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Blockbuster Supreme Court Case on Emissions May Fizzle

A “blockbuster” court case that’s been wending its way through the courts for seven years finally reached the bench of the U.S. Supreme Court this week, who heard initial arguments that greenhouse gas emissions should be regulated because they’re a “public nuisance.”

In their questions, the justices were generally wary of getting courts involved in regulating greenhouse gases. “Asking a court to set standards for emissions sounds like the kind of thing that EPA does,” said one justice, referring to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The EPA is currently authorized to regulate emissions under the Clean Air Act, and they have set out a timeline for slowly phasing in regulations—but their ability to do so may still be undercut by Congress, although several attempts to do so have failed so far.

New data show the global recession accomplished what other measures struggled to do: it made greenhouse gas emissions plummet. In 2009, greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. and the European Union both fell drastically—between 6 and 7 percent compared with the year before—according to new data from their respective environmental protection agencies.

Efforts to boost clean energy and energy efficiency are moving ahead—despite encountering opposition from sometimes unexpected corners. The U.S. government finally approved building the first U.S. offshore wind farm in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, which had long faced opposition from the Kennedy clan.

Gulf Still Faces Oil Threat on Anniversary of Spill

Activists anxious to cut emissions faster broke into the grounds of a coal-fired power plant near Chicago and unfurled a banner calling for the plant’s closure, before being arrested. The protest against all fossil fuel use was part of a Day Against Extraction, pegged to highlight the one-year anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill Wednesday. Treehugger marked the date with a roundup of some of the past year’s best reporting on the spill. In a bit of unfortunate timing, the day was also marked by a spill of hydraulic fracturing fluid at a Pennsylvania natural gas well.

Although the Deepwater Horizon well has been plugged, the Gulf still faces a big risk from oil leaks, according to an investigation by the Associated Press. Based on federal documents obtained by a Freedom of Information Act request, the AP reports there are 3,200 abandoned and unplugged oil and gas wells in the Gulf classified as active.

Are Smart Meters Vulnerable to Cyber Attack?

Now another battle is heating up, over smart meters, which provide power companies real-time information on their customers’ power consumption, and which could save energy and distribute electricity use more evenly throughout the day.

Residents of northern California, where the utility Pacific Gas & Electric has installed smart meters, were among the first to blame the meters for a variety of maladies. Rollouts of smart meters in Maine, British Columbia, and elsewhere are likewise encountering health scares. But the meters use signals like those from cordless phones, posing no special risk, according to a recent report by the California Council on Science and Technology.

In the U.K., where installation of smart meters is also under way, the security of the data seems to be a bigger concern, as research has shown the meters are vulnerable to attack by computer viruses or could be hacked.

The Donald Wants to Seize Middle East Oil

Real estate mogul Donald Trump, who said he’s considering running for president in 2012, blamed Obama for the high price of oil in the world. Trump proposed several remedies, including demanding the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries sell their oil for cheaper, as well as invading Libya to “take their oil,” and seizing Iraqi oil as reimbursement for the cost of war there.

Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund warned the world is facing increased oil scarcity, while the International Energy Agency echoed similar warnings of another recession triggered by high oil prices. It also urged Saudi Arabia to boost its oil production, since it’s the only country that claims to have substantial spare oil production capacity.

However, Saudi Arabia argued there’s actually an oversupply of oil, and that’s why it cut its production in April by about 800,000 barrels per day—a 9 percent drop—compared to the month before. The Financial Times questioned Saudi claims that the market is oversupplied, pointing out that the country’s oil minister said the same in November, and yet since then prices have risen from $86 to $121 a barrel.

President Obama disagreed, blaming speculators for high oil prices.

War for Oil After All?

Trump isn’t alone in talking about invasions providing better access to oil supplies, according to secret memos obtained by U.K. newspaper The Independent.

Politicians have roundly rebutted any link between oil and the war, with former U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair saying in 2003, “the oil conspiracy theory is honestly one of the most absurd when you analyse it.” However, the memos reveal a different story. Months before the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the U.K. Foreign Office wrote in one memo: “Iraq is the big oil prospect. BP is desperate to get in there…”

“It has never seemed likely that the US and Britain invaded Iraq primarily for its oil,” wrote political reporter and Iraq expert Patrick Cockburn in The Independent. “But would they have gone to war if Iraq had been producing cabbages? Probably not.”

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.