Climate & Energy

Cap-and-trade and fairness for working families

A second opportunity to make climate pricing fair

Climate policy offers an enormous opportunity not only to undo our fossil-fuel addiction and build a stable energy future, but also to reverse the natural unfairness of climate change itself. I've said it before: energy prices are going up no matter what, with or without climate policy. But smart policy can turn rising costs into broadly shared benefits. It can shield working families, fund a shift to a clean future of new technologies, compact communities, and a trained, green-collar workforce. Building economic fairness into climate policy is a no-brainer: there are several viable ways to make it happen. In my last post, I described a means to it called "Cap-and-Dividend," in which most public proceeds from auctioning carbon emissions permits finance a program of payments to each citizen. Another approach that shields working families from high energy prices (PDF) comes from Robert Greenstein, founder and chief of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. CBPP is the Washington, DC-based think tank that bird-dogs the federal budget on behalf of poor families. Greenstein wrote the plan with colleagues Sharon Parrott and Arloc Sherman. In short, in this plan climate dividends go only to families with very low incomes, to buffer them from cost increases. It's Cap and Dividend, but only families who need it most get a dividend. Call it "Cap and Buffer." Greenstein suggests compensating the poorest fifth of families for energy price increases and also providing some assistance to those in the second fifth of the income ladder. These families, according to Greenstein, stand to pay between $750 and $950 extra each year for fuel and other goods, once climate policy boosts energy prices enough to reduce emissions by an initial 15 percent. (Without climate policy in place, the only dividends from rising prices are going to energy companies.)

Clean, safe nuclear power

The hunt for fuel: With minimal public notice and no formal environmental review, the Forest Service has approved a permit allowing a British mining company to explore for uranium just outside Grand Canyon National Park, less than three miles from a popular lookout over the canyon’s southern rim. If the exploration finds rich uranium deposits, it could lead to the first mines near the canyon since the price of uranium ore plummeted nearly two decades ago. A sharp increase in uranium prices over the past three years has led individuals to stake thousands of mining claims in the Southwest, including …

An interview with Google’s green energy czar, Bill Weihl

The phrase “to Google” has become synonymous with “to search.” But soon it may connote something altogether different: “to green.” That is, if the internet titan can successfully pull off its latest world-changing endeavor. Bill Weihl. In late 2007, the dot-com giant announced its intention to make renewable energy cheaper than coal. The RE<C program aims to produce one gigawatt of electricity generating capacity — enough to power the city of San Francisco — from clean, green sources “within years, not decades.” The man responsible for making it happen, and for making the company carbon neutral, is Bill Weihl, Google’s …

Sell-off of oil leases in polar-bear habitat brings record bidding

The Bush administration’s sell-off of leases for oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s polar-bear-harboring Chukchi Sea raised a lot of controversy — and a lot of moola. The sale brought in a record $2.66 billion in bidding, well beyond the $67 million the feds had expected and budgeted for. Royal Dutch Shell was the big winner, with the highest bid for a single tract; the polar bear, which is awaiting a decision on its endangered status, is likely the big loser. However, drilling won’t commence in the area for at least a decade, so maybe there won’t be any polar …

New <em>Nation</em> post

Will the media give McCain a free ride on climate?

My latest post on The Nation is up, asking: Will the media give McCain a free ride on climate? I know there’s a sense out there that because McCain is relatively sane on climate, this race might pose the opportunity to have a serious discussion of the issue. But my fear is the opposite: that because the candidates (seem to) agree on the issue, the media will ignore it, focusing instead on areas where there’s controversy. That’s basically what happened in 2000, as my post points out. Will it happen again? If there’s a difference, it’s that this year, unlike …

'You should shudder a little bit ...'

According to Bush adviser, Bush actually serious about mandatory climate controls

This ($ub req'd) just in from Captain Environmental Compassion, Bush adviser James Connaughton: Bush is serious about climate change. Seriously! Surprised? Read on, for excerpts from this newsflash ...

Next market bubble: farmland!

Thanks to the ethanol boom, big investors are plowing cash into corn country

Big investors seem to have forgotten how to exist without some sort of speculative bubble. In the last decade, they’ve whipped cash from tech stocks to bonds to emerging markets to real estate to junk mortgages. With the latter bubble now deflating rapidly, they’ve turned to … Midwestern farmland? Yes, big cornfields. Here’s a Chicago asset manager talking about who’s buying up farmland, quoted in USA Today: It’s everybody from the person concerned about the stock market to large government and corporate pension funds, insurance companies, hedge funds. [!] Investors do like a sure bet. With the 2007 Energy Act …


Sobering dispatches from Alaska

The melting and erosion of permafrost is probably the most visible manifestation of climate change in Alaska. Photo: Seth Kantner, Author and photographer Seth Kantner has a new blog that shares his observations of a changing Arctic in words and images. From trees invading the tundra and freakish weather to the hair-raising loss of the permafrost, it's a must-read. His phenomenal book Ordinary Wolves (one of my favorites of the last 10 years) takes place in the town of Kotzebue on the northwest coast of Alaska (where he's from), where the tundra is literally melting away from underfoot and into the sea.

Clean-energy-boosting economic stimulus bill falls one vote short in Senate

The Senate version of the economic stimulus bill, which included clean-energy incentives, was shot down in the chamber this evening. The loss was predicted, though the closeness of the vote perhaps wasn’t — had one more senator voted “aye,” the package would have passed. Green group Friends of the Earth blames the loss on Sen. John McCain, who failed to show up to the voting. Sens. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton both voted in favor of the bill.

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