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Obama delays Keystone decision — again

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Stop me if you think that you’ve heard this one before: The Obama administration is delaying a decision on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. But this is different from all those past delays. This is a brand new delay — and it might push the final determination past the midterm elections. As Politico notes, “A delay past November would spare Obama a politically difficult choice on whether to approve the pipeline, angering his green base and environmentally minded campaign donors — or reject it, endangering pro-pipeline Democrats such as [Sen. Mary] Landrieu, who represents oil-rich Louisiana.” The Washington Post explains the reasoning behind this latest delay: The Obama administration has — again — postponed a decision on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline by giving eight different agencies more time to submit their views on whether the pipeline from Canada’s oil sands to the Texas gulf coast is in the national interest. The 90-day period for interagency comments was supposed to end May 7, but the State Department extended that deadline, citing “uncertainty” created by a Nebraska Supreme Court ruling that could lead to changes in the pipeline route. The State Department, which must make the final decision on the permit because it crosses an international boundary, said it would use the additional time to consider the “unprecedented number” — 2.5 million — of public comments that were submitted by March 7. Queue the predictable outcry from pipeline supporters. That includes not just Republicans (though outcrying is their specialty) but also the 11 Democratic senators from red and swing states who recently wrote Obama a letter calling on him to quickly approve the project. “This decision is irresponsible, unnecessary and unacceptable,” said Landrieu, who organized the letter writers. She vowed to use her new position as chair of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to force approval. (Good luck with that.) Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski from the oil-loving state of Alaska called the delay “a stunning act of political cowardice” and said that “the timing of this announcement — waiting until a Friday afternoon during the holy Passover holiday in the hope that most Americans would be too busy with their families to notice — only adds further insult.” Keystone opponents are of two minds. Billionaire climate hawk and campaign funder Tom Steyer called it “good news on Good Friday.” The League of Conservation Voters went further and called it “great news.” The Natural Resources Defense Council seems to agree: The State Department is taking the most prudent course of action possible. … Getting this decision right includes being able to evaluate the yet-to-be determined route through Nebraska and continuing to listen to the many voices that have raised concerns about Keystone XL. The newly extended comment period will show what we already know: the more Americans learn about this project, the more they see that the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline is not in the national interest. But 350.org slammed the administration for its procrastination. “It’s disappointing President Obama doesn’t have the courage to reject Keystone XL right now,” the group said in a release. “It’s as if our leaders simply don’t understand that climate change is happening in real time — that it would require strong, fast action to do anything about it.” Still, the group claimed a partial victory: “this is clearly another win for pipeline opponents.” Anti-Keystoners will, of course, keep fighting the proposal. On Earth Day, April 22, they’ll kick off a Reject and Protect protest on the National Mall. “The encampment will feature 15 tipis and a covered wagon, and begins on Tuesday with a 40-person ceremonial horseback ride from the Capitol down the National Mall,” says 350. “Ranchers from Nebraska, tribal leaders from Nebraska, Minnesota and the Dakotas, actor Daryl Hannah, the Indigo Girls, environmental and social justice leaders, and others will take part at the encampment over the week.” And Steyer has promised to help fund political candidates who oppose the pipeline. Politico reports that he “pledged Thursday to leverage his largely self-funded super PAC to support members of Congress who come under attack for their opposition to the proposed Canada-to-Texas pipeline.”Filed under: Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics

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Chris Christie is still trying to force a pipeline through the New Jersey Pinelands

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In January, on the heels of the embarrassing revelation that New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s (R) staffers created a traffic jam on the George Washington Bridge to punish an obscure political rival, Christie and his allies were handed a defeat. The New Jersey Pinelands Commission rejected a proposed 22-mile natural-gas pipeline that would go through a national reserve of forests and wetlands. Though Christie went so far as to bully a commissioner who was skeptical of the pipeline into recusing himself from the decision, that wasn’t enough to secure approval. But now the pipeline is back. The state’s leading power brokers want the commission to reconsider and are pressuring commissioners to change their votes, working both behind the scenes and through public statements and symbolic votes in county and town legislative bodies. The Philadelphia Inquirer recently reported, “A growing number of elected officials from Gov. Christie to lawmakers including Senate President Stephen Sweeney (D., Gloucester) have joined county freeholders and township officials in support of the project. They are considering ways of returning the issue to the Pinelands Commission, possibly as a ‘compelling public need’ for energy security and scores of jobs.” The promise of merely “scores” of jobs in a state with 8.9 million residents is a clue that job creation is not the real issue. One of Christie’s top cronies is involved in the proposal. The law firm of David Samson, whom Christie appointed as chair of the Port Authority, represents Rockland Capital, owners of the power plant that the Pinelands pipeline would supply with natural gas. As Wayne Barrett noted in the New York Daily News, “Christie … was so eager to help Rockland that his [Department of Environmental Protection] and Board of Public Utilities (BPU) decided to support the pipeline, paid for by rate increases, despite that the fact that … it would run underground through 15 miles of the million-acre Pinelands, the country’s first natural preserve and a United Nations Biosphere Reserve.” (Samson resigned from the Port Authority last month after the Bridgegate debacle and media reports that he is under federal investigation for lobbying for companies with business before the Port Authority.) The B.L. England power plant, which would be served by the pipeline, currently burns coal. Christie’s Democratic predecessors had forced it to sign agreements to reduce its pollution or switch to natural gas. The Christie administration gave it a reprieve until 2015. Switching from coal to gas could be beneficial to the climate — when burned, gas emits roughly half the CO2 that coal does (though that’s not so impressive compared to wind or solar). But in practice, natural gas drilling operations and pipelines often leak methane, a far more potent greenhouse gas, which can neutralize any climate benefit. And beyond climate change, the pipeline would pose obvious threats to the local environment. Environmental critics say the proposal has such strong backing because the beneficiaries, such as Samson, are politically connected. “It’s not the jobs, it’s the power,” says Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey Sierra Club. Tittel also speculates that Christie, seeking support from anti-environment conservatives in the Republican presidential primary, is trying to bolster his pro–fossil fuel bona fides. “The governor had been pro-wind until he went national,” says Tittel. “This [project] is in the middle of an area that was set aside for big wind farms. Cheap gas power will kill offshore wind.” The Christie administration did not respond to a request for comment. Environmentalists and neighbors would like to see the B.L. England plant shut down. Ironically, climate change, caused by the burning of fossil fuels, makes its shoreline location especially precarious. “The power plant is in an area that floods with storm surges,” notes Tittel. And the plant is a blight on the shore. “It’s a big ugly smokestack in a scenic area, Ocean City, which is a tourist hub,” Tittel says. If you decommissioned the plant, Tittel argues, you could create more jobs with development of condos, hotels, and restaurants in the area. (Although any development in a future flood plain could be risky, power plants are especially vulnerable to a storm surge, as all of Lower Manhattan learned when it lost power for days after a transformer station on the East River got hit during Superstorm Sandy.) Unfortunately, New Jersey politicians are notorious for making these types of decisions on the basis of cronyism rather than empiricism. Christie’s latest heavy-handed tactic was to veto 5 percent raises for the Pinelands Commission staffers.Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Climate & Energy, Politics

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Torture Didn’t Aid Bin Laden Hunt

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According to Senate report.

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Obama: “Schatz, Schatz, Schatz, Everybody”

Barack Obama weighed in the competitive Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in his home state of Hawaii on Monday, backing incumbent Brian Schatz.

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Obama Endorses Schatz In HI-Sen

Barack Obama weighed in the competitive Democratic primary for U.S. Senate in his home state of Hawaii on Monday, backing incumbent Brian Schatz.

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Longest Senate Campaign Of 2014

With Mary Landrieu’s re-election depending on a December runoff, Election Day may not determine control of the Senate in 2015.

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Thais vote for senators as PM showdown looms

Outcome of upper house ballot could influence decision to remove prime minister which requires three-fifths vote.

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Berlusconi’s latest political strategy: pet adoptions

<!– google_ad_section_start –> Former Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi has unveiled a scheme to boost his flagging popularity: finding homes for hundreds of thousands of stray dogs and cats to win the hearts of animal lovers, media reports said Sunday. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Thais vote for Senate as showdown looms for PM

<!– google_ad_section_start –> Thais voted on Sunday to elect the upper house of parliament in a poll that could hold the key to the fate of the prime minister, who faces possible impeachment for negligence after months of street protests. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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Coalition keen to sell ‘budget repair job’ as focus shifts to Western Australia

Despite agreeing to big ticket budget items of the NDIS and Gonski reforms, the Coalition says it is working towards curtailing spending to ensure a sustainable budget is delivered in MayFinance minister Mathias Cormann is pointing to efforts to curtail spending as the government intensifies its May budget preparations arguing that outlays for signature programs like the National Disability Insurance Scheme must be efficient and well targeted.With national politics about to shift west for the next few days in the lead-up to the critical senate by-election in Western Australia next weekend, both the prime minister and the finance minister were talking up budget sustainability on Sunday.

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Jeremiah Denton, US POW held in Vietnam who became senator after TV interview fame

<!– google_ad_section_start –> Jeremiah Denton, a former US senator who was held as a prisoner of war by North Vietnam for more than seven years and revealed his treatment by blinking the word “torture” in Morse code during a televised interview, died on Friday aged 89. <!– google_ad_section_end –>

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California senate suspends three Democratic lawmakers in criminal probes

By Laila Kearney (Reuters) – The California state Senate suspended three Democratic lawmakers on Friday who have been the subject of criminal probes, including Leland Yee, who was arrested this week in an FBI sweep on corruption and gun trafficking charges. The Senate voted 28-1 to suspend…

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Jeremiah A. Denton Jr., War Hero and Senator, Dies at 89

A Navy pilot who endured years in North Vietnamese captivity, later prompted by what he saw as America’s moral decline to become a proponent of right-wing Christian groups.

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California state Senate votes to suspend three Democrats over criminal investigations

(Reuters) – The California state Senate voted to suspend three Democratic lawmakers on Friday who have been the subject of criminal probes, including Leland Yee, who was arrested this week in an FBI sweep on corruption and gun trafficking charges. The Senate voted 28-1 to suspend the trio,…

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GOP lawmakers scramble to court Tesla

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Electric vehicle sales in New Jersey ran out of batteries earlier this month, when the Chris Christie administration voted to ban car manufacturers from selling directly to drivers. The companies must now use third-party dealers. The ban applies to all car manufacturers, but seemed particularly aimed at Tesla, which had been in negotiations with the administration for months to sell electric cars straight from its own storefronts in the state. The move was a win for the state’s surprisingly powerful auto dealer lobby and a loss for one of the country’s biggest electric car makers. But it also cemented New Jersey’s place as a non-contender for the real prize: a $5 billion battery “gigafactory” that Tesla plans to begin construction on later this year. With an estimated 6,500 employees, the factory will likely become a keystone of the United State’s clean energy industry and an economic boon for its host state. Now, Arizona, Texas, New Mexico, and Nevada are scrambling to get picked, and last week Republican legislators in Arizona began to try pushing their state to the top of the pile. It’s the latest sign that, at least at the state level, the clean energy industry’s best friend might be the GOP. Newt Gingrich quickly pounced on Christie after the direct sales ban for “artificially” insulating car dealers, just weeks after calling for John Kerry to resign after Kerry named climate change as a principle challenge of the generation. On Tuesday, Texas Gov. Rick Perry called his state’s direct sales ban “antiquated” nearly a year after a Democrat-backed bill to change the policy was killed. New Jersey and Texas aren’t the only states where you can’t buy a Tesla car directly from the company: Arizona and Maryland also have direct sales bans. But a bill passed out of committee in Arizona’s GOP-controlled Senate last week would reverse the state’s position and allow electric vehicle companies to sell directly out of their showrooms. The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Warren Peterson (R-Gilbert) said he was spurred by the New Jersey situation to amend what he sees as a creeping assault on free market principles. “For me, it’s not about Tesla or electric cars,” he said. “For me, a big concern I have now is we are limiting someone’s choice.” But despite backing from some prominent Arizona Republicans (Sen. John McComish told the Arizona Daily Star he didn’t see why the state should “prevent someone else who has a better idea from making an effort to enter that industry”), Warren said he’s faced opposition from others who see the bill as damaging to the state’s traditional car market or a handout to Tesla, arguments that swayed the decision in New Jersey. “I have a tough time understanding why Republicans are opposed to it, because free markets are such a big part of the platform,” he said. “States that moved away from this have made a big mistake.” The Republican-eat-Republican battle over Tesla mirrors another clean energy fight playing out nationwide. Conservatives aligned with large utility companies are squaring off with the solar power industry and libertarian-leaning Republicans over rules to allow homeowners with solar panels to sell excess power back to the grid, a policy known as net metering, which is allowed in more than 40 states. Some utility companies, however, worry the practice will disrupt their business model as more and more homes go solar. That fight has been particularly vicious in Arizona, where the son of conservative icon Barry Goldwater has led the pro-solar charge on free market arguments. “In a lot of ways, [clean energy] is an existential crisis” for Republicans, said Marita Mirzatuny, a Texas-based energy analyst for the Environmental Defense Fund. Some “are fighting on behalf of old entrenched regulations, which seems counterintuitive,” because at the same time “there’s a lot of money and momentum moving into the cleantech realm.” With Tesla’s battery factory on the line, the stakes are now higher than ever, and Arizona is poised to become the first state of the four in line for the factory to clear its regulatory hurdles. “For Texas to lose out because of regulation like that is the ultimate irony,” Mirzatuny said. The proposed factory has implications beyond just electric vehicles. Electricity storage is a central challenge for the renewable energy industry as well. Rooftop solar companies still struggle with how to store excess power, and some are now relying on the car industry to perfect that technology. California’s biggest solar installer, SolarCity, is already using Tesla batteries to store power from homes in that state, and on Tuesday Honda unveiled an experimental carbon-neutral house that relies on car batteries. As cleantech of all kinds matures as a growing market, Mirzatuny said, more conservatives might embrace the economic potential in fighting climate change. “Economics are finally aligned with environmental protection,” she said. “That’s a rare opportunity.” This story was produced as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.Filed under: Article, Business & Technology, Politics

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Meet Leland Yee, the Anti-Gun Politician Charged With Conspiracy to Smuggle Weapons

It’s not often that a state senator becomes national news, but California’s Leland Yee is a special exception. After a federal indictment came down against him this week, Yee instantly became one of the most insane political characters in recent memory, accused by the FBI of everything from taking donations … More »

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War prisoner who blinked ‘torture’ in Morse code during TV interview, dies at 89

Jeremiah Denton survived 7 1/2 years as a prisoner of war in North Vietnam and alerted the U.S. military to conditions there during an interview

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Nate Silver Only Cares About Some of the Haters

“There was a lot of hype about me,” public nerd No. 1 Nate Silver said last night on The Daily Show. “It sets a very high bar.” A nervous Silver was a bit on the defensive after fewer than two weeks of the new FiveThirtyEight, insisting that the site is … More »

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