Deal or no deal

NI logoFirst things first: U.S. representatives may head into Independence Day recess with their climate work done for the moment. House leadership fast-tracked the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) after a breakthrough agreement Monday night between its co-sponsors and a powerful hold-out representing farmers and rural districts. A vote on the house floor could come as early as tomorrow.* The momentum shift drew President Barack Obama back into the fray, where he was soon peppered with questions over how much his energy policy is expected to reduce U.S. oil imports in the long haul.

Predicted economic costs of climate policy drive debate on the Hill. The Congressional Budget Office concluded that the ACES Act could cost households $175 a year on average by 2020. The Environmental Protection Agency updated its assessment of an earlier version of the bill, finding that it could cost households between $80 and $111 a year on average; lower-income families could save money. The Washington Post addresses confusion about competing cost estimates for the bill. Fireworks previously ensued between Rep. John Boener (R-Ohio) and MIT professor John Reilly, whose study became the source for the former’s contention that the bill would cost Americans $3,128 a year in 2015. Overshadowing the whole cost-benefit debate is anyone’s inability to systematically value the benefits of action. This sentence from the Post strikes near the heart of the whole cost controversy: “The CBO, a nonpartisan arm of Congress, said it did not take into account any indirect benefits of slowing climate change, which are substantial but difficult to quantify.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) was apparently listening to the concerns of House agricultural interests whose leadership withheld support for ACES bill for several weeks. Hoping to prevent such an impasse, Reid has begun to invite farm state senators into early debate in that chamber. The Senate may pick up the ACES Act as its starting point for deliberation. Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) will start working on climate change in her Environmental and Public Works Committee July 27. Reid says he would like committee work done by mid-September.

U.S. climate negotiators in Mexico nixed calls from developing nations that the U.S. reduce its emissions much more dramatically than Congress or the administration has publicly considered. Major economies moved toward an “aspirational goal” of halving global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, with talks to continue in Italy next month.

Choose your words carefully: Switching the word “finally” to “initially” in the House climate bill potentially relieved 100 coal-burning power plants from greenhouse gas emissions regulations, Politico reports. Originally, only plants that are now “finally” permitted–or have survived any legal challenges–were exempt. Now, “initially” permitted plants, which have only begun the regulatory journey and are much more numerous, would be grandfathered in, too.

How can mere mortals catch such changes? (High-pitched) blog posts at the Sunlight Foundation drum against an age-old problem: no one, with the possible exception of this guy, has time to read and thoughtfully consider 1,000-page bills in the brief hours or days between release and vote. As a quick guide, the Energy and Commerce Committee did issue a broad map of changes here [pdf].

And now, the star of our show: Sunlight abounds in climate world this week, just as the Northern Hemisphere spins its way into summer.

Developments in “clean energy,” particularly solar technologies, occur at every scale, from U.S. neighborhoods to cities to states. This month saw an intercontinental project. A consortium of German firms and European official groups and nongovernmental organizations will invest $555 billion to build sunlight concentrators in northern African desert. (An earlier report had the power wired to Europe.)

Much of India sees the sun nearly 300 days a year. Yet its nascent solar industry exports two-thirds of its products to Europe, China, and North America. To date producers have paid less attention to the domestic market. That’s changing. Rising demand, falling costs, and government support have primed the market for growth. Industry leader Tata BP Solar is expanding into rural communities, in partnerships with banks and telecoms, with early success. In the province of Uttar Pradesh, one bank replaced its diesel-powered back-up generators with photovoltaics, which led to the financing of home lighting for 8,000 homes.

For most of the world, “going green” is less a motivator to adopt new energy technologies than “going electric” is. The Christian Science Monitor parachutes into Bangladesh to document the work of Grameen Shakti, the environmental wing of Grameen Bank, the microloan pioneer and winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize. The group distributes photovoltaic-and-battery systems for a 15 to 20 percent down payment. The balance is paid off in two or three years. Some shopkeepers see their monthly energy bills–the price of candles are cited as an example–cut in half. More than 200,000 solar panels now pump electrons into the service of customers around the country.

Private investors could inject $10 billion into China’s solar sector, thanks in part to government cash incentives cut the cost of installation in half. The moves are expected to boost domestic demand for solar in China, and poise the Eastern giant to compete with German manufacturers.

Back in Washington, green business writer Marc Gunther attends a solar-industry press breakfast, where Dow Corning and other manufacturers read out the wish list they are giving to Congress. It includes a permanent tax credit for manufacturers; a mandate for utilities to build a legislated percentage of renewable electricity sources into their mix (hence the name, “renewable electricity standard”); and mandates to buy renewable-generated power at a premium (“feed-in tariffs”).

Next time, 196 one-pagers…: Media offered little follow-up to last week’s 196-page White House report, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States. The Grand Island Independent registers this story about what the report predicts for the future of Nebraska’s water supply — now the most irrigated in the U.S., and in some places, over-irrigated. The pace of water use from the High Plains aquifer already outstrips natural replenishment. The federal report’s prediction of continued rising thermometers, faster evaporation, and more drought, will add pressure to reverse the state’s irrigation drive.

For those dedicated souls who have already marked-up their White House science report, the International Alliance of Research Universities and U.K. government provide additional leisure reading.

Coal my lawyer!: The New Yorker files a largely sympathetic profile of James Hansen (sub. req.), the monumental climate scientist who has led NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies for nearly three decades. Hansen has led the pack of scientists studying global warming for three decades. In the past two years he has taken aggressive policy positions–atypical for a scientist–that have made him a controversial public figure in some circles. (This week he, actress Darryl Hannah, and former FDR and Truman aide Ken Hechler were arrested in a civil disobedience protest against mountaintop removal mining in West Virginia.) Elizabeth Kolbert drops this admonishment into the profile:

There are lots of ways to lose an audience with a discussion of global warming, and new ones, it seems, are being discovered all the time.

Eric Roston is Senior Associate at the Nicholas Institute and author of The Carbon Age: How Life’s Core Element Has Become Civilization’s Greatest Threat

* Any readers whose exclusive source of news is Climate Post should make sure to tune in next week for the outcome. If you can’t abide suspense, please visit any of the fine content purveyors in the right-hand column of the home page.

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