New Administration Plans Sweeping Climate Controls

By Carol Freedenthal, Contributing Editor | April 2009 Vol. 236 No. 4
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Economic calamities have taken center stage in the administration’s agenda. However, that hasn't taken anything from the other important programs actively pursued by President Obama’s administration.

Very high on his list is climate control and its resulting side issues of fossil-fuel consumption and clean air. He spoke of this in his address to the joint session of Congress in late February when he promised a cap on carbon pollution. Action to promote clean air and lower carbon dioxide levels is aimed at reversing potential global warming, which is blamed on increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere caused by burning fossil fuels.

Before we discuss the proposed actions to affect climate control and the potential effects from this, some discussion of the alleged man-made impact on climate is important. Climate changes and supposedly a warming trend of the earth’s climate have been major talking points since the early 1990s. Talk of climate change is really nothing new. As far back as the 1970s, an alleged cooling trend and the potential disastrous effects from this were the big topic!

In the beginning, the discussions and concerns on potential earth warming were mainly among the technical and scientific communities. The debate has since become a political football and now includes politicians, entrepreneurs, and charlatans who all have something to say. Although nothing can be said in this column that would settle this chicken-or-egg controversy, it is important to remember that much of the climate change argument is built on passion, perception and politics, so the impact of these should be kept in mind before embarking on a bold, demanding and very expensive path to control the earth’s climate!

Regardless of what is really the case, the political push is to accept the potential that the earth is in a warming trend that could result in all kinds of bad things. Further, right or wrong, carbon dioxide released when fossil fuels are burned is taking the blame as the major culprit.

The administration’s proposed plans are to reduce fossil-fuel usage and, where possible, recover the carbon dioxide released from major fuel consumption sources. Both sequestering released carbon dioxide into old oil and gas reservoirs and using it for additional crude oil tertiary recovery are being explored to reduce the amount of dioxide released into the atmosphere. In President Obama’s speeches, he has discussed taking a more aggressive, direct action to accomplish these two objectives. And even though the economic woes of the country are so pressing, he has promised to take action early in his term to clean the environment and reverse or slow the warming trend.

He is pushing a multi-pronged attack to lower the consumption of fossil fuels and ways to capture and contain released carbon dioxide. While the hope is to find a technical way to supply energy and still reduce the carbon dioxide that is released, the initial major thrust is strictly economic! Money talks!

President Obama strongly favors what is called, a “cap-and-trade” program to reduce carbon emissions. A cap will be a legal limit as to the amount of carbon that can be emitted on a yearly basis. Major entities like coal-fired electric-generating plants, refineries, steel producers and big users that exceed the cap could buy allowances for high emissions.