Last week I noted that a severe drought in China had reduced hydropower production there and that some regions were experiencing power shortages. It now appears that another major factor contributing to Chinese power shortages is that some electric utilities deliberately have cut power production because coal prices have soared while the government has refused to allow them to increase the rates they charge for electricity. This is being portrayed as setting up a major showdown between the Chinese government and state-owned utilities. Keith Bradsher, Power v. Profit: Chinese Utilities Defy Beijing and Cut Output, N.Y. Times, May 25, 2011, at B1.
Responding to safety concerns raised by the Japanese nuclear accident, the German government announced yesterday that it will phase out the country’s existing nuclear powerplants by the year 2022. German Chancellor Angela Merkel previously had backed extending the lifespan of existing nuclear powerplants, despite a previous government’s commitment to phaseout nuclear power. In light of Germany’s continued commitment to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs), the country will be under even greater pressure to increase its already impressive investment in renewable energy. The government of Switzerland, which generates 40 percent of its electricity from five nuclear powerplants, also has announced that it plans to phase out nuclear power, but it has not set a date yet for completing the phaseout.
Last week the lower house of the Brazilian Congress approved a bill that will relax laws restricting deforestation of the Amazon. The legislation reportedly will grant amnesty to those who have engaged in illegal logging in the past while reducing the amount of undeveloped forest that must be protected by farmers and ranchers. Although Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff generally has favored development interests over environmental concerns, officials in her administration have suggested that the legislation may go too far. John Lyons, Brazil Moves to Loosen Amazon-Logging Rules, Wall St. J., May 26, 2011.
On May 25 I was a guest speaker at a luncheon at the U.S. Capitol sponsored by the D.C. Chapter of the Federalist Society. The topic was the “Legal and Policy Implications of the Obama Administration’s Effort to Regulate Greenhouse Gases.” Debating me was former White House Counsel and former U.S. Ambassador to the European Union C. Boyden Gray. To his credit, Gray did not deny that climate change was a serious problem. Instead his basic claim was that until China and India agree to an international treaty to control emissions of GHGs it would be useless for the U.S. to do anything to control GHG emissions. I noted that because the developed world caused most of the climate change problem, it was only fair that developed countries take the first steps to control their GHG emissions, the basic premise of the Kyoto Protocol, which has been ratified by every developed country except for the U.S. Gray made the astonishing claim that the U.S. may not be the largest historic contributor to the problem in light of extensive reforestation that has occurred in the U.S., a claim I quickly debunked. While giving Gray credit for not denying the existence of a problem, I warned that Republican politicians who increasingly are joining the ranks of climate change deniers are making an “historic mistake. “ The problem is only getting more serious and politicians cannot simply wish it away.
On May 26 New Jersey Governor Chris Christie announced that he was withdrawing the state from the northeastern and mid-Atlantic states’ regional plan to control GHG emissions through a cap-and-trade program for powerplants fired by fossil fuels. While stressing that he was not joining the ranks of climate change deniers, Christie argued that the plan was ineffective. States remaining in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI) include Connecticut, Delaware, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island and Vermont. New Jersey’s exit is not expected to jeopardize the program, which has raised more than $700 million through the sale of emissions allowances.