A climate agenda for the president.Sep 15, 2014, Vol. 20, No. 01 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
On September 23 in New York, the president will have an opportunity to score a political victory and advance an important part of his agenda. No, not at some Park Avenue fundraiser, although he might squeeze one in, but at Climate Summit 2014, a meeting of heads of state convened by U.N. secretary general Ban Ki-moon “to galvanize momentum toward a new global agreement on climate change,” to be finalized at a 2015 summit meeting in Paris. This is an opportunity for President Obama to lead from the front, and in the process lay out a program that might, just might, break the partisan deadlock in Washington.
The president likes to refer to the arc of history, to criticize those who are on the wrong side of history. Well, when it comes to energy and environmental policy it is the president who is on the wrong side of history, in two respects: He wants to end the use of fossil fuels, and use command-and-control regulatory techniques to do so. All of this just when fossil fuels are becoming cheaper and more abundant domestically, their use less threatening to the environment, the need for their contribution to economic growth more compelling, and when evidence is mounting that central direction produces unnecessary costs in lost growth and higher levels of unemployment.
Start with fossil fuels. It was once considered good policy to reduce the consumption of oil, for three reasons. First, it was believed we are running out of oil. Along came fracking and with it the ability to tap reserves that had been economically unreachable. Domestic oil production has risen by 65 percent in the past six years. Second, we feared excessive dependence on unstable and unfriendly foreign suppliers. No longer. We are now the world’s largest oil producer, and if policy permits will become a major exporter of petroleum products. Not that we are “energy independent,” as promised by Richard Nixon and every president since. We are not and probably never can be independent of developments in a key, globally traded commodity market. But any need to curtail oil use merely to insure against cutoffs of foreign supplies is not one that should any longer dominate energy policy.
Nor is the third reason we once had for seeking to wean ourselves off oil any longer sufficiently worrisome to drive policy: the fear of price spikes induced by some upset in the flow of oil from volatile regions. In recent months we have seen interruptions in the smooth flow of crude to market in Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, and threats from Venezuela. Yet the price of crude has not spiked; indeed, at this writing the price of benchmark Brent crude is lower than it was at the beginning of the year.
Compare that with pre-fracking 2008, when disturbances in Nigeria and Venezuela drove prices up to almost $150 per barrel, and gasoline prices in some markets above $5 per gallon. Because supplies are more ample, Americans saved $700 million per week this past August compared with last year, estimates oil analyst Tom Kloza at GasBuddy.com—despite upheavals in major oil producing regions around the world.
It is not only domestic oil that is more readily at hand. No longer is there a reason to ration natural gas, as was the case years ago when regulators tried to force an end to its use for decorative outdoor lighting and boiler fuel. Natural gas is available in such abundance that the important policy question has become how to ease restrictions on its export without damaging domestic industries that consume it in great quantities. Its abundance results in prices so low that natural gas is displacing coal in power generation. And if the EPA is right that clean coal technology is economically attractive, at least for any new coal-burning plants that might be built (and would be built if the fear of draconian restrictions were replaced by an energy market dominated by price), the usable supply of coal has increased.
In sum, we are sitting on one of the world’s largest supplies of fossil fuel, and need only figure out how to use it without causing some of the nasty climate effects that so worry environmentalists—environmentalists to whose views partial deference should be paid even by climate-change skeptics, if for no other reason than the weight given their views in policy-making circles. Meanwhile, environmentalists would be well advised to tackle the difficult question of how to balance environmental considerations and the need for growth, in the knowledge that the age of fossil fuels is not coming to an end, and that it is highly unlikely that the political facts of life will allow them to set targets that involve leaving three-fourths of existing world reserves of fossil fuels in the ground, untapped.
11:49 AM, Jul 28, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Lamar Alexander, the two-term Republican senator from Tennessee, is in a strong position to win reelection this November. But only if he can get through his August 7 primary.
10:59 AM, Jun 16, 2014 • By DANIEL HALPER
EPA chief Gina McCarthy agreed with Bill Maher on Friday that the Obama administration is engaged in a war on coal:
"The clean power program," Maher said. "Some people called it a war on coal. I hope it is a war on coal. Is it?"
"Actually, EPA is all about fighting against polution and fighting for public health," McCarthy said before answering Maher's question. "That's exactly what this is."
"Oh, great," Maher said to applause.
4:04 PM, Jun 6, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
When the EPA released its new rules aimed to get the nation on the road carbon free (sort of) energy generation, the news was plainly bad for coal. No surprise there. The prospects for renewables – solar, wind, hydro, etc. – were enormously enhanced by the plan. This was also unsurprising. But what about nuclear power?
1:09 PM, Jun 2, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The Obama administration will roll out a plan, today, for fixing the climate, having already fixed foreign policy and the economy. As Wendy Koch of USA Today reports:
And the benefits.12:00 AM, May 24, 2014 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
The fracking euphoria had to end. For three reasons. First, the claims for its benefits were wildly exaggerated, ensuring eventual disappointment as even a cheerful reality could not meet the imaginings of the pro-fossil-fuel gang. Second, environmental groups were not going to sit idly by, their formidable political weapons holstered, while fossil fuels received a new lease on life in America.
5:02 PM, May 21, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
It is an uncomfortable fact that several European countries depend on Russia for energy and the situation in Ukraine has jeopardized that arrangement.
10:40 AM, Apr 19, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The news that the administration would like kept quiet, and which it therefore announced in the afternoon, on Good Friday is that it has:
1:34 PM, Apr 16, 2014 • By JONATHAN V. LAST
Nobody loved Shai Agassi and his company, Better Place, more than Tom Friedman. Friedman dedicated two slobbering, wide-eyed, wet-kiss columns to Agassi's Better Place in 2008.
10:59 AM, Apr 15, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
Democratic senator Mary Landrieu of Louisiana is in a tough reelection battle because of her support for Obamacare. So its not surprising her latest TV ad focuses on the one high-profile fight she's had with the Obama administration, over oil and gas exploration. The 60-second spot features people watching Landrieu arguing for expanding energy exploration in Louisiana and criticizing Barack Obama for its restrictionist policies. Watch the video below:
2:34 PM, Apr 11, 2014 • By GEOFFREY NORMAN
The Keystone pipeline has been studied longer than just about anything this side of the Dead Sea Scrolls. And, still, the administration continues to weigh its merits. The stall is making certain members of the political class uncomfortable.
12:12 PM, Apr 2, 2014 • By STEPHEN SCHWARTZ
Travelling from Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia-Herzegovina, to Mostar, a city almost midway toward Dubrovnik on the Adriatic Coast, one drives through a stunningly-beautiful landscape of mountains, forests, and rivers. On a recent trip, however, I observed a surprising sight: four gas stations owned by Gazprom, the Russian energy giant.
12:00 AM, Mar 29, 2014 • By IRWIN M. STELZER
America is a fracking cornucopia of crude oil, independent of the rapacious OPEC cartel. And has an inexhaustible supply of natural gas, putting us in a position to become a major exporter able to use its gas reserves as a geopolitical weapon. Take that, King Abdullah and Vladimir Putin. Too good to be true? You bet.
An individual mandate for electricity meters.8:21 AM, Feb 13, 2014 • By MICHAEL WARREN
In the early days of the Obama administration, “smart power” was all the rage—and not just on the foreign policy scene. In April 2009, National Public Radio reported how one Allentown, Pennsylvania, mother was saving more than a hundred dollars each month on her electric bill. Tammy Yeakel’s power company, PPL Energy, had helpfully installed a “smart meter” on her home that could monitor her power usage in real time.