Energy & Environment

Beyond the 2012 Farm Bill: In it for the long haul

As the 2012 Farm Bill debates heat up, it is imperative that we begin to look beyond the traditional five-year timeframe that this legislation establishes. Instead, we must consider, on an ongoing basis, what it will take to shape the sustainable, resilient food and agriculture system that we all want and need for the future. Maintaining healthy, productive and profitable U.S. farming and ranching operations is an important element of our future food and agriculture system. Public policy and government support must go well beyond risk management tools and income guarantees for today’s farmers and ranchers.
And others must be engaged in the search for solutions. Civil society and private sector engagement and participation are vital for a successful, holistic and sustainable food and agriculture system. Through collaboration, investment and innovation among all stakeholders, we can develop and meet a new vision for agriculture, one that addresses our future needs, concerns and challenges.


Public transit holds key to America’s hidden energy reserve

With gasoline prices barreling upward, policymakers will undoubtedly continue debating the search for new North American oils. But this focus is misplaced. The real debate should be about our future mobility or how Washington can better manage federal transportation and oil investments. Ushering in a low-carbon, integrated transportation system is the key to navigating the pitfalls of global oil markets.
The connection between transportation and oil is undeniable. The U.S. transportation system is 94-percent dependent on oil, and the sector burns through 70 percent of U.S. oil consumption and 15 percent of world oil consumption. The inefficiency of the transportation system makes U.S. businesses and all Americans particularly vulnerable to gas prices.


Making the Defense Department more energy efficient

In 2011, the Department of Defense (DOD) was not only the single largest energy consumer in the U.S., but the largest in the world. The DOD spent roughly $20 billion on energy last year, including $4 billion at military installations. With multiple government initiatives introduced around energy consumption goals and policies in place like the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the DOD has very real targets to reach in improving energy efficiencies, utilization of cleaner power sources, and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. With a focus on four aspects of energy effectiveness, the DOD has an opportunity to have a considerable impact on the energy landscape in the U.S.

First, conserve and save - The DOD has over 300,000 buildings in the U.S., many of them examples of aging infrastructure. Simply by implementing readily available energy efficiency technologies and initiatives, the DOD can bend the curve on its $4 billion annual energy bill and yield large financial rewards.


Protecting the Chesapeake Bay while preserving agriculture and local economies

With new environmental regulations looming overhead, there is much uncertainty for those who live, work, and farm in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. Whether you reside in the Washington Metropolitan Area or the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, the goal of all involved is the same: the continued health and vitality of the Chesapeake Bay. However, the methods proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reach this goal would limit economic growth and unfairly over-regulate agriculture producers and local economies.

The EPA’s complex Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) is of great concern to communities in the watershed. The TMDL sets the limit on the amount of nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment discharged into the Bay and each of its tributaries by different sources. Although the Clean Water Act requires the EPA to establish a TMDL, the power is reserved by the states to determine how to improve water quality, including determining nutrient reduction allocations among different types of point and nonpoint sources. The EPA clearly exceeds their authority in the proposed TMDL by setting specific nutrient reduction allocations.


Pollution no match for motherly love

There’s something about being pregnant that sharpens the senses against danger. I’m expecting my third child early this summer. Just as when I was pregnant with my other two children, my doctor warned me against eating fish that might contain high levels of mercury. And thankfully, I am someone who doesn't have to be told about danger twice. I pay attention to warnings and I am lucky enough to be surrounded by people who are in the know.

I know that tuna (and other large fish, such as swordfish) contains dangerously high levels of mercury. But I never stopped to really understand exactly how that mercury got into the fish. I figured it was in the water -- but how did it get there? Now I know the answer. Our food is contaminated by air pollution -- and it is completely preventable. I’m dumbfounded that it is legal for coal-fired power plants, industrial boilers and cement plants to spew toxic mercury emissions into the air.


Keystone project imperative — now

There’s an old saying in America that comes to mind when I think of the President’s trip to Oklahoma this week to share his vision for domestic energy policy: talk is cheap. Gasoline is not.

On Monday, the American Automobile Administration (AAA) reported that the average price of a gallon of gas in Cushing, Okla., was somewhere around $3.66. I’ve heard people from the right and the left decry these high prices and blame everyone from President Obama, to President Bush, to the unexpected victors of March Madness. Well, as in basketball, President Obama seems to think that, “the best defense is a good offense.”

That must be why he suddenly changed his tune on the Keystone XL pipeline from staunch rejection to glad-handed praise. For the past 44 months, we’ve heard that the President intends to block the Keystone XL pipeline for one reason or another. So far, he’s been mostly successful.

But when President Obama comes to Cushing, Okla., this week he intends to pull a “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” moment. In front of a small, hand-selected group of supporters, the president will hold a taxpayer-funded campaign photo-op and execute a complete reversal on a pipeline project he has spent 44 months opposing.


CAFE’s costs outweigh benefits

Imagine Steven McQueen’s high-speed chase in Bullitt, only this time he’s not in a ‘68 Mustang GT Fastback with a 390 CID, 325 HP carbureted V8; he’s clambering after mobsters in a 90 horsepower, 65 MPG electric hybrid. This is not an alternate reality; it’s the Environmental Protection Agency’s CAFE future, scheduled to be finalized this summer.
EPA wants to double current MPG requirements by 2025: a noble regulatory target, but one that carries great costs for the industry, consumers, and the broader economy. EPA admits the proposed rule could generate “net costs” upward of $141 billion. However, buried in its 833-page regulatory impact analysis, are the hidden, the obfuscated, and the under-reported costs the administration would rather ignore.
For example, one method EPA uses to match costs and benefits is by counting benefits years into the future. With a regulation scheduled into 2025, this may make sense, until you read the language: “anticipated to extend over a period from approximately fifty to two hundred or more years in the future.” These so-called “intergenerational benefits” of reduced CO2 levels are expected to generate $45.6 billion in benefits.


Climate insurance, not just crop insurance

Today, the Senate Agriculture Committee will hear arguments to expand the federal crop insurance program in the 2012 Farm Bill. Most likely, proponents of this expansion will point to the devastating crop losses wrought by extreme weather last year. Indemnity payouts for 2011 have so far cost taxpayers a record $10 billion, a number expected to grow as claims are processed.

Crop insurance proponents are right: Farming is getting riskier all the time. Last year we saw more extreme storms, more record heat, more droughts and more floods than in almost any previous year. According to climatologists, it’s a pattern that’s only going to get worse as the effects of climate change grow. Right now, our federal crop insurance program only protects farmers from being wiped out financially from extreme weather. Farmers need that protection, but the rest of us—the eaters—also need a secure, reliable food system.

There are ways to make agriculture more resilient to extreme weather. Farmers can plant more perennial crops, which require less water and hold on better to soil during floods. In drought-prone regions, they can select drought-tolerant crop varieties or change grazing or irrigation methods, among other strategies. Farming techniques that protect and enhance the soil, and use less water and energy, are those that stand the best chance of holding on when the weather turns bad.


Don't let the sun go down on solar plan

Right now, little debate exists in this country about the need to secure our energy independence – no matter where you sit in Congress or where you call home. We also generally agree that diversifying our portfolio of energy sources is a good idea. Developing renewable sources of energy such as wind and solar power is an increasingly critical part of this diverse portfolio, requiring our government to deliver on its “Smart from the Start” pledge for locating new energy projects and charting responsible development.
Solar development has the potential to supplement our nation’s growing energy needs and help states meet renewable energy standards. At the moment it currently provides less than 1 percent of the nation’s power, but the solar industry is thriving with the number of installations doubling each of the last two years.  We can and should produce solar energy on the many areas of this country that are perfectly suited for industrial solar development.
But industrial development on public lands can reduce access to hunting, fishing, and other recreational activities. Poorly planned solar development can severely impact critical habitat for game species, like mule deer, that sportsmen have valued for generations. That is why it is so important that Federal land managers with the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) address this great challenge by developing and finalizing a reasonable policy to guide large industrial solar facilities to Solar Energy Zones where they will have minimal impact on other uses and resources of public lands.


Addressing rising gas prices

In my home state of Indiana and all across the country, gas prices are too high. The average price of a gallon of gasoline has jumped significantly in recent weeks, and while some on Wall Street play games with the oil markets and big oil companies rake in record profits, working- and middle-class families and small businesses are the ones bearing the burden of the price at the pump.

This burden has real consequences for working- and middle-class families and small businesses. Families have to make tough choices -- for example, whether or not to sign the kids up for a traveling baseball league or whether they can afford to drive an hour to visit aging parents for the weekend. And the more money that families have to spend on gas, the less money they have for other things, such as car and mortgage payments. Increased gas prices also cause higher shipping costs, making the price of food and other necessities more expensive.