Tuesday, February 26, 2008

EPA chief warned not to deny California on emission standard

WASHINGTON - A Environmental Protection Agency official warned her boss, EPA chief Stephen Johnson, that if he denied California's bid to enforce its own tailpipe emissions rules, the agency's credibility "will be irreparably damaged" and Johnson would have to think about resigning.

Margot Oge, the head of EPA's office of transportation and air quality, also told Administrator Johnson in an Oct. 17 memo that "there is no legal or technical justification for denying this," despite "alternative interpretations that have been suggested by the automakers."

These internal warnings were included in EPA documents released Tuesday by Sen. Barbara Boxer, the California Democrat who chairs the Environment Committee and had requested the records.

Johnson turned down California's request for a waiver from the Clean Air Act on Dec. 19, after months of review. He overruled the recommendations of senior staff members, according to several media reports, and the documents released Tuesday provide some examples.

Boxer said the documents showed "an agency in crisis," and called on the EPA to release additional documents about meetings with White House officials.

"The documents show the dedicated, professional staff working hard to protect our health and our environment," Boxer said. "We see more and more evidence of Administrator Johnson ignoring the science and the facts, and discarding the advice of his staff."

Boxer plans to question Johnson today when he appears before the committee to defend the EPA's proposed budget.

Johnson has defended his decision, announced the day a new energy bill was signed into law. He said the higher fuel economy standards contained in that bill precluded the need for state initiatives to tackle greenhouse-gas emissions.

Oge's office and other legal and technical staffers sent e-mails and memos citing California's long history of receiving EPA waivers - only two of the state's 95 requests had been even partially denied - and the case California had made for its own greenhouse-gas emissions standards. At least 16 other states are prepared to adopt the California standards if they are approved.

"I think Johnson now appreciates that there are additional conditions in California that make them vulnerable to climate change," a staffer wrote others in the EPA climate change division on Oct. 31.

Oge's "talking points" for Johnson, prepared by deputy director Christopher Grundler, recognized the historic nature of the decision and the pressures Johnson faced. The auto industry and the Bush administration's Department of Transportation lobbied against the California regulations, which in the absence of federal regulations were the most ambitious effort to tackle emissions causing global warming.

"Clearly the stakes are huge, especially with respect to future climate work," Oge's Oct. 17 memo for Johnson said. "You have to find a way to get this done. If you cannot, you will face a pretty big personal decision about whether you are able to stay in the job under those circumstances."

William Reilly, a former EPA administrator in President George H.W. Bush's administration, also worked with Oge and other top staffers in an unsuccessful effort to persuade Johnson to grant the waiver, according to members of Boxer's staff.

On May 1, when Johnson prepared to attend a White House meeting on the issue, his staff prepared a power point presentation noting the history of California waivers, and that "Congress wanted California to be afforded the broadest possible discretion" with such regulations.

The EPA did not turn over documents about that May 1 meeting.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger quickly sued the EPA in early January to reverse its decision. Because of the litigation, EPA officials said they do not want to disclose additional documents that could be used against them in court. They had asked that the documents turned over to the committee be kept confidential, but Boxer decided to release them.

Boxer said she expected the next president would overturn the EPA decision because Democrats Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton and Republican John McCain support California's waiver request.

"But why on earth should we wait that long?" Boxer said. "We're only wasting time and money."

By Frank Davies Mercury News Washington Bureau
Article Launched: 02/26/2008 03:55:15 PM PST
AP Photo

Sunday, February 24, 2008

McCain Scores Zero on Environmental Scorecard

Environmental scorecards, released yesterday by the League of Conservation Voters (LCV) show significant differences between presidential candidates Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain, all three of whom tout their environmental credentials.

The scorecards, which rank individual U.S. legislators based on their votes on environmental issues, focused on 15 votes this year--all of which senator McCain missed, resulting in a 0% score.

Presidential candidates historically suffer from absenteeism, due to busy campaign schedules that keep them away from Washington. However, Obama and Clinton both missed only 4 environmental votes, and received scores of 67% and 73% respectively.

McCain's lifetime average, as scored by LCV, is 24%, far below Obama's 86% lifetime average and Clinton's 87% lifetime average.

Of the 15 missed votes, McCain received harshest criticism from environmental groups earlier in the year for missing a vote that failed by only one "yes" to advance legislation that would have created tax incentives for renewable energy while repealing tax breaks for big oil and gas companies.

Commenting on Congress-wide scores, LCV President Gene Karpinski said 2007's scorecard shows that last year "marked a turning point for the environment" highlighted by the passage of an energy bill raising vehicle fuel efficiency, which he attributed to new leadership in both the U.S. House and Senate.

He noted that 71 out of the 89 candidates (80%) endorsed by the LCV in 2006 won, and said "electing pro-environment candidates is a critical first step toward enacting sound environmental policies that will protect our planet and our future."

"Elections have consequences," Karpinski said, noting that LCV's 2006 campaigns helped defeat 9 out of 13 of LCV's ‘Dirty Dozen' legislators. who had a combined average lifetime score of just 8%, while the new members who defeated them have a combined average score of 88%.

In 2008 the LCV said it will urge Congress to pass legislation reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 15-20% by 2020 and by 80% by 2050.

source - SustainableBusiness.com News

Oil-Rich UAE Pushes U.S. to Consider Green Energy

[Abu Dhabi] The capital of the UAE, Abu Dhabi, is investing heavily in alternative sources of energy. The oil rich emirate, the fourth largest OPEC producer, with 10 percent of the world’s known oil reserves, is keen to become a global center for the development and implementation of clean energy technology. The Masdar Initiative - a carbon-neutral city - backed by hundreds of millions of dollars of Abu Dhabi’s money is considered an ambitious goal. However, this historic step does not indicate that the rich emirate wishes to reduce its future investments in oil and gas. The oil and gas sectors still retain dazzling appeal to United States oil companies.

Big U.S. energy firms have a strong presence in UAE’s oil and gas sector, with a market share of 51%, according to published data. The giant multinational Halliburton unveiled plans last March, to move its base to Dubai, one of the UAE's seven emirates. Halliburton, which was headed by U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney until 2000, said this move will take advantage of the Gulf region's vast oil and gas markets. The New York Times quotes Energy Intelligence Group analyst Susan Shook saying, “they are moving to the center of the Eurasian-African hemisphere and that’s where the bulk of the work is going to be in the future.”

According to the National U.S. Arab Chamber of Commerce publication, last June the U.S. Ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, Michele Sison, said, “with almost $12 billion in U.S. goods exported to the UAE in 2006, opportunities for American industry are virtually unlimited. Among the many sectors showing excellent promise are aircraft and parts, the oil and gas sectors, construction materials, safety and security equipment, medical equipment and project management and architectural and engineering services. “

The country’s current total oil production is around 2.8 million barrels per day, but in April 2007, the UAE’s Minister of Energy, Muhammad Bin Zain Al-Hamili, announced plans to increase production to 3.5 million barrels per day by 2009. Al-Hamili was also president of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in 2007.

One of the more important energy investments planned for the UAE in the next few years will be by ExxonMobil, which along with ADNOC and the Japan Oil Development Company, plans to increase production from Abu Dhabi’s huge Upper Zakum oil field from 520,000 barrels a day to around 750,000 barrels. ExxonMobil is also establishing a Technology Center in Abu Dhabi to support and train personnel in the most advanced production technologies. Abu Dhabi Oil and Gas City, a $1 billion tax-free zone for the energy industry, will house offshore firms in such fields as engineering, project management, consulting and finance. Occidental Petroleum is also working on the Dolphin Project, a multi-billion dollar initiative to bring natural gas from Qatar to the UAE and Oman.

Given the UAE’s critical need for energy and power, the energy sector is a key area for investment. A vital component of this strategic relationship is maintaining an unhindered flow of oil and gas.

In his meeting with David Hamoud, chairman of the American Arab Chamber of Commerce, ‘Salah Salim A-Shamsi, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Industry encouraged American companies to increase their investments in Abu Dhabi. A-Shamsi stressed the importance of allowing American companies an opportunity to enter the fields of engineering consultancy, oil services, and other fields and assured Hamoud that the UAE authorities would facilitate and pave the way in this regard.

Clean Energy

Abu Dhabi, bloated with oil money, is eager to explore the clean energy sector, which will definitely represent new opportunities for U.S. clean-tech companies. The Masdar initiative has attracted both attention and skepticism due to the relatively simple fact that Abu Dhabi’s Masdar initiative to research and develop renewable energy sources seems odd coming from one of world’s leading oil exporters. Despite the criticism, Masdar is still pursing its goals and showing how serious it is. Thus, Masdar is partnering the most prominent U.S. companies, educational institutions, and investment firms. The Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (ADFEC), a government owned organization mandated to execute the Masdar Initiative, is open to new partnerships from all over the world.

Dr. Sultan Al-Jabir, CEO of Masdar, explained, "The world needs a portfolio of solutions, It can no longer be hydrocarbons or renewables. It is a combination of both." Since its commencement, Masdar gained momentum and support by participating in the Clinton Global Initiative on Energy and Climate Change (CGI) last year in New York.

In February 2007, the ADFEC signed a cooperative agreement with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) whereby MIT faculty would help expand the curriculum and organization of the Masdar Institute. Sultan Ahmad Al-Jabir, CEO of Masdar, hailed the agreement with one of the world’s most prominent universities. He said “The Masdar Institute will serve as the nucleus of the Masdar Initiative, feeding it with talent and innovative technologies to enhance economic development and promote new industries using renewable energy and resources in the emirate and the region.”

President George W. Bush visited a proposed model of Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City at the Emirates Palace Hotel in January this year. He said, "We just heard a briefing about how they're going to construct a city based entirely upon renewable energy. It will be an opportunity to see what works and what won't work, and an opportunity to share their technology with others.”

In Jan 21 this year, the ADFEC hosted the first World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi, attracting around 200 of the world’s foremost innovators and experts clean energy, and an exhibition of alternative energy technologies. During the summit, His Highness, General Sheikh Muhammad Bin Zayyid Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, announced the most ambitious sustainability program ever launched by a government, to be funded by an initial investment of $15b. for projects targeting solar, wind and hydrogen power; carbon reduction and management, and sustainable development.

It is worth noting that American companies and universities are involved in the building and operation of Masdar. U.S. company CH2M HILL was appointed program manager for the first phase of the development and will be responsible for technology integration. Also, the American Louis Berger Group of consulting engineers will manage the Masdar city design process. So far, four architects firms have been shortlisted for the contract for designing the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Company (Masdar) headquarters in its planned carbon-neutral city. Shortlisted are Foster & Partner, Murphy & Young and Atkins, all of the UK, and the US firm, Smith & Gill. Khalid 'Awad, director of the property development unit at Masdar said, "We will announce the winner soon." Groundbreaking on the world’s first zero carbon emmission city took place on 9 February. On the other hand, some analysts say that this city seeks to create a new global community only for the elite as it is not a social project.


UAE-U.S. Security Ties By Sherin Deghedy

Security issues play an important part in the U.S.-UAE bilateral relationship, and given regional tensions, will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. For more than a decade, the Defense Cooperation Agreement of 1994 between the U.S. and the UAE has provided a solid basis for military cooperation and coordination. Under this agreement, the UAE has participated in joint military training exercises with U.S. forces and offered U.S. forces access to UAE ports and territory. Lockheed Martin Corporation, for example, has worked closely with the UAE government on providing solutions to its defense needs, such as the F-16 fighter plane. Raytheon has had a presence in the UAE for decades and has been a key provider of UAE air defense systems since 1980.

Written by Sherin Deghedy
photo credit - NREL

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Wall Street joins battle against global warming

From New Scientist

ENVIRONMENTALISTS have a new, unlikely ally in the fight against global warming.

A document signed on Monday by three of Wall Street's largest banks - Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase and Morgan Stanley - requires anyone seeking money for new fossil-fuel power plants in the US to consider the effect this will have on the global climate.

The document, entitled The Carbon Principles, states that power companies that want to build new plants will be asked to consider renewable alternatives and carbon-trading schemes. Even if legal emission limits are not yet in place, the document requires power firms to consider future legislative changes and budget accordingly.

Borrowers will also have to analyse the potential of carbon capture schemes (see opposite), such as locking away carbon dioxide in disused oil reservoirs. In the US, the principles are likely to have the greatest impact on new coal-fired plants, some of which are already being disrupted by environmental objections.

Climate Change - Want to know more about global warming: the science, impacts and political debate? Visit New Scientist continually updated special report.

Friday, February 15, 2008

A Better Way to Capture Carbon

New materials provide a potentially cheaper way to reduce carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.

Researchers have developed porous materials that can soak up 80 times their volume of carbon dioxide, offering the tantalizing possibility that the greenhouse gas could be cheaply scrubbed from power-plant smokestacks. After the carbon dioxide has been absorbed by the new materials, it could be released through pressure changes, compressed, and, finally, pumped underground for long-term storage.

Such carbon dioxide capture and sequestration could be essential to reducing greenhouse-gas emissions, especially in countries such as the United States that depend heavily on coal for electricity. The first stage, capturing the carbon, is particularly important, since it can account for 75 percent of the total costs, according to the Department of Energy.

The new materials, described this week in Science, were created by researchers at UCLA led by Omar Yaghi, a chemist known for producing materials with intricate microscopic structures. They absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide but do not absorb other gases.

Techniques already exist for capturing carbon dioxide from smokestacks, but they use large amounts of energy--15 to 20 percent of the total electricity output of a power plant, according to one estimate, Yaghi says. That is because existing materials, known as amines, need to be heated to release the carbon dioxide they've absorbed. Indeed, capturing and compressing carbon dioxide through these existing methods can add 80 to 90 percent to the cost of producing electricity from coal, says Thomas Feeley, a project manager at the National Energy Technology Laboratory.

Feeley says that Yaghi's materials "compare favorably" with other experimental materials that absorb carbon dioxide that are being developed to help bring down these costs. Yaghi says that his materials could lower costs considerably since they use less energy, although exactly how much will require testing the materials at power plants.

Beyond being potentially useful in smokestacks, the materials could be employed in coal gasification plants. In these plants, coal is first processed to produce a mixture of carbon dioxide and hydrogen gas. The hydrogen is then used to generate electricity. The carbon dioxide could be captured using a solvent that increases energy consumption. But as in the smokestack-based process, the new UCLA materials could require less energy.

The materials belong to a class called zeolitic imidazolate frameworks (ZIFs). They're made of metal atoms bridged by one of a number of ring-shaped organic molecules called imidazolates. Prior to Yaghi's research, 24 types of ZIFs had been developed over the course of 12 years. Yaghi made 25 new versions in just three months. These materials can be extremely versatile, since the metal atoms can act as powerful catalysts, and the organic molecules can serve as anchors for a number of functional molecules.

The new materials absorb carbon dioxide in part because they're extremely porous, which gives them a high surface area that can come into contact with carbon dioxide molecules. The most porous of the materials that Yaghi reports in Science contain nearly 2,000 square meters of surface area packed into one gram of material. One liter of one of Yaghi's materials can store all of the molecules of carbon dioxide that, at zero °C and at ambient pressure, would take up a volume of 82.6 liters.

While the exact mechanisms are not fully understood, Yaghi thinks that the slightly negative charge of organic molecules in his material attracts carbon dioxide molecules, which have a slightly positive charge. As a result, carbon dioxide is held in place, while other gases move through the material. This method of trapping carbon dioxide is better than some other methods because it does not involve strong covalent bonds, so it doesn't take much energy to release the gas.

The next step for the materials is commercialization. This means scaling up production and incorporating the materials into a system at a power plant, such as by packing the materials into canisters that can be filled with pressurized exhaust gases--something that the UCLA group says could be possible in two to three years. Yaghi estimates that the materials could easily be made in large quantities, since they are similar to other materials he has developed that can now be made by the ton by BASF, the giant chemical company. "Now it's in the hands of industry," Yaghi says. And he has developed automated techniques that could lead to more materials that could have even better properties.

Top 10 Ways to Be More Energy Efficient – and Green – in 2008

“Going green” and “reducing your carbon footprint’ are all the rage, but these trendy concepts are nothing new for the Alliance to Save Energy. That’s because you can’t be green without minimizing your energy use; and energy efficiency has always been and remains the quickest, most cost-effective way to use less energy – and the amount of pollution you produce.

The added benefits: While lowering your household energy bills, energy efficiency doesn’t require sacrificing comfort or convenience, and it will increase your indoor comfort.

It’s just a matter of taking simple steps with your home and vehicles and employing today’s widely available, easy-to-use energy-efficiency technologies. You’ll not only ease the strain of today’s high energy prices on your household budget, you’ll also shrink the greenhouse gases and other global warming pollutants you spew into the atmosphere.

Here are the Alliance to Save Energy’s Top 10 Ways to be More Energy Efficient and Green in 2008:

10) Remember when your mom would ask, “Do you think we own stock in the electric company??!!” Take her sage advice and turn off lights, computers, TVs, stereos, etc. when you are done using them.

9) Green means clean – air filters, that is. Clean or replace HVAC filters regularly, whether you have a central heating and/or cooling system or window air conditioners.

8) Don’t let “vampire energy use”– aka “standby power” – suck your wallet dry. Instead, look for the ENERGY STAR label on electronics – TVs, VCRs, CD players, DVD players, cordless telephones, and more that continue to use less electricity in the “off” mode to keep display clocks lit and memory chips and remote controls working.

7) Keep on rolling – efficiently – down the highway. Keep your tires properly inflated to improve gas mileage by about 3.3 percent. You could save more than 20 gallons of gasoline per year, which amounts to about $60 per car annually and about $120 per typical two-vehicle U.S. household with gasoline at $3/gallon. Added benefits: Extended tire life and avoidance of more than 390 pounds of CO2 production per vehicle yearly.

6) “Show the love” to your car by keeping it in good working order. Fixing a car that is noticeably “out of tune” or has failed an emissions test can improve gas mileage by an average of 4 percent. That amounts to nearly 25 gallons of gasoline per year, or savings of about $80 per vehicle per year or about $160 per household. Added benefit: Savings of nearly 500 pounds of C02 per vehicle, or 1,000 pounds per household.

5) Generate light, not heat, with ENERGY STAR qualified lighting such as compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). Energy-efficient lighting products use at least 2/3 less energy than standard incandescent lighting and last up to 10 times longer. So despite their higher up-front cost, they yield lifetime savings of up to $50 per bulb. Added benefit: CFLs generate 70 percent less heat than incandescents, so they don’t add to the summer heating load that your AC needs to cool down.

4) Don’t waste money and pollution by heating or cooling an empty house. When installed and properly programmed to follow your daily and weekly patterns, a programmable thermostat can cut heating and cooling costs by about 10 percent – enough, in most cases, to pay for the device within one season and then yield home energy savings of about $150 a year. Added benefit: When the thermostat “remembers for you” to adjust the temperature when no one is home, you come home to a comfortable house yet have not wasted money or polluted unnecessarily.

3) Reach for the stars – the ENERGY STARs, that is. ENERGY STAR qualified products can cut related electricity costs by up to 30 percent. More than 50 categories of products are now labeled with this government “seal of approval” for energy efficiency. In addition to electronics and lighting (see tip numbers 8 and 5), they also include appliances, HVAC systems, windows, and more (see www.energystar.gov for a complete rundown).

2) Don’t waste money and energy heating and cooling the great outdoors, either! Make sure you have the proper amount of insulation for your climate, and seal leaks around doors and windows to cut your heating and cooling bills by up to 20 percent. With home energy costs estimated at $2,200 for the average U.S. household in 2008, and just over half of that going for heating and cooling, those savings can amount to about $225. Added benefit: Eliminate drafts and hot and cold spots for greater indoor comfort.

1) Slow down and save! Each 5 miles per hour you drive over 60 mph costs you about 20 cents more per gallon of gasoline. And aggressive driving habits – speeding, rapid acceleration and braking – can lower gas mileage by a whopping 33 percent at highway speeds and 5 percent around town. But driving sensibly can save up to 200 gallons of gasoline per year at highway speeds, or about $600 per car and about $1,200 per household with gasoline prices at $3/gallon. Added benefit: Avoiding up to 4,000 pounds of CO2 per car/8,000 per household.

For further information:Ronnie Kweller: 202-530-2203 (office); 202-276-9327 (mobile)Rozanne Weissman: 202-530-2217 (office); 202-904-4490 (mobile)
The Alliance to Save Energy is a coalition of prominent business, government, environmental, and consumer leaders who promote the efficient and clean use of energy worldwide to benefit consumers, the environment, economy, and national security.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

U.S. Moving Toward Ban on New Coal-Fired Power Plants

In a report compiled in early 2007, the U.S. Department of Energy listed 151 coal-fired power plants in the planning stages and talked about a resurgence in coal-fired electricity. But during 2007, 59 proposed U.S. coal-fired power plants were either refused licenses by state governments or quietly abandoned.

In addition to the 59 plants that were dropped, close to 50 more coal plants are being contested in the courts, and the remaining plants will likely be challenged as they reach the permitting stage.

What began as a few local ripples of resistance to coal-fired power is quickly evolving into a national tidal wave of grassroots opposition from environmental, health, farm, and community organizations and a fast-growing number of state governments. The public at large is turning against coal. In a September 2007 national poll by the Opinion Research Corporation about which electricity source people would prefer, only 3 percent chose coal.

One of the first major coal industry setbacks came in early 2007, when environmental groups convinced Texas-based utility TXU to reduce the number of planned coal-fired power plants in Texas from 11 to 3. And now even those 3 proposed plants may be challenged. Meanwhile, the energy focus within the Texas state government is shifting to wind power. The state is planning 23,000 megawatts of new wind-generating capacity (equal to 23 coal-fired power plants).

In May, Florida’s Public Service Commission refused to license a huge $5.7-billion, 1,960-megawatt coal plant because the utility could not prove that building the plant would be cheaper than investing in conservation, efficiency, and renewable energy sources. This argument by Earthjustice, a non-profit environmental legal group, combined with widely expressed public opposition to any more coal-fired power plants in Florida, led to the quiet withdrawal of four other proposals for coal plants in the state. Republican Governor Charlie Crist, who is keenly aware of Florida’s vulnerability to rising seas, is actively opposing new coal plants and has announced that the state plans to build the world’s largest solar-thermal power plant.

The principal reason for opposing new coal plants is the mounting concern about climate change. Another emerging reason is soaring construction costs. And then there are intensifying health concerns about mercury emissions and the 23,600 U.S. deaths per year from power plant air pollution. (See data.)

Utilities have argued that carbon dioxide (CO2) from coal plant smokestacks could be captured and stored underground, thus helping keep hope for the industry alive. But on January 30, 2008, the Bush administration announced that it was pulling the plug on a joint project with 13 utilities and coal companies to build a demonstration coal-fired power plant in Illinois with underground carbon sequestration because of massive cost overruns. The original cost of $950 million when the project was announced in 2003 had climbed beyond $1.5 billion by early 2008, with further rises in prospect. The cancellation effectively moves the date for any coal plants with carbon sequestration so far into the future that this technology has little immediate relevance.

Some utilities are being refused licenses for coal plants because they have not examined alternative methods of satisfying demand, such as increasing the efficiency of electricity use. For example, insulating buildings greatly reduces energy needs for heating and cooling. Shifting to more-efficient light bulbs would save enough electricity to close 80 U.S. coal power plants.

The Sierra Club, the national leader on this issue, is working with hundreds of local groups to mount legal challenges in state after state. Other national groups that are actively involved include the Rainforest Action Network, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and Environmental Defense. Information on the grassroots momentum to oppose coal plants is tracked on the Web site Coal Moratorium NOW!.

States that are working to reduce carbon emissions are banding together to discourage other states from building new coal plants simply because it would cancel their own carbon reduction efforts. In late 2006, for instance, the attorneys general of California, Wisconsin, New York, and several other northeastern states wrote to Kansas health officials urging them to deny permits for two new coal power plants of 700 megawatts each. The permits were subsequently denied, citing that carbon dioxide is an air pollutant and should be regulated, as determined in an April 2007 Supreme Court ruling. And in a letter on January 22, 2008, a similar grouping of states urged South Carolina’s Department of Health and Environmental Control to refuse a permit for the proposed 600-megawatt Pee Dee coal plant.

Coal’s future is also suffering as Wall Street turns its back on the industry. In July 2007, Citigroup downgraded coal company stocks across the board and recommended that its clients switch to other energy stocks. In January 2008, Merrill Lynch also downgraded coal stocks. In early February 2008, investment banks Morgan Stanley, Citi, and J.P. Morgan Chase announced that any future lending for coal-fired power would be contingent on the utilities demonstrating that the plants would be economically viable with the higher costs associated with future federal restrictions on carbon emissions. On February 13, Bank of America announced it would follow suit.

In August 2007, coal took a heavy political hit when U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada, who had been opposing three coal-fired power plants in his own state, announced that he was now against building coal-fired power plants anywhere in the world. Investment banks and political leaders are beginning to see what has been obvious for some time to climate scientists, such as NASA’s James Hansen who says that it makes no sense to build coal-fired power plants when we will have to bulldoze them in a few years.

In early November 2007, Representative Henry Waxman of California announced his intention to “introduce legislation that establishes a moratorium on the approval of new coal-fired power plants under the Clean Air Act until EPA finalizes regulations to address the greenhouse gas emissions from these sources.” If a national moratorium is passed by Congress, it will mark the beginning of the end for coal-fired power in the United States.

We may be on the verge of a monumental victory in the worldwide effort to stabilize climate. In our new book, Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization, I propose cutting carbon emissions 80 percent by 2020. The first step is to stop building any new coal-fired power plants. If the United States imposes a moratorium on such construction, as Denmark and New Zealand have already done, it would send a powerful signal to the rest of the world, bolstering the effort to cut carbon emissions. The next steps are to quickly exploit the vast worldwide potential to raise energy efficiency and to massively develop renewable sources of energy, such as wind, solar, and geothermal, in order to phase out existing coal-fired power plants.

The world is moving toward a political tipping point on the climate issue. If it comes soon enough, we may yet avoid catastrophic climate change.

Lester R. Brown -- Earth Policy Institute

Carbon Capture Strategy Could Lead To Emission-free Cars

Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a strategy to capture, store and eventually recycle carbon from vehicles to prevent the pollutant from finding its way from a car tailpipe into the atmosphere. Georgia Tech researchers envision a zero emission car, and a transportation system completely free of fossil fuels.

Technologies to capture carbon dioxide emissions from large-scale sources such as power plants have recently gained some impressive scientific ground, but nearly two-thirds of global carbon emissions are created by much smaller polluters — automobiles, transportation vehicles and distributed industrial power generation applications (e.g., diesel power generators).

The Georgia Tech team’s goal is to create a sustainable transportation system that uses a liquid fuel and traps the carbon emission in the vehicle for later processing at a fueling station. The carbon would then be shuttled back to a processing plant where it could be transformed into liquid fuel. Currently, Georgia Tech researchers are developing a fuel processing device to separate the carbon and store it in the vehicle in liquid form.

“Presently, we have an unsustainable carbon-based economy with several severe limitations, including a limited supply of fossil fuels, high cost and carbon dioxide pollution,” said Andrei Fedorov, associate professor in the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech and a lead researcher on the project. “We wanted to create a practical and sustainable energy strategy for automobiles that could solve each of those limitations, eventually using renewable energy sources and in an environmentally conscious way.”

Little research has been done to explore carbon capture from vehicles, but the Georgia Tech team outlines an economically feasible strategy for processing fossil or synthetic, carbon-containing liquid fuels that allows for the capture and recycling of carbon at the point of emission. In the long term, this strategy would enable the development of a sustainable transportation system with no carbon emission.

Georgia Tech’s near-future strategy involves capturing carbon emissions from conventional (fossil) liquid hydrocarbon-fueled vehicles with an onboard fuel processor designed to separate the hydrogen in the fuel from the carbon. Hydrogen is then used to power the vehicle, while the carbon is stored on board the vehicle in a liquid form until it is disposed at a refueling station. It is then transported to a centralized site to be sequestered in a permanent location currently under investigation by scientists, such as geological formations, under the oceans or in solid carbonate form.

In the long-term strategy, the carbon dioxide will be recycled forming a closed-loop system, involving synthesis of high energy density liquid fuel suitable for the transportation sector.

Georgia Tech settled on a hydrogen-fueled vehicle for its carbon capture plan because pure hydrogen produces no carbon emissions when it is used as a fuel to power the vehicle. The fuel processor produces the hydrogen on-board the vehicle from the hydrocarbon fuel without introducing air into the process, resulting in an enriched carbon byproduct that can be captured with minimal energetic penalty. Traditional combustion systems, including current gasoline-powered automobiles, have a combustion process that combines fuel and air — leaving the carbon dioxide emissions highly diluted and very difficult to capture.

“We had to look for a system that never dilutes fuel with air because once the CO2 is diluted, it is not practical to capture it on vehicles or other small systems,” said David Damm, PhD candidate in the School of Mechanical Engineering, the lead author on the paper and Fedorov’s collaborator on the project.

The Georgia Tech team compared the proposed system with other systems that are currently being considered, focusing on the logistic and economic challenges of adopting them on a global scale. In particular, electric vehicles could be part of a long-term solution to carbon emissions, but the team raised concerns about the limits of battery technology, including capacity and charging time.

The hydrogen economy presents yet another possible solution to carbon emissions but also yet another roadblock — infrastructure. While liquid-based hydrogen carriers could be conveniently transported and stored using existing fuel infrastructure, the distribution of gaseous hydrogen would require the creation of a new and costly infrastructure of pipelines, tanks and filling stations.

The Georgia Tech team has already created a fuel processor, called CO2/H2 Active Membrane Piston (CHAMP) reactor, capable of efficiently producing hydrogen and separating and liquefying CO2 from a liquid hydrocarbon or synthetic fuel used by an internal combustion engine or fuel cell. After the carbon dioxide is separated from the hydrogen, it can then be stored in liquefied state on-board the vehicle. The liquid state provides a much more stable and dense form of carbon, which is easy to store and transport.

The Georgia Tech paper also details the subsequent long-term strategy to create a truly sustainable system, including moving past carbon sequestration and into a method to recycle the captured carbon back into fuel. Once captured on-board the vehicle, the liquid carbon dioxide is deposited back at the fueling station and piped back to a facility where it is converted into a synthetic liquid fuel to complete the cycle.

Now that the Georgia Tech team has come up with a proposed system and device to produce hydrogen and, at the same time, capture carbon emissions, the greatest remaining challenge to a truly carbon-free transportation system will be developing a method for making a synthetic liquid fuel from just CO2 and water using renewable energy sources, Fedorov said. The team is exploring a few ideas in this area, he added.

The research was published in Energy Conversion and Management . The research was funded by NASA, the U.S. Department of Defense NDSEG Fellowship Program and Georgia Tech’s CEO (Creating Energy Options) Program.

source - ScienceDaily

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Fossil Fuels And Nitrogen Fertilizers May Be Slowly Reducing The Number Of Plant Species Globally, Study Says

The number of plant species worldwide may be dwindling from the effects of chronic low levels of nitrogen on terrestrial ecosystems, according to a University of Minnesota study.

Loss of biodiversity from high levels of atmospheric nitrogen has been reported in parts of Europe and the United States, but this is the first long-term study of the impact of much lower levels of nitrogen deposition over much of the developed world.

The study, conducted by David Tilman, Regents Professor of Ecology, and former university graduate student Christopher Clark, will be published in the Feb. 7 issue of Nature. Research was carried out at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve, a field station operated by the university's College of Biological Sciences.

"Even at low levels, comparable to nitrogen deposition over many industrialized nations, we lost about one plant species in six at our test site [17 percent over 23 years]," Clark said. Rare species were more vulnerable to loss than common species.

But Clarke and Tilman also discovered some good news -- that the loss of species can be reversed. Thirteen years after addition of nitrogen was stopped, species numbers had recovered.

"Many ecosystems worldwide may be losing plant species because of nitrogen deposition from fossil fuel combustion and agricultural fertilizers," said Tilman. "But with a rapid, coordinated national and international effort, we can likely stem or reverse these losses of biodiversity."

Over the past 60 years, fossil fuel combustion and agricultural fertilizers have doubled the amount of nitrogen inputs to terrestrial ecosystems worldwide. The level could double again as nations in Asia and South America industrialize.

Nitrogen is an essential nutrient for plant growth, but too much causes a few species to flourish at the expense of their competitors. Within an ecosystem, species have different roles that contribute to the productivity and stability of the community. When some species are missing, the functioning of the ecosystem as a whole is impaired.

The study was performed in three prairie-like grassland ecosystems at Cedar Creek Ecosystem Science Reserve. All of the plots were treated with varying levels of nitrogen addition from 1982 to 1991. Treatments to half of the plots in one of the fields were stopped after 1991, but nitrogen addition has been continued in all other plots.

The study was funded by the National Science Foundation.
Adapted from materials provided by
University of Minnesota.

Venezuela Cuts Off Oil Shipments to Exxon Mobil

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez stopped oil exports to Exxon Mobil on Tuesday, escalating a multibillion-dollar fight with the U.S. company two days after threatening to cut off all supplies to America.

The anti-U.S. president's retaliation for Exxon's legal offensive, which froze $12 billion in Venezuelan assets, pushed oil prices higher in late trading.

State oil company PDVSA said it broke off commercial ties and halted the supply of crude and petroleum products to America's largest company in a fight over Exxon's demand for compensation after Chavez seized a crude project last year.

"Faced with the legal-economic harassment started by Exxon Mobil against PDVSA and as an act of reciprocity, PDVSA has decided to suspend commercial relations," the Venezuelan company said in a statement.

Venezuela is the No. 4 energy supplier to the United States, which is its biggest customer.

Washington has played down Chavez's threat, industry analysts say it is unlikely he will carry it out and even his deputy energy minister said Venezuela wanted to avoid a general cutoff because it would be costly for the OPEC nation.

But after regularly issuing conditional warnings over ending exports to what he calls the evil superpower, Tuesday's albeit limited move was the first time Chavez has taken any concrete action over supplies in a dispute.

PDVSA said it would not break certain contracts with Exxon, an apparent reference, analysts said, to the jointly owned Chalmette refinery in Louisiana.

Venezuela's other sales to Exxon in November were about 90,000 barrels per day, a drop in the bucket for the world's largest oil company.

Jim Ritterbusch, president of Ritterbusch & Associates oil consultants, said Chavez's move was "saber-rattling."

"It is to Venezuela's interest to keep oil prices high and its response to the Exxon Mobil asset freeze orders has done just that," he said.

With two-thirds of Venezuela's oil exports going to the United States, industry analysts believe Chavez is unlikely to carry out his supply threat because it would slash revenue he uses to fund the social programs that underpin his popularity.

The Exxon battle pits Chavez, a leading proponent of resource nationalism who calls capitalism an evil, against one of a giant company seeking access to increasingly restricted oil deposits around the globe.

Chavez, a self-styled socialist revolutionary who clashes with Washington over everything from oil prices to democracy, says Exxon is a proxy in a U.S. economic war against him.

Venezuela's oil minister, Rafael Ramirez, said fellow OPEC members had expressed solidarity with the South American nation in the fight and consulted with the oil producers group's lawyers on a defense strategy.

But an official of the Bush administration, which has distanced itself from the Exxon action, said the United States had lined up allies in the spat too.

Other major oil producers have assured Washington they would make up for any interruption to Venezuelan supplies, said the official who declined to be named, adding a cutoff would hurt ordinary Venezuelans.

And the head of the International Energy Agency, which coordinates the release of global crude oil and refined product stockpiles in the event of a major supply disruption, said the group was willing to act if needed.

It was not immediately clear whether PDVSA would still supply some crude to Chalmette or what it would do with the excess crude that would normally go to the U.S. company.

Exxon Mobil said it will act to ensure supply to its clients.

"It is our long-standing practice to take appropriate steps to meet our customer needs," spokeswoman Margaret Ross said.

source - CNBC

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

'Green' becomes red-hot

Green was once just a color.

Of broccoli. Of preppy pants. Of Kermit the frog.

Now it's a call to arms.

With Al Gore's Oscar-winning "An Inconvenient Truth" as a wake-up call to the masses, the idea of green living and green building has taken off in the past couple of years, inspiring books, TV shows and hundreds of products. Environmentally friendly changes have come about in everything from exterior siding to countertops, fireplace logs to cutting boards, towels to toothbrushes.

"Things are evolving fast.... In the last year, it's really picked up for the average, everyday consumer. I expected it would be a couple more years before it got to this level," said Jeff Rogers, founder of New England Green Building Center in Provincetown. "There was a general shift that I could see was coming, but Al Gore just put it over the top."

Green "is the big topic of conversation right now," said Michael Dingley, senior vice president of programming for HGTV, which is in the middle of a "green testing season" to see how much viewers want to hear about environmentally friendly practices. While officials there saw the trend coming in 2006, now "we're pitched 'green' every day, from producers all over the world."

Sure, not everyone is making changes for unselfish motives. In a winter of high gas and heating oil prices, more people are finding it's cheaper to go solar or drive a hybrid. And some energy-efficient home upgrades can win a federal tax credit, with the new Commonwealth Solar program offering state rebates to homeowners getting energy from the sun.

"It's not a political issue, it's an environmental issue," said Nicole Goldman, owner of 'g' Green Design Center in Mashpee Commons. "People think it doesn't address them, they think it's not affecting them, but as soon as they see it in their pocketbook, they wake up."

"The majority of Americans are usually motivated by, 'It's impacting me, OK, it's saving me money,' " Dingley said.

And, for some, there are health issues. Using chemical-free products can literally make a home's air cleaner to breathe.

That's not to say a world view, a desire to help "save the planet," plays no role in consumer choices.

"It's the impact on global warming and on consumption of foreign oil, both of which are big factors right now," explains Laela Sayigh of Woods Hole, whose family's home largely runs on solar energy and who recently bought a hybrid car. "We try to live in a way that can minimize both of those things."

"I look at the whole green movement as a way to save money as well as reduce your carbon footprint," said Scott Beels of Marstons Mills, who changed almost all of his home's light bulbs to compact fluorescents, uses a wood stove for part of his heating and last year bought a hybrid car. Going green, a little or a lot, he said, "is a great chance to not only save money, but to make a contribution."

"Green" may be a trend, but it's not a fad, emphasizes Goldman, who said it's a "moral imperative" to act now.

A growing trend

So how much are we paying attention to environmentally friendly living? Consider:
  • The green building industry, barely a blip at the turn of the century, is now worth about $12 billion annually, according to the U.S. Green Building Council.
  • The number of building materials made with recycled content that can be found on the Internet has more than doubled in each of the last few years, according to store owners who seek out green building materials to sell.
  • Close to 60 percent of consumers were taking steps in 2007 to make their home more environmentally friendly, according to an American Home Furnishings Alliance survey.
  • By late 2007, more than half of National Association of Home Builders members — who build more than 80 percent of America's homes — were incorporating green practices into the development, design and construction of new homes, according to an association survey. About 20,000 homes a year are now built nationally using green guidelines.
  • Last month, Congress and President Bush approved an energy bill that included increased efficiency standards for light bulbs, appliances and buildings — including the phasing out of incandescent light bulbs by 2012 in favor of compact fluorescent bulbs.
  • Home Depot had a 30 percent increase in sales of Energy Star appliances in 2006 and sold more than 50 million compact fluorescent bulbs.
  • HGTV has added a second home giveaway this year — a "green home" in South Carolina, designed to show "you don't have to be extreme to be green." Last year's main project on PBS's "This Old House" was a green remodel in Texas.
  • Energy code changes adopted as part of the state building code at the start of this year include requiring a tighter "thermal envelope," or insulation, of a home, as well as more energy-efficient windows.
  • Locally, Cape Cod Community College's Environmental Technology program will add a "sustainable design" course for builders, architects and homeowners next fall, and the Cape chapter of the National Association of the Remodeling Industry's "green team" will begin offering information and education in March.

"It's definitely become more and more of a focus for the building industry," said Alison Alessi of A&E Architects Inc. in Brewster. "You hear green this, green that, especially in the last six months to a year. It's in every magazine."

Right at home

Nowhere has the idea of "green" made more of a personal impact than in home-related industries.

With homeowners wanting to make their dwelling and yards efficient and "friendly," the idea has reverberated from architects to construction crews to designers to landscapers.

"Homeowners are demanding more energy-efficient products and sustainable designs," said Kermit Baker, chief economist of the American Institute of Architects. "Structural insulation panels, geothermal heating and cooling systems, tankless water heaters, and green flooring products such as bamboo and cork are all in high consumer demand."

And suppliers say new products are being created every day.

Take your kitchen, for example: A survey by thisoldhouse.com last fall found cabinets of recycled wood pulp with non-formaldehyde glue; butcher block made from bamboo; pendant lights and backsplashes of recycled glass and aluminum; cabinet hardware of lead-free pewter and recycled-material eco-resin; and terrazzo flooring made from 90 percent recycled material.

Recycled materials are, in fact, a hot component of the green building movement — both from post-consumer waste, such as milk jugs and shampoo bottles, and post-production wastes, materials that weren't ever used, such as glass left over from window-making. Products include roofing tiles from recycled vinyl and cellulose and countertops of recycled newsprint.

Furniture displayed at a national market show last fall included steel springs made of 50 percent recycled metal; "organic" cotton fabric; and throw pillows with fibers from recycled soda bottles.

Both New England Green Building in Provincetown and 'g' in Mashpee sell insulation made of blue jeans. A fabric wallcovering recently cited by BuildingGreen Inc. is made from 100 percent recycled polyester. At this month's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, manufacturers were talking about new products that don't waste as much electricity, are easier to recycle and even have components made of plants.

And if the environmental friendliness of their product doesn't go far enough, some manufacturers are getting proactive. Last fall, Vaughan-Bassett announced a plan to plant one tree for every tree it uses to produce furniture; the company estimated it would pay for 150,000 saplings each year.

"Green" standards

So what makes a home product "green"? There has been no strict definition for it, though regional and national standards in everything from electrical, water and chemical use to wood sustainability have recently been created or are now being formulated to help consumers make choices.

They'll need that help because, if the trend continues as experts predict, they will only have more products to choose from.

Last spring, Home Depot began putting its Eco Options designation on more than 2,000 new and existing products that have "less of an impact on the environment," including all-natural insect repellents, cellulose insulation, front-load washing machines, programmable thermostats and certified- sustainable wood products. Since then, the number of Eco Option products has risen to more than 2,800 and is growing — as is customer interest.

"People are catching on," said spokesperson Sheriee Bowman. "The small step is changing the light bulb. If they want to make a bigger impact, there are all sorts of ways they can do that."
And on a regular basis.

"We're hoping 'green' settles down and becomes not the exception, not something special," said Dingley from HGTV. "We believe it should be a part of everyday life."

source - Cape Cod Times

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Bush, EPA Mercury Loophole Struck Down by DC Court

by Glynn Wilson

QUINTON, Ala., Feb. 9 - A mentally retarded boy stood in the middle of the country road, in front of a ramshackled house trailer and a burned down shack, as I came around the last bend and saw Alabama Power’s mammoth coal-fired Miller Steam Plant rising out of the strip mines and clear cuts in what used to be piney woods.

As I pulled alongside him on the edge of Jefferson and Walker counties northwest of Birmingham and rolled down the van window and was about to ask him what it was like to live in the shadow of one of the most foul, polluting power plants in the country, before I could say anything he started signing me, letting me know he could not hear, or speak.

The experts say mercury from power plants, a potent neurotoxin, causes brain damage and other serious health problems in at least 630,000 babies born each year, just in the United States. Their blood is contaminated when their pregnant mothers eat mercury-laden fish, most of it caught in water from polluted power plants.

With this information well established and widely known, however, mercury advisories are in place on about one-third of America’s lakes and one-fourth of its rivers. Experts say a single gram of mercury, or just 1/70th of a teaspoon, is enough to contaminate a 25-acre lake so that fish caught there are totally unsafe to eat.

Yet under the administration of President George W. Bush, the Environmental Protection Agency changed course from the years when the Clinton EPA wanted every one of the 1,100 power plants in the country to take concrete steps to reduce mercury emissions.

Under Bush, the EPA opted instead for a so-called “free market solution.”

The agency passed rules it claimed were legal under the Clean Air Act to allow a “cap and trade” system of pollution credits designed to lower the overall level of mercury pollution nationally, while allowing some power companies to continue dumping massive amounts of mercury and other pollutants into the air and water in places where management doesn’t want to spend the money to clean up its plants. Coal and power operations scar the American South landscape and devastate its people. Many of those places are mostly populated by poor people and minorities.

The Bush EPA market system would have allowed some companies, such as Southern Company’s Alabama Power, to purchase so-called “pollution credits.” In other words, they would have allowed them to send payments to other, cleaner plants, while spending nothing to clean up their own dirty plants.

According to scientists, health experts and environmentalists, this would have created “hot spots” of contamination in some places, such as the air over the city of Birmingham - and the water in the Locust Fork of the Black Warrior River around the Miller Steam Plant, which discharges more than 1,500 pounds of mercury each year - the fourth-worst in the country.

Unwilling to live with that situation, however, a number of health and environmental organizations, including the Waterkeeper Alliance with a chapter here called the Black Warrior Riverkeeper, sued in federal court two years ago to stop the rules from going into effect.

And this past Friday, they won a major victory for all of us when the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rebuked the Bush EPA and ruled the regulatory loophole illegal under the clear language of the law passed by Congress and signed by President Richard Nixon in 1970.
The Clean Air Act listed mercury as one of the pollutants to be regulated. The Bush EPA wanted to remove it from the list - without going to Congress to ask for a change in the law.

Sound familiar? The Bush administration doesn’t much like the law, whether it applies to torture, spying on Americans - or cleaning up the environment.

“These rules represented what was perhaps the biggest sellout to industry in the history of EPA,” said Waterkeeper Alliance legal director Scott Edwards, interviewed Saturday in New York. “It’s a real tragedy that we’ve had to spend two years getting this industry-scripted scheme struck down while energy companies continue to poison our children with mercury.”

Fourteen states, including California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont and Wisconsin, challenged the EPA’s rules in 2005, along with dozens of Native American tribes, public health and environmental groups and organizations representing nurses and doctors.
Notice Alabama is not on the list. Attempts to reach the Riley administration in Montgomery and Alabama Power for comments on the ruling failed over the weekend.

Southern Company’s Alabama Power is one of the worst polluters in the world and is known for manipulating politicians and the corporate press with its monopoly money, using its economic power to keep politicians on a leash, like wining and dining the state’s top law enforcement officer, Attorney General Troy King, in an Atlanta Braves sky box. It also uses “green washing” advertising campaigns - NOT to reach out for new customers, but to keep chain press outlets such as the Birmingham News and local TV news stations from covering its pollution critically.

Anyone in Alabama should be familiar with the blue bird ad campaign that has been running in newspapers and on TV stations for years, featuring two blue birds on a power line in ostensibly funny conversations. But critics of the program are beginning to ask why the power company needs a rate increase every year when it has a virtual lock on the power business with no real competition and it spends so much money on advertising. And it spends next to nothing on pollution reduction, a few paltry million each year while it racks up billions in profits, some say the highest guaranteed profit margin of any power company in the nation.

The Spin

Power industry groups are already hard at work trying to spin the story to blame the environmentalists, lawyers and the “liberal” courts for preventing the Bush EPA from implementing it’s plan to “clean up” the mercury pollution by getting the overall amount down nationally.

Scott Segal, director of the Electric Reliability Coordinating Council, a power industry trade group, issued this statement late Friday afternoon.

“Today, a panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia vacated the so-called Clean Air Mercury Rule … the first ever national rule to address mercury air emissions. Ironically, with their aggressive litigation posture, the environmental community and their state allies have again caused uncertainty and delay in regulating mercury,” he said. “The Environmental Protection Agency essentially must return to the drawing board in developing a new mercury rule.”

Does that statement remind you of a movie called “Thank You For Smoking?” It should.

The Facts

Coal-fired power plants like the Miller Steam Plant are by far the largest source of airborne mercury in the U.S., releasing more than 50 tons of deadly mercury into the air each year. Gravity pulls much of it down to the earth, where it ends up in our waterways.

Delayed developmental milestones, reduced neurological test scores and cardiovascular disease also result from mercury exposure, and it has been linked to serious physical and central nervous system disorders such as various sexual dysfunctions and, according to numerous scientific studies, mental retardation.

Even the Bush EPA recently raised the estimate on the number of women whose mercury concentrations in umbilical cord blood is significantly higher than the mother’s blood concentration to 1 in 6 women nationwide.

Yet the most industry-friendly administration in the history of corporate capitalism spent a billion dollars of your hard-earned tax dollars to try and pass the illegal rules anyway.

More Reaction

Here are some other reactions to the DC court ruling.

Vickie Patton, an attorney with Environmental Defense, which along with Sierra Club and the National Wildlife Federation was represented by Earth Justice in the lawsuit, said: “The federal court agrees with the American Medical Association that EPA’s flawed mercury program for coal plants is hazardous to our health. This decision is a victory for the health of all Americans, but especially for our children who can suffer permanent brain damage from toxic mercury pollution.”

Alice McKeown, a coal analyst for the Sierra Club, said: “Coal company claims of ‘clean coal’ will now be put to the test. These mercury pollution reductions will be an important trial run to see if coal is still viable in a cleaner energy future.”

Ann Weeks, an attorney for Clean Air Task Force who represented U.S. PIRG, Ohio Environmental Council, Natural Resources Council of Maine, and Conservation Law Foundation in the case said: “The court has now told EPA in no uncertain terms to follow the law as it is written. We are looking forward to working on rules that reflect the most stringent controls achievable for this industry, as the Clean Air Act requires. That’s what is needed now, if we are ever to alleviate the problem of mercury contamination in fish and wildlife.”

John Suttles, attorney with the Southern Environmental Law Center who represented Physicians for Social Responsibility, American Nurses Association, American Public Health Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics in the lawsuit, said: “With today’s decision, EPA will now have to get back to the business of protecting people’s health rather than higher profits for electric utilities.”

“The Bush administration cannot ignore its responsibilities to bring power plants’ mercury pollution under control,” Earth Justice attorney James Pew said. “We hope the administration will gain some new respect for the law in its last year and start working to protect Americans from pollution and stop working to shield polluters from their lawful cleanup obligations.”

John Walke, attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the court’s ruling “should show power plant companies and the EPA once and for all that they may cheat and delay required clean-up obligations, but the law will catch up to them. Electric power plants are America’s worst polluters of mercury, smog, soot and global warming pollution, and their days of reckoning are long overdue.”

“This is a very positive ruling, but we should not forget that no matter how much this industry reduces mercury emissions, coal will never be clean,” added Waterkeeper Alliance President Steve Fleischli. “From mining to burning to toxic ash, ‘clean coal’ is a sham, a dangerous diversion at a time when we must move our national energy strategy to sustainable, renewable energy sources.”

The Ruling

A copy of the DC court decision is available in pdf format here.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Car-Free, Solar City in Gulf Could Set a New Standard for Green Design

In an ever more crowded world facing environmental limits, the push is on to create entire communities with reduced needs for energy, water, land and other resources.

The latest effort comes not in some green hub like Portland, Ore., but in the Persian Gulf, fueled as much by oil wealth — and the need to find postpetroleum business models — as environmental zeal.

Groundbreaking is scheduled for Saturday for Masdar City, a nearly self-contained mini-municipality designed for up to 50,000 people rising from the desert next to Abu Dhabi’s international airport and intended as a hub for academic and corporate research on nonpolluting energy technologies.

The 2.3-square-mile community, set behind walls to divert hot desert winds and airport noise, will be car free, according to the design by Foster + Partners, the London firm that has become a leading practitioner of energy-saving architecture.

The community, slightly smaller than the historic district of Venice, will have similar narrow pedestrian streets, but shaded by canopies made of photovoltaic panels. It will produce all of its own energy from sunlight.

Water will flow from a solar-powered seawater-desalinization plant. Produce will come from nearby greenhouses, and all waste will be composted or otherwise recycled, said Khaled Awad, property manager for the project.

The first phase, to be completed over the next two years, will be construction of the Masdar Institute, a graduate-level academic research center associated with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Readers can see a simulated video tour of the city and post comments on the Dot Earth blog.
Attempts at such green communities have had mixed results. Arcosanti, the ecotopian town in the Arizona desert, was started three decades ago. Still a work in progress, it is now being encroached on by Phoenix’s suburban expansion.

China, with help from American partners, has embarked on building instant rural communities and cities designed to limit environmental impacts, but recent reports have disclosed many problems.

Still, environmental campaigners appear enthusiastic about Masdar City, which is part of a planned $15 billion investment in new energy technologies by Abu Dhabi.

At an international energy conference in that city last month, Jean-Paul Jeanrenaud, director of the One Planet Living initiative of the environmental group WWF International (known in North America as the World Wildlife Fund), said independent monitoring would help ensure that the project lived up to its billing.

Farm bill would allow continued subsidies for millionaires

The House and Senate farm bills would allow millionaire landowners to continue to cash big government subsidy checks despite language in the proposals intended to cut off crop subsidies for the wealthy, according to a new analysis of tax data by GOP Senate aides.

Finance Committee ranking member Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) yesterday released the analysis, which is based on data from the Internal Revenue Service and Congressional Budget Office. It estimates that under the proposed new farm bills, hundreds of millions of dollars in crop subsidies would continue to go out to landowners whose overall adjusted gross income for the year exceeds $1 million.

“The House and Senate farm bills left loopholes that a 9630 John Deere tractor could drive through. It was reform in name only. Now I hope we can move to legislation that includes real reform,” Grassley said.

Grassley is a member of the conference committee charged with hammering out an agreement on the House and Senate farm bills. The Senate’s version of the farm bill, approved in December, would stop payments to non-farmers who make more than $750,000 a year but has no income caps for farmers. The House bill would cut off farm payments for millionaire farmers or non-farmers who make more than $500,000.

The Bush administration is pushing for a much lower cap of $200,000 in adjusted gross income. White House officials have threatened to veto the bill if it does not include more reform.

Other members of the conference committee said yesterday that income limits will be a major topic of negotiation for the farm bill, but the panel is unlikely to go as far as Grassley or the administration has suggested.

“The White House is insisting on it so the prospects of additional reform are probably pretty good in the conference,” said Sen. Kent Conrad (D-N.D.). “But it is not going to be what the administration is calling for.”

Conrad said the $200,000 income cap is “not in synch” with the high costs of farming, as fertilizer and other prices have almost doubled.

Agriculture Chairman Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) said the income limits are the “big sticking point right now” that members “have to work out.”

Harkin said the proposal from Grassley and Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) — which would have placed a hard cap on how much any farmer can receive in federal subsidies rather than basing the limits on income — has already had its chance in the Senate and is unlikely to be included in the conference. The Grassley-Dorgan amendment failed in a 56-43 vote during the farm bill debate. It needed 60 votes for passage.

In 2006, the Agriculture Department paid more than $230 million to landlords and farm operators who exceeded the House income cap and $137 million to those exceeding the Senate cut-off. The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that 83 percent of those funds would continue to go out under the House bill, and 95 percent would continue to be paid under the Senate bill.

Grassley said the continued payouts would be possible because landowners could switch the way they collect rent from the people farming their land, so their tenants could continue to receive the commodity payments. High-income farmers could also buy more land to bring their adjusted gross income level down or divide the payments among other family members.

Grassley based the analysis on data he requested from IRS on how many recipients of farm payments have an income above the cap and whether or not they were landlords.

A coalition of environmental, religious, sustainable farming and taxpayer groups have advocated for lowering the income level or including the payment cap in the new farm bill. They say the current payments unfairly favor large industrialized agriculture. The Sustainable Agriculture Coalition suggested applying the lower income cap to the land, rather than the landlord or producer.

“No one on the farm bill conference committee should suffer under any illusions that taking action on an AGI limit is, by itself, doing anything very significant for payment reform,” Sustainable Agriculture Coalition director Ferd Hoefner said yesterday of the analysis.

the source

Global Climate Change Response Can Spur $7 Trillion in Clean Energy Investment by 2030

Global Climate Change Response Can Spur $7 Trillion in Clean Energy Investment by 2030

CAMBRIDGE, Mass., Feb 05, 2008 (BUSINESS WIRE) -- Increasing public concerns about climate change -- and its potential economic and political security consequences -- are driving public policy and private investment to bring clean energy technologies from the fringes of the global energy industry to the center of activities as quickly as possible, a new analysis by Cambridge Energy Research Associates (CERA) has concluded.

The result of this rising public and private momentum is an increase in worldwide clean energy investment that could surpass US$7 trillion by 2030 in cumulative real 2007 dollars, according to the CERA report Crossing the Divide: The Future of Clean Energy.

"We are seeing a major shift in public opinion, reinforced by the expectation that carbon policies could fundamentally change the competitive landscape of the global energy business," said Daniel Yergin, CERA Chairman and IHS Executive Vice President. "This is providing a vital impetus that is moving clean technology across the great divide of cost, proven results, scale and maturity that has separated it from markets served by mainstream technologies and processes."

Key Insights

"The rapidly advancing new paradigms of climate change, energy security, and policy implementation and cooperation among the United States, the European Union, China and others will produce a broad range of opportunities, risks and pitfalls as the modern energy industry increasingly moves to adopt clean technologies that will be part of the alternative, low-carbon pathway to the energy future," said Robert LaCount, head of CERA's Climate Change and Clean Energy Group.

"All participants in the global energy business, from traditional incumbents such as electrical power companies and major oil and gas companies to new entrants such as venture capital firms," he added, "will play a role in shaping this alternative energy future. CERA's Crossing the Divide analysis offers a number of key insights about potentially significant clean energy opportunities for almost every energy sector participant:

-- There is already a "bubbling" of clean energy clusters - Some places are becoming concentrations of political, technical, institutional and financial clean energy specialization and experience. Examples include Brazil in biofuels, Germany in photovoltaic (PV) technology, Spain in wind technologies.

-- Renewable power technologies are poised for substantial growth - Wind will make the largest gains, followed by solar power and biomass -- despite near-term bottlenecks in wind turbine manufacturing, supply shortages in silicon, and competitive pressures from escalating component costs.

-- Government policy remains a key driver for clean energy advancement - Putting a price on CO2 emissions, setting mandates, and providing subsidies all work to kick-start clean energy technologies by overcoming the economic advantage of conventional technologies. The challenge in the years ahead is to provide subsidies in a way that ensures that these technologies get off the drawing board and are able to wean themselves from support - allowing for a phase-out rather than an increase in subsidies - as they become commercially viable on their own.

-- Conventional emission-free technologies - Nuclear and hydroelectric generation will account for most of the clean energy impact for the next decade, and almost half the gross clean power additions by 2030.

-- Disruptive technology potential - Clean energy technology could have disruptive rather than incremental impact. Modular and distributed PV could disrupt traditional central-station models of electricity production and distribution. Breakthroughs in cellulosic ethanol can disrupt the traditional vehicle fuel system if scale, logistics, and costs prove manageable. Conventional biofuel feedstocks, such as grains and oilseeds, may also produce serious unintended consequences such as disruption in global agricultural prices as well as land and water use patterns, as well as a policy backlash.

-- Asia demand and manufacturing - Rapid economic growth may push Asian energy needs from 30 percent of current global demand to 40 percent by 2030; combined with its manufacturing cost-competitiveness, this could make Asia a nexus for clean energy technology research, development and equipment production.

Clean Technology Drivers

Across the entire range of potential scenarios, Crossing the Divide identified the primary drivers that affect the pace of clean energy technological development and its commercial success:

-- Oil & natural gas prices - Directly affect the economics of clean energy technologies, energy security concerns, biofuels development, renewable power and conventional clean energy.

-- Government policy - Central to development of all clean energy technologies, with sustained government support ensuring ongoing research, seed money and confidence for investors; the sustainability of support policies shapes the timing and ultimate success of new technologies, particularly to the degree to which it encourages private investment.

-- Pace of technology innovation - Movement of technologies from the fringe to the center of the energy business is heavily dependent on policy support and private investment, which, in turn, is strongly affected by fossil fuel price cycles, carbon pricing, and expectations.

-- Economic growth - Affects energy demand and carbon emissions as well as the political and financial support for research and development of new clean energy technologies.

-- The Big Three: "The Big Three" in terms of energy consumption - the United States, the European Union and China - will have a major impact on development of "clean energy," along with certain other countries, particularly Japan and Brazil.

Scenarios Findings

CERA's analysis used a scenarios framework to assess the winners and losers among various clean energy technologies and help define key risks and opportunities as companies seek to place their technology bets. The analysis addressed new and conventional energy technologies that can provide energy with a minimal carbon footprint and facilitate greater energy security. These technologies include biofuels, renewable power technologies, carbon capture and storage, nuclear and hydropower. While CERA's scenarios provide widely different outcomes, advances occur in at least some clean energy technologies across all three scenarios.

In the Launch Pad scenario, strong energy prices, growing public pressure to control CO2 emissions, and a stable investment environment coalesce to drive the development and adoption of a wide range of clean energy technologies. Renewable power capacity grows from three to 16 percent of global capacity and biofuels grow from less than two percent to 16 percent of the total road transportation fuels market.

In contrast to Launch Pad's broad-based advancement of clean energy, the Global Fissures scenario highlights how weaker global economic growth coupled with increasing global tensions and political insecurity could lead to an uneven outlook for clean energy technologies. In the Global Fissures scenario, renewable power capacity grows to seven percent of the global power mix, but nuclear power experiences little growth and carbon capture and storage technology fails to develop commercially by 2030.

The Asian Phoenix scenario describes a world where the global balance of geopolitical and economic power shifts to Asia, expanding Asia's role as both consumer and exporter of clean energy technologies. Although concerns over climate change influence political agendas, a global patchwork of uncoordinated policies result in inconsistent government support programs leading to periods of fits and starts for private investment flows, and limiting technological and commercial breakthroughs. Renewable power grows to 10 percent of global capacity and biofuels capture seven percent of the market for road transportation fuels.

"Crossing the Divide and the CERA scenarios highlight that the future of clean energy can take several paths," said Lawrence Makovich, CERA vice president and senior advisor. "This demonstrates how important not only technology, but also well-crafted energy policy are to shaping the energy future."

The Crossing the Divide analysis combined the collective input of study participants with CERA's broad research capabilities and deep expertise in a range of energy segments and geographic regions to help gauge the expectations for clean energy and align them with reality. Highlights of each technology include the following:

-- Biofuels. Development of biofuels is rapidly growing around the world, driven by rising global oil prices and transportation demand. Support for biofuels is also driven by interest in promoting domestic agricultural sectors. Based on the state of current technologies, however, biofuels promise to displace a relatively small fraction of petroleum, owing to twin constraints:
competition for land with food crops and relatively high production costs. More petroleum could be displaced if next generation technology is developed that converts more plentiful nonfood biomass into fuel and expands the useable crop base, but significant cost and technology hurdles must first be overcome. Biotechnology may surprise and shine a light on the appropriate solutions.

-- Wind. Given its relatively low cost compared with other renewable power alternatives, wind is the leading renewable technology in power generation worldwide in terms of installed capacity. As favorable onshore resources are harnessed, the key to maintaining wind capacity growth will be movement to low-speed onshore sites and offshore wind development. The majority of all new wind capacity (approximately 80 percent) is expected to come online in Asia and Europe, with almost all of the remainder in North America.

-- Biomass. Europe continues to lead the way in biomass power growth for electric generation through its bioenergy policy initiatives. Cost-effective, dedicated biomass crops would create a breakthrough for this technology.

-- Geothermal power. Current trends indicate that new geothermal power projects should increase installed capacity by 50 percent or more in the next five years as the number of countries with geothermal power operations roughly doubles to over 40. Enhanced geothermal systems (EGS), commonly known as "hot rocks," may hold the greatest potential for expanding the role of geothermal energy. EGS takes advantage of the heat locked in impermeable rock layers deep below the earth's surface through artificially created geothermal reservoirs. Although EGS technology shows great promise, it is still in a formative stage of development and must overcome a number of challenges before becoming a viable energy source.

-- Solar PV. Solar enjoys fast growth globally, with installations increasing from just over three GW in 1996 to 6.5 GW in 2006. Solar PV is primarily a decentralized source of power generation that produces electricity directly from sunlight without moving parts or the need for significant balance-of-plant equipment. It is versatile in terms of applications, ranging from integration in lighting products and building materials to modular power installations that provide power to the grid. Its versatility and falling manufacturing costs make solar PV attractive to the investment community looking for clean energy technologies with near-term market potential. Still, solar PV-generated electricity costs significantly more than conventional power generation and requires subsidies to compensate.

-- Concentrating solar power (CSP: 11.25, +0.07, +0.62%). CSP is a large-scale, centralized power production technology that concentrates sunlight to generate heat that is used to produce steam-generated electricity. Although solar PV is more widely known, CSP technologies are actually much less expensive and more appropriately sized for utility-scale generation. However, they still require subsidies in order to compete in the marketplace. Emerging CSP technologies can be equipped with thermal storage systems that reduce the impact of solar energy's intermittence.

-- Ocean. The enormous energy potential of ocean resources is unlikely to provide a significant contribution to world electricity supplies for the next few decades owing to the early-stage nature of the technology. Successful demonstration projects, cost reductions and policy development on standards for resource use will be required to advance the growth of ocean energy. However, successful projects could have an impact on a local level, and within the next half century a tidal power plant with a capacity as big as or bigger than the Hoover Dam or the Yangtze River Dam is possible.

-- Carbon capture and storage (CCS: 23.09, +0.14, +0.61%). Carbon capture and storage is a combination of technologies that holds promise of bringing fossil fuel combustion into the clean energy portfolio. If done on a large enough scale, capturing and effectively storing CO2 before it reaches the atmosphere could fundamentally alter the carbon footprint of conventional fossil fuels. Even in the best case, CCS is at least two decades away from large scale deployment. Carbon capture technology is likely to advance well ahead of storage technology. Technical hurdles to carbon capture will be addressed in technology trials over the next decade while the associated political, regulatory and legal issues are worked out.

-- Nuclear. Nuclear power is an important part of the world's current electricity mix, providing 15 percent of global power generation. Future prospects for new nuclear construction, buoyed by growing concerns over climate change and energy security, could support new nuclear build of up to 700 GW of installed capacity by 2030. However, many challenges lie ahead with regard to policy, capital costs, waste management -- and public opinion. There is always the risk of a major safety incident or a successful terrorist attack which could seriously impede the progress of nuclear power.

-- Hydropower. Many developing economies and power systems are following the path set by the developed economies and maximizing their domestic hydroelectric potential to support economic development. Like nuclear, hydropower currently provides a significant portion of global power generation (16 percent) and is also poised for growth over the next few decades. Particularly in developing economies in Asia and Latin America, up to 600 GW of new capacity could be added through 2030. Hydropower engenders controversy, however, based on the social displacement and environmental impacts associated with large-scale dams and reservoirs.
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