The House GOP's vote on food stamps is a long way from George W. Bush's "compassionate conservatism" approach. The former president isn't fondly remembered by progressives for much, but anti-hunger advocates credit him for his strong support of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
A government shutdown could be looming if political leaders can't work out a federal budget deal. Host Michel Martin asks two former White House insiders, Ron Christie and Corey Ealons, what Congress and the president have to do to a shutdown.
The nation’s top environmental regulator is set to unveil tougher emissions rules for new coal and natural gas plants today. Coal plants, especially, are a prime source of global warming pollution. And early reports say the Environmental Protection Agency wants to force new ones to bury that pollution.
Every year, U.S. coal plants emit more than a billion tons of carbon dioxide into the skies. The EPA’s new emissions limits may be so strict that they effectively force future coal plants to use a technology that aims CO2 in the opposite direction. It’s called carbon capture and storage. Rather than letting the CO2 go up the stack and into the air, the coal plant would capture it, put it under high pressure and then inject it into the ground, where it can’t fuel global warming.
Lisa Camooso Miller of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity says the technology holds promise but it’s not ready for primetime.
“At this time it is still not a technology that is in full deployment at a commercial scale,” she says.
Neeraj Gupta, a geologist and senior researcher at Battelle, a research organization in Columbus, Ohio, calls it an emerging technology that is being tested and tried globally. It hasn’t been done “in enough places, at enough of a large scale,” for widespread adoption, he says.
The Norwegian energy company Statoil, however, has been using the technology since the 1990’s to capture CO2 from natural gas wells in the North Sea. Norway, however, taxes carbon dioxide emissions. So the company saves tens of millions of dollars in taxes every year by keeping the CO2 underground. The U.S. has never taxed carbon emissions.
Without that, there’s little incentive for coal-based utilities to invest in the pricey process.
The government has “forced technology” before, however. MIT’s Howard Herzog says it happened, albeit on a much smaller scale, when the government decided to crack down on the power plant pollution that causes acid rain.
“At that time, it was the same thing,” Herzog says. “Those scrubbers, they were sort of proven in some demonstrations but they were not widely commercial. But they adopted them and now they’re fairly standard technologies.”
Thomas Lorenzen, a former Department of Justice attorney who has helped enforce many provisions of the Clean Air Act, says the government has also had luck forcing new fuel-saving technologies on the auto industry, despite initial protest. He believes that was riskier than mandating carbon capture. He says there’s little downside to selecting something that is “at the edges” of coal technology, because companies aren’t building new coal plants at the moment.
Coal’s chief rival, natural gas, is the power industry’s fossil fuel of choice.
The continuing resolution would technically forestall a government shutdown, but Democrats say its provision to defund the Affordable Care Act is dead on arrival in the Senate.
Joey Prusak saw a visually impaired man drop a $20 bill — and then watched as another customer picked it up and tried to say it was hers. The story of what he did next went viral. Prusak refused to serve the woman who had pocketed the money and gave the blind customer $20 from his own pocket.
An international watchdog based in the Netherlands says it has received an "initial declaration" of chemical weapons from Damascus.
Iran's new President Hassan Rouhani has launched a charm offensive ahead of his visit to the U.N. General Assembly next week, leading to speculation of a new course for relations with the U.S. But there are plenty of reasons for skepticism — Iran's history with the U.S. not the least of them.
We got a new read on the economy this week from the U.S. Census Bureau: the annual report on income and poverty in the U.S. According to the report, median household income was $51,017 in 2012, pretty much the same as 2011. And the poverty rate stayed just about the same as well, coming in at 15 percent of the population.
But no news is good news, right? Well, not really. Many economists were expecting the median income to go up a little and the poverty rate to go down, a reflection of our recovering economy. Income and poverty numbers that won’t budge could indicate that the recovery has not been felt equally across all incomes.
While the census numbers tell us something about the health of our economy, there are a lot of other measures of how we live according to our incomes. For example, how many people own homes at different income levels? And how does a person’s income compare to the median in their Zip code? Or to the national median? The Marketplace Wealth and Poverty Desk has built a new data interactive game called Income Upshot, which tracks the relationship between what we make and how we live, work and play. Click on the link below to see how you stack up.
How people at different incomes live, work and play. A new data interactive from Marketplace's Wealth & Poverty Desk. Try the interactive.
At the end of its second season in May, "Scandal," ABC's political soap opera, was drawing around nine million viewers per episode. Many more were probably watching on their cell phones and tablets, but ratings agency Nielsen wasn't counting them.
"Nielsen has long been the Neanderthal of online ratings," said Bernard Gershon, President of GershonMedia, a digital media strategy firm. "Their ability to rate consumption of online video on desktop and mobile and tablet has been slow, sluggish and almost non-existent.
Nielsen's decision to begin counting those viewers is viewed by many as a positive step forward for the ratings agency.
"It's one of the many key developments that needs to happen in the years ahead to keep up with the way people are watching TV," said Tom Adams, a researcher with IHS Global Insight.
It's also likely to be viewed positively by networks that have long complained their programming is racking up artificially low numbers and hindering their ability to collect advertising revenue -- particularly because members of the highly-coveted youth demographic are the people most likely to be watching on a mobile device.
Gershon, however, thinks this is but a small step forward for Nielsen noting that the agency isn't rating programs on Netflix, Amazon Prime and Hulu.
"In many ways," Gershon said, "Nielsen is just catching up, barely."
Congress has just ten days left to decide whether it wants to shut down the government. And then sometime in the middle of next month, we face the possibility of defaulting on our national debt if Congress doesn't agree to raise the debt ceiling.
Are you getting a sense of déjà vu about now? If so, you’re right.
Once upon a time, in the spring of 2011, we were also on the brink of a government shutdown, which didn’t happen. Then, a few months later in August of 2011, we came dangerously close to defaulting on our nation's debt. That didn't happen either. Since then, we had more, similar scares: government shutdowns, the fiscal cliff.
It's enough drama to want to hand Congress a cup of warm milk and read them a bedtime story. Oh, I don't know, maybe..."The Boy Who Cried Wolf"?
That fable actually had a happier ending than we could be looking at, according to Darrell West, director of Governance Studies at the Brookings Institution. “We hope this is the ‘Boy Who Cried Wolf,’ because in that story, it didn't happen,” West said.
The reason these threats of government shut downs and debt defaults keep being sounded in the last few years goes back to 2011, said West. That’s when a lot of Republicans were voted into Congress by folks who felt the government was spending much too much. That new class in Congress has since used threats to show how serious they are, and then -- at least in most cases, aside from the sequester that actually did go in to effect last spring -- talked themselves off the cliff at the last minute.
West said the fear this time is “whether House Republicans are so upset about government spending that they are literally willing to walk to the top of that cliff and jump off.”
Maybe some cliff-jumping about now wouldn’t be such a bad thing, said Josh Green, who covers politics for Bloomberg Businessweek. “I’m sort of rooting for a government shut-down,” he added. “At a certain point you've got to kind of lance the boil and say ‘who's going to pay the price if the government does shut down?'”
Green said a temporary government shutdown would be disruptive, but probably not do long-term damage to the economy. On the other hand, he said, defaulting on the debt limit could be the stuff of nightmares -- wolves, cliffs and all.
It was a historic day at the Environmental Protection Agency today. For the first time, the U.S. government set down limits on greenhouse gas emissions from new power plants, both coal and natural gas. Coal-fired plants took the biggest hit. Regulators proposed limits on carbon dioxide emissions that effectively force the industry to build a whole new kind of power plant.
That plant would capture the CO2 emissions and bury them underground. “The coal industry has been touting for years that is has clean coal technology,” says Dan Lashof, director of the Climate and Clean Air Program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “This rule says, well if you got it, you gotta use it.”
The industry, however, says “carbon capture and storage” technology is unproven on a commercial scale and prohibitively expensive. Coal executives say the E.P.A. is “waging war on coal” and that the rules effectively kill new coal plants.
But Richard Morse, managing director at energy consultancy SuperCritical Capital, says whether the E.P.A. intends that or not, it doesn’t matter. The marketplace has spoken. “The U.S. coal market over the last few years has really been transformed by developments in the natural gas market,” says Morse.
Morse says for years coal accounted for 50 percent or more of electric power in the U.S. Last year, it was down to 37 percent. Coal’s upstart rival, cheap and abundant natural gas, is the reason. The U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that by 2035, 80 percent of new power generation will come from natural gas, a comparatively cleaner fossil fuel.
So why are the coal industry and some utilities upset over the E.P.A.’s proposed rules?
“This is a prelude to a much more important rule which will deal with existing coal-fired power plants,” says David Victor, climate change policy scholar and professor at the University of California, San Diego. Victor says if the E.P.A. cracks down hard on existing plants, we can expect a wave of coal plant closings. And it’s those plants, as well as any future ones, that utilities see as their hedge against historically volatile natural gas prices. In other words, the industry wants to keep that option open.
The E.P.A. will announce proposed rules for existing coal-fired power plants in June 2014.