A round-up of the top climate and energy news.
The planet may be getting hotter, but Washington’s debate on climate change isn’t heating up. Amid a summer marked by droughts, wildfires, record temperatures and freak storms, Congress is squeezing in just one hearing on the changing climate before it dashes out for a hot August recess. [Politico]
And that hearing, set for Wednesday, is unlikely to be a show-stopper: No federal officials will testify, and no big-name witnesses will appear — none of the elements that could help this gathering compete for an Olympics-mad public’s attention.
It’s a reminder of how much things have changed for Democrats in Congress since their hopes for passing a major cap-and-trade bill died in 2010, reducing the entire climate issue to second-tier status. Now, Republicans are eager to argue, Democrats are reluctant to even talk about the issue in an election year.
“The Obama administration wants to stay silent about global warming,” said Matt Dempsey, a spokesman for Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Republicans, citing the roster of witnesses for Wednesday’s hearing as evidence….
And some environmentalists say the White House hasn’t lived up to expectations on the topic either. Obama promised Rolling Stone in April that the climate would hold a prominent place on the campaign trail, but so far it hasn’t.
“I’m very disappointed that the president after the Rolling Stone interview has done nothing to inject climate change into the presidential campaign,” said Clinton-era Energy Department official Joe Romm, who blogs for the liberal-leaning Center for American Progress.
“It’s a chicken-and-egg thing,” Romm told POLITICO. “Obviously, if the political leadership of the country doesn’t talk about the problem, … the public isn’t going to care a lot about the problem. Because Obama has not talked about it in two years nor has anyone in the senior leadership of the Democratic Party.”
California’s electricity sector is more vulnerable to climate change than previously thought, as higher temperatures will impede the state’s ability to generate and transmit power while demand for air conditioning rises, a report said Tuesday.[Reuters]
Nearly a year after the remnants of Hurricane Irene unleashed devastating floods in much of Vermont, a new report by an environmental group says extreme downpours and snowfalls are the new normal — up 85 percent in New England since 1948. Nationally, Environment America’s report found that storms with extreme precipitation increased in frequency by 30 percent across the contiguous United States from 1948 to 2011. It said the largest annual storms produced 10 percent more precipitation, on average. [USA Today]
The biggest U.S. drought in half a century is devastating farms across the Midwest. Crops are wilting. Food prices are set to rise. Under the circumstances, does it still make sense for the government to divert a hefty portion of the nation’s corn output into making fuel? [Washington Post]
Archer Daniels Midland, the corn processing company, posted a 25 percent decline in quarterly profit on Tuesday, hurt by record corn prices and a decline in profit from its ethanol operations. Refining, packaging, biodiesel and other operations generated a profit of $84 million for the quarter, down $6 million, mainly on weaker biodiesel results from Europe, where half of the monetary union has slipped into recession. Corn processing took a hit from negative ethanol margins. Operating profit in the segment was down $48 million from last year, to $74 million. [New York Times]
As environmentalists and industry groups bicker over the costs and benefits of pollution rules, a new study finds that we may actually be underestimating the value of clean air in at least one respect: Cutting pollution can allow people to spend less on prescription drugs. [Washington Post]
New Jersey’s largest utility wants to more than double down its investment in solar power, with customers footing the bill.Public Service Electric & Gas Co., which two years ago generated headlines with its ambitious program to install solar panels atop utility poles, on Tuesday proposed to install 136 megawatts more of photovoltaic systems over the next five years and to provide loans to residential and commercial customers to develop an additional 97 megawatts. [Philly]
The great summer storms—which provide three-quarters of India’s annual rainfall—came late to the country this year, leaving much of northern India gripped in a killer drought and unrelenting heat. While the slow monsoons are unlikely to have directly caused the blackouts—the rains finally began to fall recently, enough to reduce temperatures—parched farmers in agricultural areas are turning to electric pumps in large numbers to bring groundwater to the surface for irrigation. If the monsoons continue to be erratic and slow in a global warming future, the demand for electricity to compensate for the heat and the drought will only increase. [Time]