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“A Carrot And Stick Approach To Climate Change”: The Lame Duck Continues To Quack, And It Sounds Like A Roar

By now we all know that this Congress will do nothing to combat global climate change. And so, what we see happening is that President Obama will use his “pen and phone” strategy to institute both a carrot and stick approach to begin the process of addressing this issue.

On the carrot side, this week the President’s American Business Act on Climate Change initiative made a pretty big announcement.

US corporate giants including Apple, Google, Microsoft, Berkshire Hathaway and Goldman Sachs are looking to invest at least $140bn to shrink their carbon footprints, according to media reports…

The committed funds will be utilised to cut emissions, provide financing to environmentally-focused companies, reduce water consumption, and produce 1,600 megawatts of new, renewable energy, which is enough to power nearly 1.3 million homes.

The announcement comes as part of the Obama administration’s efforts to bolster private commitments to climate change, ahead of a summit in Paris later in 2015. The White House expects to announce a second round of similar pledges later from more companies, Bloomberg reported.

Take a look at that number: $140,000,000,000. That’s not chump change. With more to come.

Tomorrow, President Obama weighs in with the stick.

In the strongest action ever taken in the United States to combat climate change, President Obama will unveil on Monday a set of environmental regulations devised to sharply cut planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions from the nation’s power plants and ultimately transform America’s electricity industry.

The rules are the final, tougher versions of proposed regulations that the Environmental Protection Agency announced in 2012 and 2014. If they withstand the expected legal challenges, the regulations will set in motion sweeping policy changes that could shut down hundreds of coal-fired power plants, freeze construction of new coal plants and create a boom in the production of wind and solar power and other renewable energy sources…

“Climate change is not a problem for another generation, not anymore,” Mr. Obama said in a video posted on Facebook at midnight Saturday. He called the new rules “the biggest, most important step we’ve ever taken to combat climate change.”

Yes, coal companies will scream bloody murder, some red states will refuse to comply, and court challenges will be initiated. But the battle will be joined, culminating with the increasing likelihood of a global climate accord in Paris this December.

As Oliver Willis put it:

The lame duck continues to quack, and it sounds like a roar.

 

By: Nancy LeTourneau, The Political Animal Blog, The Washington MOnthly, August 2, 2015

August 3, 2015 Posted by | Carbon Emissions, Climate Change, Renewable Energy | , , , , , , | 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

“Wrong Once Again”: Republicans Are Furious About Obama’s Climate Breakthrough With China

Republicans are furious that President Barack Obama has cut a historic deal with China to lower both countries’ greenhouse gas emissions. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell just spent his reelection campaign claiming that China would never curb its emissions, so the U.S. shouldn’t either. Many other Republicans have argued the same. And yet China just proved Republicans wrong by committing to reach a peak level of carbon pollution by 2030the first time the world’s largest polluter has set a deadline for lowering emissions.

Republicans won’t admit they were wrong, of course. They’ve already moved on to their next talking point. Remarkably, the party that’s become synonymous with climate-change denial has avoided any mention of it this time. A statement from McConnell’s office stressed only that Environmental Protection Agency regulations hurt coal jobs:

Our economy can’t take the President’s ideological War on Coal that will increase the squeeze on middle-class families and struggling miners. This unrealistic plan, that the President would dump on his successor, would ensure higher utility rates and far fewer jobs. Easing the burden already created by EPA regulations will continue to be a priority for me in the new Congress.

House Speaker John Boehner stated:

This announcement is yet another sign that the president intends to double down on his job-crushing policies no matter how devastating the impact for America’s heartland and the country as a whole. And it is the latest example of the president’s crusade against affordable, reliable energy that is already hurting jobs and squeezing middle-class families. Republicans have consistently passed legislation to rein in the EPA and stop these harmful policies from taking effect, and we will continue to make this a priority in the new Congress.

Even Senator James InhofeCongress’ most vigilant climate-change denierneglected to mention what he really thinks of global warming. He emphasized that this deal lets China get away with not making any real cuts, while the U.S. will have to cut up to 28 percent of its emissions by 2025:

In the President’s climate change deal, the United States will be required to more steeply reduce our carbon emissions while China won’t have to reduce anything. It’s hollow and not believable for China to claim it will shift 20 percent of its energy to non-fossil fuels by 2030, and a promise to peak its carbon emissions only allows the world’s largest economy to buy time. China builds a coal-fired power plant every 10 days, is the largest importer of coal in the world, and has no known reserves of natural gas. This deal is a non-binding charade. The American people spoke against the President’s climate policies in this last election. They want affordable energy and more economic opportunity, both which are being diminished by overbearing EPA mandates. As we enter a new Congress, I will do everything in my power to rein in and shed light on the EPA’s unchecked regulations.

That’s not true. This climate accord marks the first time that China has publicly committed to any limit on carbon, at all. As a developing and rapidly growing economy that bears little responsibility historically for climate change, China can rightly argue it won’t act unless the U.S. does. To discredit this deal as a “non-binding charade” is simply misleading; these commitments may be formalized next year at an international meeting in Paris. The announcement now is meant to build momentum for these talks, and convince other countries to put forward their own ambitious targets.

The hardest parthow to move both countries’ giant economies away from fossil fuel dependencecomes next. Republican opposition will be firm, even if their excuses shift away from climate-change denial.

 

By: Rebecca Leber, The New Republic, November 12, 2014

November 17, 2014 Posted by | Carbon Emissions, China, Climate Change | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Gutlessness And Disingenuous”: While Our Planet Melts, GOP Pleads Ignorance”:

It is irreversible now.

And there’s a word that should get everybody’s attention. Last month, two groups of scientists, publishing separately in the journals Science and Geophysical Research Letters, issued reports that came to alarmingly similar conclusions: The melting of the West Antarctic ice sheet has reached a point of no return. If greenhouse gases stopped spewing forth tomorrow, we’d still face the grim prospect of steadily rising seas from this unstoppable melt.

So it would be a good idea to save what ice we still can. Or else condemn our grandchildren to vie for beachfront property in St. Louis on a planet of shrinking land, diminishing resources, and growing population.

This week, thankfully, the Obama administration — once noteworthy chiefly for its disinterested torpor where climate change is concerned — proposed politically risky new Environmental Protection Agency standards requiring deep cuts in carbon pollution levels at U.S. power plants by 2030. And the opposition party? Their attitude is summed up by the headline of a recent story on Politico: “Republicans on climate science: Don’t ask us.”

Writer Darren Goode reports that the GOP has adopted a new global warming “talking point.” Which is that they are not equipped to talk about it. As in Speaker John Boehner telling reporters, “Listen, I’m not qualified to debate the science over climate change.” And Florida governor Rick Scott demurring that, “I am not a scientist.” And a spokeswoman for the billionaire Koch brothers, the deep pockets of the right wing, saying, “We are not experts on climate change.”

The gutlessness, disingenuousness and sheer cynicism of this new tack are difficult to overstate.

For the record, most of us are not experts on climate science. But most of us have the good sense to listen to those who are.

The right, however, prefers to pretend there is some sort of “debate” in the scientific community over whether human activity is raising the temperature of our one and only planet. There isn’t. Indeed, that finding is accepted by 97 percent of climate scientists. This, according to the American Association for the Advancement of Science that, with 121,000 members, is the world’s largest general science group.

So the GOP’s “debate” is three scientists out of a hundred. Heck, you could probably find three scientists out of a hundred who think smoking is good for you.

Our planet is at a point of crisis. The ice is melting, the sea levels are rising, the oceans are acidifying, drought patterns are changing, precipitation is increasing, extreme weather is growing ever more common. Yet for Boehner, the salient issue is that “every proposal that has come out of this administration to deal with climate change involves hurting our economy and killing American jobs.”

Not to be glib about unemployment and recession, but if asked to choose between dinging the U.S. economy and killing the planet on which that economy depends — assuming that were even a real choice — it’s hard to imagine most of us would prioritize the former. And if the Democrats’ ideas are so bad, fine. Where are the Republican proposals? As was the case with health care, why are they once again late in their discovery of a critical problem and bereft of serious solutions therefor?

Here is an idea. The two parties should work together as if they were composed of adults to find a way to save our planet. Instead, the GOP is buck passing with an eye on the midterms. Ninety-seven percent of experts say we don’t have time for these shenanigans, yet Boehner and company pretend there’s still some kind of “debate” going on. Ninety-seven percent.

Maybe the GOP isn’t good at science, but surely they understand basic math.

 

By: Leonard Pitts, Jr., Columnist for The Miami, Herald; The National Memo, June 4, 2014

June 8, 2014 Posted by | Climate Change, Global Warming, GOP | , , , , , , | 2 Comments

“Crazy Climate Economics”: These Days, Republicans Come Out In Force To Oppose Even The Most Obviously Needed Regulations

Everywhere you look these days, you see Marxism on the rise. Well, O.K., maybe you don’t — but conservatives do. If you so much as mention income inequality, you’ll be denounced as the second coming of Joseph Stalin; Rick Santorum has declared that any use of the word “class” is “Marxism talk.” In the right’s eyes, sinister motives lurk everywhere — for example, George Will says the only reason progressives favor trains is their goal of “diminishing Americans’ individualism in order to make them more amenable to collectivism.”

So it goes without saying that Obamacare, based on ideas originally developed at the Heritage Foundation, is a Marxist scheme — why, requiring that people purchase insurance is practically the same as sending them to gulags.

And just wait until the Environmental Protection Agency announces rules intended to slow the pace of climate change.

Until now, the right’s climate craziness has mainly been focused on attacking the science. And it has been quite a spectacle: At this point almost all card-carrying conservatives endorse the view that climate change is a gigantic hoax, that thousands of research papers showing a warming planet — 97 percent of the literature — are the product of a vast international conspiracy. But as the Obama administration moves toward actually doing something based on that science, crazy climate economics will come into its own.

You can already get a taste of what’s coming in the dissenting opinions from a recent Supreme Court ruling on power-plant pollution. A majority of the justices agreed that the E.P.A. has the right to regulate smog from coal-fired power plants, which drifts across state lines. But Justice Scalia didn’t just dissent; he suggested that the E.P.A.’s proposed rule — which would tie the size of required smog reductions to cost — reflected the Marxist concept of “from each according to his ability.” Taking cost into consideration is Marxist? Who knew?

And you can just imagine what will happen when the E.P.A., buoyed by the smog ruling, moves on to regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.

What do I mean by crazy climate economics?

First, we’ll see any effort to limit pollution denounced as a tyrannical act. Pollution wasn’t always a deeply partisan issue: Economists in the George W. Bush administration wrote paeans to “market based” pollution controls, and in 2008 John McCain made proposals for cap-and-trade limits on greenhouse gases part of his presidential campaign. But when House Democrats actually passed a cap-and-trade bill in 2009, it was attacked as, you guessed it, Marxist. And these days Republicans come out in force to oppose even the most obviously needed regulations, like the plan to reduce the pollution that’s killing Chesapeake Bay.

Second, we’ll see claims that any effort to limit emissions will have what Senator Marco Rubio is already calling “a devastating impact on our economy.”

Why is this crazy? Normally, conservatives extol the magic of markets and the adaptability of the private sector, which is supposedly able to transcend with ease any constraints posed by, say, limited supplies of natural resources. But as soon as anyone proposes adding a few limits to reflect environmental issues — such as a cap on carbon emissions — those all-capable corporations supposedly lose any ability to cope with change.

Now, the rules the E.P.A. is likely to impose won’t give the private sector as much flexibility as it would have had in dealing with an economywide carbon cap or emissions tax. But Republicans have only themselves to blame: Their scorched-earth opposition to any kind of climate policy has left executive action by the White House as the only route forward.

Furthermore, it turns out that focusing climate policy on coal-fired power plants isn’t bad as a first step. Such plants aren’t the only source of greenhouse gas emissions, but they’re a large part of the problem — and the best estimates we have of the path forward suggest that reducing power-plant emissions will be a large part of any solution.

What about the argument that unilateral U.S. action won’t work, because China is the real problem? It’s true that we’re no longer No. 1 in greenhouse gases — but we’re still a strong No. 2. Furthermore, U.S. action on climate is a necessary first step toward a broader international agreement, which will surely include sanctions on countries that don’t participate.

So the coming firestorm over new power-plant regulations won’t be a genuine debate — just as there isn’t a genuine debate about climate science. Instead, the airwaves will be filled with conspiracy theories and wild claims about costs, all of which should be ignored. Climate policy may finally be getting somewhere; let’s not let crazy climate economics get in the way.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, May 11, 2014

May 13, 2014 Posted by | Climate Change, Conservatives | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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