November 22 News: Supercommittee Becomes a Super Failure, Taking Oil Tax Subsidies Off the Table

Other stories below: Scientists See Little Chance of Avoiding Dangerous Global Warming; Brazil’s Environment Secretary Calls Chevron Oil Spill an “Environmental Crime”

Oil tax breaks safe as supercommittee flops

The collapse of the deficit supercommittee means oil companies fighting to preserve billions of dollars in tax breaks can once again breathe easy.

Many Democrats had sought to kill the tax subsidies as part of any major deal on spending cuts and revenues, prompting strong oil industry pushback.

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While scuttling the subsidies was likely a long shot for inclusion even if the panel had produced a deal, its failure probably ends any remaining threats this year.

The tax incentives’ survival shows the industry’s lobbying clout even during a year that saw near-record energy prices, high profits and plenty of calls — including some from Republicans — to look at energy subsidies overall.

Greenhouse gases soar; scientists see little chance of arresting global warming this century

Heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are building up so high, so fast, that some scientists now think the world can no longer limit global warming to the level world leaders have agreed upon as safe.

New figures from the U.N. weather agency Monday showed that the three biggest greenhouse gases not only reached record levels last year but were increasing at an ever-faster rate, despite efforts by many countries to reduce emissions.

As world leaders meet next week in South Africa to tackle the issue of climate change, several scientists said their projections show it is unlikely the world can hold warming to the target set by leaders just two years ago in Copenhagen.

“The growth rate is increasing every decade,” said Jim Butler, director of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Global Monitoring Division. “That’s kind of scary.”

Brazil fines Chevron $28 million for oil spill

Chevron was fined $28 million for an oil spill off the country’s coast and could face further penalties, state media reported on Monday.

The leak off Rio de Janeiro state has stopped, said Curt Trennepohl, president of the Brazilian Institute of Environment and Renewable Natural Resources, according to state-run Agencia Brasil. Residual oil in the rocks, however, may still rise to the surface for a few days, he said.

Trennepohl said Chevron was hit with a $28 million fine and could face more penalties if it is shown the company failed in the execution of its emergency plan, Agencia Brasil reported.

Rio de Janeiro Environment Secretary Carlos Minc criticized drilling contractor Transocean, accusing the company of trying to drill at too high a pressure, given the geological characteristics of the seabed.

“This accident was avoidable. … It was incompetence. That is an environmental crime, “ he told Brazil’s Globo TV.

China Pushes Clean-Energy Agenda Ahead of Summit

China plans to push for more funding for clean-energy technologies in the developing world even as it repeated its opposition to mandatory emissions cuts, underscoring the challenges at climate-change talks beginning next week in South Africa.

International climate-change officials are meeting in Durban ahead of the expiration of the Kyoto Protocol global-warming treaty next year, but any formal agreement is considered unlikely by experts.

In addition to continued opposition from major greenhouse-gas emitters China, India and the U.S. — factors that hobbled similar talks in Copenhagen two years ago — Europe continues to grapple with its debt crisis. That makes any new cuts that could curb economic growth and new spending on green initiatives much less likely. Meanwhile, Japan is considering its plan to cut carbon dioxide emissions by 25% by 2020 after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster led political leaders to reconsider the nation’s nuclear ambitions.

Xie Zhenhua, China’s top climate change official, acknowledged at a news conference Tuesday that the global economic crisis will hinder the effort. But he said those difficulties are only “temporary.”

“Combating climate change is a long-term effort,” he said, urging developed countries to make progress on the financing for the climate change fund for developing countries.

U.S. Military Undermined By Environmental Change

Across the US, critical military installations are being put at risk by environmental change. According to the US Department of Defense’s (DoD) 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review Report:

In 2008, the National Intelligence Council [NIC] judged that more than 30 US military installations were already facing elevated levels of risk from rising sea levels. DoD’s operational readiness hinges on continued access to land, air, and sea training and test space. Consequently, the Department must complete a comprehensive assessment of all installations to assess the potential impacts of climate change on its missions and adapt as required.

Sounds logical, and forward thinking, and the US military certainly has the expertise to do a proper job of it. However, there are multiple systemic barriers standing in the way ‘climate proofing’ those critical installations.

The first issue is technical. The new variability caused by environmental change is making risk calculations more complicated. Does one plan coastal infrastructure for a 15cm or 50cm total sea level rise by 2050? 2050 may seem far in the future, but it is well within the lifetime of new infrastructure builds. (Stimulus package funding that went for new infrastructure should have included a rider necessitating that an ‘environmental change proof’ assessment be made).