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Energy and global warming news for December 20th: In Wikileaks cable, Dalai Lama said climate concerns should supercede Tibetan politics; New U.S. blueprint for solar development amidst booming global market

WikiLeaks cables: Dalai Lama called for focus on climate, not politics, in Tibet

Exiled Buddhist leader told US ambassador to India that ‘political agenda should be sidelined’ in favour of climate issues

The Dalai Lama told US diplomats last year that the international community should focus on climate change rather than politics in Tibet because environmental problems were more urgent, secret American cables reveal.

The exiled Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader told Timothy Roemer, the US ambassador to India, that the “political agenda should be sidelined for five to 10 years and the international community should shift its focus to climate change on the Tibetan plateau” during a meeting in Delhi last August.

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“Melting glaciers, deforestation and increasingly polluted water from mining projects were problems that ‘cannot wait’, but the Tibetans could wait five to 10 years for a political solution,” he was reported as saying.

Though the Dalai Lama has frequently raised environmental issues, he has never publicly suggested that political questions take second place, nor spoken of any timescale with such precision.

Roemer speculated, in his cable to Washington reporting the meeting, that “the Dalai Lama’s message may signal a broader shift in strategy to reframe the Tibet issue as an environmental concern”.

In their meeting, the ambassador reported, the Dalai Lama criticised China’s energy policy, saying dam construction in Tibet had displaced thousands of people and left temples and monasteries underwater.

He recommended that the Chinese authorities compensate Tibetans for disrupting their nomadic lifestyle with vocational training, such as weaving, and said there were “three poles” in danger of melting — the north pole, the south pole, and “the glaciers at the pole of Tibet”.

Obama administration unveils blueprint for solar energy development in West

The Obama administration issued proposed guidelines Thursday for solar development on public lands in the West, a move that could speed renewable energy projects that have been mired in environmental controversy.

The detailed analysis, known as a Draft Solar Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement, identifies 24 “solar energy zones” in six states that Interior Secretary Ken Salazar said would be most suited “for environmentally sound, utility-scale solar energy production.”

“We think it provides a common-sense and flexible framework through which to grow our nation’s renewable energy economy,” Salazar told reporters in a conference call.

Under the 10,000-page plan, which is now subject to public comment for 90 days, developers would have a higher level of confidence that they could receive federal permits establishing solar ventures in specific areas in states including Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico and Utah.

Solar reports say industry is booming, with falling prices and heavy Chinese manufacturing

As it waits for Congress to decide whether to extend a key government incentive program, the solar industry revealed several reports on industry performance so far this year — and the numbers are looking healthy.

The Solar Energy Industries Assn., a major trade group, said that commercial solar customers in the U.S. installed 103 megawatts in the third quarter, a 38% boom from the same period in 2009.

Overall, more than 27,000 homes and businesses set up solar systems, according to the group, which partnered with GTM research. The average cost fell to below $6 a watt for the first time.

By the end of the year, the U.S. industry might surpass one gigawatt of installtions, between photovoltaic, concentrating solar power, and solar heating and cooling projects, the group said. So far, California is leading the pack, followed by New Jersey, Florida, Arizona and Colorado.

Globally, demand for just photovoltaics grew 196% to 10.6 gigawatts in the first nine months of 2010, according to the SolarBuzz research and consulting firm. In the third quarter, the industry pulled in $17.9 billion — a 74% increase.

Records Show Concerns About Another BP Rig

Months before the BP disaster, some Congressional officials were pressing federal regulators behind the scenes about numerous safety concerns related to offshore drilling, potential oil spills and BP itself, but they complained that they were rebuffed, previously undisclosed documents show.

Congressional officials raised particular concerns about the safety of a second BP oil platform in the Gulf of Mexico and about regulators’ failure to spend millions of dollars approved for oil spill research, among other issues, according to e-mails between Congressional officials and regulators at the Minerals Management Service, as the agency was then known.

When officials at the agency told members of Congress in 2009 that they could not specifically respond to concerns about the potential for a “catastrophic” accident on a second BP rig off New Orleans, known as the Atlantis, some staff members were livid at what they viewed as stonewalling.

Chevron to Spend $4 Billion on U.S. Gulf Discovery

Chevron Corp., the second-largest U.S. oil company, plans to spend $4 billion to get crude and natural gas from its Big Foot discovery in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.

The field, which contains the equivalent of 200 million barrels of crude, is scheduled to come online in 2014, the San Ramon, California-based company said in a statement today. It will be capable of producing 75,000 barrels of oil and 25 million cubic feet of gas a day, the company said.

The discovery is about 225 miles (360 kilometers) south of New Orleans in waters 5,200 feet deep. This is Chevron’s second deep-water investment since an April explosion at BP Plc’s Macondo well off the Louisiana coast that caused the biggest U.S. offshore oil spill.

Markey chosen as top Democrat on Natural Resources Committee

Representative Edward J. Markey this morning was chosen to be the top Democrat on the Natural Resources Committee, providing the Malden Democrat with a key role that he says will allow him to block the Republican agenda.

The committee deals with issues involving the environment, energy, and public land.

“In the next Congress, Republicans will attempt to short-circuit the laws that keep our water clean, our air clear and our public lands pristine, while giving short shrift to emerging clean energy technologies that can create jobs and clean up our environment,” Markey said this morning in a statement. “With my fellow Democrats on the Natural Resources Committee, I believe we can chart a course that will continue the progress we’ve made on creating energy jobs here in America, without sacrificing our nation’s natural heritage.”

A litmus test of energy lobby’s power

Energy-themed trade groups can measure their level of influence with the next Congress to some degree by the amount of work they did over the past two years to pass global warming legislation.

Some lobby shops actively supported the Obama administration and its Democratic allies on Capitol Hill, sensing a golden opportunity to reshape the nation’s energy policy. Others played along, figuring it made sense to be at the bargaining table to shape a cap-and-trade bill as best they could.

But now that the proposal is dead, groups like the American Wind Energy Association and Solar Energy Industries Association must deal with the awkwardness of trying to work with the same Republicans who opposed their efforts to put a lid on greenhouse gases.

“They’ve been so associated with the environmental community and the Democrats,” said Mark McIntosh, counsel at Boyden Gray & Associates and a White House official from the George W. Bush administration. “From a strategy standpoint, it made sense prior to Nov. 2. As a result, though, they may find the atmospherics more challenging moving forward.”