In November, the Obama administration decided to delay a decision on whether to approve the Keystone XL pipeline to bring tar sands from Canada to the United States. But in December, Republicans attached a provision to a tax bill, which President Obama signed, that urges the administration to decide on the pipeline within 60 days, by Feb. 21. This will probably lead to cancellation of the project, sources in the administration told the New York Times.
If the pipeline is approved, some environmental groups say they'll sue -- but if it is cancelled, the company proposing the pipeline, TransCanada, will probably reapply.
Meanwhile, Jack Gerard, the President of the American Petroleum Institute (API), said if President Obama does not approve the pipeline, there will be "huge political consequences" -- which many took as a strong threat. The API also launched a major advertising campaign to push for the pipeline and other oil and gas projects, aiming to make energy a bigger issue in the upcoming elections.
Mike Klink, an engineer who inspected another TransCanada pipeline carrying tar sands, alleged he was fired for blowing the whistle about substandard materials and poor craftsmanship. In an opinion piece published in a Nebraska newspaper, Klink said he is not against pipelines, but "we just should not build this one."
End of Ethanol Subsidies
Two key subsidies for ethanol fuel -- a tax credit for domestic ethanol and a tariff on imports -- came to an end at the close of 2011 after a three-decade, $20 billion run, a casualty of budget woes and an unusual alliance of fiscal conservatives and liberal environmentalists.
Ethanol subsidies did not turn out to be a major issue in Iowa's Republican primaries.
The Renewable Fuels Association, a major biofuels industry group, did not fight the end of the ethanol tax credit -- but urged Congress to extend the tax credit for cellulosic ethanol, which is due to expire at the end of 2012.
In late December, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) amended the Renewable Fuels Standard to require far less cellulosic ethanol, which can be made from switchgrass or trees. The EPA slashed the requirement by 2012 from 250 million gallons a year to under nine million gallons a year. So far the U.S. has no commercial-scale cellulosic ethanol production.
Methane Time Bomb Defused
Methane -- a powerful greenhouse gas -- is bubbling up from the shallow waters off the coast of Siberia, which has triggered big worries among some researchers.
But in-depth reports argued that a "methane time bomb" is unlikely. Fossil fuels are likely to remain the main source of warming, with methane a smaller but still very significant feedback that would be a chronic problem, and make it far harder to meet targets for limiting warming. Climate scientist David Archer argued the effect of methane releases would play out over centuries or millennia, and would not be a huge contributor in the next 100 years.
With Arctic ice melting, new shipping lanes are opening in the Arctic, which could provide a small silver lining, since ships may be able to cut the distance they have to travel between some ports. However, warming from methane will likely outweigh any decrease in warming from shipping emissions.
Anti-Pollution Rule Delayed
An Obama administration power plant regulation aimed at lowering pollution that crosses state borders has been put on hold by a Federal Court's ruling while litigation by a dozen utilities is active. The regulation could have an effect on global warming in a couple of ways -- it targets sulfur dioxides, which have a short-term cooling effect, and may force the closure of older coal-fired power plants.
The Climate Post offers a rundown of the week in climate and energy news. It is produced each Thursday by Duke University's Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions.