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A White House adviser had some harsh words for the environmental movement last week, but seemed more interested in sidelining them than addressing their concerns.

Cross posted from Pruning Shears.

Last week several environmental groups called on the president to not speed up permitting for liquefied natural gas exports.  In response White House adviser John Podesta met with reporters and forcefully rebutted arguments they had not made.

"If you oppose all fossil fuels and you want to turn that switch off tomorrow, that is a completely impractical way of moving toward a clean-energy future" he thundered, answering a charge articulated by no one.  "With all due respect to my friends in the environmental community," he continued against his fictional adversary, "if they expect us to turn off the lights and go home, that's sort of an impractical suggestion."  It was an admirable performance, a rare and special display of the kind of soaring creativity not normally encountered outside of a child's imagination.

In point of fact, the groups were simply arguing against the latest excuse to ramp up fracking - and they can't do much more than appeal to conscience.  They certainly aren't in a position to launch primary challenges or force other unpleasant consequences on Democrats.  Meanwhile the fossil fuel industry -  which, granted, doesn't wield the fearsome clout inside the Beltway that, say, Friends of the Earth does - has managed to scrape together some meager resources to try to get its message out.

Since the Obama administration is a huge fracking cheerleader - Podesta reiterated that support - I can understand why activism against it is a sore spot.  He also was careful to point out that the administration is finalizing plans to reduce methane emissions from fracking.  Details to follow, um, later.  Meanwhile, the existing dirty practices continue.

Presumably the EPA will be in charge of regulating methane, which doesn't inspire much confidence considering that the EPA is currently being sued for failing to regulate methane.  Podesta's spiel boils down to a vague promise that eventually a captured agency will do something.  In addition, we are to trust that - against all recent experience - the industry won't dilute to meaninglessness any worthwhile proposal that somehow miraculously emerges.

Since this was a Politico story no pushback like that greeted Podesta, of course.  He pretty much got the stenography treatment: An official said something and whether or not it has merit, it's newsworthy.  In a similar vein the article links to a piece with a headline trumpeting popular support of Keystone XL "(Also on POLITICO: Poll: 65 percent back Keystone)," support based largely and falsely on expected job creation.  The fact that only 35 permanent full time jobs will be created by Keystone doesn't reflect on the validity of the poll though.  People said they liked it, with or without accurate information, so the result must be reported.  Journalism, friends.

As you might expect, a dumb comment from a White House official turned into amplified stupid elsewhere.  One might expect an analyst to analyze that distinction in the poll, or a reporter to report on the contrast between peoples' urgent concerns about jobs and the anemic results unconventional extraction has delivered.  An enterprising journalist might even look into why unconventional extraction has become such a big thing.

After all, what if the talk about "peak oil" turned out to be true and that we've picked all the low hanging fruit?  What if the turn to fracking, tar sands, and so on reflect a new reality?  One where continued use of fossil fuels will require ever greater investment?  What if it turns out that we are now coming up against the law of diminishing returns, and have to decide just how much money we are willing to pay in order to maintain the status quo?

Here's another possible angle: Podesta has trumpeted fracking as providing a bridge to a renewable energy dominated future.  Yet the fossil fuel industry's pals are busy wiring dynamite to that bridge's foundation.  Maybe all that talk about bridges is just a way to allay public fears about the ferocious consequences of human induced climate change.  Maybe the subtext of all that bridge talk is: "Hey, let us go ahead with this next round of extraction and then we'll clean up our act."  Maybe the absence of any actual bridge building by the people talking it up is worth a look.

Yes, Podesta's comments offer many potentially compelling story lines: Pushing back on his bullshit rhetoric, examining the gap between jobs promised and jobs created, looking at the specter of having passed peak oil, following up on the chimerical promises of a clean energy future from those with dubious interest in it.  Lots of interesting columns that someone with an outsized platform could check into, right?  Daily Beast columnist Lloyd Green took stock of the possibilities and concluded: effete liberals.

He starts by citing the poll (vox populi!) and links its support to "job-craving America."  He doesn't note the actual lack of jobs Keystone will provide.1  All that matters to him is the mistaken impression among the majority.  He then claims Democrats "have a problem with the non-government employee middle class" (?) and that contemporary liberalism "sounds more like reactionary 19th century Toryism."

In Green's view, there's a cadre of out of touch upper middle class progressives who oppose industrial development on aesthetic grounds, and embrace NIMBY-ism (Not in My Backyard) in order to preserve picturesque landscapes against unsightly signs of such activity.  This is perhaps the most intellectually dishonest part of his article.

Green has a lofty, theoretical view of those opposed to doubling down on unconventional extraction.  He refuses to acknowledge the concerns of those who have been (or might be) affected by the combination of aging infrastructure, lax to non-existent regulation and the malign neglect of political leaders.  Places actually impacted, and the people forced to deal with the aftermath, do not appear to exist to him.

He could spend a week in West Virginia, bathe in and drink the water, talk to residents, and then tell us if they're a bunch of NIMBYs.  Or he could visit North Carolina and Virgina.  Or he could come right here to Ohio.  Who knows, he might even encounter some concerned citizens in the non-government employee middle class.

Spending time in some of the backyards in question might give him a different perspective on NIMBYs, were he interested in such a thing.  He isn't though.  He'd rather talk about Martha's Vineyard and wind farms in Nantucket - because it's much more fun to goof on the Kennedy family than it is to get an up close and personal look at environmental hazard.  (The likelihood of crying NIMBY is inversely proportional to one's distance from a Superfund site.)

He winds up, funny enough, by criticizing Barack Obama for not delivering on his promise of green jobs, though he mysteriously neglects to mention the 600,000 fracking jobs the president promised a couple years ago.  He gets in an obligatory wingnut reference to Solyndra, though in an admirable show of restraint he declines to link it to Benghazi.  And because there will be an election in seven and a half months, the horse race must get its due: "die-hard gentry liberals" - presumably this year's re-branded emoprog - will help throw support of the Senate to the Republicans with their constant griping.

That's only true if all the people who stood in line in 2012, and don't show up in November, are Downton Abbey liberals.  I suspect the demographic breakdown is a little more diverse than that, but I guess we'll just have to wait and see.  As for Green's implication that the environmental movement doesn't know which side its bread is buttered on, I'll just say this: There are a number of words that can describe someone overtly hostile to you on an issue of immediate and substantial importance; "friend" is not one of them.


1. The unconventional fossil fuel extraction industry has been notoriously weak in job creation.  I know I'm repeating myself here, but fracking hasn't led to job growth in Ohio.  It has only led to modest bumps in industries serving the itinerant workers who fill most of the temporary jobs.

The failure to create jobs is a major flaw in the argument for these projects.  Hammering away at that, and at the apparent ignorance or dishonesty of those peddling it, might be the kind of thing a friend would do.  For the most part (with some highly important exceptions) it's just been crickets from the Democrats.

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Comment Preferences

  •  It's a hegemonic order (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    danps, unfangus, Sunspots

    To expect the absolute rule of capital to ever be questioned, never mind scrutinized, is to wait for Godot.  As far as the intellectual integrity of the arguments, keep in mind these are the same people asserting the narrative of full-spectrum US global dominance.  We live by their rules, there are no other choices, anywhere.  There are only three rules to their game:  (1) We can't win.  (2)  We can't break even.  And (3)  We can't drop out of the game.

    Pay no attention to the upward redistribution of wealth!

    by ActivistGuy on Fri Mar 28, 2014 at 07:57:21 AM PDT

  •  It's simple really...take a look at Podesta's... (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    danps, unfangus, milkbone, Sunspots

    ...clients over at, over the past five years. BP has been spending big bucks on him for a long time. Other big energy players, as well. (Big Pharma, etc., the list goes on.) Hiring the most successful/most revered corporate lobbyist in the land as your chief media/communications advisor ain't exactly a beeline on the path of a true populist's good intentions. I mean...after all, Podesta did such a bang-up job for Clinton in the 90's...and that worked out so well for the 99% in the long run, didn't it? What could go wrong?

    "I always thought if you worked hard enough and tried hard enough, things would work out. I was wrong." --Katharine Graham

    by bobswern on Fri Mar 28, 2014 at 08:49:33 AM PDT

  •  Let's not let the perfect be the enemy of the good (0+ / 0-)

    This Democrat believes natural gas is an excellent bridge fuel, and one that we have in abundance with new technology allowing more economical means of recovery.

    Podesta and the other like thinking members of the party realize this train has left the station.  Obama is wise to get out and front and say "charge".  That was something Clinton mastered (see which way the wind blows and lead the charge).

    •  Did you see the stories I linked to (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      about how methane emissions have a huge environmental impact?

      Or how about earthquakes:

      Degrading infrastructure:

      Degrading the environment:

      Degrading democracy:

      Risk to the community:

      Sucking up all the water:

      Crooked business practices:

      And that's just a very small and quick overview.

      You're welcome to believe it's an excellent bridge fuel. You're also welcome to believe the earth is flat. I think the Republicans are doing a good enough job with sanguine climate change denialism though. I'd prefer Democrats leave the field to them.

      •  Have read volumes on both sides of the issue (0+ / 0-)

        The Cornell study on emissions has largely been shown to be wrong in it's assumptions and conclusions.  
        The earthquakes are mainly associated with disposal wells, and are relatively insignificant (read about the number of naturally occurring quakes every single day all around the world).  Makes for good press, but the vast majority of these can't even be felt at the surface.  Anecdotal at best.
        Travel SE OH and try to get a hotel room.  Check out home prices, home and apartment rentals. Or check out the restaurant activity.  I believe my own eyes when it comes to economic activity.   Talk to farmers that have received $500-$1MM signing bonuses - they are spending most of that money in Ohio.It will add billions to Ohio's economy in the long run (don't know current numbers)
        I have attended presentations by geologists that have studied how likely (actually incredibly unlikely) that fractures at 5000+ feet could ever communicate with aquifers used for potable water.  It does not happen.  Surface casing failure has been the cause of almost every instance of well contamination (which is statistically insignificant when you measure against the 10,000's wells fracked)  OH has strengthened the specifications for surface casing.
        Is it 100% safe? Of course not.  But natural gas production is here to stay.  Let's manage it and regulate it so we minimize it's impact to the environment.  But let's not be scared off by a few mishaps now and then.
        I put most of the fracktivists in the same category as the climate change deniers in their misunderstanding of science and reliance on anecdotal information for forming their opinions.  
        I am not going to change your opinion, nor will you change mine.  But I do believe that history will show that maximizing natural gas exploration and production will be good for the country. Also for the climate as an excellent bridge fuel away from coal.
        It's a big tent - sorry you don't think there is room for opposing opinions in yours.

        •  Right, so no links I see. (0+ / 0-)

          I actually linked to two articles in the post that unemployment isn't down in fracking counties in Ohio and that the main economic benefit has been a modest increase in businesses that cater to migrant workers.

          Disposal wells are part of the fracking lifecycle, so it's dishonest to say they have nothing to do with fracking. It's that kind of deceptive parsing that, along with empty-headed boosterism, makes the pro-fracking side hard to take seriously.

          As for managing and regulating it, the current state of play is what's on offer. Wishful thinking doesn't change that. We need to deal with the world as it exists and not buy into vague hopes about how great it could be.

          There's room for opposing opinions, but not fantasies. Climate change denialism is not a valid opinion for the same reason Creationism isn't. And you're right, I don't think there's room in the tent for that, sorry.

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