Where are the giants?

On the leadership qualities the next president should possess

This post is by ClimateProgress guest blogger Bill Becker, Executive Director of the Presidential Climate Action Project. We are the nation we are because giants have walked among us. America was founded by giants. Others have appeared since to guide us through crises or to great things: Teddy Roosevelt, FDR, Abraham Lincoln, Martin Luther King. We have had leaders whose oratory has, sometimes in a single sentence, rallied the American people around their obligations of citizenship, the morality of equal rights, the spirit of exploration, and the compassion our blessed nation should show to those who have never known security or abundance. Are giants walking among us today? Are any of them in the present field of presidential candidates? Polls indicate that most Americans agree the current president has demonstrated some qualities we do not want in the White House. I'd like to offer an unabashedly old-fashioned and idealistic answer about the qualities we do want, drawn from the Presidential Climate Action Plan.

Will the energy bill bail out ethanol?

The corn industry hopes Congress will pull its fat out of the fire

I used to love to start my writing day by taking a poke or two at the corn-based ethanol industry — you know, the biggest …

The job-creating answer to global warming

A new report lays a road map for creating green jobs while fighting the climate crisis

A major new report from the Center for American Progress (CAP) provides a detailed roadmap for avoiding catastrophic global warming and restoring our energy security, while maintaining economic development. The report, "Capturing the Energy Opportunity: Creating a Low Carbon Economy," is by CAP's John Podesta, Kitt Batten, and Todd Stern. It is well worth reading, and I say that not because I am a senior fellow at CAP, but because the 88-page report lays out the most comprehensive set of plausible job-creating climate/energy policies I have seen. The authors understand the scale of the problem: The challenge we face is nothing short of the conversion of an economy sustained by high-carbon energy -- putting both our national security and the health of our planet at serious risk -- to one based on low-carbon, sustainable sources of energy. The scale of this undertaking is immense and its potential enormous. The urgency of this issue demands a president willing to make the low-carbon energy challenge a top priority in the White House -- a centerpiece not only of his or her energy policy but also of his or her economic program -- to produce broad-based growth and sustain American economic leadership in the 21st century. This task is so encompassing it will demand that the incoming president in 2009 reorganize the mission and responsibility of all relevant government agencies -- economic, national security, and environmental. The report explores the crucial steps needed to meet the challenge:

Not that coal has any undue advantage

Coal industry sponsors another presidential debate

Tonight’s CNN/YouTube debate for the Republican presidential candidates is, like the previous CNN debate for Dems, brought to you by the coal industry. From ThinkProgress: …

Forum video, now with comments

Tell us what you think about the presidential forum

The video from Grist’s presidential forum on climate is now available on a page that accepts comments. So go comment! One thing to watch for: …

Splitting up is hard to do

Pelosi joins Reid in bifurcating the energy bill

A couple weeks ago, as I wrote here, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was keeping mum about her efforts alongside Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid to pass the energy bill. She would neither confirm nor deny rumors about a split bill. Today, the Wall Street Journal reports that she's no longer keeping quiet: Democratic leaders have wrestled for months with how to meld the Senate bill, which includes a new fuel-economy mandate for auto makers, and the House bill, which would require power companies to use greater amounts of wind, solar and other renewable fuels. With only a few weeks left in the year, Democrats are now considering a new option: moving two separate bills.One measure would include the proposed fuel-economy increase as well as a proposal to boost production of ethanol and related biofuels. The companion bill would include the utility mandate, as well as a tax package rolling back oil industry tax breaks. How this makes the utility mandate any less likely to be filibustered remains a total mystery to me. But I suppose there is some logic to moving as many parts of the bill as are immediately passable, thereby narrowing the battle to one over renewables alone. Maybe Reid will just jam clean energy into some difficult-to-filibuster legislation down the road.

USFWS to reconsider seven endangered-species rulings due to “improper influence”

Seventeen imperiled species may have another shot at getting increased protections now that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service admitted that a political appointee who …

Congressional fuel-economy deal near

A possible compromise in energy legislation negotiations

The Detroit Free Press reports: Congressional negotiators are close to agreement on an increase in fuel economy standards to 35 miles per gallon by 2020, with some caveats to satisfy U.S. automakers. What caveats? The compromise would preserve the distinction between cars and trucks, something Detroit automakers have fought for, while giving federal regulators strict limits on how to put the increases into place. It also would include a provision backed by the UAW aimed at keeping small-car production in the United States. Still, much better than no deal at all.

How not to make an energy policy

A strong and realistic energy policy is not dependent on any one fuel, technology, or supplier

First a caveat: When it comes to electricity generation, I (Jason) am an agnostic. In other words, I try to evaluate energy sources on their own merits, from cradle to grave, and I try my best to keep ideology out of the analysis. When we're talking about our energy future, it is essential to look at the big picture. We should evaluate each fuel source -- its pros, cons, and its potential for the future -- in light of all the geopolitical, economic, and environmental challenges we face. We should develop a comprehensive plan that maximizes energy potential, minimizes risk, and makes room for new technological developments. There are two things we absolutely must not do: turn reactionary decisions based on short-term situations into long-term policy, and base our energy future on wishful thinking. Speaking of coal and CO2 sequestration ... Reactionary decision-making In the early 1970s, this country had about 12 percent of its generating capacity in natural gas-fired power stations. Then the OPEC embargoes hit, and we legislated against using natural gas in power stations (the Fuel Use Act of 1979). The gas share of electric generating capability dropped to around 7 percent. Then, after the Fuel Use Act was repealed in 1986, we went on a gas-fired power construction binge in the late 1990s. Today, we have more gas-fired generating capacity than we have coal-fired! However, because the price of gas is so high, those plants only account for about 12 percent of actual kilowatts generated. Hmmm ... 1970: 12 percent. 2007: 12 percent. Also in the '70s, we were on a path to replace a significant amount of coal capacity with nuclear. Then Three Mile Island occurred. All the planned nukes were canceled, and we were back to relying on coal. Not only that, but the economics of the Clean Air Act of 1990 encouraged utilities to switch to western coal, because even though it had less energy per unit weight (a lower-quality fuel than most eastern coal sources), it was low in sulfur and less expensive, even when transportation costs were factored in. Power plants representing tens of thousands of megawatts switched to western coal, because it was cheaper in the short-term (based on regulated utility economics) than adding sulfur dioxide scrubbers or other alternatives. So now we not only use much more coal, we use lower quality coal, with poorer efficiency, that emits more CO2. The result of all these jumps and starts is that despite some interesting cycles in the trend lines, our energy source mix today looks remarkably like it did forty years ago.