Friday, April 24, 2009

Reacting to conservative reaction of EPA’s decision to regulate greenhouse gases

Two years ago, in Massachusetts v. EPA, the Supreme Court ruled that the EPA has the authority to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. Not surprisingly, the Bush administration ignored the ruling. The Obama administration has different thoughts.

Last Friday the EPA formally declared carbon dioxide and five other heat-trapping gases to be pollutants that endanger public health and welfare, setting in motion a process that will lead to the regulation of the gases for the first time in the United States.

Conservative columnist Johan Goldberg wrote a piece on Earth Day called “EPA is Choking Democracy.” Check it out, it’s good for howling laugh. This is the same type of drivel pouring from conservative outlets throughout the US. Let’s take a closer look at Mr. Goldberg’s argument, shall we?

It takes no longer than the opening paragraph to encounter gross ignorance: “One of the most important events of our lifetimes may have just transpired. A federal agency has decided that it has the power to regulate everything, including the air you breathe.” Um, Jonah, that happened under the passing of the Clean Air Act and its extension in 1970, which gave the newly created EPA authority to regulate air quality. What do you think the EPA has been doing for the last 40 years? I know it gets your panties in a wad, but regulating the air we breathe is their job. Wow, how “important” it is that EPA has decided to do its job.

Maintaining that this action is an injustice to democracy is absurd. I thought Johan would know about how the judicial system in the United States works, but apparently he doesn’t. The Supreme Court makes rulings all the time, and they are not subject to a democratic process. Let’s see, were we allowed to vote whether black students should be allowed to go to school with whites? Choking democracy! Choking democracy!

Instead of getting mad at the EPA and Democrats, maybe Mr. Goldberg should rant about the Supreme Court, which just happens to be the most conservative court in our lifetimes. Maybe he should argue that the court made the wrong decision instead of getting mad at the government for following that ruling. Say, after the first black student was allowed in a white school in the south, was Jonah attacking the school that let him in?

Mr. Goldberg apparently thinks government agencies are also subject to a democratic process: “But there's still something troubling about an institution so immune to democratic control.” What?!? You mean agencies are supposed to ask us citizens what they want them to do? Hmm. I don’t remember being asked by the Bureau of Land Management whether to open the Roan Plateau to drilling. I didn’t remember the EPA asking Americans in 2008 what we thought about allowing California to establish stricter emission standards than the national standards. Again, Jonah, go back to Jr. High and study US government and tell me how agencies are not “immune to democratic control.”

Jonah mentions that Congress might take action, not the agency. This supposedly makes this an even worse violation of democracy. Um, if our elected legislative officials making laws isn’t democratic, what exactly is? Mr. Goldberg must think that not only do we get to vote on court cases, we get to vote on laws too! Wow. I don’t remember being asked about the war in Iraq. I must have missed that election.

This is exactly how our government was set up to work. There is no gross injustice here. You just don’t like the court’s opinion. I know with this Supreme Court you’re not used to that. Now you know what it feels like. I feel SOOOOO sorry for you, chief. I thought you conservatives were all about the constitution and rule of law and stuff. Guess that only applies when the law rules in your favor. Shocking.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Somali Piracy

As you must all know by now, a US vessel carrying food aid to Mombasa was high jacked by Somali pirates last week. The pirates have Captain Phillips hostage. The first thing most people are wondering is how in the hell there are pirates operating in 2009.

Well, half of the answer is that it’s just too expensive to have dozens of Navy vessels patrolling the Indian Ocean east of Somalia. It’s a vast area so protecting it all is not an option. We’re talking tens to hundreds of millions dollars a day to provide secure corridors for every US vessel. Ships are covered by insurance; a few million isn't much for them to pay. So, I don’t want to make light of this, but it’s not a big enough deal for shipping companies or the US government to pay what would be massive long-term costs. The other half of the answer is that Somalis are adept seamen and gunmen, and they have very few other options. Piracy is also common in Asian waters, as documented by National Geographic.

An article from Johann Hari called “You Are Being Lied to About Pirates” and “Toxic scandal in Somalia gave birth to new piracy” from describe some of the root causes at work here. European ships have been dumping toxic waste and fishing in Somali waters since 2005. As a result, Somalis formed an informal coast guard to patrol their waters and exact a “tax” on foreign vessels. I’m not trying to excuse this behaviour, just understand it.

The keyboard pundits are hammering on Obama for having a “weak” response. These chest thumpers think we should just blow every Somali boat out of the water. I have nothing wrong with enforcement, but more Somalis are surely ready to take their place. I see the point about deterring pirates, but in Somalia, most the other options for making a few bucks could result in death also. Killing these pirates is well and good, but the problem won’t go away until Somalia has a stable government and its people have other means of making a buck. (Unfortunately, how in the hell we facilitate a stable government in Somalia is a problem we haven’t come close to figuring out yet).

Friday the French Navy attacked the pirates and tried to rescue their hostage. The result was two dead pirates and one dead hostage. So, all these John Wayne types who think negotiating is a “joke” and killing a few pirates is the only solution: if the US Navy were to take your approach to this situation and (God forbid) have the same end result, do you have the balls to tell Captain Phillips’ family that in your vast expertise, you thought this was the right thing to do?

Let’s trust the Navy and FBI on this one. The pirates are surrounded, out of gas, and in over their heads. The vessel safely made it to Mombasa. No Americans have died yet. Seems things are going reasonably well for the situation. The best solution here is to give the pirates a jerry can of petrol, some food, and safe passage for the captain. Hang in there Captain Phillips, you’re in our thoughts.

It seems literally as I was writing this rant, Captain Phillips was freed. Details are still scetchy, but it seems three Navy SEAL snipers put three bullets in the heads of three pirates. Phillips was rescued. The patient approach prevailed.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Update: Tim DeChristopher charged

Update: Back in January, I ranted about environmentalist Tim DeChristopher sabotaging a BLM oil and gas lease sale:

Well, the feds have charged him two federal felonies. Check out the NYTs article here. Although I stated that I admired Tim for his act of civil disobedience, I can’t see how his actions were legal. Unless they want to see future lease sales chalked full of impostors, I don’t see any other option the feds have here except to change him. Get a good lawyer and good luck Tim.

There are a few interesting things to think about here. Tim met his obligation to provide a $45,000 down payment on the leases he bought. However, I’m fairly certain he did not come up with the whole $1.7 million. I guess that’s where the fraud charge comes in. I would argue that Tim’s actions were legal all the way up to the point where he didn’t come up with the money.

I argued back in January that anyone, not just oil and gas companies, can bid on leases. Here’s what the BLM web site says about lessee qualifications:

Federal oil and gas leases may be obtained and held by any adult citizen of the United States. No lease may be acquired by a minor, but a lease may be issued to a legal guardian or trustee on behalf of a minor. Associations of citizens and corporations organized under the laws of the United States or of any State also qualify.

Aliens may hold interests in leases only by stock ownership in U.S. corporations holding leases and only if the laws of their country do not deny similar privileges to citizens of the United States. They may not hold a lease interest through units in a publicly traded limited partnership.

Tim meets those requirements. Now, someone could say, “yes, but Tim didn’t have the capital at the time of the lease sale; that’s fraud.” Well, oil and gas companies don’t have the capital that early either. That’s why they ask for a small down payment, to allow the companies time to come up with the millions.

So, why don’t conservation groups try to raise money to actually pay for leases? Let’s test the system and see if that’s legal.