Post image for Why Is Congress Lethargic about Energy?

This week National Journal’s Energy Experts Blog poses the question: “What’s holding back energy & climate policy.” So far 14 wonks have posted comments including yours truly. What I propose to do here is ‘revise and extend my remarks’ to provide a clearer, more complete explanation of Capitol Hill’s energy lethargy.

To summarize my conclusions in advance, there is no momentum building for the kind of comprehensive energy legislation Congress enacted in 2005 and 2007, or the major energy bills the House passed in 2011, because:

  • We are not in a presidential election year so Republicans have less to gain from passing pro-energy legislation just to frame issues and clarify policy differences for the electorate;
  • Divided government makes it virtually impossible either for congressional Republicans to halt and reverse the Obama administration’s regulatory war on fossil fuels or for Hill Democrats to pass cap-and-trade, carbon taxes, or a national clean energy standard;
  • Democrats paid a political price for cap-and-trade and won’t champion carbon taxes without Republicans agreeing to commit political suicide by granting them bipartisan cover;
  • The national security and climate change rationales for anti-fossil fuel policies were always weak but have become increasingly implausible thanks to North America’s resurgence as an oil and gas producing province, Climategate, and developments in climate science;
  • Multiple policy failures in Europe and the U.S. have eroded public and policymaker support for ‘green’ energy schemes;
  • It has become increasingly evident that the Kyoto crusade was a foredoomed attempt to put policy carts before technology horses; and,
  • The EPA is ‘enacting’ climate policy via administrative fiat, so environmental campaigners no longer need legislation to advance their agenda.

[click to continue…]

Post image for EU Gropes — in Vain — for Carbon Price Sweet Spot

Two stories reprinted in Climatewire today provide a funny reminder that politicians can’t set the ‘right’ price of a commodity even when the fate of the Earth supposedly hangs in the balance. 

On Tuesday, Norway decided to follow European Union (EU) policy and establish a carbon ‘compensation fund.’ The program will bribe pay some 80 energy-intensive firms $90 million not to move their operations overseas. The government contends that without such payments, the EU Emission Trading System (ETS), adopted to implement the Kyoto Protocol, will trigger (or accelerate) the flight of capital, jobs, and emissions abroad. Reuters reports:

“The purpose is to prevent the Norwegian manufacturing industry from moving their enterprises to countries with less strict climate regulations,” Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said.

Changes to the EU’s Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) from next year allow member states to compensate big energy users, like aluminum or steel producers, for costs linked to carbon emissions. The plan is to prevent higher costs driving business out of Europe.

Although ETS carbon prices are high enough to make EU manufacturers uncompetitive, those prices are not high enough (according to critics) to spur technology innovation*:

“This shows some of the fundamental problems with emissions trading,” said Steffen Kalbekken, head of research at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research in Oslo. “We are getting the worst of two worlds.

“The (carbon) prices are too low to produce the technological shift we need” to force big emitters to clean up, he said. “But they are still high enough to cause some problems for industry and international competition.”

EU carbon permit prices for December have fallen to 7.74 Euros ($9.98) per ton — lower than three of the U.S. Government’s four ‘social cost of carbon‘ estimates. The European Commission is now “pressing ahead with a plan to counter an oversupply of CO2 permits in the EU emissions trading market after a 37 percent drop in prices last year,” Bloomberg reports. The commission “is preparing a proposal to postpone sales of an as-yet unspecified number of allowances in 2013.”

Of course, if that plan goes through, and carbon permit prices rise, European countries may have to pony up even larger subsidies to keep manfacturers from moving to Asia and South America.

So are ETS carbon permit prices too low or too high? They’re high enough to spur innovative ways to get the heck out of Europe asap. [click to continue…]