Allison Kilkenny: Unreported

Pelosi and Reid: No More Coal for Capitol Power Plant

Posted in activism, coal, environment by allisonkilkenny on March 2, 2009

Note from Allison: Congratulations to all the protesters that made this happen! You should all be very proud of yourselves.

Climate Progress

2400623-2-nope-no-coal-is-clean-coal1No doubt spurred on by the impending civil disobedience, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) posted a statement and a letter on her blog (here):

Today, Speaker Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid sent the following letter to the Acting Architect of the Capitol, Stephen T. Ayers,asking that the Capitol Power Plant (CPP) use 100 percent natural gas for its operations. They write, “the switch to natural gas will allow the CPP to dramatically reduce carbon and criteria pollutant emissions, eliminating more than 95 percent of sulfur oxides and at least 50 percent of carbon monoxide… We strongly encourage you to move forward aggressively with us on a comprehensive set of policies for the entire Capitol complex and the entire Legislative Branch to quickly reduce emissions and petroleum consumption through energy efficiency, renewable energy, and clean alternative fuels.”

UPDATE: Bill McKibben, who helped organize the impending civil disobedience at the CPP emails me “just to say, this civil disobedience stuff kind of works. How many coal plants are there?

Here is the letter:

February 26, 2009
Mr. Stephen T. Ayers

Acting Architect of the Capitol
SB-15 U.S. Capitol
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Mr. Ayers:

We want to commend your office for working to implement the Green the Capitol Initiative by increasing energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. However, there is a shadow that hangs over the success of your and our efforts to improve the environmental performance of the Capitol and the entire Legislative Branch. The Capitol Power Plant (CPP) continues to be the number one source of air pollution and carbon emissions in the District of Columbia and the focal point for criticism from local community and national environmental and public health groups.

Since 1910, as you know, the CPP has continuously provided the Capitol, House and Senate office buildings, and other facilities with steam and chilled water for heating and cooling purposes. The plant remains an important component of the facilities master plan and the future of the Capitol complex, and we know your office has taken steps to make the plant cleaner and more efficient. While your progress has been noteworthy, more must be done to dramatically reduce plant emissions and the CPP’s impact. Since there are not projected to be any economical or feasible technologies to reduce coal-burning emissions soon, there are several steps you should take in the short term to reduce the amount of coal burned at the plant while preparing for a conversion to cleaner burning natural gas.

We encourage you to take advantage of current excess capacity to burn cleaner fuels and reduce pollution. According to the General Accounting Office (GAO) and an independent analysis from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the boilers at the CPP are now running with more capacity than has been historically demanded or anticipated. Even with the new Capitol Visitor Center in operation, these analyses show there is sufficient capacity to further increase the burning of natural gas and still meet energy demands at peak hours.

We are also interested in identifying and supporting funding to retrofit CPP if necessary so that it can operate on 100 percent natural gas. Unfortunately, our staff has received conflicting information and cost estimates on what would actually be required to operate the CPP year-round with exclusively natural gas. If a retrofit of two remaining boilers is indeed required, then we encourage you to develop realistic budget numbers to accomplish the retrofit expeditiously including any costs for the purchase of additional quantities of natural gas. In your budget analysis, it is important to take into account that time is of the essence for converting the fuel of the CPP. Therefore it is our desire that your approach focus on retrofitting at least one of the coal boilers as early as this summer, and the remaining boiler by the end of the year.

While the costs associated with purchasing additional natural gas will certainly be higher, the investment will far outweigh its cost. The switch to natural gas will allow the CPP to dramatically reduce carbon and criteria pollutant emissions, eliminating more than 95 percent of sulfur oxides and at least 50 percent of carbon monoxide. The conversion will also reduce the cost of storing and transporting coal as well as the costs associated with cleaning up the fly ash and waste. Eliminating coal from the fuel mixture should also assist the City of Washington, D.C., in meeting and complying with national air quality standards, and demonstrate that Congress can be a good and conscientious neighbor by mitigating health concerns for residents and workers around Capitol Hill.

Taking this major step toward cleaning up the Capitol Power Plant’s emissions would be an important demonstration of Congress’ willingness to deal with the enormous challenges of global warming, energy independence and our inefficient use of finite fossil fuels. We strongly encourage you to move forward aggressively with us on a comprehensive set of policies for the entire Capitol complex and the entire Legislative Branch to quickly reduce emissions and petroleum consumption through energy efficiency, renewable energy, and clean alternative fuels.

Thank you for your attention to this critical matter.

best regards,

NANCY PELOSI
Speaker of the House

HARRY REID
Senate Majority Leader

Times Editors Cut From Story Their Own Reporter’s Debunking Of GOP Mouse Tale

Posted in Barack Obama, Economy, media, politics by allisonkilkenny on February 24, 2009

The Plum Line

mickey-mouse-munching-mulch-in-muddy-marshOkay, this is pretty interesting. As I noted here yesterday, the infamous GOP talking point that the stimulus package contains gobs of cash for saving marsh mice found its way into a New York Times story, without the paper mentioning that the claim is untrue.

It turns out, however, that earlier drafts of the story did describe the claim as “misleading” — but Times editors removed that description from the copy, leaving the assertion to stand on its own. An email from the author of the story to a reader confirms this.

The line in the final story read:

Mr. Gingrich sees the stimulus bill as his party’s ticket to a revival in 2010, as Republicans decry what they see as pork-barrel spending for projects like marsh-mouse preservation. “You can imagine the fun people will have with that,” he said.

The story doesn’t note that there are no such funds in the bill.

A reader tells me that he emailed the author of the story, Sheryl Gay Stolberg, to discuss the omission. Here is part of her reply to him in her email, which I obtained:

I did write in the story I submitted that the assertion was misleading, but I’m sorry to report that language was removed by editors and that I didn’t notice the deletion. My initial text read like this:

“….as Republicans decry, often misleadingly, what they see as pork-barrel spending for projects like marsh mouse preservation.”

So the words “often misleadingly” were removed by editors.

Often such editing decisions are made in haste or to save space. But this was only two words, and it’s worth recalling that the notion that there was millions in the bill to save the marsh mouse in Nancy Pelosi’s district isn’t just some garden variety talking point. It has been a major component of GOP push-back for weeks, repeated by high profile GOP officials in all sorts of settings.

In the email, Stolberg (who declined to comment) also wrote: “Still, I think the wording as published was not inaccurate.”

I can kind of understand this argument — to a point. The final Times passage doesn’t quite say that the money is in the package. Nonetheless, this was clearly a reference to the GOP talking point that the money is, in fact, in the bill. And the paper removed its own reporter’s assertion that it was “misleading” before publishing.

Cheney: Top Congressional Democrats Complicit in Spying

Posted in politics by allisonkilkenny on December 23, 2008

Glenn Greenwald

474px-dick_cheney(updated below – Update II – Update III)

Dick Cheney’s interview yesterday with Fox’s Chris Wallace was filled with significant claims, but certainly among the most significant was his detailed narration of how the administration, and Cheney personally, told numerous Democratic Congressional leaders — repeatedly and in detail — about the NSA warrantless eavesdropping program.  And, according to Cheney, every one of those Democrats — every last one — not only urged its continuation, but insisted that it be kept secret: 

WALLACE: Let’s drill down into some of the specific measures that you pushed — first of all, the warrantless surveillance on a massive scale, without telling the appropriate court, without seeking legislation from Congress.

Why not, in the aftermath of 9/11 and the spirit of national unity, get approval, support, bring in the other branches of government?

CHENEY: Well, let me tell you a story about the terror surveillance program. We did brief the Congress. And we brought in…

WALLACE: Well, you briefed a few members.

CHENEY: We brought in the chairman and the ranking member, House and Senate, and briefed them a number of times up until — this was — be from late ’01 up until ’04 when there was additional controversy concerning the program.

At that point, we brought in what I describe as the big nine — not only the intel people but also the speaker, the majority and minority leaders of the House and Senate, and brought them into the situation room in the basement of the White House.

I presided over the meeting. We briefed them on the program, and what we’d achieved, and how it worked, and asked them, “Should we continue the program?” They were unanimous, Republican and Democrat alike. All agreed — absolutely essential to continue the program.

I then said, “Do we need to come to the Congress and get additional legislative authorization to continue what we’re doing?” They said, “Absolutely not. Don’t do it, because it will reveal to the enemy how it is we’re reading their mail.”

That happened. We did consult. We did keep them involved. We ultimately ended up having to go to the Congress after the New York Times decided they were going to make the judge to review all of — or make all of this available, obviously, when they reacted to a specific leak.

But it was a program that we briefed on repeatedly. We did these briefings in my office. I presided over them. We went to the key people in the House and Senate intel committees and ultimately the entirely leadership and sought their advice and counsel, and they agreed we should not come back to the Congress.

Cheney’s reference to the “additional controversy concerning the program” that arose after 2004 and that led to additional Congressional briefings is ambiguous and creates a somewhat unclear time line:  is he referring to late 2004, when the White House learned that The New York Times knew about the NSA program and was considering writing about it (only to then obey the President’s orders to keep it a secret), or is he referring to the time when,more than a full year later, in December 2005, the NYT finally got around to writing about it, once Bush was safely re-elected?  

Either way, Cheney’s general claim is as clear as it is incriminating.  According to him, key Congressional Democrats were told about the illegal NSA spying program in detail, and they not only actively approved of it, but far beyond that, they insisted that no Congressional authorization should even be sought, based on what was always the patently inane claim that to discuss the fact that the administration was eavesdropping on our conversations without warrants (rather than with warrants, as the law required) would be to reveal our secrets — “our playbook” — to Al Qaeda.

It is certainly true that Dick Cheney is not exactly the most scrupulously honest public servant around.  In fact, he’s almost certainly the opposite.  Still, what he said yesterday was merely an expanded and more detailed version of what has previously been publicly reported and, to some degree, confirmed about the knowledge and support of Democratic leaders for the NSA program.  Cheney’s claims encompasses the following key Democrats:

  • Nancy Pelosi (Ranking Member, House Intelligence Committee, House Minority Leader);
  •  
  • Jane Harman (Ranking Member, House Intelligence Committee);
  •  
  • Jay Rockefeller (Ranking Member, Senate Intelligence Committee);
  •  
  • Harry Reid Tom Daschle (Senate Minority Leader).

Unsurprisingly, Pelosi, Harman and Rockefeller all voted last July to legalize warrantless eavesdropping and to immunize telecoms from liability, thereby ensuring an end to the ongoing investigations into these programs.  And though he ultimately cast a meaningless vote against final passage, it was Reid’s decisions as Majority Leader which played an instrumental role in ensuring passage of that bill.

One would think that these Democratic leaders would, on their own, want to respond to Cheney’s claims about them and deny the truth of those claims.   After all, Cheney’s statement is nothing less than an accusation that they not only enthusiastically approved, but actively insisted upon the continuation and ongoing secrecy, of a blatantly illegal domestic spying program (one that several of them would, once it was made public, pretend to protest).  As Armando says, “The Democratic members who participated in this meeting have two choices in my mind – refute Cheney’s statements or admit their complicity in the illegal activity perpetrated by the Bush Administration.”

I’m going to spend the day calling these members and trying to get some response to Cheney’s claim.  If I’m unable to obtain any responses, I’ll post their numbers and encourage everyone to make similar calls.  As I wrote on Saturday — and documented before:  “As a practical reality, the largest barrier to any route to prosecution — including this one — is that the Congressional Democratic leadership was complicit, to varying degrees, in the illegal programs.”  That’s true not only of the NSA program, but also the Bush/Cheney torture program.

One last point:  there is much consternation over Dick Cheney’s “Nixon/Frost moment” yesterday, where he expressly endorsed the idea that, as a “general proposition,” a “wartime” President can do anything he wants — even if it violates duly enacted statutes — as long as it’s justified in the name of national security.  In one sense, Cheney was being so explicit yesterday about his belief in Bush’s lawbreaking powers in part because he’s taking pride in being so defiant on his way out the door — daring a meek and impotent political class to do anything about his lawlessness — and also because Chris Wallace conducted one of the best interviews (and, revealingly, one of the only interviews) about the Bush/Cheney view of executive power.

But that this was the Bush administration’s central operating principle is something that — as was true for Cheney’s involvement in America’s torture regime — was long known.  As I wrote all the way back in December, 2005, days after the NSA scandal was first revealed:

These are not academic questions. Quite the contrary, it is hard to imagine questions more pressing. We are at a moment in time when not just fringe ideologues, but core, mainstream supporters of the President — not to mention senior officials in the Administration itself – are openly embracing the theory that the President can use the power and military force of the United States to do whatever he wants, including to and against U.S. citizens, as long as he claims that it is connected to America’s “war” against terrorists – a war which is undeclared, ever-expanding, and without any visible or definable end.

While Bush advocates have long been toying with this theory in the shadows, the disclosure that Bush ordered warrantless eavesdropping on American citizens in undeniable violation of a Congressional statute has finally forced them to articulate their lawless power theories out in the open. Bush got caught red-handed violating the law, and once it became apparent that no argument could be made that he complied with the law, the only way to defend him was to come right out and say that he has the right to break the law. So that debate — over the claimed limitlessness of George Bush’s power — can’t be put off any longer.

By itself, the long-disclosed September 25, 2001 Yoo Memorandum left no doubt that our Government had formally and explicitly adopted an ideology of lawlessness.  As a country, we just chose to ignore all of that, chose to do nothing about it.  The absues and extremism of the last eight years began as a Bush administration initiative, but it culminated as something for which both political parties, our leading political and media institutions, and our citizenry generally bear collective responsibility.

* * * * *
On a somewhat related note, this creepy little post inserted onto Matt Yglesias’ Center for American Progress blog by Jennifer Palmieri, the CEO of CAP’s “Action Fund”, is a vivid exhibit illustrating how Washington works, for reasons which Matt StollerMarkos Moulitsas, and Brendan Nyhan all describe.  Matt very well may not consider it to constitute interference with his editorial autonomy, but it nonetheless illustrates the potential constraints that can come from writing for an organization like that.

When I first joined Salon, the commitment they made, which for me was non-negotiatiable, was absolute editorial independence.  Though that’s an unusual commitment for a magazine to make, they did make it, and they never once — in almost two years of my being here — even came close to violating it.  Even as I’ve waged quite acrimonious mini-wars with friends and former colleagues of top editors and officers here, and even as I’ve aggressively advocated views that were, at times, the opposite of the ones top editors here were advocating, there’s never been a hint of interference or even pressure, and I couldn’t even fathom their doing anything like sticking a note onto my blog of the type Palmieri just inserted onto Matt’s blog. 

Editorial independence is quite rare and quite valuable.  It’s still one of the key distinguishing features between blogs/alternative media outlets and establishment media.  As Atrios suggests:   “contemplate the issue of editorial independence, and the various revenue models which make it possible or not.”  It’s worth supporting the bloggers who practice it and the media venues that allow and encourage it.

 

UPDATE:  As I said, Cheney’s time line is unclear, and it’s possible, when he references an “additional controversy,” he’s referring to the DOJ’s objections to the NSA program in March, 2004 — not anything having to do with the New York Times.  That would mean the detailed, expanded briefings he’s describing would have included then-Minority Leader Tom Daschle, but not Harry Reid (who only became Minority Leader in 2005, once Daschle lost).  If Cheney is describing 2005 briefings, they would have included Reid.  That’s all the more reason why responses from leading Democrats here is required.

That key Democrats were briefed on the NSA program is anything but new.  USA Today reported in 2006 that Democratic leaders including Pelosi were repeatedly briefed on the program.   There is some marginal dispute about what they were and weren’t told, but no dispute about the existence of the briefings and the complete lack of any real efforts by Democrats to stop it or even object.

UPDATE II:  Via email, several very knowledgeable bloggers — including Marcy Wheeler and Christy Hardin Smith — are arguing, persuasively, that Cheney did not really disclose any specific new facts yesterday about Democratic complicity, that while he may have emphasized more clearly than ever before the approval he claims Democrats gave, all of the facts, in one venue or another, have been previously disclosed. Cheney yesterday was almost certainly talking about the March, 2004 White House briefing (that would have included Pelosi, Harman and Rockefeller — but not Reid), which has been reported.

Re-examining what Cheney said, they’re probably right. But none of that, as Spencer Ackerman points out, undermines at all the need for Congressional Democrats finally to give a full accounting of what they knew, what they were told, and what they said about these programs.  Particularly given how publicly Cheney is taunting them for having approved of the NSA program, they should respond specifically to Cheney’s claims — confirm the parts that are true and deny the parts, if any, that aren’t.

The reason the law requires that Congressional leaders be briefed on intelligence programs is not because it’s nice in the abstract for someone to know. It’s because Congressional leaders have the right and the obligation to take action to stop illegal intelligence programs — something all briefed Democrats clearly failed to do. Cheney, on his way out the door, is answering questions about what he knew and approved. It’s way past time for Pelosi, Harman and Rockefeller, at the very least, to do the same.

UPDATE III:  Last week, I was interviewed by Fox News’ Jim Angle regarding the John Brennan controversy.  For those interested:  his story will air tonight on Brit Hume’s Fox News broadcast, at 6:00 p.m. EST.