Tales from the Trail

from 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.

No more Mr. Nice Guy, Republican sets sights on Obama’s energy czar

Michigan Republican Fred Upton is known as a moderate who disappointed many conservatives by voting with the Democratic majority on some major issues including the taxpayer bailout of U.S. automobile manufacturers.USA/

But expect no more Mr. Nice Guy if Republicans win big on November 2 and he becomes chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Upton has a hit list of White House policy czars he plans to investigate starting with White House energy adviser Carol Browner. 

Chicago River is plenty clean, Mayor Daley says

Chicago river photo2Photo Credit: REUTERS/Jeff Haynes

Upset that the federal government instructed Chicago to clean up its namesake river to make the water swimmable, Mayor Richard Daley suggested Washington attend to the Potomac River and leave him alone.

“Go swim in the Potomac,” Daley told reporters when asked about the letter from the Environmental Protection Agency addressing the condition of the Chicago River. “We’re trying to make this river every day more cleanable.”

The mayor was just warming up.

“They send letters all the time. They should get down to BP and start saving the people down in Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Alabama — all their lives and their livelihood — instead of sending us letters,” Daley said.

Could it be just a case of climate change coincidence?

Maybe it was just a case of cosmic karma…

USA-CLIMATE/EPAClimate skeptics around Washington wondered whether it was really a coincidence that the EPA announced its long-awaited “endangerment finding” — which clears the way for the agency to regulate greenhouse gases as a harmful pollutant –  on the same day that a big international climate change meeting opened in Copenhagen.

It looked like suspicious timing to some in Congress, and in the media. Why now? Could it be that the Obama team wanted to curry favor with the climate crowd a week before the president heads for the big conference in Denmark? Or was it really just one of those things?

At the daily White House press briefing spokesman Robert Gibbs was peppered with questions about the strangely timely timing of the EPA ruling ahead of President Barack Obama’s trip to the climate conference next week.

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.

The First Draft: Green shoots and budget talk

USA-OBAMA/After the Obama team’s big announcement on health care and an even bigger deficit, now comes the hard part — actually sitting down and figuring out how much it’s going to cost, and how to make it cost less. President Barack Obama’s first public appearance today is a round-table discussion with business leaders on cutting employer health care costs.

Later, behind closed doors at the White House, Obama and Vice President Joe Biden meet with Commanding General Raymond Odierno, the head of the Multi-National Force-Iraq, and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Chris Hill. Then the president meets with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, one day after Gates replaced the top U.S. Afghanistan commander.

In congressional action, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano faces questions about her department’s 2010 budget from both sides of Capitol Hill. Lisa Jackson, who heads the Environmental Protection Agency, also faces budget questioning from the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

First Draft: Al Gore heads for the Hill

GORE/Al Gore — who sometimes jokes that he “used to be the next president of the United States” — heads for Capitol Hill to testify about the fight against climate change. The former vice president and star of the Oscar-winning documentary “An Inconvenient Truth” is slated to go before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, where he’ll discuss the latest legislation to curb the greenhouse gases that spur global warming.

Gore shares the spotlight with former Senator John Warner, the Virginia Republican who pushed a bill to cut greenhouse gas emissions in 2008, his last year in Congress.

It’s been an environmentally-friendly week in Washington, with Earth Day on Wednesday prompting almost every U.S. agency to go green, starting with the Environmental Protection Agency. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson headed for the Hill to urge passage of the American Clean Energy and Security Act, the climate bill working its way through the House of Representatives. A similar bill failed last year, but that was then. Supporters hope that with a new administration which has been clear on its commitment to curb climate warming emissions, this kind of law has a better chance.