Tuesday, October 23, 2012
Obama's record is bright green
The day after the November 2010 elections made clear President Obama’s greenhouse-gas legislation was doomed, he vowed to keep trying to curb emissions linked to global warming. There’s more than one way of “skinning the cat,” he told reporters.
Since then, Obama has used his executive powers — including his authority under the 1970 Clean Air Act — to press the most sweeping attack on air pollution in U.S. history. He has imposed the first carbon-dioxide limits on new power plants, tightened fuel-efficiency rules as part of the auto bailout and steered billions of federal dollars to clean-energy projects. He also has proposed slashing mercury emissions from utilities by 91 percent by 2016.
Obama’s end run around Republican opposition has delighted environmentalists, but it has drawn the ire of business groups and conservatives who argue he is crippling the coal industry, driving up energy costs and hurting the overall economy.
“Environmental regulation should be about protecting public health, and not about creating green jobs and mitigating hypothetical risk,” said Diane Katz, research fellow in regulatory policy at the conservative Heritage Foundation. “Being unemployed and poor from overregulation, or zealous regulation, is a greater risk than global warming.”
When Obama was elected in 2008, environmentalists were confident their most-cherished goals — ending coal-fired power plants, limiting greenhouse-gas emissions and invoking new protections for public lands — were finally within reach.
Following up on a campaign promise, the president backed legislation that would slash America’s carbon output by 80 percent by 2050. Under the proposed cap-and-trade legislation, companies would buy and sell emissions credits allowing them to pollute more.
The bill was passed by the House, which at the time was controlled by Democrats, but in June 2009 it was blocked in the Senate by Republicans and moderate Democrats. When Republicans won control of the House in the 2010 elections, the bill was dead.
Acting on a strategy
The administration turned to the Clean Air Act, which Obama allies said the president became familiar with while serving on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Using the law’s extensive authority, the administration issued six major environmental rules, including ones that placed limits on toxic air pollutants, greenhouse gases, soot and smog-forming pollutants.
The strategy was bolstered by some outside factors. Its effort to limit carbon emissions was benefited by the natural-gas boom; many utilities are switching from coal to natural gas, which is more economical and emits much less carbon. The automobile bailout gave Obama the leverage to impose tougher fuel-efficiency standards, and the Environmental Protection Agency faced several lawsuits pending from the Bush administration that needed to be resolved.
Obama’s standards for new vehicles, said Michael Brune, executive director of the Sierra Club, rank as “the biggest move to get us off our oil dependence by any president ever.” The rules, which took effect this year, will require the U.S. auto fleet to average 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025.
Heather Zichal, deputy assistant to the president for energy and climate change, said the administration’s array of environmental rules go to the “sweet spot of energy security, economic opportunity and reducing pollution,” and fit into a favorite Obama theme during the 2008 campaign.
But the business community argues that the regulations are heavy-handed and are hurting the nation’s economic security.
“The utility sector, which we consider a part of the manufacturing sector, has been hit extremely hard,” said Ross Eisenberg, vice president of energy and resources at the National Association of Manufacturers.
Utilities, he said, are shuttering older plants and holding off expanding existing ones out of fear that the EPA will deny them permits.
Last month, urged on by several business and energy groups, the GOP-controlled House passed the Stop the War on Coal Act, which would reverse several Obama regulations and proposals. It would bar the EPA from regulating greenhouse gases, jettison the stricter fuel standards and give states primary authority over the storage and disposal of coal-combustion waste. But that bill has little chance in the Democratic-controlled Senate.
Because the administration, faced by partisan polarization, has moved ahead on its own, opportunities for compromise have been lost, some say. Eisenberg notes that during former president Bill Clinton’s second term, the two parties negotiated passage of such significant environmental laws as the 1996 Safe Drinking Water Act.
“The big difference is you had a Congress and an administration a little bit willing to work together on the issues,” he said.
Obama has disappointed environmentalists in some cases.
In September 2011, he decided to pull back an EPA proposal to limit ozone emissions linked to smog, on the grounds that it would hurt the economy and the government would revisit the issue in 2013 anyway. The business community praised the move, while environmentalists said it was irresponsible.
The administration also has been criticized by some environmentalists for not moving to create new wilderness areas, in which development and energy extraction would be barred. Only Congress can designate wilderness but the president can bestow similar protections by creating national monuments through the 1906 Antiquities Act.
“It’s not something they’re making a priority,” said Heidi McIntosh, associate director for the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. She said administration officials have been unwilling to overrule the objections of state and local officials on several key land-use issues.
Barring a last-minute development, the current Congress will be the first since 1966 to fail to designate a single wilderness area. Obama has recently declared a few national monuments based on their historic or cultural significance, including Colorado’s Chimney Rock, and has forged private-public partnerships to preserve working landscapes in states such as Florida and Kansas.
Obama has spent only a brief amount of time visiting national parks, and the National Park Service budget has declined 6 percent in the past two years.
More goals if reelected
Obama friends and foes agree on one thing: The president will probably pursue an even more aggressive environmental agenda if reelected.
House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) said in a statement he would expect Obama to push for more national monument designations in a second term. “From nearly day one,” he said, “the Obama Administration has attempted to impose policies that would block public access to public lands and cause significant economic harm and job loss.”
When it comes to putting more public land off limits to development, he added, “Such decisions should not be made by unilateral orders from the president” using a 106-year old law.
Environmental leaders expect Obama to try to take tougher action on limiting greenhouse-gas emissions from existing power plants if reelected.
Obama hinted as much during a speech to a crowd of Colorado State University students in August.
“We’re on track to emit fewer greenhouse gases this year than we have in nearly 20 years,” he said. “You can keep those trends going. That all happened because of you.”
Climate skepticism is racist!
Or so Grist seems to argue in the excerpt below:
The retreat of climate from U.S. politics is not something that happened slowly and gradually. It was a fairly sharp break.
Throughout the decade from 1998 to 2008, Democrats swung around more solidly behind climate concern, but Republican sentiment stayed roughly steady. Right around 2008, however, there was a sharp uptick in skepticism about climate change, almost exclusively among far-right conservatives.
Now, what happened in 2008 that might have turned conservatives against climate? Hm … thinking … wait, wasn’t there an election that year? Why yes, I believe there was. Black Democrat took office, as I recall.
Siemens in talks to sell solar business
German engineering group Siemens (SIEGn.DE) is to sell its solar energy business as part of its cost-saving program, and is already holding talks with potential buyers.
"Due to the changed framework conditions, lower growth and strong price pressure in the solar markets, the company's expectations for its solar energy activities have not been met," Siemens said on Monday.
A sale of the solar business will leave Siemens with wind and hydro power in the renewable energy sector.
The move is part of a savings program Siemens announced this month, seeking to tackle a growing gap with peers in terms of gross margins, such as Swiss group ABB (ABBN.VX) or U.S.-based General Electric (GE.N).
Siemens has said it would review underperforming businesses as part of the plan. The businesses up for sale - solar thermal and photovoltaic - have 680 employees and generated less than 300 million euros ($391 million) revenue last year. They posted losses exceeding that figure.
Siemens shares were up 0.3 percent to 78.56 euros by 0827 GMT, while Germany's blue-chip DAX index .GDAXI was down 0.2 percent.
Siemens has not yet said how much money it aimed to save or how many jobs could go as part of its new program, dubbed Turbine 2013. It was due to announce further detail when it publishes its full-year results on November 8.
Why We Should Allow the Wind Production Tax Credit to Blow Away
One of the most guarded secrets in Washington, the city of smoke and mirrors, is the economic damage generated by the wind production tax credit (PTC) – an example of crony capitalism in its highest form that has major backers in the Democratic and Republican parties. The PTC was created twenty years ago as a temporary measure to help wind power become cost-competitive with conventional electricity sources. Unfortunately, like so many other government-backed investments in the private sector, the business model of the wind industry has become dependent on continued taxpayer support and state mandates.
If lawmakers don’t approve an extension for the PTC before the end of the December, the wind subsidy will disappear, and according to the wind lobby, thousands of government-supported jobs are expected to evaporate. Once assumed to be a slam dunk for corporate welfare, the wind PTC has come under increased scrutiny and attack from Governor Romney, fiscal-responsible Members of Congress led by Senator Lamar Alexander and Congressman Mike Pompeo, free market groups, and private sector interests that are harmed by the subsidy.
This loose, informal coalition faces a formidable alliance, composed of the Obama Administration, the wind lobby, and its environmentalist allies. President Obama, playing electoral politics with the issue, has raised Governor Romney’s opposition to the PTC extension numerous times, particularly in the battleground states of Colorado and Iowa – where the wind industry is entrenched.
On its face, of course, the wind PTC appears benevolent and a worth-while public policy goal. The wind lobby certainly works hard to sell the jobs created by the subsidy and the clean energy generated by wind. After all, who doesn’t support job creation and clean energy?
These are noble goals, but unfortunately, the PTC really doesn’t do either very well.
Let’s look at jobs saved. According to the Joint Committee on Taxation, a one-year extension of the PTC will cost the taxpayer roughly $12 billion. If we simply assume that the wind lobby is correct that 37,000 jobs will disappear, the average job saved by the subsidy would cost the taxpayer over $329,000. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual wage of a wind assembly worker was roughly $27,000 in 2009 – a tenth of the average cost of the jobs saved by the extension. This gap between the average cost and median wage leaves a person scratching his or her head. Where did the rest of the money go? Investment bankers? Or is it just the case of incredibly inefficient and costly technology?
And the clean energy produced by the nation’s wind turbines? The wind lobby doesn’t include a major fact in its talking points to the public – the wind doesn’t blow when it’s hottest or as much during the day, times when electricity demand is highest. And when wind does blow in the middle of the night and produces electricity, there’s nowhere to store it. In policy geek terms, wind is known as an intermittent source – and not baseload. Today, about 85% of total wind capacity does not operate during peak hours on the highest demand days of the year.
So what does that mean in practical terms? Well, wind energy isn’t reliable when the consumer needs electricity the most. Plain and simple.
Of course, utilities can’t tell their customers that their air conditioning and internet went down in the middle of the day because the wind wasn’t blowing outside, so they use back-up power sources that are reliable, such as coal, natural gas, and nuclear, to produce the needed electricity. So despite what the wind lobby and the environmentalists say, wind doesn’t actually displace fossil fuels. It only makes the generation of electricity by those fossil fuel generators more expensive. In the end, consumers see their electricity bills increase without a corresponding reduction in emissions of pollutants or carbon dioxide – a point that the wind lobby desperately tries to hide.
It gets worse. Because of the way the subsidy works, the PTC actually deters real investment in our energy sector and undermines our nation’s grid reliability. Wind farms receive payment from the federal government for producing electricity, regardless of actual market demand. Consequently, wind producers have no incentive to turn their turbines off when market demand is incredibly low in the middle of the night and most people are asleep.
In fact, the PTC handout is so generous that it’s profitable for wind farms to pay the grid to buy their electricity when no one really wants it.
Will Declining Arctic Ice Make UK Winters Colder?
There have been various claims recently that the shrinking of Arctic ice could be acting to make our winters colder and snowier. The arguments usually centre around changing jet streams and atmospheric blocking patterns.
We looked at one such claim last month, which had failed to explain that the same blocking patterns, that their models theorised about, had been found back in the 1960’s and had, according to scientists such as HH Lamb, been caused by expanding Arctic ice!
The BBC also reported earlier in the year about another study by Jiping Liu of the Georgia Institute of Technology, which made similar claims.
Forecasts of terrible winters, of course, are not new. In October last year, we were confidently told by the Daily Mail and others that we were in for another freezing winter. In the event the UK ended up having a pretty mild one!
The claims seem to centre around the fact that cold, snowy winters have become more prevalent, both in the UK as well as the US and Europe, in the last few years since the deterioration of ice cover in 2007. A whole 5 years! Are they seriously making assumptions and projections around such a short span of time?
Still, giving them the benefit of the doubt, how do recent UK winters compare to earlier ones, particularly the 1960’s and 70’s, when the Arctic was becoming colder and ice expanding?
Clearly, recent cold winters are nothing unusual, when compared with earlier decades. What was unusual was the run of mild winters during the 1990’s and early 2000’s. It is also worth noting that the variability from one year to the next, which has been seen recently, is not unusual in the slightest. The record cold winter of 1962/63 was sandwiched between two mild winters. Similarly with 1978/79 and other years. There is nothing weird about it, it’s just weather.
Figure 2 takes the analysis back to 1911. While recent winters have not been as mild, on the whole, as those of 1995-2005, they have not been unusual in comparison with earlier ones.
Indeed, over the last century, the most remarkable thing about our winter climate is that so little has actually changed.
Australia: Uranium mining go-ahead in Queensland a blow to the Greens
THE State Government's snap decision to overturn a 23-year ban on uranium mining paves the way for an $18 billion industry, thousands of jobs and $900 million in royalties.
Premier Campbell Newman's announcement yesterday came just 11 days after writing to the Australian Conservation Foundation saying he had "no plans to approve the development of uranium in Queensland".
Green groups have slammed the move, labelling it dangerous, rushed and made with little or no consultation.
Mr Newman said the backflip was sparked by Prime Minister Julia Gillard's trip to India to open negotiations on uranium exports, which put the issue back on the agenda.
He said the world had moved on from the conflict the issue caused decades ago when the ban was put in place and he had personally never been opposed to uranium mining.
"It was not until the events of last week where we said 'this is crazy'," Mr Newman said. "South Australia, the Northern Territory and Western Australia are all in the game and the Prime Minister and her ministers are urging us to overturn the ban," the Premier said.
"In fact, Federal Resources Minister Martin Ferguson urged Queensland to overturn the ban, back in June. "Why do we have this position given our own party is extremely supportive?"
He said the only real surprise had been the strong views in support from the Labor Party.
Mr Newman said he took the option of a policy review to yesterday's Cabinet meeting in Goondiwindi but Ministers urged him to go further and were "adamant" that the ban be overturned.
"There has been serious public debate about the issue over the course of several months," Mr Newman said.
But the Government is facing criticism it rushed the decision without consultation after going to the polls claiming it had no plans to lift the ban.
Green groups said it took less than 11 days for Mr Newman to change his mind after he wrote to the Australian Conservation Foundation on October 11 stating that the Government's position was "crystal clear" and it had "no plans to approve the development of uranium in Queensland".
Mount Isa City Council recently called on the Government to resume uranium mining, to reinvigorate the area and offer employment. Mount Isa Mayor Tony McGrady said the lifting of the ban allowed explorers to move in and search for deposits and that could lead to discoveries of other commodities.
Cr McGrady - a former Labor mining minister - defended the Premier. "What Mr Newman said was that uranium mining was not high on his list of priorities," he said.
"It's come down now to making a decision on uranium and he's done so because he realised there's jobs involved and royalties for the State Government."
Cr McGrady said his council had only last week called for Mr Newman to "at least instigate an inquiry as to whether there should be a uranium industry in Queensland".
A three-person committee will be named shortly to oversee the recommencement of uranium mining.
The decision even took the mining industry by surprise because it had been expecting a preliminary review.
But the Queensland Resources Council said it seemed that when there was "no marching in the streets" following the call for a debate on the issue the Government decided to move ahead.
Chief executive Michael Roche said the Government's decision would provide a strong boost to the regional economies of the north and northwest.
"It will create jobs and economic opportunities, including for indigenous Queenslanders," Mr Roche said.
He said three mines in Queensland would generate about 1000 permanent jobs and 2500 in construction. Most would be in the Mt Isa-Gulf area.
The estimated economic value of uranium in Queensland is $18 billion and a royalty of 5 per cent would deliver $900 million in royalties.
Several companies have spent years exploring for uranium in Queensland, speculating the ban would be overturned. Summit Resources has spent about $40 million in recent years in exploration in Queensland. Its share price spiked dramatically yesterday when the decision was announced.
However, it is likely that it will take at least four years for any project to get developed because of the strict environmental approvals needed from both the State and Federal governments.
A hazardous materials port would also have to be built to cope with the exports.
Queensland's last operating uranium mine, Mary Kathleen, about 80km west of Mount Isa, closed in 1982 after 30 years in use.
The Goss Labor government won office in 1989 with a policy of no new uranium mining, an effective ban that has applied ever since.
Ironically on the exact same day in Brisbane in 1977, 371 people were arrested at an anti-uranium protest in Brisbane, including a Labor senator.
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Posted by JR at 4:06 PM