Saturday, August 29, 2009

Public still supports Obama on climate change

Despite waning support for Obama’s health care strategy, the public still supports the president’s handling of energy and climate. Maybe the industry’s efforts to scare people on this issue haven’t taken hold yet.

A mid-August Washington Post-ABC poll showed 55% support Obama on energy, versus just 30% who didn’t. The complexity of the issue resulted is 15% saying they had no opinion.

On cap-and-trade specifically, 52% approved setting a cap on GHG emissions and trading permits, while 43% did not. This was unchanged from June. Among Republicans, however, support dropped to 37% from 45% two months earlier, perhaps reflecting lobbying and perhaps a hardening against Obama policies.

Other findings:
*The majority said overhauling energy policy would not raise energy bills. 58% said if it did they’d be willing to pay $10 a month more. But only 39% were willing to pay $25 more.
*40% expected to see more jobs created in a shift to green energy, while 20% thought jobs would be lost. 40% said there would be no change.
*90% favored more development of wind and solar energy.
*80% supported electric auto technology and 70% were for rebates to encourage purchase of more fuel-efficient cars.
*52% were for more nuclear plants unless, of course, they were close to home (down to 35%).

Despite still-favorable public sentiment, the odds of the Senate passing a strong cap-and-trade bill are long. With a filibuster threatened, the votes are not there yet, as pro- and anti-climate bill groups go on the road to press their case. And much may depend on the president's ability to succeed on health reform.

(Sources: Washington Post, Greenwire)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

More climate change tours target swing states to stir up public support for their side

(Photo of Blue Green Alliance at Michigan event from Flickr and stepitup2007

The American Energy Alliance is sponsoring a month-long bus tour of swing states to stir up sentiment about the climate bill. If there's any doubt which side this group is on, you’ll know when you see the blue bus with signs reading, “Stop the national energy tax, save American jobs.” This tour, of country fairs, public meetings and sporting events in Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia, is in addition to the oil-funded series of Energy Citizen rallies and events sponsored by the coal industry.

It’s yet another Astroturf effort to stir up the “grass roots” against climate change legislation by scaring people. AEA is anti-climate legislation and is partnering this time with the conservative Institute for Energy Research. Sometimes it’s hard to tell the players without a scorecard.

The good guys respond

Also hitting the road is the pro-climate bill “Made in America” jobs tour, sponsored by the Alliance for Climate Protection (Al Gore’s group) and the Blue Green Alliance started by the Sierra Club and Steelworkers union, now including more unions and environmental groups, such as the Natural Resources Defense Council. They will be promoting clean energy jobs and strong climate change policies.

The Blue Green Alliance has estimated that if we pass a renewable energy standard (RES) of 25% of power by 2025, clean energy could create 850,000 jobs.

This tour will go to 22 states, including manufacturing states with swing votes like Indiana, Michigan, Missouri and Pennsylvania. For a complete list see

If you live in Chicago and want to go to a pro-climate bill event, the Environmental Law and Policy Center is organizing a rally from 12-1:30 p.m. Monday, Aug. 31, at Federal Plaza, 230 S. Dearborn.

(Sources: Greenwire,

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Can natural gas from shale save climate bill?

(Photo of natural gas rig in Louisiana from Flickr and photographer Daniel Foster)

Some Senators see incentives for natural gas from shale as a way to win more support for a climate change bill in their chamber. Leading the way to add those incentives are Colorado Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennett, the latter a swing vote himself.

New discoveries of shale gas (not to be confused with dirty shale oil) reserves, plus the technology to drill for it, have made shale gas a cleaner replacement for coal to make electricity, as well as a potential backup for wind and solar. Natural gas has about half the carbon emissions of coal. And wind and solar will need a backup, at least at the start, because of their dependence on the weather. Natural gas generators can be fired up quickly to serve that purpose.

New discoveries have increased natural gas reserves in the past couple of years, from 1,300 trillion cubic feet in 2006 to 1,800 tcf in 2008, mostly in shale, according to a report by the Potential Gas Committee.

The political potential

Lo and behold, many of the gas reserves in shale are in the homes states of uncommitted Democratic senators: Blanche Lincoln and Mark Pryor of Arkansas, Robert Byrd and Jay Rockefeller from West Virginia, Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, Mary Landrieu from Louisiana, and Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania – as well as Republican George Voinovich of Ohio.

When the House version – the American Clean Energy and Security Act – narrowly passed, the majority of reps from Ark. Ohio, La. and Penn. voted against it (as well as Texas. Okla. and Ky.) and the W. Va. delegation was evenly split.

Natural gas vs. coal
Incentives for natural gas would pit the gas industry against the coal business. Natural gas would benefit from the proposed cap on emissions because it will lead to a quicker changeover from coal. And the gas industry favors fewer offsets, which would allow coal-fired utilities to stall in making changes by contributing to forests and other projects.

The coal business, not surprisingly, is worried about losing out to natural gas under climate legislation and opposes incentives that could speed that transition. The American Mining Association is running ads pointing to the volatility of natural gas prices and warning of spiking electricity costs. They’re not going to give up without a fight, so it remains to be seen which is strongest in vying for these senators’ loyalty.

But natural gas from shale, though not clean enough in the long run, just might help us over two humps – the transition to totally renewable, clean energy and the passage of a climate bill by both houses of Congress this year.

(Source: E&E Daily)

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Sunday, August 16, 2009

Oil-funded protests staged to show 'energy citizens' ire against House climate change bill

(Photo of protest at Sen. Mark Warner's (D-Va.) office from Flickr and photographer formatted_dad/Michael

If you’ve been annoyed at the phony grass-roots protests of health reform, just wait till you see what’s coming on climate change.

Starting Tuesday in Houston, the American Petroleum Institute will bankroll at least 20 rallies across the country in coordination with Freedom Works (Dick Armey’s group that brought you the screaming health protestors) and many other industrial and conservative organizations. In an email that was leaked, API said it would do all the organizing (by hiring a professional events manager) and all the others had to do was “show up.”

The Astroturf “energy citizens” rallies are being staged at lunchtime, primarily in areas where Democratic senators have conservative constituencies. They are staged to give the impression there’s a groundswell of public opinion against Obama’s climate strategy.

The purpose is not to kill climate change legislation, API insists, but to make the Senate version of the bill more energy (read “oil”) friendly.

Talking points
Expect the usual half-truths, exaggerations and mostly downright lies.
A flier promoting the rallies says the House version of the climate bill, would:
• Cost 2 million jobs.
• Push gasoline prices over $4/gallon.
• Reduce energy security.
• Hurt American businesses’ ability to compete.

Talking points will include budget projections that were refuted by the Congressional Budget Office weeks ago.

Other organizations participating in the rallies include the American Farm Bureau, American Highway Users Alliance, National Black Chamber of Commerce, Small Business and Entrepreneurship Council, American Conservative Union, Americans for Tax Reform, and Council for Citizens Against Government Waste.

Another group, the Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (don’t be fooled by the word “clean”) has already begun a program of harassment at town meetings and other events.

Some companies are members of both the American Petroleum Institute and U.S. Climate Action Partnership (USCAP), which backs the legislation. ConocoPhillips is urging its employees to turn out for the rallies and Exxon backs them. Shell, on the other hand, says it does not support them.

Oil and coal companies are basically fighting for their lives here. Strong regulation of emissions and a shift to clean energy will hurt them badly. So their motivation is strong. And they have the money to do this.

Environmental groups don’t have the money to stage such events, but there will be some rallies to strengthen climate legislation and as well as plans to contact senators in person and by phone or email. We all need to lend a voice. The other side is going all out.

(Sources: Greenwire, The Guardian)

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Clean energy is on upswing in U.S., but we need much more to avert climate change

(Photo from Flickr and state of Washington DNR.)

Thanks to state mandates, stimulus money and a slumping economy, the use of dirty coal to produce electricity has dropped slightly in the past year to 46.1% and clean renewables gained traction to 11.1%.

The Energy Information Administration predicts wind will be the source of 5% of electricity in 2020 and all renewable energy will make up 14%.

Coal use fell since last year, while the nation used slightly more natural gas, a bit less oil, and more biomass. (High gasoline prices may have been a factor for oil.) Investment helped wind power grow, while nuclear plants had less downtime, according to a study from the Lawrence Livermore Lab. Hydroelectric grew the most, according to

States rights
While Congress struggles to get a meaningful renewable electricity standard (RES), many states – including in July coal state West Virginia – have passed mandates for use of some clean energy in generating electricity. Once again the states are leading in the fight against climate change while the feds lag behind. (This happened with cars, remember?)

Economic slowdown
Total electricity generation is down 5%, year over year, thanks in part to the slowing economy. Industrial production sagged 12.5% in that period, according to the Federal Reserve.

Stimulus funds
Clean energy is expected to benefit from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (stimulus) money. A revised forecast from EIA shows wind at more than twice the earlier-predicted level in 2012 because of stimulus – 201 billion kilowatt hours instead of 86B, compared with 53B in 2008. Geothermal will benefit as well, growing 16% more by 2013 than if there was no stimulus. Energy efficiency will also improve, with a weatherization program. But let’s not get too excited. The impact on CO2 emissions by 2013 will be slight – down just 1.3% from earlier predictions, because of the stimulus.

We still have a long, long way to go on clean energy. A stronger Senate climate bill would certainly help – one that phases out dirty coal plants while promoting more clean energy, which by-the-way could fill all our energy needs if the infrastructure was updated and the special interests could be silenced. I know: not going to happen.

But we can try. Everyone should contact his or her senators and ask them to work to phase out dirty coal and do more to promote clean energy.

(Sources: E&E Daily,, Energy Information Administration,

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Follow the $$ that influenced climate change bill

(Picture of money from Flickr and photographer Tracy O.)

There are 2 ways for industry to gain access to congressman considering global warming (or any other) legislation. Both involve money. There are paid lobbyists and contributions to campaign funds.

And Big Energy was busy trying both ways in the House this spring as the American Clean and Energy Security Act (ACES) was heatedly debated and narrowly passed with some concessions to electric utilities and coal.

As Tyson Slocum of Public Citizen told Greenwire, “The more you spend the better chance you’ve got at influencing legislation.”


In the second quarter alone (April-June, when the bill was debated in committee), the 10 industries with the biggest stake in the results spent $122 million. Oil and gas spent the most, at $37.7 million. Chevron alone spent $6 million. Environmental groups spent just $5.2M.

In the whole first half of 2009, oil and gas spent $82.2M and electric utilities spent $35.9 million on lobbyists, while Exxon Mobil by itself spent $15M, slightly more than all clean energy combined.

Campaign contributions
In the same quarter, coal-fired electric utilities, with potentially the most to lose, were busy contributing to Congressmen’s campaign funds. Especially those on the Energy and Commerce Committee, which was debating the climate change bill.

Employee PACS at American Electric Power, Southern Co. and Duke Energy together donated $165,000 to 70 house members, many on the Energy Committee. The largest donation, $11,500, went to Minority Leader John Boener (R-Ohio).

Those who received these contributions voted 2-1 against the bill. This despite the fact that the three companies ended up supported it – and why not? They got a pretty good deal, with 35% of the free credits allocated to electric utilities. Plus the EPA lost some of is power to regulate coal-fired utility plants under the Clean Air Act. And research money for carbon capture and sequestration was included.

Eight Republicans ended up voting for the bill. Of those, 7 got little or no money from the utilities. An industry rep explained to E&E Daily they only contribute to those with whom they see eye-to-eye on issues. The wavering Mary Bono Mack (R-Calif.), who ended up voting for the bill, was wooed with contributions by both sides.

More money for Democrats

Because they now have the majority (and some hail from oil patch and coal states), Democrats in the House and Senate got a bigger share of energy money than before. In the first half of the 2009 utilities gave 59% of their cash to Democrats, and the nuclear industry gave 65% of theirs.

But oil and gas, and coal, continued to favor the GOP. Oil and gas gave less than 25% to Dems, among them Sens. Rick Boucher (D-Va.), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.) and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), while the National Mining Assn. gave 40%. Exxon Mobil gave just 17% to Democrats.

Both sides (corporations and lawmakers), of course, deny this money buys votes. Industry sources say they tend to give money to those who see issues as they do. They said they donate when lawmakers hold fundraisers, not when a key bill is being considered.

Senators must not have been holding as many fund-raisers this spring, because they got considerably less from the electric utilities than House members.

As action on the climate bill moves to the Senate, look for a rise in “fund raising” there this fall.

(Sources: E&E Daily, Greenwire)

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Global warming to surge in next 5 years as El Niño and sun add to greenhouse gases' impact -- study

(Temperature chart from the UK's Climate Research Unit. It was uploaded to Flickr by T. Raftery.)

Beware. This coming fall and winter could be unusually warm. And that fast-warming phase is likely to continue for 5 years and be worse than previously forecast, a new study predicts.

A combination of natural forces have masked the full impact of rising CO2 emissions on average global temperatures over the past decade, but now they are entering a new phase where they will work in tandem with greenhouse gases to heat the planet, according to scientists from NASA and the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.

Relatively stable average world temperatures since 1999 are the result of a downward cycle in sunspots and flares and a period of weak El Niños, the study says.

But now the 11-year cycle of solar activity is about to go on the upswing and El Niño effects in the Pacific Ocean are expected to produce more extreme heat, says the study. This is the first look at the impact of all four factors on global temperatures: human actions (greenhouse gases), El Niño, solar activity and volcanic eruptions.

The hottest year on record was 1998, in part because of a strong El Niño episode. The extreme heat that year led to droughts, flooding, severe heat waves and the death of 16% of the world’s coral.

(By contrast, 1601 was the coldest year of the millennium, following the giant eruption of a Peruvian volcano that spewed ash that blocked out sunlight. Among the results was a famine in Russia that killed one-third its population.)

The researchers are quick to point out that while these natural forces have an impact, they do not negate the importance of the steady rise of CO2 emissions and their baseline effect on temperatures.

While 1998 was the hottest year and the 1990s the warmest decade on record, 13 of the 14 warmest years were between 1995 and 2008, according to the UK’s Climate Research Unit. And 8 of the top 9 came after 2000.

“We're seeing a long-term warming trend driven by human activity, with natural factors affecting the precise shape of that temperature rise," said Judith Lean, one of the authors.

The study is to be published in Geophysical Research Letters.

(Sources: The Guardian, Climate Research Unit, UK’s Met Office and Greenwire)