Skip to content Skip to site navigation

Energy Policy


Conservative think tank hosts discussion on cap-and-trade. Is it Friday the 13th?

There's money in that there exhaust.

Well, this is unexpected. From the (conservative) Washington Examiner:

On Wednesday, the conservative American Enterprise Institute [AEI] hosted a secret meeting with other Washington, D.C., think tank officials, including members from several prominent liberal ones, to discuss how to build political support for a carbon pollution tax.

The discussion even apparently raised the subject of trying to get the upcoming post-election “lame duck” Congress to address the issue.

Representatives from such liberal groups as Union of Concerned Scientists, Public Citizen, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, and the Brookings Institute, the Climate Action Network and Clean, Air-Cool Planet joined centrist groups such as the Concord Coalition, Taxpayers for Common Sense, and the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies and conservatives scholars from AEI and R Street, a group that broke away from the Heartland Institute.

"Liberal groups" like the Union of Concerned Scientists. Got it.


Which is scarier: A drone overhead or an unregulated dump next door?

"OMG is that a drone?" (Photo by n0nick.)

The House of Representatives just set rules for debate on H.R. 2578, the "Conservation and Economic Growth Act," meaning it will come to the floor for a vote. (Every single bill currently proposed in the House must be titled with the words “economic growth” or “jobs” or both. If it doesn’t, the bill is put out on the Capitol steps and abandoned, where it sings doleful songs to passing children.)

Sorry. Got sidetracked.

Among 2,578 other things having to do directly or vaguely with land management, H.R. 2578 establishes a 100-mile zone within the borders of the United States in which U.S. Customs and Border Protection is given a free hand. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) thinks these measures are so important that DHS head Janet Napolitano deemed the effort "unnecessary" and "bad policy."

House Democrats, who oppose the measure, have labeled the 100-mile area the "Drone Zone," creating a website outfitted with intern-crafted, Twilight Zone-style graphics of a Predator drone sort of hovering over middle America. You are meant to be scared by this. As we mentioned yesterday, drones are the go-to bogeyman these days, the barely visible eye-in-the-sky that is taking out terrorists in Afghanistan and Yemen. (The "taking out" is not confirmed by the government; the term "terrorists" is not always supported by the evidence.) So, yeah, Drone Zone. Look out, America! Fine.

Here's what else H.R. 2578 would do: waive the application of each of the following laws [PDF] on any public land in that area.

Read more: Energy Policy, Politics


Yes, the economy could soon run on (mostly) renewable power

Along the Pennsylvania Turnpike, a series of billboards sponsored by FORCE, a pro-coal lobby, make the argument for coal-based power by arguing that "wind dies" and "the sun sets." Coal wants you to think renewable energy is unstable, uneven.

Bad news, coal. A massive study from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) modeled the impacts of a national energy grid with renewable power comprising between 30 and 90 percent of the mix -- including the requisite generation, transmission, and storage. In short:

The central conclusion of the analysis is that renewable electricity generation from technologies that are commercially available today, in combination with a more flexible electric system, is more than adequate to supply 80% of total U.S. electricity generation in 2050 while meeting electricity demand on an hourly basis in every region of the United States.

That quote scratches the surface of the NREL's findings, which follow collaboration with 110 contributors from 35 organizations inside and outside the government. (The list of abbreviations used in the report itself runs two-and-a-half pages.) Another study released in 2010 found that Europe could similarly make a transition to a renewable-heavy energy infrastructure.


New York court backs greenhouse gas initiative, draws Sauron’s eye

This is the U.S. Supreme Court. It's more photogenic than New York's.

New York state can continue to participate in a multistate effort to curb greenhouse gases, after a court dismissed a conservative legal challenge to the effort, known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative.

From a report by The New York Times:

Members of Americans for Prosperity, a group founded and largely financed by oil industry interests, filed the suit last year in state Supreme Court in Albany against Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and two state agencies, arguing that the program imposed what amounted to an illegal tax on electric ratepayers.

The group said that by making power companies pay for their carbon dioxide emissions, the program imposed costs that the companies then passed on to consumers. Such “coercive taxes” are illegally levied without approval from the state legislature, the group argued.

But in a decision signed on Tuesday, Thomas J. McNamara, an acting State Supreme Court justice, wrote that the plaintiffs lacked the standing to press their case because they had failed to establish that they had suffered a “distinct” injury from New York’s participation in RGGI (pronounced reggie).


Why climate polls don’t mean much

People involved in climate politics are always throwing polls at each other purporting to "prove" that the public likes this policy or hates that policy or wants this or doesn't want that. Everyone, at every point on the political spectrum, has a set of polls showing that the public supports their positions. I've done quite a bit of poll-pumping myself. The reality is, though, that polling on these issues tells us very little about how the politics will unfold.

To see why, let's take a look at the newly published results of Brookings' Spring 2012 National Survey of American Public Opinion on Climate Change [PDF].

Here's how the results are being pitched: The public rejects the climate policies that economists prefer -- market-based options like carbon pricing through a tax or cap-and-trade system -- and embraces the climate policies that give economists hives, namely mandates, standards, and regulations. Also, the results show a considerable partisan divide.

Couple things to say about this.

Read more: Energy Policy


Me, on the radio, talking about military ‘greening’

I was on Sea Change Radio last week to talk about the military's efforts to use less oil -- and Republicans' efforts to stop them. It's a long bit, nice and meaty at about a half hour, so put it on your iPod for your next bus ride. Here it is:

Read more: Energy Policy


Protests temporarily delay opening Alabama forests to drilling

If you enjoyed the reasoned debate over opening Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) to fossil fuel extraction, you'll likely be happy to learn that a similar debate may be coming to your own neighborhood.

For years Forest Service land in the East was considered irrelevant when it came to oil and gas leasing. But in the last year and a half, the federal government has leased or scheduled for auction more than 384,000 acres at the request of private bidders, more than 10 times as much land as it had leased in the previous two years.

The agency responsible for such auctions, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), had intended to auction another 90,000 acres in four southern states next week, but protests in Alabama prompted that state's auctions to be postponed.


Lay off the Konarka: Dem energy message risks defeating Dem energy message

So, what's the state of play on energy in the presidential race? I'm glad you asked.

Broadly, what's happened is that both parties now perceive, accurately, that the public is pro-energy. That's why both parties are grappling for the "all of the above" slogan.

"Pro-energy," in the U.S. public's case, means pro more energy, cheaper energy, cleaner energy, and more secure energy. What the public does not like is the trade-offs between those goals. It doesn't like hearing that it has to give anything up. It doesn't like hearing about "anti-energy" penalties and prohibitions. And it never likes favoritism, waste, fraud, or generic "spending."

Given that all energy policies involve trade-offs between various desiderata, a political party's ability to sell an energy policy to the public hinges on its ability to evoke the right frames. More/cheaper/cleaner/safer energy always polls well. Restraints, added cost, pollution, and foreign-ness (especially Middle Eastern-ness) do not.

This basic dynamic helps explain why Mitt Romney is not dropping Solyndra. Conservatives still see it as one of their bests attacks on Obama. It evokes Big Government spending, cronyism, waste, and failure (i.e., less energy). It tars the rest of Obama's clean-energy programs, nay his entire agenda, by association.


The dirt on Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s environmental record

Scott Walker "Obey" SignPhoto by ky_olsen.

Wisconsin is a proud state, with a unique political legacy. Its track record of progressive independence and long-standing commitment to political comity make today's recall election an aberration, a rare example of a Wisconsin turned against itself -- and a rare national example of political turmoil.

The last recall election of a governor in the United States was California's in 2003, a campaign I worked on. A friend from those days, Clark Williams, is today in his home state of Wisconsin working to turn out voters to recall Walker. I asked him how the two elections compared. "Night and day," he responded, noting the "venom" that has polluted any rational conversation about the election. It's a common refrain: A recent poll found that one in three Wisconsinites had stopped talking about politics with someone because of their disagreement. There are reports of physical altercations between supporters of either side. This is not exactly the ebullient, cheese-loving Wisconsin we picture.

Neither are the decisions being made by the governor the ones many state residents expected. The fuse for the recall was lit with Gov. Walker's move to cut collective bargaining rights for the state's public sector unions, but that's not the only gripe state residents have with the governor.

The environmental community has its own (good) reasons for complaint. The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters is very engaged in the recall, with lawn signs opposing Walker throughout the state and a robust collection of "Failure Files" online outlining Walker's anti-environment policies. And I mean robust. They're worth a perusal.

For those pressed for time, or on the way to the polling booth, here's an overview we assembled: Scott Walker's Murky, Polluted Environmental Record.


The top five things voters need to know about conservatives and climate change

Five! (Photo by woodleywonderworks)I've seen a recent surge of stories about conservatives and climate change. None of them, oddly, tell voters what they most need to know on the subject. In fact, one of them does the opposite. (Grrrr ...)

I respond in accordance with internet tradition: a listicle!

5. Conservatives have a long history of advancing environmental progress. In a column directed to Mitt Romney, Thomas Friedman reels off (one suspects from memory) "the G.O.P.'s long tradition of environmental stewardship that some Republicans are still proud of: Teddy Roosevelt bequeathed us national parks, Richard Nixon the Clean Air Act and the Environmental Protection Agency, Ronald Reagan the Montreal Protocol to protect the ozone layer and George H. W. Bush cap-and-trade that reduced acid rain." This familiar litany is slightly misleading, attributing to presidents what is mostly the work of Congresses, but the basic point is valid enough: In the 20th century, Republicans have frequently played a constructive role on the environment.