"Energy and Global Warming News for April 21st, 2010: White House says climate bill ‘doable’ this year; Military leads march to shrink US carbon ‘boot print’; Solar power sales to double this year; Senate GOP move to bar analysis of climate change impacts"
White House energy adviser Carol Browner said Tuesday she thinks Congress still has time to approve a climate and energy bill this year.
Browner called action on the long-delayed legislation “doable,” because members of Congress increasingly understand the need to develop clean energy that does not emit carbon dioxide and other pollutants blamed for global warming.
Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., are expected to introduce a bill on Monday that would apply different carbon controls to different sectors of the economy, without a broad cap-and-trade approach. It aims to cut emissions of pollution-causing greenhouse gases 17 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. It also likely will expand domestic production of oil, natural gas and nuclear power.
Browner said the Obama administration supports the bill and is flexible on how it achieves emissions reductions.
“If they want to use different tools for one sector or another, then that’s fine,” she said during an event hosted by National Journal.
From solar-powered water purification systems in Afghanistan to a Navy jet fueled in part by biofuel, the US military is taking a lead role in shrinking the US carbon “boot print,” an independent report said Tuesday.
The US Department of Defense accounts for 80 percent of the US government’s total energy consumption energy needs, and most of the energy it uses currently comes from fossil fuels, the report by the Pew Research think tank’s Project on National Security, Energy and Climate says.
But moves are afoot in all branches of the military to change that.
The army and air force have several bases that are partially powered by solar energy, one of which — Fort Irwin in California — is expected to be able to stop taking energy from the public electricity grid within a decade.
The navy has set itself a key goal of getting 50 percent of fuel used ashore and afloat from non-fossil sources by 2020, Navy Secretary Ray Mabus told a telephone news conference after the report was issued.
The navy will also test-fly this week its “Green Hornet” F-18 fighter jet, which runs on a mix of biofuel made from camelina, a plant in the mustard family, and aviation fuel, he said.
“Unlike first-generation corn ethanol, camelina is a plant that can be used in rotation with things like wheat instead of letting the land lie fallow. So it doesn’t take food out of the supply chain, but it does provide American farmers with another crop they can grow,” Mabus said.
And the US Marine Corps, working with the army, has applied energy-efficiency foams to temporary structures in Iraq that reduce energy consumption by up to 75 percent.
With its history giving the world transformational technology like the Internet and GPS systems that help car drivers to navigate, the report predicts that the steps the US military is taking now to beat back climate change will lead to a raft of innovations that enhance energy-efficiency for both the military and the general public.
Those could include new alternative fuels, advanced energy storage and more efficient vehicles on land, in the air and at sea, it said.
But one of the primary reasons for the greening of the US military was to achieve energy independence, which the report said is closely tied to national security.
“We have to break away from sources of foreign energy and particularly fossil sources of foreign energy, first from a strategic standpoint, second from a tactical standpoint,” said Mabus.
Republican senators introduced legislation today that would block White House efforts to require federal agencies to consider climate change in environmental analyses of proposed projects.
The bill says the National Environmental Policy Act should not be used to document, predict or mitigate the climate effects of specific federal actions. Under the measure, NEPA reviews could not consider the greenhouse gas emissions of a proposed federal project nor climate change effects as related to the proposal’s design, environmental impacts, or mitigation or adaptation measures.
The measure comes after the White House in February issued draft guidance (pdf) that will require federal agencies to consider greenhouse gas emissions and climate change when carrying out NEPA reviews. The White House Council on Environmental Quality, or CEQ, is accepting public comment on the proposal through May 24.
The senators say assessing the climate change impacts of individual projects would provide no meaningful information for the public but instead would encourage more bureaucratic delays and litigation “designed to change NEPA into a global warming prevention statute.” They claim the guidance could block road construction, delay domestic energy production and hurt job creation, while their bill would ensure federal agencies won’t engage in “costly, and ultimately useless” reviews.
The bill was written by Environment and Public Works Committee ranking member James Inhofe (R-Okla.) along with Sens. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) and David Vitter (R-La.). Co-sponsors include Sens. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.), James Risch (R-Idaho), Bob Bennett (R-Utah), and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.).
“Requiring federal agencies to assess the global climate change impacts from building a road will only block construction of the road and the jobs and economic activity that go with it, with no discernible impact on global climate,” Inhofe said in a statement. “The NEPA Certainty Act will put a stop to this and give employers, including small businesses, greater certainty in their hiring and economic planning.”
In an interview in February, CEQ Chairwoman Nancy Sutley defended the draft proposal as “straightforward, common-sense guidance” (Greenwire, Feb. 19). “I think there was really no question that there are environmental effects associated with climate change, and how could we not have that as part of agencies’ thinking as they look at their NEPA obligations and looking at environmental impacts?” Sutley said.
Sutley insisted that the draft guidance is neither a way to regulate greenhouse gases nor a substitute for comprehensive climate and energy legislation. She also said she does not expect the draft guidance to slow down the NEPA process, saying that agencies over the years have incorporated other environmental issues that were not at the forefront when NEPA regulations were established decades ago.
Senators trying to write a sweeping energy and climate change bill faced new obstacles Tuesday from offshore drilling foes, gas tax critics and supporters of tougher state environmental laws.
The challenges came as Sens. John Kerry, D-Mass., Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., and Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., enter the final stretch of months of negotiations aimed at producing a broad compromise bill to cap greenhouse gas emissions, expand domestic oil and natural gas production, and boost nuclear power.
The trio is expected to circulate a draft of their proposal on Capitol Hill later this week before unveiling it next Monday.
The measure is expected to put a new emissions cap on electric power utilities beginning in 2012, with similar limits hitting manufacturers as early as 2016.
It remains unclear how the group ultimately might decide to limit emissions from the transportation sector, amid some opposition to a proposed carbon fee that would be imposed on gasoline and diesel fuels before they are delivered to fueling stations.
That fee could be linked to the cost of carbon pollution permits borne by utilities, with revenue possibly helping to fund research into more efficient vehicles.
The linked fee was originally advanced by refiners as a more transparent alternative to a complex House-passed plan that would make the industry pay for tailpipe emissions released when consumers burn their transportation fuels in cars and trucks.
‘Gas tax’ talk
But in recent days, critics have said it is tantamount to a new “gas tax” that could hamper the nation’s economic recovery.
Seven out of 10 Americans oppose higher gasoline taxes in order to limit emissions, according to the results of a survey released Tuesday and commissioned by American Solutions, the conservative group headed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
Kerry tried to tamp down the gas tax talk and distinguished any transportation fuel plan from the unrelated, existing federal gasoline tax of 18.4 cents per gallon that helps pay for interstate highways and other roads.
“There is no gas tax, never was a gas tax, will not be a gas tax,” Kerry said.
“The gas tax is 18.4 cents today, and it’ll be that when this bill is passed,” he added.
The Bolivian government detailed today a broad plan for future international climate change negotiations and how governments and social movements might work together to push for climate justice internationally.
Bolivian President Evo Morales opened the People’s World Conference on Climate Change this morning, strongly condemning capitalism and calling for a “communitarian socialism” that will provide for the material wants and needs of the world’s populations and promote a more sustainable relationship between humans and the natural world.
The main cause of our planet’s destruction is capitalism. As people who inhabit Mother Earth, we have the right to say that the cause is capitalism and to protest endless growth. Capitalism is the source of the problem: more than 800 million people live on less than two dollars a day. Until we change the capitalist system, our measures to address climate change are limited.
Speaking before an estimated 15,000 people, including several Latin American heads of state; government representatives from Africa, Asia, and Europe; and indigenous delegations, Morales detailed his government’s proposal for establishing an international climate justice court, passage of a U.N. Declaration of the Rights of Mother Earth, reparations from rich countries to assist poor and low-lying nations that will be impacted by the effects of climate change, and financing of clean energy technologies. He also urged countries to open their borders to future waves of climate refugees.
Morales set the tone for the conference by reiterating throughout his speech that in order to address climate change, social movements and governments must cooperate. If he referenced government, he also mentioned social movements.
During the climate conference, occurring a few kilometers outside of Cochabamba in the small town of Tiquipaya, environmental justice activists are convening in over a dozen working groups to discuss issues ranging from long-term movement strategy to combating particular issues such as deforestation. The work of these groups, the Bolivian government promises, will be presented to the 192 nations involved in the UNFCCC process. The social movements, the theory goes, will be given greater voice and legitimacy through partnership with allied governments such as Bolivia, while these governments will hold greater legitimacy within the negotiations due to the backing of international organizations and their millions of rank and file.
Adding to this collaboration between nation-state and environmental justice movements is the presence of the Bolivian military in conference working groups – a strange event in a region that has been gripped by military coup after military coup during the past half century. The Bolivian Chief of Staff has ordered cadets from the country’s military academy to attend working groups. Several participants I spoke to today and yesterday found the soldiers to be a welcome, if odd, addition to discussions – seemingly less interested in surveying, and potentially repressing, oppositional movements than becoming part of Bolivia’s efforts at projecting a national strategy based upon leading a new, international environmental movement.
During an afternoon panel discussion on the state of international climate negotiations, Angelica Navarro, lead climate negotiator for Bolivia, rehashed why talks in Copenhagen failed to deliver a comprehensive agreement, arguing that several countries, primarily the U.S., sidestepped the consensus-based U.N. process and negotiated the Copenhagen Accord during small group discussions.
Global sales of solar power panels will jump 94 percent this year as developers rush to install systems before cuts in government incentives, according to industry publisher Isuppli.
Solar installations may climb to 13,600 megawatts this year, up from 7,000 megawatts in 2009, with Germany remaining the world’s largest market, said Henning Wicht, an analyst at El Segundo, California-based Isuppli.
“The second quarter is likely to be a blockbuster for the global PV industry,” Wicht said today in an e-mailed statement, referring to photovoltaic cells. A surge in German installations before a July cut in the price that power producers receive will be followed by increasing demand in Italy and the U.S. as lower costs attract new customers, he said.
For 2011, global demand for solar may rise to 20,300 megawatts, he said. One megawatt is enough to supply about 800 average U.S. homes, according to U.S. Energy Department data.
Vice President Biden will award $452 million in “Retrofit Ramp-up” grants to 25 communities across the country on Wednesday to kick off five days of events surrounding the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. In addition to the retrofit awards, every federal agency will commemorate Earth Day with an event or new policy announcement.
“For forty years, Earth Day has focused on transforming the way we use energy and reducing our dependence on fossil fuel – but this year, because of the historic clean energy investments in the Recovery Act, we’re poised to make greater strides than ever in building a nationwide clean energy economy,” Biden said in a statement. This “investment in some of the most innovative energy-efficiency projects across the country will not only help homeowners and businesses make cost-cutting retrofit improvements, but also create jobs right here in America.”
The Obama administration received eight times the number of applications it could fund, spurring proposals for more than $3.5 billion in federal spending. The stimulus grants will support large-scale retrofits and improve the energy efficiency of thousands of buildings nationwide, ranging from individual dwellings to large institutions.
Matt Golden, a northern California contractor and member of the contractor coalition Efficiency First, said the federal funding could help revive the nation’s building industry. The administration estimates that the 25 projects announced Wednesday will leverage about $2.8 billion of investment from the private sector over the next 3 years to retrofit homes and businesses.
“The construction industry is in the middle of a toolbelt recession, with a workforce that wants to work and contractors who want to hire,” Golden said. “This type of federal leadership is the low-bureaucracy way to send the market signal we need to put people back to work, save energy and give taxpayers a real return on investment.”
The administration spread the awards to different geographic regions. The Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development’s “Investment in Main Street: Energy Efficiency for Economic Growth” won $20 million, which it will spend on statewide bulk purchasing program for supplies and equipment to support multi-family and small business retrofits.
In Seattle, the Neighborhood Weatherize Every Building Initiative to Power Change also won $20 million. More 40 public, private and nonprofit organizations will concentrate on upgrading neighborhoods in downtown Seattle, starting with single-family homes but also retrofitting grocery stores, restaurants and large commercial, hospital and government buildings.
And if nearly half a billion dollars wasn’t enough green, you can catch a cabinet secretary visiting a neighborhood near you over the next five days to celebrate the environment.
The biggest polluting nations are downplaying goals for climate-change talks in December after failing last year to agree on a global treaty, the top U.S. climate negotiator said.
Representatives from countries emitting the most greenhouse gases agree it’s important not to let “expectations far outstrip what can be done” at UN-led talks in Cancun, Mexico, Todd Stern, President Barack Obama’s climate negotiator, said yesterday.
Negotiators completed two days of meetings in Washington at which they discussed short-term financing to help developing nations cope with climate change, one of the issues that thwarted agreement on a treaty. Countries failed to reach a binding agreement at a meeting last year in Copenhagen.
There’s “no question” expectations for a treaty at Copenhagen exceeded what could be achieved, Stern told reporters today on a conference call. Support exists for a legal agreement to control emissions, though officials are aware this “might not happen,” he said.
Some participants took part in the Washington meeting by video conference because the ash cloud from the Iceland volcano canceled flights from European capitals, Stern said.
The Navy plans to test-fly its main attack aircraft, the F/A-18 Super Hornet, on a biofuel blend this Earth Day, part of an ambitious push by the Pentagon to increase U.S. security by using less fossil fuel.
While deliberations grind on in Congress about how to shift the nation’s energy away from fossil fuels, the Defense Department is putting plans into action with such things as electric-drive ships that save fuel costs, solar-based water purification in Afghanistan that reduces the need for dangerous convoys, and solar and geothermal power at U.S. bases.
The changes eventually could spread to civilian life. The size of the military’s investment will create economies of scale that help bring down the costs of renewable energy, and military innovations in energy technologies could spread to civilian uses, just as the Internet did. In addition, military innovations could help reduce the nation’s overall emissions of heat-trapping gases from fossil fuel use.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus said the Defense Department looks at energy changes as “one of America’s big strategic imperatives – to reduce our reliance on foreign sources of fossil energy, to make us better war fighters and to get us more down the road to energy independence. We also feel the military can lead in this regard.”
He said there also were added benefits – “making us better stewards of the environment and helping our country move toward a different economy, which we cannot afford to fall behind in.”
The Navy has changed energy sources before – from sailing to coal in the 1850s, from coal to oil in the early 20th century and to nuclear power in the 1950s. Some people always warned against abandoning proven technologies for more costly ones, Mabus said. “Every single time they were wrong, and every single time it made our Navy and Marine Corps more efficient and better fighters. We’re absolutely confident that will be the case again this time.”
A report released Tuesday from a team of energy and security experts assembled by the Pew Charitable Trusts takes a broad look at what the military has done so far to move off fossil fuels. Some examples:
-The Army plans to have 4,000 electric vehicles in the next three years, one of the biggest electric fleets in the world.
-The Air Force plans to provide 25 percent of the energy at its bases with renewable energy by 2025 and use biofuels blends for half its aviation fuel by 2016.
-The Navy plans to launch a strike group by 2016 that runs entirely on non-fossil-fuel energy, including nuclear ships, combat ships that run on hybrid electric power systems using biofuels, and aircraft that fly only on biofuels.
The Navy’s first amphibious assault ship with a hybrid gas-electric drive was the USS Makin Island. On its first voyage last year from Pascagoula, Miss., around South America to San Diego, its home port, it saved nearly $2 million in fuel costs.
The Super Hornet is Navy aviation’s largest energy user. It’s being put through a series of tests, including the one planned on Thursday at Naval Air Station Patuxent River in southern Maryland. The Navy is using an aviation biofuel made from the camelina sativa plant, a non-food plant in the mustard family. The plant can be grown in rotation with crops such as wheat instead of letting fields lie fallow, so it provides farmers with another crop without taking land away from food production.
In Afghanistan, the Navy is moving toward more solar and wind energy so that it can reduce reliance on the fuel convoys, Mabus said. The solar-powered water purification units are reducing the need for fossil fuel to clean water and for purified water brought in by truck.
The biggest obstacles in general for the use of cleaner energy are the lack of infrastructure and the high price of alternative fuels, Mabus said. Both hurdles will fall as the Navy helps build demand, he predicted.
“If you’ll flip the line from ‘Field of Dreams,’ ‘If the Navy comes, they will build it,’ ” he said, a reference to the Kevin Costner baseball movie with the line, “If you build it, they will come.”
The Navy aims to have half its bases generate all their own energy by 2020.