Quick Hits: Gm's Stuck Between Green And, Well, Green

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THE VINE FEBRUARY 18, 2009

Quick Hits: Gm's Stuck Between Green And, Well, Green

Sometimes these "quick hit" posts sprawl out of control, so I'm limiting this one to five energy stories worth reading. Ahem:

* Over at The Wall Street Journal, Keith Johnson takes stock of
GM's delicate balancing act. As the company comes pleading for more aid
from Congress, executives are hyping their long-term plans for green,
hyper-efficient cars. But many of those vehicles are likely to be
"flex-fuel" vehicles, which, yes, can technically run on "alternative"
fuel, but in practice usually just end up guzzling gasoline. Moreover,
in the short term, GM is actually planning to cut back on its hybrid
offerings to sell less-efficient cars that make money. (After all, the
Chevy Volt may be a dazzling piece of hardware, but it's not going to
turn a profit anytime soon.)

* Yes, the stimulus bill was chock full of green-energy items. Some $80 billion worth. But Congress isn't finished. Nope. Dave Roberts examines some of the big-ticket provisions that could make it in the next energy bill: There's everything from a federal renewable-electricity standard to a massive ramp-up of building retrofits and efficiency block grants. The logic of this bill will be, one, to give the clean-tech sector a bigger boost, and two, to pass popular energy legislation before knuckling down for the hard part: climate legislation that puts a price on carbon.

* Speaking of climate legislation, Eric Pooley discusses the other consensus you've never heard of: It seems most economists agree that the cost of averting drastic climate change is considerably less than the cost of sitting on our hands and letting the Earth boil. Now, granted, the cost of action depends on what level of cuts you think is actually sufficient to avoid major temperature increases. For instance, the Lieberman-Warner cap-and-trade bill last year would've shaved a mere three-hundredths of a percentage point off our annual GDP growth, true, but most environmentalists also agreed that Lieberman-Warner was woefully insufficient. That said, Pooley's right: Most of the estimates floating around suggest that the costs of robust action are very manageable (see the IEA or IPCC on this), while the costs of inaction potentially dire.

* "Is America ready to quit coal?" Melanie Warner of The New York Times investigates. And Tom Konrad replies that we may not have a choice—it's quite possible U.S. coal reserves are being depleted faster than we've been led to believe.

* At long freaking last, cell phone manufacturers are planning to roll out a universal charger in 2012, which, with any luck, will cut down on e-waste quite a bit.

--Bradford Plumer

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