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 -- 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)