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Elizabeth McGowan's articles

EPA Chief Takes the Hot Seat As Fight to Block Climate Rules Intensifies

Legislators intent on blocking the EPA from controlling CO2 emissions are fishing around for a coalition-building bill that can gain traction

Feb 9, 2011

WASHINGTON—Thus far, Republicans and coal state Democrats intent on barring the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating carbon pollution have served up at least half a dozen flavors of legislation.

And the conservation community eagle-eyeing this 112th Congress has declared all six of them equally odious.

Most Americans Oppose Restrictions on EPA, Poll Finds

Three out of four of those surveyed, including 61% of the Republicans, say "Congress should let the EPA do its job," according to a new poll by NRDC

Feb 7, 2011

WASHINGTON—Anti-regulatory legislators might be thumping their chests about their newest ambitious attempts to halt the Environmental Protection Agency in its tracks.

But are Americans willing to support such efforts to block Clean Air Act updates for heat-trapping greenhouse gases, smog and other pollution?

In a word, no.

At least that's the answer that the Natural Resources Defense Council received after surveying 1,007 residents nationwide. More than 75 percent of the respondents oppose congressional efforts to limit the EPA's authority to enforce the Clean Air Act. That figure included a majority of the self-identified Republicans answering the survey.

Controversy over Meaning and Timing of Oil Pipeline Report

TransCanada says their proposed pipeline could free the U.S. of Middle Eastern oil imports. Opponents say DOE's report shows the pipeline is not needed

Feb 4, 2011

WASHINGTON—Allowing a Canadian company to construct a third oil sands pipeline through the nation's heartland could eventually eliminate U.S. dependence on Middle Eastern oil, while having little impact on global emissions of heat-trapping gases.

That's how oil pipeline giant TransCanada interprets a new report focused on its controversial Keystone XL pipeline project.

Economists and environmental advocates reviewing the same report beg to differ with those sweeping conclusions.

At issue is a recently released U.S. Department of Energy study called "Keystone XL Assessment," which has sparked further debate over the long-running pipeline controversy, as Canada's prime minister visits the White House today and protesters take up positions outside.

Obama Taps Bingaman to Build Bipartisan Consensus for Clean Energy Standard

Bingaman's Oval Office meeting sends a signal that Obama is counting on the senator's savvy to pass a measure that both business and enviros can support

Feb 3, 2011

WASHINGTON—When describing Sen. Jeff Bingaman, observers on Capitol Hill are quick to utter such accolades as considerate, thoughtful and practical.

The lanky and cerebral New Mexico Democrat's pragmatism is now under the political microscope of the nation's capital as he warms up to the idea of crafting a clean energy standard that the business world can embrace and the green movement won't shun.

Plus, with a GOP-heavy 112th Congress, the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee knows he has to engage in new math. With 12 Democrats and 10 Republicans serving on his own rearranged committee, he first has to win a majority there before any measure can advance to a Senate where the Democratic caucus has just a 53 to 47 edge.

Bingaman's Wednesday afternoon meeting in the Oval Office sends a signal that President Obama is counting on the senator's savvy.

EPA Ethanol Expansion Hardens a Divide

The divide between pro- and anti-ethanol forces is widening now that EPA has approved E15 gas for 2001-06 cars, and it's spilling over to Capitol Hill

Jan 27, 2011

WASHINGTON—A fracture between pro- and anti-ethanol forces seems to be widening into a gorge now that the EPA has expanded the fuel's reach in the transportation sector.

On one side, business, environmental, budget watchdog and public interest organizations are castigating the Environmental Protection Agency's recent decision to allow vehicles manufactured between 2001 and 2006 to use gasoline containing 15 percent ethanol. On the other side, the Renewable Fuels Association won't be content until even older-model cars, trucks, minivans and sport utility vehicles are included in the E15 mix.

The vituperative back-and-forth has spilled over to Capitol Hill where Oklahoma Republican Sen. Jim Inhofe, ranking member of the Environment and Public Works Committee, is seeking an oversight hearing.

"EPA's latest action continues to push too much ethanol too fast," Inhofe said in an e-mail. "Unfortunately, Congress has done little to exercise appropriate oversight of such decisions, despite growing bipartisan concerns over ethanol's mechanical problems and its economic and environmental impacts."

Obama's State of the Union: Mum on Climate, Loud on a Clean Economy Future

Obama adopted a more centrist tone during his State of the Union, avoiding any mention of climate change but embracing the promise of clean technology

Jan 26, 2011

WASHINGTON—President Obama's commitment to lessening the nation's carbon footprint hasn't likely changed. But the manner in which he's pursuing that ideal has definitely shifted.

That became abundantly clear when he avoided any mention of climate change or heat-trapping gases but embraced the promise of clean technology during his Tuesday night State of the Union address. As Democratic and Republican legislators parted with the tradition of separate seating and listened side-by-side during the speech, Obama adopted a more centrist tone now that the GOP is wielding far more power in the 112th Congress.

All of that nuance wasn't lost on several dozen clean technology innovators who gathered at a downtown Washington watering hole to listen to Obama’s words on a television screen so gigantic that the president appeared life-sized.

They didn't erupt into applause as often as attendees in the House of Representatives chamber — at least 75 such interruptions occurred there — but they did clap, hoot and stomp at the 15-minute mark of the 62-minute speech when Obama called for ditching billions of dollars in taxpayer-funded oil subsidies and steering the United States toward producing 80 percent of its electricity from clean energy by 2035. He also repeated a goal of putting a million electric vehicles on the roadways by 2015.

Court Order Could Cause EPA Feud with GOP Congress to Boil Over

A recent court decision ordering EPA to speed up industrial boiler regulations could set the agency and the U.S. House on 'a real collision course.'

Jan 25, 2011

WASHINGTON—Tension between a Republican-led House and the EPA is already palpable enough during this nascent 112th Congress. And an order from a federal judge issued late last week has likely exacerbated the pending friction festival.

Washington-based District Court Judge Paul Friedman told Environmental Protection Agency officials Thursday that the Clean Air Act makes it indisputably clear they need to speed up a final rule setting standards for toxic emissions from industrial boilers by meeting a new Feb. 21 deadline.

Back in early December, the EPA mollified the manufacturing sector and disappointed conservationists by saying it needed more time — 15 months — to review the science to establish long-awaited limits on such large-scale heating equipment. The EPA's original, court-ordered deadline was Jan. 16.

Agency authorities wanted to extend that to April 2012 partially because they were concerned some factories wouldn’t be ready to adapt to updated regulations. But Friedman said that wasn't a valid argument.

To Green Oil Sands Mining, Solvent Instead of Steam?

Cutting steam from the mining process could slice emissions, but the new process may not be ready in time to matter

Jan 24, 2011
Syncrude oil sands mining

WASHINGTON—In their Canadian laboratories, engineering professors Murray Gray and Zhenghe Xu can demonstrate the science necessary to minimize the bulky carbon footprint of extracting fuel from Alberta’s abundant oil sands.

It’s putting it into practice in the field that will prove more difficult—but not out of the question within a five- or six-year timeframe.

Right now, the mining industry heats enormous quantities of water and uses the resulting steam to draw up the coveted oil buried deep beneath northeastern Alberta’s boreal forests. Eliminating or dramatically reducing that need for heated water, the researchers say, would drastically curb emissions of heat-trapping gases.

Environmental advocates told Solve Climate News the concept certainly has merit. However, they are concerned that such advanced technology will stay trapped in university labs unless Canadian global warming regulations pack enough punch to force industry to become greener.

Plus, they stress that a still-on-the-drawing-board idea would not staunch the flow of emissions from existing mining operations or those opening anew during the current oil sands boom.

Clinton Ties to Pipeline Lobbyist Obscured by Questionable FOIA Denial

FOIA expert says the State Department lacks sufficient grounds for denying the request

Jan 17, 2011

WASHINGTON—Environmental advocates are already doubtful of the U.S. State Department’s ability to conduct a transparent review of a controversial Canada-to-Texas oil pipeline.

And their suspicions were heightened recently when department decision-makers rejected their request to turn over any and all correspondence the department has had with the chief lobbyist for TransCanada, the company seeking to build what’s known as the Keystone XL pipeline. The lobbyist, a man named Paul Elliott, was one of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s former presidential campaign staffers.

Leaders of the three advocacy organizations that filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request say they suspect some sort of impropriety.

Obama Can Cut Fossil Fuel Subsidies and Save $39 Billion, But Will Congress Go Along?

The cuts were included in the last two budgets submitted to Congress, but were never implemented. Will GOP budget hawks now get on board?

Jan 14, 2011

WASHINGTON—Lately, President Obama seems to be suffering from a case of laryngitis on the topic of shaving subsidies for the fossil fuel industry.

Thus, not too surprisingly, it appears Congress has been infected with the same bug.

Environmentalists and deficit hawks are eager for the president to find his voice again by using his 2012 federal budget to once again take a whack at propping up oil and coal. Last year, the idea he dangled of eliminating $38.8 billion in such subsidies through 2020 went nowhere. It’s unclear if Obama might try to duplicate those savings when he unveils his latest budget proposal in mid-February.

David Goldwyn of the State Department made it clear during a talk in Washington this week that reining in fossil fuel subsidies worldwide would help to make a significant dent in greenhouse gas emissions. The Group of 20 has committed to doing so and the International Energy Agency will be keeping score, said Goldwyn, who is stepping down today from his position as coordinator for international energy affairs.

In the United States, he pointed out, reducing subsidies “will be a political battle.”