The LA TImes is under tremendous pressure this fall. Circulation fell nearly 9% in the last quarter alone, the publisher and the editor were fired, and its owner, the Tribune Company, itself is on the market and likely to be sold off (in parts or as a whole) before the end of the year.
For those interested in reporting in the Western U.S., this is troubling news, because no other publication on the West Coast has the resources or the history of this newspaper, for all its flaws, and because despite its challenges, it has done a superb job reporting on political and environmental news the last couple of years.
Lately front-page stories have taken a different tack. In an effort–I think–to distinguish itself from the wire services that lesser papers rely on, and to compete with aggressive Internet speculation and rumor-mongering, the paper has begun featuring stories that hint at where events are trending.
This is tricky, because it requires inside knowledge but doesn’t fall back on sourcing, which would take the story into a this spokesman-said-but-then-this-other-spokesman-said direction, which becomes long and dull. This tack also asks readers to recognize and reward subtlety, which is a perilous business indeed in today’s media culture.
Nonetheless, the paper accurately hinted that Pombo (R-Tracy), would not survive his battle for re-election, for one, and also accurately suggested that the spinach contamination by the 0157 e. coli bacterium would be linked to cattle farming not far from the spinach growing. (An easy guess? Perhaps, but not to those of us who didn’t know.)
Now in a front-page story by David Savage, the newspaper suggests that the Supreme Court will split the difference on the crucial question of regulation of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions. Of course, it’s possible that the court will follow the language of the Clean Air Act, which does call for the EPA to regulate "any physical, chemical (or) biological … substance or matter which is emitted … into the ambient air." After all, the law of the land does define "the public’s welfare to include effects on "climate" and "weather."
This right-wing court likely will not dare defy go that far. But because it includes some liberals and at least one moderate with a well-established interest in enviro matters, David Souter, it will instead, Savage hints, "rule that carbon dioxide is an air pollutant under the Clean Air Act, but that the EPA’s administrator is free to decide whether to issue new emissions standards for it. In the past, the court has been very reluctant to require an agency to issue new regulations.
A split decision would not force the federal agency to regulate greenhouse gases, but it could clear the way for California and the states to do so on their own."
Last week I reported that esteemed oceanographer Tim Barnett said that to stablize the atmosphere and prevent global heating beyond what is already "in the pipeline," we need to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 60%. That’s not going to happen under this court, obviously. But a split decision would allow states to begin to act where the Federal goverment has failed. It’s an imperial gesture, infuriating in its arrogance (we’re not going to do anything, but if you peons feel you must, we won’t stop you).
But it’s a start.