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Tagged with Post-election hangover: Whither climate?

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Obama might push for a carbon tax, according to optimists unfamiliar with ‘the House’

A few weeks before the election, I had a conversation with a friend who works for an environmental organization about the possibility of a carbon tax being implemented in the U.S. during the next four years. To me, the prospect seemed unlikely, regardless of who won last Tuesday. He seemed more optimistic -- but then, he's much better with economics than I am.

His optimism may have been warranted. From Bloomberg, reports that a carbon tax could be considered as a deficit-reduction tool.

Barack Obama may consider introducing a tax on carbon emissions to help cut the U.S. budget deficit after winning a second term as president, according to HSBC Holdings Plc.

A tax starting at $20 a metric ton of carbon dioxide equivalent and rising at about 6 percent a year could raise $154 billion by 2021, Nick Robins, an analyst at the bank in London, said today in an e-mailed research note, citing Congressional Research Service estimates. “Applied to the Congressional Budget Office’s 2012 baseline, this would halve the fiscal deficit by 2022,” Robins said.

Grist/Shutterstock

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2012 has been the hottest year ever in the United States

For the first time in 17 months, the United States was cooler than average in October. Is global warming therefore a hoax? Yes, of course. Obviously.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration yesterday released its monthly overview of the country's weather. The slightly cooler average temperature for October -- 0.3 degrees F below the long-term average -- was offset by the month's closing out the warmest year-to-date on record. So far in 2012, the average temperature has been 58.4 degrees F -- 3.4 degrees above average, and 1.1 degrees above the previous warmest year ever. Is global warming therefore a hoax? Yes, of course. Obviously.

NOAA.gov
Click to embiggen.

Meanwhile, the drought (remember the drought?) continues.

The October 30, 2012 U.S. Drought Monitor showed 60.2 percent of the contiguous U.S. was experiencing moderate-to-exceptional drought, less than the 64.6 percent at the beginning of October. Drought conditions improved across parts of the Midwest and Northeast, while drought conditions worsened across parts of the Northern Rockies.

Jeff Reid
It feels like forever since we've used a drought photo. I missed them.
Read more: Climate & Energy, Food

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What a Cabinet shake-up could mean for energy and the climate

Now that the occupant of the Oval Office is settled, speculation turns to the room down the hall. When Obama is sworn in next January, it will be to work with a potentially much different Cabinet. One area in which there might be some turnover: Cabinet members who work on energy. Specifically, the secretary of the interior, secretary of energy, and administrator of the EPA -- each of whom has at some point discussed leaving the administration.

faceme

Finding itself suddenly in a relatively quiet political moment, Politico has written not one but two stories on possible Cabinet changes. This one details each of the the three posts above. This one walks through every Cabinet position, suggesting possible replacements as needed. We've pulled the two together.

EPA
This is certainly the position about which green groups are most concerned. The current administrator, Lisa Jackson, has been a fierce advocate for toughening pollution standards -- regularly, in opposition to the White House.

Jackson has testified before Congress so many times that Republicans have joked she should get her own parking space.

Over the past four years, she has won admiration from the environmental community for imposing tough new clean air regulations, including the first-ever climate rules for new power plants.

But Jackson’s tenure also saw increased concern from the White House about the cost of those regulations. Obama punted the agency’s plans to tighten smog standards last year, dealing a huge blow to environmental and public health groups.

Who might replace her?

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Does Michigan’s clean-energy loss mean that greens are outgunned at the state level?

A few months ago, I called Michigan's Proposition 3, which would have amended the state constitution to raise the state's renewable energy standard to 25 percent by 2025, "the most important clean-energy vote this year."

On Tuesday, Prop 3 went down in grisly, spectacular defeat, last reported losing 63 to 37 percent. That's quite a romp. What went wrong? Does this mean voters don't like renewable energy?

Probably not. But it does mean that dirty energy has access to a firehose of money that can overwhelm an electorate's preference for clean energy, seemingly without much difficulty.

Opposing money wasn't the only obstacle for Prop 3, of course. Five of the six initiatives on the ballot -- the five aiming to amend the state constitution -- were rejected by similar margins. It may be that Michigan voters simply became suspicious of all efforts to meddle with the constitution.

And it may be that they got sick of outside money flooding the state. Some $141 million was spent on ballot initiatives in the state this year -- more than was spent on all Michigan races combined in 2010 -- and from all reports the advertisements were incessant and annoying.

So voters were overwhelmed and irritated. Background conditions were not good.

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The Times’ thorough overview of climate change’s new political moment

Hurricane Sandy
Oliver Rich

In the New York Times today is a handy overview of environmental politics over the course of Obama's first term, focused on the new, post-Sandy reality. Just getting up to speed after, like, a Rip van Winkle-sort-of thing? Read it. Well, everyone else might want to take a look, too; that's why I'm putting up this goldurn post about it.

From "A Change in the Weather on Wall Street", by Tina Rosenberg:

In March, 2009, the White House invited leaders of environmental organizations to a meeting. The invitees thought they were going to hear about the president’s strategy on climate change, in preparation for the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Copenhagen in December. And they did -- aides to the administration’s environmental adviser Carol Browner, its green jobs adviser Van Jones and Nancy Sutley, the head of the Council on Environmental Quality, gave out a one-page memo. The key point: don’t talk about climate change. …

Judging by the campaign, politicians, as well, still assume that the “C” word is toxic. Public belief in climate change and support for action did dip for several years, beginning in late 2008. In part, that fluctuation occurred because of people’s experience of the weather -- winters were cold. And the recession made it an unreceptive time for proposals such as a carbon tax that would probably increase the price of energy and cut jobs -- at least in the short term. ...

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What can we expect now from Obama on energy and climate?

White House
What does Obama really want to achieve on climate change and energy? Maybe we'll finally find out.

President Obama made a nod to climate change in his reelection victory speech, but does he actually intend to act on the issue in his second term? Will he follow up on his 2008 promise to slow the rise of the oceans, or will he stick with his oil-, gas-, and pipeline-loving "all of the above" energy strategy? And could he get anything through Congress anyway?

"Obama will likely stay the course on his current energy and environmental policies," writes David Biello at Scientific American.

That means more executive orders like the one that raised vehicle fuel efficiency standards, and continued progress on regulatory efforts to restrain greenhouse gas emissions and other air pollution from coal-fired power plants.

... [I]nnovative programs such as the Advanced Research Projects Agency–Energy will continue to attempt to invent a future of cleaner energy. And the Department of Energy as a whole will continue to push forward with its “all of the above” energy strategy, which will encourage the rise of shale gas but also continue federal support such as tax credits and loan guarantees for big alternative energy projects, from solar power to nuclear.

Politico also focuses on the prospects for executive action:

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Meet your new United States Senate

One-third of the Senate's 100 seats were up for grabs yesterday, 23 of which were being defended by the Democratic party. Twelve months ago, that looked like an unenviable position. Today? It looks different.

Democrats prevailed in 22 of those 23 races and picked up seats that had been held by three Republicans -- a net gain of two seats, bringing the party's majority to 53. Two independents also won election: one, kinda-Socialist Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), already caucuses with the Democrats; the other, Angus King (I-Maine), is likely to as well.

Last month, our Lisa Hymas looked at the climate, energy, and agriculture positions of candidates in four of these Senate races. In each of the four -- Massachusetts, Missouri, Montana, and New Mexico -- the candidate who had the stronger positions on these issues won. Thanks in part to Elizabeth Warren's Massachusetts win, a full one-fifth of the Senate will be female for the first time in history.

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House GOP climate deniers in epic power struggle to provide leadership on science

If you are a supporter of President Obama, you may remember how -- up until about two paragraphs from now -- you felt optimistic, excited about the re-election of the president, thrilled he mentioned climate change in his speech.

Couple that with an increase in Democrats in the Senate -- you'd be excused for thinking until you get a little further down this page -- and we could see a real moment, a first-of-its-kind chance to actually address the looming threat of a warming world. Maybe -- you thought until you reached the blockquote that's about to appear -- just maybe we'll finally get the country back on track.

Science by Santa
Honestly, Santa would be better.

And then you got to here. From The Hill:

The race to be the next chairman of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee is getting underway.

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), a climate change skeptic, on Wednesday explained why he's seeking the gavel. …

Sensenbrenner faces competition for the slot from Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), who an aide said is “actively pursuing” the chairmanship. ...

Smith -- who has also questioned human-induced climate change -- is currently chairman of the Judiciary Committee but must leave the post due to term limits on chairmanships. He said the science job is his true calling.

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California voters approve measure to fund green building retrofits

This is basically the actual new flag of the state.

Somewhat buried in the election-night hoopla was California Proposition 39. (No, not the GMO one. That was Prop 37.) Prop 39 was hailed as the "Clean Energy Jobs Act," suggesting that the state close a corporate tax loophole that would bring an additional $1 billion in revenue to the state. Half of that, then, would go to green buildings.

From the Los Angeles Times:

Bay Area investor Tom Steyer placed the measure on the ballot to raise $1 billion annually for the state, with the money to be split between the general fund and a new $500-million program to promote green buildings.

Steyer spent more than $28 million on the effort, paying for almost the entire campaign himself.

Steyer is also the donor who in 2009 gave $40 million to Stanford University to create an institute to study renewable energy.

With nearly all of the vote in, Prop 39 passed by a wide margin.