Energy and Global Warming News for January 7th: EPA announces strict new health standards for smog; Clean tech funding outpaces every other VC sector

E.P.A. Announces Strict New Health Standards for Smog

The Environmental Protection Agency on Thursday proposed stricter health standards for smog, replacing a Bush-era limit that ran counter to scientific recommendations.

The new limits — which are presented as a range — will likely put hundreds more counties nationwide in violation, a designation that will require them to find additional ways to clamp down on pollution or face government sanctions, most likely the loss of federal highway dollars….

The proposed range was what scientists had recommended during the Bush administration. However, former President George W. Bush personally intervened and set the standard above what was advised after protests from electric utilities and other industries.

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a statement Thursday that science, this time around, had been followed.

“EPA is stepping up to protect Americans from one of the most persistent and widespread pollutants we face,” Jackson said. “Using the best science to strengthen these standards is long overdue action that will help millions of Americans breathe easier and live healthier.”

The Obama administration earlier this year had indicated it planned to scrap the Bush smog limits.

Smog is a respiratory irritant that has been linked to asthma attacks and other respiratory illnesses. It is formed when emissions from cars, power plants and other factories mix in sunlight.

While smog has been a long-term problem in parts of Texas, California, and along the northeast Coast, the new standards could affect counties in Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, the Dakotas, Kansas, Minnesota and Iowa for the first time based on EPA data.

Clean tech gets big piece of venture-capital funding

Venture-capital funding for clean-technology firms fell 33% in 2009 from the year before, but the sector fared better than others amid a dismal economy, data released Wednesday indicate.

More than $5.6 billion in venture-capital investment went to clean-tech firms “” including solar, wind, energy efficiency, transportation and biofuels “” last year, say preliminary data from market researcher Cleantech Group and finance firm Deloitte.

Total venture-capital investment has retreated to 2003 levels, but clean tech has reset only to 2007 levels, the Cleantech Group says. “It was a difficult year, but I see clean tech … as the best of the worst,” says Shawn Lesser, founder of finance firm Sustainable World Capital.

The money flow underscores that:

“¢Clean tech has muscle. In 2004, the sector accounted for about 3% of venture-capital investment. That expanded to about 25% in 2009. The sector last year, for the first time, received more private venture capital than any other sector, including software, Cleantech Group says.

“¢Efficiency and transportation are in. The top clean-tech recipient in 2009 was solar, which got 21% of it. But solar investment was down 64% from the previous year, while the transportation and energy-efficiency sectors had record years.

The drop for solar stems from several factors, including the big amounts of money needed to commercialize technologies, says Dallas Kachan, managing director of the Cleantech Group. Meanwhile, energy-efficiency firms “” those concentrating on everything from lighting to green building materials “” often need less money to bring products or services to market, may rely on more proven technologies and may pose less risk to investors. “They’re not reinventing the wheel,” Kachan says.

Last year, venture capital for transportation “” for such things as electric cars and new battery technology “” rose 47% to $1.1 billion. Investment in energy efficiency rose 39% to $1 billion.

“¢North America may be slipping. The region is still dominant for clean-tech venture capital, but it’s getting a smaller share than it used to. Last year, North America received 62% of clean-tech venture-capital dollars, down from 72% in 2008, the Cleantech Group says. Europe and Israel took in 29% of 2009 dollars, up from 22% in 2008. That Europe and Israel increased their share of venture-capital funding may reflect the desire for investors to pursue less risky deals in markets where clean tech is already more widely deployed, Lesser says.

Hannity, Ever Wrong, Says CIA Is Diverting Resources For Climate Change

Did you know that the CIA is distracted by climate change and is diverting resources on global warming that should be spent on counter terrorism? It’s true. Ask Sean Hannity and ExxonMobil. Said Hannity last night on his TV program: “The CIA director redirects manpower to monitor climate change, but is it all the cost — at the cost of our security, your security, your family’s security? “[I]n the wake of the attempted Christmas Day terror attack, you would think the spies at the CIA, that they would have their hands full securing America. But, believe it or not, assets at Langley are being used for other projects.”

Where did Hannity get his info. From National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR), sponsored by Exxon, that’s where. In a press release, they said, “As terrorists continue to infiltrate America, the Obama Administration is tasking some of our nation’s most elite intelligence-gathering agencies to divert their resources to environmental scientists researching global warming.”

Sadly for Hannity, the intelligence community says that the information sharing has no impact at all on counter-terorrism efforts. In a New York Times article, officials said:

“The monitoring program has little or no impact on regular intelligence gathering, federal officials said, but instead releases secret information already collected or takes advantage of opportunities to record environmental data when classified sensors are otherwise idle or passing over wilderness.”

Labor Department gives nearly $100 million in green-jobs training grants

The government is funneling nearly $100 million into training programs for green jobs, Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis said today.

The funds, part of a $500-million green workforce development initiative through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will go to 25 projects around the country.

The programs are designed to help workers find jobs — such as hybrid and electric auto technicians, weatherization specialists, wind and energy auditors, and solar panel installers — in growing energy-efficiency and renewable-energy industries.

The money will be parceled out in Energy Training Partnership Grants ranging from $1.4 million to $5 million each. Projects in communities affected by the restructuring in the auto industry will receive $28 million.

Only one project based entirely in California will get funding. $5 million will go to develop training for the state’s unemployed and underemployed electricians through the California State Labor Management Cooperation Committee for the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers and the National Electrical Contractors Assn.

But four other grantees will spread their new resources across several states including California. For example, the Utility Workers Union of America, AFL-CIO, will spend part of its nearly $5-million package on women, minorities, incumbent workers and young people in Los Angeles, San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

The International Training Institute for the Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Industry will also include parts of the state as it creates training for veterans, minorities, women and the unemployed and underemployed using its nearly $5-million grant.

Funding figures for two remaining green grant categories will be released over the next few weeks, according to the Labor Department.

Line ‘needed’ for green gold rush

The rush to generate energy from wind and the sea is the main driver behind the Beauly to Denny line, according to Scottish and Southern Energy (SSE).

Scotland, like the rest of the UK, has been set targets for producing more power from renewable sources to help tackle climate change.

Sites in the north of Scotland will play major roles in doing that.

The Pentland Firth, Western and Northern isles have been identified as prime locations for “green” projects.

SSE said the transmission line between the Highlands and central Scotland must be upgraded to carry the volume of electricity created and to encourage greater competition in the market.

The existing line carries 132,000 volts (132kV), while the new one will be able to carry 400kV.

SSE said of the Beauly to Denny line: “The need for the country’s green and more indigenous sources of energy is becoming increasingly acute and a rejection, or even partial rejection, of the replacement line will significantly delay Scotland’s efforts to tackle climate change.

“Scotland’s climate change commitments, industry confidence in renewables investment, broader economic development and employment in harnessing Scotland’s renewable resources will all falter, at a time when the delivery of green energy solutions has never been more urgent.”

The north of Scotland has been flagged up as key to the generation of renewable power.

First Minister Alex Salmond has previously described the Pentland Firth between Caithness and Orkney as the Saudi Arabia of marine power because of its tidal energy potential.

New Life for Solar-Updraft Technology?

The solar updraft tower, which uses the greenhouse effect and thermal convection to drive wind turbines and produce electricity, has been hailed as a novel “” and promising “” approach to renewable energy generation.

The technology relies on an elementary principle of physics: heat rises. To generate power, a massive greenhouse creates hot air and funnels it into a tall chimneylike structure. This hot wind propels a wind turbine within the tower. According to some estimates, such towers could, if sufficiently large and in the proper environment, generate emissions-free power at a considerable discount over traditional renewable sources.

Nevertheless, solar updraft has been a nonstarter in the world of utility-scale power. A 50-kilowatt research prototype was built and successfully operated in Spain for several years in the mid-1980s, but the technology has not been proven commercially viable.

Now, an Australian company, EnviroMission Ltd., hopes to convince investors to support its plans to build two utility-scale solar updraft towers in the desert of Arizona. The company has submitted applications to use several hundred acres of public land in La Paz County for the plants. Last November, the Southern California Public Power Authority approved the company as a potential power provider.

Each solar-tower plant would require a 2,400-foot-tall chimney – just 200 hundred feet shorter than the Burj Dubai, the world’s tallest building – to be situated over a four-square-mile-wide greenhouse.

The company estimates the 200-megawatt plants will both cost $750 million.

If history is any guide, the project will be difficult to translate from blueprints to reality. After incorporating in 2000, EnviroMission sought to construct a nearly identical updraft tower in rural New South Wales, Australia.

The company raised millions of dollars and purchased 24,000 acres of land, but failed to secure sufficient financing to begin construction. In a November 2009 message to shareholders, the company’s chairman, Roger Davey, blamed its failure to break ground on the withdrawal of support from the Australian government.

With the Australian project on hold, EnviroMission has focused its hopes on the American market, opening an office in downtown Phoenix and hiring the financial services firm Raymond James to help attract new investors.

It is not the only company seeking to make utility-scale solar updraft towers a reality.

In late 2008, the Namibian government pledged its support for a feasibility study on a nearly one-mile-high updraft tower.

The project, dubbed “Greentower,” would use a massive greenhouse to grow crops, while also generating hot air to drive wind turbines.

Has the U.S. Reached Peak Vehicles?

Americans scrapped 4 million more cars and trucks last year than they purchased, the first significant drop in the U.S. auto fleet in more than four decades, according to a new report.

The United States scrapped 14 million vehicles last year while buying only 10 million new ones, dropping the nation’s fleet from an all-time high of 250 million to 246 million, according to the Earth Policy Institute.

Lester Brown, the author of the report, said the drop — the first significant shrinkage the U.S. fleet has seen since record-keeping began in 1960 — represents a “cultural shift away from the car” and estimated the fleet size will continue to recede during the next decade. He estimated the fleet could shrink a total of 10 percent by 2020.

“No one knows how many cars will be sold in the years ahead, but given the many forces at work, U.S. car sales may never again reach the 17 million that were sold each year between 1999 and 2007,” Brown said. “Sales seem more likely to remain between 10 million and 14 million per year.”

The report comes one day after the automakers posted sales numbers for December, a month that showed a small but significant uptick in sales and brought a close to what has been one of the worst years in the history of the industry.

Brown said this summer’s federal Cash for Clunkers program, which paid Americans to scrap old cars and trucks for newer, more fuel-efficient ones, played only a small role in the downward trend because it accounted for roughly 700,000 cars. “It has an effect but a minor one,” he said.

Instead, Brown attributed the drop to a number of other factors and stressed that it was being driven by more than just the current economic recession, which is widely seen as the major cause of the recent sales slump that has plagued the auto industry.

Among the reasons cited in the report were market saturation caused by more registered vehicles than licensed drivers, economic and environmental concerns, and a shift away from the importance and prestige of the automobile in the youth culture.

“Perhaps the most fundamental social trend affecting the future of the automobile is the declining interest in cars among young people,” Brown said. “Many of today’s young people living in a more urban society learn to live without cars. They socialize on the Internet and on smart phones, not in cars.”

Assuming the fleet downsizing continues, Brown said it would cut long-term oil demand and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, which currently accounts for roughly a third of U.S. emissions. He said it could also lead to increases in steel supplies as big cars get recycled and fewer are produced.

He said the trend will also decrease the need to build new roads and highways, and that fewer cars and trucks on the road would cut maintenance and repair costs, as well as decrease demand for parking lots and parking garages.

“As this evolution proceeds, it will affect virtually every facet of life,” Brown said.

The report was based on data from the Transportation Department’s Federal Highway Administration and was compiled with the help of R.L. Polk & Co., an automotive research and consulting firm.

Va., Md. to push for disposable bag fee

Maryland and Virginia lawmakers say they will push for 5-cent fees on disposable paper and plastic bags at stores, according to the Washington Examiner. The move comes after the District became the first major city in the nation to impose such a fee.

“The environmental clean-up cost is the primary reason why we’re introducing this in Virginia,” said Del. Adam Ebbin, a Democrat who represents parts of Arlington and Fairfax counties, as well as part of Alexandria in the Virginia General Assembly. Del. Alfred Carr, a Democrat who represents Montgomery County, said the region needed to move ahead as one and plans to introduce similar legislation in the Maryland General Assembly, the Examiner reported.

8 Responses to Energy and Global Warming News for January 7th: EPA announces strict new health standards for smog; Clean tech funding outpaces every other VC sector

  1. C. Vink says:

    @Moderator: my comments are not picked up by the system today.

  2. C. Vink says:

    Methane release ‘looks stronger’
    BBC News, January 6 – Scientists have uncovered what appears to be a further dramatic increase in the leakage of methane gas that is seeping from the Arctic seabed. Methane is about 20 times more potent than CO2 in trapping solar heat. The findings come from measurements of carbon fluxes around the north of Russia, led by Igor Semiletov from the University of Alaska at Fairbanks.

    Experts: Cold snap doesn’t disprove global warming
    AP, January 6 – Beijing had its coldest morning in almost 40 years and its biggest snowfall since 1951. Britain is suffering through its longest cold snap since 1981. And freezing weather is gripping the Deep South, including Florida’s orange groves and beaches. Such weather doesn’t seem to fit with warnings from scientists that the Earth is warming because of greenhouse gases. But experts say the cold snap doesn’t disprove global warming at all – it’s just a blip in the long-term heating trend.

    Climate change: UK expert warns of greater likelihood of drought
    Brunei News, January 5 – Dr Daniel P Bebber, head of climate change research at Earthwatch Institute in United Kingdom, said that a small temperature increase in the tropics could push trees and plants to their limit of being able to survive.

    Australia suffers hottest decade as globe warms
    AFP, January 5 – Australia has sweltered through its hottest decade on record, officials said Tuesday, linking a rise in heatwaves, drought, dust storms and extreme wildfires with global warming.

  3. C. Vink says:

    I have left out ‘difficult’ URL’s, but to no avail. Is there a (new) restriction on the sheer lenght of the comment?

  4. Dennis says:

    Glad to read the VA and MD will begin to move forward with the disposible bag fees as well. Some people in my office have been whining and complaining about the 5 cents extra it now costs them to buy their lunch. My response is to hand them five pennies “for their troubles.”

  5. Brendan says:

    @Dennis, I know it still sounds a bit tree-huggerish to the average American even in 2010, but tell them to get a reusable bag. We don’t pay 5 cents here, but the local place I often get lunch gives you a 5 cent discount if you bring your own bag. At 99 cents for the reusable bag, it only takes about 5 months of going once a week for it to pay for itself, so there’s really no financial excuse. Same math applies if they have to pay 5 cents. I’ve more than made back my investment. I’ve gotten several more bags for free, so I leave several in each of my vehicles. I thought it was a pain at first; but once I started using them I now hate when I forget to return them to the cars, because it’s so much easier carrying two big green bags than 8 of those plastic ones that cut off the circulation in your hands, get tangled around each other in the trunk, and dump half of your food out by the time you get home! In hindsight, I now realize the plastic bags were more of a hassle than the reusable ones are. Once you establish the habit, it’s actually easier, not harder, to use a reusable bag. People are just stubborn, so they’d rather whine than change, even if it’s a change for the better.

  6. Joe, what are the implications of EPA’s move on smog for other air contaminants, like soot? Controlling soot would be a major advance forward leading to cutting coal plant operation and construction. Do you see anything like that on the horizon? Or is it only vehicle emissions that will be impacted?

  7. Tucson Citizen says:

    Read the latest news at

  8. Dennis says:

    Agreed. I pass on the 5 cents to them after they complain about the cost of 99 cent reusable bag.