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Climate & Energy

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Shocked, shocked to discover that politicians are sometimes dishonest!

Even in Canada

So, about a year ago I wrote briefly about Marc Jaccard, a Canadian economist whose book, Sustainable Fossil Fuels, has been exceedingly popular in Canadian policy-making circles. No surprise there -- any book that says we can have our cheesecake and eat it too is going to find a wide audience among politicians averse to making any tough decision, ever. I was, you could say, less than charitable to Jaccard's ideas. But the latest news from Canada's Conservative do-nothing-about-global-warming government makes me almost feel sorry for him. Jaccard seems to have briefly been a golden boy for the Conservative government …

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Crunch time

Dirty energy lobbyists are out in force

Argh: Senate Democrats yesterday were scrambling to prevent the sweeping energy overhaul bill, a top domestic priority, from crumbling amid growing regional divisions within their party and Republican concerns. "The moment of truth on this energy bill is coming very shortly," Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said. Also, argh: Three powerful lobbying forces -- automakers, electric utilities and the coal industry -- are confounding Democrats' efforts to forge a less-polluting energy policy. This is it: crunch time. Time to fight. We finally have a chance to drag the country's energy policy back toward sanity, and entrenched industrial dinosaurs will fight it …

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Doing carbon right

What good carbon policy should — but often doesn’t — reward

Too much of the debate on carbon-control policy starts from flawed assumptions. Take those assumptions away, and one quickly realizes that we have a lot of pretty good options. Let's parse the carbon policy argument, and think for a moment about how to best engender the most economically beneficial carbon reduction policy. First, let's strike any false assumptions from our logic: Let's not assume that it costs money to reduce carbon emissions until proven otherwise. Let's not presume that any of us know what the answer is. Take these away, and you can pretty quickly get a good model. Picture, …

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Orange You Glad We Didn’t Say Switchgrass?

Fruit may be the latest source for biofuel madness Could your kumquat power your Kia? A team of U.S. scientists has made a low-carbon fuel from fructose, the sugar in many fruits. It could be a better bet than ethanol, with 40 percent more energy, less vulnerability to water, and more stability; since it can also be made from plant cellulose, it could also skirt the food-vs.-fuel debate. DMF -- 2,5-dimethylfuran, the result of mixing fructose with salt water, hydrochloric acid, a solvent, and a copper-coated catalyst -- "should be a great fuel," says James Dumesic of the University of …

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National Academy of Sciences on coal

Turns out we don’t know how much there is

Yesterday, the National Academy of Sciences released a Congressionally mandated report on coal-related R&D challenges. Coal-state senators Arlen Specter (R-Penn.) and Robert Byrd (D-W.V.) requested a report on possible impediments to future coal production, and areas that need to be researched to keep the coal coming. Given that essentially coal-positive mandate, naturally NAS introduced the resultant report in its press release thusly: Because coal will continue to provide a substantial portion of U.S. energy for at least the next several decades, a major increase in federal support for research and development is needed to ensure that this natural resource is …

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What role coal?

The chair of the Select Committee on Global Warming weighs in

Congress is about to confront the challenge of coal, and much of what we hope to do to reduce the threat of global warming hinges on these decisions. There's a useful test to use whenever the challenges of fossil fuel dependence and global warming come up: We must reduce the threat of global warming without worsening our dependence on foreign oil; and we must reduce the threat of oil dependence without worsening global warming. When it comes to coal, it's that second part of the equation that brings up some sticky issues. Coal has been a big part of our …

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The most powerful force in nature

Johnny jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge … must … jump …

The most powerful force in nature isn't the nuclear force, or anything wimpy like that; it's the force of a bad idea whose moment has arrived. Whenever I wanted to do something stupid and argued that my friends had done it, Mom would always say, "If Johnny jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you do that too?" From The Oregonian: A bill backed by Gov. Ted Kulongoski to give a big boost to biofuels use and production in Oregon passed the Senate Revenue Committee unanimously Tuesday and heads to the Senate floor for final approval. The bill, House Bill 2210, …

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Many policies, one goal

It’s all about raising the price of carbon

Robert Reich -- Secretary of Labor under Clinton, economic policy professor/pundit -- has a somewhat confused column up advocating for a "carbon auction." In particular, it's not clear whether he's talking about politics or policy, which is a confusion that generally plagues this discussion. He rejects a carbon tax because it will be politically unpopular. The holy-and-sanctified Middle Class won't put up with it. He rejects a cap-and-trade system because it would give the most credits to the biggest polluters, a la the initial attempt in Europe. The Goldilocksian just-right proposal? A "carbon auction," which is ... a cap-and-trade system …

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Energy, economics, and the environment

Political courage needed for change

Getting our energy policy right does not require new technology, added societal cost, or economic disruption. However, it does require the political courage to question the sacred cows that have shaped 100 years of electric-market regulation. A few ideas that are missing from the energy debate: Fossil fuel use in the U.S. is split approximately in thirds between transportation fuels, electric power generation, and heat generation (buildings, industrials, etc.). GHG emissions track accordingly. The electric industry is -- with very limited exceptions -- a regulated monopoly, subject to cost-plus pricing. This has been the case for 100 years. In other …

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Sweden, lead'n

An entire nation of sexy beasts

There is a large amount of literature discussing the "Resource Curse" (sometimes called the Oil Curse, but established before that for silver, gold, etc.), in which countries blessed with an abundance of a desirable resource often turn into kleptocracies ruled by thugs. Oddly, countries like Japan and Taiwan, with few (if any) local resources, often soar because their cultures build in a premium on efficiency ... It appears that Sweden -- while not as resource poor as many others, but certainly not as resource rich as most other developed nations -- enjoys the same advantage. As my adviser used to …

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