Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Bush Administration Fortifies Oil Shale Industry

Firing off another decision that is angering environmental groups, the Bush administration has issued new regulations to develop oil shale deposits straddling almost two million acres of public lands in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

The rules lay out the framework to develop these deposits over the next decade, including royalty rates, how to evaluate bids for leases, mitigation requirements and other procedural elements.

The announcement follows last September’s decision by Congress to allow the moratorium freezing the development of oil shale and offshore drilling to lapse.

But most experts had expected the rules on how to develop the deposits to be left to the next administration. They claim the Bush administration is fast-tracking a program that could damage the environment and emit much more heat-trapping carbon emissions without proper consultations.

The Bush administration, said Kevin Book, an analyst at FBR Capital Markets, seems intent on taking full advantage of a regulatory window that is about to close at the end of the week.

In 1996, the Republican-controlled Congress passed the “Congressional Review Act,” which gives lawmakers a 60-day window to repeal new rules issued by executive agencies. The law was intended to prevent outgoing administrations from passing “midnight” rules in their waning hours. In practice, Mr. Book says, this means the Bush administration has until Thursday, Nov. 20, to issue regulations.

“The Bush administration’s last, best chance for contentious executive branch policies arrives this week,” Mr. Book said.

Critics of the oil shale development plan, which was issued by the Bureau of Land Management, did not provide the public with a chance to protest the decision, and said the rules would also waive royalties for oil companies under certain circumstances.

“The Bush administration is maintaining an unlawful position by amending these resource management plans without providing the public with an opportunity to have their decisions administratively appealed,” said Melissa Thrailkill, a staff attorney for the Center for Biological Diversity. “We are considering all our options. That includes legal action in federal court.”

The administration said the decision would ultimately help develop more domestic sources of energy. The ban on oil shale development has been in effect for two years.

“Oil shale is a strategically important domestic energy source that should be developed to reduce the nation’s growing dependence on oil from politically and economically unstable foreign sources,” said James Caswell, the director of the B.L.M.

The agency, Mr. Caswell continued, “is taking extraordinary steps to improve our domestic energy security, including the establishment of regulatory regimes designed to boost geothermal, solar and wind development and protect our public land resources.”

The B.L.M. said the program could add up to 800 billion barrels of recoverable oil from lands in the Western United States. That figure is highly theoretical.

Oil shale is a controversial and environmentally damaging source of hydrocarbons since it requires vast amounts of energy and water to squeeze oil out of sedimentary rocks. The process emits far more carbon dioxide, which is responsible for global warming, than ordinary refining operations.

Plus, it would still be up to the next administration to decide whether to lease lands to develop the deposits, or to simply ignore the new rules.

“How can the administration write regulations for an industry that does not exist yet, using unknown technologies? They can’t,” said Amy Mall, a senior policy analyst for the National Resources Defense Council. “This is just a giveaway to special interests that will leave states to clean up the mess.”

It is not the first time this month that the Bush administration has sought to make the best of its last days in office. Earlier this month, the Bureau of Land Management expanded its oil and gas lease program in eastern Utah to include tens of thousands of acres on or near the boundaries of three national parks.

The decision angered environmental groups, who feared it would lead to industrial activity in some of the state’s renowned empty regions, like Desolation Canyon.

According to a report from Felicity Barringer in The Times earlier this month, officials with the National Park Service said that the decision to open lands close to Arches National Park and Dinosaur National Monument — and within sight of Canyonlands National Park — had been made without the kind of consultation that had previously been routine.

-- By Jad Mouawad (NY Times)

Friday, November 14, 2008

I'm Looking Back

On time again.
so superficial
I know

Leonard Cohen
springs to mind
Then spurts away

I look for one
expansive thought

to sink my
teeth into:
even though

I have a
predilection for
here there and everywhere

I can't seem
to rewrite remember
or acknowledge my

own unwritten
history. here
there everywhere.

I'm looking for a few letters
for status
for the heat of the moment

to wonder all about
this forward movement

of life; what are they?
those forms of life?
I know you know

autumn rains down
too much heat this year
too much forbearance

so much unremembered joy
the old the new

the Vedas the Upanishads
who has all that much
time? or timelessness really.

-- jeff wietor

Friday, November 07, 2008

brains are back

Michael Hirsh

For two days now Americans have celebrated the idea that we may have atoned finally for our nation's original sin, slavery, along with its long legacy of racism. We have rejoiced in the world's accolades over the election of a multicultural African-American to the presidency after nearly eight years of cringing in shame as the Bush administration methodically curdled our Constitutional values and sullied our global reputation as a beacon of hope. Every once in a while, it seems, we Americans do manage to live up to our ideals rather than betray them. Hooray!

I am just as happy as everyone else over all this global good feeling. But there's something else that I'm even happier about—positively giddy, in fact. And the effects of this change are likely to last a lot longer than the brief honeymoon Barack Obama will enjoy as a symbol of realized ideals. What Obama's election means, above all, is that brains are back. Sense and pragmatism and the idea of considering-all-the-options are back. Studying one's enemy and thinking through strategic problems are back. Cultural understanding is back. Yahooism and jingoism and junk science about global warming and shabby legal reasoning about torture are out. The national culture of flag-pin shallowness that guided our foreign policy is gone with the wind. And for this reason as much as any, perhaps I can renew my pride in being an American.

I'm under no illusion that Barack Obama will turn out to be Barack Panacea. In terms of holding major office, he's the least experienced president in memory. He'll probably screw up a lot of things, especially at first. The problems he faces—from the economic crisis to Iran's nuclear program—are just too hard. And I occasionally worry that in his eloquent eagerness to empathize and reach across cultural barriers, Obama may overreach in the opposite direction from Bush, stumbling into the appeasement of adversaries like Iran (whose buffoonish president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, practically invited him to do so this week by sending him the first letter of congratulations from Tehran since 1979). Obama must also guard against the sort of intellectual arrogance that characterized the "best and the brightest" of the Vietnam era.

But, frankly, these are all risks worth taking after nearly eight years of a president who could barely form a coherent sentence, much less a strategic thought. We can finally go back to respecting logic and reason and studiousness under a president who doesn't seem to care much about what is "left," "right" or ideologically pure. Or what he thinks God is saying to him. A guy who keeps religion in its proper place—in the pew. It's no accident that Obama is the first Northern Democrat to be elected president since John F. Kennedy. The "Sun Belt" politics represented by George W. Bush—the politics of ideological rigidity, religious zealotry and anti-intellectualism—"has for the moment played itself out," says presidential historian Robert Dallek.

From the very start of his campaign, Obama has given notice that, whatever you might think about his policies, they will be well thought out and soberly considered, and that as president he would not be a slave of passion or impulse. While his GOP opponent, a 72-year-old cancer victim, was cynically deciding for political reasons that a woman who apparently did not know that Africa was a continent rather than a country should be a heartbeat away from the presidency, Obama was setting up working groups to study every major international issue and region of the world. Through three debates with John McCain, he refused to be baited into personal attacks. And the more we have learned about his transition process, the clearer it becomes that he intends to be that kind of president as well. Against the very political concerns of some of his loyalists that he, the candidate of "change," is bringing too many ex-Clintonites on board, he is dispassionately welcoming in the best brains (like Larry Summers, Laura Tyson and Gene Sperling) and most experienced hands (considering an extension of Bob Gates' tenure at the Pentagon, for instance). He is actively considering other Republicans for high posts.

How very presidential. And how very unusual.

One tragedy of the Bush administration is the amount of American brain power and talent that went unused, the options that went unconsidered, because they were seen to lack ideological purity. That era is over as we confront a desperate landscape—a serious recession and two prolonged wars. While he hasn't yet invoked Franklin Roosevelt, Obama seems to be embracing FDR's pragmatic approach in 1933—knowing that what the country may need, economically and politically, is not so much an organized program but a hodgepodge of bold experiments like the New Deal. "It is common sense to take a method and try it," FDR said back then. "If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something." Obama is judiciously hurrying to push through another stimulus package—and will probably shelve his raise-taxes-on-the-rich plan for the moment—while he is just as judiciously avoiding the Nov. 15 economic summit Bush has scheduled for next week (because it will tie him too closely to Bush's failed policies). "I will always be honest with you about the challenges we face," Obama said in his acceptance speech in Chicago Tuesday night. If he holds to that pledge and nothing else, we'll be OK.

So anything seems possible now, even when it comes to the toughest issues. What might be the result if, say, Obama decided to put Richard Holbrooke (one of the toughest and smartest negotiators in the country) in charge of negotiating with the Taliban, and Bill Clinton in charge of hashing things out with the Palestinians, telling both of them to come back only when they've got a deal? Anything could happen. Maybe even something good.

Victors, it is said, write the history. Obama is now about to write America's new history. Unless I mistake my man, its theme will be that reason and sense and that cardinal American virtue—pragmatism—are going to rule once again. And that's really something to celebrate.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


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