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November 5, 2014

The Ashokan Reservoir is one of several providing drinking water for New York City. Photo by David Goehring.

The six-year itch

Republicans were popping champagne after making widespread gains across the country in the 2014 midterm election. From numerous statehouses to the halls of Congress, Republicans outperformed already lofty expectations despite Tom Steyer’s highly-publicized $57 million effort to get voters to care about climate change.

So what affect will Republican control of Congress have on U.S. environmental policy over the next two years? Jonathan Alter, for one, is terrified of the impact that climate-denying Senator James Inhofe will have as the next chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Meanwhile, Brad Plumer states the obvious: “the next Congress will be even more hostile to climate policy than the last.” Kate Sheppard speculates that proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline now have 61 votes in the Senate, a filibuster-proof majority. A vote to approve the pipeline is likely to be at the top of the agenda for soon-to-be Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

 

No label

Voters in Colorado on Tuesday rejected a ballot initiative that would have required the disclosure of genetically modified ingredients in food products. Only 32 per cent supported the measure. A similar measure in Oregon is still too close to call, with 20 per cent of votes across the state yet to be counted.  Opponents of the two initiatives spent more than $36 million on anti-labeling campaigns, bolstered by food and agriculture interests. While GMO labeling campaigns have struggled to gain traction across the United States in recent years, British environmentalist and GMO proponent Mark Lynas told Corporate Knights last year that it is only a matter of time before the tide turns. He has recommended that companies, such as Monsanto and DuPont, begin to support labeling and participate in a public debate on the merits of GMOs in order to eliminate the stigma attached to them.

 

Drop in water use

In a promising development, the U.S. Geological Survey released a report today detailing a 13 per cent decline in annual water use between 2005 and 2010. This has reduced water withdrawal levels to 355 billion gallons of water per day, a 45-year low. “Even as the U.S. population continues to grow, people are learning to be more water conscious and do their part to help sustain the limited freshwater resources in the country,” said Mike Connor, deputy secretary of the Interior, in a statement. Withdrawal levels over the past several years are likely to have declined even further, with drought-like conditions in the American west forcing states, such as California, to roll out more stringent conservation measures.

 

Aussie rules

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has seen his legislative energy agenda repeatedly frustrated by unexpected opposition from a fringe political party, according to Corporate Knights’ own Jeremy Runnalls. Founded by coal magnate Clive Palmer, the Palmer United Party has been elevated to the role of king maker in the Australian Senate by controlling the balance of power with its three Senators. After a high-profile public appearance with Al Gore, he has turned into an unlikely advocate for smarter environmental and energy policies. He’s also quite the personality, having launched Palmer Coolum Resort, a dinosaur theme park/golf course in 2013 (photos available here).

 

Pollination corridors

British Environmental Secretary Elizabeth Truss announced a 10-year National Pollinator Strategy on Tuesday as concerns about the decline of bees and other natural pollinators continue to grow around the globe. Early stages of the plan include agreements with significant landowners, including Network Rail and the Highways Agency, to plant and maintain bee-friendly corridors throughout England. The goal, to create uninterrupted pathways for pollinators to move around the country, is currently being implemented along certain power transmission corridors in the United States.

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