Environment Forum

from James Pethokoukis:

Tea Party’s other big win: death of cap-and-trade

Looks like Tea Party America has busted a cap in cap-and-tax. Following sweeping Republican election victories, President Barack Obama has conceded his cap-and-trade plan to cut carbon emissions is dead for the foreseeable future. “I think there are a lot of Republicans that ran against the energy bill that passed in the House last year, Obama said at a Nov. 3 press conference. "And so it’s doubtful that you could get the votes to pass that through the House this year or next year or the year after.”

Yet Obama added that cap-and-trade  “was just one way of skinning the cat.” You see, the president has a plan B: Let the Environmental Protection Agency work its magic on American business. The EPA would begin regulating pollution from large factories and power providers starting in January. Now Obama acted like the agency has no choice. “The EPA is under a court order that says greenhouse gases are a pollutant that fall under their jurisdiction,” he added.

But that isn’t quite true. The Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that the EPA had the right to regulate emissions of greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act – but it was not mandated to act. Even regulators admit this alternative is more economically harmful than a system where companies can offset carbon use by purchasing tradable permits. (And a straight carbon tax offset by payroll tax cuts would be even better.) But that drawback is a desirable feature to the White House. They’ve been hoping the threat of onerous EPA action would spur business to bring Republicans around.

The GOP response earlier this year was to try and strip the EPA of its relevant authority. The effort didn’t work, but it might next year. Republicans could try the same approach or attempt to cut funding for what it now mocks as the Employment Prevention Agency. Either measure would easily pass the GOP-controlled House. The Senate, still run by Democrats, would be a tougher slog. But between six additional Republicans and a dozen nervous red-state Democrats up for reelection in 2012, an anti-EPA bill might have the 60 votes needed for passage.

Obama could still veto the bill, of course. But legislation that merely forestalled EPA action until the economy perked up might stay his hand.  Or Republicans could attach it to some more important spending measure, reducing the chances of a veto. And the threat of defunding -- and endless Capitol Hill hearings -- could make the EPA think twice

from The Great Debate:

Bottom-up biodiversity

ENVIRONMENT-BIODIVERSITY/

By Karol Boudreaux
The opinions expressed are her own.

At the recent UN biodiversity conference in Japan, participants were tasked with finding a new approach to preserve threatened ecosystems.

In the end, government and UN officials, NGO representatives and others reached an agreement that some are calling historic. The executive director of the UN's Environment Programme, Achim Steiner, said: "This is a day to celebrate in terms of a new and innovative response to the alarming loss of biodiversity and ecosystems." But how different is it?

The new "Aichi Target" (named after the prefecture in Japan where the meetings took place) creates a 10-year strategic plan to meet 20 goals for stemming species loss. It is set to take effect in 2020 but will need to be ratified by nearly 200 signatory nations, then implemented at the national and local levels by government officials, and then funded in order to work. This is yet another highly complex and inefficient process to address a very important problem. A more effective model would be to keep things simple.

Muddled up in climate politics

Piero Quinci handles his dog as Monique Johnson (R) looks on near a beach front polling place at the Los Angeles County lifeguard station in Hermosa Beach, California November 2, 2010. REUTERS/David McNew

Asher Miller is executive director of think tank Post Carbon Institute. Any opinion expressed here is his own.

For those of us hoping for substantive climate or energy legislation in the near future, Tuesday’s election was a mixed bag at best.

And that’s after having lowered our expectations following Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s (D-NV) decision to pull the plug on advancing the American Power Act back in July.

from The Great Debate UK:

Preparing for the next tsunami

-- Lord Hunt is a visiting professor at Delft University and emeritus professor at University College London, and former director-general of the UK Meteorological Office. Dr Simon Day is a researcher at the Aon Benfield UCL Hazard Research Centre, University College London. The opinions expressed are their own --

INDONESIA-VOLCANO/The devastating tsunami that struck the Indonesian islands of Mentawai may have caused about 450 deaths, with hundreds more still missing, and compounds the disaster caused in the country by the eruption of Mount Merapi in Java. Following a magnitude 7.7 earthquake, the Mentawai Islands were engulfed with estimated three-metre waves that affected thousands of households.

What has shocked many about this latest disaster is the fact that, more than five years after the cataclysmic Indian Ocean tsunami of 2004, when at least 187,000 people died (with 43,000 still missing), there were no greater preparations against the devastation.

from Tales from the Trail:

Steven Chu: Energy Secretary, Nobel Laureate, Zombie

67613_449706237290_79707582290_5525360_4352855_aYou sort of have to like a U.S. cabinet secretary and Nobel Prize winner who knows how to have a little fun while getting out a message.

That would be Steven Chu, who posted a picture of himself as a green-faced, blood-dripping zombie on his Facebook page. Just in time for Washington's scrupulously-observed Halloween weekend, Chu used his own zombification as a platform to point out power-sucking appliances -- energy vampires, he called them.

"Garlic doesn't work against these vampires," Chu wrote. "But by taking some simple steps – like using power strips or setting your computer to go into sleep mode – you can protect yourself, and your wallet." Then he linked to the Energy Department's "energy star" page .

Detroit vs. Silicon Valley as green auto hub

Composite image shows an aerial view of downtown Detroit (left) October 16, 2006 REUTERS/Molly Riley, and a view of a rainbow over San Jose City, California, Feb. 5, 2009 REUTERS/Juan Carlos Ulate

There’s a debate touring its way around the blogosphere these days: should the new green auto industry be based in Motor City Detroit or shiny, happy Silicon Valley?

The Valley in southern San Fransisco Bay area is already a hub for electronics expertise – certainly a cornerstone in the pursuit for innovative design and engineering. The world’s largest high-tech companies, including Apple, Google, Facebook, and Intel are headquartered there.

The culture of the region, a recent NPR series pointed out, is “where people are used to taking a chip, a cell or an idea and working on it until it becomes something big.”

More dead birds in the oil sands

The Shell Muskeg River Mine demonstration tailings pond in northern, Alberta in seen in this undated handout photo. Shell Canada announced a new commercial size oil sands tailings project for the Canadian oil sands industry at their headquarters in Calgary today. REUTERS/Handout

What a week for Syncrude.

Just three days after the oil sands producer was fined $2.9 million for the deaths of 1,600 waterbirds in 2008, more ducks landed in one of their toxic waste ponds and had to be euthanized.

Could the timing be worse?

During a freezing rain storm on Monday, hundreds of ducks landed on a toxic tailings pond owned by the company in the oil sands of northern Alberta, Canada, putting the birds in contact with tar-like bitumen floating on the surface.

“I cannot express how disappointed and frustrated I am that this incident occurred,” Alberta Environment Minister Rob Renner said of the latest bird deaths in a statement.

New monkey puzzles scientists: why does it sneeze in the rain?

A monkeynew species of monkey has been found in northern Myanmar, puzzling scientists because of a snub nose that means they are often heard “sneezing in the rain”.

Why would anyone want — let alone evolve – nostrils that fill up with water?

The find of the new type of snub-nosed monkey (story here) coincides with a U.N. meeting in Nagoya, Japan, this week to decide what to do about accelerating losses of species of animals and plants because of human threats, such as loss of habitats to farms or cities or the effects of climate change.

from Tales from the Trail:

Green energy aspirations for Obama’s India visit

INDIAWhen Barack Obama heads for India next month, he'll be carrying a heavy policy agenda -- questions over the handling of nuclear material, the outsourcing of U.S. jobs and India's status as a growing economic power, along with regional relations with Pakistan and Afghanistan. But Rajendra Pachauri, the Nobel Peace laureate who heads the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, hopes the U.S. president has time to focus on clean energy too.

Even as Pachauri and the U.N. panel evolve -- and as Pachauri himself weathers pressure from some quarters to resign -- he urged Obama to work on U.S.-India projects that he said would enhance global energy security.

Given India's red-hot economic growth rate -- 8 or 9 percent a year, Pachauri told reporters during a telephone briefing -- he said it makes sense for the United States to work with India to head off an expected soaring demand for fossil fuels.

from PopTech:

Edit your life and win a green contest

Graham Hill's latest design initiative, Life Edited, is a contest to renovate a 420 square-foot apartment in New York City in a way that will radically reduce your carbon footprint. With $70,000 in cash, prizes and a design contract, why not enter it?

Hill, who is the founder of TreeHugger.com, which is now a part of the Discovery network, is on a mission to help everybody get rid of all the unnecessary clutter in their lives. In New York City, this is particularly essential if you want to remain sane. A good way to start is by "ruthlessly editing," as Hill says, your minimal personal space in a green way. Speaking from personal experience, it also clears some (much needed) space in your mind.

In New York, this shouldn’t be so hard to do. In fact, stripping your belongings down to the bare essentials is a regular occurrence given the limited space of most apartments and the fact that various furry -- and not so furry -- freeloaders find clutter to be a perfect place to set up home, as I recently discovered.

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