Environment Forum

As if 2007 never happened?

If four years is a lifetime in politics, it’s an eternity in climate change politics. Events in Washington this week might make climate policy watchers wonder if 2007 really happened.

At issue is the decision by American Electric Power to put its plans for carbon capture and storage on hold, due to the weak economy and the lack of a U.S. plan to limit emissions of climate-warming carbon dioxide. Read the Reuters story about it here.

Carbon capture and storage, or CCS for short, has been promoted as a way to make electricity from domestic coal without unduly raising the level of carbon in the atmosphere. Instead of sending the carbon dioxide that results from burning coal up a smokestack and into the air, the plan was to bury it underground. But that costs money and requires regulatory guarantees, and neither are imminent in the United States. Legislation to curb greenhouse gas emissions bogged down on Capitol Hill a year ago and has not been re-introduced.

Sarah Forbes of World Resources Institute called AEP’s decision “a surprise, but not a shock.”

“Given that U.S. climate legislation stalled last summer, companies have less incentive to move forward with CCS, which has proven difficult to advance at scale,” Forbes said in a statement.

A winter’s tale of climate skepticism

USA/Another winter storm is brewing in Middle America. So what else is new?

It’s been one spate of severe weather after another even before 2011 began. And you would expect those skeptical of climate change to capitalize on the cold snap by questioning whether human-spurred global warming is a real deal.

Strangely enough, climate skeptics appear to be less vocal than they were last year, when Republican Sen. James Inhofe of Oklahoma built an igloo as a blizzard blew through Washington DC, and dubbed it “Al Gore’s new home.” If it’s so cold, the argument went, how can there be global warming?

Gore himself offered an answer last week, in a blog post meant to respond to just such a question from Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly.

from Mario Di Simine:

WWF, businesses deal on emissions

The debate over lowering greenhouse gas emissions is sometimes depicted as a fight between environmental groups concerned over the health of the planet and businesses concerned about economic growth and bottom-line erosion.

Occasionally, though, there is a meeting of like minds between the two.

The WWF has a program in which it partners with companies to target emissions reductions. The Climate Savers program is an agreement between the WWF and its partner companies to lay out targets and set out projects to meet those goals.

"We want to show that doing business and reducing emissions go hand in hand," said Matthew Banks, a senior program officer at the WWF and an economist.

from Mario Di Simine:

JohnsonDiversey exec sees CO2 reductions good for businesses

Some businesses in the United States will have to reinvent themselves as the Obama administration moves to lower greenhouse gas emissions, but they'll be  better off in the long run, Pedro Chidichimo, president of JohnsonDiversey EMA, told Reuters.com on Thursday.

Despite the inevitable short-term pain, Chidichimo said that carbon footprint reductions simply have good bottom-line implications for businesses.

"Of course there are a lot of investments that need to be done, not only financial investments but resources and capabilities investments that need to be done to do that but this will generate significant bottom-line improvement for the business landscape," he said.

Must the natural gas industry clean up its act?

Natural gas is regarded as a relatively clean source of energy but there is mounting evidence that it has a dirty side.

My colleague Jon Hurdle has reported on Wyoming water woes that have been linked to the booming gas industry. You can see his stories here and here.

In August U.S. government scientists reported that they had for the first time found chemical contaminants in drinking water wells near natural gas drilling operations, fueling concern that a gas-extraction technique is endangering the health of people who live close to drilling rigs.

U.S. chamber wants Scopes trial on climate change

The biggest business lobby in the United States wants to hold a public hearing “to put the science of global warming on trial,” The Los Angeles Times reports.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, trying to drive back major emission limits, wants the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to hold the hearing on evidence that climate change is man-made.

“Chamber officials say it would be ‘the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century’ — complete with witnesses, cross-examinations and a judge who would rule, essentially, on whether humans are warming the planet to dangerous effect,” the newspaper reported.

from Tales from the Trail:

Team Obama’s Environmental Irony Tour

OBAMA/Okay, so it's August in Washington. It's hot. Congress has gone home. Even the summer interns are packing up and getting out of town. So it's not surprising that top members of the Obama administration might be ready for a road trip.

That's basically what the White House announced in a statement headlined: "Obama Administration Officials Travel America, Talk Clean Energy Economy." President Obama went to Indiana to announce $2.4 billion in funding for advanced battery and electric drive projects; Energy Secretary Steven Chu headed for Minnesota to look at renewable energy projects and North Carolina to announce a big grant to a lithium battery firm, finishing up the week in Massachusetts to talk about clean energy jobs at Harvard; Interior Secretary Ken Salazar went to a solar panel company in Colorado; EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson was in Florida and Commerce Secretary Gary Locke traveled to Missouri.

ENVIRONMENT-USA/WINDProbably only a crank would wonder just how much greenhouse gas all this official travel spewed into the atmosphere. There's no hybrid Air Force One, after all. But it does seem like an exquisite irony that, with the best of environmental intentions, the Obama team may have stomped all over the United States with a heavy-duty carbon footprint.

How much would you pay?

What’s the real cost of global warming? More to the point, how much would you — the person reading this blog — be comfortable paying to stave off the worse ravages of climate change? A hundred bucks to keep the rising seas out of your back yard? A thousand to replenish mountain snowpack? Maybe a few dollars to put more trees back in the rainforest?

Luckily, there’s no shortage of estimates of how much each individual in the United States might have to pay to curb the greenhouse emissions that spur climate change. One particularly pertinent estimate was delivered on Capitol Hill by EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson at a Senate hearing geared to send the message that, yes, the United States Congress is getting serious about tackling the problem.

As Reuters’ Jasmin Melvin wrote in this story, Jackson said it would cost the average U.S. household about 50 cents a day to fight global warming, though wealthier households would probably pay more. Even if this cost doubled, Jackson told the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, that would only be a dollar a day. Who wouldn’t pay that?

Obama says greenhouse gases are hurting us — now what?

The Obama administration’s move to declare climate-warming carbon pollution a danger to human health was quickly hailed by environmental groups and leading liberals as a long-overdue shift from the Bush era and a historic first step toward regulating greenhouse gas emissions.

In making the announcement, Environmental Protection Agency administrator Lisa Jackson said that solving the problem would not only clean up the air but also “create millions of green jobs and end our country’s dependence on foreign oil.”

She says the way to do it is for Congress to pass comprehensive climate change legislation while at the same time averting a “regulatory thicket” that unduly burdens governments and businesses.

Carbon ahoy! Who should pay to clean up ships, and what they carry?

The U.S.  is out to create a clean-air zone around its coastlines, targeting diesel ships that look pretty dirty from shore. The cost will be only a penny per pair of sneakers, the EPA advises. Of course the cost of shoes can sneak up on you — the total is $3.2 billion per year by 2020. Health savings will more than compensate for costs, they say.

The idea of who should pay for carbon in the course of trade is getting a bit hazier, it seems. China only a couple of weeks ago said importers should pay for the carbon costs of goods they buy which are produced in China. The thinking largely has been you-make-it-you-pay-for-the-carbon, but maybe it will become you-bought-it-you-bought-the-carbon. It’s all up for grabs as nations talk about what to do once the Kyoto protocol runs out in 2012. At least the U.S. and China are making nice noises at each other as discussions in Germany get under way.

BTW — to be fair that Reuters pic is of a cruise ship’s laundry room on fire.  Perhaps another issue to debate is how many changes of clothes should be allowed in international waters.

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