June 9 News: GM CEO Calls For $1 Gas Tax Hike: U.S. Falling Behind In Trillion-Dollar Clean Energy Business

The news round-up looks at the top climate and energy news from around the web. Please post other interesting stories in the comments below.

GM CEO calls for $1 gas tax hike

General Motors CEO Dan Akerson said his company and his industry would be helped, not hurt, if consumers paid higher gas taxes.

In an interview published in Tuesday’s Detroit News, Akerson floated the idea of a $1 a gallon increase in the gas tax as a way to encourage buyers to purchase smaller, more fuel efficient cars. Greg Martin, spokesman for GM’s Washington office, confirmed that the quotes reflect Akerson’s and GM’s view.

Akerson said he would support a jump in the gas tax if it came instead of tighter fuel economy regulations that GM (GM, Fortune 500) and other automakers will have to meet in coming years. By the year 2025, automakers could be forced to hit fuel economy averages of as much as 62 mpg.

Akerson said that a higher gas tax, including an immediate 50-cent-a-gallon increase to take advantage of recent declines in gas prices, would probably make some of his Republican friends “puke.” But he said it would do more to help the environment than the pending fuel economy rules.

Obama Hints U.S. Might Tap Petroleum Reserves To Combat Libya Oil Disruption

President Obama on Wednesday appeared to raise the possibility that the administration would release oil from the nation’s strategic petroleum reserve to provide relief to Americans grappling with high gas prices.

Speaking at a gathering of personal finance writers at the White House, Obama suggested the conflict in Libya has removed large enough flows of oil from the global supply to perhaps justify a release of oil from the nation’s emergency stockpile to address soaring prices.

“My general view has been that the strategic petroleum reserve is to be used when you don’t have just short term fluctuations in the market, but where you have a disruption,” Obama said. “Libya has taken 125 million barrels off the market. We’re examining broadly what that means in terms of the oil market.”

The violence in Libya has frozen output from a country that once produced about 1.5 million barrels of oil a day, or 1.8 percent of the world’s supply. The stalled production began in late February and has shown no signs of abating.

As fighting and instability in the Middle East in the past months have led investors to fear a broader supply disruption, the price of oil has skyrocketed. The price of Brent crude, a global benchmark, has risen more than 60 percent in the last year, as of Wednesday’s close. Oil is trading at levels that recall 2008, when months of record-high energy prices helped drag the economy into recession.

Oil prices jump after OPEC fails to increase production quotas

Motorists could face higher gasoline prices, analysts said, after a meeting of OPEC ministers dissolves into bickering.

Motorists could face higher costs at the gas pump, analysts said, as oil prices jumped after a meeting of OPEC ministers dissolved into bickering.

Members of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, which pumps 40% of the world’s oil, unexpectedly failed to agree Wednesday on plans to increase production quotas to meet growing global demand.

Ali Ibrahim Naimi, oil minister for Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s biggest producer, called it “one of our worst meetings ever,” marked by so much discord that the cartel couldn’t even agree on when to meet again.

U.S. light crude, which had been trading as low as $98.02 a barrel Wednesday, surged in response to the OPEC development and an Energy Department report that U.S. crude inventories had declined more than expected. Oil closed at $100.74 a barrel, up $1.65, on the New York Mercantile Exchange. London benchmark Brent crude climbed $1.07 to $117.85 a barrel on the ICE Futures Exchange.

U.S. Is Falling Behind in the Business of ‘Green’

The Mark Group started hunting for a new untapped market when it realized that its core business — insulating old homes using innovative technology — would drop off in coming years. Based in this rust-belt city, the company had grown rapidly over the last decade largely because of generous and mandatory government subsidies for energy conservation that impelled the British to treat their homes.

But as a result of those incentives, market saturation was nearly complete — more than 80 percent of the country’s older homes had been at least partly retrofitted by 2010, the company estimated. So the Mark Group recently opened its newest office in another country, one with a relative paucity of expertise in the company’s specialty of cutting home energy bills and greenhouse gas emissions.

The office is in Philadelphia.

“The United States was a nearly untouched market with 120 million homes, most of them very energy-inefficient — it was a massive opportunity,” said Bill Rumble, the company’s commercial director, who had recently returned from its new American headquarters.

Many European countries — along with China, Japan and South Korea — have pushed commercial development of carbon-reducing technologies with a robust policy mix of direct government investment, tax breaks, loans, regulation and laws that cap or tax emissions. Incentives have fostered rapid entrepreneurial growth in new industries like solar and wind power, as well as in traditional fields like home building and food processing, with a focus on energy efficiency.

But with Congress deeply divided over whether climate change is real or if the country should use less fossil fuel, efforts in the United States have paled in comparison. That slow start is ceding job growth and profits to companies overseas that now profitably export their goods and expertise to the United States.

A recent report by the Pew Charitable Trusts found that while the clean technology sector was booming in Europe, Asia and Latin America, its competitive position was “at risk” in the United States because of “uncertainties surrounding key policies and incentives.”

“This is a $5 trillion business and if we fail to be serious players in the new energy economy, the costs will be staggering to this country,” said Hal Harvey, a Stanford engineer who was an adviser to both the Clinton and the first Bush administration and is now chief executive of the San Francisco-based energy and environment nonprofit organization Climate Works. Although the 2009 stimulus bill provided a burst of funding — $45 billion — that has now tapered off, he said, “We’ve let energy policy succumb to partisan politics.”

The aggressive entry of Britain into the field over the last few years shows the power of government inducements to redesign a nation’s energy economy away from traditional fuel. The country’s Green Deal, as it is called, is currently being spearheaded by the Conservative-led coalition government. In Britain, reducing carbon dioxide emissions was one of the few policies supported by political parties of both the right and left, which both accepted that climate change was a serious problem and saw clean technology investment as a growth opportunity rather than an onerous obligation.

USDA testing climate credits for farmers

With the Obama administration looking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, the Agriculture Department is trying to perfect methods for farmers and landowners to get paid for emission-saving practices.

A $2.8 million project  in Iowa and Illinois that the USDA is helping fund will study methods of cutting back on the amount of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas, that escapes from farmland as a result of farmers using nitrogen fertilizer. The three-year project will involve 100 farmers in the two states will test several methods for reducing nitrous oxide, including reducing their fertilizer use or using practices that reduces the amount of nitrogen that is washed off of fields or emitted into the air.

The idea of this and similar projects the USDA is funding is to quantify how much greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced by various methods and how much farmers and landowners could earn in emission-reduction credits, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said today.

Weeds increasingly immune to herbicides

Agriculture’s most effective pesticides are rapidly losing their punch as weeds evolve resistance to the chemicals. With no game-changing alternatives in the pipeline, researchers warn that farmers could soon see crop yields drop and production prices climb.

“It’s what Chuck Darwin talked about back in 1850. Organisms evolve in response to selection pressures in their environment,” says Micheal Owen, an extension weed scientist at Iowa State University in Ames. “In essence, the better we get at controlling weeds, the more likely those efforts will select for survivors that do not respond to controls.”

In the June 8 Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, Owen and other researchers describe a rapid rise of herbicide-resistant weeds and a particularly threatening trend: an increasing number of weeds that are simultaneously immune to multiple herbicides.




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