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U.S. Electric Car Revolution to Go Forward, With or Without Congress

New federal legislation encouraging mass adoption of electric vehicles will only help 'to catalyze the change that is coming,' says Hertz executive

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

May 27, 2011
Nissan leaf electric car

WASHINGTON—Jack Hidary certainly isn't short on moxie.

Instead of waiting for a congressional committee to advance electric vehicle legislation, the New York entrepreneur stood in room 366 of the Dirksen Senate Office Building where those discussions usually unfold and announced his bold initiative designed to prod motorists from the pump to the plug.

And, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, the always-gracious New Mexico Democrat who lords over those hearings as chairman of the , welcomed Hidary with kind words and encouragement.

Hidary and dozens of other electric vehicle disciples gathered Wednesday to launch Hertz's green car-sharing program in the nation's capital. The blueprint, introduced last December in New York City, gives drivers access to an array of electric and plug-in hybrid vehicles. Hertz has mapped out a plan to replicate the service in urban centers nationwide and overseas.

"This is not a dog and pony show," Hidary told SolveClimate News in an interview before kicking off a brief program that included remarks from industry representatives as well as alternative energy aficionados Bingaman, Rep. Jay Inslee (D-Wash.), who drives a Tesla, and Jim Woolsey, former head of the Central Intelligence Agency.

"What we're saying is let's make electric vehicles a reality and accessible to the people. This makes it real."

As Solar Panel Prices Plunge, U.S. Developers Look to Diversify

With the economics of solar power changing, firms say they can now afford to diversify their technology mix and thus enter untapped American markets

Maria Gallucci, SolveClimate News

May 26, 2011
Rice Solar Energy Project

The falling cost of solar panel production in the United States is giving solar innovators financial leeway to add technologies and expand into new markets, industry leaders say, enabling them to meet growing demand.

"As the U.S. solar market continues to mature and grow, it is vital for every company to find a competitive edge … and diversification is increasingly part of the business model," Rhone Resch, president and CEO of (SEIA), told reporters this week on a conference call.

For , adding solar photovoltaic (PV) capacity to its existing portfolio of utility-scale concentrating solar power (CSP) has allowed the firm to expand beyond the U.S. Southwest, where the bulk of its activity has been thus far.

The Santa Monica, Calif.-based developer teamed up with San Francisco's GCL Solar Energy last fall in a to develop, build and operate up to 400 megawatts in PV facilities across the country.

"Several years ago, SolarReserve realized that numerous types of technologies are going to be deployed in the U.S. for solar energy,"  said Tom Georgis, the company's senior vice president of development. "As a developer, we took a look at the market conditions, the price of various technologies and made a strategic decision to diversify and expand our development portfolio to include PV products."

Koch Bros. Accused of Stonewalling Congress on Their Keystone XL Pipeline Interest

Rep. Waxman is seeking answers from the Kochs, after a SolveClimate News article first exposed the brothers' deep involvement in the oil sands industry

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

May 25, 2011
Rep. Henry Waxman

WASHINGTON—Rep. Henry Waxman's attempts to find out if a proposed controversial Canada-to-U.S. Gulf Coast oil sands pipeline will benefit Koch Industries appears to have hit a dead end.

At least for the time being.

Representatives for billionaire brothers and oil magnates Charles and David Koch — major donors to GOP elections and influential conservative organizations — are evidently stonewalling the California Democrat about their possible financial interest in seeing the permit approved for TransCanada's proposed $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline.

Two powerful House Republicans told Waxman they are not interested in pursuing any additional inquiries with Koch Industries.

That refusal prompted Waxman to try another tactic during a Monday afternoon on Capitol Hill. He offered to expand his investigation to include all energy companies that might benefit from Keystone XL so as not to single out Koch.

"I have no objection to asking other companies about their interests in tar sands," Waxman, the top Democrat on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, said during an Energy and Power Subcommittee hearing. "What I do object to is protecting Koch from legitimate scrutiny."

"This pipeline and the legislation that supports it will enable the oil companies to charge American consumers more for their gasoline, while increasing carbon pollution and endangering precious water supplies," he continued. "We know who will lose. We also need to find out who will benefit."

Chevron Facing Shareholder Pressure Over Huge Amazon Pollution Fine

Oil giant is criticized by some shareholders for a 'take no prisoner' attitude to an $18.6 billion fine that an Ecuadorean judge levied against the company

Felicity Carus,

May 25, 2011

Chevron bosses are facing shareholders for the first time since the company was fined a total of $18 billion by a court in Ecuador over contamination from oil extraction in the Amazon. California's largest oil company is coming under increasing pressure from institutional investors and long-term shareholders who are gathering at the annual general meeting at Chevron's HQ in San Ramon, near San Francisco.

A judge ruled in February this year that the company was liable to pay $8.6 billion in damages, mostly to decontaminate polluted soil. The judge also awarded $860,000 to plaintiffs and a further $8.6 billion in punitive damages. Chevron has appealed the decision, which amounts to the largest award in corporate history, exceeded only by BP's $20 billion compensation fund after the Gulf oil spill.

Chevron's earnings were $6.2 billion in the first quarter of 2011, up from $4.6 billion last year.

The New York State Common Retirement Fund — which manages $150 billion of state government pensions — has filed a resolution calling on Chevron to appoint an independent board member with environmental expertise.

Pat Doherty, director of corporate governance at the New York State office of the state comptroller, said: "The fact that Chevron didn't have someone with this expertise on the board probably helped contribute to the problem. We're suggesting that Chevron's take no prisoner approach has arguably also made things worse."

Water Treatment Firms See Boon in Business as Gas Drilling Spreads

While environmental groups say technology to clean up wastewater is important, it can't protect drinking water from toxic fracking fluids left underground

By Maria Gallucci, SolveClimate News

May 23, 2011

A new measure imposed by Pennsylvania regulators to stop natural gas drillers from disposing harmful wastewater at treatment plants has sent the industry scrambling for alternatives.

Companies specializing in the latest filtration technologies are rushing to meet the need. Some firms are already positioned with proven solutions that can handle wastewater from fracking operations. Many others are working feverishly to apply their technologies to cash in on the boom in business.

For Canadian firm , phones have been ringing nonstop since April, when the (DEP) gave Marcellus Shale gas drillers to voluntarily stop delivering salty and chemical-laced wastewater to water treatment facilities by May 19.

"Darn near every [water treatment] plant out there has been calling us in the last three weeks since oil and gas companies stopped taking water to them," Aqua-Pure chairman Richard Magnus told SolveClimate News from his office in Calgary, Alberta. "Our phones are ringing off the hook, with all those plants looking for a technology that works."

Jobs and Savings Help Regional Carbon Market Survive GOP Attacks

New Hampshire, Delaware and Maine have decided to stay in RGGI for now, but New Jersey's exit is still possible

By Maria Gallucci, SolveClimate News

May 23, 2011
Merrimack Coal-Fired Power Plant

Efforts to unravel a regional carbon trading program have hit a wall in recent weeks after lawmakers in New Hampshire, Delaware and Maine moved to reaffirm their states' participation in the market.

"The tide has definitely turned against these ideas of pulling out of RGGI," Seth Kaplan, vice president of policy and climate advocacy for the (CLF), told SolveClimate News.

"It is a classic political pattern. You have a small group of committed folks trying to make something happen, and they do not realize the depth of the people who oppose them," he said from CLF's Massachusetts office.

But in New Jersey, where a group of lawmakers is still trying to repeal RGGI, the decision could go either way with potentially serious consequences for the future of the scheme, experts say. The state emits nearly as many greenhouse gases as New Hampshire, Delaware and Maine combined.

Among those considering pulling out, "the most important state of all is New Jersey," said Emilie Mazzacurati, head of carbon research for North America at , a Thomson Reuters research firm.

Climate Change Warnings Add Heat to Australia CO2 Price Debate

In a government-commissioned report, Australian scientists urge the country to abandon coal-fired energy by 2050 to avoid dangerous warming

By Michael Perry,

May 23, 2011
Australia's Murray River in drought


A team of Australia's top scientists warned on Monday of dire climate change in calling for the nation's carbon-dominated energy sector to turn green, as the government struggles to win support for a carbon price to cut pollution.


In a report by a government-appointed Climate Commission, the scientists said many of Australia's major cities faced a serious threat from rising sea-levels, particularly Sydney.


The Great Barrier Reef won't be spared either, its coral a victim of rising ocean acidity from higher carbon dioxide levels from burning fossil fuels and felling forests.


The report, titled "The Critical Decade," aims to shift Australia's current political debate over the government's climate policy, which has polarized voters and been used by opposition parties to attack its parliamentary rivals.


"This is the critical decade. Decisions we make from now to 2020 will determine the severity of climate change," said the scientists, whose report was handed to Prime Minister Julia Gillard.


"To minimize this risk, we must decarbonize our economy and move to clean energy sources by 2050. Carbon emissions must peak within the next few years and then strongly decline."


Achieving that won't be easy.

Michigan's Rep. Upton Emerges as a Champion of Oil Sands Pipeline

Upton's bill would force a State Dept. decision on the pipeline by Nov. 1; opponents sue for answers on Clinton's ties to the pipeline's D.C. lobbyist

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

May 20, 2011
Rep. Fred Upton

WASHINGTON— Environmentalists understand why so many House Republicans are gung-ho about upping imports of oil mined from the tar sands of Western Canada.

What puzzles them is why Michigan Rep. Fred Upton has emerged as one of the cause's lead GOP cheerleaders.

His full-throated support for the $7 billion Alberta-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline is evident in the form of a bill being circulated in draft form as the . The bill will undergo a public airing when the House Energy and Power Subcommittee convenes for a Monday afternoon .

No doubt the former centrist's embrace of fossil fuels has tightened ever since he took charge of the influential in January. Even though the Democrat-led Senate is less likely to back such a measure, Upton's grip is alarming to conservationists who know how much power his panel wields on Capitol Hill.

"What this bill is doing is perpetuating myths about the tar sands that the Alberta government, the Canadian government and the oil industry want us to believe," Susan Casey-Lefkowitz, an oil sands specialist with the told SolveClimate News in an interview. "It's a way for them to promote their own products at the expense and well-being of the American people."

Gas Drilling's 'Haves' and 'Have-Nots' Emerge in Pennsylvania

For some, fracking has meant royalty payments and employment. Still others have no land to lease and no jobs available, as they face higher living costs

By Elizabeth McGowan, SolveClimate News

May 20, 2011
a natural gas drilling rig surrounded by trucks

Editor's Note: SolveClimate News reporter Elizabeth McGowan traveled to Northeastern Pennsylvania in late March to find out how the gas drilling boom is affecting the landscape and the people who call it home. This is the seventh in a multi-part series. (Read parts one , two, three, four, five and six)

MONTROSE, Pa.—Ask Chris Tucker if extracting natural gas from Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale is environmentally and economically prudent — and he offers an answer before the question is fully formed.

His response is a resounding and less-than-shocking "yes."

"We ought to be looking for energy solutions that won't cripple the economy and are close to home," says Tucker, a spokesman for the gas industry advocacy organization . "If that's the premise we're establishing, then natural gas is the choice.

"The wrong response is, 'We shouldn't produce natural gas in this country,'" he emphasizes. "Ultimately, we're going to win the day because the facts and science are on our side."

He admits that the industry has its hands fuller than ever with a communications challenge now that energy is being extracted near people's homes in states such as Pennsylvania.

Indonesia Finally Signs Forest Clearing Moratorium

The long-awaited moratorium orders government institutions to freeze issuing new permits to log or convert primary forests and peatlands for two years

By Olivia Rondonuwu,

May 19, 2011
Logging Road East Kalimantan

Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono inked into law a two-year moratorium on new permits to clear primary forests, as part of a $1 billion climate deal with Norway, a presidential adviser on climate change said on Thursday.

The moratorium ordered government institutions to freeze issuing new permits to log or convert primary forests and peatlands — a move that could slow the expansion of palm oil, timber and mining firms in Southeast Asia's biggest economy.

"We mean business when we say we would like to reform our forest and peatland management. There will be no new permits on 64 million hectares (158 million acres)," Agus Purnomo, presidential adviser on climate change, told Reuters Television.

"We mean business in the sense that we are continuing to grow our economy, because we allocate 35 million hectares of degraded forest for agriculture, mining and other development uses," he said in an interview.

The moratorium was due to start on January 1 but has been delayed because of wrangling between government ministries over how much forest to include, a symbol of the long-running tension between a nationalistic business old guard and more internationally minded reformers in the government.

The dispute shows how difficult it will be for Indonesia to reach a target of slashing emissions by at least 26 percent by 2020 while still spurring economic growth, as the country earns billions each year from cutting down forests.