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 .

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

(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, 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

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,