Tag Archives: Recovery

8 kids from Florida are suing their state over climate change.

Rick Scott, who has served as Florida’s governor since 2011, hasn’t done much to protect his state against the effects of climate change — even though it’s being threatened by sea-level rise.

On Monday, eight youth filed a lawsuit against Scott, a slew of state agencies, and the state of Florida itself. The kids, ages 10 to 19, are trying to get their elected officials to recognize the threat climate change poses to their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

18-year-old Delaney Reynolds, a member of this year’s Grist 50 list, helped launch the lawsuit. She’s been a climate activist since the age of 14, when she started a youth-oriented activism nonprofit called The Sink or Swim Project. “No matter how young you are, even if you don’t have a vote, you have a voice in your government,” she says.

Reynolds and the other seven plaintiffs are asking for a “court-ordered, science-based Climate Recovery Plan” — one that transitions Florida away from a fossil fuel energy system.

This lawsuit is the latest in a wave of youth-led legal actions across the United States. Juliana v. United States, which was filed by 21 young plaintiffs in Oregon in 2015, just got confirmed for a trial date in October this year.


8 kids from Florida are suing their state over climate change.

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Why is a ton of trash washing up on beaches in Hong Kong? It’s a mystery!

life’s a beach

Why is a ton of trash washing up on beaches in Hong Kong? It’s a mystery!

By on Jul 5, 2016 7:10 pmShare

Listen up, beach-goers who delight in swimming amongst plastic bags, deflated balloons, and lonely flip flops! We found the perfect place for you: the shores of Hong Kong, where unsightly piles of debris have recently washed up and taken up residence.

Plastic pollution is not a new problem for Hong Kong’s waterfront. But during the past two weeks, Quartz reports, the garbage influx has reached unprecedented levels.

Facebook/Ocean Recovery AllianceFacebook/Ocean Recovery Alliance

No one knows precisely where the trash is coming from, but we’re guessing it has something to do with humans — you know, those creatures that like to buy food in individually wrapped plastic packages and, incidentally, have thrown 10 to 30 billion pounds of plastic debris into the ocean. Right now, it looks like Hong Kong’s shores are bearing the brunt of it.

Just a few years ago, Hong Kong set up a fake, blue-sky backdrop in front of its smoggy city skyline for tourist-photo purposes. If only we had a beautiful backdrop to remember the island’s clean beaches by …

Ah, there we go. That’s better.

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Why is a ton of trash washing up on beaches in Hong Kong? It’s a mystery!

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Chart of the Day: How Austerity Wrecked the Recovery

Mother Jones

I’ve previously nominated a version of the illustration below as chart of the year, and last year I wrote an entire piece for the print magazine as basically just an excuse to get it in print. Bill McBride’s version focuses on public sector payroll, not total public sector spending, but it tells the same story: after every previous recession of the past 40 years, the subsequent recovery was helped along by increased government outlays. In the 2007-08 recession—and only in this recession—the recovery was deliberately hobbled by insisting on declining government outlays. This is despite the fact that it was the worst recession of the bunch.

The result, of course, was that there was no Obama Miracle in 2011. In fact, there was barely even an Obama Recovery. If you think that’s just a coincidence, I have a bridge to sell you.

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Chart of the Day: How Austerity Wrecked the Recovery

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Obama Unveils Smart New Transportation Plan, But Not How to Pay For It

Mother Jones

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This story originally appeared in Grist and is republished here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The problems all started with Newt Gingrich. For decades, federal transportation funding had been a bastion of bipartisanship: The gasoline tax served as a user fee for our roads, 20 percent of the revenue went to mass transit and the rest to highways, and everyone kept the system running so their districts could get what they needed. Then, in 1994, Gingrich led the right-wing Republican insurgency that took over the House of Representatives. They did not want to raise the gas tax, even to keep pace with inflation. They actually tried to repeal the previous gas-tax increase, from 1993. Hatred of the gas tax, like hatred of all taxes, soon calcified into Republican orthodoxy. Rather than increase the gas tax, President George W. Bush presided over a growing gap between our transportation needs and the revenue the tax generated.

And the problem has not been fixed under Obama. With Republicans currently controlling the House, Congress cannot pass a reauthorization of the surface transportation law that would address our nation’s growing transportation investment needs. Instead, they have retained the status quo through a series of short-term extensions and then, in 2012, a two-year authorization (normally the law is extended for six years) that maintained current funding levels by using general revenues to patch a shortfall in the Highway Trust Fund, which is supposed to be fully supported by the gas tax. That authorization expires this year, so some kind of transportation deal will have to be worked out in the coming months.

On Wednesday, Obama went ahead and laid out a progressive vision for a four-year transportation bill, despite the fact that Republicans will never go for it. It would boost transportation spending to a total of $302 billion over four years and reorient that spending in smart ways.

Historically, transportation funding has been doled out by the Department of Transportation to states according to formulas. But under the 2009 Recovery Act, the Obama administration pioneered the use of competitive grant-making with a program called TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery). Like Obama’s famous Race to the Top education initiative, which incentivizes states to make education policy reforms, TIGER incentivizes local governments to make more efficient investments in transportation, such as building a transit hub near an affordable housing development.

Obama’s new transportation bill would invest $600 million over four years in the TIGER program, and more broadly prioritize spending on projects with the most potential to improve environmental efficiency, create jobs, or link transportation to housing. Similarly, road spending would be doled out on a “fix-it-first” basis, focusing on repairing existing roads rather than building new ones. Obama would also spend a combined $91 billion over the four years on mass transit and inter-city passenger rail. That’s a roughly 30 percent share. Environmentalists and smart-growth advocates are praising the proposal.

And yet Obama has neglected to offer a solution to the single biggest transportation policy problem of all: how to pay for it.

In his speech Wednesday, the president said he will augment the Highway Trust Fund, which is once again suffering a significant shortfall, with $150 billion over the four years by closing tax loopholes. But he has not even identified which loopholes he would close, and still House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) declared the proposal dead on arrival in his chamber.

Obama and the congressional Democrats, never ones to capitalize on an opportunity when they could just blow it instead, failed to pass a reauthorization of the overdue transportation bill when they controlled Congress in 2009 and 2010. They spent some money on transportation infrastructure via the Recovery Act, but not enough, and they tossed around great ideas for how to spend a lot more money on a surface transportation reauthorization. But they were so scared of the public’s aversion to paying more at the pump that they did not suggest any gas-tax increases, or specific alternatives, to pay for it. And Obama’s new plan doesn’t either.

Even if Obama could get another temporary cash infusion for the Highway Trust Fund, it would be inadequate. Our transportation system has big problems, and to fix them we need a reliable revenue stream. Here are three growing transportation problems, in descending order of long-term importance, and ascending order of short-term urgency:

1. After decades of spending much more on roads than mass transit, we have a transportation infrastructure that’s totally at odds with what we actually need. It encourages driving and thus increases auto emissions, which worsen local air quality and climate change. It’s out of sync with trends in demographics and public preferences, which are leaning toward walkable urbanism and transit use, especially with an aging population. It’s also predicated on the availability of cheap oil, and thus is increasingly unaffordable as surging global demand boosts gasoline prices.

2. We have crumbling infrastructure. Many of our highways built in the middle of the 20th century are nearing the end of their natural lifespans, and our transit systems are dilapidated too. The American Society of Civil Engineers gives D grades to our highways and transit, and a C+ to our rail infrastructure. It notes, “Deficient and deteriorating transit systems cost the US economy $90 billion in 2010, as many transit agencies are struggling to maintain aging and obsolete fleets and facilities amid an economic downturn that has reduced their funding, forcing service cuts and fare increases.” And regarding highways, it says that while “federal, state, and local capital investments increased in 2013 to $91 billion annually, that level of investment is insufficient and still projected to result in a decline in conditions and performance in the long term. Currently, the Federal Highway Administration estimates that $170 billion in capital investment would be needed on an annual basis to significantly improve conditions and performance.”

3. We have a big Highway Trust Fund shortfall. We haven’t raised the gasoline tax from its 18.4-cents-per-gallon rate since 1993, so in inflation-adjusted dollars, it has fallen by 40 percent since then. And as Americans drive less and their cars become more efficient, they consume less gasoline. The current surface transportation law calls for spending more money than the Highway Trust Fund is actually bringing in, because it is based on outdated estimates of gas consumption. This year there is a more than $16 billion gap between authorized spending and gas-tax revenues. That means the fund will be dry in August. Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) warned on Wednesday that without an infusion of cash, “obligations for new projects in 2015 would need to be reduced to zero.”

Even Boehner recognizes there is a problem. “We’ve got to find a funding mechanism to fund our infrastructure needs,” he told reporters Wednesday morning. “I wish I could report to you that we’ve found it, but we haven’t.”

We have! It’s called raising the gas tax.

Gasoline taxes are higher in every other developed country than they are in the US Obama complained in his speech on Wednesday that our international competitors spend more on transportation infrastructure than we do. These two phenomena are clearly connected, even though Obama refuses to draw that connection for the public. Why shouldn’t drivers be required to pay their fair share to maintain roads? Transit users pay fares to ride the buses and subways, in order to help cover the costs of building, maintaining, and operating those systems. Amtrak tickets, at least on the Northeast corridor, are obscenely expensive.

There are alternatives to raising the gas tax, of course. We could tax a related negative externality — like, say, carbon pollution — to pay for our infrastructure needs. But in order to do that, you need to accept the science of global warming and the necessity of taxation, and Republicans don’t accept either. When Boehner says they haven’t found a funding mechanism, what he means is that he hasn’t found a funding mechanism that he can corral his recalcitrant caucus to support.

If Republicans are going to reflexively block whatever Obama puts forward anyway, he should go ahead and propose an intelligent funding mechanism — a higher gas tax, a carbon tax, what have you — that will provide enough income over the long term to build the kind of modern transportation system the country needs. If you can’t pass good legislation, at least promote good ideas.

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Obama Unveils Smart New Transportation Plan, But Not How to Pay For It

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NRA attacks “shadowy network” of enviros and zoos fighting to ban lead bullets

NRA attacks “shadowy network” of enviros and zoos fighting to ban lead bullets


In search of the truth.

You might think the NRA would be busy enough fighting its current battles, fending off crazy ideas like expanded background checks for gun sales. But no. The group is now picking a whole new fight, this one against activists who want to ban lead bullets.

Studies have shown that as many as 20 million birds, including endangered California condors, die each year from lead poisoning after ingesting bullet fragments. Ammunition is likely the greatest unregulated source of lead released into the environment, according to a statement [PDF] from scientific experts in lead and environmental health. Some states, notably California, are now weighing regulations to outlaw the use of lead in bullets.

The NRA isn’t going to stand by and let that happen. The group has launched a campaign called Hunt for Truth to fight back against “the assault on traditional lead ammunition” by targeting the groups and individuals — mostly scientists, nonprofits, and government agencies — behind this unconscionable attack on American values.

But the thing is, requiring hunters to use lead-free bullets wouldn’t cause them any great hardship, the Huffington Post reports:

Lead-free bullets are widely available from top manufacturers, and have not been shown to function any differently than bullets containing the highly toxic element.

So this should be a no-brainer — an easy opportunity for the NRA to toss the bird-huggers a bone and get back to its more important mission of keeping guns less regulated than toys. But since when does the NRA cave that easily?

In order to rally its members to oppose the lead regulation, the NRA described a conspiracy theory involving crooked scientists, phony research, and a shadowy network of nonprofits, zoos and government agencies all conspiring to ban hunting.

According to the NRA, an “activist portion of the scientific community” has formed “a highly organized network of like minded researchers with an agenda to ban lead ammunition.” In order to thwart this looming threat, “Hunt for Truth will expose the researchers associated with ‘faulty science’ critical of lead ammunition,” the gun lobby says.

Scientists aren’t the NRA’s only new targets. Nonprofits like the San Diego Zoo and the California Condor Recovery Team are also on the enemies list. The NRA claims these groups “have considerable influence over many legislators and regulators,” which they use to “capture” the regulatory agencies and bureaucrats responsible for lead ammunition restrictions.

Now that’s rich: the NRA — perhaps the nation’s most powerful lobby, commanding mind-boggling subservience from Congress and other lawmakers — accusing nonprofit environmental groups of controlling the legislative process. The San Diego Zoo and the California Condor Recovery Team can only dream of having even the tiniest fraction of the “considerable influence” the NRA wields. But hey, these are people who think we’d all be safer with more guns, not fewer. I can only imagine the kind of paranoia that must go hand-in-hand with that mentality.

Although I am intrigued by the idea of an underground network of shady zoos; sounds spooky. Someone call M. Night Shyamalan. Or Scooby Doo.

Claire Thompson is an editorial assistant at Grist.

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Calif. Bill Calls for Single-Use Battery Recycling

Photo: Flickr/JohnSeb

Calif. Assemblyman Das Williams (D) has introduced a bill to the state legislature which would create a recycling and disposal program for all non-rechargeable, single-use household batteries sold in the state.

In early 2006, household batteries were prohibited from being disposed of in solid waste landfills in California. However, currently there is no system in place for managing discarded single-use batteries, making it difficult for consumers to find places to recycle old batteries.

“Banning batteries from disposal without making recycling easy is frustrating for the public. The goal of this bill is to provide convenient recycling opportunities statewide to make it easy for consumers to comply with the law,” said Heidi Sanborn, executive director of the California Product Stewardship Council, in a press release.

Assembly Bill 488 would require producers of single-use household batteries to submit a stewardship plan to the California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery.

California state law already requires producers and retailers of rechargeable batteries to collect used rechargeable batteries from consumers. However, currently there is no such mandatory take-back system for single-use alkaline batteries.

Approximately 80 percent of batteries sold in California are alkaline batteries, according to the assembly bill. Managing discarded batteries costs local governments and taxpayers up to $2,700 per ton, which adds up to tens of millions of dollars each year.

“This is a perfect example of how producers, local governments and retailers can unite to help meet a greater good,” Assemblyman Williams said in a press release. “By changing our habits in little ways such as recycling batteries, we can collectively make dramatic changes to help the environment and save money.”

The bill may be heard in committee as early as March 22. If passed, the proposed law would take effect on January 1, 2015.

Patricia Escarcega

Contributing Writer

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