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July 13, 2007
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Transcript - July 13, 2007

BRANCACCIo: Welcome to NOW.

I don't know if it's global warming, but if you stand on a New York rooftop in July you get a new appreciation for life on a hot planet. The Bush Administration these days acknowledges climate change, but the White House isn't leading the charge to fix it by regulating greenhouse gases.

That's Washington. But in some state capitals, it's a very different story: armed with new laws and favorable Federal court decisions, California is on the cutting edge of efforts to reduce the carbon footprint of everything from power plants to the American automobile. Alexandra Dean produced our report.

Fran Pavley is the unlikely leader of a state-led battle to cut carbon emissions across America. Seven years ago, when George W. Bush was making his first run for President, Pavley was still an eighth grade history teacher, getting more and more worried about global warming.

Should Bush get elected she feared the US would back out of the Kyoto Protocol...a fear that would turn out to be well founded...

BUSH: The idea of placing caps on CO2 does not make economic sense for America.

BRANCACCIO: But the cost of keeping the climate from changing was something Pavley thought America should pay...and if the President wasn't going to do it, then at least California should step up.

PAVLEY: California in my opinion could be one of the states that is most threatened by global warming. We have 1100 miles of coastline, so any kind of sea level rise of course brings on property damage. Air pollution is a huge issue in California affecting the health of our citizens. And this is gonna affect our water supply. All three of these areas directly impacted by climate change.

BRANCACCIO: Goaded into action, Fran Pavley quit her job, ran for state assembly, and in 2001 she got elected—right away she proposed a bill to tackle tailpipe emissions.

A nonpartisan poll showed that the vast majority of Californians embraced her idea. Then-Governor Gray Davis signed the bill requiring new cars sold in her state have 30 percent less carbon emissions over the following decade.

It became known as the "Pavley's Law" and in the three years that followed twelve more states committed to California's example.

It seemed that Fran Pavley had started a nationwide protocol to help with climate change. Almost as powerful as the one rejected at Kyoto.

But did she really have the right to go that far? Not according to the auto industry...its lawyers sued California, claiming the state had overstepped its bounds...arguing fuel economy can only be regulated by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The Environmental Protection Agency agreed. Jeffrey Holmstead was the agency's point man for air pollution issues.

HOLMSTEAD: The only way to regulate tailpipe emissions is by improving fuel economy. I mean there's no difference between regulating tailpipe emissions and regulating fuel economy.

BRANCACCIO: That's an important point. There's no magic box at the moment that can be bolted into cars and trucks to scrub carbon emissions from the exhaust. Automakers would have to come up with innovative vehicles that are fuel efficient, and consumers would have to buy them.

But Pavley argued that fuel economy is within California's purview: Since President Nixon signed the Clean Air Act in 1970, California has had special rights to regulate air quality. Back then California's love affair with cars had made the Golden State into the disgustingly smoggy state, the law decreed that California could get waivers from the Environmental Protection Agency to enact its own, trailblazing environmental laws.

PAVLEY: California has the exemption under the federal Clean Air Act to regulate tailpipe emissions. That's what we're doing. BRANCACCIO: In the case of Pavley's Law, it looked like a stalemate between California and the Feds. That was until something extraordinary happened... the EPA declared that carbon dioxide is not actually an air pollutant and therefore the agency can't regulate car emissions or grant California a waiver to do so.

Instead Holmstead said the states should call on companies to voluntarily slow carbon emissions.

HOLMSTEAD: We think that there are better ways to deal with this issue then just adopting regulations. We spend almost $6 billion a year developing, working on new technologies, working in partnership with other countries and so we think those are the better way to do it as opposed to just passing regulations.

BRANCACCIO: Several states disagreed and a fierce legal battle began that would go all the way to the US Supreme Court.

Unfazed Fran Pavley decided to launch a new offensive—based on what the EPA kept telling her was clearly within the state's jurisdiction.

HOLMSTEAD: They can regulate every—every power plant. They can regulate every factory. They can regulate every product sold in the state. And—And that's just absolutely clear. So if they want to do all those things they can.

BRANCACCIO: So Pavley proposed a bill to cut carbon emissions from heavy industries back to 1990 levels by 2020...and she now had a powerful Republican ally —- "the Governator," himself...Arnold Schwarzenegger had already started his own campaign called "Breathe Easier" to get heavily polluting cars off the road.

SCHWARZENEGGER: Every time we terminate even one of these cars, we take another step towards cleaner air and protecting our environment. I knew I was going to get the world "terminate" in there somehow, right? All right, bravo, one more car destroyed.

BRANCACCIO: Pavley also found business leaders started to rally behind her cause, driven in part by the idea that the greener their products, the more effectively they could compete in the global marketplace.

PAVLEY: We had more business leaders supporting the bill than environmental organizations. And I think that speaks volumes because they see this bill as a transition from an old economy to a new economy.

BRANCACCIO: When critics charged that her new economy would be a 'job killer' Pavley cited this 2004 study by the California Air Resources Board that estimates limits on emissions and developing new energy sources would generate 83,000 jobs and 8.5 billion dollars in California alone by 2030.

After Schwarzenegger signed Pavley's Bill, he called on the White House to take notice that California would lead where America has fallen behind.

Schwarzenegger: Other countries, like India, China, and Brazil and Mexico will join us when they see all the great work that we are doing, and so will finally also our federal government follow us, trust me. (Applause)

BRANCACCIO: Pavley couldn't run for state assembly again because of term limits, but it was after she left office that the wheels she set in motion six years earlier really started to spin.

In April the Supreme Court, in what legal analysts called one of the most important environmental decisions in years, handed down a 5-4 victory for California. Justice Stevens wrote the majority opinion: "Because greenhouse gases fit well within the Clean Air Act's capacious definition of air pollutant we hold that EPA has the... authority to regulate the emissions of gases from new motor vehicles."

Still, the decision didn't force the agency to regulate the emissions, that's the EPA's choice...but Justice Stevens said the agency could refuse only after presenting compelling scientific evidence to explain why.

After the decision, the winds of climate change seemed to stir things at the White House. Within a month President Bush rolled out his own, more modest proposal to cut carbon emissions by 20 percent in ten years.

But with California leading the way, the states continued to press for their original objective...those elusive EPA waivers giving them permission to put the Pavley Law in to force.

Two months ago both the EPA and Congress held hearings into the waivers...and speaking on behalf of the states? California's groovy old governor, now the state's Attorney General, Jerry Brown.

ATTORNEY GENERAL BROWN: I think the EPA director, unless ordered by Bush or Rove or somebody will grant us the thing. And if he doesn't, we're going to sue and I will state for the record we will win that lawsuit. Unfortunately it'll be two years from now and we'll be that much more in a hole, it'll cost us much more money, and we'll have that much more environmental pollutants in California.

BRANCACCIO: But even while Brown was making his complaint, new evidence surfaced that the Administration is engaged in last minute lobbying to halt the waivers.

The Department of Transportation sent out over 70 email and voicemail messages to dozens of Congressmen and Governors. They warned that EPA waivers could have "significant impacts on the...car industry."

And an internal Transportation Department memo baldly instructed employees: if asked ...we are opposed to the waivers.

House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman caught wind of the Federal lobbying effort and fired off this letter the department such an effort: "would be considered by some...illegal."

Waxman intends to hold hearings...but in the years that the Feds have been trying to torpedo Pavley's Law, carbon emissions poured unchecked into the skies above California at an average rate of 430 million metric tons a year, almost the same rate as entire countries like France or Mexico. And those carbon emissions will stay trapped in the Earth's atmosphere for the next hundred years.

To see who wins this long battle, watch for the EPA decision on the waivers by December. For her part, Fran Pavley is now running for state senate so she can keep leading the charge on clean air in California and across the country.

For more on what your state wants to keep from coming out of your car or truck's tailpipe...go to our website at PBS.ORG.

Let's now take an opportunity to catch up with a man who ahs been agitating for social change for a very long time. His name is Robert Moses. A half-century ago, he emerged as a leader in the fight for civil rights. Ever since, he's been working to empower those at the bottom of the economic ladder. For over two decades, his passion has been education, especially education in mathematics, as a way to help young people take charge of their lives. Khadijah White produced our report.

HINOJOSA: In the schools it's known as The Algebra Project. It's an innovative way to teach math... But it's much more than that.

It's a blueprint for young people to transform their lives. Robert Moses, a lifelong fighter for civil rights, created The Algebra Project—he's angry about what's been happening in schools nationwide. Moses says that many children are not getting an adequate education—and it's mostly poor and minority students who are being left behind.

MOSES: This is a 21st century version of what I think of as sharecropper education. You have certain people, they're only going to do a certain kind of job. So they only need a certain kind of education.

HINOJOSA: It's a vicious cycle—with no education, the kids are stuck.

But Moses believes that a new approach to learning math can help break that cycle —- especially in an era where math and technology have become increasingly important.

MOSES: The information age technology is trying to help people organize what
they think about. Right?

And it really requires a different level of mathematical foundation for the kids.

HINOJOSA: The Algebra Project is a system that helps kids think differently about math—and, at the same time, about their own lives.

We first saw the program in action five years ago—at Lanier High School in Jackson, Mississippi. At the time only 50 percent of Lanier students were passing national exams. The Algebra Project was working hard to turn those numbers around.

The key? Relying on students to find their own answers—by making the process hands on and—even more importantly, fun.

TEACHER (Peggy Quinn): The basic mathematics that you learn from origami, which is the concept of surface area and volume. And more advanced solid geometry we can learn by doing the folding.

HINOJOSA: Gina Wilkerson had been in The Algebra Project for 4 years when we first met her. What made a difference to her, she says, was learning by doing.

WILKERSON: You're interacting and you're learning instead of just sitting there —your teacher just talking and talking and you're not understanding nothing she's saying, But if you're up and both of you are interacting and asking questions and answering them, it's better.

HINOJOSA: The Algebra Project is making a difference. Since it came to Lanier, their math scores have almost doubled. And Algebra Project kids are more likely to continue taking advanced math courses after finishing the program. But in the process of teaching math skills, the project also changes the way the students think about themselves.

STUDENT: When I was in middle school I was the class clown. One day Dr. Moses had me to get up and start explaining something to the whole class so once I made my explanation I thought about it I was like I got a whole lot of attention from somebody for being smarter than being silly.

WILKERSON: I can go out here and I can change the world if I wanted to because I don't have to accept what the people or the system is giving me.

HINOJOSA: That was Gina five years ago. We met with her recently to see if she's still on her way to changing the world.

WILKERSON: I graduated from Laniere High School. Graduated number three in my class.

HINOJOSA: She went on to college—and is now finishing up at Alcorn State University, an historically black college in Mississippi.

WILKERSON: I'm going into psychology. And that's something I wanna do. Help
adolescents. And I got all that experience that I needed during my high school years.

HINOJOSA: That experience? Well, back in High School when Gina was a part of The Algebra Project, she didn't just learn algebra. She also taught it to other students her age. It's a critical part of The Algebra Project's Approach, on that empowers its students.

WILKERSON: At first, I was—I was the shy one. I was timid. I wouldn't talk. I wouldn't do anything. I wouldn't step up and be a leader. But, they brought that out of me, you know? They coached me along and they pushed me along. And I'm out of that little shell. I'm not inside that shell anymore.

HINOJOSA: Robert Moses wants to see all his students achieve what Gina has...a college education. This year, the Department of Labor reports that most of the fastest growing occupations in the United States require a bachelor's or associates degree.

But lots of kids don't even finish high school. In many large cities, the graduation rate is under 50 percent.

MOSES: So the question is: Why do we tolerate this? Why do we allow this to go
on? Why should we tolerate this in this country at this point? It doesn't—it's
not even—it doesn't make sense as a strategy for the country.

HINOJOSA: Moses is determined to roll out a new strategy for the nation—one that gets students out of high school and into college.

MOSES: For poor kids, they have to get ready to go to college. I don't think that poor children have an option out here today. The message has to be very clear to them, you may not think you want to go now, but you have to prepare yourself so when the time comes, you have an option to go.

HINOJOSA: Today The Algebra Project is working with over 10,000 students around the country.

And in Miami, where Moses is now, he's even expanded the project. It now includes reading and writing skills based on the premise that language is also power.

But Moses knows that success is only possible with a larger investment in schools and education around the country.

MOSES: Are we as a country ready to do —the kind of thing we're doing with these kids here, all over the country. We've got to decide, we're really going to invest in our own children.

HINOJOSA: Getting resources to poor and minority students, Moses says, will only happen when people in their communities insist on it—which is why students in The Algebra Project are pushed to think for themselves.

It's an important process—one that turns passive learners into active leaders.

MOSES: The most important piece of it is what I think of as the demand side. How do you get into the schools and get the kids actually making the demand for their education, right?

HINOJOSA: Moses knows all about making demands. As a young man, he put his life on the line, organizing blacks in Mississippi so that they could vote. Though, Mississippi was 42 percent black, only 6 percent of blacks at the time were registered to vote. Changing that meant taking on the power structure of white privilege and authority in the south.

ARCHIVED FOOTAGE: I'm sorry but the management does not allow us to serve niggers in here.

HINOJOSA: Moses eventually became a field director for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating committee. He led with revolutionary determination.

MOSES ON ARCHIVAL TAPE: The world is upset and they feel if they are ever going to get it straight they must upset it more.

HINOJOSA: Moses' strategy to strengthen voting rights meant changing things from the bottom up—registering voters, town by town, sharecropper by sharecropper. Civil rights, he believed, would be obtained in only one way—getting the people themselves to fight for it.

MOSES: How do you get the people that are targeted, who are oppressed by this system to actually rise up. The issue was are you going to be able to actually create in this oppressed targeted population this demand for this political access.

HINOJOSA: Decades later, Moses believes the struggle for education is just as critical as the one he waged so long ago.

MOSES: I think of the kids we're working with now as the—the descendants of those sharecroppers. Right? Whether they're in rural White communities, or Hispanic, or Latino communities, or Native American communities.

HINOJOSA: And Moses believes that students have to demand what they need in schools-just as sharecroppers had to demand their right to vote.

MOSES: We're not gonna get out of this, if we don't get thousands and thousands of students, who—who have a platform to raise the demand to the country.

HINOJOSA: And at The Algebra Project in Baltimore, students are doing just that.

MICHELE: I had no idea when I started the Algebra Project about this, y'know anything about advocating for changes. I thought I was just gonna come in and tutor kids.

HINOJOSA: Students like Michele and Chris run the local Algebra Project, tutoring peers in schools throughout the city. The work strengthened their math skills, but it also taught them to look at their world more critically. They started by looking at their own school where conditions were terrible.

CHRIS: We didn't have a computer tech teacher um our computer labs were shut. The library was a mess. We didn't have no books, no librarian, no computers nothing a library should have.

MICHELE: And I can recall actually one time going to one floor of a bathroom to get toilette paper, go to the next floor to get soap and go to the next floor to get paper towels. Before I can even use the bathroom. How much time of class would I be missing if I actually had to do that.

HINOJOSA: They discovered the state had been under funding the Baltimore City schools by hundreds of millions of dollars.

MICHELE: If any governing body doesn't serve its purposes to you—you have the right, and in fact you ought to overthrow it.

HINOJOSA: The students took to the streets.

PROTESTORS: Chanting "no education, no life"

HINOJOSA: Their fight has made headlines—the students even brought the battle to the courts, asking for the right to take over where the state had failed. Circuit Court Judge Joseph Kaplan heard them, ordering the city and state to provide a full accounting of how they planned to put money back into Baltimore schools.

But the funding is still missing—and the students are still fighting, using Moses' activism in Mississippi as a model.

MOSES: The sit-in kids took beatings, you know. The vote-in, when we were doing the votes, we were taking being jailed, and being shot at. Right? So, the question is for the kids, and you can't answer this question for them. Right? What—what is their generation willing to take?

HINOJOSA: For the Baltimore kids, there is no doubt that their struggle is linked to one that for Moses still lives on.

MICHELE: It's like we look at our history as a people you know, going back to the civil rights movement and y'know why things were the way that they were and what happened to make some changes to get us where we are now and it's like what can we do to continue the movement.

BRANCACCIO: A quick reminder that even if your TV doesn't fit into your pocket, you can take this program around with you...follow the links we've put up on our website at PBS.ORG for both our podcasts and video downloads.

And next week on NOW—a new strategy for the anti-abortion movement. Is abortion bad for women's mental health?

ALAN PARKER: Many, many, many women come to regret deeply. And have various kinds of reactions psychologically. Suicidal thoughts, crying spells, anger, promiscuity, drug abuse, many of those types of symptoms.

BRANCACCIO: And that's it for NOW. From New York, I'm David Brancaccio. We'll see you next week.



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