Al Gore returns! After more than a year away from the limelight, the climate crusader joins 9-11 Truther and ex-White House green jobs czar Van Jones as keynoters at the 2011 Powershift Conference, a pro-green energy rally for young people this weekend in Washington, D.C. Gore's speech will be broadcast on the internet at 7 pm Eastern Daylight Time tonight, and will be available for internet viewing here.
Climate scientist and Cato Institute Senior Fellow Patrick Michaels has edited an excellent new collection of essays on global warming policy, Climate Coup: Global Warming's Invasion of Government and Our Lives. The Cato Institute book is being published on April 18. Copies and e-copies may be ordered here.
In the News
News You Can Use
Despite Global Warming, Too Much Snow in Northwest Means Less Wind
Thanks to anomalously high snowfall this year in the Pacific Northwest, the network of hydropower plants operated by the Bonneville Power Administration is going to generate too much electricity this year. BPA's solution to this engineering challenge is to cut wind power from the grid.
This scenario is great for two reasons: (1) it puts the lie to a major talking point of global warming alarmists, that rising temperatures are resulting in less snow, and thereby cause drought in those regions that are dependent on snow or glacier melt for water; and (2) it demonstrates the low value of intermittent, unreliable wind power.
Inside the Beltway
House Committee Acts To Stop President's de facto Drilling Moratorium
The House Natural Resources Committee marked up three bills on Wednesday that would require the Obama Administration to stop its obstructive tactics and start producing more oil and natural gas from federal Outer Continental Shelf areas. Committee Democrats dragged out the mark-up for nine hours by offering and insisting on recorded votes on a series of amendments to weaken or gut the three bills-H. R. 1229, 1230, and 1231. None of their amendments was adopted.
It is expected that the House will pass all three bills in May. Committee Chairman Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) plans to introduce additional bills in the next few months to increase domestic oil and gas production on federal lands in Alaska and the Rocky Mountains as part of House Republicans' American Energy Initiative.
House Leadership Tacitly Endorses Excellent EPA Strategy
Environment and Energy News reported this week that House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) did not rule out attaching something like the Energy Tax Prevention Act (H. R. 910) to the bill to raise the federal debt ceiling. H. R. 910 would block the Environmental Protection Agency from using the Clean Air Act to regulate greenhouse gas emissions. It passed the House last week on a 255 to 172 vote, but failed as an amendment in the Senate on a 50 to 50 vote.
Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), Chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee and main sponsor of H. R. 910, made similar remarks earlier in the week: \223No debt limit is going to pass by itself. You'll have to have some significant pieces with it.\224
House Committee Counters Coal Crackdown
The House Energy and Commerce Committee held subcommittee hearings this week on the proposed coal ash rule and on the proposed utility, boiler, and cement Maximum Available Control Technology (or MACT) rules.
Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) has introduced a bill, H. R. 1391, to deny EPA the authority to regulate coal ash as a hazardous waste under the Solid Waste Disposal Act. Coal ash has many industrial uses, including as a replacement for part of the Portland cement in concrete and in drywall. Classifying coal ash as a hazardous waste would threaten its commercial use and thereby raise costs of producing coal-fired power.
It has been reported that bills will be introduced next month to block or delay EPA's proposed three Clean Air Act MACT rules. Each rule would have devastating economic effects.
For example, Rep. Greg Walden (R-Oreg.) at the hearing raised the example in his district (and in my home county of Baker County, Oregon) of a cement plant that has spent $20 million to install technology to reduce mercury emissions by 95%. Under the proposed cement MACT rule, the plant would be required to reduce mercury emissions by 98.5%.
Achieving the additional 3.5% reduction would be too expensive and therefore the plant will probably be shut down if the rule goes into effect. With the closure of the National Forests to commercial timber production, the Ash Grove cement plant is the largest employer (after the taxpayer-funded Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management, and local school district) in the county.
Across the States
This week, Governor Jerry Brown signed legislation that increases California's green energy production quota to 33 percent by 2020. This is the fifth time that the California Legislature has increased or accelerated the target. One wonders why, in light of the fact that utilities in the State already have missed both 2010 targets enacted by California lawmakers: In 2005, they set the 2010 target at 17 percent; in 2006, they increased it to 20 percent; utilities failed to meet either target. Moreover, a January 2010 study by engineering consultants Black & Veatch concluded that there is little chance the Golden State can meet a 33 percent target by 2020. Even if California fails to meet the target, the effort will be very expensive. A 2008 report by the California Public Utilities Commission estimated that generating a third of the State's electricity by 2020 would cost $60 billion from 2012 to 2020. A year later, the Commission reported that the 33 percent by 2020 target would increase utilities bills 24 percent over the same period. Californians already pay some of the highest electricity rates in the country.
Offshore wind energy is so expensive that even the Democratic-controlled State Legislature balked at the price tag of Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley's (D) proposed Maryland Offshore Wind Energy Act. The legislation would force the state's investor owned utilities to minimum 20-year contracts for 400 megawatts to 600 megawatts of offshore wind power. Governor O'Malley's office estimates that the legislation would cost ratepayers about $1.50 a month, but this projection is based on unrealistically optimistic assumptions. Independent analyses peg the costs at up to $9.00 a month. The disparity in estimates has elicited a negative response from O'Malley's own party in the legislature. Last week, the Legislature commissioned further study of the plan. There were only five days left in the session, far too little time to perform a study and enact the plan, so the decision effectively killed O'Malley's proposed wind farm, for now.
Around the World
Cap-and-trade or a carbon tax?
How about both? Despite already having its Emissions Trading Scheme (and some of the highest energy taxes in the world), the European Union Commission is floating a proposal for a harmonized carbon tax of $29 per ton of CO2. The current EU cap-and-trade system is a mess, and the jury is still out on whether it has actually led to emissions reductions given the recession's role in curtailing energy usage.
Even a number of green groups are unhappy, as the European Renewable Energy Foundation commented on the UK's inability to meet renewable energy targets: Failure to meet the much-discussed 2010 target, in spite of very high levels of consumer subsidy, is a clear indication that the EU 2020 goals are impractical and unaffordable. Passing the tax seems unlikely, as it would need support from a number of countries which have already expressed disapproval of the proposal - such as Britain which has unofficially announced a veto. France abandoned a similar plan last year after widespread disapproval.