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Joni Ernst’s Not Nice Iowa Gaffe

The GOP Senate candidate canceled on the state’s most-influential editorial board in an unprecedented blowoff. Did her handlers fear what for the gaffe-prone Republican might say?

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Colorado’s fracking regulators aren’t regulating

Earlier this year, I wrote about Hector Zertuche, the 70-year-old deputy sheriff of Alice, Texas, and the Andy Griffith of environmental sleuthing. Nobody told Zertuche to go after fracking-related crimes; his investigations were an extension of his own curiosity and, then, annoyance that state regulators weren’t doing anything with the information that he gathered. Ultimately, Zertuche went to the archives and dug up some 100-year-old state laws that he was able to use to prosecute polluters anyway. Now, a new study by Tara Opsal and Tara O′Connor Shelley — two sociologists at Colorado State — suggests that the Hector Zertuches of this world are pretty rare in the landscape of the fracking boom. Both researchers specialize in something called “green criminology” — more or less, how societies respond to environmental crimes. In this study, Opsal and O’Connor Shelley downloaded 2,444 individual oil- and gas-related complaints from a database maintained by the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission (COGCC). They began trying to contact the original people who had submitted the complaints (not all included contact information), and managed to set up interviews with 65 of them, all over the state. What they found were a whole lot of frustrated people. Many of them didn’t have a problem with fracking, per se, but did feel that the state regulators who had responded to their complaints had not done a solid job of investigating them. Often, participants said the official records misrepresented their experiences. One couple, “Rick and Jenni,” said they’d come home to find their cows refusing to drink from a water tank because the water had become milky white. Oil and gas development had just begun nearby, so they contacted the COGCC to complain. A representative hydrologist came out and acknowledged a visible problem, but the report reads as though the hydrologist wasn’t concerned about it. Rick and Jenni were told that the changes they saw in their well water — which they described as looking milky or muddy, sometimes effervescent or oily, and smelling like rotten eggs, sulfur or hydrocarbons — were caused by naturally occurring methane or a failure to do proper maintenance on their well. As studies go, this isn’t perfect — 65 interviews out of 2,444 complaints only works if that 65 is a representative sample, and this group appears to have been self-selecting, at least in part. Odds are high that the 65 who responded to Opsal and O’Connor Shelley’s requests for interviews had more of an axe to grind than the people who never responded to them. It’s entirely possible that some of those other 2,379 complaints were resolved in a way that made the complaint-filers feel totally listened-to and taken care of by Colorado’s environmental regulators. The study itself is — like a lot of academic research — trapped behind a $40 paywall charge. What it does show is that the state of environmental crime reporting and follow-up in Colorado isn’t universally awesome — and that some would-be whistleblowers are left navigating an enforcement system that’s more of a cynical film noir than The Andy Griffith Show. Allegations like this are worth investigating further.Filed under: Article, Climate & Energy, Politics

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“Loan Sharknado” Is the Most Cringeworthy Political Ad This Year

The Michigan Republican Party is now the proud owner of the worst weather-themed political ad ever created. The party released a painfully cheesy thirty-second spot last week calling the Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate a “loan sharknado.” It’s so bad that it’s uncomfortable to watch.Read more…

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Less Than 1 Percent of America Could Flip the Senate Next Month

Who is the proverbial 1 percent when it comes to elections in America? This year, it’s maybe a tiny swath of rural conservative voters. Read more…

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In just 15 years, wind could provide a fifth of the world’s electricity

Up to one fifth of the world’s electricity supply could come from wind turbines by 2030, according to a new report released this week by Greenpeace and the Global Wind Energy Council (GWEC). That would be an increase of 530 percent compared to the end of last year. The report says the coming global boom in wind power will be driven largely by China’s rebounding wind energy market — and a continued trend of high levels of Chinese green energy investment – as well as by steady growth in the United States and new large-scale projects in Mexico, Brazil, and South Africa. The report, called the “Global Wind Energy Outlook,” explains how wind energy could provide 2,000 gigawatts of electricity by 2030, which would account for 17 to 19 percent of global electricity. And by 2050, wind’s share of the electricity market could reach 30 percent. That’s a huge jump from the end of 2013, when wind provided around 3 percent of electricity worldwide. The report is an annually produced industry digest co-authored by the GWEC, which represents 1,500 wind power producers. It examines three “energy scenarios” based on projections used by the International Energy Agency. The “New Policies” scenario attempts to capture the direction and intentions of international climate policy, even if some of these policies have yet to be fully implemented. From there, GWEC has fashioned two other scenarios—”moderate” and “advanced”—which reflect two different ways nations might cut carbon and keep their commitments to global climate change policies. In the most ambitious scenario, “advanced,” wind could help slash more than 3 billion tons of climate-warning carbon dioxide emissions each year. The following chart has been adapted and simplified from the report: In the best-case scenario, China leads the way in 2020 and in 2030: But as the report’s authors note, there is still substantial uncertainty in the market. “There is much that we don’t know about the future,” they write, “and there will no doubt be unforeseen shifts and shocks in the global economy as well as political ups and downs.” The more optimistic results contained in the report are dependent on whether the global community is going to respond “proactively to the threat of climate change, or try to do damage control after the fact,” the report says. This story was produced as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.Filed under: Climate & Energy, Politics

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Are enviros smart to back Republican Susan Collins?

Since the 2008 election and the subsequent rise of the Tea Party movement, the Republican Party has moved far right on energy and environment issues. Politicians who once accepted climate science have decided that they actually don’t. Congressional Republicans have voted to cut funding for the EPA and its programs, to prevent federal agencies from studying climate change, and to revoke EPA authority to regulate greenhouse gases. Environmental groups that want to demonstrate their bipartisanship haven’t been left with many Republicans to support. In this election cycle, Maine Sen. Susan Collins stands out. She unequivocally accepts climate science. In 2009, she cosponsored a “cap-and-dividend” bill to limit emissions with Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.). She is the only Senate Republican to vote against preventing EPA from regulating greenhouse gas emissions. The Environmental Defense Fund ran an ad earlier this year praising her for “confronting climate change.” The League of Conservation Voters endorsed her. Her lifetime environmental voting score from LCV is 67 percent. That’s low for someone the group has endorsed, but unusually high for a Republican. But in Monday’s Senate debate in Maine, Collins may have given greens some reasons to doubt her commitment to their cause. The first question was how the candidates would bring down energy costs for consumers. Collins said that we should “increase the supply of natural gas” and renewables, and that “we should pursue the use of our locally grown wood.” Natural gas and wood are not necessarily any better for the climate than coal. Both release carbon when burned, and while they release less than coal, they can actually have higher emissions over the course of their whole life cycle, depending on how they are extracted. Collins then criticized her opponent, Democrat Shenna Bellows, for supporting a carbon tax, and demanded to know how much that would increase electricity prices. At the end of the debate, Collins was given a chance to ask Bellows a question. She asked why Bellows did not back her proposal to delay and weaken EPA rules on mercury pollution from industrial boilers. Collins was setting up environmental protection as at odds with Maine’s economy, and making a point of saying she sides with the latter. Collins introduced that legislation as an amendment to a transportation bill in 2012. Here’s what the Natural Resources Defense Council had to say about it at the time: The Collins amendment [would] nullify existing protections against mercury and toxic air pollution from incinerators and industrial boilers, then delay compliance with any new standards by a minimum of 3.5 years. The amendment then allows indefinite compliance delays by prohibiting EPA from requiring compliance with new standards any “earlier than 5 years” after issuance, and then eliminating the Clean Air Act’s firm compliance deadlines. … For just the amendment’s minimum 3.5 year delay beyond current law, this will result in up to 28,350 more premature deaths, over 17,000 heart attacks, and more than 180,000 cases of asthma attacks. Worst of all, the Collins amendment and H.R. 2250 eviscerate longstanding Clean Air Act provisions that require deep reductions in toxic air pollution from incinerators and industrial boilers. This prevents any meaningful replacement standards, permanently. Instead, the legislation would force EPA to adopt standards that are “least burdensome” to industry even if they are most burdensome to the public. The Bellows campaign argues that their candidate is more pro-environment than Collins and that LCV was wrong to endorse Collins. They point to a long list of anti-environment actions, such as Collins’ multiple votes in favor of the Keystone XL pipeline, her effort to cut funding for energy efficiency from the 2009 Recovery Act, and a 2011 vote for a bill that the Sierra Club complained “would accelerate and expand offshore drilling.” Bellows spokesperson Adam Sarvana wrote in an email, “As a Sept. 5 Bangor Daily News article outlined, Collins is ‘the only member of the Maine delegation not to declare support for the EPA’s [power plant emissions] proposal introduced in June.’ … Collins got the LCV endorsement despite a long record of sticking it to the environment. She’s graded on a curve, and it shows.” LCV dismisses that analysis, and says it has no regrets over backing Collins. The group makes four arguments: Collins is good on climate change, that’s the most important issue by far, her overall environmental voting record is extraordinary for a Republican, and she is hardly unique among candidates it supports in having an imperfect record. “Sen. Collins has been a champion on environment and public health issues over many years,” says Tiernan Sittenfeld. “We don’t agree with every candidate we endorse on every issue.” And not all issues are created equal. Climate change is the biggest threat to the environment, even to society as a whole, and it is cumulative. So LCV places far more emphasis on climate leadership than on stray votes in other areas. “Our top priority is defending EPA’s ability to cut carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act,” says Sittenfeld. Collins has repeatedly voted to protect EPA’s authority to regulate carbon, and while she hasn’t endorsed EPA’s current proposed regulations for CO2 emissions from power plants, she hasn’t opposed them either. As for Collins’ advocacy for natural gas, while it is bad environmental policy, it puts her in the company of many Democrats who tout the virtues of domestic energy production, including President Obama and numerous LCV-backed candidates such as Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.). Support for reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the group reckons, will ultimately trump favoritism for any given fuel. EDF’s explanation for its pro-Collins ad is much the same. “We don’t agree with Sen. Collins on every issue,” says Eric Pooley, senior vice president for strategy and communications at EDF, in an email. “Our ad recognized that she has taken some tough votes to protect the environment – against strong pressure from her own party. Building a bipartisan coalition for environmental progress means recognizing the value of leaders like Sen. Collins.” As with LCV, EDF is arguing in part that Collins is showing more fortitude because she is standing up to her own party. Both groups sort of imply that a Republican who supports climate action is more valuable than a Democrat who does. These are both credible positions, although it is hard to disagree with Sarvana’s contention that it amounts to grading on a curve. The big question is whether Collins will be a reliable vote for climate action going forward. This week’s debate offered hints that could be interpreted either way. When asked whether anthropogenic climate change is happening, she unambiguously said yes. But her criticism of a carbon tax’s cost to citizens is worrisome. To reach the U.S.’s ultimate goal of reducing carbon emissions 80 percent from 1990 levels by 2050, Congress must pass a price on carbon that raises the cost of energy derived from fossil fuels. It could auction off carbon credits, as Collins and Cantwell proposed, but if Congress ends up moving forward with a carbon tax instead, any real friend of the environment would have to support it. As Bellows pointed out at the debate, you can rebate the tax revenue to low-income citizens so that they end up not with less money but with more of an incentive to conserve energy or to buy it from renewable sources. And the Bellows campaign is not the only one who says Collins is a climate fraud. Back in March, Brad Johnson of the website Hill Heat argued, “Although Collins has expressed a desire for ‘limiting the worst effects of climate change,’ when the opportunity has come to display true climate leadership, she has supported her caucus instead more often than not.” It’s worth bearing in mind that Collins is coasting to reelection. The polls show her ahead by an average of 30 points. From an environmental organization’s perspective, any added value of having Bellows in the Senate instead of Collins is moot if Bellows has no chance of winning. Supporting Collins helps curry favor with her, and also shows other Republicans that supporting climate action will be rewarded. Over the next six years, we’ll see whether Collins rewards greens for their support, or if she figures they’re a cheap date. LCV is betting on the former. “It’s not just that she votes right most of the time and that she has to buck her party leadership to do so, but she has demonstrated leadership and commitment many times,” says Sittenfeld. “She is a friend and we stick with our friends.”Filed under: Climate & Energy, Politics

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Dark Money Will Swing the Senate

And you thought candidates were the biggest factor in their races. No, this year, battle for control of the Senate is largely being determined by big-spending super PACs and nonprofits.

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Tea Party Lawsuit Against IRS Tossed

Because it’s old news.

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The Democrats’ Closing Argument: J-O-B-S

There’s still time for the Democrats to put GOP opponents on the defensive by saying “I want to rebuild America, and my opponent doesn’t.”

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The Only Way for Democrats to Win

There’s still time for the Democrats to put GOP opponents on the defensive by saying “I want to rebuild America, and my opponent doesn’t.”

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How This Election Could Go to January

The polls say Republicans will likely eke out a small majority in the Senate this Election Day. But hold on: Factor in the runoffs, and things get weird real fast.

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America’s First Post-Gay Governor

Maine Democrat Mike Michaud might become the country’s first openly gay governor. And most voters there couldn’t care less.

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Wanted: More Devious Politicians

At least the schemers on shows like Game of Thrones are competent, which is more than we can say for this year’s crop of political masterminds.

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The GOP’s Favorite New Red State: Canada

America’s conservatives are swooning anew over Prime Minister Stephen Harper, now for his tough talk on terrorism.

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Florida Vows Not to Let Gays Make a Mockery of Divorce, Either

Not content simply to ban gay marriage, conservative Florida Attorney General and champion long-starer Pam Bondi filed a brief this week begging a judge not to grant a divorce to a lesbian whose civil-union partner left her alone years ago.Read more…

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Yes, this father and daughter started a condom company

In the wild and wonderful world of birth control, the male condom tends to get a bad (w)rap. They can be conspicuous — there is no better way to inadvertently scream to a roomful of people, “HELLO, LADIES AND SIRS, I’M HAVING SEX!!!” than to have a couple of shiny foil squares explode out of your purse while trying to pay for a coffee. But here’s the thing: Say you don’t like how hormonal forms of birth control make you feel, and you’re not ready to commit to something like an IUD. If you’re trying to keep a VACANT sign hanging over your uterus, condoms are an excellent, excellent option – and the only one that effectively protects against STDs. They also require almost zero commitment — all you have to do is keep them handy. Which is where, as I talked about with Meika Hollender, co-founder of Sustain Condoms, prophylactic usage can start to suffer. Hollender and her father, Jeffrey — the founder of Seventh Generation — have launched Sustain, a line of sustainable condoms. They’re the only Fair-Trade certified condom sold in the United States, sourced from a single rubber plantation in southern India that uses eco-friendly practices, and are free of nitrosamines, a carcinogenic chemical. All that is great! But I’ll be totally honest — for all of my green(ish) inclinations and consciousness, it has never once occurred to me to consider the environmental impact of a condom. What was way more interesting to me — and has the potential for significantly larger ramifications, environmentally speaking — is the marketing premise for the brand: Getting women to feel more comfortable purchasing condoms. “[This] was something that we found and confirmed in our research: The preconception of a girl who’s carrying condoms is negative,” Hollender told me. “Guys will maybe admit that, at the end of the day, it’s nice if [a woman] has them. But if she has a lot, if she has too many, if they’re out, if they’re super accessible — they read into all of that.” A grab-bag assortment, if you will, of Sustain condoms.Grist / Amelia BatesIf there’s any doubt that women are hesitant to use condoms, the statistics back it up. As of 2010, only 16 percent of women who use any form of birth control use them as a first-line method of contraception, which is down from 20 percent in 1995. Granted, that decrease isn’t as alarming when one takes into account the increase in the use of hormonal birth control methods and IUDs. But it’s still pretty alarming when taking into account that 37.8 percent of women between 15 and 44 don’t use any form of contraception at all. I sat down with the Hollenders to find out a bit more about how they’re trying to change the condom-buying game for women. A condensed and edited version of our conversation is below: Q. Some might interpret the assumption that women respond more to sustainability- and environment-centered advertising campaigns as sexist. How would you respond to that? A. Jeffrey: I think that it’s confusing to think that we’re taking advantage of something when in fact, the bottom line is that condom companies have been focused on men for decades, and have largely ignored women. Meika: I mean, the sustainability decision and the marketing decision are not necessarily related. Obviously, Jeffrey’s legacy is in sustainability — so no matter what product we were making, we were going to make the most sustainable version of that product. [Without] asking about sustainability at all, we spoke to 500 women last summer and asked them: “How do you feel about condoms? How do you feel about buying them? Do you feel like you can relate to any of the brands out there, are they talking to you? Does the packaging appeal to you?” And there was such a clear [response]: “No, we feel left out of the conversation, we feel like [it's] male-focused.” And we realized: Wow, not only are usage rates going down among women, but they feel alienated from a lot of the brands that are selling condoms, and that’s a huge problem. What we’re trying to do is destigmatize contraception — rebrand birth control, almost — to make women feel really good about buying and carrying condoms, and also help them understand that their sexual health is a critical component to their overall health. I think that message and education has been lacking over the past few decades. Q. Are you working with any other organizations or campaigns to attack this issue from an education/awareness standpoint? A. Meika: That’s the big question, right? How do we change attitudes and behaviors around this issue — and I definitely don’t think we’ve figured that out, obviously, because we’ve only been around for a couple of months. One thing that we are already doing is working with organizations like Planned Parenthood. We give 10 percent of our profits to women’s reproductive health organizations. The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy [for example] has a campaign called Bedsider, where young women on campuses are hosting events and sessions around contraceptive options. We’ve just sent like 10,000 condoms and educational information to their campus rep. Those are the types of partnership that we’ve started to develop that we’re working on, and we’re going to see how they pan out. Another thing is, I don’t think there are many — if any — great women role models in this area. Other than Lena Dunham, nobody’s talking about safe sex regularly and openly, in terms of what we’ve seen. Jeffrey: There’s a lot of research to support that if people you respect and look up to model a certain type of behavior, you’re far more likely to imitate that kind of behavior. [Dunham] is not making it seem like sex is always way sexier with condoms — the truth is, that’s not always the case. She does it in such an honest way, and that’s what we need more of. Q. So how has this lack of open conversation about sex — and particularly safe sex — affected your strategy? A. Jeffrey: One of the things that has generated the most media attention about [Sustain] is the fact that a father and daughter are in business selling condoms, and that is so strange. That’s a perfect paradigm for what’s wrong with our society, because it should be comfortable and OK — why should condoms be such a taboo thing? Meika: I think it’s because sex is taboo. Jeffrey: I think it’s really eye-opening to how backward, Victorian, and repressed our society is when it comes to sex, and I think it’s why we see all the problems we see. Meika: And something that’s very motivating for me — but also crazy to me — is… that now this has become a political issue. For someone like me, as a 26-year-old, things that I took for granted — access to contraception, the freedom to decide if I ever wanted to get an abortion if I needed one or wanted one — is now being questioned. It’s like we’re really clearly moving backwards, and … people are starting to get frustrated and see that these issues are real and we need to talk about them.Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Living, Politics

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Trump Travels to Iowa, Bashes New York

The real estate tycoon, who flirted with a run for New York governor earlier this year, visits the Midwest to endorse a controversial right-wing congressman.

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Those Grimes Obituaries Were Premature

When Kentucky’s Democratic Senate nominee refused to say whether she voted for Obama, the media rushed to pronounce her toast. But Kentucky’s hatred of the Establishment was stronger.

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Why D.C. Wants an Election About Nothing

This midterm election matters. But until we demand better from our politicians, they’ll keep pretending that nothing serious is at stake.

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Chapels Must Perform Same-Sex Marriages

A ‘Christian’ wedding chapel—a private business—in Idaho is suing for the right not to marry gay couples. There is no such right. Yet.

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