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Save the Environment: Drill, Baby, Drill

Robert Hahn and Peter Passell, New York Times
THE audience’s mantra at the Republican National Convention — “drill, baby, drill” — reflected deep frustration with Washington’s decision to lock down tens of billions of barrels of oil under American territory in an era of $4-a-gallon gasoline. Whatever the merits of his argument, Barack Obama’s response that “drilling is a stop-gap measure, not a long-term solution” won’t make the sting go away as long as it costs $100 to fill the tank of a pickup truck.

The crux of the matter is how accelerated drilling would affect gas prices, now and in the long term. And the conclusions of our latest research aren’t likely to please true believers on either side. We found that full-speed-ahead exploitation of the restricted oil reserves would lower prices at the pump by a few cents at most. Nonetheless, it’s equally clear that the failure to develop these oil resources would cost the state and federal governments hundreds of billions of dollars in royalties and taxes. It would also, paradoxically, pass up an opportunity for a grand bipartisan bargain — going far beyond the deal to open up some coastal drilling that Congress is expected to vote on this week — that could preserve or restore huge swaths of wilderness that are a top priority of serious environmentalists. …

Robert Hahn is the director of the Reg-Markets Center at the American Enterprise Institute. Peter Passell is a senior fellow at the Milken Institute.
(14 September 2008)
It’s unusual to see the American Enterprise Institute making an environmentalist argument. -BA

Seeking credit for renewable energy

Matthew Lewis and Marianne Lavelle, Center for Public Integrity
Everyone is in favor of renewable energy — even members of Congress who have voted against it repeatedly. Such are the strange politics behind the federal tax credits that help keep alive wind, solar, and other forms of alternative energy.

Renewable energy projects rely on these subsidies to compete with cheaper coal-fired power. But Congress typically approves the tax breaks only for short stretches of time, making it difficult for large-scale, multi-year projects to obtain needed financing. The last extension for solar was a one-year measure passed last December; for wind and other technologies, Congress last extended the tax breaks in 2006. The renewable energy industry is making a last-ditch effort to get the tax credits renewed this month before Congress takes its pre-election break; if that doesn’t happen, all the subsidies are set to expire in December.

The prospects are dim. Consider this: The Senate already has voted on the renewable energy tax credits eight times since June 2007, and seven times failed to muster the 60 votes needed to overcome a GOP filibuster opposing them. The one time the Senate managed to pass the measure, April 10, happened to be, not so coincidentally, the one time the bill had zero chance of becoming law. The reason: the senators provided no mechanism to pay for those $6.6 billion in subsidies. And that approach was dead-on-arrival in the House, where the Democratic leadership is laboring to show its commitment to fiscal restraint, having passed a pay-as-you-go budget rule soon after taking the helm in January 2007.

Still, politically, a lot was riding on that 88-8 vote in April.
(16 September 2008)
The Center for Public Integrity is an interesting and important journalistic venture with the mission to “produce original investigative journalism about significant public issues to make institutional power more transparent and accountable.”

The name of co-author “Marianne Lavelle” sounded familiar, so I looked up her bio:

Marianne Lavelle joined the Center in July 2008 as an investigative reporter focusing on energy, environment, and climate, bringing two
decades of experience covering the intersection of business and policy in Washington, D.C. Previously a senior writer at U.S. News and World Report, she tracked how rising fuel costs are transforming the U.S. economy and explored the barriers to alternative energy solutions.

Marianne wrote several posts on her journalist blog about peak oil when she worked for U.S. News and World Report, and was kind enough to let us re-post them.

Congratulations to Marianne, and we hope to see some peak oil themes emerge in her articles.

A climate for change
Tom Friedman says Americans can prosper by “outgreening” everyone else.

Joseph S. Nye Jr., Washington Post
Why We Need a Green Revolution — And How It Can Renew America

Thomas L. Friedman
Farrar Straus Giroux. 438 pp. $27.95

Like it or not, we need Tom Friedman.

The peripatetic columnist has made himself a major interpreter of the confusing world we inhabit. He travels to the farthest reaches, interviews everyone from peasants to chief executives and expresses big ideas in clear and memorable prose. While pettifogging academics (a select few of whom he favors) complain that his catchy phrases and anecdotes sometimes obscure deeper analysis, by and large Friedman gets the big issues right.

Almost a decade ago, in The Lexus and the Olive Tree, he celebrated the arrival of “globalization.” Three years ago, in The World is Flat, he warned that borders, oceans and distance no longer protect us from the information revolution that is leveling the global economic playing field and relocating our jobs. Now he updates and expands this diagnosis by showing how population growth, climate change and the expansion of the world’s middle class are producing a planet that is “hot, flat, and crowded.” Unchecked, these trends will produce dangerous instability; but Friedman remains guardedly optimistic that we can stave off this nightmare, particularly if the United States changes its wasteful energy habits. In this important book, Friedman says we can survive, even prosper, by going green.

Of course, rousing a full-bellied nation, groggy from decades of energy overconsumption, is no small task.
(7 September 2008)