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Energy and Global Warming News for October 26: Markey expands “clean coal” forged letter investigation

Markey expands “clean coal” forged letter investigation

A House committee is investigating whether the coal industry’s largest influence group failed to accurately report its lobbying spending to Congress.

The Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming has expanded its investigation into forged letters sent to lawmakers and their ties to the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, according to documents viewed by E&E.

In an Oct. 21 letter, Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) asked ACCCE whether its lobbying disclosure for 2008 and the first half of 2009 should have included work conducted by the Hawthorn Group, a public relations firm hired in part to coordinate efforts to fight the House climate bill.

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Markey directed ACCCE to detail how much of the $10 million it paid Hawthorn Group during that 18-month period went toward work aimed at influencing U.S. climate legislation. ACCCE paid Hawthorn Group more than $7 million in 2008 and nearly $3 million in the first half of 2009, according to documents it gave the committee.

“It does raise some questions,” said Markey spokesman Eben Burnham-Snyder. “What are these activities? They’re to influence a member of Congress to vote a certain way.”

The committee will hold a hearing Thursday on forged letters that came from ACCCE subcontractor Bonner & Associates. The hearing also could delve into the issue of ACCCE’s lobbying spending. ACCCE was told to answer Markey’s questions by Thursday.

Lawmakers received at least 199 letters and more than 4,000 phone calls on the House climate bill because of work by Bonner & Associates and fellow Hawthorn Group subcontractor Lincoln Strategies LLC, according to documents ACCCE gave the committee. Some of those letters urged House members to vote against the bill crafted by Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) and Markey.

At least 12 of those letters were fraudulent, purporting to be from groups opposed to the bill. ACCCE has blamed that on one Bonner & Associates employee. The committee’s letter also seeks more information surrounding the fraudulent letters.

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An alliance of coal companies, utilities and railroads that ship coal, ACCCE is one of the best-funded trade groups in the energy sector.

For more background, see “Dirty coal group’s 14th forgery impersonated American veterans” and “ACCCE takes on water: Alstom quits scandal-ridden coal industry front group, joining Duke and Alcoa “” time for GE and Caterpillar to jump ship, too.” The story continues:

But in an interview last week on ACCCE’s lobbying disclosures, Ronald Jacobs, an attorney with Venable LLP who works for ACCCE, said the letter-writing campaign by Hawthorn Group’s subcontractors does not count as lobbying under the congressional definition in the Lobbying Disclosure Act, which passed in 1995. Another law passed in 2007 beefed up disclosure rules but also exempts grassroots efforts, he said. ACCCE considers the Hawthorn Group-driven letter writing in that category.

“A letter by a third party is not a letter from ACCCE,” Jacobs said, “even if the work to create (that letter) is paid for by ACCCE.”

ACCCE’s lobbyist “was not walking that letter up to members of Congress and delivering it,” said ACCCE spokeswoman Lisa Camooso Miller. “That was not how we delivered our message.”

Others versed in lobbying law disagreed with ACCCE’s view. Hawthorn Group should have filed paperwork listing itself as a lobbying shop and detailing ACCCE as a client, said Lee Mason, director of nonprofit speech rights with OMB Watch, a government watchdog organization. Any attempt to influence a lawmaker’s vote, Mason said “would be considered lobbying.

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“If they’re telling them to take some very specific action, once you tell Congress to take a position on it, you have actively engaged in a lobbying activity,” Mason said.

Talking with, writing or otherwise contacting lawmakers and their aides when it exceeds 20 percent of a person’s work time in general is considered lobbying and must be reported to Congress.

Grassroots activity is work that is more general, Mason said, like educating people about an industry and its connection to federal laws and regulations. “When you actively engage with telling people to call their congressman, that’s lobbying and should be reported,” he said.

The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit investigative group, agreed. Spokesman Steve Carpinelli said even though the letter writing and phone calls were driven by a third party, they are lobbying and by law should have been detailed in a report to the Senate.

Ban Ki-Moon: We can do it

Every day, the critical December summit in Copenhagen grows closer. All agree that climate change is an existential threat to humankind. Yet agreement on what to do still eludes us.

How can this be? The issues are complex, affecting everything from national economies to individual lifestyles. They involve political trade-offs and commitments of resources no leader can undertake lightly. We could see all that at recent climate negotiations in Bangkok. Where we needed progress, we saw gridlock.

Yet the elements of a deal are on the table. All we require to put them in place is political will. We need to step back from narrow national interest and engage in frank and constructive discussion in a spirit of global common cause.

In this, we can be optimistic. Meeting in London earlier this week, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown told the leaders of 17 major economies (responsible for some 80 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions) that success in Copenhagen is within reach””if they themselves engage, and especially if they themselves go to Copenhagen to push an agenda for change.

U.S. leadership is crucial. That is why I am encouraged by the spirit of compromise shown in the bipartisan initiative announced last week by John Kerry and Lindsey Graham. Here was a pair of U.S. senators “” one Republican, the other Democratic “” coming together to bridge their parties’ differences to address climate change in a spirit of genuine give-and-take.

We cannot afford another period where the United States stands on the sidelines. An engaged United States can lead the world to seal a deal to combat climate change in Copenhagen. An indecisive or insufficiently engaged United States will cause unnecessary “” and ultimately unaffordable “” delay in concrete strategies and policies to beat this looming challenge.

Leaders across the globe are increasingly showing the engagement and leadership we need. Last month, President Barack Obama joined more than 100 others at a climate change summit at U.N. headquarters in New York “” sending a clear message of solidarity and commitment. So did the leaders of China, Japan and South Korea, all of whom pledged to promote the development of clean energy technologies and ensure that Copenhagen is a success.

India leads with U.S. in solar power

The green energy revolution is not miles away from India. The country has emerged as the world’s number one, along with the United States, in annual solar power generation.

In wind power production, India ranks fifth in the world. And when it comes to space, scope and facilities for renewable energy expansion, India ranks fourth in the world.

McKinsey & Company, in its survey ended in May 2009, has stated that India has one of the world’s highest solar intensities with an annual solar energy yield of 1,700 to 1,900 kilowatt hours per kilowatt peak (kWh/KWp) of the installed capacity.

This is similar to the US and Hawaii, the two other countries which have been ranked first along with India. After India, US (mainly California state), Hawaii and Spain are the largest solar power producers with 1,500 to 1,600 kWh/KWp followed by Italy, Australia, China, Japan, and Germany

Similarly, in the BP statistical review of world energy, India has been ranked as fifth in the world. While United States contributes 20.7% of the total wind energy in the world, Germany produces 19.6%, followed by Spain (14%), India (8%), China (6%) and Denmark (3%).

According to Ernst & Young’s renewable energy country attractiveness indices, which ranks countries based on regulatory environment, fiscal support, unexploited resources, suitability to different technologies and other factors determining renewable energy growth in a country, India maintains a ranking within the top five countries in the world.

Besides solar and wind, India’s index for development of renewable energy resources in hydropower sector is the fourth topmost in the world after US, Germany and China. Similarly, the country’s development index in biomass is ranked third in the world after US and Germany. Countries like Italy, UK, France, Canada and Australia lag behind India in this world index.

Copenhagen “back-up” group meets

Legislators from 16 major economies will meet on Saturday to seek consensus on a raft of climate-related policies ahead of December talks in Copenhagen.

The 120 delegates believe that the policies could address 70% of the emissions cuts necessary before 2020.

A consensus, if reached, could ensure the policies are put into practice regardless of the outcome of the landmark climate talks in December.

The group will present its results to the Danish PM who will host the talks.

The delegates will include a number of MEPs and former UK Foreign Office head Lord Michael Jay alongside people holding in climate- and environment-related posts in 16 nations.

The meeting has been organized by the Global Legislators Organization for a Balanced Environment (Globe).

‘Real opportunity’

Issues to be discussed are standards for building and appliance standards, vehicle fuel efficiencies, renewable energy and forestry.

Together, the delegates hope to agree targets that they have committed to push through their own governments at home. In addition, they will band together to push for ambitious targets at the December COP15 (Conferences of the Parties) meeting.

Any deals that are agreed at the weekend meeting are particularly relevant in light of the claim made last week by Yvo De Boer, head of the UN Climate Change Secretariat, that a comprehensive and binding treaty at the December talks was unlikely.

Danish Prime Minister and COP15 host Lars Lokke Rasmussen said of the meeting: “The Globe Copenhagen Legislators Forum…presents a very real opportunity to outline to national leaders where the political boundaries could be for an ambitious agreement at the formal negotiations.

“This will be a powerful and new intervention contributing to the international response to climate change.”

China steps up, slowly but surely

At a gleaming new research center outside Beijing, about 250 engineers and researchers from the ENN Group are trying to figure out how to make energy use less damaging to the world’s climate.

In a large greenhouse, hundreds of tubes hold strains of algae being tested for how much carbon dioxide they can suck from the air. Outside, half a dozen brands of solar panels are being matched for performance against the company’s own. Next door, large blocks of earth, carved out of Inner Mongolia, have been trucked in to test for new methods of gasifying coal underground.

The private company is part of a growing drive by China to work out a way to check the rapid growth of its massive emissions of greenhouse gases. Seeking to transform an economy heavily dependent upon coal for electric power and industrial production, the government has closed down old cement and coal plants, subsidized row upon row of new wind turbines and taken other measures.

Among members of the U.S. Congress and negotiators preparing for a December climate summit in Copenhagen, China is often considered an obstacle because it has not committed to imposing a ceiling on its emissions of the gases that most scientists blame for climate change. China produces the most carbon emissions in the world, and the output is likely to continue growing for two decades. When President Hu Jintao pledged at the United Nations last month to lower the country’s carbon intensity “by a notable margin,” that was regarded as a step forward.

Yet, in visible and less visible ways, China has begun to address its emissions problem. The steps are driven in part by the parochial concern that climate change could worsen the flooding that plagues the country’s low-lying coastal regions, including Shanghai, and cause water shortages in western areas as glaciers in the Himalayas melt away.

But China has also begun to see energy efficiency and renewable energy as ingredients for the type of modern economy it wants to build, in part because it would make the nation’s energy sources more secure.

“We think this is a new business for us, not a burden,” said Gan Zhongxue, who left a job as a top U.S. scientist for the giant ABB Group to head up research and development at ENN, the Langfang company that made its fortune as the dominant natural gas distributor in 80 Chinese cities.

China’s automakers are “seeing green”

The rush to produce more energy-efficient automobiles is fueling aggressive efforts by China’s automotive sector.

“The fuel-efficient and new energy vehicles should account for 10 percent of the total industry in 2012,” Science and Technology Minister Wang Gang said recently in Beijing.

That expectation is twice the 5 percent share that the Chinese government called for in its automobile industry restructuring and revitalization plan announced in January.

With China’s vehicle output expected to surpass 10 million units this year, domestic automakers are eager to produce green vehicles that also will allow them to better compete with global rivals in the industry.

Shanghai Automotive Industry Corporation Group (SAIC), China’s largest automaker, in July announced plans to invest 12 billion yuan in research and development of hybrid engines. SAIC plans to begin manufacturing its own brand of fuel-saving cars in 2010, the company said.

According to SAIC, the first model will be a hybrid Roewe 750, which consumes 20 percent less gasoline.

Altogether, the company will invest in 41 major projects, including hybrid and electric cars.

Dongfeng Motor Group, China’s third-largest automotive company, will cooperate with the Dutch electric car startup Detroit Electric to research, develop and sell electric vehicles in China

Chongqing Chang’an Automobile Group recently announced that it is creating a new manufacturing base with an investment of 2.5 billion yuan for alternative energy vehicles.

The new manufacturing base will help Chang’an Motors produce 300,000 alternative energy cars and 1 million engines per year after manufacturing begins in 2012, according to the company.

EPA: Climate bill could cost families $100

A Senate plan to tackle global warming would add about $100 a year to the energy costs for a typical household, according to an analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The analysis released late Friday by the office of Sen. Barbara Boxer, who heads the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, generally mirrors the cost projected by the EPA when it examined similar legislation that the House passed in the summer.

The Democratic bill calls for cutting greenhouse gases from power plants and large industrial facilities by shifting energy use away from fossil fuels, especially coal. It would cap emissions and allow trading of pollution allowances to mitigate the cost.

Boxer, D-Calif., has scheduled hearings this coming week on the bill. The committee will hear from Obama administration officials, including the EPA, on Tuesday.

President Barack Obama, in a speech Friday in Boston, said he believes “a consensus” is emerging in Congress on the climate issue. But he also accused some opponents of making “cynical claims that contradict the overwhelming scientific evidence” that the earth is becoming warmer in an attempt to derail legislation.

“There are those who will suggest that moving toward clean energy will destroy our economy, when it’s the system we currently have that endangers our prosperity and prevents us from creating millions of new jobs,” Obama told his audience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Boxer said the bill provides “a clean energy future, creating millions of jobs and protecting our children from dangerous pollution.”

The EPA analysis released by Boxer said while there are differences between the Senate and House bills, they are so small that the economic costs “would be similar” in the case of either bill. As a result, the EPA produced in detail the same numbers for household costs it issued earlier this year when examining the House legislation “” and no revised numbers specifically for the Senate legislation.

It said the cost would add between $80 to $111 a year to households energy bills as a result of higher prices, although energy consumption was expected to decline slightly as a result of increased efficiency measures.

There have been widely conflicting price tags estimated for the climate bills. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated the household cost of the House-passed bill at about $175 a year in 2020. It has not examined the Senate bill.