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Quick Hits: Baby Steps, Refineries, And Hidden Costs

Over the past few days, the Internet burped up three noteworthy energy-related studies that I kept meaning to blog, but never found the time. Thankfully, that's why some visionary on the Internet invented link dumps:

1) One talking point that never seems to get enough airtime is just how much can be done right now to reduce our carbon emissions, without the need to wait for fancy new technology. A new study in the Proceedings of the National Academies finds that tiny, perfectly doable steps to reduce energy waste at home—from weatherproofing to power strips that prevent televisions from pigging out on electricity while on "standby" mode—could rapidly reduce annual U.S. carbon emissions by 7.4 percent. That's serious headway!

2) On the less-fuzzy side, however, a recent report from Wood Mackenzie, a consulting firm, warns that the House and Senate climate bills under consideration could cause a number of U.S. refiners to shut down, leading to more imported gasoline from overseas (thanks to a loophole in the bills), all while doing relatively little to curb demand for oil products. That's not good, and seems worth addressing in the Senate.

3) Finally, let's talk externalities for a sec: The National Research Council just estimated that burning coal and oil imposes at least $120 billion in hidden costs on the United States each year in the form of health impacts from air pollution. And that's only a partial estimate of the full toll: "The figure does not include damages from climate change, harm to ecosystems, effects of some air pollutants such as mercury, and risks to national security." To set this in context, the health-related costs from coal and oil alone are steeper than what the CBO projects the House climate bill would cost the U.S. economy—and that's before taking the dangers of global warming into account.