Energy & Environment

2014 Predicted to be Hottest Year on Record

The Hill: “This year is on track to become one of the hottest ever recorded, according to the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the weather agency of the United Nations.”

“The agency released preliminary estimates on Wednesday showing that the planet is experiencing one of its hottest years ever. And if high temperatures continue at current rates, 2014 will be the hottest in 135 years of record-keeping. High global sea surface temperatures are also causing extreme weather, including heavy rainfall, floods and extreme drought.”

Michel Jarraud, WMO secretary-general, said 2014 was “particularly ‘unusual’ and ‘alarming’ because of high temperatures over large swaths of the ocean, including in the Northern Hemisphere.”

Inside Climate News: “The graph below shows annual temperature records in relation to the norm of the three decades from 1960-1990.” The bar colors indicate whether a year was classified as an El Niño year (red), a neutral year (grey) or a La Niña year (blue).

Falling Oil Prices: An Opportunity for Regulatory Reform?

Martin Wolf in the Financial Times: “Between late June and the beginning of this month, the price of crude oil [world-wide] fell by 38 per cent. This is a big decline … US production of liquids has risen by 4mbd over the past four years. According to HSBC, US output is expected to rise by 1.4mbd this year.”

“At this stage it seems unclear whether we are witnessing a lasting structural downshift in prices. But let us assume they last for quite a while. What would be the consequences?”

“The fall in energy prices will lower already-low headline inflation. This creates two offsetting risks. One is that it might entrench expectations of ultra-low inflation. An opposite risk is that it might encourage central banks to ignore threats of rising underlying inflation. On balance, the former is at present a greater threat than the latter.”

“Falling oil prices threaten to make economies more carbon intensive and less energy efficient. But they also give an opportunity to raise taxes on oil or at least cut wasteful subsidies to consumption permanently. It is an opportunity that any sensible government would seize. Needless to say, the supply of such governments is rather small.”

Overwhelming Majority Believe Climate is Changing

USA Today: “Eight out of 10 Americans now believe the climate is changing, according to a new survey conducted for Munich Re America, the world’s largest reinsurance firm.”

‘Our survey findings indicate that national sentiment over whether or not climatic changes are occurring has finally reached a tipping point,’ said Tony Kuczinski, president of Munich Re America.”

“About 60% of people say the climate is changing due to man-made causes.”

“The survey found that 71% of respondents believed greater use of alternative energy sources, such as solar or wind power, would be the most effective in the battle against climate change.”


George Shultz Urges Republicans to Take Action on Climate Change

Bloomberg: Former secretary of state George Shultz has a new cause and it is “one few fellow Republicans support: fighting climate change. ”

“Shultz, now a distinguished fellow at Stanford University, said the reality was driven home for him during a visit to the California campus by Gary Roughead, the U.S. Navy’s retired chief of naval operations. Roughead shared a time-lapse video of the Arctic ice cap shrinking over the last quarter-century.”

“Opinion surveys show most Republicans disagree with taking steps to control climate change. Only 37 percent of party members say they believe there’s solid evidence the earth is warming and just 25 percent view it as a major threat to the U.S., the Pew Research Center said in a September report. That compares to 61 percent of all Americans in the same poll who said the globe is warming and 48 percent who see it as a threat.”

“In June, he joined Maine Senator Olympia Snowe, a Republican, in signing onto a bipartisan report that said a warmer climate could cause hundreds of billions of dollars in economic losses. Hank Paulson, George W. Bush’s former treasury secretary, was another signatory.”

Shultz “supports a system to reduce emissions through a revenue neutral tax on fossil fuels that would recycle the money collected back to citizens in the form of a carbon dividend check.”

Making a Lame Duck Presidency Relevant

E.J. Dionne calls on President Obama and House Democrats to stick together in order to “prevent the next two years from becoming a festival of reaction.”

“If Obama and progressives can cooperate to keep the worst from happening, they — and particularly the president — can also get things done. Obama’s executive actions on immigration squarely challenge congressional Republicans to put up or shut up on their claims that they actually want reform.”

“The Obama administration moved on another front last week to curb ozone emissions linked to asthma and heart disease. Republicans said they would try to block the new anti-pollution regulations. Okay, let’s fight it out. Again, conservatives will have to explain why they want to reverse an initiative rather than obstruct action altogether and then blame Obama for being ineffectual.”

“Yes, such steps will call forth enraged rhetoric about ‘the imperial president.’ But guess what? Starting in the Reagan era, when Democrats controlled Congress, the Heritage Foundation and other conservative groups put out studies and books attacking ‘the imperial Congress’ because they didn’t like any interference with a president from their own side. It seems that altered political circumstances can lead to neck-snapping changes in convictions that are allegedly rooted in constitutional principle.”

Report: Some Climate Change Impacts are Unavoidable

Reuters:  “Some future impacts of climate change, such as more extremes of heat and sea level rise, are unavoidable even if governments act fast to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the World Bank said on Sunday.”

“Past and predicted emissions from power plants, factories and cars have locked the globe on a path towards an average temperature rise of almost 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times by 2050, it said.”

“‘This means that climate change impacts such as extreme heat events may now be simply unavoidable,’ World Bank President Jim Yong Kim told a telephone news conference on the report, titled ‘Turn down the Heat, Confronting the New Climate Normal.'”

“Still, the worst impacts of global warming could be avoided by cutting greenhouse gas emissions, the report said.”



Plummeting Costs Make Renewable Power a Viable Competitor to Conventional Fuels

New York Times: “The cost of providing electricity from wind and solar power plants has plummeted over the last five years, so much so that in some markets renewable generation is now cheaper than coal or natural gas.”

“Utility executives say the trend has accelerated this year, with several companies signing contracts, known as power purchase agreements, for solar or wind at prices below that of natural gas, especially in the Great Plains and Southwest, where wind and sunlight are abundant … Recent analyses show that even without … subsidies, alternative energies can often compete with traditional sources.”

“According to a study by the investment banking firm Lazard, the cost of utility-scale solar energy is as low as 5.6 cents a kilowatt-hour, and wind is as low as 1.4 cents. In comparison, natural gas comes at 6.1 cents a kilowatt-hour on the low end and coal at 6.6 cents. Without subsidies, the firm’s analysis shows, solar costs about 7.2 cents a kilowatt-hour at the low end, with wind at 3.7 cents.”

“In a straight comparison of the costs of generating power, … the amount solar and wind developers needed to earn from each kilowatt-hour they sell from new projects was often ‘essentially competitive with what would otherwise be had from newly constructed conventional generation.’”

2014 on Track to be the Hottest Year on Record

Think Progress: “It has been the warmest January-October on record and last month was the hottest October on record, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) reported Thursday.”

“And while you wouldn’t know it from the cold temperatures in large parts of this country, NOAA’s “State of the Climate: Global Analysis,” projects that 2014 is almost certainly going to be the hottest year on record worldwide — probably by far.”

“As it has done for the last few months, NOAA plotted out several scenarios for the next two months, and they all show 2014 becoming the hottest year on record.”


Could Obama Use Keystone as Leverage for His Domestic Agenda?

Reuters: “President Barack Obama might be open to using the Keystone pipeline as leverage with Republicans if they cooperate on other aspects of his long-stalled domestic agenda, such as investing in infrastructure, closing tax loopholes or reducing carbon emissions.”

“After years of fighting over TransCanada’s crude oil pipeline from Canada, a Keystone deal is not entirely out of the question, sources inside the administration and others close to the White House told Reuters on Tuesday.”

“Any deal would have to yield concrete gains for Obama on his agenda. Obama also likely would insist on making an executive decision on the $8 billion pipeline from Canada, rather than letting Congress approve the permit, sources said.”

“‘Whatever the president decides, I expect it will be driven by the bottom line on carbon pollution, not by symbolism,’ one former administration official told Reuters.”

Is the Keystone XL Pipeline Project Now Irrelevant?

Rebecca Leber argues that the push to approve the Keystone XL pipeline project comes at time when it has become irrelevant.

“Since it was first proposed, the economics surrounding it have changed, with oil prices falling sharply, and the oil industry has pursued other options for oil transportation, including other pipeline projects and railroad shipments. Harold Hamm, an oil billionaire and CEO of Continental Resources, recently told Politico the debate is no longer relevant. ‘We’re supporting other pipelines out there, we’re not waiting on Keystone,’ he said. ‘Nobody is.’ Bloomberg News quoted several energy consultants that said the same. TransCanada’s CEO, however, continues to make the case that its pipeline will be necessary.'”

No Solyndra ‘Smoking Gun’ But Loan Program Still Mired in Scandal

National Journal: “Most people have heard about the Solyndra program only in the context of scandal.”

“And yet no smoking gun or any real evidence of ‘crony capitalism’ ever emerged. Even the claim that the government was picking political losers was wrong in context. Solyndra represented just 1.3 percent of an otherwise strong portfolio, and now that message is coming home to roost. Last week, the department revealed its much-maligned loan program has started turning a profit and is on track to make taxpayers $5 billion or more, according a first-ever estimate of gains.”

In fact, the agency has a loss rate of roughly 2 percent and “collected $810 million in interest, putting the program $30 million in the black.”

“It also isn’t particularly surprising that the department didn’t have favorable numbers to tout early on. That the losers lose before the winners win is something of an adage within the investment community, a phenomenon known as the J curve.”

Jonathan Silver, former head of the program, enumerated his top complaints about media coverage: “One is reporters suggesting that because Solyndra failed, the larger loan program is a failure, ignoring the rest of the portfolio. Another is reporters saying that the $535 million in loan guarantees allocated to Solyndra were ‘lost’ when it went bankrupt. ‘It recirculated in the American economy,’ Silver said. ‘It may have been suboptimal, but the money’s not lost.’ Meanwhile, success stories, like DOE’s early investment in electric-car company Tesla Motors, have largely flown under the radar.”

The Most Effective Tool to Cut Carbon Emissions

Eduardo Porter argues that despite advances in promising technologies designed to curb greenhouse gas emissions “civilization is mostly not yet on such a low carbon path. While promising technologies to get there have been developed, it is unclear whether nations will muster the political will and mobilize the needed investments to deploy them.”

“There is one tool available to trim carbon emissions on a relevant scale: a carbon tax. That solution, however, remains off the table.”

“If a carbon tax were to be imposed next year, starting at $25 and rising by 5 percent a year, the Energy Information Administration estimates, carbon dioxide emissions from American power plants would fall to only 419 million tons by 2040, about one-fifth of where they are today. Total carbon dioxide emissions from energy in the United States would fall to 3.6 billion tons — 1.8 billion tons less than today. By providing a monetary incentive, economists say, such a tax would offer by far the most effective way to encourage business and individuals to reduce their use of fossil fuels and invest in alternatives.”

Mitch McConnell is Now a Scientist

Rebecca Leber of The New Republic: “During his midterm campaign, top Senate Republican Mitch McConnell regularly deflected questions about climate change by saying he is ‘not a scientist.’”

“But apparently McConnell will make an exception when it comes to the Keystone XL pipeline. In remarks on the Senate floor, hours before a vote on a bill that fast-tracks construction of the pipeline, McConnell pointed to the ‘science’ supporting the legislation.”

“’Those who took a serious look at the science and the potential benefits reached the conclusion long ago,’ he said Tuesday. ‘They understand that the whole drama over Keystone has been as protracted as it is unnecessary. We hope to turn the page on all of that today.'”

Tough Odds for Passage of Keystone XL Bill in Senate

Reuters: “Keystone XL supporters in the U.S. Senate faced tough odds for passing a bill to approve the oil pipeline from Canada on Tuesday after one lawmaker they hoped might be a “yes” said he would vote against the project.”

“‘Congress is not – nor should it be – in the business of legislating the approval or disapproval of a construction project,’ Senator Angus King, an independent from Maine, said in a news release.”

“With the 100-member Senate one vote short of the needed 60 to pass a version of a bill that sailed through the House of Representatives last week, supporters including Democratic Senator Mary Landrieu lobbied for more support.”

“King, who often votes with Democrats, had been seen as a possible swing vote despite his support of climate activism. He said he was ‘frustrated’ by President Barack Obama’s failure to make a decision on the pipeline that has been pending for six years.”