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,,,, New York Times,

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, 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,

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, 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)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Climate change to make Great Lakes muddier

(Photo of Lake Erie with ice from Flickr and photographer kuddlyteddybear2004/Mark K.)

News Update: Global warming, if allowed to continue, will change the climate of the Midwest so it feels like the Deep South, according to a researcher at the University of Illinois. And as temperatures go up – in summer, between 5 and 15 degrees – the Great Lakes, which hold 20% of the world’s fresh surface water – will shrink. Without ice cover, for example, Lake Erie’s level could go down 1.2 feet by 2050, said atmospheric scientist Don Wuebbles. As water evaporates and levels go down, it will not only interrupt shipping but increased algae and sediment will make the waters muddier, he said. For one who lives on the Great Lakes, this is distressing news. I won't be here in 2050 but my grandchildren will. The lakes are a wonderful resource, not only for the ever-shrinking water supply, but for beauty, boating, fishing, swimming and a shipping economy. Let's not lose them. (Sources: Greenwire, Sandusky Register)

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Wind farms are looking to put down stakes offshore just like oil drillers are`

(Photo of offshore wind farm in Britain from Flickr and photographer phault/Phil Hollman)

News Update: Oil companies may have competition for the offshore continental shelf as a source of energy. Wind companies are looking offshore as well. The Interior Department is just now ending a comment period on a plan to lease large areas of offshore property to harvest wind, which is stronger in the ocean than it is on land. So far, the states have been leading the way and they met in Delaware this week to discuss their prospects and problems. The biggest threat right now is the failure of Congress to agree on extending the production tax credit wind companies depend on to keep their businesses competitive. Other obstacles are government red tape, an inadequate grid and citizen objections. The Catch-22 is if they build close to shore, in state water, people living along the shore object. If they go far out into federal water, they have to wend their way through a series of regulations that can take years. Delaware, seen as a leader in offshore wind here, has signed an agreement with Bluewater Wind to buy power from a farm to be placed 11 miles off its coast. But they are still awaiting federal approval. The most interest in offshore wind is in the Northeast, where there are large population centers near the coast. Rhode Island and New Jersey are among the states taking a serious look. And Massachusetts is still waiting to resolve the controversy over Cape Wind off Nantucket. (Sources: ClimateWire, Greenwire)

Rain barrels help counter drought, water shortage

(Photo of rain barrels from Flickr and photographer fireballsedai)

News Update: What can you do to help conserve an increasingly scarce resource – water? Well, growing numbers of people are setting out rain catchers to collect water to use on their lawn and plantings, and for things like flushing toilets and doing laundry. With severe droughts and water shortages in the Southwest and Southeast, catching rain can give some relief from water restrictions. The average American uses 101 gallons a day for their home and yard. Agricultural and industrial use per capita drives that up to 1.430 gallons/day. In addition to providing a scarce resource, rain barrels help prevent run-off from paved areas in downpours that can flow quickly into rivers instead of seeping into the soil. Storm surges, at their worst, cause flooding or rush to sewers, sometimes causing raw sewage to flow into lakes and oceans. Rain barrels may become more common as global warming causes more erratic weather, droughts and downpours. (Sources: MSNBC, Greenwire)

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Is natural gas the right solution to getting off oil? See EarthlingAngst's answer to Pickens' plan

(Photo of metro bus in Washington, D.C., running on natural gas from Flickr and photographer Kathy Doucette)

Weekly Angst: You’ve no doubt heard a lot about natural gas lately. There’s a rush to drill in shale and T. Boone Pickens’ much publicized plan recommends wind energy to power 20% of electricity plants, freeing up the natural gas that runs them and using that gas to replace some gasoline. His goal is to cut oil imports by a third in 10 years (and to make some money in the process). Sounds good, but it's not the answer to global warming.

Natural gas does have several advantages, as Pickens points out:
* It’s plentiful
* It’s cheaper than gasoline
* It’s cleaner than oil or coal
* And it’s American.

Natural gas now powers 20% of the nation’s electricity. It’s also used for cooking, heating and the chemical industry. And some motor vehicles are beginning to use compressed natural gas (CNG) as a fuel.

It’s plentiful
Natural gas production peaked here in 1973. Reserves began to dry up in the ‘90s, and production declined until 2005. By then new technology allowed horizontal drilling into shale, and there are plentiful shale gas reserves in 33 states. Some reports say there are enough in North America to last a century.

A rush to drill has ensued. Pennsylvania, for example, is on its way to issuing 7,000 gas and oil drilling permits this year. Louisiana just had a record natural gas lease sale of $93.8 million. More than 4,400 miles of gas pipeline have been laid in the U.S. this year and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin just signed a bill to award TransCanada Corp. a license to build and operate a gas pipeline to run from the North Slope to a hub in Canada. Most of the reserves on the North Slope are leased by BP, Exxon and ConocoPhillips. So the oil companies are hedging their bets with gas.

Price encourages drilling but it’s cheap for autos
Another incentive to drill was the rising price. In 1999 natural gas was less than $2/thousand cubic feet. This summer it hit $13 before a sharp decline. Yet the end product, for automobiles, is much cheaper than gasoline derived from oil. In Utah, where compressed natural gas is plentiful and there is an infrastructure of filling stations, people with cars converted for CNG are paying less than $1 a gallon. To see prices and where CNG pumps are, go to

It emits less CO2
Natural gas emits 30% less carbon dioxide than gasoline, 23% less than diesel and 50% less than coal. It’s also more efficient than coal for power plants, as it loses less energy in the process.

It’s local
Nearly all (98%) of the natural gas used in the U.S. comes from North America. Very little needs to be imported, as long as supply here can keep up with demand.

The arguments against natural gas

Although natural gas is cleaner than oil and coal, it still emits 70% of the CO2 gasoline does and half what coal does. Pickens' plan, which shifts gas over to replace some oil but leaves most power plants running on coal is not going to get us to the needed reduction of greenhouse gases. And too much focus on natural gas will only delay progress in that direction.

Pickens touts natural gas as a “temporary” solution, a transition until everyone can drive electric cars in what he sees as 20-30 years. Well we're going to be driving plug-in cars way before that unless, of course, subsidies and infrastructure send auto companies in the direction of CNG instead of electric cars. And then we'll just be replacing oil with another -- though somewhat cleaner -- fossil fuel.

Some environmental leaders endorse Pickens' plan, in large part because it pushes a huge increase in wind power, from less than 2% to 20% in a decade. With "drill, baby, drill" ringing in our ears, that sounds like a pretty good program. Until you stop and think how close it will get us to our goal of stopping global warming. Not very. Not very at all.

EarthlingAngst’s plan

Pickens’ plan says nothing about solar energy, which is abundant in the West, or wave power or geothermal energy. Why not aim for 20% solar in 10 years as well? And instead of replacing natural gas, let wind, solar and geothermal replace the dirtier coal in producing electricity, and use cellulosic ethanol and electric cars or plug-in hybrids for transportation – and more mass transit. Also put a serious focus on efficiency. We waste as much energy as we use. Then perhaps we really could put a dent in both oil and coal in 10 years.

What a tragedy we have wasted so many crucial years arguing about this stuff. We need to take giant steps, not baby steps, to shift away from fossil fuels (not just foreign oil) to renewable energy sources, and we need an administration and Congress that realizes that.

Take action
Meanwhile, you can call your Senators and Congressman (212-224-3121) Tuesday during National Call-in Day and tell them to vote for renewable energy, green jobs and efficiency, not for more drilling. That’s the way to get more energy more quickly and help the economy and planet as well.
(Sources: ClimateWire, E&E Daily, E&E News PM, Greenwire,, PlanetArk, American Gas Assn., New York Times)

Friday, September 05, 2008

House Dems have new energy bill, adding renewable electricity standard and tax credits

(Photo of Speaker Nancy Pelosi from Flickr and Talk Radio News Service)

Washington Report:
Rallying back after being caught off-guard on offshore drilling, Nancy Pelosi and the House Democratic leadership plans to bring a new energy package to the floor when Congress returns next week. Emphasizing renewable energy, green jobs and efficiency, the Democratic package will include some expansion of offshore drilling, because it has become so popular with the public. But most of the emphasis will be on renewables. One important element will be the oft-tried extension of renewable tax credits, due to expire the end of the year. Large wind and solar projects are at risk because of the delay in extending the credits, held up by Republicans in the Senate (with John McCain refusing to vote many times, including once when a yes vote from him would have done the trick). While the new House bill is a work in progress, it is expected to include:
• A renewable electricity standard (RES), which has passed the House but not in the Senate.
• An energy efficiency standard
• Repeal of big oil tax breaks
• Help for mass transit
• Some relaxation of the off-shore drilling ban, with safeguards
• Extension of renewable and efficiency tax credits
Republicans are already calling the bill a gimmick and say the RES (which would mandate a percentage of electricity come from renewable sources) is a deal-breaker. A vote could take place as early as Sept. 12.

And in the Senate

Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) says he will call for a vote on the “Gang of 10” bipartisan energy bill soon after Congress reconvenes. Over the August break, six more Senators signed on – Republicans John Warner (Va.), John Sununu (N.H.) and Norm Coleman (Minn.) and Dems Tim Johnson (N.D.), Ken Salazar (Colo.) and Tom Carper (Del.) Their proposal, which environmentalists says is too reliant on old fossil fuels, would:
• Allow off-shore drilling up to 50 miles off Florida in the Gulf of Mexico
• Allow the Carolinas, Georgia and Virginia to decide if they want drilling 50 miles from their shore and giving them some of the royalties.
• Repeal billions in tax breaks for oil companies to help fund renewable energy and conservation
• Set a goal to wean 85% of autos off oil-based fuels in 20 years
• Extend renewable and efficiency tax credits until 2012
• Give tax credits for extremely efficient vehicles
• Fund next-generation biofuels and loan guarantees for coal-to-liquid plants that can capture carbon dioxide.

How they differ
The Senate “Gang of 10” proposal (details still unknown) would not include a renewable energy standard (RES) or energy efficiency standard. The House proposal (also few details) would include no coal-to-liquid provision. Presumably the Senate proposal will do less for renewables than the House package and will allow more offshore drilling. Once the details are known it will be more clear what the differences are. Original sponsors of the “Gang of 10” proposal are all pro-drilling. They are Sens. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.), Saxby (R-Ga.), John Thune (R-S.D.), Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), Mary Landrieu (D-La.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.), Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) and Mark Pryor (D-Ark.).

The White House view

A spokeswoman for President Bush said Friday he wants Congress to give him a "clean" energy bill (not to be confused with "clean energy" bill) that expands offshore drilling, removes limits on oil shale leasing and extends the renewable tax credits. Apparently his idea of a "clean" energy bill is one that doesn't have all that other stuff in it.

The urgency
If agreement isn’t reached soon, renewable tax credits will expire, putting a stop to many wind and solar projects. Also the moratorium on offshore drilling will die if it’s not renewed by Congress. But more important, going into this election season, is that the voters are worried about gas prices and want to see some action taken. Will Republicans be able to win out with their “drill now” mantra? Or will Democrats prevail with an emphasis on renewable energy and green jobs? Both claim their plans will further energy independence. The maneuvering will be interesting – and disturbing – to watch. Whatever they do won’t help gas prices and – more important – won't do as much as is needed to fight against global warming.

How you can help
Join the Sierra Club, Physicians for Social Responsibility and other groups Tuesday, Sept. 9 for National Call-in Day. Call your senators and representatives (Congressional switchboard is 212-224-3121) and tell them the emphasis should be on renewable energy, efficiency and green jobs, not offshore drilling and more fossil fuels. Also write a Letter to the Editor to that effect. Help shape the debate.

(Sources: Greenwire, E&E PM, Sierra Club)

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Rising seas on Delaware coast lead to study

(Photo of Delaware coast with two WWII towers from Flickr and photographer m wms)

News Update 1: Sea levels along 25 miles of Delaware coastline are rising at the rate of about 1 foot per century. Thermal expansion from global warming, along with erosion, settling and sediment blockage by man-made structures, have caused problems for some time. A historic lighthouse at Cape Henlopen fell into the sea in 1926 and two WWII towers are surrounded by water during heavy storms or extremely high tides. After a storm and flooding in May, state environmental officials are concerned about what the future holds as far as storm frequency and intensity, wetlands loss, rainfall, flooding, erosion and changes in groundwater aquifers. So they are working with NOAA over the next two years to map the land under the sea with a new technology called LiDAR, which uses digital photography to identify and find solutions to impending problems. (Sources: delawareonline, Greenwire)

Pacific islands could be engulfed by global warming

(Photo of Tuvalu from Flickr and photographer Jay)

News Update 2: Pacific island states, meeting at a forum, said the region should negotiate for international assistance for damage already done by climate change. Rising seas levels and severe cyclones already are causing people along the coast to relocate in 4 of the states – Vanuatu, Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Cantaret Islands in Papua New Guinea. In Kiribati, two uninhabited islands disappeared under the sea in 1999. “The evidence is quite clear that climate change is already wreaking havoc here,” said Pacific Island Forum Chair Toke Talagi, who is also premier of Niue, where the forum was held. The islands will ask the UN Security Council next week to address climate change as a threat to international peace and security. The international organization Avaaz is collecting signatures on a petition to support their request. (Sources: ClimateWire, Independent Online), Aavaz)

Lake Tahoe ecosystem undergoes climate change

(Photo of Lake Tahoe from Flickr and photographer Jeroen Elfferich)

News Update 3: Another body of water, Lake Tahoe in Nevada, is showing the effects of climate change. The water isn’t rising, but the area has seen a temperature increase of 4 degrees since 1910 and algae in the lake is growing 5 times as fast as in 1959. Summer nights are warmer, freezing days are fewer and there is less snow, according to the annual Tahoe State of the Lake report, by researchers from the University of California at Davis. The average surface temperature of the frigid lake has risen from 41.7 to 42.6 degrees since 1970. The region is cited by some as a barometer of how climate change is transforming whole ecosystems. (Source: ClimateWire)