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Posts from the "Energy" Category

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EPA Makes it Official: Emissions Threaten Public Health

Acting under a Supreme Court mandate, the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) ruled today that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public
health and contribute to the harmful environmental effects of climate
change, paving the way for pollution regulations under the Clean Air
Act.

US_regulate_national_auto_emissions.jpg(Photo: TreeHugger)

"Today, EPA announced that greenhouse gases threaten the health and
welfare of the American people," EPA chief Lisa Jackson said at a press conference (audio available here). "We also found that greenhouse gas
emissions from on-road vehicles contribute to that threat."

The
EPA’s ruling, also known in Washington as an "endangerment finding,"
clears the way for the agency to play a role in implementing new auto
fuel-efficiency standards released by the White House in September.

Vehicles
are the No. 2 contributor to total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, the
EPA said today, with electricity generation taking the top spot. "U.S.
emissions from on-road vehicles are also greater than the total
greenhouse gas emissions from every other individual nation, with the
exception of China, Russia, and India," the EPA said in a release on
its ruling.

But given that the "endangerment finding" has
been in the works at the EPA since the earliest days of the Obama
administration, what does today’s announcement mean for the future of
climate change legislation?

In the Senate, where a climate bill that would direct hundreds of billions of dollars to clean transportation remains mired in political maneuvering, Democrats aimed to use the EPA ruling to spur their slow process forward.

"The
message to Congress is crystal clear: get moving," Sen. John Kerry
(D-MA), the climate measure’s chief sponsor, said in a statement. Kerry
added:

Read more…

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Climate’s 17 Undecided Dems Got $2.3M From Transport & Electric Lobbies

The trouble with broad analysis pieces on campaign cash is that they
often go for eye-popping numbers while obscuring uncomfortable
political realities. For example, GreenWire reported this morning that the 27 senators who remain undecided on the chamber’s pending climate bill took "more than $20 million … over the past two decades from energy interests with a direct stake in pending legislation."

art.levin.gi.jpgSen. Carl Levin (D-MI) (Photo: CNN)

Whoa!
$20 million is a big number. But the story never defines its
terminology: Should the private-equity giant Carlyle Group be
classified as an "energy interest," given that it has stakes in 40 energy companies, or as an unrelated financial firm?

And
given that Republicans, with the exception of Sen. Lindsey Graham
(R-SC), have shown next to no willingness to play a meaningful role in
passing climate legislation, why attach the "fence-sitter" label to
senators such as John McCain (R-AZ) — who days ago slammed the chamber’s bill as "horrendous"?

But
GreenWire’s calculations are worth re-running, if only because they
smartly combine the transportation and electricity industries into one
bloc. As electrified transport continues to command
Washington’s attention, automakers and power providers are finding
their priorities increasingly in alignment — and their hands
increasingly extended for similar government subsidies.

Of the 27 senators deemed climate fence-sitters by GreenWire, 17 are
Democrats. Using data from the non-partisan Center for Responsive
Politics (which only dates back 20 years), Streetsblog Capitol Hill ran
down the numbers on how much campaign money those 17 senators received
from the transportation and electricity interests that ranked among
their top 20 donors.

Read more…

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Oil-Centric Houston to Experiment With (Coal-Powered) Electric Cars

Houston has long enjoyed its status as America’s oil capital, the type of city where the local Petroleum Club threw a $100,000 gala during a period of then-record high gas prices. But things are changing, thanks to a light rail system that is exceeding ridership predictions and encouraging pedestrian-friendly development.

260xStory.jpgOne of Houston’s new charging stations for plug-in hybrid vehicles. (Photo: Chronicle)

The
city’s latest attempt to break from its oil-centric culture: charging
stations for plug-in hybrid vehicles. Houston Mayor Bill White
yesterday announced
a partnership with utility Reliant Energy to convert 10 Toyota Priuses
from the city’s vehicle fleet into plug-in hybrids, while installing 10
electric charging stations that would be open to the public at a small
cost.

“We’re committed to making Houston the nation’s green
energy capital,” White said in a statement on the Reliant deal. “That
commitment begins at City Hall and these clean-running electric cars
and the charging stations that will be available to all Houstonians
will get us farther down that road.”

The Wall Street Journal was elated by the city’s small-scale move, writing:

Unlike in green urbs like San Francisco or Seattle, it’s all but
impossible to live here without wheels — so they might as well be
electric. It will probably be cheaper and easier to electrify urban
sprawl than rein it in altogether.

Houston’s electrified light rail got no mention in the piece, though
the Journal did call the city’s power network "fairly clean." Indeed,
Texas has seen some growth in wind and other clean energy sources –
the federal government recently ranked it No. 5 for state renewable power generation — but Reliant’s record is hardly spotless.

In 2007, the same year that Texas got its No. 5 ranking, the state of New Jersey filed a lawsuit
against Reliant’s mid-Atlantic division, charging the company with
violating the Clean Air Act by modifying a coal-fired power plant in
Pennsylvania to increase its pollution levels.

“It
seems that we cannot rely on Reliant, except to put the public in
harm’s way," Lisa Jackson, then New Jersey’s environmental protection
chief, said at the time of the lawsuit. Jackson has since become the
chief of the Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency.

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Introducing the Samuelson Gas Tax Increase: A Penny Every Month

Democratic lawmakers are discussing the possibility of a one-year
stopgap transportation bill but have yet to reach consensus on how to
pay for the measure, Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE) said today.

carper.jpgSen. Tom Carper (D-DE) (Photo: Politics Daily)

Carper,
speaking at a National Journal policy conference, said the prospects
for short-term transport legislation still depend on finding a workable
funding source. He mentioned an idea first floated last year by economist and Washington Post columnist Robert Samuelson: increase the fuel tax by one penny every month.

Such
a gradual increase, Samuelson wrote, would send a price signal in favor
of fuel efficiency. Carper acknowledged that his colleagues didn’t
immediately warm to Samuelson’s revenue-raising idea, but he also
hinted that another economic stimulus measure paid for by deficit
spending could be a non-starter in the Senate.

"Are we going
to have another stimulus bill? I sure hope not, because it means we’re
in the tank again," Carper said, pointing to recent signs of an economic turnaround.

Carper, the lead sponsor of a proposal to give clean transportation 10 percent of money generated by a future climate change bill, also addressed rising pessimism about Congress’ ability to pass carbon emissions limits before next year’s midterm elections.

Passing
a health care reform bill that’s fully paid for, Carper said, would go
a long way towards bolstering the prospects for climate legislation by
demonstrating lawmakers’ commitment to fiscal rectitude.

Carper’s remarks were followed by a panel discussion that featured Polly Trottenberg, assistant U.S. transportation secretary for policy, and James Corless, director of Transportation for America.

Both
Trottenberg and Corless emphasized the importance of messaging in
encouraging public acceptance of infrastructure policy reforms. Asked
about decreasing the nation’s total vehicle miles traveled by telling
Americans to "drive less," Corless re-framed the question as one of
providing more transport options.

Read more…

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Coal-Burning Electric Utilities Still Commanding Dem Senators’ Attention

As reported here yesterday, transportation is a close second to electric power generation in the not-so-great race to become the nation's fastest-rising source of emissions.

20080604_winona1_33.jpgMinnesota roads, like this one, produce a greater share of the state's pollution than electric utilities. (Photo: MPR)

So as the climate change debate heats up in the Senate, it's interesting to see lawmakers press so hard for more valuable pollution permits to be given away for free to the dirtiest electric utilities -- while staying comparatively silent on cutting transportation-based emissions.

From a letter sent to Senate leaders yesterday by 14 midwestern Democrats:

We believe it is essential that we strive to formulate [climate change] legislation that equitably distributes transition assistance across individuals, as well as states and regions and economic sectors. We urge you to ensure that emission allowances allocated to the electricity sector – and thus, electricity consumers -- be fully based on emissions as the appropriate and equitable way to provide transition assistance in a greenhouse gas-regulated economy.

If the goal is to "equitably distribute transition assistance across ... economic sectors," shouldn't the Senate climate bill distribute more than 3 percent of its expected revenue to help states plan for cutting emissions from transportation?

That question certainly isn't being asked by the 14 Democrats, whose request boils down to seeking more freebies for the biggest coal burners. As it stands, electric utilities can expect to get more than a third of the climate bill's pollution allowances, while transit and local development can hope for somewhere between the House's optional 1 percent and the Senate's average of 3 percent.

And it's worth singling out Minnesota, where both senators (Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken) signed the freebies-for-coal letter. According to yesterday's state pollution report released by Environment America, transportation accounted for a larger share of Minnesota's statewide emissions in 2007 (35.4%) than electricity (34.3%).

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Which is the Fastest-Rising U.S. Emissions Source: Transport or Electricity?

The climate change bills being considered by Congress treat electric utilities very well, giving more than a third
of the revenue generated by CO2 regulation away — for free — to power
providers. This move pleased coal country Democrats while seeking to lock down benefits for consumers by averting electricity rate hikes.

But did the focus on electricity generation tackle the fastest-growing source of U.S. carbon emissions? A new report released today by Environment America has the answer: Barely.

The
report tracks state-by-state progress in reducing carbon emissions. The
chart shown below depicts the national totals for emissions by sector
of the economy, with the fifth column from the left depicting the
percentage change between 1990 and 2007 and the sixth column depicting
the percentage change between 2004 and 2007.

emissions_chart.png(Chart: Environment America)

Electricity was indeed the fastest-growing producer of U.S. emissions
during both time periods, rising by 32 percent in the 1990-2007 period
and 3.4 percent during 2004-2007. But transportation emissions were a
strong No. 2, rising by 27 percent from 1990 to 2007 and 3 percent
during 2004-2007.

The
two columns on the far left show that during the last four years, U.S.
commercial, residential, and industrial emissions have decreased in
real terms while electricity and transportation emissions are on the
rise.

The report’s authors acknowledge that the period they
studied saw "very little" increase in vehicle fuel-efficiency
standards, which are set to rise
notably in the coming years. But considering that transportation
emissions are rising at such a healthy clip, it’s natural to ask
whether the Senate climate bill should set aside
more than 3 percent of its revenue for clean transport — and why the
House bill did so much worse, making its 1 percent allocation optional.

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Meet the Obama Administration’s New Clean Energy Loan Man

The Department of Energy (DoE) yesterday chose
venture capitalist Jonathan Silver to head up its loan programs, which
include $25 billion in loan guarantees for low-emissions cars and $32
billion in loan guarantees for renewable energy projects.

234725_0_0_1.jpgJonathan Silver (Photo: DC Business Journal)

Silver may have his work cut out for him on the latter program. While the auto industry loans have been coming at a more than healthy clip in recent months, three renewable energy companies have received a total of less than $600 million from the $32 billion pot for green power.

And as the Wall Street Journal notes, renewables industries aren’t happy about the slow pace:

Some renewable-energy advocates have complained that the agency isn’t
moving quickly enough on other companies’ applications for help. In a
letter to congressional leaders last week, the heads of the Solar
Energy Industries Association, the National Hydropower Association and
three other trade groups warned that many projects are in danger of
missing construction deadlines, partly because of what they said were
delays in implementing the loan-guarantee program.

The recent letter comes after a May missive [PDF]
from solar, wind, hydropower, biomass, and nuclear producers that
lamented the slow pace of loan approvals and requested multiple changes
to the process. The first solar company to win a DoE loan this year had to spend three years and $10 million before winning a final deal from the government.

In
response to the concerns, Energy Secretary Steven Chu promised to speed
up the process — and Silver’s appointment appears to be the first step
in that effort.

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Boxer Okays Senate Climate Bill, Without Amendments or GOP

The Senate environment committee approved its climate change bill today on an 11-1 vote, shrugging off a boycott by all of the panel's Republicans but missing out on the chance to consider amendments to the lengthy legislation.

070619_boxer.jpgSen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) (Photo: AP)

The environment panel's chairman Barbara Boxer (D-CA) had offered Republicans several days to abandon their walkout, promising time to consider GOP amendments and a complete Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) modeling of the bill before it comes to the Senate floor.

But environment committee Republicans were unmoved, insisting on an immediate five-week delay for EPA analysis despite testimony from the EPA that such work would produce little new information. Boxer's GOP counterpart on the panel, Sen. Jim Inhofe (OK), seemed to delight in forcing the chairman's hand as he labeled the no-amendments move the "nuclear option."

The question now becomes whether the specific proposals added by Boxer's panel -- including grant programs for transit and clean transportation that nearly triple the funding approved by the House -- can survive a long slog through as many as five other committees.

Boxer insisted this morning that "many things in this bill ... are going to be part of that comprehensive bill" that ultimately reaches a full Senate vote. But others on the committee acknowledged that the bill's one-party approval would not bode well for its political prospects.

Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE), the chief sponsor of efforts to boost the climate bill's clean transportation provisions, described himself as "very, very, very disappointed," particularly given the loss of a chance to amend the legislation.

Carper submitted an amendment that would have added more than $400 million to the bill's annual set-aside of climate money for transit, inter-city rail, local land use planning and other projects.  "I don't like this process," Carper said this morning. "I don't think any of us do."

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Kerry: There’s a Narrow Window For GOP Cooperation on Pricing Pollution

The chief sponsor of the Senate climate change bill
acknowledged today that there is a narrow window for Republican
cooperation on the legislation, thanks to GOP resistance to its central
goal — putting a price on CO2 emissions.

2549087853_62635f6261.jpgSen. John Kerry (D-MA), at right, with climate bill co-author Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) (Photo: NWF via Flickr)

"If
there’s a pricing of carbon … there are some people that just aren’t
going to come along," Sen. John Kerry (D-MA) told attendees at a
National Journal energy policy event. "I don’t think there’s an
enormous universe [of Republicans open to the bill], but it’s enough to
get us over the top."

Kerry’s remarks came as his co-author
on the climate bill, Senate environment committee chairman Barbara
Boxer (D-CA), continues to contend with a GOP walkout of her panel’s first meeting on the measure.

Kerry
and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are slated to meet with senior Obama
administration advisers today to discuss the framework for a bipartisan
climate deal that the duo first unveiled in a New York Times op-ed last month.
Kerry, Graham, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-CT) also plan to tout the
potential for a pro-business climate deal at a press conference this
afternoon.

Kerry said today that the White House is "very
much" open to the general principles of that op-ed, which include a
strengthening of the climate bill’s investment in nuclear power and
expanded offshore drilling for oil and gas. "Nuclear is part of the
solution," he added.

But even as Kerry and Boxer seek to make peace with resistant Senate Republicans, touting the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s announcement yesterday
of its (cautious) support for the Kerry-Graham framework, the prospects
for political movement from the minority remain unclear.

Speaking to
the Capitol newspaper Roll Call, Sen. Jim Inhofe (OK), the environment
panel’s senior Republican, charged Boxer with "destroying the integrity
of the committee system" and suggested that his members had little will
to show up for today’s second day of climate meetings.

The
Senate climate bill contains significant investments in clean
transportation, including billions in annual transit and sustainable
development grants. Inhofe was careful to distinguish his clash with
Boxer on climate from his close ties with her on infrastructure:

Read more…

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A Republican Returns to Congress With A Map to Transportation Reform

During his 24 years in Congress, former Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) was known for
a brand of Republicanism now considered endangered. An ardent
environmentalist and defender of objective government science, he
played a key role in drafting the acid rain limits that are serving as a model for this year’s climate change fight.

Sherwood_Boehlert_1.jpgFormer Rep. Sherwood Boehlert (R-NY) (Photo: Wikipedia)

Boehlert
is returning to the Hill today, three years after his retirement from
politics, to testify on climate legislation in his capacity as
co-chairman of the Bipartisan Policy Center’s transportation project.

He
has yet to begin speaking to the Senate environment committee, but it’s
worth taking an early look at Boehlert’s remarks — which lay out a
path to bipartisan transportation reform that’s both conservative and
conservationist.

Boehlert’s testimony begins with a fact that few of
Congress’ current Republican members acknowledge: if legislators cannot
agree on a system for cutting emissions, the Environmental Protection
Agency (EPA) will step in under Supreme Court mandate.

"Realistically, that is the alternative: Congress or EPA taking the lead
role," Boehlert’s remarks state. "Inaction by both would be unacceptable."

Boehlert
then cites a few compelling statistics about transportation’s role in
the climate problem, noting that the sector swallows close to 70
percent of U.S. oil consumption and that 30 percent of the nation’s
carbon emissions come from shuttling its people and goods.

His
next recommendation may well sound counter-intuitive to state DOT
officials and community advocates alike — America needs to think
bigger than its traditional, locally-driven approach to transport:

Read more…