Climate & Energy

State of play in Bali

Second-to-last issue of the Bali ECO newsletter

Issue #10 if the Bali ECO is here (PDF). You may need to read between the lines a bit if you haven't been following the negotiations. But it's not hard.

Now it's the CAFE standards

Yet more energy bill woes

This may seem narrow and technical, but it's actually extremely significant: The White House has raised last-minute concerns over regulation of automobile emissions and fuel economy that aides said Tuesday could lead to a presidential veto of the energy bill now before Congress. The bill, which passed the House and is pending in the Senate, requires automakers to meet a fleet average of 35 miles per gallon by 2020, but does not specify which government agency should enforce the new rule. Primary regulation of mileage standards has historically fallen to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, an arm of the Transportation Department. But vehicle tailpipe emissions are regulated by the Environmental Protection Agency, and a Supreme Court ruling this year affirmed the E.P.A.'s authority to regulate emissions of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide from passenger vehicles, which basically would mean regulating their fuel use. The administration's argument is that the energy bill will create unnecessary confusion over which agency has proper jurisdiction over mileage standards. And at a glance it seems like a reasonable argument. But, of course, it's absolutely not reasonable at all. This is better understood as a bank-shot effort by the Bush administration to block the EPA from functionally regulating carbon emissions from automobiles on behalf of the interest groups that don't want to be bothered with reducing auto pollution.

Call your senator now!

Energy bill to be voted on in Senate tomorrow

Some days are uneventful, with little but the promise of extra pie for dessert to get you through. And then ... some days are pivots upon which the course of history turns, moments in time when each of us are called upon to decide the kind of future we want for ourselves and our children, and take to the ramparts. Tomorrow is one such day. Tomorrow, the Senate will vote on a revised energy bill. Negotiators have jettisoned the renewable electricity standard (RES) and altered some of the revenue-raising tax provisions to make it more palatable to oil-aligned senators and the White House. Still in are CAFE and critical solar investment tax credits necessary to bring solar into the mainstream. The vote will be extremely close -- the bill needs 60 votes to pass, and the opposition is burning up the phone lines, urging Senators not to vote for a bill that eliminates unneeded production incentives for the oil and gas industry. Word is the good guys are one vote short. Some people are taking advantage of this moment in history to call their senators and tell them how they feel about renewable energy. Those people find the number of their senators here. Bill text, bill summary, and solar talking points can all be found here.

'Decision-makers' rank GHG abatement technologies

Guess which type of energy comes in last in a recent poll

GlobeScan, a self-styled "global public opinion and stakeholder research" organization based in Toronto, has just published the results of a survey of 1,000 climate "decision-makers and influencers" from across 105 countries, conducted in the two weeks leading up to the Bali Climate Conference (Nov. 22-Dec. 5, 2007). According to the firm's website: Unlike public opinion polls, this survey focuses on the views of professionals in position to make or influence large decisions in their organizations and society. This focus, together with the survey's large global sample and good balance of respondents across all geographies and sectors, makes this survey unique. A bar chart showing the results in graphic form is found below the fold.

On science vs. economics

Cato’s Jerry Taylor responds to Michael Tobis

The following is a reply to a post by Michael Tobis entitled "Should economics rule?" ----- "Should Economics Rule?" Well, I take it that Michael means to suggest that someone out there -- in this case, me -- would contend that economic analysis should dictate climate policy. I do not hold that opinion. For a brief defense of my position, see my post on the matter at the Cato Institute website. By the way, even a lot of scientists held in high esteem by the Grist crowd would have little complaint with my argument that scientists are in no position as scientists to dictate public policy. See, for instance, these comments by Prof. Mike Hulme, founding director of the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research. "Is one a Marxist or even a Stalinist for pointing out that economists are not, themselves, necessarily right about everything?" I don't know quite what that means. No one among us -- no matter what their academic training -- is "right" about everything ... so far as I know. The consensus beliefs within any academic discipline are unlikely to represent the last and final truth on every subject within that field, given the limitations of human knowledge. So I agree with Michael but am not aware of anyone serious who would not. "Economists, meanwhile, claim to have the key to rationality." I don't know of a single economist who claims that their discipline is intrinsically more "rational" than any other. I don't even know what that would mean exactly. A more crisply stated proposition is that many (most?) economists think of themselves as empiricists. They distrust disciplines that do not empirically test their hypotheses in any meaningful way. Likewise, they distrust arguments that cannot be tested and disproved (which means that the argument in question is actually religious in nature). In that regard, they are much like scientists and think of themselves in the same way. An important (albeit minority) exception is the so-called Austrian school of economics, which contends that economic cause and effect is so difficult to isolate that the empiricism embraced by most modern-day economists is a practical fantasy. The Chicago school of economics (the bastion of what most people are referring to when they refer to "neo-classical economics") would beg to differ. And in case you are curious, there are both "Austrians" and "Chicago-ites" here at Cato.

Thirsty oil-rich nations reduce exports

Some Arab countries have passed the U.S. in per capita oil consumption

A fascinating and important article was the lead story in Sunday's New York Times: The economies of many big oil-exporting countries are growing so fast ... several of the world's most important suppliers may need to start importing oil within a decade to power all the new cars, houses and businesses they are buying and creating with their oil wealth.

Judge tosses out Big Auto’s suit against California

Automakers must have been bad this year, because Santa has given them a big holiday disappointment. And by Santa we mean U.S. District Judge Anthony Ishii, who today declared that California has the authority to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from vehicles, and tossed out automakers’ lawsuit against the state. Automakers had sued in 2004 when California passed a law requiring vehicles on its roads to produce 30 percent less greenhouse gases by 2016. Sorry, suckas! That’s one down, one to go in California’s fight to do right by the climate and the people who breathe its air; the state can’t implement …

Notable quotable

“Within the last few months, most of the planned coal plants in the United States have been cancelled, denied permits, or been involved in protracted litigation. Accordingly, the company submits that IPP 3, Bridger 5, and the IGCC option at Jim Bridger, are no longer viable options for the 2012 and 2014 time frame, respectively.” – power company Pacificorp, in a Nov. 28 filing to the Utah Public Service Commission, announcing revocation of plans for two coal-fired power plants in southwest Wyoming


The sad state of Bush’s science advice

Most science advisers have taken as their job to inform the president and his administration, as well as Congress, the media, and the public, of the thinking of the scientific community on key science issues of the day. Bush's advisor, John H. Marburger III, takes the opposite view. He believes his job is to inform (misinform? disinform?) the scientific community, as well as Congress, the media, and the public, of the "thinking" of the Bush Administration on key science issues. In 2006, he summed up the "technology, technology, blah, blah" strategy of Luntz/Bush: It's important not to get distracted by chasing short-term reductions in greenhouse emissions. The real payoff is in long-term technological breakthroughs. Don't get distracted by actions to save the climate from destruction. The real payoff is in never doing anything. Realclimate has a good report on Marburger's lecture at the huge American Geophysical Union Fall Meeting, titled "Reflections on the Science and Policy of Energy and Climate Change":

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