Last week, shortly before Christmas, the EPA posted a quick item on its website announcing a timetable for new climate regulations on power plants and petroleum refineries. This, in turn, provoked all sorts of outrage and confusion. Industry lobbyists blasted the move. James Inhofe predicted Armageddon and pledged to do whatever it took to thwart the agency. And some commenters framed this as a fresh power grab by the Obama administration. What was harder to find, though, was an explanation of what the EPA was actually doing. So let's roll tape.
It’s always an exciting opportunity when the federal government can raise revenue and protect the environment while simultaneously increasing profits at private businesses. That’s why a recent Government Accountability Office (GAO) report on waste from the energy production processes is encouraging, even if it’s irritating. When energy companies like Shell, BP and the hordes of other, smaller firms drill for oil and natural gas, some gas inevitably bubbles to the surface or seeps out through leaky pipes and ineffective storage systems. The companies burn off some of the bubbles.
Cancún, Mexico—Another year, another round of U.N. climate talks. This year's discussions in Cancún are likely to end much as last year's haggling in Copenhagen did—without a firm global treaty to stop drastic climate change. But the stalemate has led to an intriguing side development: Large, multinational corporations are starting to play an outsized role in the negotiations. If world leaders can't agree on how best to cut carbon emissions (and, so far, it's not clear they can), then the world's CEOs may start taking the lead.
There have been all sorts of drastic proclamations about the tax deal Obama struck with congressional Republicans earlier this week. Here's another to chuck on the pile: The agreement might end up killing what little momentum the U.S. clean-energy industry has picked up over the past two years. Some background. Back in 2008, Congress extended (yet again) tax credits for solar and wind producers, which now cover 30 percent of upfront costs. But when the recession made it tougher for firms to get financing, the credits were no longer working as advertised.
Here's a quick sketch of how environmental policy will get made for the next two years. Congress won't pass any new laws. The EPA will try to use the authority it already has to mop up pollution from coal plants, factories, and vehicles (and the agency has a fair bit of existing authority to do so). Industry groups, Republicans, and more than a few Democrats will moan about the costs. And the Obama administration will then have to decide just how much confrontation it can really stomach.
In January 1973, William Ruckelhaus, the administrator of the newly formed Environmental Protection Agency, traveled to Los Angeles to break the bad news to residents: They were going to have to drive less. Automobile smog was choking the city, in stark violation of the Clean Air Act, and the EPA had hatched a plan to clear the air, by promoting mass transit, parking fees, high-occupancy lanes, and gasoline rationing. The reaction from car-loving Californians was a combination of shock and outright rage. "That's the dumbest thing I've ever heard," fumed one resident.
When, exactly, did light bulbs become a conservative litmus test? Back in 2007, if you'll recall, George W. Bush signed an energy bill that tightened efficiency standards for lighting. It wasn't a big deal at the time. The bill just meant that manufacturers would slowly have to phase out their old, power-hogging incandescent bulbs in favor of something sleeker, like compact fluorescent lamps, or CFLs, starting in 2012. (This wasn't technically a ban on incandescents—more on that in a sec.) A few disgruntled libertarians complained, but life went on. Alas, that was then.
So much for the deepwater-drilling ban. Earlier today, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced that he was lifting the moratorium on offshore drilling early, well ahead of the original November 30 deadline. The reason? "There will always be risks associated with deepwater drilling," Salazar explained, "but we have now reached the point where we have, in my view, reduced those risks." It's too early to tell whether he's right about that. What is clear, however, is that Salazar was under plenty of political pressure to lift the ban as early as possible.
In this week's New Yorker, Ryan Lizza has a long, truly excellent reported piece on how the climate bill died in the Senate. The big question is to what extent the White House deserves the blame: “I believe Barack Obama understands that fifty years from now no one’s going to know about health care,” the lobbyist said. “Economic historians will know that we had a recession at this time. Everybody is going to be thinking about whether Barack Obama was the James Buchanan of climate change.” Now, as Jonathan Zasloff notes, this isn't the most precise historical analogy of all time.
On Thursday, the House oversight committee held the second of two hearings on a critical question: “Are ‘Superweeds’ an Outgrowth of USDA Biotech Policy?” Evidently, farmers are up against a Superweed invasion, and it’s not pretty. These mutant, herbicide-resistant plants are choking up to 10 million acres—and growing—of U.S. farmland, and farms have struggled to adapt. Here’s CropLife America’s Jay Vroom: “There is nothing particularly ‘super’ about the weeds that have developed resistance to any particular herbicide.” So who’s to blame?