Monday, November 17, 2008

Should GM have to rescue mass transit?

EarthlingAngst is on a short hiatus due to illness in the family. But we thought you'd appreciate the following thought-provoking article from CommonDreams.org -- GM Should Have to Remake the Mass Transit System it Murdered.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Sydney Harbor faces major sea level rise by 2050


(Photo of Sydney Opera House from Flickr and photographer Michael McDonough)

News Update: The iconic Opera House on Sydney Harbor will be endangered by rising sea levels as early as 2050, not to mention the homes, beaches, hotels and roads that surround the harbor. I’ve been to this beautiful spot and can only imagine what a tragedy that would be for Sydney’s people, economy and way of life. A new Australian study predicts a 2-degree C temperature increase and sea-level rise of 40 centimeters (15.74 inches) by mid-century. Each centimeter results in erosion of about one meter (3 feet-plus). The study, commissioned by New South Wales Premier Nathan Rees and conducted by the University of New South Wales, also forecasts more brushfires and erratic rainfall leading to both water shortages and flooding. The study’s findings have profound implications for urban planning in the region, not just for Sydney but other coastal communities. Rees reiterated his strong support for Australia's Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and energy efficiency. (Source: Sydney Morning Herald)

California voters OK bonds for high-speed rail, Missouri passes renewable electricity standard


(Photo of ballot marked yes for highspeed rail from Flickr and and photographer Brad Lauster)

News Update: A smattering of good news from around the nation:
• California authorized $20 billion in bonds to construct a 700-mile high-speed train line from San Diego to San Francisco. Not surprisingly, the coastal communities wanted it, because they’ll benefit, but the inland voters did not. The project will need additional federal and private funding for completion, not an easy ask in these tough economic times.
• Two other California propositions, opposed by environmental groups, were voted down: The T. Boone Pickens-backed proposal that encouraged natural gas use for autos and a poorly written plan for 50% RES by 2025. (Bad news: San Francisco’s effort to take over the local utility and shift to renewables also failed.)
• Missouri voters OK’d a 15% renewable electricity standard by 2021, the third state to vote for an RES after California and Washington (others have been approved by state legislatures).
• Voters in 11 coastal towns south of Boston gave 87% approval to the controversial Cape Wind project in Nantucket Sound. None of the towns are on Cape Cod, where opposition is strongest. The project has the state’s environmental OK and the state’s Siting Board begins hearings this week. Final hurdle will be the U.S. Interior Dept. A ruling there is expected this month.
• In Seattle, 3 urban counties around Puget Sound, approved $22.8 billion for bus and rail transit.
• Florida voted for a modest measure giving tax exemptions for rooftop solar installations.
• Colorado voters reduced tax credits on oil and gas, with money to be used for a number of purposes including renewable energy and efficiency. So the states inch
(Sources: ClimateWire, Greenwire)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Obama plans to reverse Bush and give California waiver for tailpipe emission limits


(Photo of President-elect Barack Obama from Flickr and and photographer jmtimages/Jack Thielepape)

News Update: A waiver to free California and many other states to set more stringent tailpipe emission standards is among many reversals of Bush executive actions President-elect Obama plans to take quickly upon entering office. Bush’s EPA denied the waiver, which would let California require a 30% cut in emissions from vehicles between 2009 and 2016, mandating fuel economy of at least 36 mpg by that time. 17 other states adopted that law but could not implement it because of the EPA ruling. Additional states, including Illinois, are trying to pass such a ‘clean car’ law. This is just one of about 200 executive measures Obama plans to reverse, ranging from stem cell research to international family planning. On the climate front, it is expected he will pay special attention to a brand new book, “Change for America,” by the Center for American Progress, headed by John Podesta, chair of Obama’s transition team. The book recommends that the new president quickly appoint a National Energy Council to coordinate all policy related to global warming. It would make sure all steps were coordinated and ensure attention for climate change inside the White House. Meanwhile, President Bush is planning some 11th-hour loosening of regulations on power plants near national parks, mountain-top removal coal mining in Appalachia and uranium mining near the Grand Canyon. (Sources: Washington Post, McClatchy Newspapers)

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Waxman-Dingell power struggle in House could set direction for global warming bill


(Photo of Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) from Flickr, Public Citizen and photographer Bridgette Blair)

Weekly Angst:
If the House can’t pass a good climate change bill with its current leadership, then the thinking is a coup may be in order. Thus liberal Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) has launched an effort to usurp the chairmanship held by conservative auto-industry ally Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.). Dingell is head of Energy Committee, responsible for bringing global warming legislation to the floor, but has been moving very slowly over the past two years, finally issuing a draft proposal last month. Waxman is the No. 2 Democrat on the committee.

At the same time, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) is considering going after Dingell colleague Rick Boucher’s (D-Va.) post as head of Energy’s important subcommittee on air quality. In a move to circumvent industry-friendly octogenarian Dingell, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) named Markey to chair a select committee on global warming over for past 2 years. He held hearings but had no authority over legislation in that post.

Dingell-Boucher bill
Boucher has worked with Dingell to issue a series of white papers and co-authored his proposal, which:
• Relies on a cap-and-trade system covering 88% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions.
• Sets a goal of reducing GHG 6% (below 2005 levels) by 2020, 44% in 2030 and 80% by 2050.
• Phases in requirements for utilities in 2012, large industrial plants in 2014 and residential and commercial distribution companies for natural gas in 2017.
• Sidesteps how carbon allowances would be distributed, but says any free credits would be phased out by 2026.
• Increases building code efficiency of 30% by 2010 and 50% by 2020.
• Allows companies to meet some of their compliance targets by offsets, as well as banking or borrowing credits.

Letter of Principles
Waxman, Markey and Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) presented their own Letter of Principles signed by 152 House members who support – among other things – a faster reduction of emissions to 15-20 percent below current levels by 2020, and 80 percent below 1990 levels by mid-century and would auction all allowances. For more on the Letter of Principals, see an earlier post of Earthling Angst.

Dingell and Waxman are now in a rush to round up House members to support their bids for the chairmanship. Dingell is favored to get support from reps from oil and coal states. Waxman is seen as friendlier to expected Obama Administration’s policies.

(Source: E&E News PM)

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

‘Stevens effect’ upsets predictions of defeat, while Senate becomes more environment-friendly


(Photo of Jon Stuart spoofing Sen. Ted Stevens on The Daily Show from Flickr and photographer Ellen van den Berg

Nov. 6 update: Oregon Sen. Gordon Smith (R) has conceded to Dem challenger Jeff Merkley, who will be another reliable vote for global warming legislation.

News Update: Forget the ‘Bradley effect.” We now have the “Stevens effect.” Convicted Ted Stevens (R) of Alaska was down 10 points in the polls right before Election Day. But Wednesday afternoon he was leading as votes continued to be counted. Apparently people didn't want to admit to pollsters that they were voting for a convicted felon. Stevens, targeted by the League of Conservation Voters as one of their Dirty Dozen,is about 4,000 votes ahead of his challenger Mark Begich (D). Still to be counted are nearly 50,000 absentee and early-voting ballots, however. Begich would be better for the environment. Stevens' fellow Dirty Dozen colleague Rep. Don Young (R) also was leading Wednesday. Other LCV Dirty Dozen targets who survived were Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), ranking member on the Environment Committee, who doesn't believe in global warming. But there’s good news too. Headed for the Senate and likely to help the cause considerably are Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and his cousin Mark Udall (D-Colo.), as well as Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and Kay Hagan (D-N.C.). Mark Warner (D) will replace John Warner (R) from Virginia, though John was a pretty good friend of those fighting climate change. Still hanging in the balance, pending a recount, is Al Franken (Minn,) who is several hundred votes behind incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman (R), though Norm’s voting record hasn’t been bad of late. Another undecided race pits incumbent Gordon Smith (R) against challenger Jeff Merkley (D)in Oregon. Merkley trails slightly but some say votes still to be counted are from Democratic districts. With help from Independents Bernie Sanders (Vt.) and Joe Lieberman (Conn.), as well as progressive Republicans like Susan Collins and Olympia Stowe of Maine, President Obama may be able to pass significant global warming legislation. It’ll be interesting to see how John McCain votes, if he votes, now that he’s no longer beholden to the right wing of his party.

Judge blocks NYC plan for hybrid taxis


(Photo of hybrid taxi in NYC from Flickr and nanaze/Nathan Naze)

News Update:
I've been critical of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley for not copying New York's plan for a complete switch-over to hybrid taxis in 5 years. Now I see why he may be going slower. A federal district judge has just blocked NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s climate change plan for all new taxis to meet a 25 mpg fuel-economy standard this fall and 30 mpg next October. The judge said only the federal government has authority to determine fuel-economy, based on the Clear Air Act. The Metropolitan Taxicab Board of Trade, which represents the NYC cabs, had filed suit. One argument was that hybrids were too small to install a bullet-proof shield between driver and passengers, but the ruling was not based on that. Bloomberg called federal law on this matter “archaic.” He vowed to work with the NY congressional delegation to strengthen fuel-economy laws so that cities can take action to reduce pollution. He also said he’d ask the city’s Taxi Commission to provide incentives for choosing smaller cabs over the popular Crown Victorias, which get only 12 mpg. Nearly 10% of the city’s taxis are now hybrids. (Source: ClimateWire)

Scientists study worms' impact on climate change


(Photo of worms from Flickr and photographer Ben McLeod)

News Update: If someone criticizes the National Science Foundation for giving a grant to study earthworms, don’t believe it’s frivolous. Worms in forests may have a big impact on the ability of forest soil to store CO2 – but it’s not yet certain whether that impact is good or bad. Worms, which are not native to the U.S. and came with the first settlers, eat the leaves and dead plants on forest floors. But research into whether they release CO2 into the atmosphere or sequester it in the soil is conflicting. As a result their impact is not included in climate models, though it could be profound. Forest soil stores almost twice as much carbon as the trees themselves, according to the U.S. Forest Service. New research published in the Journal of Geophysical Research suggests the impact may be positive. The NSF grant will go to Purdue, Johns Hopkins and the Smithsonian Environment Research Center. (Source: ClimateWire)

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Update on key Senate races, and ballot item to achieve 100% renewable energy by 2040 in SF


(Photo of voters from Flickr and photographer .micheal.newman)

Weekly Angst:
We have some great chances to change the playing field for global warming this Election Day, not only by electing Barack Obama president, but also bringing a half dozen or more champions for the environment into the Senate. As of this weekend, it looks like Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) is now strongly on track to defeat convicted felon Ted Stevens (R) in Alaska. Stevens was one of the League of Conservation Voters’ Dirty Dozen. Begich leads by 10.3 points in Real Clear Politics’ polling average. In other races where environmentalists are in the lead, the Udall cousins, Tom of New Mexico and Mark of Colorado, both Dems, have commanding leads in their respective races for Republican senate seats. Tom is 14.6 points ahead and Mark 12.5. In New Hampshire, former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D) is well ahead (9.8) in her effort to beat incumbent John Sununu.

Two other important races for global warming are leaning toward the candidate favored by environmentalists: Kay Hagan (D) in North Carolina (3.7), Jeff Merkley (D) in Oregon(5.3). In Minnesota Al Franken (D), endorsed by some environmental groups is now trailing incumbent Norm Coleman by an average of 2.2 points in a close race. Another close contest is led by Dirty Dozen’s Mitch McConnell, Republican Minority Leader, whose average lead is 4 points. Unhappily No. 1 on the Dirty Dozen list, Sen. James “Global Warming is a hoax” Inhofe (R-Okla.), is sailing easily to re-election with a lead of 16.7. His opponent, Andrew Rice, can’t rely on Barack Obama’s coattails either, because McCain leads in Oklahoma by 29 points. For more on these Senate candidates, check my post of 2 weeks ago.

Dirty Dozen House members
Several House members targeted by LCV look headed for defeat. Rep. Don Young (R), Alaska’s only Congressman, is running about 8 points behind Dem. Ethan Berkowitz. Young, like Sen. Ted Stevens, has served a long, long time. This red state could lose 2 of its 3 seats in Washington to Democrats. Anne Northrup (R-Ky.) is trailing John Yarmuth (D) by double digits. And Dean Andal (R-Calif.) is 11 points behind Jerry McNerney (D). Tim Walberg (R-Mich.) trailed challenger Mark Schnauer (D) by 8 in the one poll I could find. It’s unclear what’s happening in his Michigan Dirty Dozen colleague Joe Knollenberg’s(R) race against Gary Peters, and DD’s Sam Graves (R-Mo.) has a strong lead to maintain his seat.

Renewable energy on the ballot
Those wacky San Franciscans are way out front once again. This time they hope to pass Proposition H, which would let the city take ownership of the local distribution channels of PG&E, the electric company, and push for 100% renewable energy in the next 3 decades. Supported by 8 of 11 city supervisors, the Sierra Club and the Democratic Party, Prop. H calls for a study of whether the city should become its own electricity provider. Passage would allow the city to issue bonds to pay for the distribution channels, regardless of what the study finds. It also would be able to build wind farms and encourage more rooftop solar panels. Shorter-term goals for the switch to renewable energy are 51% by 2017 and 75% by 2030. PG&E now has 13% renewables.

Part of Pickens Plan also on ballot
A controversial initiative, Prop. 10, will have Californians voting on part of the Pickens Plan – the natural gas part. Pickens himself is the brains behind the ballot measure to provide incentives for vehicles that run on condensed natural gas. His company, Clean Energy Fuels, is bankrolling the measure and environmental groups point out that he stands to benefit financially. Prop. 10 would authorize $5 billion in bonds for renewable energy and alternative fuels, which would include the fossil fuel natural gas. Half the money would go to buyers of alt-fuel vehicles. The Honda Civic that runs on CNG would get a $10,000 rebate, while hybrid Prius would get only $2,000. The measure is opposed by the Sierra Club, LCV and Union of Concerned Scientists. It sets the standard for low-carbon fuels at just 10% less than emissions from gasoline.(BTW, the wind part of Pickens Plan is being downsized because of the credit crunch, T. Boone told the Charlotte Observer last week -- though he wouldn't say by how much. He reportedly has lost hundreds of millions from his hedge fund in the past month.) Also, on the ballot in California is a measure to sell bonds for a high-speed train line between LA and San Francisco.

And then, of course, there’s Obama
In case anyone needs reminding, see my earlier post on why he’s much better than McCain on global warming. And in GOP Veepmate Sarah Palin’s energy policy speech this week, she never once mentioned global warming or climate change.

(Sources include: ClimateWire, Greenwire, Realclearpolitics)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

China fossil fuel emissions on track to double


(Photo of pollution haze in Beijing from Flickr and photographer Addictive Picasso)

New Update: A new report from Chinese researchers wsays that greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels will double by 2030 if serious steps aren’t taken to cut them. “China Energy Report,” from the Chinese Academy of Scientists, warns of drastic repercussions if China tries to follow in the steps of developed countries on energy use. Lead author is Wei Yiming, who worked with the UN panel that assessed global warming. The report does not include emissions from farming or deforestation. The Chinese government predicted last year that the country would emit an estimated 2 billion metric tons of greenhouse gases in 2050. The new report estimates 3-4 billion tons. China passed up the U.S. in GHG emissions last year. The Oak Ridge Laboratory estimates U.S. emissions at 1.6 billion in 2007 and China’s at 1.8 billion. (Sources: Reuters, thedailygreen)

Why is Arctic ice melting even in winter?


(Photo of Arctic ice from Flickr and photographer kenyai/Tunde Pecsvari)

News Update: The Arctic polar ice cap is melting even in winter and last winter lost an estimated 20% of its thickness, according to British research out of the University College London. The cause is not winter temperatures, the researchers said. Speculation is that warm water is coming under the ice cap, either from ocean water heating up or currents changing. (Source: London Times )

Warming Greenland glacier causes earthquakes

News Update: Scientists have linked the fast-melting and calving Jakobshavn Glacier in Greenland with increased seismic activity that registers around the world. When a large chunk break off and spills into the fiord it scrapes along the sea bottom and causes quakes of 4.6 to 5.1. Want to see a video of the calving glacier? (note: it’s speeded up 25 times, since these things happen slowly) (Source: Discover)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Financial meltdown slams corn ethanol and threatens mass transit, but Big Oil still riding high


(Photo of ethanol plant from Flickr and and photographer freddthompson, actor, senator and presidential candidate)

Weekly Angst: Because of the financial meltdown, ethanol companies are struggling and some are going under. Caught between corn contracts signed last summer when prices were sky-high and lower fuel prices, and with credit hard to come by, businesses are seeing the ethanol bubble of the past year burst. Investors have lost billions. VeraSun Energy, for example, expects to lose up to $103 million this quarter. Its stock is down 90% from its peak earlier this year. And ethanol companies in Kansas and Ohio declared bankruptcy last week. The Agriculture Department is considering loan guarantees to keep ethanol businesses afloat.

Mass transit hits trouble
Mass Transit agencies are also caught in the crunch. They face having to pay banks billions as old financing deals fall apart. The problem was triggered by the failure of insurance giant AIG, which guaranteed deals between the agencies and banks. Because of long-standing agreements to give banks tax shelters by selling them rail cars and then leasing them back, some 30 mass transit agencies around the country are now in danger of having to pay back their loans all at once. Washington, D.C.’s Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is the first to be hit. KBC Group of Belgium wants $43 million by next week. The feds may have to get in the middle of this one too – to keep the trains running.

Other repercussions include cancellation of a coal-to-liquid joint venture between Consolidated Energy and Synthetic Energy Systems and the delay of a SunCor Energy oil sands project in Canada. (No tears shed over those).

Major oil companies in good shape

So how is the meltdown affecting Big Oil? With prices dropping rapidly you might think they’re feeling the pain. But apparently not. With record profits last year, they have reduced their debt and are cash fat. So now they can buy up distressed smaller rivals and make deals with resource-heavy countries. Production may be down, but refining should be profitable this year. And they expect less pressure to pass windfall profits taxes. So lower prices and lower demand don’t really bother them. (No one ever said life is fair.)

On the bright side
The economic downturn could benefit green technology, though. It could give government a historic opportunity to climate-proof its infrastructure as part of a public works effort to generate jobs. This may translate into an investment opportunity, says a recent report from Deutsche Bank. The International Energy Agency has called for a $45 trillion investment in climate related technology by 2050. And Deutsche Bank says renewable energy investments have more promise in the long term than tradition energy sources.

At the same time, venture capital continues to flow into Silicon Valley and California in general. VC investments in energy and utilities were up in the 3rd quarter 90% over the same period last year, as investors pulled back from other sectors like information technology, media and financial services. Clean tech reported a record $1.08 billion in investments, most of it going to solar. In the Bay Area, which includes Silicon Valley, overall VC was up 22%, the highest single-quarter total since 2001. One benefit of green technology is most of it is tied to government policy so it’s not as vulnerable to swings in the market.
Observers are waiting to see the results of this quarter, however, anticipating that falling oil and carbon prices could have an impact. VC fell in the third quarter in other parts of the country.

And Neal Dikeman, of Jane Capital Partners, warned that a prolonged financial crisis could have an adverse effect on a 2012 post-Kyoto international agreement to fight global warming, by either delaying or weakening it.

For additional comments on the financial crisis’ impact on climate change see my earlier post.

(Sources: Greenwire, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal)

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Explorers will measure Arctic ice thickness to determine when it will disappear


(Photo of expedition at North Pole from Flickr and photographer kanati/Adam Grimes)

News Update: A team of 3 British explorers will take a 4-month trip to the North Pole on foot, skis and even swimming, in an effort to determine when Arctic summer ice will disappear. The UN-backed group expects to take 10 million readings to gauge ice thickness, something satellites have been unable to determine. Estimates for summer ice to disappear now range from 5-100 years, so a little more specificity is in order. Summer ice in the Arctic has been receding at a rate of 116,000 square miles per decade (about the size of the British Isles), but no one knows how much it has thinned. The 3 expect to work 12 hours/day in temperatures as low at 58 degrees (F) below zero. Leading the group is British explorer Pen Hadow, who made a pioneering solo walk from Canada to the North Pole in 2003. (Source: PlanetArk)

Scientists will test Antarctic Peninsula ice shelf to better forecast sea level rise


(Photo of Antarctic Peninsula from Flickr and photographer mschutt/Matt S)

News Update: The British Antarctic Survey, including participate from the University of Edinburgh, will send a group to Larson C ice shelf, on the Antarctic peninsula (closest to South America) to try to determine when and if it will break off. Larson A plunged into the sea in 1995 and Larson B in 2002. Larson C, the size of Scotland, is considered vulnerable. The group will drill and use radar in their exploration. While the ice shelf already sits in the sea and will not cause water levels to rise if it breaks off, glaciers on land behind it would likely slide faster into the ocean, and that would cause sea levels to rise, something of great concern to coastal communities. (Source: PlanetArk)

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Senate races may tip Congress on global warming


(Photo of Cong. Mark Udall (D-Colo.) speaking at Democratic Convention from Flickr and photographer Jeffrey Beall)

Weekly Angst: Over the past 2 years a narrowly divided Senate has stymied all kinds of efforts to curb global warming. Now we have a chance to elect 8 new senators who could turn that around. In 6 of the 8 races that offer a clear choice, the environmental candidate either leads or is neck-and-neck with an anti-environment one. The 7th race looks bad and the 8th appears to be a lost cause. The key races are in New Mexico, Colorado, New Hampshire, Oregon, North Carolina, Alaska, Kentucky and Oklahoma. But there’s also mention of Minnesota and Maine at the end of this blog.

New Mexico: Cong. Tom Udall (D) has a commanding lead over Cong. Steve Pearce (R). Udall leads in the Real Clear Politics average of polls by a commanding 17.6 percentage points. Udall, endorsed by a coalition of 5 national environmental groups, is the son of Stewart Udall, who was Interior Secretary under Kennedy and Johnson. Udall co-wrote the Udall-Platts renewable electricity standard (RES) bill that passed the House last year but not the Senate. It would have mandated that power plants use 15% renewable energy by 2020. He has a lifetime score of 96% with the League of Conservation Voters and is seen as someone who would be a leader in the Senate. His opponent is one of LCV’s Dirty Dozen, with a lifetime score of only 1%. He owns millions of dollars worth of Key Energy stock and voted against repeal of oil subsidies, RES and better fuel economy standards for cars. They are vying for the vacancy left by Republican Pete Domenici’s retirement.

Colorado:
Tom’s cousin Mark Udall (D) is a 5-term congressman who also has the endorsement of the 5 national groups who see him as another potential leader against global warming in the Senate. Mark leads his opponent by 9.3 points. The son of “Mo” Udall, who served in Congress 30 years and ran for president, Mark had a 95% LCV score in the last Congress and 100% every term before that. He was involved in passing RES and mandating fuel efficiency for cars (CAFE). He’s running against another Dirty Dozen candidate, former Cong. Bob Schaffer (R), who left Congress to work for an oil company. His lifetime LCV score is 5%. He supports drilling in ANWR and opposes more fuel efficient vehicles and incentives for energy conservation. They are competing for the seat held by Sen. Wayne Allard (R).

New Hampshire:
Former Gov. Jeanne Shaheen (D) is the third candidate seen as a leader against global warming and supported by the coalition of 5 organizations (LCV, Sierra Club, Environment America, Defense of Wildlife Action Fund and Clean Water Action.) As governor, she made her state a leader in clean energy. N.H. was the first state to pass a law requiring power plants to cut emissions of 4 pollutants and she made state buildings more energy efficient and promoted alternative energy. She is challenging incumbent Sen. John Sununu (R) and leads him by nearly 6 points in the polls. Sununu has voted for drilling in ANWR, opposes a binding international climate change treaty, and helped block votes on fuel economy, clean energy and the repeal of big oil subsidies. His lifetime LCV average is 35%.

North Carolina: State Sen. Kay Hagan (D), endorsed by the League of Conservation Voters and Environment America, has a narrow lead of 3.4 over incumbent Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R). Hagan has an 85% score from the N.C. Conservation Council and is considered a proven leader for clean, renewable energy. She has supported solar energy and an RES for N.C. and opposed big handouts to oil and gas. Dole, one of LCV’s Dirty Dozen, has a lifetime score of just 4%. She has consistently voted for Big Oil and against CAFE standards. She supports incentives for coal and other dirty technologies.

Oregon: This is another state where the incumbent Republican is trailing slightly behind the Dem challenger, State House Speaker Jeff Merkley.
Merkley has a record of leadership in enacting renewable energy solutions, including an RES of 25% by 2025 and favors cutting GHG by 80% by 2050. Merkley leads by 3.3 points and has strong support from Environment America. Incumbent Sen. Gordon Smith, a 2-term senator, is “an election year environmentalist,” according to Environment America. Generally he has sided with the oil and auto industries and voted against fuel efficiency and curbing global warming, while favoring drilling in ANWR. His lifetime LCV score is 37%.

Alaska:
Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) is challenging 40-year incumbent Ted Steven (R) of bridge-to-nowhere fame and currently on trial for corruption involving gifts and home improvements from an oil man. Begich holds a 2.3 lead in polls and the race is considered a toss-up, despite McCain-Palin's huge lead there. While he has the Alaskan affinity for drilling in ANWR, Begich says Alaska is “ground zero” for global warming and feeling its affects more than anyplace else. He joined the U.S. Conference of Mayors Climate Protection Initiative and has replaced streetlights with LEDs, shut down city computers when they’re not in use and harnessed methane from landfills. Stevens, in addition to his other problems, is one of the Dirty Dozen for his environmental policies. He has a 14% lifetime voting record. He consistently votes for tax breaks for oil and has collected $460,000 in gas and oil contributions.

Kentucky:
Challenger Bruce Lunsford (D) is putting up a good fight against House Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, though McConnell leads by 6.5 points. While favoring “clean coal” Lunsford also touts investment in renewable resources, efficiency and hybrid cars. He’s a health company entrepreneur and raises thoroughbreds. McConnell is one of LCV’s Dirty Dozen and is considered an “impassable roadblock in the way of clean energy efforts." So it’s more a matter of getting rid of McConnell, who’s position is powerful, than of pushing Lunsford. But 6.5 two weeks out is not encouraging.

Oklahoma: Even more discouraging is Andrew Rice’s (D) challenge against incumbent James Inhofe (R), who won’t even acknowledge global warming exists. Rice trails by 18 points. He is endorsed by the LCV. He favors putting a price on carbon, accelerating the CAFE standards and passing an RES. Inhofe, No. 1 on the Dirty Dozen list, is ranking member of the Environment Committee (used to be chairman) and has threatened to filibuster every piece of global warming legislation. His lifetime score is 5%. He has accepted nearly $1 million from the oil and gas industry.

Minnesota and Maine: Two other races are worth a quick mention: In Minnesota, challenger Al Franken is running a close race with incumbent Norm Coleman (R), and leads slightly by 2.2 points. Coleman’s environmental record isn’t bad, but Franken who calls for an “Apollo Project” in renewable energy, is endorsed by LCV. Also endorsed by LCV is incumbent Sen. Susan Collins (R) of Maine, who is comfortably ahead (15 points) of challenger Tom Allen (D). Collins often crosses over to vote with the Democratic majority on environmental and other issues and has a 100% LCV score the past 2 years.

Take action: So if you want to see good global warming laws passed by the next Congress, think about sending a contribution to one of the candidates in a toss-up race. And if you live in one of those states, get active and help out in the last 2 weeks if you haven’t already. You can help make a difference.

(Sources: League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club, Environment America, realclearpolitics.com)

In case you missed it, an earlier EarthlingAngst post shows why Obama is better than McCain for the fight against global warming.


And by the way, Environmental Defense has a cool timeline of progress lost on climate change during the Bush Administration.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Guess who will be selling natural gas to the U.S.?


(Photo of Gazprom sign in Moscow from Flickr and photographer Martin Griffiths)

News Update: When T. Boone Pickens came up with his plan for natural gas to fuel U.S. cars, the idea was that gas would be local. Now, look who’s getting into the act – Russia. Gazprom, the Russian company that supplies 85% of Russia’s natural gas and 25% of Europe’s, is eyeing the North American market as a customer for its offshore gas fields. The company plans to buy a small, unidentified, natural gas marketing and trading company in the U.S., Jack Hattenberger, Gazprom president for U.S. marketing and trading told a U.S.-Russian business group last week. “Long-term our goal is to develop a leading marketing and trading organization in North America, using LNG [liquid natural gas] as our foundation supply." The company plans to ship 500 million to a billion cubic feet a day here starting in 2014 and ramp up to 4-10 billion cubic feet. (The U.S. Department of Energy expects our consumption of natural gas to be about 24 trillion cubic feet by 2016.) Gazprom execs, including 2 who are close to Putin, also visited Alaska last week to pitch help in extracting its gas. They have experience in the far north, they said. I don’t mean to sound protectionist here, but what happened to independence from foreign oil. Doesn’t that apply to gas too? And didn’t Russia turn off the pipeline to Eastern Europe to put political pressure on them. T. Boone, I don’t think this is what you had in mind. (Source: E&E News PM)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Vt., Conn., Calif. top list on energy efficiency


(Image of heat-loss poster from Flickr and thingermejig)

News Update: The top states last year on investment and policies to foster energy efficiency were Vt., Conn. And Calif., according to a report card released last week by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. Poorest grades went to North Dakota, Wyoming and Mississippi. Other states cited for showing leadership and innovation were Mass., Ore., Wash., N.Y., N.J., R.I. and Minn. Criteria included lowering price volatility, slowing energy demand, less need for new power plants and less risk of blackouts. Several states, including Illinois, were mentioned for making significant advances between 2006 and 2007. (Source: E&E New PM)

Bay Area cities join to fight climate change


(Photo of Bay Bridge linking San Francisco and Oakland from Flickr and photographer Dikesh Joshi)

News Update:
Look West, young man, for examples of pioneering work on global warming. Now three Northern California cities have joined forces to reduce their emissions by 2013. San Francisco, San Jose and Oakland have agreed to cooperate on cutting greenhouse gases, by boosting the number of hybrid and electric vehicles, diverting waste from landfills and increasing green jobs. They also plan to craft a common standard for green buildings and rooftop solar installations, decrease water consumption, provide incentives to cut the use of gasoline in transport and educate the public about climate change. The goals have been endorsed by the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a coalition of 284 companies including PG&E, Apple and Google, as well as the Association of Bay Area Governments and the Bay Conservation and Development Commission. (Source: ClimateWire)

Monday, October 13, 2008

Will financial crisis and bailout help or hurt in fight against global warming?


(Headline collage from Flickr and Mother Pie/Hattie Page)

Weekly Angst: The credit crisis and $800-plus billion U.S. government bailout plan will likely have an impact on spending on climate change, but will the positives outweigh the negatives? While conventional wisdom might say there’ll be little money left over to fight global warming, many see green technology as the engine that will drive future growth and revival – at home and around the world.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors last week predicted 4.2 million new green jobs by 2038, adding to the 751,000 already in existence in 2006.

And green technology in Silicon Valley is one of the few industries still growing in California, Gov. Arnold Schwartzenegger noted.

The bailout
The add-on to the $700 billion bailout extended tax credits to help renewable energy, efficiency and sales of plug-in cars. While wind energy is a bit shaky, with only a 1-year extension and damage to some of its main investors – AIG, Lehman Brothers and Wachovia – the industry sees slower growth in 2010 but is still hopeful that utilities and other new investors will take a stake in the fast-growing new energy source.

Solar seems in a somewhat better position with an 8-year extension of production tax credits. The demand for solar panels reportedly still exceeds demand.

The American auto industry says it will remain on track to continue producing smaller, fuel-efficient cars and looks forward to competing for the $25B in low-interest loans from the federal government approved earlier this month.

Good signs
Other signs of hope that climate change will remain a high priority in Washington:
• The economic crisis raises the possibility of Democrats getting the 60-vote majority in the Senate they will need to pass a renewable energy standard (RES) and a cap-and-trade bill.
• House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says climate change remains a priority for her.
• There will be international pressure on the United States to negotiate a viable post-Kyoto treaty.
• And front-runner Barack Obama, should he become president, has touted a $150 billion renewable energy economic plan and produce 5 million jobs.

Problems
Some Republicans, however, may balk at passing a cap-and-trade bill in 2009, because they’ve always been concerned about its impact on the economy and that fear will be heightened. There are those who think such a bill might be held over till 2010, delaying action another year.

Others raise the alternative of a carbon tax, much easier to understand than another complex financial market. But worldwide carbon trading is thriving and expected to grow 80% to $116 billion by next year, thanks in large part to the Kyoto mandate for the European Union.

A major concern for a post-Kyoto agreement is that rich countries may be unwilling to come up with the money and technology for developing countries needed in order to get them to participate in curbing greenhouse gases.

UN Sec. Gen. Ban Ki-moon expressed concern last week that short-term financial emergency will eclipse the longer-term problem of global warming.

But finance ministers from around the world, at a World Bank and IMF meeting over the weekend, pledged to keep climate change on a front burner. Even bankrupt Iceland’s minister said, “We can’t afford to delay responding to climate change.”

And economists and UN leaders are creating a green New Deal. The Green Economic Initiative, spearheaded by the UN Environmental Programme, will be launched next week in London with its focus on renewable energy, other green technology and saving the world’s natural systems. Funded by the European Commission, Norway and Germany, the Initiative will – among other things – work to save forests, whose loss, they say, equals more than $2 trillion a year. The Initiative could produce hundreds of millions of jobs worldwide, according to Pavan Sukhder, chairman of Deutschbank's Global Market Center.

(Sources: Reuters, Greenwire, ClimateWire, PlanetArk, Daily Green, The Independent)

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Wind, solar and geothermal tax credits extended, but fossil fuels get incentives too


(Photo of wind farm in Texas from Flickr and photographer fieldsbh)

Washington Report: In case you missed it, the $700 billion bailout bill included renewable energy tax credit extensions, which just a week earlier had seem DOA for this session of Congress because the Senate and House couldn’t agree. It was the Senate version (the least desirable one) that was attached to the bailout. So we got good news and bad news: the good being that renewable energy companies can continue to grow – the bad being that coal, oil shale and tar sands got a break too. The $17 billion package of extensions included:
• 1 year of production tax credits for wind (the industry is already lobbying for longer-term extension of credits)
• 2 years of production tax credits for geothermal, biomass and other alternative sources.
• 8 years of investment tax credits of 30% for solar energy for homes and commercial properties and removal of the $2,000 cap (so an installation costing $30,000 would be reduced to $20,000).
• Biodiesel credits for the U.S. that put an end to Europeans shipping their product here to get the credit and then back again.
• New credits for plug-in electric hybrid vehicles of $2,500 to $7,500. The new Chevy Volt would qualify at the top level.
• New credits for wave and tidal energy projects.
• New employer tax credits to reimburse up to $20/month to those who use bicycles as their main commuter transportation
• New credits for refineries that process oil shale and tar sands.
• New credits for coal-fired plants that capture and store carbon dioxide, including pumping it into depleted oil fields to extract the remaining oil.
• Inclusion of coal-to-liquid fuel as an alternative fuel.
(Sources: Greenwire, E&E Daily)

Wins and losses in this Congress in fight against global warming

Washington Report: Congress has left Washington for the election campaign, and a lame duck session in November is unlikely to bring much action on the global warming front. So we can probably go ahead and assess what this Congress has done for us in the fight to curb greenhouse gases. There was a flurry of activity, with multiple committee hearings and dozens of proposed bills, so the topic was high profile. But what was really accomplished? Not much.
• The biggest victory was passage for the first time in 2 decades of a corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) standard for cars and light trucks. They will have to average 35 mpg by the year 2020. That bill also had a renewable fuel standard, which encouraged a controversial increase in the use of corn ethanol, which does nothing to curb greenhouse gases and drove up food prices.
• Left on the drawing board, passed by the House but not the Senate, was a renewable electricity standard of 15% by 2020 to force power plants to use less fossil fuel and more renewables.
• Failed to summon the 60 votes needed to debate a compromise and watered-down global warming bill by Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and John Warner (Va.)
• Permitted the 26-year-old off-shore drilling ban to expire, as well as a ban on oil shale extraction in Western states. (Though Democrats are hoping to reinstate the offshore ban, at least partially.)
• Extended renewable tax credits for wind, solar and other renewable sources, adding incentives for plug-in cars and wave energy, but also for fossil fuels in the form of refining oil shale and tar sands, producing coal-to-liquid, and sequestering carbon. The tax credits were on their way to oblivion when the Senate leadership attached them to the $700 billion bailout bill at the 11th hour.
So, the fossil fuel interests basically won every round except auto fuel efficiency, if you see extension of renewable credits as maintaining the status quo. There’s been a lot of activity, but not much progress. We need to get those 60 votes in the Senate.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Worldwide emissions of CO2 up 3% in past year


(Photo of a Montana power plant from Flickr and photographer ambimb)

News Update:
Carbon dioxide emissions, a prime driver of global warming, grew 3% in 2007. The increase exceeded forecasts by international scientists in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report 2 years ago and suggested a trend that could result in the worst-case scenario for climate change put forth by IPPC, which predicted a temperature rise of 4 to 11 degrees F by 2100. While 3% doesn’t sound like a lot, consider what will happen if that rate of increase persists for 10 or 20 years. China led the growth last year, providing more than half the increase. The U.S. was second, with a 2% increase, after emissions declined the previous year. Several industrial countries cut their emissions in 2007. Since 1992, world emissions have grown 38%, though the Kyoto Protocol called for a cut of 5% below 1990 levels by 2012. “If we’re going to do something [about the rate of growth] it’s going to have to be different than what we’re doing,” said Gregg Marland, a senior Department of Energy scientist. (Sources: Greenwire, thedailygreen.com, AP)

Northeast and Western states to test carbon trading in regional markets

News Update: Ten Northeast states have launched the nation’s first cap-and-trade system, raising $38.5 million for renewable energy and efficiency. It applies to electric utilities and about 90% of the allowances will be auctioned. The goal of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (pronounced “Reggie”) is to cut CO2 emissions 10% between 2014-18. There is a problem, though. The cap, set several years ago as the plan was being developed, may be too high to make much difference. GHG emissions in the region have leveled off in recent years instead of growing as expected. So the cap is higher than current usage. Some say the states may need to set a new, lower cap. Meanwhile, in the West, 7 states and 4 provinces across Canada unveiled a blueprint for a similar plan. The Western Climate Initiative aims to cut emissions 15% below 2005 levels by 2020. The Western plan would be economy-wide, including industry, transportation and homes. In a concession to industry, it plans to auction only 10% of allowances, giving the rest free to polluters and causing concerns some businesses could make windfall profits, as happened in the initial European plan. While both regional plans seem to be imperfect, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger said the states are moving ahead where the federal government had failed to act. (Sources: ClimateWire, New York Times, AP)

Amazon rainforest destruction surges


(Photo of logs on the Amazon River from Flickr and photographer P.C. Loadletter)

News Update: Illegal logging increased 228% in Brazil’s Amazon rainforest in August, compared with the same month a year ago, according to the country’s National Institute for Space Research, which monitors deforestation by satellite. This after three years of declining deforestation. Officials blame upcoming elections, with mayors allowing illegal logging in the hope of winning votes. Another cause is the increase in global food prices, which spurs clearing of land to raise cattle and grow soy for export. Deforestation is a major source of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. (Sources: New York Times/AP, Greenwire)

Sunday, September 28, 2008

10 reasons why Obama is best on global warming



(Photo of Barack Obama by Peter Holderness/Medill News Service)

Weekly Angst: Saving the planet is taking a back seat to the financial crisis right now. But to many of us, climate change remains the top concern for the next president of the United States, because we’re running out of time to stop the catastrophic results of a warming planet. It’s getting so bad that Al Gore, a former vice president, is suggesting civil disobedience.

Unfortunately, when climate change does come up these days, it has morphed into talk about offshore drilling and achieving independence from foreign oil, which is the way John McCain has framed it. The maverick who championed climate change legislation with his buddy Joe Lieberman in 2003 and 2005 has, in this campaign, shifted from concern about greenhouse gases to concern about high gas prices and getting off foreign oil. That means American oil is just fine with him. In fact, the more the better.

The League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club and Environment America, the three major environmental organizations that endorse candidates, all jumped on the Barack Obama bandwagon early on, because he so clearly will lead the nation to a better place on global warming. As Environment America said, McCain is not the right president to reverse 8 years of the anti-environment Bush Administration.

Talking points
Here are 10 top reasons why Obama is the better candidate on global warming:

1. Obama favors cutting greenhouse gases as much as scientists say we should. His goal is an 80% reduction (from 1990 levels) by 2050. He doesn’t try to second-guess science. McCain’s goal is 60%.
2. Obama has a much better voting record. On the League of Conservation Voters scorecard, Obama’s lifetime record is 86%. McCain’s is 24. During the last 2 years, McCain has missed every important environmental vote, including 2 on renewable energy where a yea vote from him could have made the difference. He deliberately missed all 8 tries to extend the renewable energy tax credits.
3. Obama favors an RES and subsidies for renewable energy. He has called for a renewable electricity standard of 25% by 2025 and for investing $150 billion in renewable energy. McCain opposes RES, as well as subsidies to alternative energies like solar and wind, preferring to let the market work unfettered. Though he seems to favor incentives for nuclear power.
4. Obama is much more cautious about nuclear power. He says it may need to be part of the mix, but safety and waste storage problems must be resolved first. McCain, on the other hand, makes nuclear power a major part of his energy portfolio, calling for 45 new nuclear plants by 2030, and 100 eventually.
5. Obama wants all credits in a cap-and-trade system to be auctioned. In other words, polluters must pay for their allowances. McCain says permits would eventually be auctioned, but should mostly be given free at first, and he favors polluters being able to bank or borrow credits based on the economy.
6. Obama wants to double the fuel efficiency of autos in 18 years. McCain, who missed the corporate average fuel economy (CAFE) vote of 2007, says he would enforce the new standard of 35 mpg by 2020 but isn’t looking to increase it. Obama voted for the CAFE bill.
7. Obama says offshore drilling will do little to help gasoline prices and was for the ban. He’s since softened his stance, saying he might accept some offshore drilling if it would help get other things he wants, like RES. McCain strongly favors drilling offshore, saying it will help solve the problems of high gas prices and dependence on foreign oil. After McCain announced this new position favoring offshore drilling, and became a cheerleader for the cause, campaign donations from oil and gas went up more than double, or by more than a million dollars.
8. Obama took a stand against a summer repeal of the gas tax, when McCain and Hillary Clinton called for one. Obama called it a gimmick that would not help lower prices.
9. Obama favors a windfall profits tax on big oil companies. He would like to see that money go to people who are struggling to pay for gas. McCain is against a windfall profits tax.
10. Obama picked Sen. Joe Biden as is running mate. Biden has an 83% lifetime score with LCV and proposed a bill in 1986 to deal with global warming. McCain picked Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, who has expressed doubt about the human role in causing climate change, filed suit to de-list the polar bear as endangered, and favors drilling in ANWR.
For more on the candidates' environmental views, go to News21 Politics and the Environment, and click on Charging Up the Elections. News 21 is a summer project of Carnegie-Knight fellows at Northwestern University. (In the interest of full disclosure, I was one of the faculty members on the project.)

(Sources: League of Conservation Voters, Sierra Club, Environment America, barackobama.com, johnmccain.com, news21project.org, New York Times, salon.com)

Saturday, September 27, 2008

House, Senate both extend renewable energy tax credits, but are still at odds


Washington Report:
At long last, both House and Senate have extended the renewable energy tax credits due to expire at years’ end. The House passed its bill Friday, the Senate its earlier in the week. But they passed different versions and now have to reconcile them, which seems to be a problem. At issue are:
*The addition of tax credits for oil shale and tar sands refineries and coal-to-liquid in the Senate bill.
*Failure to pay for all credits in the broader Senate bill, which goes beyond energy credits with other business and individual tax credits.
House Dems and environmentalists strongly object to the introduction of credits for fossil fuels. Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.) called oil shale “enormously environmentally damaging.” So are tar sands and coal-to-liquid fuel. On the second point, Blue Dog (conservative) Democrats in the House don’t want to see anything passed that isn’t 100% paid for. The White House favors the Senate bill, despite some taxes on oil, and says it would veto a final bill that looks like the House version. So now the two chambers have to resolve the conflict. Inslee said he thinks that is possible, since a large majority favors the extensions. The Senate Bill passed 93-2. House Dems have passed renewable tax credit extensions without fossil fuels 8 times. (Sources: E&E Daily, E&E News PM)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Big Oil wins this round; offshore ban is gone


(Photo of offshore oil platform from Flickr and photographer absolutwade/Beau Wade)

Washington Report: Big Oil has won, at least for now. After spending millions on lobbying, and taking advantage of the rise in gas prices to win over two powerful advocates, President Bush and John McCain, it has two-thirds of the country believing we need to drill offshore – and drill now. Not to mention those omnipresent American Petroleum Institute ads of an annoying woman of indeterminate age in a black pantsuit who strides across the U.S. map as if she owns it, telling us Congress has put most of the oil reserves in the U.S. off bounds. Well, they aren’t anymore. For the first time in 26 years, Congress has let the moratorium on offshore drilling expire. Starting Oct. 1 oil rigs technically could spring up just 3 miles offshore, except within 150 miles of Florida’s Gulf Coast, which was placed off-limits by a 2006 law. Also gone is the ban on oil shale in the West. It’s a huge step backward for the environment and a win for fossil fuels. Not satisfied, some lawmakers continue to push their drilling agendas. Republicans want to give the states a portion of the royalties (which some gulf states had and lost) and speed up leasing and permitting. Democrats from Massachusetts want to make sure to protect the Georges Bank fishing grounds (“shellfish, not Shell Oil”) and national marine sanctuaries from drilling. A new president and Congress could reinstate the ban. (E&E News PM)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Carbon dioxide cuts in California will boost economy, Air Resources Board analysis says


(Photo of wind farm near Palm Springs from Flickr and photographer dbking)

News Update: California is leading the country on measures to stem climate change. So it’s encouraging to all of us that a new analysis from the California Air Resources Board says the state’s ground-breaking 2006 global warming law, A.B. 32, will help the state’s economy and generate jobs. The board, CARB, predicts that the law, which mandates cutting greenhouse gases to 1990 levels by 2020, will increase economic development by $27 billion, raise the gross state product by $4 billion, and produce 100,000 jobs, compared with continuing business as usual. Consumers will save an estimated $48 billion by using less energy and will be able to spend that money on other things. New jobs will be in sectors like agriculture, forestry, finance, insurance, real estate and mining, as well as the export of clean technology, the analysis says. Utilities will take a hit and lose about 9,000 jobs, as will the retail gasoline sector as people use less gas. Environmental groups generally approve the analysis, while business groups are skeptical. The GHG cuts are due to go into effect in 2012. The Board will vote in November on its so-called Scoping Plan to carry it out. (Sources: ClimateWire, Christian Science Monitor)

Permafrost melt under Arctic Ocean could release huge amounts of greenhouse gas methane


(Photo of Arctic Ocean from Flickr and photographer MarmotChaser)

News Update: If there’s anything scarier than carbon dioxide bringing our planet to a boiling point, it’s methane, which is 20 times more potent. Now comes word that massive methane deposits under the Arctic Ocean are starting to bubble up as water temperatures rise from global warming and the undersea permafrost melts. International researchers, working from a ship along the Siberian continental shelf, report finding intense concentrations of methane in several areas over thousands of square miles. The amount of methane under the seabed – likely there since the last ice age – is believed to exceed global coal reserves, and was thought to be contained by a “lid” of permafrost. But methane in the air and water has been measured by researchers and last week, for the first time, they reported seeing it bubbling up, suggesting that small holes have formed in the undersea permafrost. These are preliminary findings of the International Siberian Shelf Study 2008 and are being prepared for publication by the American Geophysical Union. (Source: The Independent UK )

GE, Google partner for ‘smart’ electricity grid


(Photo of electric grid from Flickr and photographer Mark , Sardella)

News Update: If you google “Google GE smart grid” you will find stories about a new agreement between Google and GE to develop a more advanced electricity grid. But I’ll save you the trouble and summarize here. Recognizing the grid hasn’t changed much since Thomas Edison built the first power plant, the two behemoths are combining their brain power and finances to develop an expanded grid that can support plug-in cars and renewable energy sources – and even help consumers who want to generate power and sell it to the grid. The CEOs of both companies agreed last week to lobby for a “21st century” grid that lets utilities and end users manage electricity more efficiently. An initial goal is to accommodate power from renewable sources that may be removed from the existing grid. The two partners also will develop enhanced geothermal systems, which can serve as a steady backup for intermittent sources like wind and solar. And they said they may look at co-financing wind or solar development in the future. (Source: Greenwire)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Chicago Climate Action Plan here after long delay, calls for massive community effort to cut GHG


(Photo of Chicago skyline from Flickr and photographer Atelier Teee/Terrence Faircloth)

Weekly Angst:
Finally, the long-awaited Chicago Climate Action Plan is here. Mayor Daley unveiled it last week, apparently after convincing the power structure in the city to go along with it.

In many ways it is very ambitious. The goal is to reduce greenhouse gases 80% below 1990 levels by 2050, with an interim marker of 25% reduction by 2020. But success will depend on the actions of business, labor, civic leaders and individual residents, so buy-in is important. And someone will need to be pushing the agenda.

CCAP is more comprehensive than many city plans, covering everything from retrofitted buildings to biking to roof gardens to power plants and beyond. Yet it is sparse on numbers.

The plan calls for a 30% increase in mass transit ridership and suggests some ways that could happen, but offers no dollar amounts or specific numbers. Likewise it calls for more efficient motor vehicle fleets, but gives no specifics – unlike New York City, which seeks a total turnover of taxis to hybrids in 5 years.

There are some numbers in the plan, and I’ll list some of them here. I like numbers because you can measure progress against them.

Strategies to reduce GHG

Overall, the 4 strategies for reducing greenhouse gases call for:
• 30% of the savings to come from making buildings more energy efficient
• 34% to come from clean and renewable energy sources
• 23% from transportation and
• 13% from reduced waste and industrial pollution.

Some other numbers

The plan calls for the following:
• Retrofit 50% of the commercial and industrial building stock (that’s huge if you think about it)
• Improve efficiency at 50% of residential buildings (also major, in a city of 3 million people)
• Upgrade or re-power 21 power plants
• Procure enough renewable energy to reduce electricity emissions 20%
• Double household-scale renewable electricity
• Increase roof gardens to cover 6,000 buildings and plant 1 million trees
• Recycle 90% of waste by 2020.

This last – recycling – is a sore point for Chicago. The blue bag system never worked well and is slowly being shifted over to a suburban-type blue cart system, ward by ward. The plan calls for all blue carts by the end of 2011, and in the meantime, there will be communal recycling boxes throughout the city, within a mile of any residents who don’t yet have blue carts. The plan also touts the city’s toxic and electronic waste center, which is open three days a week for disposal.

City government plans to upgrade building codes and have energy audits for its 500-plus buildings, including schools, with the goal of reducing energy costs 30-40%. The Department of Water Management will put solar panels on the filtration plant and Park District employees will be taught to install solar panels.

Programs and tools

The plan emphasizes tools and programs to help businesses and individuals retrofit their buildings and take other steps to cut emissions. Among them are a “one-stop shop” for financing and technical assistance in retrofitting buildings. The city and CTA have a task force to encourage transit-supportive neighborhoods. Businesses will compete with one another to reduce CO2. And a Chicago Offset Plan will invest in renewable energy, trees and retrofitting.

Do it yourself
The plan also lists steps businesses can take to reduce their emissions, including (a favorite of mine) turning off the lights when they’re not in use, switching to efficient CFL bulbs, lowering the thermostat 3 degrees in winter and raising it 3 degrees in summer, turning off electronics in off-hours, reducing auto trips and driving the most fuel-efficient cars available, using videoconferencing instead of travel, buying green products and recycling.

There’s also a list for residents, which includes: switching to public transit (getting rid of a car could save $400/month) or at least keeping your car tuned up and tires inflated, re-using shopping bags, using CFLs and turning off lights and unplugging electronics when not needed, and planting or adopting a tree.

The plan, available for download at http://chicagoclimateaction.org, includes information about current emissions, expected impacts from climate change and a strategy for adaptation to extreme weather and ecosystem changes that are inevitable.

All-in-all it’s a good blueprint for reduction of greenhouse gases. Now it needs to be implemented. That will require a huge community effort by business, labor, government and residents -- and most of all, leadership from the mayor, just as Mayor Bloomberg is pushing for major change in New York City. A powerful mayor should be able to make it happen.

Friday, September 19, 2008

‘Gang of 10’ bill dead for now; tax credit extensions likely for renewable energy


(Photo of wind farm from Flickr and photographer lamusa/Jennifer)

Washington Report: The Gang of 10 bipartisan Senate energy package is over, at least until after the election. The 20 supporters apparently couldn’t reach agreement and pulled the bill Friday. Pressure to expand offshore drilling after a more generous Democrat bill passed the House, as well as a fast-tracked bipartisan bill to extend renewable energy tax credits contributed to the decision. The financial crisis also promised to bump an energy debate as a top priority. But it was unclear Friday whether the offshore drilling ban would be allowed to expire Sept. 30 or would be extended in a resolution to continue government spending till year’s end. Meanwhile the Finance Committee’s bill on tax credit extensions is likely to come up next week. That bill would, among other things:
• Extend production tax credits for wind 1 year.
• Extend investment tax credits for solar energy 8 years.
• Extend credits for energy efficient buildings for 1 year.
• Add credits for small residential wind turbines and geothermal pumps.
• Add credits for new advanced coal and coal gasification, and to industry for capture and storage of CO2
• Add consumer credits for plug-in vehicles
• Limit but not repeal tax breaks for oil companies.
A coalition of industry and environmentalists warned Thursday that failure to extend renewable tax credits could cost 100,000 jobs and billions in investments. (Sources: Greenwire, E&E PM, E&E Daily)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

House approves energy bill with off-shore drilling, tax credit extensions for renewables, RES


(Photo of Capitol Building from Flickr and photographer seansie/Sean Hayford O'Leary)

Washington Report: The House on Tuesday voted 236-89 to pass a comprehensive energy package that allowed for more off-shore drilling but at the same time rolled back oil tax breaks to fund renewable energy and efficiency. HR 6899 would:
• Allow drilling more than 100 miles of both coasts and, if states said OK, drilling 50 miles off their shore; maintained the ban on drilling within 125 of the west coast of Florida; protected Georges Bank fishing grounds off New England from drilling.
• Create a renewable electricity standard (RES) mandating 15% of electric power come from renewable sources by 2020, though one-fourth of the mandate could be met with efficiency.
• Roll back $18 billion in oil tax breaks to fund renewable energy and conservation.
• Extend investment tax credits for solar energy 8 years, production tax credits for wind 1 year, and other renewables like geothermal and wave energy 3 years.
• Make $1 billion in tax credits available for coal plants that use carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology.
• Lift a moratorium on oil shale leasing in Colorado, Utah and Wyoming, though the states must pass laws to permit it.

The politics behind the bill
Environmental groups, while liking the renewable provisions, objected to the bill’s offshore drilling, oil shale and CCS provisions. Democrats said they backed down on offshore drilling because public opinion favors it and they wanted to give cover to moderate Dems in tough re-election fights. They also noted the offshore drilling ban expires at the end of September, which would permit drilling as close as 3 miles offshore if Congress doesn’t act. They added CCS and oil shale at the last minute to garner more support. GOP leaders, who wanted much broader offshore drilling, complained they had no input into the bill and said it would not add to domestic oil production because states would have no financial incentive to allow drilling off their shores. The White House threatened to veto the bill, based on the rollback of oil tax breaks and the RES. (Sources: Congressional Quarterly, E&E Daily,
thedailygreen.com
)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Sarah Palin gets numbers wrong on Alaska’s share of U.S. energy supply


(Photo of Sarah Palin from Flickr and photographer sloomis08.)

News Update: Republican VP candidate Sarah Palin told ABC’s Charles Gibson that Alaska is responsible for 20% of the U.S. energy supply. But according to the Washington Post’s “Fact Checker” column, Alaska is only the 9th largest energy supplier in the U.S., with just 3.5%, and has relatively little natural gas, very little coal and no nuclear power -- not to mention wind or solar. Palin later amended her statement at a campaign appearance, to say as governor she oversaw “nearly 20% of the U.S. domestic supply of oil." Data from the Energy Information Administration show Alaska accounted for just 7.4% of the country’s U.S. oil and gas production in 2005, and oil output has fallen since then. Today Alaska produces about 13% of domestic oil (though it was 18% back in 2005, before she was governor). GOP presidential candidate John McCain has touted Palin as the most knowledgeable person in the U.S. on energy issues and she says energy would be one of her responsibilities as vice president. (Sources: ClimateWire, Washington Post)

Europeans fear climate change more than they do terrorism, survey shows

News Update: Europeans see climate change as a bigger threat to the world than international terrorism, according to a recent study by the European Commission. Survey results showed:
• 62% said climate change was the most serious problem facing the world
• 53% said terrorism was
• 76% said industry was not doing enough to battle climate change
• 64% said their government was not doing enough about it
• 61% had taken personal action to reduce greenhouse gases.
30,000 people in 30 countries were surveyed. Only the Czech Republic, Italy and Portugal did not see climate change as a serious threat. In Greece and in Cyprus (where water shortages are severe), 90% said climate change is a big problem. Many of those surveyed said they did not know enough about causes of global warming and what could be done about it, leading officials to say more education is needed. The Number 1 global concern was poverty and the lack of food and water. (Source: ClimateWire)

Environmental Defense Fund lists 'high quality' carbon offsets on new Web site


(Photo of methane capture in landfill from Flickr and photographer meaduva.)

News Update: Thinking about buying carbon offsets to make yourself carbon neutral? After thorough examination, the Environmental Defense Fund has approved 11 projects that offer real reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. The projects, listed on carbonoffsetlist.org, are an effort by ED to provide “high quality offsets” for businesses and individuals who want to counter their carbon footprint by purchasing offsets in the $50 million unregulated carbon market that is often unreliable and sometimes fraudulent. The list is the result of hours of investigation and examination of reams of paperwork and features projects such as capture and combustion of landfill methane. No wind or forest projects are included, perhaps because of the difficulty of measuring the exact savings of GHG. ED said other projects will be added in the future. (Sources: ClimateWire, The Daily Green, Environmental Defense)

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Would new green economy and renewable energy really deliver more good jobs for U.S.?


(Photo of solar panel installers from Flickr and photographer utt73/John Utter)

Weekly Angst: You hear a lot about how clean energy will bring us more jobs. But will it really do more than just replace the jobs lost as fossil fuels are phased out?

Yes, says a new report, just out from the Center for American Progress and Political Economic Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

A $100 billion investment in clean energy and efficiency would result in 2 million new jobs in 2 years, whereas a similar investment in old (fossil fuel) energy will only create about 542,000 jobs, says the report. That’s a 3-to-1 difference.

Why is that? Well, green energy and efficiency are more labor intensive and less reliant on machinery and supplies, according to the report, “Green Recovery.”

The new jobs would be created in the following categories:

Retrofitting buildings: All publicly owned buildings, including schools and libraries, would be retrofitted for energy efficiency and Congress would encourage people and businesses to do likewise, using existing programs and tax credits. Any investment would be returned in 3-5 years through smaller utility bills. Jobs created would include electricians, heat and air conditioning installers, carpenters, roofers, insulation workers, truck drivers and building inspectors.

Mass transit and freight rail:
While serious expansion of light rail service would take longer than two years, jobs could be created quickly by expanding service on existing bus and subway lines by subsidizing fares. Jobs would include civil engineers, track layers, electricians, welders, metal fabricators, engine assemblers, bus drivers and locomotive engineers.

Smart grid: Investment in energy grid efficiency and expansion would produce jobs over time, and pilot programs could be ramped up with more money in federal matching grants. Jobs would include computer software engineers, electrical engineers, machinists, construction laborers, operating engineers and line installers and repairers.

Renewable energy: If Congress extends investment and production tax credits for alternative energy like wind, solar and next-generation biofuels, those industries will boom here and produce thousands of jobs, including environmental engineers, steel workers, machinists, electrical equipment assemblers, truck drivers, production managers, electrical engineers, installers, chemical engineers, chemists, agricultural workers, purchasing managers and inspectors.

A stimulus to the economy

The report points out that this would be a type of stimulus package, to jump-start a flagging economy, but one that keeps on giving, by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and cutting energy bills.

The last economic stimulus package cost $168 billion and once people spent their checks it was over. This would cost less and produce lasting effects.

The plan is endorsed by the Sierra Club, United Steel Workers and Natural Resources Defense Council. It is similar to Barack Obama’s $150 billion 10-year plan for sustainable energy and green jobs.

Other countries, especially in Europe and Asia are pumping up their green economies and supplying most of the solar panels and wind turbines the world demands. So we have an added incentive to stoke up our green economy. If we don’t, the jobs and economic advantage will go overseas.

Join a call to action
Sept. 27 will be a National Day of Action, co-sponsored by many organizations, to call attention to the need for Green Jobs. Hundreds of events will be held across the nation to send a message to Congress to tackle the climate problem and build a green economy with job-intensive solutions like weatherizing homes, installing solar power and engineering a better mass transit system. To find an event near you, go to Green Jobs Now.
(Sources: ClimateWire, Green Recovery report)

Friday, September 12, 2008

House Dems back down on offshore drilling


(Photo of drilling platform off Santa Barbara that caused big spill in 1969 from Flickr and photographer Doc Searls)

Washington Report: Facing the threat that the ban on offshore drilling will be allowed to expire Sept. 30, House Democrats are expanding the drilling provision in their new energy package to include drilling 100 miles offshore and as close as 50 miles off the east and west coasts if states want it. Their ace in the hole is that they haven’t included royalties for the states, which makes it less likely states will opt in. The plan maintains a ban within 125 miles of Florida’s gulf coast until 2022. Also, in an effort to bring coal-state reps onboard, the plan now would spend $10 billion over 10 years on carbon capture and storage technology. A third new item is more vehicles using natural gas as fuel. The package also includes:
• A renewable electricity standard (RES) of 15% by 2020, one-fourth of which can be met with efficiency
• Extension of tax credits for renewable energy and efficiency
• Pressure on oil companies to drill where they have existing leases, such as Alaska
• Repeal of Big Oil tax breaks and royalty subsidies
• Release of oil from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve
• More money for public transit

The package is expected to go to the Rules Committee Monday and be voted on as early as Tuesday. The GOP has its own bill – The American Energy Bill – which calls for much wider offshore drilling, drilling in ANWR, and more use of oil shale and nuclear plants, as well as expanded renewables and efficiency.

In the Senate, the “Gang of 10” bill picked up 4 more sponsors this week: Susan Collins (R-Me.), Amy Kobluchar (D-Minn.), Elizabeth Dole (R-N.C.) and Evan Bayh (D-Ind.), doubling the original 10. That bill is also expected to come up next week, along with two alternatives. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he'd like to vote first on the tax credit extensions before bringing up broader bills. For more on the “Gang of 10” and background on the House bill, see EarthlingAngst’s Sept. 5 post. There is an urgency to pass something before the end of the month, when the offshore moratorium expires, allowing drilling within 3 miles of shore. With elections at hand and public sentiment buying the argument that drilling is the answer, it’s clear that science is not winning out this time. (Source: E&E Daily)