Feb. 13, 2013 by David Driesen

Phasing out Fossil Fuels

We will phase out fossil fuels.  We have no choice. They are a finite resource and at some point they will run out.  Admittedly, coal will not run out nearly as quickly as oil, but sooner or later all fossil fuel resources will run out. 

The only question we face is whether we phase out fossil fuels before we have set in motion climate disruption’s worst effects or instead just allow a phase-out to occur through price shocks and shortages that we are ill-prepared to cope with, and risk a climate catastrophe.  Obviously, a managed phase-out makes much more sense.  Climate disruption will plague us with increasingly violent storms, flooding, drought, a spread of infectious diseases, and other calamities.  A reasonably rapid phase-out will help us avoid some of these impacts by first reducing and eventually eliminating emissions of carbon dioxide, the principal greenhouse gas.  At the same time, switching to cleaner fuels will save thousands of lives annually and many more illnesses right away, as burning the fossil fuels that cause climate disruption also causes particulate pollution and urban smog (tropospheric ozone).  A phase-out of fossil fuels also would gradually end destruction of land through coal mining and …

Feb. 12, 2013 by Rena Steinzor

This post was written by CPR President Rena Steinzor and Media Manager Ben Somberg.

The White House issued a fact sheet last Friday presenting “Examples of How the Sequester Would Impact Middle Class Families, Jobs and Economic Security.” The consequences of the impending budget cuts from the “sequester” are not some abstract problem; they’re serious dangers, like this one:

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) could conduct 2,100 fewer inspections at domestic and foreign facilities that manufacture food products while USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS) may have to furlough all employees for approximately two weeks. These reductions could increase the number and severity of safety incidents, and the public could suffer more foodborne illness, such as the recent salmonella in peanut butter outbreak and the E. coli illnesses linked to organic spinach, as well as cost the food and agriculture sector millions …

Feb. 12, 2013 by Lesley McAllister

Taxes and energy are subject to constant partisan debate. Both are at play in politically-charged discussions about the government’s role in promoting renewable energy, particularly wind energy. Since 1992, the federal government has granted a production tax credit (PTC) (currently 2.2¢ per kilowatt/hour (kWh)) for production of certain renewable energy. The credit initially focused on wind, closed-loop biomass, and poultry-waste energy resources; in 2004 Congress expanded the program to include open-loop biomass, geothermal, and several other renewable energy sources. With this support, the wind energy industry has begun to take off.  By 2011, installed wind capacity exceeded 45 gigawatts (GWs), accounting for about 4% of U.S. installed electricity capacity, 3% of total U.S. generation, and more than 10% of total generation in several states. And in 2012 alone, the industry added more than 13 GW of wind energy, surpassing the previous record …

Feb. 8, 2013 by Alexandra Klass

Often lost in today’s debates over whether to continue tax benefits for renewable energy is a historical perspective on the significant support the federal government has provided and continues to provide the fossil fuel industry. Tax benefits for the energy industry as a whole totaled over $20 billion in 2011, which is, and historically has been, about 2% of total U.S. tax expenditures. In general, the United States has used tax benefits to first support development of domestic fossil fuel and nuclear production for nearly a century and, more recently, to support the development of domestic renewable energy. Until 2005, virtually all energy-related tax expenditures and benefits went toward stimulating domestic oil and gas production with the amount claimed by renewable energy almost negligible.

In recent years, tax benefits for renewable energy have surpassed that of fossil fuel production. For instance, in 2011, the breakdown …

Feb. 6, 2013 by Lisa Heinzerling

Eighty percent of the antibiotics used in this country are given not to humans, but to animals destined for the human food supply.  Most of these antibiotics are given to the animals not for the purpose of treating active infections, but for the purposes of promoting growth and preventing infection in the microbe-rich environment of the modern factory farm.  For over 40 years, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has been collecting evidence that this agricultural practice contributes to the development of antibiotic-resistant infections in the human population. Based on such evidence, in fact, the agency proposed to withdraw its prior approvals for two antibiotics used in animal feed due to the risks they posed to human health. The agency promised to hold hearings on the matter. That was over 35 years ago. On Friday, the future of this issue will be debated in oral arguments in …

Feb. 5, 2013 by Daniel Farber

Cross-posted from Legal Planet.

Cost-benefit analysis has become a ubiquitous part of regulation, enforced by the Office of Management and Budget. A weak cost-benefit analysis means that the regulation gets kicked back to the agency. Yet there is no statute that provides for this; it’s entirely a matter of Presidential dictate. And reliance on cost-benefit analysis often flies in the face of specific directions from Congress about how to write regulations. There are a few exceptions, such as regulations involving pesticides, bans on toxic substances, and thermal water pollution, where Congress called for EPA to balance costs and benefits equally. But almost all environmental laws direct agencies to use some standard other than cost-benefit analysis. The statutes generally place a greater weight on environmental quality and public health than on cost.

For example, it’s fairly obvious that Congress did not contemplate much of a role …

Feb. 4, 2013 by Alexandra Klass

President Obama's focus in his second inaugural address on the need to address climate change was welcome after many months of near silence on this critical issue. While tackling climate change will require significant efforts limiting emissions from power plants, automobiles, and other sources, the President has recognized in the past that improving energy efficiency in general, and setting stricter energy efficiency standards for appliances specifically, can have a major impact on reducing both U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and consumer energy costs. Indeed, according to one recent study:

taking into account products sold from the inception of each national appliance standard through 2035, existing standards will net consumers and businesses more than $1.1 trillion in savings cumulatively. … On an annual basis, products meeting existing standards reduced U.S. electricity use in 2010 by about 280 terawatt-hours (TWh), a 7% reduction. The electricity savings will …

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