June 14 news: Saudis Can’t Maintain High Output for Long; Italians Vote Against Nuclear Energy Renaissance

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

Saudi oil capacity depleted: Goldman

Saudi Arabia’s cushion of spare oil capacity would shrink to almost nothing if the kingdom quickly ramps up to 10 million barrels per day (bpd), Goldman Sachs’ global head of commodities research said on Monday.

Last week the kingdom said it would unilaterally produce as much oil as the market needed after the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries failed to reach agreement as a whole on output policy.


Saudi newspaper al-Hayat reported Saudi Arabia would boost output to 10 million bpd in July, which Jeff Currie of Goldman Sachs said would leave only 500,000 bpd spare.

“If you get up to (10 mln bpd) you start to really create a very tight market relative to spare capacity,” he told the Reuters Global Energy and Climate Summit.

Joe Romm: Many experts question whether the Saudis in fact can boost output that high, as I discuss here. And even if the Saudis have enough remaining capacity to significantly reduce the price of oil now, that won’t last long — see “WikiLeaks peak oil bombshell: Saudi Arabian reserves overstated by 40%, global production plateau immiment.” And one thing is for sure, the Saudis aren’t doing this to help American consumers — see Saudi Prince: “We Don’t Want The West To Go Find Alternatives” To Oil.

Silvio Berlusconi in Rome on Monday.

Italians Vote to Abandon Nuclear Energy

Italians voted to abandon nuclear power for the foreseeable future, turning out in droves to cast ballots in a packet of referenda whose outcome is a sign of growing popular discontent toward Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative government.

Mr. Berlusconi’s administration had in past weeks urged people not to vote in the four referenda, which were organized by center-left opposition parties and which asked voters whether they wanted to overturn government laws on reviving nuclear energy, privatizing Italy’s water supply and giving top government officials partial immunity from prosecution.

Instead, 57% of Italians went to the polls — a number well above the 50% of the voting population needed to make a referendum valid, a threshold last reached in 1995. More than 95% of those who cast their ballots voted “yes” in each referendum, overturning the four laws in question.

California turns to clean-car plans

California’s clean air regulators, fighting to create a market for greenhouse gases and spur wind farms and solar projects around the state, are shifting their focus to an old friend and enemy — cars.

State law requires California cut emissions of greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2020.

To do that California aims to let polluters trade the right to emit, which planners believe would create a race to find the most effective way to cut carbon emissions, and to vastly increase solar power and wind generation.

But the key, Air Resources Board Chair Mary Nichols told the Reuters Global Energy and Climate Summit in San Francisco, are vehicles which produce 40 percent of the state’s greenhouse gases and a high percentage of other pollutants.

“Most important for Californians, from an air quality perspective, is still the cars. After all these years, it’s still the cars,” Nichols, who is hammering out new standards and incentives for battery and fuel-cell vehicles, said by phone.

California is the biggest U.S. car market and also has the distinction of being able to set policy independent of federal rules, making it over the years into a laboratory for change.

EPA Delays Greenhouse-Gas Rules for Power Plants

The Environmental Protection Agency said it would take additional time to review input on rules being drafted to regulate greenhouse gases from power plants, a concession that the agency said won’t delay implementation of the final rules in 2012.

The EPA said Monday that it will propose the greenhouse rules by Sept. 30, instead of July 26 as initially planned. The agency plans to finalize the rules in 2012.

The agency has come under increased pressure from Republicans and power companies to delay or weaken rules it is developing to regulate emissions from power plants.

Wind power and water power collide in the Northwest

Wind farms are furious at the Bonneville Power Administration for making them cut electricity generation because high flows on the Columbia River have led to extra hydropower.

The wide, green gorge where the majestic Columbia River begins its final push to the sea generates so many stiff breezes that windsurfers from around the world make their way to Hood River, not far from here, to ply their colorful sails atop the churning whitecaps.

Lately though, electricity, not recreation, has become the big-ticket wind client in the Columbia Gorge. Wind turbines have sprung up all over the blustery hilltops in eastern Washington and Oregon, an area soon to become home to the largest wind farm in the world, developed for customers of Southern California Edison. Indeed, half the massive new wind power generated in the Pacific Northwest goes down the grid to California.

For the last three weeks, however, many of the wind farms have been ordered to shut down their generation for several hours a day — victims of an unusual surplus of hydroelectric power that has confounded regional electricity operators and infuriated renewable energy advocates who have worked so hard to develop the region’s wind bonanza.

The problem is an unexpected collision between two of the Northwest’s most treasured environmental assets, wind power and endangered salmon. Spring flows on the Columbia are so high that power system operators say they cannot dial back hydroelectric generators without harming the small juvenile fish now making their way down the river in their spring migration to the sea. With the turbines generating so much electricity, there is much less room on the grid for wind power.

Tea Party Leaders in House Resume Their Assault on Environmental Safeguards

The U.S. House has just returned from recess, and the Tea Party Republicans want to make it their first order of business to resume their assault on the environment. House Republican leaders and their Tea Party colleagues are working to block any effort to update the protections that keep our air and water clean.

GOP forces are fighting this battle largely away from public view. Poll after poll shows that American voters favor public health safeguards, so these lawmakers are slipping their dirty measures into the 2012 spending bills in the form of policy riders.

Spending bills are the one kind of legislation that must be passed, even in this divided Congress. Yet policy riders have nothing to do with saving taxpayer money. They literally do not save a single penny. They are designed instead to dictate major changes in government policy with little public debate or transparency.

Looming EPA rules unlikely to hamper power reliability

A new report by a bipartisan think tank finds that a suite of looming Environmental Protection Agency rules are unlikely to disrupt the reliability of the nation’s electric power system.

The Bipartisan Policy Center’s staff report comes at a time when Capitol Hill Republicans and industry groups are seeking to delay or soften various EPA requirements, citing reliability fears among the reasons.

But the BPC says their analysis “indicates that scenarios in which electric system reliability is broadly affected are unlikely to occur.”

However, the study cautions that the rules present major planning challenges and notes more study is warranted to gauge “localized” reliability effects in some regions, among other recommendations for ensuring the regulations are implemented manageably.

Amid growing negativity, Vilsack continues to support corn ethanol

In the buildup before the Senate votes on a proposal to eliminate benefits for the corn ethanol industry, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack emphasized his support for biofuels to promote food security, energy independence and climate change.

“We are looking to biofuels, in particular, to help confront the challenges of providing adequate sustainable energy supplies, generating economic growth in rural communities, mitigating the impacts of climate change,” said Vilsack at a National Press Club luncheon whose audience included several representatives from the ethanol industry.

The secretary will represent the United States’ priorities at the G-20’s meeting of agricultural ministers in Paris next week.

In addition to speaking on food aid, safety, international trade and rural economies, Vilsack touched on the week’s hot topic of market incentives for corn ethanol, defending the industry while acknowledging the need for reform.

Blair Mountain brings together enviros, union workers

Despite long-standing animosity between the two groups, some union coal miners have joined forces with environmentalists to stop mountaintop-removal mining at a West Virginia historical landmark. But whether this alliance represents a growing relationship between the two group remains to be seen.

Several hundred people gathered Saturday in a Logan County field surrounded by mountains, deep in southern West Virginia coal country, to protest possible strip mining on Blair Mountain — the site of a labor uprising called the second largest U.S. armed insurrection since the Civil War (Greenwire, June 3). Union coal miners in 1921 fought police and mining authorities for better working conditions and to curb industry abuses.

Now, almost 100 years later, union miners hoping to save the site are working with environmentalists seeking to stop mountaintop-removal mining — a practice that involves removing a mountain’s surface to access the coal below — altogether.

“They’re not against work; they’re not against a lot of coal,” said Danny White, a retired coal miner from Mingo County, W.Va., describing the sentiments of many union workers. “They’re against this Blair Mountain being torn down.”

Addressing agriculture

The third 2012 House appropriations bill — this one funding the Agriculture Department and related agencies — is set to come to the floor on Tuesday.

As it stands, the appropriations process in the House is proceeding on the assumption that the Paul Ryan budget, and its deep cuts in spending, is carrying the day, despite the fact the budget was rejected by the Senate.

The House agriculture bill cuts spending by more than $7 billion from President Obama’s request for fiscal 2012, while reducing discretionary spending by $2.7 billion from last year’s level. And the measure’s particulars — deep cuts to child nutrition, food safety and the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s (CFTC) ability to implement the Dodd-Frank financial reform — promise some fireworks on the floor.

The debate will also be interesting because the appropriations bill strays into the territory of the Farm Bill, by preventing direct farm subsidy payments to applicants with adjusted gross income over $250,000 per year. Under the 2008 farm bill, applicants with more than $500,000 in adjusted gross income from off-farm sources or $750,000 in on-farm AGI are not eligible for subsidy payments.