Energy and Global Warming News for April 29: Profiles of the two key “W’s” — Waxman and Wellinghoff

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Another busy day in the life of Henry Waxman

House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Henry Waxman had a busy day yesterday hearing the many different concerns and sticking points surrounding his draft climate change bill.

In the morning, the California Democrat and his top lieutenant, Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), sat down with more than a dozen members of the House Ways and Means Committee, including Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.), to talk about the tricky turf lines that the two powerful congressional panels share when it comes to drafting cap-and-trade legislation.

Just after lunch, Waxman switched to one-on-one sessions with several of the moderate committee Democrats who have gone public with their concerns about his proposal.

And then turning his attention beyond U.S. borders, Waxman met with China’s top climate diplomat, Xie Zhenhua, the vice chairman of National Development and Reform Commission, and about eight other Chinese officials in town for U.S.-led global warming talks.

The story continues with an extended discussion of Waxman’s efforts to craft a majority for his energy and climate legislation:

He also sidestepped questions about the demands from his own Democratic committee members, as well as Rangel’s committee. Still, Waxman acknowledged the tough challenges ahead as he tries to pass a major overhaul to U.S. energy and climate policy sought by the Obama administration and top Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill.

“I’ve had a lot of meetings today,” Waxman said. “And we’re working on talking through different issues and try to bridge differences. I think it’s been a series of very good meetings. And I’m not through.”

Some of the House Democrats who met with Waxman gave the new chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee credit for keeping his door open.

“He’s trying to build consensus,” said Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah) as he left a private meeting yesterday in Waxman’s office. “That’s how you get things done around here. He’s been around here longer than I have. He knows that.”

Rep. Charles Melancon (D-La.) spent about 15 minutes in Waxman’s office yesterday. Asked if there was any agreement on getting his problems resolved, the congressman replied, “No commitment, except to look through and see if there’s an ability to resolve them.”

Waxman was not the only key member holding court on the climate change issue yesterday. Two of Obama’s top White House advisers — Carol Browner and David Axelrod — briefed key senators from the Environment and Public Works Committee yesterday too, according to EPW Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.).

No markup date yet

The House Democrats’ plans for moving a climate bill remain in flux. Waxman offered no insight on when he would release a new version of the bill, and he also avoided any specifics on the schedule for next week’s expected markup in Markey’s Energy and Environment Subcommittee.

“I asked, and I don’t think they’ve set it,” Matheson said. “It’s a question still. Clearly, he’s negotiating.”

In his meeting, Matheson said he raised the same 12 to 14 issues outlined during opening statement from last week’s climate hearings, including the stringency of the emission limits and the size of a nationwide renewable electricity standard. Perhaps most important, Matheson said he still wants to see bill text on how lawmakers plan on allocating emission credits to industry. That is information critical to understanding the economic implications of the proposal.

“All this data everyone puts out about how much this is going to cost, until you define that allowance section of the bill, I don’t know how any of those discussions have any basis,” Matheson said. “Whatever anyone is saying about the costs, until you have the benefit of the allowances, it makes me question any of the data that’s out there, any money projections that are out there.”

Melancon said his private sit down with Waxman included talk of several parochial issues, such as industrial sources of black carbon, fertilizer manufacturers and petroleum refineries “that have some inherent problems that are not a norm in some other parts of the states.”

“I’d suspect most everyone has an opportunity to say ‘here’s where my problems are,’” Melancon said. Asked if he brought any legislative language into the meeting, he replied, “We’re talking specific items, but not necessarily specific language yet.”

Rep. Rick Boucher (D-Va.) talked about coal issues in his own private meeting yesterday with Waxman and Markey. “I remain optimistic,” Boucher said. “We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us.”

Several members of the House Ways and Means Committee said their visit with Waxman and Markey helped to get lawmakers onto the same page — even if they don’t have a clear path yet on how to move a single bill to the House floor.

“We had agreement we should come up with a unified approach, to the extent we can,” said Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), a Ways and Means Committee member and also the head of the House Democrats’ 2010 campaign operations. “We’re looking to work together. The goal is the same, passing a bill.”

“We’re getting closer and closer,” Rangel added.

Senate draft would give states first shot at siting transmission lines

A new draft bill unveiled by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee majority staff yesterday would grant states first crack at siting “high priority” national transmission line before allowing federal siting authority.

The new transmission siting draft is part of a comprehensive energy bill the committee will consider in a series of markups next month.

Under the new version, any power line project developer would have to apply for state approval first — a change from the previous committee draft, which would have allowed developers to go directly to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission for approval.

Home Green Home: Affordable Efficiency?

Wisdom Way Solar Village, a project of Rural Development Inc., a nonprofit division of the Franklin County Housing and Redevelopment Authority, consists of 10 modestly sized duplexes “” 20 units all told “” ranging from two to four bedrooms and between 900 and 1,500 square feet.

Each of the structures, which were designed in partnership with several local companies, including Austin Design, an architectural firm in Colrain, Mass., and Steven Winter Associates, a developer of high-performance buildings that is based in Norwalk, Conn., are oriented to take advantage of the sun’s energy as it sweeps across the southern sky.

And each is outfitted with a photovoltaic array ranging in power between 2.8 kilowatts and 3.4 kilowatts “” enough, in the larger case, to supply nearly 80 percent of the home’s electricity needs, according to one study.

Satellite Imagery Shows Fragile Wilkins Ice Shelf Destabilized

Satellite images show that icebergs have begun to calve from the northern front of the Wilkins Ice Shelf — indicating that the huge shelf has become unstable. This follows the collapse three weeks ago of the ice bridge that had previously linked the Antarctic mainland to Charcot Island.

Arctic Communities Challenged When Temperature Rises

A wide range of challenges are facing people in the Arctic regions as the climate warms up twice as fast as the global average. People in some communities in Northern Norway see wind patterns changing and fish moving towards the North. People in Tuktoyaktuk in Northern Canada, who have seen their coastlines eroding for a long time, may see erosion happen faster due to warming temperatures and stronger storms.

Al Gore calls on world to curb ‘black carbon’

The world must burn less diesel and wood, Nobel peace prize-winner Al Gore said yesterday, as the soot produced is accelerating the melting of ice in polar and mountainous regions.

Gore, backed by government ministers and scientists, said that the soot, also known as “black carbon”, from engines, forest fires and partially burned fuel was collecting in the Arctic where it was creating a haze of pollution that absorbs sunlight and warms the air. It was also being deposited on snow, darkening its surface and reducing the snow’s ability to reflect sunlight back into space.

“The principle [climate change] problem is carbon dioxide, but a new understanding is emerging of soot,” said Gore. “Black carbon is settling in the Himalayas. The air pollution levels in the upper Himalayas are now similar to those in Los Angeles.”

UK funds sea acidification study

The UK government has launched an £11m ($16m) five-year research programme into ocean acidification.

Researchers say seas are becoming more acidic as a result of CO2 from human activities being absorbed by seawater, which alters the oceans’ chemistry.

Ministers say acidification of the oceans will be one of the major environmental concerns of this century.

The study will focus on the Atlantic, Antarctic and Arctic oceans and assess how marine ecosystems are affected.

We are ending with an extended excerpt from the recent profile of the other key “W” in energy and climate arena — FERC Chair Jon Wellinghoff — from E&E News (subs. req’d). He famously pissed off the status quo crowd when he accurately commented on new nuclear and coal plants: “We may not need any, ever.” He may well turn out to be the key climate and clean energy pick by Obama. So here’s everything you could want to know about him:

FERC chairman sees himself leading U.S. march toward efficiency, renewables

If you visit Jon Wellinghoff in his office, he’ll likely direct your gaze to the ceiling.

When he first joined the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in 2006, the lights in his office suite were considered a very efficient system, state of the art when installed a dozen years earlier. But they still were not efficient enough for him. So he had them ripped out and installed “light shelves” that provide indirect lighting, along with a digital sensor that dims the lights as sunlight brightens the room.

“We cut the lighting energy usage in my office suite by 50 percent,” Wellinghoff said recently. “We can reduce our energy usage in this country by 50 percent.”

Wellinghoff has long lived what he preaches, his associates say. And now that he’s chairman of FERC, he wants to move the rest of the nation in his direction. He said in an interview today that his agenda is simply “efficiency in markets and least cost for consumers.”

A fervent believer in renewable energy, Wellinghoff stirred controversy when he said last week that the United States may never need another nuclear or coal plant.

Wellinghoff’s comments kicked up a small storm in Washington, but the chairman says he is not deterred. He is vowing to press forward with the agenda he began pursuing decades ago.

Interested in technology, Wellinghoff started out as a physics major in college, he said. But he switched to mathematics and earned two degrees — a bachelor’s from the University of Nevada, Reno, and a master’s from Howard University. He stayed in Washington, D.C., to pursue his law degree at Antioch School of Law.

Wellinghoff said his primary interest has always been in how to make things more efficient. That translated into an interest in renewable energy technologies like solar photovoltaic systems, which were advancing rapidly.

He returned to Nevada and became a legal assistant to a member of the Public Service Commission and then deputy district attorney in Washoe County for consumer protection. His cases were related to utility rates, power plant projects and consumer fraud issues.

“I also had an interest in helping people, helping low-income and disadvantaged people with their bills,” he said. “Consumer costs were something that were always of interest to me. I guess because I came from a lower-middle-class family, we were always watching our costs, costs of groceries and costs of utilities bills. So that was something that naturally came to me, was concern for consumers.”

He returned to Washington and worked as a staff attorney first for the Senate Commerce Committee and then for the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC chairman brought him in to investigate the misuse by some companies of a tax credit to install residential solar power systems, which combined his interests in renewable technology and consumer protections, he said.

Career in Nev.

Back in Nevada, Wellinghoff helped create the state’s office of consumer advocate and served two terms as Nevada’s first consumer advocate for customers of public utilities. He also authored the first comprehensive state utility integrated planning statute, which has become a model for utility integrated planning processes across the country.

Wellinghoff also helped write one of the nation’s first renewable electricity standards for Nevada, one of two states to receive an “A” from the Union of Concerned Scientists for renewable standards.

Randolph Townsend, a Republican Nevada state senator who first met Wellinghoff in the late 1970s, said the duo realized at a hearing on a general rate case that there really was no one who advocated on behalf of the residential ratepayer to the state Public Utilities Commission. They came up with the idea of creating an officer of consumer advocacy, and Wellinghoff was instrumental in the legal and policy work to make it happen, he said.

“He did an absolutely phenomenal job; he was not only technically savvy, but I think politically brilliant,” Townsend said. “He knew when to get on the front page of the paper and … knew how to negotiate.”

The pair also worked together to establish the state’s renewable portfolio standard. “Without Jon’s high-profile nature and respect in the community, politically it never would have happened,” he said.

Wellinghoff went into private practice, where among others he represented the MGM Mirage, which because of its large usage was very interested in energy policy, Townsend said.

“His broad experience and background and manner have changed energy policy in the state of Nevada all for the good over the last 20-plus years,” Townsend said. “[He] understands energy from a much wider view than the usual parochial interests. … Jon has been a consistent policy person on renewables, and a lot of it has been visionary.”

Stephen Wiel, the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project’s Nevada representative, was working as an energy consultant when he met Wellinghoff in the late 1970s.

“I remember my initial impression of him because he had a very strong presence,” Wiel said. “He stood out. He was noticeable. He looked instantly professional and pleasant and the kind of person who would have a significant influence in the room.”

They collaborated on projects, including starting a state chapter of a solar energy association, and Wiel eventually became a public service commissioner. Together they pushed to ensure that Sierra Pacific Power entered into contracts with geothermal developers in Nevada.

“We were pulling on the rope in the same direction at the time, and now the whole country seems to be pulling in that direction,” Wiel said.

Becoming FERC chairman

Noting that he was pleased when Wellinghoff became a FERC commissioner, Wiel added that the question then became “How much influence is he going to have?” He recalled sitting in Wellinghoff’s office, discussing what might happen if President Obama won the 2008 election — including the opportunity for Wellinghoff to potentially become FERC’s chairman.

“I know the reason he wanted to do it is he thought he could make an important difference in the energy future of this country,” Wiel said. “I, and I’m sure everyone else he knew, encouraged him to do it.”

Wellinghoff acknowledged that he had pushed for the job.

“I was very interested in becoming chairman, because I thought my interest in making markets more efficient and integrating the demand side and renewables into those markets could assist consumers with controlling their bills,” he said. “I believe the best way for me to do that is to become chairman.”

Wellinghoff’s chances were boosted by the fact that one of the most powerful men in D.C. backed him. Fellow Nevadan and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D) recommended Wellinghoff both to become a commissioner and then to be chairman.

“He is a leader dedicated to protecting American consumers and investing in clean energy,” Reid said in a statement. “His strong record on renewable energy, energy efficiency and consumer advocacy is critically important at the agency. His vision as new chairman of the commission will move us toward a safer energy future and help make the United States the leader of a global clean energy revolution.”

Townsend, the Nevada state senator, said Wellinghoff’s relationship with Reid is “very positive, very open.”

“I think that’s really good we have those kind of long-standing ties where you can just pick up the phone and say, ‘Hey, what about this?’ or ‘This came across my desk today; what do you think?’” Townsend said.


Wellinghoff’s comments last week drew praise from environmentalists but jarred the energy and nuclear industries. He said today that he hasn’t gotten a lot of feedback from industry or from top Obama administration officials about his remarks.

“There’s been a lot of positive comments with respect to the issues of increasing efficiency,” he said. “That’s the key that people seem to respond to.”

He said the biggest challenge to implementing his vision is transmission and “ensuring we have a transmission plan that covers … both the Eastern and Western interconnects.” The country needs to design the system in a way that will allow the delivery of low-cost renewables, such as wind, solar and geothermal, he added….

In recommending Wellinghoff for an award last year, then-FERC Chairman Joseph Kelliher said he “has amply demonstrated a lifetime commitment to promoting energy efficiency.”

“Jon is widely recognized throughout the energy industry as a leading thinker and change agent on these vital issues,” Kelliher added.

Wellinghoff will have until at least the end of 2012, when his current term expires, to make that impact.

Compiled by Max Luken and Carlin Rosengarten