Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A little news about Durban

Every year, as part of the UNFCCC, signatory states meet someplace in the world to spend two weeks trying to come up with an agreement dealing with climate change. It was out of these proceeding that the Kyoto Protocol was developed and the much maligned Copenhagen Accords were "agreed" upon. Well, the time is upon the world again to think about how to fix climate change for a couple weeks before everyone goes back to their daily lives. As usual, prospects are limited.

Here is a note about the COP17 climate talks going on in Durban right now from a law professor there with a small island delegation.

Things have been rather slow here with the usual posturing about to end -- we hope. Delegations are currently working with a 138-page "amalgamation" text that includes pretty much everything different negotiating blocs have proposed. Quite obviously, this is not a useful negotiating text. As you might expect, little headway is being made on mitigation, but we are hopeful that work on the Green Climate Fund will take significant steps forward.

In the meantime, you may want to know about the following 3 documents, which should have brought a sense of urgency to the negotiations, but which have not:

UNEP's 2011 Bridging the Gap reports that current pledges are at best 6 GT CO2 eq short of keeping global average temperatures below 2 degrees Celsius. Its report from last year said pledges were 5 GT short so the gap is growing.

The International Energy Agency reported in World Energy Outlook 2011 Factsheet that 80% of the cumulative CO2 to be emitted worldwide between 2009 and 2035 to keep CO2 concentrations below 450ppm is already “locked-in” with current infrastructure. Unless internationally coordinated action is taken by 2017, "all new infrastructure from then until 2035 would need to be zero-carbon, unless emitting infrastructure is retired before the end of its economic lifetime."

The Stockholm Environment Institute reported that developing country pledges to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions anchored in the Cancun Agreements are actually greater than developed country pledges.
For those who are out-of-the-loop, the Green Climate Fund was one of the few good things that came out of COP15 in Copenhagen. The Copenhagen Accords developed the idea of a Green Climate fund that would be supplied with $100 billion US dollars every year by 2020. No mention was made about who would be responsible for putting in the money or how it would be spent, but some vague language related to the REDD+ program was included. Hopefully this will be hashed out in Durban and the money can start following to the nations that will desperately need the money to adapt to climate change.

We can only hope that substantial progress is made at COP17. The chances are slim if previous COPs are considered, but there is always a chance.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy Halloween

Now here is a reason to be scared; today is the Day of Seven Billion. That is, today is approximately the day when the world's human population will reach 7 billion people. In my lifetime, the world population has grown more than 2 billion people. That's pretty scary. Fortunately, some work is being done on this. The United Nations Population Fund is working to build awareness about the challenges associated with this level of human population. Hopefully awareness-building will produce results.

(The pressure such a large human population puts on the environment is the issue discussed on Andrew Revkin's Dot Earth blog. If this interests/concerns you, I highly recommend adding Dot Earth to your news routine.)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Apple's China Problem

With Apple's release of the iPhone4S today, it's important to remember that the much-loved company has some serious questions to answer about its operations in China. Alex Wang over at Legal Planet has a great write-up with several links that are worth checking out. According to the update, it looks like pressure might be starting to get somewhere. Let's hope so.

Solyndra: Bankrupting Clean Energy

Currently there is a Congressional hearing looking into the Solyndra loan debacle, [Solyndra is a California based solar energy company who filed bankruptcy this summer after having received $528 million in guaranteed loans from the Dept. of Energy in 2009], but truly it is clean energy investing that is on trial by the Committees’ Republicans. Seemingly as a result of this beating, Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairman Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.) announced today that he is scheduling a hearing on U.S. clean energy investments as compared to other countries for the coming weeks. An interesting note on this subject too is that Sen. Bingaman was integral in the existence of the law allowing the DOE to authorize guaranteed loans as he helped develop it. When asked specifically, Sen. Bingaman said he didn’t think that his hearing would touch on the Solyndra bankruptcy (as it is currently being investigated), but he did go on to say that “the Solyndra bankruptcy shouldn’t be used to cut clean-energy investment.”

Well Senator, you should have words with Rep. Cliff Stearns (R-FL), who chairs the energy and commerce subcommittee on oversight and investigations heading the Solyndra investigation. According to NPR, Rep. Stearns was just quoted today as saying "We can't compete with China to make solar panels and wind turbines," and he “doesn't believe in any type of subsidy for industry.” Rep. Stearns words are clearly at odds with Sen. Bingaman's own which is perhaps why Sen Bingaman decided to have his own hearing to determine the future of clean energy investing. Ironically, Rep. Stearns signed the original bill allowing for the DOE to authorize loan guarantees. And for perspective, Rep. Stearns also voted to continue oil subsidies totaling $21 billion just a few months ago which, if you are keeping score at home, is in fact a “subsidy for industry.”

If Rep. Stearns has his way, he will use the Solyndra fiasco to undue all clean energy investments in the future. Attacking the investments by saying, "I think the administration is putting taxpayers' money at risk in areas that are not creating jobs." One rebuttal is from NPR’s Yoki Noguchi: “Solyndra was just one of the clean energy projects and businesses that got loan guarantees from a Department of Energy program that ended Friday. In all, it financed 28 projects. The Energy Department says the projects will create about 17,000 construction and permanent jobs.”

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Dam Republicans

Though not national news, an interesting argument arose from the public comments and hearing for the removal of the Paint Creek Dam in Oakland Township, Michigan. I'll get to the argument in a moment, but first, a little background.

The decision to remove the dam had come after the Clinton River Watershed Council had received a $700,000 federal grant to study the dam’s impact and possibly remove the dam. According to the Patch,

"Because it[, the Clinton River Watershed Council,] had a federal grant, it decided it would be in the best interest to the township to move ahead with the operation at no cost for the purpose of improving the riparian and aquatic habitat[, which includes the only designated trout stream in the county]."
The Patch further explains that supporters claimed removal of the dam and filling of the adjacent 100-year floodplain would improve aquatic and riparian habitat, while those opposing the project were concerned about the project changing historical character of the area.

Now, back to the interesting argument. The Oakland Township Patch reported,

"The dam removal project would be paid for by a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency. Some iexpressed uneasiness about spending money the U.S. government "doesn’t have” and argued that all grants should be refused to help keep the nation’s deficit down. (sic)"
This is an interesting outgrowth of the Congressional Republicans push to cut federal spending on pretty much everything while refusing to consider revenue increases. Interesting why? Because 1) the Council already had access to the funds and 2) it is likely to save the Township money in the long-run.

On 1), the Council had obtained the funding with dam removal in mind as an option. The federal government had already agreed to provide the funding. If the money had not been used, it would have likely been used to fund another project, or perhaps gone to the general fund then been designated to another project. My point here is that the money was going to be used on a project someplace, so it is better that the money be used in a way that was already determined to be a good use of federal funding. It isn't as if the federal government would have used it to pay off the debt and it doesn't have a savings account to put the money in. It has to be spent.

On 2), it seems that some believe that short-term spending should be avoided when it yields long-term benefits. At the very least, it seems pretty typical of spending cut arguments I have seen. I imagine the thought process goes something like this: Should we spend money now to mitigate the damage of future natural disasters? No, we may not have to spend as much money in the future. Should we spend money now to help those who have had their communities devastated by a floods, storms, tornadoes, earthquakes, and wildfires? No, that would prevent the local economies from quickly recovering and it may put some people to work while the economy is stagnant. Should we adamantly fight to keep taxes low for people who have more than enough money? Of course, we need those people to make and keep more money so that they can ... have lots of money.

Larger political issues aside, the emergence of this argument at the local level is a bit disconcerting considering there are a great deal of climate adaptation projects that are needed to help the country deal with the problems associated with ever-escalating climate change.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Anti-EPA Fervor Hits Hilarious Boiling Point

Dan Berman over at Politico does a completely un-Politico thing and steps up off the sideline to belt a Daily Caller gaffe out of the Beltway ballpark.  The Daily Caller is Tucker Carlson's joke of a news website that, in its less than two years on the scene, has developed a solid reputation for what can only be described as anti-environmental alarmism.  Never missing a chance to toe the industry line, the website often runs attacks on environmental policy and, in particular, the Environmental Protection Agency.  Well, it looks like this time the Caller may have gone a little too far:
It’s a story too good to be true for the anti-Obama and anti-regulation crowd: The hated Environmental Protection Agency is looking to spend $21 billion per year to hire an additional 230,000 people to enforce greenhouse gas regulations. 

One problem: It’s not true. 

Patient zero for this story is The Daily Caller, which on Monday wrote that the EPA is “asking for taxpayers to shoulder the burden of up to 230,000 new bureaucrats — at a cost of $21 billion — to attempt to implement the rules.” 

To put that to scale: EPA currently has 17,000 employees at an annual budget of $8.7 billion.
 Kudos to the EPA for this brilliant response:
"Much of what is said or written about EPA these days is entirely inaccurate — but The Daily Caller's report is comically wrong,” EPA spokesman Brendan Gilfillan told POLITICO. “At least one job clearly needs to be created: They're clearly in the market for a fact-checker."
Of course, the "comically wrong" story was too much to pass up for several agenda-driven outlets.  Perhaps the most amusing part about the whole story is the Daily Caller's response.  Rather than admit any error, the Caller said it stood by its story and took the opportunity to take more swipes at the EPA.  Did Lisa Jackson run over Tucker Carlson's dog or something?

Go check out the whole Politico story for a complete breakdown of how the Caller got its numbers and why it's completely wrong.  Politico is really not known for this type of "calling out" so when it happens you know the offense was fairly egregious.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

What Obama Can Do Right Now

The next issue of Rolling Stone, which is very underrated in its political coverage, will feature this article on ten things President Obama can do right now to help the environment. The article is a quick but great read. Go check it out. Some highlights:
ONE: Stop the Pipeline
Is it in our national interest to overheat the planet? That's the question Obama faces in deciding whether to approve Keystone XL, a 2,000-mile-long pipeline that will bring 500,000 barrels of tar-sand oil from Canada to oil refineries on the Gulf of Mexico. Greenlighting the $7 billion pipeline would help feed America's addiction to oil – but it would also send a clear signal that Obama ranks cheap gas as a higher priority than a stable climate. Activist and writer Bill McKibben, who organized protests at the White House to stop the pipeline, calls the decision "a defining moment of the Obama years."
THREE: Crack Down on Carbon
NASA climate scientist James Hansen has called coal, the most carbon-intensive of all fossil fuels, "the single greatest threat to civilization and all life on our planet." But Obama has failed to curb carbon pollution from coal plants. He didn't manage to push a program to cap and trade carbon emissions through Congress when he had the chance, and there's no way he can win approval for a straight-up carbon tax. But now he has a chance to do it the old-fashioned way: by wielding the power of the executive branch.

Following a 2007 ruling by the Supreme Court, the EPA has the responsibility to regulate greenhouse gases as a pollutant. The agency is working on new rules that would cut carbon pollution from power plants – the country's single biggest source of planet-warming emissions. The question is: How tough will they be? To make Big Coal really clean up its act, the standards need to be set at roughly the same pollution levels produced by natural gas – about 1,100 pounds of pollution per megawatt hour of electricity. "That would essentially end the construction of conventional coal plants in America," says Vickie Patton, general counsel for the Environmental Defense Fund. "But if the standards are significantly looser, they could have the perverse effect of actually encouraging the construction of a new generation of plants." The ultimate outcome – no more coal plants, or far too many – is entirely in Obama's hands.
TEN: Use the Bully Pulpit
Ever notice how often the phrase "climate change" pops up in Obama's speeches? Not much – only 20 times in the past year, and fewer than half as many as the year before. The president has failed to make a big issue-defining speech on global warming, failed to defend the climate scientists being attacked by Big Oil, and failed to blast congressional climate deniers like Sen. James Inhofe, who shamelessly and stupidly dismiss global warming as a "hoax."

In fact, Obama's refusal to speak out on the risks and moral obligations of climate change may well be his biggest failure as president. "He has been silent on the defining issue of our time, letting Big Oil and the deniers define the debate," says Joe Romm, a leading climate advocate who served as assistant energy secretary under Bill Clinton. "In some sense, he has been a bigger failure than Bush – because Obama knows better. He knows exactly what is at stake."

Insiders insist the president is running a "stealth campaign" on climate change, quietly going after coal and oil by tightening air-pollution and fuel-efficiency standards. But Obama alone has the power to elevate global warming to the forefront of the international agenda, where it belongs. He must use his remarkable rhetorical skill to explain to the world that the fossil-fuel era is coming to an end – and inspire us all to take action, no matter what the cost. "Obama needs to make a decision," Romm says. "Does he want to be remembered as the president who had the best chance of taking action on climate – but who failed to stop the catastrophe?"
Some of the suggestions, such as using the bully pulpit or making conservation patriotic (something I've urged for a long time), are just about good ol' fashioned leadership. But some of the others, such as regulating greenhouse gases under EPA's current Clean Air Act authority, require a little more boldness. Many have said that greenhouse gas regulation under the current rules would be impracticable. But that's entirely the point. If the President were to make such a move, it would put the ball in Congress's court to come up with a better solution. Until he does that, Congress has no reason to disrupt the statuts quo, and no progress will be made. And that's exactly how Obama can defend the move from critics. The President has utilized heated rhetoric in attacking Congress, including Democrats, on several occasions. With its low approval rating, it's not hard to see why. Taking the offensive on the environment would be yet another front in this fight.