Obama Takes a Walk on the Greener Side

As Nevada short-circuits its solar boom, the White House gets more committed to renewable energy.

— by

Emily Schwartz GrecoUntil now, President Barack Obama has embraced gas and oil fracking, encouraged the construction of new nuclear reactors, and hailed government investment in wind and solar power. In keeping with this “all-of-the-above” energy strategy, he’d call for climate action one minute and sign off on measures destined to boost carbon pollution the next.

Suddenly, it looks like Obama may have ditched his inherently contradictory approach.

“We’ve got to accelerate the transition away from dirty energy,” he asserted during his final State of the Union address. “I’m going to push to change the way we manage our oil and coal resources, so that they better reflect the costs they impose on taxpayers and our planet.”

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Wikipedia

Just three days later, the Obama administration moved in that direction by declaring a three-year moratorium on new leases to mine coal from federal land.

Obama’s speech also cast switching to renewable energy and phasing out fossil fuels in a business-friendly light.

“We’re taking steps to give homeowners the freedom to generate and store their own energy —  something environmentalists and tea partiers have teamed up to support,” he said. There’s plenty going on at a larger scale too. Wind and solar energy are generating more than half of the new power that came online last year.

The Republican Party’s obsession with “job creators” should make it a fan of green energy. Nearly 210,000 Americans now work for the solar industry, and some 73,000 are employed in the wind business. Renewable power forged at least 79,000 new jobs between 2008 and 2012 as 50,000 coal jobs vanished.

But the fossil fuel industries and their political allies won’t surrender without a fight. As Obama put it: “There are plenty of entrenched interests who want to protect the status quo.”

To see what he meant, check out what’s up in Nevada.

Right before Christmas, the state’s electric-sector regulators short-circuited policies that rewarded homeowners for investing in their own solar panels. Nevadans may end up paying for the privilege of generating their own electricity while simultaneously padding the profit margins of NV Energy, rather than getting compensated for it.

The Nevada Public Utility Commission, whose three members were all appointed by Republican governor Brian Sandoval, effectively killed demand for rooftop solar power and the jobs that diversifying industry would have created in Nevada—overnight. The new policies also punish consumers who previously bought or leased panels.

This about face prompted companies like SolarCity, Vivint, and Sunrun to shutter their operations in the state. SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive is calling this move an act of “sabotage,” and two Las Vegas residents have already filed a class action lawsuit.

Along with rigging the rules, fossil fuel lobbyists are trying to extract new political favors. The coal industry, for example, wants new government handouts from West Virginia’s cash-strapped government. And, there are rumblings about a federal bailout for Big Oil.

This money ought to support and ramp up the green transition, not delay it. That’s what Obama meant when he asserted: “Rather than subsidize the past, we should invest in the future.”

And although polls have shown that government efforts to expand solar and wind power enjoy bipartisan support, GOP presidential contenders and many Republican leaders dismiss these increasingly competitive industries.

“Why would we want to pass up the chance for American businesses to produce and sell the energy of the future?” asked Obama, raising an excellent question. “The jobs we’ll create, the money we’ll save, and the planet we’ll preserve  —  that’s the kind of future our kids and grandkids deserve.”

Indeed. Supposedly pro-business politicians who are out to kill the green energy boom make no sense. Neither does an all-of-the-above energy strategy.


Columnist Emily Schwartz Greco is the managing editor of OtherWords, a non-profit national editorial service run by the Institute for Policy Studies. OtherWords.org.

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Pausing The Coal Train

— by CAP Action War Room

The Obama Administration Announces Overhaul Of Federal Coal Leasing Program

The last time rules for coal mining on tax-payer public lands were updated, smoking was allowed on airplanes, airbags weren’t required in cars, and sewage was still dumped into the ocean. But today, the Obama administration announced a package of reforms to modernize and reform the federal coal leasing program. Interior Secretary Sally Jewell announced the plan, saying it was long past time to re-examine the coal-leasing program. “It is abundantly clear that times are different in the energy sector now than they were 30 years ago, and we must undertake a review and that’s what we need to do as responsible stewards of the nation’s assets,” she said.

The plan includes three measures to update the federal coal program to account for taxpayer interests and environmental challenges: The U.S. Department of the Interior will conduct a review to identify potential reforms to the program, direct the U.S. Geological Survey to begin annual tracking and reporting on greenhouse gas emissions that come from fossil fuel extraction on public lands, and put a temporary pause on new coal leasing, which will not apply to existing leases.

Coal companies currently have stockpiled billions of tons of unmined coal that is ready to be developed, so a targeted pause on leasing will likely have no impact on jobs, coal production, energy prices, or grid reliability. But it will keep at least 3.5 billion tons of coal from being added to the already-enormous stockpile coal companies have on public lands and allow time to figure out how to best change the current program to ensure taxpayers get their fair share from coal mined on public lands.

The current federal coal-leasing program is fundamentally noncompetitive. Under the current system, taxpayers are missing out on millions of dollars in royalties from leasing energy sources on public lands. Offshore oil and gas drilling is subject to an 18.5 percent royalty charge, but coal companies only pay a 12.5 percent royalty rate for mining on federal lands. Furthermore, royalty rate reductions, loopholes, subsidies, and self-dealing transactions further reduce the effective royalty rate coal companies pay to less than 5 percent. Because the current system fails to ensure mining companies pay royalties on the true market price of the coal they extract, coal companies are able to take advantage of billions of dollars of de facto subsidies.

A flawed royalty system is not the only way the true cost of coal is being undervalued. The environmental impacts of coal, including its contribution to climate change, also impose a cost to the American public. More than 57 percent of all emissions from fossil fuel production on federal lands comes from the combustion of coal. Coal mining in the Powder River Basin alone, which spans across Wyoming and Montana, is responsible for 10 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S.

Strip mining and failed mine reclamation produce air and water pollution, which add to coal’s environmental costs. Furthermore, some companies are trying to get out of their responsibility to clean up their mines on public lands, which could leave taxpayers holding the bag for billions of dollars in reclamation costs.

BOTTOM LINE: Not much has stayed the same since the 1980s and the energy sector is no exception. Reform of the federal coal program is long overdue. The Obama Administration’s steps to modernize and reform the program will help reduce the environmental and climate impacts, ensure that taxpayers are getting a fair return, increase transparency and accountability, and hold companies responsible for cleaning up their mining operations.


The article above was created by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. It was created for the Progress Report, the daily e-mail publication of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Click here to subscribe. ‘Like’ CAP Action on Facebook and ‘follow’ us on Twitter

The Nuclear Omnicide

by Harvey Wasserman
We’ve always been worried about the safety of humans, but evidence shows that nuclear disasters, from Three Mile Island to Fukushima, have put the whole global ecosystem at risk. Samplings of 15 tuna caught off the coast of California indicate all were contaminated with fallout from Fukushima. What’s that radiation doing to the tuna themselves? And to the krill, the phytoplankton, the algae, amoeba and all the other microorganisms on which the ocean ecology depends?
Read more..

Shell Annual Report Delivers A Fossil-Fueled Bombshell

Believe it or not, Shell — of all companies — gets it.

— By Brett Fleishman

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Royal Dutch Shell buried a bombshell in its recently released 2013 annual report.

Amid 200 pages of predictably and mind-numbingly dry text, the world’s seventh-largest oil company foreshadowed something big. Here are the exact words, which Shell buried in the  report’s “risk factors” section:

If we are unable to find economically viable, as well as publicly acceptable, solutions that reduce our CO2 emissions for new and existing projects or products, we may experience additional costs, delayed projects, reduced production and reduced demand for hydrocarbons.”

Believe it or not, Shell — of all companies — gets it.

Shell gets that unless things change quickly, another big financial market bubble has the potential to bring people to their knees.

It’s called the “Carbon Bubble,” and it’s a very simple equation.

Fossil-fuel companies already hold more coal, oil, and gas reserves than people and industry can possibly use before climate change reaches the point where life as we know it can’t continue.

Simply put, these companies have more product than they can sell. And their value is based on their total reserves. That means fossil-fuel assets are significantly overvalued.

Why hasn’t Wall Street imploded over this yet? Well, remember how “nobody” could see the housing bubble coming?

The truth is, Wall Street is still profiting from fossil fuels. And when economists and analysts tried to warn people about the housing bubble, just like some of them are now attempting to do about the carbon bubble, their foresight fell on deaf ears.

And if memories of the last economic crisis or even the phrase “market bubble” give you goose bumps, ask yourself how exposed you are to investments in oil, gas, and coal — the three kinds of fossil fuels. Does your pension plan, retirement plan, or family nest egg invest in the likes of Shell Oil?

As a senior analyst for 350.org, an activist organization that fights climate change, my job is to help persuade college endowments, city pension funds, and foundations to divest from fossil fuels.

In my conversations (really they’re debates) with boards of trustees and treasurers of multibillion-dollar pension funds and endowments, the biggest concern is always risk and return.

People charged with these investment decisions want to maximize returns.

Well, as our ability to burn carbon safely diminishes and the reserves of fossil-fuel companies increase, those investments will continue to become riskier and less profitable.

The logic is so clear, even Shell doesn’t think they are a good investment. The oil giant is looking for “viable solutions to reduce” its own CO2 emissions.

Shell’s not the only oil giant reckoning with this reality. Bowing to shareholder pressure, ExxonMobil just announced plans to produce a first-of-its-kind report showing how the growing trend in climate change activism is destabilizing their financial security.

“The deal is a big victory for the relatively new movement by some investors to get energy companies to consider how climate change policies will affect the bottom line,” according to Politico Morning Energy.

If you do one thing for your future, consider divesting from fossil fuels. It’s a great way to minimize your vulnerability to a serious financial crisis while investing in a more hospitable future for your children.

Brett Fleishman is a senior analyst for 350.org.  Distributed via OtherWords. OtherWords.org