July 14, 2012

This Week in Green Politics, Special Edition: The Henchmen Debate Energy

Romney, Obama Surrogates Debate Energy Policy

On Wednesday, Dan Reicher of the Obama camp squared off with Romney representative Linda Gillespie Stuntz. The topic (for once) was energy policy. Here are the highlights.

Keystone XL: Romney would approve it on "day one"; Obama is "very much moving toward a decision" in the first quarter of 2013. Nothing new there.

Climate: Last summer, Romney said "we don't know" if humans are causing climate change. Now, Romney is "certainly not a denier," says Stuntz, yet he doesn't think the EPA should regulate greenhouse gases. On the other hand, Stuntz seemed to praise existing initiatives like fuel economy standards and efficiency targets: "We are effectively de-carbonizing our economy in ways that we had not foreseen."

For his part, Reicher reaffirmed the Administration's support for a global climate agreement and "ministerial" agreements on energy efficiency.

Clean energy: Romney would most likely remove clean energy subsidies. ("These kinds of technology specific incentives are a bad idea.") He definitely wants to kill the wind production tax credit, along with the jobs it supports; he's just not sure how quickly to phase it out. Stuntz said that, while the government should play a role in basic research, it shouldn't "try to be a venture capitalist."

Fracking: Both surrogates had warm words for hydrofracking. Stuntz said the dangers of fracking had been "overstated by some." While Romney supports "standards" and "best practices," he believes fracking "can be managed."

Reicher focused on Obama's efforts to increase transparency with regard to fracking chemicals, as well as his creation of an inter-agency task force to deal with fracking. Asked if the benefits of fracking outweigh the risks, he said "yes," if the technology is carefully developed. To sum it up: "If president Obama is re-elected, you'll see continued support for fracking."

Stuntz replied, "I hope that's true."

Arctic oil: Reicher's stance was "Arctic, yes, ANWR, no." Stuntz argued that we should drill for oil in the Arctic, including the Wildlife Refuge because, otherwise, the "Soviets" will beat us too it. Seriously. 

USDA: Disaster-Scale Drought Covers One-Third of US Counties

The Agriculture Department has declared a federal disaster area in more than 1,000 counties, covering almost every state in the southern half of the continental US. It's the largest disaster declaration ever made by the USDA.

To paraphrase two climate scientists quoted in an AP article, this is what global warming looks like.

Confirmed: Fracking Can Contaminate Drinking Water

As fans of fracking are always eager to point out, the extraction process takes place far below aquifers. But, according to a new study, that doesn't mean fracking chemicals can't contaminate water supplies. Here's Sarah Laskow for Salon:

A new study, published in the formidable Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences… shows that fluids may have traveled from deep within Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale… into shallow aquifers hundreds of feet above…. The study doesn’t prove that fracking fluid has traveled up to aquifers of drinking water. But it’s enough to show that there is no reason to assume that chemicals pumped deep into the ground will stay there.

Of course, geology isn't uniform throughout the country, so chemicals could migrate more easily in some places than others. At the very least, we know that fracking isn't as harmless as industry apologists would have us believe.