Carbon capture and sequestration is the only way to make coal-fired power environmentally responsible, and yet we’re so far from getting there. Last week’s decision by utility AEP to cancel its plans to continue with the country’s first commercial-scale project to capture carbon from a working coal power plant gives an indication of just how little economic pressure exists on the utility industry to change its ways. AEP tells the world that without federal carbon legislation, it just can’t justify the project’s investment. Given how challenging it is just to capture coal smokestack carbon and pump it underground, perhaps there’s little surprise that actually doing something useful with captured carbon will be even further down the road. So says a report out from the UK-based Center for Low Carbon Futures, which finds that feeding captured carbon to algae or other plants for conversion into biofuel, or pumping it into alternative systems for manufacturing cement, plastics or other materials, will require many years of testing and refinement to reach commercial viability. Will the world’s carbon emitters and their regulators be willing to spend the time and money to make these lines of business worthwhile to investors?
States that have been leaders when it comes to embracing state cap-and-trade green house gas emissions programs, are now facing a variety of hurdles due to state and federal politics, economics, and lawsuits.
California’s carbon cap-and-trade program has been put on hold — not by wealthy polluters or right-wing ideologues, but by a judge upholding a lawsuit saying the law doesn’t go far enough. In a decision well-forecast by a March ruling, San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ernest Goldsmith on Friday enjoined the California Air Resources Board from moving forward with its carbon cap-and-trade system set to start in January 2012. Created by AB32, the law that seeks to return the state to its 1990 greenhouse gas emission levels by 2020, the cap-and-trade program would have been a landmark for the U.S. in setting terms and prices for carbon trading. But in holding up a lawsuit from environmental and advocacy groups, Goldsmith found the state hadn’t looked at all available alternatives, such as carbon taxes or outright bans on emissions, that could work better to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Of course, those alternatives are politically unfeasible, making it unclear just how the plaintiffs in the case expect their argument to lead to a better outcome for the people they represent in low-income areas disproportionately affected by local sources of pollution. The state has said it will appeal the ruling, which doesn’t effect other aspects of AB32, such as the state’s renewable portfolio standard calling for one-third renewable energy by 2020, or its low-carbon fuel standard for in-state vehicles.
Let us mourn the shelving of a national climate change strategy this morning. Word from Washington D.C. is that Carol Browner, President Barack Obama’s handpicked coordinator of energy and climate policy, will be stepping down from her post as soon as an “orderly transition” can be arranged for whoever takes over. As Grist magazine rightly points out, there’s not much Browner’s replacement will be able to do except suffer the slings and arrows of a concerted Republican and conservative attack on the Obama Administration’s entire energy and environmental platform. What share of the blame lies at Browner’s feet is hard to say — as the New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza reported in November, the administration’s climate change strategy failed to line up the needed support with its Congressional allies. Now, the Republican takeover of the House has doomed carbon or climate legislation for the next two years, and the EPA’s bid to regulate carbon emissions as a pollutant is facing opposition from the state of Texas and a host of business and industry groups. Perhaps individual states (like California) will take up the slack on policies to combat climate change? In an interesting side note, Reuters reports another nation where the provinces are pushing the central government to move faster on creating markets to combat climate change — China.
How will Tuesday’s election results affect the country’s green technology hopes? With Republicans taking control of the House of Representatives, observers say chances are likely gone for any kind of broad-ranging climate and carbon legislation in President Obama’s first term. Pared-down energy goals, such as a utility-only carbon cap-and-trade regime or establishing a national renewable energy standard, are also going to face opposition in a Republican-controlled House. Even GOP energy favorites such as subsidies for nuclear power may have trouble amidst a Tea Party-driven, cost-slashing approach in the newly elected Congress, certain observers noted. Still, there were some green-pleasing statewide election results, such as California voters’ rejection of a ballot measure to overturn the state’s greenhouse gas law and wins by Democratic governors in California and Massachusetts.
Today marks the first day of a 45-day period for the public to comment on a program to force polluters to cap their carbon emissions starting in 2012, and the proposed rules will give away lots of free permits rather than auctioning them.
Two weeks from now, voters will decide which federal and state politicians to keep and which to send packing. Here is a list of hot issues and challenges facing cleantech advocates as they lobby for their favorite causes in the coming year.
There’s some bad news out this Monday for the fledgling Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) carbon market — as well as companies hoping to see regional CO2 markets jumpstart corporate investment in carbon management. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, trading in RGGI “ground to a halt” in the third quarter of this year, as surpluses in carbon credits and lack of progress on a national carbon cap-and-trade program drove trading volume down 90 percent compared to the same quarter last year. That helped drive down global carbon trading down 9 percent in dollar terms for the third quarter, from $31 billion last year to $28 billion this year, despite an 8 percent uptick in volume in Europe.
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The latest twist in the road to comprehensive climate and energy legislation arrived on Wednesday, in the form of Sen. Dick Lugar’s (R-Ind.) proposal for what he calls the “Practical Energy and Climate Plan.”