A round-up of the top energy and climate news. Please post other links below.
Global fossil fuel consumption subsidies rose in 2010 despite a pledge by G-20 nations to take steps to reduce them in coming years, according to a new analysis.
The International Energy Agency estimated Tuesday that subsidies that artificially lower fuel prices reached $409 billion in 2010, an increase of almost $110 billion above 2009 levels.
The changes “closely tracked the sharp rise in international fuel prices,” according to the IEA.
The IEA’s top economist told reporters in Paris that subsidies could reach $660 billion in 2020 absent better reforms, according to Reuters.
The Paris-based IEA and the OECD released a joint analysis Tuesday that follows the G-20’s 2009 pledge to phase-out subsidies that encourage waste, hinder energy security, and impede development of renewables and climate change initiatives.
Total subsidies for production and consumption of fossil fuels were about a half-trillion dollars in 2010, the groups said.
The Obama administration said Monday it was moving forward with oil-drilling leases off the coast of Alaska issued by the Bush administration in 2008, a victory for oil companies in the battle over Arctic Ocean drilling.
The Interior Department said it would uphold nearly 500 leases issued in the Chukchi Sea after several environmental groups challenged the sale of the leases in court.
The department’s decision came in response to the lawsuit filed by environmental groups, and those groups still had the option of challenging the department’s determination.
Among the companies securing leases in what is known as Lease Sale 193 was Royal Dutch Shell PLC, the energy giant already at the center of another high-profile fight to secure permits to drill in the Arctic.
Shell said it planned to begin exploring the Chukchi Sea area in 2012. Spokeswoman Kelly op de Weegh called the exploration plan “technically and scientifically sound.”
Environmental groups oppose the Chukchi Sea leases, contending U.S. regulators don’t know enough about the Arctic’s marine life and ecosystem to allow drilling in the region. The groups, invoking last year’s Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, also raise concerns about the ability of energy companies to respond to spills in the Arctic’s icy waters.
The Obama administration is rejecting House GOP leaders’ latest attempt to box him into a corner on environmental protections.
Late Monday afternoon the Office of Management and Budget recommended the President veto two bills House Republicans are planning to bring to the floor for a vote later this week.
In a letter to Obama early Monday, Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) and team touted the EPA Regulatory Relief Act and the Cement Sector Regulatory Relief Act as two areas of potential common ground with the President’s jobs package because both would slash regulations on businesses, which Obama has pledged to reduce.
As written, House Republicans argue that the cement rules threaten to shut down up to 20 percent of the nation’s cement manufacturing plants in the next two years, “sending thousands of jobs permanently overseas and driving up cement and construction costs across the country.”
But the administration quickly rebuffed the Republican entreaties, arguing that each bill would undermine public health protections under the Clean Air Act.
Not too long ago, belief in climate science wasn’t a political issue. Honestly! As recently as the 2008 U.S. presidential election, both the Democratic and Republican candidates professed belief in the threat of global warming, and each advanced policies designed to curb U.S. carbon emissions. Senator John McCain had even co-sponsored one of the first congressional bills to create a carbon cap-and-trade system. And it wasn’t just McCain; Mitt Romney, runner-up for the GOP nomination last time around, supported a regional cap-and-trade program while he was governor of Massachusetts. There was still a wide gap between Democrats and Republicans on the severity of the climate-change threat and on how ambitious carbon-cutting policy should be, but at least there was a general agreement that global warming was a real thing.
Not anymore. With the exception of Jon Huntsman — who barely registers in polls — you can’t find a Republican presidential candidate who unequivocally believes in climate science, let alone one who wants to do anything about it. Instead of McCain — who has walked back his own climate-policy realism since the 2008 elections — we have Texas Governor Rick Perry, who told voters in New Hampshire over the weekend that “I don’t believe manmade global warming is settled in science enough.” And many Republicans agree with him: the percentage of self-identified Republicans or conservatives answering yes to the question of whether the effects of global warming were already being felt fell to 30% or less in 2010, down from 50% in 2007-08. Meanwhile, liberals and Democrats remained around 70% or more.
That’s deeply troubling. It’s one thing when people disagree on the effectiveness of different approaches to fix a problem; it’s worse when they refuse even to believe that a problem exists — despite an overwhelming scientific consensus that says it does. One of America’s major political parties has, in effect, adopted denial as policy. How did we get here?
The booming U.S. solar industry faces a potential tipping point — what some call a “solar-coaster” — as the sun starts to set on billions in federal subsidies.
Can it make it on its own? Can it compete with China, which U.S. officials say spent $33 billion in 2010 alone on solar loans?
Energy Secretary Steven Chu posed these questions Saturday, one day after finalizing the last federal loan guarantees via a controversial program that gave a half-billion-dollar loan to newly bankrupt solar panel manufacturer Solyndra.
“Where do we go from here?” Chu asked at the closing ceremony of the Solar Decathlon, a biennial U.S.-sponsored collegiate contest to build the world’s best solar house. He said the United States is at “a crossroads” and must decide whether to “sit on the sidelines and fall behind” or “play to win the clean-energy race.”
Chu said Americans invented solar cells, wind turbines and lithium ion batteries, but added: “We are no longer the leading manufacturer … we are working to recapture that lead.”
The U.S. solar industry, though decades old, didn’t begin booming until about five years ago as federal subsidies became available and Silicon Valley venture capitalists began pumping in cash and creating a sort of Solar Valley.