Every week brings a new story about coal's decline in America. Here are two from last week.
One is about American Electric Power, the nation's largest electric utility, based in Ohio but ranging over 11 states in the South and Midwest. AEP is the farthest thing from a good actor in the utility sector. Between 2008 and 2010, the company raised executive compensation by 30 percent, laid off 2,600 workers, spent almost $29 million lobbying the federal government, and paid a tax rate of -9 percent [PDF]. Yes, negative nine. It's that kind of company.
So it's significant that last week, AEP reaffirmed its intention to accelerate a shift away from coal. By 2020, according to CEO Nicholas Akins, coal will fall from 67 percent of AEP's assets to 50 percent.
The International Energy Agency recently issued its annual progress report [PDF] on clean energy. Here's the five-cent version:
The transition to a low-carbon energy sector is affordable and represents tremendous business opportunities, but investor confidence remains low due to policy frameworks that do not provide certainty and address key barriers to technology deployment. Private sector financing will only reach the levels required if governments create and maintain supportive business environments for low-carbon energy technologies. [my emphasis]
Progress is inadequate -- relative to the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees C -- on virtually every low-carbon technology except onshore wind and solar (click for a larger version of this chart):
In his much remarked-upon interview with Rolling Stone, President Obama said some (in my view fairly tepid and passive) things about climate change. What interested me more is the very first bit:
Let's talk about the campaign. Given all we've heard about and learned during the GOP primaries, what's your take on the state of the Republican Party, and what do you think they stand for?
First of all, I think it's important to distinguish between Republican politicians and people around the country who consider themselves Republicans. I don't think there's been a huge change in the country. ...
But what's happened, I think, in the Republican caucus in Congress, and what clearly happened with respect to Republican candidates, was a shift to an agenda that is far out of the mainstream – and, in fact, is contrary to a lot of Republican precepts. I said recently that Ronald Reagan couldn't get through a Republican primary today, and I genuinely think that's true. ... You've got a Republican Congress whose centerpiece, when it comes to economic development, is getting rid of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Doesn't all of that kind of talk and behavior during the primaries define the party and what they stand for?
I think it's fair to say that this has become the way that the Republican political class and activists define themselves.
Obama's contention is that the GOP political class and activist base have worked themselves into a blind ideological fury, but most people who identify as Republican do not share their rigidity. They are more likely to lean in the direction of Independents and moderates.
If this is true, it identifies a political vulnerability. Democrats ought to be able to exploit the differences between the masses and the ideologues, to set them at odds with one another.
Scotland’s plan to build offshore wind turbines would curb climate change, reduce the country’s reliance on foreign oil, and create thousands of jobs. But Donald Trump don’t give a f***.
Trump appeared before the Scottish Parliament’s economy, energy, and tourism committee today to speak out against the country’s plan to build offshore wind turbines. His argument? Eleven wind turbines -- located a full 1.5 miles from land -- will “ruin Scotland’s tourism.”
Two leading conservative political organizations say they are stepping up coordinated efforts to repeal state-level renewable energy targets.
The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) -- a “stealth business lobbyist” that works with corporate interests to help them write and implement “model” legislation -- says it may soon start crafting laws designed to kill or weaken state targets for renewable electricity, heating, and fuels.
ALEC has come under fire in recent weeks for its support of voter ID laws and the controversial "Stand Your Ground" law that opponents blame for the death of Florida teen Trayvon Martin. After progressive groups began an aggressive campaign to educate the public about ALEC, 13 companies pulled their membership from the organization.
Last July, Bloomberg News acquired tax documents showing that Koch Industries, Exxon Mobil, and other energy companies paid membership fees to ALEC in order to help write legislation repealing carbon pollution reduction programs in states around country.
Bloomberg now reports that ALEC is looking to take aim at renewable energy programs in states:
But if you chip away at that brown paint, there's a layer of green underneath. (As for what's beneath that layer, and then the one below that, who knows?) When he was governor of Massachusetts, Romney was about as green as Republicans get (if you don't count the now-disgraced Governator, and many Republicans don't). Check out these eco-friendly stances from Romney's past:
It's divided into three parts. The first tells the story of cleantech policy over the last five years. Early in his term, Obama unleashed a ton of support for cleantech, mainly via the stimulus bill, but also by funding some programs from the Bush era and earlier. At around $150 billion, federal cleantech spending from 2009-2014 will amount to over three times what was spent from 2002-2008. But that funding is dropping off a cliff:
In the absence of legislative action to extend or replace current subsidies, America's clean tech policy system will have been largely dismantled by the end of 2014, a casualty of the scheduled expiration of 70 percent of all federal clean tech policies. ... Furthermore, many of the remaining programs will end shortly after 2014.
Street artists have started covering walls within the no-go zone of Chernobyl with advertising from the world's nuclear power companies -- and a portrait of America’s favorite family with a nuclear safety officer dad.
Climate change is an enormous collective action problem. Typically the focus has been on demand-side policies -- reducing fossil fuel consumption through taxes or mandates. Any "climate coalition" that adopts this strategy, however, has to worry about free riders that don't. Author Bård Harstad of Northwestern University summarizes: