Saturday, April 11, 2009

Swedish Report Says U.S. Has Reached "Critical Political Tipping Point" Regarding Climate Politics

The Obama Administration has "already begun to demonstrate its seriousness about climate change through actions being taken within U.S. borders," according to a new report commissioned by the Swedish government.

The report, "Sea Change: U.S. Climate Policy Prospects Under the Obama Administration, written by the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), was prepared in the run-up to Sweden's July 1-December 31 presidency of the European Union.  In this role, Sweden will speak on behalf of the EU at the Copenhagen U.N. climate conference in December.  Based on Sweden's historical performance in the EU presidency, the U.S., and the rest of the world, should expect a well-focused and effectively-argued case being made on behalf of the EU.
The report notes the "dramatic shift" in U.S. climate politics in terms of the executive branch and points out that additional changes are taking place at regional, state, and local levels.  "In short, the conditions for adopting and implementing forceful measures for addressing climate change look far better than at any time previously."
While describing this as "good news," the report goes on to caution, "Nevertheless, some of the important circumstances that condition the development of U.S. climate politics remain stubbornly fixed.  Numerous domestic structural, institutional, and political hurdles remain in place.  These make it unlikely that the most comprehensive measures now being pursued, such as an economy-wide cap-and-trade system, will have been adopted by both House and Senate and signed by the president prior to the [December talks]."
Despite the report's careful analysis of the American political situation, it seems to have missed one key point: the role that money plays in American politics.  Regardless of the merits of the underlying case for cap-and-trade, the fact is that the big industrial interests will be in the shadows currying favor and support.  
Consequently, will the U.S. join the Europeans in the tough fight ahead in terms of climate change?  Time (and unfortunately probably money) will tell.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Endangerment Finding Just Around the Corner?

Since last November, and the election of Barack Obama, there has been speculation as to whether "his" EPA would classifiy carbon as a dangerous pollutant.

Well the wait may be about over, according to the venerable Wall Street Journal. In today's edition ("Henry Waxman Has a Plan...," April 10, 2009) the Journal's editoral page proclaims, "As early as next week the EPA will classify carbon as a dangerous pollutant under current clean air laws." The Journal speculates that this finding will prompt "a seperate avalanche of new regulations."

The editorial goes on to say, "The Obama Administration claims it is flirting with this 'endangerment finding' and the economic havoc it would wreak only to force Congress into falling in line with its climate agenda." Funny, but the European Union has already enacted such legislation and last time I checked the EU still seemed to be standing. Or did I miss something and the EU collapsed this morning? I hope not since I have 100 Euros in my billfold.

And since when does the always-pro-capitalism-without-restrictions Wall Street Journal oppose the creation of a market -- in this case a market for carbon emmissions credits? I thought the Journal figured that markets were the cure for everything.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Two New Courses Announced for 2009-2010

The Environmental and Natural Resources Law & Policy Graduate Program (ENRGP) has just announced two new courses:  
The Community Relations course will focus on the key issues of how natural resources development projects can be undertaken in the context of relations with the local communities where the developments reside.  There is a rapidly growing concern in many circles that natural resource development projects should not be started without a firm understanding of how community relations will be managed.  The course will be taught by two globally recognized community relations experts, attorney Xennia Forno and sociologist Guillermo Manrique.  The three-credit course will be offered in a "short course" format from Aug. 10-14, 2009, in Denver.
Renewable Energy for the 21st Century will be taught by the world leading renewable energy experts at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Co.  Among the key issues to be considered are the current policy debates about how best to promote renewables, the role that technology plays in the integration of renewables into the national energy portfolio, and what market-related barriers exist and how to address them.  The three-credit course will be offered in the spring 2010 semester.
Both courses are open to DU JD, LLM, and MRLS students.  Other (non-DU) law and graduate students are also welcome.  The tuition will be about $3,000 for each course. 

Obama Willing to Compromise on GHG Auctioning?

Despite initially supporting a cap-and-trade program requiring a 100% auction of greenhouse gas emissions credits, there are indications that the White House might be willing to support legislation calling for less than full auctioning of credits.

Ben LaBolt, a spokesman for President Obama, has told The Wall Street Journal ("White House Flexibility Signaled on Climate Bill," April 9, 2009) that Mr. Obama's "preferred approach was 100% auction to create incentives for companies to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.  Members of Congress are looking at a variety of policy options to help us make that transition, and the administration will be flexible during the policy-making process" as long as the administration's goals of creating a "clean-energy" economy are met.  
Members of Congress from coal-producing states as well as states that rely heavily on coal-fired power plants have voiced concern that a 100% auctioning scheme would provoke huge home-state opposition.  
The matter of how emissions credits should be handled is a tricky one.  The EU has been mightily burned by disputes involving its initial decision to give away emissions credits as part of the EU Emissions Trading Scheme.  In response, the EU has significantly tightened up the distribution of free emissions credits (although this remains a particularly difficult political issue with regard to the central and eastern European countries such as Poland).

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

U.S. Cap and Trade Will Need 60 Votes in the Senate

Last week, in a move that received relatively little attention, the U.S. Senate approved a measure effectively requiring that 60 votes will be needed to pass any American cap-and-trade legislation.

The Republican-sponsored measure, which passed by a 67-31 vote, provides that the cap-and-trade legislation will not receive so-called "reconciliation protection." Legislation that receives such protection is not subject to the vagaries of the Senate's filibuster procedure in which 60 votes are needed to move legislation forward.

As reported in the Financial Times ("Senate Rules Out Fast-Track Action to Push Through Climate Change Laws," April 3, 2009), "While not binding, the [measure], which drew support from more than 20 Democratic senators, showed the Obama administration had little chance of forcing through climate change measures as part of the budget. It also underscored the difficulty that Mr. Obama will face winning support for his proposed cap-and-trade system even outside the budget process, raising the possibility of the U.S. arriving empty-handed at the next round of United Nations talks on climate change in Copenhagen in December."

That scream you just heard (or thought you heard) was from the Berlaymont in Brussels, home of the "very pro" cap-and-trade European Commission.

European Power Companies Announce Intent to be Carbon-Free by 2050

Sixty European electricity CEOs have announced their commitment to "strive to achieve a carbon-neutral power supply by 2050."

Meeting as members of Eurelectric, the European electricity generation trade organization, the CEOs said, "The European electricity industry is making a clear commitment to achieving a carbon-neutral sector by mid-century."

The CEOs, who represent firms generating 2500 TWh electricity per year in 27 countries, said that in order to achieve this goal the companies will need to pursue a combination of efficient clean fossil technologies including carbon capture and storage, high-efficient combined heat and power, and nuclear power alongside new renewable sources. "A crucial factor here is also to simplify licensing procedures for new build," the CEOs said.

The CEOs noted that, "Policymakers have a crucial role to play here." In part, they said, policymakers should work for a worldwide approach to the global challenge of mitigating greenhouse gases (in other words, find a concrete way to get China, India, and the U.S. into the GHG reduction effort), increase support for research and development, and support a market-based approach to integrating renewable energy into the grid.

Not to be too critical, but no one can ever accuse the EU (or many European trade organizations) from suffering low climate change-related aspirations. The real trick is to find a way to enforce the legal commitments already on the books and to persuade the really "big guys" of GHG emissions to get working on this.

Monday, April 6, 2009

How "Green" is Stimulus Funding?

A new report by HSBC, a global banking leader, indicates that China and the United States have allocated the greatest amounts of their respective economic stimulus packages for green projects.

According to a story in The Economist ("Greenstanding," April 4, 2009), China will spend just over $200 billion on green projects while the U.S. will spend over $90 billion.  Other large spenders, according to the HSBC report, are South Korea at $30.7 billion, Germany at $13.8 billion, and Japan at $12.4 billion.
Despite constant chatter from the British and French governments about their commitment to green projects, spending from Paris will only amount to $7.1 billion while London will spend a paltry $2.1 billion.  
Has anyone checked these numbers with French President Nicholas Zarkozy or U.K. Prime Minister Gordon Brown?  Mssrs. Zarkozy and Brown like to bang on and on about the need to address climate change, but apparently their governments' piggybanks are empty when it comes to green stimulus spending.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

"A Blueprint for a Safer Planet"

Lord Nicholas Stern, climate change advisor to the U.K. government and former chief economist at the World Bank, has just published, "A Blueprint for a Safer Planet: How to Manage Climate Change and Create a New Era of Progress and Prosperity."
Lord Stern is best known as the author of The Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change, a 2006 700-page assessment of the economic impact of climate change.  
In his new book, Lord Stern argues, "When we emit greenhouse gases we damage the prospects for others and, unless appropriate policy is in place, we do not bear the costs of the damage.  Markets then fail in the sense that their main co-ordinating mechanism -- prices -- give the wrong signals."
A review in the Financial Times ("A timely prophecy," April 4, 2009), says, "Stern's prescription for a low-carbon future includes putting a price on carbon, investing in renewable energy, and providing funding for poor countries to keep their forests intact...Other sections, such as the one on changes to current forms of carbon financing, will be strictly for the nerds."
The reviewer, Fiona Harvey, the FT's environment correspondent, goes on to say, "If this year's crucial climate change negotiations are to be successful, this book will be required reading for all participants.  Perhaps the experience of bailing out the banks will persuade them that an early market intervention for the climate may avoid an even more disastrous bust in future."
As of today, the book is available on Amazon's U.K. website, but not on its U.S. website.