Wednesday, July 31, 2013

More environmental "just as" can win the climate fight

(I wonder if bad puns will be enough to get Eli to kick me off the blog.)

My well-ordered response to Obama's speech and plan keeps getting delayed, so some random thoughts instead:

The reference to regulating existing power plants is comprehensive, not just about coal plants. This might seem unimportant but I think it fits well with NRDC's proposal for state level emission regulations for existing coal and gas plants. I've referenced it before, and the more I read it, the better I think it does in providing a price for carbon without expressly crossing the line of providing a price for carbon. To summarize, it sets a different emission limit for power plants for each state, with the limit always stricter than what coal can do. The limit is less strict if a state has lots of coal and fewer gas plants, but in such a state there will be many more coal plants that have to take action. Coal plants can't physically meet the limit, but they can make trades like subsidizing energy conservation and renewables, and those trades will set up de facto prices for carbon. As always, RTFP.

The devilish detail is how strict your emission limits will be. Likely it will ratchet over time, so more reason to keep electing non-Republicans to the White House, at least until a Republican accepts science.

For those who think the lack of the detail makes the plan completely meaningless, investors in coal disagreed in the two week run-up to his speech (which I think is a good time frame, the rumors of what Obama was doing were out for several weeks).

EDF had a good podcast discussing Obama's plan, worth your time as always. They gave a nod to their friendly competition at NRDC, more evidence that NRDC's proposal has oomph. They also pass on a rumor that the Keystone decision will be further delayed, which is good. Delays are good when you're fighting defense, because your goal is to not lose.

Eli's already pointed to Ray's excellent Slate article. My one disagreement with Ray is about controlling non-CO2 gases. Ray says they're short-lived and so can be controlled at a future point, and action on them now distracts from the need to cut long-lived CO2. I think that cutting them now means we don't need to use political capital to cut them in the future. More importantly, I think that success builds on success. When we can say "just as we controlled ozone-depleting chemicals, just as we limited HFCs, just as we slashed methane, so we will do the same on CO2", then we're in much better position. This is especially true on international action, where denialists are depending on futility arguments. Ray says he's got a more definitive argument coming up though, so we'll see.