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Fossil-fuel subsidies are the real job killers

How many lobbyists does it take to defend billions in subsidies for one of the most profitable industries in the world? 786. That's the size of the army that oil and gas companies maintain in Washington to strong-arm Congress into bankrolling an industry that is cutting jobs and literally fueling the climate crisis. This army is bigger than Congress itself, which has only 535 members.

Last year, Democrats on the House Natural Resources Committee decided to investigate Big Oil’s jobs claims -- and it turns out the industry has gone on a firing spree in recent years. They discovered that despite generating $546 billion in profits between 2005 and 2010, ExxonMobil, Chevron, Shell, and BP reduced their U.S. workforce by 11,200 employees over that period. In 2010 alone, the top five oil companies slashed their global workforce by 4,400 employees -- the same year executives paid themselves nearly $220 million. But at least those working in the industry as a whole get paid high wages, right? Turns out that 40 percent of U.S oil-industry jobs consist of minimum-wage work at gas stations.

With job numbers like these, it is no wonder the fossil-fuel industry needs to spend millions ensuring they are not branded as “job killers.”

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‘All of the above’ is popular, but hides partisan divide on energy

As he has shifted into campaign mode, one of Obama's most high-profile rhetorical gambits has been to flagrantly steal the GOP's favorite slogan on energy: "all of the above." He risked such open public theft (which has left Republicans spluttering) for a reason -- it works. It's what America wants. Gallup offers yet more proof:

As you can see, every single energy proposal gets majority support (even nuclear power, barely). On energy, Americans want all of the above. Literally.

Read more: Energy Policy, Politics

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Why going green during a recession actually creates jobs

Economists have long known something that politicians apparently do not: If you need to impose expensive environmental regulations, there’s no better time than during a recession. Or so says macroeconomist Josh Bivens, writing in New Scientist.

In fact, says Bivens, when the economy is sucking wind, environmental regulations actually create jobs, for three reasons:

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Shocker: Conservative governor believes there’s a problem with the climate

Cross-posted from Climate Progress.

Speaking to a group of Republican political donors last week, Ohio’s conservative governor, John Kasich (R), called for action on climate change, saying he was “all for” developing clean energy.

At a time when climate change denial has become a de facto national platform for the Republican party, Kasich’s comments are a notable break from GOP rhetoric. The Columbus Dispatch reported on his statement to fellow Republicans:

“This isn’t popular to always say, but I believe there is a problem with climates, climate change in the atmosphere,” Kasich told a Ross County Republican function on Thursday. “I believe it. I don’t know how much there is, but I also know the good Lord wants us to be good stewards of his creation. And so, at the end of the day, if we can find these breakthroughs to help us have a cleaner environment, I’m all for it.”

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Ohio fracking is latest target for anti-Keystone activists

ohio map with fracking drill"Don't frack Ohio!"

The folks who brought you the blockbuster protests against the Keystone XL pipeline have a new dirty-energy target: fracking in Ohio.

Bill McKibben, his 350.org cohorts, Gasland director Josh Fox, and a handful of Ohio environmental activists and groups are aiming to assemble the largest demonstration against natural-gas fracking in U.S. history. The action will happen in Columbus June 14–17, culminating on the last day with a takeover of the statehouse for "a people’s assembly," the organizers explain in an invitation letter.

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Building codes: Small rules that help homeowners save big on energy

Building houses according to updated energy conservation codes saves homeowners money. (Photo by 401k.)

Cross-posted from Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

In energy policy, lawmakers often prefer carrots to sticks, because this strategy minimizes the opposition. But mandatory rules, like building energy codes, can save energy and pay back several times over during the useful life of buildings.

The state of Illinois is poised to become a regional leader by adopting the 2012 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), an example of small-seeming rules with big impact. For example, 40 percent of primary energy consumption in the U.S. is in buildings, along with about 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Thus, adopting the 2012 IECC, with energy efficiency standards 28 percent stronger than the 2006 code, can make a big dent in carbon emissions.

The financial savings can add up, as well. The federal Energy Information Administration estimated in 2005 that homeowners in the Midwest spent an average of $1,800 per year on household energy use. Assuming states had already adopted the 2006 IECC for the previous expenditure figure, the implementation of the 2012 code could save families $500 per year.

Read more: Energy Policy

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Energy for the next 20 years: my panel at the New York Academy of Sciences

Back in January, I was the moderator for a panel at the New York Academy of Sciences called "Energy for the Next 20 Years: Protecting the Environment and Meeting Our Demands." It featured: Stewart Brand (Long Now Foundation) Joe Fargione (The Nature Conservancy) Jesse Jenkins (Breakthrough Institute) Arne Jungjohann (Heinrich Boell Foundation) Jeff Opperman (The Nature Conservancy) NYAS now has a nice summary up, along with a two-part video of the entire panel. I thought it was pretty interesting, especially as we got into the Q&A. Turns out science academies attract a pretty sharp audience.

Read more: Energy Policy

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If everyone used as much energy as Americans, we’d run out of oil in 9 years

Unlike gluttonous American industry, Europe's most profitable companies plan to make even more money by getting ahead of this whole peak oil trend, reports Der Spiegel. And it’s a damn good thing, because if everybody guzzled oil like Americans, we’d be even more screwed than we are now.

Case in point:

If every person on Earth used as much energy as the average person in the United States, today's known oil reserves would be exhausted within nine years.

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Subsidies 101: A guide to corporate handouts, and why we shouldn’t stand for them

Fossil fuel corporations don't need more cash.

Cross-posted from TomDispatch.

Along with “five-dollar-a-gallon-gas,” the energy watchword for the next few months is: “subsidies.” Last week, for instance, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) proposed ending some of the billions of dollars in handouts enjoyed by the fossil-fuel industry with a “Repeal Big Oil Tax Subsidies Act.”  It was, in truth, nothing to write home about -- a curiously skimpy bill that only targeted oil companies, and just the five richest of them at that. Left out were coal and natural gas, and you won’t be surprised to learn that even then it didn’t pass.

Still, President Obama is now calling for an end to oil subsidies at every stop on his early presidential-campaign-plus-fundraising blitz -- even at those stops where he’s also promising to “drill everywhere.” And later this month Sen. Bernie Sanders (Ind-Vt.) will introduce a much more comprehensive bill that tackles all fossil fuels and their purveyors (and has no chance whatsoever of passing this Congress).

Whether or not the bill passes, those subsidies are worth focusing on. After all, we’re talking at least $10 billion in freebies and, depending on what you count, possibly as much as $40 billion annually in freebie cash for an energy industry already making historic profits. If attacking them is a convenient way for the White House to deflect public anger over rising gas prices, it is also a perfect fit for the new worldview the Occupy movement has been teaching Americans. (Not to mention, if you think about it, the Tea Party focus on deficits.) So count on one thing: We’ll be hearing a lot more about them this year.

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Trade in the 20th century electric grid. Don’t trade off local energy

It's sundown for the 20th century electric grid. (Photo by Nayu Kim.)

This post originally appeared on Energy Self-Reliant States, a resource of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance.

In a New York Times SundayReview piece, "Drawing the Line at Power Lines," Elisabeth Rosenthal suggested that our desire for clean energy will require significant trade-offs:

There are pipelines, trains, trucks and high-voltage transmission lines. None of them are pretty, and all have environmental drawbacks. But if you want to drive your cars, heat your homes and watch TV, you will have to choose among these unpalatable options ...

Perhaps the answer is simply that in an increasingly crowded powered-on world, we’re all going to have to accept that Governor Cuomo’s so-called energy highway is likely to traverse our backyard.

I disagree.

The future of American electricity policy is not about trade-offs, but rather a chance to trade in an obsolete, centralized paradigm for a local, clean energy future. Utilities would have us believe that new high-voltage transmission lines are necessary to get more wind and solar power. But the truth is that the American electricity industry refuses to embrace the fundamentally different nature of renewable energy: Its ubiquity means that Americans can produce energy near where they use it, in an economically competitive manner, and at a community scale.

Read more: Energy Policy