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« Waste-hating freegans… | Home | Last chance for clima… »

Obama's gambit to marry US policies on environment and energy

19 04 10 - 11:18 By Mark Clayton


True, America is still guzzling fossil fuels. But since taking office just over a year ago, President Obama has quietly set the nation's energy policy on a new course.

Even as health care dominated the news, Obama energy czar Carol Browner - working with the departments of Interior, Energy, and Transportation - has established a new, unified energy-and-environment policy. But whether this focus on renewable power and energy security can succeed depends largely on whether Congress approves climate-energy legislation that puts a price on carbon emissions, energy experts say. "For 20 years we've been ... drifting in the wrong direction," says David Pumphrey, an energy and national-security expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington. "This administration has turned things around. What's important is that we are ... moving in a positive direction now."

Energy accomplishments so far

He and others tick off the administration's most significant energy-related accomplishments to date:

- Accelerating adoption of renewable energy - wind, solar, and geothermal power and battery-powered vehicles – and high-speed rail via $90 billion in new spending and tax incentives from last year's economic stimulus act.

- Defining greenhouse-gas emissions as a danger to human health and the environment, paving the way for the Environmental Protection Agency to regulate them – or for Congress to control them by placing a price on them.

- Unveiling a new "clean car" standard that, for the first time, regulates greenhouse-gas tailpipe emissions. Meshing that with new fuel-efficiency standards for vehicles will save 1.8 billion barrels of oil and nearly 1 billion tons of emissions.

The administration has "been very effective and very activist on their executive policy agenda," says Kevin Book with ClearView Energy Partners, a Washington market research firm. "Obama has tightened regulations on fossil energy at every level, defined greenhouse gases as pollutants, and, with the stimulus act, made gains for renewable energy."

Will Congress cooperate?

Now, however, the president faces his biggest energy test for his union of energy-environment policy: getting Congress to pass a comprehensive climate-energy bill that will put a price on carbon emissions – legislation now stalled in the Senate.

Unless there is a price to be paid for carbon dioxide emissions, for instance, construction of coal and natural-gas power plants could surge, while wind and solar power construction dry up.

"Think of it this way: We're three-quarters of the way through the academic year, and Obama's team is getting an 'A-' or 'B+,' " says Mr. Book. "But the final exam is worth 50 percent of the grade. The legislation is critical. If they don't get that done, they will have achieved momentous things that nonetheless will come up very short."

That's why, despite widespread doubt that another big bill can get through Congress before the November elections, Mr. Obama seems likely to push now for a vote on a climate-energy bill, says Book.

Obama has already taken two steps intended to make compromise easier (though they angered many environmentalists and Democrats). Late last month he opened parts of the Atlantic, Gulf, and north Alaska coasts to oil and natural-gas exploration. In February, he said the government would add $36 billion in loan guarantees for nuclear-power construction.

"We were thrilled with the president's overall focus on the power of clean energy," says Anna Aurilio, director of Environment America's Washington office. "Where we've been completely disappointed is the massive nuclear loan guarantees and the offshore oil."

Yet the oil and nuclear offerings, which Republican lawmakers wanted, may enable Obama's Senate allies to craft a deal on carbon-emissions pricing.

Bipartisan energy-climate bill

As soon as April 20, Sens. John Kerry (D) of Massachusetts, Joseph Lieberman (I) of Connecticut, and Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina are expected to unwrap a compromise energy-climate bill that puts a price on carbon emissions in exchange for nuclear and oil development gains.

"The administration can only go so far by itself," Mr. Pumphrey says. "If you want to change the system from one dominated by fossil fuels to one dominated by low-carbon fuels ... you have got to have Congress on board."

Despite Obama's initial actions, big long-term questions remain. Can he reach his goal of having 1 million plug-in vehicles on the road by 2015? Will that do much to lower US emissions? Can he slash greenhouse-gas emissions 17 percent below 2005 levels, by 2020?

"Unfortunately, they've been proactive about things that may only yield marginal improvements," says W. Ross Morrow, an assistant professor of engineering and economics at Iowa State University in Ames.

Lead author of a recent analysis of Obama's transportation policy, Dr. Morrow says oil consumption and carbon emissions from transportation "are much harder to reduce than they look." To reduce transportation emissions 14 percent below 2005 levels, by 2020, could require gasoline prices of more than $7 a gallon, he and his coauthors at Harvard University's Belfer Center found.

Economic impact

The good news is that even aggressive policies to slow climate change will not necessarily slam the brakes on the economy, Morrow says. High fuel taxes and high prices on carbon emissions would curb US economic growth by no more than one percentage point, Morrow's study found.

"The changes Obama has made so far won't get everyone in the country to drive less - something that would have a much bigger impact," he says. "So we can't just say, 'Hey, we have new mileage standards, so we've got our oil problem solved.' "

Among those on the political left, some say Obama can yet pull off an overall energy-climate bill.

"From his experience with health care, the president now realizes it is possible to get landmark legislation through the Senate," says Bracken Hendricks, an energy expert at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. "I think there are fair-minded Republicans who realize this is important for the country."

There's an even more compelling reason for Obama to keeping pushing, says Book.

"You only get an opportunity like this once in a lifetime," he says of the possibility of shifting US energy use. "We have a chance to write our own policy, craft our own plan. If we don't do it, our trading partners will be setting the terms for us." Used tags: , , , , , , ,
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Raging wildfires: Climate changes to blame for record season?

Saturday 16 July 2011 at 06:07 am Raging wildfires: Climate changes to blame for record season?


By Pete Spotts


The images are stark: soot-grimed firefighters steering bulldozers or wielding shovels to clear underbrush; curtains of orange flame tracing the contours of summits; aircraft dumping chemicals to slow a fire's progress.

Between Jan. 1 and early July of 2011, slightly more than 38,000 wildfires charred the landscape in the United States at a record pace. So far this year, wildfires have consumed just under 4.9 million acres of forest and grassland, a cumulative expanse the size of New Jersey.

That's 1 million more acres than fires consumed during the same period in 2006, which saw a record 9.9 million acres burned for the entire year.

Beyond the numbers, this year's fires may provide the first large-scale tests of the effectiveness of projects undertaken over the past decade to help forests survive wildfires, several specialists say.

The West's forests are adapted to deal with certain types of wildfires, researchers note. But since the mid-1980s, they add, some of these forests have experienced an increasing number of fires to which they are not well adapted.

Many researchers trace this shift in part to climate change. more

Hybrid Moves Into Housing

Sunday 22 May 2011 at 01:14 am Hybrid Moves Into Housing


By Brenda Krueger Huffman

(Chicago) – Recycling - Check. Conserving energy - Check. Hybrid car - Next car, check. Hybrid home system - What? Yes, it’s here. Hybrid has seamlessly, successfully moved into housing.

Safety Power, Inc. was initially started to provide homes with back up power. The company quickly grew to include renewable energy options and advising commercial and industrial clients with electrical conservation. Recently the company has come full circle and began marketing a new more capable type of renewable energy system for homes.

The award winning firm was voted one of the “Top 5 Sustainable Product Companies in Illinois” and continues to grow its residential client base in Illinois, Indiana, and Wisconsin. Safety Power also serves larger firms on the national level.

Robert Brazzale, President of Safety Power, a master electrician turned entrepreneur, began Safety Power in 2007. An avid member of Local First Chicago, Rob believes in assisting sustaining local economies with green collar jobs and belongs to many green orientated groups in Chicago and around the country. more

Are electric car makers missing the trick?

Tuesday 29 March 2011 at 11:12 am Are electric car makers missing the trick?


by Martin Ott

I believe that electric car makers may be driving us all down the road that may result in the same sort of technology failures that we have seen in the past.
I'm not referring to the Sinclair scooter here but cast your mind back to the débâcle of Betamax v VHS home recording systems. The eventual winner was the technically inferior VHS but the battle was not resolved until innumerable consumers had paid out for worthless Betamax systems. Back in the 70's a similar conflict occurred over audio systems when America fell in love with the 8 track tape system that moved magnetic tape in a loop over the player head at a high speed resulting in a better sound. The world market finally dictated that the audio cassette was the way to go but not until millions of consumers had been lumbered with home and in-car systems that went down the technological cul de sac. more

Wind Turbine Manufacturer Acknowledges SGS´s Contribution towards Successful Project Completion

Tuesday 29 March 2011 at 10:57 am by Suresh Varma

The Theni Wind Farm project was developed by CLP India Pvt. Ltd., one of the major wind farm project developers in India. Located in the south western part of Tamilnadu, a southern state of the country, the facility consists of 60 Vestas V82 geared wind turbines. As recognition of its contribution towards the successful execution of this wind power project SGS received Vestas award.

Each turbine at the wind farm has a capacity of 1.65 MW IEC Class IIB machine with a blade diameter of 82 m. After a six-month long completion period, the Theni Wind Farm was officially opened in May, 2010.

Acting as contract engineer during project execution, SGS was responsible for ensuring that all activities were carried out at the site by the contractor in line with the final agreement. In doing so, SGS supervised the quality of construction works, the fulfillment of the technical parameters and kept the project within the scheduled time and contracted price. more

E.ON uses PPC's Broadband Powerline technology in smart grid project

Tuesday 29 March 2011 at 10:37 am E.ON uses PPC's Broadband Powerline technology in smart grid project

by Power Plus Communications

Mannheim - Power Plus Communications AG (PPC), the leading provider of Broadband Powerline Communication systems (BPL) for smart grids has taken on a key role within an E.ON smart grid project to facilitate an extension of Cisco's Connected Grid Solution.

E.ON Westfalen Weser AG is currently trialing smart grid technology within its network of 1.3 million inhabitants and PPC's proven medium voltage BPL solution has connected substations in the project using the existing power grid.

Using BPL technology, standard compliant and IP-based data transfer rates of 5-30 Mbit/s can easily be achieved via the medium voltage cable itself. Within E.ON’s smart grid project, PPC's medium voltage technology facilitated the extension of Cisco's Connected Grid Solution. The Cisco smart grid Router and Switches used in the project are highly compatible with BPL networks, providing a real cost advantage over fiber optic networks – which can be much more expensive where cables are not pre-existing.

By combining their technology at Westfalen Weser, PPC and Cisco have ensured the evolution of fast and efficient smart grids which are controlled on an IP basis. This increases the reliability of the power grid, fulfills regulations and drives down costs. At the same time this modern smart grids communications technology makes it possible to effectively integrate renewable energy into the grid. more

MIT Infrastructure "Life Cycle" Study is Progress Both Left & Right Can Embrace - Part 2, Fiscal Responsibility

Saturday 19 February 2011 at 09:02 am By Brenda Krueger Huffman


Chicago – Perhaps moving to the center is where we all need to be politically on the environment and effective spending compatibility. Not all green technology is crazy, and not all business profit or government expenditure is evil.

Even if you do not believe in man caused climate change, we can all agree leaving a cleaner planet and a more fiscally responsible government for the next generation is preferable to not doing so.

Perhaps green technology can be cost effective, and government fiscal responsibility may realistically include affordable green initiatives. Honest “life cycle analysis” and “life cycle cost analysis” study considerations should be a political compromise starting point both the left and the right can embrace. more

Global warming: Impact of receding snow and ice surprises scientists

Thursday 27 January 2011 at 11:05 am Global warming: Impact of receding snow and ice surprises scientists

By Pete Spotts


Washington - A long-term retreat in snow and ice cover in the Northern Hemisphere is weakening the ability of these seasonal cloaks of white to reflect sunlight back into space and cool global climate, according to a study published this week.

Indeed, over the past 30 years, the cooling effect from this so-called cryosphere – essentially areas covered by snow and ice at least part of the year – appears to have weakened at more than twice the pace projected by global climate models, the research team conducting the work estimates.

The study, which appeared online Sunday in the journal Nature Geoscience, represents a first cut at trying to calculate from direct measurements the impact of climate change on the Northern Hemisphere's cryosphere. The study was conducted by a team of federal and university scientists who examined data gathered between 1979 and 2008. more

EPA presents plan on greenhouse gases

Wednesday 05 January 2011 at 10:38 pm By Mark Clayton


Washington - Setting the stage for a New Year battle royal between Congress and the White House over greenhouse gas emissions, the US Environmental Protection Agency Thursday laid out a timetable for the nation's largest carbon emitters – power plants and refineries – to begin curbing those pollutants.

Republicans have said all year that they plan to pull out all the stops to keep the EPA from phasing in greenhouse gas (GHG) regulations beginning in 2011, saying they would damage the energy industry, raise prices, and cost jobs.

Rep. Fred Upton (R) of Michigan, the incoming chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has said he opposes the regulations on greenhouse gases and indicated he would lead efforts to revoke EPA regulations in the next Congress. The new regulations, he says, will likely lead to the shut down of coal-fired power plants.

"To protect jobs and fortify our energy security, we should be working to bring more power online, not shutting plants down," Mr. Upton said in a statement. "We are woefully unprepared to meet our nation's growing energy demands, yet this administration's 'none of the above' energy policy will do nothing but cost jobs, make energy more expensive, and increase our dependence on foreign sources of energy."

Environmentalists lauded the EPA's move. more

Supreme Court takes global warming case that targets power companies

Monday 13 December 2010 at 03:21 am By Warren Richey,


Washington - The US Supreme Court on Monday agreed to examine a major environmental lawsuit that seeks to force six electric power companies to cap and reduce their carbon-dioxide emissions to fight global warming.

The lawsuit - filed in 2004 by eight states, the City of New York, and three land trusts - targets what it claims are the largest emitters of carbon dioxide in the United States and among the largest in the world.

It seeks a judicial order declaring that the fossil-fueled power plants are a "public nuisance." It also seeks a judicial order capping the plants' greenhouse gas emissions and requiring the plants to adopt a schedule of reduced emissions in future years. more

Outside Cancun climate conference, Caribbean Sea testifies to global warming

Monday 13 December 2010 at 03:09 am By Ezra Fieser,


Bayahibe, Dominican Republic - This summer's extreme heat may seem like a distant memory as winter approaches the United States.

But the summer that broke heat records across the Northern Hemisphere is still being felt below the surface of the Caribbean Sea: 2010 will likely be one of the most deadly years on record for coral reefs.

If diplomats attending the two-week global climate change talks that opened Monday in Cancun, Mexico, want more evidence of the negative and potentially devastating affects of warming temperatures, they need look no further than the blue sea outside their hotels. Researchers say that throughout the Caribbean coral reefs are "bleaching," a condition that occurs when they are under extreme stress due to warmer-than-normal sea temperatures. more