A new report has been released that "serves as a handbook of science updates ... in time for Copenhagen in December 2009, and any national or international climate change policy negotiations that follow ... The report has been purposefully written with a target readership of policy-makers, stakeholders, the media and the broader public." From their press release:
Climate change accelerating beyond expectations, urgent emissions reductions required, say leading scientists
Global ice-sheets are melting at an increased rate; Arctic sea-ice is disappearing much faster than recently projected, and future sea-level rise is now expected to be much higher than previously forecast, according to a new global scientific synthesis prepared by some of the world’s top climate scientists.
In a special report called ‘The Copenhagen Diagnosis’, the 26 researchers, most of whom are authors of published IPCC reports, conclude that several important aspects of climate change are occurring at the high end or even beyond the expectations of only a few years ago.
The report also notes that global warming continues to track early IPCC projections based on greenhouse gas increases. Without significant mitigation, the report says global mean warming could reach as high as 7 degrees Celsius by 2100.
The Copenhagen Diagnosis, which was a year in the making, documents the key findings in climate change science since the publication of the landmark Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fourth Assessment Report in 2007.
The new evidence to have emerged includes:
- Satellite and direct measurements now demonstrate that both the Greenland and Antarctic ice-sheets are losing mass and contributing to sea level rise at an increasing rate.
- Arctic sea-ice has melted far beyond the expectations of climate models. For example, the area of summer sea-ice melt during 2007-2009 was about 40% greater than the average projection from the 2007 IPCC Fourth Assessment Report.
- Sea level has risen more than 5 centimeters over the past 15 years, about 80% higher than IPCC projections from 2001. Accounting for ice-sheets and glaciers, global sea-level rise may exceed 1 meter by 2100, with a rise of up to 2 meters considered an upper limit by this time. This is much higher than previously projected by the IPCC. Furthermore, beyond 2100, sea level rise of several meters must be expected over the next few centuries.
- In 2008 carbon dioxide emissions from fossil fuels were ~40% higher than those in 1990. Even if emissions do not grow beyond today’s levels, within just 20 years the world will have used up the allowable emissions to have a reasonable chance of limiting warming to less than 2 degrees Celsius.
The report concludes that global emissions must peak then decline rapidly within the next five to ten years for the world to have a reasonable chance of avoiding the very worst impacts of climate change.
To stabilize climate, global emissions of carbon dioxide and other long-lived greenhouse gases need to reach near-zero well within this century, the report states.
China announced Thursday that it will cut its economy's carbon intensity by up to 45 percent by 2020, the state news agency Xinhua said, and that Premier Wen Jiabao will participate in international climate negotiations in Copenhagen next month.
The move by the world's largest greenhouse gas emitter to set a near-term target of a 40 to 45 percent reduction, coming a day after President Obama set U.S. climate goals for the talks, suggests a possible breakthrough in Demark next month in the long-stalled climate negotiations. But the State Council's announcement that China will cut its carbon output relative to economic growth, using 2005 as a baseline, fell short of the 50 or 55 percent cut many world leaders had hoped Beijing would make.
Michael Levi, the David M. Rubenstein Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment at the Council on Foreign Relations, called the announcement "disappointing," because the Energy Information Administration estimates that existing Chinese policies will already cut the nation's carbon intensity by 45 to 46 percent. Carbon intensity is a measure that captures the amount of carbon dioxide emitted per unit of gross domestic product.
"It does not move them beyond business as usual," Levi said. "The United States has put an ambitious path for emissions cuts through 2050 on the table. China needs to raise its level of ambition if it is going to match that. One can only hope that, now that China has made a proposal, negotiators are able to work out something better."
The European Commission, the executive body of the European Union, welcomed "the leadership China is bringing to this negotiation," while noting that it will be "disappointing to some" that the cuts did not go further. Others hailed China's commitment as a step that the country had not been willing to take before.
China is not obligated to cut its greenhouse gas emissions under the current framework for the United Nations-sponsored negotiations. But it is expected to account for 50 percent of the growth in global emissions over the next 20 years, making its output nearly 60 percent higher than U.S. output by 2020. Any future climate treaty will be ineffective unless China agrees to make deep cuts.
Given China's projected growth rates, its emissions are projected to rise even under the plan outlined by Xinhua Thursday. Still, any effort China makes to curb its carbon footprint has an enormous impact.
According to the D.C.-based Center for Clean Air Policy, China's current plan to cut its energy intensity by 20 percent translates into a 1.6 billion-ton carbon cut.
Why am I not surprised the shift has primarily occurred within the science-phobic GOP (for more on the subject, see A Blue View's Denialism category and/or buy the book that named the phenomenon: Denialism: How Irrational Thinking Hinders Scientific Progress, Harms the Planet, and Threatens Our Lives). From the Wash Post:
The percentage of Americans who believe global warming is happening has dipped from 80 to 72 percent in the past year, according to a new Washington Post-ABC News poll, even as a majority still support a national cap on greenhouse gas emissions.
The poll's findings -- which also show that 55 percent of respondents think the United States should curb its carbon output even if major developing nations such as China and India do less -- suggest increasing political polarization around the issue, just as the Obama administration and congressional Democrats are intensifying efforts to pass climate legislation and broker an international global warming pact.
The increase in climate skepticism is driven largely by a shift within the GOP. Since its peak 3 1/2 years ago, belief that climate change is happening is down sharply among Republicans -- 76 to 54 percent -- and independents -- 86 to 71 percent. It dipped more modestly among Democrats, from 92 to 86 percent. A majority of respondents still support legislation to cap emissions and trade pollution allowances, by 53 to 42 percent.
Amanda Feinberg, a retired administrative assistant living in South Williamsport, Pa., said she became disenchanted with the idea of human-caused global warming when former vice president Al Gore launched a public awareness campaign with his documentary, "An Inconvenient Truth."
"He just seemed a little radical in his views," said Feinberg, a Republican. "I don't deny it's happening, I just think it's just an evolution of nature."
Lisa Woolcott, another Republican poll respondent, said she doesn't think that burning fossil fuels is "causing all the global warming," adding: "We can't control what happens in the atmosphere." But Woolcott, a physician's assistant who lives in Kansas City, Kan., said she supports the idea of a bill that would cap the nation's greenhouse gas emissions and doesn't think the United States should predicate its actions on what other nations do. "We need to do what's best for us," she said. "I don't think we should back down."
Even proponents of action on climate change, such as Democratic pollster Mark Mellman, who has conducted polls on the issue for the American Security Project and the Pew Charitable Trusts, say they have detected a recent fraying of bipartisanship.
"It's a sad state of affairs when science becomes subject to partisan politics," Mellman said. "It can only be attributed to the sense that this issue has become part of a political battle."
Nuclear power -- long considered environmentally hazardous -- is emerging as perhaps the world's most unlikely weapon against climate change, with the backing of even some green activists who once campaigned against it.
It has been 13 years since the last new nuclear power plant opened in the United States. But around the world, nations under pressure to reduce the production of climate-warming gases are turning to low-emission nuclear energy as never before. The Obama administration and leading Democrats, in an effort to win greater support for climate change legislation, are eyeing federal tax incentives and loan guarantees to fund a new crop of nuclear power plants across the United States that could eventually help drive down carbon emissions.
From China to Brazil, 53 plants are now under construction worldwide, with Poland, the United Arab Emirates and Indonesia seeking to build their first reactors, according to global watchdog groups and industry associations. The number of plants being built is double the total of just five years ago.
Rather than deride the emphasis on nuclear power, some environmentalists are embracing it. Stephen Tindale typifies the shift ... "It really is a question about the greater evil -- nuclear waste or climate change," Tindale said. "But there is no contest anymore. Climate change is the bigger threat, and nuclear is part of the answer."
A number of roadblocks may yet stall nuclear's comeback -- in particular, its expense. Two next-generation plants under construction in Finland and France are billions of dollars over budget and seriously behind schedule, raising longer-term questions about the feasibility of new plants without major government support. Costs may be so high that energy companies find financing hard to secure even with government backing.
But experts also point to a host of improvements in nuclear technology since the Chernobyl accident and the partial meltdown of the Three Mile Island plant in Pennsylvania in 1979. Most notable is an 80 percent drop in industrial accidents at the world's 436 nuclear plants since the late 1980s, according to the World Association of Nuclear Operators.
So far at least, the start of what many are calling "a new nuclear age" is unfolding with only muted opposition -- nothing like the protests and plant invasions that helped define the green movement in the United States and Europe during the 1960s and 1970s.
As opposition recedes, even nations that had long vowed never to build another nuclear plant -- such as Sweden, Belgium and Italy -- have recently done an about-face as they see the benefits of a nearly zero-emission energy overriding the dangers of radioactive waste disposal and nuclear proliferation.
In the United States, leading environmental groups have backed climate change bills moving through Congress that envision new American nuclear plants. An Environmental Protection Agency analysis of the Waxman-Markey bill passed by the House, for instance, shows nuclear energy generation more than doubling in the United States by 2050 if the legislation is made law. The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission is reviewing applications for 22 new nuclear plants from coast to coast.
Nearly thirty years after he left office, the most important achievement of Jimmy Carter's time as president was his cementing the relationship with China that had begun under Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford. (Second-most important: Camp David accords between Israel and Egypt. Third: showing that it was possible, at least for a while, to increase the energy efficiency of cars, buildings, power generation, and industry within the US.)
Thirty years from now, the most important aspect of Barack Obama's interaction with China will be whether the two countries, together, can do anything about environmental and climate issues. If they can, in 2039 we'll look back on this as something like the Silent Spring/Clean Air Act moment in American history, which began a change toward broad environmental improvement. If they can't....
Following up on American Inaction Destroys Hopes For Climate Change Conference: Revised Agenda Is Lamer, Less Effective, there's this from the NY Times:
President Obama came into office pledging to end eight years of American inaction on climate change under President George W. Bush, and all year he has promised that the United States would lead the way toward a global agreement in Copenhagen next month to address the warming planet.
But this weekend in Singapore, Mr. Obama was forced to acknowledge that a comprehensive climate deal was beyond reach this year. Instead, he and other world leaders agreed that they would work toward a more modest interim agreement with a promise to renew work toward a binding treaty next year.
The admission places Mr. Obama in the awkward position of being, at least for now, as unlikely to spearhead an international effort to combat global warming as his predecessor — if for different reasons.
In Mr. Bush’s case, he remained skeptical about the science of global warming until near the end of his presidency and dubious about the need for concerted global action. And his reluctance was echoed by a Congress that wanted to see clear commitments from developing countries like China.
But Mr. Obama has been a champion of climate change regulation. He has moved unilaterally to limit greenhouse gases from vehicles and large sources such as coal-burning power plants. And in recent months, China, India, Brazil and some other developing countries have issued promises to slow the growth of emissions, although with the knowledge that a binding treaty to enforce such pledges will not take effect for at least several years.
Yet Mr. Obama has found himself limited in his ambitions by a Congress that is unwilling to move as far or as fast as he would like.
American negotiators have been hamstrung in talks leading to the Copenhagen conference by inaction on legislation supported by the administration that would impose strict caps on carbon dioxide emissions. The House passed a relatively stringent bill in June, but the Senate is not expected to begin serious debate on the measure until next year.
Without a firm commitment from the United States — for decades the world’s leading emitter of climate-altering gases — other nations have been reluctant to deliver firmer pledges of their own. Mr. Obama’s aides say he remains determined to use his domestic authority and international clout to continue pressing toward a global agreement. despite the latest setback.
“Is this impasse the United States’ fault? Of course. But others are at fault as well,” said Dan Becker, director of the Safe Climate Campaign in Washington, citing the opposition of polluting industries and the reluctance of emerging economies to commit to binding curbs on emissions. “We have both the obligation and capability of taking the lead on this issue. The longer we delay, the more extreme the steps that will have to be taken.”
Mr. Obama expressed support on Sunday for a proposal from Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen of Denmark to pursue a two-step process at the Copenhagen conference.
President Obama and other world leaders have decided to put off the difficult task of reaching a climate change agreement at a global climate conference scheduled for next month, agreeing instead to make it the mission of the Copenhagen conference to reach a less specific “politically binding” agreement that would punt the most difficult issues into the future.
At a hastily arranged breakfast on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit meeting on Sunday morning, the leaders, including Lars Lokke Rasmussen, the prime minister of Denmark and the chairman of the climate conference, agreed that in order to salvage Copenhagen they would have to push a fully binding legal agreement down the road, possibly to a second summit meeting in Mexico City later on.
“There was an assessment by the leaders that it is unrealistic to expect a full internationally, legally binding agreement could be negotiated between now and Copenhagen, which starts in 22 days,” said Michael Froman, the deputy national security adviser for international economic affairs. “I don’t think the negotiations have proceeded in such a way that any of the leaders thought it was likely that we were going to achieve a final agreement in Copenhagen, and yet thought that it was important that Copenhagen be an important step forward, including with operational impact.”
With the clock running out and deep differences unresolved, it has, for several months, appeared increasingly unlikely that the climate change negotiations in Denmark would produce a comprehensive and binding new treaty on global warming, as its organizers had intended.
The agreement on Sunday codifies what negotiators had already accepted as all but inevitable: that representatives of the 192 nations in the talks would not resolve the outstanding issues in time. The gulf between rich and poor countries, and even among the wealthiest nations, was just too wide.
Among the chief barriers to a comprehensive deal in Copenhagen was Congress’s inability to enact climate and energy legislation that sets binding targets on greenhouse gases in the United States. Without such a commitment, other nations are loath to make their own pledges.
Administration officials and Congressional leaders have said that final legislative action on a climate bill would not occur before the first half of next year.
As the world heads for tough negotiations over a global climate deal next month, an influential forecasting agency said on Tuesday that current energy policies were not sustainable, and that a vast transformation of energy use was required to fend off the worst consequences of global warming.
In the absence of a global deal to limit the emissions of carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas blamed for climate change, energy consumption will soar over the next decades. This would result in a catastrophic rise in global temperatures, according to the International Energy Agency, an adviser to industrialized nations that is based in Paris.
“Continuing on today’s energy path, without any change in government policy, would mean rapidly increasing dependence on fossil fuels, with alarming consequences for climate change and energy security,” the agency said.
The warning was contained in the annual World Energy Outlook, a 698-page publication that focuses this year on policies needed to reduce the emissions of carbon dioxide.
A part of the report was released last month as a map for policy makers considering how to make significant reductions. Government officials from about 190 nations will meet next month in Copenhagen to try to hammer out an international deal to replace the agreement known as the Kyoto protocol, which expires in 2012.
But international negotiators have signaled that an agreement is unlikely to be reached this year in the absence of a broad consensus on how to share the costs of switching to lower-carbon technologies and fuels.
The recession, the energy agency said, offers an opportunity to make big strides in lowering emissions. As a result of reduced economic activity this year, global emissions are expected to fall as much as 3 percent, the steepest decline in 40 years.
Without a new global agreement, carbon emissions will rise by 40 percent by 2030, the agency said. More than half of that growth will come from China alone, with the rest coming from other developing nations.
The agency’s forecasts are based on the assumption of no changes in energy policy from governments.
Global electricity demand, for example, would rise by 76 percent by 2030, requiring the addition of five times as much production capacity as exists today in the United States. Much of that would come from burning coal; its share of the global energy mix would grow by 2 percentage points to reach 44 percent in 2030.
The recession, which has slowed the growth in demand and allowed governments to introduce energy-saving programs, provides some breathing room. As a result of some of these policies, like stricter fuel economy standards for cars, the energy agency has reduced its forecast for oil demand in coming years.
Forecasters now expect global oil consumption to grow 1 percent a year in the next two decades, reaching 105 million barrels a day by 2030, from 85 million barrels a day in 2008. That estimate is lower than last year’s forecast for 2030 of 106 million barrels a day. It is also well below the 120 million barrels a day that the energy agency had projected a few years ago.
If the world agreed on stringent emissions limits, oil demand would reach just 89 million barrels a day by 2030, the agency said. That would represent a modest increase of four million barrels a day over current consumption levels.
As economies recover, energy demand will rise. After two years of declines because of the recession, government forecasters in the United States projected on Tuesday that global oil consumption would rise again next year ...
The recession has not only reduced energy demand this year, it has also curbed investments in new supplies. In the oil and gas sector, most companies have announced cutbacks in capital spending, as well as project delays and cancellations, the International Energy Agency said. It estimated that investment budgets for 2009 had been cut by around 19 percent compared with last year, a drop of over $90 billion.
The cost of reducing carbon emissions — through energy efficiency, more investments in renewable power, electric vehicles, expansion of nuclear power, and building carbon capture and storage technology for coal-burning power plants — would be high.But for each year of delay in an agreement, the world will eventually have to spend an additional $500 billion to cut emissions, the agency said.
In a step that reflected deep partisan divisions in the Senate over the issue of global warming, Democrats on the Environment and Public Works Committee pushed through a climate bill on Thursday without any debate or participation by Republicans.
The measure passed by an 11-to-1 vote with the support of all the Democratic committee members except Senator Max Baucus of Montana. The seven Republicans boycotted the committee meetings this week, saying they had not had sufficient time to study the bill and demanding that the Environmental Protection Agency conduct a thorough study of its economic costs and benefits.
The move suggests that President Obama and Democratic supporters of the bill will have serious problems assembling the votes needed to enact it when it comes to the Senate floor, probably not before next year.
Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, the committee’s chairwoman and co-sponsor of the bill, employed a rarely used exception to customary committee rules to muscle the 959-page measure through her panel. She conducted three days of hearings last week on the bill, known as S. 1733, but there was no debate on the complex measure, nor any chance for panel members to offer amendments.
Mrs. Boxer said that the E.P.A. had already conducted a preliminary analysis of the bill and that further study would be costly and duplicative. She said it was necessary to bypass the committee’s rule that required Republican participation because of Republican intransigence and the urgency of the issue.
“A majority of the committee,” she said in a statement, “believes that S. 1733, and the efforts that will be built upon it, will move us away from foreign oil imports that cost Americans $1 billion a day, it will protect our children from pollution, create millions of clean energy jobs and stimulate billions of dollars of private investment.”
The senior Republican on the environment committee, Senator James M. Inhofe of Oklahoma, said the bill would harm the American economy and cost millions of jobs. He said the Democrats’ decision to ram the bill through “marked the death knell” of efforts to enact a comprehensive climate change bill.
Mr. Baucus’s vote against the bill was another ominous sign. He is the influential chairman of the Finance Committee and a senior member of the Agriculture Committee, both of which will have major input in any final climate and energy legislation. He said the bill’s emission reduction targets were too ambitious and its agriculture provisions too weak. He said the measure had a long way to go.“This is a first step,” he said Thursday. “There will be many other steps.”
The climate-change bill that has been moving slowly through the Senate will face a stark political reality when it emerges for committee debate on Tuesday: With Democrats deeply divided on the issue, unless some Republican lawmakers risk the backlash for signing on to the legislation, there is almost no hope for passage.
Like the measure adopted by the House, the legislation favors a cap-and-trade system that would issue permits for greenhouse gas emissions, gradually lower the amount of emissions allowed, and let companies buy and sell permits to meet their needs -- all without adding to the federal deficit, according to projections. But key Republicans are making their opposition clear, even as Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.) has enlisted Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (S.C.) as his most visible GOP ally in gathering support for the bill.
Sen. George V. Voinovich (Ohio), a member of the Environment and Public Works Committee who was initially seen as one of the few Republicans who might consider backing the majority, is helping lead the opposition.
"Why are we trying to jam down this legislation now?" he asked during a hearing last week. "Wouldn't it be smarter to take our time and do it right?"
He wrote Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Lisa P. Jackson twice this summer to ask for a more detailed economic analysis of the House-passed climate legislation, and he has joined the other six Republicans on the committee in boycotting the climate bill's markup, scheduled for Tuesday.
The measure has deeply divided Democrats. With states in the Midwest, South and Rocky Mountain West dependent on fossil fuels for energy, many senators are worried about the legislation's impact on industry and consumers.
"I think at the end of the day, the people who turn the switch on at home will be disadvantaged," Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.) told CNBC on Friday, explaining why he did not think the bill Kerry had sponsored along with Environment and Public Works Chairman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) could pass.
So Democratic leaders, with the support of the Obama administration, are trying to sway at least half a dozen Republicans by offering amendments to speed along their top priority: building nuclear power plants.
Graham has suggested provisions on nuclear power and offshore oil drilling that could win his support for a cap-and-trade climate bill. Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) has established a bipartisan working group of 17 Senate offices that is close to producing a detailed amendment aimed at hurrying the construction of U.S. nuclear reactors.
But it remains unclear whether that approach will hold currency in the current era of political polarization. One of the top Republicans whom Democrats hope to recruit in this effort -- Sen. Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), whom Graham and Kerry recently buttonholed on the Senate floor -- has voiced skepticism about the legislation.
The Obama administration and some Senate Democrats expressed fresh urgency on Tuesday about the need to address climate change and refashion the nation’s energy economy.
But they faced determined opposition from Republicans, new concerns from some Democrats and reminders of the financial, technological and political hurdles in remaking the way the nation produces and consumes power.
In a Senate hearing on a new climate change and energy bill and in coordinated appearances by President Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., the administration promoted measures to cap greenhouse gas emissions and support new means of fueling homes and vehicles with far less carbon dioxide intensity. Mr. Obama appeared at a solar energy installation in Florida and Mr. Biden at an auto plant in Delaware that will produce electric vehicles, talking about the potential of alternative energy to create jobs.
On Capitol Hill, five senior administration officials appeared before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to speak in support of a bill to address global warming and encourage development of nonpolluting energy sources. They said such measures were important not only to the environment but to the nation’s economic competitiveness.
“When the starting gun sounded on the clean energy race, the United States stumbled,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu told the Senate panel, saying that spending on green energy technology in China and several European nations was far outstripping that of the United States. “But I remain confident that we can make up the ground.” ...
The climate change measure, sponsored by Senators John Kerry of Massachusetts and Barbara Boxer of California, both Democrats, aims to cap emissions of the gases linked to the warming of the planet by setting up a program under which industries can buy and sell emissions permits.
The measure also provides a variety of incentives for new energy technology, including billions of dollars in subsidies for research on capturing and storing carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
Republicans on the committee dismissed the bill as an overly complex one that will harm the economy, kill jobs and favor some parts of the country over others. Democrats generally defended it as a market-based approach to a serious environmental problem that will create jobs by spurring energy innovation.
President Obama, taking aim at business interests that have lobbied against an energy and climate bill moving through Congress, called on legislators Friday to rally around the push toward greater use of renewable energy.
In a wide-ranging speech on energy and the environment at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Mr. Obama called for passage of legislation that would make “the best use of resources we have in abundance, through clean coal technology, safe nuclear power, sustainably grown biofuels and energy we harness from wind, waves and sun.”
At the same time, Mr. Obama chided critics of the proposed legislation.
“There are those who will suggest that moving toward clean energy will destroy our economy when it’s the system we currently have that endangers our prosperity and prevents us from creating millions of new jobs,” Mr. Obama said, an apparent reference to the Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers.
Both organizations oppose the proposal moving through Congress to cap the emissions of greenhouse gases and allow companies to buy and sell permits to pollute. That approach, known as cap and trade, is meant to guarantee that emissions will decline, while providing market incentives for companies to invest in the most cost-effective technologies.
The legislation “provides the largest single boost in scientific research in history,” Mr. Obama said.
“The closer we get, the harder the opposition will fight and the more we’ll hear from those whose interest or ideology runs counter to action,” he added ...
“There is also another myth we must dispel,” Mr. Obama said in his speech, “and it is one far more dangerous than any attack made by those who wish to stand in the way of progress — and that’s the idea that there is little or nothing we can do. That is the pessimistic notion that our politics are too broken and our people too unwilling to make hard choices. Implicit in this argument is the sense that we’ve lost something important — that fighting American spirit, that willingness to tackle hard challenges and the determination to see those challenges to their end.”
Legislation addressing energy and the related problem of climate change from fossil-fuel emissions faces significant challenges in Congress, where some Democrats remain worried about lost jobs and rising energy costs in the parts of the country most heavily dependent on coal and manufacturing. From the outset, the bill’s proponents have sought to make the case that it will create high-tech jobs and save money on energy costs in the long run.
The Senate’s Environment and Public Works Committee will begin hearings next Tuesday on the climate change and energy bill introduced last month by Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts — who hitched a ride home to Boston with Mr. Obama aboard Air Force One — and Senator Barbara Boxer of California. Mr. Obama’s speech appeared timed to give the legislation a strong lift-off.
But the timing on any committee action, let alone passage by the full Senate, is highly uncertain and depends not only on the environment committee but also on action by several other Senate committees, not all of them as friendly toward strict caps on emissions. The White House has said it does not expect final Senate action before next year, and certainly not before the big climate change summit in Copenhagen next month.
From Thomas Edsall:
The Democratic coalition's ability to bridge its economic, regional, and class differences is endangered by values conflicts threatening to emerge over a wide range of domestic issues, including health care, global warming, labor rights, and consumer protection.
President Obama's desire to slow the growth of medical spending, for example, has the potential to force to the surface differences within his party over whether it is appropriate or morally justifiable to impose new limits on treatment of the elderly, the terminally ill, premature babies with severe birth defects, and people in need of organ transplants. Such values disputes may well complicate regional and class tensions, pitting the party's "empathy" wing against its less liberal, more tightfisted "discipline" wing ...
Empathy Democrats argue that medical science should do its utmost to prolong life; utilitarian Democrats are more inclined to weigh costs against probable benefits. Reining in costs -- critical to freeing up money needed to get more Americans insured -- might jeopardize the cohesion of a center-left coalition as much as more-straightforward issues of wealth redistribution.
Take the debate over whether the money spent on infants born very prematurely -- an amount that can reach $1 million or more for a single infant -- has become excessive. In April 2008, the New England Journal of Medicine reported that "rates of survival without profound impairment were as low as 2 percent and 5 percent, respectively, for boys who weighed 401 to 500 grams at 22 weeks' gestation." Still, substantial numbers of Americans believe that to withhold or withdraw intensive neonatal care from very low birthweight infants is wrong. Adding to the ethical and public policy quandary, the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics reports that "birthweight-based rationing schemes also are shown to increase further the racial disparity of (neonatal intensive care unit) deaths.... To attain significant reduction in neonatal intensive care unit charges, policies offering care to the larger or more mature very low birthweight infants only will result in denying care to many infants who would otherwise survive."
A politician looking at health care costs faces a grueling policy dilemma: Should Medicaid pay for 100 days on a ventilator for a tiny premature baby very likely to have severe disabilities if the infant survives at all? The potential political ramifications of such questions were demonstrated dramatically in comments sent to the National Public Radio program On Point With Tom Ashbrook during an April 20 discussion with a neonatologist. "Ann-Marie" asked: "One NICU baby's care = 20 yrs of care for 20 regular children. Is it ethical to save ONE life at the cost of poor health to 20 others?" "Cindy" replied, "If that one baby was yours, Ann-Marie ... would you want it to be saved?" Such debates in the academy and in the news media will inevitably spill over into politics.
No less contentious is the issue of costly organ transplantation, a subject that key federal health agencies are scrutinizing. The first-year costs of the 28,110 organ transplants performed in the United States in 2005 (excluding bone-marrow and tissue transplants) were about $18.3 billion. The average first-year billed charges for individual procedures ranged from $1.1 million for an intestine transplant to $259,000 for a kidney transplant. One high-level federal health official says on background, "Kidney transplants save costs, since the U.S. is expansive in paying for dialysis. Heart transplants are probably contraindicated overall."
A Democrat seeking to cut health care costs could well support creation of federal bureaucracies empowered to place new restrictions on transplants. But the question remains: Can party unity survive clashes over expenses such as these?
Many of the Democrats' current intraparty conflicts do not follow clear ideological or interest-group lines. The more-open-handed Democrats tend to be old-line liberals, including many congressional committee chairs, and representatives of urban and minority districts. Penny-pinchers find their strength in the New Democrat Coalition, those with ties to the Democratic Leadership Council and the "Blue Dogs." Empathy-oriented Democrats are tilted toward their party's downscale wing, and hard-nosed Democrats can tilt upscale. Some religiously observant voters believe that the huge sums spent on the terminally ill elderly would be better spent on children. Other religiously motivated voters believe strongly in trying to prolong the most-fragile lives.
Within the Democratic Party, new health care benefits would flow almost entirely to the party's downscale members. Moderate-to-upper-income Democrats would bear the brunt of the costs and the cutbacks to existing benefits. At the same time, neonatal care for Medicaid patients goes disproportionately to black and Hispanic infants.
Although health care is becoming ground zero in the economic and values conflicts that loom within the Democratic majority, a host of other issues also have the potential to undermine party solidarity.
From the NY Times:
As the Senate prepares to tackle global warming, the nation’s energy producers, once united, are battling one another over policy decisions worth hundreds of billions of dollars in coming decades.
Producers of natural gas are battling their erstwhile allies, the oil companies. Electrical utilities are fighting among themselves over the use of coal versus wind power or other renewable energy. Coal companies are battling natural gas firms over which should be used to produce electricity. And the renewable power industry is elbowing for advantage against all of them.
Some supporters of global warming legislation believe that the division in the once-monolithic oil and gas industry, as well as other splits among energy producers, could improve the prospects for the legislation.
“It’s much harder to pass clean-energy legislation when big oil and other energy interests are united in their opposition,” said Daniel J. Weiss, climate policy director at the liberal Center for American Progress. “The companies that recognize the economic benefits in the bill can help bring along their political supporters.”
The American Petroleum Institute trade group, dominated by major oil companies, opposes the legislation, saying it would discourage domestic exploration and lead to higher oil prices. But some natural gas companies, though longtime members of the institute, have formed a separate lobby and are working actively with the bill’s sponsors to cut a better deal for their product.
The proposal moving through Congress would cap the emissions of greenhouse gases each year and allow companies to buy and sell permits to pollute. That approach, known as cap and trade, is meant to guarantee that emissions will decline, while providing market incentives for companies to invest in low-carbon technologies.
The measure would effectively put a price on carbon, raising the prospect that some energy producers might have to pay more than others. For that reason, billions of dollars could be at stake in some of the most arcane language in the bill.
Energy lobbies are using every tactic in the book to protect their industries, producing alarming studies about $5 gasoline and other steep cost increases that might result from a cap-and-trade system. They are also financing protest groups and advertising campaigns. In one case, a public relations firm working for the coal industry even sent opposition letters to Congress under forged names.
The divisions in the energy sector mirror a split in the broader business community. Several large companies like Apple and the utility Exelon left the United States Chamber of Commerce recently over the group’s opposition to climate change legislation.
But the biggest fights are among energy producers. They have spent more than $200 million in the first half of the year on lobbying efforts in Washington, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, a nonpartisan research group, up from $174 million in the same period last year.
“The fact that the lobbying is so fast and so furious is a positive sign that this thing is moving along,” said Mark Brownstein, a managing director at the Environmental Defense Fund and an advocate of climate legislation. “The fact that everyone is rushing to Washington tells you people believe it is real.”
As legislation inches through Capitol Hill, onetime allies in the utility sector, like Exelon, which operates low-emission nuclear plants, and the Southern Company, a big consumer of coal, find themselves on opposite sides of the debate over renewable energy.
Utilities that have access to hydroelectric power or operate nuclear plants tend to favor a national mandate to increase the use of renewable power, because their carbon emissions are relatively low. Many coal-dependent utilities, particularly in the Southeast and Midwest, oppose the provision because they emit more carbon and would have to buy more permits over time.
In past energy policy debates, the oil and gas lobbies were largely united. In 2005, they won incentives for drilling in the Gulf of Mexico. Two years later, after Democrats had taken control of Congress, producers were unable to block a huge new mandate for alternative fuels like ethanol and biodiesel, but managed to save valuable oil industry tax breaks that some Democrats tried to end.
Today, each energy subsector, fearing any legislation that might give it a disadvantage, is battling for favor. The gas producers, for example, have formed the American Natural Gas Alliance, which is spending heavily on advertising and lobbying to point out that gas emits roughly half the carbon dioxide of coal. The group has also helped organize its allies in Congress into a new natural gas caucus, with two dozen members.
“These fissures are happening because a policy is increasingly seen as inevitable,” said David G. Victor, an energy expert at the University of California, San Diego. “Old coalitions are splintering and fascinating new alliances are being formed.”
The most important fight is over whether companies have to buy pollution permits, called allowances, or whether the government hands them out free in the early years to help ease the cost of the transition.
From the Wash Post:
A senior Republican in the United States Senate, conservative Senator Lisa Murkowski, said she would consider voting for a "cap and trade" climate change bill Democrats are pushing if it also contains a vigorous expansion of nuclear energy and domestic oil drilling.
In an interview set to air on Sunday on the C-SPAN cable TV network, Murkowski said cap and trade legislation, which aims to mandate reductions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions, must protect consumers from energy price increases and contain safeguards against market manipulation of pollution permits that would be traded by companies.
Some of these elements already are included in Democratic legislation in the Senate and House of Representatives.
"Count me as one of those who will keep my mind open as we move forward," said Murkowski, the senior Republican on the Senate energy panel and a member of her party's leadership.
Murkowski's remarks came after her fellow conservative, Senator Lindsey Graham, published a column in The New York Times with liberal Senator John Kerry, in which they vowed to work together to advance legislation tackling global warming.
In signaling her willingness to work on a bill, Murkowski said Democrats must include tangible incentives for building nuclear power plants and stepping up domestic oil drilling, offshore and on land. It has got to be "more than just window dressing," she warned.
Most Republicans in Congress have dismissed the Democratic initiative as little more than a "national energy tax" that would kill U.S. jobs at a time when the country is grappling with severe economic problems.
While the full Senate probably will not have time this year to debate and vote on a climate change bill, the willingness of some Senate conservatives to consider major environmental legislation could keep the effort in play next year.
Legislation narrowly passed the House in June, but faces a tougher time in the Senate.
Given that our petroleum-based economy is not going to kick it's habit any time soon, there's good news from the NY Times:
A new technique that tapped previously inaccessible supplies of natural gas in the United States is spreading to the rest of the world, raising hopes of a huge expansion in global reserves of the cleanest fossil fuel ...
The global drilling rush is still in its early stages. But energy analysts are already predicting that shale could reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian natural gas. They said they believed that gas reserves in many countries could increase over the next two decades, comparable with the 40 percent increase in the United States in recent years ...
More extensive use of natural gas could aid in reducing global warming, because gas produces fewer emissions of greenhouse gases than either oil or coal. China and India, which have growing economies that rely heavily on coal for electricity, appear to have large potential for production of shale gas. Larger gas reserves would encourage developing countries to convert more of their transportation fleets to use natural gas rather than gasoline ...
One recent study by IHS Cambridge Energy Research Associates, a consulting group, calculated that the recoverable shale gas outside of North America could turn out to be equivalent to 211 years’ worth of natural gas consumption in the United States at the present level of demand, and maybe as much as 690 years. The low figure would represent a 50 percent increase in the world’s known gas reserves, and the high figure, a 160 percent increase.
The projections suggest that the new method of producing gas “is the biggest energy innovation of the decade,” said Daniel Yergin, chairman of the Cambridge consulting group. “And the amazing thing is there was no grand opening ceremony for it. It just snuck up.”
Over the last five years, production of gas from shale has spread across wide swaths of Texas, Louisiana and Pennsylvania. All the new production has produced a glut of gas in the United States, helping to drive down gas prices and utility costs.
Now American companies are looking abroad for lucrative shale fields in countries hungry for more energy. They are focusing particularly on Europe, where gas prices are sometimes twice what they are in the United States, and large shale beds are located close to some cities.
From the Wash Post:
President Obama is putting a new emphasis on revitalizing U.S. cities with a coordinated effort that involves stimulus funding and getting multiple agencies to work together to improve schools, housing and neighborhoods.
The approach is winning applause from local officials and urban thinkers, who credit the administration for quietly beginning the most ambitious new policy for the nation's cities since the Great Society programs of the 1960s. But the plan involves fundamental changes in the way federal agencies dole out assistance to urban areas, making its success uncertain ...
Peniel E. Joseph, a historian at Tufts University, said it appears that Obama is trying to reverse a trend in which urban issues slipped down the national agenda. The president's stimulus plan included at least $20 billion for urban programs, outside of education.
"The stimulus certainly put billions into urban areas, but we are still going to have to see over the course of his administration what this adds up to," Joseph said.
Obama has lamented the historic failures of federal efforts to rejuvenate urban areas, noting in July at a White House urban policy roundtable that "federal policy has actually encouraged sprawl and congestion and pollution, rather than quality public transportation and smart, sustainable development."
In the same way that federal highway spending encouraged sprawl, the Obama administration says more concentrated development can lead to more job opportunities for residents and environmentally and economically viable neighborhoods.
To coordinate his initiatives, Obama in March named Adolfo Carrion Jr., a former Bronx borough president, to direct his new White House Office of Urban Affairs."This is not your father's White House," Carrion said in an interview. "This is a new way of looking at the new city-metro reality." ...
In Kansas City, stimulus funding has galvanized a project called the Green Impact Zone, led by Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II (D-Mo.), a former mayor of the city. About $200 million in mostly federal money will be invested in the project, which aims to transform an economically depressed 150-square-block area east of Troost Avenue. About half of its residents live in deep poverty, with numerous vacant houses, high crime levels and unemployment rates approaching 50 percent.
From the Wall St Journal:
The flurry of companies quitting the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is highlighting how the climate-change issue is straining traditional alliances in Washington, as some businesses seek to profit from overhauling the energy market and others try to cut deals to head off tougher regulation.
Some companies and industry groups that have in the past worked with Republicans to fight efforts to curb the use of fossil fuels -- such as Detroit's auto makers -- are now expressing support for action on climate change. Some support legislation to put a price on the carbon-dioxide emissions that contribute to global warming, while others support preserving the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate such greenhouse gases.
The Chamber of Commerce says it supports efforts to fight climate change through federal investments and incentives for power that can be produced without emitting carbon dioxide. But the group has opposed proposals to require companies to pay for the right to emit carbon.
The Chamber, which says it represents three million businesses, says its positions are "mainstream, common-sense views" approved by a majority of more than 100 business leaders who sit on its board of directors.
Some companies -- such as Peabody Energy and ConocoPhillips -- have spoken out against climate legislation passed by the House of Representatives. Others -- such as General Electric Co. and Duke Energy Corp. -- have expressed support for it.
Many companies backing action on climate change stand to gain if the U.S. requires corporations to pay for the right to emit carbon dioxide.
In the past two weeks, three utilities -- Exelon Corp., PG&E Corp. and PNM Resources Inc. -- have quit the Chamber, citing the group's opposition to climate bills. A fourth company, Nike Inc., said Wednesday that it was resigning from the Chamber's board because the group "has not represented the diversity of perspective" held by the board's members on climate change.
GE, which has built a marketing campaign around the clean-energy technology it sells, intends to remain a member despite differences with the Chamber on specific legislation, a spokesman says.
Exelon, the nation's biggest nuclear-plant operator by output, says it sees an annual upside to its revenue of about $1.1 billion if climate legislation approved by the House in June is enacted. Because nuclear plants don't spew carbon dioxide, their operators wouldn't have to pay for the right to emit such gases, giving them an edge over competitors that burn fossil fuels.
Exelon notes that it has spent billions of dollars over the years to reduce its carbon footprint, by investing in nuclear power, and that it decided years ago to sell most of its coal-powered plants.
Last month, the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers -- which includes General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co. and Toyota Motor Corp. -- joined the Obama administration and environmentalists in opposing an effort to bar the EPA for one year from attempting to regulate greenhouse-gas emissions for power plants and other large sources.
The group says it opposed the measure because it prefers a single, nationwide set of rules rather than a patchwork of regulations by states. It says it feared the one-year prohibition would have delayed the EPA from finalizing an agency proposal to regulate automobile greenhouse-gas emissions, potentially exposing its members to regulation by states.
I'm starting to wonder if it might not have been as good a program as I first thought ... From the Wash Post:
After the shopping binge inspired by the government's "Cash for Clunkers" incentive program ended, U.S. auto sales plunged in September and the industry sunk back to the depths from which it started, figures released Thursday showed.
The reports of monthly sales numbers confirmed predictions that some of the spectacular gains of August had merely been achieved by moving up sales that would have happened in September. The results raised doubts from some economists about the effectiveness of the $3 billion federal program as a stimulus.
General Motors' sales fell 45 percent compared with a year ago, and Chrysler's dropped 42 percent. Sales at Ford did comparatively better, declining just 5 percent. Compared with August, however, Ford's sales in September plummeted 37 percent, slightly more than the other two.
Overall, the rate of U.S. sales, which had been climbing since February, returned roughly to their February level for an annualized rate of 9.2 million vehicles, according to figures from Edmunds.com.
Alan Blinder, a Princeton professor who was among the first to push an auto sales incentive program in the United States, doubted it provided much stimulus, in large part because it was in effect for only a month.
"Most of the idea of any stimulus is to pull spending up from the future, but it doesn't make any sense to design a program that only pulls up spending by one month," said Blinder, a member of the Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton administration. "Why in the world would you make it a one-month program? The Germans didn't do that. The British do that. When I designed a mock version of this I was thinking of it as a one-year or two-year program."
Was the $3 billion wasted as a stimulus?
"Yeah, mostly," he said. "It provided a lift to GDP [gross domestic product], but it was so fleeting."...
Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio), who sponsored the bill, says the results economically and environmentally have exceeded expectations. She said the effects of Cash for Clunkers are evident in her home state where GM added a shift of 1,000 workers to the Lordstown Plant after calling back 2000 workers to get assembly lines for the Cobalt back up and running. A Cleveland steel mill hired back another 800, she said ...
Sutton and some economists also say the program boosted consumer confidence. "In a long-term theoretical sense, Cash for Clunkers doesn't do a whole lot for the economy," said Zach Pandl, an economist at Nomura Securities. "But it did instill a sense of confidence that we can exit this recession."
The debate over its economic benefits goes on in tandem with complex arguments over whether its environmental benefits were worthwhile.
Using what he calls some "very optimistic" assumptions, University of California at Davis professor Christopher Knittel calculated that the clunkers program eliminates carbon dioxide emissions at a cost of about $207 per ton.
That looks very pricey compared to the costs in the European market, where a permit to emit a ton of carbon sells for about $20, he said. Whatever the merits of the program as a stimulus, Knittel concluded, "it was a very expensive way to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions."
Like the threat to use reconciliation to enact health care reform, the Obama strategy of putting the GOP between a rock and hard place (Obama's Brilliant Strategy To Get His Transformative Policies Enacted) is now coming into play for climate change legislation too. From the NY Times:
Unwilling to wait for Congress to act, the Obama administration announced on Wednesday that it was moving forward on new rules to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from hundreds of power plants and large industrial facilities.
President Obama has said that he prefers a comprehensive legislative approach to regulating emissions and stemming global warming, not a piecemeal application of rules, and that he is deeply committed to passage of a climate bill this year.
But he has authorized the Environmental Protection Agency to begin moving toward regulation, which could goad lawmakers into reaching an agreement. It could also provide evidence of the United States’ seriousness as negotiators prepare for United Nations talks in Copenhagen in December intended to produce an international agreement to combat global warming.
“We are not going to continue with business as usual,” Lisa P. Jackson, the E.P.A. administrator, said Wednesday in a conference call with reporters. “We have the tools and the technology to move forward today, and we are using them.”
The proposed rules, which could take effect as early as 2011, would place the greatest burden on 400 power plants, new ones and those undergoing substantial renovation, by requiring them to prove that they have applied the best available technology to reduce emissions or face penalties.
Ms. Jackson described the proposal as a common-sense rule tailored to apply to only the largest facilities — those that emit at least 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide a year — which are responsible for nearly 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.
The rule would not, as critics contend, cover “every cow and Dunkin’ Donuts,” Ms. Jackson said.
The move was timed to come on the same day that two Democratic senators, John F. Kerry of Massachusetts and Barbara Boxer of California, introduced global warming and energy legislation that faces a steep climb to passage this year.
The prospect of E.P.A. regulation of greenhouse gas emissions has generated fear and deep divisions within American industry. Some major utilities, oil companies and other heavy emitters are working closely with Congress to ensure that a climate bill would circumvent E.P.A. regulation by substituting a market-based cap-and-trade system. Others, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Association of Manufacturers, have worked against legislation and threatened to sue if the E.P.A. tries to impose controls on emissions of heat-trapping gases.
Ms. Jackson said the proposed rule had been written to exempt small businesses, farms, large office buildings and other relatively small sources of carbon dioxide emissions. But under the rule proposed Wednesday, the E.P.A. would assume authority for the greenhouse gas emissions of 14,000 coal-burning power plants, refineries and big industrial complexes that produce most of the nation’s greenhouse gas pollution.
The proposal will go through several months of drafting and public comment and faces likely litigation from industry and perhaps from environmentalists or citizen groups ...
Scott Segal, a utility lobbyist with the law firm Bracewell & Giuliani in Washington, said the rule should not be used to rush Congress into passing a poorly drafted bill.
But he also said that the proposal “strengthens the president’s negotiating hand in Copenhagen. Even if the Senate does not act,” Mr. Segal said, “he can legitimately say to other nations, ‘We are taking action on a unilateral basis. What are you doing?’ ”
We're not even done with health care, and the next fight is being cued up. From the NY Times:
A draft of a climate bill that Senate Democrats will formally introduce on Wednesday suggests that the legislation will include a more ambitious greenhouse gas emissions target than one passed by the House.
The measure, sponsored by Senators Barbara Boxer of California and John Kerry of Massachusetts, seeks to achieve by 2020 a 20 percent reduction from 2005 levels of carbon dioxide emissions, compared with 17 percent in the House bill, according to the 801-page draft, which circulated on Tuesday. The House and Senate bills both include a long-term target of an 83 percent reduction by 2050.
The Senate bill will be the focus of a broad political and lobbying struggle, as industry groups, environmental lobbies, local government officials, universities and advocates for the poor all scramble for advantage in legislation that would rewrite the rules of the domestic energy economy. Groups are already spending millions of dollars in organizing, mailing and advertising campaigns to influence the legislation.
The battle has exposed deep rifts within the Chamber of Commerce, the National Association of Manufacturers and other business lobbies, with companies leaving their trade organizations almost daily in disputes over climate change legislation. The Chamber of Commerce opposed the House bill and will almost certainly work to weaken or defeat the Boxer-Kerry measure. [See Another Big Business Quits US Chamber Over Its Climate Change Policies]
The Senate debate will also significantly affect the American negotiating position at climate talks, sponsored by the United Nations, that are scheduled for December in Copenhagen.
The bill would set up a cap-and-trade system to achieve the emissions targets, allowing industry and other entities to buy and sell permits within an overall emissions ceiling. The House bill, which narrowly passed in late June, would establish a similar program.
But the Senate measure so far leaves a number of crucial questions unanswered, chief among them how the permits to emit carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases would be distributed to utilities, manufacturers, agribusiness and other interests. The allocation of such permits, worth billions of dollars annually, was a subject of intense horse-trading in the House and is certain to touch off a major battle as the Senate debates its own version of the bill.
From the NY Times:
Exelon, one of the country’s largest utilities, said Monday that it would quit the United States Chamber of Commerce because of that group’s stance on climate change. It was the latest in a string of companies to do so, perhaps a harbinger of how intense the fight over global warming legislation could become ...
A wave of departures from the chamber has been building for weeks. It was heralded Monday by some Congressional Democrats and environmentalists as a sign that the business community’s opposition to global warming legislation is weakening. In their view, that improves the chances that a global warming bill that narrowly passed the House in June might also pass the Senate.
But others said the resignations were just a sign that businesses will have varied positions depending on whether they will be winners or losers from the legislation. Exelon, a Chicago company that sells electricity and gas in four states, is also the country’s largest operator of nuclear power plants. That type of electrical generation emits no greenhouse gases and would gain a financial advantage under the pending bills.
“There will be significant vibrations from this,” said Representative Jay Inslee, a Democrat of Washington State on the Energy and Commerce Committee. “It’s a bit of an earthquake.”
Pacific Gas & Electric, the dominant utility in Northern California, and PNM Resources, a holding company that includes the largest utility in New Mexico, said recently that they would withdraw from the national chamber. Mr. Rowe said Exelon would not renew its membership because of the chamber’s “stridency against carbon legislation.”
The United States Chamber of Commerce is one of the main business lobbies in Washington, with more than three million members. It says it not opposed in principle to tackling global warming, but is worried about any approach that would raise costs for businesses.
The chamber has been especially vocal recently in opposing a proposal by the Environmental Protection Agency to use an existing law, the Clean Air Act, to set limits on greenhouse gases. The proposal would most likely take effect only if Congress failed to pass climate legislation.
The utilities and other companies that are supporting climate change legislation tend to be those based in more liberal parts of the country and believe that being viewed as environmentally responsible is a good marketing strategy, energy and business analysts said. The utilities tend to be dependent on sources like nuclear power that emit fewer greenhouse gas emissions than their competitors ...
What appears to have touched off the utilities’ withdrawals from the chamber was a recent article in The Los Angeles Times that cited chamber officials who called for a “Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century” about the science of climate change. The Scopes trial was a clash of creationists and evolutionists in the 1920s.
Both PG&E and PNM cited the possibility of such a trial as a major concern ... However, David C. Chavern, the chamber’s chief operating officer, said there had been a misunderstanding. Chamber officials do not question the overall science of climate change, but rather, the group questions whether that science is enough to support the E.P.A.’s rulemaking under the specific legal requirements of the Clean Air Act ... He said another chamber official’s reference to the Scopes trial “was wrong, inaccurate and obscured what the chamber is really doing.”
Other companies have also expressed differences with the chamber recently. Nike has said in a statement that it “fundamentally disagrees with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s position on climate change and is concerned and deeply disappointed with the U.S. Chamber’s recently filed petition challenging the E.P.A.’s administrative authority and action on this critically important issue.”
Johnson & Johnson, the big consumer products company, urged in a letter this spring that the chamber’s statements on climate change “reflect the full range of views, especially those of chamber members advocating for Congressional action” on global warming.
Duke Energy, a large Southern utility that supports action against global warming, has so far stayed in the national chamber, but it withdrew from of the National Association of Manufacturers in December, citing climate as a partial factor. The manufacturers’ group has also been wary of action by the E.P.A.
In August, Duke Energy also left the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, citing climate policy. “It was clear that many influential members would never support climate legislation in 2009 or 2010 no matter how it was written,” Tom Williams, a Duke Energy spokesman, said in an e-mail message. Alcoa, the aluminum company, also pulled out of the coal coalition this summer, with climate policy being one factor, a spokesman said.
“This is an issue that will cleave a lot of companies more than other business policy issues because there are sharper differences in strategies,” said Matthew J. Slaughter, associate dean of the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. He noted that a utility that primarily used coal would logically have a different view from one dependent on nuclear power.
Climate change legislation still faces a tough battle in the Senate, where legislators from coal states will seek to protect the coal industry, and where many Republicans are opposed to any action they believe would put American businesses at a disadvantage.
Senator Jeff Bingaman, a New Mexico Democrat and chairman of the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said he did not know what impact the recent corporate policy announcements would have on individual senators.
From the NY Times:
Auto sales perked up in August because of cash for clunkers, but both General Motors and Chrysler struggled after emerging from bankruptcy protection. Total industry sales in the United States increased 1 percent during the month compared with August 2008, and rose 26 percent compared with July.
Much of the improvement was attributed to the government’s popular cash-for-clunkers program that gave consumers vouchers worth up to $4,500 if they traded in an older, gas-guzzling model.
But even as most automakers posted gains in August, sales at G.M. dropped 20 percent and Chrysler’s sales fell 15 percent.
Ford posted a 17 percent gain in sales in August, partly because its Focus compact car was one of the top-sellers in the clunker program ...
Other automakers did benefit from cash for clunkers, which accounted for sales of 690,000 vehicles in a one-month period that began the last week of July ...
Analysts said that showroom traffic was already starting to fall now that the clunkers program is over. But the stimulus provided by clunkers could have a lingering impact in the months ahead.
“We do see clunkers providing some momentum because it has gotten consumers interested in buying vehicles again,” said Rebecca Lindland, an analyst with IHS Global Insight.
The increase in demand from the program has prompted several automakers, including G.M. and Ford, to increase vehicle production to replenish inventories, adding to the momentum that appears to be building in the broader manufacturing sector.
Hourly workers are being called back at a handful of plants, and some factories are running on overtime. G.M. said Tuesday that its fourth-quarter production volumes would be 20 percent higher than during the July to September period.
It may be some time, however, before G.M. and Chrysler can get back in step with the industry. G.M., in particular, will be hard-pressed to maintain its 19 percent market share once it sells its Saturn, Hummer and Saab brands, and discontinues sales of Pontiac models.
“G.M. and Chrysler still have a long recovery ahead of them,” Ms. Lindland said. “The fact is, they have gone as low as a company can go and still survive.”
# of new cars due to Clunker program
avg miles driven per year
avg miles driven by these new cars per year
avg clunker trade's mpg
avg new car's mpg
avg mpg improvement of new car vs. clunker
avg % improvement in gas mileage
gallons of gas clunkers needed to drive avg yearly miles
gallons of gas new cars need to drive avg yearly miles
gallons of gasoline saved annually
Avg cost of gas - 8/24/09
Gas savings - national
Gas savings - individual
Estimated savings from not having a Clunker to repair
Estimated jobs created by program
metric tons of CO2 saved per gallon of gas
metric tons of CO2 saved per year
An unexpected trend is the sales to consumers who do not qualify for the government program. Chip King, from www.JerrysToyota.com, says that "over half the consumers who initially inquired about the program did not qualify but many of them bought a car anyway due to the unprecedented manufacturer and dealer incentive programs, "explains King. "We are having our best used vehicles sales month all year because consumers who don't qualify for the program are buying certified pre-owned cars," said Brian Benstock from www.ParagonCars.com. "For every vehicle sold to a consumer who is eligible for the government program we have sold another vehicle to consumers who did not qualify.
I also posted this at the Daily Kos. Many of the commenters debated the economic and energy aspects of the program. While that's true and good, seeed to be forgetting the CO2 reducing aspect of the Clunkers program. On the environmental score alone, it's a winner ... can anyone name a more successful CO2 reduction program?
Nonetheless, it is exactly this threefer benefit (economy, energy, environment) that made Clunkers brilliant.
Given that the Cash-for-Clunker program ended yesterday, I started wondering how much it actually lived up to its promise (A Reminder Why Cash-for-Clunkers Is Such A Brilliant Idea). Based on my quick analysis, I'd say it definitely did:
# of new cars due to Clunker program as of Monday
avg miles driven per year
avg miles driven by these new cars per year
avg clunker trade's mpg
avg new car's mpg
avg mpg improvement of new car vs. clunker
avg % improvement in gas mileage
gallons of gas clunkers needed to drive avg yearly miles
gallons of gas new cars need to drive avg yearly miles
gallons of gasoline saved annually
Avg cost of gas - 8/24/09
Gas savings - national
Gas savings - individual
Estimated savings from not having a Clunker to repair
metric tons of CO2 saved per gallon of gas
metric tons of CO2 saved per year
The cartoonist reacts to the news that Oil Trade Group Urges Astroturf Rallies Against Climate Change Bill Too.
From the NY Times:
The government will end its popular “cash for clunkers” program on Monday, more than two months early, because it is already running out of money.
The sudden halt means new-car showrooms are likely to be flooded by last-minute shoppers over the weekend. Dealers have until 8 p.m. Eastern time on Monday to submit the 13-page application to be reimbursed for the rebates they are giving out under the program.
Although the program has brought on a welcome surge in demand for cars after months of dismal sales, some dealers will be glad to put it behind them because it has been plagued by confusion and processing delays.
General Motors on Thursday told dealers that it would give them cash advances on money the government owed them to keep them from dropping out, as some have already ...
“It has been successful beyond anybody’s imagination,” President Obama said on Thursday in a radio interview with the syndicated talk show host Michael Smerconish. “And we’re now slightly victims of success because the thing happened so quick, there was so much more demand than anybody expected, that dealers were overwhelmed with applications.” ...
Among consumers, the program has created far more interest than experts had predicted. It was initially given $1 billion of funding, enough for about 250,000 sales, and an end date of Nov. 1. That money was used up in a little more than a week, and Congress quickly approved $2 billion more to extend it.
Transportation officials say they believe reimbursement requests of about $400 million on completed sales have yet to be filed, leaving about $600 million in credits still available for the final weekend, after removing $100 million for administrative costs.
If the funding is exhausted before all reimbursements are made, some dealers — and possibly G.M. — could end up having to write off the unpaid credits. The administration does not plan to seek a third installment of funding.
G.M. made the decision to give dealers cash advances late Wednesday, though officials said earlier that the company was “not in a position” to do so.
“We want to do all we can to provide customers with timely new-vehicle deliveries, and dealers the liquidity they need to run their businesses,” said Mark LaNeve, G.M.’s vice president for United States sales.
From the NY Times:
Just a month after emerging from bankruptcy reorganization, G.M. is running low on cars.
The company said Tuesday it would add shifts and run some plants on overtime so it can increase production by 60,000 vehicles by year’s end in response to the demand created largely by the “cash for clunkers” program.
The move mirrors one made last week by Ford, which also plans to increase production to meet demand that was heightened by the clunkers program.
G.M. said it would bring 1,350 idled union workers in Ontario and Ohio back to work and provide overtime shifts for about 10,000 workers. G.M. plans to increase output at nearly all of its plants in the United States.
“Our dealers are clamoring for more vehicles almost in every segment,” Mark LaNeve, G.M.’s vice president for United States sales, said in a conference call Tuesday afternoon. “We want to run lean; we’re just way too lean right now. We’re going to miss sales unless we put some additional production in.”
By the end of August, the company expects to have less than 30 days’ supply of the vehicles that have been most popular among cash for clunkers participants, like the Chevrolet Cobalt and Malibu sedans.
That is about half the industry standard. G.M. drastically cut production in the last year as sales plummeted, so even after the planned increase, fourth-quarter production will be about 22 percent less than in the final months of 2008. The company plans to build 535,000 vehicles in the third quarter, 42 percent fewer than it did in the same period a year ago.
The recent increase in demand has caused G.M.’s inventory of unsold vehicles to fall to about 360,000 vehicles, the lowest since the company began keeping track of that figure. Several years ago, G.M.’s inventory typically consisted of well above 1 million vehicles.
Mr. LaNeve said G.M. now expected to surpass its internal sales forecast for August by at least 50,000 vehicles. “It will be far and away our best retail month of the year,” he said, though G.M. might still sell fewer vehicles in the month than it did last August, which was a good month for vehicle sales just before the market collapsed in September.
He said the added production would be needed even if sales decline as interest in the clunkers program wanes. The government program, which started in late July, gives a credit of up to $4,500 to consumers turning in an older, inefficient vehicle and buying a new vehicle with a higher fuel-economy rating.
The Times separately reported on the programs fate:
Through Wednesday, dealers have requested $1.81 billion from the program, putting it on track to run out of money early next month, the government said. Mr. LaHood said a specific announcement about how and when it will end — it was originally meant to run through Nov. 1 — would come Friday.
More than 435,102 sales have been made under the program,
From Fareed Zakaria:
We've seen in recent weeks the twin personalities of the U.S. government. One is impressive, the other deeply worrying. First, the good news: We have increasing evidence that Washington's response to the global financial collapse was effective. Last fall, the financial markets seized up, credit froze and the economy went into a nosedive. Almost every metric by which we judge the economy moved into its darkest territory since the 1930s. And this happened at the worst possible time. A lame-duck U.S. president faced an opposition party in charge of both houses of Congress. It was a recipe for paralysis, bickering and inaction.
In fact, the administration and Congress collaborated fast and well, and within two weeks Congress appropriated a staggering $700 billion to rescue the financial system. As the Bush administration left office, it worked closely with the incoming Obama team, which continued the basic framework of the rescue, modifying some aspects of the Bush programs and adding others. Both groups worked carefully with the Federal Reserve, the lead player in this drama, which acted aggressively and creatively. Democrats such as Barney Frank supported the Bush administration. George W. Bush put aside his ideological blinders and massively intervened in the economy.
As with any successful policy, it is now easy to say that action was unnecessary or overdone. At the time, of course, the dominant criticism was that the rescue effort was too weak -- the banks needed to be nationalized! -- and the fiscal stimulus too small. As with all emergencies, one can always suggest, in retrospect, that more sophisticated strategies could have been taken. The measures that were adopted may lead to other problems over time, such as inflation. But faced with the distinct possibility of an economic depression, Congress, the administration and the Fed worked together and brought stability to the system. In a crisis, they responded. Why? Precisely because it was a crisis.
There is something about America -- the system, the government, the people -- that allows us to react to a crisis with astonishing speed. Think of Pearl Harbor, or even Sept. 11. Whatever one may think of the Bush administration's later strategy, in the weeks after 9/11 both parties came together and crafted important policies ...
Now, to see the weakness of the American system, consider the past two weeks and the debacle of the health-care debate. Clearly the U.S. health-care system is on an unsustainable path. If current trends continue -- and there is no indication that they won't -- health care will consume 40 percent of the national economy by 2050. The problem is that this is a slow and steady decline, producing no crisis. As a result, we seem incapable of grappling with it seriously.
It's not as if the problems aren't apparent to everyone, whatever your political persuasion. Costs are rising so fast that every day more than 10,000 Americans lose their insurance coverage. In 1993, 61 percent of small businesses provided health insurance for their employees. Now only 38 percent do. Larger firms face greater health-care costs. Yet, Americans do worse on almost every health measure than most advanced industrial countries, which spend about half as much on health care per person and have proportionately more elderly people.
Meanwhile, the political debate is unreal, with conservatives suggesting that President Obama is endorsing euthanasia and murder boards, and turning America into Russia. (I guess they haven't noticed that Russia isn't communist anymore.) The lack of serious discussion is tragic, because the Democrats' proposals leave much to be desired. They include only a few, vague measures to rein in costs, and the chief one -- a medical board -- assumes (improbably) that Congress will cede massive powers to five unelected people who would have the power to deny people treatments and drugs. The likely scenario is that expanded coverage and new benefits will be enacted, while the cuts and curbs will be pushed off to be tackled another day.
Health care is the nation's most serious long-term problem. Social Security, government pension liabilities, state-government deficits and energy dependence all pose the same issue. Each of these problems is getting worse by the day, yet the political system seems unable to take them on and make major reforms. On these critical issues, America is caught in a downward spiral. It makes you wish for a crisis.
From the Wash Post:
A petroleum industry trade group is asking oil companies to recruit employees and retirees to attend rallies attacking climate-change legislation, an approach to grass-roots politics that resembles strategies used recently by some opponents of health-care reform.
In a memo this month, American Petroleum Institute President Jack Gerard detailed plans for "Energy Citizen" rallies to be held in 20 states during the final two weeks of Congress's August recess. Gerard wrote that the intent was to put a "human face on the impacts of unsound energy policy," including a climate-change bill passed by the House in June.
"Please indicate to your company leadership your strong support for employee participation in the rallies," Gerard wrote in the memo, saying that contractors and suppliers should also be recruited.
Environmental groups on Saturday criticized the rallies, which they described as manufactured events intended to pass as organic assemblies of concerned citizens. Greenpeace activists said they saw parallels to the health-care debate, where opponents of reform -- including some organizations that receive heavy funding from industry groups and individuals -- have organized efforts to shout down lawmakers at "town hall" meetings.
"It's the most powerful among us, masquerading as grass-roots outrage to stifle debate on global warming," Michael Crocker, a spokesman for Greenpeace, said of the oil group's plans. "These are manufactured concerns, and the people who get involved in this are paid to put on this theater."
In an era of historic budget deficits, a no-brainer idea struggles to gain ground. From the Wall St Journal (note Harry Reid's role mentioned towards the end):
White House efforts to require more mining companies to pay royalties are running into resistance from the industry, which argues that new burdens would jeopardize green energy.
If too many costs are imposed on domestic miners, the U.S. will be importing even more of the raw materials used to make such items as wind turbines, hybrid vehicles and solar panels, said Laura Skaer, executive director of the Northwest Mining Association, a trade group.
"Then we've traded our dependence on Mideast oil for a dependence on foreign minerals," Ms. Skaer said. The zinc, molybdenum and rare-earth minerals needed for wind turbines, copper for hybrid cars and titanium and cobalt for solar panels are imported from China, Peru and elsewhere.
Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D., N.M.) said imposing new fees won't crush the $70 billion-a-year mining business. "This is not intended to harm the mining industry economically," he said. "I don't see how it impacts our ability to transform to a clean-energy economy."
The Obama administration wants to raise tens of millions of dollars by changing a 137-year-old law that allows private companies to extract minerals from public lands without paying royalties.
Mr. Bingaman and others who support changing the law say there is no reason for the industry to be governed by a law that dates to 1872. Companies that take such commodities as coal and oil from public lands pay royalties.
"Given our current economic crisis and the empty state of our national treasury, it is ludicrous to be allowing this outmoded law to continue," Rep. Nick Rahall (D., W.Va.) said earlier this year. He has introduced legislation to impose an 8% royalty on production value.
Mr. Bingaman's bill would impose royalties of 2% to 5%.
Under the bills, royalties and other fees would be used to clean up thousands of abandoned mining sites. The Environmental Protection Agency last month reported that mining has polluted 3,400 miles of streams and 440,000 acres of land and continues to release enormous quantities of toxic chemicals.
The industry disputes those findings and says most pollution can be blamed on long-shuttered mines, not modern operations.
Industry officials say they are open to paying some royalties, but only on net profits, not raw production. They also plan to fight any legislation that puts significant expanses of land off-limits to mining to protect scenery, habitat or tourism potential.
As the law now stands, mining is the "highest and best use" of most public land with mineral deposits, giving the industry priority over recreation, ranching and other interests.
Proposals to revise the 1872 law have been around for years. Recently, some environmentalists have accused Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of blocking changes. Mr. Reid represents Nevada, which is rich in gold mines.
Mr. Reid didn't respond to allegations that he is preventing changes to the law. His spokesman, Jon Summers, said the Democratic senator would support "mining law reform, done responsibly." Any overhaul, Mr. Summers said, would have to take into account the effects on mining towns and mining jobs.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar told Congress last month that the administration was committed to overhauling the law. But Mr. Bingaman said he wasn't sure the administration would prevail.
From the NY Times
The changing global climate will pose profound strategic challenges to the United States in coming decades, raising the prospect of military intervention to deal with the effects of violent storms, drought, mass migration and pandemics, military and intelligence analysts say.
Such climate-induced crises could topple governments, feed terrorist movements or destabilize entire regions, say the analysts, experts at the Pentagon and intelligence agencies who for the first time are taking a serious look at the national security implications of climate change.
Recent war games and intelligence studies conclude that over the next 20 to 30 years, vulnerable regions, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East and South and Southeast Asia, will face the prospect of food shortages, water crises and catastrophic flooding driven by climate change that could demand an American humanitarian relief or military response.
An exercise last December at the National Defense University, an educational institute that is overseen by the military, explored the potential impact of a destructive flood in Bangladesh that sent hundreds of thousands of refugees streaming into neighboring India, touching off religious conflict, the spread of contagious diseases and vast damage to infrastructure. “It gets real complicated real quickly,” said Amanda J. Dory, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy, who is working with a Pentagon group assigned to incorporate climate change into national security strategy planning.
Much of the public and political debate on global warming has focused on finding substitutes for fossil fuels, reducing emissions that contribute to greenhouse gases and furthering negotiations toward an international climate treaty — not potential security challenges.
But a growing number of policy makers say that the world’s rising temperatures, surging seas and melting glaciers are a direct threat to the national interest.
If the United States does not lead the world in reducing fossil-fuel consumption and thus emissions of global warming gases, proponents of this view say, a series of global environmental, social, political and possibly military crises loom that the nation will urgently have to address.
This argument could prove a fulcrum for debate in the Senate next month when it takes up climate and energy legislation passed in June by the House ...
From the Wash Post:
The government's "Cash for Clunkers" program won a much-anticipated extension Thursday night as the Senate voted to give an additional $2 billion in funding to the popular initiative aimed at boosting stagnant auto sales.
The 60 to 37 vote follows House approval of a similar measure last week and appears to save the government plan from an unexpected early shutdown. The White House supports extending the program, and the new funds are predicted to last until Labor Day, Transportation Department officials have said ...
In a statement Thursday night, President Obama praised the swift passage of the Senate bill, calling the program "a proven success." Obama could sign the bill as early as Friday.
Seven of 40 Republicans crossed party lines to support the measure, while four Democrats voted against it.
Auto dealers welcomed the prospect of additional money for the program, which has helped draw customers in droves.
"With the additional $2 billion, even more 'clunkers' will be taken off the road and replaced with more fuel-efficient vehicles," John McEleney, chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association, said in a statement Thursday night. "Extending the 'clunkers' program benefits the environment and the economy. It's the best kind of stimulus."
Dealerships said they continued to see interest as the program ends its second week. AutoNation, one of the largest vehicle retailers in the country, said consumer traffic was up 35 percent over this time last year at its 225 dealerships in 15 states.
Since the program started, AutoNation has taken in 3,500 clunkers. To keep up with anticipated demand from the program, company executives ordered 45 percent more vehicles in the second quarter from major automakers, including Honda, Ford and Toyota.
"Cash for Clunkers is a huge success," said Marc Cannon, a senior vice president at AutoNation. "It is doing everything they said it would do: creating dealer traffic, clearing out inventory and getting more fuel-efficient cars on the road. This is what the American consumer and psyche needed."
On Wednesday, the Transportation Department published new figures showing that a total of 184,304 trades had consumed $775.2 million of the $1 billion originally appropriated. The Toyota Corolla is the best-selling new car under the clunker program. After the Corolla, the top sellers are the Ford Focus, Honda Civic and Toyota's Prius and Camry.
Of the new vehicles not manufactured by the Big Three, according to a preliminary analysis by the Transportation Department, "well over half" were made in United States. Of the trade-ins, more than 80 percent were trucks, the government said, with Ford's Explorer and F-150 pickup topping the list. The average miles per gallon of the new vehicles is 25.3, compared with the trade-ins that averaged 15.8 miles per gallon.
From the Wall St Journal:
President Barack Obama used a factory in one of the most economically battered U.S. manufacturing regions Wednesday as the backdrop to unveil $2.4 billion in stimulus grants to jump-start an electric-vehicle industry centered in the Midwest.
The program, outlined by Mr. Obama, Vice President Joe Biden and other members of his administration in separate appearances in six states, would make the U.S. government the major financial backer for 48 different projects to develop and produce electric-vehicle batteries, electric-drive components and various kinds of electric vehicles.
The government also would be a major customer for those ventures, committing to buy thousands of electric and hybrid vehicles from General Motors Co., Ford Motor Co., Chrysler Group LLC and some smaller manufacturers. The role is vital to creating demand. Auto-industry executives are unsure whether consumers will pay premiums that run to thousands of dollars for electric vehicles if gasoline prices remain at current levels ...
Government grants also would subsidize installation of electric-vehicle charging stations; lack of stations has been one of the obstacles to wider use of battery-powered vehicles.
"I want the cars of the future and the technology to power them to be built right here," Mr. Obama said to cheers from workers at Monaco RV, a struggling recreational-vehicle factory in Wakarusa, a northern Indiana town of 1,800 that has an unemployment rate of 18%. "For too long, we failed to invest in this kind of innovation, even as countries like China and Japan raced ahead."
Obama administration officials say the government needs to help U.S. manufacturers catch up with Asian rivals who have moved more aggressively to develop such critical technologies as automotive lithium-ion batteries and related technologies.
The move also reflects the belief by Mr. Obama's economic team that current lower oil prices won't last: In its models for the future, as part of the GM and Chrysler bankruptcies, the president's auto task force assumed that gas prices would rise above $4 a gallon by the middle of the next decade.
The Obama administration says the government money will leverage another $2.4 billion in private investment by recipients. The bulk of the Department of Energy money goes to seven companies in Indiana and 11 in Michigan, two states with the nation's highest unemployment that will play a strong role in Democrats' fates in 2010 congressional races and Mr. Obama's 2012 re-election run.
"Innovation in this arena frequently comes from the smaller guys," said Mark Mills, chairman of International Battery Inc., a venture-capital-backed battery maker in Allentown, Pa., that had unsuccessfully sought DOE funding for an expansion. "If we wound the clock back to 1980 and had the government funding computer operating systems, the probability that Microsoft would have been funded then would have been small."
See which companies were awarded grants and where their projects will be located.
From Timothy Egan:
According to a barnacled cluster of senators, this program must be sunk, now. It’s been far too successful — dealers have been swamped, people are lining up to buy cars that burn less gas and bring instant cash to crippled local economies.
This is old fashioned stimulus of a sort that Republicans have always advocated, using financial incentives to change behavior. Representative Candice Miller, a G.O.P. lawmaker — albeit from the car-dependent state of Michigan — called it “the best $1 billion of economic stimulus the government has ever spent.”
But look where the rest of Miller’s party is. Last week, Senator John McCain threatened to lead a filibuster rather than let Cash for Clunkers continue to September, as the House has agreed to do with an additional $2 billion from money already approved in the stimulus law. He backed off this week, though he and other critics continued to treat Cash for Clunkers like swine flu with a steering wheel.
They hate it, many of these Republicans, because it’s a huge hit. It’s working as planned, and this cannot stand. America must fail in order for President Obama to fail. Don’t be surprised if the tea party goons now being dispatched to shout down town hall forums on health care start showing up at your car dealers, megaphones in hand.
But there’s another reason, less spoken of, for why some people get so incensed over little old Cash for Clunkers: it helps average people, and it’s easily understood — a rare combination in a town where the big money deals usually go down with packaged obfuscation.
The overall amount of money is paltry, to the government. But to a typical family, a $4,500 break on a new car with greater gas mileage is a big deal. Consider the extraordinary giveaways of your tax dollars that happened without serious filibuster threats by the protectors of free enterprise.
The granddaddy of them all, of course, was President George W. Bush’s $700 billion bailout of banks, insurance companies and Wall Street miscreants who helped to run the economy into the ground. As presented initially, remember, the bailout had to pass in a day or two, with minimal debate. Or else.
“The goal isn’t to control markets, but to revive them,” the Wall Street Journal editorialized at the time, backing perhaps the greatest reward for bad behavior in the history of capitalism.
Yet, when a tiny fraction of that amount went to strapped consumers this summer for their revival, The Journal jumped back on their Adam Smith pedestal, calling Cash for Clunkers “crackpot economics.”
As predicted in Reality Clunks The GOP On The Head: They Wont Oppose Extending Clunker Program, an agreement has been reached, according to the NY Times:
The program has run out of money, but the House voted Friday, before its summer recess, to approve an additional $2 billion. The Senate must pass an identical bill, or any extension will have to wait for another House vote, probably in September ...
As part of the deal in the Senate, the Democratic leadership agreed to allow debate on seven amendments to the bill, six from Republicans. One, to be considered Thursday and offered by Senator Tom Harkin, Democrat of Iowa, would set income limits on who could receive the money. Under his proposal, only individuals with adjusted gross incomes of less than $50,000 or joint filers with adjusted gross incomes of less than $75,000 could take part.
Democratic aides said they were confident that they had the votes needed to defeat the amendments and extend the program.
The additional money for the program and other stimulus spending is likely to add to the federal deficit. But the Obama administration has been arguing that the savings on gas spending would offset that, and that the stimulus to the economy would be another benefit. Still, based on the popularity of the program, government officials expect that the additional $2 billion would be spent by Labor Day ...
The Transportation Department said shoppers had been turning in the bigger vehicles and buying small sedans, with an average improvement of 9.6 miles a gallon ... About 45 percent of the cars bought under the program are from American manufacturers, about the same share as the overall car market. And many of the other new vehicles bought are made in America by foreign automakers, the department said.
And in case you need it, here's A Reminder Why Cash-for-Clunkers Is Such A Brilliant Idea.
Extending the Cash-for-Clunkers program seems highly likely according to the NY Times:
The secretary of transportation and the Senate majority leader both expressed confidence Tuesday that the Senate would revive the “cash for clunkers” program by voting to infuse it with another $2 billion, as the House did last week.
The Senate minority leader said the Senate would hold a vote, although he did not predict the result.
The Senate is scheduled to go home on Friday and simply getting the bill to the floor before then requires a consensus among the senators. If the bill were amended, it would effectively kill the program until Labor Day, since the House has already begun its August recess and would be unlikely to return to approve the Senate version.
But administration officials and Senate Democratic leaders said the Senate would approve the House version, giving more Americans a chance to get rebates by trading in gas guzzlers for more fuel-efficient vehicles.
“There obviously is a real pent-up demand in America,” said Ray LaHood, the transportation secretary. “People love to buy cars, and we’ve given them the incentive to do that. I think the last thing that any politician wants to do is cut off the opportunity for somebody who’s going to be able to get a rebate from the government to buy a new automobile.”
Harry Reid, Democrat of Nevada and the Senate majority leader, said, “We’ll pass cash for clunkers.” And Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, who is the minority leader, said there would be a vote, but did not say how it would come out.
Even Senator Jim DeMint, Republican of South Carolina, a vehement opponent of the program, said he would not block a vote.
But it was not clear Tuesday evening when the Senate might actually take up the issue. It was scheduled to take up the confirmation of Judge Sonia Sotomayor for a Supreme Court seat on Wednesday morning.
While the Wash Post reports that Japanese cars are--surprise--the ones being bought most through the program:
Four of the five top-selling cars in the government's "Cash for Clunkers" program are made by foreign automakers, according to new data released Tuesday by federal transportation officials ...
Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said 157,000 trades had occurred as of Tuesday morning, eating up $664 million of the $1 billion appropriated for the effort.
More than 80 percent of the vehicles turned in were trucks and sport-utility vehicles, the government said. The top-selling new car is the Ford Focus, followed by the Toyota Corolla, Honda Civic, Toyota Prius and Toyota Camry. The new vehicles on average get 25.4 miles per gallon, compared with an average of 15.8 mpg for the trade-ins ...
Eric Fedewa, an analyst with the consulting firm CSM Worldwide, said it is logical that foreign names would top the car-buying list because most of the smallest and most fuel-efficient vehicles in the market are built in Asia. But he said the program is a hit because it is stimulating demand for all vehicles -- foreign and domestic.