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NEAL CONAN, HOST:
This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. Yesterday, President Obama says it's time to take bold action on climate change. In a speech at Berlin's Brandenburg Gate, the president declared our dangerous carbon emissions have come down, but we know we have more to do, and we will do more.
Also yesterday the White House energy and climate advisor said the president would soon announce plans on climate change that would include power plants. Both industry and activists have been expecting decisions that would reduce reliance on coal and boost the use of the natural gas, wind, solar and nuclear energy, all controversial.
If you have questions about winners and losers in what promises to be an important shift in energy policy, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at npr.org, and click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Later in the program, Kelly McEvers on the new crisis in Iraq. But first, carbon emissions, and we begin with Keith Johnson, and environmental policy and business reporter with The Wall Street Journal. He joins us here in Studio 42. Nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION today.
KEITH JOHNSON: Good to be here.
CONAN: And the administration is known to be working on regulations that would effectively bar the construction of new coal-fired plants. Is it also expected to address emissions from existing plants?
JOHNSON: Well, the short answer to that is, yeah, at some point they've got to. And, you know, essentially as soon as they draft the standards for these new power plants, which have been in the works now for more than a year, then they automatically have to start dealing with the existing plants. So it's not really a question of, you know, if. It's really a question of when and how.
And that's the big question because the new power plants is sort of in the abstract. They're plants that haven't been built yet, even though it's been the focus of an awful lot of industry concern over the past year and environmental agitation. You know, the real prize are the power plants that actually exist, that are actually emitting things today. And so that's going to be the battleground, but I wouldn't expect to see that in the very new term.
CONAN: But those new regulations are expected to phase out, effectively, the use of those coal-fired power plants.
JOHNSON: Well, we don't know exactly how they're going to look because the draft regulations that were presented last year under the authority of the Clean Air Act, it was a departure in the way that the EPA had prior - had previously done this in the sense that they treated basically any power plant as a uniform entity.
And in the past they had categories for coal plants, for natural gas plants, et cetera. Well, the draft rule said, you know, any power plant has to have a certain level of emissions, and it wasn't a very high level of emissions. And that's why it effectively ruled out any new coal plants.
But, you know, one of the other things that a lot of people don't realize, the draft standard that the administration presented actually would have even ruled out a number of gas plants. I mean, the standard was so stringent it would've actually ruled out a number of gas plants.
The administration is a couple of months behind in presenting that proposal. There's been a lot of reports that they've been trying to rejig it to make sure that it's bulletproof and can up - you know, withstand any legal challenge. There's speculation they might tweak that in one way; have one standard for coal plants, one standard for gas plants.
But you know, for new plants it's probably safe to say that it's going to be difficult in the future to build coal plants, at least in an economical fashion in this country.
CONAN: And this is something the administration can do by regulation, it doesn't need to go to Congress?
JOHNSON: No, this is all authority under the Clean Air Act. You know, this is a Bush, you know, 41-era legislation. This is from 1990. The Clean Air Act gives them authority to regulate these emissions. Now it's not the most elegant way to do things. It's probably not the most economically efficient. It's certainly not the most optimal way to do things.
Congress took a stab back in 2009, 2010 at climate change legislation, which would have tried to set up a market mechanism. That died. That went nowhere in the Senate. So what had been a threat, EPA action through executive authority, became the default option, and that's where we are today.
CONAN: And if, broadly speaking, the coal industry is the loser, who are the winners here?
JOHNSON: Well, obviously natural gas has is a winner, but natural gas has been a winner for the last few years.
CONAN: It's been winning on market price alone.
JOHNSON: Well, it had been winning on market price, and, you know, one of the interesting things is that, you know, last year was actually kind of an exception. You know, natural gas prices were so cheap last year that natural gas did push a lot of coal out of the power sector. Natural gas gobbled up a lot of market share.
The first quarter of this year, that trend started to move backwards because natural gas gets more expensive. And as natural gas gets more expensive, a lot of the power plants start to burn more coal. So, you know, it's not that gas had won the battle. It had been winning, now things are going backwards. Now we're going to see, you know, what regulations do rather than the market do to coal.
CONAN: So if natural gas is going to be a winner, what about renewable sources - solar, wind - that sort of thing?
JOHNSON: You know, they've had a lot of progress in the last couple of years. When President Obama came in, he said he wanted to double the amount of renewable energy in the country, and he's done that. Again, that was from a relatively small baseline. It's a relatively small percentage of U.S. power supply. But, yes, there is an awful lot of renewable energy.
These new regulations aren't going to be the kind of spur, necessarily, for renewable energy, you know, that could jumpstart that sector. There's other policies you would need in order to make solar a much bigger player in the mix or to make wind energy a much bigger player in the mix.
CONAN: And what about nuclear power?
JOHNSON: Well, nuclear power lately has had the problem - it's had problems for a number of years, but economics is first and foremost the program with nuclear power. Cheap gas, you know, may have pushed aside coal. It may have made wind power less competitive, but it really damaged the economic prospects of nuclear power.
And that's because it costs an awful lot to build a nuclear power plant. So as gas gets more expensive, nuclear power gets marginally more appealing. But again, these are eight-, 10-year projects in order to make a nuclear power plant. There's only a couple underway in the U.S.
So that's - you know, it's not likely to see a whole lot of nuclear capacity added anytime soon.
CONAN: Chris Field is the director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Global Ecology. His research focuses on the impacts of climate change on a global scale, and he joins us now from studios at Stanford University. And good of you to be with us today.
CHRIS FIELD: Hi, Neal.
CONAN: And how big a deal is this?
FIELD: Well, it's a big deal. In 2012, global emissions of carbon dioxide were more than 35 billion tons. They've been increasing at a rate of more than two percent a year since the year 2000. And the emissions of electricity are incredibly important. They represent 33 percent of the U.S. emissions. Coal represents 80 percent of those. It's a big deal not only because it's a big source of a rapidly growing emissions pool but because they're real opportunities for the U.S. to exhibit a leadership position on this.
CONAN: The U.S. exhibiting leadership position. At the same time, the U.S. is increasing its exports of coal to places like China, which is building new coal-fired power plants rapidly. Does it make a difference globally whether American coal is burned in Kentucky or whether it's burned in Shanghai?
FIELD: From my perspective there are really three reasons that the leadership component on this is so important. The first is that U.S. emissions are a significant fraction. If you multiply the fraction of U.S. total emissions by the electricity, by the coal part, over 4 percent of total global greenhouse gas emissions are from U.S. coal and the electricity sector. And that's a meaningful part, and it's a part that we can have an impact on.
A second reason that U.S. leadership is so important is that we're really creating the opportunity for technology advantages, and a lot of the solutions to the climate problem are going to be technology driven. So having more advanced technology, cheaper technology as a result of deployment in the market space is really going to make a difference.
And then the leadership component per se, the diplomatic ability to inspire and cajole the rest of the world to get serious about this issue is likely to be very important.
CONAN: Keith Johnson, let me turn back to you. Technology, as Chris Field mentioned, you used an important phrase in your reporting for the Wall Street Journal. The regulations as drawn up would ban the new coal-fired plants using current technology. Is there any prospect of new technology that could turn this around?
JOHNSON: Well, there's technology that exists which captures the carbon that comes out of the emissions stream. The problem with it is it's not economical today. There's all kinds of technology that can grab that CO2 right out of the smokestack, but then what do you do with it when you've caught it.
Now the goal is, well, let's pump it undergrounds into deep reservoirs, which theoretically could work. You put it down there, it's not in the atmosphere. The problems with that, you have to build an entire pipeline system in order to pump the CO2 to the reservoirs. There's no geological formations everywhere to make it happen.
So the short answer is, you know, yes, we can do it. Is it economical to do so? Will anyone do it today? No.
CONAN: What kind of technology, Chris Field, do you anticipate?
FIELD: In the electricity generation sector from coal, there are two main things that can happen. And one, is increasing the efficiency of the electric power plants, wringing every last watt out of every ton of fuel that goes in. and then the second is the carbon capture and storage agenda that Keith has just mentioned.
And the thing you need to remember is that we are deploying the technology of carbon capture and storage at scale now in several isolated locations around the world, but it hasn't really been pulled together to be integrated with the electric power generation sector.
It is true that the costs look intimidating at this point, but the theoretical limit on the energy penalty that you need to pay for the carbon capture and storage is not that great. It's in the neighborhood of 15 to about 25 percent. And what we need is experience deploying the technology at scale so we can really figure out whether we can drive the price down into the range where it's not cost prohibitive.
CONAN: And what difference would this make? Is this going to avert that grim future that President Obama was talking about: more severe storms, more famines, floods, new waves of refugees, coastlines that vanish?
FIELD: There is no single event that is going to avert the impacts of climate change. In fact, we've already lot of baked a lot of impacts of climate change into the system, and we have to deal with the fact that we have a future with an altered climate. But if we're going to avert the worst of the impacts, as President Obama discussed yesterday, we're going to have to take many steps, and those are going to be steps that address not only electricity generation but the other sources of greenhouses gases: transportation, industrial processes, buildings.
But electricity is the biggest sector in the U.S. and it's one where we have some of the most attractive opportunities, the lowest cost opportunities to make a real difference in emissions.
CONAN: And Keith Johnson, it's hard to overstate the economic impact of this in places like the Midwest, which relies heavily on coal-fired electricity, in coal country where they rely heavily on mining. And some places would do OK. Wyoming exports a lot of its coal, Kentucky not so much.
JOHNSON: I mean, this is one of the things that, you know, last year - and I think you made a reference to it - that last year was a record year for U.S. coal exports. In part, that was due to demand from countries like China and India. But curiously enough, Europe was actually the driver. We were sending coals to Newcastle last year.
CONAN: Germany shut down its power plants.
JOHNSON: Well, Germany got some, too, but, you know, the Netherlands and the U.K. were our biggest customers over there, which had to do with expensive gas. We had cheap gas, they had expensive gas, so coal moved from one market to the other.
You know, a lot of the coal companies have spent the last year saying, you know, China is going to be increasing its coal consumption in years to come. The U.S. can feed that market. We have some relatively clean and quite economical coal in the Powder River Basin in Wyoming. If we can only get those West Coast ports, we can feed the Chinese market.
You know, that's maybe an option, but I don't think that's going to be a savior for the industry.
CONAN: We're talking about a forthcoming and possibly profound energy policy decision by the Obama administration after the president's speech yesterday in Berlin. Call us with questions about winners and losers, 800-989-8255. Email firstname.lastname@example.org. Stay with us. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News
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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan. We're talking today about energy policy, climate change and coal. The Obama administration's reportedly working on a new policy initiative on emissions, renewable power and energy efficiency. That may be announced as soon as next week.
If you have questions about who the winners and losers might be in the new energy policy, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, email@example.com. You can also chime in on our website. That's at npr.org. Click on TALK OF THE NATION.
Our guest, Keith Johnson, energy and business reporter for the Wall Street Journal; Chris Field, director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Ecology. One way to gauge the effect of any new regulations on coal power industry is to look at what's played out in recent history. Terrence Henry is a reporter with State Impact Texas. He's been covering the energy business in that state, including coal and natural gas, and he joins us now from his desk at member station KUT in Austin. Good to have you with us today.
TERRENCE HENRY: Thanks for having me.
CONAN: And earlier this year, the company behind a proposed White Stallion coal-powered plant pulled the plug. What happened?
HENRY: Well, that was one of actually two kind of large coal-powered projects that just basically fell apart earlier this year. Both of these projects faced a lot of environmental opposition. They had been sued by environmental groups. They had trouble getting air permits, basically permits to pollute.
But another problem that the coal industry has faced in Texas and arguably in other parts of the country is that there's more cheaper and more stable supplies of natural gas now. So it's making it less and less attractive for new coal power plants to be built. So actually this week, kind of the latest coal power plant started up here in Texas. It has faced delays of a little over a year.
And that could very well be the last kind of coal power plant built in Texas for quite some time.
CONAN: That's - what about existing power plants, though?
HENRY: Well, we have plenty of those, and some of them are quite old, kind of over 40, so to speak, and I think there's a sense here, kind of uneasiness and uncertainty about, you know, these potential regulations that could come out this summer, what that would mean for the existing power plants here in Texas.
CONAN: But it cuts both ways in Texas. It's a major natural gas producer.
HENRY: It is, and so it's - we're in a way kind of victims of our own success here. We need plenty of power. It's a growing state. And our power reserves are quite slim and getting slimmer. So the state's kind of facing an interesting situation where we need more power plants, but the incentives aren't there for power producers to make those investments. One, because kind of coal has had this decline and two, because they're not quite sure what's going to happen with natural gas prices.
And if these were - if these regulations were to come out, you know, kind of whatever form they take, that would obviously have an impact, as well.
CONAN: Now what about jobs? Is it one set of workers gaining and another set losing?
HENRY: Well, undeniably kind of the drilling boom, which has brought, you know, these huge supplies of natural gas and oil out of Texas and other states like North Dakota and Pennsylvania has been a huge job growth engine. And so that's been kind of good news for the state, and we have a great unemployment rate.
I don't anticipate that the numbers would be huge if you had, you know, layoffs at some of these power plants. It's also just really clear if they'd have to close down or shut down, or if they could make upgrades. So there's just many unanswered questions at this point.
But it's possible that, you know, kind of the job gains in the drilling industry would offset losses in the power industry. But it's really kind of an open question right now.
CONAN: Terrence Henry, thanks very much for your time.
HENRY: Thank you for having me.
CONAN: Terrence Henry, a reporter with State Impact Texas, a collaboration with NPR, KUHF Austin and KUHF, that's in Houston, and KUT Austin, where he joined us by phone. And let me turn back to you, Chris Field. We're talking about reduction of carbon into the atmosphere if you burn natural gas as opposed to burning coal, but the production of natural gas, the fracking process, well, that could produce a lot of methane, and that's a greenhouse gas.
FIELD: It's a good point. If you talk about the CO2 emissions per watt of electricity that's produced, natural gas is about twice as good as coal. And if you can produce the gas cleanly, not leak any to the atmosphere, you get a big boost in electricity per unit of greenhouse emission by going with gas.
But if you lose just a few percent of that gas to the atmosphere during the production process, the heat-trapping effect of the extra methane in the atmosphere more or less eliminates the advantage you get in the electricity production process.
The key to making natural gas an efficient fuel is to be very careful about losses during the drilling and production process.
CONAN: Is there a track record at this point that gives you confidence the industry is going to be that careful, or be forced to be that careful?
FIELD: Well, if you look at the history of the natural gas boom in the U.S. over the last several years, the early efforts involved some technology that hadn't been really nailed down. It involves regulatory environment that hadn't really been tweaked up and attentive to the full range of issues.
My sense is that technology options are available to be really, really careful. They're not expensive, but they require good operations who are attentive to all the details. And this is very much a question of paying attention to all of the details in the drilling process, the fracking process and the production process.
It's a case where thoughtful regulations really make a difference and where having high-quality operators who are committed to high-quality production really makes a difference.
CONAN: Let's get some callers in on the conversation. Let's go Emily, Emily with us from Fayetteville in North Carolina.
CONAN: Hi, there.
EMILY: Given that money dictates so many of our choices as a society, what do you think the political prospects of getting a carbon tax, a significant carbon tax, on the table as part of this discussion?
CONAN: Keith Johnson, is this a viable prospect in this Congress with this administration?
JOHNSON: Short answer, absolutely not. Longer answer, this is something that for the past year, year and a half, has been a favorite inside Washington among policy wonks, tax experts, energy wonks. You know, everyone has looked at this issue because it seems to offer a grand bargain between the Democrats and the Republicans because a carbon tax, properly implemented, should raise government revenues.
You can offset those with more productive tax cuts, labor and capital, and also deal with the environment. So it should be a three-way win, and it should be able gather a big coalition. The Republicans in Congress don't want to see it, and the White House has avoided it like the plague. So no, it's not going to happen.
CONAN: And there's the example of the collapse of the carbon market in Europe.
JOHNSON: Well, that was a slightly different situation because that was an emissions trading scheme. So you didn't have a set price on carbon, you actually had a fluctuating prices on carbon. And since they had, you know, given too many permits, the price collapsed, and it became ineffective.
EMILY: So what do we do to make this happen because it seems really clear to me that it's a choice, the obvious choice.
JOHNSON: If I could say one thing about the prices of carbon that's interesting that has really gone unnoticed in the last couple of weeks, the administration, and it was in an efficiency regulation on microwave ovens, I believe, within the past five weeks ago, sort of slipped out there that they have increased their estimates of the social cost of carbon.
And it sounds tremendous complicated and wonky, but basically they raised the price of a ton of carbon, of CO2 - sorry - from $21 a ton to about $35 a ton. What that means is that anytime they do a cost-benefit analysis of an environmental regulation like this going forward, the benefits on paper are going to be vastly more than they were three months or a year ago.
And so in a certain way, in regulatory fashion, the administration has raised the price on carbon. What remains to be seen is that that'll make it easier to actually implement some of these regulations.
CONAN: Thanks very much, Emily.
EMILY: Thank you very much, goodbye.
CONAN: Bye. Let's see if we can go next to - this is Mark(ph), and Mark's with us from Marissa, Illinois.
MARK: Thanks for taking my call. I was calling because I work at a - I'm a coal miner, and I work at a coal mine that's directly across the street from a power plant, Prairie State Generating Campus, and it's cleanest fired coal plant in the United States. We've been burning coal now I think for about two, two and a half years.
And it's possible for clean coal, it's just a matter of the regulations. I'm just worried that they're going to pass regulations that are going to make it not possible to pursue clean coal.
CONAN: And what would that do in your town there?
MARK: Well, it's not my town; I drive an hour and a half to work. But it would be a very big economic downfall.
CONAN: Chris Field, he's describing a plant there in Illinois. Is clean coal - we see lots of ads saying it's possible. Is it?
FIELD: Well, there are technology options for increasing the efficiency of getting every last watt out of every ton of coal and for doing the carbon capture in storage. Often there's confusion when people talk about clean coal for the CO2 emissions, the heat-trapping gasses, versus other pollutants. And it's very possible, and lots of power plants have made real investments in capturing mercury and sulfur and other important pollutions.
But when we're talking about climate change, we're really talking about the CO2 emissions. And the only two technologies that really work are high efficiency in the generation stages and carbon capture in storage. Both of those require lots of innovation, lots of technology and create lots of opportunities for investments moving forward.
CONAN: Mark, good luck.
MARK: All right, thank you very much.
CONAN: Thanks very much for the call. And let's go to Nicky(ph), and Nicky with us from Tacoma.
NICKY: Good morning. My question is pretty basic. Here out in Washington, we're faced with coal export and train - coal trains moving through our Washington ports miles and miles long. How can we address coal at its source? And given that coal is, in large part, mined off of public land, shouldn't there be some emission recognition, some kind of cost whether it's a tax or the government doing some control on the source of coal. We are in the chain of custody. And if it ends up in China, we're still part of the problem.
CONAN: Well, Keith Johnson, he's talking I think, A, there's a lot of coal exported through the Northwest now, and this is Powder River Basin coal and a big new export plant that's proposed for Bellingham in Washington.
JOHNSON: Right. I mean this has been one of the huge battlegrounds for environmentalists because they were at, I think, six export facilities programmed for the West Coast dedicated to the Asian market. And, you know, there was an interesting point that came up this week in a hearing in Congress when one of the representatives of the Army Corps of Engineers said, you know what, OK, so the U.S. coal goes to China or other markets, we can not factor in those greenhouse emissions that other countries may make out of our product into our environmental policies here. We just can't do it.
CONAN: It's not part of any impact statement we can devise here.
JOHNSON: Right. And so, you know, you can say, oh, they're just going to put it into these Chinese plants, and they're working at less efficiency, and it's going to increase global emissions, and that's terrible. And right now, what the officials in Congress were saying was, you know, yes, it's in our chain of custody. It's coming from Wyoming in this case, but, you know, we can't use that as a, you know, a yardstick to start implementing new policies here.
CONAN: And, Chris Field, again, that's a policy statement from the science point of view. Again, if it goes into the air, it goes into the air.
FIELD: That's exactly right. The thing that underpins this whole discussion is that there are environmental damages that are caused by the release of heat-trapping gases to the environment. That's the idea of the social cost of carbon that we've been talking about. And the solution to the problem has to be decreasing the release of the greenhouse gases. There are lots of different kinds of approaches that could be taken. The regulatory approaches that we're talking about are one kind of mechanism.
Carbon taxes, cap and trade are other mechanisms. But until we recognize that the core problem is decreasing these emissions and ultimately decreasing them to zero, we're really not going to solve the problem.
CONAN: Chris Field is director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Ecology. Also with us, Keith Johnson who covers energy and business for The Wall Street Journal. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. Judith(ph) is on the line with us from Chico in California.
JUDITH: Yes. One question, all the discussions I hear about fracking and natural gas being our savior, never mind what might be emitted into the atmosphere. Millions and millions of gallons go into each well. We have a limited finite source of water on the whole globe. There are states already in water wars. Northern and Southern California are in water wars. Where is all of this water going to come from, and who has the right to just take these millions of gallons from local environments and aquifers?
CONAN: Chris Field, she's right. It takes millions of gallons of water to - for fracking.
FIELD: It does. Fracking is a complicated technology. It requires not only taking water and pumping it underground but disposing of contaminated water when it comes back up. And it's also important to recognize that as we bring more natural gas into the economy, we are increasing emissions from the combustion of this natural gas. So natural gas shouldn't be regarded as saving us from the climate problem. It could be regarded as having some attractive features compared to coal, but eventually, when we want to solve this problem, we're going to have to remove natural gas from the energy system as well.
JUDITH: But we can't keep using all of this - people seem to think that there is an unlimited supply of water on this planet. There's not.
CONAN: There's exactly the same amount there's always been, more or less.
FIELD: In fact, in the United States...
JUDITH: But how many millions of gallons going into the wells are then so contaminated not only can they not be used but also the charges of contaminating groundwater in places.
CONAN: Well, the contamination of groundwater, I think, is a different issue, Judith, but the...
JUDITH: No. But what I mean is it's water.
CONAN: It is water, and there is a finite supply of it, and it's going to be an ongoing issue as it goes on. Keith Johnson?
JOHNSON: No. I was just going to say one thing on this that - and it also ties in with something we heard earlier, talking about sort of the maturity of fracking and the natural gas extraction industry. It's true water is and continues to be a huge part of the problem, but one of the advances that's come about quite recently is an increasing use of recycled water, or graywater. So it's not necessarily tapping into fresh drinking water or necessarily even potable water for that sort of process.
And increasingly, due to the economics of this, a lot of companies are recycling the water rather than injecting the wastewater. So there have been absolutely massive strides. It must be said in terms of the water side of the equation both in the fracking itself and in the wastewater side. And in terms of the safety and the emissions that were going on with the production of this gas, you know, as the industry has matured from the wildcatters and the initial independents and the big boys have come in with their really more solid corporate practices and better oversight, the safety record has gotten better in the states where the big players have replaced. And the emissions, the fugitive emissions of methane have gone down. So the maturity helps.
CONAN: Judith, thanks very much.
JUDITH: All right. Thank you.
CONAN: And one final question to you, Keith Johnson. A lot of people have said the president is expected to issue these tough new regulations on power plants, and, well, partly as a tradeoff, he's also expected to approve the Keystone XL pipeline. That's going to be controversial too.
JOHNSON: No. Absolutely. And this is sort of the conventional wisdom that the sweetener to the, you know, to the other half of the country as it were would be, you know, the approval of this pipeline. Now, look, it's controversial, and it has become a symbol in a way that I think the administration didn't initially see it becoming just because, you know, it's not actually that much oil. It's about from tar sands, it's only about 700,000.
CONAN: But it's seen as enabling what some call a carbon bomb in the Athabaskan tar sands.
JOHNSON: But this is the question, right? If it enables the further development of the oil sands, then it becomes a hugely controversial project. But, yeah, it seems the indications would make you think that they're going to approve it.
CONAN: Well, XL pipeline, another issue for another day. Gentlemen, thank you very much for your time today. Keith Johnson, who's a reporter with The Wall Street Journal, who covers energy and business, thanks very much.
JOHNSON: Thank you.
CONAN: And Chris Field joined us from a studio at Stanford University, where he's director of the Carnegie Institution's Department of Ecology. Appreciate your time today.
FIELD: Thank you, Neal.
CONAN: When we come back, we're going to be talking with NPR's foreign correspondent Kelly McEvers, just back from Baghdad, to get an update on the violence in Iraq and the prospects of a civil war in that country. Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.