Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Dirty laundry in the Bush fuel spin cycle (hint: it's all about coal, cars and corn)...and a surprising lobbyist against global warming limits

We are bracing ourselves for some vigorous spinning in this afternoon’s press conference by EPA Administrator Steve Johnson, Energy Secretary Sam Bodman, and NHTSA Administrator Nicole Nason to tout “the use of alternative fuels and modernizing CAFÉ standards for cars.”

It will be curious to see if they, as President Bush did last week, will try to argue that this is a Bush administration response to global warming and last week’s Supreme Court decision.

Calling this plan an effective response to global warming is about as appropriate as naming Don Imus the Dean of Women at Rutgers.

(Please don’t try to tell us you are doing a great job on global warming if you leave out the biggest source of emissions – coal burning at power companies.)

But there’s more… the administration appears to have at least a partial ally now in former House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt. Read on, and, as always, please let us know if we can help.

Hazy horizon: Part of today’s announcement includes the rollout of the final “renewable fuel standards” called for in the 2005 energy policy act. Those of you who have followed this know it’s a very mixed bag. As the US EPA has reported, the standards will yield a marginal reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, while increasing smog-forming emissions in many states.

And, as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch astutely reported over the weekend http://www.stltoday.com/stltoday/news/stories.nsf/nation/story/2034137C9EC71841862572B6001B8236?OpenDocument , the administration is simultaneously working up a plan that would permit more pollution to spew from ethanol refineries. This plan was spurred by former ethanol industry lobbyist and current South Dakota Senator John Thune.

This plan will mean more dirty air and more health problems near ethanol refineries. We are waiting to see how long it will take for one of the local communities to suggest it be renamed “Little Port Arthur.” http://www.refineryreform.org/community_portarthur.asp

Thune, by the way, has a new pet project—to increase the amount of ethanol in regular gasoline. (Environmentalists would rather see ethanol used in high concentrations – so called E85) in cars designed for their use. Thune is pushing an idea known as E20 – a 20% blend of ethanol in gasoline. And now the car companies are starting to get anxious. General Motors vice chairman Bob Lutz commented on this idea last week, saying he had asked GM’s engineers about the possible impacts.

"To put E20 in the fleet that's out there is going to corrode every non-ethanol fueling system," Lutz said. "We absolutely guarantee the destruction of the engine and the fuel injection system if we go the E20 route. It will not work."


Off-pitch pitch: part of this afternoon’s administration pitch is for its proposed plan to increase use of “alternative” fuels. But there are a couple of things that need to be noted: This plan includes no target whatsoever regarding reduction of greenhouse gases. And it would actually promote the concept of producing liquid fuel from coal – something that would probably not only be a boondoggle that will cost taxpayers, but could actually increase greenhouse gas emissions.

If the EPA really wants to do something about global warming, one positive idea would be to grant California’s long-pending request to put its motor vehicle greenhouse gas standards into effect. Maybe it’s time for California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to pay a personal visit to EPA chief Steve Johnson and lay down the law!

Some of the car companies, of course, are fighting vigorously against that idea, with a trial beginning today in Vermont on its version of the California standards. Among other points, the industry makes the bizarre claim that more fuel efficient cars could be dangerous, because they will be cheaper to drive and lead people to drive more and potentially have more accidents. As astute Sierra Club lawyer David Bookbinder noted in a briefing yesterday (and reported in today’s New York Times), “Detroit is saying it’s a bad idea for everybody to drive more.” Yes, this is a pretty laughable argument.
Coal and corn – bipartisan style: As noted in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and some other outlets, former House Majority Leader Richard Gephardt has now registered as a lobbyist for Peabody Energy.

Gephardt was pretty upfront in his registration form, noting that his objectives were “avoidance of carbon caps” and “funding for production of clean coal technologies.” In other words, he’s promoting much of the same agenda as the Bush administration. Yes, friends, sadly, this is how Washington really works.

But wait – there’s more. Gephardt has also filed to lobby for E3 Biofuels LLC, a Kansas-based ethanol company. The issues here: “ethanol production and distribution, government industrial revenue bonds, tax credits for ethanol production.”

At least E3 says it hopes to avoid using coal in the process:

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