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Wednesday, June 30, 2010

With Seconds on the Clock, Democrats May Waste Last Chance for Clean Energy Win

With the final seconds ticking down on the Congressional clock, President Obama and Senate Democrats emerged from a White House summit with Republican moderates Tuesday still lacking any plan to score a last minute win for clean energy.

Wasted opportunity

Establishing a price (any price) on carbon pollution through a(n increasingly weak) cap and trade system continues to be the the preferred climate and energy approach of environmental advocacy groups and Democratic leadership. This preference holds despite the fact that for at least three years, that plan has consistently failed to uncover any route to securing the sixty votes necessary for passage in the Senate (a similar bill narrowly passed the House last June).

Heading into the Tuesday morning White House summit, Republicans eyed as key swing votes for any clean energy or climate bill telegraphed clear intentions: cap and trade would be a practical non-starter, but they were ready to act with the President on measures to promote zero-carbon electricity, electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles, and greater energy technology innovation, clean up dirty coal plants, and improve energy efficiency.

The summit offered President Obama a prime opportunity to reset the Senate energy debate by calling a new play: take up the energy provisions Republicans have offered, counter with a more aggressive proposal on similar fronts, and begin earnest negotiations with GOP swing votes to ensure passage of a final bill that could move America towards a clean energy economy before the Congressional clock expires.

Unfortunately, President Obama let this chance to break from the failed and increasingly desperate cap and trade agenda slip by, using the meeting, instead, to reiterate to the assembled Senators - and greens watching from the sidelines - that "he still believes the best way for us to transition to a clean energy economy is ... by putting a price on [carbon] pollution."

In what seemed to be an effort to convince outside audiences that Obama had not given up on cap and trade, rather than a real display of leadership, the President failed to present any clear plan of action or convince new supporters to back the much-diminished ambitions of a utility-only cap and trade bill. Instead, the White House team emerged from the meeting simply noting that, "Not all of the Senators agreed with this [carbon pricing] approach, and the President welcomed other approaches and ideas..."

Senator John Kerry (D-MA), the dogged architect (with Sen. Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut) of the increasingly embattled Senate cap and trade strategy, boldly declared that Democrats were willing to make even more concessions in the quest for permanently elusive GOP cap and trade supporters.

"We believe we have compromised significantly, but we're prepared to compromise further," Sen. Kerry told reporters.

This after Democrats had already stacked their "comprehensive" climate and energy bill full of enough offsets and cost containment mechanisms to render the emissions "cap" non-binding on covered sectors--and after recent offers to scale back the cap to cover only electric utilities, a sector responsible for just about one-third of U.S. carbon emissions...

Running out the clock

Thus, it seems that Democrats are now poised to waste what little time remains this year on what could be described either as an increasingly desperate effort to appease Republicans firmly opposed to what they've dubbed "a nationwide energy tax," or as an increasingly transparent attempt to assure green supporters they are 'fighting hard' for cap and trade in preparation for pinning their inevitable failure on 'those dastardly Republican obstructionists.'

Regardless, this strategy is all but certain to leave America empty handed on clean energy reform.

As oil gushes into the Gulf and global temperatures continue to rise, coming away from this Congressional year with nothing would be the greatest tragedy of all. But if Democrats can put aside their insistence on a wholly-compromised, "comprehensive" cap and trade bill, there may yet be hope for a political and substantive victory.

Republicans signal opening

Last week, Republicans invited to the White House summit emerged from a quick planning huddle to tell reporters that they would press Obama to drop cap and trade and work with the GOP to promote several provisions to advance clean electricity, electrification of cars and trucks, and research and development of low-carbon energy technologies.

The GOP has several "clean energy proposals which we are for and he's for too," said Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN), who as Republican Conference Chair is at the center of GOP leadership.

After Tuesday's inconclusive meeting, key swing Republicans reiterated that there was still an opening to move forward on clean energy--if Democrats would drop cap and trade.

Senator Olympia Snowe (R-ME) stated:

"As I have long advocated, working toward energy independence is an imperative for our economic and national security. Which is why today I urged the President to seize control of our own energy destiny and, for the first time, establish clearly defined national timetables for clean energy production, benchmarks for oil consumption reduction, and goals for game-changing research - which no other president has ever done, to ensure we actually attain that independence.

The Maine moderate pointed to bi-partisan measures she had sponsored to promote energy efficiency, renewable electricity generation, and research, meanwhile stating that while she supported a limited carbon-pricing program in principle, "today we are in different and perilous economic times," stating that economy-wide cap and trade was something America "simply cannot afford."

Likewise, Senator George Voinovich (R-OH) characterized the White House meeting as "a clear signal to the president, Senator Kerry and Senator Lieberman that the chances of passing their cap and trade legislation are quite slim."

The senator went on to note:

"On the other hand, there seemed to be consensus that Senator Bingaman's energy bill may be a viable path forward in the Senate. While in need of improvement, it has bipartisan support and presents a variety of policy tools to expand domestic clean energy resources and reduce emissions.

Republicans have thus put a clean energy offer on the table constituting a clear path to bipartisan energy progress - focus on measures to boost clean electricity generation, oil reduction, energy innovation, and efficiency.

Scoring the last minute clean energy win

Herein lies the last opportunity for Democrats to score a win for energy reform. To date, Republicans have backed a number of key Senate proposals that collectively offer the foundations for a bipartisan clean energy bill that could achieve actual progress, despite the limited time to act in the crowded Congressional calendar [1 - see notes at end for more detail]:

Clean electricity generation: Republicans have backed both a (modest but first-ever) requirement that utilities nationwide purchase a portion of their electricity from renewable energy sources [2], as well as a more aggressive clean electricity requirement that would make nuclear power and carbon capture and storage at fossil fuels plants eligible alongside renewables [3]. Democrats have an opportunity to counter-offer with a slightly more expansive proposal, calling, say, for 25% of all U.S. electricity to come from new, zero-carbon electricity sources by 2020 and 35% by 2030, then negotiate from there. The end result would be a mandate to transform the U.S. electricity sector, putting American utilities on a path to a low-carbon future.

Similarly, Republicans have consistently championed financial incentives to deploy zero-carbon electricity sources. They, of course prefer nuclear power, but this offer still provides an opportunity for Democrats to counter. Instead of $10 billion to back loan guarantees for just nuclear power plants [4], Democrats could propose a similar (or even greater) amount of funding to capitalize a Clean Energy Deployment Administration capable of using a variety of flexible credit enhancement and financing mechanisms to spur the deployment of numerous innovative zero-carbon energy sources, including nuclear power, but also a suite of other cutting edge clean technologies [5].

Vehicle electrification and advanced biofuels: Senator Alexander has joined with Democrats Byron Dorgan (ND) and Jeff Merkley (OR) to propose a bill aiming to put the U.S. on track to electrify half of all vehicles on the road by 2030 [6]. A perfect bipartisan response to the unfolding Gulf oil crisis, the proposal represents a major multi-billion-dollar push to roll out charging infrastructure, incentivize the purchase of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles and trucks, and invent and manufacture advanced batteries here in the United States that would do more to reduce U.S. oil consumption than any 10 or 20 cent increase in gasoline prices imposed by a cap and trade bill.

This electrification push could be coupled with financial incentives to spur advanced non-grain biofuels and escalating requirements to produce flexible-fuel vehicles that can run on gasoline biofuels (another Republican-backed proposal [7]). Combine these two measures to promote flexible-fuel, plug-in hybrids that can run on electricity as well and you've got essentially the very same plan proposed by the cogent David Sandalow (now an Assistant Secretary of Energy in the Obama Administration) to win America's "Freedom from Oil."

Clean energy research and innovation: Investment in energy technology innovation has consistently enjoyed bipartisan support, both from policymakers and the public, which routinely rank greater clean technology investment as their top policy response to energy and climate concerns. A doubling of DOE energy research [8], the scale-up of the newly established Advanced Research Projects Agency for Energy (ARPA-E), and the creation of a new nationwide network of clean energy innovation centers [9] or clusters [10] would each be critical components of a robust U.S. energy innovation system capable of driving both the incremental and transformational innovation needed to make clean energy cheap and ensure the next generation of clean technologies are invented and commercialized in America.

Cleaning up the dirtiest coal plants: Financial incentives to accelerate the shut down of the oldest, dirtiest coal plants in America and new air pollution regulations to clean up remaining plants could deliver huge public health gains and probably even greater emissions reductions than any weakened, utility-only cap and trade bill. Both provisions have enjoyed bipartisan support [11].

A "cash for coal clunkers" program could provide such financial incentives to close the old high-polluting coal plants (many of them pre-dating, and thus exempt from, Clean Air Act regulations) and replace them with cleaner power plants (with one level of incentive to replace the coal plant with a state-of-the-art natural gas plant, and progressively larger incentives for zero-carbon alternatives like renewables and nuclear power). Old, dirty coal plants provide just a small share of U.S. electricity but make up a disproportionately large share of U.S. power-sector greenhouse gas emissions and pollutants (with associated health impacts and economic costs).

Similarly, updated requirements to clean up conventional air pollutants - including toxic mercury as well as the smog and acid rain-forming sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide pollution - would both incentivize the worst culprits to shut down rather than install expensive new pollution controls, while requiring the remainder of the coal fleet to clean up its air pollution resulting in widespread public health benefits for everyone.

Enhanced efficiency: New efforts to boost the efficiency of American vehicles, buildings, appliances, lighting, and manufacturing have routinely enjoyed bipartisan support. Greater energy efficiency will help the U.S. economy get more economic bang out of our energy usage. Increasing economic productivity is a goal Republicans and Democrats can clearly come together to secure, and they have; wide-ranging efficiency measures have featured prominently in several bills currently backed by key Republicans [12].

Advancing the production of zero-carbon electricity, electrifying the American transportation fleet, catalyzing clean energy research and innovation, cleaning up the coal fleet, and boosting the efficiency and productivity of the U.S. energy system: these measures represent a nearly full list of the key levers needed to drive down emissions and U.S. dependence on coal and oil, all while building stronger domestic clean energy industries. What's more, these five areas are now ripe for bipartisanship and with Republican support, these clean energy measures presents a key opportunity for Democrats to drive America forward this year towards a clean energy economy.

What will the last play call be?

Obama and Senate Democrats now face a clear choice between two options...

They can waste precious time assuring green supporters they haven't abandoned cap and trade and meanwhile, come up empty handed by squandering the political opportunity presented by the oil catastrophe in the Gulf, appearing weak and inept before a public demanding energy reform, and handing another political victory to a GOP all too eager to enter the midterms having denied Obama and the Democrats one of their key policy priorities. More to the point, Americans will wind up without any substantive energy progress this year.


Democrats can come out of the huddle prepared to build off of Republican proposals already on the table by offering more substantial counter-offers on each front: clean electricity, electrifying transportation, clean energy innovation, energy efficiency and even accelerated coal plant retirement. These energy-focused measures attached to a bill responding to the oil disaster in the Gulf would command strong public support, putting Democrats in a position to finally bargain from the high ground, secure stronger provisions, and score a real win on clean energy before the end of year.

Will it be a "comprehensive energy and climate bill?" No. And that's fine!

The inexorably-weakening "cap" and trade bills Senate Democrats seem willing to swallow are far from comprehensive already--and still unlikely to secure any passage this year.

Faced with ending up empty-handed and beaten, it is time for Democrats to bank these real wins now while making it abundantly clear to the public that this bill does not "check the box" on energy and climate for good.

If Democrats do that, they will have led America on the path to energy reform, and can tell the public that they will continue to lead a bipartisan effort to end America's dependence on dirty fossil fuels next year, if voters will back them in the November midterms.

If instead, Democrats insist on wasting these last few seconds on the obviously failing and increasingly desperate cap and trade agenda, Americans are likely to wind up without any substantive energy progress this year, and Democrats are likely to fare even worse at the polls. The ball is in their court.

Originally posted at the Breakthrough Institute


[1] With just weeks remaining for floor votes in the Senate before the midterms hit, there's still a Supreme Court justice and a new Afghanistan commander to confirm, Financial Reform bills to conference, a budget to perhaps pass (prospects there don't look great), and on top of that, the White House just announced President Obama would give a big speech on Immigration Reform later this week, touching off yet another hot button domestic policy issue.

[2] The "American Clean Energy Leadership Act" (S.1462, or ACELA) passed the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee last June with bipartisan support from four Republican committee-members: Sens. Lisa Murkowski (AK), Sam Brownback (KS), Jeff Sessions (AL), and Bob Corker (TN). That bill would establish a (modest but first-of-its-kind) requirement that utilities nationwide purchase a portion of their electricity from renewable energy sources (15% by 2020). In addition to this requirement, known as a "Renewable Electricity Standard" (RES) or "Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), the ENR Committee bill would: establish a new federal agency to provide low-cost financing to spur the deployment of new clean technologies (the Clean Energy Deployment Administration); ramp up funding for Department of Energy R&D; establish new efficiency standards for buildings, lighting, appliances, industry and manufacturing.

[3] This is consistent with the "Diverse Energy Standard" included in the "Practical Energy and Climate Plan" (S.3464). Introduced by Senator Richard "Dick" Lugar (R-IN) and co-sponsored by Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK and Ranking Member of the Energy Committee), and Lindsay Graham (R-SC, who backed the bill after walking away from the climate plan he drafted with Sens. Kerry and Lieberman in April), the bill has arguably surfaced as the GOP's preferred energy platform. In addition to the "diverse" clean energy standard that includes stronger requirements than the Energy Committee bill above (15% by 2015, 20% by 2020, 25% by 2025 ... 50% by 2050) but allows nuclear power and carbon capture and storage at coal plants to qualify for the utility requirement, the GOP-backed bill would: ramp up vehicle fuel efficiency standards and set the first ever standards for medium- and heavy-duty trucks; establish financial incentives for advanced biofuel production (from non-grain sources) and require new vehicles to be flexible fuel (capable of running on biofuels and gasoline); establish stronger building, appliance, and industrial efficiency standards; ; expand loan guarantees for zero-carbon nuclear power plants; and provide incentives for the retirement of the oldest and dirtiest coal plants in the country.

[4] The "Clean Energy Act" (S.2776) sponsored by Republicans Lamar Alexander (TN) and Mike Crapo (ID) and Democrats Jim Webb (VA) and Mark Warner (VA), would encourage the build-out of new nuclear plants with a major expansion of loan guarantees, providing $10 billion in appropriations to be leveraged into roughly $100 billion in loan guarantees. In addition, the bill would provide $750 million in funding to establish new "mini-Manhattan projects" to advance clean energy research.

[5] The Clean Energy Deployment Administration is included in the bipartisan ACELA bill, see note [2] above. A similar provision passed the House in the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act.

[6] The Electric Vehicle Deployment Act (S.3442), sponsored by Democrats Byron Dorgon (ND) and Jeff Merkley (OR) and Republican Lamar Alexander (TN), aims to put the US on track to electrify half of all vehicles on the road by 2030. The $7-10 billion bill would: launch pilot communities across country to spur adoption of electric and plug in hybrid vehicles (funded at $2 billion per year); subsidize the nationwide build-out of charging infrastructure and purchase of electric and plug-in vehicles, including new credits for medium- and heavy-duty hybrid purchases; provide $1.5 billion for advanced battery research and $250 million for related workforce development and education efforts.

[7] Incentives for advanced biofuels production and flexible fuel vehicles are included in the Lugar energy bill, see note [3] above.

[8] The Energy Committee bill, see note [2] above, would authorizing a doubling of applied research programs at DOE, and basic research programs at DOE and elsewhere are on track to double under the America COMPETES Act originally passed with bipartisan support and signed into law by President Bush in 2007.

[9] These innovation centers would be consistent to the "mini-Manhattan projects" proposed by the Webb-Alexander-Warner-Crapo bill, see note [5] above.

[10] Clean energy cluster programs would extend multi-sector, collaborative research efforts to enhance the strength of regional economic clusters and could be a natural and effective extension of the research programs supported by Republicans. See "Strengthening Clean Energy Competitiveness: Opportunities for America COMPETES Reauthorization"

[11] A "cash for coal clunkers" style program offering $11 billion in financial incentives to accelerate the closure of the oldest, dirtiest coal plants comprising 16% (49 GW) of the coal fleet but representing a disproportionate amount of U.S. pollution of both the carbon and conventional varieties appeared in draft legislation sponsored by Senator Dick Lugar (R-IN). The final version introduced as S.3464 (see note [3] above) included a narrower incentive program for coal plant retirement. Republicans Lamar Alexander (TN) and Susan Collins (ME) and Democrats Tom Carper (DE) and Amy Klobuchar (MT) have sponsored the "Clean Air Act Amendments of 2010" (S.2995) which would impose new 'three-pollutant' air pollution requirements on mercury, SO2 and NOx emissions at power plants.

[12] A wide range of efficiency programs are included in both the bipartisan Energy Committee bill, see note [2], and the Lugar bill, see note [3], as well as numerous other bills co-sponsored or introduced by Republican Senators.

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Tuesday, June 29, 2010

EPA’s First Decision Under New Mountaintop Mining Guidelines goes to King Coal

Much-Lauded Strict Mountaintop Mining Guidelines Not So Strict

A guest post by Amanda of the Rainforest Action Network

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has given a green light for the Pine Creek mine permit, a mountaintop removal mining site in Logan County, W.Va. This is the first permit decision the EPA has issued under the new mountaintop mining guidelines, which came out last April and were anticipated to provide tougher oversight of mountaintop removal coal mining.

I hoped that the mountaintop removal (or "MTR") guidelines would provide protection for headwater streams by curbing the practice of dumping waste in neighboring valleys to create what is known as valley fills. The Pine Creek permit is the first test of these guidelines, and green lights three new valley fills (each over 40 acres large).

It was anticipated that these guidelines, by requiring mining operators to control levels of toxins in nearby streams, would significantly reduce the dumping of mining waste in valleys, which the EPA said was scientifically proven to contaminate drinking water and wreck ecosystems.

This is a devastating first decision under guidelines that had offered so much hope for Appalachian residents who thought the EPA was standing up for their health and water quality in the face of a horrific mining practice. The grand words being spoken by Administrator Jackson in DC are simply not being reflected in the EPA’s actions on-the-ground. This continues the inconsistent and contradictory decisions that have plagued the EPA’s process on mountaintop removal coal mining all along.

In announcing the new guidelines in April, Administrator Jackson told reporters: “We expect this guidance to change behaviors, to change actions, because if we keep doing what we have been doing, we’re going to see continued degradation of water quality… Minimizing the number of valley fills is a very, very key factor. You’re talking about no or very few valley fills that are going to be able to meet standards like this.”

The Pine Creek Surface Mine permit will allow Coal-Mac, a subsidiary of coal giant Arch coal, to mine through more than 2 miles of streams that are already suffering dangerous levels of pollution from surface mining. Extensive mountaintop removal mining and the subsequent environmental and water quality damage have already ravaged Logan County W.Va., which is the location of the infamous Spruce mine.

Moving forward, it is clear that the EPA cannot end mountaintop removal coal mining pollution without abolishing mountaintop removal all together.

The Pine Creek permit is currently awaiting approval from the Army Corps of Engineers.

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Monday, June 28, 2010

A Bipartisan Strategy for Energy Leadership

By Teryn Norris & Clifton Yin
Published by The Huffington Post

When President Obama and key Senate leaders meet today to reach a compromise on energy and climate legislation, they should strongly consider increasing federal investment in clean energy technology to at least $15 billion annually. This is a comprehensive third way strategy to improve U.S. energy independence, economic competitiveness, and climate security, and it deserves bipartisan support.

We are a Democrat and Republican. One of us campaigned for Barack Obama in 2008, the other as a delegate for John McCain. One of us worked on energy and climate policy for the progressive Breakthrough Institute, while the other worked on similar issues for the conservative American Enterprise Institute. We disagree on a wide range of issues, and we hold different economic philosophies.

Despite our differences, we are strongly united behind a serious federal agenda for clean energy innovation. Regardless of the future of cap and trade, robust federal investment in clean energy technology can effectively tackle both energy and climate policy reform. In addition to reducing our oil addiction, it can help build new export-oriented and manufacturing-intensive industries, seize global market share, drive down the price of clean energy technologies, and accelerate the transition to a cleaner, low-carbon economy.

When the United States aims to overcome a challenge -- be it defeating fascism, leading the space race, or winning the Cold War -- we make a national commitment and invest the necessary resources. The federal government invests $30 billion per year in health R&D through the National Institutes of Health, and $80 billion per year in military R&D. Energy currently receives $3 to $5 billion -- less than our national expenditure on potato chips.

Unfortunately, current Senate proposals such as Kerry-Lieberman fall far too short by only investing $2-4 billion per year, and a utility-only cap would reserve even less. As Mark Muro of Brookings Institution writes in the National Journal, "The trouble with the new utility-only approach to emissions reductions, however, is that none of its proponents are saying anything that makes it seem likely that an adequate slice of the potential revenue the narrower system might generate will be reserved for technology innovation."

After decades of energy stalemate, in the midst of yet another oil crisis, it is time to make a real national commitment to technology innovation and secure America's energy leadership once and for all. A new target of at least $15-20 billion per year represents a national "energy innovation consensus" supported by a large and growing number of prominent U.S. business leaders, think tanks, university associations, and dozens of Nobel Laureates.

The American Energy Innovation Council (AEIC) is the latest group to support this approach. Led by business titans Bill Gates and Jeff Immelt, and backed by the Bipartisan Policy Center, the organization is calling for $16 billion annually in federal investment. "Underfunding RD&D is an exercise in gross fiscal irresponsibility," they wrote. "The country sends $1 billion overseas every day to purchase oil, but publicly funded research in advanced vehicles and alternative fuels totals just $680 million annually - about 16 hours worth of oil imports."

Federal investment in energy technology can also be a political winner for Congressional Democrats, Republicans, and the White House alike. Even before the Gulf oil spill, a poll by Pew Research in March found that 78% of the public favors increased government funding for research into clean energy technologies. When compared to alternatives such as carbon pricing, technology investment fairs as the most popular energy policy proposal.

For Democratic leaders, this strategy would allow them to meet general public demand for reform while still satisfying their environmental base with a major achievement on clean energy. It would allow Republicans to offer a serious, pro-business alternative to cap and trade and "drill baby drill" that would boost the economy. And it would allow the White House to declare victory on President Obama's original campaign promise to invest $15 billion per year in this sector.

Of course, Republicans tend to shy away from any proposal to increase government spending, but clean energy is a strategic national resource with too much risk for the private sector to bear alone. Republicans should also remember the strong conservative precedent for these types of public investment. President Eisenhower oversaw the initial science R&D surge after Sputnik and the construction of interstate highways. President Reagan made enormous investments in military technology to maintain U.S. competitiveness.

More recently, it was Newt Gingrich who in 2008 called for the National Science Foundation's budget to triple from $6 to 18 billion to foster green technologies. Last year, Senator Lamar Alexander (R-TN) introduced the Clean Energy Act of 2009, which would invest $750 million annually for ten years in clean energy RD&D and provide $100 billion in clean energy loan guarantees. And Senator Richard Lugar's Practical Energy and Climate Plan of 2010 would similarly offer $36 billion in loans for nuclear power plants.

Without cap and trade, the government will need an alternative revenue stream. The AEIC proposes several possibilities, such as a wires fee on electricity, reduced fossil fuel subsidies, fees on offshore oil and natural gas production, an oil import fee, or increasing the gas tax. Regardless, their report notes, "The essential requirements, though, are that we make the basic investment, and that we commit these funds, steadily, over the long term."

The moment is urgent. As this week's Time Magazine cover story states, "Clean power could be to the 21st century what aeronautics and the computer were to the 20th, but the U.S. is already falling behind. China, South Korea and Japan are set to invest more than $500 billion combined in clean technology over the next five years, while the U.S. is likely to invest less than $200 billion, and that's assuming [current] clean-energy legislation makes it into law."

Federal investment in energy innovation is in line with America's great tradition of technological achievement, and it can finally tackle our fossil fuel addition, accelerate the transition to energy independence, and boost our economic competitiveness, all in one bold step. This is a bipartisan strategy for energy leadership, and it deserves the support of Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike.

Teryn Norris is Director of Americans for Energy Leadership and Senior Advisor at the Breakthrough Institute. Clifton Yin recently worked for the American Enterprise Institute and is a Policy Fellow at Americans for Energy Leadership.

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Tuesday, June 22, 2010

IEEE and GridWise Urge Senator on RE-ENERGYSE

Cross-posted from Americans for Energy Leadership

By Sydney Baloue

Last week, IEEE USA and GridWise Alliance wrote a joint open letter urging U.S. Senator Alexander (R-TN) to support RE-ENERGYSE, a Department of Energy and National Science Foundation strategic partnership that would establish the nation's first comprehensive federal program for clean energy science and engineering education. Senator Alexander is a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy & Water Development, which will decide if RE-ENERGYSE gets appropriated or not.

Americans for Energy Leadership has been a champion for this proposal through its ReEnergyse Campaign, which recently organized over 100 university and college student body presidents in support of the program. The IEEE and GridWise letter builds upon these efforts -- as well as last year's RE-ENERGYSE letter signed by over 100 universities and professional associations -- by urging the Senator to support the Obama Administration's request of $55 million in funding for the new energy education and training program in the FY2011 budget. It also explains that RE-ENERGYSE's goal is to support technical training, fellowships, internships, scholarships, and new masters programs that focus on applied energy science and engineering:

"The IEEE USA and GridWise Alliance have joined forces to urge your support for the Department of Energy's "REgaining our ENERGY Science and Engineering Edge" (RE-ENERGYSE) program... The program will help students and workers learn skills needed to solve practical energy challenges, such as deploying clean energy and energy efficiency technologies, as well as essential enabling smart grid technologies... RE-ENERGYSE is also needed to boost our nation's capability for innovation... RE-ENERGYSE will advance a clean energy and energy efficient economy which will remain competitive in global markets; we urge your support for this appropriation."

Senator Alexander is a major proponent of STEM education and innovation, and he commissioned the original "Rising Above the Gathering Storm" report with Senator Bingaman. He is principle Republican co-sponsor of the Senate version of the American COMPETES Reauthorization Act of 2010, which as passed in the House would authorize the higher education component of RE-ENERGYSE (see Breakthrough Institute's "Strengthening Clean Energy Competitiveness" report for further recommendations for energy science and engineering education).

Just last year, Senator Alexander and Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) introduced "The Clean Energy Act of 2009," a bipartisan bill that promotes further investment and development of the nation's clean energy technologies. He has also expressed significant concern about how the United States is falling behind in clean energy technologies, urging action to improve US. STEM education:

"How did the Koreans come so far so fast? People will talk about "cheap labor," "government enterprise" and "copycat technology." But I have another hypothesis. Year after year, Korean students are at the top of world performance in math and science while the United States doesn't even rank in the top ten. In the Program for International Student Assessment's math test for 15-year-old students, for instance, South Korea ranks third, behind Finland and Taiwan, while the United States ranks 21st. They're 75 points ahead of us on a scale of 1,000. We've been hearing about these statistics for decades - maybe we've even grown used to them - but now we're starting to see the consequences. We're a country that is falling behind the rest of the world in science literacy."

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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Victory for the Mountains

Remember those other fossil fuels, besides oil?

Yeah, we're still fighting them too. If you're like me and want a little bit of good news amongst all the bad news from the Gulf, today is your lucky day. Today, the Army Corps of Engineers announced that they are going to stop rubber-stamping valley fill permits in Appalachia.

As of today, the Corps will stop issuing Nationwide Permit (NWP) 21, which is has been used to "authorize discharges of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States for surface coal mining activities." Valley fills are a crucial aspect to mountaintop removal mining, because once the mountaintops are blasted off, all that material needs to go somewhere. In Appalachia, that somewhere has been streams and headwaters. Without the ability to shove all that rubble, i.e. former mountain, into valleys, mountaintop removal mining becomes far less...well, feasible.

The suspension in Appalachia will remain in effect until the Corps takes further action on NWP 21 or until NWP 21 expires on March 18, 2012. While the suspension is in effect, individuals who propose surface coal mining projects that involve discharges of dredged or fill material into waters of the United States will have to obtain Department of the Army authorization under the Clean Water Act, through the Individual Permit process. The individual permit evaluation procedure provides increased public involvement in the permit evaluation process, including an opportunity for public comment on individual projects.

NWP 21 was intended for dredge and fill projects that would results in minimal aquatic impacts. By any estimation, destroying headwaters, creating new topography and polluting downstream habitats is not minimal. While this move by the Corps does not entirely eliminate the potential for additional valley fill permits in Appalachia, it does mean that there will be opportunities for public notification, comment and involvement. Nor does it stop existing mountaintop removal mines from creating valley fills. However, in this regulatory climate, it is not likely that many, if any, new individual permits will be approved.

This decision involved more than just the Army Corp of Engineers. At hearings last fall, the coal industry packed public hearings with their supporters, attempting to intimidate and drown out supporters of the Corps proposal. According to the Corps, approximately 23,000 comments were submitted, and the substantive comments were nearly evenly divided between support and opposition for the proposal. Thanks to the many brave residents of the coalfields who stood up to the coal industry and made their support known and heard. Submitting public comment is rarely a sexy for of action, but it is critical to influencing policy in the federal agencies.

Today is a good day for the mountains. Now, to stop valley fills and mountaintop removal altogether. Urge your member of Congress to cosponsor and pass H.R. 1310, the Clean Water Protection Act, and permanently ban valley fills.

Crossposted from It's Getting Hot In Here.

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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

News Roundup on the American Energy Innovation Council

Crossposted from

On June 10th, a group of the country's top business leaders including Bill Gates and Jeff Immelt launched a new initiative, the American Energy Innovation Council, calling for major new federal investments in clean energy technology research, development, and demonstration -- at least $16 billion annually, more than triple the current level.

Their report, "A Business Plan for America's Energy Future," was released a day after the Breakthrough Institute and Americans for Energy Leadership published a new policy brief on the Kerry-Lieberman American Power Act, "The Power to Compete," providing the most comprehensive assessment of the bill's energy innovation provisions to date. It finds that Kerry-Lieberman does not contain a comprehensive innovation strategy would only increase federal clean energy RD&D investment by as little as $2.2 billion per year.

Below is a roundup of news coverage on the American Energy Innovation Council to date:

New York Times, "A Call to Triple U.S. Spending on Energy Research," Jun. 9, 2010.

"Mr. Gates and his fellow executives are stepping forward at what may prove a pivotal moment in American energy policy. Oil continues to spew from a crippled well in the Gulf of Mexico, the Obama administration is pushing for a new approach to energy and climate policy and the Senate is about to embark on a debate on a set of conflicting proposals that pit not only Republicans against Democrats but different regions of the country against each other."

Washington Post, "Gates coming to White House to appeal for more energy research dollars," Jun. 9, 2010.

"The group is arguing that, while the United States spends $80 billion a year on military research and $30 billion a year on health research, it devotes between $2.8 billion and $4.8 billion on energy research, depending on how you count it...The emphasis on direct government spending reflects, in part, the group's realization that a climate bill isn't likely to pass Congress this year; there will be no national market for carbon emissions to push companies toward renewable energy. The group argues that the United States is falling behind other nations that spend more on their domestic energy companies."

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Obama Signals Need for New Energy Agenda

Cross-posted from Americans for Energy Leadership

The biggest news from President Obama's Oval Office address is that cap and trade legislation is probably dead for the foreseeable future, and the administration is seeking new ideas.

Instead of using last night's prime-time opportunity to push cap and trade in the form of the Kerry-Lieberman American Power Act -- as many climate advocates saw as their last hope for "comprehensive" climate reform -- President Obama pressed the reset button on energy and climate policy, saying he was "happy to look at other ideas and approaches from either party, as long they seriously tackle our addiction to fossil fuels." He made no mention of setting a price on carbon or establishing an emissions cap and trade system.

As Andrew Revkin observed at New York Times Dot Earth, the president "signaled that he is leaving open a variety of paths on energy and climate policy and no longer hewing tightly to the idea of a cap and trade system for restricting heat-trapping emissions — which he never wavered from during his campaign." David Roberts of Grist, one of the few remaining hopefuls for cap and trade reform, wrote "Final thought: Obama didn't drive the carbon cap tonight, so there won't be a carbon cap in the energy bill this year."

If cap and trade is dead, then what's next? The only serious alternative that could attract bipartisan support is a comprehensive national strategy for clean energy competitiveness and innovation -- including substantial new federal investment in research, development, demonstration, deployment, and manufacturing -- to accelerate America's transition away from fossil fuels, build a strong and competitive clean energy industry, and rapidly drive down the price of low-carbon power and transportation technologies. These investments could potentially be included as part of a comprehensive energy package, building upon the proposed American Clean Energy Leadership Act.

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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Consumers voting with their wallets on voluntary carbon offsets

Posted by Hugh Whalan

When you buy a plane ticket, rent a car, pay an electricity bill or even use your credit card, you will often be presented with an option to ‘offset your greenhouse gas emissions’. If you do choose to offset your emissions this way, you are participating in the retail section of the voluntary carbon market. Despite accounting for slightly less than 5% of the billion-dollar voluntary carbon marketplace, the retail market represents one of the clearest ways that carbon-conscious individuals can vote with their wallets on the issue of climate change.

It is surprisingly given this, that so little research has been conducted on retail carbon offset products. As the retail market is the only place where individuals rather than companies are the majority of buyers, this small segment of the market presents researchers with a unique and important chance to understand how and why consumers actively offset their greenhouse gas emissions, as well as their views on climate policy and climate change.

Over the last 18 months I have been fortunate to be involved in the design and implementation of a survey of retail market participants conducted by researchers with Appalachian State University and the University of Alaska at Fairbanks and Environmental Credit Corp. It is the first industry-wide survey focusing on individuals in the carbon markets and yielded some interesting results.

The most important conclusion from the survey is that retail demand for voluntary carbon offsets will likely remain strong even if regulations place a national limit on greenhouse gas emissions. In simple terms, these consumers demand a solution to the climate problem and are willing to pay for it. Cost is a concern, but one which the impacts of climate change trumps more often than not.

Other interesting results are:

  • 96% of participants placed a high priority on purchasing carbon offsets that come from projects which generate or utilize renewable energy.
  • Participants were most likely to purchase carbon offsets as a result of car travel and electricity usage.
  • 67% identified themselves as Democrats (slightly more than 1% as Republican) and 61.2% had a household with 3 or more people. The average household income for participants was $90,000.

The survey will be conducted on an annual basis. For questions on the survey please contact Jason Hoyle at

Hugh Whalan is the CEO and co-founder of Energy in Common, a non-profit organization, which allows individuals to make green energy micro-loans to the poor in developing countries.

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Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Reporter scuba dives in oil-polluted waters

Crossposted from the ACE Blog.

As the oil disaster continues to unfold, we are getting part of the story. We see heartbreaking pictures of wildilfe and hear accounts of devastation from fishermen and other hunters. But we want to know the whole story.

What's the consistency of this oil? How is it moving through the water? How fast? What does it taste like? Smell like? And, how is it really affecting marine life?

An AP reporter is working hard to bring us just that story. Follow him on a journey beneath the surface of these oily waters in this amazing video...

Here's more from the reporter, courtesy of Media Matters - an online nonprofit research and information center...

"In a story datelined, "UNDER THE MURKY DEPTHS OF THE GULF OF MEXICO," Matthews writes, "Some 40 miles out into the Gulf Of Mexico, I jump off the boat into the thickest patch of red oil I've ever seen. I open my eyes and realize my mask is already smeared. I can't see anything and we're just five seconds into the dive.

"Dropping beneath the surface the only thing I see is oil. To the left, right, up and down - it sits on top of the water in giant pools, and hangs suspended fifteen feet beneath the surface in softball sized blobs. There is nothing alive under the slick, although I see a dead jellyfish and handful of small bait fish."

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