Weekly Mulch: Can Clean Energy Curb Climate Change? Probably Not.

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

During the State of the Union address earlier this week, President Barack Obama spoke at length about clean energy, with nary a mention of climate change. This is the new environment in which America’s energy policy is being made.

Just two years ago, Democrats were rallying to combat climate change, one of the most worrying challenges the country faces. But now, Obama has apparently given up his plan to openly fight climate change during his presidency. It’s hard to imagine how, even in a second term, he would choose to re-fight the lost battle to create a cap-and-trade system.

The Obama Administration has instead resorted to a sort of insurgent strategy. Instead of waging an all-out battle against energy interests, the U.S. government will try to chip away at the edges of the industry’s power and rally citizens’ allegiances to a new flag, that of “clean energy.”

Climate bill’s absence is smothering clean energy

Since Washington hasn’t succeeded at tackling climate change head on, Obama’s new strategy is to attack the problem obliquely by promoting innovation in clean energy and setting goals for the use of technologies like electric cars. But can clean energy efforts and innovations thrive in the absence of a wholesale climate policy? When a climate bill was still a possibility, clean energy entrepreneurs were promising substantial investments in the sector, if only Congress could give them a framework. And as Monica Potts explains at The American Prospect, in the absence of a climate bill, clean energy has flagged:

What’s been problematic about the president’s approach up to now is that, despite his efforts to pump funding into the clean-energy sector, as he did with about $90 billion of the stimulus, renewable energy hasn’t taken off. Obama had a line in his speech that summed up why this is so: “Now, clean-energy breakthroughs will only translate into clean-energy jobs if businesses know there will be a market for what they’re selling.”

Short on influence

It’s possible that clean energy investors will take the President’s new promise as incentive enough to push forward. But, they will also have to consider the influence of the newly empowered Republicans. Mother JonesKate Sheppard isn’t convinced that the president’s new tactic will stick:

“There are plenty of people—and most of them happen to be Republicans—who don’t think that policies to support clean energy are worthwhile and who will oppose any attempt to move away from them,” she wrote. “Meanwhile, this latest iteration of the Obama climate and energy plan includes few of the driving forces that would actually make renewables cost-competitive in the near future and allow renewables to compete (the big one being, of course, a price on carbon pollution).”

When “clean” energy includes coal

Another weak point in the President’s new strategy is his reliance on the vague idea of clean energy, which becomes dirtier the more it is used. As Sheppard writes, “Environmental groups weren’t all that excited about the inclusion of “clean coal” and nuclear in that mix, but that’s pretty broadly expected as the price one must pay to draw broader support for a clean energy standard.”

Another key source of clean energy is natural gas. In Washington, it’s become a given that natural gas, which releases less carbon when burned than coal or oil, will help the country transition away from its high-carbon diet and be phased out as energy sources like solar and wind become more viable. (The natural gas industry, of course, doesn’t see its role as transitional. It’s playing for keeps.)

And while some places are rightly celebrating the freedom that natural gas gives them from coal—as Care2’s Beth Buczynski reports, Penn State is investing $35 million to convert its coal-fired power plant to natural gas over the next three years—other places are bearing the environmental toll of this new, clean fuel. In North Carolina, for instance, hydrofracking, the controversial technique that natural gas companies have been using to extract the gas from shale, is not even legal, but already environmental groups are having to fight efforts from energy companies to buy up potentially gas-rich properties, Public News Service reports.

A poverty of political capital

The president’s new strategy on clean energy will surely succeed at turning current energy economy slowly towards a new path. In the absence of any overarching strategy to fix the country’s energy problems, it’s going to have to be good enough. But ultimately, this sort of tactic, born out of a poverty of political capital, cannot move fast enough to keep energy companies from scouring the earth for more profits doing what they’ve been doing.

That means that there will be more scenes like the one in Kern County, California, where companies are dredging up the last resources of oils from the tar sands. In Orion Magazine, Jeremy Miller writes:

The land also reveals the Frankensteinian scars and machinery necessary to keep up that level of production. Gas flares glow on hillsides. Nodding donkeys lever over thousands of wells, some of which are spaced fewer than a hundred feet apart. Between the wells and imposing cogeneration power plants—which supply energy and steam to the senescent fields—run wild tangles of pipe. These are the conduits of an elaborate industrial life-support system, breathing in steam and carrying away oil.

Will the president’s new strategy prevent the creation of more landscapes like this one? It seems overly optimistic to hope so.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Mulch: Oil rig sinks, as does Senate climate bill

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Two disasters flared up this week, one environmental, the other political. Off the coast of Louisiana, oil from a sunken rig is leaking as much as five times faster than scientists originally judged, and the spill reportedly reached land last night. And in Washington, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) jumped from his partnership with Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) just before the scheduled release of the draft of a new Senate climate bill.

The trio had worked for months on bipartisan legislation on climate change. After Graham’s defection, his partners promised to press on, but the bill’s chances of survival are dimmer.

The next Exxon Valdez?

As Grist puts it, the spill off the Louisiana coast is “worse than expected, and getting worser.” The oil rig sank on April 20, and since then, oil has been pouring out of the well and into the Gulf of Mexico.

British Petroleum (BP), which operates the rig, along with the Coast Guard and now the Department of Defense, has pushed to contain and clean up the spill. The problem is deep under water and difficult to measure, but by mid-week, experts estimated that it was gushing 5,000 barrels a day from three different leaks.

Interior department officials said the spill could continue for 90 days. Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum looks at a couple of estimates for how much oil could end up in the Gulf and concludes, “An Exxon Valdez size spill might only be a few days away.”

The federal government has rallied to respond. Administration officials have traveled to Louisiana, and  both the executive branch and the legislative branch have announced investigations into the spill. But, as Care2 writes, the White House is saying that the explosion should not derail plans for future drilling.

“In all honesty I doubt this is the first accident that has happened and I doubt it will be the last,” press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters, according to Care2.

New drilling, no regulations

Just a few weeks ago, President Barack Obama announced that the government would open up areas off the East Coast for offshore oil and gas drilling. The proposal already had some opponents, and the spill makes the politics of new drilling that much trickier. Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard reports that White House energy and climate adviser Carol Browner acknowledged the issue, along with energy experts around Washington.

“This reopens the issue: Is the risk worth the reward?” Lincoln Pratson, a professor of energy and environment at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, told Sheppard.

And even though BP is relying on the Coast Guard and the Department of Defense for help managing this spill, the company is pushing back on efforts to minimize those risks, Lindsay Beyerstein reports for Working In These Times.

The company “continues to oppose a proposed rule by the Minerals Management Service (the agency that oversees oil leases on federal lands) that would require lessees and operators to develop and audit their own Safety and Emergency Management Plans (SEMP),” Beyerstein writes. “BP and other oil companies insist that voluntary compliance will suffice to keep workers and the environment safe.”

Climate bill catastrophe

The country might also have to rely on companies’ “voluntary compliance” with measures to combat global warming: Congress doesn’t seem likely to pass a bill regulating carbon any time soon. Sen. Kerry and friends were supposed to release their version of climate legislation Monday, but over the weekend, Sen. Graham backed out. His reason? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had floated the idea of prioritizing immigration reform, which Graham argued would undermine work on energy legislation.

“It seems like the senator…has a bit of an attitude problem,” wrote The American Prospect’s Gabriel Arana. “He storms out of climate talks because Democrats have dared consider working on two things at once? The degree to which movement in the Senate hinges on this single, mercurial senator, seemingly the only one whose agenda includes something more than stymieing Democrats, is remarkable.”

Call the clean up crew

After Graham’s announcement (Arana called it a “hissy fit”), congressional democrats scrambled to prove that the climate bill was not knocked entirely off course. On Monday, Sen. Kerry and Sen. Lieberman met with their wayward colleague; by Wednesday, Sen. Reid had promised that he would “move forward on energy first;” and by Thursday, Kerry and Lieberman had asked the EPA to start evaluating the bill’s environmental and economic impacts.

Although a draft of the bill was supposed to come out on Monday, no one has seen it. At Mother Jones, Kate Sheppard reports that even the EPA, which is supposed to analyze the bill, hasn’t received the full draft.

“According to the EPA, the senators submitted a “description of their draft bill” for economic modeling,” she writes. “The agency confirmed in a statement to Mother Jones the senators “have not sent EPA any actual legislative text.” The agency is determining whether it has enough information about the bill to produce an analysis of its economic and environmental impacts.”

Despite assurances from the Senate leadership, it’s not clear if climate legislation will come to the floor this year or, if it does, that it will pass.

Not a disaster

There was one bright spot of news for environmentalists this week: the United States will build its first off-shore wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod. The project, called Cape Wind, has a host of opponents, but Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar decided to approve it. The scale will be smaller than originally planned—130 rather than 170 turbines, the Washington Independent reports—which could mollify critics who worried about its visual impact.

Cape Wind is a prime example of how clean energy projects can still cause harm or anger the people who live in their shadow. The Texas Observer recaps opposition to clean energy projects: A working-class neighborhood fought against efforts to build a biomass plant in their town, and won.

“Despite some activists touting these projects as solutions to global warming, and politicians promoting them as the key to economic prosperity, renewable energy projects tend to have their own sets of problems for local residents,” reports Rusty Middleton.

Biomass is one thing: burning materials like waste wood might produce fewer greenhouse gasses, but a biomass plant still dirties the air around it. But if the choice is between an off-shore wind farm that could mar a pleasant vista or an off-shore drilling operation that could spill gallons of oil onto your coast, it seems clear which is the better option.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Mulch: Oil rig sinks, as does Senate climate bill

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Two disasters flared up this week, one environmental, the other political. Off the coast of Louisiana, oil from a sunken rig is leaking as much as five times faster than scientists originally judged, and the spill reportedly reached land last night. And in Washington, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) jumped from his partnership with Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) just before the scheduled release of the draft of a new Senate climate bill.

The trio had worked for months on bipartisan legislation on climate change. After Graham’s defection, his partners promised to press on, but the bill’s chances of survival are dimmer.

The next Exxon Valdez?

As Grist puts it, the spill off the Louisiana coast is “worse than expected, and getting worser.” The oil rig sank on April 20, and since then, oil has been pouring out of the well and into the Gulf of Mexico.

British Petroleum (BP), which operates the rig, along with the Coast Guard and now the Department of Defense, has pushed to contain and clean up the spill. The problem is deep under water and difficult to measure, but by mid-week, experts estimated that it was gushing 5,000 barrels a day from three different leaks.

Interior department officials said the spill could continue for 90 days. Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum looks at a couple of estimates for how much oil could end up in the Gulf and concludes, “An Exxon Valdez size spill might only be a few days away.”

The federal government has rallied to respond. Administration officials have traveled to Louisiana, and  both the executive branch and the legislative branch have announced investigations into the spill. But, as Care2 writes, the White House is saying that the explosion should not derail plans for future drilling.

“In all honesty I doubt this is the first accident that has happened and I doubt it will be the last,” press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters, according to Care2.

New drilling, no regulations

Just a few weeks ago, President Barack Obama announced that the government would open up areas off the East Coast for offshore oil and gas drilling. The proposal already had some opponents, and the spill makes the politics of new drilling that much trickier. Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard reports that White House energy and climate adviser Carol Browner acknowledged the issue, along with energy experts around Washington.

“This reopens the issue: Is the risk worth the reward?” Lincoln Pratson, a professor of energy and environment at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, told Sheppard.

And even though BP is relying on the Coast Guard and the Department of Defense for help managing this spill, the company is pushing back on efforts to minimize those risks, Lindsay Beyerstein reports for Working In These Times.

The company “continues to oppose a proposed rule by the Minerals Management Service (the agency that oversees oil leases on federal lands) that would require lessees and operators to develop and audit their own Safety and Emergency Management Plans (SEMP),” Beyerstein writes. “BP and other oil companies insist that voluntary compliance will suffice to keep workers and the environment safe.”

Climate bill catastrophe

The country might also have to rely on companies’ “voluntary compliance” with measures to combat global warming: Congress doesn’t seem likely to pass a bill regulating carbon any time soon. Sen. Kerry and friends were supposed to release their version of climate legislation Monday, but over the weekend, Sen. Graham backed out. His reason? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had floated the idea of prioritizing immigration reform, which Graham argued would undermine work on energy legislation.

“It seems like the senator…has a bit of an attitude problem,” wrote The American Prospect’s Gabriel Arana. “He storms out of climate talks because Democrats have dared consider working on two things at once? The degree to which movement in the Senate hinges on this single, mercurial senator, seemingly the only one whose agenda includes something more than stymieing Democrats, is remarkable.”

Call the clean up crew

After Graham’s announcement (Arana called it a “hissy fit”), congressional democrats scrambled to prove that the climate bill was not knocked entirely off course. On Monday, Sen. Kerry and Sen. Lieberman met with their wayward colleague; by Wednesday, Sen. Reid had promised that he would “move forward on energy first;” and by Thursday, Kerry and Lieberman had asked the EPA to start evaluating the bill’s environmental and economic impacts.

Although a draft of the bill was supposed to come out on Monday, no one has seen it. At Mother Jones, Kate Sheppard reports that even the EPA, which is supposed to analyze the bill, hasn’t received the full draft.

“According to the EPA, the senators submitted a “description of their draft bill” for economic modeling,” she writes. “The agency confirmed in a statement to Mother Jones the senators “have not sent EPA any actual legislative text.” The agency is determining whether it has enough information about the bill to produce an analysis of its economic and environmental impacts.”

Despite assurances from the Senate leadership, it’s not clear if climate legislation will come to the floor this year or, if it does, that it will pass.

Not a disaster

There was one bright spot of news for environmentalists this week: the United States will build its first off-shore wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod. The project, called Cape Wind, has a host of opponents, but Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar decided to approve it. The scale will be smaller than originally planned—130 rather than 170 turbines, the Washington Independent reports—which could mollify critics who worried about its visual impact.

Cape Wind is a prime example of how clean energy projects can still cause harm or anger the people who live in their shadow. The Texas Observer recaps opposition to clean energy projects: A working-class neighborhood fought against efforts to build a biomass plant in their town, and won.

“Despite some activists touting these projects as solutions to global warming, and politicians promoting them as the key to economic prosperity, renewable energy projects tend to have their own sets of problems for local residents,” reports Rusty Middleton.

Biomass is one thing: burning materials like waste wood might produce fewer greenhouse gasses, but a biomass plant still dirties the air around it. But if the choice is between an off-shore wind farm that could mar a pleasant vista or an off-shore drilling operation that could spill gallons of oil onto your coast, it seems clear which is the better option.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Weekly Mulch: Oil rig sinks, as does Senate climate bill

by Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium blogger

Two disasters flared up this week, one environmental, the other political. Off the coast of Louisiana, oil from a sunken rig is leaking as much as five times faster than scientists originally judged, and the spill reportedly reached land last night. And in Washington, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) jumped from his partnership with Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Joe Lieberman (I-CT) just before the scheduled release of the draft of a new Senate climate bill.

The trio had worked for months on bipartisan legislation on climate change. After Graham’s defection, his partners promised to press on, but the bill’s chances of survival are dimmer.

The next Exxon Valdez?

As Grist puts it, the spill off the Louisiana coast is “worse than expected, and getting worser.” The oil rig sank on April 20, and since then, oil has been pouring out of the well and into the Gulf of Mexico.

British Petroleum (BP), which operates the rig, along with the Coast Guard and now the Department of Defense, has pushed to contain and clean up the spill. The problem is deep under water and difficult to measure, but by mid-week, experts estimated that it was gushing 5,000 barrels a day from three different leaks.

Interior department officials said the spill could continue for 90 days. Mother Jones’ Kevin Drum looks at a couple of estimates for how much oil could end up in the Gulf and concludes, “An Exxon Valdez size spill might only be a few days away.”

The federal government has rallied to respond. Administration officials have traveled to Louisiana, and  both the executive branch and the legislative branch have announced investigations into the spill. But, as Care2 writes, the White House is saying that the explosion should not derail plans for future drilling.

“In all honesty I doubt this is the first accident that has happened and I doubt it will be the last,” press secretary Robert Gibbs told reporters, according to Care2.

New drilling, no regulations

Just a few weeks ago, President Barack Obama announced that the government would open up areas off the East Coast for offshore oil and gas drilling. The proposal already had some opponents, and the spill makes the politics of new drilling that much trickier. Mother Jones’ Kate Sheppard reports that White House energy and climate adviser Carol Browner acknowledged the issue, along with energy experts around Washington.

“This reopens the issue: Is the risk worth the reward?” Lincoln Pratson, a professor of energy and environment at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment, told Sheppard.

And even though BP is relying on the Coast Guard and the Department of Defense for help managing this spill, the company is pushing back on efforts to minimize those risks, Lindsay Beyerstein reports for Working In These Times.

The company “continues to oppose a proposed rule by the Minerals Management Service (the agency that oversees oil leases on federal lands) that would require lessees and operators to develop and audit their own Safety and Emergency Management Plans (SEMP),” Beyerstein writes. “BP and other oil companies insist that voluntary compliance will suffice to keep workers and the environment safe.”

Climate bill catastrophe

The country might also have to rely on companies’ “voluntary compliance” with measures to combat global warming: Congress doesn’t seem likely to pass a bill regulating carbon any time soon. Sen. Kerry and friends were supposed to release their version of climate legislation Monday, but over the weekend, Sen. Graham backed out. His reason? Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid had floated the idea of prioritizing immigration reform, which Graham argued would undermine work on energy legislation.

“It seems like the senator…has a bit of an attitude problem,” wrote The American Prospect’s Gabriel Arana. “He storms out of climate talks because Democrats have dared consider working on two things at once? The degree to which movement in the Senate hinges on this single, mercurial senator, seemingly the only one whose agenda includes something more than stymieing Democrats, is remarkable.”

Call the clean up crew

After Graham’s announcement (Arana called it a “hissy fit”), congressional democrats scrambled to prove that the climate bill was not knocked entirely off course. On Monday, Sen. Kerry and Sen. Lieberman met with their wayward colleague; by Wednesday, Sen. Reid had promised that he would “move forward on energy first;” and by Thursday, Kerry and Lieberman had asked the EPA to start evaluating the bill’s environmental and economic impacts.

Although a draft of the bill was supposed to come out on Monday, no one has seen it. At Mother Jones, Kate Sheppard reports that even the EPA, which is supposed to analyze the bill, hasn’t received the full draft.

“According to the EPA, the senators submitted a “description of their draft bill” for economic modeling,” she writes. “The agency confirmed in a statement to Mother Jones the senators “have not sent EPA any actual legislative text.” The agency is determining whether it has enough information about the bill to produce an analysis of its economic and environmental impacts.”

Despite assurances from the Senate leadership, it’s not clear if climate legislation will come to the floor this year or, if it does, that it will pass.

Not a disaster

There was one bright spot of news for environmentalists this week: the United States will build its first off-shore wind farm off the coast of Cape Cod. The project, called Cape Wind, has a host of opponents, but Secretary of the Interior Ken Salazar decided to approve it. The scale will be smaller than originally planned—130 rather than 170 turbines, the Washington Independent reports—which could mollify critics who worried about its visual impact.

Cape Wind is a prime example of how clean energy projects can still cause harm or anger the people who live in their shadow. The Texas Observer recaps opposition to clean energy projects: A working-class neighborhood fought against efforts to build a biomass plant in their town, and won.

“Despite some activists touting these projects as solutions to global warming, and politicians promoting them as the key to economic prosperity, renewable energy projects tend to have their own sets of problems for local residents,” reports Rusty Middleton.

Biomass is one thing: burning materials like waste wood might produce fewer greenhouse gasses, but a biomass plant still dirties the air around it. But if the choice is between an off-shore wind farm that could mar a pleasant vista or an off-shore drilling operation that could spill gallons of oil onto your coast, it seems clear which is the better option.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

 

 

Copenhagen, Now and Then

Copenhagen, Now
The fact the President Obama's presence in Copenhagen did not sway the IOC to award the 2016 Olympic Games to Chicago in the long run matters not one iota. While the President should not have gone largely because of the potential for a minor political embarrassment, now realized, he also met with General McChrystal, the ISAF commander in Afghanistan. It was the President's first meeting in person with General McChrystal since he assumed command in June. The fact that Mr. Obama had not talked with General McChrystal since his report, now leaked, was submitted at the end of August had generated criticism especially in conservative quarters. The President's visit with General McChrystal not only truncates that criticism but also allowed the President to presumely ask hard questions directly of the General. More from the New York Times.

Copenhagen, Then
The President will be returning to Copenhagen in December to attend the Global Conference on Climate. The urgency to act on this matter cannot be overstated. To this end, Carol Browner, the former chief of the EPA and now Director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy, has been making the case that the United States must act now to limit greenhouse-gas emissions; that sweeping change is necessary and piecemeal fixes are insufficient; and that enacting new regulations would establish the conditions for businesses to pioneer new technologies. The Atlantic has more including video clips of Carol Browner's call to action on climate. Elections have consequences, as they say. Thanks to the election of President Obama, we have competence and scientific rigor in the Administration.

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