Thursday, July 23, 2009
Sunday, May 3, 2009
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Transitioning is in the title of the fourth title, and it’s absolutely critical to making any of this work – in terms of mitigation of climate change, and adaptation to it. This title is unique in that it calls for significant development of groups focused on adaptation to climate change, and being aware of what policies will be necessary as the climate does change.
The first subtitle of the draft works to assuage fears of America losing its competitive edge as producers have to pay for their carbon emissions. Ideas that are floated include rebates for producers in the short term, to make up some of their increased costs; the exact source of these funds – and indeed, the amount that it will really cost – is rather unclear, and likely to be opposed by Boehner and Cantors’ people. Additionally, a “border adjustment” is proposed by which products imported to the United States must be charged for their carbon emissions. This provision will be called protectionist by some, and is likely to lead to legal conundrums and the development of loopholes, as free-trade continues to try to persist. China is the obvious loser from such a policy, insofar as the United States provides a large market for Chinese products; having to pay the costs of the carbon associated with their products will disadvantage Chinese companies, and may lead to international tension. At the same time, this is an assurance that American companies cannot simply shift production overseas where carbon is still perfectly externalized, and sell their product back to Americans. Of course, as throughout this bill, the consumer remains as a stakeholder and will feel a shock from the draft in terms of prices, despite these efforts to ease the transition.
While consumers are left rather out of the transition loop from the last sub-title, the second sub-title focuses on workers. In advocating bailing out the auto industry, the threat to thousands of American jobs was used as a primary argument. The President has been fairly honest in his rhetoric, about the state of American jobs. He has expressed in interviews and town hall meetings the understanding that many (most?) outsourced jobs are not coming back – and that new jobs need to be created. To this end, the draft authorizes extensive training in green jobs, via the secretary of labor. It remains to be seen what such training might entail, because we aren’t yet sure what green industries will be the “winners” when the costs of carbon are internalized; naturally, the bill stops short of picking winners (save for the loser that is nuclear).
Finally, the draft gets to adaptation. The adaptation/mitigation debate is an interesting one, the ethical and practical subtexts of which this blog will not fully explore. While the effects of climate change are uncertain but surely dependent on our actions now and into the future, there is also data to suggest that climate changes have been initiated in an irreversible way, and adaptation to these changes will be necessary. The draft takes this up by directing NOAA to form a National Climate Service. This organization will evaluate the actual changes to the climate, and from their impacts can be assessed and policy alternatives can be considered. The draft goes on to outline a variety of organizations relevant to adaptive policy in some detail; there are groups set up to investigate vulnerability, some set up to examine health impacts, and others made to consider the impact of climate changes on natural resource use.
All of these effects of climate change are real, and it is commendable that adaptation has a place in climate change rhetoric. To the extent that we are obligated to avert a full upheaval of Earth’s climatic systems in the medium term, mitigation must be pursued; however, it is important that the most vulnerable people on Earth are not sacrificed in the name of future generations.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
It is in Title III of the draft that cap-and-trade, and other market based mechanisms for mitigation are introduced. Before looking at the details, a note about cap-and-trade: in order to be an effective tool for reducing reductions, the actual “cap” part of the cap-and-trade needs to be substantially lower than current emissions, it needs to be ratcheted down over time, and it needs to avoid excessive grandfathering. Additionally, and I will argue to an emasculating extent, this title leans very heavily on offsets to reduce global warming pollution.
The draft takes steps towards meeting these criteria, but the immediate economic implications of cap-and-trade are likely to favor growth and sustained affordable prices or consumers. The companies – including oil and utilities – that are responsible for 85% of American GHG emissions are mentioned particularly by the draft. Federal allowances are provided for each ton of CO2 emitted, and companies emitting over 25,000 tons of CO2 (apparently, only companies emitting over that amount) must obtain credits from the federal government for each ton of CO2 that they emit. The particulars of the initial allocation of credits are unclear, but it seems inevitable that some sort of grandfathering in of allowances will occur; to the extent that the cost of reducing emissions is lower when overall emissions from a firm are higher (to the “left” of a marginal control cost curve), the heaviest emitters should indeed cut their emissions quickly if this bill is enacted. The draft calls for a ratcheting down of the cap such that by 2050, emissions are 83% below 2005 levels (3% below ’05 levels by 2012, 20% by 2020, and 42% by 2030). As expected, the most severe shocks that will occur from legitimate emissions reductions are left to the medium term.
In any event, reducing emissions to 20% of 2005 levels by 2020 is an ambitious enough call that opposition will be fierce. There will be a fairly substantial coalition of both republicans and blue dog & coal state democrats that will be pushing to loosen the cap, should the bill pass at all. John Boehner (who called the threat of climate change "comical") and Eric Cantor are already working to rally what political capital they have to stop this bill from doing what it's intended to do.
The draft then goes on to call for carbon offsets and other means of reducing emissions through mechanisms that do not directly operate on American soil. Two billion tons of emissions reductions are called for in just the “prevention of international deforestation.” To account for some of the shortcomings of offsets – including the potential for them to not be permanent – the draft requires 5 tons worth of credits for 4 tons worth of CO2 that is offset. The limitations remain, and 2 billion tons is a large portion of emissions to ascribe to the somewhat nebulous black box of offsets.
An interesting quasi-loophole is written into the draft: 2.5 billion tons of “strategic reserve” allowances will be created, that can be auctioned off if prices rise unexpectedly high. It’s interesting that although the “free market” character of cap-and-trade is what makes it politically palatable to many, there is an implicit mechanism to actually disrupt the mechanics of the system should they yield consequences that are, essentially, unpopular.
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
It is good to see energy efficiency featured prominently in the draft, as Title II. Energy efficiency has been a large part of the mitigation strategy of countries like Japan, where buildings and households have been rather efficient. The extent to which this can take a bite out of global emissions remains to be seen; however, to the extent that we are uncertain about how effectively the world can meet emissions and climate targets globally, energy efficiency is a promising way to move in the direction of climate mitigation, with deliberate certitude.
In particular, the draft provides incentives for states to make more stringent building codes, authorizes retrofit funds, and calls for the development of a new rating system for buildings; there is no federal code that is imposed directly by the bill, unsurprisingly. Building efficiency could perhaps have an impact with respect to mitigation if taken very seriously; it was touted as a “wedge” in 2004. It’s strange, but for some reason 2004 seemed like a popular time to make overly optimistic predictions about the climate, and our trajectory in mitigating emissions. To this end, the draft proposes rebates for poor families living in old homes who wish to move into more efficient, newer homes. This sounds well and good, but its feasibility will be entirely dependent on the housing market, at least to a degree.
This title also asks the DOE (who’s rhetoric has been similar to this bill in other areas such as coal) to impose appliance efficiency standards. It is unclear what sort of impact this would have, although it does appear to mesh synergistically with the draft’s advocacy for further deployment of smart grid technology in Title I.
A commendable move by the draft is its call for the Obama administration to reconcile federal automobile standards with those of California. By having the EPA simplify its code for transportation efficiency, loopholes can be reduced and the mitigation impact can be amplified in a (again synergistic) way.
Next, the draft asks for utility efficiency. It calls for utility companies to increase efficiency such that consumers will cut their natural gas and coal consumption by roughly 1% by 2012%, and well over 10% by 2020. While I do not feel qualified to comment on how appropriate this time scale is, my sense is that it would be more productive to focus on particular mechanisms by which this could be done. At the same time, should such a regulation pass with teeth, then the buck would be passed to utility companies; given the already intense opposition to this bill, and the considerable clout that industries affected by this provision has, this section does not seem likely to prevail. At best, perhaps, the target will move before the teeth of regulation have an opportunity to leave a sufficiently painful bite mark.
Saturday, April 11, 2009
The new American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 draft version has been released – it’s quite a beast, at 648 pages. I was pouring through the actual draft itself, attempting to tease out some more interesting tidbits – this was rather daunting, and fortunately a summary is now available!
The debate on this bill is already fierce, even among Democrats. Rick Boucher, a Virginia Democrat and co-sponsor of the bill has told the press his intention to seek more modest goals for reductions in emissions, especially in the short term. Many Republicans, as well as Democrats who are tied rather strongly to particular industries (coal)are likely to move debate in a similar direction to Boucher. It remains to be seen whether or not the final draft that moves through Congress will have substantial regulatory teeth, or will be a largely emasculated symbolic piece of paper. All this, of course, before the bill actually comes to a vote; my sense is that if the bill were to go to a vote now in its present form, it would have roughly a snowball’s chance in hell of being passed.
The draft is divided into four titles: clean energy, energy efficiency, global warming (mitigation), and transition, which focuses on easing shocks to consumers en route to our ostensibly sustainable future.
The clean energy title promotes a variety of technologies – primarily through development and deployment. Renewable energies like wind, solar, biomass and geothermal energy are promoted with fairly ambitious requirements: 6% renewable (nationally) by 2012, and 25% renewable by 2025. This is more ambitious than Obama’s own calls, but considerably less ambitious than the suggestions of some others (Al Gore, who calls for zero reliance on fossil fuels in the short - medium term). It is interesting to note that nuclear power does not fit into the “clean energy” title, in spite of being “clean” in terms of carbon emissions. The extent to which nuclear power will ultimately fit into future plans is questionable. Also, it is unclear exactly why it was omitted. Nuclear power is politically problematic, as people are concerned about many salient related issues: storage of waste, prevention of weapons proliferation, and potential creation of terrorist targets.
Waxman himself has been skeptical of nuclear power before. According to his website, he voted to bar a website promoting the Yucca Mountain nuclear waste repository. Waxman calls Yucca Mountain a mistake, an decries the website in question’s failure to present potential dangers associated with waste storage.
The next part of the clean energy title is Carbon Capture and Sequestration, or "clean coal." Without explicitly putting any additional funds into research, the draft calls for development and deployment of the technology. This is interesting, because clean coal does not exist. In spite of this, clean coal continues to occupy a very prominent position in the climate and energy discourse. Still, congressmembers who are linked to coal are not satisifed; in addition to seeking to play up the potential for coal fired power plants to co-exist with climate legislation through carbon capture and storage, they will push for easier regulations in general that do not require much substantive action in the short term.
Third, the clean energy title calls for more efficient vehicles. Included are financial incentives for battery powered cars, municipalities that work towards efficient vehicles, and further incorporation of biofuel into the existing liquid fuel supply.
The rest of the title includes some interesting provisions: federal purchase of renewable energy contracts, credits for increased distributed renewable energy generation, and of course expansion of smart grid technology!
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Wednesday, April 1, 2009
Thursday, March 26, 2009
Sunday, March 15, 2009
However, a couple noteworthy changes in the direction of this blog. Most of the "science" relevant legislation that has been tracked thus far has come out of the House Science & Technology Committee; some of it will make it out of the committee, less of it will be debated, and much less of it will ultimately become law.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Thursday, February 26, 2009
On February 10, Rep. Michael McCaul [R-TX] introduced H.R. 957: Green Energy Education Act of 2009. The Congressional Research Service offers the following summary:
Green Energy Education Act of 2009 - Authorizes the Secretary of Energy to contribute energy research and development funds to the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship program to support graduate education related to such energy projects.
Authorizes the Secretary to contribute funds for advanced energy technology research and development for high performance buildings to the NSF for curriculum development to improve undergraduate or graduate interdisciplinary engineering and architecture education related to the design and construction of such buildings.
This measure is still in the first stage of the legislative process; it has been introduced, and referred to the Committee on Science and Technology. Interestingly, McCaul introduced the very same bill in 2007. The bill passed the House with no opposition, but was never voted on in the Senate. Will things be different this time?
There are several pieces of introduced legislation that relate to climate science, all of which will be tracked as they progress through the process.
These bills have been introduced (the Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Act, notably, in both the House and the Senate), but are still in preliminary stages. Their fate may be instructive about this administration’s relationship with climate science.
An interesting counter-point: H.R. 554: National Nanotechnology Initiative Amendments Act of 2009 , which essentially requires reporting ongoing projects to the public (assumedly in the interest of accountability) passed the House quickly, and awaits consideration by the Senate.