Kelpie Wilson

Have We Hit the Limits of Human Population?

Without growth, there would be no economy as we know it. But modern culture, by and large, doesn't see that it can exist only in the medium of ceaseless growth and expansion, because a fish doesn't see the water it swims in. Only today, in the recent, breathless moments of the greatest economic crash since the Great Depression, do we begin to perceive the waters around us.

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Democrats Are Blowing Our Best Chance for Clean Energy

Take some of Big Oil's obscene profits and invest the money in developing clean renewable energy for the future. This is the Democrats' big idea on energy and it's a good one, but right now Democrats are botching it badly.

Last month, Congress failed for the tenth time this year to pass an extension of the renewable energy tax credits that have nurtured the infant wind and solar power industries in the US but are set to expire at the end of 2008. The tax credit extension should have been included in the big renewable energy bill that Congress passed at the end of 2007, but Republicans blocked the provision because they didn't like closing oil tax loopholes to pay for it.

Some Democrats, like Washington Senator Maria Cantwell, got it, and shifted the approach. Cantwell drafted a bipartisan bill, cosponsored by Nevada Republican John Ensign, to renew the tax credits without requiring a budget offset that would draw a Republican filibuster or a Bush veto.

The problem is that a contingent of House Democrats has continued to insist that no renewable energy tax credit extension be passed unless it can be paid for by cutting some other budget item or by adding revenue -- like increasing taxes on Big Oil. These "pay-go" rules are supposed to establish Democrats as the anti-deficit party and the House leadership has been unmovable on the principle when it applies to renewable energy.

But Democrats seem to have a double standard, turning into bendable Barbies when it comes to bailing out bankers or funding the Iraq war. Solar energy industry lobbyist Scot Sklar said that Congress has all sorts of "creative bookkeeping" techniques it can use to justify new spending, they just don't want to do it for renewable energy. The question is, why?

I spoke with S. David Freeman, author of Winning Our Energy Independence: An Energy Insider Shows How, about the situation. Freeman is a bona fide "energy guru," having worked on federal energy policy since the Kennedy administration, and he was spitting mad. He called the pay-go principle a "bureaucratic rule" and said Democrats could bypass it if they would "get their act together."

"They are using two different rules," he said. "They can go to war on credit, but they can't save the planet on credit. If Congress applied the pay-go rule to the war we would have no war in Iraq."

Freeman said that Congress is not getting the urgency of our energy and climate crisis. "We are in a fight for our lives and Congress acts like it's a Fourth of July picnic ... the Democrats won't do anything until the issue gets to a fever pitch."

NASA climate scientist James Hansen hammered on the urgency of the "fight for our lives" to congressional staffers at a briefing on June 24th. He said "we have used up all slack in the schedule for actions needed to defuse the global warming time bomb...a path yielding energy independence and a healthier environment is, barely, still possible. It requires a transformative change of direction in Washington in the next year."

For the renewable energy industry, it is already too late to avoid disruptions caused by letting the tax credit expire. The uncertainty around the tax credit is slowing investment now. Michael Eckhart, president of the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE) said, "This is outrageous and intolerable. The time to act is overdue. We're not calling for next week. It's months ago that this should have been done."

A study earlier this year by Navigant Consulting found that 112,000 jobs in the wind and solar industries could be lost if Congress lets the renewable energy tax credits expire. A study by GE Energy Financial Services showed that tax credits for wind will eventually pay for themselves by producing taxable economic growth. In these recessionary times, you would think that Congress could justify the small expense -- one month of Iraq war spending would pay for ten years of renewable energy tax credits -- as a vital economic stimulus.

In fact, this is exactly what some Republicans are now saying. Citing the need to protect renewable energy investment and jobs in Nevada, Senator Ensign is holding up the 300 billion dollar housing relief bill in an attempt to attach the Cantwell-Ensign renewable energy tax credit extension. "We are trying to get that on probably the only bill -- or at least one of the only bills -- that's going to be signed into law this year and that's the housing bill," Ensign said. But Ensign's fellow Nevadan, Senate leader Harry Reid, said the move was pointless because House Democrats will never accept it. He said it was "a waste of time to pass unpaid-for extenders."

Fox News reported that Reid got a letter from the 48-member "Blue Dog" group of Democrats warning that the housing bill would not pass the House if the renewable energy tax incentives were extended without offsets.

Usually in conflicts over federal energy policy, the battle lines are straightforward -- you just follow the money. But this case is different. Nearly all Democrats and most Republicans favor granting the renewable energy tax extensions. The battle is over how to pay for them, but is it a battle worth fighting at this point? After all, Democrats are likely to control Washington DC next year, at which point they can pass all the new taxes on Big Oil they want. Why kick the renewable industry in the groin in order to make a political point that no one really cares about?

Part of the problem is that public awareness of the issue is low. The renewable energy industry and environmental groups have not complained about the Democrats' behavior because they don't want to anger the Democratic leadership. That could be a big mistake. By not calling the Democrats on their election year posturing over deficit spending, they risk handing the issue to Republicans who will now be in a position to blame Democrats for slowing growth in wind and solar power.

Scott Sklar said that the only way to break through what he called "the silly season," is for voters to pay attention and get indignant. Sklar said, "This is what people don't understand. Projects are being cancelled now because Congress doesn't have its act together, and it's the biggest projects -- the ones that reduce tons of carbon dioxide and employ thousands of people. In an economic downturn in the United States, people are going to lose their jobs in clean energy and there's absolutely no reason for it."

If jobs and the economy are not enough to make you indignant, just remember those global warming tipping points.

Our Suicide Mission with Coal

As the global energy/climate crisis deepens, coal has become the starkest symbol and most telling measure of our predicament. Coal produces more carbon emissions than other energy sources -- more than twice that of natural gas per unit of energy output. Consequently, coal-fired power plants are responsible for about one-third of US emissions of carbon dioxide. Despite this, we are mining and burning more coal than ever.

On March 18, the nonprofit Environmental Integrity Project (EIP) released an analysis of EPA data showing that carbon dioxide emissions from the electric power industry increased by 2.9 percent in 2007 and have risen 5.9 percent since 2002. Coal is the culprit.

According to an Associated Press report, the cause of last year's increase was a combination of three factors: increased electricity demand; a shortage of hydroelectric power, leading to greater reliance on coal, and the reduced efficiency of aging coal-burning power plants.

While utilities around the nation have plans to construct more than 100 new coal-fired power plants, public concern over global warming and toxic pollution has put the brakes on many of them. Last year in Texas, public interest groups prevented TXU Energy from going ahead on eight new coal-fired plants that would have increased the state's emissions by 24 percent, according to the EIP report.

But as demand for electricity rises and cleaner fuels like natural gas get scarcer and more expensive, the relentless pressure to burn coal fuels delusions such as "clean coal."

"Clean coal" is a combination of two technologies, one of which is expensive and the other completely unproven. The expensive one is coal gasification, and it is a genuinely cleaner way of burning coal. It involves baking coal to drive off gasses that aren't much dirtier than natural gas, and the gasses then are burned for power production. This technology costs a minimum of 20 percent more than a conventional pulverized coal plant, which is why only two such plants exist in the United States.

The other part of the "clean coal" scheme involves carbon capture and storage. This technology is not proven and the potential costs are enormous. A US Department of Energy pilot project called FutureGen was recently canceled with the DOE citing soaring cost projections among its reasons for ending the project.

But even if the "clean coal" idea were workable, the realities of the coal fuel cycle ensure that coal can never be truly clean.

At the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference in Eugene, Oregon, in early March, a panel of citizen activists talked about the front and back ends of coal use: mining and waste disposal. Teri Blanton, of Kentuckians for the Commonwealth spoke about the heartbreak of mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia. The mining technique is dynamiting hundreds of thousand of acres of biologically diverse forest ecosystems to get at the coal underneath, and dumping the waste into streams. Blanton told the story of one of her neighbors who lost his land to a mining company. "When I say he lost his land," she said, "I mean he literally lost his land. One day he found that his land was just gone, blasted away to nothing."

According to the group Appalachian Voices, more than 800 square miles of mountains have already been destroyed by mountaintop removal and if the blasting continues unabated it will devastate an area the size of Delaware by 2010.

Coal mining also uses great quantities of water and pollutes streams in the process. Slurries of waste laden with toxic heavy metals are leaching into streams and river systems. Earthen impoundments that hold back the sludge are unstable and threaten communities. A sludge dam breach in 2000 in Martin County, Kentucky, dumped more than 300 million gallons of toxic sludge, killing virtually all aquatic life for 70 miles downstream of the spill.

Brad Bartlett of the Energy Minerals Law Center talked about the post-combustion end of coal. Air pollution controls at existing coal plants capture 125 million tons of pollutants, amounting to "the largest solid waste stream in the US," according to Bartlett. He said that it is not formally regulated as hazardous waste despite the presence of heavy metals and other toxins. Some of it is used to make building materials and roads, but the rest is just landfilled.

When you think of Alaska, you usually think of oil, not coal, but Vanessa Salinas of Alaskans for Responsible Mining said that Alaska also has huge amounts of coal -- about one-eighth of the world's coal reserves and half of US coal reserves. Currently there is only one operating coal mine in Alaska, but BHP Billiton, the largest mining company in the world, is conducting an extensive coal exploration program and four new strip mines are being proposed.

Alaskans should be more concerned than most people, Salinas said, because global warming impacts are being felt more strongly in the Arctic than anywhere else. On February 26, the tiny village of Kivalina sued two dozen oil, power and coal companies over their greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to global warming. Melting sea ice is exposing the village to erosion from storm waves and surges.

Coal burning also threatens Alaska's famed fishing industry. Coal is notorious for its mercury pollution, and older marine fish are showing increasing levels of mercury. Salinas blamed coal burning pollution from Asia and noted that most of the coal mined in Alaska would be shipped to Asia. In this way Alaskans would poison their own fishing industry.

Salinas has worked with Native Alaskans to stop these coal mines. She said Native people have told her that they feel coal functions as "the liver of the world" and it should be left in the ground. Coal as the "liver" of the world is not a bad metaphor. Coal is not just another mineral; it is biological. It is the remains of ancient life. The liver cleanses toxins from the body, and coal, if left in the ground, keeps our climate cool and our air and water clean.

While Alaskan coal is destined to be shipped to Asia, it looks like Appalachian and even Wyoming coal will increasingly be shipped to Europe. Recent reports in The New York Times and The Washington Post describe a spike in global coal consumption. With the falling dollar value, American coal is now a bargain for overseas buyers; however, that is in the context of an overall price rise that is unprecedented. Spot market coal prices have risen by 50 percent or more in recent months. Coal consumption worldwide has increased by 30 percent over the last six years.

American electricity consumers are used to hearing that coal is much cheaper than renewable alternatives like solar and wind, but that might not be true for long. Consumers haven't seen the impact of expensive coal yet because most utilities lock in coal supplies with long-term contracts. Electricity rates will begin to shoot upwards when those contracts expire in the years ahead.

There is no chance that prices will come back down again either, because Peak Coal, like Peak Oil, is fast approaching. Journalist David Strahan, in a January 17 article for New Scientist, has documented what's known about coal reserves. He concludes that the official figures, like the official figures for recoverable oil reserves, have been vastly inflated.

On March 18, Standard & Poor's released a study concluding that utilities and states with Renewable Portfolio Standards need to do a better job of revealing how expensive their mandates for renewable solar and wind power will be. By that same token, utilities should be required to reveal all of the current and future costs for dirty and increasingly expensive coal power.

Can Global Warming Be Slowed by Complex Concept of Carbon Trading?

By refusing to sign on to the Kyoto climate treaty, Americans have insulated ourselves from the complexities of the carbon market the European Union has been trading in for the last three years. But that state of ignorance, while not exactly blissful, is about to end.

On February 26 and 27, the international carbon trading financial community descended on San Francisco to present Carbon Forum America, the first American carbon trading conference to include a full trade show featuring 80 companies that manage carbon credit assets and trades, negotiate contracts, validate projects, and perform various other market services. Why California and why now?

California is the US leader on climate policy and now is the time the tea leaves are spelling out a coming certainty for investors. The first serious US climate change measure, the Lieberman-Warner bill, has passed out of a Senate committee. All three front-running presidential candidates have acknowledged a cap-and-trade system for carbon emissions is inevitable.

US regional programs like the Western Climate Initiative are picking up steam, and 32 states have now adopted hard emissions targets. The conference sponsor, the International Emissions Trading Association, is banking on the idea US investors will embrace a worldwide carbon trading market that reached $60 billion in 2007 and could mushroom to $300 billion or more very soon. But what exactly is a carbon market?

At a press briefing, IETA president and CEO Henry Derwent acknowledged the concept was a difficult one to explain. "Carbon is an externality, not a commodity. People say, 'What on earth do I need that for? It's not a pork belly.'"

Derwent said investors should look at carbon trading as a form of derivative like a hedge fund. He defended the idea of traders making a profit from carbon trading. "They should be taking a margin for a service. If they do their job well they will provide the world with energy with a lower risk of climate change."

Environmental critics of a cap-and-trade system worry carbon traders, like other derivatives traders, will get carried away and game the system to produce excessive profits for themselves. But the biggest issue as the US contemplates its first national climate bill is the how to allocate the emissions under the cap.

The European Union Emissions Trading System established under the Kyoto protocol gave away emissions allocations to polluting industries in a grandfathering scheme. This depressed the price of carbon and got the market off to a slow start in 2005. The Lieberman-Warner bill would repeat this strategy in the US by giving away over half of the pollution allowances -- worth billions of dollars -- to big industries like coal-burning electric utilities.

By contrast, both Clinton and Obama advocate auctioning 100 percent of the allowances. One hundred percent auctioning is a litmus test for much of the environmental community, which sees the revenues as a crucial source of funds to pay for research and development of renewable energy and to support low-income people who will be hurt by higher prices.

In fact, a cap-and-trade system with 100 percent auctioning of allowances is functionally not very different from a carbon tax. At a Carbon Forum plenary session on potential federal greenhouse gas regulation, representatives of some big corporations weighed in on the auctions debate and other issues.

Ralph Moran, West Coast Climate Change director for British Petroleum, said his company supports some amount of auctioning, but it will dramatically increase the cost of doing business. He warned there was no guarantee government would use the revenues from auctions wisely. Rich Rosenzwieg, Chief Operations Officer of Natsource, a carbon trading firm, continued the theme of mistrust in government. He said we should start small with auctions because "the public won't support giving government billions of dollars in revenue."

He said the revenue stream would end up in a "roach motel" where the money goes in but may not come back out to the taxpayer. Rosenzwieg also stressed the need for flexibility and said we should not expect to "solve the problem in ten years." Katharine Brass, director of General Electric's Ecomagination program, spoke about a looming gap in US electricity production due to the recent cancellation of many new coal-fired generators. That capacity was needed to meet projected demand, she said, and it will take ten years to bring on new coal plants with carbon capture and storage, even if we could start now.

But last month, the Bush administration canceled FutureGen, the only pilot program to develop the untested technology. California Lt. Gov. John Garamendi closed the conference with a stirring address. In an obvious reference to the Bush administration's refusal to allow California to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act, Garamendi detailed all of the ways in which global warming is now impacting and will impact California in the future.

While drought and warming are reducing mountain snow pack and drying up the Colorado River, sea level rise will soon push salt water into the Central Delta. "The end result: the California water system as we know it today -- terminated. Doesn't work. We are going to spend billions upon billions of dollars to redesign our water system," Garamendi said.

California is taking action, he said, and state legislation (AB32, The Global Warming Solutions Act) will enable California to establish a carbon cap-and-trade program in the next two or three years. His hope is the California program will drive the coming federal policy: "We are eleven months away from a new regime in Washington and when that happens we want them to follow the California lead and that means we are moving very rapidly forward on a whole set of policy issues."

Garamendi wants California to auction its emissions allowance permits to create a fund to deal with aspects of the problem not covered by markets, like energy research and development and environmental justice. He also supports bringing in transportation, which accounts for 40 percent of California's greenhouse gas emissions. He said there have been lots of discussions of how to do that, but his view is, "If anyone figures out a way to have a cap-and-trade system that rewards individuals, then we will have a big winner because everyone will want to make an extra buck."

Getting individuals to engage by coming up with the right incentives would be "an awesome system," Garamendi said. "If any of you know of anywhere in the world where such a system is being tried, please let us know here in California." If Garamendi's enthusiasm is any guide, the new carbon-based economy is coming very soon, at least to California, with the rest of the country following shortly.

Mette Peterson, one of the Carbon Forum organizers, said the conference attendance exceeded expectations with 1,400 participants. She said American businesses were there to learn about the market and get positioned for the future. It looks like the smart money is gearing up to hedge against climate change.

Improving Our Green Job Prospects

On the one hand we have a deepening economic recession, a mortgage and debt crisis, and rising unemployment. On the other hand is the growing energy and climate crisis, shadowed by the specters of peak oil and planetary meltdown. Rising prices for energy, food and health care are hitting the poor and middle class hard. We have ourselves in quite a mess.

No one has all the answers to these problems, but there is one answer that everyone with any sense embraces as a necessary first step toward a permanent solution: we must create green jobs in the renewable energy and energy efficiency industries. But despite that clear path forward, somehow the political will is not there yet and our prospects for a green jobs program in 2008 do not look very good.

When you've got as many complex problems as we do, you have to make sure that your solutions are multi-dimensional and address as many facets of the problems as possible. That is why the economic stimulus package passed on February 8 was such a lost opportunity. For a mere $5.5 billion on top of the $168 billion package that passed, Congress could have extended the about-to-expire tax credits for renewable energy and added some new home energy efficiency credits. These measures would have kept the renewable energy job engine roaring along and put some contractors to work right away installing better insulation and more efficient appliances in homes.

Failure to extend these tax credits threatens the momentum of the fast-growing renewable energy industry. The head of the American Wind Energy Association, Randall Swisher, said: "With 116,000 jobs and nearly $19 billion in investment at risk in the renewable energy industries, the minority of the Senate has again frustrated the desire of millions of Americans across the political spectrum who overwhelmingly support clean, homegrown energy."

Job creation is the only real answer to the recession, but all we got was a short-term handout that won't do much at all to stimulate the economy, and Americans know it. An AP poll found that most people think that the best way to help the economy would be to pull our military out of Iraq, freeing billions of taxpayer dollars to meet pressing needs at home.

Only 19 percent said they would go out and spend the money when those $300 to $1,200 rebate checks arrive in May, while 45 percent said they would use it to help pay their bills. Paying off the mortgage and the credit card means that ultimately the biggest beneficiaries will be banks and mortgage companies. Since the tax rebates will increase the federal deficit, the overall effect will be to trade personal debt for national debt. Even if this works as a short-term stimulus, far more is needed for the long term.

Far more is needed because this is not a "business as usual" recession. In an interview with financial reporters at Energy Tech Stocks, the "Dean of Wall Street energy analysts," Charles T. Maxwell, predicted that peak oil will arrive sometime in the next two to seven years. Oil will shoot up to the range of $300 a barrel, pushing pump prices to $15 a gallon. Maxwell said that unlike past recessions, "This will not be six months of hell and then we come out of it."

A growing chorus of oil industry insiders and even CEOs of major oil companies are beginning to publicly agree with this assessment. But most American politicians -- including the presidential candidates still in the running -- have so far failed to acknowledge the imminence of peak oil. Without that acknowledgment, green jobs are seen as a nice thing for people and polar bears, but not as what they truly are -- the only lifeline that can save a civilization about to founder on the rocks of peak oil.

Ignoring peak oil is a huge mistake.

Charles T. Maxwell is not optimistic about our green job prospects. Energy Tech Stocks characterized his thoughts this way:

Princeton and Oxford-educated Maxwell believes that if the Democrats are in power, their core constituencies -- farmers, workers and intellectuals -- will be ranged against one another, resulting in an impasse. If the Republicans are in power, he expects whatever 'solution' they come up with to be politically untenable because it will be premised on people with money continuing to consume as before, with the have-nots expected to do without.Maxwell's assessment of the Republicans is indisputable. The Bush-Cheney record speaks for itself, as does the John McCain record. McCain played a linchpin role in the two most recent Republican filibusters of renewable energy programs. He failed to show up and vote for the strong version of the energy bill in December when the Democrats had 59 votes for the bill and McCain's vote for renewable energy would have ended the filibuster. On February 6, McCain did it again -- went AWOL when the Democrats had 59 votes to add green jobs to the stimulus package. Not only that, but according to the Sierra Club, his office is lying about the vote, claiming that he voted for clean energy when he did not.

Sadly, Maxwell may also be right about the Democrats, at least for now. Between auto workers and oil patch Democrats, the party has a lot of complicated agendas to balance. They also have political points to score that may help with the fall elections. But given peak oil and the ever-worsening news about climate change, we can no longer afford politics as usual.

Right now the Democrats are putting America's renewable energy industry at risk by failing to move an extension of tax credits for the wind and solar industries. On February 13, in a sign that the situation is becoming critical, more than 350 leaders and CEOs in the renewable energy industry called on Congress to extend the tax credits by March 1, 2008. The group of leaders warned that without immediate passage of the extensions, Congress will jeopardize 42,000 megawatts of planned renewable energy projects currently in development in 45 states -- an amount equivalent to 75 new base load power stations.

House Democrats have told reporters that they intend to introduce a new package of renewable energy supports that would include the tax credit extensions. They would offset the cost by repealing about $17 billion in tax breaks for big oil. While it makes a lot of sense to repeal those tax breaks (Exxon earned record profits last year of $40.6 billion -- do they really need another couple of billion in tax breaks to keep them afloat?), it won't do anything to help the renewable energy industry.

Ending tax breaks for big oil is surefire filibuster-bait and veto-bait, as Democrats learned when they had to pull the package from the December energy bill in order to get the bill passed and signed into law. Solar energy lobbyist Scott Sklar said that renewable energy industry leaders are frustrated. He questioned the priorities of Democrats and said, "It is more important to have a vital clean energy industry than to deal with some of those sub rosa issues [ending tax breaks for big oil] that in the end you might not be able to change at this time."

Sklar said that while renewable industry leaders are "trying to be polite and not burn any bridges," his view is "you can't crow about climate change and you can't crow about economic development and you can't crow about us losing jobs to Europe and Japan in clean energy and fail to pass the tax incentives. It is absolutely unacceptable."

If Congress can raise the national debt by $168 billion for a short-term economic stimulus, why can't it indulge in a little deficit spending on something that might actually strengthen the economy for the long term?

Sklar wants the Democrats in Congress to move on a stand-alone bill without trying to offset the costs. What's needed, he says, is a bill that covers the entire clean energy industry, starting with tax credits for wind, biomass and solar.

"They also need to support the technologies they've left out of other bills," he says, "such as solar daylighting, combined heat and power, geo-exchange, small wind, and the water energy technologies, which are tidal, wave, free-flow hydro, ocean thermal and ocean currents. And get it done this quarter."

I asked Sklar if there was any hope of the Republicans going along with this policy. His answer was:

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Does Our Energy Future Hinge on Iran?

Last weekend, a Reuters report revealed that the US military has stepped up its logistics to move a large amount of additional fuel supplies into the Persian Gulf.

Correspondent Stefan Ambrogi reported: "A Gulf oil industry source said the charters suggested there would be high naval activity, possibly including a demonstration to Iran that the U.S. Navy will protect the Strait of Hormuz oil shipping route during tensions over Tehran's nuclear programme."

According to the report, the US Military Sealift Command appears to be moving at least double the ordinary volume of liquid fuels for aviation and shipping into the Gulf. Ambrogi says that, "In the past ... fuel movements have provided advance clues of U.S. intentions." The report was based on information that came from an anonymous oil industry insider.

As concerned citizens worry about our president [possibly] launching another war in the Middle East, we ask ourselves: how can it be that the only way for us to find out our government's intentions is to intercept a semaphore signal like this?

We don't even really know why we are involved in the current war in Iraq. First we were told it was to protect us from WMDs, then to bring democracy to the Middle East. Many suspect the real goal was to exert control over oil. This goal finally became explicit in Bush's speech of September 13 when he justified the occupation of Iraq to protect the "global energy supply" from "extremists."

Concerned citizens now need to help their fellow Americans answer a question that reaches beyond the moral and even the legal evaluation of the Bush-Cheney press to attack Iran.

Will military action against Iran work to secure oil for US interests?

In order to answer this question, it must be put into the context of peak oil. Peak oil is simply the moment in time when the rate of oil production stops growing. Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute reports world oil production has already dropped from 84.80 million barrels per day in 2006 to 84.62 million barrels per day during the first 10 months of 2007. Brown reports that the German Energy Watch Group is projecting that oil production will soon start to decline by seven percent a year and fall to 58 million barrels a day by 2020, barely more than half of what economists say the world will need twelve years from now.

The implications of peak oil for global security are profound. Lester Brown said: "When oil output is no longer expanding, no country can get more oil unless another gets less."

China is already feeling the pinch of oil shortages and has set up a monitoring system in parts of the country to give advance warning to try to get fuel where it is needed.

China's predicament brings up the question: Why are we sitting on Iraq's oil? In other words, what are US interests? Are we building giant permanent military bases in Iraq for the benefit of American SUV drivers? Or for the benefit of the US economy? But China is an intrinsic part of the US economy now, with its investment in our treasury. If we grab more oil at the expense of China, do we just hurt ourselves?

Michael Klare, author of the book "Blood and Oil," examines the logic of what's known as the "Washington consensus," the long-term commitment on the part of both Democrats and Republicans to use military force to secure Mideast oil supplies. Klare says, "Given this perspective, it is very hard for mainstream Democrats to challenge Bush when he says that an 'enduring' US military presence is needed in Iraq. ... By the same token, it will be hard for the Democrats to avert a US attack on Iran if this can be portrayed as a necessary move to prevent Tehran from threatening the long-term safety of Persian Gulf oil supplies."

The problem with this is that there is no evidence that Iran wants to disrupt oil supplies or invade any of its neighbors, including Iraq. And even if it did, as Jim Hightower said recently, "... all peace-seeking governments must be vigilant toward Iran's potential for belligerence. This requires steady engagement, smart diplomacy, military subtlety, and careful consideration of the complexities embodied within Iran's rich, proud, 6,000-year-old culture."

The Bush-Cheney shell game that is developing uses Iraq to justify attacking Iran and uses Iran to justify the continuing occupation of Iraq. But ultimately to what end?

As Michael Klare pointed out, no oil company will invest billions of dollars in oil production infrastructure without a stable and secure investment climate. And after nearly five years of US occupation, Iraq is no closer to having such a stable climate.

The global oil supply is starting to run out, and in response the Bush-Cheney bubba boys are running tanker loads of precious fuel into the Gulf to fuel a saber-rattling operation or worse. War, whether hot or cold, will never achieve the objective of securing oil supplies for US interests, but it might serve to obscure what is really going on.

Imagine what will happen when gas prices shoot up to $5 or $6 a gallon in the US. Now imagine how happy Dick Cheney will be if he can find an excuse to attack Iran, and Iran retaliates by disrupting the flow of oil through the Straits of Hormuz. Oil shortages will be blamed on Iran, and peak oil as an issue will fall off the table.

A much better strategy for the US and the rest of the world would be to act on Lester Brown's suggestion of an immediate emergency meeting of the G-8 to coordinate decisive action to reduce oil use. Such a meeting could also begin a diplomatic process such as the UN process on climate change to decide how to rationally apportion what remains of the world's oil.

In a sensible world where the grownups were in charge, governments would come up with a plan to use the last of the oil to help all nations build up their renewable energy infrastructure. We cannot afford to waste another drop of oil, either on useless consumer garbage or on war.

Hillary Clinton, Barack Obama, John Edwards -- I hope you get this message.

Giving Thanks For Oil and OPEC

When you sit down for your Thanksgiving meal this week, don't forget to thank the oil. No, not the extra extra virgin olive oil or the polyunsaturated high omega 3 vegetable oil, but the crude -- the dead dino, fossilized pond scum, ancient sunlight, rock oil -- aka, petroleum.

Remember as you give thanks for the bountiful Earth, that back of the bread lies the oil. We should acknowledge that our food production system and every other aspect of our lives are utterly dependent on fossil fuels. We should also remember that before World War II, this was not the case. We may even have relatives who remember those days. We should take a look at the children sitting around the table. They will not live in a world of cheap, abundant oil. Give thanks for that too.

Why should we give thanks that the future holds no cheap oil? There are several reasons, but the first is that cheap oil has fueled a 50-year-long party in the industrialized West that has left us with an unsustainable economy that is wrecking the planet. The recent awareness of global warming is beginning to put a damper on our out-of-control binge, but not fast enough to slow the heating of the planet. Rising oil prices will force a cutback in consumption. Rising oil prices will also chill the fantasy of endless growth and force us to confront the reality of planetary limits.

For several years now, "voices from the wilderness" have been gathering with louder volume to warn about the coming peak in world oil production. In 2005, petroleum geologist Kenneth Deffeyes predicted that the world output of crude oil would peak on Thanksgiving Day 2005, but he and other petroleum industry "outsiders" have been dismissed as "fringe" elements.

Not any longer. Over the past month, a number of oil industry insiders have made statements confirming that the annual growth in oil production has stopped. On Monday, November 19, The Wall Street Journal ran a front page story titled "Oil Officials See Limit Looming on Production." While the article emphasized opinions that tied flat oil-production curves to what they call "above ground" limits having to do with available drilling rigs, security concerns and the like, there is plenty of evidence that the underlying geology of oil is imposing absolute limits on the amount that can be produced.

Some oil industry executives seem to concur. The article quoted ConocoPhillips CEO James Mulva on the likelihood of meeting the projected demand of 120 million barrels a day by 2030: "I don't think we are going to see the supply going over 100 million barrels a day. Where is all that going to come from?" In a Business Week article, Mulva said that his company was considering diversifying into renewable energy. "We may not be able to do in the next 100 years what we did in the past 100 years," Mulva said. "So we have to ask ourselves how we can transform from just an oil and gas company into an energy company."

Meanwhile, sustainability analyst Lester Brown released an update last week titled, "Is World Oil Production Peaking?" Brown ran through the figures: "After climbing from 82.90 million barrels per day (mb/d) in 2004 to 84.15 mb/d in 2005, output only increased to 84.80 mb/d in 2006 and then declined to 84.62 mb/d during the first 10 months of 2007." Absent a big production increase from OPEC, the numbers indicate that the peak in world oil production may have already occurred in 2006, not far off from Kenneth Deffeye's prediction.

OPEC met last weekend in a summit -- only the third summit involving heads of state since the group was founded in 1960. U.S. Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman called on OPEC to raise production to alleviate high oil prices, but OPEC Secretary General Abdalla Salem el-Badri's response was, " ... frankly we don't see that we should add more oil."

Lester Brown says that despite claims from Saudi Arabia that they can produce more oil, Saudi output so far this year is down six percent from last year. Many analysts are now saying that OPEC can no longer increase production enough to bring oil prices down. All they can do is make prices go up by further constricting supply.

Besides throwing cold water on the idea of production increases, OPEC leaders also broached the subject of dropping the US dollar as the default currency for oil payments. And Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez proposed that OPEC should become more strategic in using its oil to benefit the world's poor.

King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia disagreed with Chavez, saying, "Oil is an energy for building and prosperity, it shouldn't become a means of conflict." The Saudis would limit the mission of OPEC to providing oil at a stable price to benefit global economic growth. Apart from the troubled times in 1973-74 when Arab states embargoed oil exports to protest America's support for Israel, OPEC has pretty much done what it was asked to by the United States. We should thank OPEC for doing its part to fuel the massive economic expansion of the past 30 years.

But OPEC's founding ideals were not about servicing global capitalism; they were about protecting the interests of third world countries from former colonial powers. One of the founders of OPEC was the Venezuelan economist Perez Alfonzo. Alfonzo believed that Venezuela's oil was a national asset that should be used for the good of the people. He lived modestly himself, walking wherever he could. Toward the end of his life, he wrote, "I am an ecologist first of all. I have always been an ecologist first of all ... . I feel OPEC is a good instrument of the Third World. It has just not been used properly."

Imagine how world economic development might have proceeded if OPEC had done more to ensure that oil was used for third world development and the alleviation of poverty. Instead, we saw phenomena like the oil glut of the 1990's that fueled the fad of giant SUVs. We got Hummers when we could have had hospitals, schools and help for the world's poor.

Now our eyes are being opened. Cheap oil is not infinite. It is not an American birthright. Now we can begin to cope with the consequences. It won't be easy, but it will be real.

Lester Brown reports that the German Energy Watch Group is projecting that oil production will now decline by seven percent a year and fall to 58 million barrels a day by 2020. Brown points out that the United States is more vulnerable to an oil production decline than some other countries: "For example, the United States -- which has long neglected public transportation -- is particularly vulnerable because 88 percent of the US workforce travels to work by car."

Brown, who founded the World Watch Institute in 1974, is like Perez Alfonzo. He has long urged a different path for economic development. To cope with what he calls "a seismic event, marking one of the great fault lines in world economic history," he proposes calling an emergency meeting of the G-8 to coordinate decisive action to reduce oil use. He says, "If governments fail to act quickly and decisively to reduce oil use, oil prices could soar as demand outruns supply, leading to a global recession or -- in a worst-case scenario -- a 1930s-type global depression."

It seems like we might have a choice then: either back to the 70's with gas rationing, speed limits and lowered thermostats, or back to the 30's.

We should be thankful that we have a choice. It may not be the choice we want, but it's the choice we have.

Unfortunately, there are still plenty of voices trying to downplay this message of oil depletion and lull us back to sleep. Last week, NPR did a series of special reports on high oil prices. Smooth tones and heavily modulated language made the listener feel that the troubles were a just a temporary speed bump, certainly no "seismic shift."

The stories seemed to evoke every reason for high prices but a geological limit on supply, from the falling value of the dollar, to Iran, to "excessive demand" from China and India. Listeners were reassured that the high prices would stimulate more production and that prices would eventually fall again. The current high prices were described as "an 'oil bubble,' one that will pop, sooner or later." The unstated message was: "Don't wake up! At least not until after Black Friday, the biggest shopping day of the year! Please give us one more great retail season so the American consumer can continue to fill his/her divinely sanctioned role as the driver of the world economy!

The US Congress has yet to pass an energy bill that would begin to shift investment from the fossil fuel economy to one based on conservation, efficiency and renewable energy. Groups like the American Enterprise Institute, the National Association of Manufacturers, the US Chamber of Commerce and big utilities like Southern Company are lobbying to prevent investment in renewable energy. The American Petroleum Institute even commissioned a study to prove that the renewable energy provisions would cause energy prices to rise.

Democratic Congressional leaders have promised us an energy bill by Christmas. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says it could be "a nice Christmas present for the American people." But this bill is in danger. Only one thing can ensure a strong energy bill.

Over this Thanksgiving recess, members of Congress must hear from multitudes of clear-headed people who understand that oil production has peaked, that energy prices are going to rise no matter what we do, and that the best choice for the future is to invest the resources we have left in a new renewable energy infrastructure.

That would be something to be truly thankful for.

Democratic Leaders Poised to Sabotage Hope for Renewable Energy

Last Thursday, Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid said that they would jettison the renewable energy provisions in both the House and Senate versions of the 2007 energy bill in the interest of passing a bill before the Thanksgiving recess begins on November 17.

Republicans have been holding up action on the bill for months now, refusing to participate in conference committee meetings to reconcile the House and Senate versions. The big sticking points for Republicans have been support for renewable energy and ending billions of dollars in subsidies for oil companies. Democrats would like to use the oil subsidy money to support solar and wind power.

Representatives of the renewable energy industry were dismayed by the Democrats' abandonment. "This is basically Congress delivering an early Christmas present to the American public -- and it's a lump of coal," said Rhone Resch, president of the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA). "We are feeling disgusted because this energy bill goes right back to maintaining the status quo."

The renewable energy provisions in the bill come in two forms: a Renewable Electricity Standard that requires utilities to supply 15 percent of their electricity from renewable sources like solar and wind, and tax provisions, including a production tax credit for wind power and a tax credit to encourage investment in solar power equipment.

While the Renewable Electricity Standard would be a new federal program (31 states already have some kind of renewable mandate), the tax incentives for solar and wind would continue programs already in place. Losing these tax breaks would be devastating to the renewable energy industry, said solar lobbyist Scott Sklar of the Stella Group: "It will cause sales and investment to implode."

By giving up on renewable energy, lawmakers are losing an opportunity to increase energy security and strengthen the economy. Last week the American Solar Energy Society released a report on the economic benefits of investment in renewable energy, finding that major investments in renewables and energy efficiency retrofits could produce 40 million jobs and generate $4.5 trillion in US revenue by 2030.

The latest turn in the energy bill would actually force the country a few steps backward. Scott Sklar said that unlike in past years, there is little chance that the renewable tax incentives will be attached to another bill for passage this year.

If those tax incentives are lost, Americans will feel the pain quickly. Randall Swisher, head of the American Wind Energy Association said that the rapid growth of the American wind industry would go into a stall. "Getting into 2008, we will start to see uncertainty creep in in terms of getting projects financed and, even more importantly, attracting manufacturers to this country, bringing with them the jobs that are a critical part of what this industry can deliver for the future of this country," said Swisher.

The Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) was one of the provisions that passed only in the House version of the energy bill. Some Republicans, along with President Bush, have strongly opposed the mandate. Senator Domenici, ranking member of the Senate energy committee, cited complaints from utilities in the Southeast that they lacked renewable resources required to meet a 15 percent standard, but renewable energy experts say it won't be that challenging.

Domenici and some other Republicans want to keep the current state-by-state approach. They say it makes the most of regional differences in renewable resources. Scott Sklar warns that a strictly regional approach would shrink the potential of renewable energy.

"If the goal is to build a national, sustainable set of clean energy industries, the entire US market needs to be included," Sklar said. "Blending tax credits, an RES and national interconnection standards is the core government tool box to accelerate and enhance these technologies and build these industries. With energy imports increasing, prices increasing, climate change emissions increasing, our electric infrastructure aging, now is not the time to balkanize energy efficiency and production, but [to] set goals and nurture new technologies and new markets."

Republican maneuvers to kill the energy bill also came to light last week when Senator Domenici introduced a pair of amendments to the farm bill now being debated in the Senate. Domenici wants to migrate two of his favored energy provisions -- the ethanol mandate and $50 billion in nuclear power loan guarantees -- into the more viable farm bill. The loan guarantee title is called "loan guarantees for renewable fuel facilities," and never mentions nuclear power specifically. Dave Roberts, a writer at the green magazine Grist, called the move "sneaky."

With agribusiness lobbying hard for it, transferring the ethanol mandate to the farm bill would weaken bipartisan support for the energy bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters last week that the language should stay in the energy bill and that Democrats were going to "do an energy package separate from the farm bill."

With the Democratic leadership willing to sacrifice renewable energy provisions to pass an energy bill, what will be left? One controversial provision that may make it to the final bill is a watered-down version of the Senate's auto fuel efficiency standard. This provision has a lot going for it politically.

First, it has the support of President Bush and many Republicans. In an October 15 letter to Speaker Pelosi, Bush outlined a framework for an energy bill that would get his support. It would not include a Renewable Electricity Standard, but it would "reform and strengthen the fuel economy standard for cars."

In the letter, Bush then goes on to spell out the loopholes he wants inserted into a fuel economy standard. There must be separate standards for cars and light trucks (no holding SUVs to high standards) and there must be a cost-benefit analysis safety valve.

Fuel economy for cars is also polling very well. A bipartisan poll conducted last week found that voters connect better fuel efficiency with national security. Pollster Mark Mellman said: "The overwhelming support for CAFE standards cuts across all the traditional demographics in this country." Overall, 86 percent of voters said they support requiring automakers to increase fuel economy -- 90 percent of Democrats, 83 percent of independents and 83 percent of Republicans. Only health care costs and the Iraq war show similar levels of concern at 79 percent and 72 percent respectively.

Passing a weak fuel economy standard may let both the parties say they have done something about energy security, but it won't do much to build a renewable energy economy for the future.

But some Democrats are still willing to fight for the renewable energy provisions. Colorado Congressman Mark Udall said that he will meet with Speaker Pelosi this Wednesday about the energy bill.

Judith Kohler, writing for The Associated Press, reports that Udall believes support for renewable energy is a more important priority for the energy bill than increasing the CAFE standard. He is also meeting with senators to share his experiences with Colorado's successful Renewable Electricity Standard and to reassure senators from Southern states that energy experts believe they will be able to meet a Renewable Electricity Standard.

Udall is co-chair of the Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency Caucus in the House. Referring to his work on the House version of the energy bill that passed last August, he said, "Those of us who fought really hard in August are not going to rest until the final decision is made."

Bioneers to the Rescue

The annual Bioneers conference has a reputation for creative and deep thinking about sustainability and the environment, but during all my years as an environmental activist, I never managed to attend. On October 19-21, I finally made it to the conference in San Rafael, California. It was an opportunity to feel the pulse of the environmental movement today and reflect on how it has grown and changed since Bioneers began in 1990, the same year that I became a full-time environmental activist.

In 1990, I was working as a signature-gathering coordinator for a California forestry initiative that would have ended clear-cutting in California forests. I organized volunteers to hit the streets with petitions throughout the East Bay, and not just the street corners in Berkeley where signatures were as easy to gather as apples on the ground. Looking toward the election in the fall, I recruited the two housewives in working-class Freemont who would staff a table at the mall on Saturday, and the lone environmentalist in conservative Concord. But one day, at my table in Oakland, I was approached by an elderly black man with anger in his eyes.

"What are you doing, worrying about trees," he said, "when black people are still dying on the streets." The civil rights movement wasn't finished, he told me, and he couldn't understand why liberal whites had given up and turned their attention to frivolous things like trees. I had no idea how to respond, but later, a middle-aged black woman came by my table and told me how important it was to save forests. She shared her memories of her Louisiana home and the forests she had known there. A few weeks later, on Earth Day, we were invited to bring our petition to a church in the refinery town of Richmond, where the Rev. Jesse Jackson would speak.

Jackson's beautiful sermon wove together concern for the Earth, civil rights and justice. Afterwards, young black children came up to my table, where I had a picture of the redwoods, and asked me where that was. "Is that in Africa? Are there monkeys? Can I go there?" These children had never seen a redwood, even though the nearest grove stood barely a dozen miles away, just over the bridge, in Marin County. I wanted to do something about that, but I never did.

At the Bioneers conference, I heard from courageous people who have moved mountains to make the connection between environmentalism and civil rights. Van Jones, of the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, is spearheading what he calls "social uplift" environmentalism. His Green for All campaign promotes training of inner city workers for green collar environmental jobs. One program, based in that same low-income town wedged in around giant petroleum refinery tanks where I saw Jesse Jackson speak 17 years ago, is called Solar Richmond. Solar Richmond just graduated its first class of underprivileged youth trained to be solar electric installers.

Van Jones wants to connect "the people who most need saving with the jobs that most need doing." But when he testified about green jobs before Congress recently, he was told that because it can cost up to $10,000 to get an inner city youth "job ready," his ideas were not cost effective. Van Jones wants us to think about how much it costs to deal with the social disruption of unemployment that leads to violence, drugs and prison. Green jobs are the future, he says, and we can't afford to leave anyone behind. We can no longer accept "throwaway" species like the polar bear, "throwaway" people like poor blacks, Latinos and Native Americans, or "throwaway" communities like Richmond, California.

Speaker Majora Carter grew up in the South Bronx, another "throwaway" community. She described the difficulties of growing up in a community abandoned to garbage dumps, prisons and asphalt. But she did not abandon her community. She started Sustainable South Bronx, and has raised $30,000,000 to build the South Bronx Greenway and other green projects in her neighborhood. "My folks are from down South," she said; "they always used to talk about the crick -- that means the creek -- and how nice it was. That connection to nature is our birthright, but we have less access to green spaces than any other part of the city."

Carter is fighting plans for another prison in her neighborhood. She wonders why government can't invest in green jobs instead: "Why are we still building monuments to our failure when we could be building monuments to hope and possibility?"

While these two speakers were highlights, Bioneers had much more to offer. The Council of Thirteen Indigenous Grandmothers was present, along with many other indigenous speakers. And there were women. Alice Walker, Eve Ensler and Joanna Macy were high on my list of admired women. This was one of the few conferences I have attended where I did not leave thinking that women didn't get equal time at the podium. To the contrary, there was a strong acknowledgement everywhere that a revival of the feminine principle in politics and life is essential for building a new culture that can live with the earth without destroying it.

Bioneers makes connections between culture and environment. It also encourages a new approach to technology, using a concept called "biomimicry." Biomimicry is technical innovation inspired by nature's designs. One example is new tough materials that are created with a low-temperature process inspired by abalone shell. Another is identifying new medicines by observing what plants a sick chimp or monkey chooses to eat from the forest. Still another example of biomimicry is designing gardens that mimic natural ecosystems for improved productivity in a small space.

Inventor Jay Harman presented a family of designs for fans and impellers based on the natural spirals found in seashells and blossoms. My favorite was a mixer for giant municipal water tanks. When water is stored for long periods, it can stagnate and become unhealthy. Harman's mixer is tiny, barely bigger than my fist. Turning in the middle of the tank, nothing much happens at first, but over time it sets up a natural vortex in the tank that keeps the water circulating and fresh. Harman said even if you stop the mixer, the vortex will keep on spinning for days.

While ideas and inspiration abounded at Bioneers, the gathering could have used more attention to grassroots activism. I was disappointed that there was no visible information about the energy bill that Democrats are getting ready to bring to a vote. Both House and Senate versions have money designated for green job-training programs that could begin to move the Green for All vision to reality. Right now is a critical moment for this bill as Republicans are maneuvering hard to hold up a conference committee and block the bill. There should have been letter-writing tables scattered throughout the venue.

Another disconcerting fact about Bioneers is the cost of attending. While there were many scholarships for youth and some for activists, the $300 to $400 cost for registration and meals is too much for most working class people. Fortunately, you can hear many former Bioneers speakers at the network of Green Festivals that are staged in several major cities. A three-day pass to the San Francisco Green Festival on November 9-11 is only $25.

Still, it was a treat to hear all of the dedicated and inspirational eco-pioneers who shared the podium at Bioneers 2007. The final plenary was most outstanding. Burmese activist Ka Hsaw Wa, founder of EarthRights International, told the story of his tribal people tortured and abused by the military in the service of a US oil company, Unocal, which was building a gas pipeline through their territory. EarthRights International became the first group to successfully sue a US corporation for human rights abuses committed abroad. Today they are asking for public pressure on Chevron, Unocal's parent company, to use its influence with the Burmese junta to stop the violence in that country.

Ka Hsaw Wa called for a new view of globalization where "there is no 'mine' in this house." He said: "We know the companies and their military partners have lots of money, guns, power and influence. But they do not have what we have. We have truth, we have justice, we have courage, and most importantly, we have each other to protect this house where there is no 'mine.' We will win."

As I left this final, emotionally stirring session of the Bioneers conference, I found myself in a line for the women's room where a young woman grabbed my arm and said, "Can you believe all the love that is here?" She had tears in her eyes and a smile on her face. Her name was TBird Luv (she has a website, search it out) and she is an artist. "It's the oneness that I feel here, Mother Earth telling us we are all one."

I asked TBird Luv why she came to Bioneers and she told me that she had spent years working on her art and her spirituality but it was now time to "come out and do something for the earth." As a child of many races -- African, European and Native American -- she told me that she could feel the oneness integrating in her own body.

As the planetary environmental crisis grows more threatening and impacts more people, the environmental movement will continue to evolve. The idea that we are all one people on a small planet has, like Jay Harman's water tank mixer, been stirring the heart of humanity for some time. This, more than any particular technical innovation, is what will solve our ecological crisis.

If we feel a quickening now of this idea of oneness, it is no surprise. Perhaps, before we know it, individuals, families, companies, states and nations will align in a galaxy of highly functional networks and spin us into a green future.

One can always hope.

Global Warming Challenges Environmental Law

On April 2, 2007 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of the State of Massachusetts in the landmark global warming case, Massachusetts v. EPA. Environmentalists were pleased that the high court ruled on the merits of the case, agreeing that carbon dioxide meets the definition of a pollutant and that the EPA has run out of excuses for not regulating it.

But some legal scholars were even more gratified by another aspect of the case, the court's ruling on the right of the plaintiffs to sue, known as their "standing." Michael C. Dorf, a law professor at Columbia University, said that "the most important practical effect of Massachusetts v. EPA may be what it does to standing doctrine. And on that point, the decision marks a welcome turn away from recent precedents that imposed gratuitous obstacles to courts' reaching decisions on the merits."

On the other side, Case Western Reserve law professor Jonathan H. Adler decried the court's admission of standing, saying that "Justice Stevens almost certainly lowered the standing bar for future environmental litigants." Adler had participated in amicus briefs submitted in the case by the Cato Institute.

Prior to the court's ruling, many analysts speculated that it would dismiss the case based on the standing issue. The court could have ruled that the coalition of states and environmental groups lacked standing to bring the case to court because they could not show a concrete and imminent harm that was redressable through the courts. The minority, consisting of Justices Roberts, Scalia, Alito and Thomas, would have denied standing to the plaintiffs based on these tests.

The tests for standing have been tightened considerably since the 1970s, and justices who take a narrow view of standing have kept countless environmental and civil rights cases out of the courts, denying petitioners the right to be heard on the merits of their cases. Lily Henning, in an article in Legal Times, explains that an extreme narrow view of standing has become a constitutional litmus test for conservatives and that "the philosophy grew in popularity -- both in the courts and among government lawyers -- during the Reagan administration."

The Reagan administration is where Chief Justice Roberts cut his teeth. In one of his early memos, Roberts said: "It will be our policy to raise standing and other justiciability challenges to the fullest extent possible." During Roberts's confirmation process as Supreme Court chief justice, a letter from environmental groups to the Senate Judiciary Committee pointed out that Roberts's statement was sweeping and unqualified and "it was not limited to cases in which the Justice Department believed there was no standing or even to cases where there was a serious question."

Raising the bar on standing in order to deny citizen access to the courts whenever possible became a key plank in the quest for the "unitary executive" espoused by the Federalist Society and other neocon groups. These groups promoted the notion that all of the executive powers of the government must be consolidated and tightly controlled by the president. From this perspective, citizen lawsuits to enforce government regulations amount to "stealing power" from the executive branch and they should be thrown out of court whenever possible.

Commenting on the nomination of Justice Alito to the Supreme Court last year, Robert Parry of Consortium News said:

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