The Climate Post: Obama retrieves energy, climate debate from Gulf
First things first: Just as discussion of climate change and clean energy dipped below the oil-stained surface of the Gulf of Mexico, President Barack Obama yesterday tried to reach in and offer Climate Policy Resuscitation. He delivered a broad address on the U.S. economy at Carnegie Mellon University, touring the financial crisis, health care reform, and the challenge to stay internationally competitive. He punctuated the speech with “an issue that’s on everybody’s minds right now,” the Gulf disaster, oil addiction, and the “energy quest.” Obama offered familiar tropes that environmentalists had been missing from him as his administration pursued the many other pressing matters on the agenda. He called for a gradual transition away from fossil fuels that includes “a careful plan of offshore oil production,” more natural gas and nuclear power, and the elimination of fossil-fuel industry tax breaks. He said he’d like to encourage the private sector to invest in a clean energy future, “And the only way to do that is by finally putting a price on carbon pollution.”
Obama emphasized that “the votes may not be there right now, but I intend to find them in the coming months,” a cryptic statement that caused speculation into how presidential arm-twisting could change a debate recently stuck a mile under water. Cost analyses of Senate climate legislation sponsored by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) are expected in the next week or two. An unnamed senior administration official tells Politico that a “BP Spill Bill” is likely to envelope energy and climate measures.
Sen. Richard Lugar (R-Ind.), ranking member of the Foreign Relations Committee, will unveil a climate bill next week that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions through better fuel economy and energy efficiency measures, and more nuclear power plants. His plan would encourage the phase out older, heavily polluting coal plants by 2020. Projected reductions under Lugar’s bill would be about half what the president has asked for, 17 percent below 2005 emissions levels by 2020. The administration sent the United Nations a report concluding that U.S. emissions are expected to climb four percent through 2020. Hydrofluorocarbons, refrigerant chemicals that are potent greenhouse gases, are responsible for the bulk of the projected increase.
Commission commissioned: Obama’s recently appointed leadership team to investigate the oil rig explosion and aftermath has begun to fill out its roster. At the end of May the president named as chairmen former Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) and William K. Reilly, EPA chief in the George H.W. Bush administration, and a founding partner of Aqua International Partners (Reilly is chair of the Nicholas Institute’s Board of Advisors). The commission is expected to add two experts noted for their work on global warming, Donald Boesch, head of the University of Maryland’s Center for Environmental Science, and former Alaska Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer. Boesch recently penned a short Washington Post piece, arguing that “I hope for Earth’s sake, that the winds will blow Congress out of its long-winded debate.” [The last two links, to Tom Toles’ political cartoons, are Boesch’s.]
At this hour, BP has managed to slice open a key pipe leading to the damaged well. The next step is to contain the flow by placing a containment vessel over it and drawing oil up to a tanker.Oil has licked beaches in Mississippi and Alabama, and now threatens the Florida Panhandle. The Society for Environmental Journalists has launched a useful aggregator for Gulf news, The Daily Glob. Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment has also put up a useful page here.
The administration may be steadying a bit after heightened criticism last week of its handling of the Gulf disaster (May 28 WP A1 headline: “Obama struggling to show he’s in control”). The White House took back control of the public focus this week, with the Carnegie Mellon speech and the opening of a Justice Department probe into potential criminal and civil charges. Visiting the Gulf, Attorney General Eric Holder revealed that the investigation began several weeks ago, but didn’t elaborate. The acting head of the Minerals Management Service at the Department of Interior announced new requirements for offshore drillers, including renewed focus on waivers called “categorical exclusions” that allowed projects like BP’s Deepwater Horizon to proceed without full analysis according to the National Environmental Policy Act. The office has either extended or not extended its moratorium on deepwater permits to all drilling projects in the Gulf.
UNFCCC: Maybe we can crash at your place for a few days?: The U.N. climate secretariat is trying with difficulty to plan two weeklong meetings ahead of the 16th Conference of Parties negotiations in Cancun because of inadequate funding.
For those playing the home game, the World Resources Institute just published a summary of national submissions to the U.N. earlier this year.
Near-universal policy uncertainty has not necessarily confused private-sector initiatives to address climate change. An Ernst & Young report, “Action amid uncertainty: The business response to climate change,” surveys global executive opinion and strategy. Seventy percent of the 300 leaders surveyed said they would increase their spending on climate-related programs between 2010 and 2012. Respondents represent 16 countries and 18 different industries.
Sustainability standards proliferate, with development of a high-profile new initiative announced this week. Greener World Media, publisher of GreenBiz.com, is partnering with UL Environment to create a global corporate standard, a kind of “LEED rating system for companies,” according to GWM founder Joel Makower. The partners have completed an advanced draft of their proposal, which will be unveiled later this year.
Events fit climate projections except where they don’t: More than 100 people have died in the Indian state of Gujarat, which is experiencing its hottest weather in a historical record, dating to the late 1800s… Forty thousand square miles of sea ice are now disappearing every day. According to the National Snow and Ice and Data Center, sea ice has reached its lowest ever extent for this time of the year, and is projected to eclipse the previous annual low, set in 2007. New data from NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies suggest that 2010 is on track to be the hottest year yet, months after the World Meteorological Organization declared last decade the hottest on record… James Hansen released his monthly missive — commentary on avoiding perils of communicating climate science — and a draft (pre-peer-review) paper… North American snow cover is at an all-time low.
Small South Pacific nations fear that rising sea levels will wash them from the map this century. A new research paper finds them to be more resistant than expected. Twenty-three of 27 islands under study have grown in size or not changed since the 1950s. Four have shrunk. Sea levels have risen 120 millimeters in the six decades under study. Coral reefs that surround the islands grow continuously and can trap sediment close to shore.
The Week in Pictures: After another week in which worst-case scenarios coincided with on-the-ground reports, a little dark humor might be called for — at the media’s expense. Ever think no disaster, however great, is big enough for cable news types? So does does XKCD.com, the online but underground comic strip, here.
Eric Roston is Senior Associate at the Nicholas Institute and author of The Carbon Age: How Life’s Core Element Has Become Civilization’s Greatest Threat. Prologue available here. Chapter about Ginkgo biloba and climate change available at Conservation.
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.