When federal action gets bogged down in the halls of Congress, the states often find ways to get things done on their own. Last week, 11 northeastern and mid-Atlantic states and the District of Columbia launched the Transportation and Climate Initiative, a regional effort aimed at reducing emissions from cars and trucks.
The TCI agreement was signed with senior federal officials on hand from both the EPA and the Department of Transportation. The effort is aiming to showcase some cutting edge methods for greenhouse gas emission reduction that the federal agencies could eventually adopt. In the short term it might just help some federal dollars flow to the participating East coast states.
“I think there will be a lot of opportunity for working jointly with the feds, but what form that takes is part of what we’re trying to flesh out,” said Vicki Arroyo, executive director of the Georgetown Climate Center, which facilitated the initial meeting between agency heads from the various states this week.
The climate regulation body of the United Nations will soon consider a proposal aimed at closing a multi-billion dollar loophole in the Kyoto Protocol. The loophole has provided the incentive to companies, especially in China and India, to manufacture a “super greenhouse gas” so they can be paid handsomely to destroy it.
At a time when it is widely believed that planet-warming emissions must quickly get on a downward trajectory, the U.S. State Department projects the nation will see a four percent leap in heat-trapping gases in the period between 2005 and 2020.
In its to the United Nations Framework Conference on Climate Change (UNFCCC), the State Department details the substantial rise in emissions that occurred between 1990 and 2007, and projects a greenhouse gas future that many environmentalists are calling "unacceptable."
"The main thing this [report] indicates is that there is clearly a disconnect between what they are doing and what the science tells us what we need to do urgently," said Rose Braz, the climate campaign coordinator at the , a Tuscon, Az.-based conservation group.
"We would hoped to have seen something saying what the science requires — which is that we need to get CO2 down to 350 parts per million — and a plan about how we are going to do that using existing regulatory programs."
Grid operators have long claimed that the nation's aging electricity network cannot support the enormous expansion of wind and solar power planned by the Obama administration. Now, a new government report says otherwise.
According to the (NREL), a division of the Department of Energy, it is "operationally feasible" for the power grid to accommodate 30 percent wind and 5 percent solar energy in Western states as early as 2017.
Perhaps even more impressive is that as much as 20 percent power could come from renewable resources without any new long-distance transmission lines.
That conclusion, from NREL's "Western Wind and Solar Integration Study," stands in sharp contrast to previous studies indicating a need for thousands of miles of costly new transmission lines to achieve such penetration of renewables.
"That report and its companion report, the "," were real eye-openers for a lot of people," said Charlie Smith, executive director of the Utility Wind Integration Group and member of the technical review committee for the new NREL report.
In the six weeks since the Deepwater Horizon oil rig blew up and began spilling untold amounts of crude into the Gulf of Mexico, calls for fast action on clean energy have increased sharply from some politicians in Washington, including President Obama.
Now, that national clamor is beginning to reverberate at the state level. Perhaps the most notable example is Louisiana, the ground zero of the oil spill and its disastrous effects.
The state has long been among the darlings of the oil and gas industries, in terms of oil production. That ranking rises to first if the offshore rigs in federal waters are included.
But with several bills now working their way through the state legislature in Baton Rouge — and progress being made on a renewable energy portfolio standard — clean energy advocates say they could see at least a glimmer of good coming from the gooey mess infiltrating Louisiana's coastlines and marshes.
Washington's love affair with biofuels is showing no signs of cooling, as Rep. Herseth Sandlin (D-S.D.) introduced a bill in Congress last week that would give a 30 percent tax credit for investment in advanced biorefineries.
But some environmental groups have started to question the EPA's accounting system for greenhouse gas emissions for what makes a fuel 'advanced.' They worry that flaws in the system could mean the new tax credit would support energy sources that aren't so environmentally friendly after all.
The , cosponsored by Rep. Paul Hodes (D-N.H.), aims to spur investment in fuels that could help meet the requirements of the 2007 Renewables Fuels Standard. Under that law, 36 billion gallons of biofuels must be produced by 2022, up from 12 billion this year. Of those 36 billion, more than 21 billion gallons must come from new-generation feedstocks made from non-food sources, such as wood and grass.
The bill's tax incentive, Sandlin , would move capital in the direction it needs to go to meet that goal.
"This new investment tax credit will help private industry realize the promise of advanced biofuels for making our nation energy independent through the production of clean-burning domestic biofuels, while also creating jobs in communities across the nation, including in many rural communities," she said.
U.S. politicians who toss around the term "energy security" now have a way to quantify the broad and nebulous concept, according to the Chamber of Commerce.
The group's released on Tuesday a first-of-its-kind method to assess the country's past and current energy security predicament. The , as it's called, incorporates information and data from four areas — geopolitics, economics, energy reliability and the environment.
The institute says that the nation's energy risk is now at 83.7 out of 100, a relatively high score, though the U.S. has seen — and will see — far worse.
The year 1980 was assigned a risk index of 100, driven by falling world oil production, the Iran-Iraq war and enormously high energy prices. The 2008 spike in oil prices brought the country close to that level at 99.8. Projections for the next two decades are between today's 83.7 and 100.
"This seeks to be a very accurate, concrete way to display where we are today, where we've been over time and where we're going," said Karen Harbert, president and CEO of the Institute.
Passage of the long-awaited U.S. Senate climate and energy bill released weeks ago would finally put a national price on carbon. Now lawmakers are working to pin down another price to ensure that coming regulations actually reduce emissions: the "social cost of carbon."
The social cost of carbon is an economic analysis that weighs the cost of cutting back on climate-warming carbon dioxide against the benefits. In practice, the calculation applies a price on each ton of CO2 released based on its future harm to humans. As Washington tries to incorporate climate change into rules and regulations across the government, this elusive price is expected to influence many energy and environmental policy decisions to come.
The government's first attempt at setting a social cost, however, is deeply flawed, according to a new by the (E3), a nationwide group of economists focused on environmental policy.
In the same week that the country’s most respected scientific organization released a series of reports underscoring the need for action on climate change, some of the nation's most accomplished climate scientists testified in Congress on the vitriol and abuse they have faced simply for doing their jobs: conducting research and publishing unavoidable conclusions.
The National Research Council, or NRC, part of the National Academy of Sciences, published reports on the state of , strategies for some of the effects of climate change and on ways to to unstoppable climate change impacts, but they made no mention of the personal price scientists have paid to acquire the knowledge.
The intersection between climate science and politics may be inevitable given the causes and effects involved, but the scientific establishment has rarely—if ever—faced the kinds of issues facing climatologists today.
“Given the relevancy of their work to national priorities, our best scientists are increasingly drawn into the political arena,” said Congressman Edward Markey (D—Mass.), the chairman of the . “Disagreements over policies have led some to target both the science and the scientists themselves.”
Last year, when New Hampshire utility PSNH announced an 83% increase in costs to upgrade its 41-year-old Merrimack station power plant, the state legislature did nothing to call a time out on construction. It meant that the next generation of ratepayers will absorb the $457 million expenditure in order to prolong the life of the single largest source of CO2 pollution in the granite state.
This year, it appears the politicians in the state house have finally had enough. They recently voted 300-46 -- in the House at least -- against the utility's gambit to corner the lion's share of funds available for renewable energy projects. PSNH's motion failed in the 24-member Senate, too, though not as roundly. The vote was a tie, 12-12, and so the motion did not carry.
Still, it means that $5 million has been protected for the little guys in the state's renewable energy marketplace from New Hampshire's energy Goliath.
It's a small victory in the kind of battle over the greening of electric power that is playing out in many markets across the nation.