Good news and bad news from DC

First the (hopefully) good news: On 15 July the House of Representatives passed HR 1722, the Federal Telework Improvements Act. If finally enacted, the bipartisan bill would:

  • Instruct the Office of Personnel Management to develop a uniform, government-wide telework policy for federal employees;
  • Strengthen the federal government’s capacity to effectively integrate telework into Continuity of Operations Planning (COOP);
  • Designate one person as a Telework Managing Officer within every agency;
  • Provide telework training and education to both employees and supervisors [Note: the government apparently has developed some training materials for this; you can get a copy of their book for $99 if you’re a government person, $149 if you’re not. On the other hand you can buy a copy of Managing Telework from Amazon for $40 and change.];
  • Require the Office of Personnel Management to compile government-wide data on telework; and
  • Require the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to evaluate agency compliance and produce an annual report to Congress that is publicly available on the internet.

The Senate, although it has a version similar to HR 1722, has yet to approve the bill and time is short before the summer recess. Final approval by the Senate and signing by the President would finally put some teeth into the decades-old plan to seriously increase the amount of teleworking performed by federal employees. The telework-tracking provision of the bill would also enable much more accurate estimation of the environmental impacts of telework.

If you support telework and wish to give a boost to its extension to a much larger group of people, please let your local representatives know about the possibilities.

Now for the bad news: last week the Senate dropped all pretense of passing an energy/global warming bill. Even a weakened version of the bill, if passed, will likely not even make a dent in US energy use. As Clive Crook put it in the Financial Times:

Governments have failed. It is important to understand why, and to see what needs to change. In the US, almost everybody is implicated. The Republican party is at fault for refusing to take climate change seriously and for brainlessly opposing tax increases – which meaningful climate change policies demand, one way or another. Under current rules, the Senate needs 60 votes to pass a law; there are 59 Democrats, so they cannot act alone.

The Democrats themselves are divided. They would struggle to muster a bare Senate majority for cap-and-trade. The party has also bungled the case for action. It pretended cap-and-trade could work without making energy dearer – it is not really a tax, they insist. Of course it is and voters can usually tell when they are being conned.

Meanwhile, the laws of physics continue to be obeyed, whether we like it or not. This year, so far, is the warmest in history. Various global warming gases continue to be poured into the atmosphere without let. Although coastal California this summer is distinctly cooler than normal, that effect diminishes rapidly a few miles inland. As Tom Friedman of the New York Times put it last week:

As the environmentalist Rob Watson likes to say: “Mother Nature is just chemistry, biology and physics. That’s all she is.” You cannot sweet-talk her. You cannot spin her. You cannot tell her that the oil companies say climate change is a hoax. No, Mother Nature is going to do whatever chemistry, biology and physics dictate, and “Mother Nature always bats last, and she always bats 1.000,” says Watson. Do not mess with Mother Nature. But that is just what we’re doing.

As I requested earlier in this blog, if you feel that some of the rising heat levels should be applied to the seats of your representatives’ pants, please do so. But please also stick to the facts and eschew the polemics. Leave that task to the politicians.

By the way, if you think that this part of the blog is too cheery, read Paul Krugman’s OpEd piece on the topic in the 26 July 2010 New York Times.

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