Alternative Energy, Energy Independence and Global Warming Reduction

GOVERNMENT policy

This, the second of our three-part series, "Prospects for Global Warming and Energy Legislation As We Move Toward 2008", recounts the extraordinary initiatives taken by states and cities, court decisions that so far support them, what the President has done (and not done), and where the 2008 presidential candidates stand on these issues.
    The first installment, which covered international prospects, can be found here. Next week, what's likely to happen in the U.S. Congress.

On the Front Page

The lawyers:  They will need to be vetted for security clearance in order to see the documents with which to make their case.
The trial:  Rulings as to what of this information can be released in a public trial.”
The vice president:  If he is called to testify, there will be arguments over executive privilege.
Ex machina Bush:  But none of it matters anyway. Bush will step down from the clouds to pardon Libby.
the Political Landscape
Federal Inaction Has Caused States and Cities to Take the Lead in Legislation
by Mortimer L. Downey   Washington DC


The political power of the energy/climate issue continues to be evident at the level of U.S. state and local government and this has to be felt in Washington. The “Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement,” put forth by Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels in 2005 has now been adopted by 656 local governments from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, nearly double the number reported last year.
     Other significant actions have been taken at the state level. The new Governor of Florida, Charlie Crist (R) has issued an executive order seeking to have his state return to 1990 emission levels in 10 years and to reduce by 80% by 2050. Pressures like this from a growing state that now ranks 4th in U.S. population will help make the case for the kind of uniform national standards preferred by industry. Florida’s link to California in this issue was emphasized by Governor Schwarzenegger’s presence at the signing ceremony.
     Massachusetts’ new Governor, Deval Patrick (D), reversed the action taken by his predecessor, Mitt Romney (R) and rejoined the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (REGGIE) shortly after taking office. Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer (D) has been instrumental in pushing a State Climate Action Plan, recognizing the fact that Montana’s coal resources will not be a viable economic driver outside of the context of such a plan. Overall, 31 states, representing 70% of the U.S. population, have become participants in a Climate Registry to measure greenhouse gas emissions and verify actions towards their reduction.

Cities Have Even Formed Global Alliances

U.S. actions at the sub-national level are linked to similar efforts around the world. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (ex-R, now I) sponsored a Large Cities Climate Summit in May, drawing in chief executives from 30 world cities, including London, Los Angeles, Johannesburg and Seoul. The event spurred a commitment from President Bill Clinton to channel loans from international banking institutions through his foundation in order to implement climate initiatives. Bloomberg also used the opportunity to advance his PlaNYC2030, an aggressive effort in policy development and planning for the City. To the surprise of many, this plan became the springboard for legislative action and federal funding to implement Congestion Pricing measures within the city, modeled in part on the successful effort in London. The exact nature of the measures is yet to be determined, but the process is now well underway.

Supreme Court Rules CO2 is Under EPA Jurisdiction

The outlook for 2007 noted that the Supreme Court would be deciding important cases that could also influence the outcome of future legislation. In the most important such case, Massachusetts et al v. EPA, a 5-4 decision by a sharply divided Court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs. At issue was the premise that CO˛ is an air pollutant under the environmental and health provisions of the Clean Air Act, and that as such should be brought under controls by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). States had petitioned for such action after a Clinton Administration ruled that CO˛ was a pollutant, but these petitions were denied by the EPA under the Bush Administration.
     In the wake of this decision, the President issued an Executive Order calling for a three agency cooperative process to evaluate next steps for regulation. Involved in the process will be the EPA, whose jurisdiction over CO˛ was affirmed by the Court; the Department of Transportation (DOT), which has the power to issue Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFÉ) standards for the automotive fleet, and the Department of Energy (DOE), which has jurisdiction over energy plants and would be affected by current litigation regarding stationary source CO˛ emissions. No timetable was set for administrative action, and it is likely that the Bush Administration will run out the clock before issuing regulations, but the process is now underway. This has already influenced the legislative process as the various regulated industries maneuver to spread the burden and seek uniform actions.

Vermont Court Says EPA Must Yield to California

The automotive industry is at the forefront of the issue, as we will discuss in terms of legislative action. Their concerns were heightened by a parallel effort by the state of California with respect to CAFÉ standards. Under the Clean Air Act, California has the power to issue more stringent standards than those applicable across the nation, and other states have the option to include themselves in with California. Building off the Court decision, California argued that it would therefore be able to implement its own new CO˛ oriented standards. In a very recent decision, a federal judge in Vermont ruled in favor of the California position that they have such powers.
     EPA has yet to rule on California’s waiver petition, but a timetable for action by year-end has been established. As that process was unfolding, the DOT was found to be communicating with the Congress to drum up opposition to the waiver. Some accused DOT of violating anti-lobbying statutes, but the Department argued that those had to do with influencing legislation, and were not applicable to a situation where members of Congress were being requested to intervene in Administrative action.

A President More Reactive Than Active

As noted above, action by President Bush and his Administration has been largely reactive, responding to G-8 pressures on the international front and to judicial developments at home. The President did call for a 20% reduction in gasoline use as part of his State of The Union address in January, but this was to be achieved primarily through increased use of ethanol, with mixed impacts on greenhouse gas emissions. Bush also issued an Executive Order with respect to conservation measures for Federal government facilities and vehicles. At this point, the Administration is pointing at a slight reduction in CO˛ emissions recorded in 2005 as evidence that its policy positions are working. The reduction is real, but the cause was likely increased gasoline costs and consequent reduction in travel. During that same year, CAFÉ recorded improvement of nearly a mile per gallon across the fleet as Americans went out and bought more fuel-efficient vehicles.

Tracking What the 2008 Candidates Are Saying

Recognizing that this Administration is in its last years, much of the Presidential level attention has been focused on the 2008 candidates for the White House and what changes they might bring about. A useful website, www.heatison.org, sponsored by the League of Conservation Voters, has been tracking candidate positions on energy and climate issues as the long campaign geared up. The LCV has looked at candidate websites, their Congressional votes, and their current public statements with respect to energy and climate issues.
     While the website carries full expositions of the candidate policies, perhaps its most useful contribution is a table that compares positions on five key issues—carbon caps and targets, fuel economy standards, renewable standards for electricity, general efficiency targets for electricity use, and positions with respect to new coal plants and liquid coal.
     While perhaps oversimplifying, it is possible to score the respective candidates according to how they rank in their aggressiveness or lack thereof on each of these measures. As shown the table below, there is a clear distinction between Democratic candidates, all of whom lean toward the “green” positions, and most Republicans, who tend in the other direction. Over the course of the campaign thus far, there has been a trend towards “greener” positions among candidates in both parties, including those who had earlier positions and modified them as well as among those who were taking their first swing at the issues.

Global Warming Is Still, Somehow, Political

     Within the parties, particularly among Democrats, there is a division between the leading and lagging candidates, with front-runners tending towards more conservative positions and the others staking out the extremes. These developments will be interesting to watch as the campaign goes forward and as the party platforms are established. Of course, there is no substitute for what actually happens when a candidate moves into the White House, as exemplified by the current President’s about face on his campaign position regarding regulation of CO ˛.
     In the table below, the current candidates are arrayed according to an overall cumulative score on the five issues, where taking the stronger positions, positive or negative is awarded ± 2 points, a less aggressive position ± l point, and a “no position” is scored 0. The theoretical range of scores runs from +10 to -10.
     

   Presidential Candidate Positions on Energy and Climate Change Measures
LCV Issue Score Candidate & Points
10 to 8 Richardson (10)
Edwards (10)
Dodd (9)
7 to 5 Biden (7)
Obama (7)
Clinton (6)
Kucinich (6)
4 to 1 Gravel (3)
Huckabee (3)
McCain (1)
-1 to -4 Giuliani (-1)
Hunter (-2)
Paul (-2)
Romney (-2)
Tancredo (-2)
Brownback (-4)
F.Thompson (-4)