June 24 News: Not All Republicans Oppose Carbon Tax; Tougher Fuel Standards Won’t Cut GHG Emissions, Oil Demand

A round-up of climate and energy news. Please post other stories below.

One bipartisan commission came close to taxing carbon; could Congress?

Not every Republican agrees with the anti-tax sentiments of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.), who yesterday abandoned the fraying negotiations to raise the nation’s debt ceiling.

Former Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) recently co-chaired a budget commission that seriously considered using a carbon tax to bring down the nation’s debt and long-term deficits. The panel was packed with high-profile budget experts from both parties, and the commission eventually chose a national sales tax to help pay down the country’s ballooning debt.

The choice, by some accounts, was not an easy one. The panel contemplated the positive effects of a carbon tax that placed a $23 fee on each ton of carbon: It would have raised about $1.1 trillion by 2025 while cutting carbon dioxide emissions 10 percent below 2005 levels during that same period.

It was one of just two sources of revenue the panel considered.

“We put it before the group as a major source of revenue, and then we decided we had enough [funding] and we could not expect the American public to accept two new [taxes] and support the package,” Domenici said in an interview in his office at the Bipartisan Policy Center, which organized the commission.

Related Post (see “Bombshell: High and rising price for carbon pollution emerges as credible deficit reduction strategy“)

Tougher fuel standards not enough to cut emissions and oil demand — study

Simply forcing the U.S. automotive industry to comply with tougher fuel economy standards won’t be enough to create substantial cuts in either greenhouse gas emissions or oil use, says a new report from the National Research Council.

The study finds that while tougher fuel efficiency standards are a crucial part of any plan to reduce emissions and oil demand, better standards alone would only slow the growth in both categories. The transportation sector is responsible for about 25 percent of carbon emissions nationally and about two-thirds of the country’s oil use.

“I think that is one of the important points, that [tougher efficiency standards] is essential. It is an essential prerequisite,” said Emil Frankel, who chaired the committee that authored the report.

“But if one accepts the ambitious goals in terms of reduction of oil dependence and energy use, as well as greenhouse gas emissions, [then] the technological changes, in and of themselves, won’t achieve those very, very ambitious goals. But it’s a prerequisite and it’s an important contributor.”

Fracking and Water: E.P.A. Zeroes In on 7 Sites

The Environmental Protection Agency has chosen seven natural gas drilling sites where it will conduct case studies to evaluate the impact of hydraulic fracturing on local drinking water.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, involves freeing of natural gas trapped in shale rock by injecting copious amounts of water at very high pressure. It has become increasingly controversial as companies have turned to drilling horizontally at significant depths. Communities fear that this form of drilling may cause serious environmental damage, particularly if the chemicals enter the drinking water supply. Yet companies, arguing that natural gas is a cleaner energy source than coal, are eager to tap these bountiful underground reserves.

Great Lakes may beat Atlantic to offshore wind

States along the Atlantic Coast are racing to be first in the country to put wind turbines offshore. But a group in Ohio says the first offshore wind farm in America isn’t likely to be in the Atlantic, but in the fresh waters of Lake Erie about seven miles off the Cleveland coast.

A dull gray salvage boat chugs out of the Port of Cleveland on a calm spring morning; it’s part of the early stages of what some hope will become a major industry in Ohio. But today, the prospect of dozens of massive wind turbines sprouting from the lake floor seems remote.

Right now, there’s only one structure on the water — a century-old, iron-clad water intake “crib” that juts 30 feet out of the water. A helmeted diver tethered to a nearby boat sinks into the murky water. His job is to recover an ice sensor sitting 50 feet down on the lake bottom.

Meanwhile three engineers climb the metal steps to the crib’s roof where storm-battered instruments are gathering wind data. One of them, Aaron Godwin, says the numbers demonstrate the lake’s energy potential.

“Actually this would be a good example of a day where we would be generating some pretty decent power,” Godwin says. “You’ll see that the instruments are spinning faster as you go up in elevation; again, one of the reasons you come out here is because it’s unobstructed; it’s clean wind.”

EPA Warns House Bill Would ‘Overturn’ Clean Water Law

U.S. EPA warned of the potential dire consequences of legislation being fast-tracked through the House that would give states final say on rules concerning water, wetlands and mountaintop-removal mining.

In a four-page legal analysis (pdf), EPA said the measure (H.R. 2018 (pdf)) sponsored by House Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.) and ranking member Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) “would overturn almost 40 years of federal legislation by preventing EPA from protecting public health and water quality.”

GOP House leaders expect to bring the bill to a floor vote this summer.

EPA said the Mica-Rahall bill would “significantly undermine” the agency’s role of overseeing states’ establishment and enforcement of water pollution limits and permits. It said the measure would hinder EPA’s ability to intervene on behalf of downstream states harmed by pollution coming from a state upstream. And it said the bill would prevent EPA from protecting local communities from ill-conceived mountaintop-removal and similar projects allowed to go forward under Army Corps of Engineers-issued permits.

Scott to weigh in on energy policy with less conservation, more renewables

After remaining on the sidelines on energy issues since taking office, Gov. Rick Scott is now entering the fray, ordering up renewable energy legislation, asking that utility regulators lower energy efficiency standards, and preparing a new energy plan, the governor’s top policy advisors said Thursday.

Scott’s new Special Advisor on Energy Policy Mary Bane is hoping to find a solution to appease the warring factions that led to renewable energy bills dying in the last three legislative sessions, said Mary Anne Carter, Scott’s policy chief.

By summer’s end, Bane will have a proposed state energy policy that will address everything from offshore oil drilling off Florida’s coast to clean coal and renewable energy, Carter told an assembly of about three dozen energy stakeholders in the Capitol’s Cabinet meeting room. The first priority, however, will be to open the door to renewable energy and shut the door on what the governor considers expensive energy efficiency policies, she said.

“The governor is a big proponent of renewable energy,” she said. Scott also wants the Public Service Commission to soften the so-called “Demand Side Management” requirement on electric companies that forces the companies to reward customers for conserving energy, she said. “Conservation is a good thing but the cost of it doesn’t have to be this high,” Carter told the crowd.

The Public Service Commission has recently postponed discussions on energy efficiency goals for Progress Energy and Florida Power & Light and the commission’s staff has recommended that because of the economy and high energy costs, Progress Energy should be allowed to set a more moderate energy efficiency goal than the one set last year. In 2010, the PSC required Progress to lower energy usage by 3,205 Gigawatt-hours (GWh) over the next 10 years, a goal the company said would cost the average residential customer about $13.20 per month over nine years.

Deregulation Doesn’t Mean Healthy Competition

More than a dozen states have competitive electricity choice, yet only one fulfills the promise.

Deregulation in the electricity markets is often talked about in terms of choice and bringing the variation of the wholesale markets more in line with what the average person is paying. States with competitive retail markets are largely seen as some of the most exciting areas to be doing business in the utility space. But are they really?

A few months ago, Greentech Media looked at the offerings in the most active state, Texas, and found that the options are just barely starting to see some real differences on the residential side, despite the fact that nearly 60 percent of consumers exercise their right to choose. For the other states, well, it’s an even bleaker picture according to recent data from the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have active retail choice programs for residential electricity customers, but you’d never know it looking at some graphs published last month by the EIA. The rate of switching is paltry, at best, in all states except Texas. In six states, the rate of participation was too low for the EIA to even put on a chart.

Despite the fact that some states have been deregulated for the better part of a decade, the growth rates are often sloth-like in pace. There are a variety of reasons for the slow roll of these programs, ranging from lack of consumer awareness to regulatory missteps. However, there is also a thin silver lining with more states joining the fray and competition finally picking up in other regions, such as the Northeast.

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