Analysis: Energy's cost for global warming

By MARLO STARR  |  Jan. 12, 2007 at 5:47 PM
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WASHINGTON, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- A former energy official under President Bill Clinton has released a new book on global warming, calling on the country to address the issue by changing how -- and which -- energy sources are consumed.

"Hell and High Water: Global Warming, the Solution and the Politics," by Joseph Romm, Clinton's assistant secretary of energy for renewables and energy efficiency, comes as global warming has received attention unseen before.

Congress, too, is starting to press the issue, while the debate over costs and benefits is likely to play a major role.

In the book, Romm outlines strategies which he says can help avoid possible global catastrophe. Included in his proposals are: creating more fuel efficient cars through hybrid technology, constructing 1 million wind turbines and capturing and storing the carbon dioxide from coal plants.

Speaking recently at the Center for American Progress, in Washington, Romm recommended a California model of energy consumption for the rest of the country.

Californians emit two-thirds less in carbon dioxide than what the average American emits, and yet their energy bills are the same, Romm said.

"The cost of action is much lower than people thought," said Romm, "but the main cause (of inactivity is that) people don't understand the cost of inaction."

Similar sentiments are echoed by recent discussions on Capitol Hill. The new session of Congress has seen several bills which support a turn towards alternative energy sources. On Jan. 5, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., introduced the National Energy and Environmental Security Act of 2007.

Co-sponsor of the bill, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M., said during his Senate floor statement that the bill aims to "reduce our dependence on foreign and unsustainable energy sources" by developing alternative fuels, "particularly biofuels."

"It lays out a number of important goals that will guide our thinking and our action on energy-related matters, including the issue of global warming, in the 110th Congress," Bingaman said.

Other bills proposed by politicians on both sides of the aisle voice similar concerns and goals. The Biofuels Security Act of 2007 introduced by Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., will demand the oil industry mix ethanol and biodiesel into their fuel. Another bill, presented by Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, would bump the corporate average fuel economy standards up to 40 miles per gallon in the next ten years, though it contains a score of exceptions. (The current standard is 27.5 per gallon for passenger cars, according to the Congressional Research Service.)

An amendment to the Energy Policy Act of 2005, also proposed by Bingaman, would reduce green house gas emissions by 14 percent by 2030.

The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which Bingaman will soon chair, said in a recent press release the plan "would not harm the U.S. economy," based on findings in an analysis of the proposal by the Energy Information Administration, the data arm of the U.S. Energy Department.

Oil companies, however, and even the activist group Greenpeace, are singing a different tune in response to these and other legislative proposals.

"Capping green house gases is expensive," said John Felmy, the chief economist for the American Petroleum Institute. "Mandating caps is an economic pain not necessarily a gain."

"We're concerned because the consumer might not benefit from it," he said of the plan to reduce emissions. "The study has been characterized as having a small (impact), one-tenth of a percent of the gross domestic product. But that could translate into $200 billion dollars."

Beyond economic apprehensions, Greenpeace criticized an energy reform bill proposed by Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., as ineffective.

"While this shows that the center of gravity in Congress is shifting toward significant long-term reductions in global warming pollution, the target reductions fall very short of what scientists tell us is actually necessary to avoid catastrophic climate change," said John Coequyt, Greenpeace energy policy analyst, in a press release.

Nasir Khilji, a macroeconomics analyst at EIA, who helped write the analysis of Bingaman's proposal, said, "There's no such thing as a free lunch. Clearly people are going to lose jobs. People are going to be hurt by it... People on the green side of the debate say it's worth the benefits. People on the other side say it has too big of an impact. It depends on your perspective."


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