A conciliatory Rick Perry cruised through a half-day Senate confirmation hearing today for secretary of the Department of Energy before a Senate committee in a performance that was long on warm words and vague promises and short on tough questions from a low-energy Democratic contingent.
Even before the hearing before the Energy and Natural Resources Committee ended in the early afternoon, Democrats rushed out a press release claiming the former Texas governor had promised to protect jobs tied to science and innovation - including climate science - at the department.
While Perry said he has "extraordinary respect" for DOE scientific staff, he repeatedly hedged on the specifics of what exactly would be protected under questioning about a leaked Trump plan to eliminate several units at the agency considered technology incubators, such as the Office of Fossil Energy, which funds so-called "clean coal" projects, as well as the depatment's Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy unit.
The list of things Perry couldn't promise to do or continue when he takes over at DOE was a long one. He wriggled out of repeated attempts to coax him into promising not to open the Yucca Mountain Nuclear Waste site in Nevada, a deep storage facility for high level radioactive waste.
"Can you say that testing of nuclear weapons is a dangerous idea?" asked Senator Bernie Sanders, referring to president-elect Trump's seemingly offhand comment that he might resume nuclear testing and and the arms race ("Let it be an arms race," Trump said.)
No, he couldn't say it was a dangerous idea, was the thrust of a long wandering reply by Perry, who did however promise to protect the electrical grid and infrastructure from cyberterrorism.
Pushing back against the fossil energy industry's claim that reducing fossil fuel use is a "job killer," Washington Democratic Senator Maria Cantwell, the ranking minority member of the committee, rattled off a list of job-killing harm caused by greenhouse gases in her state, including the depletion of fisheries and extreme weather. She said a forthcoming Government Accountability Office report would put the damages from climate change-related damage in the trillions of dollars.
A maverick climate lawsuit few legal authorities thought would survive more than a few months came within two days of questioning the world's most powerful oil executive under oath.
But that prize remains tantalizingly out of reach after a federal magistrate judge in Oregon yesterday put an 11th-hour hold on the deposition of Rex Tillerson, who was CEO of ExxonMobil until December 31 when he stepped down from leading the petroleum giant to become incoming President Trump's Secretary of State.
Tillerson was to be questioned today in Dallas, Texas by lawyers representing a group of 21 youth plaintiffs in what is already a landmark climate lawsuit. The deposition would have meant that a small group of plaintiff's lawyers based in Eugene, Oregon would become the first to question the most senior ExxonMobil official in a lawsuit over climate change.
However, Magistrate Judge Thomas M. Coffin instead ordered what a spokesperson for the plaintiff's called "an informal discovery dispute resolution" after oil industry lawyers said they would refuse to produce Tillerson for questioning.
Instead, a telephone conference among the parties and Judge Coffin is to be held January 27th, according to Meg Ward, communications and youth engagement director for Our Children's Trust.
The suit demands on behalf of a group of 21 young people that the United States take immediate and aggressive measures to fight global warming.
The lawsuit charges that since the at least the 1960, the federal government "has known that carbon dioxide ("CO2") from burning fossil fuels was causing global warming and dangerous climate change, and that continuing to burn fossil fuels would destabilize the climate system on which present and future generations of our nation depend for their wellbeing and survival."
But despite this knowledge, according to the complaint, the government "continued their policies and practices of allowing the exploitation of fossil fuels."
Under a somewhat novel legal theory, pioneering climate scientist James Hansen, the former director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, is suing the United States as guardian for "Plaintiff Future Generations" who, it is charged, "retain the legal right to inherit well-stewarded public trust resources and to protection of their future lives, liberties, and property – all of which are imminently threatened by the actions of Defendants challenged herein."
The suit seeks both pro-active action to combat global warming and the end of policies that worsen it.
This is the first real set-back in what had been an unbroken advance by the plaintiff's toward trial, which Coffin had tentatively set for the summer or early fall of this year.
If Donald Trump really wants to get rid of federal corporate welfare, he should be frantically tweeting against a congressional plan that could send billions to the grossly mismanaged Kemper power plant by expanding tax credits for injecting carbon dioxide into oil fields.
These so-called "45Q" tax credits would get richer and could even become a permanent part of the federal tax code depending on which of three bills now being considered by Congress becomes law.
And that could result in the so-called "clean coal" Kemper facility that utility giant Southern Company is building in eastern Mississippi getting between $789 million and $4.5 billion, according to a new report co-authored by Friends of the Earth and Taxpayers for Common Sense and released today.
"Instead of keeping CO2 out of the atmosphere through permanent underground storage, 45Q has primarily served as a subsidy for oil production," says the report. "Most of the credits have been claimed for CO2 collected at natural gas processing facilities and then used by oil producers for enhanced oil recovery. Any expansion of the provision would only serve as an additional oil subsidy on top of the billions of dollars in subsidies the industry already receives each year."
The report also notes another troubling fact - -that CO2 leaks from oil fields using enhanced oil recovery, including through carbon dioxide "blow-outs" in which the gas comes blasting out of the ground very much like an oil gusher. At least three of these incidents have taken place in Mississippi and one in Lousiana since 2007.
CO2 gas, which is heavier than air and settles in hollows and near ground level, can fatally suffocate anyone who breathes it in. The Mississippi blow-outs resulted in evacuations of residents and oil field workers. A blow-out in Tinsley Field, near Yazoo City, Mississippi, killed deer, an armadillo, a blue heron and countless birds and other wildlife, while sending one emergency responder to the hospital.
This catastrophic event in August and September of 2011 took 37 days to bring under control at a cost of some $53 million. Specialized equipment and crews had to be brought in from Texas to fight the blow-out, including emergency response teams from companies like Boots & Coots, which worked on the Deepwater Horizon disaster, according to documents from the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality obtained via a public records request.