“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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“Election Results Make U.S. Congress Action on Climate Change Even Less Likely” – National Geographic, 5 November 2014

A Republican-held Congress could spell bigger trouble for President Obama’s push for new climate policy. Republican Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell has long been an opponent of Obama’s climate efforts, namely because McConnell represents a state where a majority of its jobs begin and end with coal. McConnell has sullied Obama’s efforts to curb climate change by dubbing new climate policy a “war on coal.” A quarter of Kentucky’s counties continue to mine coal. Coal is a low-cost source of energy, which, according to McConnell, powers 90 percent of the state’s electricity.

Republicans argue two points when it comes to climate change: one, that scientists are wrong in their contention that humans are largely to blame for climate change; and two, jobs are more important than the effects of climate change. Moreover, some Senate Democrats haven’t backed Obama’s policy; the resistance from both parties has caused Obama to employ executive action to introduce new emissions regulations for power plants. The EPA has announced those regulations, which instruct states to create their own plans for restraining power plants emissions.

According to the Obama Administration’s 2014 National Climate Assessment, humans have had a large influence on the changing climate, and power plants are the “single-largest concentrated source of emissions, accounting for roughly one-third of all domestic greenhouse gas emissions.” Two-thirds of the US’s electricity comes from fossil fuels, and 39 percent of that comes from coal-burning power plants.

In addition to the Obama Administration, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has also cautioned that permanent effects could result from climate change, including surface warming, polar ice cap melting, sea levels rising, and severe heat waves.

McConnell’s plan is to stall any new climate legislation in the Senate, whether it’s new restrictions on limiting the impacts of climate change, or regulations devised by Obama. McConnell has also assured that he will not hesitate to cut the EPA’s budget.

Almost all of the McConnell’s more than twenty fellow Republicans who are looking to run for the White House in 2016 — Senator Rand Paul (KY), Rep. Paul Ryan (WI), Senator Marc Rubio (FL), Senator Ted Cruz (TX), and Governor Rick Perry (TX) just to name a few — all doubt scientists’ findings that climate change is a result of human action. Conversely, Hillary Clinton’s beliefs fall more in line with Obama, which is to be expected.

According to the Pew Research Center, 61 percent of Americans believe that the Earth has warmed during the last few decades; 40 percent of those polled believe that it’s human caused. The question of jobs remains a huge issue in Kentucky and across the US. Republicans — who traditionally favor less government involvement — rely on the fear that increased governmental regulation means a drop in job growth.

Of course, McConnell’s coined phraseology ‘war on coal’ carries weight with his constituents. Last year, coal production dropped in eastern Kentucky, seeing its lowest production output since 1962. McConnell associates the fall in Kentucky’s coal production to the US’s explosion in natural gas generation, as well as less costly mining in states like Wyoming. Kentuckians and McConnell are currently concentrating on job loss and growth, and not on how to protect the environment from its own inhabitants.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

November 5, 2014

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“Americans by 2 to 1 Would Pay More to Curb Climate Change” – Bloomberg, 10 June 2014

One of the arguments against Obama’s Climate Action Plan and the EPA‘s Clean Power Plan proposal is that the added cost of clean energy will weigh heavily on the US’s middle class. However, it seems that Americans are prepared to pay more for energy. Obama and the EPA are currently working together to pass new rules that would reduce emissions by 30 percent by 2030, with a focus on coal-fired power plants.

As reported by the Bloomberg National Poll, 62 percent of Americans are willing to pay more for curbing carbon emissions. Forty-six percent of Republicans are also ready to pay more, as well as 82 percent of Democrats and 60 percent of independents.

There remains a margin of Democrats who aren’t in favor of new carbon emission rules, particularly Democratic Senate candidates who represent coal states like West Virginia and Kentucky. But support is mainly divided on party lines: according to the same Bloomberg poll, 70 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of independents would endorse candidates who are in favor of new climate policy—only 28 percent of Republicans would advocate for such policy.

Developed and Written by Dr. Subodh Das and Tara Mahadevan

June 16, 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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