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Two Steps Forward on Energy, One Sidestep for Show

The end of last week brought a flurry of news about energy and climate concerns-fuel efficiency standards, new mountaintop removal mining rules,...

The end of last week brought a flurry of news about energy and climate concerns-fuel efficiency standards, new mountaintop removal mining rules, and Obama's announcement to allow new offshore drilling. I have to admit, so much of this dropped on April 1st, that I spent the better part of the day vetting stories and searching for primary sources as I feared falling victim to some April Fools pranks. From my perspective, I see two huge positives, and one move that'll do more to distract and appease than anything else. Here's a quick rundown.

Fuel efficiency: We've heard all about this before, when they were first proposed back in May. But now it's official. Basically, starting in 2012, new cars and light trucks will have to become 5 percent more fuel efficient every year, ultimately reaching a fleetwide average of 35.5 mpg (or the carbon equivalent thereof) by 2016. Jonathan Hiskes at Grist has a more thorough breakdown, and, yes, this is a really big deal. National CAFE fuel efficiency standards haven't moved much in the past three decades. This is a pretty painless and simple way to drastically reduce our dependence on oil, and to achieve some huge reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.

Mountaintop removal: At long last, the EPA has announced some higher water quality standards for mountaintop removal coal mining. The Charleston Gazette's Ken Ward Jr., one of the best reporters out there covering coal, calls it a "bombshell." Basically, the biggest step in this announcement is that mining companies won't be able to simply dump "fill"-or waste from the mining-into valleys and streams, as has been standard practice. "You're talking about either no or very few valley fills," EPA head Lisa Jackson said. "That's just the truth, that's the science of it." There's only been one MTR permit allowed since the new administration's EPA took charge, and that was for an operation that didn't involve valley fills. This is a huge win for Appalachia, and a big win for all of us who'd like to see an end to the age of artificially cheap coal. Here's more from the AP.

Offshore drilling: I tend to agree with Grist's Dave Roberts, who wrote in The New York Times' "Room for Debate" that "the most important thing to understand about President Obama's announcement on offshore drilling is that it's mostly for show." We won't get a drop of oil from these sources until 2017, and they wouldn't be fully productive until 2030, when they'd be churning out a mere 100,000 new barrels every day. (We import 14 million barrels of oil every day, and produce 7 million.) Even oilman T. Boone Pickens thinks the oil potential from this plan is small beans.

Of course, drilling is drilling, and pristine Alaskan wilderness and coastal shelves would be corrupted. But considering that the vast majority of offshore oil leases already issued in this country aren't yet being touched, I have a feeling that the demand reductions we'll see from better fuel efficiency standards and the like might well render this announcement irrelevant.

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