Rhein on Energy and Climate

In view of the stalemate on climate legislation in the Senate President Obama has instructed the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) to prepare executive regulations for capping green house gas emissions from automobiles, trucks, refineries, power plants and major industrial emitters. These measures are designed to enter into force in early 2011 if no legislation has been signed by then.

On March 10, 2010, 98 business groups representing oil, gas and coal interests and 20, mostly Republican, governors have sent a letter to the House and Senate leaders protesting against the intention of the President to by-pass Congress in his efforts to reduce green house gas emissions. They contest the legitimacy of EPA to issue rulings against green house gases. In their view the EPA is not equipped to assess the potential for very real harm to jobs when regulating emissions. According to them the proposed EPA rules would discourage investments in oil and gas projects, harm jobs and create limits to US energy production.

This campaign is the opening salvo aimed at preventing or at least delaying any action by the EPA. It will certainly intensify as the mid-term elections come closer, when the Republicans will not hesitate to win potential voters with anti-climate arguments.

For the time being the President can relax and retort that it is up to the Senate to produce a climate bill before the end of the year and to both houses to agree on a common text. But the virulence of the attacks and the continued misinformation of the public should push the President into a more “aggressive” stance. He has to convince his 250 million citizens that the future of the US economy and society cannot rely on coal and oil, that the USA has a huge potential for energy efficiency and that in a few years solar, nuclear and wind energies will not be more expensive than oil or coal. That is worthwhile campaign for the coming months and years. Presently more than half of the US citizens do not believe that climate change constitutes a risk for them or their children. Such a score is not reliable basis for far-reaching legislative action in the energy field, certainly not for an increase in petrol taxes.

In parallel, he should call upon the presidents of US universities to introduce mandatory courses on climate and energy as of the next academic year. Without a fundamental change of mentality the USA will not be able to play the necessary in world climate policy and diplomacy. And without a strong US commitment Humanity is bound to overstep its basic climate target to contain the increase of the earth’s temperature within two centigrade.

Brussels 11.03.10 Eberhard Rhein

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