Monthly Archives: June 2010

Climate highlights from the past few days

On E2, Senator Kerry explains his position on climate policy.

“If we are going to get serious, we have to price carbon. There are many different ways of doing that. I am not locked in to one single way of doing it.”

Green Inc. highlights a new study proving once again that

“the vast majority of the world’s active climate scientists accept the evidence for global warming as well as the case that human activities are the principal cause of it.”

On Treehugger, climate change and clean energy are listed as priorities on the G20 summit agenda.

“We reiterate our commitment to a green recovery and to sustainable global growth, including through investments in clean energy. We reaffirm our resolve to address climate change and to continue to engage constructively in the negotiations under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change towards a post-2012 climate change regime with the participation of all major economies.”

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June 23, 2010 – The voices of a new clean energy future

The Huffington Post “Learning from The Gulf Oil Spill Could Save Our Planet”

By James M. Gentile, President of Research Corporation for Science Advancement

“If nothing else, the oil plumes are silent evidence that some challenges are so big and consequential that we can no longer simply assume that we will somehow muddle through. What’s desperately needed here is the organized ability to think broadly, think radically, and then act – surely and swiftly.”

“Ironically, what we learn from the Gulf oil spill could well save our planet. The question is: Will we learn?”

The Huffington Post – “Disaster in the Gulf: Making Sure it Never Happens Again

By Byron Kennard, Founder of Center for Small Business and the Environment

“Now I imagine that we will probably find and fix whatever technical malfunction caused the Deepwater Horizon explosion. But this is no way to make sure it never happens again. To do this, we must change course.”

“The report outlines a time-line for this transition and shows how costs will be offset with real economic gains. ‘We can build whole new industries and create millions of new jobs,’ Google declares. ‘We can cut energy costs, both at the gas pump and at home. We can improve our national security. And we can put a big dent in climate change.’”

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Gushing oil in the Gulf Coast meets gushing oil money in California

This was originally posted on the California Dream 2.0 blog by Wade Crowfoot.

Boy oh boy, what a mess in the Gulf of Mexico, brought to us by BP. Millions of gallons of crude oil continuing to gush, along with mumbled excuses and transatlantic trips to yacht races.  Unbelievable.

Less known is that yesterday, California was delivered its own troubling environmental mess, compliments of two other oil companies, Valero and Tesoro.

Late yesterday, California’s Secretary of State officially certified a proposition for November’s ballot bought and paid for by these out-of-state polluters. The Dirty Energy ballot proposition—as it deserves to be called—would repeal California’s clean air legislation, AB 32, until the state’s unemployment rate falls to levels we’ve only see three times in 35 years.

According to the Secretary of State, more than $3 million has been spent to qualify it, 80 percent of that coming from special interests outside of California and 78 percent of which is oil money. Valero’s share: $1,050,000. Tesoro’s: $525,000.

You’d think these companies would be cleaning up their own environmental messes instead of looking to create new ones; Valero and Tesoro were recently named the nation’s #12 and #32 polluters in the “Toxic 100 Air Polluters” report.

What does $3 million buy in a California campaign? For starters, signatures that place this attack to our clean air and clean energy standards on the November ballot. Their campaign paid operatives to collect the 400,000-plus signatures needed to qualify it. They’ve also set up lobbying fronts under innocuous names that are lies – the “California Jobs Initiative,” the “AB 32 Implementation Group” – and paid for distorted “academic research” that claims that anti-pollution AB 32 will kill jobs. They then trumpet the fake findings in the media. Their dirty politics are on par with their dirty energy.

It’s particularly ironic that Valero and Tesoro are pouring millions into this attack while the Gulf continues to suffer. Oh to be a fly on the wall when Valero chief Bill Kleese and team decided not to spend billion-dollar profits on helping clean up the Gulf, but instead pour money into rolling back environmental laws in California.

If the Gulf catastrophe has any silver lining, it’s a wake up call about the energy we need to power America. You don’t have to be a bleeding heart environmentalist to be troubled by these facts:

  • Every day, we send $1 billion of Americans’ hard earned money to other countries to buy oil, a huge chunk of which goes to hostile, anti-American governments and leaders.
  • Five-dollars-a-gallon gas is not only a possibility (remember how high prices were when Bush was in office?), it’s an inevitability based on growing demand and finite oil supplies.
  • Our future economic success relies on access to energy. It’s literally what powers growth.  Without secure domestic, clean energy, we’re hostage to the whims of others’ dirty energy supplies. Do we want to stay dependent on countries like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, now, and leave that future to our children?

Of course, the specter of another major catastrophe in our own backyard lurks in the wings. If someone would have asked me whether an deep sea well could spew millions of gallons of oil and couldn’t be sealed for months, I would have said “malarkey.” A oil tanker running into the Bay Bridge? “Fantasy.”  But both became reality. What accident will happen next? And where? Every week, several huge oil tankers filled with crude oil gingerly navigate through the San Francisco bay. Amidst the Gulf Coast disaster, this is cause for concern.

On its merits, the Dirty Energy Proposition wouldn’t stand a chance in the state that’s been leading America’s environmental progress for 50 years. That’s why the Texas oil companies aren’t going to convince us with merits. They’re going to overwhelm with naked appeals to economic fear delivered by all the crooked, misleading TV and online advertising their money can buy.

For two months now, every day, we’ve seen images of the gushing oil well that is fouling our fragile wetlands and ecosystem, as oil washes ashore, covers and kills birds, turtles, whales and fish and threatens livelihoods. It will be interesting to see how Californians react to a local environmental mess in the making that’s been bought and paid for by out-of-state oil companies that are already polluting our Golden State.

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Lesson from The Climate War: the missing ingredient is presidential leadership

This was originally posted on the California Dream 2.0 blog by Jennifer Witherspoon.

An interview with editor and author Eric Pooley

Tonight, Eric Pooley, deputy editor at Bloomberg Businessweek, will join the Environmental Defense Fund at our San Francisco office to celebrate the release of his new book, The Climate War – True Believers, Power Brokers, and the Fight to Save the Earth.

California Dream 2.0 took the opportunity to interview Mr. Pooley about the book, which features EDF President Fred Krupp and Duke Energy CEO Jim Rogers and chronicles their efforts — along with other leaders of the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, Al Gore and the Alliance for Climate Protection, and many others, to pass national climate and energy legislation.

Q: When did you first get the idea for the book?

A: In the early spring of 2007, I wrote a cover story for Time magazine about Al Gore. Speculation was that he might be considering another run for president, following the major successes of An Inconvenient Truth. As I reported it I saw that the debate was finally changing from climate science to climate politics — from whether climate change was happening to what we were going to do about it. And I got interested in what was causing America to drag its heels on enacting comprehensive climate and energy reform. 

Q: What did you discover?

A: I didn’t come into this as an environmental journalist. I came to this as a political correspondent and the editor of a business magazine, Fortune. So I began to do a lot of research and what I discovered was that solutions existed and were being refined and improved. These policies had their roots in the 1980s, and that is where I got acquainted with EDF, which as you know has advocated for these market-based ideas since the Clean Air Act amendments of 1990, which imposed a mandatory declining cap on sulfur dioxide pollution from power plants. So I decided to write a book about the battle over climate action — the people at EDF and elsewhere who were trying to get these ideas signed into law — and people on the other side who were trying to keep it from happening.

It is no easy feat to transform the entire energy & industrial complex of the United States. I think that the market-based ideas behind the declining cap on carbon and the emissions trading program that was in the original Lieberman-Warner bill and was approved by the Waxman-Markey bill in the U.S. House is the best chance we have right now to address climate change. How that bill got passed a year ago is sign of what is right with the U.S. political system; it shows politics doing what politics are supposed to do, addressing economic imbalances and cushioning consumers and carbon-intensive industries from rising costs. 

Q: In light of the Gulf oil spill do you think the U.S. Senate will pass a climate bill this summer?

A: When I started the book three years ago, I had hoped that the narrative would start with the U.N. climate conference in Bali and end in Copenhagen. But as President Bill Clinton said, what the global warming story “doesn’t have is an ending; that part is still up to us.” I hope the Senate will act this summer. This is a big week right now, as President Obama meets with senators from both sides of the aisle to discuss what should be in a climate and energy bill.

I think the American people will get behind the idea of a carbon cap, but they need to understand it first. It can’t be forced upon them. That’s why we need President Obama to use the tragedy of the Gulf oil spill as a great teaching moment – now is the time for America to accelerate the transition to clean energy. Obama has the ability to explain how a cap on carbon will unleash America’s clean energy market, but his recent Oval Office speech was a disappointment, missing a major opportunity to explain the need for the carbon cap to the American people.

China is already ahead of America, spending nearly 9 billion dollars a month on clean energy. America is a decentralized, debtor nation. We can’t rely on the government to make those kinds of investments and create industries by decree. We need a market to do it. The government can pass smart policies, like the cap on carbon, to spur America’s ingenuity and draw private capital off the sidelines. America needs a market to compete with China and other nations and that’s what the Senate could provide this summer. But the senate won’t do it unless Obama makes the case forcefully and in a sustained way. The lesson of The Climate War is that presidential leadership is the necessary, and until now missing, ingredient.

Q: I’m sure you’ve heard about California’s cap on carbon, AB 32, the Global Warming Solutions Act and new efforts by out-of-state oil companies to roll back that law?

A: I cover AB 32 briefly in The Climate War. It was a real victory for California to pass the nation’s first climate cap. It is a shame that some would try to delay our future until some perfect moment. We need to move into the future with confidence. Business people understand that and that’s why so many of them support AB 32. We need to treat voters like grown ups, however, and not try to sweep the costs of transitioning to clean energy under the rug. There are short-term costs, but the benefits are greater down the line. After writing the book, I still don’t know if our political system will rise to the challenge. I just know that the time is now and that the president needs to lead.

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Important Caveats to Last Week’s CRS Analysis of Climate and Energy Bills

The Congressional Research Service released a brief report last week comparing three energy and climate bills currently under discussion in the Senate. This comparison is useful to anyone looking for a fairly objective look at the three proposals. One key point to recognize though is that the analysis solely focuses on the policy mechanisms proposed in each of the three bills, it does not compare or contrast effects (economic and otherwise) of the bills.

For example, in the bill proposed by Senators Cantwell and Collins, the Carbon Limits and Energy for America’s Renewal (CLEAR) Act, the analysis does mention that the bill includes a “safety valve” as a mechanism to control the price of carbon. A safety valve works by allowing for the increase of emission allowances if the price of carbon rises above a certain level. Intended as a cost containment measure, the so-called safety valve undermines the proposal’s ability to achieve the targeted levels of CO2 emissions reductions (in 2050, 83% below 2005 levels), put forth by its authors. When the safety valve is used, the targeted carbon reductions fly out through the window. The CRS report makes no mention of this significant potential consequence of the mechanism.

Another issue to keep in mind is that the CRS analysis does not consider the long-term trajectory of allowance allocations in the American Power Act, the bill Senators Kerry and Lieberman co-authored. The Congressional Research Service includes only a snapshot view of allowance allocations for the year 2016. Since allowance allocations vary in the later years on the proposal, it is more helpful to asses the allowance allocations for the full duration of the legislative period (2013 to 2050). The chart below shows the projected allowance allocations divided by sector, for the time period 2013 to 2050, in net present value and therefore offers a more complete picture. As this graph shows, 46% of the allowance value is directed at households over the course of the bill.

When attempting to compare Senate proposals, it is important to focus attention on both the proposed policy but especially its likely effects. This CRS analysis is a helpful tool in understanding the former, but it is essential to remember to also consider the latter before drawing any substantive conclusions on which proposal will work best to create clean energy jobs, control carbon emissions and keep America safe.  The more comprehensive a climate and energy bill, and the less loopholes, the more benefits will accrue.

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Leadership, Innovation and Security: Benefits We Can’t Measure

The EPA analysis of the American Power Act released last week was reassuring in its conclusion that the economy can absorb a shift to low carbon energy, and that costs will be no more than a 40 cents a day for households. (The reason that costs phase in later is that allowances to utilities in the early years serve as rebates to consumers to allow for a transition period of no added costs.)

But, as the bill’s co-sponsor Senator John Kerry (D-Mass.) notes, while the costs are relatively easy to model, some of the benefits are not. Among those is the fact that APA is, in essence, a very cheap insurance policy against the real costs from droughts, floods, storms, oil spills and other consequences of unchecked climate change and continued reliance on foreign oil. By including a cap on carbon, APA offers a very cheap insurance policy.

And there are other significant benefits, too. A year ago today, President Obama’s Economic Recovery Advisory Board voted 15-1 in favor of submitting a memo to the president endorsing a cap on carbon, specifically:

“The single most important policy is to put a price on carbon. Businesses want the certainty that will unleash innovation and investment to create jobs now and ensure America is the worldwide leader of the next great global industry: sustainable energy. We are not on that path today.… “

The memo went on to note that we are ceding leadership in new energy technology to other nations.

“The U.S. is now home to only two of the ten largest solar photovoltaic producers in the world, two of the top ten wind turbine producers and one of the top ten advanced battery manufacturers. That is, only one-sixth of the world’s top renewable energy manufacturers are based in the United States. Last year, less than half the 8,500 gigawatts of wind turbines used in the U.S. were made in the U.S.”

A cap creates the customer demand that allows companies to build market share and move into export markets. The emerging clean energy market could be anywhere from $500 B globally by 2020 to a trillion.

Are we in? So far, not really. A home market attracts investment and helps build local manufacturing. For example, after FedEx pledged to buy low-pollution hybrid delivery trucks, vehicle manufacturers started producing them – and once cleaner trucks were on the market, other U.S. companies started buying them too. The U.S. now leads globally in manufacturing key components for hybrid trucks. In contrast, “after estimating that China would be producing two-thirds of the world’s solar panels by the end of this year,” the U.S. solar equipment supplier, Applied Materials, set up its latest solar research labs in China. Without a cap on carbon emissions, private capital sitting on the sidelines can easily go to other countries, creating jobs and export opportunities elsewhere.

America has demonstrated time and again that we are an innovative global leader when we put our minds to it. It’s time for us to commit ourselves, our minds as well as our dollars, to a clean energy future that will spur the new economy and encourage green job growth.

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