“Climate change is here, action needed now, says new White House report” – CNN, 6 May 2014

The White House released a new climate change report in early May, as part of President Obama’s attempt to ready the US for the effects of climate change. Obama has made climate change awareness a cornerstone of his second-term, primarily by taking it upon himself by using executive action to implement his Climate Action Plan. The White House report details reasons why Obama wants the US to take precautionary measures against our growing sea levels and progressively unpredictable weather.

However, Obama has been butting heads with conservatives, the fossil fuel industry, and their allies over the debate of whether or not climate change is indeed real, and if carbon emissions from power plants, factories, and cars—or human activity—are the biggest culprits. Conservatives view the report as a means for Obama to push his own agenda, which they believe would damage the economy, and place the burden on middle-income families.

While polling shows that Americans believe that climate change is a result of human activities, they are less concerned about environmental issues than they are about the economy, for instance.

A Gallup poll from March produced interesting results: 34% of those surveyed believe climate change is a “serious threat” to the earth, while 64% didn’t believe that. Over 60% believed climate change is currently happening or going to happen.

The report clarifies the approach of counteracting climate change into two strategies: mitigation and adaptation. Mitigation calls for curbing the effects of climate change by reducing the cause; adaptation calls for preparing for the consequences that are currently or likely to occur. The report also analyzes the US by region, pinpointing specific impacts to each region.

The report identifies three major concerns: rising sea levels, increased droughts, and a longer fire season. The report foresees sea levels growing by one to four feet by the end of the century. Those living on tropical islands and on the coast will be the hardest hit. Miami, for example, is spending hundred of millions of dollars to prevent massive flooding. The Great Plains, too, will suffer from prolonged droughts and heat waves, which is likely to cause more wildfires and endanger agricultural and residential areas.

The report upholds regulations that limit carbon emissions, and encourages investing in programs that stop climate change in its tracks.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

May 24, 2014

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“White House touts energy policies as rules loom” – Associated Press, 30 May 2014

With continued backlash, President Obama is still trying to sell the US on his new energy policy and attempting to showcase the regulations as economically advantageous through job creation, cleaner energy sources, and protection of the US against foreign turmoil. In a 42-page report to be released on Thursday, the White House contends that the US’s natural gas boon is both economically and environmentally beneficial.

The report’s purpose is to counteract the disapproval of the EPA‘s new regulations on coal-fired power plants, which many expect will inflate electricity costs, thwart job growth, and impede economic prosperity. Conservatives and their allies believe that reducing emissions won’t actually aid the environment, and only become a hinderance to the economy.

The White House reports argues that increased domestic energy production, wind and solar power, and decreased dependency on oil have largely bolstered the security of US energy and the economy, and speak directly to the impacts of climate change by reducing carbon emissions.

The US’s upswing in natural gas safeguards the economy, and everyone’s pockets, if oil-producing countries undergo turmoil and cause oil prices to skyrocket. If we continue to produce energy sources domestically, then the US reaps the benefits—that means more money and more jobs.

Regardless, the US is still the number one consumer and importer of oil. The advent of natural gas hasn’t been embraced by everyone—the process of extracting natural gas from shale rock presents some unease with many environmental groups. The decline in oil consumption started in 2006, though that fall is ascribed to the recession. At the same time, natural gas consumption has increased by 18% since 2005.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

May 30, 2014

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The “War Of Words On Coal” Continues

Yesterday, the EPA presented new rules for power plants emissions, called the Clean Power Plan proposal. These rules are a small part of Obama’s Climate Action Plan, which he is pursuing through executive action. The four building blocks of the EPA’s proposal are:

    • Cut carbon emissions from the power sector by 30 percent nationwide below 2005 levels;
    • Cut particle pollution, nitrogen oxides, and sulfur dioxide by more than 25 percent as a co-benefit;
    • Avoid up to 6,600 premature deaths, up to 150,000 asthma attacks in children, and up to 490,000 missed work or school days-providing up to $93 billion in climate and public health benefits; and
    • Shrink electricity bills roughly 8 percent by increasing energy efficiency and reducing demand in the electricity system.

(via EPA)

According to the EPA, carbon dioxide emissions from US power plants have decreased by 13 percent since 2005. While different states will be given different emissions quotas, 30 percent is the US’s nationwide goal. States have up to three years to draft plans to meet their goals. Initial compliance plans are due June 30, 2016, but some states will be allotted a one-year extension. States that form multi-state plans will be allotted a two-year extension. If a state decides not to formulate a plan, then the EPA will write one for the state.

The EPA will present a number of options that will help the states meet target goals, such as helping power plants to become more efficient and spending more on sources of renewable energy. Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Virginia, and West Virginia have already passed laws that permit their environmental agencies to create unique carbon-emission plans. Louisiana and Ohio are also following suit.

Conservatives have been battling Obama’s climate regulations for months. As the 2014 midterm elections loom right around the corner, conservatives and their industry allies will do anything they can to stir the political pot and anger voters. Voters in states like Kentucky and West Virginia are the determining factor in whether or not the Democrats retain the Senate majority. Many Democrats who are openly against the new rules represent coal-producing states, such as West Virginia Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall—96 percent of his state’s power comes from coal.

The coal industry contends that the new rules will have negative repercussions on the economy, including major damage to coal and manufacturing jobs, increased household electricity costs, and a rising number of brown-outs during extreme heat or cold. The US Chamber of Commerce—opponents of the new regulations—contend that the Clean Power Plan proposal will result in a loss of almost a quarter-million jobs through 2030, will force power plants across the US to shut down, and will inflict $50 billion in yearly costs.

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The US depends on coal for 40 percent of its electricity; however, 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions originate from electricity, and within that percentage, coal-fired power plants make up 80% of those emissions. Overall, coal-fired power plants expel 25% of all greenhouse gas emissions.

While conservatives, and some liberals, see the proposed regulations as an attack on the coal industry, Obama sees it as way to not only clean up our environment, but also as a way to avert a national health crisis. Current climate law is dictated by the decades-old Clean Air Act, which regulates pollutants like soot, mercury, lead, arsenic, sulfur dioxide, and nitrogen oxides, but not carbon pollution.

The EPA will permit comment on the Clean Power Plan proposal for 120 days after it is published in the Federal Register, and will also conduct public hearings in Denver, Atlanta, Washington DC, and Pittsburgh during the week of July 28. The EPA’s proposed rules won’t be finalized until next year.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

June 2, 2014

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“The Myth of Industrial Rebound” – New York Times, 26 January 2014

There have been countless rumors that manufacturing companies—like Master Lock and Element Electronics—will return to the US from overseas, to boost US manufacturing jobs and the unemployment rate. However, rumors are rumors: these jobs are trickling in at a snail’s pace, and many are being subsidized by local, state and federal government agencies. Moreover, the US must compete with low-wage countries, like China and Mexico, which means less benefits for US manufacturing workers.

Last year, GE opened a new assembly line in Louisville, KY, the first one in over 50 years. However, the baseline hourly wage started at $13.50 per hour, less than $30,000 a year. In 2011, Volkswagon also opened a new plant in Chattanooga, TN. While the plant brought almost 2,000 jobs with it, the starting wage for assembly line workers was $14.50 per hour, half the amount that GM and Ford pay their unionized employees. Volkswagon made the shift to America from Germany, where the median income for their employees is $67.

This effectively means that America is now a low-wage country. Since the end of the recession in 2009, wages for the automotive industry have fallen by 10%, and wages for manufacturing fell 2.4%. These wage trends are inextricably linked to the US’s sluggish economic recovery—with dropping wage rates, consumers won’t, and can’t, spend. Americans also pay for the subsidies that government agencies provide for companies like Volkswagon.

Since January 2010, the US has picked up 568,000 manufacturing jobs, a very small portion of the almost six million lost from 2000 to 2009 and a very gradual recovery in comparison to the growth of nonmanufacturing jobs. Competition with manufacturing countries like Mexico is growing—Mexico pays its workers less than the US, while producing more than the US. If the US wants to keep up, then production will have to increase. This means more efficient workers.

Other more advanced industries, like aerospace, are also losing to less developed countries: Bombardier is producing Learjets in Mexico and Cessna will begin to assemble Citations XLS+ business jet in China.

The US also can’t count on the energy boom to save manufacturing. A 2009 study reported that only one-tenth of US manufacturing came from the energy industry. However, we can count on our service industry, which provides gainful employment in education and medicine, and can also assist in the US’s balance of trade.

Research and development (R&D) is something that we should invest in—R&D lends to more innovation and jobs. Obama’s second-term goals for America was to create one million manufacturing jobs and special subsidies for manufacturing. While that seems fairly improbable, his goals of increased training for skills required by employers and spending on R&D were very wise.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

March 25, 2014

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