|Peter Bahouth, Executive Director
June 27, 2011
Look Both Ways Before Crossing: Voices from the Right and Left
In a passionate Rolling Stone article, environmental champion Al Gore critiques the Obama Administration’s environmental record and leadership on climate change this week. He blames President Obama for failing to demonstrate the “magnitude of the climate crisis” to the American people and for inaction nationally in Congress, internationally in the UNFCCC process, and in combating scientific naysayers in the media. Cutting to the quick, Mr. Gore writes “[W]e are destroying the climate balance that is essential to the survival of our civilization. This is not a distant or abstract threat; it is happening now. The United States is the only nation that can rally a global effort to save our future. And the president is the only person who can rally the United States.” Responses varied in the days following the article’s release, from enthusiastic support to public rebukes to voiced disappointment in President Obama from influential environmental leaders, making clear the tough position that President Obama is in when it comes to placating the wide spectrum of climate advocates. Check out the PBS Newshour video for reactions from representatives in the USCAN community.
Separately, the Supreme Court ruled that states cannot seek to limit greenhouse gases limits under federal common law. American Electric Power v. Connecticut resoundingly affirmed EPA authority to address global warming and regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. Since 2004, environmental groups and several states have been in legal proceedings against five major electric utilities demanding they reduce their greenhouse gas emissions because their collective emissions contribute to global warming, endanger public lands, infrastructure and public health. Explaining the ruling against the States, Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in the majority opinion: “It is altogether fitting that Congress designated an expert agency, here, EPA, as best suited to serve as primary regulator of greenhouse gas emissions.” The court was unanimous in ruling that the Clean Air Act and the Obama administration’s efforts to regulate emissions displaced the states’ common law of public nuisance. However, the court split 4-4 on the legal issue of whether federal courts had jurisdiction to hear such claims. The split means that the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals’ finding that it did have jurisdiction stands, although that ruling does not apply to other federal circuits. EPA is currently drafting regulations to curb greenhouse gas emissions from electric utilities. A proposed rule is due in September 2011, and a final rule in May 2012.
Also relating to EPA standards this week members of the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce introduced H.R. 2250, the EPA Regulatory Relief Act of 2011, citing a response to “urgent calls” from range of industries and large employers. This bill would direct EPA to develop achievable standards for non-utility boilers and incinerators, granting additional time for development of and compliance with the new rules even though EPA has already delayed the final rule to spring of next year. Members on both sides of the aisle joined to introduce the bill, including Reps. Morgan Griffith (R-VA), G.K. Butterfield (D-NC), John Barrow (D-GA), Jim Matheson (D-UT), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA), Pete Olson (R-TX), Mike Ross (D-AR) and Steve Scalise (R-LA). Among other things, the bill proposes to scrap the rules that were finalized in February and give EPA another 15 months to come out with a replacement.
Environmentalists and progressive celebrities announced a plan for “civil disobedience” protests to be held at the White House from mid-August to Labor Day against the proposed TransCanada Keystone XL oil pipeline. Danny Glover, Bill McKibben, James Hansen and David Suzuki called for volunteers to protest, possibly risking arrest, at the White House against the pipeline that would transport Canadian tar sands to the Gulf coast. Thursday, the House Energy and Commerce Committee approved legislation, H.R. 1938, in effect compelling the Obama administration to make a decision on the controversial Keystone XL tar sands pipeline by November. The State Department is reviewing the environmental impacts of the plan and is expected to make a decision on the project by the end of the year. Destroying huge swaths of wildlands and disrupting ways of life in indigenous communities, the pipeline crisscrosses critical aquifers and watersheds, bringing worries of leaks to both landowners and environmentalists. TransCanada insists they are using the newest technologies to prevent leaks, however the precursor pipeline and its pumping stations have leaked at least a dozen times last year. Partly because of the political implications stemming from high gas prices, officials, including Secretary Hilary Clinton, have spoken out that they are “inclined” to see the permitting go through. The White House feels intense pressure from industry, too. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce demands that the administration quickly approve the massive project and the infamous Koch Brothers are backing the plan, standing to reap huge profits from it.
A new comprehensive report from the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) examines and grades 19 U.S. states that currently have operational energy efficiency resource standards (EERS) in place. The report finds that 13 of the states are meeting 100 percent of their targets with an additional three states satisfying more than 90 percent. The standards bring significant savings too, often billions of dollars, according to the report. “The No. 1 theme here is that energy efficiency policies set by states are working,” said report co-author Seth Nowak, a research associate at ACEEE. “They are delivering the energy savings they were intended to provide.” Twenty-six states have an EERS or similar, requiring utilities to reduce energy use for homeowners and businesses below a specified target. A second report outlines key state tactics to successfully satisfy the standards.
Seen as a surprise move by many, the Obama administration announced it will sell 30 million barrels of oil from its petroleum stockpile to ease prices on the global energy market that have been volatile for months. The U.S. plans to release 30 million barrels from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve (SPR) over the next month as part of a joint effort with other countries that will provide a total of 60 million barrels to global markets. “We are taking this action in response to the ongoing loss of crude oil due to supply disruptions in Libya and other countries and their impact on the global economic recovery,” said Energy Secretary Steven Chu. While several members of the GOP voiced a preference to increase in domestic oil production, many Democrats were happy with the announcement, “This decision should calm the markets, lower prices and provide some relief for Americans whose wallets are already strained by record prices at the pump,” noted Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV). Others, however, including national oil and gas champion Sen. Mark Begich (D-AK), called the move “short-sighted and a reminder of why we need a comprehensive energy plan in this country.” Members of USCAN and the ‘Go 60’ campaign pointed out that the world consumes that much in just 18 hours and that fuel efficiency, not more oil, is what we need.
Kellyn Eberhardt, Southeast Regional Coordinator