Flint and the climate moderate
This has been a hard message to write. We’ve all watched in horror as the Flint water crisis played out. We’ve been horrified, outraged, and demanded action. Now we’re faced with a really gut-wrenching choice: Whether or not to back an amendment to a truly dirty Senate Energy bill that does a truly virtuous thing by fixing Flint’s Pipes. I’m forced to decide that in this time of climate chaos, this is not a fair choice – and that we can’t allow our so-called friends to keep jerking us around like this. This post is my declaration of war on the Climate Moderate — not because I oppose money for Flint’s water system, but because we have to sop waiting for a more convenient hour to get serious about leaving fossil fuels in the ground.
Let’s back up: When the story really broke this January about Flint, most of the early energy went into one of two places
1 – trying to un-poison the water, like Cher’s generous offer to buy bottled water for local residents.
2 – demanding justice and accountability – like Michael Moore’s petition for Gov. Snyder to be not just removed from office, but arrested and tried for the crime of poisoning children.
We must do something to get people clean water to drink when they have none — and it’s a blessing that those who can, have done something to make that happen. It’s satisfying, maybe even Right (with a capital R) to swing the sword and say ‘let justice be done’ on men like Snyder — who have for years hidden their racism, sexism and drive to annihilate life behind a veneer of fiscal responsibility and paternalistic fiduciary protectionism.*
But in the end, the only REAL solution is to fix the pipes — to make good on the promise inherent not just in our laws and regulations, but in our moral code, that says everyone has a right to drink the water without fear of being poisoned by the government.
Which brings us to today. For the second time in as many months, Senate Democrats are negotiating to legalize and expedite exports of fossil fuels in exchange for an unrelated good idea. Last December they made a trade to legalize exports of crude oil for the first time in 40 years in exchange for an extension of wind and solar tax credits. This time, they want to expedite exports of fracked gas in exchange for a permanent extension of the land and water conservation fund and up to $400 million in federal matching funds to help replace lead pipes in Flint, Mich.
Understand, I have nothing against extending tax credits for wind and solar, the Land and Water Conservation fund and most especially nothing against fixing Flint’s pipes. In fact, it’s exactly what we’ve been calling for. The problem is that the Senate Democrats are once again negotiating with the fossil fuel industry. And just like negotiating with terrorists or slave traders, there is literally NO WAY that can work.
Fossil fuels are dying. The coal industry in America is all but dead. Obama’s order pausing coal leases on federal lands pending an investigation into their real costs to the climate is like the last punch Ali gave Foreman in 1974 — the fight is over; everything else is about the ref counting it out and the press recapping. UNLESS Mitch McConnell and a handful of Senators more beholden to coal than literally ANYTHING else (most especially the lives and livelihoods of their constituents) succeed in attaching a reversal of Obama’s decision to this energy bill.
Exxon is under investigation by the Attorneys General of New York and now California and oil prices are so busted they’re being compared to the sub-prime mortgage bubble. But the corporations will survive this year almost entirely because Congress lifted the oil export ban and because this congress continues to invest some $17 billion in federal production subsidies for fossil fuels every year.
Now a movement is building that demands a GAO review of FERC for colluding with the industry to build fracked gas export terminals and other infrastructure at the expense of our communities and our planet. These are the men and women Wen Stephenson calls “New Abolitionists” in his book What we’re fighting for now is each other. I got thrown out of the monthly FERC Commissioners meeting along with half a dozen of them last week. A few days later they arrested 11 veterans representing all branches of the U.S. armed forces as part of We Are Seneca Lake’s ongoing civil disobedience campaign against fracked gas.
These people are all on fire with passion and zeal to keep methane gas in the ground. Which is essential because methane is a global warming pollutant 80 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. And as the porter ranch leak in California has tragically, if aptly, demonstrated — there are virtually no federal controls to keep that gas from leaking into the atmosphere.
Given this climate reality, combined with fracking (the preferred method of harvesting extreme methane gas) is known to be poisoning our ground water with cancer causing chemicals, and rattling our homes with earthquakes, it’s imperative that we do everything we can to bottle up methane, like we’re trying to bottle up coal and oil, and keep 80% or more of all fossil fuels in the ground.
Given that clear math, you’d think this is the last thing that any so-called climate change activist would want to expand or expedite use of methane gas and gas infrastructure in the U.S.
But that’s exactly what Senate Democrats are gleefully negotiating right this minute. If you call them (and you should) these Senators or their staff will tell you that this is a Bi-partisan bill – like it’s a badge of honor to win the vote of Senator Inhofe, who famously tossed a snowball on the Senate floor to ‘prove’ that climate change is a hoax. They’ll tell you that the Senate has not passed an energy bill since 2007, when GW Bush was president; Which is both true and appalling. They’ll tell you this is a good opportunity, for them — our blessed saviors elected with slightly less fossil fuel money than their damned counterparts — to negotiate a deal that will ultimately benefit our communities, even if they have to trade a few souls along the way.
I know not every Senator is wrong about this. It’s why Senators Sanders and Merkley introduced the “Keep it in the ground act.” It’s why we praised Senator Sanders subsequent legislation to resist climate change and invest in the climate resilience of frontline communities. It’s why we’ve cheered for President Obama when he’s done the right thing to protect our water, climate and planet.
These are not our enemies. Nor are many of their colleagues, but they are moderates more devoted to Order than Climate Justice. And I must confess myself gravely disappointed in our Climate moderates. I have in fact, been forced to the conclusion that the true impediment to Climate Justice is not the fossil fuel industry or the climate denier, but moderates in the Congress. The men and women who tell us that we must accept “bridge fuels” and “trades” in the energy bill that will damn a thousand children in Bangladesh to death — so we can grow solar jobs for 5 years in the US. Or that we need bridge fuels that will cause a thousand more to birth defects from the Zika virus as it spreads ‘explosively’ through where I live in the Southeast — all in exchange for money to replace Flint’s water pipes.
The children of Flint must have clean water. I do not deny it. And I believe in it so strongly that I will not condemn any Senator who votes in favor of the energy bill for the same reason. But if they do, then the Senate moderates will have traded all our futures to a terrorist with a gun to the head of one innocent child.
God have mercy on their souls who vote for such a bill. I sure as hell will not.
* It’s worth remembering, here, that there is only a hair’s breadth of difference between what Snyder did to Flint and what our current Speaker of the House Paul Ryan proposes to do to more or less every American: slashing services, giving all the power and money to private corporations in the meretricious name of ‘freedom’.