Environment and Energy
The talks over the Senate energy/climate bill are still very, very fluid. A whole lot could change in the next ten days as Harry Reid's office tries to cut and paste from different pieces of legislation and assemble something that can garner 60 votes. But, right now, the odds look pretty bleak that a cap-and-trade system will make it into the final bill. Which raises the obvious question: If there's no cap on carbon, what else is there?
Steven Pearlstein has a good column in The Washington Post today about how smart government regulation can actually foster technological innovation. It's a useful counterpoint to conservative claims that a cap on carbon emissions will crush the economy and shunt us back to the Dark Ages: It's been 20 years since Harvard Business School professor Michael Porter provided scholarly support for the notion that, rather than hamper economic growth and competitiveness, well-crafted regulation could actually promote it. ...
Over at Slate, Nina Shen Rastogi has a nice primer on the pros and cons of nuclear energy. The pros are pretty obvious—nuclear is a low-carbon energy source that, unlike wind or solar, can run all the time without the need to worry about storage. But there are downsides, too. Like cost: [T]he question of whether new reactors would be the most cost-effective way to lower electricity-related emissions is still hotly debated. The fuel itself is relatively inexpensive, at least for the time being.
This is welcome news if it holds up: "BP says oil has stopped leaking into the Gulf for the first time since April. BP has been slowly dialing down the flow as part of a test on a new cap. Engineers are now monitoring the pressure to see if the busted well holds." Here's hoping it does. Still, the Macondo site won't be fully and permanently plugged until BP finishes drilling a relief well.
This post might get a tad wonky, but bear with me, it's important. Politico is reporting today on a critical development in the Senate energy-bill talks. Remember, a cap on carbon pollution isn't dead yet. There's still a strong possibility that Harry Reid will include a cap-and-trade system that just covers electric utilities in the final climate bill. But before he can do that he needs to get utilities on board.
The Wall Street Journal has a great piece today on some of the obstacles preventing electric cars from catching on in the United States. Most of the looming uncertainties are things we've covered before, like that pesky chicken-or-egg problem of how to build a critical mass of charging stations to make electric cars viable for drivers.
Here's one idea for reducing methane emissions down in Australia—get people to eat kangaroos instead of cows: Both animals are herbivores, and both eat grass that is fermented before entering their main stomachs. But while cattle belch enormous amounts of methane to digest the food, kangaroos release virtually none—they burp only harmless acids that can be turned into vinegar. Some context: Australia emits more greenhouse gases per capita than any country on Earth (and nearly 2 percent of the world's total).
The logic behind a moratorium on deepwater drilling seems sound enough. Until we have a better idea of exactly why Deepwater Horizon blew up and gushed millions of gallons of crude into the Gulf—and what other risks are still lurking out there—it's probably not a good idea to go ahead with a whole bunch of new insanely complex projects. Right? At least, that's what the Obama administration is thinking. Last month, it proposed a six-month halt on drilling that would affect 33 rigs under construction.
How many times in the past year have journalists written some variant of, "Hey, we should be getting an energy bill sometime in the next week"? Too many to count, right? So it's probably unwise to make any bold predictions this time around. But Senate Democrats do seem to be getting closer to unveiling a brand-new energy bill, with the aim of getting it passed before the August recess. What's going to be in it? Well, that's the tricky part. No one knows for sure. Harry Reid's office is trying to cobble something together this week, and there's a lot of guessing.
Last month, Henry Waxman and Ed Markey summoned the chairmen of the world's five big oil companies to testify before Congress. The execs from Shell, ExxonMobil, ConocoPhillips, and Chevron spent much of their time trying to distance themselves from BP. We wouldn't have poisoned the Gulf the way BP did, they insisted. Unfortunately for them, Waxman and Markey weren't buying it, and noted that all the other oil companies had the exact same error-filled spill-response plans that BP did.