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Elizabeth McGowan's articles

High Court Ruling Could Sideline Judiciary Branch from Key Role in Climate Change Debate

The regulation of greenhouse gases needs to have as many institutions addressing it as possible, experts say

By Elizabeth McGowan

Jan 6, 2011

WASHINGTON—Ask environmental advocates for their reaction to the Supreme Court decision to hear arguments in American Electric Power v. Connecticut case and you won’t hear much applause.

Instead, you’ll witness plenty of hand-wringing powerful enough to set flesh afire.

So, what’s all this fretting about?

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Courts Wrestle with Texas Revolt Against EPA’s New Greenhouse Gas Rules

Every other state has complied with the tailoring rule that kicked in Jan. 2, even if officials have filed lawsuits challenging the EPA

By Elizabeth McGowan

Jan 4, 2011
Power plant at night

WASHINGTON—It took a somewhat fancy legal two-step, but Texas has managed to become the sole state to dance around this week’s long-anticipated start-up of the Obama administration’s modest efforts to curb heat-trapping gases.

That makes the Lone Star State the only place nationwide where factories and electricity-generating plants that emit a lot of greenhouse gases can’t apply for the necessary permits to make modifications or begin new construction. Now it’s up to federal judges to figure out how long this peculiar arrangement lasts.

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EPA and Congress Headed for Showdowns over Carbon Regulations in 2011

How acrimonious will the relationship between the 112th Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency become?

By Elizabeth McGowan

Dec 29, 2010

WASHINGTON—Rep. Fred Upton recently suggested that EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson would soon be testifying at oversight hearings so often that she should reserve a personal parking place on Capitol Hill.

With that remark, the Michigan Republican poised to dictate the House Energy and Commerce Committee’s agenda set the tone for how acrimonious the relationship between the 112th Congress and the Environmental Protection Agency might become.

And EPA authorities likely added fuel to an incendiary situation by waiting until Dec. 23—the day after Congress adjourned for the year—to spell out what scientific standards refineries and power plants must meet relatively quickly to limit their prolific carbon emissions.

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Thwarted Bingaman Still Eyeing Clean Energy Standard in Next Congress

“The renewable electricity standard has been around for many Congresses,” his spokesman said. “We’ll certainly revisit it.”

By Elizabeth McGowan

Dec 23, 2010

WASHINGTON— Clearly, the mammoth tax-slicing package that President Obama signed into law Friday has its share of boosters and detractors on Capitol Hill.

Count Sen. Jeff Bingaman among the latter.

Before voting against the $858 billion measure, the New Mexico Democrat criticized his colleagues for allowing the wealthiest Americans to keep more of their money instead of maximizing incentives for energy efficiency.

That squandered opportunity means the chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will redouble his efforts in the 112th Congress to collaborate with Maine Republican Sen. Olympia Snowe to advance fuel-saving provisions, Bingaman spokesman Bill Wicker told SolveClimate News in an interview.

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Environmental Justice Knocks Loudly at the White House

Veteran activists rearrange the agenda by explaining they wanted government officials in the lineup to do more listening and less talking

By Elizabeth McGowan

Dec 22, 2010

WASHINGTON—It might have been the inaugural environmental justice forum at the White House. But that doesn’t mean there were a bunch of rookies in the room.

The all-day gathering was barely under way when veteran activists of the movement partially rearranged the Wednesday agenda after they explained emphatically that they wanted federal government officials in the lineup to do more listening and less talking.

Once that was settled, much of the “us vs. them” tension in the room dissipated but didn’t disappear. Advocates from some of America’s most impoverished neighborhoods—where the underbelly of the country’s industrial grind has turned the simple acts of breathing the air or drinking a glass of water into risky and deadly propositions—pleaded passionately and poignantly for substance over symbolism.

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Kansas Permit for Embattled Coal Plant Faces EPA Review, Legal Scrutiny

The permit for the Sunflower plant is issued to beat the start date of new federal greenhouse rules in January, and critics claim foul play

By Elizabeth McGowan

Dec 17, 2010

WASHINGTON—Environmental organizations will join the EPA in carefully reviewing—and perhaps challenging—a controversial building permit that Kansas authorities granted Thursday to build a 895 megawatt coal-fired power plant in the southwestern part of the state.

Approval of the permit to Sunflower Electric Power Corp. comes just a few weeks before the Environmental Protection Agency’s “tailoring rule” takes effect Jan. 2. That rule is designed to employ the Clean Air Act to control heat-trapping gases from large emitters that are new or undergo significant modifications.

Issuing the permit before that deadline means the new plant can avoid that EPA rule designed to rein in greenhouse gases.

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Spotlight on Clinton Ties to Pipeline Lobbyist in Permit Battle

TransCanada lobbyist once worked for her presidential campaign; company says permit review will unavoidably be based on the merits

By Elizabeth McGowan

Dec 15, 2010

WASHINGTON—Nebraska’s senior senator might now be convinced that the U.S. State Department is adhering to appropriate protocol before deciding on a thumbs up or down for a multi-billion dollar, controversial Canada-to-Texas tar sands oil pipeline.

In a statement issued Friday, Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson a Dec. 9 letter from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton assured him that "the department won't consider the pipeline permit application until the environmental study is done and the department has taken into account all state and federal views about the proposal."

But the environmental community is far less confident. Green organizations are calling for the Secretary of State to recuse herself from the decision—expected in 2011. Public statements she made in California in October indicate Clinton was already inclined to approve TransCanada's Keystone XL project, and the groups also now claim there's a potential conflict of interest involving a TransCanada lobbyist who previously worked for her presidential campaign.

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A Carbon Tax in 2011 for Fiscal Conservatives?

The tax can be revenue-neutral if the money raised is returned to citizens by reducing other taxes

By Elizabeth McGowan

Dec 13, 2010

WASHINGTON—The grassroots side of Charles Komanoff wasn’t exactly dancing in the streets of New York City Nov. 2 when Republicans drop-kicked Democrats from their majority perch in the House of Representatives.

But the number-crunching, energy-policy-geek part of him sniffs an unusual opportunity for his beloved carbon tax to gain traction on Capitol Hill.

“Maybe this is totally wishful thinking, but one possible halcyon effect of Tea Party ascendancy might provide greater latitude for Congress and its ability to tolerate real mavericks instead of phony mavericks,” the 63-year-old founder of the Carbon Tax Center told SolveClimate News in an interview.

Komanoff’s “Exhibit A” is Democratic Rep. John Larson of Connecticut.

The congressman, elected to a seventh term, has written one of several carbon tax bills elbowed aside by what emerged as the bully of the Hill—a failed cap-and-trade measure. When the 112th Congress convenes in January, Larson has vowed to reintroduce a proposal he rolled out in 2009.

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Obama Tax Deal Leaving Out Clean Energy, Putting Jobs at Risk

Thus far, 1,179 solar projects with total investments of $1.3 billion in 42 states have been built with support from an expiring program

By Elizabeth McGowan

Dec 8, 2010

WASHINGTON—If President Obama’s final tax package doesn’t include grants for renewable energy projects, the industry expects hundreds or perhaps thousands of solar and wind workers to add to already-lengthy unemployment lines.

What’s known as the renewable energy convertible tax credit program—or the Treasury grant program—is set to expire by year’s end. And a plan submitted by Senate Finance Committee Max Baucus, D-Mont., to extend the program for a year died over the weekend.

Now leaders from all renewable energy fields are hoping legislators can reach some sort of compromise to keep jobs and projects from being jeopardized. Ideally, they are seeking a two-year extension of the grant program.

“This is not a program that has just benefited blue states,” Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association, told reporters in a conference call Wednesday. “It’s a program that has benefited all states. They need to put their partisan bickering aside … to ensure that these industries continue to grow.”

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Outgoing Rep. Bob Inglis Still Touting Revenue Neutral Carbon Tax

He’s trying to convince bona fide conservative Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., to reintroduce the carbon tax measure they co-sponsored

By Elizabeth McGowan

Dec 8, 2010

WASHINGTON—It is tempting to label six-term Rep. Bob Inglis as an equal opportunity annoyer.

But in the nuanced halls of Congress, that would be far too simplistic.

The outgoing South Carolinian is a burr in the GOP’s rigid saddle because he discomfits dominant House Republican groupthink: he admits he trusts the science that says human activities are causing the planet to warm.

He simultaneously perplexes the Democratic co-authors of the American Clean Energy and Security Act by rejecting their cap-and-trade effort at reining in heat-trapping gas emissions.

“I can understand why Ed Markey would be frustrated by somebody like me,” the Republican said about the Democratic Massachusetts representative in an interview with SolveClimate News. After all, “cap and trade is a market-based, conservative concept.” 

“But over the years, I’ve committed various heresies against Republicans. The one that’s most enduring is saying that climate change is real and let’s do something about it.”

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