Beltway Briefing

The top stories from US politics today.

Tina Brown is working her magic on Newsweek. After last week's "Diana at 50" piece, in which Brown asked what the world would be like if Diana hadn't died in 1997 (The answer? Better, as it would be a world without Brown's "Diana at 50" piece and the terrible accompanying photoshop), Brown has this week splashed with a literally glowing picture of Sarah Palin. Last year, Newsweek ran a cover showing a scantily dressed Palin about to go running (perhaps because she was running for vice president, not because she had a good pair of pins). This time, it's slightly less sexist. But would a male politician be photographed in the same way? Actually, scratch that. Would a serious politician be photographed in this way? I doubt that Newsweek will do a glossy Tim Pawlenty photo gallery.

Newsweek

Away from Palin's pretty face, the Newsweek interview was enthralling, as anything to do with Palin generally is. Palin laid down a pretty thick hint that she may run. Discussing the fact that she is often brought up as a potential candidate (along with Gov Rick Perry of Texas), Palin says:

"It suggests that the field is not set. Thank goodness the field is not yet set. I think that there does need to be more vigorous debate. There needs to be a larger field. And there's still time. There's still months ahead, where more folks can jump in and start articulating their positions."

Oh, Palin, you tease.

Bachmann Bingo has taken a strange twist. Beltway Briefing readers will be aware of the frequency with which Bachmann mentions a few key facts about herself - and if she mentions all four ("five children", "23 foster children", "tax lawyer", "tea party") in one go, it's bingo! One of the four tenets of Bachmann Bingo, however, has come under scrutiny. Bachmann protrays herself as a warrior for low taxes, via her past as a tax lawyer. She was indeed a tax lawyer, but - according to the National Journal - she worked for the Inland Revenue Service from 1988 and 1993. Rather than helping citizens avoid paying their taxes she was - deep breath - collecting taxes. Oops. How this will go down with her anti-tax base will be interesting to watch.

$134,000,000,000. Remember that figure because you will be hearing it a lot in the next few months. $134bn is the hit that the US economy will take if the US government fails to agree on an increase in the US debt ceiling by 2 August, according to Jay Powell, who served as undersecretary of the Treasury in George H.W. Bush's administration and who authored a comprehensive study on the topic. If it happens, voters will blame someone - whether it will be Congress or the President who bears the brunt of voter annoyance, however, remains to be seen.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The rise of the green mayor – Sadiq Khan and the politics of clean energy

At an event at Tate Modern, Sadiq Khan pledged to clean up London's act.

On Thursday night, deep in the bowls of Tate Modern’s turbine hall, London Mayor Sadiq Khan renewed his promise to make the capital a world leader in clean energy and air. Yet his focus was as much on people as power plants – in particular, the need for local authorities to lead where central governments will not.

Khan was there to introduce the screening of a new documentary, From the Ashes, about the demise of the American coal industry. As he noted, Britain continues to battle against the legacy of fossil fuels: “In London today we burn very little coal but we are facing new air pollution challenges brought about for different reasons." 

At a time when the world's leaders are struggling to keep international agreements on climate change afloat, what can mayors do? Khan has pledged to buy only hybrid and zero-emissions buses from next year, and is working towards London becoming a zero carbon city.

Khan has, of course, also gained heroic status for being a bête noire of climate-change-denier-in-chief Donald Trump. On the US president's withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, Khan quipped: “If only he had withdrawn from Twitter.” He had more favourable things to say about the former mayor of New York and climate change activist Michael Bloomberg, who Khan said hailed from “the second greatest city in the world.”

Yet behind his humour was a serious point. Local authorities are having to pick up where both countries' central governments are leaving a void – in improving our air and supporting renewable technology and jobs. Most concerning of all, perhaps, is the way that interest groups representing business are slashing away at the regulations which protect public health, and claiming it as a virtue.

In the UK, documents leaked to Greenpeace’s energy desk show that a government-backed initiative considered proposals for reducing EU rules on fire-safety on the very day of the Grenfell Tower fire. The director of this Red Tape Initiative, Nick Tyrone, told the Guardian that these proposals were rejected. Yet government attempts to water down other EU regulations, such as the energy efficiency directive, still stand.

In America, this blame-game is even more highly charged. Republicans have sworn to replace what they describe as Obama’s “war on coal” with a war on regulation. “I am taking historic steps to lift the restrictions on American energy, to reverse government intrusion, and to cancel job-killing regulations,” Trump announced in March. While he has vowed “to promote clean air and clear water,” he has almost simultaneously signed an order to unravel the Clean Water Rule.

This rhetoric is hurting the very people it claims to protect: miners. From the Ashes shows the many ways that the industry harms wider public health, from water contamination, to air pollution. It also makes a strong case that the American coal industry is in terminal decline, regardless of possibile interventions from government or carbon capture.

Charities like Bloomberg can only do so much to pick up the pieces. The foundation, which helped fund the film, now not only helps support job training programs in coal communities after the Trump administration pulled their funding, but in recent weeks it also promised $15m to UN efforts to tackle climate change – again to help cover Trump's withdrawal from Paris Agreement. “I'm a bit worried about how many cards we're going to have to keep adding to the end of the film”, joked Antha Williams, a Bloomberg representative at the screening, with gallows humour.

Hope also lies with local governments and mayors. The publication of the mayor’s own environment strategy is coming “soon”. Speaking in panel discussion after the film, his deputy mayor for environment and energy, Shirley Rodrigues, described the move to a cleaner future as "an inevitable transition".

Confronting the troubled legacies of our fossil fuel past will not be easy. "We have our own experiences here of our coal mining communities being devastated by the closure of their mines," said Khan. But clean air begins with clean politics; maintaining old ways at the price of health is not one any government must pay. 

'From The Ashes' will premiere on National Geograhpic in the United Kingdom at 9pm on Tuesday, June 27th.

India Bourke is an environment writer and editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

0800 7318496