Environment and Energy
The New York Times offers some reason to think that, at the very least, the Gulf oil spill might not turn into the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history: But on Monday, the wind was pushing the slick in the opposite direction, away from the current. The worst effects of the spill have yet to be felt. And if efforts to contain the oil are even partly successful and the weather cooperates, the worst could be avoided. “Right now what people are fearing has not materialized,” said Edward B.
So who pays for an oil-spill disaster like this one? Matthew Wald offers some context. Big, wealthy oil companies like BP are usually expected to pay to the cleanup costs themselves. But that still leaves the cost of all the indirect damage to fisheries and wildlife habitats in the area. In that case, under current law, an offshore rig operator is liable for up to $75 million in damages.
It's quite possible that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will put an end to further offshore drilling in the United States—at least for awhile. Florida Senator Bill Nelson is already calling for a stop to all new exploration and drilling in the Gulf; he's called any new energy bill that has support for new offshore drilling "dead on arrival." The Obama administration, meanwhile, is sounding a lot more circumspect about its earlier plans to expand drilling off the coasts.
Lots of people expect that the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will spur Congress to pass some sort of new environmental regulations in the months ahead. After all, that's what happened after the Exxon Valdez disaster, the Three Mile Island nuclear scare, and so forth. But here's a twist: Matthew Kahn links to a 2007 paper he wrote on this subject, which finds that, while oil-spill-type disasters do force new regulations onto the legislative agenda, they don't make lawmakers any more likely to vote for them: Unexpected events such as environmental catastrophes capture wide public attention.
For most of the 2.5 million years that humans and their predecessors have been around, the Earth has been a volatile place. Subtle shifts in the planet’s orbit have triggered large temperature swings; glaciers have marched across North America and Europe and then retreated. But, about 10,000 years ago, something unusual happened: The Earth’s climate settled into a relatively stable state, global temperatures started hovering within a narrow band, and sea levels stopped rising and falling so drastically.
One ever-popular idea for reducing greenhouse-gas emissions from coal plants is to capture the CO2 at the smokestack and bury it underground. Up until now, the biggest hurdle here has always been cost: While burning coal is relatively cheap (that is, if you ignore the pollution, the coal ash spills, and the devastation wrought by mountaintop mining…), sequestering CO2 can be pretty pricey—pricier than efficiency and even a lot of renewable power options. But now it turns out there may be another problem.
Here's a surprising factoid: Between 2000 and 2005, deforestation rates in the United States and Canada were actually higher than those in Brazil and Indonesia, the two countries everyone thinks of when they think of deforestation. (Granted, Brazil lost more total trees because it had more forest to start with, but in raw percentage terms, we're tops.) The big drivers in the United States were "large-scale logging in the southeast, along the western coast, and in the Midwest."
There's still a lot of uncertainty about the Senate climate bill. Now Harry Reid's saying he'll put it on the Senate calendar before immigration, after all. "Common sense dictates that if you have a bill that is ready to go, that is the one I am going to go to,” Reid told reporters earlier.
So… anyone who's fretting about the fate of the climate bill will just have to wait and see whether John Kerry and Joe Lieberman can drag Lindsey Graham back into negotiations—they're all meeting this afternoon. But if anyone needs a wonky way to pass the time, Harvard economist Robert Stavins has a nice post on an issue that's likely to be particularly contentious if/when the climate bill ever hits. Namely, state preemption.
In the Los Angeles Times, Marla Dickerson takes a look at Tokyo's efforts to become one of the most eco-friendly cities in the world: In addition to reducing solid waste, Tokyo over the last few years has unveiled a slew of environmentally conscious initiatives.