Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Blast! Coal Company Recieves Permit to Destroy Coal River Mountain

Dark news yesterday coming out of West Virginia. In what may be an effort to sneak in some very bad news before the holiday, the West Virginia Department of "Environmental Protection" (seems like a misnomer today!) granted Massey Energy a permit to begin blasting away Coal River Mountain as soon as the company is ready. Massey plans to decimate the mountain to extract coal using a destructive mining practice know as mountain top removal (see previous posts here for more on the dastardly practice).

The destruction of Coal River Mountain is more than just a threat to the health of local residents and the area's diverse ecosystem. It's also a direct threat to the new, clean energy economy many West Virginians are trying to build.

As West Virginian "DanaWV" at explains:

Coal River Mountain is slated for a 6,600 acre mountaintop removal site, but local residents have found that it is an ideal site for a wind farm, which would save the mountain from blasting, allow for permanent, safe jobs in the community, as well as provide clean, renewable energy to over 150,000 homes.
Despite this clearly preferable economic and environmental option, the WV DEP has excluded public comment and moved ahead to grant Massey Coal permission to destroy the mountain.

According Appalachian Voices:
Extensive research has shown that Coal River Mountain has enough wind potential to provide electricity for between 100,000 and 150,000 homes, forever, while creating approximately 50 well-paying, permanent jobs in an area long dependent upon sparse, temporary coal mining jobs. The wind farm would also generate as much as ten times more county revenue than the Mountaintop Removal operations would, and in a county with a poverty rate of 18.5%, this additional income would help to stimulate new economic development projects and the creation of new jobs.

Despite the fact that both the Governor and the DEP have been presented with solid evidence supporting this claim, neither have acted to place a hold on the proposed mining. While Governor Manchin has ignored public opinion in support of a Coal River Mountain wind farm, the DEP has continued to exclude public comment on the mining permits, and now Massey Energy is set to begin blasting. ...

Now residents fear that the onset of mining, even for this first phase, will result in the loss of an opportunity to diversify the local economy and protect their homes from the negative impacts of Mountaintop Removal mining.

This video provides a look at threatened Coal River Mountain and the residents of the surrounding area:

Finally, there's more here, including a call to action, from Appalachain Voices:
It is time for Governor Manchin to do the right thing. He has been presented by members of Coal River Mountain Watch with research showing that a wind farm is the better economic option for Coal River Mountain. He has been told that the mining that could begin on the Bee Tree permit as early as today would immediately impact 24 Megawatts of wind potential, and therefore at least two permanent jobs related to the operation of the wind farm, and he knows that once a mining operation has begun it is nearly impossible for it to be stopped. His office has also received over 4,000 emails and nearly 500 phone calls calling for the Governor to stop the mining and support wind power.

The choice being made for Coal River Mountain between wind and Mountaintop Removal was also featured on CNN on October 6th, during which the DEP Secretary, Randy Huffman, stated that “There are only certain things that allow me to deny a permit, and what’s morally right or wrong in mine or someone else’s opinion is not one of those things.” So the citizens, after presenting the moral, environmental and economic arguments in favor of wind power, are now wondering what else they have to do to get the Governor to stand behind them, for while it is in his power to rescind the mining permits and allow a wind farm to be developed, Governor Manchin has so far refused to intervene.

However, Coal River Mountain Watch, along with concerned residents of the Coal River Valley, continue to ask the Governor to do the right thing for the state and for local residents by preventing the wind potential, and so the opportunity to stabilize and diversify the local economy, from being permanently destroyed by Massey’s Mountaintop Removal operation on Coal River Mountain.

To express your dismay and indignation over the potential destruction of Coal River Mountain, and ask Governor Manchin to make the choice to respect the residents of Coal River Mountain and invest in a green economy for West Virginia call his office at 1-888-438-2731.

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GM Goes Grassroots. A Son is Torn

This piece is written by Jake Brewer and originally posted at Huffington Post. Jake is the son of a General Motors employee and in this piece, he lays out the most poignant and personal look at the proposed auto industry bailout I've seen anywhere. It's well worth the read and I'm happy to be able to cross-post it for you here...

On November 12, Tom Brewer received an "URGENT call to action..." along with all other General Motors employees in the United States from GM North American President Troy Clarke. The return email address was "" The urgent task at hand: Call your members of Congress to request that the American auto industry receive a government "loan" of at least $25 billion.

Employees were then directed to a website through which to take action:

As a grassroots clean energy advocate and strategic communications professional, it's a type of request I know intimately. I've written and received countless emails just like it. Two this week. Tom, however, has not.

Tom has been an employee of General Motors since he graduated from Evansville University in 1974. At the time, for a Midwestern kid from "stonecutter" Bedford, Indiana, it was kind of like going to work for Google today.

As you can imagine, Tom's seen a lot happen in the energy and auto industries in the last 34 years, but before this year he never considered that his retirement, his health care, and indeed his professional future would be in such dramatic jeopardy. In fact, without ever changing careers, he once worked for the largest and arguably the most influential corporation in the world; now he's getting these emails. He never dreamed that he'd need to be calling his congressmen to save the company to which he's always been loyal, and upon which he and his family's livelihood has depended. I can speak with such certainty about Tom's past because I've known him for 27 of the 34 years he's been with General Motors, and we're very close.

Tom is my dad.

And, Dad, I can't begin to describe how torn I am this week... My friends always called you "Big Tom" because of your powerful build, and if you were "big" to them, you were superhuman to me. Just so you know, no matter what happens in the next few days, you still are...

Today, though, I'm the Internet Director (a brand new type of occupation) for the Energy Action Coalition (a brand new type of organization) and today you're the Planning Administrator of GM Manufacturing Spring Hill in Spring Hill, TN.

Today my organization is calling on me to mobilize hundreds of thousands of young people to fight in Congress and the halls of politics nationwide for the clean energy future that we MUST achieve for the future of our economy and our climate. This week your organization is calling on you to get on the phones with your congressmen to save the 100 year old auto company to whom you've devoted your entire professional life.

In the 27 years we've been a family, our story has never been more important to the country. On the one hand, if we don't bailout your company and the backbone of our economy, it seems we're doomed. On the other, if we don't work now for our future and a transition to a clean energy economy, we're doomed. It's heart wrenching, Dad. I'll go ahead and tell you now that I will help you, but I need you to be willing to help me too. Please hear me out.

My entire conscious life has been directly connected to you, General Motors and the Saturn plant in Spring Hill. The "Saturn" part of our story is especially important because it was a car and an entire company designed in the 1980's in response to Japanese vehicles that were kicking American ass during an energy crisis.

It hits so close to home right now, it hurts.

You took us from Freeland, Michigan to Middle Tennessee in 1988 when "Saturn" was nothing but 3,000 acres of corn field, some office trailers, and a rock quarry. We watched as the grassroots company grew from a trailer park in Spring Hill to an innovative, case-studied, globally known and tremendously respected brand that was actually different.

And it really really was different. Those weren't just commercials. I was there with you. Remember showing me around the facility for the first time? Remember the first Saturn Homecoming? Remember when they installed the pollution scrubbers and I was extra interested?

When the first Saturns rolled off the line in 1991, I don't know of another community of employees and local families in the United States that has ever been so proud. I remember you and mom popping in the video tape - the one of all of the Spring Hill employees and Skip LeFauve - and us watching together on the old brown couch.

It was a different kind of company. It was a different kind of car. It was innovative. And remember a few years later when Saturn became the brand through which the EV1 electric car was leased? The EV1 program put GM far ahead of the curve in the electric car field and promised to usher in a new era of American ingenuity. And remember, Dad, when you brought home an EV1 pre-launch model just as I was learning to drive?

I knew I was experiencing the future. For a teen with car and baseball magazines strewn across his bedroom floor, I beamed and bragged about you and about GM to everyone in town (and in that town it really was everyone) - though I would never admit it to you at the time. But of course as this story goes, the promise of that future ended with lobbyists in California and executives in Houston and Detroit. "Different" died. Those grassroots died.

And, as you and I both know, GM didn't stay ahead of anything - in Spring Hill or anywhere. The last of the GM EV1's were rolled to their "death" in 2005, and last month, you and the former-Saturn Spring Hill plant recently had the best product launch in GM history, which would be amazing ...except that it came with the unveiling of a brand new SUV, the Chevy Traverse.

Similar to when the first Saturns rolled off the assembly line, it's difficult to describe my feelings on this except to say that I'm so proud of you, Dad. Absolutely, yes. But I am furious with General Motors. I "support the troops, not the war."

In manufacturing terms, you and the thousands of GM employees in Spring Hill, TN and around the United States are deserving of heroic praise for your work and performance, doing more with less. In executive terms, Rick Wagoner, Bob Lutz and all the rest in Detroit should be flat out ashamed.

The Traverse is a beautiful car by traditional American auto standards, and GM has certainly spared little of its mind-numbingly waning cash promoting that traditional beauty. This "crossover" (read: glossy covered SUV), however, was born into two abysmal climates - economic and environmental - and even starting to think about any new automotive product in traditional American auto schemes represents gut-level, irresponsible, Bush-ian failure. That any car company in 2008 actually promotes something like 25 mpg (with a tailwind, going downhill) for 100 year old suck-bang-blow technology is an absolute travesty.

That it's coming from General Motors whose very survival depended on game changers and innovation for much longer than the last 24 months, is practically a crime. I know you can't innovate on a dime, Dad, but GM has had decades. The Traverse is like a hipster Tahoe. An oxymoron. Whatever they call it; however they promote it; as pretty as it may be, doing the same-old-thing-but-a-little-better is not innovation. And again, for a company with three million dependents, not innovating is not just wrong for business, it borders on moral corruption.

That's who you and I are supposed to call our Congresspersons for? That's what my grassroots support is supposed to promote? Any new vehicle launch begins years before it hits a dealer lot. I know that as well as anyone. New vehicle launch is the exact job I've watched you do for decades. Unfortunately you don't get to choose what product you produce. Rick and Bob choose that. They chose the Traverse and 100 other products and initiatives this decade, and it's precisely that lack of foresight that is unforgivable. It's precisely for these reasons that I'm inexpressibly torn this week as Congress moves to vote on an auto industry bail out.

And I'm sorry, Dad, I know we talked about this - but a "bail out" is exactly what it is. It's not a loan. "Loans" are something you do in good faith. Like when you bought our home. Remember when you walked into the First Farmers & Merchants Bank in Columbia, TN, looked Jim Cook in the eye, told him what you needed, shook his hand, and he gave it to you because with a look and a handshake he knew you were a man of integrity and character?

If you can honestly tell me that Rick, Bill, and Bob are as deserving as you were - that you would give them a loan on a look and a handshake - I'll call it a loan too.

I can only imagine that a soldier's family feels 100x worse: "Please fund the equipment my father/mom/husband/wife/son/daughter needs to survive... and dear god, please GET US OUT OF THIS MESS!" I know we have to do something, Dad. I do. The last thing I'd ever want is for you and and three million others across this country to lose their jobs. To lose their pride. But I don't just want you to have A job, dad. I want you to have a good job. A job that's part of the leading edge of what this country can do. What it can BE. Like you used to have.

I want my entire generation - bigger than any generation in US history - and those that follow us to have the best jobs in the world too. I don't want 1 in 10 jobs in the US to take a hit next week, but I also don't want hundreds of millions of already-struggling Americans to blow their tax dollars on failure. I don't want to pull out the last straw on you and your friends and colleagues, and I don't want to build scaffolding for something that's so badly broken. The truth is that I am only where I am because of the man you are and your providing for me. And you did that as a loyal employee of General Motors. I get that.

I'm just having a near-impossible time trusting your bosses with what they're asking for. I want you to have your paycheck and your health care and your pension, and shares of stock that are worth more than my morning Dupont Circle coffee, and I also want the electric and high efficiency cars I've dreamed of for over a decade.

My grassroots demands the clean energy future that I HAVE to have for your grand children.

I am a clean energy professional fighting for our collective next decades, and I am a General Motors son worried about our collective next week. So here's where I'm at, Dad...

As I said, I'm going to help you. But I need you to help me too. To some, it would appear that our jobs and our perspectives are diametrically opposed. But as you know, I see us as inextricably linked - whether we were linked by blood or not. It's crucial that someone like you and someone like me work together to move our country forward. And the grassroots is the place to do it. But it has to stay there. It can't be Rick and Bob.

Troy Clarke wrote you, and you've passed it along to me, to ask that we use the force of active citizenship to save a company and an industry. It's unprecedented in GM history, and if GM is actively and truly engaging in the democratic process from the bottom up because it cares about the future of this country, I will support it. I'm going to call my Congresswoman this week, as you and Troy asked, and I'm also going to call the Congresspersons of every state I've lived in for the past 10 years and I'm going to ask them to provide a loan for your company, Dad.

But here's what you and Troy Clarke should do for me.

Next week, and the week after, and every week until every dime of that loan is re-payed, you and Troy and all your colleagues and bosses will call your congresspersons and give them updates on how quickly you are retooling your facilities to build the next generation of clean cars and how many people you have put back to work with Green Jobs.

And before you hang up you're either going to ask for (or thank them for, if me and MY colleagues have anything to say about it) the investment in a new clean energy infrastructure that will not just save a company and an industry, but create an entirely new one. know, it's funny. As I was writing this, the song "409" by the Beach Boys came on my iPod. (Yes, I still listen to the Beach Boys.) My eyes started tearing up, and if I hadn't been in public, I would have all out cried. It is one of the first songs I remember singing along with you in our car, Dad. "She's real fine, my 409..."

The thing is, a 409 cubic inch, 6.7 liter Big-Block Chevy engine isn't fine. It's not even ok. It never really was. That thinking... that tune... is what got us in this mess. I hope beyond hope that one of these years when I come home for Christmas to introduce your grand kids to Big Tom, we'll be singing a new tune together in a whole new kind of car built by the grassroots of your company.

Jake Brewer is the Internet Director at the Energy Action Coalition. You can find more of his writing at Huffington Post, and

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Friday, November 21, 2008

UK Auctions First Carbon Permits; Government Hoarding Revenue

Cross-posted from the Breakthrough Institute

The UK Government auctioned the first four million allowances to emit greenhouse gases under their portion of the European Union's Emissions Trading System this week, raising £54m ($80.9m). However, the government is drawing fire for failing to earmark the auction revenues to investments in clean energy and energy efficiency that could further cut emissions and help reduce the costs of compliance with the cap and trade program. Instead of reinvesting the revenues in clean energy ventures, the government is reportedly planning to add revenues to the general budget.

The Financial Times has details on the auction:

"The first auction of carbon dioxide permits netted the government £54m ($80.9m) on Wednesday as bidders fought for the right to emit greenhouse gases.

Almost 4m permits were sold in an auction that was four times over-subscribed. Previously, all of the emissions permits allocated to UK businesses under the European Union's trading scheme were given out free.

The government has pledged to auction another 80m permits in the next four years, which is likely to bring in revenues of more than £1bn. The identities of bidders were not disclosed, but electricity producers were expected to be the main buyers as they had their free allocation of permits cut by 30 per cent.


The free allocation of permits in the first phase of the scheme, from 2005 to 2008, enabled power companies in the UK and other countries to make windfall profits by raising electricity prices to cover the notional cost of having to buy permits, despite receiving them free. The government said on Wednesday the auctions should not result in further electricity price increases, as the cost of permits had already been factored in.

The UK is pushing for power generators to have to pay for all of their carbon permits in the third phase of the EU scheme, from 2013, arguing that electricity producers tend to be well-insulated from international competition."

However, the UK government apparently isn't planning to spend the money raised by the auction on clean energy investments and is instead putting the funds into the general coffer, the UK Guardian reports:
"The UK government was under fire today for "undermining" the European Union's fight against climate change by auctioning off carbon allowances for the first time and not earmarking the cash for "green" projects.

Around four million permits are being distributed today under a new phase of the European Union's (EU) emissions trading scheme (ETS) with expected receipts of up to £60m going to the Treasury for general spending purposes.

"The policy of the UK government on this issue undermines the very purpose of the EU ETS... Auctioning undermines this flexible mechanism as it takes money away from those who can do something about climate change, the emitters, and it gives it to those who can't, the politicians," said James Emanuel at emissions trading broker, CantorCO2e.

The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR) said ministers should change their mind and use the cash specifically for projects such as improving energy efficiency of homes, investing in low-carbon technologies and helping poorer countries cope with climate change.

"This is a great opportunity to help poorer households make their homes both cheaper to heat and warmer, and create jobs through investment in new green technologies," said Lisa Harker, IPPR co-director.

Keith Allott, head of climate change at WWF-UK, agreed saying the review by Lord Stern into the economics of climate change had shown that tackling the problem made sense financially. "This battle can't be won if we don't find the money to invest in solutions and kick-start new green industries," explained Allott."
More on the EU ETS price and auction format later in the article:
"The price of emission allowances have plunged by nearly 30% since September to around €16.50, partly because there are fears that the auction will flood the market and partly because a recession will cut industrial output and reduce pollution worldwide.

The ETS scheme implements an overall cap on the amount of emissions countries can produce, allocates carbon allowances to companies and then allows them to buy or sell the permits to cover shortfalls or profit from cutting their emissions.

Phase II of the scheme, which covers energy generators and heavy industry and aims to cut emissions by encouraging the market to produce carbon reductions at least cost, allows for up to 10% of permits to be auctioned.

In the UK, 7%, or 85 million, permits are being auctioned over five years of the scheme to 2012. The main target of the auction is energy companies which have lost 30% of their free allowances."

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Thursday, November 20, 2008

Waxman Bests Dingell in Contest Over Influential House Committee

Cross-posted from the Breakthrough Institute

Representative Henry Waxman of California defeated Representative John Dingell of Michigan in the battle for the gavel of the influential House Energy and Commerce Committee today.

Over the past two weeks, the two senior Democrats waged one of the most hotly contested challenges for committee chairmanship in recent Congressional history. Waxman was announced the victor today after a 137-122 vote of the full House Democratic Caucus, ending Dingell's nearly 28 year reign was Chair of the committee, which has jurisdiction over several key issues, including energy, interstate commerce and health care.

The vote, which upended the traditional Congressional seniority system, places a committed environmentalist and ally of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi in the top position on the committee, which will be ground zero for energy, global warming, and health care debates in the 2009 House of Representatives.

Mr. Dingell, the longest serving member in the history of the House, has been one of the Detroit auto industry's strongest allies in Congress, and his ouster is further evidence of their declining influence on Capitol Hill.

While Mr. Dingell has championed numerous environmental bills in his decades of service, including the Clean Air Act, and has been a consistent advocate of universal health care, he drew the ire of Speaker Pelosi and many more progressive members of the Democratic Party for being slow to advance climate change legislation and frequently siding with Detroit in opposition to higher fuel economy standards for cars and trucks.

Mr. Waxman is widely considered the more liberal of the two, a fact Mr. Dingell used to argue - unsuccessfully - that he was the more likely to knit together the broad coalition of labor, industry and environmental interests necessary to fashion a politically successful climate change bill.

Progressives and environmentalists are largely hailing Waxman's victory as another sign of the progressive mandate sweeping Washington DC. Waxman's victory is certainly a shift in the Congressional balance of power, and will no doubt make aggressive energy reforms more likely to pass the House of Representatives. But it remains to be seen if the new chairman can craft legislation that can secure victory in the Senate, where sixteen moderate Democrats are organizing to take control of the climate debate in the 111th Congress.

In other Congressional news, Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT) will keep his chairmanship of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, but will lose the gavel of the Senate Environment and Public Works subcommittee with jurisdiction over global warming policy. Senate leaders were under pressure to oust Lieberman, a former Democrat who caucuses with the party, for backing Republican John McCain in the 2008 Presidential Election.

Mark Begich, the current mayor of Anchorage, AK, and the Democratic challenger to Senator Ted Stevens (R-AK) was also announced victor in the tight Senate race yesterday. Begich, who trailed on November 4th, pulled ahead to secure victory as absentee ballots were counted over the past two weeks. Senator Stevens, who was convicted of felony corruption charges shortly before the election (the conviction is still under appeal), conceded yesterday, giving Democrats 58 votes in the Senate (including Independents Lieberman and Bernie Sanders of Vermont who caucus with the party).

Two Senate seats are still contested in Minnesota - where election officials are launching a manual recount of ballots in the race between comedian Al Franken and Republican incumbent Norm Coleman - and in Georgia - where incumbent Republican Saxby Chambliss failed to secure a majority of the votes, triggering a mandatory run-off with Democratic challenger Jim Martin. Senate rules require a 60 vote super majority is needed to override filibusters, and these two remaining races will determine Democrats ability to pass that threshold.

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Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Obama's Chief of Staff Says to Prepare for Major Reforms in Energy, Health Care, Economy

Cross-posted from the Breakthrough Institute

President-elect Barack Obama's incoming Chief of Staff, Rahm Emanuel, called for major reforms to our nation's health care, financial, and energy systems at the Wall Street Journal's CEO Council today, challenging CEOs to embrace an ambitious reform agenda.

"When it gets rough out there, a lot of business leaders get out of the car and say, 'We're OK with minor reform.' I'm challenging you today, we're going to have to do big, serious things," Rahm Emanuel said, speaking at a forum convened to elicit corporate opinion on the challenges facing the new president.

The soon-to-be White House Chief of Staff said the Obama Administration saw the economic crisis as an opportunity to advance a suite of bold solutions that would put America back on track. "You never want a crisis to go to waste," Mr Emanuel said, before continuing, "and what I mean by that is it's an opportunity to do things you couldn't do before."

Mr Emanuel said the incoming administration would "throw long and deep," taking advantage of the economic crisis to advance wholesale changes in health care, taxes, financial re-regulation and energy. "The American people in two successive elections have voted for change, and change cannot be allowed to die on the doorsteps of Washington," he said.

Watch this excerpt from Emanuel's talk at the Wall Street Journal CEO Council; More below the fold...

Clean, Efficient Energy Infrastructure Will Be At Heart of Stimulus, Emanuel Says

As would be expected, Mr. Emanuel promised that a major economic stimulus package would be "the first order of business" for Mr. Obama after he takes office January 20th.

Unlike the Bush Administration's stimulus package passed this Spring, which focused heavily on personal rebate checks and business tax cuts, Emanuel said the focus of spending under the Obama Administration will be on infrastructure.

Mr. Emanuel said the spending would center specifically on "green infrastructure" investments, which he said would include mass transit, upgraded electricity transmission lines, "smart" electrical meters that allow consumers to save money by using electricity at off-peak hours, and universal broadband Internet access, which he said would encourage telecommuting.

Emanuel also stressed Obama's commitment to addressing climate change, citing his meeting with his former Republican rival, Senator John McCain on Monday. Emanuel reported that Senators Obama and McCain met in Chicago on Monday and discussed making a market-based system to control global warming "a top priority" of the new administration. Obama delivered a taped video address to a summit of global climate leaders in Los Angeles yesterday voicing a similar commitment to capping greenhouse gas emissions and investing in a new, clean and efficient energy system.

Emanuel Challenges Business Community to Support Health Reforms, Labor

Emanuel also used the opportunity to call on the business community to join the new administration in a push for universal health care, saying incremental increases in coverage won't be acceptable.

Mr. Emanuel also characterized a renewed effort to expand union membership as an understandable effort to address the concerns of a middle class that's seen wages stagnate over the last eight years. He said business leaders should help the Obama Administration find solutions to the middle-class squeeze or face a revolt. "We need a strategy as a country to make sure they have an opportunity to move up that ladder," Emanuel told the assembled CEOs and business leaders.

Mr. Emanuel gave up his seat as a Chicago Congressman to accept the top position among President-elect Obama's staff. The tough-minded Democrat will be the main point person between the White House and Capitol Hill.

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Good Corporate Citizens: Five Major US Companies Call for Climate, Clean Energy Solutions

Nike, Starbucks, Levi Strauss, Sun Microsystems and Timberland Challenge Lawmakers to Raise the Bar for U.S.Climate and Energy Policy; Call for CO2 Emission Cuts, Clean Energy Investments, Coal Plant Limits

Today, five leading US companies joined Ceres investment group to launch a new coalition of corporate citizens calling on Congress to quickly enact strong U.S. climate and energy legislation that will spark a new clean energy economy and reduce global warming pollution. The new coalition issued several key principles for climate policy today, including proposals to stimulate renewable energy, promote energy efficiency and green jobs, cap global warming pollution and auction 100% of pollution allowances, and limit new coal-fired power plants to those that capture and store carbon emissions.

The group, which includes Nike, Starbucks, Levi Strauss, Sun Microsystems and Timberland, calls themselves Business for Innovative Climate and Energy Policy, or BICEP for short, and aims to flex some lobbying muscle to support climate and clean energy action.

The coalition’s goal is to work directly with key allies in the business community and members of Congress to pass meaningful energy and climate change legislation consistent with the following eight core principles:

  • Set greenhouse gas reduction targets to at least 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

  • Establish an economy-wide GHG cap-and-trade system that auctions 100 percent of carbon pollution allowances, promotes energy efficiency and accelerates clean energy technologies.

  • Establish aggressive energy efficiency policies to achieve at least a doubling of our historic rate of energy efficiency improvement.

  • Encourage transportation for a clean energy economy by promoting fuel-efficient vehicles, plug-in electric hybrids, low-carbon fuels, and transit-oriented development.

  • Increase investment in energy efficiency, renewables and carbon capture and storage technologies while eliminating subsidies for fossil-fuel industries.

  • Stimulate job growth through investment in climate-based solutions, especially “green-collar” jobs in low-income communities and others vulnerable to climate change’s economic impact.

  • Adopt a national renewable portfolio standard requiring 20 percent of electricity to be generated from renewable energy sources by 2020, and 30 percent by 2030.

  • Limit construction of new coal-fired power plants to those that capture and store carbon emissions, create incentives for carbon capture technology on new and existing plants, and phase out existing coal-based power plants that do not capture and store carbon by 2030.

  • Recognizing that climate change will ripple across all sectors of the economy BICEP members aim to offer new business perspectives on climate solutions to balance the sometimes narrow viewpoints offered by some of the more engaged members of the business community.

    BICEP members also apparently recognize that being a good corporate citizen requires more than just purchasing carbon offsets and building more sustainable products. Like individual citizens, a real commitment to a new energy future requires more than personal actions, it requires active participation in the political process.

    “We can voluntarily change our own behavior in the hopes of mitigating impacts and are doing so," said Hilary Krane, senior vice president of corporate affairs at Levi Strauss & Co., "but we also believe that U.S. government leadership is essential if we are to create an environment in which every U.S. company recognizes the role it must play in addressing climate change."

    "Nike understands the value of investing in innovative solutions to address the challenges of sustainability," added Sarah Severn a corporate responsibility director with the company, "so we are proud to be part of a coalition of companies that believes legislative action on climate change and clean energy is not only urgent but imperative to creating positive, long-term change."

    As a native Oregonian, I can't help but contrast Beaverton, OR-based Nike's active commitment to good corporate citizenship with Oregon's other major employer: Intel. The microprocessor giant is Oregon's largest private employer, and while it launches ads touting their efficient processor designs and issues press releases about renewable energy purchases, Intel quietly lobbies to block progressive energy and climate policy at the Oregon legislature.

    Intel is a key member of the Industrial Customers of Northwest Utilities group, a state lobbying organization that represents large electricity and natural gas users in Oregon and Washington. ICNU has consistently been on the wrong side of good energy policy - from the Oregon Renewable Energy Act of 2007 to the state's efforts to lead on climate policy - and is now forming a front-group called something like Oregon Industries for Balanced Climate Policy, gearing up to block progressive legislation in the 2009 Oregon legislature.

    Unlike Nike, who puts it's lobbying muscle behind it's clean energy commitments, Intel tacitly and at times actively supports ICNU's efforts to stand in the way of Oregon's transformation into a clean energy leader. Intel should take queues from fellow Oregonians, Nike, and their semiconductor competitors at Sun about what good corporate citizenship means, and actively distance itself from ICNU's dirty deeds.

    Until then, bravo to Nike and the BICEP members for leading the way.

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    Tuesday, November 18, 2008

    A Behind the Scenes Look at Obama's Energy and Environment Transition Team

    Continuing a commitment to open government and an embrace of video and YouTube to communicate with citizens, Barack Obama's transition team released this behind the scenes video featuring interviews with the President-elect's transition advisors on energy and the environment.

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    Barack Obama Commits to "New Chapter" on Climate Change

    In a prepared video address delivered today at the Global Climate Summit in Los Angeles, CA, President-elect Barack Obama pledged to turn over "a new chapter in America's leadership on climate change."

    In the short address, viewed by an audience that includes leaders from around the nation and the world, Obama emphasized the importance of the upcoming international climate negotiations in Poznan, Poland, and said he was "looking forward to working with all nations to meet [the climate] challenge in the coming years."

    Obama reconfirmed his campaign commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80% by 2050 through a national cap and trade program and again pledged to "invest $15 billion each year to catalyze private sector efforts to build a clean energy future."

    Convened by California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and other US governors on the forefront of global warming solutions, the Bi-partisan Governors Global Climate Summit convenes in Los Angeles today and begins two days of dialog designed to spur global cooperation on climate change in advance of the UN-sponsored talks in Poland next month. To this crowd of climate leaders, Obama said:

    "Few challenges facing America -- and the world -- are more urgent than combating climate change. Many of you are working to confront this challenge....but too often, Washington has failed to show the same kind of leadership. That will change when I take office."
    Watch the short video address below (full transcript below the fold):

    Remarks as Delivered:

    Let me begin by thanking the bipartisan group of U.S. governors who convened this meeting.

    Few challenges facing America – and the world – are more urgent than combating climate change. The science is beyond dispute and the facts are clear. Sea levels are rising. Coastlines are shrinking. We've seen record drought, spreading famine, and storms that are growing stronger with each passing hurricane season.

    Climate change and our dependence on foreign oil, if left unaddressed, will continue to weaken our economy and threaten our national security.

    I know many of you are working to confront this challenge. In particular, I want to commend Governor Sebelius, Governor Doyle, Governor Crist, Governor Blagojevich and your host, Governor Schwarzenegger –all of you have shown true leadership in the fight to combat global warming. And we've also seen a number of businesses doing their part by investing in clean energy technologies.

    But too often, Washington has failed to show the same kind of leadership. That will change when I take office. My presidency will mark a new chapter in America's leadership on climate change that will strengthen our security and create millions of new jobs in the process.

    That will start with a federal cap and trade system. We will establish strong annual targets that set us on a course to reduce emissions to their 1990 levels by 2020 and reduce them an additional 80% by 2050.

    Further, we will invest $15 billion each year to catalyze private sector efforts to build a clean energy future. We will invest in solar power, wind power, and next generation biofuels. We will tap nuclear power, while making sure it's safe. And we will develop clean coal technologies.

    This investment will not only help us reduce our dependence on foreign oil, making the United States more secure. And it will not only help us bring about a clean energy future, saving our planet. It will also help us transform our industries and steer our country out of this economic crisis by generating five million new green jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced.

    But the truth is, the United States cannot meet this challenge alone. Solving this problem will require all of us working together. I understand that your meeting is being attended by government officials from over a dozen countries, including the UK, Canada and Mexico, Brazil and Chile, Poland and Australia, India and Indonesia. And I look forward to working with all nations to meet this challenge in the coming years.

    Let me also say a special word to the delegates from around the world who will gather at Poland next month: your work is vital to the planet. While I won't be President at the time of your meeting and while the United States has only one President at a time, I've asked Members of Congress who are attending the conference as observers to report back to me on what they learn there.

    And once I take office, you can be sure that the United States will once again engage vigorously in these negotiations, and help lead the world toward a new era of global cooperation on climate change.

    Now is the time to confront this challenge once and for all. Delay is no longer an option. Denial is no longer an acceptable response. The stakes are too high. The consequences, too serious.

    Stopping climate change won't be easy. It won't happen overnight. But I promise you this: When I am President, any governor who's willing to promote clean energy will have a partner in the White House. Any company that's willing to invest in clean energy will have an ally in Washington. And any nation that's willing to join the cause of combating climate change will have an ally in the United States of America. Thank you.


    Read more!

    Monday, November 17, 2008

    National Energy Education Act recommended in Mother Jones

    Mother Jones ran a great piece by Chris Mooney in its November/December 2008 Issue, "How to Rescue the Economy and Save the Planet," that recommended a National Energy Education Act:

    THE GEEK SHORTAGE: According to the National Science Foundation, American universities graduated a record number of science and engineering PhDs in 2006--almost 30,000 of them. So we should have plenty of scientists to set to work on the energy challenge; yet, as a recent study from the Urban Institute explains, "each year there are more than three times as many S&E four-year college graduates as S&E job openings." What gives? Turns out a lot of those graduates are in the biological sciences--which, coincidentally, saw a massive boost in federal funding a few years ago.

    What we need is a new Sputnik scare: After the Soviet Union put the first-ever satellite in orbit, Congress passed the National Defense Education Act, providing about $6.5 billion worth (in today's dollars) of funding for graduate fellowships, low-interest college loans, and new research equipment and facilities. Why no National Energy Education Act today?

    Chris is a contributing editor to Science Progress, senior correspondent for The American Prospect and author of two books, including the New York Times bestselling The Republican War on Science and Storm World: Hurricanes, Politics, and the Battle Over Global Warming, selected as a 2007 best book of the year in the science category by Publisher's Weekly. He was one of the first to support my and Jesse Jenkins' proposal back in August, when he wrote a piece for Science Progress, "A New Mission for American Science," where he said:

    Perhaps the most science-centric articulations of the idea that I've seen come from Internet pioneer Vinton Cerf, writing right here at Science Progress, and Teryn Norris and Jesse Jenkins of the Breakthrough Institute. The latter argued recently in the San Francisco Chronicle that we need a National Energy Education Act, parallel to the post-Sputnik National Defense Education Act of 1958, that would invest dramatic sums in creating educational opportunities for scientists who wish to work on new energy innovations. "New research grants, graduate fellowships and energy-science-and-policy focused curricula; financial aid and loan forgiveness for students entering clean energy development fields"--all this, and more, are part of Norris's and Jenkins's proposal. And in focusing their prescriptions on universities in particular, they're getting quite close to the kind of vision for American science that we need to see emerge right now, just as it did in the troubled days after Sputnik.

    Certainly the magnitude of the challenge is similar. And there's an even more important parallel--the mechanism by which the challenge must be answered.

    Following Sputnik, the buildup in national scientific capacity came about as the direct and intentional result of dramatic government investment. Federal funding for scientific education and scientific research alike boomed, because suddenly science became a matter of major public import. The private sector, alone, wasn't going to undertake anything visionary like the Apollo program; and by the same token, although private sector energy companies and entrepreneurs will surely make a fortune off of the new innovations that we so badly need right now, they can't be expected to comprehensively underwrite the undirected, curiosity-driven research that will lay the groundwork for them.

    Thanks to Chris for such sharp analysis. He ends his piece in Mother Jones with a strong call to make energy innovation our top national scientific priority:
    If by now you want to punch a wall--or key a Hummer--that's understandable. It's hard not to feel helpless as we careen into an entirely preventable energy crisis. Veering off the crash course will necessitate many things: foremost, finally and unequivocally recognizing that--whether your preferred analogy is the Apollo Program or the Manhattan Project--energy innovation must be the nation's preeminent scientific priority.

    Read more!

    Quote of the Day, November 17th 2008

    Obama gets it right in an interview on 60 Minutes:

    Steve Kroft: When the price of oil was at $147 a barrel, there were a lot of spirited and profitable discussions that were held on energy independence. Now you’ve got the price of oil under $60.

    Mr. Obama: Right.

    Mr. Kroft: Does doing something about energy, is it less important now than….?

    Mr. Obama: It’s more important. It may be a little harder politically, but it’s more important.

    Mr. Kroft: Why?

    Mr. Obama: Well, because this has been our pattern. We go from shock to trance. You know, oil prices go up, gas prices at the pump go up, everybody goes into a flurry of activity. And then the prices go back down and suddenly we act like it’s not important, and we start, you know, filling up our S.U.V.’s again. And, as a consequence, we never make any progress. It’s part of the addiction, all right. That has to be broken. Now is the time to break it.
    Hat tip to Andy Revkin at DotEarth

    Read more!

    Thursday, November 13, 2008

    IEA Report Confirms Clean and Cheap Energy Needed to Power Global Development

    Cross-posted from the Breakthrough Institute

    The stark tone of the International Energy Agency's World Energy Outlook 2008 is a dramatic departure from their normally staid and frequently rosy projections about the world's energy future (I presented highlights from the piece in this proceeding post). The report's opening statement that current world energy trends are "patently unsustainable" will no doubt receive the most attention in headlines across the blogosphere and mainstream news. But in this post, I want to delve deeper into the key statement that follows it:

    "It is not an exaggeration to claim that the future of human prosperity depends on how successfully we tackle the two central energy challenges facing us today: securing the supply of reliable and affordable energy; and effecting a rapid transformation to low-carbon, efficient and environmentally benign system of energy supply."
    While the environmental community focuses primarily on the latter of those two concerns, the IEA appropriately recognizes that the future of human prosperity depends on our ability to tackle both challenges: decarbonizing the energy supply and providing ample and affordable energy supplies to power global development.

    In short, the IEA confirms what is perhaps the central challenge of the 21st century: developing clean and affordable energy sources to power the globe.

    If we fail to tackle both challenges simultaneously - say by focusing only on expanding supplies of cheap fossil fuels; or by developing clean but costly new energy alternatives - we will consistently fall into what I call the Development Trap: we'll be forced to either sacrifice our climate and ecological security in the name of global development or condemn billions of global citizens to energy poverty and a permanently lower standard of living in the name of climate protection.

    As the report lays bare, the battle for climate stability will center principally on the developing world. In the IEA's reference scenario (a frozen policy base case), developing nations (non-OECD countires) are responsible for 97% of projected emissions growth in and all of the projected increase in oil demand by 2030. Three quarters of projected emissions growth will occur in China, India and the Middle East alone (see IEA graph below).


    This dangerous projected emissions growth is primarily the byproduct of rapid economic development, as these nations strive to bring billions of citizens a standard of living even approximating those enjoyed in the United States and other developed nations - an effort we can hardly begrudge or vilify. And yet, the projected emissions growth from non-OECD nations alone will swamp any efforts in the developed world to slash greenhouse gas emissions and are enough to dash any hopes of global climate stability.

    This is the Development Trap, and the only way to break out of it is to develop clean, affordable and massively scalable energy sources that can power sustainable development in these nations.

    If the battle for climate stability centers on the developing world, China is the main front.
    This graph from the IEA report illustrates the central role China's robust energy consumption growth will play in the future of global energy dynamics. This graph might as well be titled, "As Goes China, So Goes the World."


    Coal is expected to meet over half of China's expected energy growth, a fact that simply must change if the world's climate stability goals are to be achieved. So what will fill the void?

    Officials in China, India and other developing nations have consistently made it clear that they will not sacrifice their economic development efforts to curb greenhouse gas emissions, making it clear which side of the Development Trap they'll fall if forced.

    These clear messages from developing nations and the stark picture of business-as-usual painted by the IEA should send a clear message to the participants at the upcoming Convention of the Parties (COP) to the Kyoto Protocol in Pozan, Poland, and the critical November 2009 talks in Copenhagen: you must focus explicitly on international cooperation to develop and rapidly deploy clean and affordable energy sources.

    While agreements about emissions reduction targets are important, they will be little more than symbolic unless the COP negotiations also yield significant commitments to investment in clean energy research, development and demonstration and establish provisions for rapid technology diffusion and deployment.

    Those four D's - clean energy Development, Demonstration, Diffusion and Deployment should be the central focus of the COP negotiations. There's simply no other way out of the Development Trap.

    Read more!

    World's Energy Watchdog Warns Current Energy Trends are "Patently Unsustainable"

    Cross-posted from the Breakthrough Institute

    The world's energy watchdog, the International Energy Agency, released their annual World Energy Outlook report today, and it starts out with a bang. The first paragraph of the IEA report reads:

    "The world's energy system is at a crossroads. Current global trends in energy supply and consumption are patently unsustainable - environmentally, economically, socially. But that can - and must - be altered; there's still time to change the road we're on. It is not an exaggeration to claim that the future of human prosperity depends on how successfully we tackle the two central energy challenges facing us today: securing the supply of reliable and affordable energy; and effecting a rapid transformation to low-carbon, efficient and environmentally benign system of energy supply. What is needed is nothing short of an energy revolution."
    This kind of stark warning may be nothing new if you're used to reports from folks like Greenpeace or even the IPCC. But the language in this IEA report stands in stark contrast to the tone of past agency reports, which tend to range from "bland-to-cornucopian," as Oil Drum blogger Nate Hagens aptly puts it.

    But wait there's more...

    The end of cheap oil: the IEA says that while oil will remain a dominant and vital world energy source, the era of cheap and easy oil is over. Despite current low prices brought about by a slumping global economy, the IEA projects an average price of $100 per barrel of oil between 2008-2015 (in 2007 dollars), rising to $120/bbl by 2030. In nominal terms, that's $200 per barrel by 2030. Not only is this the first time the IEA has ever projected a 2030 oil price higher than the current price when their reports were released, that price is equal to the projected price in all preceding reports combined (see chart below, from the Oil Drum. The blue line is actual world oil prices and the red blocks are IEA 20 year projections at the time of their release)...

    Investments, not reserves, constrain oil supply. The IEA concludes that the world's oil reserves are "in principle, large enough" for output to continue to grow, but notes that the massive scale of investments required to keep pace with global oil demand and depleting mature oil fields will be the constraining factor. World oil demand is projected to grow from 84 million barrels per day (mmbd) in 2007 to 106 mmbd in 2030 in the reference case (a frozen-policy base case). To meet growing demand and replace depleting oil fields, 64 million barrels per day of new oil production must be brought online between now and 2030, an amount equal to over three-quarters of current total oil production capacity. 30 million barrels per day of new capacity is projected to be needed by 2015. Bringing on those new supplies will require a massive investment of capital. The IEA projects a cumulative need for around $8.4 trillion in investment for the oil and gas sectors between 2007-2030, or a $350 billion annual investment.

    Production of conventional oil will plateau by 2030: According to the IEA, "Although global oil production in total is not expected to peak before 2030, production of conventional oil - crude oil, natural gas liquids (NGLs) and enhanced oil recovery (EOR) - is projected to level off towards the end of the projection period [2030]." See graph below from the IEA:

    $26.3 trillion in energy investments needed: Cumulative investments in energy supply infrastructure amounts to $26.3 trillion between 2008 and 2030. $13.6 trillion is needed for the electricity sector, split half-and-half between electricity generation and transmission.

    Global greenhouse emissions are projected to rise 45% by 2030. Senior Breakthrough Fellow, Roger Pielke Jr. thinks even these projections are dramatically underestimated.

    Developing world drives energy demand, emissions growth: Driving by rapid economic growth in developing nations, non-OECD nations are responsible for 97% of projected emissions growth in the IEA's reference scenario, and all of the projected increase in oil demand. Three quarters of projected emissions growth will occur in China, India and the Middle East alone.

    Currently operating power plants responsible for 75% of emissions in 2020. The IEA calls attention to the slow rate of capital turnover in the power sector, where long-lived power plants currently operating today will be responsible for three-quarters of projected emissions in 2020. Achieving climate stabilization coals will require more than simple providing clean energy to meet new energy demand and must address these already "locked-in" emissions from existing power plants.

    Read more!

    Huge Legal Ruling Blocks All US Coal Development

    BREAKING NEWS: The Sierra Club just won a HUGE legal victory in a coal permitting case at the Environmental Protection Agency's Environmental Appeals Board.

    The ruling in the Bonanza coal plant permitting case (pdf) ruled with the Club's lawyers that since the Mass. v EPA Supreme Court ruling said Carbon Dioxide is a pollutant under the Clean Air Act, new coal-fired power plants must implement "Best Available Control Technology" (BACT for short) for CO2.

    While the Sierra Club's legal team and other lawyers are still determining the full implications of the decision, it appears that this decision will essentially stop all new coal plant permitting dead in it's tracks for at least a year as EPA decides what BACT means in the context of CO2.

    The BACT provision of the Clean Air Act requires that new power plants must employ the most effective, readily available pollution control technologies for regulated pollutants in order to receive air quality permits required for development, ensuring that new power plants are progressively cleaner as new technologies become readily available. Until this ruling, BACT has only applied to NOx, acid rain-forming SO2, particulate matter, mercury and other noxious pollutants, but not carbon dioxide, which spewed freely from permitted power plants.

    What BACT means for CO2 is therefore undefined, and the process of defining it will take time - time during which no new coal plants can receive permits. BACT for CO2 is unlikely to mean carbon capture and storage (yet), since it's not readily available, but it will probably mean some combination of co-generation (making use of waste heat from electricity generation), efficiency improvements, and/or fuel switching/co-firing with biomass. Ultimately, President-elect Obama's EPA gets to decide how BACT is defined for CO2, a process which will take at least a year.

    In the meantime, 30 permits for new coal-fired power plants in the seven state directly regulated by the EPA's permitting process, plus projects on all Indian Reservations will immediately die because of this ruling. Other states that do their own permitting under devolution of authority from EPA will have to start their permitting processes over from scratch. They can either decide on a case by case basis what BACT means for CO2, or they can wait for EPA to rule on nationwide basis. The Environmental Appeals Board ruling says that decision is best made on a national basis.

    In short, with this new regulatory uncertainty, it's highly unlikely anyone will want to invest a dime in a new coal plant for the foreseeable future.

    Of course, this will also leave President Obama with an interesting ruling to make with some real political ramifications. But I'd say Obama has plenty of cover since the coal industry has been so avidly touting how clean it is these days. The real bold move would be to require all new coal plants to meet an emissions performance standard that essentially means they'd have to sequester at least half their emissions (as in CA or WA state's emissions performance standards), put an end to mountain top removal coal mining, and really tell the coal industry, "it's time to put up or shut up" and make this "clean coal" thing they keep talking about a reality.

    The Club will have a press release out later today, and I'd refer you to the Warming Law blog for more detailed legal analysis no doubt coming soon. This was an unexpected ruling, so they're still sorting out all the ramifications.

    Update (2:36 pm): here's the official Sierra Club release.

    Update (4:35 pm): AP has the story now. Scooped 'em by several hours!

    Choice quote:

    "All permits in the pipeline are now stymied," said Jason Hutt, an attorney representing a number of utilities, merchant energy developers and refineries seeking permits. He said it also would affect permits for oil refinery expansion.

    Read more!

    Quote of the Day, November 13th, 2008

    "Current global trends in energy supply and consumption are patently unsustainable - environmentally, economically, socially."
    -International Energy Agency, in the Executive Summary [pdf] to their recently released World Energy Outlook 2008 report.

    Read more!

    Wednesday, November 12, 2008

    Wind Power Rejuvenates Rural Oregon County

    Here's a profile piece from the Oregonian newspaper on Sherman County, Oregon. Once a rural county in decline with a median income less than 2/3rds the state's average, Sherman County is now home to a bustling wind power boom, giving new revenue to the county's coffers, putting cash in the pockets of struggling wheat farmers, and giving people a reason stick around in the local community.

    For more on wind power and it's economic development benefits for the Pacific Northwest, see this fact sheet and white paper I published while working at the Renewable Northwest Project.

    "Sherman County farmers reap stability from wind"
    By Gail Kinsey Hill

    Hilderbrand Lane slices through acres of wheat fields as it heads east out of Wasco, a tiny town burrowed into Oregon's poorest county.

    Stubble from summer's harvest bristles in every direction. Nothing interrupts the tawny expanse until the road rises to expose hundreds of wind turbines. Tall and shimmery in the midday haze, they overpower the landscape, striking, unsettling.

    "I like em," says John Hilderbrand, 81, a straight-talking but jocular wheat farmer who lives along his namesake road in the two-story house his grandfather built in 1900. "They're grinding out dollars."

    Hilderbrand, the first in Sherman County to allow turbines on his land, reaps about $30,000 a year in lease payments. And the checks come without fail, he says, unlike the income from his wheat operation, which is squirrelly as the weather.

    "Fact is, I don't see any disadvantages," says Hilderbrand, who likes talking about the wind almost as much as spinning yarns of rogue bears, stuffed rats and clueless urban slickers who insist on calling the county's rich glacial silt "dirt" not "soil."

    In 2000, Sherman County had no turbines. Now it's home to one of the highest concentrations in the Columbia River Gorge, where a wind-energy boom is under way. The projects in the ground so far represent an investment of close to $1 billion, and they've begun to pump millions of dollars into this county of 1,700 residents, with jobs and tax and lease payments.

    The fees alone -- paid in lieu of property taxes -- will double the county's tax base this year and may, in part, be used to write $500 to $800 checks to every resident.

    Most directly, the turbines have affected the lives of farmers such as Hilderbrand, who had the good luck to own land in the wind's fierce path and the good sense to turn an industry juggernaut to personal advantage.

    Wind energy brings its own set of concerns: higher electricity costs for consumers, environmental impacts, scenic intrusions and an inconsistency that can confound power planners.

    Payoffs from wind
    But a look at Sherman County through Hilderbrand's eyes hints at the benefits. Farmers are weaving a new industry into the deep traditions of the fields, stabilizing their livelihoods and connecting their farms to their children and communities in ways they never imagined.

    "I used to cuss the wind all the time," says Hilderbrand, who begins to grin in anticipation of his own punch line. "These days, that's sacrilege."

    John and Wanda Hilderbrand's home, built from brick hauled by horse and ferry from Goldendale, Wash., stands behind a line of cedar and pine trees on the north side of Hilderbrand Lane. Decades ago, John planted the wind break to block the westerlies that blast across the fields. Recently, he suggested chopping them down to open up the views of Mount Adams and Mount Hood. "But the wife said, 'No; they're staying.'"

    On this clear October day, Wanda is upstairs packing for a trip to Mexico. The harvest's in; the days are growing cold. "I can't wait" for the warmth of Puerto Vallarta, says Wanda, a slight woman who moves quickly around the house, which has seen several additions over the years and is full of comfortable furniture and generations of family pictures.

    Outside, John leaves his Dodge pickup in the driveway and eases into a Mercedes, a dusty gray sedan with 180,000 miles on the odometer, for the short drive to his fields. He's partial to Mercedes, he says -- he has another, bought on eBay, in the garage -- not because they're prestigious, but because they're good solid machines.

    "I drive 70 miles round-trip just to buy groceries," he says. The store in Wasco has improved in recent years, but The Dalles remains a regular destination for staples.

    Nearby Wasco has little of note, he chuckles, except "the best and the worst restaurant in town": the Lean To Cafe and Goose Pit Saloon.

    Mention of the Goose Pit gets him started on the stuffed rat, which holds a spot of distinction in the restaurant bar. But he drops the story's thread as he turns on a gravel road and drives amid the towering turbines. He points out the 11 200-foot towers on his property and 14 more on brother Gordon's land. Scores more stretch in rows and cluster on ridges.

    The Hilderbrands' turbines are part of the Klondike wind power projects, owned and operated by Iberdrola Renewables, a Spanish company and one of the largest wind energy developers in the United States. Klondike has been going up in phases -- the first in 2001 -- and now involves 242 turbines and generating capacity of 400 megawatts. Accounting for the wind's variability, that's enough power to consistently light up more than 115,000 homes.

    To the north, Portland General Electric has completed the first phase of its 217-turbine, 450-megawatt Biglow Canyon project.

    All told, the companies lease land from 55 landowners, most of them wheat farmers in a county that has no industry and a larger percentage of its 831 square miles under cultivation than any other Oregon county.

    Sherman County's per-capita income, at $19,550, is the lowest of any county in the state, according to 2006 data, and well below the $33,299 county average for the state.

    More wind projects are in the works, including a 400-megwatt project (which could double to 800 megawatts ) by BP Alternative Energy, a subsidiary of BP, and two more projects by Iberdrola totaling 700 megawatts.

    "The wife says we should have them on every acre," Hilderbrand says as he guides the Mercedes back onto Hilderbrand Lane and west into Wasco.

    Life at the Goose Pit

    The Goose Pit, a nondescript building at the south end of town, is in a midafternoon lull. A few regulars drink beer at a roomy bar in the back. John points out the stuffed rat, fur askew and grayish, squatting in a box on the counter. "Shot on the premises," says John, a claim the owner immediately disputes, although she can't remember precisely how the rat got there.

    Stuffed animals hang from ceiling and wall: a turkey in full flight; an elk head; half a black bear, its front legs outstretched; a full cougar lounging on a shelf.

    A neighbor shot the bear when it broke into his house, John relates. "Had a .30-06. Laid him right out."

    The Goose Pit serves as the town's public square. Tall tales, intrigues, schemes, they all find their way into the restaurant near the end of Wasco's short main street. Despite the wind energy boom, the street holds more boarded-up storefronts and peeling paint than viable businesses. But for the locals, the changes are profound.

    Kathy Neihart and Mike Gutfleisch have owned the restaurant for 25 years. Only in the past several has the investment begun to pay off.

    "It's been a slow uphill climb ever since we started," says Neihart, who moved to Wasco from Portland to escape the big city clamor. About 10 years ago, major renovations put them in debt, and Wasco's dropping population darkened the outlook. "We were getting behind, and there was no way we could have caught up. Those wind towers saved us."

    Between 2000 and 2006, Sherman County's population fell by 12 percent. "They were leaving, and no one was coming back to run the farm," Neihart says.

    Business has doubled in recent years, she says, and each Saturday night she and Gutfleisch cook as many as three prime rib roasts for a steady stream of customers.

    Much of the work associated with the wind farms is in construction -- temporary employment -- economists note. But a lineup of projects in Sherman and surrounding counties, new mobile home parks to house workers and a 14-lot subdivision on the outskirts of town signal some stability for a population that has fallen to 320 from the 2000 level of 380.

    Reason to come home

    John and Wanda Hilderbrand tried to retire in the 1980s after their two sons and a daughter left town for lives of their own. The couple moved to Black Butte Ranch near Sisters, then to Bend. But they soon returned.

    "We met a lot of nice people," Wanda says. "But I said to John, 'It's just not my life.'" She missed her connections to the land, to the plantings and the harvests and to the deer that showed up in her yard almost every morning to eat her roses and peer in the living room window. She even missed the wind.

    Now, with the money the turbines provide, the Hilderbrands say they're more relaxed about their finances and more optimistic about their legacy to their children. They can more easily absorb the rising costs of farming and can travel more.

    They've been on a cruise through the Panama Canal, vacationed in Costa Rica and purchased a better timeshare in Mexico. And, says John, "I buy a lot of things on eBay -- the wife says too much," including that Mercedes and a backhoe.

    Hilderbrand won't say how much he receives from Iberdrola. Generally, landowners are paid $3,000 to $5,000 annually per turbine, the amount rising with turbine capacity. That means a farmer with 10 turbines earns $30,000 to $50,000 a year.

    The turbines' concrete pads eat up some land, but farmers work around them. Hilderbrand estimates that his 11 turbines take three acres of his 1,200 acres out of production.

    Farming of soft white wheat, most of which is shipped to Japan, remains the mainstay, he says, but "I make a really nice amount" from the turbines.

    Most important, the Hilderbrands say, the wind turbines have given their children a reason to come home.

    Ormand and Jeff left Wasco after college. Ormand, with a graduate degree in international business, traveled the world selling irrigation equipment. Jeff settled into a commercial banking job in Beaverton.

    "You either stayed to farm or you left," says Ormand, who lives in Walla Walla. There was a lot more money to be made in what I was doing than in going back and farming." The Hilderbrands' daughter, Jill Burilson, lives in Brush Prairie, Wash.

    This year, the wind lured the brothers into a small-scale project of their own. They've hooked up with a San Francisco investment company that will bankroll a six-turbine, 10-megawatt project and take advantage of the ample state and federal tax credits tied to wind energy development. They hope to complete the project on a section of the family property by mid-2009.

    "I wanted a chance to come back home," says Ormand, who plans to buy a place near town. "I saw what my dad was doing, but I never thought I'd have the opportunity myself."

    Read more!

    A Real Grand Bargain: Radically Re-invent the American Automobile

    Cross-posted from the Breakthrough Institute

    With a new bailout for Detroit on the table, there's a lot of talk about getting some "grand bargain" with automakers out of the deal: automakers will agree to some terms, like producing more efficient vehicles, in exchange for the loans.

    In fact, the direct loans approved by the 2007 Energy Bill require auto companies to use the funds to retool factories that produce vehicles that get 25% better fuel economy than the average vehicle in it's class. That's a start.

    But the real grand bargain, in my opinion, is to bust out of this incremental improvements mentality for fuel economy. We don't need incremental improvements, we need exponential improvements in fuel economy. Here's how it could work...

    It takes something like 3-7 years to design a new car, build the plants and get it rolling off the assembly line. So, rather than say we want a 4% annual improvement in fuel economy (as the current CAFE standards roughly call for) - incremental improvements that get us to no-where near plug-in hybrid-type fuel economy - let's propose a deal that goes something like this

    We'll give automakers tens of billions in loans, put tens of billions more on the table for consumer credits to purchase advanced vehicles, and provide billions more for advanced vehicle R&D incentives (for batteries and lightweight vehicle materials research). In exchange, Detroit would have to support and lobby for fuel economy standards that look like this:

    • 2009 to 2014: improve at 4%/year to something like 30 mpg.

    • 2015: jump to 55 mpg

    • 2018: jump to 75 mpg

    • 2020: jump to 100 mpg

    A deal like that would mean America is committed to radically - not incrementally - re-inventing the American automobile, re-committing to innovation, and recapturing the competitive edge in automotive technology.

    Do you have a vision for a re-invented and renewed American auto industry? Do you have a strong opinion on the bailout plan currently on the table? Join the discussion and participate in the Breakthrough Institute's new essay competition:

    We are currently soliciting guest essays that answers the question: What will it take to reinvent the American auto industry? We will publish the best responses on our home page, Please submit your op-eds to

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    Can America Reinvent the Auto Industry?

    In 2005, with GM and Ford teetering perilously close to bankruptcy, the Breakthrough Institute created the Healthcare for Hybrids proposal with Senator Barack Obama, Representative Jay Inslee, and the Center for American Progress, a plan which would have linked fuel-economy increases to relieving health care costs for U.S. automakers. Today, with the industry again on the brink of collapse, we invite you to join us is exploring a new question for the new era:

    What will it take to reinvent the American auto industry?

    We will publish the best responses on our home page, Please submit your op-eds to and paste or type your content into the body of the message; please do not send attachments.


    “As GM goes, so goes the nation,” went the old saying. Let’s hope not.

    The U.S. auto industry is in its last throes. After decades of declining market share, sales have collapsed to 25 year lows, with total sales for October over 30 percent below last year. GM sales have plummeted by 45 percent, and its stock price is down to its lowest level since 1950. According to Deutsche Bank, GM may not be able to fund its operations past December. An op-ed in yesterday’s Detroit News put it this way:

    “It’s over, folks… It would be impossible to overstate the historic implications of this -- what it means for the national economy, the city of Detroit, the state of Michigan, the industrial Midwest, GM employees and retirees, suppliers, dealers, non-profits and the United Auto Workers.”

    Should the industry be allowed to fail? Obama, Pelosi and Reid don’t think so, and it appears increasingly likely that an additional $25 billion federal package -- on top of the $25 billion in direct loans included in the $700 billion bailout plan -- will be injected to prevent bankruptcy. Obama and the Democratic leadership have indicated that such a deal would be contingent upon automakers’ willingness to transition the industry to produce more fuel-efficient and cleaner vehicles, but no further details are on the table.

    Here’s the problem: not even $50 billion is enough to save the automakers. The industry has been trapped in a downward spiral for decades. In the 1970s, domestic automakers sold 90 percent of U.S. vehicles. In 2007 they sold less than 50 percent, and their share is smaller today. Even if a major bailout can hold the industry over until the end of the recession, there’s little indication that Detroit can ever again compete with foreign manufacturers.

    Now is the existential moment for an American industrial archetype. Is America ready to cut its losses? Or are we willing to do what it will take to rebuild and transform this industry to become competitive in the 21st century and create the clean, efficient American automobiles of the future?

    The choice is ours – and ideas like yours can help determine the path we take. To join this conversation about America’s future, visit our website at and submit your ideas in essay format to

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    Monday, November 10, 2008

    Quote of the Day, November 10th, 2008

    "The green we’re interested in is cash."
    -Norman W. Johnston, founder of a Toledo, Ohio solar cell factory, Solar Fields, quoted in the New York Times piece, "A Splash of Green for the Rust Belt."

    As the piece points out, economic concerns, not ecological concerns, provide the most powerful imperative for Americans across the nation's ailing manufacturing centers to support a new energy economy.

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    Friday, November 07, 2008

    Who Will Get the Nation's Top Energy Job in Obama's Administration

    Reuters reports on several possible candidates for Barack Obama's Secretary of Energy. Whoever is selected will join Obama's candidate and will likely be the main point person tasked with acting on the President-elect's number one priority: igniting a new energy economy. According to Reuters, here are the likely candidates:

  • U.S. Sen. Jeff Bingaman, Democrat of New Mexico, chairman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. He advocates renewable energy and energy efficiency measures.

  • Wesley Clark, retired Army general and former NATO commander who ran unsuccessfully for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2004.

  • General Electric Co Chief Executive Jeff Immelt, who says government investment in environmental technologies can create green jobs.

  • Ray Mabus, former Democratic Governor of Mississippi and U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil producer. He served as a senior adviser to the Obama campaign.

  • U.S. Rep. Ed Markey, Democrat of Massachusetts, chairman of the House Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming. A long-time critic of OPEC and nuclear power, he supported higher fuel economy standards for cars and trucks.

  • Dan Reicher, director of climate change and energy initiatives at A former assistant energy secretary under President Bill Clinton, he wants more U.S. electricity generated by renewable sources and promotes plug-in vehicles.

  • Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell, a Democrat who has called for a $850 million state Energy Independence Fund to invest in clean energy projects and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

  • Montana Gov. Brian Schweitzer, a Democrat who is a big promoter of developing liquid fuel from coal.

  • Kansas Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat who fought efforts to allow a coal-fired power plant to expand in her state, saying it would spew more greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Stay tuned, here and at for more, once Obama announces his selection for Secretary of Energy and other key positions.

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    Post-election Poll Confirms Bipartisan Support for Barack Obama's Clean Energy Plans

    Cross-posted from the Breakthrough Institute

    This week, we've been writing about President-elect Barack Obama's powerful mandate to build a new, clean energy economy and revitalize our nation's ailing economy. A new post-election poll from Zogby Interactive confirms that Americans overwhelmingly view new investments in clean energy as critical to revitalizing America's ailing economy.

    The poll found that more than three out of four voters - 78% - support clean energy investments to revitalize the economy, with 50% saying they strongly agree that clean energy investment is vital to the nation's economic future.

    Clean energy investments enjoy broad, bipartisan support as well, the poll found. According to Zogby:

    "While the vast majority of Democrats (96%) and independent voters (77%) view clean energy investment as a key means to boost the U.S. economy, more than half of Republican voters (58%) also said the same."

    Support for clean energy investments is strongest among young voters, African Americans and latinos, three demographics that were critical to Obama's landslide electoral success. Zogby found that:

    "Support for clean energy investment is particularly strong among younger voters - 87% of those age 18-24 and 80% of those age 18-29 believe this type of investment is necessary to help improve the U.S. economy. African American voters (94%) and Hispanic voters (84%) also showed overwhelming support for clean energy investment."

    "While the economy was the top issue in the 2008 election, clean energy clearly emerged as part of voter expectations for getting the economy back on track," said John Zogby, President and CEO of Zogby International. "Support for action on global warming, already strong in the 2006 election, was even stronger in 2008, particularly among young voters that are the future electorate."

    The Zogby Interactive survey of 3,357 voters nationwide was conducted Nov. 5-6, 2008, and carries a margin of error of +/- 1.7 percentage points. The survey was commissioned by the National Wildlife Federation.

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