Last week signaled a new pace of environmental change. Look at these seismic seven days:
The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals handed the Bush Administration a stunning defeat, its biggest defeat on wild lands protection to date, by reinstating the Clinton-era roadless rule, which was the single biggest piece of Clinton's land protections legacy.
Meanwhile, California Attorney General Bill Lockyer sued the auto companies for the impact of their global warming pollutants on the state, claiming that carbon dioxide emissions are a common-law nuisance and asking damages for such losses as decay of the state's snowpack. According to Lockyer, the lawsuit is the first of its kind to seek to hold manufacturers liable for the damages caused by greenhouse gases.
The auto industry's response? Have U.S. Representative Mike Rogers introduce a bill to offer $20 billion in federally backed loan guarantees to speed the development of "green technologies," including hybrid electric engines, flexible fuels and clean diesel. Rogers promised that the bill would "give domestic automakers cheaper access to capital and spur faster development of technologies to reduce dependence on foreign oil."
I haven't read the Rogers bill yet, so I can't say how good (or bad) it really is. But the principle of helping Detroit improve fuel efficiency is a good one -- if the auto companies really have to deliver. And that Rogers, who is very close to the industry, has now embraced an idea that the Sierra Club first advocated during the Clinton Administration, shows that the industry realizes that change is coming. Pennsylvania showed the same thing this week by finalizing its clean car standards.
Also last week, Milwaukee became the latest "cool city" to join the U.S. Mayor's Climate Protection Agreement to meet or exceed Kyoto greenhouse pollution goals. Milwaukee Sierra Club Director Rosemary Wehnes reports: "We are happy to announce the Mayor Barrett has committed to signing the U.S. Mayors Climate Protection Agreement. In November of 2005, we approached Mayor Barrett on the subject at one of his public appearances and we gave him the letter asking him to join other 'Cool Cities.' We collected postcards to the Mayor during our Earth Day Outreach event and around the showing of the Al Gore movie in Milwaukee."
Nebraska's biggest public power district was advised by its D.C. lawyers to get ready for a world in which it could no longer dump its carbon on its neighbors. Van Ness Feldman advised the district that regulation that would charge for emitting carbon were inevitable within five to ten years, and that building new coal plants should be assumed to carry a future price of $9.45 a megawatt hour.
And finally, to culminate a week that began with Al Gore's groundbreaking speech at NYU, the billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson of the Virgin Group announced at the Clinton Global Initiative that all of his transportation-related profits for the next ten years -- as much as $3 billion -- would be dedicated to licking global warming. This is a stunning commitment. The world is changing.
I was exhausted by last week. But I have to admit -- this is the pace we need. We've all got to get better at moving faster.
I, however, will be offline for a few weeks -- I am headed off to India to get married. When I return in the second week of October, it will be off to the campaign trail. Perhaps my wedding present will be an environmental Congress!