Author Archives: Mary

Oil Extraction Threatens Communities in Peruvian Amazon

Amazon oil town of Trompederos

Peruvian indigenous leader Alberto Pizango made headlines today after being arrested on charges of sedition, conspiracy and leading a rebellion. Last summer, Pizango led months of protests which prompted Peruvian President Álan Garcia order police to “use force” to remove a road bock near Bagua Grande. About 50 people were killed, according to Amnesty International.

Official blame for the incident has fallen on Pizango, though indigenous groups refer to the incident as “Peru’s Tiananmen Square.” But behind the conflict which has pitted the Peruvian government against much of its indigenous population is a well-known adversary – the oil industry.

The Peruvian government has sold off vast amounts of previously protected land, and now leases 70 percent of the nation’s rainforest for oil and gas exploration, according to the Council on Hemispheric Affairs. Since then, a broad coalition of indigenous groups and human rights activists has continuously fought to see that this number is not expanded.

“For thousands of years, we’ve run the Amazon forests,” said Servando Puerta, one of the protest leaders. “This is genocide. They’re killing us for defending our lives, our sovereignty, human dignity.”

A pattern of conflict now threatens the stability of a fiercely divided nation. Answering to pressure from multinational corporations, the Peruvian government continues to scale back its protected territories. Each time legislation is proposed, opposition forces organize on a huge scale. Protests begin peacefully and almost always end in bloodshed.

Despite this environmental and human toll, the government continues to sell off protected lands. Petroperu, the state oil and gas company, recently announced their intention to open 10 million hectares for oil and gas exploration, almost all in the Amazon. The company also announced it would “start auctioning the remaining Amazon oil blocks, adding to the 82 foreign companies who already hold concessions here.”

Many activists are looking to the United States government for a solution, citing the U.S.-Peru Free Trade Agreement as a catalyst for the rapidly expanding encroachment on indigenous territory.

“Whether or not the U.S. intended it, the reality is that the U.S.-Peru Trade Agreement gave license to the [Alan] Garcia administration to roll back indigenous rights and has contributed to increasing social conflict and human rights abuses in Peru,” said Andrew Miller of Amazon Watch.

Activists contest that the United States could revise existing agreements to include stronger safeguards for indigenous peoples and the environment. But such cooperation is unlikely, considering the the amount of sway held by the oil and gas lobby in Washington.

As residents of the Gulf grapple with a massive oil spill, it is important to remember that the oil industry impacts people across the globe. With the livelihoods of entire communities at risk, the importance of developing alternate energy sources has never been more clear.

By Mary Tharin


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First Look at the Kerry Lieberman Energy Bill: Pros and Cons

The long awaited Kerry-Lieberman climate and energy bill was finally unveiled today without a Republican co-sponsor after Lindsey Graham withdrew his support. Still, the American Power Act reflects most of the promises that had been made by the trio over the past months; both good and bad.

A strong push by electric, coal, and gas lobbies to protect their industries is heavily reflected in the bill which promotes nuclear power, “clean” coal, and offshore drilling. Also, carbon caps will be established on a rolling sector-by-sector basis which will not affect certain industries for (like manufacturing) for over 5 years, while others (like agriculture) are completely exempt. This leaves open the possibility for these sectors to produce “offsets” – or free carbon credits – which can be sold to regulated sectors in lieu of making real emissions cuts.

Here is a general overview of the high and low points contained in a draft text released by Kerry’s office today:



Carbon Cap:

The bill calls for an economy-wide emissions reduction to 95.25 percent of 2005 levels by 2013, 83 percent by 2020, 58 percent by 2030, and 17 percent by 2050.

Domestic Offsets:

Establishes a nationwide system under which sources not subject to the greenhouse gas emission reduction program may receive credits for making reductions in emissions that can be sold to and used by those subject to reduction requirements.

Coastal Drilling Opt-out:

States have the right to opt-out of drilling up to 75 miles from their shores, and veto projects of nearby states.

Offshore Drilling:

Despite a smattering of new regulations, offshore drilling stays in the nation’s long-term energy plan.

Clean Energy Funding:

Establishes a Clean Energy Technology Fund, though source for funding is not explicitly outlined.

Nuclear Power:

Incentives include a new investment tax credit to promote the construction of new generating facilities, $54 billion in loan guarantees and a manufacturing tax credit to spur the domestic production of nuclear parts.

Clean Transportation:

Supports electric vehicle infrastructure; provides funding to municipal transportation emissions reduction programs.

“Clean” Coal:

Annual $2 billion for research and development of carbon capture and sequestration methods and devices.

Clean Energy Career Development:

Grants and career training in the fields of clean energy, renewable energy, energy efficiency, climate change mitigation, and climate change adaptation.

International Offsets:

Establishes an independent advisory committee to monitor and approve international offset projects which allow US industries to continue polluting.

Customer Refund:

Two thirds of revenues from carbon trading will rebated to consumers, though not directly.

State Pre-emption:

States will not be permitted to operate their own cap-and-trade programs.

The next few weeks will undoubtedly see push-back from both the right and the left on a number of the bill’s more controversial elements. The chance of any legislation passing the Senate before the summer campaign season begins remains murky, but a strong push by the administration and civil society could mean a victory for the comprehensive, albeit less than perfect, bill.

View the full bill text here.

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Crisis Averted? Arizona Legislature Changes Immigration Bill Language

The Washington Examiner reported this morning that some of the language has been changed in the new AZ immigration bill, defining the context in which law enforcement can ask for documentation and limiting the possibility of racial profiling.

Now, Arizona lawmakers have made some changes intended to clarify their intent and, perhaps, silence some of the critics.  The changes were first reported by Phoenix television station KNXV, better known as ABC15.

The first concerns the phrase “lawful contact,” which is contained in this controversial portion of the bill: “For any lawful contact made by a law enforcement official or a law enforcement agency…where reasonable suspicion exists that the person is an alien who is unlawfully present in the United States, a reasonable attempt shall be made, when practicable, to determine the immigration status of the person…”

So now, in response to those critics, lawmakers have removed “lawful contact” from the bill and replaced it with “lawful stop, detention or arrest.” In an explanatory note, lawmakers added that the change “stipulates that a lawful stop, detention or arrest must be in the enforcement of any other law or ordinance of a county, city or town or this state.”

“It was the intent of the legislature for ‘lawful contact’ to mean arrests and stops, but people on the left mischaracterized it,” says Kris Kobach, the law professor and former Bush Justice Department official who helped draft the law.  “So that term is now defined.”

The second change concerns the word “solely.”  In a safeguard against racial profiling, the law contained the phrase, “The attorney general or county attorney shall not investigate complaints that are based solely on race, color or national origin.”  Critics objected to that, too, arguing again that it would not prevent but instead lead to racial profiling.  So lawmakers have taken out the word “solely.”

These changes could make a considerable difference – bringing the law closer to existing procedure, which dictates that law enforcement can only demand legal documents from a person who is already violating an existing law. It remains to be seen how legal challenges will proceed against the new language.

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Can Arizona’s Immigration Law Withstand Legal Challenges?

UPDATE: The American Civil Liberties Union, Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the National Immigration Law Center are set to announce in Phoenix on Thursday plans to challenge the measure. U.S. Atty. Gen. Eric Holder said this week that he was considering a possible legal challenge to the law. [More here]

Despite concerted efforts to thwart the passage of Arizona’s new immigration legislation, the bill was signed into law by Governor Jan Brewer on April 23rd. The bill now has the nation in an uproar – it has prompted nationwide protests, and sparked a renewed commitment to tackling national immigration policy in Congress.

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano has expressed her “deep concern” about the barrier the new law will create between law enforcement and crime victims. President Obama referred to the legislation as “misguided.” Even Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, a staunch adversary of moving on immigration reform, admitted today that he feels the Arizona law is unconstitutional.

In upcoming months, we can expect a litany of lawsuits challenging the legislation from a number of different fronts.  The American Civil Liberties Union of Arizona is exploring legal action, and the Department of Justice is reviewing the law’s constitutionality. Most legal challenges are likely to focus on state pre-emption of federal law; this is how similar anti-immigrant laws were overturned in the past. Legal experts offer mixed opinions as to whether such an argument can effectively defeat the law. AP reports:

Kevin Johnson, dean of the law school at the University of California-Davis and an immigration law professor, said such a lawsuit would have a very good chance of success. He said the state law gets into legal trouble by giving local law enforcement officers the authority to enforce immigration laws.

However, Gerald Neuman, a Harvard Law School professor, said Arizona could make a compelling legal argument that it has overlapping authority to protect its residents.

Kris Kobach, a University of Missouri-Kansas City law professor who helped write the Arizona legislation, said he anticipated legal challenges and carefully drafted the language. He said the state law is only prohibiting conduct already illegal under federal law.

From a historical perspective, Thomas A. Saenz of the Mexican-American Legal Defense and Educational Fund points to a similar law enacted in California twenty years ago:

The federal court struck down Proposition 187 as an unconstitutional attempt to regulate immigration, which is a role that belongs exclusively to the federal government. [Arizona’s] SB 1070 is an even more direct attempt to establish the state’s own immigration law and enforcement scheme.

Yet it remains difficult to predict what would happen should a legal challenge reach the supreme court. New York Times columnist Linda Greenhouse points to an ominous hint from a 1982 case in which the Court overturned a Texas law prohibiting undocumented children in public school:

In 1982, hours after the court decided the Texas case, a young assistant to Attorney General William French Smith analyzed the decision and complained in a memo: “This is a case in which our supposed litigation program to encourage judicial restraint did not get off the ground, and should have.” That memo’s author was John G. Roberts Jr.

Another issue to consider is legal protection against racial profiling and discrimination, which many claim the new law promotes. According to Baylor Law Professor Laura A Hernandez, the new requirement to carry identification papers “will place an additional burden/requirement on citizenship for those of Hispanic descent which also appears to violate the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution.” The clause requires states to apply the law equally to all persons regardless of race, socio-economic status, or citizenship.

Posted by Mary Tharin


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Kerry-Graham-Lieberman Climate Bill Could Make Matters Worse

Months have passed since the Senate trio took up the task of cobbling together a climate bill that everyone might agree on. However, as details continue to be revealed about the draft legislation, many an eyebrow is being raised over certain provisions that could prove a step backward for environmental protection.

In wide-sweeping attempts to court business interests and Senate moderates, the legislation cuts back on the power of other regulatory entities – like the EPA and state governments. Lindsay Graham told Politico:

“I wouldn’t support EPA regulation on top of congressional action, and I couldn’t support 50 states coming up with their own standards,” he said. “That’s one thing business legitimately needs.”

Environmental activists have long been prepared for a disappointing, compromise-ridden bill – but the common wisdom has always been “something is better than nothing.” The danger now is that this bill, as written, would actually do more harm than good.

Much to the chagrin of polluting companies, the Environmental Protection Agency has been extremely effective in cleaning up our air and water. Air quality has improved tremendously since the agency was established in 1970, as the American Enterprise Institute unwittingly pointed out.

Congress, on the other hand, has a long history of pandering to the oil and coal lobbies, among others. Considering that any bill that comes out of Congress is bound to be riddled with loopholes, the regulatory power of the EPA would probably be the only hope for making sure businesses truly cut down on their carbon emissions. A number of green groups, including 1Sky and Sierra Club, are pressuring lawmakers to uphold the regulatory authority of the EPA.

Another huge blow would be dealt by restricting state and local governments which, up to now, have been responsible for the most ambitious climate action this country has seen. More than 20 states currently participate in regional cap-and-trade programs, and many states have employed renewable energy standards to promote clean energy. Pending legislation would block these programs, likely forcing many states to accept far lower carbon caps.

This is what happens when you try to write a clean energy and climate bill and invite oil and gas companies to the table.


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California Climate Change Initiative Under Attack

Why are a number of Texas-based oil companies pouring money into a nascent ballot initiative in California? Becasue they don’t want to clean up their act.

In a desperate attempt to undermine the state’s ground-breaking environmental policies, these companies are funding a campaign to stall – or cancel completely – California’s comprehensive plan for climate change mitigation. Assembly Bill 32, approved in 2006, would place a cap on the state’s emissions, bringing them down 30 percent by 2020.

Companies like Valero and World Oil Corp. have contributed almost $1 million to support a ballot initiative that would delay implementation of AB 32 until California’s unemployment rates hold at or below 5.5 percent for a year. Realistically, this equates to an indefinite postponement – a quick look at unemployment data over the past two decades shows that rates rarely stay that low for an entire year.

Republican gubernatorial candidates Meg Whitman and Steve Poisner have jumped on the initiative, claiming that curbs on carbon emissions will destroy jobs and increase the burden on consumers. The campaign continues to cite statistics from a CSU Sacramento report which has since been thoroughly discredited.

In response, the California Environmental Procession Agency released document entitled “Setting the Record Straight on AB 32.” They point out:

  • Small businesses are not regulated by AB 32, and costs to them will be negligible. Many of California’s largest employers support the bill (Google, Ebay, etc.)
  • AB 32 is likely to save households money by supporting energy efficiency; such measures have already saved Californians $56 billion.
  • Capping emissions would further boost California’s robust clean energy sector. California’s energy efficiency policies have already created 1.5 million jobs

Considering the amount of money being spent, he initiative it likely to be on the ballot in November. The nation will be watching to see where Californians stand on an issue that their state has pioneered for decades. It will be a huge blow to the environmental movement if oil money manages to reverse the progress of the US leader in clean energy and emissions regulation.


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Immigration: Arizona Debates Anti-Immigrant Bill

Thousands marched on Washington this past weekend to demand that the administration turn its attention to immigration reform, in order to ensure that the basic human rights of immigrant workers and their families in the United States are upheld. But, meanwhile, legislation is quietly making its way through the Arizona State Legislature which would make the status of immigrants in the state far worse than under current law.

A proposal being debated in the Arizona House today (HB 2632) contains many of the same provisions that sparked widespread protests in 2008. Undocumented immigrants would be charged with trespassing, and law enforcement officials would be required to determine the immigration status of anyone they come in contact with during an investigation.

A number of pro-immigrant groups have launched opposition campaigns to HB 2632, among them the Tucson-based Border Action Network, which deemed the legislation “the most far-reaching anti-immigrant bill ever introduced in the Arizona Legislature.” The Bishops of the Arizona Catholic Conference pointed out in a statement:

“We are concerned that the present language of these bills does not clearly state that undocumented persons who become victims of crime can come forward without fear of deportation. Anything that may deter crimes from being reported or prosecuted will only keep dangerous criminals on the streets, making our communities less safe.”

If signed into law by Gov. Jan Brewer, “the bill also would make Arizona the only state to criminalize the presence of an estimated 460,000 illegal immigrants through an expansion of its trespassing law.” An identical bill (SB 1070) has already passed through the Arizona Senate, and a House vote is expected this week.

This would undoubtedly act as a foil to any kind of sweeping immigration reform that the administration may attempt to address in the coming months. The nation must now turn its eyes to Arizona; the battle for a more just immigration policy will need to be fought on a more localized level before it can be tackled by the Obama administration.


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