First Things First: President Barack Obama signed health care reform into law this week, exposing a rarely acknowledged political pre-existing condition among the pundit class: Despite the conventional wisdom, no matter how many years experience a given observer has had in Washington, whatever political party you favor–nobody ever really has any idea what’s about to happen. As Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) said the other day about the current mood in Congress, “It was bad last week. It’s going to be bad this week. Who knows what it’s going to be like next week?”
Passage of a bill widely declared dead shores up the president’s and his party’s political capital and has prompted an uptick in violent, intimidating rhetoric among the Democrats’ political opponents in and out of the blogosphere. Supporters of the various climate mitigation approaches may feel emboldened, as if the conventional wisdom shouldn’t count them out either.
People at Work: Top White House advisers met with Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) yesterday to chart out a strategy to move climate legislation through the Senate. Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) are expected to release a draft of their bill in April, after the two-week spring recess that starts tomorrow. The troika has been shopping an eight-page proposal around influential lobbyists, such as the US Chamber of Commerce and the American Petroleum Institute, according to Politico. The effort by Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman has been the most visible effort by senators to address climate change, but other approaches will not be discounted. More specifically, Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) will not be discounted. The pair has already written a bill, introduced last November, that would compel heavy industry–predominantly sellers of fossil fuels–to buy carbon emission permits, and trade them in a market. Auction receipts would be mostly re-distributed back to consumers. [Click here to download the Nicholas Institute’s recent modeling study of Cantwell and Collins’ CLEAR Act.]
All eyes turned to Graham after health care passed. Reports circulated last week that he could walk out of climate-bill negotiations if Democrats passed healthcare reform through a procedural sidestep called the “reconciliation” process, which they did. With that bill now law, Graham vows to continue his work with Kerry and Lieberman (I-Conn.). Passing another major bill right after healthcare will take much more than Graham’s presence as a negotiator in a political environment that–however it strains the imagination–keeps finding ways to become more and more poisonous.
Many Democrats are eager to move on energy and climate legislation despite the political obstacles. Twenty two Democratic senators, including Sens. Maria Cantwell of Washington and Sherrod Brown of Ohio, wrote a letter to Majority Leader Harry Reid supportive of a jobs and energy security bill. Ten senators from coastal states wrote a letter to Kerry, Graham, and Lieberman threatening to pull their support for the as-yet-unseen bill if it contains provisions for offshore oil drilling. NPR asks the question, whatever happened to broader GOP support for climate policy?
Whatever Happened to…: For what it’s worth, the president’s party continues to find encouragement for its climate policy from abroad. The US and international climate conversations merged in Washington this week when Connie Hedegaard, the Danish minister of climate and energy, visited, meeting with US climate envoy Todd Stern and chatting up the international importance of US legislation.
When two presidential candidates promised measures to address climate change, in the summer of 2008, confidence in America’s first-ever carbon market shot up to seven dollars a ton. But with international and domestic negotiations uncertain, prices for a ton of carbon on the Chicago Climate Exchange have dropped to ten cents. Among those hit hardest by the collapse in prices are farmers who earned carbon credits through “no-till farming.” When farmers deploy this practice, CO2 remains trapped underground if farmers refrain from turning it over. Good practices–and what constitutes “good practices” can be disputed– aren’t catching up with emissions trends. A report in Nature this week documents a global rise in emissions from soil.
Civil (Legal) War?: Newsweek profiles EPA administrator Lisa Jackson as a way to narrate for its general audience the inside-the-beltway machinations occurring in her agency and on the Hill. Legislators prefer (perhaps by definition) that such major changes in pollution laws go through Capitol Hill. “Jackson knew that threatening to act by executive fiat wouldn’t be popular. But she also knew it would get people’s attention, and maybe prod Congress to act,” writes Daniel Stone. Murkowski has led opposition to the EPA’s move in the Senate.
States too continue to hop on board the EPA litigation train. The federal appeals court in Washington wrapped together the petitions seeking to beat back the EPA’s endangerment finding. Sixteen states have joined the battle. Pennsylvania and Minnesota support the EPA’s finding, and 14 others oppose it: Alaska, Michigan filed separately, while Nebraska, Florida, Hawaii, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Utah acted together.
Carbon–It’s What’s for Dinner: Monday was World Water Day. National Geographic marks the event with a comprehensive cover package about this most personal of all environmental issues (You are mostly water). In the magazine’s leader, writer Barbara Kingsolver offers a lyrical perspective on our many worlds of water. Water is the ultimate commons. Earth has a finite amount of it, but an expanding global civilization. The essay glides toward mention of that seminal work, Garret Hardin’s “The Tragedy of the Commons.” Kingsolver writes: “Agreeing to self-imposed limits instead, unthinkable at first, will become the right thing to do. While our laws imply that morality is fixed, Hardin made the point that ‘the morality of an act is a function of the state of the system at the time it is performed.’ Surely it was no sin, once upon a time, to shoot and make pies of passenger pigeons.” Other articles–and photos, natch–look at desalination, California’s water, and the U.K. group WaterAid’s work in southwestern Ethiopia.
About 1,800 gallons of water go into the production of one pound of beef. The magazine has a nice online interactive graphic showing the “embedded water” in various products. Likewise, how much CO2 meat production represents came under scrutiny this week. A University of California, Davis, professor challenged a four-year-old report that found emissions from meat production represents 18 percent of the global emissions of heat-trapping gases. Frank Mitloehner told an academic conference that the report, called Livestock’s Long Shadow, included more variables in its calculation of meat’s carbon emissions than in the transportation sector emissions calculated by the IPCC. The apples-to-oranges comparison skews the result, making it look like meat production pollutes more. In the US, transportation contributes about a quarter of emissions, but pork and beef production add just three percent of the national total. An author of the report says of Mitloehner’s study, “I must say honestly that he has a point.”
Sea Is for Climate: Widescale production of batteries would focus attention on parts of the world not considered major players in the global energy economy. But a proliferation of batteries for transportation and stationary use might make Bolivia or neighboring Chile into the Saudia Arabia of lithium, a key ingredient batteries. The nearly 4,000-square mile salt flats, remains of an ancient sea, contain the world’s largest lithium deposits, waiting to power your electric car.
India and Bangladesh settled a longstanding dispute over a tiny island with two names by letting the rising Bay of Bengal swallow it whole. New Moore island (India) or South Talpatti (Bangladesh) stood just six feet above sea level. The waters have risen in temperature and height in recent years. The island, which was uninhabited, will continue to be uninhabited.
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. Prologue available at Grist. Chapter about Ginkgo biloba and climate change available at Conservation.