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)