Mr. Blow is off today. Mr. Nocera has found a new fossil fuel project to squeal with delight over. In “A Real Carbon Solution” he breathlessly tells us that a lot is riding on the Texas Clean Energy Project. Its technology could be a climate-saver. Yep, he’d rather see coal gasification and the Keystone pipeline than a real push for clean energy… In “The Dread That Is Ted” Ms. Collins says that after Senator Ted Cruz gave an extensive lecture to Senator Dianne Feinstein this week, I think we have a candidate for the senator who could patronize a doorknob. Here’s Mr. Nocera:
Sometime this summer, in Odessa, Tex., the Summit Power Group plans to break ground on a $2.5 billion coal gasification power plant. Summit has named this the Texas Clean Energy Project. With good reason.
Part of the promise of this power plant is its use of gasified coal; because the gasification process doesn’t burn the coal, it makes for far cleaner energy than a traditional coal-fired plant.
But another reason this plant — and a handful of similar plants — has such enormous potential is that it will capture some 90 percent of the facility’s already reduced carbon emissions. Some of those carbon emissions will be used to make fertilizer. The rest will be sold to the oil industry, which will push it into the ground, as part of a process called enhanced oil recovery.
Let us count the potential benefits if plants like this became commonplace. Currently, some 40 percent of carbon emissions come from power plants. The carbon-capture process Summit will employ “is the only technology that can reduce CO2 emissions from existing, stationary sources by up to 90 percent,” said Judi Greenwald of the Center for Climate and Energy Solutions. To put it another way, this technology could be a climate-saver.
Second: Environmentalists could call off their war against the coal industry, thus saving tens of thousands of jobs, as climate-destroying coal-fired plants were replaced by clean coal gasification plants. Third: Gas-fired power plants, which already emit 50 percent less carbon than coal-fired plants, could become even cleaner if they included the carbon-capture technology. Fourth: Using carbon emissions to recover previously ungettable oil has the potential to unlock vast untapped American reserves. Last year, ExxonMobil reported that enhanced oil recovery would allow it to extend the life of a single oil field in West Texas by 20 years.
Fifth: China. Too often, American environmentalists ignore the reality that the Chinese are far more concerned with economic growth than climate change. (And who can blame them? All they want is what we already have.) The Chinese are relentlessly building coal-fired power plants, which Western environmentalists couldn’t stop even if they tried. But if power plants like Summit’s — which will turn CO2 into profitable products — were to gain momentum, that would likely catch China’s attention. A reduction of carbon emissions from Chinese power plants would do far more to help reverse climate change than — dare I say it? — blocking the Keystone XL oil pipeline.
The Summit executive most closely associated with the Texas Clean Energy Project is Laura Miller. Her environmental credentials are unimpeachable. As the mayor of Dallas in 2006, Miller founded the Texas Clean Air Cities Coalition to fight a plan by TXU Energy, a big power company, to build 11 new coal-fired plants. During a trip to Europe, she saw both coal gasification and carbon-capture technologies being used. When she left the mayor’s office, she signed up with Summit and became a passionate advocate of the Odessa plant. Eric Redman, the president and chief executive of Summit Power, describes her as “the public face of the project.” (As a young man, by the way, Redman wrote one of the classic works about Congress, “The Dance of Legislation.” It’s still worth reading.)
So who could possibly be against coal gasification and carbon capture? Ratepayers, for one, mainly because carbon-capture technology is so expensive. In 2011, American Electric Power, or A.E.P., canceled a big carbon-capture project, in part because it was clear that state regulators were not going to allow the company to pass on the additional costs to its customers.
To help make the project economically viable, the Texas Clean Energy Project is getting a $450 million grant from the Department of Energy. (Absurdly, the Internal Revenue Service is requiring Summit to pay taxes on the federal grant, which means that a third of it will go right back to the government.) But if the plant proves successful — as I believe it will — and others replicate it, the costs will inevitably come down, and federal help won’t likely be needed.
And the other opponent? None other than Bill McKibben, Mr. “Stop Keystone” himself. When I e-mailed him to ask whether he supported carbon-capture for enhanced oil recovery, he replied that if carbon were sent back into the ground “the worst possible thing to do with it is to get more oil above ground.” He continued, “It’s time to keep oil in the earth, not to mention gas and coal.”
To me, at least, his answer suggests that his crusade has blinded him to the real problem. The enemy is not fossil fuels; it is the damage that is done because of the way we use fossil fuels. If we can find a way to create clean energy from fossil fuels, then they can become (as they used to say) part of the solution instead of part of the problem.
Thankfully, Laura Miller and Eric Redman understand that, even if Bill McKibben doesn’t.
Now here’s Ms. Collins:
It is possible that the high point of this week in Washington came when Senator Dianne Feinstein told Senator Ted Cruz to stop treating her as if she were in middle school.
Let me set the stage. First, pretend you’re Feinstein. You started your political career in San Francisco. While you were on the Board of Supervisors in 1978, your colleague Harvey Milk and Mayor George Moscone were assassinated in City Hall. You were the one who discovered Milk’s body.
You arrived in the Senate with an understandable interest in gun violence. The ban on assault weapons you successfully sponsored has long since expired. You’ve been working on a new one for almost a decade, and, after the Sandy Hook slaughter, it looked for a minute as if there might be a chance.
But, as the immediate impact of the tragedy faded, the assault weapons ban lost traction. This had nothing whatsoever to do with the power of the opponents’ arguments, which seem to get weaker by the day. The big pitch of the anti-ban lawmakers is that people need assault weapons for self-defense. But there’s a distinct shortage of examples of when they’ve worked better than a normal rifle or pistol.
During a meeting of the Judiciary Committee on Thursday, Senator John Cornyn of Texas tried to shore up the pro-gun side by offering nine “news stories of people defending themselves with assault weapons” for the record. The list spanned 17 years and included things like “tenant shoots intruder on porch.” If this is the best the ban opponents have to offer, Feinstein’s bill should be passed by unanimous consent.
The other argument, which does not require examples, is that the founding fathers wanted Americans in the 21st century to be able to stock up on guns that can fire 45 rounds a minute.
Enter Ted Cruz of Texas, a Tea Party darling. He’s been in office only a few months, but he’s made quite an impression. You may remember his suggestion that Chuck Hagel might have been taking money from North Korea. Or his interesting theories about a United Nations plot to exterminate American golf courses.
Cruz said he had a question for the senator from California. “It seems to me that all of us should begin, as our foundational document, with the Constitution,” he began, in a tone that combined sublime pomposity with a total lack of actual curiosity. “And the Second Amendment in the Bill of Rights provides that. …”
He delivered an extensive lecture to the 79-year-old Feinstein. The question buried in the harangue was whether she could imagine listing exceptions to other parts of the Bill of Rights. He could not have asked it in a more patronizing way if he had illustrated his remarks with pictures of large, brightly colored stick figures.
“I’m not a sixth grader,” said Feinstein, before launching into a fiery defense. The bill, she noted, includes a list of 2,271 types of weapons specifically exempted from its scope: “Isn’t that enough for the people in the United States? Do they need a bazooka?”
“She gave a new meaning to the phrase ‘Leaning In,’ ” said her fellow committee member Senator Amy Klobuchar.
Later, Feinstein would tell CNN that she felt Cruz was being “somewhat arrogant,” which seemed like an understatement. Even in an age of political polarization, there apparently is still an unwritten rule against calling someone “a stupendously irritating twit” on national TV.
In committee, Cruz sat sullenly while Feinstein gave her response. “I would note that she chose not to answer the question that I asked,” he said when she finished.
Other Democratic senators jumped in and pointed out some of the ways that other parts of the Bill of Rights were, indeed, limited by exceptions. Interestingly, none of the Republicans came to Cruz’s support. Do you think they ever take a vote for Colleague We’d Most Like to Avoid Meeting in the Elevator? I think we have a candidate.
Then Cruz announced he wanted to “make four points briefly. …” It’s highly unlikely that a single person in the room wanted four points. And they were not in the least brief. But they were remarkable for their incessant self-reference.
“My fourth and final point is that the Constitution, in my opinion, should be the touchstone of everything we do. …”
“I would point out that I am not unfamiliar with the Heller case. Indeed, I represented …”
“In my view, the Constitution is particularly important. …”
Do you think, people, that this is a key to the stupendous impact the Tea Party continues to have on Congress, even now that it’s proved itself to be a loser when it comes to elections? If you combine a lack of a sense of humor with an absence of humility and then stir in a cup of self-righteousness, you are definitely not working on a recipe for cooperative achievement.