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,, 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.)