“4 Ways Election Results Could Intensify U.S. Energy Battles” – National Geographic, 5 November 2014

After November’s midterm elections and the newly elected Republican majority in the both houses of Congress, President Obama might have a difficult time moving forward with his climate policy agenda. Now there’s a chance that Republicans will obstruct the EPA‘s funding so that it won’t be able to enact its proposed regulations of curbing power plants emissions. Meanwhile, we might get closer to authorizing construction of the Keystone XL pipeline, and repealing our 1970s crude oil export ban. Only a few days before the elections, the UN’s International Panel on Climate Change issued another report with grave warnings about the effects of climate change.

One method that Republicans can employ to hinder the Obama administration is with a joint congressional resolution of disapproval, which asks for a majority vote in favor of blocking proposed regulations. However, in order to advance their own bills, Republicans need 60 votes to stop filibusters by Senate Democrats, or a two-thirds majority to quash any of Obama’s vetoes.

Though those odds might seem unlikely, the Republicans can still play a huge hand in climate policy and the energy debate by:

  1. Further Opposing the EPA‘s Power Plant Regulations
    Previously, climate activist and Democratic Senator Barbara Boxer (CA) chaired the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works; however, now the position will transfer to Republican Senator James Inhofe (OK), a staunch climate denier and author of the 2012 book The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.That title itself says it all. Inhofe is staunchly again the idea that climate change is caused by human activity. So it’s reasonable to assume that his goal — along with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell — is to block funding for the EPA’s Clean Power Plan, where the EPA’s goal is to reduce existing power plants’ emissions by 30 percent by 2030.

  2. Advancing the Keystone XL Pipeline
    Another one of McConnell’s targets is the Keystone XL Pipeline — he would do whatever possible to advance the project, including strategizing a plan that would make sure the legislation would end up on Obama’s desk. Obama would then have to either approve the pipeline or use his veto power.Obama is more likely to approve the pipeline if it has no impact on emissions; according to the State Department, Keystone will not increase emissions.
  3. Increasing Fossil Fuel Exports
    Republicans are now more motivated than ever to end the circa-1970s crude oil export ban that was authorized amid the Arab oil embargo. So far, the Department of Energy has already authorized a few projects that would allow the US to export natural gas, but Republicans would like to push more through.Many Republicans and those in the oil industry contend that exporting crude could push gas prices down even more. Environmentalists assert that repealing the ban might prompt the US to generate more oil, at the cost of the environment.
  4. Introducing a Bipartisan Energy Efficiency Bill
    Republican Senator Rob Portman (OH) and Democratic Senator Jeanne Shaheen (NH) have created a bipartisan bill that advocates for energy efficiency in many spheres, including residential, commercial, and federal buildings. The bill tried to get through the Senate in 2014, but was unable to because of the debate around Keystone. The bill will have another go, but might very well be blocked by Republicans who don’t support implementing rules that require stronger efficiency guidelines for appliances.

(From National Geographic)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

January 26, 2015

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“2014 Breaks Heat Record, Challenging Global Warming Skeptics” – New York Times, 16 January 2015

Climate change skeptics might no longer have a leg to stand on, as it has now been reported that 2014 has been the hottest year since weather patterns were first recorded in 1880.

The previous warmest year was 2010; the 10 hottest years on record have taken place after 1997, generating intense heat waves across the western US coast and extreme cold fronts across the eastern US coast. This is further proof that climate change is spurred by human activity and will have a disastrous impact on the Earth.

Moreover, 2014 didn’t have a prominent El Niño — or the warming of the Pacific Ocean that sends excessive heat into the atmosphere — which is odd. It’s easy to imagine that now the effects of climate change have gotten to the point where the world doesn’t need an extra push to reach excessively hot temperatures.

Climate skeptics assert that global warming stopped in 1998, the year of the last extremely strong El Niño. That year was also the warmest year on record in the 20th century. The hottest years have occurred after 1998, in 2005, 2010, and 2014; climate skeptics’ insistence is unjustified at this point.

Human activity continues to take a toll on our environment, causing temperatures to increase, killing flora and fauna, and making sea levels increase. Records for 2014 have been released from NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and a Japan-based agency. A British group is also slated to issue their findings in a few weeks.

Interestingly, satellite temperature readings indicate that 2014 wasn’t the hottest year, though they do reveal that last year was very close. Satellites study atmospheric temperatures and not temperatures on the surface of the earth, which accounts for the disparity.

Though climate change seems to be old news at this point, any headway on the matter has been recent. Last year, 300,000 marched in New York City in hopes to mobilize the issue; and last month, almost 200 nations met in Lima, Peru to discuss a global accord to combat the effects of climate change.

(From New York Times)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

January 19, 2015

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“Top Court to Weigh Pollution Standards” – Wall Street Journal, 26 November 2014

This past November, the US Supreme Court surveyed the case that presents the US’s first standards obligating power plants to curb mercury emissions and various air toxins, one of many major elements in President Obama’s newly introduced climate policy.

The case is being disputed by the utility industry and almost two dozen states, namely states where coal is a major player in their economies. The case will go to trial in the spring and the court will reach a decision in June 2015. Concurrently, Obama is is working on more regulations that will reduce existing power plants’ carbon dioxide emissions.

The EPA also introduced an amended national standard for ground-level ozone, or smog, in November; enforcement of renewed ozone standards rely on the mercury rule. The mercury rule was initially proposed in 2012 and will be enforced beginning in April 2015 for existing power plants, which obligates plants that are powered by coal and oil to eliminate most of their mercury emissions.

What falls on the Supreme Court is whether the EPA’s new regulations should acknowledge how much the regulations will cost utilities. This has been an ongoing complaint from utility and power companies, and many coal states, which assert that placing restrictions on power plants will drive up the cost of electricity. According to these companies and states, the EPA’s rules will increase utility industry costs by $9.6 billion per year.

The EPA argues that the public-health gains from reducing air pollutants surpass any additional costs to utilities: the public will benefit $37 billion to $90 billion per year, and avoid 11,000 deaths per year.

The result of this case can affect EPA regulations, such as the agency’s initiative to reduce carbon emissions from almost 600 fossil fuel-fired plants, which was supported by the Supreme Court in 2007. If the court doesn’t rule in favor of the EPA, the EPA might not have as much power — or be as ambitious — in the future.

This month, the EPA will distribute final emissions standards for new power plants; the agency will issue similar standards for existing power plants this summer. The mercury rule instructs coal utilities to use scrubbers, which will help lower emissions. Many facilities have been given an extra year to install scrubber technology.

(From Wall Street Journal)

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

January 14, 2015

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“Obama vows drastic emissions cut, gets little back from China in new deal” – KCA News Info, 12 November 2014

Earlier this month, President Obama revealed that the US and China have been in secret talks about a climate accord between the two nations.

According to the agreement, the US’s new goal is to curb greenhouse gas emissions by a minimum of 26 percent and a maximum of 28 percent in the next 11 years. Obama’s new goal is now significantly higher; previously, he vowed that the US would reduce emissions by 17 percent by 2020.

General Secretary Xi Jinping has set a much more open-ended goal for China: that the country’s emissions will climax by 2030, or conceivably earlier. Jinping also agreed that China will decrease its dependency on fossil fuels and seek out alternative energy sources. The number of coal-fired power plants has recently increased in China, which has vastly been contributing to China’s emissions. China releases 30 percent of the world’s emissions.

While the incoming Republican majority-held Congress will greatly dislike the new legislation — many view the plan as impossible and a detriment to jobs — environmentalists and many Democrats are supporting Obama’s decision. Obama’s plan, which will be the US’s offering at the 2015 Paris worldwide treaty, shows how assertive Obama is willing to be in the climate debate, using his legislation both as a tool to lessen the impact of climate change and push other nations to also provide ambitious goals for decreasing the effects of climate change.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

November 12, 2014

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