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David Sassoon's articles

Obama: The Making of a Clean Coal President

Political and Economic Opportunity, Green Cooperation Cement Obama's Position

By David Sassoon

Feb 10, 2010

President Obama has issued for the rapid national adoption of "clean coal" technology. Last week, shortly after his budget address, he ordered a high-level task force to deliver a plan within 180 days determining how "to overcome barriers to the widespread, cost-effective deployment of CCS within 10 years, with the goal of bringing 5 to 10 commercial demonstration projects on line by 2016."

Obama's executive office memorandum looks like a big victory for the coal industry, which was already handed $3.8 billion in last year's stimulus act for carbon capture and storage (CCS) research and development and deployment. He did not simultaneously order a similar plan for a big roll-out of solar or wind energy to level the playing field.

Making good on campaign promises, the president is throwing the full weight of his administration behind a moonshot effort to make coal the "clean" energy technology of choice and open a federal pathway to a profitable future for one of the nation's most polluting industries.

Three factors have cemented Obama's support for carbon capture and sequestration technology: political necessity, economic opportunity and the backing of some of the most powerful mainstream environmental organizations operating inside the Beltway.

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Kansas Coal Plant Back in the Bullseye

Sunflower Saga Revolves Around Health, Environment Dangers Posed by CO2

By David Sassoon

Jan 13, 2010

Sunflower Electric Corp. today submitted a revised permit application to build a new coal plant in Holcomb, Kan., reviving a long-running effort to break ground on a locally polluting facility that would send most of its electricity to customers out of state.

The saga first drew national attention in 2007, when the head of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment rejected Sunflower's air permit request, as the first state official to base the rejection in part on the potential dangers greenhouse gas emissions pose to human health and the environment.

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Crunch Time in Copenhagen on Super Greenhouse Gases

Fast Action Option Could Help Close 'Mitigation Gap' and Rescue Talks

By David Sassoon

Dec 18, 2009

There's a global warming solution of enormous potential on the negotiating table here in Copenhagen. It could deliver reductions of up to 170 billion tons of CO2e over the next 40 years at a total cost of merely $4 billion. It is a fast action solution, something that can be done quickly and whose benefits would be felt almost immediately. And it works by preventing the manufacture of highly potent greenhouse gases, so that they never enter the atmosphere to begin with.

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Hacked E-Mails Controversy Irrelevant in Copenhagen

Attendees 'Astonished' by Gullibility of American Public to Skeptics' Campaign

By David Sassoon

Dec 17, 2009

One of Denmark's leading businessmen and philanthropists, speaking privately at a reception here earlier this week, voiced a sentiment about the hacked e-mail controversy shared widely among attendees from around the world at this global climate conference.

"How can a few e-mails — which were stolen after all — have such an influence upon what Americans believe about global warming? The science is so consistent and deep. It is astonishing this is possible in the richest nation in the world."

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Arrival of 110+ Heads of Government to Turn Climate Talks into Climate Summit

By David Sassoon

Dec 14, 2009

Included in the official daily program published at the end of the first week of UN climate talks here in Copenhagen is a 14-page list of speakers for this coming Wednesday and Thursday. All are presidents, prime ministers or high-level ministers whose decision to attend the final days of the meeting are raising high hopes for progress.

"As the same order as ministers arrive, so does political will," said Connie Hedegaard, president of the climate conference, in upbeat remarks at a press conference recapping the first week of work.

NGO observers are wryly saying that the conference is now "doomed to success," meaning two things at once: On the one hand, the presence of so many leaders could be an unprecedented opportunity that makes successful outcomes unavoidable; on the other hand, even if agreements end up weak and lacking in ambition, they will nevertheless be trumpeted as a success by governments loathe to admit failure while standing in the global spotlight.

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Obama's Treaty-Making Powers Broader Than Recognized

It's Possible for Both Houses of Congress to Ratify a Treaty by Majority Vote

By David Sassoon

Dec 7, 2009

Though arguably the most powerful man on the planet, U.S. President Barack Obama heads to Copenhagen later this month wearing handcuffs. The failure of Congress to pass domestic climate legislation has meant the president has had to advance slowly, lest he get ahead of lawmakers in the Capitol. After all according to the Constitution, international treaties must be ratified by 67 "yes" votes in the Senate.

Also still fresh in everybody's mind is the the Senate cast in opposition to US participation in the Kyoto Protocol, though that vote happened more than a decade ago.

But a working paper just posted at the at Columbia University's law school takes a fresh look at the legal basis of the president’s independent power to enter into internationally binding commitments related to climate change, and it finds that the president has broader powers than commonly recognized. It also identifies an intriguing possibility backed by historical and legal precedent.

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Failure of 'Super Greenhouse Gas' Deal Raises Stakes in Copenhagen

By David Sassoon

Nov 11, 2009

At little noticed talks last week in Port Ghalib, Egypt, climate advocates were hoping to seal a global agreement for the phase down of super greenhouse gases and give next month's Copenhagen climate talks a can-do running start. But the annual meeting of the 198 nations of the Montreal Protocol began on a note of contention that five days of discussions could not overcome.

The 22-year-old Montreal Protocol has delivered an unbroken string of successes in the battle against ozone depletion, accomplished with comity and cooperation, but now observers say it has caught the climate virus. Rhetoric trumped getting down to business, as an agreement to rid the world of HFCs, enormously potent global warming gases, was postponed for at least another year.

"We're approaching tipping points fast, and we missed an opportunity to take action this year," said Durwood Zaelke, president of the , who attended the talks in Egypt.

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Boxer Offers Compromise To Preserve Clean Air Act Responsibility for CO2

By David Sassoon

Nov 3, 2009

America has climate legislation on the books already. It is called the Clean Air Act. Since 2007, when the Supreme Court under Chief Justice John Roberts ruled in that CO2 could be regulated under the Clean Air Act, the EPA has been working to follow court orders. Though slowed by Bush administration delaying tactics, EPA under Lisa Jackson has wasted no time working to make the law stick to CO2 pollution.

That has lit a fire under Congress, and for many lawmakers, particularly from coal states, there's the rub. While trying to craft one of the most sweeping pieces of environmental legislation in history to slow climate change, they are at the very same time working hard to severely restrict what the Environmental Protection Agency can do about global warming.

It is a difficult trick, like trying to lift a board while standing on it.

In the version of the bill that passed the House last June, lawmakers inserted language that would amend the existing Clean Air Act to prevent EPA from regulating coal plants for CO2 emissions. It's a misstep that Sens. Barbara Boxer and John Kerry do not want to repeat in the Senate.

The latest language in the Senate version of the bill shows Boxer's hand, working to provide jittery coal state lawmakers with concessions restricting the overlong reach of the Clean Air Act, while preserving the ability of the EPA to regulate emissions from largest industrial sources and the biggest polluters to protect the public interest.

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Senate Bill Puts EPA Back in the Climate Game, and the Agency Wastes No Time Acting

By David Sassoon

Sep 30, 2009

When the House passed its version of a federal climate bill in June, lawmakers included a provision to handcuff the Environmental Protection Agency when it came to greenhouse gas emissions from the nation's biggest polluters.

Bowing to demands of coal state Democrats, lawmakers effectively agreed that the agency shall not regulate "stationary sources" for CO2 — in other words, hands off the greenhouse gases from coal plants and large industries.

Today in the Senate, those handcuffs came off. The Senate introduced by Sens. Barbara Boxer and John Kerry made no mention of restricting EPA authority the way the House version did, and the agency wasted no time in raising both free hands in a move that put it emphatically center stage in the climate game.

Just hours after the roll-out of the Boxer-Kerry bill, EPA issued a press release explaining how it plans to control emissions from big polluters, including new power plants, by establishing common sense regulatory rules. EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson announced the details during a keynote address at the Governors' Global Climate Summit in California.

"We will not continue with business as usual while waiting for Congress to act," Jackson said from the podium.

It was the same Global Climate Summit where last November a newly-elected Barack Obama delivered a videotaped message, vowing U.S. leadership on climate change, and made instant global news.

While today's EPA announcement is not likely to be appreciated worldwide, it does provide evidence of the Obama administration's commitment to climate action ahead of international talks in Copenhagen. It is also an important regulatory development that will help determine whether the U.S. will really be able to reduce domestic industrial emissions of greenhouse gases or not.

Absent EPA authority, large loopholes and handouts in both the Senate and House versions of the climate bill will make it difficult, if not impossible, for the nation to depart from the trajectory of business as usual for decades. That's why one of the fiercest upcoming battles in the partisan war over federal climate law will be over the reach and authority of the EPA in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

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Live Feed: World Watches Activists Occupy Suncor's Tar Sands Facility

By David Sassoon

Sep 30, 2009

As Washington is abuzz today with the introduction of the Senate's version of a climate and energy bill, 25 Greenpeace activists have taken climate action into their own hands in Canada.

Slipping past tightened security by floating stealthily downriver, they gained access to Suncor's massive tar sands facility and shut down two bitumen conveyor belts. The conveyors receive bitumen from the open pit mines along the banks of the Athabasca River and transport it to the upgrader for refining.

The images being captured on cell phone video show activists scattered in positions across the large industrial construction with the conveyor stopped.

"We're sending a message to international leaders with Copenhagen less than 70 days away," said Bruce Cox, the Executive Director of Greenpeace Canada, who spoke to SolveClimate while watching the action from an inflatable boat on the Athabasca River. "This is not just about Suncor, or Shell but about our global addiction to dirty energy."

Cox said the activists are prepared to spend the night, equipped with food and safety gear. A growing international audience is tuning into the live stream to see what the police will do.

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