Dark Red Oklahoma Angers Big Oil And Gas: Energy Practices Causing State’s Earthquakes (April 22, 2015)

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As the nation commemorates Earth Day 2015 this week with a variety of observances, activities and awareness campaigns, it’s the perfect time to renew calls for bipartisan cooperation to address climate change. And I’m also pleased to report a welcome anomaly among hard-core red states that should set an example for other Republican-led governments to follow.

On Tuesday, writer Michael Wines of The New York Timespublished a piece entitled Oklahoma Recognizes Role of Drilling in Earthquakes. The lead, pardon the pun, was rather seismic:

“Abandoning years of official skepticism, Oklahoma’s government on Tuesday embraced a scientific consensus that earthquakes rocking the state are largely caused by the underground disposal of billions of barrels of wastewater from oil and gas wells.”

Although we should not fall all over ourselves commending overdue common sense, the change is significant for two major reasons.

Oklahoma is a Red State – capital “R,” capital “S.” How Red is it? On January 25 of this year, Randy Krehbiel of the Tulsa Worldwrote, “Republicans will hold 112 of 149 seats in the Legislature that begins a week from Monday, plus every elected statewide office and the entire congressional delegation. And good luck to the Democrat who tries to make the two-party argument.”

With over 75 percent of the state’s lawmakers leaning to the hard right, it is kind of amazing that leadership would adopt a policy position that stands in direct contrast to the national party’s official platform on Natural Resources. Just for fun, here is the section related to Protecting Our Environment verbatim:

“The environment is getting cleaner and healthier. The nation’s air and waterways, as a whole, are much healthier than they were just a few decades ago. Efforts to reduce pollution, encourage recycling, educate the public, and avoid ecological degradation have been a success. To ensure their continued support by the American people, however, we need a dramatic change in the attitude of officials in Washington, a shift from a job-killing punitive mentality to a spirit of cooperation with producers, landowners, and the public. An important factor is full transparency in development of the data and modeling that drive regulations. Legislation to restore the authority of States in environmental protection is essential. We encourage the use of agricultural best management practices among the States to reduce pollution.”

I suppose the GOP forgot to forward this memo to the 97 percent of climate scientists who agree that our planet is not, in fact, “getting cleaner and healthier.” Maybe the total falsehood of the assertion is part of the problem.

In light of the party’s mandate that the federal government illustrate “a spirit of cooperation with producers [Big Energy], landowners [the landed gentry], and the public [afterthought peons],” Oklahoma is committing a real act of partisan treason. With its new position that oil and gas conglomerates are the direct cause of the state’s devastating earthquakes, up to two 3.0 magnitude tremors per day, cue the dissatisfaction of energy interests. After Republican Governor Mary Fallin’s office issued the new guidance this week, Wines writes:

“[The] actions met a mixed response from the oil and gas industry and the Governor’s critics. The Oklahoma Oil and Gas Association disputed the Geological Survey’s conclusions, saying in a statement that further study of the state’s quakes remained necessary.”

Uh huh. However, Democrats are welcoming the new, fact-based approach. Wines observes, “One of the most prominent advocates of stronger action on the earthquake issue, State Representative Cory Williams, a Democrat, said he had been pleasantly surprised by the change in what he called the state’s ‘head in the sand’ approach to the quake problem.

Climate change is one of the issues where it’s always better to act late than never. It remains to be seen if the practices of oil and gas companies can be altered to reverse the ecological damage done in the State of Oklahoma, and party leaders deserve continued rebuke for a failure to impose a moratorium sooner. In fact, they may never get around to imposing it at all. But if words are powerful and can change the constituent conversation (which they can, as it took years of disingenuous proselytizing from Republicans to talk the EPA-creating party of Nixon back into the dark ages), then Oklahoma may have just taken a great leap forward in saving itself.

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Uh Oh! Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Meeting Spells Trouble For GOP Energy Platform (November 15, 2014)

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I have a smart friend who could have her own career as a political writer, were she not pursuing a PhD in another field. Earlier this week, she observed:

“So… that joint press conference with the Presidents of the U.S. and China at the [Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting] was sort of a big deal.

If I were in charge of an oil or natural gas company, and I had not yet read the writing on the wall and made the switch to investing less in oil and more in renewable…I’d be freaking out right now. I’d be up all night trying to figure out how to divest from carbon-based energy sources and move to renewables ASAP.”

Her assessment of the summit echoes that of a highly credible source, New York Times Nobel Prize-winning economist and Op-Ed contributor Paul Krugman. In a piece published this week, entitled “China, Coal, Climate,” the celebrated thought leader writes, “It’s easy to be cynical about summit meetings. Often they’re just photo op… At best — almost always — they’re just occasions to formally announce agreements already worked out by lower-level officials. Once in a while, however, something really important emerges. And this is one of those times.”

Pundits and lay people alike seem to agree that while we shouldn’t expect an overnight turnaround in global energy policy, the oil and coal syndicate which controls the Republican party, and to a great extent, the conversation about America’s non-approach to climate change, is on notice. Just one little public display requires a shift from the world’s oligarchs from offense to defense. For the first time since the Carter administration, us “tree hugging hippies” have reason to hope that humanity’s high-speed chase toward Earth’s destruction might be derailed.

Baby steps will be taken, but taken they will be. No matter how vague the language or undefined the qualitative steps forward, as Krugman notes, “we have it straight from the source: China has declared its intention to limit carbon emissions.”

Although there is clearly more at stake here than politics, a move like this can fast track the seismic cultural shift Americans are currently experiencing with other issues such as marriage equality or recreational marijuana legalization. As little as 10 days ago, when less than half of the electorate limped to the ballot box to vote red in the midterm elections, the specter of evolution (pun intended) seemed wildly impossible. Headlines such as this followed GOP victory almost immediately:Republicans Vow to Fight E.P.A. and Approve Keystone Pipeline. The party of scientific repudiation announced that infamous climate change denier Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma will lead the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. The situation looked bleak. “It’s the end of the world as we know it, and I feel…” impotent.

Of course we’ll have to be patient and assess China’s follow through against its stated intentions. After all, not much time has passed since Hong Kong rebelled against the mainland’srevocation of promised free, fair and independent elections. And it’s not as though the United States has a blemish-free track records for the alignment of words and actions (a slavery infected “Land of the Free” comes to mind). But perhaps in the perverse way situations like this sometimes play out, China and America will keep each other honest. Neither country is a fan of being publicly embarrassed by the other. If the protection of a nation’s sociopolitical reputation is a motivator in upending decades of cynical energy policy, I’ll suppress a wish for better human impulses and concur with Krugman. It’s another long-term setback for the Republican agenda and “a good week for the planet.”