Sustainability & Climate Change Issue Update: Environmental Programs on the Chopping Block

According to a new study, air pollution causes more deaths than cocaine does. Apparently, the House of Representatives hasn’t heard that one: they approved sweeping cuts to the 2011 budget that would kill a plan to clean up the Chesapeake Bay, stop the government from shutting down mountaintop mines and block the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gases.

  • Democrats in the House of Representatives didn’t put up much of a fight on the budget bill, other than voting perfunctorily against it. Their hope is that the Democratic-controlled Senate, or a presidential veto, will keep the environmental rollbacks from becoming law. Meanwhile, Republicans filled the bill with amendments that would limit the power of the EPA. Both parties then approved a two-week spending bill that incorporated most of the proposed cuts without the controversial amendments, setting up a bigger fight in the weeks to come.
  • Trying to keep his environmental agenda alive, President Obama announced a plan to hire young people to take care of parks and wetlands. Similar to Americorps, which puts recent college grads to work in communities in need, this initiative would turn the attention to America’s Great Outdoors (which is the program’s name). He intends to pay for it through existing taxes on the oil and gas industries.
  • The former Secretary of Defense, Director of the CIA, and Energy Secretary James Schlesinger recently remarked, “Anybody who’s talking about energy independence is smoking pot. There’s no way we’re going to get to energy independence as long as we depend on the internal combustion engine.” But a Massachusetts company claims to have found a solution to the energy crisis. Joule Unlimited says they’ve developed a microorganism that secretes diesel fuel, feeding only on sun, water, and CO2. Although skeptics are leery, it can’t hurt to be hopeful.
  • Far away from Washington, dead baby dolphins are washing up on shore in the Gulf of Mexico at ten times the normal rate. While there have been no obvious signs of oil contamination, scientists suspect that this isn’t just a “coincidence.” Marine scientists have also been doing submarine dives in the Gulf, and have found large quantities of oil that came from the BP Deepwater Horizon spill. It’s stuck to the bottom of the sea floor, along with crabs that have been smothered to death.
  • In the Alaskan Arctic, Shell has withdrawn its plans to search for oil this year after the federal government rejected its permit on air pollution grounds. Speaking of the Arctic, the region’s unofficial mascot got a bit of attention recently with this heartbreaking piece of news: “Mother polar bear swims for 9 days searching for ice, losing her cub.”

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