Energy & Environment

Koch Brothers Link Solar to Obamacare

The New York Times Editorial Board writes about the latest Koch Brothers initiative.

“For the last few months, the Kochs and other big polluters have been spending heavily to fight incentives for renewable energy, which have been adopted by most states. They particularly dislike state laws that allow homeowners with solar panels to sell power they don’t need back to electric utilities. So they’ve been pushing legislatures to impose a surtax on this increasingly popular practice, hoping to make installing solar panels on houses less attractive.”

The coal producers’ motivation is clear: They see solar and wind energy as a long-term threat to their businesses … Given new regulations on power-plant emissions of mercury and other pollutants, and the urgent need to reduce global warming emissions, the future clearly lies with renewable energy.

A benefit to customers, but not to utilities, “currently, 43 states require utilities to buy excess power generated by consumers with solar arrays,” a practice known as net metering.

A “Koch ad likens the renewable-energy requirement to health care reform, the ultimate insult in that world. ‘Like Obamacare, it’s another government mandate we can’t afford,’ the narrator says.”

Which States Lead in Wind Power?

CleanTechnica: “In 2013, 12 states accounted for 80% of U.S. wind-generated electricity, according to preliminary generation data released in EIA’s March Electric Power Monthly report. Texas was again the top wind power state with nearly 36 million megawatthours (MWh) of electricity.”

“These 12 states produced a combined 134 million MWh of electricity from wind. Nationwide, 167 million MWh of power came from wind in 2013, a 19% increase from 2012. Wind power increased its share of U.S. total electricity generation in 2013 from 3.5% to 4.1%.”

“Leading the nation in wind generation share was Iowa with 27.4% of net electricity production coming from wind turbines.”

map of electric generation from wind by state (2013), as explained in the article text

Plastic Bag Bans Are on the Rise Across the Nation

EcoWatch reports on a “movement that gained momentum in California [that] is going national.”

“More than 20 million Americans live in communities with plastic bag bans or fees. Currently 100 billion plastic bags pass through the hands of U.S. consumers every year—almost one bag per person each day … But this number will soon fall as more communities, including large cities like New York and Chicago, look for ways to reduce the plastic litter that blights landscapes and clogs up sewers and streams.”

“California—with its long coastline and abundant beaches where plastic trash is all too common—has been the epicenter of the U.S. movement against plastic bags … All told, plastic bag bans cover one-third of California’s population.”

“A number of state governments have entertained proposals for anti-plastic bag legislation, but not one has successfully applied a statewide charge or banned the bags.”

“One strategy of the plastics industry—concerned about declining demand for its products—is an attempt to change public perception of plastic bags by promoting recycling. Recycling, however, is also not a good long-term solution. The vast majority of plastic bags—97 percent or more in some locales—never make it that far.”

Related: How to Pass a Plastic Bag Ban: 8 Key Lessons

Keystone Pipeline’s Environmental Impact: Political Symbolism?

Coral Davenport, writing for the New York Times, argues that “when it comes to the pipeline’s true impact on global warming, energy and climate change experts — including former Obama administration officials — say Keystone’s political symbolism vastly outweighs its policy substance.”

Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 10.09.58 PM

Experts say that Mr. Obama’s eventual decision on the pipeline will have a marginal impact on global warming emissions, while those dull-sounding E.P.A. rules and treaty talks will determine his enviromental legacy.

Experts say that to make a serious dent in American carbon emissions, Mr. Obama’s administration would have to enact policies that would force the two most polluting sectors of the nation’s economy — cars and coal plants — to slash their emissions.

 

April Will Be First Month With CO2 Levels Above 400 PPM

Climate Central: “April will be the first time in human history where levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide were higher than 400 parts per million for an entire month, one scientist who monitors the levels said. And they could stay above that mark into July.”

“Carbon dioxide concentrations, as measured at a site atop Hawaii’s Mauna Loa volcano since 1958, surpassed the 400 ppm mark for the first time in recorded history on May 9, 2013. While the particular mark is symbolic, it serves to show how far concentrations have risen from their pre-industrial levels of 280 ppm as fossil fuels such as coal and oil have continued to be burned.”

U.S. Carbon Emissions Down But HFCs Are Soaring

The news website, Responding to Climate Change, reports that “US greenhouse gas emissions dropped 10% from 2005 – 2012.”

The results, part of the Environmental Protection Agency’s annual inventory of greenhouse gas emissions, show emissions “fell 3.3% from 2011-2012 … The US is just over halfway to meeting a pledge made at UN talks in 2009 to cut GHG releases 17% on 2005 levels by 2020.”

“The EPA says the reductions are due to new clean energy generation sources, investments in efficiency measures and a drop in transportation sector emissions.”

However, “hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), refrigerant gases with a warming potential far more potent than CO2, soared from 36.9 million metric tons CO2 equivalent (CO2e) to 151.2 CO2e from 1990 to 2012.”

(Pic: EPA)

40 Percent ‘Concerned Believers’ of Global Warming

Gallup: “Over the past decade, Americans have clustered into three broad groups on global warming. The largest, currently describing 39% of U.S. adults, are what can be termed “Concerned Believers” — those who attribute global warming to human actions and are worried about it. This is followed by the “Mixed Middle,” at 36%. And one in four Americans — the “Cool Skeptics” — are not worried about global warming much or at all.”

“The ranks of Cool Skeptics have swelled, while the Mixed Middle — once the largest group — has declined modestly.”

“In particular, the percentage of Americans believing that global warming is caused by pollution from human activities dropped sharply in 2010. The same pattern has been seen with personal worry about global warming and the perception that the seriousness of the issue is exaggerated in the news. All of these findings are likely linked to the high profile “Climategate” controversy that emerged in late 2009.”

But: “the percentage of “Concerned Believers” has recovered to pre-Climategate levels.”

Gallup Global Warming Opinion Groups

Keystone XL Delay Tactics

Reuters: “The latest delay to a final decision on the Keystone XL oil pipeline will reinforce a White House strategy to energize President Barack Obama’s liberal-leaning base before fall elections.”

“Approval of the pipeline would also have risked dampening the enthusiasm of wealthy donors such as billionaire investor Tom Steyer, who is spending tens of millions of dollars to boost environmentally-friendly candidates.”

Steyer: “This is rotten eggs for TransCanada and good news on Good Friday for those who oppose Keystone as not being in our nation’s best interest.”

Josh Lederman of the Associated Press argues that the delay “is doing little to quell posturing over the project, which has taken on a life of its own as climate change activists battle with energy advocates from both parties.”

Celinda Lake: “There’s no winning decision here … In a situation where you’re between a rock and a hard place, it’s better to postpone and then let everybody complain.”

Washington Post: “As much as Landrieu, Pryor, Hagan, Begich and company have said how frustrated they are by Keystone XL delays, secretly they are probably sighing in relief, too — at least if the administration is leaning toward rejecting the pipeline.”

Framing Climate Change as a Bipartisan Issue

Sean McElwee, writing for The Atlantic, reports that “the environment was once a bipartisan issue.”

“Data from the Pew Research Center show that the decrease in support for environmental protection is not only very recent but also one-sided.”

“Despite that decline, [recent studies show that] Republican support for environmental causes is stronger than it might appear … If Republican voters are concerned about the environment, why haven’t we seen any action?”

“One explanation is that the framing of environmental issues is often anathema to conservatives … Liberals view environmental issues as moral concerns informed by a harm principle, while conservatives view environmental issues through the lens of purity, and particularly for religious people, stewardship.”

“A 2012 study … found that climate campaigns overwhelming frame the issue in terms of harm and care, fairness, and oppression of marginalized groups. These frames fall into what [the study] would consider left-wing frames, alienating conservatives.”

In addition, wealthy, influential elites do not consider the environment a major problem:

“Activists will find more success if they focus on promoting sanctity and responsibility, showing how protecting the environment is economically beneficial and leaving a legacy for future generations.”

Combating Climate Change and Economic Growth Can Co-Exist

Paul Krugman notes that there is some good news from the recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

“There is one piece of the assessment that is surprisingly, if conditionally, upbeat: Its take on the economics of mitigation. Even as the report calls for drastic action to limit emissions of greenhouse gases, it asserts that the economic impact of such drastic action would be surprisingly small.”

“What’s behind this economic optimism? To a large extent, it reflects a technological revolution many people don’t know about, the incredible recent decline in the cost of renewable energy, solar power in particular.”

“The climate change panel … notes that “many RE [renewable energy] technologies have demonstrated substantial performance improvements and cost reductions” since it released its last assessment, back in 2007.”

“Thanks to this technological leap forward, the climate panel can talk about ‘decarbonizing’ electricity generation as a realistic goal — and since coal-fired power plants are a very large part of the climate problem, that’s a big part of the solution right there.”

Krugman asserts “there’s no reason we can’t become richer while reducing our impact on the environment.”

Surge in Clean Energy Investment May Mark a Turnaround

Bloomberg: “Clean energy investment rose by 9 percent in the first quarter from a year earlier on surging demand for rooftop solar panels from the U.S. to Japan.”

“New investment in renewable power and energy efficiency rose to $47.7 billion in the first three months of the year from $43.6 billion, Bloomberg New Energy Finance said today in an e-mailed statement.”

“The increase may mark a turnaround. Investment in low-carbon power and energy-efficiency equipment has fallen for two years as industrialized nations pared back subsidies.”

Two patterns are emerging: “the increasing share of small-scale solar in total investment, and the expansion of investment into more developing countries.”

Study Finds Large Emissions from Shale Gas Wells

“Researchers found higher-than-expected emissions of a potent greenhouse gas emanating from Pennsylvania wells, according to a study published Monday that adds to concerns about the environmental footprint of natural gas,” according to Fuel Fix.

“The study, conducted by Purdue and Cornell universities and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, is the latest to scrutinize methane emissions associated with natural gas development, with implications from New York to Texas.”

“Researchers used a specially equipped airplane to collect samples above the Marcellus Shale in southwestern Pennsylvania. They traced large methane emissions to seven wells that were were being drilled, a phase of operations not normally associated with such high levels. That suggests the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s estimates, released in an annual inventory, are not capturing all the released methane.”

Is Fracking Really a Job Creator?

Using Pennsylvania as an example, Clare Foran questions whether fracking truly creates jobs:

“That’s the linchpin of the oil and gas industry argument for permitting the controversial drilling practice. And it’s become the industry’s trump card as the debate rages—among policymakers and scientists—over whether fracking is safe for the people and environment around it.”

“The energy boom has injected fracking—and energy jobs in general—into the [Pennsylvania] gubernatorial race, but its role in the political discussion dwarfs the sector’s actual impact on the state economy: In 2012, jobs in core industries tied to natural-gas production made up less than 1 percent of Pennsylvania’s total 5.5 million jobs.”

“‘It’s a drop in the bucket,’ said Tim Kelsey, a professor at the Pennsylvania State University and cofounder of the Center for Economic and Community Development. ‘Relative to statewide employment this is a very small number of jobs.'”

U.N. Climate Report: Time is Running Out

New York Times: “Delivering the latest stark news about climate change on Sunday, a United Nations panel warned that governments are not doing enough to avert profound risks in coming decades. But the experts found a silver lining: Not only is there still time to head off the worst, but the political will to do so seems to be rising around the world.”

“The good news is that ambitious action is becoming more affordable, the committee found. It is increasingly clear that measures like tougher building codes and efficiency standards for cars and trucks can save energy and reduce emissions without harming people’s quality of life … And the costs of renewable energy like wind and solar power are falling so fast that its deployment on a large scale is becoming practical.”

The goal is daunting, according to Reuters: “World emissions will have to be cut by 40 to 70 percent compared with 2010 levels by mid-century, and to near-zero by 2100, to keep warming below 2C, IPCC scenarios show. Such cuts are far deeper than most governments plan.”

And costly: “Economic growth … is projected to grow by 1.6 percent to 3 percent a year this century. Ambitious action to slow climate change would trim annual growth by about 0.06 percentage point.”