Saturday, January 30, 2010

More tenacity needed in climate change debate

Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., told Americans last week to “get angry” about climate and clean energy legislation.

Similarly, in President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address, we heard that he was angry and that American citizens are angry, too. The anger revolves around jobs.

But Obama talked about more than just jobs. He reiterated his commitment to passing climate and clean energy legislation in 2010, and he put the blame for legislative deadlock squarely on Congress.

Yet the blame for inaction also belongs with American citizens. Kerry has served in the Senate for many years, and he may be on to something by telling to us to stop sitting around.

Anger is a tricky tactic. It is an appeal to populism that sometimes backfires. But when it comes to climate and clean energy legislation, anger is both a good tactic and a justified position.

Anger makes politicians take note and take action. The so-called Tea Partiers have made themselves heard. Some might not take them seriously, with Chuck Norris waxing and frothing patriotic, but they are influencing public opinion. Pundits and politicians alike have used the modern-day Tea Party movement to support claims that the American people—the very same people who voted Obama into office—now strongly oppose Democrats’ progressive agenda.

However, despite Tea Partiers’ celebrity status in the news, their views form a minority of public opinion. Their treatment in public discourse draws parallels to electric utility companies that have also created a powerful yet patently false lobbying effort, orchestrating protests in sports arenas by arranging buses for their employees, handing them placards and inviting the media.

Progressive Democrats in favor of climate and clean energy legislation also need to channel their anger effectively. “I want you to go out there and start knocking on doors and talking to people and telling people, ‘This has to happen!’” Kerry said. He knows politicians respond to threats, especially when their own careers go face-to-face with a public opinion firing squad. But will people heed Kerry’s call to arms?

Conservative critics paint an unflattering stereotype of elite progressives, saying they are self-satisfied college graduates clinging to their stable jobs. Do they get angry? No, the stereotype goes, their position in society puts them above rolling economic turmoil.

Anger is more than a political tactic. In the context of climate and clean energy legislation, anger is also a justified position. The pending cap-and-trade legislation promises jobs and an improved economy. Indeed, the name of the draft bill, sponsored by Kerry and supported by Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act.

While Republican and industry opponents of the bill argue that it will fail to deliver more jobs, supporters have already mapped out tangible benefits and real strategies. The Apollo Alliance and the Blue Green Alliance, for example, have built large, bipartisan coalitions uniting clean energy with American manufacturing. And last week, three UW-Madison professors published a paper highlighting the immense public health benefits to be gained from taking action on air pollution.

Also last week, a rogue Republican pollster published a report with the Environmental Defense Fund arguing that the least popular part of climate change legislation is actually climate change itself. The ‘Death of Environmentalism’ essay said the same inflammatory thing in 2004. At the time, it was heretical. But today, the report argues, the American people will only respond to promises for jobs, health and the economy.

Progressives possess strong evidence that comprehensive climate and energy policy benefits American citizens. With such a strong case, the current deadlock in the Senate is enough to make anyone upset. The question is, can supporters of climate and energy legislation get angry?

Danny Spitzberg and Stephen Collins are master’s students in environmental studies and public affairs, respectively. Please send responses to

(This article was originally published in the Daily Cardinal)

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Thursday, January 28, 2010

Tree Sits, Air Horns and Helicopters: The Fight to Save Coal River Mountain

High up in the trees near the summit of Coal River Mountain, two activists dangle in the air near a mountaintop removal mine site. Eric Blevins and Amber Nitchman are still preventing the expansion of mining on the summit of Coal River Mountain, a mountain that has the best wind energy (and therefore economic) potential in the area.

Eric and Amber didn't just stroll through the woods and decide to climb some trees. Their action, like the dozens of others in the past year are a steady escalation of the Climate Ground Zero campaign.

I first visited Rock Creek, West Virginia in October. Mountain Justice, now in its 5th year, organized a fall weekend that drew 150 youth activists from all over the country to the Appalachians to see firsthand the destruction of mountaintop removal coal mining and learn what they could do about it. For me, it was partly a reunion with colleagues from various climate and activist organizations making the trek, and partly a recharge. Camping in the cold, eating group meals and hanging out with my mountain roaming friends is a great way to spend a weekend. It's also a great way to build a movement.

Mountaintop removal is the most destructive and least labor intensive way to mine coal. It is impossible to restore stream ecosystems, forests and landscapes where thousands of acres are scraped away. It also injects poison into drinking water and streams, puts dust in the air and denudes the land. This form of mining relies on large machines, resulting in a staggering decline in mining employment, even as the profits of its executives grow. The destruction and declining employment are not lost on the people of West Virgina, nor concerned people around the country who know the side of the story that Manchin and Blankenship don't want to make public.

Keeping the rest of the country updated about southern Appalachia is low on the priorities of Massey coal or WV governor Manchin. In fact, both have pursued major PR campaigns to convince the country of the greatness of coal, using multi-million dollar budgets to try and outmaneuver the citizen groups fighting for justice. They know that an informed country isn't going to allow the destruction of over 400 mountains and 2,000 miles of stream. Lately, they're getting a little scared.

Massey is taking their aggression out on the tree sitters. Eric and Amber have endured 7 days of air horns tied high up in the trees blasting at them 24/7 and flood lights shining on them all night. The base camp worries of permanent hearing loss, even if the sitters are using their ear plugs. Basecamp cannot ask the sitters to come down, its their own decision, so we don't know how serious the likely ear damage is. A film crew following the campaign hired a helicopter to survey the scene, providing photos of waving sitters and confirmation that Massey has put a lot of effort into intimidating the them into submission.

Today, Governor Manchin met with the 81 year old Roland Micklem and several other representatives from the Climate Ground Zero campaign. Manchin called the camp personally on Wednesday to ask for the meeting. Also in attendance will be the "State Police and Raleigh County authorities to discuss concerns expressed by citizen groups that Massey's security guards are harassing and endangering the protesters," according to Ken Ward at the Charleston Gazette The campaign is reaching the people it needs to reach, but both parties are likely to have different conceptions of what the meeting is about.

Governor Manchin asked the activists to scale down their campaign, reduce confrontations and generally de-escalate the situation. Earlier this week, he met with community members and called for calm in the coalfields, stating that the state "will not tolerate any violence on any side." He didn't say which side was more guilty of violence, but only one side here has non-violence written into their mission statement. I'll give you a hint: corporations typically don't describe themselves that way. Both Tuesday's meeting and today's are unlikely to result with Massey Energy stopping mountaintop removal, but they help raising the profile of the issue.

Climate Ground Zero, as a non-violent direct action campaign, does not want to 'cool off', 'simmer down' or 'de-escalate' the situation. Some people confuse non-violence with pacifism or resignation. If anything, non-violence aggressively escalates situations until they are resolved. Governor Manchin making some bland statement to the press is not a resolution, and it will do nothing to deter the activists I have spoken to here.

Governor Manchin has more to worry about than just activists. Coal is losing ground on several fronts. Three major railroads, CSX, Burlington Northern and now Norfolk Southern report lower coal revenues despite otherwise strong growth. Governor Manchin took to the stump this week to try and get legislative support for coal. Clean Skies News reports:

A day after meeting with environmentalists to address concerns about mountaintop removal mining, Manchin asked lawmakers to approve a symbolic resolution condemning federal cap-and-trade legislation and expressing support for investment in new coal technologies.

When the 13 Freedom Riders set off on a Greyhound from Washington to New Orleans, violence against them escalated along the way. It began with mild intimidation and grew to a fire-bombing and all-out mob beatings. Bobby Kennedy and his brother John were livid. They talked about their big concern for the riders even as they asked them to stop. Some of the older organizers were intimidated by the violence, but the younger freedom riders like John Lewis and Diane Nash chose to continue, to take the tactic to its conclusion and show the heart of the cruelty in Jim Crow.

Governor Manchin is unlikely to stop mountaintop removal. He's in too deep with the coal industry and his state powers only extend so far. Unless his disposition changes wildly, he's also unlikely to take necessary steps to protect activists who are non-violently protesting mining practices. While this is speculation on my part, I'm not the only one. The feeling at the camp in Rock Creek is that federal intervention is needed, just like in the civil rights movement, to quickly end destructive mining and head off a much further escalation of an already tense situation.

I'm not from Appalachia, but I'm drawn to the mountains and this major issue at the center of our struggle for solutions to climate change. The campaign, Climate Ground Zero, says it all. This is the epicenter of the most atrocious fossil fuel extraction practices in this country, and this is where the people will rise up and put an end to it. Keep your eyes on southern Appalachia in the months to come. The activists and the coal companies show no signs of stopping, but the arc of justice and economics are on the side of the two brave activists, still sitting 60 feet up in the trees near the summit of Coal River Mountain.

For updates, media and background on the Climate Ground Zero campaign, visit their website:

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Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Clean Tech Execs Champion Innovative Clean Energy Deployment Administration

By Jesse Jenkins, Devon Swezey, and Yael Borofsky

A new Clean Energy Deployment Administration (CEDA) is critical to "position the U.S. as the global leader in the development and deployment of clean energy technologies for years to come," according to a letter written by the country's leading clean tech entrepreneurs, investors, and stakeholders.

Thirteen leading clean tech companies, including Google, GE, and Kleiner Perkins, wrote to President Obama last week urging him to expedite the creation of a Clean Energy Deployment Administration along the parameters outlined by the Senate's American Clean Energy Leadership Act of 2009 (ACELA).

According to ACELA, a bipartisan product of the Senate ENR committee under the leadership of Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), CEDA would be a new autonomous agency staffed with project financing experts and its own Administrator but maintain affiliation with the Department of Energy in order to benefit from DOE's considerable energy expertise. CEDA would provide financial enhancement, much like a bank, through a flexible suite of credit augmentation tools, including loan guarantees, securitization, insurance, that would reduce risk for investors in clean energy innovation. CEDA's financial support packages will thus help innovative new clean technologies secure private-sector financing, greatly increasing investment in this critical sector with limited risk to taxpayers.

Perhaps the most important and unique feature of CEDA is that it would be the first example of a deployment-oriented agency specifically designed to further accelerate clean energy innovation. To date, most clean energy deployment policies - renewable electricity standards, production tax credits, even the House version of CEDA - are far more focused on driving megawatts into the ground (and thus supporting more mature technologies, like wind). In contrast to the House version, which is more likely to act as (and compete with) a typical bank, the Senate's formulation of CEDA breaks new ground for deployment policy in its understanding that innovation doesn't end at the lab. Under ACELA, CEDA would have the ability to take on riskier projects thanks to explicit technology improvement goals, with objectives to drive lower prices and higher performance in an array of nascent clean technologies that advance some of the nation's most pressing interests.

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Monday, January 25, 2010

Hope From a Flawed Conference

Cross posted on the Huffington Post,, and

Most world leaders agree that we need to keep the earth's eventual warming under two degrees Celsius. Above this level of warming (or maybe even over 1.5 degrees), we will dramatically change global patterns of storms and droughts, and sea levels will rise substantially.

Yet last month in Copenhagen, world leaders agreed to an accord which, if followed, would likely warm the earth by more than three degrees.

I attended the talks as the Hopenhagen Ambassador, charged with the task of collecting and sharing people's messages of hope. While hope was in short supply, and while the final accord was flawed, I did see three major rays of hope in Copenhagen, and I believe that we can forge a better agreement in the future. Nonetheless, we face huge challenges, especially in how we communicate this issue.

The first ray of hope was the record-setting youth attendance at Copenhagen. At past climate conferences, the youth delegation was small. In Denmark, thousands of attendees were in their twenties, and youth organizations that didn't exist a few years ago now claim tens of thousands of members. The organization, an NGO with impressive global reach, was run almost entirely by young people. I fed on this energy, and I wasn't alone. When I asked the Archbishop Desmond Tutu what gave him hope, his eyes lit up and he said, "The number of people, especially young people, is fantastic".

A second ray of hope came from city and regional governments around the world. The lack of a global agreement often masks the progress being made from the bottom up. For instance, even though the United States doesn't have a federal climate policy yet, over half of the states have some type of climate policy. I saw Arnold Schwarzenegger speak passionately about California's goal to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20 percent by 2020. Other regional leaders made dramatic pledges. A favorite moment of mine came when the premier of Scotland offered a special bottle of 42 proof Scotch to any leader that agreed to join him in reducing carbon emission by 42 percent by 2020. "If you have watered down targets," he said, "you will get watered down Scotch."

The third ray of hope was that so many world leaders attended and spoke fluently about climate science and policy. When 140 heads of state arrived at the end of the final week of the conference, many details had still to be sorted out. While this fact spoke poorly of the negotiating process, it also forced world leaders to discuss details of climate science and policy. And based on reports from the negotiations, most heads of state understood the likely difference in sea level rise between 1.5 degrees and 2.0 degrees of warming, as well as the difference between 350, 450, and 550 ppm of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

If the leaders of the world understand what needs to be done, the world's youth are mobilizing, and a number of regional and city governments are adopting the right policies, why did the Copenhagen Accord still fall short of what was needed? True, it is a huge success that the United States and China, who together combine to account for over 40 percent of global emissions, have finally agreed to reduce pollution. But their pledges to reduce pollution, like the rest of the world's, are not sufficient. (You can see what countries adopted the accord and see their pledges here.)

I believe that it is not just world leaders who are at fault, but all of us. While many people of the world want action on climate change, they rate the issue as a low priority. In the United States, nearly half of voters don't support restricting greenhouse gas pollution.

Perhaps one reason public opinion lags is that we are stuck in a "suffer or sacrifice" mindset. Most people think we have two options: we can endure catastrophic global warming, or we can make painful sacrifices to change the way we live. It's easier to ignore the problem or not believe in it if neither option is palatable.

But these options are false. We must do away with the idea of "sacrifice" and replace it with "investment." A good climate policy will cost us money, but that money is not lost--it is an investment in a prosperous and sustainable future.

Perhaps we need to paint a picture of this future. Perhaps we need to speak of a future where cars make no noise and produce no pollution because they run on batteries or hydrogen fuel cells, and where electricity from solar power is so cheap and abundant that even the poorest in the world can afford it. Imagine buying energy from our neighbors instead of purchasing oil from distant lands. Imagine tropical forests and coral reefs expanding and growing instead of dying. Who wouldn't want to invest in that future?

Only with major investment in research, development, and deployment of clean energy will we create such a world. The International Energy Association estimates that we need to invest $500 billion a year more than we already are in clean energy to keep the earth's eventual warming under 2.0 degrees Celsius.

As I argued in a previous post, the most important people were not in Copenhagen. The most important people are your neighbors and the people who will listen to you about this issue. Tell them that there are rays of hope, but that we need their help. We need their support for a massive investment in clean energy.

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Wyden to Chu: Clean Tech Competitiveness Is the "Challenge of Our Time...Not Clear What the Strategy Is"

Originally Posted at The Breakthrough Institute

U.S. clean tech manufacturers are losing global market share to their international competitors. What is the federal government going to do about it?

That was the question posed last week to Energy Secretary Steven Chu as he testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. Chu was speaking on the central role that energy research and development holds in any successful effort to mitigate climate change.

During questioning, Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) quotes an earlier statement by Secretary Chu, calling it "the challenge of our time":

"The only question is which countries will invent, manufacture, and export clean technologies, and which countries will become dependent on foreign products?"

Unfortunately, the United States is headed in the wrong direction. According to Senator Wyden, who chairs the Senate Subcommittee on International Trade, Customs, and Global Competitiveness, "80% of clean energy investments are going to take place outside the United States, even though global trade in environmental goods has doubled just in the last few years."

The Challenge of Our Time: Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR) asked about the U.S. government strategy to boost U.S. clean tech competitiveness, but wound up with more questions than answers.

A recently published report by Senator Wyden's office shows that global exports of environmental goods (the majority of which are associated with clean energy technologies) more than doubled to $215 billion from 2004 to 2008. While U.S. exports have certainly benefited from the major expansion in worldwide demand for clean tech products, it has steadily lost international market share as other nations move more aggressively to capture competitive advantages in the burgeoning clean energy sector.

In the United States, clean tech imports have grown faster than exports, and U.S. exports have not kept up with global demand or international competitors, leading to an erosion of market share for U.S. products. By contrast, other nations, particularly China, have dramatically boosted their exports over the five-year period with China experiencing the greatest value growth in clean tech exports of any nation in the world.

Key figures from the report include:

  • The United States is the largest import market of environmental goods (EG) as well as the fastest growing import market from 2004-2008 in terms of product value.
  • In the last five years, the U.S trade deficit in renewable energy products increased by 1,400% to nearly $5.7 billion.
  • The United States faces declining export market shares in virtually every regional market, while China has substantially increased its market share in every regional market, over the last five years.

"It appears," the report concludes, "that the U.S. is not fully seizing the economic opportunities that this situation provides."

The conclusions of the Wyden study are consistent with the findings in "Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant," a recent Breakthrough Insitute/ITIF report on international clean tech competitiveness.

Rising Tigers: The United States is losing clean tech market share as Asian government's aggressively invest in clean energy. The U.S. lacks a strategy to compete.

That report finds that China, Japan, and South Korea have already surpassed the United States in the production of virtually all clean energy technologies and will out-invest the United States by 3-1 in clean tech over the next five years. Should this investment gap persist, notes the report, "the United States will import the overwhelming majority of clean energy technologies it deploys."

The report outlines a comprehensive strategy to regain economic competitiveness in clean energy built on three pillars: research and innovation, manufacturing, and domestic market demand. Chu alluded to the latter in a response to Senator Wyden:

"You need local demand to encourage the manufacturing of these products here...if there is no local demand and it's all abroad, they will build the factory abroad."

Spurred by massive government investment, the major demand for clean tech products in countries like China compels firms in the United States to construct facilities overseas. Chinese government investment in manufacturing and deployment led Applied Materials, the world's largest producer of solar manufacturing equipment, to build its new state-of-the-art solar R&D facility in Xian, China.

However, as "Rising Tigers" makes clear, the most successful national clean energy competitiveness strategy will include strong support not just for market demand - after all, America could simply meet demand by importing more foreign-produced products. Investments in research and development and manufacturing capacity are also critical to ensure continued American technological and manufacturing leadership.

Ultimately, the back and forth between Senator Wyden and Secretary Chu left as many questions as it did answers about the U.S. government's plans to remain competitive in clean tech markets. It is revealing, though, that with the Senate considering "comprehensive climate and energy legislation," such questions about a clean energy competitiveness strategy need to be asked at all. Clearly, Senator Wyden does not see the current climate bills, which are essentially pollution reduction plans proposed by DC-based environmental groups and negotiated with incumbent energy interests, as a replacement for a real national clean tech competitiveness strategy. Under the leadership of public officials like Senator Wyden, this critical issue may soon receive the kind of public attention it deserves.

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Time for the Climate Movement to Take a Look in the Mirror

By Mark Kimbrell. Note, this post does not necessarily represent the opinions or priorities of Focus the Nation, and instead represents the author's sentiments alone.

Last week represented defeat after defeat for the climate movement and progressive forces in American Politics. One of the most left-leaning members of the Senate (RIP) has been replaced by Republican Scott Brown, thus disrupting the Democrats’ majority and the prospects for health and climate legislation. Not that the Democrats have necessarily been honoring their campaign promises, or representing the wishes of our movement- nevertheless it’s a wound.

The Supreme Court has opened the floodgates on Corporate giving, and rolled back all progress made through past campaign finance reform. A decision that will no doubt increase the already massive influence of coal and oil interests over the US government and US public. Climate Change has once again been buried in the issue dog pile under health care, military adventures, and Wall Street reform. All while the coal industry’s iron hammer – Senator Murkowski has launched an all out blitzkrieg on the EPA’s ability to regulate under the Clean Air Act. And to top it all off, wouldn’t you know it- it looks like global climate talks won’t reach a pact by year’s end. Surprise, surprise….

After last week’s bludgeoning, it’s pretty clear that the writing is on the wall. With corporate money flooding into political coffers and misinformation campaigns with more ease, and Brown’s election signaling trouble ahead for democrats, our window of opportunity to make progress on our issue seems to be prematurely closing. It raises an important question: the game has changed- have we? Taking a quick glance at the upcoming activities and priorities of the youth ranks it’s clear that we haven’t changed enough, and it seems to be time for our movement to take a long hard look in the mirror.

COP15 exhibited two very clear facts for the climate movement: we need a larger and more diverse movement (at least according to Jonathan Pershing), and we need to hone in on a strategy that will allow us to reduce US emissions without depending on weak Senate legislation or international treaty, who’s prospects seem to fade every day. In order to address both of these ominous facts, I propose the youth movement add a very important arrow to the organizing quiver- engagement and action around clean energy investment.

Here it is in a nutshell- the youth climate movement should make a seismic shift towards making clean energy cheaper, rather than devoting all focus towards the difficult road of making carbon more expensive (an opinion that has been continually stated here). That’s not to say we should abandon all aspects of the pollution paradigm. Our movement should always have a legislative cap/tax of carbon as a top priority. This strategy does not represent an eviction of that principle, but instead an addition that may eventually make a significant cap on carbon accessible within the American political gauntlet.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2010

WEBINAR: After Copenhagen: What Was Achieved?

Live Webcast January 26, 1 PM EST / 10 AM PST

The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, or Cop15, took place in Copenhagen December 2009 with the goal of establishing a new climate treaty to replace the Kyoto accords, due to expire in 2012. The expectations for the first climate convention since President Obama has taken office and the first since China attained its status as a global superpower put additional pressure on world leaders and policy-makers to create a lasting and workable road map to reduce emissions and promote sustainability.

While the devil is certainly in the details, and most certainly the Copenhagen congress should only be viewed as a starting point for global action, it is clear that the world had hope for real progress and actionable goals. Did they get it?

With this question in mind, The Energy Collective, with our enabling sponsor, Siemens, would like to invite you to join us as we break down what was achieved, and what got left undone in Copenhagen this year. In addition to your questions, we will examine the events of Cop15 from a number of angles, including:

  • Was progress made on on REDD (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries) and adaptation aid to developing countries?
  • What about international technology cooperation and transfers?
  • What will the new agreements mean for high-emitting industries and companies? Those based in the developed world? Developing world? What about implications for other companies?
  • Going forward, will the G-20 and other smaller groups have more power than the UNFCCC in shape global climate agreements? Arguably, focused attention by just the main emitters makes more sense and would be more effective.
  • How will any Copenhagen agreements be enforced?

  • Register here today.


    Marc Gunther is a veteran journalist, speaker, writer and consultant whose focus is business and sustainability. Marc is a contributing editor at FORTUNE magazine, a senior writer at, and a lead blogger at The Energy Collective. He's also a husband and father, a lover of the outdoors and a marathon runner. Marc is the author or co-author of four books, including Faith and Fortune: How Compassionate Capitalism is Transforming American Business. He's a graduate of Yale who lives in Bethesda, MD.

    Robert N. Stavins is the Albert Pratt Professor of Business and Government at the Harvard Kennedy School, and his roles include: Director of the Harvard Environmental Economics Program, Chairman of the Environment and Natural Resources Faculty Group, and Director of the Harvard Project on International Climate Agreements. Professor Stavins' research has focused on diverse areas of environmental economics and policy, including examinations of: market-based policy instruments; regulatory impact analysis; innovation and diffusion of pollution-control technologies; competitiveness effects of regulation; depletion of forested wetlands; political economy of policy instrument choice; and costs of carbon sequestration. Prior to Harvard, Stavins was a staff economist at the Environmental Defense Fund.

    Aimée Christensen leads Christensen Global Strategies, advising corporate, philanthropic, governmental, multilateral, and non-profit clients seeking to address the global challenges of climate change, ecosystem degradation, and resource scarcity. Her clients have included the Clinton Global Initiative, The Elders, Swiss Re, the United Nations Development Program, Virgin United, and Wolfensohn + Co. Previously, Aimée worked with, the philanthropic arm of Google, as well as the Legal Department of the World Bank and the International Centre for Trade & Sustainable Development. Among other groups, she is a Term Member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a member of the Board of Directors of the American Council on Renewable Energy.

    Dirk Forrister is Managing Director at Natsource LLC, responsible for new carbon fund development. Until recently, he worked in the company's London office, where he was responsible for building the company's carbon finance business in Europe. He managed the development and launch of the Greenhouse Gas Credit Aggregation Pool, which grew to over $800 million in corporate commitments. Prior to joining Natsource, Forrister served as Chairman of the White House Climate Change Task Force in the Clinton Administration, and prior to that was Assistant US Secretary of Energy for Congressional & Public Affairs. He has also held positions as Energy Program Manager at Environmental Defense Fund and as legislative counsel to Congressman Jim Cooper, the author of two early climate change laws.

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    Colbert on the Real Reason We Need to End Mountaintop Removal Coal Mining

    Simple: if we keep this up, we'll have to start calling hillbillies just plain old "billies."

    Steven Colbert skewers the mountaintop removal coal mining in this video clip, featuring an interview with one of the authors of the recent, authoritative scientific review of the environmental and health impacts of this abhorrent practice.

    The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
    Coal Comfort - Margaret Palmer
    Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorEconomy

    Author and Appalachia expert Jeff Biggers has more at HuffingtonPost.

    See's mountaintop removal archives to learn more about the practice, or head to

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    Monday, January 18, 2010

    Asia Challenges U.S. Innovation Leadership, New Report Shows

    Originally published at LeadEnergy

    A major report released last week by the National Science Board concludes that U.S. global leadership in science and technology is declining as foreign nations – especially China and other Asian countries – rapidly develop their national innovation systems.

    “U.S. dominance has eroded significantly… The data begin to tell a worrisome story,” stated Kei Koizumi, assistant director for federal research and development in President Obama’s Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP). The Director of the National Science Foundation, Arden Bement, noted that "China is achieving a dramatic amount of synergy by increasing its investment in science and engineering education, in research, and in infrastructure, which is attracting scientists from all over the world.”

    The report, “Science and Engineering Indicators 2010,” is published every two years by the National Science Board, a 25-member expert council that advises the National Science Foundation, President, and Congress on science and technology policy, education, and research. Koizumi called it a “State of the Union on science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.”

    This “state of the union” for science and technology comes amidst growing concern that Asia is out-competing the U.S. in the burgeoning global clean-tech sector. According to the “Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant” report I recently co-authored with the Breakthrough Institute and Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, China, Japan, and South Korea have already surpassed the U.S. in the production of nearly all clean energy technologies, and these governments are expected to out-invest the U.S. three-to-one in this industry over the next five years. As U.S. Secretary of Energy Steven Chu recently said, "The world is passing us by. We are falling behind in the clean energy race."

    “Asia’s rapid ascent as a major world science and technology (S&T) center—beyond Japan—is driven by developments in China and several other Asian economies,” states the introduction to the report. “Governments [in Asia] have implemented a host of policies to boost S&T capabilities as a means to ensuring their economies’ competitive edge… the United States continues to maintain a position of leadership but has experienced a gradual erosion of its position in many specific areas.” According to Jose-Marie Griffiths, a member of the National Science Board, "While the US is the largest R&D performing nation — representing one-third of total world investment — Asia has narrowed the gap due to the sustained annual increases by China."

    Asian Nations Investing Heavily in Research & Development

    U.S. investment in R&D as a ratio of total GDP has remained relatively constant since the mid-1980s, at around 2.7%, with the federal share of total R&D consistently declining. In contrast, Asian nations have rapidly expanded their R&D to GDP ratio. Japan and South Korea have outstripped the U.S. with ratios around 3.5%, and China doubled its ratio from 0.6% in 1996 to 1.5% in 2007, even while its GDP grew around 12% annually. China’s investments in R&D grew by over 20% annually between 1996 and 2007, compared to less than 6% annual growth in the United States. Asia’s share of global R&D increased from 24% to 31% over this period, while North America declined from 40% to 35%.

    Key R&D graphs (click to enlarge in new window):

    Asia Expanding Researchers and High-Tech Education

    In terms of total researchers, the U.S. and the E.U. experienced moderate annual growth of about 3% between 1995 and 2006, while growth in the Asian region outside Japan ranged from 7-11%. China averaged nearly 9% growth annually in researchers, far outstripping any other country. Over this period the number of China’s researchers nearly tripled, from just over half a million to more than 1.4 million, boosting its global share from 13% to 25%. The U.S. also has around 1.4 million researchers, which places China at a level playing field in overall numbers (although there are questions about the quality of Chinese researchers).

    For science and engineering (S&E) higher education, the report begins by emphasizing its importance as an innovation indicator: “S&E higher education provides the advanced skills needed for a competitive workforce and, particularly in the case of graduate S&E education, the research capability necessary for innovation… Higher education in S&E is important, because it produces an educated S&E workforce and an informed citizenry. It has also been receiving increased attention as an important component of U.S. economic competitiveness.”

    Recognizing these trends, foreign governments are taking measure to improve their higher education systems and emphasis on S&E education. “Increasingly, governments around the world have come to regard movement toward a knowledge-based economy as key to economic progress. Realizing that this requires a well-trained workforce, they have invested in upgrading and expanding their higher education systems and broadening participation.”

    The U.S. higher education system maintains critical strengths – especially U.S. research universities, which perform 56% of U.S. basic research and educate the majority of future scientists and engineers – but its position continues to decline in terms of S&E graduates. U.S. students earned only 11% of the world's 4 million S&E first university degrees (equivalent to an undergraduate degree) awarded in 2006, compared to 21% in China and 19% in the European Union. S&E degrees are only about one-third of U.S. bachelor’s degrees, compared to 63% in Japan, 53% in China, and 51% in Singapore. Only about 5% of U.S. bachelor’s degrees are in engineering, compared to 20% total in Asia and around 33% in China.

    After a long period of growth, China now produces an equal or greater number of natural science and engineering (NS&E) doctoral degrees compared to the United States, rising four-fold from approximately 5,000 in 1997 to over 20,000 in 2007. “Over time,” the report states, “the United States has fallen from one of the top countries in terms of its ratio of NS&E degrees to the college-age population to near the bottom of the 23 countries for which data are available.”

    A large portion of these degrees in the United States are awarded to foreign students. International students received 24% of U.S. S&E master’s degrees, 33% of S&E doctoral degrees, and 4% of S&E bachelor’s degrees in 2007. From 2003 to 2007, the shares of the foreign-born among master’s degree and doctorate holders rose 2 percentage points each. Twenty-five percent of all college-educated U.S. workers in S&E occupations in 2003 were foreign born, as were 40% of doctorate holders in S&E occupations. About half of all foreign-born scientists and engineers are from Asia, and more than a third of U.S.-resident doctorate holders come from China (22%) and India (14%).

    Key researcher and education graphs (click to enlarge in new window):

    U.S. and Global Energy R&D Remains Small

    Despite recent efforts by the Obama administration, energy remains a small R&D priority for the U.S. federal government compared to other areas such as health, space, and defense, continuing a long-term trend since the early 1980s. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act strengthened clean energy R&D, but its funding will expire after 2010. A relatively small portion of U.S. energy R&D goes toward renewable energy sources, and this trend is reflected internationally. Total global investment in energy R&D grew from approximately $8.5 billion in 1997 to $11 billion in 2007, with the portion for renewable energy remaining around 10%. A large and growing portion of U.S. energy experts recommend U.S. federal investment of $15-30 billion per year in energy R&D.

    Key energy R&D graphs: (click to enlarge in new window)


    The report is alarming, but it is not all bad news for the United States. It presents solid evidence that, at least in the near-term, we remain the world’s innovation leader, from our public and private investments in research and development, to the strength of our higher education institutions, to our production of patents, knowledge-intensive services, and high-technology manufacturing. For the clean-tech industry in particular, this suggests that stronger public policies to leverage U.S. innovation capacities – including $15-30 billion per year in federal clean energy R&D, a national energy education initiative, investments in enabling energy infrastructure, and other policies to drive innovation – could lead to rapid improvements in U.S. competitiveness.

    However, the overall trend is clear: Asian nations are quickly ascending as science and technology leaders, and our position will continue to decline without significant efforts to maintain and strengthen the U.S. innovation system, with major implications for our economic competitiveness, national security, and international leadership. This article provided an overview of key "innovation input" indicators, including R&D, higher education, and researchers. For a more comprehensive list of indicators – including outputs such as patents and research articles – see the full report here.

    Read more!

    Friday, January 15, 2010

    India Poised to Launch Far-Reaching National Solar Mission

    Last summer, India announced an ambitious new National Solar Mission to transform the rapidly developing nation into a world leader in solar power. The government announced a sweeping plan that included $100 billion in government investment over the next twenty years to support the nation's drive to become a world solar leader and install 20 gigawatts of solar power by 2020.

    In my latest column at, I present an interview with the President of Applied Materials India (AMat is the world's largest producer of the equipment used to manufacture solar cells) and discuss the latest on India's sweeping solar plans.

    Read the full post here.

    Read more!

    Thursday, January 14, 2010

    PGE Takes Step Towards Closing Oregon's Only Coal Plant

    Oregon's largest utility, Portland General Electric (PGE), announced it's moving forward on a plan to stop burning coal at the state's only operating coal plant. The investor-owned utility, which serves Portland, much of the surrounding metropolitan area, and the state's capitol, Salem, informed the Oregon Public Utility Commission (OPUC) that it intends to pursue a plant that would either shut down the 550 megawatt coal-fired Boardman Plant or completely switch fuel sources by 2020.

    According to a company press release, PGE submitted its most recent integrated resource plan (IRP) to the OPUC in November, proposing to install extensive emissions control retrofits on the Boardman Plant, at an estimated cost of $520 million to $560 million. These controls would allow the plant, located in northeastern Oregon along the Columbia River, to continue to operate despite new, stricter emissions rules from the state Environmental Quality Commission (EQC).

    “Our preliminary analysis shows that an alternative plan may be the best option for our customers and we intend to pursue that,” said Jim Piro, PGE's President and CEO. “We need to complete our analysis and determine whether we have enough support to move forward, but we feel it’s important to let people know that this is our preferred path.”

    According to PGE:

    The company chose not to include a proposal in its IRP to cease Boardman operations in 2020 because such a plan would not be actionable under the EQC rules; however, further discussion with environmental regulators and other stakeholders suggests that there may be support for a rule change.

    “Right now state regulations give us very few options – either shut the plant prematurely at a tremendous cost to customers or install very expensive new controls despite uncertainty about future carbon regulation and technological developments,” Piro said. “We think an alternative plan could reduce cost and risk for our customers while giving us time to develop replacement resources or convert to a different fuel, but we’ll need changes in state rules and help from our stakeholders to accomplish that.”

    Piro noted that if agreement on an alternative plan can’t be reached, PGE will continue to seek approval for installation of all required emissions controls and continued operation of the plant – the best option available to customers under current state rules.

    PGE intends to work with the OPUC to establish a new schedule for review of resource planning decisions regarding the Boardman Plant.
    Closure of the Boardman Plant would mark the end of coal-fired electricity generation within Oregon and the closure of the largest single source of air pollutants in the state (if not west of the Rockies). The aging coal plant was first built in the 1970s and predates the more stringent air emissions requirements of the Clean Air Act.

    One commentator at notes:
    According to documents filed for their Title V Permit renewal in 2006 (a five-year permit), in 2003 PGE Boardman released 5 million tons of CO2, and in a given year emits 28,000 tons of sulfur and nitrogen oxides along with hundreds of tons of particulate matter, major causes of cardiac disease, low birth weight, SIDS, lung cancer, heart attack, stroke, and asthma. Plus Boardman annually emits enough mercury (221 lbs.) to contaminate 2.6 million acres of water, or four times the surface area of all Oregon lakes.
    However, Boardman's closure would not be the end of Oregon's dependence on coal.

    While most Oregon residents assume their electricity comes predominantly from the famous hydroelectric dams on the Columbia River and the region's other mighty waterways, coal actually provides just shy of 40% of the state's electricity supply as of 2007, and is the second largest power source after hydropower. While most of the state's publicly-owned utilities receive their power from the federal hydropower system managed by the Bonneville Power Administration, the state's two big investor-owned utilities have largely been barred from accessing BPA's hydropower since the 1970s and now get a big slug of their power from coal.

    PGE currently relies on coal for 38.9% of it's electricity supply, while Pacific Power, the state's other major utility (parent company PacifiCorp) relies on coal for over two-thirds of the electricity they supply to customers throughout the state. Both utilities import electricity from coal-fired power plants located in the intermountain region, including Montana, Utah and Wyoming.

    The Ted Sickinger has more on the potential Boardman closure at the Oregonian here.

    Read more!

    Wednesday, January 13, 2010

    Will Copenhagen Mark the End of "Magical" Climate Thinking?

    That's the question explored by the Breakthrough Institute's Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus in a new column in Foreign Policy that chronicles the climate odyssey of the past year - from President Obama's campaign and election through Congressional climate debates and the chaos in Copenhagen.

    Take a gander at the in-depth column here.

    Here's a few excerpts:

    There was good reason to be hopeful in January 2009 that the election of Barack Obama would bring about America's long-awaited clean energy revolution. As president-elect, Obama had started to talk about energy policy in a way that no leader of either U.S. party had before. Promising to save the country from both severe recession and industrial decline, Obama described the transformation of the United States' energy economy as a defining challenge of his presidency -- an economic and national security imperative that Congress would fail to address at the country's peril.

    But the reality fell far short of expectations. The Obama administration succumbed, like many others, to a sort of magical climate thinking that promised a painless and even prosperous transition to a low-carbon future with the tools already at hand. The only official within his administration to accurately grasp the technology challenges faced, Energy Secretary Steven Chu, was sidelined at crucial moments.


    One year ago, in his first State of the Union address, Obama proposed a previously unprecedented $15 billion annual investment in clean energy research and development. Further, he appointed a technologist, the Nobel Prize-winning physicist Chu, as energy secretary to oversee that investment. The $800 billion stimulus, passed shortly thereafter, gave further credence to the notion that after 30 years of false starts, overblown rhetoric, and outright neglect, Congress and the president might finally get serious about remaking the United States' energy economy.

    The stimulus included billions for energy R&D, infrastructure, and efficiency, and overturned the conventional wisdom that the United States would never again make big federal investments in technology as it had during the Cold War. But no sooner had the president's stimulus program demonstrated that a new way forward on climate change and energy might be possible, then the new administration relinquished its climate change and energy policy to the partisans of the past.


    Putting Browner, a former Al Gore aide, in charge of climate-change policy was payback to environmental groups and the green donors who had supported Obama's campaign. But it also signaled that, inside the White House, the clean energy investment message that the president had used to such great effect in winning battleground states like Ohio and Colorado was seen as just that: a powerful message to use in the campaign, not a policy priority.

    In this, Obama was following two decades of magical thinking among both greens and liberal Democrats about energy technology. In this view, energy efficiency pays for itself, solar and wind power are already nearly cost competitive with fossil fuels, and both can quickly and cheaply reduce emissions. This Pollyanna view of fossil fuel alternatives and efficiency, which makes going green seem cheap and easy -- little more than the cost of "a postage stamp a day" -- has provided the justification for green-policy advocacy that has overwhelmingly focused on pollution regulations and carbon pricing while ignoring serious investment in energy research and development.

    The price of Obama's failure to break with green climate orthodoxy is only now becoming apparent. The collapse of international climate negotiations in Copenhagen last month was just the latest evidence that efforts to regulate global pollution output cannot succeed. The Kyoto framework, which imagined that carbon pollution limits could be the primary driver of the complete transformation of the global energy economy, has irretrievably failed.

    The real technological obstacles to decarbonizing the global economy today represent an insurmountable obstacle to political efforts to limit carbon emissions. Until policymakers get serious about addressing the central technological challenge, all efforts to control carbon emissions are doomed.

    Steven Chu came to Washington expecting to manage a massive expansion of energy R&D. Chu had cut his teeth as a research scientist at the justly famed U.S. government-funded Bell Labs, which he saw as a model because they were responsible for inventing or developing a range of devices now part of the fabric of American life, from fax machines to TV transmission, radio astronomy, solar panel cells, the transistor, calculators, cell phones, Wi-Fi, and hundreds of other technological miracles.

    Chu had never bought the idea that, in Al Gore's words, "we have all the technology we need" to solve the climate problem. Instead, he told the New York Times that Nobel-caliber breakthroughs are required in chemistry, physics, and biology to make more efficient batteries, solar panels, and biofuels that can compete with fossil fuels in price, and that nuclear power is needed to displace coal.

    Unfortunately, his view hasn't shaped the actions of the administration or Democrats in Congress. By early spring it was clear that Democratic leaders on the House and Senate budget committees were not inclined to honor the president's request for a dramatic scale-up of federal clean energy R&D and that the White House was not inclined to fight for it. And with greens and establishment Democrats fully lost in the magical idea that we can achieve massive emissions reductions through conservation, efficiency, and existing renewable technologies, there was scarcely any constituency inside the Beltway for the kind of big energy-technology program that Chu had hoped to launch.


    The Waxman-Markey legislation passed the House of Representatives last summer by a scant few votes, even as it became glaringly obvious to everyone who dared look that it would not require emissions reductions below business-as-usual levels.

    Green groups insisted that the bill would reduce emissions and pointed reporters and green donors to allegedly independent analyses by the World Resources Institute (WRI). But the WRI, a major party to the cap-and-trade agreement negotiated by the EDF and NRDC with energy companies, simply used a magic accounting trick that was visible in plain sight: counting carbon offsets as real reductions of U.S. emissions.

    Offsets typically fund activities such as tree planting and methane capture from landfills, and have proven over the last decade to be extremely unreliable, when they have not been outright fraudulent. The extensive offsets in Waxman-Markey would have allowed U.S. emissions to rise at business-as-usual rates over the next decade rather than declining to 17 percent below 2005 levels, as proponents of the bill claimed. Nevertheless, the WRI created graphs showing U.S. emissions magically going down 17 percent by 2020 and nearly 80 percent by 2050; the New York Times duly reprinted them; and partisans on both sides of the debate tacitly agreed to pretend as if proponents' farcical claims about the bill's mandated emissions reductions were true.


    Incumbent energy interests had, in short, hijacked magical climate thinking for their own uses. They took cap-and-trade legislation and turned it into an opportunity for them to raise energy prices on consumers, invest a fraction of the higher revenues in clean energy, remove existing regulatory obstacles to the construction of coal plants, and lock in their competitive advantage while crowding out energy newcomers, including clean energy firms, for decades to come.

    The legislation's prominent defenders, like CAP's Joseph Romm, labeled green critics of the bill "global warming deniers" and told anyone who would listen that Waxman and Markey had pulled a fast one on the coal lobby. Duke Energy's James Rogers played along, offering to gladly repay the American public in emissions reductions after 2030 for billions in free allowance allocations today.


    The collapse of the Copenhagen talks marks not just the end of the United Nations as the primary venue for global climate negotiations but also the abandonment of binding emissions-reduction targets and timetables as the primary vehicle for achieving emissions reductions. Targets will continue to be tossed around, either as aspirational goals or as loophole-riddled sops to appease greens. But the real international action on climate change and energy will involve bilateral and multilateral negotiations to develop and deploy clean energy technologies.

    Those negotiations will sometimes look like trade negotiations, sometimes like IMF negotiations, and sometimes like global agriculture or public health efforts. What they won't look like is the impossible global pollution-output negotiations that have defined international efforts to address climate change since the Rio climate convention 18 years ago.


    In the end, whether or not the Senate passes a cap-in-name-only climate bill, the long-term failure of Kyoto and all other efforts to establish binding emissions caps is virtually assured and is a function of a basic technological problem. We simply do not have low-carbon technologies today that can at large scale replace fossil fuels at a cost that any political economy in the world is willing to impose upon itself. There will be no political solution to climate change, no binding international agreement to substantially reduce emissions, and no effective domestic carbon cap until low-carbon technologies are much cheaper than they are today.


    However, the technologies we need will not materialize in response to carbon prices or emissions caps. Nor will they arrive, as many conservatives would have it, by getting the government out of the way and simply allowing a new generation of Steve Jobs and Bill Gates to tinker away in their garages.

    Rather, we need to create a new clean energy economy in the same way we created our information economy: by identifying a set of well-defined technical problems and mobilizing the human resources of our technologically advanced civilization -- our scientists, laboratories, universities, and engineers -- to solve them.

    These technical questions are not difficult to grasp and in fact have already largely been laid out by Chu in his remarks to the New York Times. How do we convert sunlight into energy much more efficiently than solar panels do today? What combination of chemicals can store more energy in batteries that are smaller and lighter? How can we manufacture a next generation of self-contained nuclear reactors that are safer, smaller, and cheaper than the large ones of the 1950s and 1960s? And how can we engineer new biological organisms to serve as a cheap fuel alternative to oil?

    Solving global warming's technology challenges will require not a single Apollo program or Manhattan Project, but many. We need to solve technical problems across a range of technologies and at a variety of stages along the road from technological development to demonstration to commercialization to mass deployment.


    Transforming the global energy economy from fossil fuels to low-carbon alternatives over the next 50 to 100 years is such a monumental technological undertaking that it is quite understandable that many would either declare it impossible or retreat into magical thinking. We must resist these temptations.

    Solving the technology challenge will not be easy, but in terms of our collective wealth and knowledge we are in a better position today than at any other point in our history. In the end, global efforts to address the climate challenge, if they are to succeed, must centrally focus upon the creation of a new and extraordinarily important global public good: the development of low-carbon energy technologies that are cheap, clean, and abundant. After two decades of domestic and international failure to take real action on climate change, it is time for the purveyors of magical thinking to take their exit so that the main act can begin.”

    Read more!

    A CLEAR Look at the Cantwell-Collins Climate Bill, Part 2: Structural Advantages

    Originally posted at the Breakthrough Institute

    In Part 1 of our analysis of the new Cantwell-Collins CLEAR Act, we demonstrated how the bill fails to make the investments needed to jumpstart a competitive American clean energy economy and fund the technology innovation and deployment needed to affordably secure deep cuts in U.S. carbon emissions. In Part 2, we focus on several important structural advantages of CLEAR that open the door to a more transparent debate about the costs and benefits of climate action in Congress.

    Simplicity and transparency are the strengths of the CLEAR Act, a climate bill recently introduced by Senators Maria Cantwell (D-WA) and Susan Collins (R-ME).

    In contrast to competing climate proposals, which weigh in at several hundred pages in length, CLEAR contains just under 40 pages of text. Some of this brevity is achieved by punting on the development of a clean technology investment and competitiveness strategy (see more in Part 3, forthcoming), but much of the bill's simplicity comes from avoiding many of the complex and opaque measures in competing bills, creating new opportunities for transparent and open debate of climate action that may prove critical to securing real political consensus.

    CLEAR does not allow offsets, is transparent about emissions reductions carbon cap will drive

    Fossil fuel importers and producers regulated under CLEAR are not permitted to use emissions offsets to prove compliance with the bill's emissions cap. Unlike other climate bills, CLEAR keeps emissions reductions in non-capped sectors strictly separate from efforts to transform the U.S. energy system through the bill's carbon cap.

    This enables a transparent debate over how quickly the U.S. energy sector can (or must) transition away from fossil fuels towards cleaner alternatives (and there will surely be much debate on that subject). Avoiding offsets also ensures that emissions reduction efforts in other sectors, including agriculture and forestry, are pursued in conjunction with, rather than instead of, the critical transformation of the energy system.

    CLEAR's transparent cap on energy-related CO2 emissions is thus much better than competing climate bills at providing the kind of certainty that energy sector players need to plan investments in technology and infrastructure.

    Furthermore, avoiding offsets doesn't mean ignoring emissions reductions efforts in non-capped sectors. CLEAR pursues additional emissions reductions outside the energy-sector cap by using a portion of the bill's cap and auction revenues to directly provide incentives for land-use changes that sequester carbon in forestry and agriculture and fund programs to reduce non-CO2 gases such as methane (which are not regulated by the bill's single-pollutant cap on carbon).

    Competing Congressional bills permit regulated entities to rely heavily on emissions offsets for compliance with their emissions caps and count on these offset purchases to drive emissions reductions in non-capped sectors. Despite widely documented difficulties (even outright fraud) in verifying the actual emissions impacts of many offset projects, these bills permit both offsets and emissions permits to be used virtually interchangeably, allowing firms subject to the emissions cap to submit either instrument to prove compliance.

    That dynamic means that the degree of emissions reductions -- and technological transition -- actually achieved in the energy sector under these bills will be highly uncertain, as energy firms can simply turn to offsets in lieu of changing their own energy sources or practices, undermining the incentive for new investments in clean energy technologies.

    The House-passed Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES) and Senate Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act (CEJAPA) authored by Senators John Kerry (D-MA) and Barbara Boxer (D-CA) both permit regulated polluters to offset up to two billion tons of their emissions annually. That's a huge amount -- roughly one third of all U.S. energy-related emissions -- and is enough to completely negate any pressure on the energy sector to transition towards cleaner energy technologies for much if not all of the next two decades, rendering their emissions "caps" effectively non-binding for the foreseeable future.

    The graphic below shows the range of uncertainty associated with emissions levels permitted under Waxman-Markey (in blue) and Kerry-Boxer (in orange) versus the transparent emissions cap in CLEAR (in green).

    Comparing_Caps.jpg(click to enlarge)

    Actual legally permitted emissions levels in capped sectors under Waxman-Markey and Kerry-Boxer can fall anywhere within the range depicted above and will depend on the level of offset utilization (for reference, the U.S. EPA projects that over half of the permitted offsets will be utilized each year), meaning that CLEAR could easily outperform its Congressional competitors in spurring the transformation of the U.S. energy system. All three pieces of legislation would pursue some degree of additional emissions reductions in non-capped sectors through the means discussed above (e.g. offsets for W-M and K-B and direct programs and investments under CLEAR), which are not presented in the graphic above.

    Transparent, predictable cost-containment

    Public (and policymaker) tolerance for increased energy prices is a key constraint on politically viable carbon pricing policies. Mechanisms to constrain the cost of carbon are thus an inevitable component of any politically successful cap and trade policy.

    Securing passage of any carbon pricing proposal will require a clear and transparent debate over the costs (and benefits) of such a policy and political consensus that such costs are worth it.

    To date, the most prevalent cost containment mechanisms have been complex and opaque, including the massive reliance on offsets, as well as complicated "strategic allowance reserve" or "market stability" mechanisms found in the Waxman-Markey and Kerry-Boxer bills. That serves little purpose, other than to obfuscate the fact that no "cap" and trade policy truly places a binding limit on carbon emissions (more on why here).

    Worse yet, the reliance on the unpredictable availability of affordable offsets to contain costs has created an endless war of competing economic models, with opponents cranking out predictions of exorbitant costs that will cripple the economy while proponents predict massive supplies of low-cost offsets and efficiency "low hanging fruit" that will keep prices in check and deliver deep cuts at bargain prices. And with complex econometric models the only arbiters of "truth," the debate continues on ad infinitum.

    Eschewing the traditional reliance on offsets, CLEAR offers a simple and transparent approach to cost containment that can help end these debates: the bill provides assurance that carbon prices will not rise (or fall) outside of a prescribed and predictable range of prices.

    This approach, sometimes dubbed a "cost collar," guarantees that auction prices for carbon emissions permits will fall between both a floor and a ceiling, initially set at $7 and $21 respectively in CLEAR. If the ceiling is reached, additional permits will be auctioned at that price, increasing the supply of permits to contain prices, and raising additional revenues (which in this case are used to pursue additional emissions reductions; and for those of you about to complain that this "busts the cap," please read this and this first).

    Both auction floor and ceiling prices would rise gradually each year (at 6.5 percent and 5.5 percent above inflation respectively), providing a predictable environment for investments and transparency in the range of potential costs of compliance with the cap and trade system.

    Cost containment measures in competing proposals have already been trending towards increased transparency. While the price at which the strategic reserve/market stability mechanism in the House's Waxman-Markey bill was set based on an unpredictable floating average of auction prices, the Kerry-Boxer bill fixes the trigger price, much like the cost collar approach in CLEAR.

    Cantwell and Collins simply take this progression to its logical conclusion, offering a predictable mechanism that enables a transparent debate about how high the body politic is willing to allow carbon prices to rise, or where we want to limit the economic damage in any worst-case scenario. $21 per ton may not be the right number, but if it isn't, CLEAR's cost collar mechanism allows Congress and America figure out what the right number is.

    Other streamlined features

    There are a number of other areas in which CLEAR streamlines cap and trade, each of which offers advantages.

    One hundred percent of CLEAR's emissions permits are auctioned without the giveaways that can undermine the purpose of carbon pricing in the first place, result in windfall profits for polluters, or redistribute the value of a public good (the atmosphere) to corporate shareholders.

    As President Obama once aptly stated, "If you're giving away carbon permits for free, then basically you're not really pricing the thing and it doesn't work -- or people can game the system in so many ways that it's not creating the incentive structures that we're looking for."

    If you use a transparent cost containment mechanism to ensure cost impacts will be minimal, permits giveaways should not be necessary. Investments in clean technology innovation and deployment which actually accelerate the transition to clean energy and increase the availability of affordable emissions abatement technologies would be a much more effective use of revenues if the goal is to secure an affordable transition to a low-carbon energy system.

    CLEAR places it's carbon cap "upstream," on the first point of entry of fossil fuels into the economy: fossil fuel producers or importers. This both reduces the number of regulated entities, streamlining the cap and trade bureaucracy, and ensures that the carbon price signal percolates through the entire economy, providing a price signal at each step of the energy pipeline.

    Finally, CLEAR limits participation in carbon trading markets to regulated entities. Wall Street derivatives marketers, speculators and other interests can't buy or sell emissions permits or create and trade in carbon derivatives or other secondary products under CLEAR, preventing what many (e.g. these two members of Congress for example) predict could be a new round of carbon market manipulation and mayhem if the Waxman-Markey bill (or similar legislation) becomes law.

    With the government auctioning 100% of the permits on a frequent (e.g. monthly) basis to begin with, there's no need for Wall Street's participation in the permit market, and the bill's authors argue that there's enough regulated entities who will need to buy and sell permits amongst themselves to provide sufficient liquidity and, with the help of the cost collar, avoid unnecessary market volatility.

    Read more!

    Tuesday, January 12, 2010

    CBS: Road to Economic Recovery Requires Reinvestment in Innovation

    Looking beyond today's immediate economic crisis, the road to long-term economic recovery requires a major reinvestment in American innovation, R&D, and education to restore the nation's crumbling economic competitiveness, according to a terrific recent CBS Evening News report.

    As Justin Rattner, Chief Technology Officer with the semiconductor giant, Intel, explains, you don't save your way out of recession, you invest your way out. And now is the time to launch a new national project of reinvestment in innovation, research and development, and science, math, engineering and technology (STEM) education that can get America back on the road to shared economic prosperity.

    Watch CBS News Videos Online

    Read more!

    Sunday, January 10, 2010

    Friedman’s carbon pricing strategy won’t win the clean energy race

    Cross-posted from LeadEnergy

    Yet again, Thomas Friedman nails the clean energy race and fails on the policy strategy. His op-ed today, "Who's Sleeping Now?" (similar to our recent report, "Rising Tigers, Sleeping Giant") claims that carbon pricing is the solution to secure U.S. competitiveness in the global clean-tech industry:

    "We are either going to put in place a price on carbon and the right regulatory incentives to ensure that America is China’s main competitor/partner in the E.T. revolution, or we are going to gradually cede this industry to Beijing and the good jobs and energy security that would go with it... It is clear that if we, America, care about our energy security, economic strength and environmental quality we need to put in place a long-term carbon price that stimulates and rewards clean power innovation."
    By calling for the passage of the American Clean Energy & Security Act (ACESA) -- without mentioning a single area for improvement -- Friedman implies it is strong enough to compete with Asia and drive the U.S. transition to clean energy, when in fact the bill would (1) establish a very modest price on carbon due to numerous cost-containment mechanisms like international offsets; (2) invest an order of magnitude less in clean energy technology development than a large and ever-growing number of experts say is necessary -- including dozens of Nobel Laureates, America's top research universities, Google, Brookings Institution, Breakthrough Institute, Third Way, military veterans, and others; and (3) establish a renewable electricity standard that would not ensure any increase in U.S. renewable energy deployment beyond already conservative business-as-usual projections (see here for comprehensive analysis of ACESA).

    That may be acceptable to Thomas Friedman, but it is no way for the United States to lead the clean energy industry. For more on this ongoing debate, see my recent response to Friedman, "Earth to Thomas Friedman: Winning the 'Earth Race' Requires Federal Investment."

    Read more!

    Saturday, January 09, 2010

    Community-Owned Clean Energy

    When I was a younger man than I am today, I had a vision of the Great Plains transformed: buffalo roaming across great tracts of tallgrass prairie studded with wind farms that powered the whole Midwest. Tribal communities, farmers and ranchers and young people all working together to develop an economy that could sustain the people and restore the land. Maybe even a little folk school, something like the Highlander Center in east Tennessee, to bring everyone together to sing and dance and strategize together.

    As I've learned, usually the hard way, big visions only become reality through perseverance, hard work and often a bit of luck or good timing. I only lasted six months in Grand Forks, North Dakota, all of which were somehow during the winter, but one of the things I remember best was that any of the plans we devised had to contend with the 800 pound gorilla in the state. Basin Electric, a rural electric cooperative with 2.8 million members across Colorado, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming was the populist face of big dirty coal. Headquartered in Bismarck, ND, they seemed to run state politics and they weren't interested in wind.

    So when I saw the headline "Rural Electric Cooperative Completes $240 Million Wind Farm in 4 Months" I almost couldn't believe my eyes. This 115.5 MW project will be the largest wind project entirely owned by a consumer cooperative, AND IT WAS COMPLETED IN JUST 4 MONTHS!! Basin, which got 94% of its power from coal in 2005 (and only 1% from wind) now has a goal to reach 20% wind by the end of the year.

    As we work towards a rapid and massive ramp-up of clean energy across the country, we should look to consumer cooperatives and municipally-owned utilities, both of which are non-profit, community-controlled structures with jobs and revenues that stay in the communities they serve. In 2008, rural cooperatives expanded wind energy capacity 65% compared to just 25% nationally, and municipal utilities, like in Long Island and Austin, are implementing some of the most innovative and aggressive renewable energy and energy efficiency programs in the country. Check out the American Public Power Association, which represents over 2,000 community-owned utilities, for more information.

    Read more!