Presidential Candidates Give Little Focus to Energy Policy in First Debate

October 4, 2012

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

Predictions voters would get some answers on energy in the first presidential debate seemed as though they just might come true Wednesday night in Colorado. Just minutes into the broadcast, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama touched on their policies for energy. Even so, the topic of energy was mostly overshadowed by tax policy and health care. As The Houston Chronicle’s Loren Steffy writes “what was said, mostly about fossil fuels, really didn’t raise any new points.”

Previously, on the campaign trail, both candidates proposed higher production of energy as a way to address the nation’s 8.1 percent unemployment rate. The National Journal states economists have said for months that energy production—whether through increased oil and gas drilling or boosting renewable energy or both—won’t create enough jobs to put most of the nation’s 23 million unemployed back to work (subscription).The Washington Post took a closer look at these and other numbers thrown out by candidates during the debate—summing up their origin and any discrepancies.

The largely under-the-radar issue of climate change never even entered the debate. Climate Desk calls climate change “the sleeper issue of 2012,” noting polls indicate both candidates could be using the issue to their advantage. Several new polls indicate voters are backing climate and clean energy policies. Regardless of whether or not the candidates are talking about the issue, the United Nation’s top climate change official Christiana Figueres said whoever wins in November will be forced to confront global warming.

‘Liquid Air’ could be Renewable Energy Storage Solution

Liquid air could work better than batteries or hydrogen for storing excess energy produced from wind turbines or other renewable energy sources during off-peak times, according to the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. A company in the United Kingdom is testing how the liquid air method—originally developed to power vehicles—could help use some of this “wrong-time” energy.

The method would use electricity from off-peak hours to take in air—removing carbon dioxide and water vapor in order to chill air to a cryogenic state. This turns what’s left, which is mostly nitrogen, to a liquid that is stored in giant vacuum flasks until demand increases and it can be warmed again. Re-expanding air could be used to drive turbines.

While the growth in renewables is among the contributing factors to the 9 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. since 2005, one analysis says this decline is unlikely to continue unless there are major departures from the way energy is currently produced and used. The report lays out specific energy-related changes that would need to occur between now and 2035 to have a chance at reducing carbon dioxide emissions to 38 percent below 2005 levels. These include: growth in renewables beyond the 5 percent electricity makeup today to 31 percent by 2035 as well as gains in residential, commercial and industrial energy-using equipment.

Energy Claims among Revised Guidelines for Green Product Labels

The Federal Trade Commission is clamping down on “Green” or “Eco” product labeling—updating marketing guidelines for the first time since 1998. Now, the Commission says product manufacturers better have data to back up claims. Updates cover not only topics in the existing guide, but include new sections clarifying renewable energy and materials claims, as well as the use of carbon offsets and “green” certifications. Specifically, the guides renewable energy claims section instructs marketers to consider specifying the type of energy source used to remain less deceptive. To further avoid the possibility of fines, it cautions against making unqualified “made with renewable energy claims.” It notes that would be deceptive “… unless all, or virtually all, of the significant manufacturing processes involved in making the product or package are powered with renewable energy or non-renewable energy matched by renewable energy certificates.”

Farm Bill Lapses, as Plant Discoveries are Made

As the Weather Channel announced plans to assign names to winter storms as they do for hurricanes, the drought’s effect on crops coupled with the lapse of the Farm Bill has left some to question the larger consequences of the expiration. The Washington Post breaks down what to expect now that the law governing many of our nation’s farm policies has expired. Among the potential consequences: higher milk prices and the lapse of some conservation programs. Mark Hertsgaard, in The New York Times, says the bill is not only a “centerpiece of United States food and agricultural policy, it is also a de facto climate bill.”

Meanwhile, a trio of scientists studying inland plants described in the journal Nature the opposite of what many climate models predict—inland plants may not be so great at pulling increasing carbon dioxide from the air. Looking back on a 13-year set of observations from experimental grassland plots in Minnesota, the study authors found heightened carbon dioxide means more plant growth, but only if there’s the right mix of nutrients available in the soil.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.


Climate Researcher Lied to Get Documents, Triggering Ethics Debate

February 23, 2012

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University

A top climate researcher—Peter Gleick, head of the Pacific Institute—admitted he lied to obtain documents from the Heartland Institute, which he then leaked to media and revealed the organization’s plans to challenge the scientific consensus on climate change.

Gleick resigned from the board of the National Center on Science Education, and stepped down as chairman of the American Geophysical Union’s (AGU) taskforce on scientific ethics.

His admission has triggered an ethics debate in the climate community, with ethics expert Dale Jamieson calling Gleick’s actions “unethical” but adding, “relative to what has been going on on the climate denial side, this is a fairly small breach of ethics.”

Cognitive scientist Stephan Lewandowsky argued that “revealing to the public the active, vicious, and well-funded campaign of denial … likely constitutes a classic public good,” against which the ethics of Gleick’s deception have to be weighed.

The president of the AGU said the organization was disappointed with Gleick, whose actions were “inconsistent with our organization’s values.” NASA climate researcher Gavin Schmidt said “Gleick’s actions were completely irresponsible.” Bryan Walsh of Time argued Gleick’s actions “have hurt … the cause of climate science.”

In the U.K., a freedom of information act request for details on the funder of the Global Warming Policy Foundation, a climate change skeptic group, was denied by a court on the grounds the foundation is not influential enough.

PTC Could Equal Permanent Tax Credit

The Production Tax Credit (PTC) that aids wind energy is set to expire at the end of 2012, but some legislators are fighting to save it, with Sen. Michael Bennet of Colorado arguing that “every minute counts” in trying to forge a deal.

To avoid such struggles over regular renewals of the PTC, President Obama proposed a new corporate taxation plan that would make the subsidies permanent, as well as make permanent a research-and-experimentation tax credit that expired Jan. 1.

High Oil Prices a Drag

Since the start of the year, oil prices have been on the rise, putting a drag on economic recovery in the U.S., pushing up consumer prices and causing overall inflation—risking a repeat of early 2011, when high oil prices nearly pushed the country back into recession.

President Obama was scheduled to speak about the issue Thursday, and White House spokesman Jay Carney said that the rise in prices—despite a drop in domestic consumption and rise in production—“tells you that there are other things beyond our control.”

The threat high oil prices pose to economies across developed countries could trigger the International Energy Agency to release more oil from strategic reserves, as was done in spring 2011, argued Reuters analyst John Kemp.

The rising oil prices have U.S. consumers wondering why. The prices, experts said, have stayed high because of rising consumption in emerging markets, as well as the threat that Iran’s oil exports may be cut off. An International Energy Agency official said that other countries would be able to make up for a loss of Iran’s exports, which had been 2.2 million barrels a day, and to boost production, Saudi Arabia may restart its oldest oil field.

In response to the European Union’s decision to embargo Iranian oil, Iran halted oil shipments to Britain and France, and possibly other European countries. Major shipping countries are refusing to pick up Iranian oil, with one shipping executive saying it would be like “getting leprosy.”

GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said he would get gasoline down to $2.50 a gallon. However Bryan Walsh said no president can deliver that—at least without making the U.S. economy tank.

Tar Sands Tussle

The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill that would require approval of the Keystone XL pipeline that would carry diluted tar sands from Canada to Texas, which President Obama had earlier nixed.

The European Union held a vote on whether to ban imports of oil made from Canadian tar sands, but it ended in a deadlock.

The amount of tar sands is small compared with the amount of natural gas and coal in the world, so the tar sands alone don’t pose a major threat to the climate, argued a study in Nature Climate Change.

Some took this to mean that Canada’s tar sands are “not so dirty after all.” However, study leader Andrew Weaver—a climate modeler at the University of Victoria in Canada—argued that use of tar sands is “a symptom of the bigger problem of our dependence on fossil fuels,” and policy makers should avoid commitments to infrastructure supporting fossil fuel dependence.

Meanwhile, another study of tar sands sites found levels of air pollution—in particular nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide—were comparable to air above a large power plant.

Small Feet, Large Footprint

A new report on the carbon footprint of a diminutive creature—shrimp—shows they’re worse than cattle, at least when raised in aquaculture. When coastal mangrove forests are cleared to create shrimp farms, it’s the “the equivalent of slash-and-burn agriculture,” said study leader Boone Kauffman.

The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University’s Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.