agency to make its "scientific" determination were askew. The release "calls the scientific integrity of EPA’s decision-making process into question and undermines the credibility of the endangerment finding," asserted Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works.
After a 2007 Supreme Court decision ruling that greenhouse gas emissions are air pollutants under the Clean Air Act, the EPA was instructed to determine whether greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health and welfare, or if alleged global warming science is too uncertain to make an adequate conclusion.
The IG’s office emphasized that their analysis did not explore the EPA’s scientific "evidence" that greenhouse gas emissions are in fact harmful to health and welfare.
The deaths of 23 Honduran farmers involved in land disputes with UN-approved palm oil plantations are raising an international outcry against alleged "human rights abuses." EurActiv reports members of the European Parliament (EP) are planning an investigative mission to Honduras this month while others are calling for a ban on carbon credits to the plantations under the EU's Emissions Trading System (ETS). Additionally, it says the UN Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) is weighing its validation process that originally accredited the plantations, a process critics call "only rudimentary, completely unregulated and badly documented."
Protests erupted in July when six international human rights advocacy groups presented a report to the EP detailing what they called murders and forced evictions of peasants in El Bajo Aguán Valley of northern Honduras. The International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) report accuses UN-sanctioned palm oil mills of stealing farmland from Honduran natives and killing or wounding them when they attempt to defend their property. It says the companies, acting with government impunity, regularly target members of local land-rights movements who end up murdered in feigned car accidents or hunted down and shot by private security guards.
Claiming that the United States “can’t afford” to lose the race to develop the technologies necessary for a transition to a green economy, Acting Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank defended the dispersal of millions of dollars in federal funds to the winners of the government’s i6 Green Challenge.
The i6 Green Challenge is undeniably a very small program; the challenge website acknowledges that approximately $12 million was available for “proof of concept” models. Under business-as-usual in Washington, D.C., the expenditure of $12 million would look like a departmental rounding error. In part, the i6 Green Challenge awards will receive a measure of public scrutiny because of the scandal surrounding President Obama’s favorite (at least until recently) example of a corporation of the new “green economy” — Solyndra — which recently found itself under investigation in connection with $535 million in loan guarantees that it had received from the federal government. The image of Solyndra being raided by FBI agents may continue to linger for a time — much to the chagrin of the President and his standard bearers in government and the media.
An article for CNSNews (“Acting Commerce Secretary: Despite Failures, ‘U.S. Can’t Afford’ Not to Subsidize Green Tech”) highlights the “good money after bad” strategy being employed by the White House: In short, pay no attention to the scandals and lack of success — the “green economy” must be pursued at any cost.
Obama Admin. Expands Endangered Species Act. Caving in to pressure from environmental groups, the Obama Administration's U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is set expand the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to include more than 800 new species of plants and animals. FWS signed two agreements in federal court, one with the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD), and another with WildEarth Guardians (WEG) in which the parties agreed to a timeline for review of the individual species' cases through 2018. The agreements end a number of lawsuits against FWS by various environmental organizations, including CBD and WEG, over species they claim FWS has ignored.
FWS is acting quickly to hold up its end of the bargain. On Monday it approved 374 new species for possible ESA inclusion, based on review of an ongoing 60-day public comment period. Some of the candidates for federal protection have obscure names like the Florida sandhill crane, the green floater mussel and the black rail bird. Others are more familiar, including the American wolverine, the Mexican gray wolf and the Pacific walrus.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to tighten regulations on natural gas drilling based on grossly exaggerated estimates of greenhouse-gas emissions, according to new industry research.
In its report MisMeasuring Methane: Estimating Greenhouse Gas Emissions from Upstream Natural Gas Development, the independent energy analysis firm IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) reveals, "EPA's current methodology for estimating gas field methane emissions is not based on methane emitted during well completions, but paradoxically is based on a data sample of methane captured during well completions." (Emphasis in original.)
The agency's meager "data sample" is based on two slide presentations made at EPA-sponsored workshops, one in 2004 and one in 2007. CERA researchers explain that EPA recorded captured methane at a small sample of wells and now assumes every well in the country releases equivalent levels of methane without operators capturing any of it.