Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I had an intimate chat today with Sen. John Kerry in Chicago

Well, I guess I should mention there were about 25 other people from the environmental community at the meeting this morning. Kerry had come to talk about what we can do to help pass a good climate bill in Washington -- and prevent a bad one that would strip the EPA of power to regulate greenhouse gases.

The senator, who but for Ohio would have been president, and has become the leader on climate change, was in town to pitch Alexi Giannoulias, Democrat for Senate, as a friend to the environment and a much-needed vote to keep the Dems in charge of at least one chamber on Capitol Hill.

Kerry is clearly passionate about the need for a strong climate law and just as clearly distressed by the mood of the country and the lack of interest in doing something about "pollution," as he calls it. The Republicans branded "cap and trade" as "cap and tax" and destroyed all chances for the only effective way to bring in revenue to help companies and consumers cope with the change, and provide money for R&D to move the country forward.

It's so obvious, he said, that a strong climate bill would have multiple benefits -- creating jobs, preventing more and worse droughts and floods, improving health, preserving national security and reducing dependence on foreign oil. But a carbon tax won't do the job, he said. "It would have to be a big tax to influence behavior, and it has no target (to reduce CO2)." Utilities would likely just "write it into the cost of doing business."

On clean energy jobs, he said, we're falling behind many other countries. "We're on the margins. We're not doing nearly what we could be doing." While China is giving state subsidies to renewable energy "we're not even doing all we legally could," with incentives and grants.

And we're not going to catch up with "a bunch of Neanderthal flat-earthers" in the Congress.

"We're in a very strange place right now, and we've got to break out of it."

He expects an energy bill of some kind, but says it will be greatly watered down to perhaps a renewable portfolio standard and energy efficiency provision. "They'll cherry-pick the easy things," he said, and avoid the hard ones.

He gave a bill by Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.V.) to delay for two years the EPA's ability to regulate greenhouse gases a good chance of passing. "I'm more than worried," he said. "It's going to be a very, very tough fight," one he said he would lead.

With so much money on the other side -- made worse by the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling (which he called unbelievably dangerous) -- the only way to get decent climate legislation is for the people to "rekindle the grassroots bite" that in the '70s helped pass the Clean Air Act, the establishment of the EPA and so many other environmental steps forward. "In the '70s we did teach-ins, and organized around them." Individual letters and phone calls are needed to counter the pressure on senators from the other side, he said. "Pre-printed cards have far less impact."

In the next two weeks, Kerry urged, environmentalists must work hard to get out the vote for candidates who will be on their side. Giannoulias put in an appearance at the end and the two men embraced -- both very tall, one distinguished-looking with a mop of thick gray hair, the other a fresh-faced hopeful in his 30s. They both said they hoped to serve together in the Senate.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Exelon turns from nukes, become major force in wind power

ComEd parent Exelon, a big player in the nuclear power industry, is turning toward wind. The company said today it will buy John Deere renewables, which will make it one of the largest wind operators in the U.S.

Deere Renewables has 735MW operating and 230MW more in development in Michigan.

Meanwhile, Exelon has pulled back its application to license a two-unit nuclear plant in Texas because of lower demand due to a slumping economy.

Exelon is committed to cutting its CO2 emissions by 15M metric tons by 2020, which is more than its total output in 2001.

(Source: climateprogress.org, Green blog, NYT)

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Chicago releases progress report on climate action plan

(Photo of Michigan Avenue from Flickr and photographer Lapstrake/Tom Gill)

I’ve noticed mostly hybrid buses up and down Michigan Avenue lately, and most of my rides are now on one of the 208 new hybrids the city bought over the past year or so. I wondered, though, what the buses looked like in other parts of the city. And now I know. The Chicago Climate Action Plan’s report has been released and it says hybrids make up just 13% of the bus fleet.

I don’t want to downplay the importance of buying these hybrids or of showcasing them in areas where tourists abound. We know the city had planned to buy more, but had to cut back the order because of budget problems. But too often the CCAP’s accomplishments have been happening under the radar – or if reported haven’t been put in context. So we don’t know how much, percentage-wise, CO2 emissions have been cut.

In an earlier post I outlined some of the raw figures Suzanne Malek-McKenna, head of the Environment Department, showed on a slide during a meeting in May. It was the first indication I’d seen of progress from the CCAP, which has a goal of cutting GHG emissions 25% (from 1990 levels) by 2020.

This 2-year progress report repeats some of those numbers and gives a bit more information, but again context is often missing and the report is written in such corporate terms it’s hard to separate the results from the process.

Energy efficiency is key
CCAP, which revealed its plans two years ago after many months of planning with the help of civic leaders, community groups, nonprofits, corporations and unions, clearly was going to focus most of its efforts on energy conservation. That made sense because 70% of emissions in Chicago came from energy use in buildings. Not a sexy topic or something you can see, like hybrid cars or windmills or shutting down coal plants.

But energy efficiency is something that can be done quickly, and the bonus is that it saves money. So quietly the city began working with its partners to weatherize buildings, both public and private.

In the past two years the city, often using federal grants, has worked with community organizations and others to weatherize 393 commercial and industrial buildings and 13,341 residential units, cutting their energy use by 21%. Steps taken including sealing air leaks, adding insulation, upgrading windows and improving heat and air conditioning systems.

Chicago now leads the country in the number of LEED certified buildings, with 134 – compared with 96 in Portland, 95 in San Francisco and 82 in New York. Looking at context again, Portland and San Francisco have much lower populations and may well lead percentage-wise, but any way you look at it we beat out the Big Apple.

Additionally, ComEd has worked with the city to get people to turn in old, inefficient appliances and lighting for more energy-efficient models. More than 2.4 million light bulbs have been changed out, making that the biggest saving in electricity and money, with air conditioners and refrigerators coming in a distant second and third.

There's more
A few other important findings in the report:

• The Park District uses 25% renewable energy at its facilities.
• Chicago has become a major hub for wind companies, with 14 now here, compared with just 4 at the end of 2008. The city’s manufacturing capabilities, proximity to areas with great potential in wind and extensive transportation networks all contribute to an environment for wind companies to settle here.
• Exelon and SunPower developed the largest urban solar power plant, with more than 32,000 panels.
• The Chicago Public Schools now purchase 20% of their electricity from alternative sources.

There’s quite a bit more. Click here to see the entire report. There’s more being done than we have been told about. I wonder why they don’t announce their accomplishments more. In the vacuum we are left to focus on two of the lingering problems: the filthy old coal plants inside city limits and the stunted recycling program.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Iceland a volcanic wonderland with all renewable energy

(Photo of Strokkurd geyser erupting, as it does every few minutes at Geysir Hot Springs Area in southern Iceland. Photo by Sabrina Linton)

I just got back from a trip to Iceland with my grandchildren Bryan and Sabrina. The pristine island nation is hauntingly beautiful in a volcano-y, geothermally, green-mossy sort of way. There's very little pollution. If all the world were like Iceland we wouldn’t have to worry about climate change.

Blessed with plenty of natural hydro and geothermal energy, the country derives virtually all of its electric power from renewable sources. It fuels 90% of its heating and 25% of its electricity with the geothermal power simmering below its surface and has 7 geothermal power plants, 6 of them currently operational. Hydroelectric power fuels the balance.

Iceland is in a race with France, Israel and others to change over to electric vehicles supported by a nationwide EV charging network. Northern Lights Energy Co. hopes to make Iceland the first country in the world to have a national electric charging grid, which is very possible because of the scarcity of roads. Iceland could service the entire island with 20 well-placed charging stations.

Iceland is also using hydrogen for power. There was a charging station at the harbor and the whale-watching boat we went on was powered by hydrogen.

The fruits and vegetables are mostly organic and livestock aren’t fed antibiotics, our guide told us. Much of what Icelanders eat comes out of the sea, with fishing as its main industry. (No runaway oil wells muddying the waters here.) Low-cost geothermal energy has led to a healthy greenhouse industry, where salad greens, tomatoes, bananas and such are grown indoors. We ate bananas there, assuming had been shipped a long, long way. Maybe not!

This tiny country with just over 300,000 people does have a huge advantage when it comes to pollution from power use. The don’t need much of it.

Of course there are disadvantages to living on a volcanic island. Eyjafjallajökull (I think I can finally pronounce it), the volcano that erupted several months ago, was lying dormant again – at least for now – but caused quite a bit of damage with its ash, which covered farms in the area, requiring evacuation of livestock. The real threat, however, is Vatnajökull, which in the past has followed its smaller sibling and would blow up Europe’s largest ice cap, likely causing deadly floods.

Iceland is one of the fastest growing tourist destinations in the world. Proximity of the Gulf Stream keeps it milder in winter than New York or Toronto. Yet in summer, despite its 24 hours of daylight, high temps are usually in the high 50s or low 60s. We had one warmer day, when it was unusually sunny and in the low 70s, nice enough to have dinner at a sidewalk café in Reykjavik. Another day when we went close to the huge Vatna glacier and rode in a boat among icebergs on a glacial lagoon, we nearly froze. But it was nice to beat the heat back home for a week!

(Sources: GEA International Market Report May 2010, Globetrotter Travel Guide to Iceland, The Daily Green, BBC)

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Climate bill dead in the water; Next up, attack on EPA rules

(Photo of U.S. Capitol Building from Flickr and photographer wallyg)

You can kiss a climate bill goodbye, for 2010 and likely for the foreseeable future.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has read the tea leaves and seen the time and the votes aren’t there. So instead he is offering a pitiful oil spill response and energy efficiency bill. He thinks he can get 60 votes for that, but others aren’t even sure.

Gone is a price on carbon. Gone is a renewable electricity standard (RES) of 15%, which was scorned by enviros as far too weak when it passed out of Jeff Bingaman’s (D-N.M.) energy committee a year ago. Now it looks pretty good.

Without a price on carbon and an RES, clean energy won’t have the impetus needed to make a dent in the fossil fuel monopoly.

Reid’s bill, to be unveiled Monday, is expected to include:
• A spill response eliminating or raising the $75M liability cap, probably to $10B, plus some rig safety rules.
• HomeStar energy-efficiency retrofitting.
• Natural gas truck incentives.
• Funds for land and water conservation.

Now it’s up to the EPA
The only silver lining in this disastrous thunder cloud is that the EPA can begin regulating large sources of emissions, and states can continue their own programs.

But a new study by the World Resource Institute says those would only cut greenhouse gases 14% by 2020, instead of the 17% expected in the Kerry-Lieberman bill and promised by Obama at the world meeting in Copenhagen.

Republicans, and some Democratic Senators, are hoping to handcuff the EPA’s ability to regulate emissions under the Clean Air Act. If they succeed, emissions would be cut just 6-9%, the study says. And there’s no way – without additional measures – to come close to the 80% reduction needed by 2050.

Dem Sen. Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.) has a bill, which Reid promised to bring up for a vote, which would delay EPA action for two years. (It’s not like we’re in any hurry here.) Six other Dems are co-sponsoring that bill. In case any of them are supposed to represent you, they are Dorgan and Conrad of N.D., McCaskill (Mo.) Webb (Va.), Johnson (S.C.) and Nelson (Neb.)

A companion bill in the House is likely to be blocked by Dem leadership. And there’s always an Obama veto. So in all likelihood the EPA will be able to proceed in January, requiring new plants to use the best available technology to cut GHG.

There’s a GOP energy bill too
Just in case you thought Reid’s bill is as low as we could go, Republicans will offer an energy bill of their own that focuses (of course) on offshore drilling, lifting the deepwater drilling moratorium for those that meet new inspection criteria, making 37.5% revenue sharing with states immediate rather than waiting till 2017, setting up a more industry-friendly liability program, and reorganizing the former Minerals Management Service.

Nothing here about energy efficiency or natural gas vehicles.

Who wins, who loses?
So, despite the catastrophic Gulf spill and the sweltering heat, which should remind us of what’s in store, Big Oil and Coal have handily won this round.

There are a lot of losers:

Too bad, House of Representatives, which passed a decent bill last summer, that will now die.

Too bad, Sens. Kerry and Lieberman, who spent much of the past year-and-a-half trying to gain support for a mild but comprehensive climate bill.

Too bad, corporations, that want some certainty about regulations in the future.

Too bad, environmental groups, for all the resources spent pleading our case.

Too bad, clean energy businesses that won’t get a level playing field.

And too bad, world, that is waiting for the United States to lead, or at least not to drag everyone else down.

Too bad, you and me and our children and grandchildren.

It’s really, really too bad.

(Sources: Greenwire, E&E Daily, E&E News PM, The Hill)

Friday, July 16, 2010

Lots more of this in the future under global warming

Boise 101? Billings 96? The heat has spread over the entire nation. A few high temps forecast for today:
Austin 98
Baltimore 95
Brownsville 95
Dallas 97
El Paso 97
Fresno 106
Houston 95
Jackson, MS 96
Las Vegas 108
Memphis 98
Nashville 96
Philadelphia 95
Phoenix 111
Reno 100
Sacramento 103
Salt Lake City 101
San Antonio 97
Yuma 111
Just thought you'd like to know.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Reid goes for 4-part energy/climate bill by August recess

We may actually get an energy and climate bill in the Senate this summer. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said floor debate will likely begin the week of July 26. And if the matter is not resolved, Senators are warned they may have to stay in Washington an extra week past the Aug. 6 adjournment date – something they don’t want to do.

Reid is expected to do his thing and cobble together a bill he thinks can get 60 votes.

He says it will have four parts:
• A Gulf spill response that will tighten regulations on offshore drilling.
• A clean energy/jobs section, quite likely in the form of a renewable electricity standard, with help for consumers
• A tax package
• A limit on pollution, including greenhouse gases, from utilities.

Whether the bill will, in the end, include a cap on GHG is still in question.

President Obama is sticking to his guns that the final bill needs a carbon cap, and many experts say without one if won’t do much to curb GHG emissions. Pundits have criticized him for being too quick to compromise in the past and perhaps he’s learned his lesson.

Working with Republican Snowe
At this point only one Republican, Olympia Snowe (R-Maine), supports the cap on carbon for utilities, and she is working with Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) on language to include limits on power plants starting in 2013. Power plants spew about one-third of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions.

Kerry and Lieberman also have scaled back their climate bill to cap utilities only, while Bingaman’s Energy and Natural Resources Committee gets set to mark up a bunch of bills Thursday, that would increase production of electric plug-in cars and trucks, increase R&D for natural gas and bump up incentives for nuclear and solar. The panel has already approved an RES and offshore drilling reforms.

No other Republicans have jumped onboard and several moderate Democrats are wavering.

House action
Meanwhile, in the House – which you may recall passed a comprehensive climate bill last summer – the Natural Resources Committee is looking to vote today on Chairman Nick Rahall’s (D-W.Va.) bill overhauling offshore drilling rules, which includes:
*Reorganizing the agency in charge of leasing, enforcing and revenue collection (something the Administration is already doing).
*Requiring a good blowout prevention and response plan.
*Mandating monthly inspection of rigs.
*Repealing some parts of the 2005 Energy Policy Act that gave royalty waivers to drillers.
*Ending a policy of exemptions from environmental review.

(Sources: Politico, E&E Daily, Senatus, The Hill, PM, PlanetArk)

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

If you can't take the heat, maybe you should get out of the city

(Photo of time and temperature during heat wave of 2005 from Flickr and swanksalot/Seth Anderson)

Cities retain heat more than rural or even suburban areas. A combination of steel, concrete and asphalt that absorb the heat and large buildings that break up cool breezes cause what's known as "urban heat islands." That heat is retained at night, with so little vegetation or soil moisture to cool it down.

In New York City, night-time temperatures are as much as 14 degrees higher than those in outlying areas as close as 60 miles away, according to a 2009 American Meteorological Society study.

Now researchers at the Met Office in London are saying there will be an increased effect of urban warming as CO2 concentrations in the air rise.

In case you haven't noticed, a heat wave has descended over Washington, New York and much of the East Coast, with temperatures up around 100 degrees. Too bad the Congressmen who mocked global warming during the cold, snowy winter, are out of town right now. They might begin to have second thoughts. (Though, probably not.)

Increased CO2 will only make things worse, Met scientists say. Urban areas are warming faster than rural ones, according to the Met study, published in Geophysical Research Letters. The researchers forecast daytime urban temperatures will increase 5 degrees Fahrenheit when CO2 levels reach 645ppm, probably by 2050. Night temperatures will rise by the same amount, their models say.

Climate change and rapidly increasing migration to cities, especially in third-world countries, will create health hazards, the study said.

Some climate change deniers have said death from cold equals or surpasses death from heat, so health should not be a concern. However, the U.S. Global Change Research Program said winter cold snaps increase death rates by 1.6%, while heat waves drive them up by 5.7%. So heat is more deadly than cold. And the number of hot nights in most cities is expected to increase significantly.

The heat wave in Chicago in 1995, which killed some 700 people, was deadly because temperatures didn't cool at night and apartments without air conditioning got hotter and hotter as the days went on and it didn't cool down at night.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports in 2007 predicted with increasing global warming, there would be more heat waves with hot nights as well as hot days.

"Every degree is huge, in a city," said Stuart Gaffin, co-author of the Meteorological Society's New York study. "It's the difference between a blackout and getting through a heat wave. NYC this week was flirting with a blackout because of increased demand for air conditioning. A blackout would compound the danger and drive up the number of fatalities in a hot spell.

Which tells us we need to increase the capacity and modernize the electrical grid. And also that we need a price on carbon to slow down emissions into the air that will make all this worse and worse.

(Source: ClimateWire)

Heat wave settles over much of the country; D.C. to hit 100

Here are forecast highs of 95 or more for 17 cities Tuesday:

Phoenix 105
Las Vegas 103
Washington 100
Baltimore 100
Philadelphia 100
Fresno 99
Hartford 98
New York 98
Albany 96
Charleston (W.Va.) 96
Cincinnati 96
Columbus 96
Louisville 96
Norfolk 96
Albuquerque 95
Houston 95
Providence 95

(Source: Chicago Sun-Times)

Monday, July 05, 2010

No shortage of jobs for oil industry lobbyists hired to influence new safety rules and speed up shallow-water permits

(Photo of blowout preventer from Flickr and photographer Eschipul/Ed Schipul

If you’re thinking Congress and the Obama Administration will make the most logical moves to assure safe drilling in the Gulf of Mexico from now on, think again.

Big Oil is hiring well-connected lobbyists, including former U.S. Rep. Robert Livingston (R-LA) as well as ex-staff of Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) and others on Capitol Hill.

Six companies have formed the Shallow Water Energy Security Coalition, which is clamoring for new drilling leases. They complain there is a de facto moratorium on new leases in shallow water because the Interior Department isn’t issuing new ones until revised safety rules are in place.

Interior says that isn’t so, that the last week in June they OK’d 11 shallow-water leases, 4 of which are for new wells (with the others for ongoing operations) and in half the cases rigs have moved to those spots.

Interior says shallow-water drilling can continue as long as new safety requirements are met.

But the coalition says its members have been unable to get permits and some shallow-water drillers are laying off workers. Including support jobs, as many as 7,000 people could be affected, a coalition spokesman said.

Hercules, a rig operator, and three other members of the coalition have hired not one, not two, but three lobbying firms to represent them, as well as Rudy Giuliani for advice.

Safety equipment manufacturers, including those making blowout preventers, also have lobbyists trying to affect the government’s new rules.

T-3 Energy Services, a company that makes blowout preventers and other safety equipment it sells to BP, Exxon and others, has hired a lobbyist to make sure new regulations “strike an appropriate balance,” a lobbyist told Greenwire in an email. Lobbyists working with 3-T include former aides to Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA), Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Boehner.

BP, of course, has its own lobbyists, among them former advisors to Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL), Rep. Ed Towns (D-NY) and Rep. Ron Klein (D-FL), in addition to Tony Podesta, former Justice Dept. official Jamie Gorelick and a longtime aide to former VP Walter Mondale.

Need I say more?

(Sources: Greenwire, Shallow Water Energy Security Coalition)

Sunday, June 27, 2010

GOP plans defense to Dem effort to link spill to climate

Senate Republicans are plotting their defense strategy as Dems try to agree on how to pursue climate and energy legislation, in advance of a bi-partisan meeting with President Obama Tuesday.

The White House meet was postponed from last week because of the Gen. McChrystal flap.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last week pulled together Republicans invited to that meeting to make sure they hold together under pressure to sign on to a climate bill. He told them to focus on the Gulf oil spill, and not tie it to climate change, as Dems want. And he warned any bill with an “energy tax” (cap-and-trade) would go nowhere.

Meanwhile Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) held two caucus meetings, the second of which was praised as “inspirational” by attendees, yet was unable to find common ground on how strong and comprehensive an energy bill should be.

Polluters should pay
Dems agreed to emphasize “polluters pay” in their bill and Reid said there should also be millions of new jobs, a cut in pollution and energy independence. But they didn’t get much further than that.

Alternatives range from the comprehensive Kerry-Lieberman American Power Act based on cap-and-trade, to a weaker version that just regulates utility companies, to an energy-only bill without any price on carbon, to a very weak bill energy bill from Richard Lugar (R-Ind.).

The problem is getting all Dems onboard and picking up at least one Republican. Sen. George LeMieux (R-Fla.) is seen as a possible vote for linking clean energy to the spill.

But it may be difficult to get the support of all Dems. Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said he wants to focus on suspending the EPA’s authority to regulate greenhouse gases and pushing for clean coal – not exactly what most other Dems have in mind.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has suggested that a diverse panel of about 10 Democrats try to hammer out compromise legislation they think can get 60 votes.

But there’s not much time to act. Just one week between now and the Fourth of July and then 25 days until the August recess. After that elections will dominate.

And it won’t necessarily be easy to reach agreement on the other part of the bill – reforming offshore drilling regulations. Lifting the liability cap is already controversial.

(Sources: ClimateWire, E&E Daily, E&E News PM)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Obama and Dem leaders will push next week to firm up a climate strategy; but will a price on carbon be part of it?

Will there be a price on carbon? That seems to be the most important question, but it's certainly not the only one about upcoming climate legislation in the Senate.

As Obama invites a bi-partisan group of Senators to share ideas at the White House next week, and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) reconvenes the Democratic caucus to discuss proposals presented in a one-hour closed-door meeting last week, cap and trade (or some other price on carbon) seems the most controversial piece of the puzzle.

How to get to 60
Republicans voted in lockstep for the Murkowski resolution to block EPA regulation of greenhouse gases (and were joined by 6 Democrats).

So it seems likely they will hold together to vote “no” on cap and trade, or any legislation that’s tough on fossil fuels. With elections close at hand they may just say “no” to block Obama.

Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who worked for months with Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) has deserted his friends in the enemy camp and is now backing fellow Republican Richard Lugar’s (Ind.) bill. So that might have a chance to get to the 60 votes needed. But it’s very weak, focusing on energy efficiency, nuclear power and retiring a few of the oldest, dirtiest coal-powered plants.

Another possibility for Republican support is the Cantwell-Collins “cap and dividend bill.” GOP Sen. Susan Collins (Me.) is one of the sponsors and might bring along a couple of fellow New Englanders. It would return 75% of revenues from allowances to the people. But anything with “cap” seems to be politically toxic.

And we certainly can’t depend on oil-patch Democrats, who we’ve seen are still clamoring for increased offshore drilling. In fact, without immediate state revenue-sharing of offshore drilling, Mary Landieu (D-La.) says she’ll work to stop a bill. And then there are coal-state Dems like Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.). He's unlikely to vote for anything that hurts his state’s economy.

The benefits of Kerry-Lieberman
Although it’s not all we might wish, Kerry-Lieberman’s American Power Act, which is built on cap-and-trade (17% below 2005 levels by 2020), seems by far the best Senate bill out there. It would actually DO something and aims for an 83% cut in GHG by 2050. An EPA analysis puts the cost per family at less than a postage stamp a day. A Peterson Institute study says it will unleash 200,000 new jobs a year 2011-2020. And a ClimateWorks Foundation study ups the jobs to half a million a year until 2030.

Rationally, this is the best bill hands down. And it has the support of many big businesses, like GE, Honeywell and Dow Chemical. But who’s rational? Certainly not the Senate a few months before midterm elections.

So conventional wisdom is that Jeff Bingaman’s (D-N.M.) bill that passed the Energy Committee last year and would establish a renewable electricity standard, will be the platform to which other items would be attached. Kerry-Lieberman could be introduced as an amendment (though they are still fighting to take the lead) -- and will probably fail to get 60 votes.

Possible health reform redux
Meanwhile the idea is out there that the strategy might be to pass the best bill possible, then go to reconciliation with the House, which you may have forgotten passed a comprehensive cap-and-trade bill last year. And they could work cap-and-trade into the final result. The votes might be there for passage of such a final bill in the lame-duck session. Especially if majority rules.

That would be cool. But we’ll have to see how it plays out.

Getting anything through the Senate will be hard because this bill will also contain response to the oil spill, like greatly increasing the oil tax for the Spill Response Trust Fund, eliminating the liability cap of $75 million and tightening safety regulations. While most of the country will be all for that, some oil-state Senators will no doubt tout the industry line.

Senators everywhere need to hear from the public, which is way ahead of them on this one.

Call the Congressional Switchboard at 202-224-3121 and tell your Senators you want a comprehensive climate bill with a price on carbon passed this year.

(Sources: E&E Daily, E&ENewsPM, ClimateWire, The Hill)

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Just who does the six-month moratorium stop from drilling?

(Photo of Deepwater Horizon drilling rig before the accident from Flickr and photographerTravellingSteve)

As Gulf Coast lawmakers push for an end to the 6-month moratorium on deepwater drilling, and BP sets up a $100M fund for unemployed oil workers, many are still confused about which drilling is affected by the shutdown. Is it just for new wells or is it everyone drilling in deepwater? Neither.

When Obama announced the stoppage on May 27, he made clear it was for deepwater Gulf drilling (more than 500 feet beneath the sea) and would apply to any new permits as well as the 33 rigs that were doing exploratory drilling but not yet producing.

The 591 producing deepwater wells could continue their operations.

He also postponed new drilling off Alaska for this summer and cancelled lease sales until more was known about the Deepwater Horizon accident and lessons learned from the catastrophic explosion and continuing leak.

Yet the oil and gas industry and Gulf Coast lawmakers are so concerned about the economic impact of the shutdown they want to ban the ban. Sen. Mary Landieu (D-La.) told Larry King she is worried oil companies will pull up stakes and go elsewhere in the world, even if they’ve already sunk millions into exploration here. Those companies include Chevron, Royal Dutch Shell and Australia-based BHP Billiton.

(Which reminds me: the oil is ours but the companies drilling are often multinational and based somewhere else. This whole “reduce dependence on foreign oil” thing is a crock. What they mean is Middle Eastern, Chinese or Venezuelan oil – from our “enemies.” They just don’t want to put it that way.)

Worries about lost oil jobs and income
But getting back to the moratorium. In addition to putting the oil companies on hiatus, it affects the drilling rigs owned and operated by a whole other set of companies: Transocean, Halliburton, Slumberger, etc., who are paid about a half-million dollars a day per rig. So they’ll lose income.

The American Petroleum Institute, which is the main oil and gas trade group, estimates 46,000 jobs will be lost short term. In addition to rig workers, suppliers, divers and others will be affected.

Oil and gas makes up 16% of the Louisiana economy, according to the Energy Tomorrow blog. Yet it strikes me as schizophrenic the way Gulf Coast official rail about the damage being done to their waters, coastline and businesses, then turn around and say “let’s do more of this.”

Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and U.S. Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas) have introduced bills in the Senate and House to end the moratorium.

And Interior Sec. Ken Salazar met yesterday with a bipartisan group of about two dozen congressmen and senators on The Hill to hear their pleas, but he gave no assurance the ban could be shortened.

Salazar said the moratorium stands unless new information indicates it should be lifted. Good for him.

Meanwhile, the commission report is due in November. Seems a long time to wait? Well the relief wells won’t be ready to stop the damn leak until late August, at best. So it's a slow process all the way around.

We need to be careful not to rush back to deepwater drilling just because of lost oil industry jobs. Some think we should never go back until the technology of fixing problems catches up with the technology of getting oil out of the ground. Too much is at stake.

And let's keep in mind that only about 5% of the deepwater rigs have been shut down (and they have not yet found oil) -- while all of the 4,515 shallow water wells in the gulf are still pumping. What is all the whining about?

(Sources: E&E Daily, Greenwire, E&E News PM, Energy Tomorrow blog)

Monday, June 14, 2010

Too little is known about risks to Gulf oil spill cleanup workers

(Picture of contract worker in the Gulf handling boom from Flickr and BP)

Too little is known about the health impacts on Gulf cleanup workers.

We know some workers (close to 100) have felt sick: with headaches, dizziness, scratchy throats, nausea or coughs.

We know that OSHA has warned that cleanup workers in the Gulf face dangers from oil byproducts, chemical dispersants, heat, snakebites and drowning.

We know burning of oil can release particulates and benzene. The latter, a known carcinogen, causes dizziness, and irregular heartbeat, unconsciousness and even death. BP is starting to burn up to 10,000 barrels a day.

We know many cleanup workers from Exxon Valdez developed serious lingering health problems.

We know Gulf workers get hazmat training and are required to wear protective gloves and shoe covering – but not respirators (OSHA has said they aren’t needed unless there’s a toxic chemical threat).

We know BP is monitoring air quality and so far says health risks are “very low.” Should we believe them? The company says it has a team of 100 testing in the area and that all results are within OSHA’s safe exposure limits. OSHA's acceptable limits for benzene are more lax than CDC’s, however.

We know the insurance industry is expecting plenty of worker compensation claims because so many workers and volunteers (about 22,000 so far) are working with toxic substances.

We know the CDC sent two teams to the Gulf last week to test chemical exposure for those handling booms and burning oil.

But we don’t really know yet if workers need more protection. And what about fishermen and others working on or near the sea?

Congressional response
U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.), who is involved with thousands of workers from 9/11 who went unprotected and have some serious health problems as a result, told Congress this week to beware of long-term consequences. She said OSHA should monitor for health effects independent of BP and the Coast Guard, who are running the cleanup.

A group of scientists says the 1976 Toxic Substance Control Act need to be updated, to make sure substances like Corexit (more than 1 million gallons have been sprayed in the Gulf) are thoroughly vetted before they are used.

Bills have been introduced, in the Senate by Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) and the House by Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Bobby Rush (D-Ill.), to make manufacturers transparent about ingredients rather than putting the burden of proof on the EPA.

Lawmakers also want to know what was in the heavy drilling mud used in “top kill” as well as chemicals used in hydraulic fracturing for shale gas drilling.

In the case of dispersant Corexit, the EPA did release its contents. But usually manufacturers won't allow that, claiming it's "confidential business information."

We still have a long way to go to know the extent of workers' exposure in the Gulf and how to best protect them. Add that to how to stop the flow, how to protect the shoreline, how to make sure BP pays for damages …..

(Sources: E&E Daily, Greenwire, Business Insurance, CBS News, Firedoglake, helium.com, cdc.gov)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

New House bill would amend or repeal ancient laws that could let BP, Transocean off the liability hook

Archaic laws protect BP, Transocean and others from full liability in the Great Gulf Oil Spill of 2010. So U.S. Rep. John Conyers (R-Mich.) introduced a bill Friday to amend those laws.

HR 5503 (The SPILL Bill) would amend the 90-year-old Death on the High Seas Act and Jones Act, so that families of the 11 workers killed in the Deepwater Horizon rig explosion could sue for non-pecuniary damages (such as pain and suffering).

Further, the bill would strengthen bankruptcy rules to make it harder for BP to spin off part of its company responsible for the ruptured well and have that piece declare bankruptcy to avoid financial liability. Some are concerned that as costs mount the company might use bankruptcy to avoid payment.

The bill also would repeal a 160-year-old law that limits the liability of vessel owners to the value of the vessel and its cargo. Transocean lawyers had at one point planned to use this to limit the company's liability, but backed away because of objections from the Justice Department.

Finally, the bill would give states affected by the spill the power to pursue legal redress against BP and others responsible in their own courts.

“We should not allow reckless corporations to use 19th century laws to shortchange their victims,” Conyers said in a statement.

The bill is co-sponsored by 11 other representatives, including Charles Melancon (D-La.).

(Source: E&E Daily, InsideLouisianaNews.com)

Saturday, June 12, 2010

BP has plan to capture more oil this summer, but who has plan to clean up?

(Photo of cleanup from Flickr and BP_America)

BP will bring in four large tanker ships to increase oil production from the gushing well head in the Gulf to 50,000 barrels/day from the current 15,000 barrels/day, Adm. Thad Allen said yesterday. These ships, however, will take several weeks to get here. One is coming from the North Sea. Two have not yet been selected.

When they are in place, the company hopes to replace the containment cap at the bottom of the sea with a “hard cap” and flexible mooring so the ships can be detached in case of a hurricane and then reattached.

While waiting for the large tankers, BP is calling two smaller ships into duty, probably the end of next week, to bring the capacity up to as much as 38,000 barrels a day.

The problem, of course, is no one knows what the flow rate is. The most recent government estimate was 40,000-50,000 barrels, but that was based on data before the broken riser was cut. No one knows for sure how much that increased the flow, but some have guessed as it’s now much as 100,000.

And every barrel not captured is going into the Gulf.

The ultimate solution will come in mid-August or later, when a relief well will allow the gushing well to be cemented and stopped.

As BP salvages some oil it can profit from, and seems to be making strides toward salvaging more, critics are upset with the hodgepodge of cleanup plans as more and more oil reaches shore. MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow, who visited the area, says the booms put out to stop the oil are not well tended and therefore not working well. And the number of skimmers are insufficient.

Each state and locality is lobbying for help from either BP or the federal government (or both) but delays are long and frustrating as the oil keeps moving ashore.

There’s also the whole issue of oil and gas under the water and the damage it can do – as well as ill effects from the dispersant used to break it up and keep it below the surface.

It’s now (past) time to focus on the cleanup and make a comprehensive and effective plan to deal with that. And someone needs to be clearly in charge.

(Sources include: Greenwire, CBS News, Rachel Maddow Show MSNBC)

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Infusion of gas and oil into Gulf unlike anything in human history, researcher says

Methane 10,000 times normal has been detected in underwater concentrations of oil and gas in the Gulf of Mexico, researchers from the University of South Florida said Tuesday.

And two federal agencies, NOAA and the Coast Guard, confirmed that yes, there are underwater clouds of oil and gas in the Gulf.

BP CEO Tony Hayward had questioned earlier if such “plumes” existed. Thad Allen, Coast Guard point man for the spill response, said “clouds” would be a better term.

USF researchers, who spent two week on the ship F.G. Walton Smith, told reporters they followed an underwater plume 15 miles by 3 miles and 600 feet thick.

"It's an infusion of oil and gas unlike anything else that has ever been seen anywhere, certainly in human history," said Samantha Joye of the University of Georgia, the expedition leader.

Bacteria feeding on the oil and gas have depleted oxygen to the point there were nearly “dead zones.” But researchers said it was hard to know the ultimate impact on fisheries.

Oil and gas in an area tested 40 miles northeast of the Deepwater Horizon well head showed small levels of 0.5 parts per million, NOAA said. Two other areas tested by USF showed inconclusive results and no certain connection to the BP oil spill.

The research will continue, NOAA said. The researchers are to testify Wednesday before the House Energy Committee.

(Sources: Greenwire. MSNBC and CNN)

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Reid to use spill to fashion new energy and climate bill

(Photo of Harry Reid from Flickr and talkradionews.)

The Great Gulf Oil Spill of 2010 should make it easier to pass climate legislation to get us off fossil fuels, now that we’ve seen the damage deepwater drilling can do. Right?

Not necessarily. Pundits have been saying the Kerry-Lieberman bill will lose the possibility of any GOP support if it backs away from more offshore drilling, and it will lose Dem support if it encourages it. The lines have hardened.

So how can Dem leadership improve its chances of passing a climate and clean energy bill before the November elections, when Republicans are sure to pick up more seats?

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has had an “aha moment.” He’s going to turn this into a Spill Bill, with emphasis on holding oil companies accountable and reducing their tax breaks. With public concern about the spill running high, detractors would have more trouble voting against such a bill, he reasons.

Last week Reid sent a memo to eight committee chairmen with a role in climate and energy, asking them to put forth ideas about how to make oil drilling safer, make the companies pay for damage they cause and reduce some of the tax breaks they gained over the past decade.

Reid wants to bring a bill to the floor in July. Whether it will be a combination of oil spill and Kerry-Lieberman or oil spill and energy-only (no cap, no trade, no carbon limit) is still to be determined.

President Obama voiced his support for a comprehensive bill of the Kerry-Lieberman variety last week, but he may have to settle for less.

Reid will meet with the relevant committee chairs next Thursday to talk about how to proceed.

However they shape it, a climate/clean energy bill is going to be hard to pass before November.

My guess is they’ll end up with a Spill Bill that also encourages clean energy (perhaps with a renewable electricity standard) and other incentives to produce and use clean energy – and probably nuclear power. That may be the only way to get 60 votes, and even that will be hard.

Big Oil still has many supporters. Witness calls from Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal (R) and former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin (R) to drill off their coasts, because their economies depend on it.

Stay tuned.

(Sources: Mother Jones, Politico, E&E News PM, Climate Progress)

Friday, June 04, 2010

Cheney task force set the stage for Great Gulf Oil Spill of 2010

(Photo of Dick Cheney from Flickr and talkradionews.)

How did we get to this point, where Big Oil pretty much calls its own shots, ignoring the environmental and economic consequences of what it does?

You can blame Dick Cheney. And George Bush. And Dick Armey (then majority leader of the House, now head of the Tea Party) and Tom DeLay and a bunch of other powerful pols with oil funding and oil ties.

Former VP Cheney’s National Energy Policy Tax Force and the subsequent Energy Policy Act of 2005 set the stage for the extreme pro-oil policies and self-regulation that has now led to BP’s Great Gulf Oil Spill of 2010.

Cheney always rejected efforts to reveal the machinations of the energy task force, but the subsequent legislation closely followed many of the points in the task force’s National Energy Policy Report.

Among those points:

• New authority to the Dept. of Interior to permit new drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf without adequate oversight.
• $2 billion in subsidies to encourage drilling in “ultra deepwater.”
• Tens of billions in subsidies for oil and other forms of dirty energy.
• Weakening of states’ say over drilling off their shores.
• Expansion of circumstances to waive environmental reviews.

Two excellent posts, by Climate Progress and The Center for American Progress go into much more detail about the impact of having two oil men in the White House and Texas oil-linked leadership in the House between 2001-2005. They’re definitely worth reading.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

BP, other Big Oil said they had technology to stop blowouts

(Image of "top hat" attempt to stem oil flow from Flickr and Mick Licht, NotionsCapital.com.)

BP and other drilling companies in the Gulf assured the Minerals Management Service – in writing – that they had the “proven equipment and technology” to handle deepwater oil spills like the one we’re seeing now.

They didn’t describe what that technology was and MMS didn’t ask. Top hat? Junk shot?

Most of the 36 deepwater drilling operations in the Gulf got approval by giving the same assurances, according to a Greenwire analysis of MMS records. Nearly all plans said they could handle a “worst case scenario” which BP defined as 162,000 barrels a day, far more than the estimated 12,000 to 25,000 a day of this spill.

Seven plans had identical wording: "In the event of an unanticipated blowout resulting in an oil spill, it is unlikely to have an impact based on the industry wide standards for using proven equipment and technology for such responses."

Many of the companies said because of their “response capabilities” even a major spill would cause no major damage.

Now we know otherwise.

Last week President Obama suspended 33 deepwater drilling operations in the Gulf.

Some members of the Senate Environment Committee have asked for a criminal investigation of BP’s alleged “false statements,” which might also lead to looking at other drilling companies making similar assurances, including Exxon and Marathon Oil.

(Source: Greenwire)

Saturday, May 29, 2010

House OKs 26 cent/barrel tax increase for Oil Spill Trust Fund

Before adjourning for Memorial Day, the House of Representatives narrowly passed a tax-extender package that includes an oil tax increase of 26 cents a barrel.

The bill increases a tax on the oil industry to 34 cents a barrel from 8 cents a barrel. This money would go into the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.

The fund helps cover economic and natural resource costs above the $75 million liability cap for private companies. The bill also raises the per-incident cap for payments from the Trust Fund to $5B from the current $1B.

The bill extends for one year (retroactive to Jan. 1) energy tax credits for biodiesel, renewable diesel, energy efficiency and alternative vehicles fuel.

It also extends the “doc fix,” which each year prevents drastic cuts in Medicare payments to doctors and hospitals.

A second bill passed that authorizes the Defense Department to spend $470M on energy efficiency, renewable energy and environmental cleanup. This is the bill that includes an amendment repealing “don’t ask, don’t tell.”

This bill provides $5M for a pilot project to develop a microgrid. Another provision says DOD can stop contracts with BP if it is not considered a “responsible source.”

It allows government agencies to buy alternative fuels whose lifecycle greenhouse gas emissions exceed conventional fuel (i.e. tar sands) so long as less than half of that fuel comes from such sources.

Both measures will move to the Senate after the break. Their future there is uncertain.

(Source E&E News PM)

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Asian growth may increase CO2 emissions 43% by 2035

(Photo of Chinese coal plant from Flickr and photographer ishmatt ).

Global CO2 emissions will grow 43% by 2035 if major nations keep the same energy policies, the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicted last week in it's International Energy Outlook 2010 report. Most of the increase will come from growth in Asia.

Oil prices will double to about $133 a barrel and energy use is predicted to increase almost 50%.

Greater use of renewable energy, especially in fast-growing places like China, could change the picture, the EIA report says. So could a swelling price of oil, to above $200 a barrel.

Cutting emissions from power plants could happen first because there technologies exist that are proven to be much less carbon-intensive. Transportation emissions, however, may be harder to slow, IEIA said.

Only wind and hydroelectric are economically competitive with fossil fuels, EIA said.

But the agency has underestimated wind and has a bias against solar and other developing alternatives, according to Joe Romm, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and head of climateprogress.org .

For more, see Scientific Amercian.

(Sources: ClimateWire, Scientific American)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Academy study reaffirms climate change, but guess what? We have to change consumer habits to save energy

(Image of Earth from Flickr NASA and Woodleywonderworks)

The planet is warming and human activities are the main cause, reaffirms a trilogy of reports, “America’s Climate Choices,” released last week by the National Academy of Sciences.

With business as usual the Earth’s temperature will rise between 2-11.4 degrees F by 2100, the Academy said. And sea levels could rise up to 6.5 feet, considerably higher than previous estimates.

Generally confirming the findings of the UN Intergovernmental Climate Change Panel, which deniers have tried to sully in recent months, the Academy calls for the following steps, which will be very difficult but technically possible:

• Reduce the demand for goods and services needing energy (this is the tough one, requiring changes in consumer behavior).
• Move to low- and zero-carbon energy sources.
• Capture carbon from the atmosphere, with forest and soil, but also with some kind of carbon “scrubber.”
• Improve energy efficiency.

What we need to do now
In the short range, to accomplish these longer-range goals, we must:

• Set an economy-wide price on carbon.
• Invest in and incentivise new technologies.
• Exert U.S. leadership for the rest of the world.
• Have a flexible attitude toward innovation by states, localities and regions.
• Pay attention to greenhouse gases other than carbon dioxide.

The reports were requested in 2008 by Congress, which also asked for recommendations on how to solve the climate problem. The study calls for a closer link between research and decision-making.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) applauded the study and said it would help passage of his climate bill, the American Power Act. The two dovetail nicely, with the marked exception that there’s not enough in the bill to curb deforestation.

Download summaries of the three reports at americasclimatechoices.org

(Sources: National Academy of Sciences, Wall Street Journal.)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Kerry-Lieberman bill would create 200,000 jobs a year and cut greenhouse gases 22% by 2020, 42% by 2030

(Photo of Diablo nuclear power plant in California from Flickr and photographer Mike Baird)

The Kerry-Lieberman climate bill would spur a surge of 200,000 new jobs a year from 2011 to 2025 and would cut greenhouse gases 22% by 2020 and 42% by 2030, according to a new study by the non-partisan Peterson Institute of International Economics .

The jobs would be largely for construction of new power plants and increased use of biofuel. They would help with the recovery from recession, but would slow to business-as-usual after 2025, the study says.

This first analysis of the American Power Act was released Thursday. It forecasts what the U.S. energy picture will by 2030 if the bill is passed.

The changes will be significant, though not as much as some might hope.

• Fossil fuels will drop to 70% of the energy supply from 84% today.
• Renewable energy will rise to 14% from 8%, with wind growing the most, followed by biomass and then solar.
• Nuclear power will double to 16% from 8%.
• Nuclear and renewables will power about half the electricity.
• Carbon capture and sequestration will be a factor for both coal and natural gas.
• Oil use will drop 33-40% as transportation turns increasingly to ethanol, biodiesel and electricity. U.S. spending on foreign oil will fall to $93B from $144B per year.
• Homes will see about a 3% increase in electricity rates between 2011-2020, while gasoline will rise about 5%. Home heating oil will rise as well. But price increases will be mitigated by increased efficiency and the return to consumers of revenues from purchased allowances.

Two side benefits will be reduction of other pollutants, such as mercury and nitrogen oxides, plus a sizeable reduction in water use.

Download the study.

(Sources: Greenwire, Peterson Institute of International Economics)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

World is on track to have hottest year on record

(Map courtesy of NOAA)

The combined land and ocean global temperature in April, and for the first 4 months of 2010, was hotter than the previous record, set in 1998, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Land surface temperatures in April were the third highest, with warmer than usual temps in Canada, Alaska, the Eastern U.S., Australia, South Asian northern Africa and northern Russia. The Western U.S. and most of China were cooler than usual, NOAA said.

The global ocean surface temperature was 1.03°F (0.57°C) above the 20th century average and the warmest on record for April. The warmth was most pronounced near the Equator, especially the Atlantic.

Tell the global warming skeptics. (But of course they won't believe it.)

Sources: Reuters, ClimateWire, NOAA website.)

Monday, May 17, 2010

White House asks Congress for help for oil spill victims

(Photo of White House from Flickr and photographer dcJohn)

The White House on Friday asked Congress to pass a number of measures to speed up help for those hurt by the Gulf oil spill. The $118 million package included:

• Lifting the $75M cap on BP’s liability (didn’t say by how much).
• Increasing the oil tax 1 cent per barrel to better fund the Oil Spill Liability Trust Fund.
• Raising the trust fund cap per incident to $1.5B from $1B.
• Allocating $15M to guarantee compensation for fishermen.
• Providing $2M to inspect seafood.
• Expediting unemployment compensation and expanding it to cover self-employed fishermen.
• Expanding food stamps.
• Granting $5M in economic development.
• Authorizing the Agriculture Dept. to distribute free food to those in need.
* Giving the Interior Dept. $29M to begin more inspections, enforcement and study of potential problems.
* Allowing more time for environmental reviews before granting exploration permits.

These measures would be part of a one-time supplementary appropriation bill that funds the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Congressional action
The Senate Appropriations Committee quickly OK’d $68 million of the request, with the possibility of more to come following review by appropriate committees. The panel approved the $29 million for Interior to do additional inspections of oil rigs and $2 million for seafood inspection, among others.

An amendment from Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) to raise the liability to $10 billion was delayed until the bill reaches the Senate floor. Three Gulf Coast Senators presented an alternative for the liable company to pay up to $150,000 or the past year’s profits, whichever is more, instead of such a high cap. But Democrats have rejected that as being insufficient, saying all companies may not have as big a profit as BP did the last 12 months.

Other legislation
A flurry of other bills dealing with the spill are in the hopper.

Alaska’s two Senators are calling for an increase of 1 cent per barrel for the trust fund, rather than lifting the liability cap for each company.

Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-La.) wants technical assistance grants to help businesses harmed by the spill.

Rep. Anh “Joseph” Cao (R-La.) wants more revenue sharing with states from oil and gas leases in the Gulf.

Sens. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) want to establish an independent nonpartisan commission to investigate the spill.

Whitehouse, Menendez and Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) are calling for removal of a cap on punitive damages.

(Sources: E&E Daily, Greenwire)

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Will BP pay for all the oil spill cleanup plus damages?

(Image from Flickr and Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.)

Who will pay for the damage caused by the Great Gulf Oil Spill of 2010?

Everyone is saying BP. As majority lease owner of the Deepwater Horizon oil well that is gushing a mile down on the ocean floor, BP owns most of the responsibility. BP executives have repeatedly said the company will pay for the cleanup and “legitimate claims” for economic and other damages.

But that’s not the whole story. Anadarko and Matsui, who own 35% of the lease, will have to pick up their share of the spill cleanup.

A 1990 law, enacted after the Exxon Valdez spill in Alaska, said the companies with the oil leases would have to pay for the cleanup, plus up to $75 million for economic and natural resources damage. BP has acknowledged that this spill, really a gusher, will cost a lot more than that.

Raising the liability cap
Some senators are trying to raise the cap from $75 million. There are several proposals. Sen. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) tried to fast-track an increase to $10 billion. But it was blocked by Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska). Others, from the Gulf Coast, say it should be one year’s profit or $150,000 million, whichever is less – to protect the little guy (guy meaning oil company.) BP is expected to see a profit of $23B this year.

The 1990 law also set up an Oil Spill Trust Fund to help pay for major spills. With a tax of 8 cents a barrel the fund is now at $1.6B, but by law just $1B of that can be spent on any one event.

Others involved in the accident, who will probably have to pay something, are Transocean, owner of the rig; Halliburton, who cemented the well, and Cameron International, maker of the faulty blowout preventer.

Then there's insurance
But they won’t have to pay all of it themselves. Each has insurance, and that insurance has re-insurance. The loss to insurance companies for this incident is estimated at between $1.5B and $3.5B by Swiss Re, whose own losses in the accident are estimated at about $200 million. The higher $3.5B figure could be reached if the oil goes ashore, which triggers another section in the policy.

Total insurance losses to date are about $700 million. The rig itself was insured at Lloyds of London for $560 million, which has already been paid, according to The Guardian in England, where BP is headquartered.

BP said at mid-week it had paid about $1.5 million in claims to fisherman and had not yet questioned the legitimacy of any claims. It also paid $25M in grants to each of the four affected states.

But government and vulnerable businesses, like tourism and fishing, are worried payment may be slow and not in full.

They also are concerned because BP asked out-of-work fishermen to sign waivers not to sue before hiring them to help with the cleanup.

In the Valdez case, some claims weren’t paid for two decades and the Supreme Court reduced punitive damages from $2.5B to $500M at the end of long drawn-out court fight. NOAA estimates there is still 21,000 gallons of oil on the Alaska shoreline.

(Sources: E&E Daily, Greenwire, E&E TV, LA Times, New York Times, The Guardian, The Hill, National Post,

Saturday, May 15, 2010

By the numbers: Chicago Climate Action Plan results

(Photo of Chicago CTA hybrid bus from Flickr and CTAbusphotographer)

Here’s what the Chicago Climate Action Plan has accomplished in the past two years:

• 15,000 dwelling units retrofitted for better energy efficiency
• 300 commercial and industrial buildings retrofitted
• 200 buildings permitted under the new energy code (since April 2009)
• 35 million gallons a day of water conserved
• 636 new car-share vehicles
• 208 new CTA hybrid buses
• 383,125 gallons of alternative fuel sold
• 204,177 tons of waste diverted from landfills

These facts were on a slide City Environment Commissioner Suzanne Malec-McKenna used in speaking to a forum on Growing Chicago’s Clean Energy Economy Tuesday.

Because it’s been really hard to get specific information following the launch of the Chicago Climate Action Plan two years ago, I thought I’d share this with those of you in Chicago who have wondered what, if anything, was happening.

The plan, which has an ambitious goal of 25% reduction in greenhouse gases (below 1990 levels) by 2020, focuses on building efficiency because that’s where most energy is wasted. The retrofits are funded in part through the Clinton Global Initiative.

I still don’t understand why this information is so hard to come by and why the city doesn’t seek more attention for its accomplishments. It seems to be a closely held secret.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Offshore drilling still in climate bill, but with restrictions

The word is out about the contents of the Kerry-Lieberman climate bill, due for release at a 1:30 p.m. (EDT) news conference Wednesday. The Hill has links to a summary of the new draft on its Web site.

Offshore drilling is still in it but there are protections:
• If a state wants to drill within 75 feet of shore, nearby states that could be impacted by a spill can veto it.
• Safety regulations will be added later, pending the 30-day review by the Interior Department.

What's in the bill
Other key elements of the bill, the American Power Act, include:
• Cutting greenhouse gas emissions 17% (below 2005 levels) by 2020 and more than 80% by 2050.
• Pre-emption of states or regions having their own carbon market, but allowing them to restrict GHG.
• Pre-emption of EPA regulation over GHG from new plants but not over existing plants.
• $54 billion in loan guarantees for nuclear energy
• A price on carbon, with a floor of $12 a ton, to rise 3% a year and a ceiling of $25, to rise 5% a year.
• 37.5% revenue-sharing for states that allow drilling off their shores.
• Two-thirds of utility auction revenue (after paying down the deficit) returned to customers to help pay rising utility costs, referred to by some as cap-and-dividend.
• $7B a year for transportation infrastructure and efficiency.
• Investment in electric vehicles and tax incentives to switch heavy vehicles to natural gas.
• Expansion of the clean energy tax credit by $5B.
• Fuel producers and importers will pay a price for allowances, which they will not be able to trade.
• $2B for coal plants that capture and store carbon.

What happens next
After release, the bill is expected to go to Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who will merge it with some other pieces to craft a bill he thinks can get 60 votes. The Energy Committee bill, which passes committee last year, will be one of those pieces. It included a renewable electricity standard of 15%, efficiency measures and an overhaul of federal financing for clean energy projects. It also included allowances for wider oil and gas leasing in the eastern Gulf of Mexico, which isn’t likely to fly.

Progressives are hoping the bill will move in their direction as it is changed, to woo those on the left opposed to more offshore drilling.

Debate is expected in June or July.

(Sources: The Hill, Climate Progress , Sierra Club, the Washington Post Carbon blog, Greenwire)

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Why are Kerry, Lieberman unveiling climate bill Wednesday?

NOAA map of spill from Flickr and SkyTruth .)

The Gulf oil disaster has spilled over into the climate bill debate. So why are Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) going to release their climate and energy bill at a press conference next Wednesday? The environment for it seems pretty muddy.

Their third partner, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), has pulled out as a key sponsor.

Several coastal-state Democrats have said no way will they support a bill that expands offshore drilling.

Republicans and some conservative Democrats have hardened their position favoring offshore drilling, despite the spill. The GOP, Graham included, is saying chill ‘til we know more about the cause of the spill.

In short, Kerry and Lieberman have lost supporters rather than gain them, as a result of the Gulf Oil Spill of 2010. And they didn’t have 60 votes to begin with.

So why launch this bill now? And how can they placate those on the left – like the two Senators from New Jersey and Bill Nelson of Florida – to bring them back into the fold? And what about Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), who wants more protection for Mid-Atlantic states.

Changes to the bill
We know they are changing the section on offshore drilling. Originally they allowed states to veto drilling within 75 miles of their shores and offered revenue-sharing as an enticement to say yes.

Now, they’ll likely give adjacent states a veto too, and maybe move the boundary out. For sure they will strengthen safety requirements. Few are likely to argue with that.

If they’re smart they’ll exempt New Jersey and Florida, and maybe Maryland.

But will that do it?

Nothing to lose
They’re only unveiling their proposal, not putting it up for a vote. They’ve gotten as far as they can keeping it under wraps. Some fence-sitters have said they want to see what’s in it. Speculation is they’re hoping eventually to pick up a few Republican votes from New Englanders like Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins of Maine, Scott Brown of Mass. and Judd Gregg of N.H., or George LeMieux of Fla. if the public raises a ruckus.

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) will not bring the bill to the floor for a vote unless he has 60 votes.

Reid may be banking on public sentiment fueled by the Gulf disaster tipping a few votes in their favor. He really has nothing to lose and reportedly was putting pressure on the sponsors to get the bill out there for others to see.

Kerry’s hoping some will be swayed by a growing coalition of support from business, faith communities, national security and environmental groups. I wonder about the 3 big oil companies that were ready to support it, if the bill is made much stricter about offshore drilling.

Presumably BP won’t be at the press conference unveiling the bill. Neither will Graham – though in the end they may be able to get his vote, if they don’t entirely ax the offshore drilling part.

This won’t be the final bill. There will be discussions and wheeling and dealing and amendments once it’s out in the open.

The impact of The Spill
A lot may depend on what happens with the spill. If it can’t be stopped and tars the coasts of many states, if there are constant photos of birds and wildlife covered with oil and people who have lost their livelihood, some drilling advocates may be forced to come around. It is an election year, remember.

And if the leak can be is stopped soon (don’t hold your breath), then perhaps those on the left will decide drilling isn’t so bad after all and will take the best they can get.

Many agree the current energy situation is untenable – whether they believe in global warming or not. The spill reminds us of that every day.

And those who believe strongly in climate change may, in the end, be unwilling to give up on a bill that caps carbon emissions and advances clean energy, even if it does open the door to limited new drilling offshore.

It’s probably worth a try.

(Sources include Greenwire, E&E News PM, Agence-France Presse via grist.org, CNN, E2Wire)

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Is PB's remedy for oil spill only making matters worse?

Joe Romm, author of the award-winning blog Climate Progress, has an excellent lead story in Salon about the dangers of BP dispersing oil, which it is doing now. Would you rather protect sea birds and other wildlife on the land or marine life at the bottom of the sea? See Salon.com

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Did Lieberman really say, “Accidents will happen” about oil spill? Lines harden on climate bill over offshore drilling

(Photo of Deepwater Horizon explosion that lead to massive oil leak from Flickr and SkyTruth)

Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) was explaining Tuesday why expanded offshore drilling would not be taken out of the climate bill, despite some Dem Senators’ calls for its removal in light of the horrendous ongoing spill fouling the Gulf of Mexico.

Sen. Lieberman (I-Conn.) told reporters, “This terrible accident is very rare in drilling. Accidents will happen. You learn from them and you try to make sure they don’t happen again.”

So, let’s see. Of the three sponsors of the Senate climate bill, who have worked long and hard to craft something palatable to all parties, the Republican, Lindsey Graham (S.C.) dropped out about a week ago in a snit because immigration reform might come up before climate. Now Lieberman is insisting on keeping offshore oil in the bill despite the Gulf disaster.

And many likely supporters of the bill (all of whom are Dems because they’re the only ones supporting it) are now saying “no” to the offshore drilling section.

Sens. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and Frank Lautenberg (D-N.J.) spoke out a news conference, backed up by the heads of some major environmental groups.

Nelson said if he had to filibuster to stop the bill, he would.

And a group of Dems, in a meeting Tuesday with chief sponsor John Kerry (D-Mass.) found themselves sharply split on the issue, according to Majority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), who was there.

Doesn’t look too good. The Kerry-noGraham-Lieberman alliance and their efforts to pass a climate bill seem to be falling apart. The only thing that could have been worse is if they’d had that press conference with heads of big oil companies in support last week as planned.

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) said, “Personally I will have a very hard time ever voting for offshore drilling again.” Of course, he was already having some trouble voting for a bill that targeted coal.

Nonetheless, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was upbeat Tuesday, saying that perhaps the bill would get a boost from the oil spill. Calling the Gulf spill “just staggering,” he said maybe it could get Senators interested in doing something about energy.

I dunno. Doesn’t look to good to me.

(Sources: E&E Daily, E&E News PM, Associated Press, CllimateWire, the Hill)

Monday, May 03, 2010

NOAA map shows spread of oil spill through Monday morning

Check out this good map of the oil spill up through Monday morning (with projections for tomorrow). Looks like it's backing away from the coast -- at least for now.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

The Great Gulf Oil Spill of 2010: If a wind turbine had exploded we wouldn't be facing this mess

(Photo of oil slick taken Saturday from Flickr and SkyTruth)

It’s ironic that approval for the Cape Wind Project came the same week at the Great Gulf Oil Spill of 2010.

It’s taken 9 years to get approval for the 130-turbine wind farm in Nantucket Sound, where the NIMBY (not-in-my-back-yard) factor kept blocking it. The turbines, which will be 5-14 miles away from land, will reportedly look smaller than a quarter in your hand.

And if one of those falls over or explodes, all we’ll get is what comic Stephen Colbert deemed “a catastrophic wind spill.”

With the BP oil rig that self-destroyed in the Gulf 12 days ago, we’re getting inestimable damage to coastal regions of three or four states, as well as a major portion of the fishing industry and other wildlife. This rig was about 40 miles from shore and the leak is a mile deep, making repair very, very difficult. An oil slick, now the size of Puerto Rico, is spreading toward Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama – the same ill-fated states that had to endure Hurricane Katrina – and probably to the panhandle of Florida.

If the spill continues, as seems inevitable, it could travel down the west coast of Florida to the Keys and then be carried by the Gulf Stream up the east coast, tarring beaches and wildlife and ruining fishing and tourism.

Political fallout
Florida Gov. Charlie Crist (and Independent candidate for Senator) said this weekend there should be no new offshore drilling.

Christ, who flew over the slick and called it “frightening,” told Meet the Press’s David Gregory he would be for climate change legislation if he was in the Senate.

Which begs the question, what impact will the spill have on passing a climate bill? The Kerry-noGraham-Lieberman bill includes expanded offshore drilling to placate Republicans, though some Democrats clearly didn’t like that part. Now they REALLY don’t like it.

As for the president, he ordered there be no new drilling leases unless there are new safety measures to avoid a repeat of the current calamity.

The legacy of Santa Barbara
Never underestimate the impact of a big oil spill on public opinion. The Santa Barbara spill of 1969 is credited with being the impetus for the environmental movement. Anti-drilling fever can spread as relentlessly as the oil slick itself.

California, though it still has 27 drilling platforms off its southern and central coast, has long had a moratorium on any new drilling there. A request to expand one drilling project, which already had opposition, will likely never get off the ground now.

You’ll note California was not included in President Obama’s loosening of offshore drilling restrictions. Nor is it in the climate bill.

And U.S. Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.) told AP the Gulf spill “marks a turning point in our national discussion on new offshore oil drilling.”

People have a very long memory and strong feelings when their property is affected.

Oil versus wind
As we wait for something to stem the flow of the current disaster, which could take up to three months if all else fails and their only remedy is to drill a relief hole, let’s give a lot more thought to what would have happened if a wind turbine had exploded in the gulf. We’d hardly have noticed.

There are those who say energy independence depends on offshore drilling here. It’s either our oil or foreign oil. No it’s not. It’s either oil or clean sources like wind, solar and hydropower.

And, by the way, let’s think long and hard about a nuclear resurgnce. What if that had been a nuclear reactor?

(Sources include: NBC’s Meet the Press, Associated Press via Mother Nature Network, Christian Science Monitor, dailykos.com)

Friday, April 30, 2010

What's the biggest renewable power source in the U.S.?

(Photo of turbines inside Hoover Dam from Flickr and photographer Mike Chen aka MetalMan)

It’s not wind or solar. It’s hydropower, which accounts for 7% of our electric power, and two-thirds of U.S. renewable energy today. The Obama Administration thinks hydro can play a bigger role in weaning us off fossil fuels, with their carbon footprint, and producing clean-tech jobs.

The Energy and Interior departments and the Army Corps of Engineers are eyeing ways to increase hydropower without harming the environment – most specifically migrating fish.

"I think that hydropower in the past was developed in a way that didn't protect local environments as it could have," said Energy Sec. Steven Chu. "We now know better how to design turbines that are kinder to fish."

"This is taking a look at existing facilities and low-impact hydro,” said Interior Sec. Ken Salazar. “This is an examination of what we can do with hydropower that does not necessitate the building of new dams."

The U.S. has 79,000 dams, but only 2,200 of them produce electricity.

The three departments will develop a strategy that would not only maximize efficiency at hydropower dams and put turbines in some dams that don’t produce power now, but also would look into new technologies, like putting turbines in major rivers and water pipelines.

And then there’s also the ocean. Wave action is just beginning to be seen as a powerful source of energy.

Clean tech jobs
There would be more than twice as many jobs in developing ocean power as in inland hydro, according to a recent report by Navigant Consulting.

Hydropower could provide a half-million to 1.4 million jobs, dependant upon the U.S. having an renewable energy standard of 10% to 25%, Navigant said.

Hydropower has the potential to produce 16,000 to 25,000 more megawatts of power, Chu has said. Navigant raises that to between 25,000 and 60,000 by 2025 if there’s an RES.

One good thing about hydro is its storage ability, something wind and solar are struggling with.

The federal government owns about half the existing hydropower dams, according to Linda Ciocci of the National Hydropower Assn. She said there need to be strong incentives to drive more private investment.

Most facilities are in the West, as well as in Tennessee and Pennsylvania. But Navigant said expansion can bring hydro jobs to all regions of the country.

Also involved is the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which has 9 pending applications for new nonfederal projects.

(Sources: ClimateWire Landletter, E&E Daily)