Friday, January 19, 2007

News notes: some progress on global warming, but more smoke from the White House

Climate action alliance: Fascinating news out today about a new corporate and environmental alliance aimed at promoting limits to greenhouse gas emissions. As the New York Times put it, “Ten major companies with operations across the economy — utilities, manufacturing, petroleum, chemicals and financial services — have banded together with leading environmental groups to call for a firm nationwide limit on carbon dioxide emissions that would lead to reductions of 10 to 30 percent over the next 15 years.” The biggest corporate mover and shaker is General Electric, though the group includes others and sometimes controversial companies such as Wal-Mart, BP and Duke Energy.

This alliance could prove influential as Congress tries to sort out the various climate change plans that have been introduced. One of many things worth highlighting: this new group, the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, recommends steps to discourage construction of conventional coal burning power plants, such as those proposed in Texas and elsewhere. In that regard, it dovetails with the legislation introduced earlier this week by Senators Feinstein and Carper, which would not permit “free” credits or allowances for conventional coal burning plants in the future.

[Some see a tinge of hypocrisy in the partnership. For example, my friend, John Blair of Valley Watch in Indiana: "I find the inclusion of Duke Energy on this list as nothing more than that firm's continued Greenwashing. They talk a good game but as we speak, they are trying to build a 1600 MW PC coal plant in NC and a 630 IGCC plant in Indiana without carbon capture or sequestration. All the while they continue to pump money into their old PC plants to assure they will continue to operate throughout the 21st Century. Who do they think they are kidding?"]

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Cultivating progress: Several items of note from my friends at the Center for American Progress. Jake Caldwell, the Director of Policy for the Center’s Energy Opportunity program released "Fueling a New Farm Economy: Creating Incentives for Biofuels in Agriculture and Trade Policy." It outlines how biofuels can reduce global warming and global poverty while boosting our energy security and global free trade. For an executive summary and the full report: http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2007/01/farm_economy.html
A second report of note is "Transforming Rural America" by David Morris of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. It discusses why local ownership and rural prosperity is critical to the prospect of America's farming communities and energy security. For more, see http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2007/01/rural_energy.html
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Smoke-filled rooms: Continuing an ugly theme of his administration, President Bush has signed an executive order that broadens the power of the red-pen crowd at the White House Office of Management and Budget.

As Greenwire put it today, “The order would give the Office of Management and Budget new power to question, delay or alter federal guidance documents on topics ranging from traffic safety to global warming.”

This is actually a very big story that has generally gotten short shrift amid all the Pelosi-Dingell, etc. intrigue.

The executive order stipulates that no agency can even begin work on a rule without approval of political appointees. It says agencies must justify any proposed rule by identifying the "specific market failure" it is supposed to address. The White House also would gain new power to censor guidelines issued by agencies such as EPA.

At the very least, these changes will make it much harder for an agency like EPA to do its job, which (at least in theory) is supposed to protect the public from environmental threats. For more, see OMB Watch at http://www.ombwatch.org/article/articleview/3685/1/132?TopicID=3

This new attempt to neuter EPA and other agencies comes as corporate champion Susan Dudley arrives at OMB.

No wonder the anti-regulatory crowd at the Chamber of Commerce and National Association of Manufacturers are lighting up cigars, looking like Denny Crane at the end of an episode of Boston Legal.

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