Other stories below: Singapore raises sea defenses against tide of climate; FirstEnergy to shut down six coal sites
A senior Democrat on the payroll tax conference panel had some strong words Thursday for Republicans hoping to attach Keystone pipeline language to the package.
“That is so stupid, already, for them to be pushing the Keystone pipeline issue in this bill, in this conference,” Rep. Henry Waxman told reporters gathered near the Chesapeake Bay for the Democrats’ annual caucus retreat. “The pipeline issue is one that the Republicans are obsessing over.”
The California Democrat suggested that a provision forcing approval of the pipeline would alienate the Democrats on the panel and kill any shot at a bipartisan deal.
“Many of us believe that that pipeline will lock us into a 50 to 100 years of dependence on the dirtiest source of oil,” said Waxman, the senior Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee. He characterized the GOP’s Keystone provision as a “special interest earmark” with no business on the tax bill.
A 15-km (10 mile) stretch of crisp white beach is one of the key battlegrounds in Singapore’s campaign to defend its hard-won territory against rising sea levels linked to climate change.
Stone breakwaters are being enlarged on the low-lying island state’s man-made east coast and their heights raised. Barges carrying imported sand top up the beach, which is regularly breached by high tides.
Singapore, the world’s second most densely populated country after Monaco, covers 715 square km (276 sq miles). It has already reclaimed large areas to expand its economy and population — boosting its land area by more than 20 percent since 1960.
But the new land is now the frontline in a long-term battle against the sea.
Every square meter is precious in Singapore.
Adjusting to shifts in the economy, states in the cap-and-trade system known as the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative have slashed the number of allowances that electric power companies can buy to offset their emissions.
The decision, made last week, was intended to shore up the pioneering program as it undergoes its first comprehensive review this year. While the program has been judged a success by most of the participating states, in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic, an oversupply of the allowances — in essence, permits to pollute — has limited the program’s impact.
The program, the nation’s first cap-and-trade system, sets a ceiling on carbon dioxide emissions from electric power providers and requires the companies to pay for their heat-trapping emissions by buying the allowances in online auctions held four times a year. Companies that pollute less can benefit by selling off allowances to other companies.
FirstEnergy Corp. said Thursday that new environmental regulations led to a decision to shut down six older, coal-fired power plants in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland, affecting more than 500 employees.
The plants, which are in Cleveland, Ashtabula, Oregon and Eastlake in Ohio, Adrian, Pa. and Williamsport, Md., will be retired by Sept. 1. They have generated about 10 percent of the electricity produced by FirstEnergy over the last three years, the company said.
In a statement James Lash, head of the company’s generation unit, indicated that a review of the company’s coal-fired plants determined it would not be cost-effective to get the older ones into compliance with environmental regulations the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced in December.
On Thursday, President Obama traveled to Las Vegas to pitch a few new energy policies — including tax breaks for firms that buy natural gas-powered trucks. T. Boone Pickens, for one, has argued that fueling vehicles with natural gas is the best way to curtail oil use. Is it?
In small doses, perhaps, though it depends what the alternatives are. Fueling up cars and trucks directly with natural gas could help cut America’s reliance on crude oil. Yet some experts have cautioned that plug-in electric vehicles should play a much more pivotal role in weaning the country off oil. After all, it’s far more efficient to take natural gas, burn it to generate electricity, and power a bunch of plug-in vehicles, than it would be to fuel up cars and trucks with all that natural gas directly. (That’s because the combustion engines in cars and trucks lose waste more energy than the modern-day combined-cycle gas turbines that produce electricity.)
The counterargument is that electric vehicles are expensive and hard to scale up — and they typically require a vast new charging infrastructure. That’s true. But natural-gas vehicles could face similar hurdles. A 2002 analysis in the journal Energy Policy found that natural-gas fueling stations have historically had trouble getting built precisely because they turned out to be far more costly than anticipated.
Assisted by technological innovation and years of subsidies, the cost of wind and solar power has fallen sharply — so much so that the two industries say that they can sometimes deliver cleaner electricity at prices competitive with power made from fossil fuels.
At the same time, wind and solar companies are telling Congress that they cannot be truly competitive and keep creating jobs without a few more years of government support.
Their efforts received a boost on Thursday from President Obama, who called for a package of tax credits for renewable power as part of a broader energy plan that he outlined while on a campaign swing through Nevada and Colorado.
But the lobbying by the wind and solar industries comes at a time when there is little enthusiasm for alternative-energy subsidies in Washington.