Better World Club

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Gonna Drill? How About Some Novocaine?

Or Is Obama's Policy One That An Environmentalist Can Love?

OK, Love May Be Too Strong a Word. Accept? Tolerate for a Transitional Period Until Improvements Are Realized? . . .After All, That's How You Deal With Your Kids, Isn't It?

by Michael Shultz, former Greenpeace City Coordinator for Portland and BWC Employee (statements do not represent the positions of Greenepace)

President Obama's recent announcement on opening up huge areas of America's coastal oceans to drilling predictably drew the ire of both environmentalists and the "Drill baby, drill!" crowd. But given Obama's stated motivation for his decision, no one should be surprised that even the educated and informed disagree on the issue.

There are those who would like everyone to stop using oil immediately. That position is justified to an extent, as scientific studies increasingly paint a dire future for the planet connected to business as usual as regards fossil fuels. But transitions of that magnitude take time, energy, and massive investment. The changes necessary will require large scale decision making by our leaders and creative engagement in solutions by the American public.

There are also those who think the fossil fuel party will never end. That camp sees a transition to renewable energy as a threat to our economy and to our way of life. They are also correct to an extent, as some proposed changes ignore that many of the modern conveniences we take for granted have been sustained by cheap fossil fuels. But, at the same time, neither America nor the world can thrive in the next century without conceding that people need to live in balance with natural systems and not opposed to them.

So, on what points can rational people on either side of the argument agree? Here are three bits of gristle for the mind that help frame the debate more holistically.

First, America needs to become more self-reliant in terms of energy production. We should use more of our own resources and lessen our dependence on other regions of the world for our energy needs. A more self-sufficient America means an easier transition to a clean energy economy without the difficulties of being at the mercy of global instability.

Second, America has some of the strictest environmental standards of any of the oil producing nations. This is a good policy (and can always be strengthened). In real terms, as a result of our environmental practices, the last major spill related to offshore drilling happened in 1969. Any new production must be conducted with the same attention to safety. Oil producers must be legally and financially on the hook for any cleanup necessitated by their activities. As a country, we need to make it clear that we do not want to export environmental damage for our own gain, which is what we're currently doing.

Third, the US President is ideally the servant of all Americans, not just the people of his party or of one interest group. So the question becomes, will Obama's decision live up to this ideal? In pushing for a "third way," Obama is bound to upset both extremes because he's not giving in to either way completely.

The President spoke directly to that circumstance in his announcement: "Ultimately, we need to move beyond the tired debates...between those who would claim drilling is a cure all and those who would claim it has no place." He continued by stating that his announcement was part of a larger plan to move from fossil fuels and foreign oil to domestic resources and clean energy. In the President's words, "the only way this transition will succeed is if it strengthens our economy in the short term and long term."

The President's motivation seems clear and direct. And ultimately, his new policy can be judged by whether or not it contains three key elements: that all oil produced must be refined and sold in the US, that oil companies are responsible for damages and held to strict environmental standardsഅrခခഓsခခൂtခခ൉uခခോvခခ൞wခခ൰xခခඃyခခගzခခත{ခခෆ|ခခ෍}ခခා~ခခෝခခ෺€ခခดခခษ‚ခခโƒခခ๔„ခခຨ…ခခຯ†ခခິ‡ခခ໇ˆခခ໒‰ခခ໣Šခခ໺‹

You Like Us. . .You Really Like Us!

BWC Surpasses AAA in Twitter Followers

Here's YOUR Chance to Win...an iPad!

Just as actress Sally Field couldn't help herself from brimming with pride when she won her 1984 Oscar, Better World Club can't help but brim with pride now that we have over 6000 followers on Twitter (we're not Ashton Kutcher yet...yet). But that's more than all of the different AAA regions combined. We've wanted more than anything to have your respect. And now we really feel it. We can't deny the fact that you like us, right now. . .you like us!

And now the part you're really reading for: Given the outpouring of support we've received from all of you, we want to give you all a chance to feel just as validated. So. Anyone who re-tweets a BWC tweet between now and June 16th, 2010 will be entered in a June 19th drawing to win an Apple iPad. We figured we should give away something at least as cool as Better World. (What can you really do with a gold statue anyway?)

Just retweet "#EARTHDAY @ 40! RT this entire @betterworldclub tweet 2 your followers & you're entered 2 win#Apple #iPad. See BWC Twitter page 4 details" and you'll be entered to win.

The iPad features arsenic free and BFR free display glass, a mercury free and PVC free display, and a recyclable aluminum and glass enclosure. So it's a fitting prize to give away in celebration of Earth Day's 40th birthday.

What's Twitter?

Got it? Sign up. Then visit Better World Club and retweet.

Easy, right? So is following us on Facebook.

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Eat Out With Conscience

(You'll Feel Better About That Fridge Full of Unused Food From the Co-op)

"You don't pay more to dine green, but the planet pays less when you do." The Green Restaurant Association, a national nonprofit, was founded in 1990 to provide convenient and cost-effective ways for all restaurants to become more environmentally responsible. From providing environmental assessments to establishing credibility through its certification process and working with media to provide positive exposure, the GRA can help restaraunts of all niches and sizes get green. . .which is seriously important considering that restaurants use the most electricity in the retail sector and use hundreds of thousands of gallons of water per year per location.

The GRA also makes it easy for diners to choose green options for eating out. A tool at the GRA website lets users search among thousands of certified green restaurants by category, rating, location, or keyword. The site also assists consumers in encouraging their favortite eateries to become more environmentally responsible.

Start greening your restaurant experience now!

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Seven Planet Eco-Friendly Store

Seven Planet Eco-Friendly Store promotes mindful commerce as a way of thinking and consuming, and as a resurgence of an older movement that necessitated the general stores of the early 20th century. The store's founders espouse the belief that people should only consume when they are in need of something and should always work to purchase the most mindful product available.

Seven Planet promotes, markets, and sells products from the best early stage green and sustainable companies (mindful suppliers) within each of seven industry silos -- apparel, energy, food, health, household, shelter, and travel. To qualify as a mindful supplier, a company must initially meet at least four of seven criteria.

Consumers can mindfully address their shopping needs at Seven Planet's ONLINE store or at either of two physical stores in Portland, OR or Priest River, Idaho. Better World Club members can take advantage of a 5% discount at both physical locations by showing their membership cards.

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The Faster the Better?

Service Calls, Yes; Neighborhood Safety, Not So Much

AAA Spokesperson Calls Speed Bumps "Raised Potholes"

Speaking as cyclists and parents (and not trying to sound like the old codger down your block who screams at your kids to slow down on their training wheels), we think that it's not a bad idea for motorists to drop their speeds when, say, children or bikes are around.

In our last AAA Watch we reported on the California State Automobile Association's successful campaign against a California State Assembly bill that would have revised the definition of "local street or road" so that smaller jurisdictions could decide which streets should be limited to 25 mph speed limits. Well, it seems that in the meantime AAA had also taken aim at another speed control measure: the speed bump.

Sure, speed bumps can be annoying. But they're also effective in dealing with the safety concerns of many residential neighborhood dwellers by reducing the speeds of motor vehicles on multiuse roadways. And, unlike speed limits, they're not easily ignored.

AAA Mid-Atlantic disagrees. When interviewed for a Washington Examiner article on the proliferation of speed bumps in the D.C. area, a AAA Mid-Atlantic spokesperson had this to say about speed bumps: "They're raised potholes is what they are. They confound motorists, they confuse neighbors. Only a city planner could love them."

We won't deny that there are probably a few speed bump happy planners out there, but to dismiss speed bumps out of hand by equating them with a road hazard prone to damaging vehicles seems to be going too far (or should that be too fast?). For one thing, speed bumps are visibly marked, and motorists know what to do when they approach them. Who knows, though? Maybe D.C. metro speed bumps just pop up out of nowhere. But why get rid of an effective safety measure just because it might be poorly executed? In other words, don't throw out the bath water with the baby, just look for a better transportation planner.

First the speed limit and now the speed bump. AAA must really be feeling the heat of our competition, because why else should they be so concerned with rushing their service vehicles around residential neighborhoods? We hope our members will understand the one or two minutes extra it might take our service providers to slow down and get over the "raised potholes" on their streets. At least the bumps we're driving over won't be the neighbors.

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The President's motivation seems clear and direct. And ultimately, his new po

Bike Service is Making Breakdowns Much Easier

by Sam McManis, The Modesto Bee

When Lance Armstrong competed in a mountain biking race last year, he rode on a flat tire the last few miles, later joking via Twitter, "Where's the support van?" Now, for a price, cyclists nationwide can have something tantamount to a support crew. The Better World Club, which brands itself as an environmentally friendly alternative to AAA, offers its service to cyclists.

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Where Did I Leave That Card?

Don't Worry! You Don't Need One to Get Service

Earth Day celebrates its 40th Anniversary on April 22, a good reminder of why BWC does nearly all of its fulfillment online. Can't find a recent card? Well, that's likely because we, um, didn't send you one. Paper materials are only automatically sent to members without email addresses or to members who specifically request them. But, in addition to making printable cards (and electronic versions of all of our other membership documents) available at the member section of our website, we won't ever require a member to present a card to get service. So don't worry. Of course, we're happy to send you new cards, but conserving even a bit more resources seems like a pretty good 40th birthday present.

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Sovereign Earth Stainless Steel Water Bottles

Sovereign Earth creates, promotes, and uses its products based on the fundamentals of "reduce, reuse, and recycle." Each of their bottles and accessories is designed to improve the health of their customers and to reduce our collective impact on the environment. The company is also counted among the ranks of the many eco-conscious companies that have committed to donating at least 1% of total sales revenue to environmental causes.

BWC members can take advantage of a 25% discount on Sovereign Earth products by logging in to the member section of our website and clicking the "Member Discounts" tab at the left.

(Keep your eye out for a special giveaway from Sovereign Earth in our next Kicking Asphalt: Member Payola Edition.)

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Monday, April 19, 2010

last test

should work

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Monday, April 5, 2010

Ralph Nader Responds in Advance to KA Article

Will He Get Behind the Wheel on Revamping Our Regulatory System?

In the March 17th edition of Kicking Asphalt, we published an article on the need to re-evaluate and revitalize the relationship between automakers and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. That necessity has been made particularly apparent as a result of the NHTSA's difficulty in pinpointing the exact problems behind Toyota's recent safety recalls. In the article, we wondered why Ralph Nader, the automobile safety pioneer responsible for the movement that gave birth to the NHTSA in 1970, had been seemingly silent through the weeks of Congressional hearings with Toyota executives and NHTSA officials.

Well, Ralph must know us even better than we thought. Not only did he anticipate our reaction to the Toyota recalls, he also expected that we'd expect him to chime in, which is what he did in this op-ed published in The Los Angeles Times (thanks to BWC member Ian Wilder for sending us the link). Even better, Nader's response, dated February 28, came well in advance of our article. And although Nader hasn't yet (to our knowledge) written a book on the regulatory problems brought to light by Toyota's safety issues, he does agree with us that the regulatory system needs to be rethought.

In fact, Nader goes as far as to say that an underfunded and deregulated NHTSA enabled Toyota in skirting more serious recalls when it first learned of problems with unintended acceleration in its vehicles: "Given the lax regulation, it is not surprising that Toyota responded to the 7-year-old sudden-acceleration problem by first blaming driver error, then by claiming floor mat interference." He also notes the glaring absence of a dedicated electronics expert at the NHTSA in an era when "cars have been described as computers on wheels."

We were very happy to know that Ralph is of such a like mind on the issue. (And we're wildly appreciative that he took the time to respond in advance to our wonderings on what part he might play in the re-envisioning of the NHTSA!) But though we're encouraged that Nader hasn't been completely silent, we'd still love to see him take on a larger and higher profile role. He's probably already got staffers working on the problem, why not at least push one of them forward into the automobile safety limelight? We won't even ask Nader to come back to writing non-fiction.

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Special Campaign Update

EPA Moves to Curtail Mountaintop Removal Mining, Announces Stricter Water Quality Standards to Protect Appalachian Watersheds

Thank you to all of our readers who submitted public comments to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson asking her to stop mountaintop removal mining. (See our last issue of Driving Change.) On April 1, the EPA issued new water pollution guidlines that make it much more difficult for coal mining interests to acquire permits for mountaintop removal operations, especially operations that involve the dumping of wastes in adjacent valleys and streams. The EPA also plans to put up a web interface that will allow users to track permit requests under review.

Thanks for helping us drive change on this very important issue! For more details, please see this New York Times article.

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New Approach to Consumer Finance Reform

Permit Rulemaking but not Enforcement? Millions of American Teenagers Ask Republicans to Adopt Them

Help Ensure that the Consumer Finance Protection Agency Can Enforce Its Own Rules (Including for Car Dealers)

Reform of the regulations (or lack of regulations) that helped create the recent finanical crisis has passed the House of Representatives and is now stalled in the Senate Banking Committee.

One key stumbling block is the creation of a new Consumer Finance Protection Agency. While one group of conservatives is opposed to the new agency altogether, another is willing to see it created, as long as it is housed in the Federal Reserve Bank.

A recent Frontline documentary reported that former Federal Reserve Chair Alan Greenspan told former Commodity Futures Trading Commission Chair Brooksley Born that he didn't believe that fraud was something that needed to be enforced or was something that regulators should worry about.

And the Federal Reserve is where an anti-fraud effort should be housed?

Oh, and some Senate Republicans are willing to live with giving the CFPA rulemaking authority but not authority of enforcement.

Luckily, Senate Banking Committee Chair Chris Dodd (D-CT) is likely to produce a more progressive draft, one that is particularly mindful of enforcement of non-mortgage, non-bank lenders like car dealers.

In the version of the legislation that passed the House, auto dealers, which originated some $700 million in outstanding debt in 2009, won a "carve out" that exempted them from the agency's rulemaking altogether.

Initially, it seemed that the Senate would include similar exemptions. But Dodd's forthcoming draft may empower the CFPA to crackdown on non-mortgage, non-bank lenders after all.

Do you believe in an independent Consumer Finance Protection Agency with rulemaking power AND the power of enforcement? Please contact Senate Banking Committee Chair Chris Dodd and encourage him to establish an independent CFPA with enforcement power over both banks and non-mortgage, non-bank lenders. A sample letter is below. Contact Senator Dodd. Then let your Senator know that he or she should pass the bill produced by Dodd's committee.

Chairman Dodd,

Thank you for your commitment to strengthening consumer finance regulations and the creation of a Consumer Finance Protection Agency. The financial crisis of 2008 has surely taught America that deregulation and poor oversight of lenders are dangerous threats to the health of our economy and the well being of the American people.

It is absolutely vital to the purpose of the CFPA that it possesses not just the ability to regulate lenders but also the power to enforce its regulations. If enforcement is left to already existing agencies, the CFPA will surely be crippled in its mission. How can fraud regulation be placed in the Federal Reserve when at least one prior Federal Reserve Chair stated that he felt that “fraud should be left to the marketplace?”

What’s more, the agency should maintain its regulatory and enforcement powers over banks and non-mortgage, non-bank lenders alike. In 2009, about $700 billion of debt originated from auto dealers. As such, limiting the CFPA’s authority to the banking sector alone cannot achieve the goals of the legislation currently before your committee.

I urge you to make sure that the Consumer Finance Protection Agency is established as an independent agency with the ability to regulate and police all lenders.

Sincerely,

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