Senate Investigation Finds Top EPA Officials Supported California Waiver

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 27 Feb 2008 20:25:00 GMT

In a press conference yesterday, Senate Environment and Public Works chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) revealed internal EPA documents from the agency’s deliberations whether to grant California’s Clean Air Act waiver request to regulate tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions. Administrator Stephen Johnson denied the waiver in December, the day the president signed the energy bill into law.

The documents include a presentation prepared by Chris Grundler, deputy director at the National Vehicle and Fuel Emissions Laboratory, for Margo Oge, the director of EPA’s Transportation and Air Quality, intended to be given to Johnson. The presentation states “it is obvious to me that there is no legal or technical justification for denying” the waiver, and that in the case of a waiver denial “I fear the credibility of the agency that we both love will be irreparably damaged.”

The documents also include an itinerary for the administrator showing that on May 1, 2007, he received an internal briefing on the California waiver before attending a White House meeting.

House Debating Oil-For-Renewables Package Today

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 27 Feb 2008 17:11:00 GMT

From the beginning of her tenure, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has attempted to pass legislation cutting billions in tax breaks and royalty payments to oil and gas companies to invest in renewable energy and energy efficiency. The legislation has died twice by a single vote in the Senate – in December as part of the energy bill (H.R. 6), and three weeks ago as part of the economic stimulus legislation (H.R. 5140).

House leadership announced plans to immediately reintroduce the legislation as a standalone bill, named the Renewable Energy and Energy Conservation Tax Act of 2008 (H.R. 5351).

Debate on the bill is now taking place, with a final vote scheduled for some time after 3 PM EST.

Update: HR 5351 passed by a roll call vote of 236-182. 17 Republicans joined the Democratic majority; 8 Democrats (Barrow, Boren, Cuellar, Gene Green, Lampson, Melancon, Ortiz, Rodriguez) voted against passage.

Boucher Releases White Paper on "Appropriate Roles for Different Levels of Government"

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 26 Feb 2008 01:40:00 GMT

In the middle of September 2007, Rick Boucher (D-W.Va.), chair of the the the Energy and Air Quality Subcommittee of John Dingell’s Energy and Commerce Committee, announced he would be releasing a series of white papers “over the next six weeks” on issues related to the development of climate change legislation. The third such paper, Appropriate Roles for Different Levels of Government, has now been released.

After reviewing state, local and regional initiatives to combat global warming emissions, in its discussion of the possible costs of local regulations in addition to a federal cap-and-trade system, the 25-page white paper bores in on the question of federal preemption. This issue was highlighted in December by EPA administrator Stephen Johnson’s denial of California’s waiver request under the Clean Air Act to regulate tailpipe greenhouse gas emissions. Johnson’s decision spurred a multi-state lawsuit, an investigation by House Oversight chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), and contentious Senate hearings.

The paper follows statements made previously by committee chairman John Dingell (D-Mich.) supporting Johnson’s stated justification for denying the waiver:
One key factor that distinguishes climate change from other pollution problems our country has tackled is that local greenhouse gas emissions do not cause local environmental or health problems, except to the extent that the emissions contribute to global atmospheric concentrations. This characteristic of greenhouse gases stands in contrast to most pollution problems, where emissions adversely affect people locally where the emissions occur. The global nature of climate change takes away (or at least greatly minimizes) one of the primary reasons many national environmental programs have provisions preserving State authority to adopt and enforce environmental programs that are more stringent than Federal programs: States have a responsibility to protect their own citizens.
In its concluding remarks, the paper summarizes the internal committee battle:
As the debate over whether the Federal Government should preempt California’s greenhouse gas motor vehicle standards has shown, Committee Members balance these various factors in a way that can lead to different conclusions that will need to be worked out through the legislative process. Chairman Dingell has made it very clear that he believes that motor vehicle greenhouse gas standards should be set by the Federal Government, not by State governments: greenhouse gases are global (not local) pollutants, multiple programs would be an undue burden on interstate commerce and would waste societal and governmental resources without reducing national emissions, and the competing interests of different States should be resolved at the Federal level. Other Committee Members have reached the opposite conclusion given the severity of the climate change problem, the need to push technological development, and the benefits of having States act as laboratories.

Luthi Before Interior Appropriations Tomorrow

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 26 Feb 2008 01:19:00 GMT

Randall Luthi, the controversial chief of the Department of Interior’s Minerals Management Service, will be testifying at a Senate Appropriations subcommittee tomorrow morning. His decision to hold the Chukchi Sea drilling lease sale two weeks ago, the first offshore sale in over a decade, while the Fish & Wildlife Service continues to delay its ruling on the endangerment of polar bears, has garnered protests from government scientists, environmental groups and Congressional Democrats.

Sen. Feinstein, the chair of the subcommittee, released the following statement:
At the hearing, Chairman Feinstein will call for passage of legislation she has sponsored to close a loophole that has allowed oil and gas companies to pay no royalty payments for drilling on the Outer Continental Shelf for leases negotiated in 1998 and 1999. This measure to close the loophole was stripped from the FY2008 Interior Appropriations bill.

Feinstein has been pushing for this legislation at least since 2006, since the loophole in 1998 and 1999 leases issued under the Deep Water Royalty Relief Act of 1995 was discussed in Congressional hearings.

Around the Blogs: The Benefits of Density

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 21 Feb 2008 18:34:00 GMT

Alex Steffen at WorldChanging in January, with My Other Car is a Bright Green City (edited for publication in BusinessWeek), and Allison Arieff at the New York Times’s By Design blog on Monday, with Is Your House Making You Look Fat?, take involved and interesting looks at the environmental, energy, and health consequences of America’s love affair with sprawl. In Steffen’s words: “The best car-related innovation we have is not to improve the car, but eliminate the need to drive it everywhere we go.” Arieff mirrors his sentiment: “First, let’s talk about cars. Stop designing for them.

Their excellent essays have spurred varied responses.

Ezra Klein at the American Prospect, yesterday: How We Live Now:

There’s often a tendency to assume that the status quo is the most “natural” way for things to be, and that rejiggering the relevant subsidies is somehow more artificial and presumptuous. But the current system was built atop a massive structure of subsidies and tax breaks. The mortgage tax deduction advantaged bigger homes; funding schools through inequitable property taxes encouraged families to move out of cities where the property taxes were low and into richer suburbs where the schools would be wealthy; putting billions into costly and little-used roads made far-flung developments appear cheap to those who only saw the finished product; underfunding public transportation heavily influenced development patterns, and so on and so forth.

Matt Yglesias picks up at the Atlantic: Dense:

What’s particularly astounding about this stuff, in my view, is that fixing the problem would hardly require some totalitarian density police to come around and force us to all live closer together. Instead, the main step we would need to take would simply be to allow people to build more densely if they want to. As a secondary measure, scrapping or limiting the tax code’s weird and destructive subsidy of big houses would do some good.

Other blogs that picked the thread up include Duncan Black’s Eschaton, 2020 Hindsight, Urban Grounds, Dove’s Eye View, Trinifar’s Some Maintenance Required, The Vigorous North, and The Velorution.

Environmental Justice Coalition Opposes Carbon Markets

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 20 Feb 2008 19:44:00 GMT

Citing the American Enterprise Institute, the Economist, and the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal, a group of environmental justice organizations including the California Environmental Rights Alliance (CERA) have come out in opposition to carbon trading schemes, in particular the European Union cap-and-trade system (the European Union Greenhouse Gas Emission Trading Scheme or EU ETS) and the Kyoto Protocol’s Clean Development Mechanism for investing in emissions reductions in developing countries. Major signatories include the Rainforest Action Network and the Los Angeles chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility.

The declaration cites the windfall profits generated by the initial phase of EU ETS and argues that carbon trading “stands in the way of the transition to clean renewable energy technologies and energy efficiency strategies.” CDM is criticized for encouraging “carbon dumps” and financing “private industrial tree plantations and large hydro-electric facilities that appropriate land and water resources”.

The California Environmental Justice Movement will oppose efforts by our state government to create a carbon trading and offset program, because such a program will not reduce greenhouse gas emissions at the pace called for by the international scientific community, it will not result in a shift to clean sustainable energy sources, it will support and enrich the state’s worst polluters, it will fail to address the existing and future inequitable burden of pollution, it will deprive communities of the ability to protect and enhance their communities, and because if our state joins regional or international trading schemes it will further create incentives for carbon offset programs that harm communities in California, the region, the country, and developing nations around the world.

Signatories are below the jump.

ExxonMobil Stands to Profit Handsomely in International Carbon Markets

Posted by Brad Johnson Wed, 20 Feb 2008 00:38:00 GMT

ExxonMobil, the world’s largest company by both revenue and market capitalization, has a place on the world stage comparable to a major nation-state (only 23 nations in 2006 had a GDP greater than Exxon’s revenues of $347 billion, which rose 7% in 2007). Only 31 nations exceeded its annual greenhouse gas emissions in 2004 [UN MDG indicators, ExxonMobil CDP response]. If end-use emissions of ExxonMobil’s products are included, its carbon footprint of 1 billion metric tons of CO2 equivalent is exceeded only by five nations.

David Sassoon at Solve Climate asked Mario Lopez-Alcala, a senior analyst with Innovest Strategic Value Advisors, to estimate how the Kyoto Protocol impacts the company. Lopez-Alcala made some counter-intuitive discoveries.
Turns out that under Kyoto, Exxon is responsible for abating only 9 million out of the 138 million tons of its carbon footprint—about 6.9% of its absolute exposure. Mario arrived at this figure by compiling a weighted average of the emissions targets affecting all Exxon operations around the world. His estimate for what it costs Exxon to abate those emissions, assuming it had to purchase carbon credits? About $1 billion a year. (He calculated net present value for the 2008-2012 Kyoto compliance period and applied a standard oil industry discount rate to arrive at the figure, based on an expected price of $28 per ton of carbon. He also had to add in to the calculation, abatement costs for reducing emissions to a baseline year.)

$1 billion annually is not a terribly large liability for a $400 billion company.

There’s also another aspect to Exxon’s carbon footprint: the 129 million tons of emissions that it is not required to reduce. It is an enormous carbon asset in a world in which carbon has a price, and it presents a tangible opportunity for enhancing profitability – even beyond $40.6 billion. By reducing those emissions – most simply through reduced flaring, co-generation, heat recuperation, and carbon capture and sequestration – Exxon could reap profits from selling carbon credits it generates. Mario reports that BP is the leader in the sector in taking advantage of these opportunities, which are tangible and positive already.

Sassoon concludes that from an investor (as well as moral) standpoint, ExxonMobil’s storied resistance to the science of climate change is a poor corporate position.

DSCOVR Climate Satellite Still in Limbo

Posted by Brad Johnson Tue, 19 Feb 2008 21:37:00 GMT

Mitchell Anderson at DeSmogBlog:
NASA was given over $100 million in taxpayers money to build the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVR), a spacecraft designed to measure the energy budget of our warming planet from the unique vantage of a million miles away.

Even though it is fully completed over five years ago, DSCOVR is still sitting in a box at the Goddard Space Center – likely for political reasons.

In 2006, Anderson filed a FOIA request with NASA, receiving only letters from scientists to NASA concerned about the cancellation, but no documents about the internal decision-making process.

In 2007, NOAA proposed a joint NASA-NOAA mission with the private launch company Space Services Inc. using the DSCOVR satellite.

Anderson now reports on his 2007 FOIA request to NOAA on the fate of DSCOVR:
My request was sent in November. I was told my documents would be emailed on December 11. Then I got call from NOAA General Counsel Hugh Schratwieser before Christmas telling me that it going to take longer than they thought but I should get the document package in early January. Mr. Schratwieser also assured me NOAA takes pride in their compliance with the Freedom of Information Act and that I shouldn’t worry.

Then silence.

I have since sent five unanswered emails to NOAA requesting updates on my request. Government bodies like NOAA have a legal obligation to respond to FOIA requests in 20 working days. It is now over three times that long and counting.

Since I was repeatedly told over the last two months that the package of documents was very close to being assembled, I can only assume that it is now complete but being held up for political reasons.

McKinsey: Energy Efficiency Investment Offers Massive Returns

Posted by Brad Johnson Fri, 15 Feb 2008 16:03:00 GMT

At yesterday’s Investor Summit on Climate Risk, McKinsey’s economic research arm, the McKinsey Global Institute, released the report The Case for Investing in Energy Productivity (lead authors Jaana Remes and Diana Farrell).

The report finds that global investments on the order of $170 billion annually through 2020 ($38 billion in the US) in energy efficiency (what they call “energy productivity”) would deliver annual returns at a rate of 17 percent. Furthermore, these investments would reduce energy demand at half the cost of building out infrastructure to meet that demand. (For a sense of scale, $170 billion is 1.6 percent of global fixed-capital investment today.)

MGI finds some key energy-market failures that block the needed capital outlays:
Fuel subsidies that directly discourage productive energy use; a lack of information available to consumers about the kind of energy productivity choices that are available to them; and agency issues in high-turnover commercial businesses.
The report’s top-line recommendations for repairing these failures:
  • Set energy efficiency standards for appliances and equipment
  • Finance energy efficiency upgrades in new buildings and remodels (see Architecture 2030)
  • Raise corporate standards for energy efficiency
  • Invest in energy intermediaries (such as energy service companies aka ESCOs)

For more, read the full report.

Sierra Club ED Takes Strong Stand on Cap-and-Trade Legislation

Posted by Brad Johnson Thu, 14 Feb 2008 19:19:00 GMT

The Sierra Club, until today, has stayed on the sidelines during the contretemps over Lieberman-Warner (S. 2191) fueled by a campaign by Friends of the Earth asking Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) to “fix or ditch” the bill. The 1.3 million member organization has now made its position clear.

In an essay posted to Grist’s Gristmill blog this afternoon, Sierra Club executive director Carl Pope delineates clear principles for endorsing climate legislation, all of which Lieberman-Warner currently fails to satisfy:

  • Reductions in total emissions on the order of 80 percent by 2050 and 20 percent by 2020
  • All allowances should be auctioned or otherwise used to benefit the public
  • Revenue should fund “highest-value solutions”, not coal or nuclear energy
  • Ensure a just transition for workers, protect vulnerable groups, and help induce world action

He compares the current political situation to the one that led to the Clean Air Act in 1971, saying that “Maine Sen. Edmund Muskie, fearing that industry would block him on other points, acceded” to the industry insistence to grandfather old plants, and that environmentalists like the 25-year-old Pope went along.

He then responds to Sen. Barbara Boxer and advocates of pushing a climate bill this year hell or high water:
Fast-forward to present day: the carbon industries are lobbying to get a deal done this year that would give away carbon permits free of charge to existing polluters – bribing the sluggish, and slowing down innovation. And politicians are telling us that while it would be better to auction these permits and make polluters pay for putting carbon dioxide into our atmosphere, creating that market unfortunately gets in the way of the politics. We are being urged to compromise – to put a system in place quickly, even if it is the wrong system.

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