Weekly Post: Nov. 1-7


I took a sabbatical and didn’t post anything last week. A reflection of two things: 1) I was slammed at work and couldn’t find the time; and 2) I’m still developing the discipline that’s needed for maintaining a blog. So, this post will cover the past two weeks.

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  • Do Climate Change and the GOP Mix?
    Senator Kelly Ayotte has been in the news recently and has come under attack by some Republicans for her support of climate policy. On October 29, Senator Ayotte, along with Senators Lamar Alexander (R-TN), Mark Kirk (R-IL), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) announced the formation of a Senate Energy and Environment Working Group, which will focus on ideas and legislation to address climate change, promote clean energy innovation and create jobs. There was similar movement over in the House where, in a Miami Herald op-ed, Rep. Carlos Curbelo (Fla.) said lawmakers need to a better job of focusing on ways to cut carbon emissions, invest in clean energy and combat climate change. At the same time, a Conservative Clean Energy Summit was held in D.C., hosted by Young Conservatives for Energy Reform.

Gattie Note: As an extension of my Bogged Down in Bonn post a couple of weeks ago, I’ll re-state that Republicans need a politically tenable position on renewable energy and climate change issues. In addition, this position must also be economically viable for the next couple of decades. The YCER group has garnered attention among key Republican lawmakers as evidenced by attendees (real and virtual) at their D.C. summit: Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) and Sen. John McCain (R-AZ). Also represented at the summit were the Christian Coalition of America, the Young Republican National Federation, and YCER’s 31 state chapters. Lastly, the summit was blanketed in patriotism as The Star-Spangled Banner, God Bless America, The Battle Hymn of the Republic and Lee Greenwood’s country standard, Proud to Be an American, were all sung in medley fashion. YCER appears to have gained political footing and is turning its ship into the wind and Republicans need to make sure the planes are taking off in the conservatively right direction. To put this in my own vernacular: the climate issue is real and it ain’t going away. As such, Republicans, particularly the current presidential candidates, must position themselves on a platform of sound science, political reality, and economics as a counter to the Democratic platform, which is predominantly environment.
Sidebar: Sen. Burr is distant kin to Aaron Burr, Revolutionary War veteran, VP during Thomas Jefferson’s first term as President, and, most notably, the man who killed Alexander Hamilton in a duel. On a personal note, Alexander Hamilton ranks as one of my most favorite of our nation’s Founding Fathers (Brothers).

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  • Do Democrats and Reality Mix?
    Bernie Sanders has released his climate change plan, which will likely include tax incentives for renewables and a carbon tax. Along with Sen. Merkely (D- OR), Sanders is a co-sponsor of the Keep It In The Ground Act which would ban coal, oil and gas mining on public lands. Also, Sanders, Sierra Club, 350.org, and other grassroot environmental organizations are joining forces to put an end to fossil fuels altogether.

Gattie Note: Bernie Sanders is as far to the left as a presidential candidate can get. To put it in the words of my favorite president, Ronald Reagan: “He’s so far left that he’s left the country”. Sanders calls this a climate change plan, but make no mistake, this is an energy policy. None of this is unexpected from Sanders, though, as the man is sincere and passionate about his position on fossil fuels and climate issues and he is above-board, cards-on-the-table transparent about it. Because he’s so far behind Hillary Clinton, she probably doesn’t need to move too far from the center in response to Sanders’ environmental dogma. However, it does raise the question: Will Clinton turn her campaign in to the wind that’s coming out of the left in order to appease her environmental base on energy and climate issues in general? She already has, as evidenced by her recently announced opposition to Keystone. Regarding the band of environmental brothers (Sanders, Sierra, 350.org, et al.), if corporate America is what greases the tracks in D.C., I’ll propose this group as the sand that would grind to a halt and lock up the pistons of the U.S. economic engine. The real issues of global emissions and climate change will require a level of strategy, innovation and diplomacy that is far beyond the intellectual capacity of this consortium. I realize it’ll never happen in this election, since Sanders has no chance. My concern is more for the future as this sort of environmental thinking swamps political and economic realities of energy in a global industrial economy.

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  • Down Goes Keystone: Greens Claim Victory
    Obama rejects Keystone Pipeline. From The Hill E&E: Regarding Obama’s Keystone decision, Sierra Club Director Michael Brune said the victory will have a lasting impact. “Today marks the beginning of the end of both dirty tar sands as well as dirty fossil fuel projects across the continent and around the world,” he said.

Gattie Note: The official record of President Obama’s decision on Keystone is posted on the secretary of state’s website here. President Obama is touting this as another example of U.S. leadership in the climate change issue and as a good-faith gesture leading up to Paris, which he hopes will provide the U.S. with leverage in the deliberations. However, one of the most discouraging aspects of this decision is the false promise that will be squeezed from it and spread as an environmental message of great hope for ending the consumption of fossil fuels. Global oil consumption in 2014 was about 92 million bbls per day and closing down Keystone won’t impact that demand one single bbl. The oil taps remain open throughout the world and this decision will only shift economic potential away from the U.S. Regarding CO2 emissions, the areas of greatest concern today are not in the well-developed West, but in the developing East; and we’re fooling ourselves as long as we over-simplify this as an environmental issue alone rather than the economic development issue that it actually is.

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Gattie Note: The demise of the utility business model continues to be forecast, most loudly by supporters of renewable energy and those who generally hate utilities for various reasons. However, there are counter-arguments, saying the eventuality of the utility death-spiral is unfounded. In that volley, Vermont’s Green Mountain Power is often held up as the object of affection for the pro-death-spiral crowd. A couple of relevant statistics are important to take into account when considering a Vermont utility as a template for the power generation sector. Vermont ranks 50th (that’s dead last) in GDP among U.S. states and, according to Forbes, is an annual member of the worst U.S. states with which to do business (42nd according to this year’s Forbes list). While utilities across the country work diligently to provide reliable power, respond to increasing regulatory pressures, incorporate clean(er) energy sources, and secure the power grid, the green movement extols companies like Vermont’s Green Mountain Power as the example of what all utilities should do and be. When you’re a decimal point in the national economy, you have the luxury of piddling around with your power sector and praising yourself, as the rest of the country rolls up its sleeves and works while also working to incorporate renewable resources into its power sector, responsibly.
My tone here is admittedly acerbic, but shouldn’t be confused as sarcastic or flippant. This blanket belief that all U.S. utilities can simply become green like Vermont’s electricity sector, which consumes zero fossil fuels in power generation, is economically unrealistic for the moment.

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Gattie Note: Suits filed by the twenty-three states pertain to a separate regulatory issue that is distinct from recent suits filed against EPA regarding its Clean Power Plan (CPP). The CPP sets CO2 limits for existing power plants. These lawsuits pertain to rules for future power plants and fall under the purview of New Source Performance Standards (NSPS). The new NSPS rules set a 1,000 lbs/MWhr limit for new or modified natural gas plants and a 1,400 lbs/MWhr limit for new or modified coal plants. My home state of Georgia is one of the twenty-three states filing suit. The NSPS rules can be accessed here. Combined with EPA’s CPP, coal has no future without carbon capture and storage technology attaining economic scale. As for the recently filed lawsuits to block EPA’s Clean Power Plan, the Justice Department has proposed a schedule that will stay a decision until Dec. 23, which will follow the Paris climate talks. Is it a political move? Yes. Is it unexpected? No. While I disagree with the CPP and the Justice Department’s decision to delay their opinion, this is politics and it’s hard to fault Obama for making a political move like this. A Republican administration wouldn’t pass on the opportunity, if it had it. The CPP has its supporters, though. New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman is leading a coalition of 25 states, cities, and counties, to intervene and defend EPA’s Clean Power Plan. Schneiderman is confident that the rule is firmly grounded in science and the law. This is the same Eric T. Schneiderman who is investigating Exxon Mobil for possible deception regarding the company’s research on climate change. This Exxon Mobil issue is really something and I’ll have a more detailed post on it at another time.
Meanwhile, World Resources Institute has released its 2nd report related to how states can meet the CPP goals. This installment: Pennsylvania.
[Gattie Sidebar: As for Schneiderman’s comment that the CPP is well-grounded. It well should be grounded in science and the law. But what about economics?]

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  • Off With Their Heads
    At a Washington, D.C. event hosted by The Christian Science Monitor, Christiana Figueres, head of the UN agency for climate negotitations was quoted as saying: “I have already been clear about the fact that if I get one question in Paris that says, ‘You didn’t get us onto 2 degrees,’ then I will chop the head off the person who asks that question”.

Gattie Note: The Paris climate talks are only a few weeks away and expectations are all across the board and Figueres has a task ahead of her, to say the least. The COP 21 released a synthesis report on the aggregate effect of the INDC’s. It’s pretty clear that avoiding the 2 degree threshold is unlikely. Even so, I won’t be asking Ms. Figueres anything about it. The climate talks will be critical and the potential impact is hopeful to some and concerning to others. Regardless of the camp you pitch your tent in, if you consider energy and energy policy to be important issues, you’ll want to follow these talks.

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  • China’s Coal Conundrum
    Chinese and French leaders said Monday [Nov. 2] that any climate agreement reached in Paris next month should include status updates every five years to make sure countries are hitting their carbon emissions goals”.

Gattie Note: Following the report that China and France have called for 5-year status updates to ensure that countries are meeting carbon pledges from the Paris talks, the NYT reported the next day that China has been burning up to 17% more coal than it has been reporting. Foreign Affairs’ Elizabeth Economy has an article on this, as well. In general, those who are naive and unwary are highly susceptible individuals. In global diplomacy, they’re a national security risk. Whoever we have in Paris, negotiating for the U.S., better be hard-nosed, savvy, and unflinching.

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