Energy & Environment

Senate Will Vote on Whether Climate Change is a Hoax

Science Insider: “The U.S. Senate’s simmering debate over climate science has come to a full boil today, with lawmakers trading feisty remarks as they prepare to vote on at least two measures offered by Democrats that affirm that climate change is real—with one also noting that global warming is not ‘a hoax.”

“In an effort to highlight their differences with some Republicans on climate policy, several Democrats have filed largely symbolic amendments to a bill that would approve the Keystone XL pipeline. They are designed to put senators on the record on whether climate change is real and human-caused. The backers are now pushing for votes on those measures as soon as today.”

“The Democratic amendments vary in detail and whether they call for specific actions on climate policy. But they share one thing in common: that lawmakers should at least accept climate science, regardless of party affiliation.”

A New Political Era Where Facts Don’t Matter

Paul Krugman observes that “evidence doesn’t matter for the ‘debate’ over climate policy, where I put scare quotes around ‘debate’ because, given the obvious irrelevance of logic and evidence, it’s not really a debate in any normal sense. And this situation is by no means unique. Indeed, at this point it’s hard to think of a major policy dispute where facts actually do matter; it’s unshakable dogma, across the board. And the real question is why.”

“On issues that range from monetary policy to the control of infectious disease, a big chunk of America’s body politic holds views that are completely at odds with, and completely unmovable by, actual experience. And no matter the issue, it’s the same chunk.”

“Well, it strikes me that the immovable position in each of these cases is bound up with rejecting any role for government that serves the public interest.”

“And why this hatred of government in the public interest? Well, the political scientist Corey Robin argues that most self-proclaimed conservatives are actually reactionaries. That is, they’re defenders of traditional hierarchy — the kind of hierarchy that is threatened by any expansion of government, even (or perhaps especially) when that expansion makes the lives of ordinary citizens better and more secure.”

Time for a New Energy Policy: Slash Subsidies; Impose a Carbon Tax

The Economist: “The plunging price of oil, coupled with advances in clean energy and conservation, offers politicians around the world the chance to rationalise energy policy.”

“Falling prices provide an opportunity to rethink this nonsense … rich countries still underwrite the production of oil and gas. Why should American taxpayers pay for Exxon to find hydrocarbons? All these subsidies should be binned.”

“An obvious starting point is to target petrol. America’s federal government levies a tax of just 18 cents a gallon (five cents a litre)—a figure that it has not dared change since 1993. Even better would be a tax on carbon. Burning fossil fuels harms the health of both the planet and its inhabitants. Taxing carbon would nudge energy firms and consumers towards using cleaner fuels. As fuel prices fall, a carbon tax is becoming less politically daunting.”

“Governments have a legitimate role in making sure that energy is abundant, clean and secure. But they need to learn the difference between picking goals and deciding how to reach them. Broad incentives are fine; second-guessing scientists and investors is not. A carbon tax, in other words, is a much better way to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases than subsidies for windmills and nuclear plants.”

2014 Hottest Year in Recorded History

The Washington Post reports that “it is official: According to both NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the year 2014 was the hottest ever measured, based on records going back to the year 1880.”

“Perhaps the most surprising thing about the new record is that it occurred even though 2014 was not an El Niño year, of the sort that usually powers the already up-trending global average temperature to new highs.”

“The agencies’ joint presentation shows that despite some differences, overall NASA’s and NOAA’s temperature records are overwhelmingly similar:”

“The 2014 record, say the agencies, was driven by the world ocean, the planet’s great repository of heat. Temperatures at the sea surface have never been hotter than in 2014, in recorded human history. Temperatures over land were not actually record breaking (although they were in some places, such as Britain), but the ocean’s warmth overwhelmed that.”

“‘If you’ve got a long-term warming trend, you’re going to get new records every so often — in fact, on a pretty regular basis,’ says [Gavin Schmidt of NASA]. ‘This is what you’re expecting, and this is going to continue to happen because the underlying rate of global warming really hasn’t changed.'”

Why Cracking Down on Methane is a Big Deal

Slate: “Wednesday morning the White House announced a new plan to crack down on the oil and gas industry’s emissions of methane, a potent greenhouse gas.”

“Methane makes up a much smaller portion of America’s greenhouse gas footprint than carbon dioxide … so the proposal might seem like small potatoes. But it’s actually a pretty huge deal, for a few reasons.”

“Methane, the principal emission of natural gas consumption, is 20 times more powerful than CO2 over a 100-year timespan.”

“If we replace our coal with natural gas but let methane go unchecked, we won’t be much closer to meaningfully mitigating climate change,’ said Mark Brownstein of the Environmental Defense Fund. ‘Leak rates as low as 1 to 3 percent undo much of the benefit of going from coal to gas.’”

“Stringent methane rules could alleviate some of the climate-related concerns about the fracking boom and could help refocus the debate around local pollution and land rights issues. These rules are also an opportunity, Brownstein said, for the gas industry to show good faith. ‘If the industry resists basic regulation for a relatively simple issue to solve, what is the public to think about the industry’s willingness to solve more complex issues?’”

Republicans Split on Climate Change Action

Yale Project on Climate Change: “The new Republican leaders in Congress have pledged to roll back the EPA’s proposed new regulations on coal-fired power plants – a key component of President Obama’s strategy to reduce global warming.”

“However, Republican voters are actually split in their views about climate change. A look at public opinion among Republicans over the past few years finds a more complex – and divided – Republican electorate.”

“In contrast to the current goal of Republican leaders in Congress to block EPA regulations on carbon dioxide, half of all Republicans (56%) support regulating carbon dioxide as a pollutant, including conservatives (54%).”
“Asked more narrowly about their support for setting strict carbon dioxide limits on existing coal-fired power plants, majorities of moderate (62%) and liberal (73%) Republicans support the policy. By contrast, fewer than half of conservative Republicans (40%), and only one in four Tea Party Republicans (23%) support the policy.”

A Hurdle is Cleared, Edging Keystone Pipeline to Final Decision

Wall Street Journal: “The Nebraska Supreme Court ruled Friday against landowners challenging Keystone XL pipeline route through the state, possibly clearing a path for President Barack Obama to make a decision on the project that has been under review for more than six years.”

“Nebraska’s highest court, in a split decision, threw out a lower-court ruling that had found a 2012 state law on pipeline oversight unconstitutional. The law passed by the state legislature gave Nebraska’s governor the power to review and approve certain major pipelines, including Keystone XL. The judges sided with Nebraska’s former Republican governor, Dave Heineman, in a ruling that said the state law must remain in place because a required supermajority of the court wasn’t prepared to strike it down.”

“Resolution of the state case could clear the way for the Obama administration to complete a State Department review of the proposed pipeline.”

The Rise of Solar: 2014 Was a Banner Year

Sustainable Business: “2014 will be the best year yet, with another 7.4 GW of solar PV  added – a 42% jump from 2013, another very strong year. That brings the US total close to 20 GW and it’s expected to double again in the next two years!”

“This year, the US solar industry crossed the threshold – providing 1% of US electricity. If it reaches 50 GW by the end of 2016, as Deutsche Bank projects, it will be supplying 2%.”

Solar 2016 Deutsche Bank

What accounts for the growth? “The sharp drop in solar prices – down 53% since 2010 – and cheaper financing costs. Even if federal tax credits change, Deutsche Bank expects financing costs to fall from 7-9% now to around 5.4% next year, helping new financing models like Yieldcos, solar loans, asset backed securities and retail bond offerings.”

“Signaling the growing importance of solar energy to America’s future, the widely read and cited annual State of American Energy Report includes, for the first time ever, a comprehensive section on the rapid growth of the U.S. solar energy industry and its impact on our nation’s economy and environment,” reports Eco Watch.

A Connection Between Fracking and Increased Earthquakes?

New Republic: “Oklahoma had more earthquakes with over 3.0 magnitude this year than California241 to 140, as of June. And in just 14 hours last weekend, Oklahoma registered three of a total seven quakes over that magnitude.”

‘The question is whether these Oklahoma quakes are natural. Scientists increasingly believe that fracking by the oil and gas industry is triggering earthquakes in regions that otherwise should be relatively stable. Fracking itself isn’t to blame, they say, but the large amount of wastewater produced in the process.”

“That’s not to say fracking wastewater always leads to earthquakes … Very few of the 35,000 wastewater injection sites nationwide end up causing earthquakes, and even fewer quakes can be felt. And yet, a handful of wells can be linked to entire regions of seismic activity. For example, a recent study from Cornell University researchers in Science magazine found that four ‘modern, very high-rate injection wells’ were linked to earthquake activity near one Oklahoma town.”

“Here, a graph from USGS shows how the rate of earthquakes over 3.0 has increased in central and eastern U.S., particularly since 2010:”


The Politics of Obama’s Veto Threat on Keystone Pipeline

New York Times: “The White House on Tuesday made it clear that President Obama would veto a bill authorizing construction of the Keystone XL oil pipeline, setting up an immediate clash with Republicans just as they assume control of Congress.”

“For nearly four years, the Keystone pipeline has been a symbolic flash point in the political war between Republicans and Democrats over energy, climate change and jobs — even though many policy experts say the project’s impact in those areas will be small.”

“Mr. Obama’s veto would make the pipeline even more of a political issue. … Six Senate Democrats have signed on to the Republican-sponsored bill, and a poll by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in November found that 59 percent of Americans support the project. “

“If Mr. Obama does veto a bill, it will not stand as his last word on the pipeline’s construction. Nonetheless, environmentalists cheered Mr. Earnest’s announcement Tuesday as a sign that the president would eventually reject the pipeline.”

“If Mr. Obama decides to wait until that process is complete, the final decision could be pushed well into 2016 or beyond. The result, said Paul Bledsoe, a top climate change official in the Clinton administration, … is that ‘Keystone will now be front and center in the presidential cycle.'”

Oil Prices are Plummeting. Time for a Carbon Tax

Lawrence Summers makes a case for carbon taxes, given the recent decline in oil prices.

“There is room for debate about the size of the tax and about how the proceeds should be deployed. But there should be no doubt that, given the current zero tax rate on carbon, increased taxation would be desirable.”

“Advocating a carbon tax is not some kind of argument for government planning; it is the logic of the market: That which is not paid for is overused. Even if the government had no need or use for revenue, it could make the economy function better by levying carbon taxes and rebating the money to taxpayers.”

“While the recent decline in energy prices is a good thing in that it has, on balance, raised the incomes of Americans, it has also exacerbated the problem of energy overuse. The benefit of imposing carbon taxes is therefore enhanced.”

“Now that … consumers have received a windfall from the fall in energy prices, it would be possible to impose substantial carbon taxes without them being burdened relative to where things stood six months ago.”

Cheap Gas Undermines Energy Policy

“The sharp drop in fuel prices is undermining government policies that bet expensive gasoline would prod Americans to find alternatives to gas-guzzling automobiles,” the Wall Street Journal reports.

“In recent years, the federal government required passenger cars and trucks to become much more fuel-efficient, with a goal to more than double average miles per gallon by 2025. More than a dozen states ordered auto makers to boost sales of electric vehicles, helped by billions of dollars in federal spending. And President Barack Obama ’s administration increased spending on intercity passenger rail, joining states like California in planning for Asian- and European-style bullet trains.”

“Those policies now face a changed landscape: a nearly 44% slide in oil prices since June that has sent the average price of gasoline to around $2.40 a gallon, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.”

Public Slowly Becoming Aware of Energy Boom

Pew Research: “The public is gradually becoming aware of America’s energy boom. Currently, 54% say domestic energy production has been increasing in recent years, up from 48% in September 2013. Meanwhile, the recent slide in gas prices is registering widely: An overwhelming 89% say that that pump prices have fallen in the past month.”

“Despite the growth of domestic energy production, public attitudes about energy policies have changed only modestly in recent years. In broad terms, developing alternative energy is viewed as a more important priority than expanding the exploration and production of oil, coal and natural gas. By two-to-one (60% to 30%), more prioritize the development of alternative energy sources than expanded extraction of energy from traditional sources.”

“Yet when asked about specific policies to address the energy supply, a majority of Americans continue to support allowing more offshore oil and gas drilling in U.S. waters (56%) and more mining and drilling on federally-owned land (58%). These opinions are largely unchanged from recent years.”

Views of Policies for Addressing U.S. Energy Supply

NHL Goes Carbon Neutral

“The National Hockey League has committed to becoming the first major sports league to go carbon-neutral,” National Journal reports.

“Under a partnership with the energy-services firm Constellation, the league will work with its 30 teams to slash its carbon emissions and purchase carbon offsets for all its emissions during the current 2014-15 season. The league is estimated to emit 530,000 metric tons of carbon this season through energy use at its arenas and offices, nearly 2 million miles of team air travel, consumption of goods, and other league operations.”

The Guardian: “As part of the plan, Constellation, a Baltimore-based energy company with 2.5 million customers, will provide carbon offsets and renewable energy certificates equivalent to the 550,000 metric tons of carbon the league uses in a season. That’s equivalent of taking about 115,000 cars off the road, or 50,000 US homes off the power grid, for one year, officials said.”