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NYT: Election’s Over. Now to Tackle the Realities

David Leonhardt, NY Times
For everyone who is worried about the country’s big economic problems — energy policy, health care, the budget deficit — today is a good day.

It should be a good day regardless of whether you’re elated or disappointed by last night’s results, because a campaign that included almost no serious discussion of these issues has now ended.

…We could use some fresh economic ideas right now. An honest accounting of the budget deficit would show it to be even larger than the government says it is. High oil prices have helped finance extremist governments across the Middle East, while the five warmest years on record have all occurred in the last decade. Health care costs, like the numbers of the uninsured, keep rising. Wages for most Americans have failed to keep pace with inflation over the last five years.

In some cases, the outlines of a potential — even bipartisan — solution have already begun to take shape outside of Washington. In other cases, the two parties each have a chance to claim a big issue as their own. With an eye toward Nov. 4, 2008, here is a breakdown of the four biggest:



GLOBAL WARMING Two weeks ago, Sir Nicholas Stern, a top economics official in the British government, released a report that should change the debate over climate change. Sir Nicholas and his staff concluded that without sharp reductions in greenhouse gases, global warming — and the droughts, hurricanes and floods that it brings — will probably reduce the world’s economic output by at least 5 percent a year. “The benefits of strong and early action far outweigh the economic costs of not acting,” the Stern report stated.

In this country, neither political party is serious about the problem. Instead, both have trotted out laundry lists of futuristic alternative-energy programs. No one can know which ones will actually work, and the planet will keep getting hotter in the meantime.

There are only two ways to slow global warming. One is to raise the cost of putting carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, through an energy tax. From Alan Greenspan and Mr. Mankiw on the right to Al Gore and Larry Summers on the left, there is enormous support for this idea, which would do far more to spur research than the current hodgepodge of alternative-energy tax credits.

That said, none of the big advocates of an energy tax are running for office right now. The second idea — less efficient but perhaps more politically palatable — relies on regulations like higher mileage standards for vehicles and limits on carbon use by companies. Senator John McCain says he favors such caps. I suspect we’ll hear more from him in the next couple of years.

(8 Nov 2006)
Original article has links. Emphasis added.

Environmentalists hopeful after US Democratic victory

Karen Calabria, AFP via Mail & Guardian online (South Africa)
Environmentalists on Wednesday hailed Democratic victories in United States congressional elections as a possible harbinger of change in the global-warming policies of the world’s top polluters.

But they said there was little chance the legislative power shift from Tuesday’s polls would alter US President George Bush’s opposition to binding caps on greenhouse-gas emissions enshrined in the Kyoto Protocol.

Still, gathered in the Kenyan capital for a key United Nations climate-change conference, delegates and observers said Republican losses could help the environment and might force an easing in Bush’s tough stance on other, related matters.

“This is good news for climate,” said WWF climate-change director Hans Verholme, adding quickly he did not think the results could force a change in the administration’s vehement opposition to the Kyoto Protocol.

Bush incurred the wrath of environmentalists in 2001 by rejecting Kyoto, which seeks to limit greenhouse-gas emissions of developed nations, and is unlikely to alter his position on the treaty, US officials in Nairobi say.

But Verholme and others were optimistic that Democratic control of the House of Representatives and possible control of the Senate would lead to pressure on the administration to boost efforts to combat climate change.
(8 Nov 2006)
It must be a indicator of something that the best round-up of the U.S. election results from an environmental perspective was from a French news agency (AFP), published on an African website!

UPDATE (9 Nov)
Reader Adam points out that the Mail & Guardian is in South Africa, not Zambia. “Their domain name ends ‘’ which is South Africa (the word for South in Afrikaans begins with ‘Z’.”


New Congress could mean real movement on global warming

Darren Samuelsohn, E&E Daily
Democratic victories yesterday in the House and Senate appear likely to boost efforts to strengthen U.S. global warming policy, though it is far from certain whether the next Congress and President Bush will work together over the coming two years to enact a first-ever federal law to cap greenhouse gas emissions.

With Democrats set to take over the House and perhaps the Senate in January, experts and lawmakers alike expect an emboldened legislative branch to advance an entirely new of set environment and energy proposals unlike anything seen during Bush’s previous six years in the White House.

In the House, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) is poised to direct climate and air pollution policy as chairman of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee. The veteran lawmaker is expected to hold a series of hearings on global warming specifically, as well as direct oversight of U.S. EPA’s most controversial air emission regulations, before spelling out what steps he may take to address these issues.

Yet Dingell is widely seen as strongly sympathetic to his home state’s auto industry, leaving open the question of exactly what regulations he would be willing to accept for one of the key sources of heat-trapping emissions that scientists say are causing global warming. Dingell is scheduled to speak with reporters this afternoon to discuss his plans.

Across the Hill, a strong showing by Democratic candidates has left Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) on the verge of winning the right to chair the Environment and Public Works Committee. If that happens, depending on the results of a recount in Montana and possibly Virginia, one of the environmental movement’s most outspoken supporters will find herself in prime position to advance legislation that caps emissions.
(8 Nov 2006)
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Bush won’t change climate policy, chief negotiator says

Alister Doyle, Reuters
NAIROBI – President George W. Bush’s chief climate negotiator dashed European hopes of a U.S. shift to tougher curbs on global warming on Wednesday after the Republicans lost control of the House of Representatives.

“I do not see any change in our policy. We feel very comfortable,” U.S. senior climate negotiator Harlan Watson told Reuters during 189-nation U.N. talks in Nairobi on ways to fight global warming.

“The president…feels very comfortable that we are making progress and he sees no reason to change,” he said of U.S. goals of slowing, but not capping, rising emissions of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels.
(8 Nov 2006)

Dems intend to hammer ‘energy independence’ in next Congress

Mary O’Driscoll, E&E Daily
A new Congress quite possibly ruled by Democrats from both sides of the Capitol brings with it a revived focus on oversight that will almost certainly draw intense attention to the Bush administration’s energy policies and efforts to expand the use of alternative fuels.

But whether the Democrats’ possible midterm election sweep translates into concrete energy and environmental legislation is heavily dependent on how the newly minted House Democrats, most of whom are more conservative than their party leaders, will approach the issue. Just as important a question is whether the House Republican minority will want to cooperate with Democrats just months before the start of the wide-open 2008 presidential campaign.

On that last point, top Republicans last night signaled that the GOP’s approach to the next Congress will be anything but conciliatory. Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) on MSNBC called the emerging Democratic House majority a “lame-duck majority,” while the current majority leader, Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), issued a statement calling on Republicans to return to “the spirit of ’94,” the year of the landmark GOP takeover of both houses of Congress.

Democrats, for their part, listed energy policy on their “six for ’06” agenda re-released last night that names energy independence as an agenda item meant to bring focus to increasing the availability of alternative fuels and reducing the economy’s dependence on imported oil. An array of Democrats, from Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the presumptive new House speaker, to her primary deputy, House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), took up that message last night when previewing their intentions for the next session of Congress.
(8 Nov 2006)
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Democrats to target oil majors in new Congress

Tom Doggett and Chris Baltimore, Reuters
Big oil companies will be a top target of Democratic lawmakers when they officially take over the House of Representatives early next year.

Democrats picked up enough seats in Tuesday’s U.S. election to win majority control of the House and have promised to roll back billions of dollars in tax breaks and other financial incentives extended to the oil industry in energy legislation Congress passed last year.

Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi, who is poised to be the next Speaker of the House when the new Congress convenes in January, says oil companies have unfairly earned record profits by gouging consumers at the gasoline pump.

Pelosi says taking away the financial relief given to Big Oil in last year’s Republican-written energy law will be among the six major tasks Democrats plan to tackle in the first 100 hours after she slams the gavel to convene the new House.
(8 Nov 2006)

Oil and gas industry girds for heightened scrutiny, bid to torpedo tax breaks

Ben Geman, Greenwire
The oil industry faces heightened scrutiny in the Democratic Congress and efforts to erase several tax breaks.

Democrats picked up more than two dozen House seats yesterday, giving them control after 12 years in the minority. In the Senate, they could win a very slim margin if Democrats prevail in tight races in Virginia and Montana.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has vowed fast action to try and roll back energy tax incentives and other subsidies contained in last year’s Energy Policy Act of 2005.

“To the extent Democrats can to coalesce around any energy plan one of them has been to repeal tax incentives in last year’s energy bill,” and steer the money toward alternative energies, adds an aide to another Democratic House member involved in energy policy.

Oil and gas industry incentives in the bill are valued at $2.6 billion, and include refiner investment expensing and tax breaks for oil and gas exploration costs.
(8 Nov 2006)
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Alternative fuels measure headed to defeat in California

Matthew Yi, SF Chronicle
Proposition 87, which would have taxed oil production in California to help fund alternative fuel development in the state, was headed for defeat Tuesday, after a campaign in which both sides spent a total of $156 million.

…The measure would have raised as much as $4 billion by imposing a new tax on oil extracted in California to help pay for research and development and distribution of alternative fuels, as well as subsidies to consumers who buy vehicles that run on fuel other than gasoline. The tax would have amounted to 1.5 percent to 6 percent, depending on the price of oil per barrel.

With 59 percent of the votes counted, the initiative was behind 56 to 44 percent.

Prop. 87 aimed to reduce petroleum consumption in California by 25 percent by 2017. The initiative also would have created create a new state agency to administer the funds, which would have been dissolved when all the money had been spent.
(X Nov 2006)
Related: Big Oil trumps Clinton, Hollywood in California (Reuters)

LA Times against Prop 87

Editorial, LA Times
Taxing Peter to finance Paul
Imposing a tax on your competitors to fund yourself is among the many reasons why Prop. 87 is such a bad idea.
HERE’S A STELLAR IDEA: Let’s pass a tax on Internet companies to create a state fund that invests in worthy newspapers. That’s basically akin to what alternative energy venture capitalists are proposing to do with Proposition 87 — tax your competitors (the oil industry) to fund yourself.

Private capital is flooding into the alternative energy sector already, but you’d hardly know it from the glamorous Yes on 87 campaign. …

Did we mention that venture capitalists with investments in alternative energy firms are huge donors to the campaign? There is nothing to prevent such investors from sitting on the board that allocates the research money generated by the proposition, which is precisely the conflict-ofinterest problem that has tainted California’s last experiment with taxpayer-funded research, 2004’s stem cell initiative .

Silicon Valley investor Vinod Khosla, who has given $1.1 million to the Yes on 87 campaign, has promised to donate any profits from companies he owns that benefit from the proposition’s funding to worthy causes. Other backers haven’t made the same vow.

We don’t need a state industrial policy to develop alternative energy; the market is taking care of that.
(6 Nov 2006)
Disappointing editorial from the LA TImes. While the LA Times is one of the nation’s leading papers, its energy coverage is mediocre. In contrast, the energy coverage of the NY Times has been steadily improving.

In this editorial, the LA Times gets the main point wrong.

Andrew Revkin points out in an outstanding article in the NY Times (Budgets falling in race to fight global warming – excerpts; the original is behind a paywall):

…research into energy technologies by both government and industry has not been rising, but rather falling.

In the United States, annual federal spending for all energy research and development — not just the research aimed at climate-friendly technologies — is less than half what it was a quarter-century ago. It has sunk to $3 billion a year in the current budget from an inflation-adjusted peak of $7.7 billion in 1979, according to several different studies.

…President Bush has sought an increase to $4.2 billion for 2007, but that would still be a small fraction of what most climate and energy experts say would be needed.

Federal spending on medical research, by contrast, has nearly quadrupled, to $28 billion annually, since 1979. Military research has increased 260 percent, and at more than $75 billion a year is 20 times the amount spent on energy research.

Internationally, government energy research trends are little different from those in the United States. Japan is the only economic power that increased research spending in recent decades, with growth focused on efficiency and solar technology, according to the International Energy Agency.

In the private sector, studies show that energy companies have a long tradition of eschewing long-term technology quests because of the lack of short-term payoffs.

Still, more than four dozen scientists, economists, engineers and entrepreneurs interviewed by The New York Times said that unless the search for abundant non-polluting energy sources and systems became far more aggressive, the world would probably face dangerous warming and international strife as nations with growing energy demands compete for increasingly inadequate resources.