Saturday, January 31, 2009

Move Over Tesla: Shelby Is Revving Up to Launch World's Fastest Electric Sports Car

The Tesla Roadster has some new competition. Shelby SuperCars (SSC) is preparing to release an all-electric version of their Ultimate Aero super car ("the world's fastest production car," according to SSC). The Ultimate Aero EV will replace the internal combustion engine with two of SSC's newly developed All-Electric Scalable Powertrains (AESP) to produce 1,000 HP and 800 lb-ft of torque, enabling the electric roadster to rocket to 60 mph in a mere 2.5 seconds! That's almost twice as fast as the all-electric Tesla Roadster.

The Ultimate Auro EV will have a top speed of 208 mph and an all-electric range of 150-200 miles on a single charge. Shelby also claims the electric sports car will come equipped with the company's "Charge on the Run" on-board charging system which "allows for full battery recharges in as little as 10 minutes."

According to the Shelby press release:

Being the "World's Fastest Production Car," SSC decided the Ultimate Aero [was] the perfect high visibility outlet to demonstrate the capabilities of its new Green powertrain. ...

SSC will display its AESP in the Ultimate Aero EV in order to prove that electric-powered vehicles will not only match but also provide more linear power (electric motors have 100% torque at 0 RPM) and overall performance than internal combustion cars.
The company plans to start "full-scale preproduction" of the Ultimate Aero EV in the second quarter of this year, and also plans to package their AESP electric motors for "a wide variety of applications ranging from 200 horsepower for economy and midsize cars, to 500 horsepower for light trucks and SUVs, and up to 1,200 horsepower for delivery trucks, heavy-duty equipment, buses and military vehicles." The Ultimate Aero EV will be the first vehicle to highlight the "green" technologies developed by SSC Green Inc., a new wholly-owned subsidiary of Shelby SuperCars.

WattHead readers: you may commence drooling...

[A hat tip to Gas 2.0 and Alisha Fowler]

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Friday, January 30, 2009

VIDEO: Creating Jobs in a New Energy Economy

The simultaneous collapse of our economic and ecological systems has created a great opportunity to support industries that at once rebuild the market and the planet, according to an article by economist Robert Pollin, "Doing Recovery Right," appearing in the latest issue of The Nation. The transition of the economy from a fossil-fuel to a renewable resource base will provide new jobs and revitalize the American working class, argues to Pollin, who is also the author of the in depth report "Green Recovery," examining the job creation benefits of a $100 billion, two year investment to building a clean energy economy.

"The transition to a clean energy economy has the capacity to merge the aims of environmental protection and social justice to a degree that is unprecedented," Pollin writes. "It is an opportunity that must not be lost."

In the video below, Pollin and The Nation contributor Liza Featherstone discuss the potential for public investments to spark the transition to a new energy economy and create jobs in industries both new and familiar - from construction and manufacturing to new energy and high tech industries.

For more on the power of public investments to build a new, prosperous clean energy economy, see the "Green Recovery" report and Pollin's article, "Doing Recovery Right" appearing in the current of The Nation.

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Update from Coal River Mountain

Here's an update from the Coal River Mountain Wind Team:

We wanted to write and give you an update on what's happening with the mountain. There has been a lot going on, not much of it in our favor, so we could still use your help in spreading awareness of the campaign and the urgency of the situation. Please continue to share our website and the story of Coal River Mountain with your friends and colleagues, and even write letters to your local newspapers and legislators urging their support for the residents of the Coal River Valley.

First of all, Massey has begun pre-mining activities below the ridge where the first phase of mining is set to begin. It is hard to determine exactly when they will be set to blast, and for now they have yet to construct a road up to the ridge, but they have shown their intent by clearing the forest and constructing a road and sediment ditches approximately 150 [ft?] below the ridge, so we expect that they will be ready to clear the ridge in the coming weeks, but we'll keep you updated on that.

We'd like to once again bring attention to the economic report conducted by Downstream Strategies out of Morgantown, WV that we released last December. The report analyzed the economic costs and benefits of going with wind versus mountaintop removal for Coal River Mountain, and concluded that the development of a 328 Megawatt wind farm (enough to power about 70,000 homes) stands as the best economic land use option for the mountain, the communities and the county government. This was the evidence we'd been waiting for, and we truly though for a while that the report couldn't be ignored by state and local leaders.

This hope was shattered on January 6th when we took the result of the study to the Raleigh County Commission. Instead of embracing the study's conclusions and the opportunity to diversify the local economy and bring in new industries that would help soften the blow of the boom-and-bust cycles of coal, the Commission chose to ignore the merits of the study altogether and instead chose not to "pit one industry against another." Unfortunately, the Commission and the state government are holding tight to that false logic, and so we are now hoping to catch the attention of national leaders who might help us in the fight for the future of the mountain.

We got a big boost in that effort yesterday when published a wonderful and comprehensive article about the campaign written by Appalachian author Jeff Biggers ("The United States of Appalachia"), whose own family home in Indiana has been destroyed by strip-mining for coal. The article gives a great accounting of the campaign since its beginnings, as well as a more comprehensive update on where the campaign now stands [editors note: the Salon article is a must read!]. gets nearly 6 million readers a month and so we appreciate Jeff's article and his persistence in spreading awareness for the wind campaign. You can read the article by clicking here.

We also continue to fight the proposed mining on legal grounds, and on February 10th we will be going before the Surface Mine Board to challenge the permit revision that was approved for the Bee Tree surface mine back in November. The hearing will be held at the Department of Environmental Protection headquarters in Kanawha City (Charleston) at 601 57th St. The hearing will begin at 8:30am, so if you're free please come out and show your support for Coal River Mountain. Here is a link for directions to the hearing.

That's about it for now, we will keep you updated as things happen and we hope you continue to support us in this effort.

With warm regards,

The Coal River Mountain Wind Team

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Jobs are “Blowin’ in the Wind”

This is a guest post by A. Siegel, originally posted at and DailyKos

Jerome a Paris’ Wind power set to decline under Obama? highlighted how the on-again, off-again federal renewable energy policies have created a boom-and-bust cycle, with 2009 looking to be perhaps a minor bust after 2008’s record-setting boom period. And, that this might occur despite the Administration and Congressional focus on renewable energy. And, despite our desperate need to get off polluting energy sources via energy efficiency and clean energy production as quickly as possible.

Yesterday, however, also say another important item: the wind industry now employes more American’s than the coal industry! Wind: 85,000 workers. Coal: 81,000 workers.

And, looking to the future, wind produces more jobs per kWh than coal while producing far (FAR) less environmental havoc.

Green vs Dirty Jobs

With each passing day, wind energy offers the opportunity for more jobs. As per Jerome a Paris, every megawatt of wind creates about 15 jobs in the year of construction and another 0.4 permanent jobs (or, over a 25-year life cycle, about 10 job-years).

Despite the growing demand for coal (both for our own electrons and for export), the coal industry (via mountaintop removal and otherwise) has worked hard not to just get the miner out of the mine, but the miner out of mining. Coal industry employment has dropped 50 percdent since 1986.

Growing spectrum of jobs …

In 2008, wind accounted for 42 percent of new power capacity added to the grid. (Interesting, 2008 was a year where total electricity demand fell. Increased wind and nuclear power production, with the reduced demand, led to an actual fall in the amount of coal-fired electricity produced in 2008 compared to 2007.)

With the increasing US wind construction, foreign firms are moving ever more of their manufacturing into the United States to meet US demand. And, the actual construction, management, and maintenance jobs are ones that cannot be exported.

The stimulus package contains a three-year extension of the Production Tax Credit (PTC), a per kilowatt hour subsidy to wind power production, which the stimulus package also allows to be an investment tax credit (far fewer multi-millionaires looking for tax write-offs in face of the struggling (failing?) economy). Now, there is a real question to ask as to whether PTC/ITC on a per kWh basis is really the right path to go. Just imagine what the subsidy would end up being if half America’s electricity came from wind? (See this excellent discussion of this issue.)

We often hear of the impossibility of taking action on moving off coal due to the JOBS! JOBS! JOBS! issue. Well, the jobs issue is clear: clean energy is the way to go not just due to some esoteric global warming issue, but to spark more and better jobs. And, jobs not just for today, but into the future.

The front-lines: Coal River Mountain

Coal River Mountain, West Virginia, truly represents the front-lines of the coal vs wind battle for our collective future. Rory McImoil Rory McImoil is a key player in laying out a stark alternative: blow the mountains away for the temporary gain of extracted coal (which will run out within a decade) and the long-term pain of a devastated environment and community or invest in wind power that will provide employment and community tax revenue for decades to come.
Coal River Wind is the sort of win-win-win-lose battle that will define our future.

  • Win in terms of job creation and long term economics
  • Win for environmental justice and strengthening the local community
  • Win for the environment through not destroying the mountains, reduced mercury and other pollution, reduced fly ash, and reduced CO2 emissions
  • Lose for the fossil-fool industry and those seeking to live off extractive industries, living lavishly today at the expense of tomorrow.

By year 27, the wind-power option would create more local job-years than all the planned strip mines combined. And, year 28 … 29 … 30 … and on are continued prosperity. In addition, this is only the direct jobs, without counting the how the electricity generation revenue would go into the local government as tax revenue (teachers, nurses, police …).

And, these jobs would create fewer health implications (has any wind industry employee come down with Black Lung disease?) for the workers and others in the community.

And, this process would leave the topography intact (albeit with wind turbine towers), basically eliminate the waste stream (after construction), and be clean, non-GHG emitted power generation for decades to come.

But, Massey Energy would lose and they spend quite a bit of money to ‘buy’ the West Virginia political system and to distort the debate.

The Energy Smart choice is an uphill battle against such established interests.

In any event

Wind-power supplies about two percent of America’s electricity. Coal about 50 percent. Wind provides more jobs. Hmmm …

In addition to any discussions about global warming or mountain-top removal or fly ash, the next time you have a discussion with anyone about renewable power versus fossil fuel remember this: When it comes to JOBS!!! JOBS!!! JOBS!!!, clean energy beats dirty energy, hands down.

Some related discussions:

Faithful at Article XI, the new Commonwealth of Virginia energy/environmental blog. “Virginia mining employment is plunging due to the fact that there is less coal and we are replacing miners with machines to get whats left. This leaves our SW region fraught with some of the worst poverty in the United States.” Yet, Governor Tim Kaine has supported the Dominion Virginia Power and the unWise coal-fired electricity power plant on the the basis of, guess what, jobs. Virginia is one of very few states with zero installed utility-scale wind power. If jobs matter, perhaps that should change.

DanaWV at It’s Getting Hot in Here: Take This Jobs (Argument) and Shove It!.

My Blowin’ in the Mountains from fall 2007 on Coal River Wind.

We can all
help make
Energy Smart.

Ask yourself:

Are you doing
your part to

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

VIDEO: "We should totally build a smarter system." The Smarter Grid

Why is this five year old smarter than the rest of us?

Let's build a smarter grid:

P.S. Wiser words have never been uttered: "I guess dinosaurs ARE pretty cool..."

(ht/Moses Barrett)

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Geography of Climate Politics

Here are excepts from my latest post at HuffingtonPost. Head here for the full post...

When it comes to the geography of climate politics, it doesn't break down along the much-ballyhooed "red state/blue state" divide. It's really more about coal states vs. clean states, as John Broder reports in yesterday's New York Times. That's a rift that risks dividing Senate Democrats as climate policies move forward in the 111th Congress.

By coincidence or design, most of the policy makers on Capitol Hill and in the administration charged with shaping legislation to address global warming come from California or the East Coast, regions that lead the country in environmental regulation and the push for renewable energy sources.

That is a problem, says a group of Democratic lawmakers from the Midwest and Plains States, which are heavily dependent on coal and manufacturing. The lawmakers have banded together to fight legislation they think might further damage their economies.



Broder notes, "This brown state-green state clash is likely to encumber any effort to set a mandatory ceiling on the carbon dioxide emissions"... that is, unless climate advocates heed the concerns of the "Technology Fifteen." That's the group of moderate Democratic Senators who have banded together to ensure that the concerns of their "middle America" states are not ignored in the upcoming climate debates.

Tech 15.jpg


One quote in Broder's article from Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan sums up the Technology Fifteen's concerns clearly and concisely:

"My message over all is that for us to support what needs to be done in addressing global warming we need to demonstrate that, in fact, jobs are created," Ms. Stabenow said. "It's not a theoretical argument. We have to come up with a policy that makes sense, that is manageable on the cost end, that creates new technology, and that treats states equitably and addresses regional differences."

So, for climate advocates, that's our test: if we want climate policy passed in the US, we need to convince Senators Stabenow, Brown and the rest of the Technology Fifteen that (a) our policy proposal is actually good for their states' economies (rhetoric aside), (b) the costs of compliance are manageable and contained, (c) it will invest heavily in clean energy technology development and deployment, and (d) it will not disproportionately impact different states. It doesn't get much clearer than how she lays it out there.

Will we succeed in crafting a policy that can win over the Technology Fifteen? For all our sakes, I sure hope so...

Click here for the full post at HuffingtonPost

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Monday, January 26, 2009

Obama: "No single issue is as fundamental to our future as energy"

Today, Barack Obama announced several measures to increase America's energy independence and reduce the threat of global climate change. In a speech delivered at the White House, President Obama said, "These are extraordinary times," adding, "At a time of such great challenge for America, no single issue is as fundamental to our future as energy."

After briefly discussing the nation's economic challenges, Obama went on to link today's challenges to our dependence on oil and fossil fuels:

"America's dependence on oil is one of the most serious threats that our nation has faced. It bankrolls dictators, pays for nuclear proliferation and funds both sides of our struggle against terrorism. It puts the American people at the mercy of shifting gas prices, stifles innovation, and sets back our ability to compete.

These urgent dangers to our national and economic security are compounded by the long-term threat of climate change, which, if left unchecked, could result in violent conflict, terrible storms, shrinking coastlines, and irreversible catastrophe."
President Obama noted that every US president from Richard Nixon on has promised efforts to secure America's energy independence, saying:
"Year after year, decade after decade, we've chosen delay over decisive action. Rigid ideology has overruled sound science. Special interests have overshadowed common sense. Rhetoric has not led to the hard work needed to achieve results and our leaders raise their voices each time there's a spike on gas prices, only to grow quiet when the price falls at the pump."
Mr. Obama said that today, "America has arrived at a crossroads," adding that it is now the nation's time to "choose whether to risk the peril that comes with our current course or to seize the promise of energy independence. And for the sake of our security, our economy and our planet, we must have the courage and commitment to change."

President Obama then promised, "It will be the policy of my administration to reverse our dependence on foreign oil while building a new energy economy that will create millions of jobs."

He recognized that the challenge will not be easy. "I cannot promise a quick fix," he said. "No single technology or set of regulations will get the job done."

Obama then promised to "commit ourselves to steady, focused, pragmatic pursuit of an America that is freed from our energy dependence and empowered by a new energy economy that puts millions of our citizens to work. "

The president then went on to announce what he called "the first steps on our journey toward energy independence," including new investments in Obama's economic stimulus package to harness clean energy, a directive to move forward with new regulations to increase the efficiency of American cars and trucks passed by Congress in December 2007, and a new directive to the Environmental Protection Agency to allow California and 13 other states to set stricter standards for greenhouse gas emissions from the tailpipes of personal vehicles. "Each step," President Obama said, "begins to move us in a new direction, while giving us the tools that we need to change."

Here is the remainder of his speech:
"First we must take bold action to create a new American energy economy that creates millions of jobs for our people. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan before Congress places a downpayment on this economy.

It will put 460,000 Americans to work with clean energy investments and double the capacity to generate alternative energy over the next three years. It will lay down 3,000 miles of transmission lines to deliver this energy to every corner of our country. It will save taxpayers $2 billion a year by making 75 percent of federal buildings more efficient. And it'll save working families hundreds of dollars on their energy bills by weatherizing 2 million homes.

This is the boost that our economy needs and the new beginning that our future demands.

By passing the bill, Congress can act where Washington has failed to act over and over again for 30 years. We need more than the same old empty promises. We need to show that this time it will be different. This is the time that Americans must come together on behalf of our common prosperity and security.

Second, we must ensure that the fuel-efficient cars of tomorrow are built right here in the United States of America.

Increasing fuel efficiency in our cars and trucks is one of the most important steps that we can take to break our cycle of dependence on foreign oil. It will also help spark the innovation needed to ensure that our auto industry keeps pace with competitors around the world.

We will start by implementing new standards for model year 2011, so that we use less oil and families have access to cleaner, more efficient cars and trucks.

This rule will be a downpayment on a broader and sustained effort to reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

Congress has passed legislation to increase standards to at least 35 miles per gallon by 2020. That 40 percent increase in fuel efficiency for our cars and trucks could save over 2 million barrels of oil every day: nearly the amount of oil that we import from the Persian Gulf.

Going forward, my administration will work on a bipartisan basis in Washington and with industry partners across the country to forge a comprehensive approach that makes our economy stronger and our nation more secure.

Third, the federal government must work with, not against, states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

California has shown bold and bipartisan leadership through its effort to forge 21st-century standards, and over a dozen states have followed its lead.

But instead of serving as a partner, Washington stood in their way. This refusal to lead risks the creation of a confusing and patchwork set of standards that hurts the environment and the auto industry.

The days of Washington dragging its heels are over. My administration will not deny facts; we will be guided by them. We cannot afford to pass the buck or push the burden onto the states.

And that's why I'm directing the Environmental Protection Agency to immediately review the denial of the California waiver request and determine the best way forward. This will help us create incentives to develop new energy that will make us less dependent on the oil that endangers our security, our economy and our planet.

As we move forward, we will fully take into account the unique challenges facing the American auto industry and the taxpayer dollars that now support it. And let me be clear: Our goal is not to further burden an already struggling industry; it is to help America's automakers prepare for the future.

This commitment must extend beyond the short-term assistance for businesses and workers. We must help them thrive by building the cars of tomorrow and galvanizing a dynamic and viable industry for decades to come.

Finally, we will make it clear to the world that America is ready to lead. To protect our climate and our collective security, we must call together a truly global coalition. I've made it clear that we will act, but so too must the world. That's how we will deny leverage to dictators and dollars to terrorists, and that's how we will ensure that nations like China and India are doing their part, just as we are now willing to do ours.

It is time for America to lead because this moment of peril must be turned into one of progress.

If we take action, we can create new industries and revive old ones, we can open new factories and power new farms, we can lower costs and revive our economy. We can do that and we must do that.

There's much work to be done; there is much further for us to go. But I want to be clear from the beginning of this administration that we have made our choice: America will not be held hostage to dwindling resources, hostile regimes and a warming planet.

We will not be put off from action because action is hard.

Now is the time to make the tough choices. Now is the time to meet the challenge at this crossroad of history by choosing a future that is safer for our country, prosperous for our planet, and sustainable.

Those are my priorities, and they're reflected in the executive orders that I'm about to sign.

Thank you so much for being here."

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VIDEO: The Power Shift is Coming!

Register today for Power Shift 2009!

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Sunday, January 25, 2009

BREAKING: Obama Lets California and 13 States Regulate Global Warming Pollution from Cars and Trucks

Obama will also speed efforts to set federal fuel economy standards.

BREAKING NEWS: President Barack Obama will grant California and 13 other states the authority to regulate global warming pollution from cars and light trucks, setting standards that would require cars and trucks sold in those states to achieve higher fuel efficiency.

According to the New York Times:

President Obama on Monday will direct federal regulators to move swiftly to grant California and 13 other states the right to set strict automobile emissions and fuel efficiency standards, two administration officials said Sunday evening.

The directive makes good on an Obama campaign pledge and marks a sharp reversal from Bush administration policy. Granting California and the other states the right to regulate tailpipe emissions is one of the most dramatic actions Mr. Obama can take to quickly put his stamp on environmental policy.

The presidential orders will require automobile manufacturers to begin producing and selling cars and trucks that get higher mileage than the national standard, and on a faster phase-in schedule. The auto companies had lobbied hard against the regulations and challenged them in court.
The Washington Post also reports on the story here:
On Dec. 19, 2007, then-EPA Administrator Stephen L. Johnson blocked the efforts of California and more than a dozen other states to limit automobiles' carbon dioxide emissions, arguing that President George W. Bush had addressed the issue by signing a law that same day raising the corporate average fuel-efficiency standard to 35 miles per gallon by 2020. But California's tailpipe emissions rules would have effectively required even greater fuel-efficiency increases, by seeking to cut vehicles' greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent between 2009 and 2016, something American automakers have resisted.
WattHead - Energy News and Commentary has reported on the long, long saga of the California Tailpipe Emissions Standards since California initially adopted the standards back in October 2005. We'll continue to bring you the latest news in this ongoing story.

The Times and Post also report that on Monday, Obama will make further announcements concernign federal efforts to improve vehicle fuel economy, reduce government energy consumption (and save taxpayers money). According to the Times:

In a White House announcement scheduled for Monday morning, Mr. Obama will also direct federal agencies to immediately begin work on making all government buildings more energy efficient, with an eye toward saving as much as $2 billion a year and reducing the emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases blamed for the warming of the planet.

He will also direct the Department of Transportation to immediately begin drafting automobile fuel-economy regulations to comply with a law enacted in December 2007. Former President Bush delayed implementation of the law and left office saying there was not sufficient time to write the rules.
The Post again has more detail, clarifying that:
The Bush administration never issued near-term guidelines for tighter fuel-efficiency standards: The Transportation Department circulated a proposal last fall that would have required auto companies to build new cars averaging as much as 31.8 miles per gallon by 2015, compared with the current level of 27.5 miles per gallon, but it announced less than two weeks before Bush left office that it would not issue formal guidelines. ...

Obama, who has consistently urged U.S. automakers to produce more fuel-efficient cars, is likely to accelerate the timeline for raising the nation's corporate average fuel economy for cars and trucks. The Transportation Department guidelines must be issued no later than April in order to affect the 2011 auto fleet.
However, as the Post reports, the waiver allowing California and 13 other states to move forward with regulations on CO2 emissions from cars and trucks may do more to accelerate increased vehicle fuel economy than the federal CAFE standards:
Granting a waiver for California to regulate tailpipe emissions would affect nearly half the U.S. auto market. Thirteen other states -- including Maryland -- and the District have already adopted California's proposal, while at least four others have pledged to do so. When EPA rejected the waiver, Obama issued a statement saying the decision "is yet another example of how this Administration has put corporate interests ahead of the public interest. If the courts do not overturn this decision, I will after I am elected president."

"Not only is the new president a man of his word, but he's making a dramatic break with the Bush administration's climate policy," said Frank O'Donnell, who heads the advocacy group Clean Air Watch. "It's a powerful signal that science -- and the law -- will guide his administration's decisions. This should prompt cheers from California to Maine."
Happy Sunday!

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Friday, January 23, 2009

Obama EPA Overturns Big Stone II (SD/MN) Air Permit

By Kai Bosworth, cross-posted from

Just days after the inauguration of President Barack Obama, the new administration is already getting to work on cleaning up some of the weak rulings from the last eight years. For those of us in Minnesota and South Dakota, the change is already being felt as the air permit for South Dakota’s Big Stone II coal plant was revoked earlier today.

The proposed Big Stone II coal plant was located right on the border of Minnesota, and 45% of its electricity would have crossed the border. However, by locating the plant in South Dakota, Otter Tail Power and the other applicants avoided the stronger Minnesotan regulations. South Dakota’s regulators approved the environmental permits for the project months ago.

The final permit needed was a Certificate of Need from the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) of Minnesota for a powerline going from Big Stone II to eastern Minnesota. High voltage powerlines in Minnesota have always been contentious, and none have been built in the state since the 1979 powerline battle (fought over the CU line, which now brings coal to Minnesota from North Dakota…very familiar). After delaying the decision last June, the PUC commissioned an independent study to determine if the dirty coal power would be the cheapest for Minnesotans. The reviewers, Boston Pacific, released their report in October, which stated that Otter Tail Power’s cost estimates for future coal power were far too low, considering an impending carbon price. Additionally, two administrative law judges both recommended to the PUC that the project be nixed. Despite this evidence (and the overwhelming organizing effort of local youth and green groups, too many to name), last week the PUC voted 5-0 in favor of building the powerline.

But what a difference a week can make. Today, Obama’s EPA revoked the original OK given for the South Dakota air permit, citing worries about the plant’s contributions to global warming and inadequate emissions monitoring. This action took place on the dead last day for review for the plant’s application. Talk about good timing!

It’s unclear whether this will spell the end to Big Stone II, a coal plant five years in the making, or the powerline, which could be rerouted or extended to bring dirty energy from another proposed coal plant near Selby, SD (“It’s probably going to be the cleanest coal plant in the nation”). Otter Tail Power has 90 days to submit a revised application. Yet this is surely a good sign for activists across the country working to stop carbon-spewing projects like this one. Let’s hope it’s the first of many.

The press release from Clean Water Action and the Sierra Club can be read below.



Virginia Cramer, Sierra Club 804-519-8449
Darrell Gerber, Clean Water Action 612-802-5372

Date: January 23, 2009

Big Stone II Sent Back to the Drawing Board
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Concerned About Pollution, Global Warming

Washington, DC – Less than three days after the Bush Administration left office, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has overturned the State of South Dakota’s approval of the massive Big Stone II coal-fired power plant. The EPA’s decision comes after the state failed to require state-of-the-art pollution controls for the coal plant that would address concerns about harmful soot, smog and global warming pollution.

“This is a great day not only for clean energy and people’s health, it’s a victory for the rule of law,” said Bruce Nilles, Director of the Sierra Club’s Move Beyond Coal Campaign. “EPA is signaling that it is back to enforcing longstanding legal requirements fairly and consistently nationwide,” added Nilles.

As the first major coal plant decision by the EPA since President Obama took office, this decision signals that the dozens of other coal plant proposals currently in permitting processes nationwide will face a new level of federal scrutiny. Sierra Club and Clean Water Action have been working to stop the Big Stone II project and ramp up clean energy investments in for more than three years.

“Today EPA took the first step toward restoring science and integrity to its work and recognizing the very real need to reduce air pollution from coal-fired power plants,” said Darrell Gerber, Clean Water Action Program Coordinator. “Downwind residents and the region’s natural resources will be better protected.”

This decision likely spells the end of Otter Tail Power’s Big Stone II coal plant. While for the past eight years the Bush Administration has refused to regulate global warming pollution, even after being ordered to do so by the US Supreme Court, President Obama has pledged that the US will cut global warming pollution and do its part to avoid the worst consequences of climate change. With coal-fired power plants accounting for almost 30% of our nation’s carbon dioxide emissions, burning less coal and investing in clean energy such as wind and solar instead is a common sense approach to helping meet global warming pollution reduction goals. The proposed Big Stone II 500-megawatt coal plant would have emitted more than 4 million tons of global pollution annually.

At a minimum, Otter Tail Power will have to go back to the drawing board and redesign the project to incorporate the best and maximum available control technology for pollution like soot and smog. Sierra Club and Clean Water Action will be pushing for EPA to set limits also for carbon dioxide, the main contributor to global warming.

“Otter Tail Power will now have to be responsible for the cost of its pollution,” said Nilles. “We hope that this increasing cost of coal will encourage Otter Tail Power, along with Governors Pawlenty and Rounds, to harness the clean and affordable wind resources available in the region. Minnesota and South Dakota should be leaders on the path to renewable energy independence, not laggards proposing 19th century coal plants.”

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Breaking: EPA Halts Proposed South Dakota Coal Plant

BREAKING NEWS: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency put the breaks on Big Stone II, a major new coal plant proposed in South Dakota and intended to serve electricity consumers in Minnesota, North Dakota and South Dakota. Coming just days after former President Bush boarded his helicopter and departed our nation's capitol, this news could indicate renewed scrutiny for coal plant proposals from the EPA. Perhaps it's time EPA and it's new management will deserve that "Protection" word once again.

From Bloomberg news:

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency placed a hold on approval of a coal-fired power plant in South Dakota, a move environmental groups say indicates increased scrutiny under President Barack Obama.

“This is a signal that the Obama administration is taking a much harder look at coal power from the previous administration,” said Darrell Gerber, a program coordinator at Washington-based Clean Water Action, which along with the Sierra Club opposed the plant.
The EPA said in a letter to the South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources yesterday that the state didn’t meet requirements under the Clean Air Act in part of its proposed permit for the plant. The state has 90 days to respond to the agency’s objections.

Obama has pledged to fight global warming by cutting the amount of greenhouse gases released in the U.S. and pursuing clean-energy technology. Coal-fired power plants account for almost 30 percent of heat-trapping carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S., according to the Sierra Club.


The Sierra Club and Clean Water Action said in a joint statement that this is the first major coal-plant decision by the EPA under Obama, and it means other proposed plants will are likely to come under greater federal scrutiny.

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Public Opinion Cool on Global Warming

Cross-posted from the Breakthrough Institute

Public opinion on global warming lags far behind the rhetoric and apparent commitment shown by President Obama and other elected officials, according to reports today from Andy Revkin at the New York Times (in print and on his DotEarth blog).

"The latest in an annual series of polls from the Pew Research Center on people's top priorities for their elected leaders shows that America and President Obama are completely out of sync on human-caused global warming," Revkin writes, pointing out that "Mr. Obama stressed the [global warming] issue throughout his campaign and several times in his inaugural speech, mentioning stabilizing climate in the same breath as preventing nuclear conflict at one point."

As Revkin reports, the Pew poll found global warming ranked dead last among 40 concerns ranked by the 1,503 respondents of the poll:


"Here's the list from top to bottom, with the economy listed as a top priority by 85 percent of those polled and global warming 30 percent: the economy, jobs, terrorism, Social Security, education, energy, Medicare, health care, deficit reduction, health insurance, helping the poor, crime, moral decline, military, tax cuts, environment, immigration, lobbyists, trade policy, global warming."

It seems that with the economy in turmoil, Americans have pushed aside other concerns and, even more so than in calmer days, are spending little time worrying about global warming or the environment. According to Revkin:

"Only 30 percent of the voters deemed global warming to be "a top priority," compared with 35 percent in 2008.

"Protecting the environment," which had surged in the rankings from 2006 to 2008, dropped even more precipitously in the poll: only 41 percent of voters called it a top priority, compared with 56 percent last year.

In contrast, dealing with the nation's energy problems ranked sixth in the poll -- just behind education and social security -- with 60 percent of voters endorsing it as a top priority."

With gas prices falling precipitously over the last several months (prices at the pump seem to be the only thing falling faster than the value of people's retirement accounts), public concern for energy issues has also slipped somewhat from June, when it ranked #2 in a similar Gallup poll of top public concerns. Still, the salience of energy costs and energy independence still seems far higher than global warming for the American public.

The poll also makes abundantly clear that, above all else, Americans will clearly be judging just about every public policy proposal through the lens: "is this good for the economy and for my job?"

All this said, it's also fair to say that polls that silo complex and interlinking issues like "global warming," "energy," "the environment," etc. are not the best indicators of the potential success or failure of broad policy proposals. For example, President Obama or others could make a clear and convincing argument that a policy to reduce global warming pollution will raise revenue that we can invest in clean energy technologies, creating new energy industries and jobs, increasing the efficiency of our homes and business, cutting our oil dependency, etc. (Nancy Pelosi seemed to frame things that way in the Chronicle yesterday). In that case, the polling figures for "global warming" as an isolated issue will clearly not be the most accurate barometer of the proposal's popularity.

Still, Obama and other leaders beware: these numbers would seem to point to a very uphill battle for any proposal framed centrally or primarily as a "climate bill," rather than an "energy independence-economic recovery-and-climate bill." Perhaps more crucially, any proposal that can be painted as bad for the economy will also most certainly run right into a brick wall of public opposition..

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Hope Is Not a Strategy

By Jake Brewer. Full post at HuffingtonPost

I'm sitting a couple blocks north of the White House and the buzz around here is intense. Still.

The sense that we are in the middle of a massively-historical moment is palpable, and there's a lot of talk about yesterday's inauguration ushering in new era for our country. To be honest, I'm as taken up as anyone with the hopeful possibilities that 2009 and beyond can bring.

I hear "new era," and I immediately start thinking about what those words can mean. My deep, personal hope is that this new era will be defined by the decision of our country to move boldly into the clean energy future we must achieve.

I'm even more hopeful after hearing these ideas inserted so prominently into President Obama's inaugural address.

But every time I have these feelings of hope, I'm reminded of something my dad always told me:

"Son, hope is not a strategy."

And as usual, he's right. The question clearly and powerfully before us is not what we hope for, but rather, what are we going to do to make our hopes actually happen. We need to act. Now. And just as we came together in record numbers to vote new elected officials into office, the young people of this country WILL act.

Our response is bold. It is equal to this historic moment. It is audaciously hopeful, and infused with the energy and vitality of an entire generation of Americans ready to turn good intentions and rhetoric into reality.

37 days after President Obama lost the "-elect," we are going to bring 10,000 young people to Washington to hold our elected officials accountable for rebuilding our economy and reclaiming our future through bold climate and clean energy policy.

And whether this was your first election or your twentieth, we need you to be here with us. Or at the least, we need you to support us.

Power Shift '09 will be one of the "Where Were You Moments" of our generation. You can join us in DC starting February 27th for four days of learning, connection, music, inspiration, and the largest lobby day on climate and clean energy Capitol Hill has ever seen.

For the full post, read on here.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Obama Stimulus: For Clean Energy, a Patchwork of Investments

By Adam Solomon Zemel. Cross-posted from the Breakthrough Institute.

Barack Obama has finally been sworn in as the 44th President of the United States of America. For once, there is no debate among pundits or Capitol Hill insiders about what Obama's first priority will be as President. It seems like President Obama has been working on crafting an economic stimulus bill since November 5th, and now the real work begins in earnest.

Last week, despite reports from the Congressional Budget Office that our economy will likely face $2 trillion of lost production over the next two years, Obama rolled out a stimulus plan that only spends $825 billion to make up for this gap in production. A summary of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, released by the House Appropriations Committee, gives us the first detailed look at how this money will be spent and invested. Reading through the section devoted to energy in particular, a glaring lack of spending and the absence of any sort of cohesive guiding framework both give reason for pause.

Every dollar of public investment produces, on average, about one and half dollars of GDP, achieving a "multiplier effect" that makes federal spending ideally suited for maximizing stimulus investments - a critical criteria when facing such a massive economic shortfall. Considering the fact that only $550 billion of the stimulus will be in the form of spending and investment, it seems that the stimulus in its current form won't even attempt to address the full $2 trillion dollar economic gap. The other $275 billion contained in the stimulus will go to tax cuts, which economists reckon will have little to no "multiplier" effect and will likely make up for no more than $275 billion of lost production. As it stands, Obama's stimulus proposal may only address half of the economic shortfall projected by CBO (stimulating roughly $1 trillion in increased economic production). And it'll be worse if CBO's projections turn out to be optimistic (as scary a thought as that is!). That leaves economists like Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman concluding, "the Obama plan is nowhere near big enough to fill this 'output gap.'"

So given the risks of not doing enough, why does the Recovery and Reinvestment plan attempt to address just half of expected losses in economic production? Or as Krugman is left wondering, "Why isn't Mr. Obama trying to do more?"

Obama has hinted that the scale of public investments in the stimulus has been constrained by a lack of "shovel ready" projects, projects that are ready to go and will expend most of their money and hire most of the associated jobs within the next 24 months. Anything that isn't shovel ready might not yield its peak economic benefits until more than two years from now, reducing the timely impact of the stimulus, or so the argument goes.

So perhaps there is not enough that is "shovel ready." But looking at this stimulus summary, that's hard to believe. In addition to $22 billion for efficiency retrofits, Obama is only planning on spending $32 billion dollars on clean energy research and development, demonstration, deployment, and enabling infrastructure, such as a modern 21st century electricity transmission grid. All these projects and more are necessary and carry a much bigger price tag than $54 billion--even over the next two years. Robert Pollin's Green Recovery report, for example, outlined $100 billion in smart investments in clean energy projects over the next two years - double what is contained in the current stimulus plan.

Another sign that public investments have not been maximized can be found within the House's own stimulus summary. The section summarizing transportation investments explicitly states that while there are more than $65 billion in shovel ready, backlogged public transit and rail projects, the stimulus will only allocate about $10 billion to mass transit investments. This makes it pretty clear that "shovel ready" has not been the consistent standard for apportioning expenditures for the stimulus, and raises plenty of questions. If Obama is not spending to the full capacity of shovel ready projects on smart public transit investments, there is little evidence he has maximized public investments in other areas, especially the clean energy investments so critical to our economic, national security and climate objectives.

Underfunded or not, the series of clean energy investments included in this version of the stimulus reads like a laundry list of piecemeal tax breaks and incentives that simply do not cohere into any kind of unified plan. It seems that there is no coordination between the different intended energy expenditures and no central objective or strategy behind then, other than creating new jobs.

Given the momentous challenges facing America today, challenges that Obama spoke eloquently of in his inaugural speech today, he can ill afford to waste any opportunities to make stimulus investments pull "double duty" - making investments that both create jobs in the short term and set the foundation for smart, sustained growth towards a new 21st century economy.

So when it comes to clean energy investments, the stimulus must follow some kind of plan, designed to organize investments that are most effective at building the new energy economy we need. They should evidence a clear vision of the clean energy economy we're trying to create and follow a diagnosis of the key barriers and challenges standing in the way of that vision. Such a vision and diagnosis would in turn inform a strategy of framework to organize and guide where and how to best invest as much stimulus money as possible in spurring the transition to a new, clean energy economy.

The high price of clean energy technologies is currently the greatest obstacle hampering the transition to "harness[ing] the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories," an objective Obama spoke of today. We've therefore argued for a strategy to spur clean energy development and deployment designed to drive down the costs of clean energy - a strategy to "make clean energy cheap." If Obama were to sit down with his top-notch energy and economic teams and a red pen with a single goal in mind--"make clean energy cheap"--the energy section of the stimulus might suddenly expand in scope and have a new, cohesive and strategic focus.

The stimulus legislation is currently making its way through the House, and certain pundits have predicted that Congressional Democrats will bulk up the investment end of the bill before it is passed and sent over to Obama's desk. If this is true, there would be no better way to increase spending, to meet both short-term and long-term objectives, than increasing investments to make clean energy cheap and abundant.

It's President Obama now. For him, and our nation, the real work begins today. The stimulus is the first chance to get it right.

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Obama Puts Breaks on Bush's Midnight "Loot and Run" Environmental Tactics

[Correction appended, 1/22/09]

In one of his first actions upon taking office, President Barack Obama signed an executive order to put the breaks on all pending "midnight" regulations pushed by former President Bush in his waning days in office (God it feels good to write that!). That includes the slough of "loot and run" environmental regulations advanced by Mr. Bush, including efforts to relax air emissions standards for coal plants, make it easier for coal companies to expand the dastardly practice of mountain top removal mining, and more.

According to the Associate Press, "The order went out shortly after Obama was inaugurated president, in a memorandum signed by new White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel."

All's fair in love and politics apparently: according to AP, Bush did the same thing when entering office in 2001, putting a halt to dozens of regulations and executive orders advanced by outgoing President Clinton, "who in his final 20 days in office issued 12 executive orders," AP reports, "including directives on migratory birds and the importation of diamonds from Sierra Leone."

Unfortunately, it was too late for some regulations, which Mr. Bush and his administration cronies were able to finalize before Obama's inauguration day, including rules regarding the Endangered Species Act.

AP reports:

In some cases, however, the Bush administration moved too fast for the incoming administration.

For example, just six weeks ago, the Bush administration issued revised endangered species regulations to reduce the input of federal scientists and to block the law from being used to fight global warming.

The Bush administration worked diligently to get the change in place before Obama took over, corralling 15 experts in Washington in October to sort through 250,000 written comments from the public on the revisions in 32 hours.

Obama has said he would work to reverse the changes. But because the rule takes effect before he is sworn in, he would have to restart the lengthy rulemaking process.

The changes would eliminate some of the mandatory, independent reviews that government scientists have performed for 35 years on dams, power plants, timber sales and other projects, a requirement that developers and other federal agencies have blamed for delays and cost increases.

The rules also prohibit federal agencies from evaluating the effect on endangered species and the places they live from a project's contribution to increased global warming.

There's some options available to President Obama however, as well as the Democratic Congress. According to AP, "For rules that have already gone into effect, the Democratic-controlled Congress might be able to help the Obama administration by using the Congressional Review Act, a legislative tool to bring new federal regulations under scrutiny."

There's plenty of work to be done to start digging out from the hole Mr. Bush seemed intent on placing America in. It's encouraging to see President Obama getting to work immediately to stop the damage and roll back Mr. Bush's efforts to gut dozens of environmental protections. Hail to the new Commander in Chief!

Correction (1/22/09): Several additional reports indicate that some of the worst environmental regulations propogated by the Bush Administration were too far along for a simple executive order from President Obama to stop. The LA Times reports today:

The list of Bush-era environmental rules that survived includes a major tweak to the Endangered Species Act, a first step in opening Western lands to oil shale development, leases for oil and gas drilling near some national parks, and the start of a process to allow new oil rigs off the Atlantic, Gulf, Alaska and California coasts.

Obama still holds several options for changing or reversing those decisions. All carry at least some degree of difficulty -- an apparent victory for an outgoing administration that explicitly tried to finish its rule-making early enough to tie Obama's hands.

The UK Guardian confirms that new rules easing restrictions on Mountain Top Removal are among those already finalized:

However, the majority of the so-called "midnight regulations" - such as diluting the powers of the endangered species act and relaxing the rules for mountain-top coal mining - have already come into effect and cannot easily be undone.

Noah Greenwald of the Centre for Biological Diversity welcomed the move but warned: "The majority of regulations threatening our environment, health and economy, however, will need to be undone by Congress, the courts or new rule-making."

Let's hope this is just a first step from President Obama then, and that he is committed to fully undoing the damage wrought by former President Bush. And don't forget that Power Shift 2009's lobby day is an excellent opportunity to take that message straight to your elected officials. Don't miss it!

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

President Obama: We will harness new energy

Cross-posted on ItsGettingHotInHere

Today Barack Obama took the oath of office and became the 44th President of the United States of America. He identified grave challenges our nation faces and called on all of us to unite in facing them.

George Bush is moving back to Texas, Henry Waxman (D-CA) is the chair of the House Energy and Commerce committee and our movement is stronger than ever. What are we going to do with it? Now is the critical time to make big plans, build the movement and make all the changes that have been out of reach for eight years a reality.

President Obama explicitly referenced harnessing "the sun and the winds and the soil to fuel our cars and run our factories," but the message I heard is that we must harness a new American energy - the energy of an awakened citizenry sensing the urgency of this moment - to power a global transition to a more just and prosperous clean energy future.

We are that energy. Here are three things you can do today to harness it:

  1. Register now for Power Shift 2009 Feb. 27 - Mar. 2 in Washington, DC, get ten friends to come with you and visit your representatives in Congress where they work.
  1. Call your representatives in Congress today and tell them the stimulus package must include green jobs. Congressional Switchboard: (202) 225-3121. You can also send an email through MoveOn, 1Sky or Green For All.
  1. Start organizing a town hall on energy as a part of Focus the Nation 2009, a nationwide event to focus on our energy future on April 18th. Get your campus, your community and your representatives in Congress together and turn our national conversation on energy into action. Contact your regional organizer to find out more.

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

On Obama's Stimulus: Don't Look Back, Forge Ahead to a New Century of Prosperity

By Adam Solomon Zemel. Cross-posted from the Breakthrough Institute

Last week, Obama announced his stimulus package, a plan to spend nearly 800 billion dollars on infrastructure projects, modernizing schools and health records, expanding clean energy production, providing much-needed relief for state budgets, and extending tax cuts to 95% of working Americans.

By most standards, this is a big stimulus plan that could do a lot to bolster confidence, increase consumer spending and unfreeze credit. And yet, as Paul Krugman put it last week,

"To close a gap of more than $2 trillion -- possibly a lot more, if the budget office projections turn out to be too optimistic -- Mr. Obama offers a $775 billion plan. And that's not enough.

... The bottom line is that the Obama plan is unlikely to close more than half of the looming output gap, and could easily end up doing less than a third of the job."

Krugman has taken great pains with his columns recently to explain why a stimulus package on the order of a trillion dollars or more is called for, and why the numbers Obama is talking about now are not close to sufficient. But where Krugman sees economic under reach, his fellow Friday Times columnist David Brooks sees political over reach:

"The conventional advice for presidents is: focus your energies on a few big things. Obama just blew the doors off that one.

Maybe Obama can pull this off, but I have my worries. By this time next year, he'll either be a great president or a broken one."

On the surface, it would seem that Brooks is correct--normally, a honeymoon period is not adequate cover for something so politically audacious. But on this issue, Brooks is stuck in the past. Much of the Democratic caucus representing moderate districts needs to see economic recovery as soon as possible, and liberal Democrats want to see Obama spending on good progressive causes. If anything, there has been a degree of political backlash from Democrats in congress that Obama is not doing enough.

So why is Obama planning a stimulus bill that falls short of what the economy needs?

The answer to this question seems to be the conventional wisdom that these projects must be "shovel ready"--in other words, spend as much money as possible and create as many jobs as possible as soon as possible. Anything that isn't shovel ready might not yield its peak economic benefits until more than two years from now, reducing the timely impact of the stimulus.

But economists are suggesting that this downturn will last much longer than two years--the Congressional Budget Office recently reported that we are in the midst of the worst recession since World War II. Perhaps it is time to discard the language of "jump-starts" that is impeding the path to true economic revitalization. Maybe now is not the time to limit ourselves to simple shovel-ready stimulus. Maybe it's time to start making big, long-term public investments in the areas that are essential for a prosperous, healthy, and equitable 21st Century in America. Invest in crucial necessities like clean energy, health care and education reform, and infrastructure and modernization projects like a smart grid and broadband. And let's not be limited to the immediately obvious but also invest in essential areas like spurring innovation and expanding educational services.

The goal of a "stimulus" is to put the economy back on the path it was on before the downturn started. But this should not be the goal of Obama's economic plan--to return us to the time when college grads went to Wall Street to make a quick buck by trading back and forth on dubious mortgages. It's time to stop looking backwards to 2007 and instead look forward, towards the new century still unfolding before us.

It is not easy to see what the future holds, but there are ways to prepare this country for it nonetheless. Krugman noted this week that one dollar of public investment can yield one and a half dollars of GDP. And that means that next week, when Barack Obama takes office, he can work to pass an economic revitalization plan that doesn't just create 21st Century schools and laboratories and grids and health information systems, but also lifts our economy out of recession and puts us on track to build a new American and global century of prosperity, health and democracy.

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VIDEO: Swan Pond Road - the Kingston Coal Disaster

The following video, produced by environmental activist Summer Rayne Oakes, takes a close look at the people and homes affected by the Kingston coal disaster...

Swan Pond Road: The Kingston Coal Disaster from SRmanitou on Vimeo.

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Thursday, January 08, 2009

Obama's Stimulus Plan: A Foundation for Growth?

By Adam Solomon Zemel. Cross-posted from the Breakthrough Institute

In Northern Virginia today, President-elect Barack Obama addressed the nation, introducing a few basic goals and guidelines for an economic stimulus package that could cost as much as a trillion dollars.

Well aware that the large price tag on the stimulus, referred to as the "American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan," Obama included language about setting a foundation for economic growth now in order to return to a place of fiscal responsibility as the economy gets back on his feet. However, Obama was not shy about the need for the government to step in and spend, now:

"It is true that we cannot depend on government alone to create jobs or long-term growth, but at this particular moment, only government can provide the short-term boost necessary to lift us from a recession this deep and severe. Only government can break the vicious cycles that are crippling our economy - where a lack of spending leads to lost jobs which leads to even less spending; where an inability to lend and borrow stops growth and leads to even less credit."

Obama's plans consist of programs for immediate relief and long term economic revitalization in six key areas:

"To finally spark the creation of a clean energy economy, we will double the production of alternative energy in the next three years."
  • Energy. Obama spoke about expanding America's production of alternative energy over the coming years, doubling its capacity by 2012. He also spoke about putting Americans to work retrofitting and weatherizing at least 75% of government buildings and 2 million homes to be more efficient. He also spoke about creating a dynamic and innovative alternative energy sector in America, saying, "we will put Americans to work in new jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced... and developing the new energy technologies that will lead to even more jobs, more savings, and a cleaner, safer planet in the bargain."
"To build an economy that can lead this future, we will begin to rebuild America."
  • Infrastructure. Referring to his infrastructure plans as "not just another public works program," Obama did say that part of the infrastructure spending would go to rebuilding roads and bridges and executing worthy and well-planned public works projects. However, Obama's framed these infrastructure investments as primarily about retrofitting America to compete in a 21st century global economy. This included the construction of a unified national smart grid that "will save us money, protect our power sources from blackout or attack, and deliver clean, alternative forms of energy to every corner of our nation." In addition, the President-elect mentioned the need to expand broadband across America, to rural areas and small towns.
"And it means investing in the science, research, and technology that will lead to new medical breakthroughs, new discoveries, and entire new industries."
  • Innovation. Obama also spoke of the need to build a new innovation infrastructure, saying he would invest in R&D to promote economic growth and breakthroughs that will create broad-based prosperity. Hopefully, Obama will pursue a robust innovation policy seriously, as technology and science innovations, along with increasing productivity, can create entire new industries and sectors of the economy.
"To improve the quality of our health care while lowering its cost, we will make the immediate investments necessary to ensure that within five years, all of America's medical records are computerized."
  • Healthcare. Obama confined his healthcare ideas to digitizing medical records. Not only will it reduce wasteful spending, he argued, but it will cut back on treatment errors, saving lives and creating a healthier America.
"To give our children the chance to live out their dreams in a world that's never been more competitive, we will equip tens of thousands of schools."
  • Education. Modernizing schools with new technologies and computers, along with new training for teachers, will play a role in the stimulus, ensuring the long term competitiveness of America's up and coming generations. Obama spoke about bringing 21st Century classrooms, labs and libraries to America's public schools, community colleges and public universities, "so that students in Chicago and Boston can compete with kids in Beijing for the high-tech, high-wage jobs of the future."
"Finally, this recovery and reinvestment plan will provide immediate relief to states, workers, and families who are bearing the brunt of this recession."
  • States and Citizens. The proposed stimulus plan would include a $1,000 tax cut for 95% of working families, the first stage of tax cuts that Obama pledged to make during his campaign. Obama also spoke about extending unemployment insurance and health care coverage to those who have already lost jobs and are having trouble reentering the workforce. And, while he said that governments would have to "tighten their belts," the federal government would also step in to avoid harmful budget cuts to states so that they can keep their public sector workers employed.

While Obama outlined a solid framework for stimulus and recovery, as usual, the devil is in the details, and the President-elect's speech was lacking in that capacity. For example, what does he have in mind when he talks about "alternative energy?" Is he only referring to the electricity sector, or does he have transportation and heating fuels in mind as well? Will doubling America's capacity for "alternative energy" include increasing the production of coal-fired power plants using carbon capture and storage technology? Does the baseline we're doubling from include hydropower? If hydropower is included, Obama is pledging to take "alternative energy" to around 20% of US electricity supply; if it's not we'll be taking it to just 7% of US electricity supply, so nuances like this can clearly make a big difference in the way we parse Obama's speech today.

Obama also provided very little specificity as to the policy tools he plans to use to accomplish these priorities. Will he beef up the clean energy production tax credit, or will the government invest directly in the production of energy with financing, procurement and fully refundable credits?

The lack of specificity in today's speech likely indicates that Obama still has a lot of details to work out with Congress, and it'll be important to watch as these details are unveiled in the weeks ahead.

But for what it was--a political speech laying the groundwork for Obama's vision of governance, it was a reassuring sign that the President-elect has the right objectives for stimulus spending. Obama identified six areas of domestic policy in which he would prioritize expending his political capital, each framed centrally around an effort to use stimulus spending to lay the groundwork for sustained economic growth. Investments in clean energy technology, innovation and R&D, critical public infrastructure like a unified national smart grid and broadband networks, digitizing medical records, building modern schools and research facilities, and helping out state budgets are all smart investments that create both short-term economic stimulus and lay the groundwork for long-term productivity and economic competitiveness.

He also included language about bipartisanship, and worked to appease perhaps his biggest barrier to a sizable stimulus plan, Congress's Blue Dogs. This faction of moderate Democrats from centrist districts who preach fiscal responsibility and adherence to pay-as-you-go fiscal standards seem receptive to Obama, and have already started rallying behind the stimulus.

Perhaps most importantly, Obama identified a vision for a brighter American future - a nation prosperous again, more competitive in a global 21st century economy, and powered by a cleaner, more efficient energy system - and then sketched out a plan that will put us on the road to that future. And, with Speaker Pelosi already saying that Congress will not be taking a recess until an economic stimulus bill has been passed into law, it seems that we might be starting down that road sooner rather than later.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2009

What's the Danger with Green Stimulus and Green Jobs?

Barack Obama's final appointments in December indicate a strong commitment to action on climate change. Steven Chu as Energy Secretary, Carol Browner as Energy & Climate Czar, John Holdren as Assistant for Science and Technology -- just to name a few recent selections -- are all proponents of vigorous action to cut U.S. global warming pollution and take leadership on a new international climate treaty. And Hilda Solis, Obama's new Labor Secretary, is a champion of "green jobs."

All is well on the climate front, it seems. Except that it's not.

Despite Obama's energy and environment cabinet appointments, cap and trade legislation still faces a very uphill battle, and in today's economic situation, climate advocates are still left to worry: is Obama really prepared to expend his political capital championing a policy that will increase U.S. energy prices in the midst of a recession?

It doesn't seem likely. And simply replacing sustained climate legislation with a short-term "green stimulus" program to create green jobs and perform energy efficiency retrofits is a dangerous possibility. Find out why by reading my recent column, written with my colleague Teryn Norris, at Huffington Post.

Full story is at Huffington Post here.

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Friday, January 02, 2009

Scenes From an Environmental Disaster: Photos of the Tennessee Coal Sludge Spill

Photojournalist Antrim Caskey documented the devastating scenes on the ground at the massive coal sludge spill that occurred on December 22nd near the town of Harriman, TN. The spill, which is one of the worst environmental disasters in U.S. history affected over 300 acres of land and water, contaminating fish and drinking water and destroying homes and ecosystems in this verdant corner of eastern Tennessee.

Antrim's images say it all, and below the fold you'll find a photographic journey through the scene of this environmental disaster...

(Mouse over the top of the slide show to see captions, describing each image)

You can find more of Antrim's photos, including images documenting the damages of mountaintop removal coal mining in Appalachia, at

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