Topic A: Energy - Analysis, discussion & commentary on energy exploration, development and innovation
Roll Call: Latest News on Capitol Hill, Congress, Politics and Elections
April 27, 2015

USDA to Incentivize Carbon Reduction in Agriculture

“The Agriculture Department unveiled a host of voluntary programs and initiatives Thursday to encourage agricultural producers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase carbon storage and generate clean and renewable energy in their operations,” according to The Des Moines Register.

“The initiatives, which are carried out under the 2014 farm bill and don’t require congressional approval… The USDA plan seeks to improve soil resilience and increase productivity by promoting conservation tillage and no-till systems, among other practices. A greater focus also would be placed on more timely and efficient use of fertilizers to reduce emissions and help producers save money.”

“In addition, it would back a number of practices to reduce methane emissions from cattle, dairy and swine. Producers and landowners would receive financial incentives including grants and low-interest loans to help.”

The Symbolism of Obama’s Earth Day Visit to the Everglades

Slate explains why the Florida Everglades were “the right setting” for President Obama’s Earth Day comments on climate change.

“Obama couldn’t have picked a better place to showcase how frustratingly complicated it’s been for America to take effective steps toward preparing for climate change.”

“The Everglades are the subject of a multibillion-dollar comprehensive restoration plan, but 15 years in, there’s been precious little to show in terms of progress… As of 2015, only 13 of the 68 original projects that were part of the 2000 Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan have been federally authorized. What was supposed to be a $7 billion, 30-year project has since doubled in expected cost and may not be finished until 2050. By then, climate change is expected to produce a $40 billion hit annually to South Florida’s tourism industry.”

New EPA Carbon Rules Will Create Quarter-Million Jobs

InsideClimate News looks at a new report from Industrial Economics finding that the “Environmental Protection Agency’s proposal to crack down on carbon pollution from power plants would create more than a quarter of a million additional jobs.”

“Significant job losses at shuttered coal-fired plants and at coal mines would be offset not only by investments in cleaner sources of power, but also by productivity gains across the whole economy—and by overall reductions in wholesale prices of electricity, the authors said. Many households and businesses would end up with extra cash in hand to spend on other goods and services. The overall effect of the rules would boost economic growth, but not significantly.”

Rubio Stays Ambiguous on Climate Change Solutions

Stephen Stromberg argues that presidential candidate Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) has been “strategically evasive” about addressing climate change.

“Rubio’s suggestion that ‘some’ people — scientists? policymakers?underpants gnomes? — are ‘trying to make’ us worry more than we should allows him to play to climate-science-is-a-hoax conspiracy theorists without explicitly endorsing their wackiness. But it also emphasizes the fact that Rubio hasn’t explained what the proper degree of alarm is — and, from there, what to do about it.”

Hawaii Pushes Utilities Forward on Solar Energy

The New York Times looks at recent developments in Hawaii, which it says is “at the forefront of a global upheaval in the power business.”

“In Hawaii, the current battle began in 2013, when Hawaiian Electric started barring installations of residential solar systems in certain areas. It was an abrupt move — a panicked one, critics say — made after the utility became alarmed by the technical and financial challenges of all those homes suddenly making their own electricity.”

“The utility wants to cut roughly in half the amount it pays customers for solar electricity they send back to the grid. But after a study showed that with some upgrades the system could handle much more solar than the company had assumed, the state’s public utilities commission ordered the utility to begin installations or prove why it could not. It was but one sign of the agency’s growing impatience with what it considers the utility’s failure to adapt its business model to the changing market.”

Should Texas End Wind Energy Subsidies?

The Dallas Morning News: “Texas is a wind energy juggernaut. So why would any lawmaker be so shortsighted as to kill a forward-looking state energy policy that has made Texas the nation’s wind energy epicenter? Yet, state Sen. Troy Fraser R-Horseshoe Bay, the lawmaker behind SB 931, is doing just that.”

“The bill, now on its way to the House, would repeal the state’s Renewable Portfolio standard that requires utilities to produce increasing portions of their power from renewable energy sources such as the sun and the wind. Passage of Fraser’s measure would toss wind energy development into economic uncertainty and all but crater the state’s budding solar power industry.”

EPA’s Proposed Carbon Rule Heads to Court

“The centerpiece of the Obama administration’s effort to tackle climate change is facing a high-profile legal test as a federal appeals court considers a plan that has triggered furious opposition from Republicans, industry figures and coal-reliant states,” according to ABC News.

“The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit hears arguments Thursday in two cases challenging the Environmental Protection Agency’s ambitious proposal to slash carbon pollution from the nation’s coal-fired power plants that is blamed for global warming.”

“The rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency last year requires states to cut carbon emissions by 30 percent by 2030… At issue before the court is whether the EPA has legal authority for its plan under the Clean Air Act. The agency and environmental advocacy groups have urged the court to throw the cases out as premature, since the agency won’t issue a final rule until this summer.”

California’s Drought is the Result of Climate Change

As California experiences yet another year of drought, is it right to point the finger at climate change? Jeff Nesbit provides an unequivocal “yes” to that question.

“Climate change intensified the California drought by fueling record-breaking temperatures that evaporated critically important snowpack, converted snow to rain, and dried out soils… In addition to fueling hot extremes, there is now considerable evidence that climate change was at least partly responsible for the dramatic fall-off in precipitation during the drought.”

“The unprecedented high-pressure weather pattern known as the ‘ridiculously resilient ridge’ that blocked storms from the state has been linked to climate change by researchers at Stanford University, while other researchers have also identified the fingerprint of global warming in the emergent high-pressure pattern.”

Melting Ice Makes Arctic Sailing Race Possible

“A sailing race across the icebound Northwest Passage is being planned for 2017,” reports Quartz, “through a route the organizers say has been made possible by climate change.”

“The route used to be unnavigable because of pack ice, which may well still be problematic for the race participants. But in the years since 1998 there has been less ice, with more below-average than above-average years, and more open water.”

“Sailing ships through previously ice-packed waters also offers the possibility of new trade routes to China—likely again for oil. Interest has quieted since falling oil prices made expensive shipments through tretcherous routes less profitable, but it’s likely to resurface when oil prices rise again.”

Renewables Begin to Hit Their Stride

The Economist: “Global investment in renewable energy, chiefly wind and solar power, rose by a sixth in 2014, to $270 billion. This was partly because of subsidies in the rich world, such as America’s 30% federal tax credit for solar projects. Under a system known as ‘net metering’, consumers with small solar installations can sell surplus power to the grid at the same price as they pay for power flowing in. But even if the tax credit is cut, as expected, solar electricity could displace 9.7% of American retail electricity sales by 2019.”

Obama Launches Clean Energy Initiative in Caribbean

During a trip to Jamaica Thursday, President Obama announced various efforts to encourage the development of low-carbon energy sources in the Caribbean,” The Hill reports.

“The initiative includes a $20 million finance facility for clean energy projects in Caribbean and Central American countries, a United States-Caribbean task force and collaborative efforts to lend the United States’ expertise to countries wishing to expand low-carbon energy. The U.S. is also financing a massive wind farm and in advanced talks to finance a solar array in Jamaica.”

Obama Focuses on Health Impacts of Climate Change

In an interview with ABC News, “President Obama says that climate change became a personal issue for him when his older daughter Malia, now 16, was rushed to the emergency room with an asthma attack when she was just a toddler.”

The “interview with the president comes on the heels of a White House announcement earlier in the week setting out a series of initiatives to deal with the impact of climate change on the well-being of Americans. The actions include the upcoming White House Climate Change and Health Summit featuring the surgeon general and a challenge later in the year that invites tech experts to use government data to help resolve unanswered questions about climate change’s impact on public health.”

Bipartisan Support for Renewable Energy Innovation

Andrew Revkin points to the map below from the Yale Climate Opinion Maps collection showing widespread state-level “support for increasing government investments in research improving renewable energy sources.”

“[A] focus on deep polarization over the level of risk posed by global warming could be distracting from the prospect of taking widely-supported steps that could be taken to address it.”

Conservative Group Threatens Legal Action Over Claims of Climate Change Denial

“Facing a loss of high-profile corporate sponsors, a conservative state-level policy group — the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) — threatened action in recent weeks against activist groups that accuse it of denying climate change,” The Washington Post reports.

“The legal demands from ALEC follow an exodus of some of its best known corporate members, including Google, British Petroleum, Facebook, Yahoo and Northrop Grumman… The dispute comes at a time when conservative states and lawmakers and some energy sectors — especially coal interests — are also amping up their battle against the Obama administration’s push to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions from power plants, a move that will shift the nation toward more use of natural gas and renewable energy.”

Chart of the Day

Philip Bump has this chart from a new Washington Post/ABC News poll, showing that “[w]hen it comes to 2016, a full 58 percent of registered voters say that they favor a candidate who will take action to fight climate change — and 38 of all voters think that position is very or extremely important.”

“What’s particularly interesting about this result is that opposition to government action is more likely to be of the mopey variety. More than half of those who oppose government action don’t consider the issue to be as important… Almost three times as many people enthusiastically support a 2016 candidate who will back government action on climate change than adamantly oppose that idea.”

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