Politics

Knowing as little as possible: a candidate competition

Thompson and Romney quibble over oil drilling in the Everglades

Here's a fun game for campaign reporters: Ask Fred Thompson questions. The results are often hilarious: Republican presidential hopeful Fred Thompson seemed taken by surprise when asked Tuesday about oil drilling in the Everglades, apparently unaware it's been a major Florida issue. Before answering, he laughed at the question. "Gosh, no one has told me that there's any major reserves in the Everglades, but maybe that's one of the things I need to learn while I'm down here," Thompson said after talking over state issues with Gov. Charlie Crist. Thompson, who has called for seeking U.S. oil resources wherever they exist, was asked by an Associated Press reporter whether that included drilling in the Everglades. "I'm not going to start out by taking this, that or the other off the table in terms of our overall energy situation," he said. Upon learning of this, Mitt Romney took an obvious, but I suppose laudable, political swipe at Thompson: "You're kidding?" said Romney, who also was campaigning in Florida. "Let's take that off the table. We're not going to drill in the Everglades. There are certain places in America that are national treasures and the Everglades is one of those." Of course, Romney is a huge fan of the idea of drilling in ANWR and off the Gulf Coast of Florida. About the latter he made the cool, sober point that, "If we don't do it, Castro will," according to the DNC. I'm sure that what we have here is a principled disagreement about what, exactly, constitutes a "national treasure."

Greens actually change someone's mind

Greens helped convince Lieberman that auctioning permits is the way to go

As I noted earlier today, Sen. Lieberman indicated that he’d be open to moving toward 100 percent auction of pollution permits under his and Sen. Warner’s cap-and-trade proposal. I called David McIntosh, Lieberman’s counsel and legislative assistant for energy and the environment, to find out why this potentially tectonic shift has suddenly become a live option. He said: The environmental community and Senators whose views are going to be important have effectively communicated to Sens. Lieberman and Warner that they want to see free allocations to emitters phased out over time and why they believe that is justified. Within the …

Non-sucky cap-and-trade now a possibility?

Lieberman expresses openness to auction all carbon permits

A cap-and-trade system begins by placing a cap on carbon emissions and distributing permits (permission to emit a certain amount of CO2) equal to the capped amount. The notion is that permits will be bought and sold, allowing market forces to determine where emission reductions can be made fastest and easiest. The question is how to distribute those initial permits. When the EU carbon trading system was established, permits were given away based on emissions, meaning the biggest polluters got the most permits. The idea was that those polluters most needed the money because they had the biggest reductions to …

Coal industry asks for still more handouts, and Washington lends an ear

We’re gradually learning how the U.S. government will approach our country’s energy needs in the carbon-constrained future — and if you were envisioning a future free of mining the earth for dirty energy, you should probably check the optimism. Same coal, same coal. Photo: iStockphoto Two important hearings on Capitol Hill earlier this month strongly indicated that we’re stuck with coal — and a coal industry generously supported by the American taxpayer — for the foreseeable future. Coal industry representatives were invited to explain to key members of the U.S. House of Representatives why the federal government should ply it …

Discover Brilliant: Trends in smart-grid policy

Next up, a discussion of trends in energy industry smart-grid policy. Starring: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Rob Pratt, Staff Scientist and Manager of Gridwise Activities Gridwise Council, Alison Silverstein Snohomish County PUD, Jessica Wilcox, Government Affairs Wilcox (who is, I add inappropriately, gorgeous): Most people on Capitol Hill don’t even know what a smart grid is. Even the people writing the bills that include smart grid provisions don’t understand or much care about it. The problem is smart grid is getting defined much too narrowly. It needs to be expanded to include renewables, conservation, responses to climate change, etc. People …

Schwarzenegger unveils $9 billion water bond package

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has unveiled a $9 billion water bond plan, including an unprecedented level of taxpayer payout for water projects and funding to build or expand three dams. Lawmakers hope to place some form of water bond on a Feb. 5 ballot, and Democratic legislators will likely spend the next few weeks lobbying for more of an emphasis on cleaning up polluted groundwater, H2O recycling, and good ol’ conservation.

EPA to Supreme Court: Take a hike!

EPA gives permit to new Utah coal plant; Waxman cries foul

Given the opportunity last month to adhere to the Supreme Court's findings in the case of Massachusetts vs. EPA, the EPA chose instead to completely ignore the ruling and proceed as if the case had never been heard. It issued a permit to Deseret Power to construct a 110-megawatt coal-fired power unit at an existing power plant in Uintah County, Utah. Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, today sent a letter to EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson urging him to reverse his decision and asking him to answer some important questions. The letter is available at this link. Here are highlights: On August 30, 2007 , EPA issued a permit to Deseret Power for the construction of a 110-megawatt coal-fired power unit at the Bonanza Power Plant in Uintah County, Utah. The Deseret Bonaiua permit decision presented EPA with its first opportunity since the Supreme Court ruling to address the global warming harm from a major new stationary source of greenhouse gases. While relatively small, this unit has the potential to emit up to 90 million tons of CO2 over an estimated 50-year lifetime. As the permitting authority for this plant, EPA had to decide whether to issue the permit and whether to require carbon dioxide pollution controls or other mitigating measures under the permit ... ... EPA ruled in the permit decision that CO2 is not "subject to regulation" under the [Clean Air] Act and thus that EPA cannot require the plant to apply the best available control technology to reduce greenhouse gases. According to EPA, CO2 cannot be considered "subject to regulation" because CO2 is not yet regulated by "a statutory or regulatory provision that requires actual control of emissions." In essence, the EPA argument is that because EPA has not regulated CO2 emissions in the past, the agency cannot regulate CO2 emissions now. This is a bootstrap argument that conflicts with the plain language of the statute and blatantly misconstrues the Supreme Court's recent holding. ... ... I request your cooperation in the Committee's investigation into the process that led to the Deseret Power decision. First, I ask that you provide the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform copies of all documents relating to communications between EPA and any other federal agency or the White House that relate to (1) the Deseret Power application or (2) the consideration of greenhouse gas emissions when making permitting decisions for new coal or gas-fired power plants. The tentative deadline for that information and the answers to other questions in the letter is October 3.

Mr. Clinton goes to the public-goods markets

The promise of governmental buyers’ clubs

We often wonder whether the government is better suited to solving many of our problems, or whether the market should take the lead. The current issue of The Atlantic Monthly has an article concerning the efforts of Bill Clinton's foundation which addresses this issue. The article shows how governments can work with markets for the benefit of large numbers of people and the planet by guaranteeing demand for a particular product or service. By doing this in the long-term, the production of beneficial goods and services can achieve the economies of scale that will make them practical to use within a few years, instead of decades from now. The Clinton Foundation used this powerful idea to cut prices for AIDS drugs in Africa and the Caribbean for hundreds of thousands of people. In Clinton's words, "All we did was take something that people would naturally do in a purely business market and apply it to the public-goods market." I'm not sure if Clinton is referring to the technical definition of "public goods" here, which refers to a good whose consumption does not reduce any other's consumption of that good, and a good that all have access to, such as information or air. The Earth's climate is most certainly a public good, and its radical warming would most certainly be a public bad. So the Clinton Foundation worked with a new group of cities, the C40, to create large-scale demand. If big cities could come together to provide a market to jumpstart new, energy-savings technologies, it would give quite a boost to efforts to mitigate global warming. As the author of The Atlantic article points out, cities have quite a source of demand at their disposal:

Setting an example for the feds

State renewable electricity standards create jobs while cutting pollution

Since the federal government has so far refused to adopt a nationwide renewable electricity standard (RES) the states have stepped in. Some 25 states, plus D.C., have adopted an RES, also known as a renewable portfolio standard, which requires utilities to purchase a rising percentage of their power from renewable sources like wind and solar. A new report by U.S. PIRG details the myriad benefits of state action to promote renewables: "Reaping the Rewards: How State Renewable Electricity Standards Are Cutting Pollution, Saving Money, Creating Jobs and Fueling a Clean Energy Boom." Here are some of the conclusions: In 2006, more than two-thirds of all new renewable electric generating capacity in the United States was built in RES states. In 2007, more than 70 percent of planned renewable generation is expected to be built in RES states. Texas stands out as the state with the most aggressive renewable energy development in recent years, adding 2,000 megawatts of new renewable energy capacity. Texas is followed by Washington, New York, and Colorado. Renewable energy is addressing a greater share of new energy needs in RES states. In 2007, renewables account for about 38 percent of planned capacity additions in RES states, compared to just 12 percent in non-RES states.

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