Climate & Energy

Have we lost more ground than we gained?

If we put narrative above policy, how might the energy bill have played out?

Passing an energy bill at any cost made us look weak, reduced climate change urgency, handed a significant victory to President Bush, and accomplished little of significance. If we had chosen an alternative path -- to take a stand with the fledgling U.S. renewables industry and challenge the obscenely rich oil and coal behemoths -- we would have lost, to be sure, but would have built political power, introduced a novel story, and strengthened ties with an important ally. In acquiescing to a stripped-down energy bill, U.S. environmentalists lost an opportunity to reshape our climate story, strengthen our relationship with the renewable energy sector, and draw a bright line that distinguishes genuine supporters of functional climate action from fair weather friends. Instead, we opted for scraps, gaining emissions reductions of small significance compared to the global problem, displaying political weakness in place of principled courage, and handing a propaganda victory to a president who is singularly responsible for blocking international climate action. Even environmentalists damned the final Senate version with faint praise. The "landmark" hailed by UCS also, in their words, "failed to take a giant step." NRDC called it a "down payment toward fighting global warming," and was "disappointed," and Environment America (formerly the environmental arm of U.S.PIRG) called the measure "historic," even as they observed, "big oil and big coal succeeded in stripping out ... very important parts of the bill." Press and editorial reactions were less equivocal, as this sampling of headlines shows:

Keep it in the ground

Efficiency without renewable energy is not sufficient

Recently George Monbiot argued that humanity must figure out a way to leave the fossil fuels in the ground: Most of the governments of the rich world now exhort their citizens to use less carbon. They encourage us to change our lightbulbs, insulate our lofts, turn our televisions off at the wall. In other words, they have a demand-side policy for tackling climate change. But as far as I can determine, not one of them has a supply-side policy. None seeks to reduce the supply of fossil fuel. So the demand-side policy will fail. Every barrel of oil and tonne of coal that comes to the surface will be burned. In other words, things like fuel economy standards and efficient appliances won't help unless cars and appliances are powered by renewable energy (solar/wind/geothermal). The problem might be more manageable if we divide it into three parts: Active energy sources -- wind/solar/geothermal. Passive energy sources -- mostly in buildings, as detailed in David's recent excellent post . Design -- as in how to design cities, towns, and the their transportation systems. Once we have moved to renewable electricity and passive systems as the source of almost all of our energy needs, then we can keep the rest of the fossil fuels in the ground.

Not the bill to take home to mother

Nuclear subsidies likely to stay in omnibus spending package

The Senate is debating the wide-ranging $500-plus billion omnibus spending package right now. Most of the points of contention are extremely important -- FOIA, defense spending -- but for the purposes of this site, a bit off-topic. It failed its most recent cloture vote on the question of war-funding (Republicans, of course, want more), and minority leader Mitch McConnell has basically promised it won't pass unless the Democrats cave. So if when that happens, I'll let you know. I'll also let you know if I hear (or am sent) any statements about the energy provisions, but for now, here's a bunch of info. There are indeed billions of dollars in allowances (though not all mandated subsidies) for nuclear energy programs. The amendment reads (PDF): For Department of Energy expenses including the purchase, construction, and acquisition of plant and capital equipment, and other expenses necessary for nuclear energy activities in carrying out the purposes of the Department of Energy Organization Act including the acquisition or condemnation of any real proper ty or any facility or for plant or facility acquisition, construction, or expansion, and the purchase of not to exceed 20 passenger motor vehicles for replacement only, including one ambulance, $970,525,000, to remain available until expended: Provided, That $233,849,000 is authorized to be appropriated for Project 99-D-143 Mixed Oxide (MOX) Fuel Fabrication Facility, Savannah River Site, South Carolina: Provided further, That the Department of Energy adhere strictly to Department of Energy Order 413.3A for Project 99-D-143. Whew! So, what, exactly, does DOE Order 413.3A mandate? Well, here's what the paper says (PDF):

Debate: denied!

Climate skeptic plays hookey

The great climate debate was supposed to be yesterday, but it was not to be. My opponent, Dr. Tim Ball, was a no-show. He knew the debate started at 2:00 p.m., but got the time zone wrong. After he figured that out, his phone stopped working. Go figure. So it was just me, and I spent about 75 minutes answering questions that readers had left on Eric Berger's Sciguy site, as well as taking questions from the phone lines. Many of the questions were interesting and reasonable, and I very much appreciate the people that posed them. However, what would a climate change debate be without a few wackos? One caller asked (and later emailed me the same question): I would like to know if you really believe you and others like you can manage the climate of this planet? As the Wizard of Oz found out, there are unforeseen consequences to your actions. That's right, if the Wizard can't make good policy concerning flying monkeys, witches, and Judy Garland, what chance do we have of handling climate change? This caller will most definitely not like my suggestion that we geoengineer a cooler climate by sending up flying monkeys carrying mirrors to reflect sunlight back to space.

Notable quotable

“I really would like to vote for this bill because we desperately need an energy bill. The world and particularly the United States faces a …

Casten on FutureGen: 'Maddeningly stupid'

Grist contributor bashes ‘clean coal’

If you’d like to see our very own Sean Casten call the FutureGen clean coal project “maddeningly stupid” — about the only part of this …

Pity our poor customers

Coal utilities weigh in on the carbon policy

Something old, something new, something borrowed ... For years, utilities have blurred the line between their interests and those of their customers (which are, under the rules of cost-plus rate-making, precisely opposed). Typically, this argument is used to frame rate cases in the form of, "if we can't raise rates on customer X, we'll be forced to raise rates on customer Y. Let us tell you how tragic that would be from customer Y's perspective, to cloud the fact that we're asking to increase rates on customer X." I'm oversimplifying, but only just. Ameren is now applying this old idea to carbon policy, saying that the problem isn't what carbon policy will do to their shareholders (perish the thought!), but what it will do to their customers. Article from Restructuring Today ($ub req'd) below the fold:

Coal's bad year

Thirteen stories of coal getting stiffed

The other day I was thinking I should gather together in one place all the stories from this year about coal getting rejected. And I …

Sen. Domenici tries again to boost loan guarantees for nuclear power plants

The multifaceted appropriations bill making its way through the Senate contains language that would raise the limits on loan guarantees for new nuclear power plants. …