Curiouser and Curiouser: How the Hill Is Handling Being in the Hole

by Bill Chameides | February 21st, 2011
posted by Erica Rowell (Editor)

Permalink | 7 comments

The United States has been a signatory to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change since President George W. Bush signed it into effect in 1992. Now House Republicans are trying to defund it

In the words of Alice, “It would be so nice if something made sense.”

Alice, of course, was talking about the strange wonders she encountered after tumbling into the rabbit hole. But you don’t have to fall into a rabbit hole to encounter uncommon nonsense. Following the antics of our Congressmen and Congresswomen while passing a continuing resolution on the budget does quite nicely, thank you.

The House Goes on Record in Favor of Air Pollution

In a 249-to-177 vote, the House approved Amendment 466, proposed by Texas Representative Ted Poe (R), that prohibits funds from being used by the Environmental Protection Agency to implement and enforce any requirements or issue permits for stationary source emissions of six greenhouse gas pollutants [pdf] (i.e., carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, sulfur hexafluoride, hydrofluorocarbons, and perfluorocarbons). OK, no surprise there.

The House also forbade expenditures “to develop, promulgate, evaluate, implement, provide oversight to, or backstop total maximum daily loads or watershed implementation plans for the Chesapeake Bay Watershed.” I find this to be an elegant solution to the annual dead zone in the Chesapeake Bay. Outlaw any evaluation of the problem. Consider this: is there a dead zone in the Chesapeake if no one can evaluate it?

Another amendment would forbid EPA from promulgating regulations on coal ash. A great idea as long as you don’t live near a coal-ash retention pond.

And still another would prohibit the “use of funds by the Environmental Appeals Board to consider, review, reject, remand, or otherwise invalidate any permit issued for Outer Continental Shelf sources located offshore of the States along the Arctic Coast.” Wow, to even “consider” invalidating a permit is prohibited. How do you suppose that will be enforced? Rumor has it that Congress is going to install laser-equipped mind readers in the offices of all environmental officials. If anyone even thinks about (i.e., considers) a permit for the outer continental shelf, the mind reader will zap him into a little pool of oil. It’s a win-win — the oil from the zapping will help to balance the budget by adding to our domestic supplies of oil! 

We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Negotiators

In an effort to balance the budget (I guess every penny counts), the House eliminated the salary for Todd Stern, the U.S. Special Envoy for Climate Change who serves as the nation’s chief negotiator at the United Nations global warming talks. In case you didn’t know, our participation in these talks (formally called the Conference of the Parties) is mandated by the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change of which the United States is a signatory. And by the way, we signed on to the UNFCC in 1992 — when a Republican was in the White House.

But maybe our reps aren’t against the country honoring its commitments; they just expect the U.S. negotiator to participate on his own dime. After all, times are tough and we’ve got to trim the fat somewhere and that means sacrifices … for some, anyway.

All this might lead you to think that the House folks are just mindless budget-cutters. Nope, they have their priorities and there is a line in the fiscal sand they have refused to cross. While Mr. Stern’s salary was on the chopping block, our reps courageously beat back an amendment that would have halted the Defense Department’s sponsorship of Nascar. (Yes, for those who don’t know, the U.S. Army uses race-car sponsorship as a recruiting tool; other branches of the military did away with this funding a while back.)

And how much do we taxpayers spend to keep the cars racing around the track? Can’t say for sure, but it is reportedly more than $19 million. (The sponsor of the amendment, Representative Betty McCollum (D-MN), puts it at “tens of millions of taxpayer funds.”) Whatever the exact figure, I’d bet a bucket-seat of greenbacks that it’s more than Stern gets paid. (See roundup of the amendments that successfully made it into the continuing resolution bill, known as H.R. 1.)

God Gets Into the Act

Last week’s antics were not limited to the U.S. House floor. In Minnesota, Mike Beard, a Republican state representative apparently channeling U.S. representative John Shimkus (R-IL), invoked the great Representative in the Sky to justify his stance against renewable energy and his support for coal-fired power plants.

In an interview with, Beard is quoted as saying: “God is not capricious. He’s given us a creation that is dynamically stable. We are not going to run out of anything.” I guess words like famine and drought have not made it into the Minnesotan’s lexicon. Beard went on the say that “it is the height of hubris to think that we could [destroy the planet]. … God gave us our minds, creativity and ingenuity, and that is our most valuable natural resource.”

Thank the Lord that our creativity and ingenuity do not include the ability to make bombs so powerful they can destroy whole cities and with enough of them an entire planet. Oh … my bad.

So what’s going on? One theory is that our reps in the House are determined to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that they do not have a green bone in their esteemed (or maybe it’s just steamed) body. (We’ll know for sure if they withhold the salary of any government employee who wears green on St. Paddy’s Day.)

Another theory is that our reps, frustrated at losing out to China in exports, have decided to try to outdo the Chinese in the race for the worst environment.

The most curious thing I ever saw in my life.

filed under: carbon dioxide emissions, climate change, economy, faculty, global warming, oil, pollution, renewable energy
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  1. Dana
    Feb 27, 2011

    I enjoy Dean Chameides blog and his entertaining approach to environmental current events. The US is in dire need of academics to climb down from the ivory towers and lead a vociferous challenge to the huge investments being made in lobbying and PR campaigns (Clean Coal, etc.). We live in a time where utter scientific denial (evolution, climate change, etc.) is rampant and fashionable. The current and witty tone of this blog hopefully encourages critical thinking surrounding environmental issues. I wish it could reach a larger audience.

  2. Travis
    Feb 25, 2011

    Pollution is a property rights issue. That is, we all have (or should have) a private property right in our person that protects us from invasion by the putresence and effluvium created by our fellow-persons. Unfortunately, government is not a defender of private property as private property is a threat to the special privileges enjoyed by individuals in government and their cronies. That parasites in the republican party are no more protective and respectful of private property boundaries than parasites in the democratic party should surprise no one.

  3. Roberto Jimenez
    Feb 24, 2011

    Ken, as a second-year MEM let me say the “volumes” that the Dean has spoken with his comments tastes more like mana from heaven than poison. What we need is more leadership and advocacy of this kind, not less of it. These are very pressing times for the climate change scientific community which is facing a head-on assault from many vectors as you know. The House has moved to cut the EPA’s budget by 30%, strip it from its mere ability to research the problem, and quite frankly to muzzle scientists. But I guess we are not talking about the content since you might in fact agree with the gravity of what’s happening. (There’s doubt now). Your beef seems to be with the communication vessel. What does it matter if the above was published on as opposed to this URL? What does it matter if sarcasm is put to use elegantly to repel the ignominy of science bashing and self-righteous points of view? You have accused the Dean of dismissing science, ridiculing policy position and lacking objectiveness. Sounds to me exactly like the antics with which the establishment is seeking to preserve our status quo of environmental degradation, economic stagnation and imminent collapse. There is no time for half-hearted hearings on climate science, debating radical religious-based policy positions, or explaining for the n-enth time how action is necessary for the US long-term competitiveness. There is no time for environmental decision paralysis.

  4. Michaela Margida
    Feb 24, 2011

    Dean Chameides and Dr. Reckhow, I appreciate your points regarding the validity of opinionated rhetoric in an academic forum. The Nicholas School is uniquely poised between environmental science and policy. Striking the balance can be something of a tightrope walk, certainly not without its pitfalls. However, let’s assume that our first duty is to represent policy-related concerns. Even in that context, the most constructive approach will involve diplomacy. One hazard of Nicholas School life is that we are constantly surrounded by people who agree with us. This reinforces the false assumption that EVERYONE agrees with us. To combat this mentality, we must remember that the opposition exists. I do not think it overly optimistic to hope that the opposition might even read this post. In that event, it seems unlikely that anyone who did not already agree would be won over. In drawing out the points of controversy and failing to capitalize on the objective merits of the position, this blog post misses an opportunity to provide a rallying point to which people of varying viewpoints will be drawn. There is certainly a place for this type of rhetoric, and there are some who would argue that this blog is that place. I contend, however, that if writing for an exclusively activist audience is the purpose of this blog, then that purpose should be changed. A more effective philosophy, and indeed, the way the Nicholas School should be publicly presented, would be one of inclusiveness. There is a place for activism in the academic forum, and a blog is that place. However, within the realm of activism, let us not forget diplomacy, respect, and objectivity.

    • Bill Chameides
      Feb 28, 2011

      Michaela: For better or worse, I have chosen to adopt a style in my blog that puts a premium on levity over stern, sober, and somber discourse. I recognize the possibility that you and others may not find my posts particularly humorous (and I have frequently heard the word “corny” around the dinner table), but I believe that we do not laugh nearly enough, especially in the world of the environment. And so I try to do my bit. Much of my attempts at humor include irony, sarcasm, parody, and satire. If you read my posts regularly, you will see that I am often the butt of my jokes and so I do not think I am being mean-spirited and I apologize if I have offended people’s sensibilities. But I make no apologies for my style: irony, sarcasm, and the like are valid rhetorical styles with a long and storied history. Finally, I would dispute your inference that because of my style, I only reach an “exclusively activist audience.” Again, if you read my posts here (and at the various blogs and e-mags where they are crossposted), you will discover that I have a very varied audience that includes many who are resolutely opposed to an environmental agenda and many who remain on the fence and have many questions. Rather than being a forum for activists, TheGreenGrok with its some 10,000 hits per month and many more in its other venues has become a healthy and vibrant forum for a spirited debate about environmental issues and hopefully a source of a few chuckles now and then.

  5. Ken Reckhow
    Feb 22, 2011

    The sarcasm in this column is demeaning of an academic institution. Frankly, I am embarrassed by this particular blog. We cannot claim to be objective – speaking and listening to all sides – with this statement/wording from our Dean. This is poisonous not only to those outside Duke, who look to universities as a source of objectivity, but it also says volumes to our prospective students about the Dean’s (and the NS’s?) blatant advocacy.

    • Bill Chameides
      Feb 23, 2011

      Ken, You are of course welcome to your opinion, and I am happy to air your opinion here, but, perhaps not surprisingly, I disagree. Some aspects of environmental issues are so normative that commenting on them is appropriate in a blog like TheGreenGrok, and so is criticizing actions and statements that fly in the face of science or common sense. I deem Congressional legislation that forbids even *considering* the appropriateness of permits for offshore drilling or just *evaluating* potential remedies to our problems in the Chesapeake, as well as statements that invoke God to undercut scientific findings, to all fall in that category. Was I being sarcastic? Depends on what you mean by sarcasm. One definition: “A form of humor that is marked by mocking with irony.” Yep, that’s a fair characterization of my post — and, I would add, nothing wrong with that. Here are some other definitions: “1. a sharp and often satirical or ironic utterance designed to cut or give pain 2. a mode of satirical wit depending for its effect on bitter, caustic and often ironic language that is usually directed against an individual.” These are more confrontational definitions and a poor characterization of my post. Yes, I was ironic and satirical, but “caustic” or “bitter”? I think not, and I sincerely doubt anyone was caused pain by the post.

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