More Corporate Welfare For Polluters?

transmissionlineAs the Waxman-Markey climate bill continues to slowly crawl to an upcoming vote,  more and more debate emerges.  This time it’s Blue Dog Democrat Collin Peterson of Minnesota taking the reins for energy producers who already emit too many noxious emissions into our environment.  Congressman Peterson represents rural electric producers (mainly ones who burn coal and ethanol to produce electricity) and claims this bill leaves them behind.

Congressman Peterson is protecting the exact companies (i.e. coal and ethanol plants) that this bill is trying to force to make more cleaner and more efficient.  Of course he shouldn’t expect good favor from this bill (i.e. tons of money).  Yet, by some twisted logic, that’s exactly what he’s asking for.

Peterson wants electric producers who burn coal and ethanol (see how the San Juan Generating plant is holding up in NM with their emissions production) to get back 100% of the allowances they pay for excess emissions.

To me this is like taking away your kid’s allowance because he’s bad, then giving it right back to him because he needs the money to be good.

Seeing how the fine paid by San Juan (which is owned by PNM) was the largest in state history, it is mind boggling to think how much money would be given away via 100% allowances nationwide.

Secondly, Peterson argues that many of the low-income people in his Farm Belt region would be affected more than others in the nation.  While there may be a small increase in his constituents’ rates (mostly a result of electric generators in this area not being clean or efficient enough and thus they have to spend large amounts of money to get their plants in order) it will not add up to the thousands of dollars that these dirty energy representatives claim it will.

The Congressional Budget Office released a report last Friday that estimates that the total costs passed on to households from the Waxman-Markey bill will be a whopping $175 a year.  And, the report says, the low-income consumers that Peterson talks about won’t have their rates raised – instead, they’ll actually get back about $40 a year.

So once again, I have to ask the question:

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PNM and Carbon Pollution: Will consumers get the shaft?

Jeff Sterba

PNM Resources CEO Jeff Sterba

Right now in Washington, members of Congress are debating a twist to climate control legislation that could lead to a massive corporate giveaway for oil and gas companies.

The Energy & Commerce Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives is considering the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009, (ACES) a comprehensive climate and energy legislative package that would limit carbon pollution and require the development of renewable energy. The bill is expected to go on to the full House of Representatives, and later this summer, to the Senate.

The fact that Congress is finally moving to limit carbon pollution by “capping” the overall amount of emissions allowed and issuing permits to emit carbon within those limits is a crucial step toward slowing global warming. Read what Al Gore has to say about it here.

What’s not so great is what Congress may decide to do with the trillions of dollars that could be generated by requiring companies to pay for the permits.

The plan that makes the most sense is to make companies pay for the permits, therefore making them financially responsible for limiting their emissions and forcing them to develop alternative forms of energy. The estimated billions that would be raised by a 100 percent auction of the permits would be returned to energy customers – you and me.

But this week, news emerged that some in Congress are apparently being swayed by the powerful oil and gas companies, who want Congress to agree to give them the permits for free.

New Mexico’s own Jeff Sterba (CEO of PNM Resources) was among a long string of utility executives who told the House committee last month that requiring companies to cap carbon emissions and develop alternate forms of energy would force them to charge their customers more.

New Mexicans know PNM well.  It’s the company that was just fined $6.9 million for federal and state air quality violations at the coal-fired San Juan Generating Station in the Four Corners. According to the New Mexico Environment Department, it was the largest fine ever levied by the state for air quality violations.

In light of those violations and others, New Mexicans need to question whether we can really trust utility companies to act on their own to reduce carbon emissions.

Moreover, if there is really no penalty for polluting (because the fines will be given right back to energy companies like PNM), then where is their incentive to “pass the savings” back to the consumer?  The whole construct just doesn’t make sense.

Congress needs to resist pressure from the oil and gas industry and hold companies financially responsible for their carbon pollution. Implement the carbon caps – and give the billions of dollars raised by the 100 percent auction of the carbon pollution back to energy consumers where it belongs.

VIDEO: Youth play vital role at the Roundhouse

It’s the last day of the 2009 Legislative Session I want to recognize the important role young people played in helping to shape public policy and educate our representatives on youth issues. During the week of March 2nd young people from across the state visited the Capitol for New Mexico Children’s Cabinet Days. I was lucky to catch some of these young leaders and interview them.

They spoke about the need for green jobs and renewable energy, teen pregnancy prevention and stopping bills that would cut youth programs among many other issues. I was impressed by their level of commitment and how organized they are. It was also clear that there is great respect from the youth for Lt. Governor Diane Denish and Claire Dudley for their work to make NM Cabinet Days a success.

Check out the video here:

It has also been exciting to see the fruits of their labor with the passage of the first Green Jobs Bill, Senate Bill 318 on 3/20/09. Democracy for New Mexico blogged about this important measure.

The passage of SB 318 is a huge success for groups like New Mexico Youth Organized, Green For All, Conservation Voters NM, New Energy Economy, the Coalition for Clean Affordable Energy, Natural Resources Defense Council and 1Sky.

Big up’s to our young leaders!

“Clean” Coal Sludge

With all the recent talk, commercials, and news about clean coal, it’s timely to see an event emerge involving the horrible happenings in the small Tennessee town of Harriman (TV spot) (TN coal disaster) The story here is that Tennessee Valley Authority’s Kingston Coal Plant, a coal-fired power plant that has been in the community since 1955, had a 40 acre holding pond break, and the heavy-metal enriched sludge that it contained spread throughout the underlying community.

To be exact it was 1 billion gallons, yes billions, of coal ash sludge which flowed so vigorously that three houses in its pathway now have been condemned and 42 other homes have been damaged. This sludge flow was so enormous that it now covers more than 300 acres and has risen up to heights of 65 feet in places! Continue reading

New Energy for Energy

I was fascinated by Obama’s choice of Steven Chu to head the Department of Energy. The choice of a scientist is unusual for a cabinet secretary, since cabinet positions often go to those from the political realm. Barb at Democracy for New Mexico has a lot more background on Chu, so I won’t go into his qualifications here.

The real opportunity is that political appointees often bring in tens of loyal staffers, who themselves are political appointees, and not often best suited to the policy tasks ahead. With Chu, we may see a nice little experiment – bringing in real life, substantive experience for specific policy challenges at the top of the food chain, rather than somewhere in the middle.

See also:

Washington Monthly:
A Sterling Team at Energy and Environment

Questions for the WAPO

Last week, the Washington Post ran an editorial questioning key arguments of opponents of outer continental shelf drilling. The questions raised some important points. (WaPo Editorial)

Problem is, instead of closing the case on outer continental shelf drilling, the editorial page of the Washington Post just raised additional questions about the wisdom of drilling.

Again, I invite you to read the editorial for yourself.

What follows a point/counterpoint between the WAPO and questions left unanswered about off shore drilling.

WAPO Argument #1: The Washington post points out the conventional wisdom that the United States has only 3% of known world oil reserves. Evidently, this is based on old data. Continue reading

Take a Peek at the Peak

Over the past two months, rising gas prices have fueled a heated debate. And, if you think the debate is raging now, just wait for the winter months to hit consumers.

Between home heating costs and gas prices, it’s not going to be pretty.

As the debate rages on, the most frequently asked questions by public officials and the press seem to be the following.

  • Should we drill more on the outer continental shelf?
  • Should we open the Artic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR) for drilling? (Proponents like to call it “exploration,” but this isn’t an ad campaign, so I’m going to stick with “drilling”).
  • Why didn’t Congress dramatically raise the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE) standards ten, fifteen, or even twenty years ago?

None of these questions is terribly productive. Sure, pondering the historical roadblocks to increasing CAFE standards is instructive. But it really doesn’t do much for future planning around our country’s energy problem. Continue reading