Blue Marble - February 2010

Vermont to Shut Down Leaking Nuclear Plant

| Wed Feb. 24, 2010 3:02 PM PST

The Obama administration last week issued a loan the first new nuclear project to be initiated in decades, part of their plan to revive the nuclear industry in the United States. But amid the renewed enthusiasm for nuclear power, the Vermont legislature voted on Wednesday to shutter its only nuclear plant after the revelation that the owner had mislead officials about the plant's safety.

The state senate voted 26-4 against a 20-year extension for the Yankee power plant (Vermont is the only state that gives the legislature a say in permit applications). The plant, owned by Entergy Nuclear, has been in operation for 37 years and its current license will expire in 2012. Over the past few months, isotopes of radioactive cobalt, zinc, and tritium have been found to be leaking from the plant.

Last year, vice president of operations at Entergy Nuclear Jay Thayer testified under oath to the Vermont Public Service Board that weren't any underground pipes carrying radioactive water from the plant. It later became abundantly clear, after a panel of nuclear experts looked into it in October, that there were pipes under the plant carrying radioactive waste. Entergy later admitted that there were in fact 40 pipes under the plant. Follow-up studies found that those those pipes have been leaking hazardous waste for years and the levels of radioactive contamination are growing in several on-site wells at the plant.

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Rockefeller Seeking Delay on EPA Climate Regs

| Wed Feb. 24, 2010 9:29 AM PST

Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.), who recently joined the group of legislators expressing concern about pending climate regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency, is planning to introduce a bill that would delay the introduction of rules restricting greenhouse gas emissions.

Rockefeller's move comes even after EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson made assurances that the new rules for polluters won't go into effect until next year.  "This is good progress but I am concerned it may not go far enough," Rockefeller said in a statement. "EPA actions in this area would have enormous implications on clean coal state economies and these issues need to be handled carefully and appropriately dealt with by the Congress, not in isolation by a federal environmental agency."

Rockefeller said he intends to draft legislation that "would provide Congress the space it needs to craft a workable policy that will protect jobs and stimulate the economy." His measure, he said, would "set in stone through legislation enough time for Congress to consider a comprehensive energy bill."

Rockefeller didn't indicate that he planned to sign on to an existing bill from Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) that would bar the EPA from moving forward on regulations altogether. But his latest move is a sign that opposition to EPA regulation of greenhouse gases is picking up steam on both sides of the aisle.

Is Glenn Beck A Secret Treehugger?

| Wed Feb. 24, 2010 4:00 AM PST

Is Glenn Beck a closet environmentalist? That might sound like a strange question. In his lucrative book and television career, the conservative talk show host regularly bashes the science of climate change and anyone who believes in it. Last week he mocked climate scientists for being "alarmists" who believe that "we're all going to die in a fiery flood." Not long ago he touted the global warming chapter of his An Inconvenient Book as "kryptonite against your Gore-worshipping psycho friends." And in May 2007 he hosted an hour-long television special, Exposed: The Climate of Fear, featuring an all-star lineup of climate change denialists and promising the "other side of the climate debate that you don't hear anywhere." Beck was also, of course, the driving force behind the successful right-wing push last year to bring down Obama's green jobs guru, Van Jones.

But an interview with Beck in USA Weekend revealed that his private views on climate are very different from those he espouses on his day job. In fact, Beck appears not only to be convinced that global warming is real, but that it's a genuine problem: 

"You’d be an idiot not to notice the temperature change," he said. He also says there’s a legit case that global warming has, at least in part, been caused by mankind. 

The article also says that Beck has felt compelled to "buy a home with a 'green' design and using energy-saving products." "I’m willing to do anything but use the CFLs," he tells USA Weekend, referring to energy efficient light bulbs. "I put them in once and couldn’t stand the way they lit up the room." These are hardly the words or actions of a hardcore climate denialist.

The comments—made in passing during the course of a longer interview—attracted almost no attention. But they've stirred up a frenzy among right-wingers in certain corners of the web who are horrified to hear their standard-bearer sounding suspiciously like Al Gore. Prison Planet, a news hub for conservative conspiracy theorists, called his remarks "a shocking stab in the back of conservatives who consider Beck to be their anointed leader." A post on the interview provoked more than 200 comments on the right-wing website Free Republic, with one asking whether Beck was "moving to the left," and another saying the news was the "final straw for Beck with me." WorldNetDaily attempts to explain the remarks by musing that they perhaps reflect Beck's "kinder, gentler" side. (In the same interview, Beck also admits to liking liberal celebrity George Clooney, and it's noted that his publicist is Matt Hiltzik, a Democratic heavy hitter who worked on Hillary Clinton's Senate campaign.)

On his show, Beck had plenty of criticism of the USA Weekend story. But he didn't raise any objections to the article's portrayal of his environmental views. That must leave his supporters contemplating the possibility that when it comes to climate change, Beck may not really be one of them.

Climate Bill: Not Dead Yet!

| Tue Feb. 23, 2010 10:01 AM PST

John Kerry on Tuesday called off the vultures swooping in on comprehensive climate and energy legislation, arguing that senators are closer than ever to sealing a deal.

"I'm excited. I know that's completely contrary to any conventional wisdom," he said, noting that he and Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) met last night with members of the Obama administration to discuss progress on a bill. "We're on a short track here in terms of piecing together legislation." (The optimism about the legislation is so far outside the expectations of most Senate observers that one reporter muttered "Is John Kerry delusional?" following his remarks.)

His remarks come a day after Max Baucus (D-Mont.), who would oversee key portions of a climate and energy bill as chair of the Finance Committee, indicated that legislation doesn't stand much of a chance of moving this year.

"I'll have to talk to Sen. Baucus," Kerry told reporters. "I've talked to Max Baucus any number of times personally and he has said to me each time he wants to get it done."

But Kerry was still reticent to give a date that the senators may introduce a bill, or even any indication of what that final bill might look like. "I'm not going into detail about what's in the bill," he said at an event at the National Press Club. "I just tell you it's comprehensive," he said, adding that "it will be different than anything that has been put on the table in the House or Senate to date."

The key sticking point, Kerry said, remains the method the bill will use to price carbon, and "every mechanism that's out there" remains on the table. Other essential elements for a deal, like nuclear power provisions, are important for "opening up some conversations" with senators, he said, but, "I don't think it's going to be the clincher for a final bill."

The White House also expressed enthusiasm about where Kerry's negotiations are heading. Asked whether the White House would offer specific legislative proposals on climate and energy, as it did yesterday on health care following months of stalemate, Carol Browner, special adviser on climate change and energy, said the Obama administration has no plans to put forward legislation proposals. "We think the work going on on the Hill is going at a nice speed, and we are going to continue to work with those folks," said Browner.

She also downplayed accusations that Obama and his administration have not done enough to prioritize climate and energy legislation. "In virtually every public appearance of the president he mentions these issues, he calls on Congress to do this," said Browner. "I think we have been abundantly clear about our desire for comprehensive legislation."

Eco-News Roundup: Tuesday February 23

| Tue Feb. 23, 2010 5:22 AM PST

Damned if They Do: Why transparency in climate science often backfires.

Pre-Existing Logic: Why you can't protect pre-existing conditions with small-scale reform.

Ouch: Insurance companies are slashing benefits and raising premiums all over.

Bipartisan, Schmartisan: If Obama wants change, he may have to give up bipartisanship.

GOP Freak Out: GOPers thought they'd won the health care fight, now not so sure.

Obamacare 101: What you need to know about Obama's healthcare bill revisions.

Fact Checking the Skeptical Environmentalist

| Mon Feb. 22, 2010 6:48 PM PST

Danish political scientist Bjørn Lomborg has made his fame and a fortune publishing two books, The Skeptical Environmentalist (2001) and Cool It (2007). One reason for his success in muddying the media waters on matters of science regarding biodiversity and climate change is because he voluminously footnotes his own work.

So Howard Friel took on the unenviable task of fact checking Lomborg's sources. Friel found enough to be skeptical about in Lomborg's findings to write a whole book, The Lomborg Deception, due out with Yale University Press next month. From Sharon Begley's book review in Newsweek:

"When Friel began checking Lomborg's sources, 'I found problems,' he says. 'As an experiment, I looked up one of his footnotes, found that it didn't support what he said, and then did another, and kept going, finding the same pattern.' He therefore took on the Augean stables undertaking of checking every one of the hundreds of citations in Cool It. Friel's conclusion, as per his book's title, is that Lomborg is 'a performance artist disguised as an academic.'"

Hat tip to Pharyngula for the link.

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Jackson: EPA Climate Regs Coming in 2011

| Mon Feb. 22, 2010 4:15 PM PST

The Obama administration on Monday sent an ultimatum to the Senate: regulate carbon dioxide this year, or we'll do it for you.

In her response to a missive from coal-state Democrats raising questions about impending regulations of greenhouse-gas emissions, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson for the first time laid out a clear timeline for pending rules from the agency.

Jackson emphasized that the agency is pushing ahead with regulations even as Congress continues to put off debate of a new law. The EPA shares the goal of "addressing greenhouse-gas emissions in sensible ways that are consistent with the call for comprehensive energy and climate legislation," she wrote, but offered a clear dictum that they do intend to regulate come 2011.

Jackson wrote that the agency intends to issue rules for stationary sources by April, and will begin phasing in permit requirements and regulation of greenhouse gases for large stationary sources of pollution beginning next year. For the first half of year, only those sources already required to obtain permits under the Clean Air Act for other pollutants will need to apply for greenhouse gas. Permitting for other major sources will be phased in the second half of 2011. Up until 2013, the agency intends to regulate only sources above 25,000 tons of carbon dioxide, like power plants, factories, and refineries. The agency does not expect to "subject the smallest sources to Clean Air Act permitting ... any sooner than 2016," she wrote.

Jackson also responded to their inquiry about potential impacts of the attempt to block the agency's finding that greenhouse gases are a threat to public health, noting that doing so would imperil the agreement on automobile emission rules that the Obama administration reached last year with automakers and state governments to create a unified national standard for vehicle emissions. The endangerment finding is a necessary prerequisite to those new rules, which are expected in late March. The deal, worked out after years of legal wrangling between parties, was the Obama administration's first big move in limiting planet-warming emissions, and was notable for its strong industry support.

Jackson's letter probably doesn't provide much comfort to the Senate, where a number of legislators have been hoping to avoid the climate issue altogether this year. But with EPA making it clear that regulations are coming whether they like it or not, senators may be forced to decide whether they are going to get to work on a new law, or block the EPA from doing its job.

Rand Paul: Not Pro-Coal Enough?

| Mon Feb. 22, 2010 2:18 PM PST

With Rand Paul emerging as a surprisingly viable threat from the right in Kentucky's Republican Senate primary, what's Secretary of State Trey Grayson to do? The answer, in ads that he released in the state today, appears to be to attack Paul as not pro-coal enough.

The ads feature Rand Paul, in a stump speech for his father's failed presidential bid, calling coal "a very dirty form of energy." Grayson, on the other hand, pledges that he will "consistently favor Kentucky coal to create good jobs and get our economy moving again."

"I'll fight against Obama's war on coal, and for clean coal and for Kentucky jobs," he concludes.

Yes, that "war on coal" that Obama created a new "clean coal" task force two weeks ago to perpetrate ...

What Utility Executives Really Think

| Mon Feb. 22, 2010 11:16 AM PST

In the battle over climate legislation, your local utility company doesn't get as much attention as the big oil giants and coal companies of the world. But behind the scenes they've been powerful players; electric utilities spent $134.7 million last year, the second highest lobbying expenditure among energy interests looking to shape the debate on Capitol Hill.

While Exelon CEO John Rowe and Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers have been big boosters of carbon caps, the vast majority aren't so enthusiastic– even if they realize regulations are probably coming soon.

A recent survey finds the majority of utility executives don't see a problem with greenhouse gases at all. Forty-four percent of the 329 utility executives, managers and engineers surveyed don’t believe global warming is caused by human activity. Another 7 percent don't believe the planet is warming at all.

Seventy percent oppose climate legislation currently under consideration. But despite opposing legislation, the majority of participants--65 percent--believe a cap on carbon will be enacted at the federal level by 2012. Only 6.7 percent don't think there will ever be regulations on planet-warming gases. A full 80 percent of respondents listed regulations as the industry's top concern.

Executives are, however, enthusiastic about nuclear power, which they list it as the preferred "environmentally friendly" energy source, with wind power and natural gas following behind. Support for nuclear power has gotten a shot in the arm recently as part of the clean-energy crusade from both senators and the White House, where nuclear payouts have been offered in exchange for support for climate legislation.

Utilities can be expected to play a significant ongoing role in the debate over carbon limits, though they don't often get the attention that other interests draw.

Coal State Dems Question EPA Climate Regs

| Mon Feb. 22, 2010 8:44 AM PST

The revolt against the Environmental Protection Agency's efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions intensified on Friday, as eight coal-state Democratic senators sent a letter to administrator Lisa Jackson detailing "serious economic and energy security concerns" with potential regulations.

"Ill-timed or imprudent regulation" of emissions "may squander critical opportunities for our nation, impeding the investment necessary to create jobs and position our nation to develop its own clean energy," wrote the group, which was led by Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.) and joined by Max Baucus (Mont.), Mark Begich (Alaska), Sherrod Brown (Ohio), Robert Byrd (W.Va.), Robert Casey (Penn.), Claire McCaskill (Mo.) and Carl Levin (Mich.). 

The senators stopped short of endorsing a plan offered by Republican Lisa Murkowski and backed by several Democrats that would block the EPA's regulation of carbon dioxide. But they outlined a series of questions making clear that when it comes to Murkowski's measure, their votes are still in play. Among their concerns were whether Congress would be able to review the EPA's carbon regulations and how the agency would assess the "direct and indirect cost implications" of its new rules. The group also asked what impact Murkowski's measure would have on the EPA's ability to regulate and on the agency's broader work monitoring the impacts of climate change.

Murkowski's measure already has 40 cosponsors, including Democrats Blanche Lincoln (Ark.), Ben Nelson (Neb.) and Mary Landrieu (La.). Jim Webb (Va.) has also expressed support for the measure, which requires only 51 votes to pass. Murkowski's bill is expected to go to a vote next month. If it passes, both the House and President Barack Obama would likely reject it. But it would deal yet another political blow to Senate Democrats' wider climate agenda.