Energy & Environment

Weathering the challenges ahead for renewable energy

There’s a chill in the air that hints at the stormy weather ahead for renewable energy. After several years of success, the political winds have shifted and the water has grown choppy. We’re entering an election year when Americans are sincerely worried that our nation has lost its way in a world that looks increasingly unstable. In the resulting atmosphere of uncertainty, America’s rudderless energy policy stokes suspicion and fear.

What’s worse, our leaders seem incapable of pointing us in an inspiring direction. Despite polls that show widespread public support for renewable energy from both Democrats and Republicans, the industry has fallen victim to political gamesmanship and bi-partisan gridlock.
In some ways, the current environment feels a little bewildering because of the success we’ve had over the last few years. Whether through luck or design, the intersection of a few state RPSs and federal tax credits delivered a potent formula for demand that also facilitated large flows of capital across the value chain. A whiff of progressive optimism didn’t hurt either.


No funding, no trespassing

Before breaking for Thanksgiving, Congress voted to de-fund the Voluntary Public Access and Habitat Incentive Program (VPA-HIP) as part of the FY2012 agriculture appropriations bill.  It is ironic that funding for a program that encourages landowners to make their property accessible to hunters and anglers would be eliminated just as millions of hunters nationwide prepared to hit the woods over the holiday weekend. And whether or not they hunt themselves, all Americans benefit from sportsmen’s dollars and the conservation investments provided by license sales and excise taxes, and therefore, the elimination of VPA-HIP deserves some attention.

The number one reason cited by hunters and anglers for forgoing the sports they love? Access – or rather lack of access – to quality fish and game habitat. Increasingly, sportsmen encounter “hunting prohibited” or “no trespassing” signs as they venture across the countryside. 

In response to this very real challenge, the sportsmen’s community developed VPA-HIP, a federal program intended to address the problem of diminished access by sportsmen and others by providing small incentives to landowners to provide public access to their lands for wildlife-dependent activities such as hunting and fishing.


Chemical fear mongering goes into overdrive

The debate on “reforming” the 1976 Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) has recently emerged before the U. S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Eagerly anticipated by a wide variety of environmental groups, whose common raison d'être is essentially a deeply held fear of chemicals in our environment, they are now chomping at the bit at the prospect of tightening our already restrictive chemical safety laws.
Now most of us would probably admit to an innate fear of something — snakes, heights, clowns, whatever. But over the years, well-funded environmental groups have relied upon our instinctual fears for our children’s safety in order to manipulate the public, the media, and legislators to react emotionally rather than objectively to unfounded theories of chemical threats.
Decades ago, such irrational fear of chemicals was not so widespread, due to a general lack of scientific knowledge. Over time, though, the scientific community has amassed a plethora of information on thousands of substances in commerce and common use. Today, the public’s fear of chemicals is no longer driven by a lack of information but rather by a surplus of misconceptions espoused by politically-motivated activists masquerading as public health advocates.


New report links costly extreme weather to climate change

Last week’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report reaffirming the link between a changing climate and a rise in extreme weather might have ideologues grumbling, but it comes as no surprise to business leaders. They’re already dealing with the effects of extreme weather—the kind scientists tell us will be ever more common as Earth’s climate continues heating up.

Extreme drought and flooding are already affecting companies that depend on steady streams of agricultural raw materials, from cotton to coffee beans to corn.

Some farmers’ insurance rates are climbing as a result, according to Climate Corporation CEO David Friedberg, whose company insures farmers across 24 states.


Inward foreign investment that can create high-wage U.S. jobs is an increasing necessity

At a time when our economy is struggling and millions of Americans are out of work, we should take advantage of any solid opportunity that will bring international investment and jobs into our economy. The recent news that two U.S. Senators from other states are opposing a U.S. Department of Energy loan, for a steel project that will create needed jobs in my home state of Michigan, demonstrates that we have entered into the season where election-year rhetoric is not serving the best interests of the United States.

Michigan’s economic challenges and the urgent need for new U. S. jobs are well known. The loan guarantee in question, to a Russian company named Severstal, is good news for Michigan and for the United States.  Severstal received the loan to retool and expand its automotive steel operations in Dearborn, Michigan, where it earlier purchased Rouge Steel Company, seven years ago in 2004. 


New fuel-efficiency target is a win for American families and the American economy

Good news for American families: cars of the future will go much farther on every gallon of gas and consumers will have more money to spend on other things because the cost of driving will go down.
The good news comes from the Obama Administration’s decision to boost average fuel economy to 54.5 mpg by 2025, which was formally issued as a proposed rule, yesterday.   At the Consumer Federation of America, we see this not only as a win for consumers, but as a win for the U.S economy and national security too, because we will spend less on oil imports and be less vulnerable to manipulation of oil prices, caused by unfriendly governments in the Mid-East or speculators on Wall Street.
CFA’s polling consistently shows that Americans support strong fuel economy standards for automobiles, both for pocketbook reasons and for reasons of national security. Consumers want cleaner, more fuel-efficient cars because they cost less to run. And they want to help curb our nation’s reliance on oil-- oil that too often comes from countries whose values we do not share.


Keystone election year politics

If President Obama was really interested in creating jobs, he would not cave-in to election year politics and surrender to the demands of special interest groups. Unfortunately, this is precisely what happened last week when he punted the final decision on the proposed Keystone XL pipeline until after next fall's election.
Support for the pipeline is wide and varied and includes major labor unions who understand this project will create tens of thousands of American jobs and reduce our reliance on Middle East oil. With approval of this project America would have greater energy security, which equals greater national security. That's a win-win for our country.  Building the pipeline will create 20,000 direct American construction jobs with a spinoff of over 100,000 indirect jobs. That’s new, real private sector jobs at a time when our nation desperately needs them.
Because the Keystone pipeline would cross from Canada into the United States, the project requires a presidential permit from the U.S. Department of State to proceed.  The pipeline is subject to the National Environmental Policy Act, which requires disclosure of potential environmental impacts and the consideration of possible alternatives.  After five years of extensive studies that addressed environmental concerns and determined the project is safe, we still do not have an answer.


Infrastructure we can bank on

As the president pushes hard for Congressional passage of his proposed $60 billion infrastructure bank, it’s important to ensure that any taxpayer money is invested wisely enough to earn a long-term dividend—rather than end up as a leaky short-term bailout.

The president is likely to earn a great deal of public support as he focuses on the importance of getting Americans back to work. As Obama said in Washington, “Of all the industries hammered by the economic downturn, construction has been hardest hit. It makes absolutely no sense when there’s so much work to be done that they’re not doing the work.”

But the policy that guides the way in which work is performed also matters a great deal. There’s a high price tag for repairing and replacing the infrastructure we rely on every day and we must ensure that any investments use the most efficient, sustainable technologies that will give stakeholders and taxpayers a long-term return on investment.


Ensuring an emerging industry is safe, ethical, and leads to job creation

One year ago, American scientists passed a new milestone in genetic engineering history. On May 20, 2010, Craig Venter and his colleagues constructed the first fully self-replicating living cell controlled by synthetic DNA.

No, they didn’t “create life” – they used an existing living organism. But this breakthrough does hold the promise of helping us address many of this century’s greatest challenges in healthcare, energy, agriculture and the environment. It also raises new questions about ethics and safety.

Soon after the scientific breakthrough, President Obama established a Commission for the Study of Bioethical Issues to review the emerging science of synthetic biology in order to maximize its benefits and minimize its risks and analyze its ethical dimensions. Meanwhile, the House Committee on Energy and Commerce and the Select Committee on Global Warming each conducted hearings on the issues raised by this cutting-edge technology.  


The power of recycling

We typically give an immediate sigh of relief when we throw out our waste. Out of sight, out of mind. However, that isn’t necessarily the end of the story.

Every one of us generates approximately four pounds of waste per person per day. That amounts to Americans generating 243 million tons of paper, plastic, metal, glass and other waste annually. Of that, we typically recover and reuse 34 percent of what we discard.

This November in celebration of America Recycles Day, we encourage you to think twice about what’s in your waste bin. We all know that recycling is good for the environment, but did you know it could help the economy?