17 Responses to May 4 news: Gas prices lift small-car sales; Dems push tough oil vote on GOP; Canada’s election bad for climate
Americans are going for smaller cars as gas prices march higher.
New models that get 35 miles per gallon or more, including the Chevrolet Cruze, Hyundai Elantra, and Ford Focus, led most major automakers to stronger April sales. Even buyers of pickup trucks chose more efficient engines.
The shift was good news for Detroit and for Korean automakers, which have plenty of small cars in stock. But Toyota, struggling with supply shortages since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Japan, reported weak sales.
Overall, US sales rose 18 percent from April of last year, to 1.16 million. It was the third straight month that sales hit an annual rate of 13 million or more.
While sales remain below their peak of 17 million in 2005, the gains were another sign of recovery. Two years ago, Americans bought just 10.4 million vehicles.
Geoff Pohanka, who runs 13 auto dealerships in suburban Washington, said buyers are impressed with small cars’ improved design and amenities, including heated leather seats and satellite radio. “They’re not just an econobox,” he said.
Rising gas prices make small cars more appealing, too. The average price of a gallon this week is $3.96, up $1.06 from a year ago. Gas is more than $4 per gallon in New England, in the Midwest, and on the West Coast.
Democrats are trying to force Republicans into a series of uncomfortable votes on repealing billions of dollars in oil industry tax breaks.
With gas prices nearing $4 a gallon, Democrats want to exploit what they see as a small crack in Republican ranks on the issue of oil industry subsidies.
Last week, Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) suggested he is open to eliminating some oil industry tax breaks. But his office quickly walked back the comments. And House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) has said he supports repealing the subsidies, signaling a split among top Republicans on the issue.
Though the measures to repeal the tax breaks stand little chance of passage in the House, the votes would put Republicans “in a bind” as the public shows “increasing anger” about oil and gas prices and oil industry profits, a House Democratic aide said.
“I think there are already clear divisions within the House Republican caucus on how damaging it would be to vote to keep tax subsidies for an industry where the top five companies made more than $30 billion in the first three months of the year,” the aide said.
As we survey the results of last night’s Canadian federal election, I’ll spare you the jokes about how completely boring Canada is. It’s actually a fascinating, vast nation that I lived in for a year (Scarborough!), one with a mix of cultures and language, a welcoming attitude towards immigrants, a sober banking sector, a fully funded public health system and the Kids in the Hall.
Also it has Tim Horton’s donuts. And lots and lots and lots of oil, which we’ll come to in a second.
The short story, as TIME reporter (and Canadian) Emily Rauhala blogged earlier today, is that the Conservative party led by Prime Minister Stephen Harper kicked ass, taking majority control of the government. (Harper has run a minority government over the past several years, blunting his power””it’s a parliamentary politics thing.) The Liberals, who virtually ran Canada as a one-party state during most of the 1990s and early 2000s under Jean Chretien, were overwhelmingly repudiated, while the centre (Canadian spelling) left New Democratic Party (NDP) rose to become the main opposition after years in the wilderness. Canada got its first-ever Green Party MP, Elizabeth May of British Columbia. Oh, and French-speaking Quebec’s separatist movement is pretty much dead, though you never know with those wily Quebecers.
But this is an environmental blog””what does the Canadian election mean for environmental and climate policy? As it turns out, nothing very good. I’ll explain why in a second, but first of all, there’s something you need to know about Canada. Americans like to picture Canada as a progressive, friendly, extremely green and Kyoto Protocol-signing sort of country””and in many ways it is. But the truth is, Canada is also a petrostate. The country has 175.2 billion barrels of oil in reserves, third-most in the world, and it produces 2.6 million barrels of crude oil a day. When we think of foreign oil in the U.S., most of us imagine a Saudi sheik or a Venezuelan despot, but the single biggest supplier of foreign oil to the U.S. is our friendly neighbor to the north. And thanks to the growth of oil sands (or tar sands, depending on how polluting you consider them), petroleum and fossil fuel energy in general has only become more important to the Canadian economy, moving the country’s power center to the West, where politicians like Harper hail from.So Harper’s clear victory means you can expect more industry-friendly policies from the now ruling Conservative Party, which is a little bit like Republicans-lite. That also means that Canada will continue its antagonism on the global climate stage, where it has long since abandoned any possibility of meeting its Kyoto carbon reduction targets, not that it was going to happen anyway. (Harper, back in a 2002 letter, referred to the Kyoto Protocol as a “socialist scheme.”) Like his ideological counterpart George W. Bush, Harper doesn’t seem to have much interest in dealing with climate change or energy, aside from the oil and gas that has helped Canada thrive recently. His position was in stark opposition to the opposition NDP, which offered more support for clean energy and””importantly””was ready to offer a carbon cap-and-trade program. But the Conservatives argued””in very familiar language“”that carbon pricing would be increase energy prices and be a drag on the economy. Last night””in a possible example of what Roger Pielke Jr.’s “iron law of climate policy“””the Conservatives won, meaning that for now, carbon pricing in Canada is even less likely than it will be in the U.S.
The oil industry launched another assault Tuesday in the battle to protect favorable tax rates for energy producers.
The industry’s chief lobbyist in Washington, Jack Gerard, president and chief executive of the American Petroleum Institute, said raising taxes on the oil and gas companies would stifle job growth and do nothing to lower gasoline prices.
He said the recent push to eliminate industry tax breaks is “a red herring” designed to distract attention from the “ineffective energy policies” of the Obama administration.
President Obama and Democrats in Congress are pushing to end $4 billion in subsides, saying that oil companies are profitable enough to bear the burden, while the government is in serious need of additional revenue.
The tussle over tax breaks comes asrising gas prices have pinched consumers across America, while companies such as Exxon (XOM,Fortune 500), Chevron (CVX,Fortune 500) and BP (BP) have reaped billions in profits from a spike in global oil prices.
Drivers around the country are fighting mad about high gas prices, which exceed $4 per-gallon in many markets.
But could there be something fishy behind these soaring prices? A federal taskforce is looking into that very question, Attorney General Eric Holder said today, according tothis Reuters report.
“To the extent that there are inappropriate attempts to manipulate the [gas] markets, that there is price gouging, other things of that nature that have had a devastating impact on average Americans “¦ that will be the focus of this taskforce,” Holder told the House Judiciary Committee. “We will hold them accountable.”
Holder said that prosecutors will look into possible violations of criminal and civil laws, Reuters reports, but he also said that high prices might be merely a product of usual market forces. “I don’t want to oversell what it is we are doing,” Holder said.
The U.S. Senate may vote on bills this month to promote clean energy and small nuclear reactors, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said on Tuesday.
Congress and the White House are under pressure to fight soaring fuel costs, which are cutting into consumer spending and threatening an economic recovery.
Reid acknowledged the Senate was “way behind” in dealing with energy issues and said he wants to bring up for a vote by the end of May one or several bills from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, headed by Senator Jeff Bingaman. Bingaman hopes to move several energy bills out of his committee this month that Reid said could be brought to the Senate floor by the Memorial Day recess.
“I don’t think we can jam it all together, but I think we can take them one at a time,” Reid told reporters on Capitol Hill.
The U.S. Defense Department, which accounts for 93 percent of federal energy use, can lead the push for a low-carbon economy, the science adviser to President Barack Obama said.
Investments in advanced fuels and electric vehicles, as well as new efficiency practices, may develop breakthroughs, John Holdren, director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, said today at a Washington conference on climate change and the defense industry. The U.S. military is responsible for 2 percent of the country’s energy consumption.
The Pentagon has an interest in low-carbon alternatives, Holdren said. Extreme temperatures and severe weather caused by climate change threaten U.S. troops and equipment and may heighten international tensions, he said.
“The problem is that the world is getting most of the energy that its economies need in ways that are imperiling the climate that its environment needs,” the 67-year-old Holdren said. “That is the essence of the challenge.”
General Electric Co. (GE) chief executive Jeff Immelt said Tuesday the company expects revenue from clean technology to total $21 billion this year.
This figure is higher than the $5 billion in revenue from clean technology GE..
A New Jersey company says it will invest $18 million to install a solar power system capable of producing 3.6 megawatts of electricity, or enough to power 450 homes every year.
The clean energy division of New Jersey Resources ( NJR -news - people ) is leasing 13 acres in Manalapan to build a “solar field” of ground-mounted, crystalline panels. The energy generated will be fed into the power grid through the wholesale market.
It’s the first ground-mounted project for the Wall-based company, which hopes to take advantage of federal tax credits as well as state incentives for green energy projects.
New Jersey ranks second in the nation in the use of solar power, according to the state Board of Public Utilities.
China has spent tens of billions of dollars buying into energy resources from Africa to Latin America to slake the unquenched thirst for fuel from its growing industry and burgeoning cities.
But China may have more energy riches under its own soil than policy makers in the world’s second-largest economy ever dared imagine.
Just over a year ago, Beijing awakened to a technology revolution that has unlocked massive reserves of gas trapped within shale rock formations in the United States.
Once deemed too costly to extract, shale gas has turned around U.S. dependence on foreign gas imports. Just a few years ago, the United States was building scores of expensive facilities to import liquefied natural gas (LNG), looking at booming long-term demand forecasts and wondering which countries would supply the huge volume of imports it needed.
Instead, the United States is turning import facilities into export terminals, because its shale gas reserves are estimated to be big enough to meet domestic demand for 30 years. This is an American dream that China wants to emulate.
“America’s shale gas production alone has exceeded that of total Chinese gas output. That gives us a lot of confidence,” said Zhang Dawei, deputy director of the Strategic Research Centre for Oil and Gas in the Ministry of Land and Resources(MLR).
China’s confidence has been bolstered by a new report of its estimated reserves of shale gas, which shows them to be, by far, the largest in the world.
Climate change might cause more heat waves which may in turn lead to more fatalities in U.S. cities in the coming decades, a new study has found.
For the study, researchers at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health developed three climate change scenarios for 2081 to 2100, which were based on estimates from seven global climate change models and from mortality and air pollution data for the city of Chicago from 1987 to 2005.
The data were limited to the warm season from May to October of each year.
The researchers calculated that the city of Chicago could experience between 166 and 2,217 excess deaths per year attributable to heat waves using three different climate change scenarios for the final decades of the 21st century.
Global climate change is anticipated to bring more extreme weather phenomena such as heat waves that could impact human health in the coming decades, the researchers concluded in the study published in the May edition of the journal Environmental Health Perspectives.
A group of attorneys using children and young adults as plaintiffs plans to file legal actions in every state and the District of Columbia on Wednesday in an effort to force government intervention on climate change.
The courtroom ploy is backed by high-profile activists looking for a legal soft spot to advance a cause that has stumbled in the face of stiff congressional opposition and a skeptical U.S. Supreme Court.
The goal is to have the atmosphere declared for the first time as a “public trust” deserving special protection. That’s a concept previously used to clean up polluted rivers and coastlines, although legal experts said they were uncertain it could be applied successfully to climate change.
Wednesday’s spate of lawsuits, led by an Oregon-based nonprofit called Our Children’s Trust, are based on “common law” theories, not statutes adopted by state or federal lawmakers. Documents in the cases were provided in advance to The Associated Press.
The Bay Area must start prepping for the whens, not the ifs, of climate change – like building cooling centers for use during heat waves, propping up homes on stilts in flood-prone areas and even abandoning roadways vulnerable to sea-level rise, according to an influential urban policy organization.
In a dramatic new tack that emphasizes adaptation over prevention, the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association is recommending in a report to be released today that officials in the nine-county region begin making concrete plans for the economic, environmental and public health impacts of increasing temperatures, more volatile weather, scarcer freshwater, rising seas and poorer air quality over the next 100 years.
“As a species, we’ve known about climate change for more than a quarter century and we’ve been working to stop it,” said Gabriel Metcalf, director of the planning group. “At this point, though, we have to admit we’ve failed and open the second front in the war – retooling our urban areas to survive climate change.”
Rules that would make constructing large wood-burning power plants in the state much more difficult were proposed yesterday by the Patrick administration.
If the regulations are made final, it could mean that three proposed large wood-burning, or biomass, plants in Russell, Springfield, and Greenfield would not be built because they would no longer be eligible for renewable energy credits that made them more competitive with traditional power sources. However, smaller plants that generate electricity and also use the heat are eligible and could be built.
“I suspect the [large-scale] power-generating-only facilities are not going to like these new regulations, because they will not be efficient enough to qualify for any” renewable credits, said Richard K. Sullivan Jr., secretary of energy and environmental affairs. But he said the rules were the product of “rigorous scientific study and a robust public process.”
Both sides in the debate over government biofuels support are looking to bolster their arguments with numbers, as new, warring economic studies present differing figures on the role that ethanol production plays in gasoline pricing.
A paper by two economists published by the Center for Agricultural and Rural Development (CARD) at Iowa State University argues that ethanol production has reduced wholesale gasoline prices by 25 cents per gallon on average over the past 10 years, with recent price impacts in certain markets reducing the cost by as much as $1.37 per gallon.
That study — funded by the ethanol industry group Renewable Fuels Association — also warned that in the unlikely scenario that domestic ethanol production should be quickly and completely stopped, gas prices could skyrocket.
But a competing study by the Energy Policy Research Foundation Inc. (EPR Inc.), an energy economics group supported by petroleum and energy companies, argued in a paper attacking the federal renewable fuel standard that rising corn costs make ethanol more expensive than gasoline and increase the overall cost of fuel for consumers.
Making business green was once seen as a burden. It was what company’s that wished to be seen as ethical did. It cost money and stood in the way of increasing a firm’s margins. Today, the situation could not be more different. Rich Green, Nokia’s chief technology officer, puts it in simple terms. “Green is neither a threat, nor an opportunity. It is an obligation.
However, if it is an obligation, then, says Tim Watkins, vice president of Huawei Western Europe, the growing need for energy-efficient products is a real opportunity to innovate while helping client companies save on operating costs.
“Many mobile operators around the world are now having to reassess their 20-year-old infrastructure and plan for the future,” he says. “Modern technology is a lot less power-hungry than it was. The green agenda is making us more competitive and giving the customers we sell to a real benefit, because they have a green agenda they can talk about.”