If you dream of a near future in which coal mines are abandoned, coal workers are employed in emerging green energy fields, coal executives are feeding at the trough of welfare assistance (and not corporate welfare), and China and India are all too happy to buy our clean technologies at a healthy price ... well, then it's good you didn't attend this morning's hearing of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Climate Change. I'll be posting a few entries here detailing the most significant ground Markey's hearing covered. But the nickel version is that, though everybody from the governor of Wyoming to the wonks at the Center for American Progress think a cap-and-trade program is inevitable, they also think that many, many billions of dollars in subsidies for carbon capture and sequestration technology will be crucial to any greenhouse-gas reduction strategy. Which is to say that I had a rollicking and hilarious morning!
Ted Stevens, the Republican senator whose vacation home was recently raided by the FBI, and who made over $800,000 from a shady real estate deal last year, has come up with a brand-new theory of global warming. He told a NBC reporter in Alaska: We're at the end of a long, long term of warming, 700 to 900 years of increased temperature, a very slow increase. We think we're close to the end of that. If we're close to the end of that, that means that we'll start getting cooler gradually, not very rapidly, but cooler once again and stability might come to this region for a period of another 900 years. This was Stevens' way of telling the villagers of Shishmaref, which is being washed away by rising waters despite the Army Corps of Engineers' construction of massive sea walls, that they're on their own. It'll be interesting to see if the denialists at Planet Gore, so quick to attack anyone who dares make an issue of global warming, will leap to the defense of Stevens' claim, which as far as scientists can tell, appears to be a personal fantasy.
Here's the inside skinny on yesterday's liquid coal hearing before the House Science & Technology Committee. It was four on two (NRDC's David Hawkins and me vs. the other witnesses). You can read my testimony here and all the witness statements here -- not that I would recommend doing so unless you are a serious liquid-coal junkie like me. About 10 members of Congress were there at any given time -- about evenly split on how they view liquid coal. The ranking Republican on the full committee, Ralph Hall from the great state of Texas, interrogated me at length -- trying to get me to say that I was anti-fossil fuel, that I was pro-tax (or that a cap-and-trade system was the same as a tax), and that I never offered any solution to the global warming problem. I think I held my own.
A federal judge poured cold water on the U.S. government’s plans to build a nuclear waste dump at Yucca Mountain in Nevada this week — or, more accurately, he left the feds high and dry. The Department of Energy has been seeking 8 million gallons of state-controlled water to drill test holes at Yucca Mountain; the state of Nevada, which wants to be rid of the dump, has said no way. In a sharp slap to the DOE, U.S. District Judge Roger Hunt ruled that the federal government had “failed to demonstrate the necessity of its voracious water demands,” and …
The Environmental “Protection” Agency faced two major slams yesterday, from east and west. In Washington, D.C., the nonpartisan Government Accountability Office issued a report scolding EPA for its post-9/11 cleanup efforts, saying the agency’s approach to toxic indoor contamination in buildings near the site is misdirected and ignores New Yorkers’ health concerns. The report “confirms our worst fears about the Bush administration’s incompetence,” said Sen. Hillary Clinton (D-N.Y.), who almost sounds as if she’s running for office or something. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Friends of the Earth and Earthjustice filed suit against EPA over its failure to set emissions standards …
We've got three big hurdles before we see a new Energy Bill enacted: substantive, procedural, and presidential. First, the substantive hurdle: the House and Senate bills differ on key points, such as fuel economy standards, a national renewable electricity standard, and energy taxes (I have reprinted a side-by-side comparison below). Merging the bills won't be easy. Second, the procedural hurdle: both chambers must "formally be considering the same legislation," as E&E Daily ($ub. req'd) explains: The Senate in June passed its amendment to H.R. 6, which is the energy bill the House passed during the new Democratic majority's opening 100 hour legislative blitz in January. Then the House last month passed a much more sweeping bill than its January effort and a companion $15 billion energy tax package. "Right now we are in this interesting situation where we have two bills out there," said David Marks, a spokesman for Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.). "There is this procedural hurdle to get over first." Third, the presidential hurdle: Bush must sign whatever passes before it becomes law. And that is not a sure thing. Side-by-Side Comparison This chart from E&E Daily compares the House-passed energy bill, H.R. 3221 (on the left), with the Senate-passed energy bill, H.R. 6 (on the right):
New York Times economics writer David Leonhardt examines a question that David and I have enjoyed disagreeing about (or at least that I've enjoyed disagreeing with David about) for a couple of months now: Is John Dingell sincere about tackling climate change, or is he pulling old tricks? Leonhardt recounts the tale of Dingell's efforts to block fuel-economy standards introduced by former Sen. Richard Bryan a couple of decades ago by introducing a bill that would have created a nuclear waste dump in Bryan's home state of Nevada. Are we seeing that type of tactic again, albeit in slightly different form? I still go back and forth on this. On the one hand, Dingell talks a good game to the press. On the other, what's really important is for him to whip up support among his colleagues for his carbon-tax proposal. The congressional aides I've talked to about this take stances ranging from "we don't trust him" to "we never know what he's really thinking" to "we believe he's out to axe real progress" to "it's too early to say." Time, as the kids are fond of saying, will tell. Leonhardt writes, "If nothing else, it's also enormously useful that Mr. Dingell is no longer suggesting, as he did just eight months ago, that the scientific consensus on global warming may be a 'great error.'" It would be fascinating to figure out how Dingell came around, if he in fact has. And he certainly would like us to believe he has: After the town hall meeting [which Dingell had called to discuss climate change] was over -- and he had listened to a couple of hours of questions about timed traffic lights, nuclear power and the possibility of impeaching President Bush -- Mr. Dingell sat down in a dark area behind the stage. I asked him whether Mr. Gore, who has been both a Dingell nemesis and ally at various times, had been right for all those years he was pointing out what was happening to the earth's climate. "I think a cold statement on that point would be yes," Mr. Dingell replied. And would it have been easier to solve the problem if we had started earlier? "What's the saying? The saddest words in the English language -- 'might have been.'"
Peter Barnes' Capitalism 3.0: A Guide to Reclaiming the Commons (also available as a free PDF at Barnes' site) suggests that flaws in capitalism lie at the root of the environmental and social problems we face today; his solution, as a retired corporate CEO, is not to discard capitalism, but fix those flaws.
John Edwards' bid for union support seems to finally be paying off for him -- yesterday, his campaign won the support of the steelworkers and mine workers unions. Which raises an important question: To what extent is Edwards' support for mine workers (and their support for him) incompatible with his climate-change platform? Edwards was the first of the Democratic hopefuls to put forth an ambitious climate-change plan (perhaps inspiring slightly more ambitious offerings from Chris Dodd and Bill Richardson), and he remains the only one of the three leading contenders to have made addressing climate change a priority -- we've heard standard platitudes from Hillary Clinton, and a series of confused and incrementalist proposals from Barack Obama. So I asked the Edwards campaign if supporting coal miners is at odds with supporting the human race (of which coal is an enemy, as we at Grist are fond of reiterating). They sent me the following statement: