New Jersey’s Senate Judiciary Committee voted to advance same-sex marriage legislation in an 8 to 4 vote this afternoon, after hearing some three hours of testimony from opponents and supporters of marriage equality. To become law, the measure must also pass the full Senate, the Assembly, “and get by the governor,” who earlier today pledged to veto the bill and called on residents to vote on whether gays and lesbians should marry. During the hearing, Sen. Loretta Weinberg (D) directly addressed Christie’s comments. “The last time to my knowledge we put a civil right issue on referendum in the state of New Jersey was in 1915 and it was woman’s suffrage issue and the vote went down,” she said. “Women were not allowed to vote. This is our responsibility in this legislature.” The Republicans who voted against the measure all used Christie’s threat of a veto for cover, claiming that same-sex marriage would never pass under the current governor.
A recent Quinnipiac poll found that a majority of New Jersey voters — 52 percent — support marriage equality while only 42 percent oppose it. Likewise, 65 percent believe same-sex marriage is not a threat to traditional marriage, 53 percent agree that denying same-sex marriage is a form of discrimination, and 66 percent adoption rights for same-sex couples.
The state has a long history of battling for LGBT equality. In 2006, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled in Lewis v. Harris that “every statutory right and benefit conferred to heterosexual couples through civil marriage must be made available to committed same-sex couples.” The New Jersey legislature responded to the decision by legalizing civil unions, but a 2008 review commission found that “the separate categorization established by the Civil Union Act invites and encourages unequal treatment of same-sex couples and their children.” A marriage equality group is suing the state to establish same-sex marriage and is moving forward with the lawsuit despite the legislative effort.
President of American Gas Association, 1981: “In fact, gas energy — currently America’s largest domestically produced fuel — could prove to be the keystone to solving the nation’s energy crisis by serving as the ‘bridge fuel’ to the next century’s renewable energy technologies.”
VP of AGA, 1988, “refers to natural gas as a bridge fuel — the least harmful alternative while the world looks for other, longer-lasting solutions to the ‘greenhouse’ effect,” the Washington Post reported.
Chair of AGA, 2008: “Natural gas will be the bridge fuel to the future…. The electric industry is expected to turn to natural gas as a bridge until clean coal and nuclear generation are available.”
It’s the longest bridge in history! Heck, the Golden Gate Bridge only took 4 years to build!
The President will be touting natural gas in his State of the Union address tonight, according to sources. Nothing wrong with touting gas — if you also tout a rising carbon price, which the president once did but no longer does.
Way back in June 2009, I pointed out the value of gas in the context of a climate bill with a rising CO2 price — see “Why unconventional natural gas makes the 2020 Waxman-Markey target so damn easy and cheap to meet.” But the key point of that post was that you could put gas in existing, underutilized plants to replace existing coal power cheaply to meet the key 2020 target Obama.
Building lots of new gas plants doesn’t make much sense since we need to sharply reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the next few decades if we’re to have any chance to avoid catastrophic global warming. We don’t want new gas plants to displace new renewables, like solar and wind, which are going to be the some of the biggest, sustainable job creating industries of the century.
Late last year, some of the leading (center-right) economists in the country — Nicholas Z. Muller, Robert Mendelsohn, and William Nordhaus — concluded in a top economic journal that the total damages from natural gas generation exceed its value-added at a low-ball carbon price of $27 per ton! At a price of $65 a ton of carbon, the total damages from natural gas are more than double its value-added!
For the record, stabilizing at 550 ppm atmospheric concentrations of CO2, which would likely still be catastrophic for humanity, would require a price of $330 a metric ton of carbon in 2030, the International Energy Agency (IEA) noted back in 2008.
The fact that natural gas is a bridge fuel to nowhere was in fact, first demonstrated by the IEA in its big June 2011 report on gas — see IEA’s “Golden Age of Gas Scenario” Leads to More Than 6°F Warming and Out-of-Control Climate Change. That study — which had both coal and oil consumption peaking in 2020 — made abundantly clear that if we want to avoid catastrophic warming, we need to start getting off of all fossil fuels.
Then came a remarkable new study by Tom Wigley of the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) that concluded:
In summary, our results show that the substitution of gas for coal as an energy source results in increased rather than decreased global warming for many decades.
Here was the key figure:
Coal, natural gas, and climate: Shifting from coal to natural gas would have limited impacts on climate, new research indicates. If methane leaks from natural gas operations could be kept to 2.5% or less, the increase in global temperatures would be reduced by about 0.1 degree Celsius by 2100. Note: This is a figure of temperature change relative to baseline warming of roughly 3°C (5.4°F) in 2100 (or nearly 7°F warming compared to preindustrial levels). Click to Enlarge.
What NCAR’s new study added is more detailed modeling of all contributors to climate change from fossil fuel combustion — positive and negative. Reducing coal use reduces sulfate aerosols that have a short-term cooling effect. Methane is a very potent greenhouse gas, so leakage throughout the natural gas production and delivery system adds to near-term warming. And, of course, since natural gas is a hydrocarbon, its combustion does produce CO2, albeit much less than the coal it might replace. When you put all these factors together, here’s what you conclude:
“Relying more on natural gas would reduce emissions of carbon dioxide, but it would do little to help solve the climate problem,” says Wigley, who is also an adjunct professor at the University of Adelaide in Australia. “It would be many decades before it would slow down global warming at all, and even then it would just be making a difference around the edges.”
Natural gas might have been a “bridge” to a low-carbon future 30 years ago when the term was first introduced, but now its primary value would be to reduce the cost of meeting a near-term CO2 target in the U.S. in the context of a rising CO2 price.
A key finding of the NCAR study is:
The most important result, however, in accord with the above authors, is that, unless leakage rates for new methane can be kept below 2%, substituting gas for coal is not an effective means for reducing the magnitude of future climate change.
The question of what the total leakage rate is remains hotly contested, but I know of no analysis that finds a rate below 2% including one by the National Energy Technology Laboratory, the DOE’s premier fossil fuel lab.
BOTTOM LINE: If you want to have a serious chance at averting catastrophic global warming, then we need to start phasing out all fossil fuels as soon as possible. Natural gas isn’t a bridge fuel from a climate perspective. Carbon-free power is the bridge fuel until we can figure out how to go carbon negative on a large scale in the second half of the century.
ADDENDUM: The 1988 Washington Post article, “Natural Gas, Nuclear Backers See Opportunity in ‘Greenhouse’ Concern” cited above quoting the VP of the American Gas Association contains this paragraph:
All told, worldwide emissions of carbon dioxide more than tripled from 1950 to 1980. If the trend continues, by the year 2030, temperatures could be warm enough to melt ocean-borne ice, raise sea levels, and radically change growing conditions for the world’s food supply.
Oops. Only missed by 20 years.
Let me end by pointing out another NCAR study, “Drought under global warming” (see here). That study makes clear that Dust-Bowlification may be the impact of human-caused climate change that hits the most people by mid-century, as the figure below suggests (click to enlarge, “a reading of -4 or below is considered extreme drought”):
The PDSI [Palmer Drought Severity Index] in the Great Plains during the Dust Bowl apparently spiked very briefly to -6, but otherwise rarely exceeded -3 for the decade(see here).
The large-scale pattern shown in Figure 11 [of which the figure above is part] appears to be a robust response to increased GHGs. This is very alarming because if the drying is anything resembling Figure 11, a very large population will be severely affected in the coming decades over the whole United States, southern Europe, Southeast Asia, Brazil, Chile, Australia, and most of Africa.
The National Center for Atmospheric Research notes “By the end of the century, many populated areas, including parts of the United States, could face readings in the range of -8 to -10, and much of the Mediterranean could fall to -15 to -20. Such readings would be almost unprecedented.”
For the record, the NCAR study merely models the IPCC’s “moderate” A1B scenario — atmospheric concentrations of CO2 around 520 ppm in 2050 and 700 in 2100, which looks close to what Wigley modeled. If this is the Golden Age of Gas, then it must be describing the color of the dust.
Thanks to Brad Johnson for finding the 1980s bridge quotes.
In a “prebuttal” to President Obama’s State of the Union address, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor and private-equity millionaire, laid out an understanding of American energy policy that bears only a tenuous relationship to reality. Romney attacked successful government investment in clean energy as failures, falsified the recent history of domestic oil and gas development, and wrote the Deepwater Horizon disaster out of memory. Like the rest of the Republican Party, Romney made sure to jump on the Keystone XL pipeline bandwagon, purporting it would create tens of thousands of jobs.
Romney, who as recently as last June told New Hampshire voters that it’s “important” to reduce greenhouse pollution, talked only of a future where oil and gas drilling faces no regulatory hurdles.
Below, ThinkProgress Green provides Romney’s speech with the facts it was lacking.
Energy Facts: Rebutting Romney’s Prebuttal
ROMNEY: When we needed stability and solvency, he gave us Solyndra.
FACT CHECK: Solyndra, an innovative solar panel manufacturer, was a private-investment darling to the tune of $961 million until silicon prices plummeted, making their technology too expensive for the marketplace. Bloomberg has found that the default rate, including the $535 million Solyndra default, on the $16.1 billion Energy Department loan portfolio is less than 3.6 percent. The Department of Energy has leveraged taxpayer dollars into nearly $40 billion in solvent projects, helping create 60,000 stable American clean-economy jobs.
ROMNEY: When we needed a climate for private investment, he gave us Cash for Clunkers.
FACT CHECK: The Cash for Clunkers program was “huge success,” Forbes declared. Before the $3 billion program was enacted, 1500 car dealerships had closed, laying off 50,000 people. Cash for Clunkers simultaneously provided a critical lifeline to the American auto manufacturers and car dealers at a crucial moment in the economy, spurred a major increase in the fuel economy of new car purchases, and made efficiency a major selling point in the minds of the American consumer. Cash for Clunkers provided consumers about one-sixth the price of the new cars, meaning it directly spurred about $15 billion in private spending.
ROMNEY: When we needed more domestic energy to keep prices low and create jobs, he imposed bans on oil drilling and turned his EPA regulators loose to slow our development of natural gas.
FACT CHECK: President Obama installed a brief moratorium on the expansion of new exploratory drilling — not a ban on existing drilling — following the BP Gulf of Mexico disaster, the worst environmental disaster in American history. Under his presidency, natural gas development has exploded to record levels. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has proposed, but not issued any new regulations for air or water pollution from natural gas drilling, even as communities are poisoned.
ROMNEY: I will streamline regulation, ensure the prompt review of projects, and order agencies to focus on economic growth. The Keystone Pipeline is a real “shovel-ready” project that would put 20,000 Americans back to work. Three years of review is long enough. The President was wrong to reject it. I will approve it.
FACT CHECK: Even the foreign oil company TransCanada admits its Keystone XL pipeline won’t put more than 6000 Americans to work — many of whom already are employed. Republicans want President Obama to approve the risky pipeline even though its route hasn’t even been finalized.
ROMNEY: I will open up new markets for American goods, and open up our lands so that we can finally develop our energy resources. A revolution in drilling for natural gas has opened up new supplies that will create American jobs, provide affordable energy, and offer our manufacturers a competitive edge. My administration will support the development of these resources, not find excuses to stand in the way.
FACT CHECK: President Obama is also touting the natural gas boom.
Unfortunately, while leaders of both parties promote the explosion in drilling as a revolution for “domestic energy,” it is becoming less clear that dependence on hydrofracked natural gas is any safer for our planet and our civilization’s future than other fossil fuels. Although Romney denies the reality of climate change and Obama avoids discussing it, the challenge of ending our addiction to all fossil fuels is unavoidable.
Brazil, a member of a bloc of emerging economies know and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa), built a strong trade relationship with Iran and involved itself in Middle East diplomacy under its last president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva. Lula, as he is widely known, attempted to broker a confidence-building deal between the West and Iran to diffuse tension over the latter’s nuclear program. But the 2010 deal came just as the Obama administration had rallied international support for another round of U.N. Security Council sanctions aimed at the nuclear program. The U.S. objected to Iran’s condition that the sanctions — since shown to be effective in slowing Iran’s progress — be scuttled.
Now, the New York Times reports, a sometime media adviser to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad expressed anger that Iran was also losing Brazil:
After President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran took a four-country tour of Latin America this month, during which he met with several outspoken critics of the United States but was notably not invited to stop in Brazil, one of his top advisers took a public swipe at Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, saying she had “destroyed years of good relations” between the two nations.
“The Brazilian president has been striking against everything that Lula accomplished,” Ali Akbar Javanfekr, who has worked as Mr. Ahmadinejad’s top media adviser, said in an interview published Monday by Folha de São Paulo, a leading Brazilian newspaper, in which he compared Ms. Rousseff to her predecessor and political mentor.
In a New Yorker profile of Brazilian president Rousseff late last year, Nicholas Lemann wrote:
After taking office, Rousseff began to distance herself from Lula’s more exotic foreign-policy initiatives. She declared that, as someone who had been tortured, she had special concerns about a government that tortures, and that would influence Brazil’s diplomatic partnership with Iran.
Indeed, quickly after coming to office, Rousseff supported the Obama administration initiative of a U.N. special rapporteur for human rights in Iran, whose eventual report condemned Iranian rights abuses.
In addition to diplomatic fallout, the Times also noted that Iran’s robust trade relations with Brazil have recently cooled.
The report about the Iranian adviser’s comments on Brazil came on the heels of a report last week that another BRICS country spoke out forcefully against suspected Iranian designs on nuclear weapons. China’s premier Wen Jiabao said that, while trade with Iran would be maintained for the meantime, China “adamantly opposes Iran developing and possessing nuclear weapons.”
In the State of the Union address tonight, President Obama will highlight the administration’s fossil and renewable energy achievements, touting that the U.S. now produces more than half of its oil domestically and has expanded natural gas, solar, and wind development. The United States is on its way to becoming a global clean-energy leader, Center for American Progress Chairman John Podesta and Tom Steyer of Farallon Capital Management write in the Wall Street Journal:
In the hubbub around the president’s decision not to approve the proposed Keystone XL pipeline between Canada and the United States, Americans missed the big picture. While conservatives have been fighting to build a pipeline to import more foreign oil and deepen U.S. dependence, the U.S. is poised to transform its energy portfolio by developing domestic resources — renewable and mineral — that will let it become a net exporter of clean energy and energy technology in this decade.
Podesta and Steyer — who was a leader in the fight to protect California’s climate laws — are bullish on the domestic natural gas boom, though they note the “critical environmental questions associated with developing these resources.” They believe that “as long as we ensure high regulatory standards and stay away from the riskiest and most polluting of these activities, we can safely assemble a collection of lower-carbon, affordable and abundant domestic-energy assets that will dramatically improve our economy and our environment.”
Importantly, the United States has regained the title of the world’s top investor in clean energy. “Our companies make over 75% of all venture investments in clean technologies world-wide,” and “the clean economy grew by 8.3% from 2008 to 2009, even during the depths of the recession.” A commitment to clean energy isn’t just about generating good jobs:
Such jobs provide a strong middle-class income to workers who have technical skills beyond high school but who lack a four-year college degree. What’s more, U.S. clean-energy investment shows moral leadership, as we combine our advanced energy strategies with strong safeguards to protect our citizens and our planet from polluters and the worst impacts of global warming.
“Our economy can go from being weighed down by oil imports to soaring ahead, powered increasingly by domestically produced clean energy, and energy services and technology,” Podesta and Steyer conclude. “The Obama administration has taken a smart approach, but Congress must now work with the president to secure our leadership position going forward.”
Gov. Chris Christie (R) said New Jersey residents should vote on the right of gay and lesbian people to marry, during a town hall in Bridgewater, New Jersey this morning. “Let’s put the question of same sex marriage on the ballot,” Christie said. “It shouldn’t be decided by 121 people in Trenton.” The state legislature is currently considering legislation to legalize marriage equality. Christie said he would veto it if it makes it to his desk.
by Michael Conathan
This piece was originally printed as an op-ed in the Energy Guardian.
America’s oceans provide tremendous value to our economy, and are among the most valuable natural resources we possess. In an effort to maintain both the financial and environmental benefits of our marine resources, last week, the White House issued a draft implementation plan for the National Ocean Policy outlining the specific steps it will direct federal agencies to take to establish a more comprehensive, collaborative, and efficient approach to managing our ocean resources.
Since its initial release in 2009, the National Ocean Policy has been pilloried by the president’s political opponents as a misguided effort to circumvent congressional approval and impose new regulations that slow the pace of business and innovation. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth.
The policy creates no new regulations and relies entirely on existing authority to do precisely what Republicans have touted as one of their highest policy priorities—improve the efficiency of the federal government.
Much of the opposition centers on a concept known as coastal and marine spatial planning. In most cases, planning is considered a good thing. Business plans are the foundation of most successful ventures. And across the country, federal, state, and local governments have established land use plans that prioritize certain activities to protect private property and ensure we get the best value from public space.
Yet somehow, when these principles are applied to our oceans, even those who recognize the value of solid, well-conceived plans suddenly decry them as the tactics of government heavies, coming to kill jobs and abscond with our fundamental freedoms.
At a hearing before the House Natural Resources Committee in October of last year, Congressman Tom McClintock (R, CA) made the hyperbolic assertion that the National Ocean Policy’s effort to establish comprehensive ocean planning would mean “the death of all land use planning” in this country. His point, apparently, was that thoughtful planning for activities occurring on land is necessary for a civilized society—one would doubt, for example, that Rep. McClintock would be pleased if his next-door-neighbors were permitted to turn their home into an industrial site. But similar attempts to prioritize activities in our oceans are somehow an impingement on fundamental freedoms.
To be clear, the National Ocean Policy’s planning effort does not constitute the “zoning” of every inch of the more than four million square miles of our exclusive economic zone. Rather, it is a tool intended to bring all ocean agencies and stakeholders to the table to develop a comprehensive picture of what areas are most valuable for which industrial, recreational, and conservation purposes.
More than half of our nation’s population lives in coastal counties—which all together account for less than 20 percent of our nation’s land area. Increasingly, we are looking across the waves and beyond the horizon to drive our economy. By creating a single, dynamic register piecing together valuable fishing areas, shipping lanes, oil and gas leasing areas, critical habitat, and priority zones for emerging uses like offshore wind energy development, we will ensure the American people get the highest value from one of our greatest natural assets.
Without the coordination that the National Ocean Policy would bring to the agencies and laws that regulate and permit the activities we undertake in our ocean space, private investment becomes less likely, development of new projects is delayed, and an endless stream of lawsuits emerges. Imagine all the time and resources wasted by one Rhode Island company, for example, that spent years exploring the possibility of constructing an offshore wind farm only to discover that its proposed site was directly in the path of submarine traffic heading in and out of a navy base in New London, CT. The reforms inherent in the National Oceans Policy will prevent such wasteful actions.
We can either continue blindly on with single-use decisions that leave America’s developing ocean industries falling farther behind our international counterparts, harm our environmental resources, and fail to acknowledge cumulative effects, or we can think bigger and think better.
President Obama’s National Ocean Policy recognizes that now is the time for common sense and partnership—not nonsense and partisanship—as we determine how to manage our invaluable oceans, coasts, and Great Lakes.
This op-ed was originally published in the Energy Guardian.
Michael Conathan is the Director of Ocean Policy at the Center for American Progress.