"Energy and Global Warming News for July 23rd, 2010: Vets vs. Big Oil on Prop 23 in California; MD, DE governors ask feds to join wind energy pact; U.S. funds efforts to turn CO2 emissions into products"
Over the past year, VoteVets.org has worked hard to represent the overwhelming majority of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, who not only see our dependence on oil as a security threat, but believe that we need to pass clean energy legislation — even going so far as to say they are in favor of “cap and trade” (and yes, they were polled using that term).
While Washington haggles and delays, California has taken the lead. California being on the cutting edge of environmental technology and tough regulation is nothing new. Very often the state has led the way for the rest of the nation. From being the first in the nation to regulate tailpipe emissions from cars, to introducing the widespread use two-way catalytic converters before the rest of the nation, to leading the way in fuel efficiency standards, very often California sets the pace for the rest of the United States.
It’s no shock, then, that big oil has pushed a ballot proposition this year – Prop 23 – that would delay (with the purpose of killing) The Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. That state law would unilaterally bring California into near compliance with the Kyoto Protocol, mandating that emissions of greenhouse gasses in the state return to 1990 levels by the year 2020.
The threat big oil and energy companies feel is clear – implementation of a law that would require much greater efficiency and development of new technologies would mean less dependence on oil and other fossil fuels. That, they fear, would hurt their bottom line. So, rather than think long-term about how they could capitalize on an energy revolution and increase their bottom line in the long-run, they have dumped millions into killing the law.
Valero Energy – $500,000. Occidental Petroleum – $300,000. Tesoro Companies (oil refiners) – $300,000. And hundreds of thousands from other oil and energy interests have been poured into backing Prop. 23.
On the other side is an interesting mix. It’s not just environmentalists who are opposing Prop. 23. Republican Arnold Schwarzenegger was recently joined by Republican and Ronald Reagan’s former Secretary of State George Schultz. Schultz, in announcing his opposition, said, “As a former Secretary of State, I see our dependence on foreign oil as one of the greatest threats to national security, and the Dirty Energy Proposition would undermine efforts to break that dependence.”
Add veterans to that opposition, and on the side of Secretary Schultz. Our dependence on oil means our petro-dollars make their way to the very same extremists we’re fighting. Worldwide demand for oil, driven by U.S. consumption, means that Iran makes $100 million more every single day. And, even the Pentagon has sounded the siren on security implications of global climate change.
The governors of Delaware and Maryland asked the federal government Wednesday to join their states in buying offshore wind energy as part of an effort to establish a wind energy manufacturing industry in the mid-Atlantic region.
Govs. Jack Markell and Martin O’Malley sent a letter to President Barack Obama asking that he direct federal agencies to join Delaware and Maryland in offering to purchase one gigawatt, or 1 billion watts, of energy from offshore wind turbines.
“By combining our market power with that of the federal government, we can drive demand for over one GW of offshore wind energy in the mid-Atlantic,” the governors wrote. “This would create the economies of scale necessary to significantly reduce the cost of offshore wind development, attract manufacturers of offshore wind equipment and installation vessels, and develop high paying green jobs for our workers.”
Can industrial CO2 emissions come in handy? The Department of Energy is betting these carbon dioxide emissions, a culprit of climate change, can be turned into useful products such as fuel, plastics, cement and fertilizers.
DOE announced Thursday $106 million in Recovery Act funding for six corporate projects that will research the potential to use CO2 as an inexpensive raw material. “These innovative projects convert carbon pollution from a climate threat to an economic resource,” Energy Secretary Steven Chu said in a statement, citing President Obama’s broader plan to build a clean energy economy.
The projects were selected for initial funding in October as part of a $1.4 billion effort to capture CO2 from industrial sources for storage or beneficial use. They’ve since done experiments and designed research plans and will now enter a second phase in which they’ll evaluate the economic feasibility of their innovations.
One out of three U.S. counties is facing a greater risk of water shortages by mid-century due to global warming, finds a new report by Tetra Tech for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
For 412 of these counties the risk of water shortages will be “extremely high,” according to the report, a 14-fold increase from previous estimates. In the Great Plains and Southwest United States, water sustainability is at extreme risk finds the report, which is based on publicly available water use data from across the United States.
“This analysis shows climate change will take a serious toll on water supplies throughout the country in the coming decades, with over one out of three U.S. counties facing greater risks of water shortages,” said Dan Lashof, director of the Climate Center at NRDC. “Water shortages can strangle economic development and agricultural production and affected communities.”
Commercial airlines may derive 1 percent of their fuel by 2015 from biofuels made of plants including algae, Boeing Co.’s environment chief said.
Carriers including British Airways Plc and Continental Airlines Inc. are testing the carbon-cutting alternative fuels as the global air industry accelerates efforts to slash greenhouse-gases blamed for global warming.
Boeing has worked with airlines from the U.S. to Japan to test jet fuels made from plants such as jatropha and camelina. That’s because moving more toward cleaner fuels is in the industry’s best interest, said Billy Glover, managing director of environmental strategy at Boeing’s commercial airplanes unit.
“We need to get to 1 percent to get that foundation and then the trajectory will be significantly steeper,” Glover said in a telephone interview in London. “We’re aiming for a 1 percent penetration around the middle of this decade, and we think that’s quite achievable.”
The Garrison Institute, just down the hill from my home in the Hudson River valley, has organized an exploration of the role of the human mind, with all of its strengths and weaknesses, in both creating the climate challenge and potentially overcoming it. The next effort is a session for a variety of specialists in studies of buildings and behavior.
Given that humans are spending ever more time indoors, with all the heating, cooling and lighting potentially attending such a lifestyle, finding big cuts in energy use in structures can make a big dent in greenhouse-gas emissions and energy appetites. (I took the photo above while touring Toronto’s vast underground city beneath the city.) The challenge and opportunity in fast-growing developing countries is particularly acute. According to some analysts, more square footage of structures will be built in the next few decades than has been built by human societies in all previous history. As I wrote recently, one steamy Asian city, Mumbai, is estimated to have potential demand for air conditioning equalling a fourth of all the air conditioning used in the United States today.
Earlier this week, the International Energy Agency released a batch of new findings and reports as its contribution to the Obama administration’s “Clean Energy Ministerial” meeting in Washington. One report concluded that China’s total energy use now tops that of the United States, just a couple of years behind its rise to the top position on lists of emitters of carbon dioxide. (China almost immediately disputed the agency’s conclusion.)
In any case, a more important analysis was the agency’s fresh look at trends in government support for research, development and demonstration of low-carbon energy technologies and ways for countries to collaborate to accelerate energy innovation.
According to the report, “Global Gaps in Clean Energy RD&D,” the recent burst of spending on research as part of various countries’ efforts to stimulate their fragile economies has helped provide a substantial boost after decades of diminishing investment on the frontiers of energy inquiry.
The Justice Department says that a wholesale electricity supplier in New York City manipulated the market for several years to keep prices high. At first glance, this might seem to have an environmental advantage. More expensive electricity encourages efficient use, and high wholesale prices may encourage companies to build new power plants “” possibly wind or solar “” that are almost certainly cleaner than the old ones.
In New York State, as in about half of the rest of the country, big utilities that used to build and operate power plants and power lines as well as deliver the electricity to customers and send them bills have been ordered to specialize. Most have sold their generating stations to independent producers and now buy their power in auctions conducted by a neutral system operator.
To a large extent, they are buying electricity from precisely the power plants they sold, so that a person walking through the system would see little change except for the company names affixed to the fence out front.
The Environmental Protection Agency will probably be getting an earful at a public meeting in southwestern Pennsylvania, part of its recently opened re-examination of hydraulic fracturing.
Many Green readers will already know that gas drillers rely heavily on the practice, often called “fracking,” which involves the high-pressure injection of a mixture of water, sand and chemicals designed to create fractures in rock formations deep underground so that gas can be released.
Environmentalists have long complained “” often in vain “” that the industry in general and fracking in particular are too loosely regulated and that all manner of environmental and health impacts could be at stake. Groundwater contamination ranks high on their list of concerns.
The industry, meanwhile, has maintained that its drilling and fracking practices are safe, and that there is little hard evidence to the contrary “” although this, critics say, is only for want of careful study.
The ethanol industry is feverishly lobbying lawmakers in an effort to hang onto billions of dollars in subsidies that are set to expire “” although there appears to be some discord on the message front.
Growth Energy, a leading ethanol industry association, threw some fuel makers for a loop last week by suggesting that they would be willing to trade tax credits for incentives aimed at making more cars and more gas stations ethanol-ready.
The Brazilian Sugarcane Industry Association, which naturally abhors the tariffs, was only too keen to point out the apparent discrepancy in a YouTube video published on Wednesday and embedded above for your viewing pleasure.
Hundreds of firefighters and civilian volunteers used bare hands, chopsticks and plastic garbage bags Thursday to wage a low-tech battle against a giant oil slick spreading off China’s northeastern coast.
The slick, near the oil port of Dalian, in Liaoning province, was caused when two pipelines exploded last Friday as crude was being unloaded from a Libyan tanker. Government officials said the accident released about 1,500 tons — or 400,000 gallons — of oil into the Yellow Sea, where the slick now covers up to 170 square miles, according to news reports, making it China’s largest recorded spill.
The BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is estimated in the tens of millions of gallons. “I used small wood planks to scoop up the oil and put it into big plastic garbage bags,” said Liu Jia, a worker at the Dalian beach resort. “Some of my colleagues used chopsticks. . . . It works, because the oil is quite sticky. Sometimes, we just used our hands to pick up the sand that is covered with oil.”
Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard on Friday embraced the same policy on climate change that her predecessor failed to pass, but said in a campaign speech that any action would be delayed until at least 2012.
“The price of inaction is too high a price for our country to pay,” she said at the University of Queensland in Brisbane. “Because the price of inaction is price rises, job losses and innovations lost.”
The topic helped topple her predecessor, Kevin Rudd, whom Gillard had served as deputy prime minister until the Labor Party transferred its support to her last month. With elections less than a month off, Gillard laid out her plans to address the issue if the party retains power. Gillard said she would embrace the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme (CPRS) that Rudd delayed after the conservative coalition and the Greens Party failed to sign on.
A United Nations climate group said it may be possible to extend emission caps included in the Kyoto Protocol for two years after they expire in 2012, preventing an interruption in the supply of offset credits.
Extending the targets may help stop a “gap” in the Clean Development Mechanism, the world’s second-biggest carbon market, should nations fail to agree on a treaty to replace or permanently extend the 1997 protocol, a committee for developed nations said in a July 20 discussion paper on the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change website.
UN talks in Copenhagen last December failed as developing nations called for richer countries to adopt tighter targets on the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. India’s Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said last month that nations are unlikely to agree on a global climate accord at this year’s talks in Cancun, Mexico.
The government of Puerto Rico needs to march toward energy diversification to deal with its over-reliance on oil for electricity, the governor announced. Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno signed new measures that outline ways to encourage the use of renewable energy on the island state.
“We need to aggressively encourage the development of renewable energy sources for the benefit of all that reside and work in Puerto Rico,” the governor said in a statement. “Establishing the right public policy will be the anchor to make it happen.”
Part of the measure calls on retail energy providers to use renewable energy for 15 percent of their energy resources by 2020 and 20 percent by 2028.
The United States on Thursday announced a three-year programme to help countries in the Mekong River basin adapt to the impact of climate change on water resources, food security and livelihoods.
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the pledge at a Hanoi meet with Southeast Asian countries of the lower Mekong region, whose waterway is also under threat from rapid economic development and expanding populations.
“Managing this resource and defending it against threats like climate change and infectious disease is a transnational challenge,” she told the foreign ministers of Thailand, Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam.
“Regional cooperation is essential to meeting that challenge, to preserving the ecological diversity and fertility of the Mekong region.”