Keep Your Children Locked Up Safe--Climate Change Legislation Is Coming

EENews (subscription required) reported today that the organization "CO2 Is Green," a front organization for energy companies, published a particularly rabble rousing ad in today's Washington Post.

Because describing it is so much less satisfying, I reprint the ad in full here (you can see an image of the ad here):

The Kerry-Lieberman Cap and Trade Bill will drive the USA away from cheap efficient energy and permanently increase your cost of electricity, transportation fuel, and food.
• The bill is based on the false premise that man-made CO2 is a major cause of climate change. Real, empirical evidence indicates it is not. But even if CO2 was a major factor, using the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's own formula and numbers, the bill would only reduce Earth's temperature by one tenth of one degree within the next 90 years!
• Wall Street, the Administration, green industries, environmental extremists, academia, and the media will love Kerry-Lieberman; you will not because you will pay for the costs.
• Passing Kerry-Lieberman will not stop the oil spill. Cost of the spill will be
paid for by BP. Don't let the President get the bill passed by riding the unrelated oil spill tragedy which will cost you money.
• The Obama Administration is touting energy independence by passing Cap and Trade. You cannot run your cars, planes, businesses, and homes on Wall Street's profits. Wind and Solar pr ovide less than one percent of our energy and that will not increase by a meaningful amount for decades. Fossil fuels provide 83% of our energy. Our economy will never recover if Obama's attack on this industry succeeds.
Cap and Trade proponents are buying support from industries on Wall Street with various corporate giveaways as he did with the very expensive Health Care Bill. Do not let this happen again with the Kerry-Lieberman Cap and Trade Bill.

If you are interested in who CO2 green is according to EENews,

Spokesman H. Leighton Steward sits on the board of directors of EOG Resources Inc., an oil and natural gas development company. He also is an honorary director at the industry trade group American Petroleum Institute, according to a biography on EOG's website...CO2 is Green is bankrolled by Corbin J. Robinson, chief executive of and leading shareholder in Natural Resource Partners, a Houston-based owner of coal resources.

According to Mother Jones

Natural Resource Partners is also a member of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE), the scandal-plagued coal front group currently under investigation for its role in the forged letters sent to members of Congress criticizing the House climate bill.
 

What I am particularly amused by is the imaginary cabal of Wall Street bankers and the Obama administration against the unlikely pairing of energy companies and the common man.  Last I checked (which was today), EOG Resources is listed on the New York Stock Exchange.  In their 2009 annual report, this scrappy upstart champion of the little guy stated:

For the three, five and 10-year periods ended December 31, 2009, EOG’s stock appreciation was 56 percent, 173 percent and 1,008 percent, respectively, significantly exceeding the performance of the S&P 500 Oil and Gas Exploration and Production Index for these three periods.

EOG’s persistence in managing costs and maximizing reserve recoveries has resulted in superior returns, year after year. Our average ROCE(2) for the 10-year period ended December 31, 2009 was 18 percent. EOG’s outperformance on stockholder returns and ROCE validates its long-term organic growth strategy.

 

That's right--for the past 10 years, stock of EOG has increased 1,008 percent.  So Wall Street's profits are...EOG profits.   

Moreover, let's take a brief look at the proposition that "Our economy will never recover if Obama's attack on this industry succeeds." Does this mean that the economy cannot afford even a slight reduction in EOG's 1,008 percent stock price increase? Let's play my favorite statistical game. If we reduce our dependence on fossil fuels by half, which in turn reduces EOG's profits by half, their stock will only have gained in value 504% over the last five years. 

This doomsday conclusion also assumes that there will be a massive negative economic impact of weaning off fossil fuels, which evidence indicates is not the case. 

According to the Congressional Budget Office, the cost of Cap & Trade to each American household on a net economywide basis would be...wait for it...

On that basis, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that the net
annual economywide cost of the cap-and-trade program in 2020 would be
$22 billion—or about $175 per household.

But we will never recover from this increase.  To put it in perspective, $175 is less than the cost of an Amazon Kindle or about the cost of a subscription to cable, cell phone and internet access (cable is $71 and internet access about $45 and cell phone about $73) FOR A MONTH. 

The Emperor And His Energy Saving, 100% Recycled Clothes

The AP reported that 15 phony items were admitted to the EPA's Energy Star program because manufacturers' claims of energy efficiency are not verified:

But the General Accountability Office, Congress` investigative arm, said Energy Star doesn`t verify claims made by manufacturers -- which might explain the gasoline-powered alarm clock, not to mention a product billed as an air room cleaner that was actually a space heater with a feather duster and fly strips attached, and a computer monitor that won approval within 30 minutes of submission.

 

A gasoline powered alarm clock? Seriously? 

Last week I posted about the United Nations suspending its third carbon credit auditing company in 15 months.  These situations undermine all efforts towards a more sustainable future. Take, for example, the damage done by the climate change email debacle.  To be credible, solid, verifiable evidence must be the foundation of efforts designed to change the mind of skeptics and convert naysayers.  Otherwise, we will be measuring climate change using a gasoline powered thermometer...hey...now there's an idea...

Will The Separation Of Powers Kill Climate Change Action? Call In the Green Deal Coalition

I promised a post on Obama's State of The Union, but in mulling over my response to the speech and several other events which have occurred in the days that followed, I realized that the issue which needs to be addressed is the degree to which the separation of powers between the executive and legislative branches of the government of the United States will serve to delay or derail real regulatory action on climate change (and green building), even where a strong executive seeks to pursue these goals.

The only hope is for Republican and Democratic senators concerned about climate change to form a coalition with the Obama administration.  This will require pressure from a new New Deal coalition--a "Green Deal" coalition of citizens, corporations concerned about the impact of climate change on their businesses, unions seeking new clean energy and green construction jobs, minorities seeking access to the middle class and political machines seeking a big win. If these factions can align behind climate change regulation, real legislative progress is possible.

Our government is one of limited, separated powers.  The Executive Branch has only three real avenues of power--administrative, diplomatic and rhetorical.

Over the past few months, the Obama administration has been using the administrative tools within the delegation of executive power to boost climate change regulation.  On December 7, 2009, The EPA made an endangerment finding with respect to greenhouse gases. On January 7, 2010, the SEC issued guidelines regarding corporate disclosure of climate change risk.  On October 5, 2009, Obama issued an Executive Order requiring all federal agencies to assess their environmental impact, and setting aggressive green building requirements for federal facilities, followed on January 29, 2010 with an announcement pledging  to reduce the federal government's greenhouse gas pollution by 28 percent by 2020. 

Obama also used his diplomatic authority to forge an international accord at Copenhagen, however limited.  All 55 countries, responsible for more than two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions, submitted plans to curb their impacts as of 1/31/10.  

Finally, using his rhetorical power, in Obama's State of The Union, he tied investments in clean energy to economic growth, and encouraged the Senate to pass a clean energy bill:

Next, we need to encourage American innovation. Last year, we made the largest investment in basic research funding in history -– (applause) -- an investment that could lead to the world's cheapest solar cells or treatment that kills cancer cells but leaves healthy ones untouched. And no area is more ripe for such innovation than energy. You can see the results of last year's investments in clean energy -– in the North Carolina company that will create 1,200 jobs nationwide helping to make advanced batteries; or in the California business that will put a thousand people to work making solar panels.

But to create more of these clean energy jobs, we need more production, more efficiency, more incentives. And that means building a new generation of safe, clean nuclear power plants in this country. (Applause.) It means making tough decisions about opening new offshore areas for oil and gas development. (Applause.) It means continued investment in advanced biofuels and clean coal technologies. (Applause.) And, yes, it means passing a comprehensive energy and climate bill with incentives that will finally make clean energy the profitable kind of energy in America. (Applause.)

I am grateful to the House for passing such a bill last year. (Applause.) And this year I'm eager to help advance the bipartisan effort in the Senate. (Applause.)

I know there have been questions about whether we can afford such changes in a tough economy. I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. But here's the thing -- even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy-efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future -– because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation. (Applause.)

In short, Obama is doing everything within his delegation of authority to enhance climate change regulation.  But, at the end of the day, the President cannot make laws.  He cannot force corporations or citizens or even states to undertake major changes to their actions which would be necessary to make dramatic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.  He cannot withhold federal funds from states that fail to regulate or curb their own greenhouse gas emissions.  Those powers remain exclusively with Congress.  Only Congress can cap greenhouse gas emissions. Only Congress can tax greenhouse gas emissions.  Only Congress can enact a national enegy efficiency building code, or compel states through withholding funds to update their building codes to promote green building and energy efficient practices. 

In a system of separated powers, significant social change requires cooperation among the branches of government. So, with the partisan bickering in Washington and the recent election of a Republican senator in Massachusetts, the chances of significant progress on climate change regulation have decreased.  Only the Green Deal coalition can save us.

The 50% Rule or Why Emails and Statistics Don't Matter

We have heard a chorus of voices over the past few days raising the moribund concept that climate change is not happening, and is some global liberal conspiracy to devalue oceanfront property in Palm Beach. 

At the center of raising the hydrahead of the Palm Beach Conspiracy was the discovery of  some emails from the University of East Anglia where climate change scientists were engaging in the age-old academic practice of arguing with one another.  For a "pro" climate change perspective, Gawker explains the situation here, for an "anti" climate change perspective, the Weekly Standard provides this analysis.

I was guest lecturing at Princeton a few weeks ago, and I used the opportunity to propogate one of my favorite ideas--I call it the 50% Rule. It can be used to explain the Palm Beach Conspiracy, statistics about climate change, and as a means of deflating your brother-in-law's wild stories about catching a 45 foot trout during holiday meals. Here it goes--when you hear a statistic or a scandal or a wild trout fishing tale, assume the information is off by 50%.  One-half.  Then determine whether the information still matters.  If your brother's trout was only 22.5 feet, not 45, that's still a mighty large fish.  Similarly, with climate change, if scientists' statistics about sea level rise or drought are off by 50%, we are still looking at a serious problem.  The result? We still need to do something about it.  

With respect to the Palm Beach Scandal, Micheal Oppenheimer from Princeton on NPR explained it beautifully. The consensus of hundreds of scientists, using many different methodologies, all in competition with one another have reached a consensus that climate change is real and caused largely by man's actions.  Even if 50% of the data is wrong or subject to bias or manipulation,  that is still hundreds of the world's best scientists coming to a consensus (which if you have ever had two scientists in a room is a feat in and of itself) coming to the same conclusion.

Finally--here are the choices. Assume climate change is not real, and roll the dice on droughts, wars, starvation, dependence on foreign oil, continued economic stagnation and incalculable human suffering.  Assume climate change is real, take action, create new jobs, industry, reduce pollution and human health risks from carbon emissions in general, reduce dependence on foreign fuel regimes and potentially keep polar bears from extinction.  Strikes me as not much of a choice.

Sunshine Is The Best Disinfectant--SEC Changes Climate Risk Disclosure Rules

Yesterday, the Securities and Exchange Commission issued revisions to Staff Legal Bulletin No. 14E (CF).  Why do we care about an obscure SEC procedural document here at GBLB? According to the RiskMetrics Group Blog, an earlier 2005 version of the document

concluded that resolutions [about climate change risk] could be omitted under SEC Rule 14a-8 (i)(7) as ordinary business matters, not suitable for shareholder consideration, if they involve “an internal assessment of the risks or liabilities that the company faces as a result of its operations that may adversely affect the environment or the public’s health.”

In other words, shareholder resolutions seeking information about companies'  financial climate change risk did not have to be addressed by SEC regulated corporation.

The brand spanking new Legal Bulletin 14E changes the metrics for determining when shareholder resolutions regarding climate change risk need to be included in SEC documents:

Henceforth, the bulletin says, in deciding when a company can omit a resolution, rather than focusing on whether a resolution relates to an evaluation of risk, the staff will instead focus on the underlying subject matter to which the risk pertains.

So, if a company has a large financial risk due to carbon belching power plants or portfolios of resource sapping buildings, it is possible that shareholders will be able to call for an accounting of the risk to their investments. 

As Justice Brandeis said, "Sunshine is the best disinfectant."  By allowing shareholders to demand cliamte risk disclosure, companies may be more inclined to undertake risk management strategies--like green building--to ameliorate their risk. 

Schindler's List

I wonder whether we are entering an era where the ethical corporations and citizens will  be divided from the unethical--the green pioneers from the greenwashers--in terms of their willingness to lead on climate change legislation.  Evidence suggests that such leadership will need to come from more than the usual suspects to be effective--WalMart's efforts will carry more weight than Whole Foods. 

Today, Excelon joined a growing number of utilities who resigned from the US Chamber of Commerce over its resistance to climate change legislation. According to the Philadelphia Inquirer:

Chairman and CEO John W. Rowe, in an address to the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, said his Chicago company is so committed to climate legislation that it will let its chamber membership lapse.

“Because of their stridency against carbon legislation, Exelon has decided not to renew its membership in the U.S. Chamber this year,” Rowe said.

Oskar Schindler was a German businessman who saved almost 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his enamelware and ammunitions factories.  Similarly, It is up to the corporations that lead this nation to use their dramatic influence to enable the passage of effective climate change legislation.   

Climate Change And The Tragedy of The Commons--Or Why The Third World Is Giving Us The Bird

Any student of environmental law at some point will be exposed to the seminal work by Garrett Hardin, the "Tragedy of the Commons."  The thesis is essentially the following--if a resource is shared by all, it is in no individual actor's interest to protect it, and it is in each individual actor's interest to maximize his/her exploitation of the resource even though this will result in the degradation of the resource for everyone. 

Over the past few weeks we have seen two examples of the tragedy of the commons in action.  At the G-8 summit, third-world countries were unwilling to agree to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions:

The wealthy nations failed to persuade the leaders of big developing countries to promise to cut their own fast-spreading pollution, unable to overcome arguments that the well-established industrial giants aren't doing enough in the short term.

Then, when Hillary Clinton made a trip to India, she was informed by the Indian Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh

India cannot and will not take emission reduction targets because poverty eradication and social and economic development are first and over-riding priorities...

In other words, the short term benefit of carbon exploitative development to India was more valuable than the long term benefit of global climate management.  A classic example of the tragedy of the commons.

So....now what? How do world leaders convince India, China and the other emitters to prioritize the long term effects of climate change above short term economic gains? There are three possible solutions--regulation, polluter pays and privatization.  It is essentially impossible to privatize climate change, so that is out.  There is no international regulatory body which can generate regulations to rein in unwilling participants.  But, and this will be controversial, countries which are reducing their emissions can do "climate protectionism."  In other words, force goods, power, services, etc. to disclose their carbon emissions and not accept goods, power, services, etc. whose emissions are above a certain threshhold or which have not been offset.  It is essentially a polluter pays system.  If the cost is high enough, savvy entrepreneurs will find a way around a carbon based industrialization. 

Take telephone service for example.  There are very few telephone poles and lines running through many parts of the Third World, yet there is telephone service through cell phones.  It was not necessary to go through the same development of telecommunications that the United States and Western Europe went through to get phone service--Africa and Asia went directly to a more efficient technology.

 

Be Afraid. Be Very Afraid. Now Do Something.

Yesterday, the Obama Administration released a study analyzing the potential impact of climate change in the United States. It read like the Ten Plagues at my family's annual seder:

heavy downpours, rising temperature and sea level, rapidly retreating glaciers, thawing permafrost, lengthening growing seasons, lengthening ice-free seasons in the ocean and on lakes and rivers, earlier snowmelt, and alterations in river flows

And if that wasn't enough...

heat stress, waterborne diseases, poor air quality, extreme weather events, and diseases transmitted by insects and rodents

That's right, all that is missing is slaying of the first born. 

This study is very positive in that it is a frank assessment in relatively plain language of what we will have to address in terms of the impact of climate change.  Hopefully, now that the issues have been named, we will be able to be more proactive about enacting market-based and regulatory amelioration, and ideally, solutions. 

The current amelioration mechanism on the table--Waxman-Markey--seems to be in trouble.  First, the bill has not been very effectively communicated or sold to the American public.  Second, it seems to be subsumed beneath the health care media juggernaut.  Finally, agrobusiness interests have been successfully gaining a foothold in tying up the process. 

We need to get on with it.  Cap-and-trade or carbon tax, regulation of GHG under the Clean Air Act, green building market and regulatory programs.  Either that, or be prepared to host a giant tropical cockroach at your next seder.