Foreign Policy Blogs

Barry Commoner, another Legislative Update on Energy, plus Investment in Renewables

Barry Commoner , The "NY Times" has a great offering this week in its science section:  A Conversation With Barry Commoner – At 90, an Environmentalist From the '70s Still Has Hope.  In my post from April 5, Renewable Energy, I wrote "When I read Barry Commoner's The Politics of Energy, published in 1979, I said "Of course, why not?' to the thesis that the federal government should be invested in making the transition to a non-carbon economy."

I had the privilege of meeting Barry a few years later and mentioned that I'd loved that book and we talked a bit.  I had the even greater privilege of working with him on a New York City mayoral campaign in 1989.  (Our candidate won.)  Here's a guy whose work has been at the heart of some of the most important environmental advances in modern history, the nuclear test ban treaty and the ban on DDT among them.  His work on the air pollution dangers from incinerating garbage was the scientific crux of the argument that defeated a badly constructed plan for New York City in the 1980s.  I went to an all-day eightieth birthday symposium on Barry and his work ten years ago.  I remember in particular one of the leaders of the Italian Socialist party recounting how Dr. Commoner had taught them about the importance of the environment.  His brand of clear thinking is just the tonic that many of us, both within and from outside the environmental movement, have always found so useful.  If you want to have a better sense of the historic importance of Barry and his work, pick up the new biography Barry Commoner and the Science of Survival by Michael Egan.

The Senate Floor Bill Nelson of Florida just gave a succinct, lucid, and compelling speech on the Senate floor calling today's vote on the CAFE standards a "moment of truth."  He recounted how America has raised concern about reducing dependence on foreign oil every time the price has skyrocketed and then shied away from this every time the price has gone back down.  We've "gone back to sleep" in Nelson's words.  He talked about the instability of the regions from which we get our foreign oil, the oil that is 60% of our consumption.  Will we have the political will, he asked, to do what is technically easy to do , and the right thing to do , or will we revert to the default position of the oil companies and the auto companies:  business as usual?  It should be interesting to see if we have our "moment of truth" today and, if so, how it'll turn out.

Right now, they're working through various lesser amendments.  Go to C-SPAN2 for live coverage. 

The Auto Industry , An insightful article in today's "NY Times," Politics Forcing Detroit to Back New Fuel Rules, shows us more about how and why the auto industry is looking for a compromise on MPG standards.  They've been told, in a nutshell, they're going to lose, and they should try to get what they can get.  Here's an accompanying "Backstory" Backstory from "NY Times Radio" , an interview with Detroit Bureau Chief, Micheline Maynard.

Furthermore, we now know that, very differently from years past, one of America's most important unions, the United Auto Workers, supports some form of tightening of standards.  This is a pretty critical development.  See this release from them:  UAW supports bipartisan amendment to boost fuel economy standards. 

Senate Finance Committee , The committee yesterday approved, by a vote of 14-6, a package of new taxes on Gulf of Mexico oil and gas leases – see this from Bloomberg News.  Because some lessees have been avoiding royalty payments, due to what the Interior Department's Inspector General determined was a "mistake" in rules issued in the 1990's, $10 billion in fees have not been paid.  The Finance Committee's package makes up for this and levies some other taxes, and applies much of this to extending tax breaks for renewables.  This will be offered soon as an amendment to the Energy bill being worked through on the Senate floor.

P.S.  Remember that a separate energy package is slowly wending its way through the other Congressional body, the House of Representatives.  When both bodies have their proposals in place, then a "conference committee" will be appointed to reconcile the two packages, then the finalized legislation will go back to each body for approval, then the final bill will be offered to the President for his signature , or veto. 

Investment in Renewables , Here's a great little news item today:  Renewable energy investment tops $100 bln, UN says.  Barry Commoner might've hoped for this headline ten or more years ago, and I referenced the fact that I wrote a memo to then investment banker James Wolfensohn in 1986 encouraging him to look into renewables and environmental technologies. (See my post from March 9, the section talking about venture capital.)  But in this case, it's decidedly better late than never.  See the report itself from the United Nations Environment Program – Investors Flock to Renewable Energy and Efficiency Technologies.



Bill Hewitt

Bill Hewitt has been an environmental activist and professional for nearly 25 years. He was deeply involved in the battle to curtail acid rain, and was also a Sierra Club leader in New York City. He spent 11 years in public affairs for the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation, and worked on environmental issues for two NYC mayoral campaigns and a presidential campaign. He is a writer and editor and is the principal of Hewitt Communications. He has an M.S. in international affairs, has taught political science at Pace University, and has graduate and continuing education classes on climate change, sustainability, and energy and the environment at The Center for Global Affairs at NYU. His book, "A Newer World - Politics, Money, Technology, and What’s Really Being Done to Solve the Climate Crisis," will be out from the University Press of New England in December.

Areas of Focus:
the policy, politics, science and economics of environmental protection, sustainability, energy and climate change