Environment and Energy

The Senate has basically given up on passing a climate bill. So where does that leave us? Yesterday, I noted on Twitter that the action is going to shift to the states and federal agencies. Remember, the EPA is obligated to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, and Lisa Jackson is moving ahead with those rules. (Here's my primer on that.) Meanwhile, as I've reported before, plenty of states are moving ahead with their own climate policies. There's already a (modest) cap-and-trade system for utilities in the Northeast called RGGI.

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Compare and contrast: On the same day that the climate bill quietly dies in the Senate, the Chinese government announces plans to put a price on carbon in the next five years.

So the big winner of the climate-bill fiasco could turn out to be… T. Boone Pickens. That's right, the billionaire who financed the Swift Boat ads against John Kerry in 2004.

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The odds of a climate bill passing this year look increasingly bleak. Harry Reid and John Kerry confirmed this afternoon that they are only going to release a very modest energy bill before the August recess. How modest? Here's Reid's (vague) description: One, we will hold BP accountable. We will ensure it pays to clean up its mess, and we will put forth measures to prevent a disaster like this from ever happening again. Two, we will create clean-energy jobs across America.

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Andrew Restuccia passes along an update on the ever-elusive energy bill.

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Bust a Cap

For years, most Democrats and environmentalists have been in rough agreement about how to tackle global warming. Set an overall limit on carbon-dioxide emissions, let polluters buy and sell permits, and watch the market work its magic. Both Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton campaigned on this idea, and the House passed a climate bill last year centered on an economy-wide cap. Sure, experts might have quibbled over the fine print, but the basic framework was pretty straightforward.

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For years, the coal industry's strategy for dealing with climate change has gone something like this: 1) Fight off caps on carbon pollution for as long as possible. 2) Convince politicians to throw gobs of money at fancy low-carbon technologies like carbon capture and sequestration. 3) Pray that those fancy technologies actually work. The strategy has succeeded so far. Seeing as how half the electricity in the United States comes from coal, there's never a shortage of members of Congress willing to do whatever the industry wants. And yet...

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Via The Hill, a research note from FBR Capital sums up everything you need to know about where the energy-bill talks stand: "Senate scheduled to debate something next week." Yup, something. No one knows what will be in the bill yet. Reid is scheduled to meet with the Democratic caucus on Thursday; Kerry and Lieberman are asking for an extension so that they can try to salvage a utility-only cap; and it's likely that the whole debate could get pushed back until after August recess. The biggest danger, at this point, is that Republicans will run out the clock on energy legislation.

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Over at Foreign Policy, Joshua Keating writes about a little-known natural disaster—underground coal fires in northern China: China's recent industrial growth depends heavily on coal -- the source of 70 percent of the country's energy—a major reason why it recently became the world's largest carbon emitter. The country's mining sector is also extremely dangerous, killing as many as 13 miners every day.

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BP is currently the oil company everyone loves to hate, but there was a time, not too long ago, when ExxonMobil attracted a lot more scorn—in part because it was funding so many different climate-change denier groups. (See Chris Mooney's old but excellent Mother Jones piece that followed the money trail.) Then, in 2007, the company announced it would quit donating to anti-science groups like the Competitive Enterprise Institute, and the bad press mostly went away. Until now, that is.

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