Quick Hits: So *that's* Where The Trees Went Edition

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THE VINE JANUARY 25, 2009

Quick Hits: So *that's* Where The Trees Went Edition

Time to clear out the old Firefox tabs:

* A new USGS study suggests
that rising temperatures in the United States could explain why
old-growth trees are dying at twice the rate they were in 1955. If
true, that might mean we have yet another nasty climate feedback loop on
our hands—higher temperatures kill more trees, which decay and release
carbon into the air at a faster-than-usual rate, jacking temperatures
up further… (Oh yeah, the other bad bit of news is that, as a study in Nature found last year, warming forests start to lose their ability to soak up as much carbon from the air.)

* The Obama EPA just slammed the brakes on two new coal-fired power plants. Recall that in the dying days of the last Bush administration, Stephen Johnson prevented the EPA from considering carbon-dioxide pollution when issuing coal-plant permits. Now we'll see whether new EPA head Lisa Jackson reverses this ruling, and how they treat new plants going forward.

* Henry Waxman just put a big "decoupling" provision in the House stimulus bill, an amendment that would require states seeking federal money to revamp the way their utilities operate. Right now, utilities profit based on how much electricity they sell, giving them scant incentive to promote conservation. But under various decoupling schemes, utilities would have financial incentives to boost efficiency—and sell less electricity. California's seemingly slashed energy waste under this arrangement, but Republicans are skeptical, and don't like the idea of Congress telling states how to run their electricity markets.

* Will a last-minute Bush administration rule put pressure on states to privatize their toll roads?

* Bloomberg's architecture critic, James Russell, pleads for a more holistic approach to transportation planning, blaming "ossified bureaucracies [that] make it all but impossible to unite highways, rails, transit and appealing walkways."

* China is plunking down hundreds of billions of dollars on new freight lines and high-speed passenger rail.

* The Center for Global Development's Robin Kraft wonders why the World Bank is providing unneeded financing for a massive new coal plant in India rather than helping bolster the country's nascent renewable-energy industry.

* Three cheers for the market: Kevin Drum points out that a simple price on carbon would be a much better way to stimulate alternative-energy sources than our current patchwork of tax breaks and subsidies. (Of course, subsidies are also infinitely easier to squeeze through Congress.)

* And one cheer for… command-and-control? A new study by Ecofys, a consulting group, suggests that simple emissions standards for power plants are far more effective at curbing greenhouse gases than market-oriented emissions-trading regimes. Cheaper, too.

--Bradford Plumer

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