Beginning to acknowledge that maybe we should talk about how climate change is possibly a thing, the Obama administration in its second term is rolling out some new proposals and policies. Their aims include tighter emissions controls and increased support of renewable energy technology. One may well view these activities with a jaundiced eye and well-rehearsed sneer, for one has had this greenwashed shite shoved down one’s throat and had it called organic compost for as long as one can remember. However, let’s give credit where credit is due: the administration did manage to get tighter emissions regulations on new power plants. This was so surprising, I needed several restorative beverages to handle the news with the stolid uprightness one has come to expect from Jen.
Even more staggering, they’re going for emissions regulations on EXISTING power plants, too. So far, the prospect of getting this done has been laughably improbable. “It will be a cold day in Hell,” one imagines the coal lobby saying as they stamp their hooves, “if the EPA gets *that* one through [raucous laughter]… see, it’ll be cold because coal-fired power plants will shut down due to government interference in the free market. Get it? HAHA!” [playful poking of rear-ends with pitchforks]. But at least the administration is trying, I guess. I watch with faint hope, but with a bit of dread, like when co-eds go for a skinny dip at midnight on Halloween.
Second, the Obama administration will soon direct all federal agencies to begin enforcing the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), signed by Nixon in 1970, so as to include climate change impacts and assessment of vulnerability to extreme weather in its approval process for big, high-emissions projects (pipelines, highways, mines, etc.). This is pretty clever, y’all, given that we don’t have a stand-alone climate policy at the federal level. NEPA has always required assessment of air, water, and other environmental impacts of big projects. The climate is sort of environment-y, yeah? So this move seems in keeping with the spirit of the law, and does an end-run around moves that would require Congressional approval—which, when it comes to environmentally-themed legislation, is about as easy as sortin’ bobcats (think about it).
But fear not, industry-minded citizens! The next administration doesn’t have to enforce the law the same way. We might as well put the recycling bins right under the printers for this one. Further, the new guidance lacks teeth. It won’t stop any projects outright. And we’re sure to be mired in arguments about impact analysis models for many happy years to come.
Environmentally-minded citizens, fear not, however! Clear your calendars for a spate of lawsuits against federal projects while the guidance is still in effect. While the next administration will likely use the current guidance to line its battery cages, any pesky judicial precedents set by such lawsuits will be with us as long as the ~5 g of CO2 equivalent emitted in the production of this post (not to mention the beverages).
But here’s an even weirder thing: you’ll remember (maybe) that, in his State of the Union Address (and in a speech at Argonne National Laboratory), President Obama mentioned a new Energy Security Trust. This program puts $2 billion over 10 years in trust for renewable and alternative fuel vehicle research and development. The funding for the trust will come from royalties from federal oil and gas offshore drilling leases.
Yes, that’s right: offshore drilling will fund renewable R&D. Sounds sort of good, right? But I am here to tell you, there is no good way to spin this, no matter who you are. The first thing you’ll hear is that the number of federal oil and gas leases has decreased by half since the Bush years, and the time to approve a lease has more than doubled (to nearly a year), so how does Obama think he’s going to pay for this when royalties have decreased, etc. …which is true. However, the Obama administration had to tighten leasing requirements in the wake of the Deepwater spill (Hurrah! say environmentalists). So, we had to boost production on existing leases so gas prices wouldn’t spike (Hurrah! say Republicans). That happened through a royalty relief program for oil and gas companies currently holding federal leases, which resulted in production being much, much higher than it ever was during the Bush years (Hurrah! says industry). Royalty relief means lost revenue to the government, a “subsidy” to Big Oil (Boo! say environmentalists). But it also meant decreased oil and gas leases due to the obstructionist tactics of the administration (Boo! say Republicans). You. Cannot. Win. Restorative beverages for all!
But, really: two billion dollars over ten years is a fart in a set of silk sheets. So why bother? What’s really going on?
I believe it’s crucial to note that the Keystone XL pipeline decision is a couple of months away. Let’s be clear: this thing is going to be built, and if anyone is taking odds that it won’t, call me; I have a fine bridge for sale. You could chain yourself to that. Even if this administration doesn’t approve it, it’s only a matter of time. But, given how contentious it’s become, there’s no way Keystone XL can be approved (or rejected) without considerable political fallout. So, I don’t think it’s a stretch to interpret the administration’s newest climate change proposals as political bet-hedging. Distract the enviros with your shiny green proposals so they’re all looking away while you unfurl your “All of the Above” banner. Preferably behind your podium on an oil barge.