First things first: Recent political difficulties for the president and key colleagues in the Senate have not removed energy and climate issues from the White House and majority’s agenda. Obama told business executives yesterday that the U.S. economy must start “to put a price on carbon pollution.” He touted his White House’s activities on energy efficiency, nuclear power, solar, and oil drilling, but reiterated his pre-election call for a comprehensive policy: “The only certainty of the status quo is that the price and supply of oil will become increasingly volatile; that the use of fossil fuels will wreak havoc on weather patterns and air quality.” Obama made news about a year ago at the Business Roundtable, site of yesterday’s remarks, when he reminded everyone that he preferred a market-driven climate policy that auctioned “carbon credits” to polluters rather than a policy that gives them away.
The climate leadership troika in the Senate — John Kerry, Lindsey Graham, and Joe Lieberman — continues to spar with the conventional wisdom that the Senate doesn’t have the momentum to take on climate right now, particularly when health care is still unsolved. They continue to find a compromise approach to legislation that would put a price on carbon.
EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson told a hearing of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee that the agency will implement its new greenhouse gas regulations slowly, with smaller qualifying firms not needing to regulate until 2016. The largest firms would comply before 2013. Jackson emphasized these dates in a letter to eight Democrats from coal-producing states who expressed concern about the rules. The EPA’s actions are of concern to the majority of Republican senators, 35 of them, and three moderate Democrats. That’s the size of the group that supports Sen. Lisa Murkowski’s (R-Alaska) resolution to turn back the EPA’s rules. The agency faces legal challenges elsewhere, most prominently from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the states of Texas, Virginia, and Alabama.
EPW ranking member Sen. James Inhofe released a GOP report into the UEA email controversy, and will pursue further investigations into whether climate scientists violated any federal laws. The report can be accessed here [PDF]. Readers can read around the professional literature to evaluate its conclusions here.
Best-thing-ever-ism: Nothing will ever break your heart like new large-scale energy technology. That’s because there’s so much is possible but we haven’t yet been able to either close the carbon loophole that would make them economically competitive, or scale up the true “game changers.” There’s a messianism that accompanies many new technologies. This week saw some seductive new ideas that promise to be the energy sector’s latest Best! Thing! Ever!
“Where will the U.S. get its electricity in 2034?” That’s the headline of a Scientific American interview with the head of Black & Veatch, an analysis firm that just published a report answering this question in two words: natural gas. The head analyst gave this assessment of how surveyed players in the power market understand the problem of pricing carbon: “Looking at the survey and what’s going on in the industry, regardless of people’s personal or political opinions they want to move towards a lower carbon footprint for the power sector. A lack of legislation right now in some corners creates more concern.”
“We believe we’ve developed a new type of nuclear reactor that can represent a nearly infinite supply of low-cost energy, carbon-free energy for the world.” That’s what the head of TerraPower, a firm developing an advanced nuclear reactor that uses depleted fuel. The project has the backing of Bill Gates, who gave a recent talk about the technology.
A start-up clean energy company with a brightening name and marquee backing launched publicly this week. For eight years, Bloom Energy has quietly developed and tested its solid oxide fuel cell, which uses natural gas to generate electricity for eight to ten cents a kilowatt hour. Independent estimate put the price at 13 to 14 cents a kilowatt hour, higher than the U.S. average of 11 cents. Google, Wal-Mart, and Bank of America are beta-testing units. The company’s founder, KR Sridhar has raised $400 million and expects that customers can earn back their investment in three to five years. Earth2Tech.com has a useful overview of what’s known about Bloom’s technology, with further links.
Seething is believing: If you’re reading this, it’s likely because you’re inclined to read something like this. That’s a glib reduction of research conducted by the Cultural Cognition Project, anchored at Yale Law School and recently discussed by NPR’s Christopher Joyce and Reason‘s Ronald Bailey. This very interesting research observes with precision just how deeply people are inclined to accept facts that reinforce what they already believe. The report itself can be found here. Researchers tracked how individuals’ opinions about global warming and other topics change as they are given more and more information about a topic. This example is relevant to a central topic in climate policy.
In another experiment, people read a United Nations study about the dangers of global warming. Then the researchers told the participants that the solution to global warming is to regulate industrial pollution. Many in the individualistic group then rejected the climate science. But when more nuclear power was offered as the solution, says Braman, “they said, you know, it turns out global warming is a serious problem.”
It turns out global warming is a serious problem. After weeks or months of public confusion over what IPCC errors and the UEA emails mean in the big picture, dispassionate media commentators are beginning to step in and do what they are supposed to do: Filter spam out of the public discourse. That’s not something mass media are particularly good at, given their bent toward “exaggerating denialism.” Long gone are the days when a newspaper editorial could sway an election. This week a couple of the heavyweights weighed in with some clarity on the climate confusion, none more notable than the Washington Post’s Monday editorial. The paper’s op-ed editor distinguished himself last year by running several factually incoherent columns by George Will, including this one on Sunday. In this episode, Will demonstrates his ability to rip fragments from elsewhere as a stand-in for science journalism. Bill Chameides, dean of Duke’s Nicholas School, handily dismantles the problem here.
This week’s ed board effort is a fine, mature piece analyzing what non-experts can hang on to amid activists’ polemics on every side. The ed board hit particularly hard Virginia, whose attorney general last week challenged the EPA’s current effort to regulate greenhouse gases: “To see Virginia’s newly elected attorney general join in this know-nothingism is an embarrassment to the state.” The New York Times ran an editorial relatively upbeat about international climate policy negotiations, given the recent exit of chief U.N. negotiator Yvo de Boer. (de Boer revealed this week that his new job at accounting giant KPMG was lined up before Copenhagen in December.)
Andrew Revkin, of Pace University and the New York Times’ DotEarth blog, invited readers this week to go “Back to Basics on Climate and Energy,” an attempt to find common ground amid all the bad vibes.
Ideally, the “climate scandals” of 2009-2010 will result in a stronger general understanding of climate science that allows the U.S. policy conversation to occur with greater intellectual honesty from however many sides you think there are.
The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.