Category Archives: Environmental Policy

Opinion: We’ve Got a ‘Oui’ Problem

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the policy or position of the Sanford Journal of Public Policy.

The decision to withdraw from the Paris Climate Agreement befuddled many experts, precisely because we know the factors that did not inspire the decision. Trump did not pledge to leave the deal because Trump-voting states no longer want to participate. The majority of residents in every state support the Paris deal. Some of Trump’s high-profile advisors and cabinet members came out against the decision, including Gary D. Cohn, Director of the National Economic Council, and Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State. Even Trump’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, opposed the decision to withdraw.

Despite pulling the country out of the Paris Agreement, Trump does not believe America is better off without a seat at “la table” (the French word for table). Trump made it clear he intends to negotiate a new climate agreement that allows America to get more and pay less: The Art of the Deal before our very eyes. Trump has made his (unsubstantiated) billions using this methodology. Buy low, sell high; buy one, get one free. Trump is always looking for a bigger, “better” deal.

Source: Peace Palace Library (2016)

Here’s how Trump’s deal making works: Let’s say I was a billionaire business tycoon (an unrealistic fantasy) with untamed hair (my daily reality). I have something you want, and you have something I want. But you need me more than I need you, so I feign disinterest until finally, in desperation, you come to me with a better offer. Transactional relationships are quite frequently fueled by an uneven power dynamic, and often result in the dominant player coming out ahead. Shoot, I hope I didn’t spoil the ending of Marx’s Capital for you.

But a globalized economic system is a lot more complicated than a two-person transaction. Trump’s constituents are already undermining his refusal to participate in the Paris deal. Individuals, corporations, and municipal and state leaders, including North Carolina’s Governor, Roy Cooper, are pledging their commitment to the Paris Accord. Michael Bloomberg pledged $15 million to the UN’s fight against climate change. $15 million barely scratches the surface of America’s commitment to the Paris Agreement, but indicates, in Bloomberg’s words, that Americans are “forging ahead.”Consumers want to buy green, and companies and governments are responding. Companies are more profitable if they promote and engage in sustainable initiatives. The public has spoken! They want those silly little light bulbs with the curly glass tubes.

Trump’s decision was nothing more than political stubbornness. I have faith in corporate America’s pursuit of profit (is anything more reliable?), and I believe economic incentives will continue to inspire a shift toward renewable energy and sustainability. But if exiting the Paris Agreement leads to a decline in cooperation between America and the rest of the world, then Trump’s “American Exceptionalism” will become “American Isolationism.” If relations with other countries sour, as nearly happened with Mexico, American consumers, particularly low-income Americans, will feel the burden of this artless negotiation.

Annie Krabbenschmidt is a second-year Master of Public Policy candidate interested in social psychology and organizational behavior.

North Carolina City Votes to Phase Out Coal

By: Valerie Jaffee

Just last week, Asheville took a big step for Southern cities—it voted to transition off of coal to clean energy sources. In a unanimous vote, the Asheville City Council approved a resolution to phase out Duke Energy’s coal-fired power plant in the city. For North Carolina, where 40 percent of our electricity comes from coal, this could signal a major shift toward less polluting power.

Around the state, coal plays a major role in keeping our economy running. But along with lighting our homes and businesses, coal plants release air pollution that can endanger our health, the landscape, and the planet.

Coal-fired plants produce 84 different types of hazardous air pollutants, according to the American Lung Association. These include acid gases, like hydrogen chloride, along with lead, arsenic, and mercury. Children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with asthma or cardiovascular diseases are particularly at risk.

NC Coal plant map

Is there a coal-fired plant near where you live? Each black marker above shows a coal-fired plant in NC.
Source:
U.S. Energy Information Administration

Burning coal also produces carbon pollution, which travels up to the atmosphere and traps in heat, driving climate change. In fact, the Asheville Coal Plant remains the largest source of carbon pollution in Western North Carolina. Each year, the plant releases as much carbon dioxide as nearly 500,000 cars, according to the Sierra Club.

The question now is how, nationwide, we can transition our electricity sector off of coal and onto cleaner sources of energy. It won’t be immediate – coal is still responsible for about 37% of the electricity generated in the United States. But already, we are seeing a big move to natural gas due to dropping gas prices. And renewables are adding power to the electric grid at a higher rate than coal and nuclear combined.

As we move from coal to other sources, we’ll need to ensure that coal workers have opportunities for other jobs. That’s why Asheville’s resolution establishes a partnership between the city and Duke Energy, laying the groundwork for a smooth transition for workers.

The coming months and years will tell whether Asheville can smoothly make the switch to cleaner fuels. The city has committed to be a strong leader in the fight against climate change. Now, Asheville must put its money where its mouth is, developing fuel sources that are better for the environment and the local economy.

Environmental Flip-flop Over Natural Gas

Images via alaska.sierraclub.org and localizedusa.com

By Kris FitzPatrick, Staff Editor

It was revealed last month in the New York Times that the Sierra Club secretly accepted $26 million in donations prior to 2010 from Chesapeake Energy, the second largest producer of natural gas in the U.S. (Natural Gas Supply Association). The revelation spurred criticism of the Sierra Club for not disclosing the donation, particularly as the group spoke positively of natural gas as a “bridge fuel” to a clean energy future.

The incident reflects uncertainty among environmental groups over how to handle the resurgence of U.S. natural gas production in the last several years. Exhibit A, as explained by the Wall Street Journal (subscription required), is the unusual alliance between the Sierra Club and the American Chemistry Council to oppose the export of U.S.-produced natural gas.

For environmental groups, keeping natural gas in the U.S. market offers some huge benefits, in the form of lower carbon and particulate emissions resulting from electric companies using more natural gas and less coal. The groups also have concerns that exports will spur more drilling and hydraulic fracturing, a method they worry contributes to emissions from escaping methane at wells and from pipelines.

On the other hand, low domestic natural gas prices are hindering renewable energy penetration in the U.S. Exporting more natural gas could increase natural gas prices domestically and be a boon to struggling renewables.

Aftermath of Fukushima Now Reshaping Natural Gas Markets

Image source: http://blogs.cas.suffolk.edu/cyberdad/2012/01/30/fukushima-daiichi-and-japans-nuclear-history/

 

By  Kris FitzPatrick, Staff Editor

The impacts of Japan moving rapidly away from nuclear power after the Fukushima Daiichi disaster are now being felt globally. As the Wall Street Journal explains in video and written form this past week (subscription required for written), Japan is the world’s third largest economy and relied on nuclear power for roughly a third of its electricity in 2010. Suddenly, most of that nuclear power is offline and may not return any time soon, given Japanese domestic opposition.

To make up for the loss, Japan is hurriedly attempting to secure natural gas to fire its alternate power plants. Japan is investing in increased Australian gas production and aggressively seeking liquid natural gas (LNG) imports. This sudden increase in demand coincides with exploding natural gas production in the U.S. and a growing call for the U.S. to begin exporting its new glut of gas. And with European and Asian natural gas prices as much as six times higher than those in the U.S., look for domestic gas producers to continue this export push.

Texaco’s Legacy in Ecuador

Image via Guillermo Granja/Reuters

 

By Kris FitzPatrick, Staff Editor

Many of us know the stories of oil-rich developing countries sacrificing environmental health for oil revenues. The term “resource curse” was coined because these countries paradoxically suffer from economic stagnation and corruption due, at least in part, to the effects of abundant oil, gas, or mineral resources.

A recent piece in the New Yorker by Patrick Radden Keefe tells the winding narrative of an eighteen-year-long case against Texaco (now Chevron) brought by a group of Ecuadoreans. The group claims Texaco polluted parts of the Oriente region during the twenty-three years that Texaco and other companies conducted drilling operations in the area. In February 2011, a local Ecuadorean judge found for the plaintiffs and ordered Chevron to pay $18 billion, the largest judgment ever in an environmental case. Chevron no longer has assets in Ecuador and has refused to pay.

The Ecuador case highlights the question of how multinational oil companies should be held accountable for past environmental damage. Keefe’s piece may leave the reader exhausted and frustrated, and perhaps questioning whether we should all complain so much about four-dollar gasoline.

The Mystery of Regulatory Capture

Image via Tom Toles

 

By Jeff Bartelli, Staff Editor

Though many Americans complain about corruption within the government, few of them are familiar with the term ‘regulatory capture.’  This is the process by which regulatory agencies eventually come to be dominated by the very industries they were charged with regulating.  Even many policymakers have only a passing familiarity with the issues of regulatory capture and the economics of corruption. In an effort to encourage coherent policy, I encourage everybody to look over some informative academic references to better understand these topics. If the policymakers of tomorrow can identify regulatory capture today, then maybe future regulation can avoid some of the failures of contemporary public policy.