Senate: yes to CAFE boost, no to oil taxes

One small step forward, one step, uh, sideways

You may have heard that today the Senate reached a compromise on CAFE: they will keep the 35mpg-by-2020 requirement, but drop the 4%-every-year-thereafter requirement. The loophole for SUVs will be closed. (Bizarrely, newly minted environmentalist Ted Stevens [R-Alaska] was instrumental in keeping the amendment alive.) This is good news, in a symbolic sort of way (suffice to say, when there are working vehicles on the road that get 100mpg, we shouldn’t be satisfied with glacial, incremental gains). But it’s offset by the bad news that an amendment to levy around $30 billion in taxes on the oil industry, with the …

Rocky III?

Salt Lake City might jump in for another term

It’s no secret that we have something of a organization-wide crush on crusading Salt Lake City mayor Rocky Anderson. As he mentioned in our interview, his plan has been to leave politics and move into advocacy behind environmental and human rights causes. But it looks like he might be reconsidering. You see, the slate of candidates for Salt Lake mayor is pretty grim. The one truly progressive candidate, the one Rocky endorsed, may not advance beyond the primary. If he doesn’t, Rocky might jump back in as a write-in candidate, because he doesn’t want to see the progress he’s made …

One more truth about China and climate change

It’s about more than money

It's official. China is now the world's top emitter of greenhouse gases. Having spent much of this spring reporting in China, I'd like to second just about everything David said yesterday on the topic. But I have one ginormous point to add. It's not just money that's needed. Yes, it'd be a good thing if Hill folks stopped bashing technology-exchange programs as lending an "unfair competitive advantage." And yes, let's stop painting China as the international bad guy. It ain't helpful, especially when the Chinese can rightly point out that Americans and Europeans are still, per capita, the world's energy hogs. But the really troubling thing is that, even when Beijing is trying to do the right thing -- and they have some surprisingly progressive energy targets on the books -- the government often can't enforce its own edicts. Wonks call this a "rule of law" problem. By Beijing's own estimates, one-fifth of power plants operate illegally, dodging the government's own environmental regulations and best intentions. I don't mean to sound hopeless. I'm actually hopeful about some of the broader changes underway in China that might make solutions more workable. (Sorry to be elliptical; I write about this in an upcoming Washington Monthly article, but, jiminycrickets, I don't have an online link yet.) In the meantime, yep, the West should take some responsibility for helping China, India, and Africa avoid the worst of the worst on global warming. If not for their sake, then for ours.

Crunch time

Dirty energy lobbyists are out in force

Argh: Senate Democrats yesterday were scrambling to prevent the sweeping energy overhaul bill, a top domestic priority, from crumbling amid growing regional divisions within their party and Republican concerns. “The moment of truth on this energy bill is coming very shortly,” Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) said. Also, argh: Three powerful lobbying forces — automakers, electric utilities and the coal industry — are confounding Democrats’ efforts to forge a less-polluting energy policy. This is it: crunch time. Time to fight. We finally have a chance to drag the country’s energy policy back toward sanity, and entrenched industrial dinosaurs will fight it …

Well, There’s One Thing They Can Agree On

National party conventions aim to go green You’ve maybe noticed that green is the Hot New Thing these days — and the U.S. political arena is no exception. The 2008 Democratic and Republican national conventions both plan to get hip to the greenness. Denver, Colo., site of the Democratic potlatch, is primed to beat eco-friendly convention predecessor Boston by providing hybrid transportation from the airport, encouraging biking to and from hotels, reducing paper use, and recycling — which the convention HQ Pepsi Center doesn’t currently do but is, says a spokesperson, “looking forward to exploring.” Delightfully named Denver Mayor John …

What role coal?

The chair of the Select Committee on Global Warming weighs in

Congress is about to confront the challenge of coal, and much of what we hope to do to reduce the threat of global warming hinges on these decisions. There's a useful test to use whenever the challenges of fossil fuel dependence and global warming come up: We must reduce the threat of global warming without worsening our dependence on foreign oil; and we must reduce the threat of oil dependence without worsening global warming. When it comes to coal, it's that second part of the equation that brings up some sticky issues. Coal has been a big part of our energy mix, providing the majority of our electricity since the invention of the electric light. It has been a principal source of energy since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution -- a revolution that provided the basis for our economic prosperity, but also produced exponential pollution growth that was the genesis of the global warming issues we face today. Now is the time for a new Green Revolution. We must combine the economic reforms of a new industrial revolution based on clean energy development with the moral imperative to protect the planet. But where does that leave coal? Can our reliance on these carbon-packed nuggets of energy survive while we try to ensure the planet survives as well?

The most powerful force in nature

Johnny jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge … must … jump …

The most powerful force in nature isn't the nuclear force, or anything wimpy like that; it's the force of a bad idea whose moment has arrived. Whenever I wanted to do something stupid and argued that my friends had done it, Mom would always say, "If Johnny jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you do that too?" From The Oregonian:

Many policies, one goal

It’s all about raising the price of carbon

Robert Reich — Secretary of Labor under Clinton, economic policy professor/pundit — has a somewhat confused column up advocating for a "carbon auction." In particular, it’s not clear whether he’s talking about politics or policy, which is a confusion that generally plagues this discussion. He rejects a carbon tax because it will be politically unpopular. The holy-and-sanctified Middle Class won’t put up with it. He rejects a cap-and-trade system because it would give the most credits to the biggest polluters, a la the initial attempt in Europe. The Goldilocksian just-right proposal? A "carbon auction," which is … a cap-and-trade system …

Energy, economics, and the environment

Political courage needed for change

Getting our energy policy right does not require new technology, added societal cost, or economic disruption. However, it does require the political courage to question the sacred cows that have shaped 100 years of electric-market regulation. A few ideas that are missing from the energy debate: Fossil fuel use in the U.S. is split approximately in thirds between transportation fuels, electric power generation, and heat generation (buildings, industrials, etc.). GHG emissions track accordingly. The electric industry is -- with very limited exceptions -- a regulated monopoly, subject to cost-plus pricing. This has been the case for 100 years. In other words, they have had a 100-year incentive to overconsume fossil fuel. Adam Smith never said anything about profits causing the public good. What he did say is that the pursuit of profits in a competitive market engenders the public good. The second half of this clause is entirely missing from the electric sector. Why this matters:

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