Environment and Energy
As Jon Chait noted over the weekend, the fate of the Senate climate bill has suddenly been thrown in doubt. Lindsey Graham is pissed off that Harry Reid wants to do immigration next instead of energy, and he's threatened to pull out of negotiations. Without Graham's support, the climate bill isn't going anywhere. So everything's up in the air right now. The Hill reports that John Kerry and Joe Lieberman—the other two main authors—are trying to salvage the bill, and it even sounds like Reid's softening a bit: “We need [Graham] to come back.
According to Kate Sheppard, John Kerry has been telling people that he's lined up some serious industry support for his climate bill, which will be released on Monday. The Edison Electric Institute, which represents private electric utilities, will reportedly back the legislation, and the American Petroleum Institute will at least refrain from attacking it too bitterly. Meanwhile, the Post reports that Shell, BP, and ConocoPhillips will likely back the bill, too.
For some time now, a few electric utilities have been experimenting with a clever ploy to get their customers to save energy. The idea is simple: The power company just sends people reports showing how much electricity they're using compared with their neighbors. After Sacramento's municipal utility tried this last year, energy use dropped 2.8 percent. The reports really do seem to motivate people to switch off their lights, install CFLs, shut down their computers at night, or even take bigger steps like insulating their windows.
A few days ago, Jon Chait noted that Senate Democrats were preparing yet another budget reconciliation bill this year. That, in turn, raised the possibility that energy legislation could pass the Senate with only 50 votes (rather than the 60 that's now the de facto standard to overcome the inevitable GOP filibuster).
Last year's stimulus bill had about $20 billion for energy-efficiency measures, something that, in theory, was a grand idea. Groups like McKinsey have done a whole bunch of studies on how efficiency upgrades are pretty much magical in every way: saving a boatload of money, cutting carbon emissions, the works. But that's just the theory. Where did all the stimulus money actually go? As Kate Galbraith reports in the Times today, a lot of it hasn't even been spent yet: But in many cases, efficiency companies say, the stimulus money is still awaiting distribution.
Former TNR intern Eric Zimmerman has an amusing post over at The Hill about an EPA intern who inadvertently caused a stir after writing a post promoting vegetarianism: The author, Nicole Reising, cites the "environmental effects of meat production" and urges readers to stop eating meat. "Regulations can be made to help prevent the effects of meat production, but the easiest way to lessen the environmental impacts is to become a vegetarian or vegan," Reising writes. The American Farm Bureau Federation issued a statement today decrying the post as disrepectful to ranchers.
The words most often used by the heads of oil companies to describe the boom are “revolution” and “game changer.” Industry historian Daniel Yergin calls it “the shale gale.” Admittedly, serious questions remain as to whether shale gas will pass the ecological test—critics say it can’t be extracted safely in proximity to groundwater, and the EPA is engaged in a two-year study of extraction techniques.
Coal generates nearly 50 percent of our electricity in the United States (and more than one-fourth of the country's carbon emissions), and it's central to nearly all climate-policy discussions. But would the black stuff really be so hard to phase out, if we wanted to? Maybe not. Sheila McNulty takes note of a new report from consulting firm PFC Energy, which suggests that gas-fired power plants could, in theory, replace nearly all coal-fired capacity in the United States without much hassle.
Setting aside all the questions about air travel and global cooling, have there been any other environmental consequences from the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull? As best I can tell from trawling around various news sources, the effects have actually been pretty mild—though they could get a lot worse if Eyjafjallajökull's sister volcano Katla erupted (the two have a storied history of blowing up one after the other).
Back in 1991, Mount Pinatubo erupted in the Philippines and kicked up nearly 20 million tons of sulfur-dioxide into the air. The particles spread across the global atmosphere, scattering a greater portion of sunlight back into space, and ended up cooling the Earth by about 0.4°C for a spell. (The sulfuric haze also caused further damage to the ozone layer.) The eruption was a horrible disaster for the immediate area—destroying homes and farmland and kicking up all sorts of nasty air pollution.