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“Fiorina The Smooth Operator”: The Essence Of Fiorina ’16: A Smooth Exterior With Little Beneath It

In a piece at Vox today that you should most definitely read if you are following what passes for a bipartisan debate on climate change, Dave Roberts looks closely at a four-minute segment of an interview Katie Couric did with Carly Fiorina that Republican flacks are praising as a genius tour de force (for Carly, of course, not for Katie). He goes through ten claims Fiorina–not a climate change denier but rather someone who finds infinite excuses not to do anything about it–made in the interview against Democratic climate change proposals and shows they are more than a bit factually challenged. A sample of an argument Carly advanced as a Californian:

California “destroys lives and livelihoods with environmental regulations”

California’s climate regulations are indeed the most ambitious in the nation, and they just keep getting more ambitious. (A pair of new climate bills has cleared the Senate and is headed to the Assembly.)

If California were its own country, it would be one of the world’s top 10 in total renewable energy generation and one of the bottom two in carbon intensity. It is the top state in the nation for venture capital investments in cleantech, cleantech patents, and advanced-energy jobs. In fact, it leads the nation in virtually every cleantech category, from electric vehicles to green buildings to solar capacity to policy to investment, reliably topping the US Cleantech Leadership Index.

Meanwhile, between 1993 and 2013, thanks to energy efficiency, the average residential electricity bill in California declined, on an inflation-adjusted basis, by 4 percent, even as bills rose elsewhere in the country. Between 1990 and 2012, the state cut per-capita carbon emissions by 25 percent even as its GDP increased by 37 percent. Its total carbon emissions are declining, even as its economy continues to grow.

Oh, and California created more jobs than any other state in the nation last year, with the fifth-highest GDP growth rate. And its budget is balanced.

Looks like the state is surviving its environmental regulations so far.

After nine other, similar expositions, Roberts concludes:

However smooth Fiorina may be, in the end it’s not going to make sense to voters to acknowledge the science of climate change and then say you’re against every solution to it except handing out subsidies to the coal industry. That is some unstable derp. If I had to predict, I’d say political pressure will be such that Fiorina will either be forced back into outright denialism or she’ll have to offer something less vaporous on the policy front. She won’t be able to stay where she is.

But note that qualifier “in the end.” Untutored folk watching Fiorina may simply notice how “smooth” she is. And the fact that it’s Katie Couric interviewing her is instructive. A series of Couric inteviews took Sarah Palin down several notches in 2008 because the nationally unknown Alaska governor was anything but smooth. But that’s the essence of Fiorina ’16: a smooth exterior with little beneath it.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Political Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, August 21, 2015

August 22, 2015 Posted by | Carly Fiorina, Climate Change, Coal Industry | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Working For The Same Boss”: The Coal Industry Is Imploding. Why Is it Still So Powerful in Washington?

As its battle against the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan intensifies, Big Coal is getting a lot of help from friends in high places.

Leading the rush to the industry’s defense is Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, who has launched an underhanded campaign to undermine the Environmental Protection Agency’s new rules for greenhouse gases from power plants. In a March 3 op-ed, McConnell suggested that states should refuse to submit a state plan for lowering emissions. A few weeks later he sent a letter directly to every governor in the country, warning that developing such a plan would allow “the EPA to wrest control of a state’s energy policy.”

To further encourage states to opt out of the rules, McConnell and co-sponsors Rob Portman, Roy Blunt, Tom Cotton and Orrin Hatch put forth an amendment to a budget resolution on Wednesday that would allow a state’s governor or legislature to duck the EPA’s authority if they determined that adopting a plan to reduce emissions would hurt their state. (A similar measure is pending in the House.) In order to opt out, according to David Doniger of the National Resources Defense Council, all a state would need to do is “to declare that meeting carbon standards would cost the polluters money.”

McConnell’s bases his appeal to the states on the claim that the regulations are “probably” illegal. In this argument he is is backed by “iconic liberal constitutional scholar Laurence Tribe,” who, McConnell practically crows, “was President Obama’s constitutional law professor at Harvard Law School.” In recent months Tribe has been busy writing legal briefs and op-eds and trotting himself out before the House Energy and Commerce Committee to make that case that the EPA’s attempt to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act is an egregious act of overreach akin to “burning the Constitution.” Tribe goes well beyond questions of legality, however, as Jonathan Chait points out, defending coal as a time-honored home-dug alternative to foreign oil.

Tribe’s starring role in McConnell’s circus is unexpected, but it’s not hard to explain: They’re working for the same boss. Tribe was hired to assail the Clean Energy Plan by Peabody Energy, the nation’s largest coal producer—and also the fourth-largest contributor to McConnell over the course of his career, according to The New York Times.

There isn’t enough support in the Senate to override the inevitable veto of any legislation that undermines the power plant rules. That’s why McConnell is appealing directly to the states. A dozen have already sued to stop the regulations, and it’s these legal challenges that have the most potential to cripple, or at least slow down, the plan’s implementation. The coal industry and nineteen states are also using lawsuits to try to wriggle out of new limits on mercury, arsenic and other toxic emissions; the Supreme Court heard arguments against that rule on Wednesday.

All of this suggests that Big Coal’s star is as bright as ever in Washington. The persistence of its political influence looks increasingly odd, however, when held against the fact that coal industry is imploding. The global market research firm Macquarie Research warned investors on Monday that the future for US coal companies is “increasingly bleak,” and the sector is likely to see “a wave of bankruptcies.” A report released Tuesday by the London-based Carbon Tracker Initiative found that more than two dozen coal companies have recently gone bankrupt. Between 2005 and 2010 coal lost more than 10 percent of its market share in US power generation. Meanwhile, China continues its efforts to kick its own coal habit: This week officials announced that they will shut the last coal-fired power plant in Beijing in 2016. “This is an industry in crisis,” writes Ross McCracken of Platts Energy Economist. “Now it faces a slow King Canute style defeat.”

Why are coal companies having such a hard time? One reason is that it’s becoming too expensiveto mine coal for profit in some areas, now that the easy-to-reach reserves in Appalachia (if you consider blowing the top off a mountain easy) are tapped out. The costs of shipping coal are going up, while renewable energy is increasingly affordable. The Carbon Tracker report does point to EPA regulations, particularly on Mercury, as one of the significant challenges to the industry. But even more important is the 80 percent drop since 2008 in the price of natural gas. Coal just can’t compete anymore. “What is also striking is that these factors were not driven explicitly by carbon or climate considerations,” the report continues. “Without a global climate deal or a federal carbon price, US coal is already down for the count.”

Meanwhile the economy is growing (if horrifically unequally), indicating that coal isn’t nearly as relevant as the debate about the power plant rules would suggest. Giants like Peabody still have enough money to net powerful lackeys like Tribe. But at most McConnell’s campaign would amount to corporate life support, perhaps enough to keep Peabody alive. It’s certainly no plan to lift up the struggling coal regions he claims to be fighting for. McConnell isn’t fighting the “war on coal” just for Peabody’s sake, however. As a narrative through which to filter broader resistance to any challenge to corporate power made in the public interest, that “war” is far too useful to give up.

 

By: Zoe Carpenter, The Nation, March 25, 2015

March 30, 2015 Posted by | Coal Industry, Environmental Protection Agency, Mitch Mc Connell | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Overestimation Of The Power Of Coal”: The Politics Of Coal–And Other Mythic Government-Sensitive Industries

At TNR, Alec MacGillis has a useful analysis of the declining power of the coal industry in what we are used to calling Coal Country, in states ranging from Virginia to Illinois (and extending to very different coal-producing states out west), but centered in West Virginia and Kentucky, where we are led to believe the Obama administration’s new utility regulations are going to be political death for Democrats. The simple facts are that not that many people work in or are dependent on coal mines anymore:

Take Kentucky, the focus of much of the punditry, given the close race between Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell and Democratic challenger Alison Lundergan Grimes. Coal-mining employment in the Bluegrass State has plunged by more than half in the past three decades, from 38,000 in 1983 to under 17,000 in 2012, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. (Nationally, there are 78,000 people employed in coal mining—well less than half as many as are employed in oil and gas extraction, and not much more than the number of people employed in logging.) To put that in perspective: the auto manufacturing industry in Kentucky employs three times as many people as the coal industry does today. When is the last time you heard pundits making grand predictions about how new auto-industry regulations would affect Kentucky “Car Country”?

MacGillis points out that the overestimation of the Power of Coal was one of the strategic mistakes made by the 2012 Romney campaign, which thought hyperventilation over the “War on Coal” might tip Virginia and Ohio into its column (and to be fair, the Obama campaign spent a lot of time promoting the largely illusory future of “clean coal”).

But Alec also acknowledges that the mythic significance of coal outstrips its actual importance to the economies of Coal Country:

[T]here’s no question coal’s grip on politics in Kentucky extends beyond actual employment figures—it is part of the state’s cultural identity, part of the holy trinity that also includes horses and bourbon. That explains why, as the Times notes, a Republican congressional candidate recently savaged his opponent for being anti-coal in a Kentucky district that has not a single coal-mining job in it.

I would add that expectations of politicians to support policies friendly to mythic industries tend to be very strong, though not as much as when liberal environmentalism and conservative hostility to government subsidies began to cut into purely parochial attitudes. I recall that way back in 1972, a big issue in the race that eventually lifted Sam Nunn to the Senate from Georgia was incumbent David Gambrell’s failure to trade a vote for a Boeing SST project in exchange for Washington State support for Lockheed’s C-5 airlift project, which really only directly affected a relatively small portion of Georgia but was integral to its perceived future as a military-industrial superpower. More recently, one of America’s great political rituals has been the requirement that presidential candidates who want to compete in the Iowa Caucuses pledge to support the continuation of ethanol subsidies (in the 2000 cycle, this was George W. Bush’s first action after formally announcing his candidacy), and long-standing hostility to ethanol kept John McCain from seriously contesting Iowa in both 2000 and 2008).

With coal, of course, the normal ideological proclivities of Democrats and Republicans have made support for and opposition to carbon emissions regulations largely a no-brainer. And that might well be true if Coal Country really was a big economic bloc, or if hardly any coal was being mined or burned at all.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, June 3, 2014

June 4, 2014 Posted by | Climate Change, Coal Industry | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The GOP Won’t Be Happy”: Preparing For The Great Republican Freak-Out Over Obama’s Environmental Regulations

On June 2, President Obama is expected to announce his new EPA rules on extant coal-fired power plants. As Jonathan Chait points out in an excellent background piece on the legal issues, this will be the centerpiece of his second-term agenda. How strong these rules are, and whether or not his administration manages to guide them successfully through the bureaucratic gauntlet, may well outstrip ObamaCare in historical importance.

In another good piece, Chait outlines why the political blowback from these rules is likely to be very bad:

Republicans are likely to have the better of the debate politically. Support for regulating carbon emissions may be broad, but it’s tissue-thin — Americans rank climate change near or at the bottom of their priorities. A 2011 survey found the amount an average American would pay in higher electricity costs for the sake of clean energy to be a pitiably low $162 a year. The absence of an extended, ObamaCare-style legislative slog will help Obama’s case, but years of lengthy court battles won’t. Opponents may manage to sustain state-level challenges and overwhelming red-state resistance. [New York]

It’s an all too convincing argument. However, I think the political forecast is not quite so dire as he makes out, for two reasons: El Niño, and the fact that the weakened coal industry is already teetering. Knowing Republicans, there is probably nothing that will forestall an enraged GOP backlash, but these two facts might take some of the wind out of their turbines.

First: El Niño. It’s a deeply complex and still not fully understood phenomenon (Brad Plumer has a nice explanation here), but the bumper sticker idea is that the surface of the tropical Pacific gets much warmer than usual. Scientists are now giving it about a 75 percent chance that El Niño will develop over the next few months. This matters for the politics, because it means it will get hot.

El Niño is strongly correlated with high surface temperatures — both 2010 and 1998, the first- and second-hottest years ever measured, respectively, were El Niño years. Last month tied for the hottest April of all time, and this summer could be even hotter. (And down the road, 2015 will almost certainly break the record for hottest year ever recorded, possibly by a lot.)

As Nate Cohn explains, extreme heat tends to shift belief in climate change, especially when combined with El Niño’s typical bouts of extreme weather. This is a bit silly, scientifically speaking (a cold winter doesn’t disprove global warming), but it does seem to have a robust political effect.

Second is the weak position of the coal industry. Though it has made a small comeback in the last year or so, its long-term decline is almost certainly unstoppable. For most of the Obama era, it has been hammered by cheap natural gas and regulations on heavy metals, resulting in dozens of plant closures.

Solar is now so cheap that it is becoming a legitimate threat. Almost one-third of all new electricity generation was solar last year. The carbon barons are fighting a desperate rearguard action to legislate solar out of the market, but if prices continue to fall (as they are predicted to do) these kinds of actions will be ever more unjustifiable. Increasingly, coal is simply an antiquated and crummy way to generate electricity.

Of course, these trends don’t guarantee that the EPA regulations will come out unscathed. But they will shift the political terrain. Just like it’s hard to argue in favor of deregulation during a financial crisis, it will be harder to argue against climate regulations during record-smashing heat waves. And while Republicans would dearly love to burn every single gram of coal on the planet, they’ll have a harder time time doing it if Big Coal is simply losing in the market.

 

By: Ryan Cooper, National Correspondent, The Week, May 22, 2014

May 23, 2014 Posted by | Climate Change, Coal Industry, Environmental Protection Agency | , , , , , | 1 Comment

   

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