Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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November 2, 2009

CLIMATE BILL FACES LONG, BUT NOT INSURMOUNTABLE, ODDS.... The Washington Post's front-page piece on the climate bill in the Senate makes the future appear bleak.

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.

Reading that there is "almost no hope for passage" is discouraging, of course, but it's worth remembering that it wasn't too terribly long ago that reports said the same thing about health care reform. Legislative battles can often take some unpredictable twists and turns.

More to the point, the Post's report notes that proponents of the legislation will need some Republicans to break ranks. That's true, but it's also not implausible. Eight House GOP lawmakers voted for the energy reform measure in July, and in the Senate, advocates have already brought one high-profile conservative Republican -- South Carolina's Lindsey Graham -- on board.

Proponents are now eyeing "at least half a dozen" other Republicans who may be open to persuasion on the issue. And by "persuasion," I mean, "able to be bought off with enticements they want."

For several GOP lawmakers, the key on energy policy is building new nuclear power plants. So, Dems are willing to make a deal -- they'll back approval for expedited construction of U.S. nuclear reactors in exchange for support for the rest of the bill. (Dems are also sweetening the pot with expanding drilling.) Sierra Club Executive Director Carl Pope calls the horse trading "the old formula for bipartisanship."

What's next? A new round of conservative obstructionism is slowing things down, but the WaPo reported, "Graham and Kerry are set to meet Wednesday with Energy Secretary Steven Chu, as well as with Obama's top climate adviser, Carol M. Browner, and Interior Secretary Ken Salazar to discuss a possible compromise."

That sounds like a productive step. The larger effort is still an uphill climb, but some of the pieces are in place for progress.

Steve Benen 10:50 AM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (21)

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"For several GOP lawmakers, the key on energy policy is building new nuclear power plants."

The same guys who are spouting off against socialism are seeking government subsidies for nuclear development, government assistance for the storage of nuclear waste, and government protections in the event of nuclear disaster (while claiming that nuclear power is safe).

The private sector won't touch nuclear power without taxpayer funding and protections -- the kind that Republicans will be seeking for their utility company benefactors in this bill. It's more of the same, and the blogosphere should expose this for what it is -- the right stealing from the poor and middle class to give to the very rich.

Capitalists my ass.

Posted by: Chris on November 2, 2009 at 11:02 AM | PERMALINK

The Republicans love to point to nuclear power in France to proof that nuclear power is safe and economical.

Of course they never mention (nor do "journalists" interviewing them nor the Democrats responding to them) that Electricite de France, which operates the power plants is 85 percent owned by the French government. Nor do Republicans mention that Areva, the company that builds the nuclear plants, is 34 percent owned by the French government.

Republicans also point to the safety record of the nuclear power used by the U.S. Navy, which is 100 percent government owned.

So I'll suggest a compromise. As part of the cap-and-trade bill, the Obama administration will agree to expedite permits and provide tax subsidies for any nuclear plant that is built by a company that is 33 percent federally owned and that will be operated by a utility that is 80 percent federally owned.

Doesn't that sound fair?


Posted by: SteveT on November 2, 2009 at 11:19 AM | PERMALINK

I used to be a Radcon Monitor for the NN Shipyard. The naval nuclear program came across as safe, and it clearly sent ships and subs around the world for years without refueling. This area (SE VA) is also served by a nuclear power plant (Surry) which never had appreciable "problems" as such. I know there is a need to deal with the waste problem, but I think we need nuclear power to pitch in as part of the switch to carbon-neutral power generation and transportation.

Chris is right about the hypocrisy of the lousy-fare free marketeers, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't do any more nuclear at all. It means we should require quid pro quo on the government-private partnership, with the public being effective stakeholders. In such a case it will not be stealing from the public, since collectively we save money long-term not buying oil etc. I hope everyone realizes that oil continues to be crunched and price will start rising again. We can't go on like we have been, and we can't build enough wind turbines, solar farms etc. fast enough (?) to cover the gap. They also have their own resource costs, hazards, impacts etc.

Posted by: Neil B ♪ on November 2, 2009 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

The United States Senate is yet again prepared to skewer the American Taxpayer in a bipartisan way. Doesn't anyopne in the senate want to see our country's economy grow , increase jobs,reduce the deficit? No! the Senate wants to protect the corporate conglomerates who pay for the Senators re-election. It will only get worse if Alito and Roberts and the right wing billionaires have their way with the campaign funds decision.

Posted by: mljohnston on November 2, 2009 at 11:24 AM | PERMALINK

nuclear power couldn't be a more potentially catastrophic form of technology if satan existed, and he designed it himself.


Posted by: neill on November 2, 2009 at 11:29 AM | PERMALINK

We haven't solved the thorny question of safely disposing of the nuclear waste from the reactors we have right now.

So I'll repeat my agreement with those who advocate nuclear power, with one proviso: We bury the waste in the advocates' back yards.

What do you say?

Posted by: Gregory on November 2, 2009 at 11:47 AM | PERMALINK

Neil B: "I know there is a need to deal with the waste problem, but..."

I hear you guys on public/private ownership. Excellent points.

However, figuring out how and where to store nuclear waste is not a minor flaw in the system. Let me know when they get it figured out, and then let's talk.


Posted by: Chris on November 2, 2009 at 11:56 AM | PERMALINK

The Washington Post is wrong. Again.

P.S. "MLJohnston" is correct, and it those same interests that cause WaPo to be wrong.

Posted by: robert on November 2, 2009 at 12:19 PM | PERMALINK

The Washington Post is wrong. Again.

Posted by: robert on November 2, 2009 at 12:20 PM | PERMALINK

Sure, we haven't solved the problem of the nuclear waste, and that is not trivial. Yet I think CO2 is more dangerous to us in practical terms. I don't mind having some rad waste relatively near me, but for practical reasons it should be in less-populated areas - "fair" or not. And if I have to "own" the waste, then I get all the power from the nuclear plant while those opposed must use carbon-producing or what available alternatives there are - fair enough? Furthermore, for the sake of the argument: would you allow reallocating problems caused by GW (if we could) to your back yard, if you're against nuclear? If you can show realistically how to do without either hydrocarbons or nuclear, and when, I'll listen.

Posted by: Neil B ♪ on November 2, 2009 at 12:25 PM | PERMALINK

"If you can show realistically how to do without either hydrocarbons or nuclear, and when, I'll listen."

Solar, wind, geothermal, tidal,...

Done.

Posted by: Chris on November 2, 2009 at 12:35 PM | PERMALINK

Any time I must depend on people like Lindsey Graham to do the right thing, I am almost always disappointed.

Posted by: terraformer on November 2, 2009 at 12:37 PM | PERMALINK

Chris, it isn't done. I said "realistically" - that means, can we get it going at the scales of time and concentration that we need? Just naming the technologies doesn't show that. "We" should have done more on all that earlier (but certain familiar interests got in the way), but since we didn't - what to do, given the given.

Posted by: Neil B ♠ on November 2, 2009 at 1:32 PM | PERMALINK

""If you can show realistically how to do without either hydrocarbons or nuclear, and when, I'll listen."

Solar, wind, geothermal, tidal,...

Done."

And see our electricity bills increase substantially...and have to deal with long brownouts when either the wind isn't blowing or the sun isn't shining....yes, so realistic - you wouldn't happen to be the administration's wind and solar czar, would you?

Posted by: jj23 on November 2, 2009 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

CONSERVATION FIRST!

Posted by: sue on November 2, 2009 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

jj23: "See our electricity bills increase substantially...and have to deal with long brownouts when either the wind isn't blowing or the sun isn't shining....yes, so realistic..."

Entirely false assumptions based on watching too much "liberal" network and cable news. Do your research and learn.

In the meantime, you want taxpayers to subsidize utility companies while protecting them from losses ? Odd priorities for a so-called free marketeer.

Posted by: Chris on November 2, 2009 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

Neil B.,

Despite your nonsensical and sarcastic deal in which you agree to store your own nuclear waste, I did answer realistically.

We can build more nuclear power plants or we can build more solar power plants (among other things). The technology is proven. The realistic answer is, given the given, we make the right choices.

Posted by: Chris on November 2, 2009 at 2:51 PM | PERMALINK

Funny, I never held myself out as a free marketer, nor did I make a market-based argument...anyhow. All I said was that alternative energy is (currently) prohibiti-vely expensive as a primary source of energy.

The analysis is clear: alternative energies are substantially more expensive and/or extremely limited.

Solar costs 11-17 cents/kWh
Wind costs 5-7 cents/kWh*
Coal costs 3.5 - 4.1 cents/kWh

*Wind may be cheap where it can be utilized, such as in the Great Plains where wind is powerful enough to generate large amounts of electricity, but these areas are far from major cities. Moreover, to point out the obvious, the wind doesn't always blow....so what do you do then? Oh, that's right....use conventional sources of electricity. No improvements in grid technologies, etc can change that.

The only practical answer, in terms of CO2 reduction in the shorter term, is expansion of nuclear power and investment in R&D for alternative energy sources. Trouble is, it takes a long time to bring nuclear power plants online (around 8-10 years). And while research into alternative energy shows promise, it's nowhere near viable at this point.

Posted by: jj23 on November 2, 2009 at 2:54 PM | PERMALINK

I don't know where you got those figures jj23, but you seem to be advocating for coal. I don't see any figures for nuclear costs. (Incidentally, your coal costs clearly exclude the costs of negative externalities passed onto taxpayers and communities).

Also, at the risk of oversimplifying, you don't lose power when the sun goes down or the wind stops blowing any more than your cell phone loses power when you unplug it from the wall.

And yes, alternative energy is just as viable as nuclear energy, if not more so (that 8-10 year figure should tell you something).

You're right about one thing -- when you argue for taxpayer supported nuclear energy, you're not making a market-based argument.

Posted by: Chris on November 2, 2009 at 3:11 PM | PERMALINK

Yes we can build solar or nuclear, and solar is better if it can be cost effective. Eventually it will pay for itself (but panels don't last forever), but isn't there a large cost to start up enough collection? BTW I am interested in doing better than spreads of big dumb solar panels: like solar Sterling engines, focussing by Fresnel lenses etc (REM we don't need image quality optics.)

BTW my "deal" to store waste was just a riposte to a dumb snark challenge about nuclear advocates having to do that - no reason to take it or the original dig seriously, OK? I'm looking at mix anyway, with preventing more CO2 being the top priority.

Posted by: Neil B ☺ on November 2, 2009 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks Neil!

I don't know the answer to your question off the top of my head, but I suspect that there are extremely large start up costs for solar.

For the record, in pointing out the hypocrisy of the political right on subsidies/protections for nuclear power, I'm not arguing against subsidies for other alternative forms of energy. I think you guys are correct that public/private partnerships are the way to go when private funding is insufficient for needed investments.

The source of my frustration is when I catch the Morning Joe panel, as I recently did, talking up nuclear as an entirely safe and entirely privately-funded alternative to coal (it's not) while literally laughing at other alternatives that are equally viable and have the added benefit of not encouraging our enemies to enrich uranium. This view, presented on "the liberal news channel", is indicative of what I see all over network and cable news, and to my disappointment, much of the blogosphere.

Thanks again.

Posted by: Chris on November 2, 2009 at 4:37 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

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