Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Opposition to Obama = poor chance of passing Senate climate bill in 2010


(Photo of Capitol Building from Flickr and photographer wallyg/Wally Gomez)


Prospects for passing a climate bill in the Senate next year are looking grim when Senators return to Washington to pick up where they left off -- squabbling about health care. A bicameral conference group will try to reconcile the House and Senate versions in a way that can pass both houses, likely with no GOP votes. Tops on the agenda after that are financial regulatory reform and a jobs bill. So where will something as controversial as climate change fit in? Or will it?

Some Democratic Senators and the White House are pushing for a cap-and-trade bill this spring, before the heat of the 2010 election campaign picks up. But others are pushing back, suggesting postponement or even dropping the idea altogether.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), who got big money in exchange for her vote for health reform, is the underdog in a re-election fight next fall. She’s pushing for an energy bill separate from cap-and-trade. Other Dems down on cap-and-trade include those from Louisiana (an oil state), North Dakota (the leading coal state, which also has oil reserves), Nebraska (concerned about the impact of high energy costs on farming) and Indiana. A vote for cap-and-trade to restrict fossil fuels is not something they want to campaign on next summer and fall.

If any bill materializes that can get 60 Senate votes it will be the compromise being forged by Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.). Such a bill is not guaranteed to contain cap-and-trade and will inevitably have big giveaways to offshore drilling, nuclear power and “low-emissions” coal.

But that assumes they’ll get around to it, when the nation is much more focused on jobs and the economy. Time may run out, thanks to Republican refusal to cooperate on health care and their pretty uniform opposition to climate legislation.

Which brings me to something I’ve been stewing about for months: Why there is such solidarity among Republicans against Obama’s main initiatives. They’ve made it clear, they want him to fail.

The Harold Washington syndrome
It takes me back to the election of Harold Washington, Chicago’s first black mayor, in the '80s. Most white aldermen (the Vrdolyak 29) banded together to oppose everything he wanted to do. Racism was more blatant, as one of their number showed up the day after the election with an all-white button on his jacket. They wanted him to fail and believed opposing him would play well politically with their white constituents.

Sound familiar? I’ve no doubt race is an issue here, as well as fear of something different (a foreigner from Kenya??) who was swept into office in large part by young people who hadn’t voted before and therefore were considered by many to be illegitimate. Don't think so?

What if Joe Biden where president, with the same agenda? Would there still be the tea parties, the vitriol stirred up by talk show hosts and by politicians like Sarah Palin? Would Joe Wilson have yelled, “You lie” during the President's health care address to Congress?

In Chicago’s case, Washington’s popularity with the people led to his re-election and a change of tune by his opposition who in many cases saw better opportunities for re-election by emphasizing they were now with him, not against him. That could happen with Obama.

But meanwhile, the country -- and the planet -- suffer while the Republicans just say “no.”

(Sources: The Hill, The Times of London, MSNBC)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Final deal at Copenhagen climate conference omits greenhouse gas targets, deforestation plan

In the end, the Copenhagen climate conference “took note” of, rather than approved, the agreement essentially brokered by President Obama with the BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India and China) major emerging economies plus Japan and Europe. Strong dissent was voiced by Venezuela, Sudan, Cuba, Nicaragua and Bolivia, who were outraged industrial countries didn’t commit to strong, specific targets.

UN Sec.-Gen. Ban Ki-moon, who gaveled the final consensus Saturday morning after a night of debate, said afterward this accord was an essential first step and must lead to a legally binding agreement next year.

Dropped from the document in the final hours was a plan to pay countries to avoid deforestation.

The “breakthrough” accomplished in Obama’s meeting Friday with the major economies was agreement that they would all report their emissions cuts (or in the case of emerging economies, their actions) for international scrutiny. The president extended his visit by 6 hours to jawbone with leaders of major economies, then took off because of the blizzard targeting on Washington.

What was in the final document?
• Recognition that world temperature increases should be kept to 2 degrees Celsius (though they dropped the term “from pre-industrial levels,” allowing for an additional 0.7 degrees).
• $30 billion for poor countries to adapt to climate change over the next 3 years, with a goal of $100B a year by 2020.
• Industrialized countries must list their targets for cutting GHG, while major developing economies such as BASIC, Mexico and South Korea, must list actions taken to reach specific goals.
• A method for international verification of emissions.

What wasn’t in it?
• Agreement on specific, significant targets for cutting GHG, either short-range or long-range
• A plan to pay 40 countries to curb deforestation, which accounts for between 15-20% of emissions (and puts Brazil and Indonesia in the top 5 emitters).
• A date for reaching a legally binding agreement.

Countries that agreed with the Copenhagen Accord were asked to sign it.

UN climate chief Yvo de Boer told reporters, “We should have done better.”

Pledges made to date will not limit temperature increases to 2 degrees. More like 3 degrees.

The U.S. role
Despite Obama's important role in brokering an agreement, some blamed the weak accord on the U.S. for failing to come in with a climate bill at home signed, sealed and delivered. And if the U.S. had committed to, say, 20% cuts (from 1990) by 2020 like other industrialized nation, the agreement would likely have been much stronger.

So our Senate held back not only the U.S., but the entire world, which is a crying shame. One note: Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), the global warming denier who’s ranking member of the Environment Committee, had pledged to take a “truth squad” to Copenhagen to tell world leaders there’d be no U.S. climate bill. Apparently there was no squad and he spoke to no leaders. Let’s hope those he reached saw him as the annoying gnat that he is.

So, what now? Another year of tedious, fractious worldwide negotiations and a concerted effort to pass a meaningful bill here, while each country works toward its goals at home. I know you’re probably exhausted with signing petitions, sending money and demonstrating for the health care fight, but gear up for a new challenge in January. We need a decent climate change law. The world is depending on it.

(Sources: NRCD switchboard, Yahoo News/AP, BBC, Guardian. MSNBC)

Thursday, December 17, 2009

What did Hillary's $100B offer at COP15 mean?



(Photo of Clinton with U.S. negotiator Todd Stern at COP15 from Flickr and photographer Andy Revkin)

When I woke up this morning to the news that Hillary Clinton had announced in Copenhagen that the U.S. would raise $100 billion a year for poor countries to fight and adapt to climate change, I was amazed that Barack Obama hadn’t saved such big news for his speech tomorrow.

Here’s what she said, when she arrived last night, or was it this morning? The half-day time difference really throws me.

“The United States is prepared to work with other countries toward a goal of jointly mobilizing $100 billion a year by 2020 to address climate change needs of developing countries.”

A lot of qualifying terms there: work with others, toward a goal, jointly mobilizing…. It wasn’t exactly a declaration that the U.S. government, perhaps with bonus money thrown in by Goldman Sachs, Citigroup and other Wall Street fat cats (and maybe some help from Mr. Bill’s Foundation connections) would put up all the money.

As I began to parse the language and read more reports, some things became clearer – i.e. that she was sent to offer a carrot to African and other very poor nations to use a stick on China and India to allow their emission cuts to be monitored.

She noted such a fund was only for the poorest countries (i.e. not China) and it depended on a climate agreement including verifiable commitments to cut emissions or carbon intensity (i.e. China).

Other things became less clear – i.e. how much of the $100B will come from the U.S.? How much public and how much private? Will the billions already pledged by Japan, the EU and others for the next three years be part of that fund? Are we simply echoing a pledge by Europe to help set up a worldwide $100 billion fund for the long term?

According to U.S. Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the pending climate bill here contains $5B a year in proceeds from auctioning cap-and-trade allowances that would go to developing countries. Others are suggesting some of the money could come from $60B in annual subsidies for fossil fuels.

Whatever the case, response by other countries and environmentalists is positive and seen as perhaps the “breakthrough” the climate talks needed to avoid a failed conference. It suggests a long-term commitment by the U.S.
This may be the only way Obama can “lead,” given the stinginess of the Congress in committing to cut emissions.

Although poor countries say they need much, much more than $100 billion as droughts ravage some countries and rising seas threaten to obliterate others, their point person at the conference, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia, acknowledged they would accept $30B in the short term, $50B by 2015 and $100B by 2020.

Some of this money would help avoid deforestation, which causes about 20% of the world’s greenhouse gases. (Did you know the world is losing an acre of forest every second? I read that in Al Gore’s new book, “Our Choice.”)

An agreement to pay countries to avoid clearing their forests for agriculture has been one of the more likely outcomes of this conference.

World leaders are starting to arrive. We’ll see what the coming day brings (it’s already getting to be evening Thursday in Copenhagen).

(Sources: Sierra Club, Greenwire, Washington Post, LA Times, climateprogress.org)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Time is running out; deal or no deal for climate agreement at Copenhagen this week


(Photo of session at COP15 from Flickr and UN Climate Talks)

It’s hard enough to get 60 Democrat and Independent senators to agree on a health reform bill. Negotiations just seem to boil it down to the lowest level.

But try negotiating with 15,000 delegates from nearly 200 countries. That’s what’s been going on in Copenhagen the past 9 days. Small wonder they haven’t come up with much.

The poor countries want the rich countries, which caused the problem, to be much more aggressive about cutting emissions and to put up about $500 billion a year to save them from climate change.

And the rich countries want the big emerging economies with significant emissions, like China and India, to be accountable to the rest of the world for their planned cuts in carbon intensity (emissions wouldn't grow as fast as the economy.)

After a week of posturing and casting blame (and a half-day walkout by African and other developing countries), not much has been decided.

Now the top environment ministers and celebrities have arrived. Al Gore, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Prince Charles and N.Y. Mayor Michael Bloomberg gave them a pep talk and the ministers settled in to try to resolve some things before more than 100 heads of state arrive later this week for the conclusion of the much-touted climate treaty conference, COP15. President Obama will address the group Friday.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Yi-Moon arrived, saying, ”Time is running out. There’s no room for posturing and blaming.”

What now?
Will anything come of this conference? There are only 3 days left.

Despite the discord, some environmental leaders think there may be success. A great deal of advance work was done by the U.S., China and India in the past weeks, with their leaders making specific pledges to curb emissions.

One question is whether Obama will be emboldened to up the ante on his original pledge of 17% (over 2005 levels) by 2020, which is only about 3% over the usual baseline 1990. He now has the EPA’s endangerment finding which allows the administration to regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act, as well as a bipartisan “blueprint” for a Senate bill that would meet the House target of 17%. Our offer is pretty pathetic compared with Europe’s and Japan’s. But does he dare roil up a prickly Senate which has yet to pass any climate bill and would have to ratify any international treaty by (omigod) 67 votes. Probably not.

Another question is will China eventually give in and let others monitor its pledged 40-45% drop in intensity.

Funding for poor nations
A third major area to be resolved is how much the rich countries will put up to fund mitigation and adaptation in poor countries. The mitigation helps us all, by keeping GHG out of the air. The adaptation helps poor countries that are already hurting from the climate change that some say doesn’t exist. (Maybe someone from a disappearing island nation will throw a sandal at wacko Sen. James Inhofe, who plans to show up.)

The European Commission, before the conference began, offered $10.8 billion a year for the next 3 years. Japan just agreed to put in $10B a year. The U.S. apparently has offered $1B next year, to be followed by $2B in 2011 and 2012. We’ve also offered to put $85 million a year for 5 years into a clean energy development fund for these nations.

This is not nearly enough, say the developing countries. They want half a trillion. So how much is really needed? Of course it’s impossible to say. But British economist Nicholas Stern said $100B a year by 2020, then double that amount in the following decade. The EU estimated $147B a year by 2020. And the UN is calling for more than $500B a year.

Of course if we did more to curb emissions sooner, we wouldn’t have to spend so much on adaptation. And conversely, if we end up with a weak deal, or no deal at all, it will cost much, much more – we’ll all need adaptation funds.

(Sources: E&E News PM, ClimateWire, BBC, E&E TV, Huffington Post, Reuters PlanetArk)

Sunday, December 13, 2009

New bipartisan Senate 'framework' for climate bill favors oil, coal, nuke industries



(Sen. Lindsey Graham gives John McCain's mother a punch in the cheek (not really) on Election Night 2008. Photo from Flickr and photographer Dr. Akomodi

Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.), Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) released a framework last week for a Senate climate bill that supposedly could get bipartisan support. Kerry was chief sponsor (with Barbara Boxer) on the original, stronger Senate bill, which presumably can’t get the 60 votes needed to avoid a filibuster.

Lieberman has been working several years, first with John McCain (R-Ariz.) and then with now retired John Warner (R-Va.) to pass some kind of climate bill in the Senate, so it’s not too surprising he offered to help massage Kerry’s bill.

Graham? He’s great buddies with Lieberman and McCain (the three amigos were a frequent photo op during McCain’s presidential campaign), so I have to wonder if he’s a stand-in here for McCain, who’s publicly gone more conservative with a Senate election coming up.

Anyway, the framework was released last week in an effort to show that, yes, there’s a chance to cut greenhouse gases in the U.S. 17% by 2020, despite the foot-dragging in the Senate. That is what the House passed and Obama has more or less promised to the rest of the world. Do you know how piddling 17% based on 2005 levels is? Most industrialized countries that made pledges based them on 1990 figures and are up in the 20-30% range.

The four-page framework doesn’t have a lot of other details but it does outline priorities: jobs and lowering dependence on foreign oil.

There are whole sections, though, on nuclear, domestic oil and coal. A little of that would be expected, if they’re trying to get bipartisan support. But let’s not let those industries write the bill!

A comment Graham made to E&E News last week is particularly alarming:

"I need the nuclear power industry to say that this bill gets us to where we want to go," Graham said. "I need the coal companies to say that clean coal provisions will not only not put us out of business, but actually increase the value of coal in America. And I'm going to need the oil and gas industry to say that the oil and gas drilling provisions are meaningful, will add to our inventory and make us more energy independent, and it's good business."

He actually said that.

Wait a minute here. Wait just a minute. Are we doing this to ensure the continuation of fossil fuels and the resurrection of a defunct nuclear industry? Or are we doing it to clean up the environment and make the planet safe for humans?

We need to watch very carefully as this bill is developed. There are some nice thoughts in it: Like long-term 80% reduction in GHG (they don’t commit to any year though, and it may be hard to get from here to there by 2050, which is when we should be at 80%).

They do note that putting a price on carbon will push development of low-carbon energy, but incentives for nuclear and “clean” coal get more attention.

There are actually sections entitled “Ensuring a Future for Coal” and “Encouraging Nuclear.” Um, excuse me, what about wind and solar? And geothermal and biomass? And efficiency….

Clearly this is written to appeal to the coal states (of which there are many) and the oil states, but will they lose the environmentalists -- and any sane person who realizes what fossil fuels are doing to this planet? A big part of the motivation is they want Congressional action instead of EPA regulation or a patchwork of restrictions in individual states. They actually say all that.

There is too much mention of “outside stakeholders.” Guess who that is? Not us.

The rest of the world is not happy with our puny 17% pledge at Copenhagen and I can’t see that they’re going to like the rest of what’s in the Senate “framework.” Let’s hope they put huge pressure on the U.S. to get real on climate and not just shill for existing industries as this framework seems to do.

It’s embarrassing the U.S. is so far behind Europe and being chided by China and other developing countries for not doing enough. Are we really going to let the “outside stakeholders” in the U.S. determine the future of the planet?
(Source: E&E News PM)

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Copenhagen Climate Change Conference 101















(Photo of coal power plant in Germany from Flickr and photographer davipt/Bruno Rodrigues

Nearly 200 countries head to Copenhagen this weekend, in an effort to forge a “political” climate agreement – to be followed in 6-12 months by a “binding” agreement. It is far from certain what the outcome of this Dec. 7-18 United Nations Climate Change Conference will be.

The UN’s chief climate executive Yvo de Boer hopes to see:
• Deeper emissions targets from industrialized countries.
• Reductions or actions pledged by developing countries.
• A “prompt start” fund for clean energy, adaptation and deforestation reductions – with rich countries pledging $10 billion a year over the next 3 years.
• A decision about the structure of a legally binding agreement to follow next year.

Individual pledges
Some industrialized countries have individually stated targets for emission cuts by 2020.
• Norway was the most ambitious, offering to cut 40% (from 1990 levels).
• The EU pledged 20% (from 1990), going up to 30% if others did the same.
• Japan pledged 25% (from 1990).
• Australia said 15% (from 2000).
• The U.S. said 17% (from 2005). (We are already down 8.5% because of the economic slowdown.)
• Canada followed the U.S. lead, though its parliament wanted a 25% cut (from 1990).
• Russia pledged 25% (from 1990), though it’s already down about 34% based on economic problems, so could increase its emissions under this pledge.

The overall pledged reduction from industrialized nations for 2020 is somewhere in the range 11-15%, far below the 25%-40% developing countries expect from the “rich countries.”

Developing countries
Some developing nations also have announced goals, often measured against BAU (business as usual) projections. They all want to grow economically, but will cut “intensity” or amount of emissions per economic unit.
• China pledged 40-45% reduction in intensity.
• Brazil said 36-39%, and an 80% cut in deforestation.
• South Korea pledged 30% below forecasts (from 2005 levels).
• Indonesia said 26% from BAU.

About 70 heads of state have said they will attend, including Obama, who will be there Dec. 9 on his way to Oslo for the Nobel ceremony; president Hi Jintao of China; Prime Minister Gordon Brown of UK; and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd of Australia.

Terminology
Some issues and acronyms you should know about if you plan to follow this conference, knows as Cop15:

MRV = monitor, record and verify. Obama pushed this concept as a necessary component of any agreement. Some developing countries are wary of it, without any funding to help them keep track of their emissions.

BASIC = The four biggest polluting developing countries: Brazil, South Africa, India and China. Under the Kyoto treaty they didn’t have to set targets. Now they threaten to walk out if rich countries demand too much of them.

REDD = Reduced emissions from deforestation. This is a big issue for rainforest countries that want credit for not cutting down trees and financial help to replace farming and livestock that are replacing the forests.

Trust – This is not an acronym but a serious problem between the have and have-not countries.

All this plays out against the backdrop of recent reports that climate change is happening more rapidly than anticipated – fulfilling the worst-case scenario in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports.

Stay tuned. This is important stuff. We’re all in it together.

(Sources: Sierra Club, BBC, Reuters, ClimateWire, NRDC, climateprogress.org)

Sunday, November 22, 2009

China & US: Who'll rule on clean tech, green jobs?


(Photo of solar panel plant worker in China from Flickr and Bert van Dijk)

If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em.

That seems to be our strategy with China when it comes to the renewable energy race.

China is spending as much on clean energy as it is on its military. We’re, um, a little less generous. As the Senate dithers, bowing to the interests of Big Oil, Big Coal, and a backward-looking Chamber of Commerce, China is racing ahead toward dominance in the clean energy field.

We’re just not taking it nearly as seriously as they are. They’re ramping up their economy. Ours seems to be ramping down. We’re too tied to the old fossil fuels and don’t really believe that green jobs are the future.

We are spending about 12% of our stimulus money on renewable energy (which for us is amazing). They are spending 38% of theirs. Altogether they’re investing tens of billions of dollars in renewable energy and improving their grid. By 2013 green technology is projected to be 15% of their GDP.

China expects to expand its solar generation 20,000% (no, that’s not a mistake in zeros) by 2020. We project ours to increase just 33%.

Chinese solar manufactures are flooding the American market with cheap panels, driving some companies like GE and BP Solar, to close factories here and outsource. Applied Materials is opening a research facility over there. Of the 10 largest producers of solar panels, only one is American. Even Nellis Air Force Base is using Chinese panels.

We have been dominant in wind generation, with as many jobs in that as in coal mining. At one point, not long ago, we dominated turbine manufacturing. But now we have only one company in the world’s top five.

We’ll have to put a heck of a lot more into it, to catch and pass up China when it comes to the energy of the future.

Forming partnerships
At this point we’re settling for partnerships that can make use of China’s technology and capital. When we talk about sharing technology, it’s no longer us helping them. And they have plenty of money to invest.

On President Obama’s trip to China, a partnership between the two countries was announced – to boost renewable energy, share technology on modernizing the grid, develop codes and labels for energy efficient buildings and electronic consumer products, come up with standards on electric cars, and set up a joint clean energy research facility. We will also help China with shale gas technology.

By itself, this sounds like a vague announcement of cooperation that may not go anywhere. But several other recent announcements make it real.

*China’s A-Power Energy Generation Systems is partnering with U.S. Renewable Energy, a private equity firm, to set up a wind turbine factory in the U.S. for windfarms in North and South America. The technology will come from China, the turbine parts from the U.S. An estimated 1,000 American jobs will be created.

*A subsidiary of Chinese A-Power has joined with partners in Texas to build a 600-megawatt windfarm, funded mainly by Chinese banks, though they applied for U.S. stimulus funds. The request is controversial and may not go anywhere because the turbines are made in China, providing about 2,400 jobs there, but less than 400 here.

*Chinese solar panel maker SunTech is building a North American headquarters and factory in Arkansas, chosen over Texas because of a 10% tax incentive. Initially there will be 75 jobs, eventually as many as 250.

*Duke Energy has a deal with two Chinese companies for cash, equipment and technology for two projects: one solar power development in the U.S., the other better technology for carbon capture and storage at coal-fired electric plants.

I think we can expect more such deals. China, of course, is not only about clean energy. They’re still building at least one coal plant a week. But their rapidly growing need for energy and concerns about pollution are driving an interest in renewable energy we just can’t match. Or won’t match. So we may be ceding the energy future to them like we did the car business to Japan. And for the same reasons. Protecting dirty fossil fuels and resistance to change.

(Sources: Greenwire, CNN, Huffington Post, ClimateWire)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Testifying to the EPA on its Big Polluters rule


(Stop CO2 stickers passed out by the Sierra Club at the EPA hearing)

Today there was an opportunity to testify at one of two EPA hearings nationwide about a proposed rule to regulate global warming emissions from the largest (25,000 tons/year) coal-fired plants and smokestack industries. Together these big plants emit more than half the greenhouse gases in the U.S. The EPA proposes to regulate them under the Clean Air Act, based on a Supreme Court decision, by requiring the "best available technology" for new plants or those making major changes or expansions.

I was among those who testified. Here is what I said:

"My name is Cynthia Linton. I am a teacher at Northwestern University and a grandmother. In 2050 I will be gone, but my grandchildren will be very much alive, and I worry they will have to deal with climate catastrophes because we haven’t taken action to cut greenhouse gases by 80% as scientists say we must.

I wholeheartedly support the Big Polluters rule and commend the EPA for doing what it was set up to do -- protect the environment. Some people forget what EPA stands for.

Large coal-fired electric plants and smokestack industries produce more than half the global warming pollution in the United States. So it makes great sense to focus on these sources of greenhouse gas emissions as a giant step toward solving the problem.

Britain recently banned new coal-powered plants that didn’t have technology to capture and store carbon dioxide. The law went into effect immediately. Not in 2013, not in 2017. But now.

We should use the Clean Air Act to begin cracking down on plants that are polluting the atmosphere with heat-trapping gases and prevent the building of new ones that worsen the problem. The rule calls for the best available technology for new plants and those making big changes. That could include using cleaner energy, becoming much more efficient, buying new equipment or, as a last resort, closing down outdated and filthy plants.

While a cap-and-trade bill languishes in the Senate and an international treaty is delayed, the EPA must take this significant step to ensure that the Earth and the people on it are safe in the future."


There was a tremendous turnout at the Rosemont Convention Center, where two long days of testimony had all slots filled days ahead of time. There were scientists, health advocates, professors, environmentalists and many other concerned citizens from throughout the Midwest. They included a professor who teaches a very popular global warming class at the U. of Chicago and has written several books, a scientist who does climate research in Antarctica and a young woman who said she was there because she is 22 and this is going to affect her future. Virtually all supported the rule.

Of course, the other national hearing was in Alexandria, Va., and likely attracted many lobbyists for big coal, big oil and industry.

Experts at a panel discussion hosted by the Sierra Club at the lunch break agreed the rule is a good first step and hopefully will be followed by regulation of existing plants. As one panelist said, "If there was no more coal, we'd find another way." They agreed that clean, renewable energy and efficiency were the way to go. They also agree Congress needs to pass a climate bill.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Senate climate bill going nowhere soon, if ever; will Obama, EPA and states be the back-up


(Photo of Capitol engulfed in emissions from Flickr and Capitol Climate Action.)

Don’t hold your breath for the Senate to act on climate change. It won’t happen until next spring –- at least.

Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), lead sponsor of the strongest bill in the Senate, told reporters Monday that Dem leadership won’t start climate debate until after both health reform and financial regulatory reform are disposed of – likely around March.

Meanwhile Kerry is working with Sens. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) and Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) in an effort to craft a bipartisan bill that can garner 60 votes. (Why am I not thrilled about that?) They plan to have an outline ready within three weeks, before the international conference in Copenhagen.

A lot of moderate Democrats and most Republicans in the Senate are finding reasons to oppose climate legislation.

Two of them, Sens. James Webb (D-Va.) and Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) have offered an alternative that would emphasize new technology. It would provide $750 million each of the next 10 years for R&D on carbon capture, advanced biofuels, solar power, advanced batteries and recycling of used nuclear fuel. It would also give $1 billion to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to review advanced and small nuclear designs. The two said they did not support the Kerry-Boxer bill because it relies on cap-and-trade. (What they didn’t say is it will hurt coal.)

If climate action doesn’t happen by spring, conventional wisdom is that it will be stalled until after the 2010 elections. That doesn’t bode well. If Democrats lose one Senate seat, power will switch to the GOP, and climate change denier Sen. James Inhofe (D-Okla.) will replace Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) as Environment Committee chair. We’ll be back to “drill, baby, drill.”

Many Dems in the House, who voted for the climate bill that passed their chamber in June, are now under fire from more conservative Republicans in their districts. It’s unsure how that will play out in the voting booth.

If we can’t get something passed by early spring, it may be left to the president, the EPA and the states to provide the impetus for change. Obama made a pact with China this week for cooperation on renewable energy, the EPA is working on rules to regulate large CO2 emitters, and states in the East, West Coast and Midwest are likely to merge the cap-and-trade markets they have been working on regionally.

(Souces: E&E Daily, E&E News PM)

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Energy industry fuels campaigns of Finance panel


(Photo of Finance Committee from Flickr and Talk Radio News Service)

Max Baucus and his Flying Finance Circus, which sat on Health Reform for a long time, is now doing the same for Climate Change. So it isn’t surprising to hear that Finance Committee members have received some pretty big campaign donations from energy interests (as with the health industry.)

Over the past two decades, members of that powerful committee got at least $5.6 million from oil and gas and $2.4 million from electric utilities. They’ve built up quite a relationship over the years – especially in non-populous states, where it’s harder to raise enough campaign money from voters.

In the current election cycle, industries likely to be impacted by climate and energy legislation contributed $390,000 to Democrats on the committee and $251,000 to Republicans, according to an analysis by E&E News. Blanche Lincoln (D-Ark.), who is about to run for re-election, got the most, at $195,796 so far from 72 different energy interests. Lincoln is a key swing vote on climate change and will have additional sway as the new chair of the Agriculture Committee. She’s a two-fer.

Ranking Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) received the most among GOP members – $128,500 from 52 sources.

Now remember, we’re not talking about money spent on lobbying here – paid lobbyists plying their trade on Capitol Hill or running advertisements. That’s above and beyond the campaign contributions. This is cash going into Finance Committee members’ campaign coffers.

Special interests insist they aren’t buying votes. Rather they’re gaining “access,” to plead their case.

In light of that, it’s interesting to see that industry officials outnumbered those from any other sector (such as government, think tanks or consumer groups) in testifying before the relevant committees in the Senate on climate legislation. And that’s before Finance even got involved.

But getting back to Finance. They plan to re-write a cap-and-trade proposal and determine how free allowances will be doled out (the Kerry-Boxer bill pretty much went along with the allocations in the House-passed bill). They also may look at whether industry can bank allowances from one year to the next or bundle and sell them like mortgages, according to the American Enterprise Industry. Don’t even think about that.

I’m so sick of the big-money corporate interests determining our fate. And in this matter they’re also determining the fate of the planet. In large part because the Senate hasn’t passed a climate change bill, leaders of the world have determined they won’t be able to reach a legally binding climate treaty in Copenhagen next month. Obama was supposed to have made that possible, but the Senate is not cooperating. I wonder why.

(Sources: E&E Daily, Greenwire)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Will 2 climate treaties succeed where 1 does not at Copenhagen worldwide conference?


(Photo of Copenhagen, Denmark, from Flickr and photographer Jesper Sachmann )

The head of the U.N. was in Washington today, trying to corral Congress and the White House into the fold for a global climate agreement in Copenhagen next month.

The U.S., it seems, is still the main holdout. The problem is: We don’t want the UN in a position to enforce greenhouse gas targets for the U.S. I’m not quite sure how they could do that (they can’t even get countries to pay their dues), but that apparently is our main problem with signing onto a Kyoto treaty extension.

That and the fact that any agreement would have to be ratified by the Senate. Which was the problem last time. We signed Kyoto but never ratified it. And the Obama Administration doesn’t want to sign something we can’t ratify. So in the end, are we back to Max Baucus, Blanche Lincoln, James Inhofe and the others reluctant about climate laws?

Two treaties, not one?
The London Telegraph, which can see all this from across the sea better than we can here, says the best bet for a Copenhagen deal is a “two-track” system – two separate treaties. Sign one, sign both, take your pick.

One would be for industrialized countries, which under Kyoto agreed about a decade ago to cut GHG about 5% from 1990 levels by 2012. (They’re not all succeeding, but at least they seem to be trying.) An extended Kyoto treaty would set new, stricter goals, for after 2012. The EU and some individual countries are already making pledges, which hover around 20% -- or more if everyone signs on.

Meanwhile our Senators think it’s too much to cut 20% from 2005 levels by 2020 (which is about 4% from 1990). So you can see where we’re going with that. We won’t sign.

The second track, the Long-term Cooperative Agreement, calls for developing countries to set goals – maybe not for capping emissions, maybe for increasing renewables or phasing out coal. That’s the one we’re more likely to sign. I guess we get special privileges, being the Leader of the Free World and all, even though we contributed most of the CO2 up in the atmosphere now.

These two tracks were both agreed to in Bali in 2007. It was hoped the two could be folded together into one binding agreement.

But the recent round of negotiations in Barcelona ended badly. Now the developing countries are threatening to walk out in Copenhagen if all the rich countries don’t agree to Kyoto-like restrictions.

Why is Copenhagen so important?

It may be the last chance for an international agreement to save the planet from greenhouse gases. And it’s not actually saving the planet. It’s saving us. The planet will survive, but it may no longer be hospitable to a species commonly known as humans, as Al Gore points out in his new book, “Our Choice.”

(Sources: London Telegraph, ClimateWire, “Our Choice” by Al Gore.)

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Boxer's power play: panel votes with GOP MIA -- but we don't have a climate bill yet


(Photo of mountain-top-removal coal mine from Flickr and Sierra Club


While the nation was fixated on whether the House would pass a health reform bill last week, a little drama of its own was playing out in Sen. Barbara Boxer’s (D-Calif.) Environment and Public Work committee.

The week started out with the committee’s 7 GOP members boycotting markup of the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, otherwise known as the Kerry-Boxer bill, saying they needed yet more economic analysis by the EPA. As the boycott went into its third day, Boxer, backed by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), said, “Enough” and passed the bill, without any GOP amendments or votes. The Democrat-only vote was 11-1 (guess who? Max Baucus). Republicans were outraged. Too bad.

Boxer’s action re-emphasizes the importance of the thin Democratic majority in the Senate. If control swings back to Republicans, chairmanship of that committee will return to climate change denier and filibusterer James Inhofe (R-Okla.). (As an aside, Boxer is being challenged by Republican Carly Fiorina in 2010 and could use your help.)

Now what?
So what happens next? The House already passed a bill, HR 2454, in June, lest we forget. Now it’s the Senate’s turn to wrestle with both health and climate. And health is likely to get priority.

There’s plenty more work to do on a Senate climate bill, combining it with a more conservative energy bill (S 1462) from John Bingaman’s (D-N.M.) Energy and Natural Resources committee and giving others a chance to pile on: Agriculture, Foreign Relations and Finance. Despite the strong showing in committee, Democrats are divided on the plan. So leaders are looking for some Republican support.

Kerry is working with Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) to forge a bill that can get 60 votes. Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) has joined the duo. He championed climate legislation in the past, but who knows what he’ll do now.

It looks like more offshore drilling and nuclear power will have to be part of the trade-off. And there’s talk about lowering the cap on greenhouse gases to 17% (from 2005 levels) like the House-passed bill, rather than Kerry-Boxer’s 20% -- which already was far too modest, compared with what many other countries are doing. Both House and Senate bills give away most of the allowances for cap-and-trade at the start, making things easier on the polluters.

The importance of coal

The coal states are expected to hold major sway politically, so carbon capture and sequestration is likely to be a big item in any bill that can pass – as well as generous allowances to use until CCS is operational in about a decade.

A Columbia University study showed coal the No. 2 reason for opposition to climate legislation, after party affiliation (GOP). More than 30 states, from West Virginia to Montana, rely heavily on coal, which powers half the nation’s electricity. Some mine it, some transport it and most depend heavily on it for electric power.

Sen. Evan Bayh (D-Ind.) is in a bind because his state is among the top 10 producers of coal and relies almost entirely on it for electricity. Sens. John Rockefeller and Robert Byrd’s (D-W.Va.) state is also both a producer and heavy consumer of coal. North Dakota, Ohio, Wyoming and Kentucky are all closely tied to coal.

As Kerry, Graham and Lieberman try to work their magic to pull 60 votes out of the air, agriculture and other interests will weigh in. What the Senate comes up with and when isn’t exactly what progressives had hoped for. We’ll no doubt miss the deadline for international negotiations in Copenhagen a month from now, reducing America’s influence there. And the final bill will be a patchwork that won’t come close to what scientists (and other countries) say is necessary to curb global warming. The best that can be said is it would be a start.

(Sources: ClimateWire, washingtonpost.com, E&E Daily, E&E News PM))

Sunday, November 01, 2009

How do enviro groups and clean tech stack up against oil and gas for lobbying money?


(Photo of oil rig from Flickr and photographer crashworks/Elan Ruskin.)

In Washington, D.C., it was raining lobbying dollars this summer. Both sides were trying to influence all-important climate legislation.

The oil and gas industry spent $38.4 million in Q3 (July-September), while environmental groups spent a fraction of that -- $6.1M and renewable energy just 6.6M. Exxon alone matched each of the latter and then some with it $7.2M.

Electric utilities spent almost as much as oil and gas -- $37.4M. And they're doing it with our rate money. Their argument is they don't want our rates to go up. So concerned about the consumer are they. Lesser amounts fueled lobbying from coal mining ($3.6M), natural gas ($3.1M) and forestry/forest products ($2.9.)

Industry groups were largely trying to get more allowances in a cap-and-trade system, but some were trying to block a climate bill entirely.

The summer quarter roughly matched the time between when the House bill was passed at the end of June and the Kerry-Boxer Senate bill was released in the fall.

Environmental groups went all out with spending to keep the momentum going for a bill they wanted to see passed by the Senate before the December international meeting in Copenhagen.

The World Wildlife Fund spent $1 million, way up from $45,000 last summer. They ran ads targeted senators from the swing states of Alaska, Arkansas, Indiana, Maine, Montana and North Dakota.

Environmental Defense was second with $430,000, nearly double what it spent last year. Overall, enviro group lobbying money was up 33% from $4.6M last summer.

Their money, of course, came from concerned citizens like you. Keep the donations flowing.

(Source: Greenwire. E&E analysis based on data from the Center from Responsive Politics.)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Arctic ice melt changing global thermostat


(Images of Arctic sea ice thickness over the years from Flickr and climatesafety.org)

While many are skeptical the Earth is warming, the Arctic is one place where the change is very evident. But some say there could be advantages to melting summer ice there – ships can take a shorter route over the top of the globe, massive oil and gas reserves are more accessible. Maybe Arctic melting isn’t all bad, they say.

But does what happens in the Arctic stay in the Arctic?

Probably not, says NOAA. Melting sea ice there seems to be affecting weather patterns around the world, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s 4th annual Arctic Report Card.

Changes in the Arctic are “messing with the thermostat for the whole globe,” said Richard Spinrad, assistant administrator of NOAA. The report card compiles the work of 71 scientists in nine countries.

They found climate change was affecting the Arctic is many ways:
• Declining summer sea ice
• A shorter snow season
• Rising land temperatures
• Warming permafrost, which stores methane
• Changes in habitat and numbers of polar bears, walruses and seabirds.

Summer Arctic sea ice hit a historic low in 2007 and has come back a bit the last two summers, which has skeptics saying, “See. There’s no global warming.”

But what’s new and perhaps more important is the thinning of perennial ice, not just that which melts in the summer and then comes back in fall. The average thickness is down 2.2 feet between the 2004 and 2008.

The summer sea ice melt causes more open dark water, which absorbs heat and then sends it back into the atmosphere in fall. This cycle is sending land temps up, letting trees grow in the tundra farther north and affecting atmospheric circulation as far south as middle North America.

As old, thick sea ice goes away and is replaced by more fragile first-year-ice, new climate patterns are being set up, says oceanographer James Overland. “It changes everything,” he told ClimateWire.
• The ocean surface is warmer and less salty
• Greenland is melting
• Siberia has more runoff
• There’s less snow in North America

So, what happens in the Arctic won’t stay in the Arctic. We’d all better take notice.

To read more and see slideshow go to NOAA's Web site

(Sources: ClimateWire, NOAA)

Dog and cat carbon pawprints larger than autos?


(Photo of my BFF Princess Kitty)

Disturbing news. House pets like dogs and cats cause more CO2 emissions than driving a car. See why at Reuters PlanetArk .

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Protest today at ancient coal plant making Chicagoans sick; EPA and state sue owner


(Photo of Climate Action Day demonstration near Fisk coal plant in Chicago, by Earthling Angst. See more International Climate Action Day photos from around the world.)



A lump of coal in your stocking if you’ve been bad. That was the threat at Christmastime when I was a kid. Now we’re learning that coal was worse than we thought. It heats up the planet and makes people sick. It kills people.

So it was fitting that the Chicago protest today, on International Climate Action Day, was at the filthy, ancient Fisk coal-fired electric plant, which along with it’s sibling, Crawford, sits in the heart of Chicago’s mostly Hispanic neighborhoods. The final slap in the face is that it isn’t even supplying electricity to the area. It’s sending it out of state.

But Mayor Daley and the City Council seem oblivious to Fisk and Crawford while they try to maintain Chicago is one of the “cleanest, greenest” cities in the nation.

Health hazard
Fisk and Crawford are responsible for 2,800 asthma attacks, 550 emergency room visits, and 41 premature deaths a year, according to the Sierra Club.

A study of 9 coal-fired plants in Northern Illinois by Harvard’s School of Public Health says together they cause 21,500 asthma attacks each year. Chicago has twice the national rate of asthma, according to the Environmental Law and Policy Center. Asthma is a serious and sometimes fatal disease.

Fisk and Crawford, owned by Midwest Generation, were last upgraded in the 1950s, ELPC says. Midwest Generation also has plants in Peoria, Joliet, Waukegan, Pekin and Romeoville.

Lawsuit filed
A coalition of health and environmental organizations held a news conference at Fisk in late July, saying if the EPA did not act to stop repeated violations of the law, they would file suit against the company in 60 days. The main complaint was that the plants have been spewing excessive quantities of particulates (soot), far more than is allowable by law. Throughout the Bush years, the EPA gave the plants a free ride.

However, the current EPA director Lisa Jackson and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan responded by suing Midwest Generation themselves.

Environmental groups have long wanted to shut the plants down. One Chicago alderman said at the rally he will introduce an ordinance at the City Council to do just that. Meanwhile people who live near the plants continue to get sick.

(Sources: Sierra Club, Environmental Law and Policy Center)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Better learn what EV is. You may be in one soon.


(Photo of Chevy Volt from Flickr and Passion84Photos/Robert Heese.)

EV … PHV … These terms may soon be as familiar as SUV. Also, Volt, Leaf, Tesla and Fisker. This is the fast-approaching world of electric cars and plug-in electric hybrids.

Just about every auto company is working on one … or two, including some entrepreneurs. With government incentives, they expect a surge in sales, perhaps enough to meet Obama’s campaign goal of 1 million on the road by 2015. A Berkeley study shows that with a nationwide battery lease and swap program, EVs and PHVs could be 86% of the new-car market by 2030.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provided $2.4B to develop plug-ins and advanced batteries. There will be a $7,500 tax credit for the first 200,000 sold. DOE so far has loaned $529M to U.S. entrepreneur Fisker to develop 2 plug-ins, and $8B to Tesla (also U.S.), Ford and Nissan North America.

Coming to market soon
* GM’s Chevy Volt, Fisker’s Karma, Mitsubishi’s i-MiEV and China’s BYD EV should be for sale here by late next year.
* Ford’s all-electric Focus and Tesla’s Model S are looking at 2011.
* Nissan-Renault’s Leaf, Toyota’s plug-in Prius and electric iQ, and all-electric Smart car are due in 2012.

Tesla has already sold 700 of its pricey 2-seater Roadster and is working on a 4-seat luxury car and a delivery van. India’s Reva NXR begins production next year but it’s unclear when it might be available here.

Problems to overcome
The main hurdles are cost, range and infrastructure. And they’re related. At this point the lithium-ion batteries make the cars expensive. Most of the cars include a battery though some are planning on a leasing process.

Chevy Volt, Karma and China’s BYD EV are priced at about $40,000. Renault says its Fluence will be the cheapest because its Better Place batteries will be separate (at a cost of about 250 euros a year). Tesla’s $100,000 Roadster is being driven by movie stars and the like. China’s BYD F3DM, already being mass produced, sells there for $22,000. American investor Warren Buffet has a stake in BYD. Most car-makers are being cagey about prices.

Charge it, please
Range is an issue to balance against cost. Nissan would like Leaf to have a 100-mile range, Volt can go 40 miles without gasoline kicking in, and Toyota sees a range of 10-15 miles for its Prius plug-in, to keep the size of the battery down and cut the cost.

While many of the cars can be plugged in at home overnight, people in apartment buildings don’t have the same access, so charging networks need to be set up. Better Place is leading that fledgling industry and setting up networks in the San Francisco Bay Area, Hawaii, Denmark, Israel and Australia.

Around the world
Iceland is putting up its own nationwide charging network, hoping its entire population (310,000) will go electric by 2012. France has the same aim and will invest $2.8B. They’ll buy 50,000 EV fleet cars by 2015, and expect 100,000 on the road that year.

Germany is investing $750M and wants to have a million cars on the road by 2020. And Denmark expects about 50 charging stations in Copenhagen in time for the climate summit this December. Delegates will have access to some Renault EVs. And not to worry. Electric cars park for free.


To see more of the cars and learn more about EVs see Plug In America and it’s electric vehicle tracker.

(Sources: ClimateWire, PlanetArk, Greenwire, Guardian, LA Times, dailygreen.com, Bloomberg, Business Week, E&E Daily.)

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Will Kerry-Graham pact weaken climate bill?


(Photo of Capitol lost in smoke from Flickr and Capitol Climate Action)

Is the Kerry-Graham alliance a “game changer” in the hunt for 60 votes to pass a climate bill, or does it mean a watered-down bill that will have little impact on climate change?

In case you missed it, Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), in a New York Times op-ed piece this week, touted cap-and-trade along with more nuclear power, offshore drilling and “low-carbon coal,” as if there is such a thing.

I know we may have to toss a bone to the fence-sitters to get anything passed, but do we have to give them the whole cow?

I’m conflicted about nuclear power in the climate change debate. The fact that I’ve lived with it uneventfully in Illinois for decades may have something to do with it. But mainly, it doesn’t emit CO2. So I see it as the lesser of evils, compared with fossil fuels.

I know there are fearsome environmental concerns. But so are there with coal (ash, air and water pollutants, mountain-top removal) and with off-shore drilling (spills endangering coasts and wildlife). And sequestered CO2 from coal, if it’s feasible, has the risk of bubbling up and killing people.

Natural gas isn’t half bad (literally – it produces 50% of the CO2 in coal) and so is preferable among the fossil fuels.

Future is solar and wind
But we must keep our eye on the future, which is wind and solar (and things not yet in play). We need to get there as quickly as possible.

Nuclear should not be classified as a “renewable energy” as some moderates Dems want, and included in a renewable electricity standard (RES). If the final bill tosses a bone to the oil patch and coal interests to get passed, it should be insignificant compared with curbs on GHG, efficiency and incentives for true renewable energy.

Why do we need more oil anyway, if demand in the industrialize world peaked 4 years ago, as a research report revealed this week? The oil companies want to sell it to developing countries where the need is growing. But that means the U.S. public won’t benefit, just the multinational oil firms. Besides, Boxer notes, oil companies have leases they aren’t even using.

And lest we forget, a 2006 law already expanded drilling off 4 gulf states.

Hearings to begin
Barbara Boxer, chair of the Senate Environment Committee, begins hearings Oct. 27 on the Kerry-Boxer bill (not to be confused with the more conservative Kerry-Graham non-bill). That bill can probably pass out of committee with no drilling provision because it is heavily Democrat. We need to let Sen. Kerry know we much prefer Kerry-Boxer. He seems to have abandoned it already.

One bone of contention will be the so-called “border tax” – a tariff on imported items made under less stringent environmental conditions. Several Midwest senators, led by Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), are intent on protecting the manufacturing base in their states, and jobs. That’s a bloc of about 10 votes, Brown says. He also wants help for manufacturers to retool, as the House bill has.

On the opposite side of the trade issue is Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) who says he won’t accept a bill with a border-tax.

This battle is far from over. It's just beginning.

(Sources: ClimateWire, Greenwire, E&E New PM)

Today is Blog Action Day for climate change.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

States see linked wind farms along East Coast



(Photo of offshore wind farm built in 2000 off Denmark from Flickr and United Nations photos.

I spent many days swimming and fishing on East Coast as I was growing up – summers in Rhode Island, occasional trips to Long Island or Fire Island, N.Y., and visits to grandparents in Florida. I still make frequent trips back to what feels like home. I love the Atlantic seaboard.

Fast-forward and envision a chain of interconnected offshore wind farms up and down the coast supplying much-needed power to the New England and Mid-Atlantic states. A source of electricity that doesn't release greenhouse gases.

I would much rather live with offshore wind turbines than offshore drilling platforms or belching coal plants. I saw the graceful, slow-turning turbines off Denmark a few years back – didn’t even know what they were, but they didn’t seem like an eyesore. And the vision is that these farms will be so far offshore you'll scarcely be able to see them, if at all.

Given the need for clean energy, I’ve been rooting for Cape Wind off Nantucket during it’s 8-year battle for approval, which is still going on. (Even Ted Kennedy said “not in my backyard.")

Wave of the future
So I was happy to see in September that some East Coast states, from Maine to Maryland, are joining together to develop a vibrant wind industry off their coastline. They have formed what they call the U.S. Offshore Wind Collaborative.

One goal is to get R&D funding to develop floating turbines that can function in rough seas and deep water far off the coast – beyond the horizon. That could take time.

Meanwhile the states are motivated to cooperate rather than compete, and to come up with a network of windfarms connected on the ocean floor by a shared grid that goes to onshore substations near cities needing power.

Many reasons to do it
There are, of course, practical reasons for these states to work together:
• They import most of their power from the Midwest.
• The population is too dense to put windfarms on land.
• By working together they can reduce costs, cut through red tape and have an influential national voice.
• They can develop a strong offshore wind industry for the U.S., after ceding the onshore business to Europe years ago.
• They can, hopefully, speed things up so they can meet their self-imposed goals for renewable energy.
• The strongest, most reliable wind is offshore and the supply is endless.
(A curious difference about Europe’s offshore wind business versus ours. Their water is shallower so they’ve been able to adapt land towers for the sea, while we will need deeper water turbines if we want to place them some distance off the coast.)

Meeting last week
At the Clean Energy Summit in New Jersey last week, the states continued their talks. They will lobby together for an extension of the wind production tax credit beyond 2012. They will share public financing, technology and transmission lines. They'll work together to minimize environmental impact. (Yes there could be an impact on birds and marine life, but weigh it against the damage acidification from CO2 is causing oceans right now.) The states are even exploring the idea of making utilities buy a portion of their energy from offshore wind farms.

They said they will be able to save on costs and provide green jobs sooner than if each state proceeded on its own.

Many have already selected sites that meet state criteria. But the approval process involving the federal government is a complex one they hope to fast track, by agreeing among themselves.

Already underway

Several individual projects are already in the works:
• Cape Wind’s planned 130 turbines
• Delaware’s 450mw Bluewater Wind Co. project
• New Jersey’s work with several developers to produce 350mw
• Maine’s plan to test deep-water technology at 5 sites.
Rhode Island, Maryland and New York also are working on plans.

States have the right to put turbines up to 3 miles offshore, but the states want the federal government to begin issuing ocean floor leases for wind development beyond the 3-mile limit. Far better than issuing oil and gas leases.

(Sources: ClimateWire, usowc.org, NY Times.)

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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Civilian Conservation Corps could help our National Parks fight ravages of climate change



(Photo of endangered pika in Canadian Rockies from Flickr and photographers Lara and Chris Pawluk.)

It’s time to create a new Civilian Conservation Corps to work in our understaffed, underfunded National Parks. The CCC of Franklin Roosevelt’s time put hundreds of thousands of young unemployed men to work in the parks. It’s unlikely we could do anything on that scale, but with unemployment high and the parks threatened by everything from climate change to careless use and lack of maintenance, they could do a lot of good – both for the parks and for themselves.

Climate change is the greatest threat to the parks and it's already having an impact. Warmer temperatures, erratic weather and water shortages are taking their toll on glaciers, trees, wildlife and plants. Ecosystems are changing and big adjustments must be made to fight invasive pests and help wildlife migrate away from the Equator.

Parks are in danger
A new report from the Rocky Mountain Climate Organization and Natural Resources Defense Council tallies current disruptions and threats for the future:

• Beetle infestations to whiteback pines in Yellowstone have put grizzly bears back on the Endangered Species list because they feed on nuts from those trees.
• Joshua Tree National Park is losing its Joshua trees.
• Glacier Park is losing its glaciers (they’ll be gone in about a dozen years), as are Mt. Rainier, Yosemite and others.
• In Rocky Mountain National Park nearly all mature lodgepole pines have been killed by beetles.
• The pika, a cute little animal that lives at cool, high elevations, is nearly extinct, while sea turtles, Florida panthers, bighorn sheep and salmon are among threatened species.
• 1,000 trout succumbed to heat in a Yellowstone river in 2007.
• 50% of the coral in Virgin Islands National Park have died since 2006.
• Low-lying and coastal parks and monuments, such as Acadia, the Everglades, Biscayne and Dry Tortugas are threatened by rising seas. So are Ellis Island and even the Statue of Liberty.
• And parks in the Southwest are forecast to eventually have 100+ days over 100 degrees each summer – including Big Bend, Joshua Tree, Lake Mead and Saguaro. That alone would keep the visitors away, aside from the damage it wreaks on the landscape.

What to do about it
The report recommends expanding the parks, opening new ones and creating migration corridors to let plants and animals adapt to changing conditions. Each park should have a specific plan to protect at-risk resources. Air quality in the parks should be better protected; with more heat, ground-level ozone will be a health hazard. Some endangered parks should charge an entrance fee to help pay for adaptation. And all parks should be carbon neutral to do their part toward fighting climate change, following the lead of the Pacific Northwest.

Certainly a group of bright, unemployed men and women could help with the planning and labor. Let’s put them to work and kill two birds with one stone. (An unfortunate metaphor. But you know what I mean.)

(Sources: rockymountainclimate.org, ClimateWire)

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Pollution is bad; cap-and-trade is ... confusing


(Photo of Wyoming power plant from Flickr and photographer Kenneth Hynek.)

In a stroke of genius Sen. Kerry (that’s John, D-Mass.) switched out the term “cap-and-trade” for “pollution” in the Senate climate bill unveiled this week.

Everyone recognizes pollution is bad (except maybe some who produce it). You can see pollution and smell it – though maybe not the kind of pollution we’re talking about. But the association is there in most minds – pollution casts a cloud over cities, causes asthma and heart attacks, makes water undrinkable and unswimmable.

Greenhouse gases are as dangerous as other types of pollution, but you can’t see, smell or taste them and that’s a problem. Plus, who but the financial traders really understand cap-and-trade?

We need to forget "global warming" and "climate change" and call it what it is – pollution – so that people will care. Because we’ll need a lot of public support to balance out the special interests whose oxen are being gored.

Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act
Kerry and Senate Environment Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) unveiled their bill Wednesday to start Senate debate. It’s a little different from the House-passed bill in several respects:
• It calls for 20% reduction in GHG in 2020 (as opposed to 17%).
• It offers incentives for natural gas, the least hazardous of the fossil fuels, and more loan guarantees for nuclear.
• It allows states and regions to continue their own cap-and-trade until after the federal law is implemented.
• It doesn’t interfere with the EPA’s regulation of carbon dioxide in power plants and heavy industry, as the House bill did. But Kerry has already admitted that might be used to get fence-sitters to fall on their side.

On the fence
Speaking of fence-sitters, there are about 21. They include Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has gone all mavericky on what he used to espouse. His pal and former climate co-sponsor Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) said this bill has to be changed (read: weakened) to get 60 votes. (60 is the new 51.)

The Kerry-Boxer bill isn’t going anywhere fast, which is more than too bad. That will hurt the possibility of reaching international agreement in Copenhagen. Which means we are stopping the whole world from fighting GHG pollution.

Maddening Max and Blanche
The bill now has to wait for the Finance Committee to figure out how to dole out allowances. (Unlike the House, the Senate bill left that part blank.) And we all know Finance Chair Max Baucus (D-Mont.) knows how to drag his feet. He’s already said this is likely to wait till next year.

And then there’s new Agriculture Chair Blanche Lincoln (R-Ark.), who will have at it too. She doesn’t have very nice things to say about cap-and-trade and is the one of the bluest of the Blue Dog Democrats. In the House, the Ag chairman was able to hold up that bill and almost kill it getting concessions his rural constituents wanted. How did Lincoln get to be Ag chair anyway? When Ted Kennedy died, Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) moved over to head the Health committee and I guess Lincoln was next in line. Too bad.

We’re still embroiled in health care reform and, unlike the president, the Congress – especially the Senate – doesn’t seem able to walk and chew gum and the same time. So it’s likely that the bill will be slow walked until the year is ended, Copenhagen over, and 2010 elections on the horizon.

We need to push hard now. Call your senators. Tell them to fight pollution by passing a strong climate bill by the end of the year.

(Sources: ClimateWire, Sierra Club, Reuters Planet Ark, League of Conservation Voters)

Why is Europe so much greener than the U.S.?



(Photo of Copenhagen from Flickr and photographer Adamina. Denmark has one-third our per capita CO2 emissions.


I can't improve on the Reuters Planet Ark story so I'll just link you. .

Monday, September 28, 2009

Photographic Tribute to Our National Parks

This is a tribute to our amazing national parks and to Ken Burns whose PBS series this week reminds us of the need to be eternally vigilant against their destruction by mining, drilling, hunting and honky-tonk development. Climate change is now attacking the parks as well, melting glaciers, drying up rivers, sparking massive wildfires and messing with wildlife, trees and ecosystems. As one who has visited many of the national parks and finds them every bit as compelling as the much vaunted Alps or New Zealand landscape, I have selected some pictures from Flickr to reproduce the beauty I witnessed:


Grand Tetons National Park photo by Alaskan Dude/Fred Kovalchek


Arches National Park photo by Vtveen


Yellowstone National Park photo by Alaskan Dude/Fred Kovalchek


Glacier National Park photo by Spunkinator/Danny


Grand Canyon National Park photo by Cobalt123


Everglades National Park photo by Bill Swindaman


Glacier Bay National Park, Alaska, photo by Wugging Gavagal


Bryce Canyon National Park photo by by Vtveen


Yosemite National Park photo by Jim Brekke


Volcanoes National Park, Hawaii, photo by RaSchi/Ragnar Schierholz

Burns' series continues tonight (Monday) on PBS.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Global warming update is ‘wake-up call’ to nations


(Photo of retreating Athabasca Glacier from Flickr and photographer Janet.Powell)



Climate is changing faster than forecast just two years ago by the authoritative IPCC, a new UN report revealed last week.

More CO2 is going into the atmosphere, glaciers and ice sheets are melting faster, oceans are getting more acidic, and perennial droughts are more common, the UN Environment Programme update said.

Global temperatures could rise 8 degrees Fahrenheit (above pre-industrial levels), based on pledges by countries so far to cut greenhouse gas emissions – double the temperature scientists in the 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change said would be catastrophic. Some think tipping points will come in a matter of years or decades, rather than in a century, as earlier forecast.

Degree of damage
After assessing the latest peer-reviewed science, the report said:
• CO2 in the atmosphere is growing at 3.5% a year this decade, compared with 1.1% a year in the 1990s.
• At least half of the next 10 years should be warmer than the previous record in 1998.
• Glaciers and sea ice have melted since 2000 at twice the rate of the 1980s and ‘90s.
• Greenland ice in 2007 thawed 60% above the record melt in 1998.
• An ice-free September in the Arctic Ocean could come in 2030, not 2100 as earlier predicted.
• West Antarctica ice loss increased 60% from 1996-2006 and the Antarctic Peninsula thaw was up 140% the same decade. Closing of the ozone hole over Antarctic will likely accelerate warming there.
• Melting land ice and thermal expansion could raise sea levels 6 feet by century’s end, rather than the earlier predicted 1.5 feet.
• Marine ecosystems will turn over 60% by 2050 because of extinctions and invasive species.

Impact on treaty talks
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon called the new report a “wake-up call” for countries meeting in Copenhagen in December to try to reach accord on a successor to the Kyoto Protocol.

"Shying away from a major agreement in Copenhagen will probably be unforgivable, if you look back ... at this moment,” said UNEP executive director Achim Steiner.

Countries still disagree about the amount of GHG emissions industrialized and developing countries should cut and how much rich countries should help fund poor ones for adaptation and low-carbon economic development. Some European countries pledging 20% or more in cuts (below 1990 levels) by 2020 criticize the U.S., which is responsible for the most existing atmospheric CO2, for doing too little. The House-passed climate bill targets a 17% reduction (from 2005 levels) by 2020 (that’s about 4% below 1990) and the Senate is thought to be looking at reducing that number. That’s pretty pathetic.

As UNEP report contributor Robert Correl put it: Emissions are accelerating. “We’re not going in the right direction.”


To download the report go to www.unep.org/compendium2009

(Sources: Dallas Morning News, Washington Post, UNEP.com, AP.)

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Cost of climate bill will be slight, CBO reports


(Photo of California wildfire from Flickr and photographer slworking2)

The cost of the House-passed climate bill would be mild, the Congressional Budget Office said Friday. The American Climate and Energy and Security Act (ACES) would reduce GDP by ¼ to ¾ of a percent by 2020 and 1 to 3.5% by 2050, the CBO said in a new report.

The impact on household purchasing power would be less than 1% in 2020 and 1.2% in 2050.

CBO said it did not consider the benefits of averting climate change.

And therein lies one problem with predicting the costs connected with any climate bill or plan. The costs of doing nothing are even higher. In some countries GDP could be cut by as much as 20% by 2030, according the UN-backed Economics of Climate Adaptation Working Group, which sees Florida losing as much as 10% of GDP.

The other problem in making predictions is that most groups figuring the costs have an ax to grind – they’re either for or against greenhouse gas restrictions and that colors the way they make their estimate.

Hard to figure
The Congressional Research Service (part of the Library of Congress), in a second report released Friday, said any estimate should be “viewed with attentive skepticism.” They examined predictions from such diverse sources as the EPA, MIT, National Black Chamber of Commerce, Heritage Foundation, and National Association of Manufacturers. (The last three oppose the climate bill.)

An EPA study earlier this year said household costs would go up $54 a year, for example, while the Energy Information Administration said $83. An older CBO estimate was $175. The estimates are all over the map.

Efficiency a key
Energy-efficiency programs are important to reducing costs, several organizations have pointed out, so a lot depends on how much efficiency is part of the package. Energy savings could outweigh energy price increases.

The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Society and Center for American Progress estimated household savings could be $215 years with proper energy efficiency.

Cost of doing nothing
But the cost of climate change that continues unabated will be billions more than the cost of curbing it, a new Union of Concerned Scientists study says. Hurricane damage in Florida could be $33 billion by 2030, the report says.

It’s easy to point to the cost of doing something. But that’s not the whole story.

I used to have a poster in the '60s that said, “Not to decide is to decide.” Those who oppose climate legislation or cap-and-trade as too expensive – or want to put it off – are turning a blind eye to what happens if they fail to act.

We need to consider the costs of flooding, hurricanes, heatwaves, droughts, wildfires, rising seas and all the other weather calamities that will hurt agriculture, businesses and real estate. Remember New Orleans? And there’s also the cost of adaptation – the rush to throw up sea barriers and the like when the results of global warming become more evident. Experts are already recommending expensive adaptation measures like dams, barriers and improved drainage.

(Sources: Congressional Budget Office,ClimateWire, Reuters)

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Senators try to stop EPA plan to regulate GHG


(Photo of power plant from Flickr and photographer bass_nroll)

Some senators are trying to block the EPA's newfound power to regulate greenhouse gases. They intend to tack an amendment on the EPA funding bill coming up this week. (To object, go to http://tinyurl.com/ntmom).

This effort comes at a time when EPA regulation may be our best hope for curbing greenhouse gases, as the Senate – embroiled in health care – seems more and more likely to punt climate legislation into next year. Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) said as much this week.

And if climate change doesn’t get resolved early in 2010, it will likely be delayed past mid-term elections to 2011 and a new Congress.

In the meantime, EPA regulation would get the country moving and give the president some achievement to take to the international climate treaty talks in Copenhagen in December. (That treaty is likely to face delay too – it’s very unlikely to be finalized this year. Meanwhile, the planet isn’t waiting for us humans to get our act together.)

Rules for autos ... and more
The EPA, along with the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, announced this week new fuel economy and greenhouse gas rules to bring the fleet average of new cars and light trucks in 2016 up to 35.5 mpg, as well as GHG emissions down to 250 grams/mile.

Not only does this put fuel economy 5 years ahead of where the Congress mandated it in 2007, but more important: It’s the first time the EPA will regulate greenhouse gases under the Clean Air Act. The agency is entitled, even required, to do so under the 2007 Supreme Court decision in Massachusetts vs. EPA, but the Bush Administration let it slide.

This has ramifications for all sources of GHG, including large industrial facilities and power plants. In addition to the automobile rules, the agency is finishing up work on its endangerment findings – showing GHG as pollution that endangers people’s health. The EPA is also finalizing regulations to make greenhouse gases part of the permitting process for facilities emitting more than 25,000 metric tons of GHG a year. EPA head Lisa Jackson may sign the endangerment finding as soon as late this month.

Plan B
Some suggest the Senate may leave controversial and complex cap-and-trade on the shelf and just take action on energy – efficiency and renewable sources. They may “defer to the regulatory agency and duck tough political choices,” James Connaughton, former Bush environmental advisor, told ClimateWire.

But “energy-only is worse than no bill at all,” said Fred Krupp, president of the Environmental Defense Fund.

Problems with EPA rules
EPA restrictions alone may not do the job, though, with time running out to stop the growth of greenhouse gases. With EPA regulation only, “you can’t get enough of the job done fast enough,” warned the Natural Resources Defense Council’s David Hawkins.

Furthermore, lawsuits could delay progress for years. Already the National Automobile Dealers Association and U.S. Chamber of Commerce have filed suit to prevent regulation of motor vehicles at the federal or state level.

The best answer is to have both – EPA regulations and climate change legislation, which is what most environmental groups want.

We need to protect the right of the EPA to regulate and they need to get started because once they do so it will be more difficult for opponents to have legislation pre-empt them. At the same time a cap-and-trade system will help put a cap on emissions and move the country toward its desired goal. And a new administration wouldn't be able to stop progress in its tracks by changing the rules.

Sens. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.), chairs of the Environment and Foreign Relations committees, have been crafting a Senate climate bill they will release later this month. They seem committed to moving ahead with it. Urge your Senators to keep climate and energy on their urgent agenda for this fall at the EDF website.

(Sources: Greenwire, ClimateWire, Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club, dailygreen.com)